More thoughts on creepiness and sex-positivity

I was responding to a comment from my post yesterday about elevatorgate, just now, and realized part of what put a twist in my panties about this issue originally.  And while I think that I am in agreement with Rebecca Watson almost completely, and thank her for her consciousness raising (assuming she won’t mind the continual use of that term associated with her new BFF Richard Dawkins), I also think that there is a tangential issue that all of these conversations touch on that have been meaningful for me for a long time.

So, while trying to slowly put behind us the specific issue of Rebecca Watson and her elevator friend, I want to address the general issue of being creepy in a sex-positive world full of happy, horny, sluts.

It is essentially this: There is nothing wrong with asking for sex.

I have read, in the last few days, so many comments about proper ways to hit on women that don’t sexualize them, that respect them, and that will not creep them out.  I get it; make sure you are in a safe context, speak to them respectfully, and and don’t just proposition them, but talk to them first.  The last part throws me off a little.  There is nothing inherently wrong with asking a person, in a safe environment and with appropriate words, to have sex with you.  You just have to be prepared to hear and accept a no, because that is likely what will happen in most (but not all) cases.

Before this issue arose, I would have not done what elevator guy did, but mostly for pragmatic reasons.  Whether this makes me privileged, insensitive, or whatever, the fact is that I realize that it just would not work, and is therefore a waste of my time.  I would have not understood the fear that many women would feel in that situation because I, as has been pointed out, have some blinders on.

Fair enough.  Blinders partially removed, trying to understand better, but I still have concerns for how this privilege of mine interacts with a world of happy, horny, sluts.


The world I want to live in; a slut-friendly world.

Many commenters, on Pharyngula and elsewhere, pointed out that men do not have the right to assume that any interaction with a woman gives them the right to assume the possibility of sexual encounters.  That’s right, we should not assume anything.  But this is different than saying they don’t have the right to ask, so long as they are willing to accept a no without feeling rejected.  This distinction is critical, because it highlights where he rub here is.  Asking is not assuming.  In fact, it is perfectly flush with skepticism; you don’t know something so you investigate.  I think that many so-called “elevator guy apologists” are probably trying to articulate this, while still often missing the factor of context.  People talking past one-another on the internet, once again.

The issue is this; what would be acceptable for one woman would be creepy for another.  In other words, just like with the Schroedinger’s rapist issue, we have what I call the similar problem of Schroedinger’s slut; we don’t know (in most cases) when the proposition will be acceptable or creepy for another person.  So, once you find the appropriate place and time, it’s carpe diem time.  Life is too short to live life in fear.  So, if you meet a girl or a guy (or both) at a party, a bar, a club, or elsewhere where they are not physically trapped, then ask what you desire! If you are respectful, open, honest, and so forth and are still seen as creepy, there is nothing you could have done to not be creepy.  That person might just have issues with their sexuality, if you did in fact ask respectfully and in a safe space.

I’m extending this issue into the realm of sex-positivity and sluthood, not common bar/party meetings of people where the normal vanilla rules apply.  In my ideal world, a proposition of sex between relative strangers is morally and socially acceptable, even if it is unlikely to succeed.  I still don’t do it often, because I am often in vanilla circles and realize that many people are sex negative and view sluthood as a bad thing.  But at a kink club, polyamory meetup, or a swing club?

Different rules.

But creepiness is still an issue, and that is what I am curious about.  See for us, one thing we have to learn is how to hear “no.” And how to say no without feeling bad about it.  That is difficult as well.


A Memorable Lesson from Polyamory 101

A few years back I was at a polyamory meeting where had this exercise which has stuck with me ever since.  We stood up and walked around the room asking anyone and everyone for permission to kiss them.  Male, female, old, young, etc.  Everyone had to say “no” (even if you wanted to say “yes!”) so that we could get accustomed to hearing and saying no.  The reason for this is that we learn that there is no harm in asking.  Hearing no is not so bad, and neither is saying it.  Some people may think there is harm in asking, and others feel bad saying no.  That’s just immaturity and prudishness.  By all means be a prude if that makes you happy.  But even in that case you can still say no without it being an issue.

