Sunday, 26 March 2017

Creepy Behaviour.

A couple of years ago, I posted about a survey conducted by Laurie Penny into men's attitudes to Sex, Gender and Feminism. One of the questions – and my answer to it – was as follows:

How has sex affected the way you feel about yourself as a man? Have you ever worried about being 'creepy'? — It hasn't. But the “creepy” question is quite pertinent. As a transvestite, I'm very interested in clothing and in how clothes fit bodies, so I look at how people are dressed quite a lot. This seems to make some people uneasy, presumably because they think the "male gaze" is inevitably sexual. So men think I'm cruising them, and women think I'm mentally undressing them or generally being creepy. As I answered in one of your earlier surveys, what I need is a big sign that says: “I'm looking at your clothes not your body. No, really!”

Right. But since it has never worried me enough, and since I'm such a considerate person, I've very generously given myself a free pass to keep on looking. Or I did, until a regrettable incident last weekend. This was at a family gathering, a meal in a Manchester pub/restaurant with my nephews and nieces (and their significant others), to celebrate my mother's, their gran's, 81st birthday...

My youngest niece has recently dyed her hair turquoise. It always delights me as a “gender unconventional” person (to use Julia Serano's formulation) to see anything even slightly out of the ordinary in another person's appearance, and turquoise hair certainly meets that criterion. So, when we were all saying goodbyes, I took the opportunity to try and compliment my niece on her hair, and touched it casually at the same time. Yes, there's an immediate facepalm for a start, and it gets worse. Receiving no response I waved my hand in front of her face to attract her attention, until she quietly said “Stop it!”.

Okay. Being socially rather inept, slow to pick up on other people's feelings, and otherwise just plain stupid, it was only later I realized that my niece hadn't responded because I had totally creeped her out. Shit. (Sorry, Libby.) Since then, and since “creepy uncle” is not the sort of reputation I want, I've been re-evaluating my general behaviour and have come up with two resolutions (so far):

1. Do not touch people's hair without asking first. Or even at all. Jeez. This shouldn't require a resolution at all. In any case, as I said in the same survey: “I'm not big on physical contact or even physical closeness. I have a rather wide sense of personal space and don't usually like that being invaded.” In other words, I don't like being casually touched by anyone either. No. Stop it!

2. Do not stare at people no matter what your reason might be. You haven't got a big explanatory sign, have you, so they're not going to know your supposedly "valid" reason, are they. You dickhead. (A reason that might well creep them out even more.) And if you look someone up and down, they're probably going to think you're checking them out. And if your eyes go down from a woman's face, she's probably going to think you're staring at her tits. Facepalm again. This is pretty obvious stuff, isn't it. How I've managed to go through life without being beaten up on a regular basis, I'm not sure.

Well, anyway, the first of those resolutions is easily accomplished; as I say, no touching is my default position. The second one I'm finding a bit more difficult. From the survey again: “I rarely find normatively gendered people (i.e. most people) attractive”. Which is true. But I do like to look at what they're wearing. Sigh.

But there's now a more pressing question: Is that worth being thought creepy by my family over? No, it isn't. It definitely isn't.


  1. Ouch. I feel your pain on the social whoops. It's a bit of a minefield isn't it?

    I don't know if it's the same, but complements can be tricky too. Asking things like 'have you had your hair done?' or 'looking very sharp today'; have (seemingly) been well received by colleagues.

    You know there's a but coming, right? :-) I'd been talking to a friend at work, who was sporting a rather elegant cowl neck top. As we parted, i said "Fab top, BTW" and that was not well received at all :-/ I feel bad for making her feel awkward.

    1. Yes, sometimes people just automatically assume you're hitting on them. And they'd probably be right with most guys in most instances. I'm not sure there's any way round that really :/

  2. Sounds a bit like me, doing / saying things that are socially awkward. My father was proud to be a "people watcher". He'd park himself on a lawn chair at campgrounds or by the pool after a swim, and just enjoy watching other people.

    It's only after decades of ruined friendships, awkward encounters which typically leave me feeling embarrassed for long after, that I've finally realized I'm an aspie.

    I've actually seen a psychologist, and he agrees with my self-assessment. I firmly believe my father was an aspie as well. There's a full spectrum, he managed to have a very full life with 40 years of marriage and a large family. But he was not a very interactive father. He didn't play with us, roughhouse, hug, kiss, hold hands, or even throw a ball in the backyard. He was very much an introvert. He had a small group of friends which every so often he'd offend by saying something awkward.

    Most aspies are introverted, but there are some extroverted aspies.

    I'm dealing with a lot of gender identity issues (something I think a lot of aspies also deal with), and one thing that's keeping me from taking things further in any direction is the fear and anxiety about other's reactions.

    As I mentioned, I have a large family, 7 siblings, more than 15 niblings, one nephew recently married. I dread seeing their reaction if they saw me as I'd like to be. That said, I deeply suspect one of my nephews is beginning to come out of the closet. The family at large is highly conservative, as in "traditional" values.

    I can only imagine that if I were an extrovert, I'd be very much rocking a look similar to David Bowie, at least one of his very many personas. I'd be more than happy to put the "real me" out there. But while it sounds like the immediate anxiety that prevents me, it's also the anxiety about the long-term anxiety. I know myself well enough to know that I mull over things longer than I should. Just getting out there could easily result in an awkward encounter that would likely haunt me for years. That's unfortunately how I deal with things. Part of this is having a very vivid visual memory, I cannot forget the past.

    1. Hi Kate. Thanks for the comment :)

      Yes, fear and anxiety have affected my life considerably too. And it's interesting you mention aspies. There does seem to be an above average incidence of autism in the trans community. Personally, I always score quite highly on internet autism spectrum tests. I just took another one and, as usual, finished “above the clinical threshold”. But whether that's because I belong there or just have unrelated poor social skills, I'm not sure :/