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Crossing a bridge .. maybe.

This article started out in a direction sort of like the one that triggered a near-catastrophic meltdown for me, a couple of days ago, but then went somewhere interesting. And I decided to open up a bit about why the one a couple days ago nearly caused me to cut almost all of my social connections with a certain community where it was circulating pretty widely with pretty enthusiastic applause -- and a lot of connections with other communities associated with it -- and why a few conversations with friends, and the more recent article, changed my mind on that and made me aware of a bridge I've burned down and rebuilt so many times in my life, but never crossed, that it was time to maybe make some steps in that direction.

To start with, as anyone who knows me is already well aware, I'm not the most socially conscious or socially skilled person around, not by a long shot. I can function socially in a variety of situations I've managed to adapt to consciously, but when I hit the limits of what I know how to handle, I tend to get cautious about approaching new territory, very cautious indeed. And I'm very neuro-atypical in some ways, ADHD for sure, and almost certainly some degree of high-functioning autistic and Asperger's in addition, and some of the ways I interact with people can seem very weird to people who aren't already used to them. I have a number of cognitive and functional hacks in place that allow me to emulate "normal" social behavior, even some aspects of extrovert behavior, in specific contexts and specific circumstances and specific environments, but those are conscious adaptations I've put in place to be able to function well enough in social environments to allow people to get to know me as I really am before they hit the "weird" nature and get scared off by it.

And I'm male. And this is a big deal in the context of this particular question, because the male and female experiences related to "creepy" sexually-predatory behavior, and the unintentionally "creepy" behaviors that fit the profile of that kind of behavior enough to make people uncomfortable, are fundamentally different, in ways that are very difficult to explain from either side. And there's been a lot of discussion of it in various aspects from the female experience, because, unfortunately, the female experience is very often that of being on the receiving end of a whole range of extremely unpleasant behavior from (usually male) perpetrators, with few if any warning signs other than vague profiling-type indicators that have a very high false-positive rate, and that experience is anywhere from extremely frustrating to existentially terrifying, and everyone reacts to experiences in that range in their own way. But there's been very little discussion of it from the male perspective, with the possible exception of social-in-group-entitled-extrovert male perspectives on how best to intimidate and shame and out and exclude types of men who may or may not be actual predators, but who are, shall we say, just a little bit less conventionally "hot younger male" type attractive and maybe possessed of less than astronomical self-confidence.

And while I've been told by a number of friends that I'm attractive and intelligent and to a certain degree quite socially desirable, more so than I'd ever have expected to be even just a year or two ago, I'm the exact opposite of social-in-group-entitled, and apart from my conscious adaptations, I'm an extreme introvert, and I've had enough experiences during my lifetime of having intimidation and outing and shaming and any number of other exclusion tactics employed against me -- in some cases as a "suspected creeper", and in other cases as simply someone who dared to express interest in or attraction to someone the alpha males/females decided I wasn't entitled to associate with -- the "let's shut out all the creepy folk so all us cool kids can hang out together" approach is gibbering-fetal-position triggering for me, and in all honesty, this past few days, it almost did lead to me doing the disappearing-act thing again and never talking to anyone in the community again, possibly even cutting ties with a few very close friends, simply because I am the kind of person who very often gets caught up in the creeper-outing/shaming hysteria when this kind of thing gains momentum, just because of the kind of personality I have and the ways in which I normally interact with people, and it's happened to me before, and the consequences of still being around and having to be told to leave when that happens are catastrophic enough that I cannot risk letting this kind of thing go to that point without being long gone when certain substances hit the fan.

So that's why I almost burned a whole lot of bridges with a whole lot of people this week.

And the reason I didn't was because of one friend who went to great lengths to be constructive about what she recognized that I am not, and what other things she recognized that I very much am .. and because of another friend who was very up front that I wasn't the only one who was very concerned about the carelessness with which a lot of people were eager to burn witches and went so far as to make a public statement to that effect. And then I read the second article, and it gave me something of a new insight on the issue, one that's probably been out there for a good long while but I honestly just hadn't thought of it that way.

So, for the record, here's who I am and what my own perspective on this is.

