My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Mailbox: "Creepy Guy Narrative" Feedback (Part 2 of 4)

This is clearly fake.  Are you perpetuating homophobia?  Your writing is terrible!

This is part two of a massive reply to some of the most common questions and criticisms about my article, "Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative."  

This story is fake/this never happened!

~shrugs~ Whatever.

If you’re going to take the time to crawl under a bridge and jump out at passing goats, you need to commit.  This....this is like Bruce from Family Guy jumping out from under the bridge wearing a T-Shirt that just says “Troll Academy Hopeful” on it.

“Hey there.  How you all doing.  Listen, it’s my first day as a troll and all, so I don’t want to hurt y’all’s feelings.  Hows about we just split a sleeve of Oreos and a six pack of soda, and I’ll say I don’t believe you or something.  That’s good enough on my watch.  Go on....everyone loves a snack.”

If you don’t believe my story, that’s fine, but you would have to believe that I emerged from a no-internet chrysalis just earlier this week to have skin so thin that I actually care.  My fourth graders use that insult on each other (“That never happened!”) and even their response is blasé (“Whatever, yes it did.”).

They're nine and ten, by the way.  

The people who know me (the ones I actually respect and look to for validation in my life) rolled their eyes or laughed knowingly, and said “I can so see you doing that.”  They know I’ve been in a few fights with bullies because I wouldn’t back down, that I've never been successfully mugged despite four attempts, that I’ve chased home invaders down the street, and that when I see someone being an ass, I often use my powers of snark to be an ass back to them. They know I dive into ENDLESS forays online in defense of consent culture against rape culture and against the ideas that women owe it to the poor menz to never bruise their fragile egos by rejecting them, and that men are entitled to pressure women after the first "no" because they all read "The Wooing of Ariadne" too fucking much as kids or something.

So congratulations on your not-quite-9 year-old caliber trolling attempt. 

Was approaching him as if you were gay perpetuating homophobia?

Okay, I’m going to drop the persona for this one be. The fact is that this is a conversation WORTH having.

I cannot claim innocence.

A few things rang in my head in that moment before I acted. One was a saying that I think was on a meme or something back a few months ago: "Homophobia is the fear that gay men will treat straight men the way some straight men treat women," or something like that.  Another was a tumblr (I think) of a teacher whose students who were intimidated by a gay person because he was so big and they were together in a taxi, and the teacher (correctly) realized that they were uncomfortable because they were in a situation where someone stronger than them was hitting on them and they couldn't get away.  The teacher pointed out that this is what most women go through all the time. 

The third is a bit harder to explain.  I’m a white, heterosexual, male.  That means that there are certain groups of people (namely OTHER whites, heterosexuals, and males, or combinations thereof) who will, because of who I am, pay more attention to me.  They sometimes don’t realize that the advantages they get in this society for being white, male, and heterosexual can be invisible if not examined closely. Therefore, since I often lack the ability to do anything but listen in most situations involving inequality. One of the things I CAN do--over and over and over and over--to try to help in some small way is to explain to other white, heterosexual, males how they might think of things from a different perspective. Partially because I may be able to frame it in a way they understand, but mostly because whether they know it or not, they're going to listen to me a little more closely.

(Or worded another way: “I try to be a good ally, so I do a lot of 101 about privilege.”)

When it comes to rape culture and victim blaming, one of the most useful tools in my toolbox to explain this to heterosexual men is to have them envision that they are the victims of the rape.  But since many claim they would be delighted to be taken against their will by a woman (which is particularly offensive to me for reasons I’m not ready to get into) I tend to reverse the gender of their hypothetical rapist.  

Well. I found it. It looks like a screen capture from a phone that was
posted on Tumblr, but I found it.
Suddenly it clicks--at least for almost every single one of them it has so far.  There is no outfit so skimpy that they are asking for it from another guy. There is no level of so drunk that they should have known better than to pass out at that gay bar. There is no point of no return where saying no should no longer count to a guy they maybe just wanted to flirt with or see what a kiss might be like with. There is no party too shady. No crowd too questionable. No situation in which they should not simply be able to expect that the gay men around them WON'T RAPE THEM rather than them having some duty not to entice their attacker.