I have been to a few conferences over the years.  Financial struggles make it hard to do so more, especially now.  And while at a conference among godless heathens and (often) libertines, I sometimes meet more freaky people, and the only way I found this out was by asking.  Just not while in an elevator and alone.  But I will not be shamed by my admitted privilege into not asking at all, as some voices in the last few days seem to imply.  That is a form of sex-negativity, and is not a step towards health for our community or for any individuals.

Bottom line: We all need to try and be aware of contexts that present potential dangers and violations of respect, but there is a distinction between the context and the request for sex.  We all, as a culture, need to be able to ask for what we want, be prepared to hear a no (or a yes), and we need to remember that people have different boundaries that we cannot predict upon sight.  When we cross other people’s boundaries, we can apologize; and when someone crosses ours we can realize that they may have meant no disrespect.

And when people do act disrespectfully without concern for our discomfort or boundaries, we have the right to call them out on it.  I am in full support of people who cross boundaries being educated, especially if they display no concern for having done so.  Let’s hope that Rebecca Watson’s education of us will be a prevention of potential harm that could happen.  Let’s hope that nothing more serious than what she experienced ever happens at a conference.

And let’s also hope that the sluts in our community have some hot sex with each-other.

Christmas in July!


While downtown today, I ran into this.  Now, most of you out there have probably seen the Salvation Army people ringing bells around Christmas time.  But this was the first time I have seen one in July.

Now, I have heard the cultural meme of Christmas in July, and really don’t care one way or the other about it.  I don’t generally enjoy Christmas and have not celebrated it for many years, but I know many atheists still enjoy the holiday. 

But the Salvation Army…

I don’t have easy access to statistics while mobile, but their charity organization is not exactly altruistic.  Much of what they do with the money they bring in is proselytize their Christian message.  I mean, just look at what they call themselves; Salvation Army.  This is not an organization which is friendly to secular worldviews, and is not an organizagion I would give a penny to.

If you want a better charity, look up Foundation Beyond Belief.  Why are they not on street corners ringing bells? Would people give to an overt secular or non-religious charity?

In any case, I didn’t talk to them because I had somewhere to be, but now that I’m done, perhaps I will ask them what they know about the organization and if they are christians themselves.  Very likely they are.

Elevatorgate: frustrations with creepiness as a man-slut

Another male perspective on something I cannot comprehend, I know.  But I have a few frustrations I want to vent, understanding that many feminists (and I count myself among them) will view my comments as just not getting it.

I will not recap the events over the last weekend about the Elevatorgate issue that arose from Rebecca Watson’s recent video and subsequent kerfuffle.  If you don’t know, then simply skip this (or catch up and come back).  I had a long conversation with Ginny about this yesterday, one that made it clear that I’m not completely understanding Watson’s (and many other women’s) experience with this, but nonetheless an issue I have thought a lot about the last few days.

During that conversation with Ginny, I said something that was better articulated in a comment by a “Marty” on Phil Plait’s blog today (#31)

Just as it would be insulting for me to assume that every moment I spend with other women is a possible sexual encounter, it’s also insulting to treat every moment a woman spends around any man as a potential sexual assault.

This gets to the heart of part of this issue for me.  Now, I recognize that there is no comparing the issue of me being around a woman and feeling like I want to be sexual with her and the fear a woman might feel in an enclosed space, especially if he is hitting on her.  But what I think has been overlooked in the conversations about this issue in the last few days (and I have read many, not nearly half however, of the comments on the various blogs that have brought this up) is the fact that their is a two-sided responsibility here and that there are frustrations that are valid for people in elevator guy’s place.

