A Tangential Personal Note on Creepers and Me

I made the offhand comment in yesterday’s post about how not to be a creeper that I almost never get creeped on, which precipitated a direct message on Twitter from a friend that said “‘Almost never’ is different than ‘never.'”

And, well, it’s true, it is different. I have been creeped upon, at varying levels. Most seriously, there was one time I was legitimately stalked and harassed, which led to the filing of a police report. That was several years ago, and the circumstances of that incident were unique enough that I have reason not to worry about it recurring a second time (at least, not at the hands of that particular person). It was also not sexually based. But it was still, shall we say, not a comfortable happening at the time.

Aside from that, there have been a couple of times at a convention where someone was definitely on the wrong side of the creeper line, from my point of view. When they happened I dealt with them. The incidents I can recall off the top of my head happened at conventions I don’t typically frequent, so once more in those particular cases they’re not something I spend a whole lot of time worrying about happening again.

So yes, it’s happened to me a couple of times. I would take pains to note the nature and dynamic of the creeperism when it was applied to me is a bit different, for a few reasons. One, I am a guy, which matters. Two, I don’t have a problem being assertive, and no one gives me shit when I am being assertive, because I am a guy. Three, in the context of a science fiction convention, I am notable and also often an invited guest, which means I have easy avenues to deal with stuff if I need to, and, when I am a guest, there are people whose job it is to manage interactions for me when I want them to. In a practical sense, I am difficult to creep on for these reasons, and when it does happen the effect on me tends to be minimal — a short-term, isolated annoyance rather than something that I have to deal with over a long-term, and which would affect me deeply thereby.

(Let me note — with full acknowledgement that what follows is egotastical — that I also make a distinction between people who are creeping on me and people who lose their shit a little when they’re near me because I’m a favorite writer of theirs. The latter don’t represent a problem in itself, and honestly, who hasn’t lost their shit a little when they’ve met someone whose work they’ve loved? I certainly have. I hope to have the opportunity to do so again in the future. But — and this is important — after I lose my shit at someone whose work I admire, I gather it back up again and take it elsewhere, as does almost every single person who’s lost their shit at meeting me. This is one key differentiator between people who are excited to meet me, and people who are creepers.)

On the flip side of this, I noted that the rules I noted yesterday are ones that I use myself when I try not to come across as a creeper to people I’m meeting. I didn’t use a specific example of a time where I was concerned about being considered a weird, creepy dude because although I did have a story that applied, I hadn’t cleared it with the other person involved. But now she’s cleared it, and now I’ll use it.

Back in 2006, at Readercon(!) I was wandering around the dealer’s room when I saw John Joseph Adams talking to a woman I didn’t know. I knew JJA very casually, so I went up to say hello. The woman he was speaking to was the art director of Shimmer Magazine and her name was Mary Robinette Kowal. JJA introduced the two of us, and Mary and I started chatting and within about five minutes I was aware that I was really intensely attracted to her, in a way that actually kind of spooked me and which I was sure was immediately and clearly obvious, and possibly immediately and obviously creepy.

So here’s what I did. After a couple more minutes, I excused myself and went away, because I was working on the theory that if I was worried that I was coming across as creepy, I was in fact being creepy, and I didn’t want to do that both as a matter of personal inclination and also because this woman I had just met did noting to deserve me creeping all over her. Later, I saw her talking with a bunch of people I didn’t know, I didn’t go up and chat with her because I knew that the only reason I wanted to talk to that group of people is so that I could be near her, and that was a little creepy.

When some time after that she was with a group of people I did know and enjoyed talking to, I joined that group, made sure I didn’t focus all my attention on her and got to know her a little better by listening to her talk to others in the group and to the group in general, and talked to her like I talked to everyone else in the group. I didn’t hover near her. I definitely didn’t go out of my way to touch her. I made no great attempt to monopolize her time. When I did chat with her later one on one, I was mindful of how much of her time I was spending, and was paying attention to how she reacted to me to make sure I wasn’t overstaying my welcome. And so on. After a day, my brain settled down, everything was cool and my Potential Creeper Moment faded away, much to my relief.

Anyone who knows Mary and me knows how this turned out: I consider Mary one of my best friends, and I’m pretty sure she likes me too. I’m also pretty sure that had I not made a conscious effort when we first met to curb the urge to creep on her, there’s a very good chance we would not be friends now, because, you know, I would have been a little creepy. Mary’s not the sort to put up with that, nor should she be. My reward for putting a check on my potentially bad behavior up front is a friendship that I genuinely treasure. That’s a pretty good return on investment.

I mention this for two purposes. One, to make the point that I think the guidelines I set out work (or at least work for me). Two, to make the point that saying that only certain types of men — ugly ones, aspie ones, socially sheltered ones, ones who aren’t going to pay attention to someone offering advice — have the potential to be creepers is kind of stupid. Hi there, I’m generally considered to be socialized, neurotypical and a decent guy. And oh my I had quite the potential to be a creeping assbag on Mary, among others. But I haven’t been, because I’m responsible for my own actions and I realize no one deserves to be creeped on by me even when the reptile portions of my brain are howling TAKE HER TAKE HER TAKE HER NOW. At the end of the day, as regards being a creepy assbag, it’s not about who you are, it’s about what you do.

184 thoughts on “A Tangential Personal Note on Creepers and Me

  1. Before any of you ask:

    Yes, Mary was aware that I had that reaction to her when we met. She knew because I told her, after an appropriate amount of time had passed, we were friends and the information would not have been uncomfortable to her. And in fact I’ve told the story before to others, while Mary was there, because I used it as an example on a couple of “Con Etiquette” panels that Mary and I did.

    Also before any of you ask:

    Yes, Krissy was aware that I had this reaction to Mary when I first met her, because when I came home from the Readercon, I said to my wife “Holy crap, I almost made an ass of myself in front of this woman I met at the convention,” and then told her the whole story. Krissy found it amusing. It does not surprise her that I find various women attractive. She appreciates me not being a creepy assbag to them when I do. It saves her the time required to smack me about the head.

  2. “it’s not about who you are, it’s about what you do.”

    True. But I’m a firm believer that who you are determines what you do. So, if you do the decent thing and make a conscious effort not to be a creeper, that tells me that who you are is a decent guy, lizard brain or no. : )

    Also: Mr. Scalzi, you have a cramazing wife. I’ve “met” her only through your blog, but I like her a lot.

  3. Chang:

    I fortunately have no memory of that.

    I do remember an e-mail from you before I met you in person suggesting I come and vacation with you. That was, uh, a little out of the blue, shall we say.

    I like you just fine now, mind you.

  4. Krissy is awesome, btw. In this regard and in general. Were I to run into either of you at a con, I’m almost equally likely to lose my shit meeting Krissy just because of how she is portrayed through your eyes in this blog. And then turn horribly red and run away because that’s what I do.

  5. That’s a good story and example. It’s nice to see a generally socially well adjusted, and happily married, man demonstrate how even someone like him has the potential to be a “creepy assbag”. Which means the rest of us generally socially well adjusted and happily married men can now realize that having the potential isn’t what turns us into creepy assbags, its not recognizing it and dealing with it that does.

  6. I really wasn’t following you around at Worldcon in 2004. You just kept being on panels I thought were interesting!!

  7. @ John

    The image of someone gathering up the shit they’ve just lost and taking it elsewhere is…creepy.

    Au contraire, it’s admirable and reassuring. Being magnetically attracted to someone is not creepy. Lack self-control over it very definitely is.

  8. On the one hand, I am seriously annoyed that I did not “discover” you until so very recently, because I enjoy this blog so much. On the other hand, I am glad that I am a latecomer because it gives me so much material to dive into and splash around in.

    Thank you for representing the triumph of reason over the lizard brain, and for generally being decent. Those of us who do get creeped on appreciate it.

    Off topic: I am 70% of the way through “Agent to the Stars” (my maiden voyage on starship Scalzi) and really, sincerely loving it.

  9. Yes, everything is in context and interpretation. Creeping and Stalking can be obvious and take a different form, depending on someone’s perception of events and behavior. Welcome to the big-time world of literary writing.

  10. Dan @12:41 — That picture may go down in history as the moment Athena Scalzi invented the reverse- (anti-? nega-?) photobomb.

  11. I’ve met Mary RK at a conference and completely understand your desire to creep on her because she is all sorts of awesome both in terms of writing and personality. When she pulled out a flask of single malt I knew I loved her. (In a non-creepy way)

  12. Thank you for sharing the story, and thanks as well to Mary for permitting you to share it.

    As a side note, thank you and Krissy both for modelling a different approach to out-of-wedlock attraction than “Omigod, I can’t possibly mention this to the spouse ’cause they’ll freak” and “Omigod, the spouse is attracted to someone else, [freakfreakfreak].”

  13. Thanks for these articles. The sad truth is that some men just won’t hear this advice unless it comes from another man. On an up-note, my teenage son had me forward the first post to him. He’s firmly invested in not being a creep. Yeah, I’m stupidly proud of him.

  14. I’m to meet Brandon Sanderson in 2 weeks at a little con in Albuquerque and while I fully expect to lose my shit at that time, I’ll keep your articles in mind and do my best to reign it in so as not to appear stalkerish or creepy. *nodnod*

    I can also promise that I’ll lose my shit should I ever be fortunate enough to meet you, John. Though I’ll certainly try to subdue any creeper tendencies that I might display in that situation.

  15. I think there are two narratives that people are alternately trying to fit to every situation.

    There are genuinely, intentionally creepy people who will force themselves on others, at least socially if not physically. Women will have more experience with these folks than men, in general. They don’t want to deal with them and really shouldn’t have to. With them, a zero tolerance, one infraction and your out makes perfect sense. No one wants these people around.

    There are also genuinely decent folks who roll a one on their social interaction check. Men will be more aware of this happening with themselves because it’s much less readily forgiven when it happens. That’s no one’s fault; guys are more inherently threatening than women. Men are aware that, sooner or later, they’re going to make a bit of an ass of themselves, and that an apology may not be accepted or welcome. We’re thus much more sensitive to policies that can react disproportionately to people who make honest, and in the fullness of time, unavoidable mistakes.

    We need policies that filter out genuine aggressors without dragging along innocent idiots.

  16. My daughter had a very similar reaction to Mary Robinette Kowal when we saw her in the hotel lobby at the Nebulas. I hope that it is less creepy for a seven-year-old girl to go up to someone and say worshipfully, “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen,” but just in case it isn’t, we made sure to haul her away after about two minutes of taking up Mary’s time, and we wouldn’t have let her approach again. (Incidentally, my daughter reports that Mary is very, very nice, and encouraged her to read a book about Mary Anning.)

  17. At the end of the day, as regards being a creepy assbag, it’s not about who you are, it’s about what you do.

    Quoted for truth.

    As I said in the other thread, anyone — even ultra-cool people like Mr. Scalzi — can realize they did, or were about to, commit a social faux pas. What filters out genuine aggressors without dragging along innocent idiots is when that person takes stop of their behavior and takes steps not to repeat the mistake. It’s notable, and seriously cool, that Mr. Scazli explicitly refers to going out of his way not to make someone uncomfortable.