Suddenly....they GET what victim blaming really means.

And I’ve done that thought experiment enough times with enough guys who started out saying women should know better than to wear short skirts or get wasted or be around shady guys, that I have to admit it was in my mind when I saw Creepy Guy not taking her obvious lack of interest as a clue.

I didn't set out to "be gay" or "act gay." I didn’t bend my wrist or speak with a lisp or anything so stereotypically offensive.  I just gave the guy a taste of unwanted attention, and showed him what it felt like when someone he wasn’t interested in wasn't getting the hint. The fact that I'm a guy and he was a guy means that spur of the moment choice came with its own package of implications, so I admit it might not have been the best choice.  I may not have set out to invoke homophobia in him (technically I still don't know if he was homophobic or just angry at being cock-blocked).  I simply set out to show him what he was doing to her, and I may have stumbled into the homophobia narrative by mistake.

Was what I did wrong?   I wish I knew.  I tend to listen to a "critical mass" of progressive folks I respect when I'm not sure if I need to be called out, and the critical mass of feminists, LGBTQ folk, and my friends who I respect seemed pretty happy with my choice.  Vociferously so.

But I never think my actions are above reproach.

I actually welcome the larger discourse this seems to have created about narratives of invoking homophobia to combat rape culture. However in a large part I really can't do anything but listen to that discussion.  This is partially because it's not my place to tell anyone they aren't offended by my actions, and partially because I don't want to say something I'll regret in a moment of knee-jerk defense when I really did try to do the best I could in the spur of the moment. 

If you read the comments (both here and elsenet) a lot people think my approach was perfectly illustrative of what he was doing to her and was EXACTLY the right thing to do. They have cheered that no other approach would have been quite as effective. Some have brought up the points you did and criticized my actions. Some have said that I should have asked the woman if she needed help and that not doing so disrespected her agency in the whole affair.  Others have said that involving her would be TOO “white knighty,” and the fact that I left her out of hit made my choice better.  (Some think that the fact that she mouthed "thank you" at all made the whole thing a White Knight trope.) Some think I should just have talked to him or called him out in some typical way (“Quit being ‘that guy’ man!”); some think that would have probably caused a violent escalation--possibly against her. Some think that by not talking to her she became a prop in my story. Some think that if I had talked to her I would have been as creepy as the guy hitting on her.

Where is the sweet spot?

I'm not sure I can answer that question, but what I do think is that as a community we SHOULD discuss it because it's tragic that someone might do nothing for fear of causing PC offense...or being too white knighty....or not respecting her agency....or....or....or.  I don't mind the criticism, but the vitriol behind some of it can lead to people staring at their phone and pretending they don't notice, and if you read the comments on that entry, you will discover that bystanders doing just that is all too common.

Not only that, but it's what four or five other people in the car that day actually did. If every action is objectionable in some way, to some people, then we have to consider the implications that it is possible that the overarching dialogue may be perpetuating inaction, and we need to find ways to deal with the utterly ubiquitous problem of street harassment and bystander interventions that we can live with. (A few of my friends, after watching the hell I've gone through in messages, e-mails, and comments flat out said they're never helping anyone again–that's not good.) Hopefully within that crucible we come to some good progressive, socially responsible conclusions about how to call creepers out.

But as a white, het, cis, able, male, I can't reasonably participate in a conversation about what is or isn't hurtful to marginalized groups. Unless you want to talk about being Jewish, having ADD and dyslexia, or being in an "alternative lifestyle choice," I can really only listen. So even though a lot of comments seem directed AT me for my part in this, I would honestly encourage people who feel this way to engage in that respectful discourse.

And maybe we leave that table grumbling at the fact that no approach made everyone happy, but that we can all agree that doing SOMETHING is the right thing to do.

