Kate Leth did another great comic for Comics Alliance. This one is for those fans who are afraid of being creepy in expressing their admiration for the creators of the content they love. Here’s a quick taste of the dilemma.
This comic sparked a discussion between a few of us who are relatively new to speaking and conferences about what we are and aren’t comfortable with at conferences. With Women in Secularism this weekend, this seemed like a good time to talk about where my boundaries fall for meeting creepy with fans.
My personal rule of thumb is that any interaction where I can say, “Thank you”, and move on isn’t going to be creepy. The interaction depicted in the panel above? Completely not creepy. I want people to read my work. I want them to like it. I want them to share it. I want them to use it for educational purposes, typically informal but sometimes not. I want them to think about how the questions I write about apply more broadly in society. I want people to laugh when I’m trying to be funny, get angry and/or active when I talk about injustice, cry on those occasions when I’m trying to induce that sort of empathy. I want some people to feel our shared concerns are represented in the larger public conversation.
There are lots of things I do as a writer that are intended to invoke a response. That writing is an invitation of a specific sort. Telling me my writing did those things is never creepy. It’s a reasonable response to an invitation.
Now, I may uncomfortable with receiving praise from time to time, but that kind of discomfort is mine to deal with. If I’m going to interact with fans in a promotional sense (and each creator gets to choose for themself whether they want to do this), I owe it to the both of us to learn how to deal with that self-conscious discomfort that doesn’t put the burden on the fan. Self-deprecation in these circumstances is a disservice to the people I’ve implicitly asked to like my stuff. If they do like it, and they say so, they deserve something better than me telling them they’re wrong to like it, which is what self-deprecation in those circumstances does. Saying, “Thank you”, is a courtesy to them and the time and emotion they’ve invested in my work.
Praise isn’t necessarily required to keep an interaction from being creepy, though. Being able to say, “Okay”, and move on, while less pleasant for me, still isn’t creepy. Disagreeing with me in a thoughtful way is still a reasonable interaction. It still represents an investment in my work. It isn’t usually the first thing people bring us in conference conversations, but it happens, and it’s fine.
However, the people who want to use in-person meetings to disagree with writers and other creators often want to go one step further. They want to argue about the thing they disagree with. And that’s where the potential for creepy starts. If you think you need to argue with me, you’re acting as though I’m not free to walk away. You’re acting as though you’re entitled to my time and the mental effort it takes to defend my original position.
You’re not. While I might choose to give you that time and attention, particularly if you bring up something interesting, you don’t have a right to it. Acting as if you do is creepy.
That’s really what creepy is about: acting entitled, acting as though your wishes for our interaction are more important than mine.
Does that mean you can’t get into an argument or deep discussion of some detail that interested you with an creator? No. It just means that you need to remember that creators still have their own ideas for what they want to be doing with their time and attention. If you want to pull them back to an old idea or have them spend a bunch of time on you, it’s just polite to ask first and take “No” for an answer as necessary.
Entitlement is the cornerstone of other kinds of creepy as well. Creators don’t automatically agree, whatever they create, to be your object of sexual attention when they show up in person. They don’t agree to have you act like you know all about them. (Hint: you don’t.) They don’t automatically agree to spend time with you outside signings or other meet-and-greet events or treat you like their friend. They don’t agree to have you join every conversation or hang out for long periods of time.
If everyone is talking and getting along, asking to continue the conversation over a meal is fine. Just be prepared to have them say, “No”, or excuse themselves at any time. If you want to make a great impression, give them an opportunity to slip away from time to time. “I don’t want to monopolize you” is the antithesis of creepy and always appreciated.
As long as you remember that social events like conferences are also often work for the public figures who attend. Treat them the way you’d treat someone else who is working and can’t necessarily just walk away. If you’re good to those people, you’ll be just fine meeting the creators whose work you like. It isn’t difficult to keep from being creepy.