  18. Now I feel better. I was worried when I cornered you a few years ago at Penguicon and immediately launched into a speech about your skills at humorous writing that I’d been pushy. I was geeking at talking to one of my favorite authors.

    Spoke to Krissy on the elevator, too. That was another year, same con, told her you made me cry when I was reading Zoe’s Tale. She said you do that to a lot of people. She said it with great affection, the dry wit obviously runs in your family.

    I’ve been the creep before. Unintentional, but I’ve recognized that my sometimes instant “crush” on someone isn’t reciprocated, and not reading the situation correctly just makes you a creep. I think that rush of feeling can cloud even a socially sophisticated (or not) person’s judgement.

  19. I usually avoid meeting authors at book conventions, even though I know for many it is a big reason to go. When I have met an author whose work I love, the cult of personality is usually sufficiently distancing. Usually… I know when I met you at a recent ALA I was a gushy, borderline creepy fan, which you were kind enough not to point out! But rabid fans, as you say, are a different animal from sexual prowlers. So many women avoid genre cons, comic shops and the like for fear of creeps, so thanks for speaking out.

  20. This is a really excellent story to get out there, John. I think one of the things going on in some creepiness cases is a feeling that having to worry about this sort of thing is pigeonholing oneself in a place at the bottom of the social hierarchy, because obviously attractive and funny and conversationally ept people never bother their heads about it.

    Breaking that narrative and getting the message out that yes, this is something all or almost all of us may need to manage at some point, and that having to manage it isn’t a stigma — the stigma is a consequence of failing to manage it — I suspect may really help some people.

  21. I know I haven’t been to as many cons as some here, but I have never been creeped on at any SF-related event. That may be because I was (ahem!) comfortably over 40 before I started going to cons with any regularity. But John’s rules work every where. I used to work in a place that also employed a creep. I’m pretty sure that in his case, it was intentional, so knowing the rules would not have helped.

  22. I think there are (at least) two pathologies that generate this sort of behavior (I’m not sure I buy the totally clueless one). Neither of these is excusable…don’t get me wrong…

    The first is the predatory creeper. I see this as more of a power thing than anything else. Someone who enjoys gaming peoples comfort zones and getting away with it…probably mostly related to things sexual, but I’d expect (as with the lawyer anecdote someone told earlier) there are other flavors.

    The second is the needy nerd creeper. He knows that he’s not getting the response he wants from the person he’s interacting with (and this one is broader spectrum I think, because it can involve anyone the individual wants to be friends with). He doesn’t really know how to properly climb the interpersonal ladder from ‘hi’ to casual conversation to friends. He knows that he really wants to be your friend and he doesn’t know that once the initial contact goes bad that you need to recognize that and you need to let go, learn from the failure and move on. This leaves him either keeping the conversation droning on in hopes that something will magically get better or trying to escalate the interaction by offering something of value to keep things going. Ultimately the former leads to creepy death by boredom and the latter to crawling up the creep-o-meter in ratcheting steps. He almost certainly knows that you’re not happy and he almost certainly knows that he should break off the interaction and let you go… Thinking about it, there are probably more female NNCs than there are PCs too.

    I’m pretty sure that the ‘PC’ is doing what he’s doing with a full understanding of what is going on and which lines he’s crossed, the dominance game and getting away with something is the point. I’m further reasonably certain that nothing is likely to change his behavior except exclusion from the environment.

    The ‘NNC’ is probably even more of a con problem than the ‘PC’ I’d guess. He or she is broader spectrum (may creep after authors, vendors and other cool folks as well as members of the appropriate gender) and while he’s just as unpleasant for his victims he’s also likely harder to feel good about stomping. I don’t think that listing the rules of social interaction help with NNCs either. They generally know the rules, they just don’t know how to make friends (but they know that they want friends). In my experience, most will eventually find their way to becoming decent human beings…but dealing with them along the way is a problem. Severe penalties (in their eyes) such as lifetime con bans may help though as they’re not likely to be completely out of control and when faced with that sort of consequences (and a few notable examples made previously) they’re likely to decide to be needy and creepy elsewhere…

    What John is describing sounds like the mature adult circuit breaker version of the needy nerd…want this person to like me…don’t think that in my current state of mind I can get there…gracefully exit the situation and get my brain back together and see where things go from here. Not that I have any idea whether he was a needy nerd when he was younger (and while I was a needy nerd long ago, I don’t think I ever slipped over the creeper line…I just can see where I might have)…

  23. Thanks for this, John. I’m dealing with my first crush since high school and trying reallllly hard to not be a creeper, and it helps to hear that someone I respect and admire has to deal with it too.

  24. I don’t think I could be even contextually famous. I would HATE people losing their shit about me. Even briefly. I get that it is highly flattering, but I hate public scenes. I don’t even like it when strangers talk to me in the grocery. I don’t snub them, but I don’t like it and usually end it as fast as possible.
    I think if I ever get published, I will spend my time equally divided between wanting to be successful and hoping no one reads it so I don’t have to support the fan base with cons and readings and such.

    Anyway, my point is – there was a time when we had far more rigidly defined social rules. Specific rules for manners and polite interactions.

    While the general ditching of those social rules is for the best, I do think that some of the general permission given to a certain type of creeper is from the lack of that social norm of those rigid rules.

  25. Thanks for sharing. Coincidentally, I just read Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, which relates to the topic, although more around detecting creeps and trusting your intuition. Anyway, just wanted to introduce the book, in case anyone reading hadn’t heard of it.

  26. @Frank:
    The Gift of Fear was mentioned a couple-a-few times in the previous article’s thread, but thanks for bringing it up as you’ve reminded me to go find it and order it.

  27. @Kyle Wilson: Yeah, I think that’s true. One of the main complexities of the conversation going on about all this right now is that many well-intentioned men get their backs up at the prospect of punishing “creepiness” with lifetime bans and such, because they suspect or know themselves to have acted in a Needy Nerd Creeper fashion in the past and that they may again in the future, so they’re naturally upset about the prospect of themselves and people who mean no more harm than they do facing such consequences. Which is one of the many ways the Predatory Creepers use the NNCs as a tactical resource. It’s been a matter of great exertion for many folks to try to convince potentially-NNC-identified men that strict anti-harassment policies are not trying to target them and that the line between nerdy awkwardness and harassment is really very broad indeed.

  28. I just ordered the Kindle version myself. It’s been brought up enough in these discussions that I think it’s worth a go.

  29. The reptile brain tells us to do a lot of things, but that’s no excuse (not that I’m suggesting that anyone in this conversation thinks that it is). The odd thing is that it’s this specific area where the trouble largely occurs.

    Most of us get that when someone royally pisses us off, it’s not okay to bash him on the head with a rock, no matter how much the reptile brain might suggest that would be a fine plan.

    If we’re in a restaurant and a stranger has a plate of food that looks and smells delicious, do we snatch the food off his plate and stuff it into our mouths? We do not. Do we hover over his shoulder, drooling on the food? We do not. Do we beg, plead, and whine hoping that he’ll give us some of it? We do not. At most, we might say, “wow, that smells great!” and move on — probably not even that.

    Now, if it’s someone we know well (emphasis on “well”) and that person likes us, he or she might offer to share the food, but no one expects that as an obligation in general.

    I wonder if the difference is that we’re explicitly socialized to not hit playmates or grab their food by our parents at a very young age, while people are largely left to develop their sexual behavior by trial and error. Perhaps some sort of class would be useful (something like “charm school”).

    Of course, some people are just plain jerks in this area, just as some people think it’s okay to beat people up or steal their stuff… I’m not talking about them at all. This would be for the well-meaning but clueless.

  30. I think it took me a long time to realize that when someone was generally very attractive (physically or otherwise), my being attracted to them had little or nothing specifically to do with me; I was just experiencing an effect they would have on lots of people. That realization is part of the “circuit breaker” Kyle Wilson mentioned above that allows mature people to cut off potential creepery before it gets bad.

    When you’re single, dealing with this while also not cutting off real opportunities to date eligible people is hard. Part of it, I suppose, is understanding in what social milieux making a move makes sense, and when it’s just irritating or scary (see Elevatorgate), and when it might have been OK at some point but the way things are going it’s really not gonna work out. I confess I was absolutely terrible at this as a young man, and much as with Mr. Scalzi, my wife saved me some trouble by making a move herself.

    When you’re in a stable monogamous relationship and it’s understood you’re really not supposed to be trying to date other people at all, the decision process is at least simpler.

  31. @chaosprime: I don’t think that needy nerd creepers get a pass here. They are more likely to be responsive to threats of bans and such I’d suspect, but they are just as responsible for their own actions (if not quite as contemptible as the predatory creepers) as anyone else. I’d expect that pressure from the con board would actually help them along their learning process as they’d have extra incentive to be on their best behavior and perhaps find out that there are routes to genuinely making friends at a con. If a few folks who can’t modify their behavior get banned they’ll survive in the long run and the really bad actors lose some of their cover…

  32. @Tony Hursh: When I first heard about the silly dating-instructions films they made kids watch in the 1950s, I actually felt kind of envious that there were clearly understood rules and instructions back then. (Of course people who had been teenagers at the time assured me that they were of little help.)

  33. I suspect the films were indeed useless, Matt. Any training film accurate enough to be of real use would probably set off mass protests even today, much less in the 1950s. :-)

  34. Hey John, how about a little details about the time you were creeped on? Sounds like someone had a man crush on you.

    I am waiting for one of John’s fans to make a Ray Bradbury’ type fan video about him.

  35. Honestly, anyone of any gender who isn’t immediately attracted to Mary may have something wrong with them. She’s a force of nature.

    My husband (through me) once met an actress of geek fame and great beauty who he had lusted after in his heart for some years. He is a socially awkward geek. So he greeted her politely and then sat there tongue-tied for the rest of the time.

    Now, in another decade? She is still gorgeous, and he helped her with her Twitter last time we met. All because he resisted being creepy.

  36. @Kyle Wilson: Right, they can’t get a pass, because if they do then all a Predatory Creeper has to do in order to evade consequences is provide an emotionally compelling performance of Needy Nerd Creeperness, as I consider it most probable Rene Walling did. It’s not that NNCs don’t have to worry about anti-harassment policies, it’s that they can comply with them because, if they really are NNCs, they want to (even if other priorities may present complications at times), where a PC won’t because he doesn’t care to. We’re all still accountable for our behavior, and need to rein it in in situations like the one John describes.

    On the other hand, if one believes oneself to be a potential NNC but the problem is that one does not want to comply with a policy stating one must not harass others, some hard introspection may be in order.

  37. Yes, this, exactly. Thanks for sharing this, John. You don’t need my approval, but I really love the example. I’ve been there, and winced in recognition at the spot on description.