What I have learned

I have learned that many women would feel uncomfortable, and not in just some socially anxious way, if they were in an elevator with me, alone, and I propositioned her.  Even if I used respectful words.  Even if I didn’t physically touch, or even get close to, her.  Even if (as one commenter on Pharyngula said) it were at noon.  This teaches me that it is just a thing not to do if only for the fact that it will not work.  That is, even if I was convinced there was nothing wrong with doing so per se, as many commenters still uphold, the fact is that it is not pragmatically wise.  I accept that it causes women discomfort, and I want to avoid that.

I have learned that many women think a lot about how to avoid sexual assault day to day.  I have learned that the fear of such things is prominent for many people.  I knew previously that the statistics for rape and sexual assault are astoundingly high, but I learned that an elevator is one of the places where the anxiety is a little higher.

I will not be propositioning women in elevators, ever.  Even if I see one smiling at me and giving me bedroom eyes as we ascend (or descend), I’ll wait until she is off the elevator to say anything.  Certainly, if I see Rebecca Watson in an elevator, I will wait until another time to compliment her, just in case it comes across as flirting.  Let’s just say when I’m interested in someone I don’t hide it well (And no, that was not a crude reference…).

Also, I’ll certainly never look at this song the same again:

Essentially, I understand that as a male in our culture, I have a responsibility to be aware of how my “privilege” blinds me to how I can use sexuality in ways that make women uncomfortable.  I accept that some things I may do, even while trying to be respectful of women as people, will come across as creepy and inappropriate.  I will keep trying to expand my understanding of this problem.

What I want others to understand

For clarification, much of the following is NOT directed towards Rebecca Watson per se.  this issue has grown larger than the initial encounter that spawned it.  It’s mostly a rant.

Just because statistics of rape are ridiculously high, and the vast majority of them are committed by men to women, does not mean that women are rationally justified to live their lives in fear of men, even in elevators.  I know that most women do not, but the comments in recent days concerning this issue tells me that many do.  I am an advocate of not allowing fear to dominate a person’s behavior or thinking.  Fear is a tool of oppression as much as patriarchy, white/male privilege, or wealth disparity.  When you encounter a guy hitting on you in an elevator, you need to keep in mind that even though the statistics of assault are really really high, probability states that he’s just clueless at best, overly aggressive at worst.  He’s probably just drunk.

I want women to be cautious, aware, and safe, but I don’t want them to be afraid of men without justification.  And women do have the right to request that a certain kind of behavior is not done (like hitting on women in elevators), however you have to keep in mind that you are responsible for how you are interpreting people’s actions based upon statistics.  I think it is fair to request that women do not assumes that violence is likely, even while being aware of its possibility.  I think the distinction is important.

I do not believe Rebecca Watson did anything wrong in that elevator or in her subsequent video.  The guy was probably clueless, and her advice to not do that was good advice.  Whatever increases well-being, as Sam Harris says, right?   I like Rebecca Watson.  I think she is intelligent, thoughtful, funny, and eloquent.  I have met her a few times, although we have never spoken more than a word or few to each other because she is usually inundated with fans and friends, as a person of her abilities warrants.  I happen to also think she is an attractive woman, and under the right circumstances I would like to get to know her better (both intellectually and otherwise).  Is that sexist? Am I sexualizing her? Perhaps, but I am not merely sexualizing her.  I think that creates a distinction which matters as well.

Luckily for her, I don’t drink coffee.  I would also not use this euphemism to proposition someone anyway, nor would I do so without any existing familiarity at very least.  I also don’t think that coldly propositioning anyone is wrong or creepy in all cases, just not pragmatic in most cases.

If I were to find myself  talking to Rebecca Watson and got any indication that she might be interested in getting to know me, I would probably ask her if she’d like to get a drink and talk alone (but still in public, to start).  And I would let things take their natural course from there.   I doubt I’d have that opportunity, as I have no reason to think she would be interested in me (despite the fact that I’m brilliant and beautiful, that is…).  Of course, my guess is that most men will certainly avoid, if they have been paying attention, hitting on her at any conferences from now on, and I am no exception to this.  Perhaps that was what she wanted, I don’t know.

