July 24, 2007

Cute vs. Creepy

So, I know Loolwa Khazzoom would probably disapprove of all these incidents, but I feel like there's a clear qualitative difference between them.

1) I'm sitting on a bus, talking on my cell phone. (I know, even I disapprove of this part.) But in any case, I'm talking to my sweetie about, among other things, how I accidentally came out as queer to a summer-school class comprised of rather a lot of my academic idols. The conversation ranges over the usual topics: one of the students who's really into semiotics asked me what cues might differentiate a feminine straight woman from a queer femme, we had a whole discussion about rhinestone cat's-eye glasses - and of course, I convey all of this on the phone to my darlin'. Meanwhile, the guy sitting across from me on the bus is trying very hard not to crack up over what he's overhearing, and I catch his eye and smile complicitly - as if to say, "yeah, I know this is a strange conversation, and I'm glad you're amused rather than peeved that I'm on my phone."

Anyway, so I get off the bus before I'm done with the phone call, and the guy passes me a note. Once I'm off, I unfold it and read it:

You're adorable + you make me smile.
Have a good day! :-)

(I'll note that there was no phone number.)

At first, I wasn't sure how to react. Given that I'm usually very leery of pick-up attempts, I wasn't sure whether to be charmed or my usual squicked-out. I settled for amused - mostly, I think, because of the no-phone-number, but possibly because of the smiley-face, too.

Compare, then, if you will . . .

2) I'm at the video store this weekend. The place I'm at has a section listing movies by actor: I make some crack to the person I'm there with, along the lines of, "Wow, this may be the only time I'll see Jackie Chan next to Charlie Chaplin." A guy standing by Sean Connery laughed, and took pains to explain to me that Chan comes directly before Chaplin in the store's alpha-by-actor shelving system, and thus the bizarre-seeming thematic juxtaposition was just a coincidence. (Ohhhhhhhh... now I get it!) He starts asking me which Connery film he should get, handing me DVD cases and pretending not to notice when I tried to hand them back.

My video-store companion is nowhere to be seen.

He asks me where I'm from in the city, and I tell him actually, I'm just visiting. "Oh? How much longer are you in town?" he asks. Just - thank goodness - till tomorrow.

I keep turning away, looking at Coen Brothers movies, willing my friend to come back and the guy to shut up already.

"My name's Chris," he says, sticking out his hand. I unthinkingly give him my real first name. Oh, well. "That's unique. Where's it from?"

I respond in monosyllables. I still don't know where my friend is. Finally, she resurfaces. I'm tempted to hug her. Instead, I look over my shoulder at the guy and say, "Um, nice to have met you. Bye." He sputters, as if he's surprised that someone he's been chatting up in a video store would want to go home eventually, and says it was nice to meet me, too - very nice.

A different guy approaches us in the parking lot, wanting to know what we'd rented, and recommending that we check out Sleeper Cell. (Right, 'cause the fact that we'd gotten Quinceanera and Jesus Camp made us look like the types who'd enjoy an even-more-xenophobic 24 knockoff.)

I climb into the car, lock the doors, and ask my friend, "Is this normal here?"

Now, that's creepy. There are ways to express your appreciation for another person you know you'll never meet again - take a tip from Bachelor #1, and make it brief and unintrusive.


emily2 said...

hm, maybe they're just socially inept?

look at it from their point of view: it's frightening.

since we're all queer here, i'll just put it simply - i'm a dork and it's hard to approach women. you never know how to do it, how they'll react. i've been given the eye roll and the suspicious look before, even when i've had no desire except to strike up a conversation. and i look unintimidating.

so i'll admit i feel a bit sorry for these guys. :(

emily2 said...

okay, yeah, after actually clicking on the flickr images, i'm going to conclude that the three incidents in this post were harmless.

those incidents detailed in the flickr images were... grody and icky and some were most likely illegal. there's a huge difference between (1) an earnest but awkward attempt at simple conversation and (2) butt-grabbing.

Anonymous said...

I say that if M.E. felt it was inappropriate, it was inappropriate.

For too long, we have allowed the excuse that "men just don't understand that they are being inappropriate."

maudite entendante said...

I will say that, upon re-reading this post, I don't think I did a very good job capturing the creepiness of the two creepy encounters.

But, em2, your second comment sort of hit upon what I'd hoped my point to be - which is that there's definitely a spectrum of unsought advances, which seems to include (at least) the cute/flattering, the bewidlering-but-amusing, the harmless-but-offputting, and the genuinely frightening/disgusting.

Obviously, the decision as to where on the spectrum a particular encounter falls should be left up to the target of the advances (and thanks, anon, for recognizing that gut instincts about appropriateness are often more important than how an incident looks when it's recounted later); but I do think the presumption that seems to be current in a lot of circles - namely, that unsought advances are by definition exploitative and inappropriate - doesn't take these sorts of qualitative differences into account.

emily2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
emily2 said...

but I do think the presumption that seems to be current in a lot of circles - namely, that unsought advances are by definition exploitative and inappropriate - doesn't take these sorts of qualitative differences into account

indeed. if that rule ("namely, that unsought advances are by definition exploitative and inappropriate") were construed literally, no one would speak to anyone, and everyone would be consciously averting his or her eyes on the street for fear of being "inappropriate". what a bleak and unfriendly world.

no one is a mind reader. i've been approached several times by people whom i simply did not find attractive. but i've also been approached by people whom i found attractive - and they approached me the same way as the people i found unattractive. the approach was the same, but of course i was a little unnerved when someone unattractive (to me at least) approached me. that's just the function of bad chemistry; it's just a reflexive "icky icky" knee-jerk response. so, a lot of perceived "creepiness" simply has to do with chemistry, or lack thereof.

my current girlfriend approached me in a way that may seem "creepy" to a few people. she drunkenly walked up to me and danced closer and closer to me and then slurred something incoherent in my ear. she was cute, so what the hell. now, if i weren't immediately attracted to her, i probably would have said, "ewww! creepy!"

once we leave the social hotpot known as "college" or "law school" meeting people is really difficult. the people who, in their early 20s, used to "dis" advances at law school bar night or at some club in boston are now wishing they would be approached. (why they don't approach people themselves i don't know... my theory is that they fear being rejected, probably because they were rude when they used to reject people back in the day.)

i think that when someone doesn't take "no" for an answer, it is exploitative and inappropriate. and i think that some approaches are exploitative and inappropriate on its face, such as nut-grabbing and making lip smacking noises. everything else... it's just bad chemistry.

anyway, i think there should be a line between (1) truly icky behavior and (2) simply lack of chemistry between two parties.

emily2 said...

I say that if M.E. felt it was inappropriate, it was inappropriate.

For too long, we have allowed the excuse that "men just don't understand that they are being inappropriate."

if she makes it known that she doesn't want to be approached and the man (or woman) doesn't take "no" for an answer, then yes, it becomes inappropriate.

(note: i've been obsessed with "the sims 2" lately, and i keep envisioning a boy sim walking up to a girl sim, and then the boy sim getting a ++ sign whereas the girl sim gets a -- sign upon meeting. if only real life human interactions were this clear...)

emily2 said...

Ooh! I'm a bit of a latecomer, but I just came across a book, "Self-Made Man" by lesbian journalist Norah Vincent, who went undercover as a heterosexual male for a year and came away with a better understanding of the pressures put on heterosexual males in this society.

Had anyone read this book? It seems that it may provide an interesting perspective.

emily2 said...

Grammar check: "Has" anyone read this book?

emily0 said...

I'm looking to read that book but I haven't yet.

emily0 said...

Ok I got it out of Widener... time to read!