Your writing is terrible!

Fair enough.

That reminds me though, this guy goes into a doctor's office.  He says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this."  The doctor says "Don't do that."

To oblique? I'll break it down.

I hate Sylvia Plath, and I can only deal with Jane Austen in the most detached, clinical, way if I am to avoid throwing the book across the room in disgust.  When I read Hawthorne, it is with the pleasure of someone who has trained themselves to enjoy kale eating a kale salad. Though a small part of me moans out for the "cheeseburger" of a good fight scene or dialogue or....for something to freaken HAPPEN.  Not everyone is going to like every writer’s style.  There are even webpages dedicated to hating Shakespeare.  

And I’m no Shakespeare, Hawthorne, or even Plath (hell, I’m not even a King or a Rowling), so I’m okay that I’m not to the taste of lots of people.  Writing is a just another type of communication and so readers and writers have to click in the same way they might in person.  There must exist a certain shared wavelength, based on everything from similar sense of humor, to methods of deconstruction ideas, to shared colloquialisms, to relative intelligence level, to thoughts on the physical and mental benefits of group sex in order for reader and writer to really get along.

And for a writer like Shakespeare or Faulkner or even Austen, it’s completely worth tuning yourself to their frequency to try and get them a little better.  But for me? Nah. If you and I don’t click, that’s okay. Go find authors and writers you enjoy. Life is too short.

Just don't forget this, okay?

In general, let me give you a hint about dealing with writers. You could tell I was a writer from the post, right?  (That’s a little joke.)

I had to sit through eighteen units of workshop classes to get my degree, so most vapid criticism, for me, is like throwing a Superball at a cement wall as hard as you can.  Most of these were night classes, and the teacher grouped us up randomly and told us we could go for the night when we were done (huge mistake). So half these sessions were with nineteen and twenty year olds, who thought Robert Asprin was considerably better than Toni Morrison and were practically wetting themselves to hurry it along and get out for the night. I learned right away to tell when someone hadn’t read my work or that they weren’t going to have an opinion I respected. (I also learned right away who offered good feedback and was worth listening to. I jotted down what they said, took it seriously when they had an issue, and worked their feedback into my next draft.) When those who couldn’t write, or take the time to formulate feedback more cogent than “this is terrible," started to talk, I nodded and pretended to jot down notes, but what I was really writing was “Total tool,” next to a doodle of that person’s face.

By the way, do you have a selfie I can look at? No reason.

Click Here for Part 3 (This is self aggrandizing/congratulatory/indulgent!  The way you described her beauty made you just as creepy.  Why didn't you post this from her perspective?  Describing him the way you did was also a trope.)


  1. First, I'd like to be clear that I think your original post on this subject is very cool, and so is lots of your other writing (I'm thinking of the Prometheus deconstruction in particular). So what follows comes from a place of love.

    In a strange marriage between your responses about the appropriateness of "douche" as an insult and the potential homophobia of your behaviour towards the aforementioned douchecanoe (neither of which - speaking as someone who tries his hardest to be a feminist ally, and as a gay man - I have a problem with), I have something of an issue with your repeated use of "butthurt".

    I've done some reading around the origins and uses of the word, and there doesn't seem to be a particularly solid consensus, but there's a definite sense that it refers to anal sex, possibly rape, and that it has a homophobic subtext. It might also refer to being spanked liked a misbehaving child, and this could be the sense you intend. Either way, I'd appreciate it if you could give the same kind of thought to using the term as you did to "douche" and its variants; you might reach the same conclusion as you did for douche, but just wanted to let you know that at least some of your readers find the word jarring and offensive.

    1. Please please please tell me this is just viciously deadpan satire that I didn't pick up on because otherwise I'm going to have to assume that your alliance with progressive causes and your research either had a very short tenure or you have had this conversation enough times to know that even folks routinely accused of looking for things to be offended about have wondered what you're on about. Because if this is you being butthurt about butthurt, I really have to tip my hat to the irony, but otherwise, I kind of wonder how long you've been online.