But could I imagine a situation where I would say or do something that would set off a woman’s creeper-meter? Oh for sure! I have no doubt that if actually faced with a women I was interested in romantically or sexually, I could (and certainly have in the past) creep said woman out.  The best intentions and the utmost respect can’t always avoid that, as sometimes it is just a look in the eye, bad choice of words, or awful timing to do so.

And that sucks, because it’s very very frustrating to know this fact looms over interpersonal interactions where sexuality is a factor.  As a man who wants to be sex-positive, likes casual sex on occasion, and meets attractive women while out and about, the fact that no matter my intentions I am more likely to creep a woman out than gain her interest is frustrating.  And it’s not that I assume I have the possibility of a sexual encounter with any women for whom I have interest, its just that when I would like some sexual contact with a woman I just met or don’t know well, my asking may come across as inappropriate even while presented respectfully.

I often find myself asking myself, after hearing of stories where men are perceived as creepy, questions like ‘is there a way he could have asked which would not have been creepy?’  And, if not, was it really creepy or was she just not attracted to him in particular? Also, is it sometimes the case that people are creeped out without justification?  I think these questions expose important distinctions as well.

There seems to be a tension, here, between the ideal sex-positive world that I strive for and one described by those talking about privilege of which men are usually blind.  I have no desire to be a pick up artist (PUA), but I do desire to live in a world where sexual interest in a woman, expressed openly, honestly, and respectfully, is not called sexist.   I, as a man, simply don’t know how to approach women I am attracted to, preferably in an at-least partially public area, without being pegged as suffering from privilege-blindness. I hope there is a realistic answer to this tension, because I want to be respectful while enjoying sex with others who want the same thing.  And just like women can’t tell the good men from the bad ones (the Schrodinger’s rapist problem), I can’t always tell the sluts (not a derogatory term) from the women who will view my proposition as creepy.  Let’s call that the Schroedinger’s slut problem.

I, as a slut, just want to be able to be a slut in a feminist world.  I know there are others out there too who feel this way, but now I’m anxious about being the next elevator guy because I crossed someone’s boundaries without knowing it.  Yes, I won’t hit on a woman in an elevator now (my consciousness has been raised, thank you Rebecca), but I might do it while she’s alone at the end of the bar, while at a party where she knows nobody, or some other situation that is uncomfortable or creepy for her.   And then I’ll have to be told that this is also unacceptable, and many people will agree and see me as sexist, and I’ll be just as confused as I was when I first read about what elevator guy did.

At bottom, I want women to give us men a little more leeway concerning creepiness, and I want men to treat women better so that men can stop being feared as sexual predators.  It will be so much better for everyone, men, to stop being predators.  And it would be some improvement if women would give us a little lenience about perceived creepiness.

This is more of a rant borne of frustration than anything else.  Thanks for listening.

So, Rebecca Watson, would you like to come over to Philly for a drink?  I promise; no elevators!

(that wasn’t creepy, was it?)

The Tea Party does not want America to change: I do

Today I am going to do something which I rarely do, especially here.  I am going to talk about politics.

More specifically, I want to address an idea that has taken root in the Tea Party.  It is probably not universal among them, nor do I expect it to be the most important aspect of the Tea Party movement.  However, when I ran into a rally at Independence Mall, near Independence Hall, on Independence Day, it was a theme that was mentioned more than a few times, especially by Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who spoke among others.  The key note speaker was John Bolton, who has no chance as a candidate, and whose speech I found silly and uninspiring.

It seems as if one of the problems that the Tea Party is trying to combat is the ‘liberal’ desire to change America.  This was said in context of the “ripping up of the Constitution” (supposedly by people like me).  Herman Cain said several times that there are people who want to change America, and many said that this is the greatest country in the world.  Perhaps.