  38. Also, there are actually messages in our culture that train people into the wrong behavior. In TV and movie comedies about romance, extended dogged pursuit is often portrayed as charming rather than scary, and usually ends happily, because it makes for an interesting story. (The major exception is when the crush is treated as a comic character trait, and will never be allowed to end at all.)

    There’s also a stigma associated with romantic/sexual inexperience itself, which puts some young needy nerds in the making into a state of generalized panic: they’ve got to do something and the clock is ticking. It’s not conducive to thoughtful behavior.

  39. Since people keep bringing up The Gift of Fear I just want to put in a content warning on it. I couldn’t sleep for a week after I read the first chapter.

    Which isn’t to say it’s not worth reading–Many people whom I trust have recommended it to me, and I’m inclined to believe they’re right about how good it is. But if descriptions of sexual violence are hard for you to read, this book is going to be hard for you to read.

  40. Thanks for the heads up, Annalee… I’ll preview it before recommending it to my 17 yo daughter.

  41. Michael Kirkland

    We need policies that filter out genuine aggressors without dragging along innocent idiots.

    First off, who, besides you, is talking about “zero tolerance, one infraction and your [sic] out”? Second, if someone’s creeping on me, I couldn’t give less of a fuck if they’re doing it intentionally or not. I want them to stop, end of story. Third, the “genuine aggressors” are quite socially adept and will always have the advantage of knowing how to pretend they’re one of the “innocent idiots.” Fourth, most creepers don’t indulge in equal-opportunity creepage. They only ignore the boundaries of particular individuals or particular classes of people. They have the skills to behave better, but society forgives them their lapses because we’re conditioned to think certain types of boundary-violation are acceptable (or even something to encourage).

    We need to change society to universally condemn boundary-violation, whether it’s done with malice or not. Target the behavior and intent becomes irrelevant. The best solution is to make sure it takes effort to remain ignorant of how to treat everyone in a non-creepy way. We should make the “innocent idiots” step up to the responsibility of learning to behave by setting the default expectation to one where we prioritize learning and respecting the boundaries of others before they feel the need to confront us.

  42. As a woman who has been creeped on and an author with a somewhat vested interest in the rules that govern con behavior, the “oh think of the poor socially inept men” comes across as pure whining and attempting to excuse what is, in fact, inexcusable. In kindergarten we’re taught to keep our hands, feet, and body parts to ourselves. It’s reasonable to assume that con attendees have graduated kindergarten. Anybody who can’t follow that rule, male or female, has long since been put on notice that their behavior crosses the line from rudeness to aggression by the time they’re old enough to attend a con solo. So why the fear for poor males being expected to behave like grownups?

  43. “We need policies that filter out genuine aggressors without dragging along innocent idiots.” strikes me as something like “We need a no-energy-consumed gadget that sorts out the fast molecules from the slow ones” or “We need an invisibility serum that still allows the invisible person to see.” I.e. after some thought, I can’t imagine any form of objective evidence that sorts one from the other (except for things like a criminal record or the testimony of past victims, which means “too late.”)

    I am old enough to have lost my shit, bagged it up, and carried it away from some of the Grand Old Mostly Men of Science Fiction (and to have been disappointed by a couple of them, too). I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone on either the Celeb-of-the-Field or the Mere-Babbling-Fanperson side of the line be effectively gracious in that situation. It’s one of those things like a real gut-ripping oxygen-removing fart in public; no matter what anyone does or doesn’t do, it’s embarrassing.

  44. Many well-intentioned men get their backs up at the prospect of punishing “creepiness” with lifetime bans…because they suspect or know themselves to have acted in a Needy Nerd Creeper fashion in the past …so they’re naturally upset about the prospect of themselves and people who mean no more harm than they do facing such consequences.

    This is spot-on to my reaction.

    It’s heightened by a couple additional things.

    One is that I’m fairly awkward, and grew up in a culture with very different norms around eye contact–so I have on numerous occasions made people uncomfortable by “seeming shifty”. (For me, eye contact feels aggressive and domineering–as it is for dogs.)

    The second is that we’re having this whole discussion in a context where the loudest voices are arguing that “screw up, and apologize the next morning” should result in a lifetime ban from one’s social and business network, even for someone that’s well-liked and well-respected; since having less social clout makes one likely to be punished more harshly, that’s somewhat fear-inducing..

  45. @SamChevre: Yeah. The good news is, you don’t actually need to draw any analogies between Rene Walling’s situation and your own, because Rene Walling is a highly socially competent individual whose harassing behavior was purely intentional, not in any sense “screwing up”. His only mistake was in thinking that he’d get away with it this time (and to be fair, all the other times he got away with it conspired to make things seem that way to him).

  46. SamChevre said:

    “The second is that we’re having this whole discussion in a context where the loudest voices are arguing that “screw up, and apologize the next morning” should result in a lifetime ban from one’s social and business network, even for someone that’s well-liked and well-respected; since having less social clout makes one likely to be punished more harshly, that’s somewhat fear-inducing..”

    Having read this thread and all the previous ones in Scalziland on this topic, along with quite a lot elsewhere, I cannot find anyone arguing this, much less the “loudest voices”. Can you please quote the posts you claim exist?

  47. @SamChevre: To expand slightly, if you actually do not want to harass anyone, following John’s 10-step program from the other day will do you just fine, and if you screw up at any part of it, just start doing it again as soon as you notice that you screwed up, and you will never get anywhere near where Mr. Walling did.

  48. SamChevre: Nobody is saying any such thing, actually. The fact that you think they are suggests that you are not listening to the actual conversation, or that you are deliberately misstating what is being said for whatever reason.

    Has anybody, in fact, said that if you stand too close to someone, and immediately apologize and back off when they say “You’re crowding me”, you should immediately be cut off from all social and professional contacts, forever? (Spoiler: no.) and if you’re think of Mr. Walling specifically, your anxious hypothetical bears zero resemblance to that situation.

    I mean, this is like the Far Side cartoon. What people say: “Harassment is bad and it’s not the job of the harassed, or bystanders, to fix their heads or make sure they get to stay at the party.” What self-centered people hear; “Oh my god! Some stuck-up chick will accuse me of looking at her funny and I’ll be instantly banned from fandom forever!”

  49. IMO, being creepy and outright harassing someone are somewhat different. It’s certainly possible for creeping to be a precursor to harassing, but they’re not necessarily the exact same thing (or the same level of the same thing) and shouldn’t be judged equally.

    Now if said creeper is told to “go away” or “leave me alone”, etc., or if they follow a person around. and are then reported for any of this behavior, I’d say that kicks them up into the ‘harasser’ category and they should be punished/banned/berated accordingly.

  50. @paigevest That’s basically reasonable, but I would say that the “punished/banned/berated” is making the response about the harasser and criminal justice when it shouldn’t be. What the harasser should be is interdicted.

    I’m reminded of blocks and bans on Wikipedia, which are preventative, not punitive, because the important thing is the project, not the troll or vandal or what-have-you. Fandom’s interventionary measures for harassment should be similar, because the important thing is the safety of the harassee and others, not the harasser.

  51. @SamChevre:

    The second is that we’re having this whole discussion in a context where the loudest voices are arguing that “screw up, and apologize the next morning” should result in a lifetime ban from one’s social and business network, even for someone that’s well-liked and well-respected; since having less social clout makes one likely to be punished more harshly, that’s somewhat fear-inducing..

    Wow, I’m assuming you’ve missed a lot of the context the post comes out of. This has blown up because of a woman – Genevieve Valentine – who has said repeatedly she chose to speak up because she had the “social clout” to be heard, and supportive social, professional and personal networks to weather the inevitable abuse that would follow. Many other women subjected to the same crap (and WORSE) she was most definitely do not.

    And I guess this makes me an “beta male” emasculated by the man-hating Feminazis, but is inducing some fear in the creeper community (and their legion of enablers/apologists) that their behavior will have real consequences such a bad thing?

  52. While I identify as a former socially maladjusted nerd who, in his youth, undoubtedly sometimes wandered into creepy territory out of ignorance, I don’t think I would ever have engaged in the level of harassment that gets one ejected from cons.

    It’s actually not that hard to avoid.

  53. @chaosprime: I wasn’t exactly referring to criminal justice in my comment, but rather was kind of responding to SamChevre’s comment in which he said, “The second is that we’re having this whole discussion in a context where the loudest voices are arguing that “screw up, and apologize the next morning” should result in a lifetime ban from one’s social and business network, even for someone that’s well-liked and well-respected; since having less social clout makes one likely to be punished more harshly, that’s somewhat fear-inducing..”

    Of course, I didn’t make that entirely clear in my response when I said that creeping which turns into harassing should be “punished/banned/berated”… nor did I make it clear that I was also referring to the con scenario. So my apologies for being too general in my statement.

  54. @Craig Ranapia
    Wow, I’m assuming you’ve missed a lot of the context the post comes out of.

    No, actually, I didn’t.

    I read Genevieve Valentine’s complaint; so far as I could tell, the only unambiguously inappropriate thing her “harasser” did was to put his arm around her shoulders (in a very public area with lots of people around), which he stopped immediately when she said “Do not touch me” and spent the rest of the con attempting to apologize for. I’ve gotten enough context to know that the “harasser” was generally well-liked and well-respected, and that after the con banned him for two years because of her complaint the internets resounded with screams of “lifetime ban! Two years is grossly inadequate!”

    And behaving towards someone in a way that makes them uncomfortable and behaving around someone in a way that makes them uncomfortable are hard enough to tell apart that I figure that an awkward weirdo with few friends would probably be subject to the same sort of penalty for being in the same hallway with someone who was uncomfortable because he was weird.

  55. @SamChevre: You appear to be setting up a hypothetical situation in which you get kicked out of a con for being slightly awkward and not making eye contact. If that was enough to get someone booted from a SFF convention, they wouldn’t exist anymore. SFF communities have a pretty high tolerance for socially-awkward people, and we can start worrying about cons booting people for basic awkwardness if that ever starts happening. In the meantime, let’s worry instead about cons tolerating sexual harassment, intimidation, stalking, assault, and rape. Because that **** happens all the time.

    You’re worried someone will get the wrong idea about you and kick you out of a con. I get that. But when I go to cons, I’m worried someone will get the wrong idea about me and rape me.

    If the thought of being cut off from your social and business network over a misunderstanding is frightening, please try to imagine how frightening it is for women, many of whom learn pretty fast that unless they’re willing to put up with sexual harassment and the constant risk of assault, they won’t have access to that social and business network in the first place.

    For my own part, I have a general aversion to zero tolerance policies. I would prefer incidents to be handled on a case-by-case basis. But that only works if the people handling said incidents are very well-trained, take allegations seriously, and are willing to have at least as much empathy for the victim as they do for the harasser (I joked to a friend the other day that my ideal harassment policy would be “kicked out, and Jim C. Hines gets to decide when you come back”). And when it comes right down to it, every attenders’ right to feel safe from harassment and assault needs to trump any attender’s desire to not have to worry about how their behavior affects others.

