See that pic of me at FandomFest? I look pretty happy, right?
That's because I was. Then.
I'd just stood in a circle with John Scalzi, Gail Martin, and Kalayna Price, talking to authors I admire about things that make my brain spark. It was the end of an amazing day at an amazing con, and everything had gone well, and I was 100% happy.
And then I walked out the door.
And there was this guy.
He seemed mostly drunk. He was dressed like Jimmy Buffet. And he wanted to teach me how to lace my corset. I was doing it all wrong, he said. Women lined up outside of the Renfaire, asking him to lace them in, he said. He was an expert, he said. His fingers hovered about two inches away from my laces, and I froze inside like a deer somehow sensing the rifle aimed and waiting.
Would he touch me? Why wasn't he reading my social signals-- and those of my female friend-- that his attention was unwanted?
I stepped back. Made a joke. Explained that I was perfectly happy with my corset. That I didn't really need help, thanks. That I had somewhere I needed to be.
But he kept talking. Kept explaining. Acted fatherly and kind. Stepped closer into my space but never touched me.
In short, whether he meant to or not, he preyed on me perfectly, never taking that one extra step that would make it seem more than reasonable to rap his knuckles and holler for one of my bouncer-type buddies to come haul his ass away. Made it seem like he was performing a public service, was a friendly guy who only meant well. Even told me he wasn't actually a creep.
When I finally explained that I had to go and escaped, my friend Carol expressed her shared shock. Turns out she felt the same way I had, that the guy never really crossed that line between "annoying drunk guy" and "dangerous, pushy, predator". That she wanted to smack his hand, too. And yet neither of us did.
And now, when I read about the Readercon fiasco (read about it from Scalzi himself, who has all the relevant linkies), I'll admit it: I'm kind of pissed. At him, and at myself. I wish I would have been more assertive, more brave. Wish I would have stopped thinking "I want to be perceived as a polite author" and started thinking "I am uncomfortable, and whether or not he's actually touched me, it's not okay." Wish I had been more clear in my expression of distaste instead of trying to be nice. But society has always told me to be a polite Southern girl, and knowing that everything I do in public is now part of my "brand" as an author tells me not to offend anyone, if I can help it.
So here's your warning, creepers: You don't get to push into my space anymore. You don't get to let your finger hover an inch from my chest as you try to explain something pertinent to costuming. You don't get to brush off my social signals like I'm being silly or fussy. From here on out, I'm carrying a fan or a wand or a parasol, and I won't hesitate to rap your knuckles and treat you like a dog sniffing around my skirts. Because that's what you're doing, and I know that you know it. You know just how far you can go before getting in trouble, because you do it a lot, I bet. You're not going to get away with it if I'm there, not with me or my friends.
And if we are friends? I'm not going to smack you for hugging me. But I am going to smack you if you don't keep an eye on women being preyed on by seemingly polite creepers. If you like girls in corsets and short skirts and fishnets and costumes, and if you want to look at them at cons, then it's your responsibility to make sure they feel comfortable when dressing that way.
Otherwise, it's muumuus and creeper-whacking sticks for everyone.