This article originally appeared on VICE France
According to a recent report, every single woman that's used Parisian public transport has been sexually harassed in some way or another. The report is quite detailed in their definitions of assault but for some reasons it didn't list frotters. A "frotter", for those privileged enough not to know, is someone who derives sexual pleasure by rubbing their bits and pieces up against unsuspecting people in crowded public spaces.
Concerned, I headed over to French health and sex forum Doctissimo, where I found a chat room called "Transport Fantasies". It was full of frotter testimonies – the kind of stories that'll make you think twice before taking the underground ever again. Ten minutes of scrolling through the pages made me understand why Japan has introduced women only carriages on some of their trains. An idea that is also currently being lobbied for by some UK politicians.
Curious to find out what this was all about, I reached out to some of the people in the forum. After some rather colourful exchanges – most notably one with a transvestite who liked to be photographed without underwear on the train – I was contacted by Maxine, who for obvious reasons didn't feel like telling me his real name. The 38-year-old-computer-engineer is part of a subway frotting community that he says has been active for roughly 20 years. I gave him a call to ask just what the hell he was up to.
VICE: Hey Maxine, so you are into fantasising about women on trains. What's the deal with that?
Maxine: Basically, proximity on public transport is something that hugely excites me and has done for years. I get a lot of heat for it on different forums, to be honest. People calling me things like "pervert", "sick" or "disturbed" – you hear those words a lot. But I just want to clarify: I am not a sex offender, I've never made a salacious remark to a girl, or touched her breasts or anything like that. I'm not what you'd call a predator.
If you say so. Can you tell me how this fantasy came about?
Until I was 19, I lived in this tiny little village. When I moved to Paris, I discovered the underground and it was really interesting. It was exotic to me: the faces, the hair, the legs, the bra straps. A lot of people see commuting as a chore but I love that physical proximity, the humidity and the way I can see women's bodies right up close, as if I have a zoom lens or something.
It all started with this one businesswoman in a skirt suit – I suppose what you'd call a MILF these days – who was forced to push her breasts up against me on the train because it was so packed. I was a kid and it had a huge effect on me. Ever since that day, I spend a lot of my spare time on the metro. The winter is no good because of things like flu and heavy jackets – I can't get quite as close to the girls as I'd like to.
The way it works is that I spot a pretty girl and try to sit down next to her. Then I touch up against them very lightly and begin to fantasise about some different scenarios.
Are you aware of the fact that guys like you are a real nuisance to women?
You shouldn't look at everything as so black and white. Some girls probably get annoyed because they aren't feeling that sexy at the particular time of day. Right after they've finished work for example. They are probably taken by surprise. But some others actually enjoy the attention. I don't rub myself on them like a dog or anything. I go soft and establish a sort of physical closeness, which may – or may not – result in something more.
When I was single, several girls smiled at me in the subway. Sometimes you could see they were interested. Other times, people just give me evils. I'm pretty sure that most people don't even notice me touching up against them. I'm more of a "gentleman" frotter.
Does your partner know about your frottage?
No, not at all. I don't think she'd get it. After the media storm about subway frotters, I've heard her discuss the issue angrily with her girlfriends. But you know, I'm very active on these internet forums and talk a lot with women who have the same kind of fantasies. A lot of guys might cheat on their partners but I've found a way to remain faithful while still being able to live out my sexual fantasy.
Are you aware that what you do is basically sexual assault?
Like I've said, there is a distinction. I've never insulted a woman, shown my penis or tried to stick my hand up their skirt. I condemn all of those things. As far as I know, proximity in public transport isn't a crime – even if it sometimes results in uncontrolled erections. Look at nightclubs; It's not strange to rub up against a stranger while you're dancing, you know? Guys who do that aren't considered perverts. Why are things on a train different? It's a fantasy, just like doctor waiting room scenarios.
Well, apart from the fact no one gets felt up without their consent in those scenarios.
I've always acted correctly. Just have a look online, you'll see I'm not the only one interested in this. There's so many kinky videos that start with two strangers talking on a train. It's become a cliché. No one has ever protested, called for censorship or had to apologise for sexual assault. Go on YouPorn, there's a category called "Fantasy". Just try and type subway in there and you'll find pages upon pages of videos that start with stroking on a subway train.