  56. SamChevre:

    “I read Genevieve Valentine’s complaint; so far as I could tell”

    i.e., “as far as I choose to understand.”

    Folks, you know what we’re not going to do on this thread? Monday morning quarterback the Readercon incident.

    Heed my words.

  57. @Gulliver and Grace

    “I believe he was not referring to metaphorical shit, leaving me with a mental image that I’d rather not have.”

    Yes. Yes. Which makes me wonder if it’s actually best to advise OTHER people to leave while one gathers one’s shit up to go elsewhere.

    @SamChevre:

    “I’ve gotten enough context to know that the “harasser” was generally well-liked and well-respected”

    But, apparently not enough to know that the rules of the Con expressly stated that life time ban was the punishment for the offense that even **Walling did not contest he committed**. And that those were about following the Explicit Guidlelines They Set. Also, apparently not enough context to know that reports of his serial harassment were substantiated a well. So. Whatevs. Same dif.

  58. SamChevre: You’re using scare quotes around ‘harasser’ (twice) despite Walling having admitted to, and apologized for, harassment. You fail to mention that Walling was a serial harasser,that he made repeated inappropriate comments, that he followed Valentine around after being told to leave her alone. Despite supposedly having ‘enough context’ managed to miss that the lifetime ban was the written penalty, already applied to one harasser, Walling got a break for unannounced reasons. You dramatically equate being banned from a single convention to bring cut off from his entire social and professional network (?!) for life.

    Basically, SamChevre, either you have identified so strongly with a harasser that you are emotionally unable to perceive contrary facts, or you are a lying liar who lies. It would have been shorter, and more honest, for you to simply post “Awkward bros before intolerant hos”.

  59. John, sorry for the cross-post.

    It’s just amazing that there are people so deeply invested in the idea that there are two choices: one where they get to do whatever they like, or the Frowny Feminist Gulag where merely LOOKING at a woman gets you exiled.

  60. @mythago

    Wouldn’t the best way to deal with that be acknowledging their concerns, and drafting policies that are both effective yet still address them? It seems to me that would get the reasonable folks on your side and take the platform away from the unreasonable ones.

  61. @Michael Kirkland: Sorry, did you not see the looming shadow of the Mallet? Because I did, and I’m not talking about a policy; I’m talking about the attitude of selfish entitlement. There is a world of difference between “What can I do to avoid unwittingly being creepy?” and “But if anyone is allowed to call me creepy FOREVER ALONE so, you know, STFU bitches.”

  62. Your meeting Mary Robinette Kowal story (a) reads a lot like mine when meeting her, and (b) reminds me of how I met Rose Fox. Remind me to tell you that story at Worldcon. Or ask her. She tells it better.

    And here’s how I tend to handle dealing with people I’m attracted to:

    One of the first things I tend to do when I meet someone I’m attracted to is give them plenty of space to avoid me, or an excuse to exclude me if they choose to. It’s in my interest to be safe to be around as much as possible.

    Then, I introduce them to really cool people I know, who I think they also might want to know.

    Then, I mention interesting events I like, and invite them.

    I don’t flirt unless flirted at, and even then I take it as friendly flirting rather than intent. I don’t invade body space, even for hugs. If invitations are refused more then once with polite excuses, I check to see if I’m being creepy, and the only response that gets further invites to events or hanging out is an expression of unequivocal interest.

    At the *very least* I usually get an awesome new friend, they meet my friends, all of whom are awesome, and they meet this awesome person too. Later I a utter few wistful sighs when no one is looking, then shrug and enjoy the fact that I have an awesome new friend. There is no downside to this way of life I can think of.

  63. I met my current partner because I was very aware how potentially creepy I could have been the first time I met her. I met her at a party where I was well known, and she was fairly new. It was clear that I was in a place where I felt comfortable and she was probably feeling a little socially vulnerable.

    Turns out if you’re respectful, not pushy or a jerk they come back to your social events. Eventually you can make friends. Then become best friends. Then a friendly letter in the post arrives asking if you want to go out on a date*

    Hopefully, by now, she’s ok with me being around her a whole lot.

    *Results may vary.

  64. @ Other Becky: “Boy, are you ever right about romantic comedies. “Stalk your way to true love in eight easy steps!””

    [Bearpaw adds to his "Why I Hope John Scalzi Scripts a RomCom" list.]

  65. Having had the experience of fans coming up and squeeing at me (though probably not nearly so often!) it’s very rarely creepy, and they are often so very WORRIED about being creepy that I spend a lot of time going “It’s okay! I don’t mind! It’s all good! No, really, you should have seen me the first time I met Peter S. Beagle!”

    Annnnd then occasionally it goes wrong and bad and I start inventing reasons to go the bathroom.

    I don’t suppose, Mr. Scalzi, that you’d someday consider tackling the “How Not To Weird Out The Person You’re Fanboy/girling At” as a topic? People will often give me food, bottles of wine, or neat little bits of fan-art, and sometimes it’s awesome and sometimes it’s really desperately weird, and I confess that I don’t always know myself what makes it one or the other, except that I don’t take non-packaged food from people I don’t know well, and overly lavish gifts get…err…troubling.

  66. I totally turn into a blithering idiot around people I admire, like authors whose writing I love. It’s very reassuring to know that you (and presumably most authors who are used to that sort of thing) recognize that and don’t think it’s creepy. I’d much rather be taken for a sincere blithering idiot than a creeper!

  67. @SamChevre:

    Thanks for the delightful display of not so much missing my point, as pretending it doesn’t even exist. The “context” is that there’s a lot of folks who’ve been talking about their experience of harassment at conventions, and other who’ve said we really don’t think that b.s. should be accepted as part of our communities. Really super classy of you to just hand-wave away all that, and suggest we should really be focused on the delicate sensibilities of creeps who need to work on their boundary issues and generally crappy socialization around women in the privacy of group therapy.

  68. Creeperism would not appear to be a replicating characteristic in a modern society. Where did it come from and why is it still here / how could creepers possibly breed?

  69. I get that this topic of “creeper” and sexual harassment in any context is important to you (as it should be to all) and that this is your blog and you have your own thoughts besides just writing books. I also get that as a man I’m a horrible human being for having indecent thoughts of my hot next door neighbor and so forth. And that if I’m tired of reading about when to creep and not to creep I can just go back to trolling Amazon for 99 cent books…I guess what I’m trying to say is, when will the sequel to “The Android’s Dream” come out.

  70. The one insight I have had when showing my ass at conventions…

    it’s OK (indeed, it is advisable/recommended/+5 on yer saving throw) not to apologize to the aggrieved other party.
    I have had a learning experience where my social skills were, err, well, absent, and I made an arse of myself to someone I wanted to talk to at a con (another fan, not that it matters).

    Sometime later, my behaviour was explained to me by others in words of one syllable with, shall we say, a lot of emphasis. I felt awful about it, and spent some time trying to figure out how to meet up with the target of my “affection” and apologize to her. Not (I hasten to add) because I wanted to explain that “it wasn’t really harassment, and I didn’t mean it, and I hope we can be friends…” HELL NO. Daft as it sounds, I really wanted just to let her know how mortified and sorry I was for being that guy.
    Fortunately someone smarter than me explained what a dumb idea this was.

    So it feels somewhat counter-intuitive to me, but I think if I do show my arse in public, I’m probably better off not going out of my way to apologize for it. Best of all not to do it at all, but. well, if I were perfect I wouldn’t be me.

  71. @Track:

    I also get that as a man I’m a horrible human being for having indecent thoughts of my hot next door neighbor and so forth.

    I don’t know about “horrible human being” but you’re sure being a horribly incompetent troll.

  72. There are also genuinely decent folks who roll a one on their social interaction check. Men will be more aware of this happening with themselves because it’s much less readily forgiven when it happens.

    This is actually not true. Men are in fact often forgiven, sometimes to the point that women just don’t even speak up about confirmed sexual harassers because they know they’ll get no support.

    I get that you think that men get less of a pass for inadvertent creeping. And I think that men should get less of a pass for it, because, as you say, it’s hella threatening for the women they’re creeping on, and it’s totally on them (the potential creepers) not to be creepers.

    However, it’s unarguably true that when a woman says “This guy is creeping me out,” or even, Gods forfend, “This guy assaulted me,” a chorus of voices will cry out in counterpoint and harmony: “He doesn’t mean it!” “He’s just socially awkward, cut him a break!” “I know him, and he’s a really good guy!” “What were you doing to lead him on, you tease?” “Why are you trying to ruin his life forever?” We heard a lot of those voices right here, in conversations on Whatever, when the topic was the very deliberate, not-awkward-at-all, serial sexual predator Rene Walling.

    There’s a lot of insecurity among men that these intolerant feminists will see to it that one mistake will render them a pariah. But the result of this insecurity seems to result in a societal reluctance to visit any social consequences on the male creeper because poor him, he’s just socially awkward — and even when the male creeper under discussion is a confirmed predator, how easily the conversation turns to “What a shame if zero-tolerance policies put in place to combat these admitted problems wind up exiling poor socially awkward nerds for a single mistake!”

    To me, that sounds like men getting forgiven ridiculously easy and often, and often when they shouldn’t be. Put simply, society hasn’t been exactly erring on the side of false convictions.

  73. Once I tried to save a high-profile editor from someone who was creeping on her. I’d observed the culprit doing it to other people he considered “stars,” so I thought I’d help her escape. After all, I had no interest in schmoozing her at all, for various reasons, and that ought to have made me the perfect savior.

    But because I had absolutely nothing to talk to her about, it was awkward, and I didn’t know how to gracefully run off, so all I succeeded in doing was replacing him as the creeper.

    I tell ya, the best-laid plans… Well, maybe the most hastily-laid plans…

  74. @Michael Kirkland

    You know what’s really polarizing? Telling >50% of humanity that their physical safety is less important than whispering soothing words of kindness to some insecure assholes. Guess what: socially awkward nerds sometimes harass and rape people. Without even a shred of mustache-twirling evil aforethought, occasionally! No one is required to care about the pure shining heart of a creeper’s true intentions; what matters is keeping people safe and unharassed. If you’re worried about the people being creepy and not the, you know, victims of harassment and assault, try again.

    OP- great post.

  75. Two, I don’t have a problem being assertive, and no one gives me shit when I am being assertive, because I am a guy.

    This struck me, because it’s been something I’ve been thinking about a lot — that I have no problem being assertive, am known for being an extroverted loudmouth, but when I’m the one being harassed, I still react with appeasement rather than calling out. I engage rather than disengage. I am friendly and put the focus on the harasser’s feelings over my own.

    If it’s a friend being harassed, it’s easy to get all up in a creeper’s face and tell them to fuck off. If it’s me, not so much. The socialization of being kind, accommodating, understanding, sympathetic, etc., is really strong.

    So, I don’t have a problem being assertive in most aspects of my life. But the intersection of gender, selfhood, and creeper is one where being An Assertive Person sadly doesn’t help me much.

