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.