      Writing About Writing is probably not the best place in the world to be for anyone who offends easily. I'm way too sarcastic not to eventually land on someone's golden calf and do a little dance. The best I can do is to make sure that I'm mostly okay with most people I respect. You're literally the first person to mention this (out of hundreds of LGBTQ folks I know personally and thousands who've read the blog). But like I said earlier, I would have to write the backs of shampoo bottles not to offend anyone ever about anything. I'm pretty sure that filling up the entry replying to the proselytizing Christian with all threesome images was much more offensive than using a well-established online colloquialism that means overreacting to perceived slight. (And again, if this is just an ironic comment, I have to give you hats off.)

      But, as I don't want to completely dismiss you; butthurt doesn't have to come from rape, any good, hard anal shtupping will do. And while the absence of lube might be offensive to some, too many people think some strategically placed spit is going to keep it from stinging. Butthurt then could simply refer to anyone who trusted their (cyber) partner enough to bend over and ended up walking funny the next day because the K-Y was all the way downstairs. Or maybe it's from pulling the stick out. Or maybe it's from a huge BM--the kind that definitively lets you know it's time to start eating more fiber. The idea that it has to be rape is a bit of a stretch (GET IT??).

      More to the point, language is elastic. In England, a hundred years ago, and in modern day America, the word "fag" has very different meanings. Context matters. Otherwise someone could rightfully get bent out of shape any time someone calls them "nice." A simple google of "butthurt" will reveal that it has had enough cultural basis in its current meaning

      However, given the fact that butthurt usually comes after one has been metaphorically "spanked," I think you're closer with the other meaning. (Know Your Meme supports the spanked child meaning.) That or something akin to "pain in the ass" which I suppose could also be post anal whimpering, but I've never thought of it as such. Basically this isn't a word like "gyp" or "lame" that has very clear origins.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. [Deleted and reposted because errors.]

      Well, or, you know, metaphorically raped, as that word is used in gamer culture where the term butthurt is thought to have originated or been popularised. As I said, the research was hardly conclusive one way or another. The rape interpretation is at least plausible, and it's the association that a lot of people make (it's presented here as the obvious association, for example: http://neologisms.rice.edu/index.php?a=term&d=1&t=13903). Personally I tend to err on the side of not being offensive about things like rape or homophobia if I possibly can.

      And yeah, words change and context matters. Still, is it OK, for example, to use "gay" as a general purpose pejorative if a lot of people do and you don't intend the association with homosexuality?

      Incidentally, your speculation about my association with progressive causes and how long I've been online is way off base. I just thought that someone with broadly similar values to mine would appreciate being informed that his near-obsessive use of a particular term makes him come across as something of a douche to some people. Apparently, you did not appreciate that at all. Sorry to have bothered you, and thank you for your time.

    4. I can totally appreciate your approach and the obviously well-intentioned impetus with which you wrote me. But I can appreciate it without necessarily sharing it. A word like "rape" or "gay" has a very clear meaning. Yes, they are used differently by certain people. But in this case the context of the word "context" matters. Lots and lots of people in progressive causes (the ones I tend to watch for linguistic cues about what can be upsetting) try to discourage people from using "gay" as a pejorative and "rape" to mean defeated. "Butthurt" has an obscured origin and no such mass of socially progressive people rallying around its misuse as one can have a hurt butt from any number of activities, including consensual heterosexual sex. (Really, there's nothing to suggest that only a victim of gay rape could have a sore ass--the same ambiguity is not even REMOTELY true of using "gay" to mean stupid.) The criticism I found the most about "butthurt" was that it was considered unimaginable--which is why I generally use it only to refer to myself or when I overuse it to draw attention to it as a word.