So, what is wrong with changing America? And why is ripping up the Constitution associated with this, as if one could not change America and follow the Constritution?  Best nation? In what way; culturally, economically, politically, or some other way?

And yes, I do want America to change.  I would like to be part of what changes it, as well.  But I do not want to rip up, either literally or metaphorically, the US Constitution.  I have read the Constitution and  appreciate my rights as well as defend the rights of others even if I disagree with them. Further, my understanding of the process by which we create Constitutional amendments implies that change is an inherent part of our Constitution and therefore our country.  It just seems that this idea is empty rhetoric without real substance.

Despite the empty rhetoric of many of the speakers and apologists I heard from there yesterday, I (as a liberal, at least in most political senses), am not trying to destroy our Constitution.  I am trying to use my constitutional rights to influence the public towards a better America, by use of speech, protest, and litigation in some cases.  Our nation is ripe with cultural problems from sex negativity, poor education, and political naivete which helps cripple our growth to a better nation and a better world.

Me talking with one Ron Paul supporter

I want citizens who are more educated, mature, and willing to challenge their own worldviews.  I want the legality of gay marriage and polyamorous marriage.  I want better healthcare, whether through a single-payer system or some other option.  I want the divide between the rich and the poor to be addressed in a meaningful way.  I want discrimination, breaches in the wall between government and religion, and other effects of poor education and indoctrination to disappear.  All of these goals, and many others, can only be reached by changing America.

The idea that we should not change America is conservative by definition.  And as one conservative-minded person I know told me, there is a difference between wanting to retain traditional ideas per se and simply opposing progressive ideals.  Granted.   However, whether you want to conserve traditional ideas per se or not is not the point.  The point is that our culture, and therefore many governmental policies, need to change if we are going to improve.  Arguing that America should not change sounds a lot like a person telling there therapist that they don’t need help.

In other words, this ideal within at least some Tea Partiers that we should not change, and we should fight change, is a sign of denial of real problems within.  We, as a culture and as a nation, are sick in many ways.   We need to change, if we want to survive and thrive.  Right now, we are not thriving, and more of the same will not help.

So, in 4 years will "2016" be over the "2012"?

Finally, concerning what one Ron Paul supporter told me, which was that the Tea Party movement was started in 2007 to protest the corporate ownership of the two major parties, and that it is trying to remain independent from such influences.  But the recent motions of people associating with the Tea Party, such as Sarah Palin, have taken the name brand and changed it.  My prediction is that what remnants of the Ron Paul revolution that want to stray from corporate interests will die out completely, having been over-taken by the interests of those who have the money to make more noise.  And while I don’t support Ron Paul, I appreciate the attempt by some of his supporters  to remain unaffected by corporate interests.

I just don’t believe that changing (or restoring, as they call it) our government will make the corruption disappear.  I’m too much of a cynic, I suppose.

So, yes, Tea Party leaders, some of us do want to change America.  The fact that you don’t see anything worth changing is one of the many reasons I cannot get behind your cause.


The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ


I have seen these guys on the street in philadelphia for many years.  I usually ignore them, but I found myself near city hall today and decided to sit and eat a cheesesteak while I listened to their public sermon.

Because I am mobile, I will keep this very brief (and I will write more later).  Their basic message seems to be that many of the non-white people of the world (all in the western hemisphere) are the 12 lost tribes of Israel, and that they are the people of (the biblical) God. 

They also argue that Jesus was black, which has gained some traction in segments of culture in recent years (for me, this idea first appeared in the music of KRS-ONE).  On top of that, they have a generally dis-favorable view of white people.  At one point a few years ago, one of them referred to me as a white devil (this may remind you of the Nation of Islam).

Their sign lists two verses from the Old Testament:

Gen 49:1-28
Deut 33:1-29

I don’t know them off-hand, but I will look them up later for further comment.  I will listen for a little while longer.

(BTW, when I tried to take the picture, one of them tried to block me with his clipboard.  I had to explain to him the concept of public space and the first ammendment, of which they are now protected under.)