On Nonphysical Boundaries & Violation

I don’t know why people are always so surprised at how willing I am to pull the plug on them at a moment’s notice.

I was planning to write a post like this based around a different story, but then this happened, and unfortunately it’s more immediately relevant right now.

Background information: I started chatting up this guy in class, and he told me about some free swing dancing lessons (!) he and some folks were going to be offering that Friday, so I showed up and worked on attaining dancing competence.  It was… fun.  Yeah, it was fun.  I was planning to go again next time.

The relevant story: I work on campus, and this guy happened to swing by yesterday while looking for someone else.  Hoping to rope more people into involvement, I got him to tell my coworkers about his dancing lessons.

So he told them about the group’s Facebook page, and then he told me that I was the only one who looked good in the pictures.

Wait, what?  What pictures?

There were pictures of people taken during the dancing lesson and then put up on Facebook, as I found out.

Not only had I never agreed to any of this, I’m also rather uncomfortable with and opposed to any pictures of me ever being put on the internet, which is something I made known now that I’d been informed that it had already happened.

This was taken rather lightly, and the guy responded with a grinning “tough luck” approach and joked, “you belong to [club name] now.”

So I fired back that if that was how it was going to be, I wouldn’t be participating anymore.

My response took at least one of my coworkers aback, and she mumbled, “I think [ey’s] joking,” but I made no effort to confirm as much.

The conversation moved on, and I expected to eventually resolve the issue and keep attending lessons, but after mulling it over last night — and growing increasingly paranoid and anxious — I processed it enough to change my mind and call it quits.  I liked the guy, still do, but what helped cinch the decision was recalling some other things he had said (nothing capital-b Bad, but enough to damage the prospects of us becoming friends).  I don’t think he’s going to take me seriously if I try to negotiate the conditions of my participation.  It’s easier to just ditch this.

To me, it seems like it should be common sense and common courtesy that you ask someone’s permission before taking their picture and before uploading those pictures anywhere.

But, as usual, I can anticipate my boundaries being seen as too much, too specific, too petty, too arbitrary.

Look, this is always a painful decision for me — deciding where to draw the line and when to cut ties.  I’m probably quicker and harsher than most, and I can accept that.  But it always hurts.

I know what I’m losing out on.

But it’s not worth it anymore.

I don’t know how appropriate it is to try and make this into a broader conversation, but I think there’s connections to be made in the way we think about “acceptable” and “reasonable” boundaries and the doubts we have about enforcing them. I want to confront the fact that writing about this feels whiny in light of more serious matters. And I want to provide the world with more examples of boundaries that feel petty and arbitrary that I’m demanding respect for anyway, to encourage everyone to be as petty and arbitrary with their boundaries as they want.

As boundary violations go, it’s small and silly and whiny, yes — but if I can outdo anyone in smallness and silliness and whininess, then that’s at least one person who can get the confidence boost of “well at least I have more right to talk than that kid,” and that’s enough for me.

Because I still think there’s some residual idea that objecting to a boundary violation is a privilege that has to be earned, a hierarchy with an acceptability threshold.

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10 responses to “On Nonphysical Boundaries & Violation

  • epochryphal

    Totally. The entire language of “reasonable” accommodation, is. So doubt-inducing and so slippery and, weighted in defense of corporations. And about finite resources and effort, and whether you’re “worth” it. Ughhhh.

    Lately I’ve been asking for a doublecheck on touch consent, since I do this auto-reply thing where I haven’t processed a request but just assent. It works a lot better to double-ask, since it can be hard to detect otherwise…but damn it seems like A Very High Bar, like yes you’re already asking once if you can even put your arm around me, now ask again?

    *does a swaying dance thinking about grooming and asserting boundaries and normativity*

    • Coyote

      *jazz hands*

      I’ve never thought about asking for something like that, but I can kind of relate — sometimes it takes my brain an uncommonly long time to process speech (which doesn’t make spoken conversations awkward at all ). It’s really not that hard for people to tack on an “Are you sure?” though.

      Also — thank you for bringing up the “reasonable accommodations” thing. I’ve noticed that exact stock phrase on a lot of college syllabi, and the last time I saw it I started wondering what “unreasonable accommodations” would be.

      • epochryphal

        Yeah, that’s the legal phrase from the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. There’s a whole website about it, JAN, the Job Accommodation Network, that has examples of what is and isn’t “reasonable.” Mostly to do with money/burdensome-ness. And they outline what “proof of need” can be demanded.

        Sigh, except, I’ve found the most (job-based) resistance around *social* things like, especially, “oh we’re TRYING to use the right pronouns and words and remember not to touch you and talk to the non-disabled ear, it’s just a LOT to remember, but we WANT to and are TRYING so why are you reacting badly?” Like it’s not about my doing the job, it’s about my coworkers interacting with me in ways that *impede my doing the job.*

        I hate corporations. And non-profits. I hate coworker dynamics I guess.

