Trigger warning for discussion of boundary violations, brief mention of rape.
I am having Thoughts on the term “creepy.” Previous thoughts on the term creepy that I stand by can be found here, if you’re interested.
My basic premises for this discussion are as follows:
1) If you’re creeped out by someone, LEAVE THE SITUATION as soon as you can. That is not the appropriate time to question the kyriarchal implications of blah-de-yada-yada; it’s the appropriate time to keep yourself safe.
2) “Creepy” is a valuable term to use to describe people of all genders who violate boundaries, objectify others, shoot up red flags, or otherwise behave in nasty or unpleasant ways.
3) Many of the people who are against the term “creepy” are themselves rather creepy, as they seem to be rather against the idea of
people women having boundaries and being willing to assert them.
Given those three things, however… I do think that “creepiness” can also serve as a method of kyriarchal enforcement.
Think about it. I bet you could get a bunch of people to agree to the following
- Homeless people are creepy.
- Trans people are creepy.
- Men of color (especially on deserted streets in the middle of the night) are creepy.
- Mentally ill people are creepy.
- Crossdressers are creepy.
- Kinky people (especially sadists/doms) are creepy.
- The otaku who lives in his mom’s basement and collects miniatures is creepy.
Are all of these oppressed groups? Nope. Personally I’d classify crossdressers, kinky people, and otaku as “not oppressed,” but of course that’s drawing a bright red line through a whole lot of gray area. But all of these groups, regardless of how you classify them, are hit negatively in some way by kyriarchal narratives– for instance, the kinky person has to face a ton of sex-shaming, while the otaku has a ton of you’re-not-a-real-man ideas to contend with.
And one of the ways that the kyriarchy is manifested is by people considering them ‘creepy.’
I do think that male members of these groups are more likely to be considered creepy, because our culture thinks that (marginalized) men have more potential to threaten and hurt than marginalized women do. (Presumably, privileged men have an equal potential to cause harm, but they don’t because privileged men are clearly all saintly people who would never hurt a fly unless they deserved it for committing grave crimes like getting in the way of American oil interests.) Therefore, all things being held equal, a man of color will generally be considered more threatening and creepy by a white person than a woman of color will, and a male crossdresser will be considered more predatory and creepy than a female crossdresser will.
Why? Because men are considered to be capable of violence, and women usually aren’t. Because men are considered to have a predatory sexuality that goes about raping anyone who stays still long enough, and women usually aren’t. Because men are thought to have agency, under conditions of patriarchy, and women are not.
And I do think “that’s creepy” is a potent method of enforcing behavior. I mean, it’s horrible to be considered a potential boundary violator or even perpetrator of violence for a trait that you can’t change. For people who can hide who they are, such as kinky people or crossdressers, it serves as a reminder that they have to. For people who can’t, such as people of color or homeless people, it’s another reminder that your culture doesn’t entirely think of you as fully human.
The worst part is that it’s not even intentional. At least for me, “creepy” doesn’t come with reasons. My brain doesn’t say “you think Person X is creepy because they’re homeless” so I can separate it out from “you think that Person Y is creepy because they’re touching that person who looks obviously uncomfortable” or “you think that Person Z is creepy because body language.” Am I uncomfortable around Person X because they’re a crossdresser or because they’re actually being creepy? I don’t know.
Intuition is tremendously powerful and capable of synthesizing all kinds of information. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of stupid, because it works off heuristics and sometimes heuristics go wrong. Sometimes they go wrong in ways that are ultimately harmless– your brain distrusts Person Q, a perfectly harmless person, because they remind you of your abusive ex that you managed to escape just in time, which is unfortunate for Person Q, but of no significance in the long run. Sometimes they go wrong in ways that are really, really bad, particularly when they start feeding off cultural memes. Like “trans people are scary.” Or “men of color are scary.” Or… well, look at the list above.
In the moment, because you don’t know, it’s best to just trust your instincts. However, in the long run, one wants to strip one’s brain of all these nasty kyriarchal ideas. Although I have nothing beyond anecdotes to back this up and so it should be taken with all relevant grains of salt, I’ve noticed that the culturally creepy people that my brain doesn’t consider creepy are people that I have a strong positive association with. Trans people create great gender theory! Mentally ill people help you out when you’re mentally ill! Nerds are My Tribe! So possibly go off and befriend actual people of the demographic that freaks you out.