  76. Completely lost my shit when I was a guest at a con and Tim Zahn was there. I mean, that was the guy who got me interested in SF. Poor guy didn’t know what hit him.

    Almost creeped on you at FandomFest this year, John, but I saw you talking to some people and you looked like you were having drinks so I decided to be polite and get someone else to give you the book. Janet Morris still loves your comment about her series, btw, even after all these years.

  77. Nice story which nicely complements the Guide to Not Creeping. The two together have helped redefine my ideas about creepiness. I’ve never been a touchy, groping assbag, but have spent time in groups expressly to be near women hoping to meet them. I meant nothing by it, but now see how it could be construed creepily. Women could perceive my actions as threatening without my intent or awareness. Being socially awkward, shy and even occasionally clueless is my problem, not theirs. I never thought of women as having trouble discerning between someone who is simply interested but cautiously timid and someone who may cross the line into threatening behavior if not checked, then having to quickly size up the situation and react accordingly. It makes me think I should be cutting them slack in such a situation, rather than expecting them to consider making me feel comfortable while approaching. Thanks.

  78. I’ve already commented more than I intended in these posts so I’m taking my barbaric yawp about the issue I have with this “but there is a difference between a potential rapist and innocent geeky clueless guys” argument to my own blog.

    http://katebachus.com/2012/08/11/but-we-are-both-the-same-animal/

    I feel like John’s specifically said here “you see, I am that guy too,” in an effort to point out that the creepy guy is not some jerkoff other dude that none of us are, but is in fact quite potentially a nice, famous, not-grimy author.

    And everyone’s still saying “nooooo but he’s an innocent nice guy and that’s different.”

    And I find that frustrating. Because right up until the moment where John consciously chose to behave as he did (considerately and compassionately), it is exactly the same thing.

  79. Can I just say, tangentially to your tangent, that I love the way you and Mary and Krissy were all talking about this in the open, at various times? I think that is a) a sign of a great relationship (where it can be acknowledged “yes, people are attracted to other people and it’s normal and okay if handled properly”) (and I mean “relationship” to encompass romance and friendship) and b) somehow the opposite of creeperness.

  80. @mythago

    What I said in my original post. Both sides are talking past each other and being dismissive of the other’s concerns. Very few people actually want to harass anyone or ban anyone forever for having a derp moment.

  81. Just wanted to point out that Nigel said something very smart, to which no one responded: When you’ve committed Major Public Creepitude,wittingly/willingly or not, there is very often nothing to be gained by apology; the victim will take no comfort from it (and probably will feel great discomfort at it), and your need to feel better (or do reputation-damage-control) is simply irrelevant. Accept your past creepiness like a big boy, move on, don’t do it again, and among other things, accept that some people will forever think of you as a creep. (That is because they will never associate with you again, of course, and people tend to freeze in our minds as we last saw them. If you are merely considering being creepy, you should consider that).

    Also, while I’m here, as I was looking around for an angle for a blog post or article of my own, it occurred to me to see how overt the creepers are among themselves … and some googling and research turned up many tons of evidence that there are some sizable number of men and women (mostly men) who arouse themselves by being creepy; i.e. they get in the mood by making other people uncomfortable, and they enjoy talking with each other about how to make other people uncomfortable/frightened/grossed out. They undoubtedly account for some big fraction of serial harassers. I looked into that particular swamp of the human soul just long enough to decide someone else could document it; maybe I’m getting squeamish in my old age, maybe I can still tell the difference between myself and a genius like Nabokov or Capote, but there are sewers down which I won’t go for a story. (Yes, I know some SF fans will find that funny, coming from me, because of some of my earlier work. You may call it failure of nerve or late-blooming squeamish).

    Still, many new writers do hang out here, and it does seem to me that, for example, the gradual exposure of the consequences of child abuse that started back in the 1930s (Butterfield 8, Tender is the Night) until it became nearly a cliche of pop fiction (for a while there horror writers couldn’t leave it alone) eventually worked some powerful changes for good, in terms of protecting kids and rounding up pervs. Something of the same sort might be done with the malevolent, turned-on-by-it creepers (and incidentally help everyone else spot them, isolate them, or at least not look like them). Maybe one of you new writers will see an angle on it that helps us all.

  82. Both sides are talking past each other and being dismissive of the other’s concerns.

    That may be because the alternative is treating two sets of concerns as equivalent when they are not. The burden of bearing up under our community’s rampant culture of harassment is far, far greater than the burden of thinking through our behavior so we don’t embarrass ourselves.

    Discussions about how harassment and assault affect our community (and what we can do about it) are frequently derailed by folks who want to talk about how scary it is to face nominal societal censure for poor choices. This is like barging into a conversation about industrial accidents that take people’s legs off to complain about how painful stubbed toes can be.

    It shows such an astounding lack of empathy that dismissiveness is pretty much the kindest response the derailer ought to expect.

  83. @Annalee

    There’s a pretty wide gulf between nominal societal censure and zero tolerance with lifetime bans.

    Dismissiveness just invokes defensiveness and makes an obstacle of someone who might work with you if they felt their concerns weren’t ignored. Even if they’re being unreasonable, sometimes you can get around that just by making them feel heard.

  84. Michael Kirkland:

    “Even if they’re being unreasonable, sometimes you can get around that just by making them feel heard.”

    For real? This makes me think you don’t understand what unreasonable means. Or, that you believe for some reason – unreasonable as that reason may be – unreasonable people deserve indulgence.

  85. Other Bill, I think there’s a difference between an unreasonable person and a person who is being unreasonable at the moment or unreasonable about a specific thing. I don’t think anyone is reasonable all the time about everything.

    My take on what Michael Kirkland is getting at is that it’s about the idea that if you want to change someone’s thinking or at least make it more likely that they’ll listen to you, it helps to try to meet them where they are. This idea at this point in the thread (for me, can’t speak for Michael Kirkland) is not about John Scalzi’s rules or anyone’s (to me, quite reasonable) statements about having no obligation to explain one’s boundaries. It’s about the discussion in this thread and in the “Incomplete Guide” thread and the desire for someone who is being unreasonable about the topic to maybe understand what is being said here.

  86. BW:

    “I don’t think anyone is reasonable all the time about everything.”

    Sure. But, that doesn’t obligate people to indulge that. And, that isn’t just principled. It’s practical. If some one is being unreasonable, they are definitionally not able to be reasoned with. So, either Michael expects people to reason with unreasonable people (a definitionally failing exercise) or he wants to move the goal posts of what’s reasonable to expect of other people (like, for example, that if the creeped out person would get over feeling creeped out and hug it out with the person by whom they were creeped out the creep wouldn’t actually be a creep, would they?)

  87. Michael Kirkland:

    Dismissiveness just invokes defensiveness and makes an obstacle of someone who might work with you if they felt their concerns weren’t ignored. Even if they’re being unreasonable, sometimes you can get around that just by making them feel heard.

    Your concerns aren’t being ignored. The problem is that your concerns are ridiculous. Several people (myself, John Barnes, Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little, etc.) have responded substantially with explanations of what you’re getting wrong. The thing is, you’re not looking to have your concerns heard, but to have them validated. And now you’re threatening, in a very passive-aggressive fashion, to make your defensiveness an obstacle until people mollify you.

  88. Michael Kirkland:

    Even if they’re being unreasonable, sometimes you can get around that just by making them feel heard.

    Oy and vey… You know what, last time I went down this road was being scolded for not being sufficiently “respectful” of someone who was in all seriousness saying advocates of marriage equality were on a par with proponents of incest, bestiality and child molestation. Well, I heard THAT loud and clear; the speaker increasing the pitch and volume in tandem with an inflamed martyr complex wasn’t being any more persuasive; and I still fail to see why throwing that rhetorical hand grenade into the discussion should have been treated with any respect whatsoever.

  89. This is the first time I’ve heard “lost their shit” in this context, or any context actually. I just love the sound of it–as a metaphorical expression, of course. (:

  90. @Michael Kirkland: You do realize that our host has already asked us not to rehash Readercon specifically, which is what you seem to be doing in between repeating vague platitudes and suggesting you’re the reasonable middle in a sea of unreasonable people who would be all hugs and rainbows if only they listened.

    Here’s the thing: the idea that selfish, unreasonable people ‘might’ become reasonable if only you appease them is either painfully naive, or maliciously obtuse. Reasonable people with genuine concerns? They listen. Unreasonable people trying to derail the conversation? They don’t. They pretend to listen. What they are actually doing is trying to force the other person to fully agree with their position under the guise of compromise.

  91. Michael Kirkland

    I have been considering your observations and light finally dawned with that last post. You are not a human being; you are a not very bright computer, and you have just failed the Turing test…

  92. Honestly, the “well, they’d be a great ally if you just approached them reasonably but you got all dismissive and now they’ll never like you” strikes me as remarkably similar to the “you could be missing out on a great boyfriend because you turned down the guy who blah blah blah” shtick.

    Like, thank you *so* much for pointing out all the ways I could live my life or further my cause better, but first of all, I didn’t actually ask for your “help”, and second, the game’s not worth the candle. If I have to overlook things that initially make me go “ugh, NO” about a guy, then having him as a boyfriend is not worth it. If I have to kiss someone’s ass constantly, or hold his hand and walk him through behavior guidelines that all adults should fundamentally get* in order to have him work with me…I don’t want him. I don’t think my side, whatever that side may be, is that desperate for warm bodies.

    “Oooh, you miiiight be missing ooooout…” is crap. I might be missing out on anything, at any point. That’s life. But I’m an adult, thanks, and I can weigh risks and rewards: the risk of maybe having That Guy be the savior my cause so desperately needs is *far* outweighed by the rewards of having him shut the fuck up and go away.

    *And yes, as per this post, everyone fucks up occasionally, but there’s a difference between fucking up occasionally and constantly being That Guy; one of the large differences is that the normal human being who occasionally fucks up does not then demand handholding and cosseting if he’s to stop doing so.

  93. The whole “look for the middle ground” routine is rather, well, routine on feminist blogs where someone describes himself or herself as a potential ally but the mean feminists are just asking for too much.

    No, you do not get to define yourself as an ally if you don’t really want to support a movement in a way that is congruent with the movement’s goals and principles.

    That is not being an ally. That is its lazier cousin, co-optation.

  94. @Oldfeminist, I don’t think it’s even anything as sophisticated as co-optation. It’s just laziness and selfishness. “I don’t want to actually take specific, concrete steps which have been discussed to death, because that’s too haaaaaard. I’d rather whine about it’s everyone else’s job to put up with me and to try and gently persuade me to do something else.”

    Imagine these same ‘compromise’ arguments being brought up about people shoplifting from a con dealer room. Nobody would say hey, maybe the dealers need to put up signs that say DO NOT TAKE ITEMS WITHOUT PAYING FOR THEM, because perhaps there really are people who weren’t brought up knowing you need to pay for things. Nobody would scold the dealers that they need to meet the socially awkward halfway, and that if somebody tries to shoplift, they maybe should gently and patiently explain to that person how stealing cuts into their profits and isn’t fair to the people who paid for their books.

