“I must admit, in a brief, surprised stupor, that I looked for slightly longer than I would normally look at a naked man, yet shorter than I would at a naked woman.
“This person noticed my discomfort and proceeded to dance, when I simply turned away without further comment. I am a straight male with no axes to grind, but the encounter continues to make me uncomfortable. I realize it was a somewhat ‘Carnivale’ atmosphere, so I didn’t judge.
“My questions are: Did I likely offend someone who was simply making a sexual overture, and what should I have done more tactfully? I’ve been approached by both gay men and hetero women without any qualms or lasting discomfort, but this was a first and my brain just didn’t know how to process it.”
First of all, welcome to my blog, straight non-trans man! Please come back, and tell your friends.
Second, there are two potential offense triggers here, and some people won’t agree with me, but I don’t think that either one is particularly offensive.
The first is looking for “slightly longer than I would normally look.” It’s possible that the individual took this as an offense and decided to dance for you not in an attempt to hit on you, but as a way of flipping you off for staring. However, in this situation, your “looking slightly longer” is, in my opinion, a normal reaction.
A primary necessity for human beings is to make sense of the world around us. We generally do this by categorizing what we see using previous categories that we have created in our mind. In other words, we try to relate new things to previous experiences. When we come across something that isn’t familiar to us, we will often look longer than we usually would in order to make sense of or understand what we are seeing based on our prior knowledge.
Staring is generally considered socially unacceptable in the United States, but we often do this for a period of time without realizing that we are doing it. It takes a while for this new information to reach our brain and to find some connection – “Oh, that’s what I’m seeing.” Once it reaches our brain and we realize that we have looked for too long, our natural inclination is to look away, because we are then aware that we have violated a social norm.
Then comes the other possible offense trigger – the looking away. If the individual was, in fact, flipping you off in a fashion for staring, he or she was probably not offended that you looked away. If this person was instead coming on to you, mistaking your staring for interest, then it’s possible that his or her feelings were momentarily hurt by your rejection. But I honestly doubt that someone who is comfortable and confident enough with a non-standard body to enter a naked race and then dance will be hurt for long.
People who make sexual overtures to others are rejected all the time, regardless of their body, sexuality, or gender identity. Because you had no way of knowing whether or not a sexual overture is what this was (and I don’t think I would have known, either), you didn’t have enough information to know how to respond. Turning away from an uncomfortable public situation is also a natural response, and one that is not always entirely under our control. It is often a reflexive response, and we realize afterward that it could have been interpreted as offensive.
So as far as whether or not you hurt or offended this person, I wouldn’t worry about it. In a situation like that, where people are naked and partying and dancing – a “Carnivale”-type atmosphere – there’s probably going to be lots of eye contact and other body language among participants that will signal both an overture and a rejection.
I think your discomfort over this incident stems from the fact that you see this person as “different” from other people, and you therefore feel like you have to tread lightly or be more respectful than you otherwise would – but you don’t. You do not have to treat this person differently from anyone else that you’re not interested in having sex with.
Think about what you would have done if a man or a woman with a “standard” body had seen you and started dancing for you, but you were not interested. Would you have smiled and turned away? Shaken your head to indicate “no”? Gone over and talked to the person, saying, “Thank you, but I’m not interested”? Or just turned away and moved on? Whatever you would have done in that situation is what you should have done in this situation and what you should do in the future.
In a situation where any person who I wasn’t interested in started dancing for me, I would probably smile to be polite, and then turn away to indicate that I was not interested. If the person was close enough for me to say something, I might say, “Wow, good dancer,” or something like that to be friendly, but I wouldn’t strike up a conversation. But that is only if I was cognizant enough to control my initial reflex, which would likely be just to turn away.
The short answer is don’t sweat it. This was a public party, people were just having a good time, and I doubt if you caused any lasting damage. It was San Francisco, after all – anything can happen, and usually does.
Readers, what do you think?