Please Don’t Boil That Bunny: Some Thoughts on an Online Creeper
So, something happened yesterday, and I need to talk about it. It was actually the last straw in a series of unacceptable behaviors, in which I ended up blocking someone from all forms of online contact. This person happens to be associated and responsible for a fairly well-known magazine. And while I have no intention of naming names, I feel like the experience might be more universal than I’d like.
This was someone I ‘met’ on Twitter. He had several friends of mine in common. He seemed nice and even sent me some merchandise for his magazine. We started talking on Gchat, which was fine at first. Except over a short period of time, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. If I was unavailable to DM on Twitter on the weekends, there were guilt trips (I’d declined giving him my cell number, thankfully). If I couldn’t Gchat throughout the entire day (because of work), there were guilt trips. The whole relationship started to exhibit hallmarks of a controlling boyfriend…except we weren’t dating. He is married, and I am not available. When it become clear that he was unhappy with my lack of time to chat, I explained myself multiple times (work taking priority). Each time, I came away from the conversation feeling as though nothing I said got through to him. I’d still, in his mind, let him down.
At one point, when we were still Gchatting, he mentioned a cat. I said that he should tweet a photo. Because, guys, I love animals. I’d happily coo over a photo of a hedgehog or whatever any day. Instead of doing that (safe and public, yes?), he emailed me a photo of the cat…and himself. Now, it wasn’t a dirty photo. But it still made me uncomfortable. Admittedly, toward the beginning of our correspondence, he repeatedly asked ME for a photo, and I did cave – I emailed one of me with my book. Because BOOK. The fact that he told me I looked ‘coy’ ensured that I would never send him another one again. Because I wasn’t coy. I was proud of my book.
Except, given that this IS the internet, he started replying to the photos I posted on Twitter. These were statements that made me feel increasingly uncomfortable, given the increasingly uncomfortable situation. Privately (multiple times) via Gchat, I explained that I was uncomfortable, especially in light of two instances where he tried to pressure me to attend writing conferences. (For the record, his response was basically the classic, “Oh, I don’t mean it that way.”) One instance, I flat out told him that I don’t think my boyfriend would appreciate me blowing him off for a weekend to attend a conference. The attempts to get me to go to the conferences weren’t simply, “Hey! This is cool. I’m going. You should go.” His behavior was coercive and almost…bullying. Some of this took place on Twitter, but there was much more behind the scenes. Eventually, a godsend of a friend told me that you can block someone from chat on Gchat, which I did.
That helped for a while. Except, since he wasn’t getting the response he wanted from me (and he gave me crap about not being available to chat), his behavior only got worse. At one point, I stopped posting photos on Twitter. Even now, I post less of them. The photos I share are just me being goofy, but I felt so uncomfortable and creeped out. They weren’t fun anymore.
So, why didn’t I immediately cut all ties? First, I worried that I was overreacting. I know at least four people (who are all LOVELY human beings) who know him. Given that, I worried that maybe I was just being sensitive. Maybe I was misreading the situation. But all these events kept piling up, until one giant red flag. In response to me mentioning a mutual friend, who I didn’t realize he knew, he said something like: Well, I know EVERYONE in this business.
Okay, I know a threat (veiled or not) when I see/hear it. That is clear cut intimidation. I’m a writer. I’d submitted to his magazine. Would there be repercussions if I cut all ties? I wondered. I worried. I hemmed and I hawed. Then, after mentioning this situation to a wise friend, she advised me to flee. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Just block and run. So, I unfriended him on Facebook and unfollowed him on Twitter. I did not block him on Twitter until this week, because I thought that he’d realize I’d done those things and then…go away.
I was wrong. In response to a tweet of mine, he replied in a passive aggressive manner – letting me know that he was a) still reading my tweets and b) pissed that I’d broken ties. His tweet was full of venom, and I didn’t need it.
This morning, it occurred to me that, maybe, this has happened to other people. Specifically, it made me want to approach our common friends and ask if they’d had similar experiences. Because there’s something terribly isolating in not talking about it and keeping it to myself. There’s something this person said, in passing conversation, that made think that at least one other person may feel the way I do – and may have experienced something similar to me. And yet, I can’t quite seem to ask the question. Why?
Then, I realized: I’m afraid. I’m afraid to ask the question and not be believed. Isn’t that why we keep quiet about things we maybe shouldn’t? Fear is a funny thing. Not talking about something gives a situation too much power. And I’m not a fan of cowering to bullies. Which, I suppose, is why I’m writing this post.
Here’s the thing that needs to be said: if you tell someone he/she’s made you uncomfortable (once or habitually) and that person doesn’t immediately respond with an “I’m sorry” AND a change in behavior, run. Apologies are easy. They’re just words. But actions reveal things that words can keep hidden or, at least, shadowed. You don’t owe such a person ANYTHING – not even an explanation.
Between convention harassment and the whole Fake Geek Girls bullshit, being a female writer can be hard. So, I’ll make you an offer. If someone harasses you, or makes you feel uneasy, talk to me. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care how famous or in what position of authority that person resides. If you need someone to listen, I’ll listen. If you need help, I’ll help you. Because, after talking to another friend of mine this morning, I felt less alone. Moreover, I realized that I did the right thing.
I may not have much clout to do anything other than listen or make a little noise. I’m certainly not Neil Gaiman. But I can make sure that you are heard and do not feel alone. Because chances are, it’s not just you – and it’s not just me. Chances are this is a habit, not a fluke. It’s not a bad day; it’s a pattern.