    As others have already pointed out, people who are ‘socially awkward’ or who have an ASD like Aspergers like clear rules. Clear rules are easy to apply and don’t require reading the other person’s subtle cues. The people who don’t like clear rules (‘don’t touch strangers to express your pantsfeelings for them’) are the ones who simply prefer not to have their shitty behavior encumbered by rules.

    Hence so many comments where one asks oneself “Did this person even read the post or anything anyone has said?” Well, no, probably not, or if they did they chose to ignore it; because it’s telling them things they don’t want to hear, i.e., that it’s their job not to be doucheloaves.

  95. There’s a pretty wide gulf between nominal societal censure and zero tolerance with lifetime bans.

    Actually, being banned from a single private event after stalking and harassing someone is practically the definition of a nominal societal censure.

    We’ve got a community where stalking and assault are commonplace, and where a sizable minority of people are harassed, bullied, and threatened. But by all means, let’s focus instead on the fact that some people might be asked to stay out of a particular hotel for three days a year. As a result of their own actions. Ooooh, harsh.

    Being blackballed from one convention for acting like you have a right to someone else’s affections (or their body) is nothing compared with having to risk harassment and assault to attend conventions at all. If you’re going to treat those things like they’re equivalent and equally deserving of sympathy, you forfeit any pretense of being an ally to the people who bear the brunt of our community’s harassment problem.

  96. I’m quite glad you clarified the “creepers v losing-their-shit fan” point. When I read the original thread, I thought back to earlier this year, when I met someone I was a huge fan of (along with a significant number of other people my age) at a charity dinner. I thought about that through the lens of “Dear heavens, I hope she didn’t think I was some weird guy.” Fortunately (as noted in the link you posted from 2008), I had someone who was gracious enough to handle the initial introduction, and it turned into a very kind and memorable moment for me.

  97. I’ve never met any famous person that I love the work of. And sometimes I think I must be better off to never, ever meet them if the urge to turn into an idiot or a creeper comes up. I am not normally inclined to doing either, but hell, just in case, I should perhaps choose to actively avoid the opportunity?

    But seriously, I admire that you came out with this information about yourself and how you were successful in not creeping. It’s appreciated.

  98. Damn me – its not hard not to creep.

    Right at this moment, due to the vagaries of British train reservations, plus the end of the olympics in London and the continuation of the Festival in Edinburgh I am sitting RIGHT OPPOSITE a genuine A list hot actor and looooooong time idol.
    My ovaries are doing the happy dance OMG.

    And I am concentrating on my lunch and we are talking about the weather and I haven;t even mentioned that I’m a writer.

    If it helps I’m imagining that he is travelling with his elderly mother.

  99. I am thinking about how you give people graceful exits. This has been coming up in discussion of the ReaderCon / dealing with creeps threads, but I haven’t seen graceful exits specifically discussed, and I think they’re actually pretty critical, in a few different ways, and also something it took me a few years to learn. I’m still not sure I do them as well as I’d like. Two places where a graceful exit is super-useful:

    1) When you find someone attractive, and want to convey that, without being a creep (scary, stalker-ish, etc.) There are a zillion ways to do this, but I think the key to all of them is that you make it easy for the person you’re approaching to turn you down. Without — THIS IS IMPORTANT — any sense of physical or social danger to them, from you.

    2) The graceful exit apology.

    (okay — this got long, and I don’t want to take over John’s blog). So continued with a lot more detail here: http://www.mamohanraj.com/journal/show-entry.php?Entry_ID=6858)

  100. BTW, there is a difference between being a creeper and being annoying. You can be annoying and argumentative without being a creeper. You won’t get a sense of physical danger from someone who is just annoying, but you won’t want to be around them.

    Then again some guys can be weird and not be annoying or a creeper. I heard about a radar expert who worked on classified projects who was weird a bit nuts, but harmless. He lived in a trailer inside a small house with lots of tin foil to keep the radar waves from messing with his brain. He used to wear a hat with tin foil under it to keep the radar waves out. He apparently also really liked bagels. He was also a radar expert and people with PhDs would defer to him. Guy was weird, but totally harmless. Not kidding either.

  101. As far as feminists go. Moderate feminists can be fun to be around or date. The best thing about dating a feminist is they are far more likely to pay their half of the check. With non-feminists there is still tends to be an expectation that the guy pays. Which is something I find rather annoying and is a pretty big turn off.

    That being said, when they go off the deep end, feminists can be utterly annoying to have dinner with or in general do anything with. Its a constant piss and moan fest. Another good thing about dating moderate feminists is they tend to be less likely to be psychos. The kind of woman who calls or texts you repeatedly. The kind that gets ahead of herself early on in a relationship. They tend to be more independent. This is actually pretty nice.

    Seriously ladies, guys do not have a monopoly on being a creeper. I am sure there are a lot of guys who can post examples of crazy girlfriends. I also cannot be the only guy who has had a woman hit on him and not be interested, then the crazy chick doesn’t take no for an answer or just gets rather angry. On the flip side, guys tend to be more likely to initiate with women, so we tend to have more experience with rejection and get over it.

  102. @Guess:…seriously?

    Point one: do not address groups of women as “ladies.” You sound like Smoove B, at best.

    Point two: nobody said men were the only creepers.
    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/resources/mirror-derailing-for-dummies/

    Point three: thank you so very much for letting us know you approve of “moderate feminists”. I know that I, for one, will be able to sleep a lot better tonight for having your commendation.

    On the flip side, guys tend to be more likely to initiate with women, so we tend to have more experience with rejection and get over it.

    Um, no.

    You personally may get over it–although your OMG THE FEMINISTS OMG OMG thing makes me doubt that–but guys in general?

    There are a couple thousand Men’s Rights Activists/Pickup Artists/Lonely Guy (or whatever the hell that really skincrawling group was) blogs proving you completely wrong about that. Not to mention a couple hundred thousand examples of guys who responded to rejection with assault, rape, stalking, or creating hostile work or social environments for the women in question.

    So, to reiterate: um, wrong.

  103. Guess:

    I’m going to assume that you aren’t aware just how close that last comment of yours is to being indistinguishable from trolling. So what I’m going to ask you to do is look at the post you just made and try to see why I think you’ve just showed your ass. Don’t answer why here; just go off and think about it for a little while, please.

    Everyone else: Best to let that comment alone, please (Isabel gets a pass for responding before I posted this). I’m letting it remain for instructional purposes.

  104. Everyone else has admirably tackled the bulk of Michael Kirkland’s false equivalency pseudo-argument. There just remains one objectionable thing (that I can see) to unpack:

    Very few people actually want to harass anyone or ban anyone forever for having a derp moment.

    (Emphasis mine.) OK, so, is anyone really unaware that “herp derp” is onomatopoeia for “retarded”? That it’s the noise that assholes use to make fun of people who are developmentally disabled? Which even comes with its own optional choreography (edge of hand repeatedly smacking self in chest)? OK, so, it is. Now you know. So cut it out with the “derp moment” bullshit. It makes you sound like someone who really really wants to say “retarded” but is looking for a way to avoid getting branded as an asshole while doing it.

    (I’m going to assume that everyone present knows better than to use the word “retarded” to refer to actual people. If I’m wrong about that, here’s a link for the use of those who don’t know this but would genuinely like to do better by their fellow humans. On the other hand, there’s already a self-identified group present who can’t stand the idea of taking responsibility for their social interactions, which includes word choice, go figure; here’s a blanket FU for them.)

  105. I really wish there were a “like” function for the comments. Usually by the time I get here all the insightful things have been said better by others, I’d like to be able to just vote up comments that are particularly good.

  106. @Nicole, I’m not sure if that’s going to be the popular usage going forward. To the younger generation (e.g. my kids (elementary aged) and their peers) derp means goofy or silly.

  107. Do kids today think “gay” only means something bad and not know it has to do with a sexual preference? Serious question, I don’t have kids or hang out with them.

    That wouldn’t mean we shouldn’t tell kids (or adults) not to say “herp derp,” of course.

  108. I’m in my forties and had never heard the expression “derp” until my kids picked it up from _My Little Pony_, where there’s a character named Derpy Hooves. So yes, there are many of us unaware that it was pejorative once.

  109. Ellen, this isn’t a ‘once’ thing–this term comes from the internet, and is fairly recent (from the last few years or so). The “derpy hooves” character (who’s cross-eyed and has poor coordination) was named that specifically because the show creators were referencing the internet slang term.

    And for what it’s worth, My Little Pony changed the character’s name after receiving complaints about how inappropriate it was to encourage children to use ableist slurs. I think it speaks very well of them that they corrected that mistake. In fact, it’s a pretty good case study in how to get over an ass-showing: they apologized, changed the name, and moved on, rather than digging in their heels and insisting that the term couldn’t possibly be offensive because they only meant it as a joke.

  110. Annalee, you just made my night with that My Little Pony anecdote. I had thought “derpy hooves” was something the fandom came up with, and it made my heart hurt. On the one hand, it seems even worse that the show’s creators came up with it; on the other, what a class act in how to respond to criticism!

    As for “gay” as pejorative slang – what I most often hear when calling out peers and youngers on this usage is, “Oh, you know I don’t mean it that way…” It’s not that they don’t know they’re using a term that also describes people; it’s that they seem to think, if they were to stop and think about it at all, that there are two words that happened to be spelled and pronounced the same. A magic homophone, if you will. And if their intent is pure, then no actual gay people will be harmed by their using the same word that describes them to mean “stoopid.” Because intent is effin’ magic.

    Again, this is why we educate. I was so glad to see the billboard campaign in Chicago a few years back — kind of a clumsy campaign, but it was SOMETHING, dammit — that said, ” ‘OMG, that’s so cheerleader.‘ See how that feels?” [Paraphrased from faulty memory]

  111. Nicole, I once taught a Hispanic friend that lesson by using ‘Hispanic’ that way. There was a weird period where he used ‘Hispanic’ as a code word for “homosexual,” but that passed, and he never used ‘gay’ that way again…at least not in my hearing.

  112. “Herp” I’d heard of before this thread, as a slang abbreviation for either “herpes” (which kind unknown unless further specified) or “herpetology” (or herpetiles, reptiles and amphibians) as a hobby.

    “Derp” I hadn’t heard of at all.

    “Gay”. How words change. Long ago … long before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, even …
    “Private, are you gay?” the DI yells at me.
    “SIR, the private tries to be so, SIR!”
    There was a long silence. “Lieutenant! This Private tries to be gay!”
    The LT arrived, “Private, what do you mean by ‘gay’?”
    “SIR, happy, cheerful, light-hearted, SIR!”
    “Can you think of another, different, meaning of gay?”
    “SIR, Green And Yellow, SIR!”
    “Tell me more, Private.”
    “SIR, the Green And Yellow society wore green and yellow ribbon boutonnières to show support for Oscar Wilde during his trial for homosexuality, SIR!”
    “Where did you hear of this, Private?”
    “SIR, History of English Theatre class, SIR!”
    “Do you know what it is to be homosexual, Private?”
    “SIR, Yes, SIR!”
    “Are you a homosexual, Private?”
    “SIR, No, SIR!”
    “Private, I should warn you that some people these days use ‘gay’ as a synonym for homosexual or queer or fag. One of those stupid word changes no one can do anything about. Understood?”
    “SIR, Yes, SIR!”
    “He’s OK, SGT, he’s not a homosexual, he’s just literate. CARRY ON!”