  • Carmilla DeWinter

    I’m writing this in a country where the boundary violation with the pics could theoretically taken to court, so, “small and whiny”? Not at all.
    As anecdotal evidence about enforcing boundaries goes, my mother’s and my idea of personal space are somewhat different, so as a kid I would occasionally get told off for being rude when I took a step back from someone who was intruding too much. These instances usually left me floundering for words, because how could she even determine what was comfortable to me or whether I wanted to smell someone’s dinner on their breath? I’m probably fortunate that these one-sided conversations didn’t make me give up my bubble.

  • Calum P Cameron

    Aw, honey, that’s rough.

    But, yeah, taking photos of people without their knowledge is a little creepy, and I’m pretty sure putting them on the internet against the subject’s will is straight-up illegal where I live, so petty or not you’re clearly not the only person with objection to that. Pretty sure I’ve done pettier. I went through a period where I basically insisted people not casually swear while I was part of the conversation. And, heck, there’s basically an unwritten rule among some of my friends at the moment that certain dodgy recurring elements within Sherlock Holmes fanfic are Not To Be Raised In Calum’s Presence Unless He Allows It. That’s probably pushing sort of limit, pettiness-wise.

  • maralaurey

    Ugh, people are annoying, and that’s not petty at all. I’ve just fallen out with a friend for almost the exact same thing. As other people have said, I’m pretty sure that putting up pictures of you on the internet without your consent is illegal, and besides which, that guy doesn’t know why you didn’t want your picture up — you could be in a witness protection programme for all he knows.

    Not that I think you should need that as a reason to assert boundaries, though. The way I see it, when people have the guts to speak up about things like this, it probably means it bothers them sufficiently that denying the request to take the pictures down is (at best) impolite. People seem to love to weigh up the ‘costs’ to themselves and to the person whose boundaries they’re crossing and decide that their wants are more important, but doing what’s asked of them really isn’t going to hurt them. It’s about being a decent human being — if someone asks you to not do something because they don’t like it/it makes them uncomfortable/etc, don’t do it. It’s as simple as that, but some people don’t see that. Worse, while it’s polite to respect boundaries, it can be seen as impolite to speak up about them, which I guess is the main problem; we need to normalise being uncomfortable with ‘weird’ things so that people dare to speak up and people begin to listen.

    I think that, hopefully, that will come along with the destigmatisation of mental health, because people will learn that it’s not always as clean and simple as the occasional TV show might suggest, and triggers aren’t always obvious or understandable. If we can begin to respect people’s triggers then maybe we can start to learn to respect other boundaries as well.

  • abonnace

    If respecting someone’s boundries is too much for someone, then personally I can’t see them being a good friend anyway.

    A huge argument and eventual breakdown of a relationship beppened between a few of my friends after a bunch of unflattering photos were posted by one party on facebook and when the friend in the photo’s asked them to remove them, they flat out refused.
    If you respect your friends I think you should abide by such requests, even if you don’t understand them.

  • Violation of [small, “insignificant”] boundaries | cinderace blogs

    […] wrote recently about the violation of nonphysical boundaries, and on unwanted physical touch that doesn’t seem to fall into the category of sexual assault. […]

  • madcap86

    There actually are [American] laws about putting pictures up without consent, though it’s actually more to do with copyright than physical boundaries.

    I’m learning about this right now in my digital collections classes. For things such as libraries digitizing content, or creating a digital collection, we have to take into account whether or not that photograph is in the public domain. If people in the photograph are still living, effort is supposed to be made to gather consent before the picture can be used.

    I think one of the worst things Facebook and other social media sites have done is perpetuated this notion that it’s alright to take and post pictures without a friend’s consent. I think most people are okay with requests to remove pictures–I’m guilty of this crime, and when a college friend reached out to me, I gladly removed the picture. But it’s become something that we just don’t think about. And like maralaurey said, you could have your reason for not wanting your picture taken and posted.

    At a local domestic violence event (a sort of memorial for the women killed by their partners in SC in the last year) several women from the local shelter wanted to attend. Organizers had to be very, very strict with the media who came to cover the event–no pictures of the crowd. Why? Well, because some of these women were hiding from their abusive spouses, and their pictures on the news who be a big red flag as to where they were. And wouldn’t you know it, one cameraman in particular kept trying to get footage of the crowd. It was so bad that a local politician actually went and stood in front of his camera to prevent him from getting any footage at all until he agreed to abide by the rules.

    I think it was absolutely okay for you to get upset by this, and by his callous refusal to take your request seriously. All they had to do was notify people that they wanted to take pictures and put them online, and give you the chance to confirm or deny that. You shouldn’t have to not participate in an activity you enjoy just to keep from having your rights violated.

  • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

    I’m sorry that happened to you! You are definitely not whining about something small. I would have done the same things, if it had happened to me.

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