A Tale of Two People

9 Jun

This started as a result of a discussion about conventions and, perhaps more importantly, me waking up in no state to write.

As a general rule, there are two sorts of people – mostly, although not always, male – who will push the boundaries to the point they make other people feel uncomfortable. Call these guys the ‘Socially Awkward Guy’ and ‘Really Creepy Guy.’

The Socially Awkward Guy has had very few opportunities to learn social interaction by doing. He may have been socially excluded at school – the nerd who got dumped on by everyone else – or there may have been something in his background that made it hard for him to interact with other people; he might be autistic, for example, or simply very shy. It is a struggle for Socially Awkward Guy to open a conversation with anyone and, when there are several people in the conversation, Socially Awkward Guy tends to slink out of everyone else’s awareness. He may have good points to make, but never sees an opportunity to actually speak. Socially Awkward Guys like fandom – nerdy fandom – because it provides something they can use to get social interaction.

Socially Awkward Guy is not particularly empathic, not in the sense that he is capable of understanding how he comes across to others. They simply don’t realise that they say or do things that make people uncomfortable, largely because they have problems understanding that people can find them threatening. (Remember, they were the ones who got dumped on by everyone else.) At their worst, Socially Awkward Guys curdle; they become so resentful of the way they are treated, which barely registers on everyone else’s radar, that they go looking for a way to hit back.

The Really Creepy Guy, by contrast, knows precisely what he’s doing. His every act is designed to push the window of acceptable conduct, at least for him; if you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile. Everything he does will be surrounded by layer upon layer of plausible deniability – “oh, she was overreacting” – and he will have neither compunction or trouble in manipulating everyone into supporting him. Really Creepy Guys like fandom because nerds are instinctively opposed to excluding anyone, no matter how creepy they may be.

Really Creepy Guy is often very empathic, in the sense he understands just how far he can go. He often understands the rules of social interaction very well, to the point where he can manipulate authority – however defined – into supporting him. He’s good at reading people, allowing him to tell who will stop him and who will refuse to take a stand. Really Creepy Guy can be charming and funny, but also toxic. His mere presence drives people away.

The problem facing convention organisers is two-fold. First, it can be hard to tell the difference between Socially Awkward Guy and Really Creepy Guy. Second, Really Creepy Guy tends to have more social capital than Socially Awkward Guy, which makes it harder to take action against him. (This is probably why Harvey Weinstein got away with it for so long.) The organiser may discover that there are people who will threaten to walk, if Really Creepy Guy is banned. These people either don’t understand just how much of a drain Really Creepy Guy is or simply don’t care. Remember, Really Creepy Guy is good at getting people to support him.

What makes this worse is that using the wrong approach can be disastrous.

Socially Awkward Guy has had, almost certainly, very bad experiences with bullies. If you come down on him like a ton of bricks, humiliating him in public, kicking him out of the one place he feels comfortable and blacklisting him so he can’t go anywhere else, he will see you as yet another bully and hate you. He’ll be so focused on his pain that he won’t be able to see – or care about – anyone else. And, as many nerds will take his side, they’ll come to see you as the villain. The convention will lose attendees from the class that actually keeps it going.

Really Creepy Guy, on the other hand, will not respond to anything other than a metaphorical punch in the snout. He will see warnings, however expressed, as a sign of weakness, as a sign that you are not prepared to push matters to the brink. He’ll take heart from your weakness and carry on, which will – obviously – cost you more attendees. Really Creepy Guy, again, drives away the sort of people you need to run a convention.

So how, then, do you tell the difference?

Socially Awkward Guy will be grateful, almost pathetically grateful, if you take him aside and gently tell him – in private – that his behaviour is unacceptable. Don’t be threatening; be calm and reasonable and at least try to be understanding. He will be embarrassed and apologetic and, because you had the talk in private, will not feel humiliated by you. (You may even discover that he asks you for advice.) And he will try to do better.