  113. It’s quite a tangent from the OP, but FWIW, Nicole’s reaction to the “derp” usage and the various responses to same are interesting. UrbanDictionary.com and KnowYourMeme.com don’t seem to agree that it signifies “retarded” or “developmentally disabled.” It’s a broader and less caustic term, generally used to refer to a particular remark/joke/behavior that’s stupid or foolish, or even used as a nonsense syllable when one isn’t thinking clearly, without necessarily slapping a label on anyone as a person. Its origins apparently trace back to various joke usages by Trey Parker and Matt Stone in South Park and other comedy projects they’ve produced. Moreover, as first used in this thread it was clearly intended to indicate something that *all* of us are guilty of at least once in a while. IOW, long story short, it’s a harmless word, and there’s nothing there to be offended by unless one is specifically seeking out reasons to be offended.

  114. As a person on the spectrum and a woman – I am always worried about how I come across to others because I have, in the past been overly keen and excitable when meeting people I admire. Now I just have a blanket policy of staying the heck out of the way. I’d rather regret not meeting them than being thought of as a creeper nuisance.

    I was at a Primus gig where a d-bag got on stage and stole Les Claypools bowler hat – pretty much can guarantee Claypool will always regard him as such! An extreme version of creeping, but pretty much underlines my point.

  115. @oldfeminist : Kids are as kids do. That being said, I think people in general are more open to gay people today than at any time in American history. The culture is changing pretty quickly. When I was in college 20 years ago, I had a gay room mate. He was scared to come out and tell me he was gay. He was more shocked that I didn’t care and that I didn’t feel the need to talk about it. My friends didn’t care either. He was pretty shocked that it was a non-issue to us. We were not exactly the politically correct college group either. Today I think it would be an expectation that you would not be bothered by it and not a shock.

    I have never, ever heard the term ‘herp, derp’ and I have heard alot of slag. Is that a really old one? I have noticed that young people’s slag turns over every few years and I can’t keep up with it. Sometimes the older ones come back for a time and then fade away.

    @John: That borders on trolling, but doesn’t really cross the line. I stand by my 2 statements, feminists are more likely to go dutch on a date (and that is a good thing) and that guys don’t have a monopoly on wierdos. People really bothered by that are being too sensitive. I’m hardly a closed minded right winger, I just don’t really feel the need to be all that politically correct.

  116. “People really bothered by that are being too sensitive. I’m hardly a closed minded right winger, I just don’t really feel the need to be all that politically correct.”

    And, of course, YOU get to the decide that. For everyone.

    And, that wasn’t all you said, was it. Interesting that you deliberately erased from your retelling that which, to quote Mr Scalzi, “showed your ass”.

  117. Guess:

    “People really bothered by that are being too sensitive.”

    Yeah, that’s not actually the correct answer, there, Guess.

    Also, as a tip, “you’re being too sensitive” is very often code for “I was being an ass back there,” and use of the phrase “politically correct,” often signals that the person using it isn’t thinking very hard about how he or she is being needlessly offensive to others.

  118. At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, I think I managed to keep my shit together when I talked briefly with John at the post-Wootstock thing.

    It was actually at the Youtube lounge, when I heard somebody behind me saying that he’s on the next show and isn’t sure who to talk to, and I turned around, and it was John Scalzi behind me, and I totally lost the ability to form words. Fortunately, my girlfriend is much better at dealing with star-struckness and was much more helpful than I was at the time, for which I am grateful.

  119. Now I really want this thread to turn into True Confessions of Losing Our Stuff In Front of John Scalzi. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some choice stories.

  120. I think I actually managed not to lose it in front of JS the first time I met him. I think it may be because I was a fan of Whatever before reading any of his books, and my first interaction with him involved giving him a button that said “Editing! Gerunds! Death!” (Actually it said “Editing! Gerunds! Death!” but never mind.)

    My practice concealing my attraction to hot guys may also have helped. Even though the strong emotional reaction is of an entirely different kind (fanboy goshwow instead of dirrty animale lhust), the practice “acting like nothing is wrong” might be transferable.

  121. @Klecha: you win. The worst I’ve done is spill soda all over him.

    Actually, that was my brother. But I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten Awkward all over him a few times. That stuff can stain.

    Then there was that time I totally highjacked one of his comments threads. By which I mean the thing I’m doing right now.

  122. Come on, Dave. If you were really trying to break my arm, it’d’ve been broken.

    Fact. If the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I want to be on Team Klecha. Because the Zombies would take one look at him and be like “Brai–ooh to hell with that; ruuuun awaaaay!”

    Also, can it’d’ve be a thing? I want chaining contractions to be a thing.

  123. There is nothing wrong with “it’d’ve.” It’s just how you pronounce it, even. Compare “I’ven’t,” which is NOT a thing, and would have to be pronounced something like “Ivan-t.”

  124. Just as long as you prefer ‘it isn’t’ to ‘it’s not’. Because, I, for one, hate sounding like I’m dropping an “It’s snot.” Otherwise, I say daisy chain contractions all you like. They are there for your convenience. Put them to the test.

    And now all I can think about is the Be Our Guest song from Beauty and The Beast. GRAMMAR!

  125. Do people really need detailed instructions on how not to be a creep? Can’t you just follow the Golden Rule, or would you really like to be harassed?

  126. @John: Yeah, you’ve probably got a point there. It was just a hold, not an actual attempt to really hurt you.

    @annalee: To be fair, he was kind of asking for it. Kind of. Probably not true about the pop spill.

    (I totally thought you were going go with the “Braaai–nevermind, he ain’t got none” route. Because I know you’re just that mean.)

  127. Mean!? Me!? You wound me, sir! I–

    Actually you’re probably right. This time. But if you promise to let me be on your zombie-fighting team, I won’t hold it against you.

    This thread has either jumped the shark or grown a beard. I can’t figure out which. But if it’s the former, I suspect I am to blame.

  128. Thanks for this anecdote; it’s useful not just for “how to avoid being a creep” but also for “how to avoid getting into romantic or sexual liaisons that (for whatever reason) would be inappropriate”.

    Which is something that a lot of us have to think about at one time or another. As you make it clear, being married or otherwise exclusively committed to someone doesn’t mean that you suddenly stop finding other people attractive. But what you do about that attraction makes a big difference. I’ve known people who have handled it well, and people who have jumped in with rash decisions that hurt themselves or their partners.

    One thing particularly useful about your approach is it’s based on redirection rather than sheer resistance. You didn’t just think about what you shouldn’t do; you thought about what you *could* do that would be fun and useful, like talking to other people (hey, it’s a con, it’s *made* for getting to know a bunch of people, not just a few you cling to), and choosing to spend time with her in the context of a larger group of people you also liked, where the conversational vibe presumably focused on friendship, shared reading interests, and collaboration, rather than attraction. Once you’d made those adjustments and had some time to settle down, it was easier to keep on the “friends” course rather than the “lover” or “creeper” course.

    If instead all one is thinking about is “I must resist this terrible temptation!”, one can end up just getting sucked into it all the harder. It’s like swimming in the ocean; if you find yourself getting pulled into a rip current, you swim perpendicular to it, not straight against it, to get out. (And, if needed, you can also monitor your swimming so that you stick to areas where you’re less likely to get caught in those currents in the first place.)

  129. @Xopher: “…the practice ‘acting like nothing is wrong’ might be transferable.” That would explain a lot about my interactions with favorite authors. I mean, every time someone invokes “socially awkward” in these threads, my first impulse (instead of explaining the *logical* objections) is to be like, “Seriously? When I’m feeling at my most socially awkward, I’d err on the side of blushing and running away, not stalking someone.” I was pretty sure that sort of thing varies by personality though, so, yeah.

  130. Popo: Not just no, but HELL no. A lot of guys think they’d LOVE it if they were aggressively hit on. They imagine someone they’re very attracted to doing it, of course, because they also imagine themselves as universally attractive. This isn’t universal, of course…in fact I don’t think it’s close to a majority. But these are exactly the class of guys who need these rules.

    At the extreme end, of course, they will reject these rules out of hand, or hear no as yes, and then they can be crushed. But the rules help those who may be on the borderline.

    Marcy: That too. Yes.

  131. “Politically correct” is just another word for polite. Don’t call people names they don’t like.

  132. More specifically, “I’m not politically correct” means “I’m a selfish, privileged bigot of one kind or another, but now you can’t call me on it because I just made it a virtue, so nyah nyah.”

  133. Maybe I play too much Minecraft … but “creepers” defaults to “Ssssss … BOOM” in my mind.

  134. @Fletcher: Maybe I play too much Minecraft … but “creepers” defaults to “Ssssss … BOOM” in my mind.

    Well, you know, they’ve got a lot of similarities to concreeps. They follow people around and ruin their day. I’d love to see some old-style propaganda posters that play with this concept–using images of creepers to encourage people not to be creeps.

  135. Mary Robinette Kowal:

    “I had absolutely no clue that he had this reaction to me, in the moment.”

    Which is precisely what I intended, so I’m glad it turned out that way.

  136. Thank you for writing such an instructive and compassionate guide on non-creepitude. It is excellent advice for those who want to be, or at least operate socially, as adult human beings.

    While 99% of the people I encounter seem decent, I have noticed that a few select members of the species use creepiness as a form of intimidation when they find themselves out of their depth on intellectual topics. For instance, I (a female) begin talking to a man at a party about US health care policy, the Higgs boson or the underlying message of a popular movie. He throws out an opinion, I reply with something indicating that my IQ is above room temperature, and he becomes a predatory moron. Suddenly the topic gets the ejector seat and he starts invading my space and making sexually suggestive comments.

    At this point I generally confess to an irresistible craving for bacon-wrapped tofu or green bean casserole and excuse myself to the buffet table. There have been a few times when I have been pissed off enough by the man’s attempts at intimidation to stay and shred his argument, whereupon he bleated out complaints of being the innocent target of feminist aggression.

    Is there a third way? I don’t like being intimidated, and neither allowing a man to continue his creepiness unchecked nor giving him an excuse to play the victim seems constructive. Either response seems to encourage him to continue on the next person with even more self-justification. It isn’t my responsibility to correct the behavior of others, but I do feel like an impotent asshat for not at least trying to protect others from the same bad experience. And that disempowerment is exactly what creepers – the serious, intentional ones – thrive on.

    For extra credit, what would you suggest for internet trolls who target women? I have used male, female and androgynous usernames and noticed drastic differences. I resent having to scrub all pronouns and cultural references for gender clues just to keep the invective and attitude down.

