A lot of dudes really flip out in response to the term “creep.” It’s so UNFAIR to call them creeps! The word “creep” is ableist because there are dudes on the autism spectrum who have difficulty socializing and reading social cues and they can’t help being creepy! Etc etc. The take-away seems to be that women just need to tolerate creepy dudes because feeling like your personal safety is being consistently threatened (and running the risk of being told “Well why didn’t you DO something about that creep sooner?” if your personal safety is actually violated) is a small price to pay in the service of not making one dude feel kinda sad. Which is why I really appreciate when dudes who maybe do have problems reading social cues are told they’re being creepy and instead of getting mad at the person telling them that fact, they take steps to change their behavior. Like Ben here, who is interviewed over at the Hairpin in an excellent piece, and who seems like a really interesting and lovely person:
Do you remember your first crush?
I do. I think I’d just hit puberty. It was in 8th grade. There was a girl in my shop class, my first class of the day. I’d come into class straight from home, right? Straight from the shower — and it was winter, and my hair would freeze, and I’d sit down next to this girl who always told me, “Watch out, you’ll get split ends.”
I got this feeling whenever I was around her, this moony feeling. I just felt good around her, and it was the first time I’d ever felt anything like that. I wanted to sustain the feeling, so I’d stand around and try to talk to her, I’d stare at her, I’d try to hang around her in the hallways. I had no idea that what I was doing was out of the ordinary or creeping her out.
Then I got her number from someone, and that’s when it went downhill. I called her and left a message, and I had a moment where I became cognizant of just how inappropriate my behavior was in reference to social norms, and so I panicked and called her back. I tried to explain myself on the second message, and it made me feel worse, and it sort of snowballed. I must’ve called six times consecutively, thinking, “I can still fix this.”
The school took it very seriously, which I think is to their credit. They got me into a room with all the counselors and told me how badly I was freaking out this girl. I was horrified. It was like one of those dreams when you suddenly realize you’re naked. I felt awful, I felt so guilty. It was the first time I realized that my PDD wasn’t just a benign quirk I had — that it had serious implications for other people, specifically women.
I’m glad the school took it seriously, and while my heart goes out to Ben for feeling so horrified, I’m glad that he was able to see that it wasn’t about him being a bad person, it was about his brain not recognizing certain things that lots of other people read as threatening, and it was his responsibility going forward to try not to totally freak people out.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that Ben had basically the exact reaction that any decent human being would have — “I am doing something that scares people, I don’t want to scare people, I would like to stop doing this” — he wasn’t really given the tools to help him. Instead, he walked away feeling alone:
Oh! That is quite a first crush story.
Yeah. The worst part was that my parents reacted badly. Like I wasn’t a child anymore, but some volatile lunatic. In the conference they had this look on their face like, “What have we done wrong to raise a child like this?” I really internalized that moment. After that I felt like I was someone that needed to be contained, and all of this culminated in my first depressive episode.
But mostly I feel bad for E—, the girl. It must have been scary for her.
Were you able to talk about this with anyone?
All my life, I think I viewed my friends more as activity partners. And, after this incident, I developed all these axiomatic beliefs about who I was — that I would never form the deep, meaningful connections that other kids seemed to make with each other so easily. I told myself that I’d fuck up and hurt people if I tried to form bonds with them.
From the rest of the interview it seems like Ben is working through that, and is no longer under the impression that he’s going to fuck up and hurt people if he forms bonds with them. But the whole interview is a nice illustration of how being “different” isn’t the same as being creepy, and how it’s entirely possible to weather the charge of “creep” and come out on the other side, so long as you actually care about doing right.
And it’s just a lovely interview generally and you should read it (TW, though, for discussion of molestation).
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