I'm careful about boundaries and consent. Very careful. Extremely careful. Sometimes, i think, possibly pathologically careful. It has actually literally only been in the past few years, and mostly this past year, that I've figured out how to negotiate some of the things I want that go beyond the limits of basic social activity or friendship, or even ask about some of those things without panicking about the possible consequences of expressing interest. The latter is largely an artifact of some bad experiences I've had in the distant past where expressing attraction or interest was itself taken as a boundary violation -- which nowadays I chalk up to default-culture dysfunctionality -- and I'm getting more comfortable about asking for what I want and taking responsibility for my own agency in getting my own needs met, but it's been a long hard road, and I've erred on the side of caution for so much of my life that even now my default habit is to just assume the answer will be no and preemptively self-reject out of a (possibly misguided) sense of courtesy, which I'm still learning not to do, and that's probably going to take a very long time to get past just because it's set in so deeply in my usual behavior.

I've also gained familiarity with my own sexuality over a very recent period of time, basically over the last 8 years or so. Before that, I had only vague notions of what actually attracted me or what I actually wanted from sexual relationships, and when the reality of how that side of me works was revealed to me in the course of a brief experimentation with a friend that crossed a lot of boundaries I thought I had and needed that I turned out not to need at all, and were in fact getting in the way of what really worked for me, it came as a considerable surprise and it took me a while to put a sense of who I really was back together, but at the same time it was one of the most empowering and liberating experiences of my entire life, because it also taught me that desires are not wrong, no matter what they are (which was the hardest lesson there), and the only possible wrong is in acting on them in harmful ways .. and many desires can be met in ways that seem to be very wrong indeed (quite realistically, in fact) but which involve no actual danger to anyone. So some of my habits do still go back to those days of not being quite sure what I want, and being cautious about negotiating things that I'm still a little bit used to thinking of as off limits.

(And the thing about that caution that's sort of an underlying theme of my habits when I get out of the bounds of things I'm used to with people is that for people who don't have the experience of things I have, sometimes it reads to them like "suspected predator" profile behavior, and while that's a potentially legitimate misunderstanding, it's still a misunderstanding, and when people are in an outing/shaming mood, it can in fact be very dangerous to be a little too cautious and land in uncanny-valley territory.)

I'm very respectful of people for who they are, and when I'm interested in someone, I'm interested in the whole person, in very deep ways, and that interest may or may not include physical aspects -- it often does, because while I don't express it much, I am a very sexual person as well as a very affectionate person and, to the extent I believe is acceptable to whomever I happen to be with, and within my own comfort level, I might choose to express that in various ways. That's complicated, because while some people are very clear about verbalizing their boundaries and respond positively to being asked for permission, others view it very negatively -- I was once told that "if you have to ask permission, the answer's going to be no, so if you want to do something, just do it" -- and that's a serious problem for me, because as much of a hard limit as I have with boundaries and consent, I either need to ask in the moment or have the boundaries clearly negotiated before anything starts. But if I do something that goes beyond "average social behavior" with you, it's because I have reason to believe that consent has been negotiated, and I will not do it otherwise, so if consent has in fact not been established, it is absolutely OK to stop me and communicate that very clearly to me, and then we can talk it out or not depending on what exactly happened. I say that because mistakes and miscommunications happen, and as careful as I am, that kind of miscommunication is extremely unlikely, but if it should ever happen, that's why, and that's what I'm OK with being done about it.

And the crossing-the-bridge part is right here: There's a lot I want to do, and there's a lot I normally keep my mouth shut about because I'm never sure when it's OK to talk about it. If you're reading this (and are female, sorry guys!) and have ever entertained any notion of doing anything outside of ordinary boundaries with me and wondered if I'd have been interested, the answer is very likely yes. I'm saying that here because it's safer to say that to a collective audience that's not any one person in particular, so no one feels singled out or put in an awkward position. Chances are also very good that if you make advances to me, I'll be interested, and if I'm not for whatever reason, I'll be totally respectful and constructive about setting those limits -- believe me, I've been the guy with the non-mutual unrequited desires enough times that I know what that experience is like -- and it won't mean losing a friend, if we're friends, strictly no harm/no foul. (And that's crossing a bridge because it's very likely you didn't know that, or at least weren't sure, because under most circumstances in direct interaction with people, I keep my mouth shut about it unless the situation seems far more than normally safe and I already have reason to trust everyone involved.)

So that's who I really am. I'm not a predator, I'm not a creep, I'm not a stalker, I'm not any of those things. I know that guys who are any or all of those things also make exactly those claims and it's often hard to tell that, so if you need proof but can't tell which is which, I can't help you there. But I am not any of those things, and I will no longer be afraid of being mistaken for any of them. If you choose to be in my life, I will welcome you, and if you choose not to be, I will wish you well. That's all anyone can do.