    Thanks again. I realize that your intended audience was the unintentional creeper, but any insight you can offer would be appreciated.

  137. At the risk of sounding creepy, I don’t understand how very many men would NOT have had that reaction to Mary Robinette Kowal. Mary – I take it as a testament to your humility that you do not assume that every man you meet is having that reaction.

  138. [Creepy guy shouts at clouds and then is mysogynist. I missed this earlier because of travel, but hey, you know what? It's never too late to delete angry, foamy nonsense. I'll let Apple's response stand, however -- JS]

  139. I think the time I was most worried about coming across as a creeper was when I met Jonathan Coulton. He was on tour last year opening for They Might Be Giants, and I work at an adult bookstore literally next door to the theater where they were playing one night. I jokingly tweeted at him that if he got bored, he should stop by the adult bookstore next door and I’d give him the grand tour of our most ridiculous products, since I hadn’t been able to get tickets to the show and was stuck at work.

    And then pretty much everyone I knew on twitter (and some people I didn’t) chimed in that he should go next door to visit me. Which was mortifying at the time, I have to admit. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, of course, but lo and behold about 45 minutes later, I’m outside checking my voicemail when Jonathan Coulton comes up to me and asks “hey, are you the girl from twitter?”

    Yeaaaaaah.

    It’s hard not to feel awkward showing one of your musical inspirations (and some of his tour crew/bandmates) the various horrifying sex toys you have for sale, and I was spending as much time as I could not freaking out and being as normal as possible. I think I did okay, considering they stuck around for almost half an hour and we spent it laughing at “The Great American Challenge” and talking about whatever. Still, I was on my best behavior, namely BECAUSE I knew I could so easily swing into “creepy fan” mode without meaning to if I wasn’t careful. Plenty of personal space, no uninitiated touching, spent time chatting with the other guys as well as him. And no attempts – conversationally or otherwise – to keep them in the store any longer than they wanted to be. As soon as they started seeming like they were ready to head out, I wound down my part of the conversation, and when they said they should go, I thanked them for stopping by, wished them luck on the rest of their tour, and that was that.

    I thankfully saved the high-pitched squeeing for after the door had closed behind them.

  140. @Rick – it’s not a power trip, it’s that there are so many LEGITIMATE creepers at these cons that in order to protect themselves, a lot of women just pre-emptively label any male they haven’t met before, who isn’t being introduced to them by someone they trust, a creeper. And that ties into the whole “you can’t control how people feel about you” thing John was talking about in the original post. They have most likely been creeped on more times than you’d think, just because they’re women at a con. Does that mean that every guy who comes up to them out of the blue is a creeper? Not necessarily, but I can’t for a second blame them for trying to protect themselves by running on the assumption of “creeper until proven otherwise”.

    Personally, reading your post? I get a creeper vibe. Because you’re accusing women of overreacting, because you are insulting women and calling them bitches because they get creeped out by people that you think are decent guys. Do they KNOW these people? No? Then how in the world are they supposed to tell the difference between “well-meaning but socially awkward” and “creepy”? And also, how does being a well-meaning but socially awkward person automatically mean that you can’t be creepy to someone who doesn’t know you? You feel entitled to these women’s attention and appreciation, and when you don’t get that, you get pissed. Maybe you don’t actually and you’re just phrasing things badly, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to meet you at a con with an attitude like that. You seriously creep me out, dude, and I’m not easy to creep out.

  141. “Creeperism would not appear to be a replicating characteristic in a modern society. Where did it come from and why is it still here / how could creepers possibly breed?”

    Judging from a noted local creeper, mail-order Russian brides. Luckily after he got hitched, he stopped going to conventions, and I could stop having to be ready to break his neck if he got too grabby with my female friends. (Not hyperbole, BTW)

  142. I agree with the 7-year-old above: The most incredibly beautiful person I have ever met! I went to hear Mary Robinette Kowal speak about puppets, which do not interest me at all. Somehow they were fascinating… I was terribly impressed that she managed to find a profession (puppetry) that combined all of her interests. My version of not creeping is to avoid her blog, avoid commenting on her blog, avoid her twitter feed, her facebook page, her wikipedia entry etc. etc. etc. I do read her books, which she has kindly crafted for mass-consumption. I am virtually certain that she has a long-term significant other (I don’t want to do the research. I don’t want to know if she doesn’t, as an item of mental health. It’s unthinkable that such a woman could be single, or childless.) It does not help at all that I am a fiftiesh fat old guy, happily married with grown-up children. Isn’t the lizard brain insanely hopeful?

  143. I like what you say about how it’s not just awkward guys who do this, John, but any person can go into creeper-mode. (Hell, even us women can do it sometimes, too, when around people of our preferred sex(es).) I also want to say that as a frequently-socially-awkward woman, it kind of frustrates me when guys say “but what if he has Aspergers?” and such to dismis women’s complaints about awkward men. Even if we’re dealing with a guy who genuinely CAN’T help themselves in being creepy, women can usually tell the difference between that situation and a guy who can but is good at feigning “awkwardness” in hopes it will help him get away with his shit.

    I actually did have a coworker who was a genuine example of the first type of person; he had a mental disability caused by a severe head injury several years earlier. The difference between him and the OTHER guy at work who put on a veneer of awkwardness to enable him to be a creep to his female coworkers? Well, for starters, just from reading the first guy’s body language you could tell when he made a gross joke at me it was done with the same intentions as when he gushed about his favorite Japanese restaurants to a family buying sushi. He was just a fun-loving, jokey guy who just didn’t get how people might take some of his jokes a bit differently. More importantly, when he was called out for doing something that made someone uncomfortable, he apologized and stopped doing it. If your problem is really just that you don’t know, you don’t want to keep making people uncomfortable – and when you find out that you are, you will feel bad about it and you will stop.

    The other guy? When I told him I didn’t like him giving me cutesy nicknames, or making flamboyant gestures to get my attention or turning everything into an excuse to ask me out? He acted like I was the one in the wrong for being offended. He even got butthurt one time when I was in the break room reading for a class and politely turned down his request to chat because of that – something I said to pretty much every friendly coworker when I needed to get homework done – and acted like it was a personal affront and that I was “forcing [him] to be bored.” That’s not awkwardness, that’s caring more about yourself than others, that’s having no respect for people’s boundaries. In short: being a creep.

  144. And by “dismis women’s complaints about awkward men” I meant “dismiss women’s complaints about CREEPY men.”

  145. Another nice perspective on this theme from author Shanna Swendson: http://shanna-s.livejournal.com/522837.html. I thought she made a very good point on how creeping can kill a chance that you would possibly have had otherwise, and shows the opposite side what can happen if one doesn’t act as in JS’s story.

    On an aside, is anyone out there gathering all these “How Not to be an Idiot/Creeper” guides out there now?

  146. Reading the article and associated comments leaves me with a feel of…. well, the usual. It’s honestly nothing I haven’t seen before on other blogs (such as those linked), but the so labelled “apologists” add an interesting turn; it’s one thing to stand at the pulpit and preach, far different to sit at the table and go into details against an opposing party, and I LOVE conflict and debate perhaps more than I should.
    On topic, my experiences at cons of many types when it comes to “creepers” is about nil, for a few reasons: I wager being a tall, black male with features generally described as imposing/intimidating dissuades the casual creeping. My experience with being viewed as the creeper is fairly long, and I’ve found it takes little seeing as I am the aforementioned as well as loud, gregarious and cheerfully willing to hold a crowd. It was a perplexing thing to me when my sociable nature was taken as being creepy when I usually held to basic standards of politeness, keeping distance, not intruding at inopportune times. Age helped, cynicism/idealism scaling assisted, and reading blogs such as this gave me a jumping point to see what experiences I have to give me a sense of empathy towards the situation.
    Unfortunately, the situation is encounters with police officers, but the parallels were easy to find:
    A growing sense of dread, rapidly burgeoning to fear the longer I dealt with them.
    An entitled approach to any conversation, regardless of circumstances.
    A lack of respect for personal space.
    The bone deep knowledge that whatever happens, NO ONE will help me, and I am utterly incapable of protecting myself or asserting my rights because unless there is a crowd, I can expect protocol to be ignored for no other reason than that they know they can do so. Even when there has been others in the immediate vicinity, I was, at worst, another n-word getting arrested, or at best, a black guy that probably did something to deserve what I as getting. Socially, most people just don’t care, and for my part, making complaints through official channels often lead to nothing, making complaints online just as often lead to either nothing or harassment by trolls or people who see nothing wrong. I match up the oft stated fear of being raped with my personal fear of being yet another black male dead at the hands of police officers, with the caveat that more often than not, the officers involved will receive a pass for a multitude of reasons that would both take too long to list and I honestly don’t think too many would see it as I do, it’s something I’ve noticed you need to experience to really suss out.
    At cons, I use my personal experience to enforce a personal set of rules that boil down to polite, but NOT NICE. Professional as possible, but not actually sociable. Yes, I flagrantly objectify people, but treating them as I would a table to use and leave when I am done is far preferable in my eyes than treating them as something people, thus something desirable. Cuts down on time spent with them, and the longing to be seen as something more than a flash in the pan meeting of another person they will never see again. If they want something more, they can initiate it themselves, as I am not made of stone and will reply to earnest, honest conversation.

  147. Scalzi, your primary “How Not to Be a Creeper” post just got prominently pimped on Fetlife, so your fame is now spreading to a new dungeon. It’s a great post.

  148. So I got here via 1 000 000 links so this is so late nobody’ll read it but you, which is fine. NRSVP, obvs.

    First, thanks. These two posts were, are, and always will be useful. You did a good thing and made stuff better.

    Secondly, I now feel better about my meeting with Mary, when I was fine til I saw the nametag and then dropped my jaw AND my drink simultaneously. (And then I took three quick steps back and apologised and it was all fine. We talked frocks for a bit and off I fucked.

  149. I know this post is more than a year old, but I hope you’ll indulge me. When I was single, I would have dismissed the original post as “easy for you to say. After all you’re married!” There is a very simple way for married men to never be creepers: If you are attracted to someone other than your wife (which WILL happen from time to time), don’t indulge it in any way. Be polite and friendly, but don’t pay extra attention to her. Don’t inject a sexual/romantic vide in your interactions with other women, treat all women at all times as if your wife was in the room. If you want more sex in your life, spice it up with your wife.

    On the other hand, if you’re single and you don’t want to be celibate the rest of your life, at some point you have to take the risk of being perceived as creepy. Meet someone in a casual setting you find attractive? Can you pay more attention to her to see if she seems to like you? Wait, isn’t that creeping? Just come out and ask her on a date? Despite what some women say in these discussions, many women do consider it creepy when guy when a guy they barely know or don’t find attractive asks them out. After all, creepy is defined by the woman, it’s whatever makes her feel creeped out.

    I think you handled the Mary situation exactly as a married man should. But what if you were single at the time and not dating anyone? How would you have handled yourself then?

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