      But like I've said over and over and over again in other threads that have tried to school me on my use of language, I will listen to the discourse. It's not my place to "decide" if a word is hurtful to a group that I'm not a part of. If you want the "some people" you represent to work to raise awareness of the homophobia of the word butthurt within the LGBTQ community and their general consensus seems to shift, I'll retire the word right away. (But just to be clear, that's not quite the same as dogpiling me.) Honestly, the word douche (which you didn't have a problem with) has a much more contentious debate surrounding it right now.

      My speculation about your associations with progressive causes had to do with how ubiquitous this word actually is WITHIN progressive communities (I thought I made that clear.) not some sort of speculation of your character. It was difficult for me to imagine you not having run across this argument a lot.

      But as my "obsessive" use of this word is basically limited to one reply of one mailbox (in which I intentionally OVERused it for comedic effect), something like three other entries out of 548 (where I've done something similar), and comments here, I will harbor a dark and secret fear that even though you couched this in benevolent language (literally stating that it came from a "place of love" like you were doing an intervention) that in reality you wanted only contrition. However, I will not let go of that secret hope that the research I DID do (immediately) about the word, just to make sure, and my rationale have satisfied you.

    5. I think that's all fair enough.

      It would be true to say that I'm very conscious of language that could possibly in some remote way be problematic, and it's not unusual for people to think I'm being hypersensitive about it. My take on it is that it's so easy for me to use alternative language: it's impossible for someone who's triggered or otherwise affected by words to not be.

      One of the problems is that I encounter resistence whether I'm talking about obviously problematic things like rape jokes and words like "cunt", "retard", "fag" etc, or things that are less egregious like "butthurt" (incidentally, just want to make clear the association (some make) with rape is not necessarily limited to homosexual rape) and "bitch".

      I'll concede I probably mischaracterised your use when I called it "near-obsessive" - I haven't read that much of your work yet, and I guess the unrepresentative sample I did read is part of why I felt moved to comment. I certainly wouldn't have bothered if the use was more moderate.

      Anyway. Thanks again for taking the trouble to respond, and you can be sure I won't bother you with anything so trifling in the future. Good luck with your (otherwise awesome ;p) writing!

    6. Be careful Casus. It sounds to me like you're het. But don't worry, I won't hold it against you. And it sounds like you want to get this right. So I'm going to warn you... It can be just as much a dick move to tell someone they ARE offended by something as to tell them they aren't. You don't want to be that guy who can't order black coffee with a black friend because you don't want to offend them. If Chris talked to gay people and they're okay with it (like all the ones in the comments of these posts) he's done his due diligence. You on the other hand may want to be aware where being conscious of language and being offended FOR people overlap.

      -A not butthurt about butthurt gay man

    7. Be careful Anonymous. It sounds to me like you're totally wrong about my sexuality. It's not just about the homophobic undertones, it's also about the rape. You know how some people don't think that references and jokes that minimise rape are very cool? Well, I'm one of those people, and while I'm glad that you don't have those associations (or, if you do, that you aren't affected by the minimisation of rape), some people do (and are).

      My intent was simply to raise awareness, although apparently it sounds like I wanted to censure. I've re-read my original comment here, and I don't get that, but I'll certainly be more careful about how I bring up issues like this in the future. I wouldn't want people to get butthurt about being called out over using butthurt, after all.

      Also, you might want to be aware that not all gay people are the same. Assuming that you (or Chris's gay friends) speak for all gay people is a kind of homophobia, too.

    8. I'm not the one calling people douche for not agreeing with me.

    9. This is a little late, but I've been hearing the word butthurt since the mid to late 80s. It's not a new word; it's just more popular now. I don't think my friends and I ever associated it with gay sex. It is and was an apt term for feeling embarrassed because you got your butt handed to you verbally.

    10. That was always the context I heard it until very, very recently.

  2. Wow, it seems that a lot of people are criticizing you for not being perfect. Perfectly knowledgable about language, perfectly knowledgeable about who you might offend and for what, perfectly knowledgeable about the woman in the incident's desires, perfectly knowledgeable about whether the creep might have hated on the gays....