Really Creepy Guy will not get any better. Like I said, he’ll see it as a sign of weakness and carry on. At this point, you can lower the boom; ban him from the convention, make it clear that you banned him for repeated misbehaviour, do your best to put together a case proving that Really Creepy Guy is a real creep. If someone tries to argue in his defence, you can ask them if this is the behaviour they really want to tolerate. He was warned, he carried on; you no longer have any reason to be nice.

The problem, of course, is that Really Creepy Guy is good at dancing along the line without quite crossing it. There will be people who will argue “I never saw him do it, so he didn’t do it.” That’s why you need to put together a case proving that he’s a drain on the convention; you have to not only do the right thing, but make it clear you did the right thing. The last thing you want is to convince people that you were picking on a Socially Awkward Guy when you were removing a Really Creepy Guy.

But, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years, it is that it’s really easy to pick on a Socially Awkward Guy and quite hard to remove a Really Creepy Guy.

10 Responses to “A Tale of Two People”

  1. Bob June 9, 2018 at 12:01 pm #

    I don’t know, Chris… I read the whole thing twice and don’t really get your point…
    I’m assuming that you had a run in with “Really Creepy Guy “ and are venting here ???

  2. MishaBurnett June 9, 2018 at 1:36 pm #

    I don’t see why the standards of polite behaviour that apply in society as a whole are insufficient for a convention. If someone commits an action that is criminal, call the police and have that person arrested. If someone acts in a way that is against the standards of the venue, have the venue owners remove the person. The motivation and psychology of the perpetrator is irrelevant. Either something actionable has occurred or it has not. If, on the other hand, if a person feels uncomfortable around other convention attendees, then perhaps that person should stay home.

    • Blake June 13, 2018 at 5:32 pm #

      What if there is an attendee that is obviously staring at women’s breasts? That’s not illegal (I think), but it is absolutely against the social norms.

      The standards of polite society are not enshrined in law. Instead, there are some things enshrined in law to specifically prevent the law from enforcing social norms. In america, we have the 1st amendment which protects freedom of speech, even offensive speech that is against the standards of polite behavior.

      • MishaBurnett June 13, 2018 at 7:45 pm #

        I’m not sure that I’m understanding your point. Are you saying that the con should prevent men from staring at women’s breasts? Is it your belief that attendees should sign a pledge saying that the promise not to look at someone the wrong way, and that they should be ejected if they violate that promise?

        Yes, people will be rude and uncouth at conventions. They will also be rude and uncouth at malls, gas stations, libraries and grocery stores. Do you think it is the responsibility of the venue to police rude behaviour in its customers?

  3. Wayne Dismukes June 9, 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    Well written. I think your points apply to more venues than conventions.

  4. George Phillies June 9, 2018 at 3:42 pm #

    Is this related to efforts in the United States to ban people from science fiction conventions, or at least have them removed as guests of honor? And then the issue spread to wargaming fandom, the Origins Convention?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard June 9, 2018 at 3:46 pm #

      IMO Yes.

  5. Dichroic June 9, 2018 at 11:36 pm #

    “First, it can be hard to tell the difference between Socially Awkward Guy and Really Creepy Guy.”
    And that’s at the heart of the problem for women. When you’re a convention organizer, you have some infrastructure and other people behind you; you can maybe afford to try taking the problematic Guy aside for a private word, to see if he’s just a Socially Awkward Guy who will learn and do better. In a personal one on one interaction, that may be simply unsafe; sometimes you *have* to just shut down the interaction completely because he is a Really Creepy Guy you could get badly hurt. (In theory this all applies to people of any gender; in practice, men creeping on women is a particular problem at this current time.)

  6. David Graf June 12, 2018 at 4:48 pm #

    Now you know how many of us feel about Trump. He is that “Really Creepy Guy” and he’s in the White House.

  7. Nicole June 13, 2018 at 1:54 am #

    Random. Pacu fish they have human teeth how? Sorry.

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