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.