    Do people believe we must be perfect before we take any positive action? How would any progress be made in civil society if we must be perfect before doing anything?

    I'm positively boggled by this.

    For the record, as a gay guy, I personally don't think you were perpetrating homophobia. I think you were simply giving the guy a lesson about unwanted attention. I think your tactic about explaining rape culture to straight men is very apt, and applied here. (But of course, I only speak for myself.)

    1. It sure can feel a bit like that. I think part of it is just the "cost" of something going viral. People stop dealing with it like it was something someone did, and start dealing with it like it is a lesson to be dissected. Thank you for your kind words. :)

  3. I'd like to throw in my strong belief (as a queer man) that your approaching the guy wasn't to me in any way offensive, and explain a bit about my thinking.

    The seed of my argument is this: Homophobia toward GBTQ men and misogyny are not independent, in fact, they're highly interlinked in dominant American culture, gay mean are accused (as if it were a bad thing) of acting or sounding or looking or behaving "like a woman", both groups are culturally expected to be submissive, threats of violence are a constant presence.

    As I read it, your situational judo here leveraged this fact, and had the potential to educate the harasser not only about what it feels like to be harassed as a woman, but also to examine the reasons he felt so threatened, homophobia included. And so, I feel that your actions probably do more to address homophobia than to perpetuate it.

  4. Re the homophobia thing: I don't know if you were encouraging homophobia or not, but there is one thing. A better response to the I'M NOT GAY thing would have been, not to immediately respect his choices, but something like "Are you sure?" It would have echoed the response one sometimes gets to "I'm not interested", namely something like "Oh come on, you don't even know me, give me a chance", and, more specifically, the response one sometimes gets to citing orientation in particular. I've had luck getting guys to leave me alone after I claimed to be a lesbian (I'm not, but it's harder to convince people you're asexual), but I also know there's a prevalent conviction that lesbians aren't "really" lesbians or just need to be set/fucked/raped straight by the right guy.

    1. Yeah the whole "right guy" thing makes that a crap shoot. And I probably pushed my luck as far as it could go that day. Maybe next time (if the guy is not so big).

  5. Hey Chris! I'm a gay transmasc person, and I did not see your approach as homophobic at all. As a member of multiple minority groups (I'm also Asian), I can understand the wariness that some folks may feel, especially when it comes to conversations on the internet. Still, I'm sorry you had to face such a long onslaught of attacks! From following your blog for some years now, I know that you've always been an ardent supporter of queer and trans folks, women, POCs, and other marginalized groups, so it was doubly horrible to see people ambush you like that when you were trying to stand up for and defend oppressed groups.

    As for the bystander effect, I feel this point so strongly. So many people are afraid of causing conflicts, of being criticized in some way or another, that they would rather stay silent and do nothing, which means even more harassment (and worse) go unchecked. A cis female friend told me that some guys don't want to be seen as creeps, so they would rather do nothing than to help a woman who is being harassed, because apparently, there's the idea that if a guy helps a woman, he would expect sexual favors from her. This was shocking for me to hear. I know about the Nice Guy syndrome, but I thought it only referred to friendships, not to strangers as well. How ironic it is for some guys to not help a girl against a creep, for fear of being seen as a creep??

    There is that point you mentioned, about people being afraid that the aggressor will attack them too if they intervene. Yes, I've been on the train where this white man kept insulting and shoving a brown man around. Almost everyone, including me, were frozen in fear and didn't do anything. Only one or two guys got up to block the white guy, and later, an elderly lady rang the alarm for security to come. I told this story to some friends, and one friend, who is an Asian transgender lesbian, said that when you've suffered through so much, you eventually become braver to act. She told me about times when she yelled back at an aggressor and pressed the alarm for security staff as well. Yeah, it's sad that many of us are still too afraid to intervene when someone is clearly being harassed or attacked; the bystander effect is all too ubiquitous.

    P.S. I know my comment came in 8 years too late XD, but this is a great topic of discussion, and the bystander effect is something that has been on my mind lately.