We need to talk about flirting. Specifically, fandom flirting.
“Ehhh?!” You might be saying to yourself, “What is fandom flirting?”
Fandom flirting, verb., is the act of flirting with someone online or in real life that is part of the same fandom or community as you.
This can lead to gooey feels of warmth and comfort when their furry tail brushes your furry tail, but sometimes miscommunications and mismatched expectations can be the downfall of a positive fandom-flirting experience. So let’s talk about how to keep everyone in your fandom feeling safe, comfortable, and respected.
Understanding boundaries and personal space is the only surefire way to make sure your fandom flirtation never goes too far. At a con, feelings and hormones can go haywire and you may find yourself in unchartered emotional territory (they’re dressed as Poe Dameron; you are dressed as a TIE fighter… feelings ensue). Where screens, keyboards, and miles of land previously stood in between you and your internet friends, you’re now face to face for the first time. There are also thousands of new people to interact with, check out, and be interested in. Things might get a little steamy. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. So let’s do it right.
Here on Sparklife we are ALL ABOUT discovering how our own sexualities work (mostly through dirty Harry Potter fan fiction, and NSFW tumblrs, NO SHAME), and embracing your sexuality, whatever it is. Everyone’s is different, and you can never presume to understand someone else’s comfort level and sexuality. But let’s walk it back a second to the part before the naked stuff, the sex stuff. Before all that, there is meeting someone for the first time. There’s talking, texting, interest. There’s the toasty flare-up of weird feelings in your chest, your head, and/or your pants. Theflirting. Now that we’re closer to understanding how our own sexualities work, it’s time we understand how OTHER people’s sexuality may differ from ours. I’ll say it louder for those in the back: You can never assume that someone’s sexuality, comfort level, and boundaries match your own.
Understanding how to flirt appropriately, especially at conventions, is crucial so everyone has a safe and fun time, but there can be a LOT of ambiguity about what is appropriate when you’re at a gigantic masquerade ball. What happens when you’ve been flirting outrageously with someone’s online persona, but one of you feels less comfortable dialing up the flirt-meter face to face? How do you know if it’s okay to touch someone–even if it’s just a shoulder or an arm? How do you know where someone stands on talking about their sex life, or sharing these pieces of information about themselves in a public manner? How do you know if you’ve gone too far with your flirting?
Let’s take it piece by piece.
In a fandom setting, you already know you have a ton in common. Simple questions like, “What do you think about tabletop games,” or “What Harry Potter house are you in?” or “I think Kylo Ren is bae and I’m slightly ashamed about it… ” (okay! It’s not a question!) can lead down a path of insta-nerd-friend-bonding. If the conversation is going well, it’s a good gauge that this person feels comfortable talking to you and wants to do more of it. At the least, you’ve made a new friend, and if it leads to something more, great! Try asking for their number so you can meet up at the evening programming. If they say yes, you’re in NEW FRIEND TERRITORY. Woohoo!
If they say no, you best respect that.
If you are unsure whether or not you have permission to touch someone, then don’t touch them. If they are touching you (hugs, light touches on the arm or elbow), and you’re okay with it, then it’s probably a sign of mutual agreement that you can be appropriately touchy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for permission either. A simple, “Is it okay if I touch you right now,” can be helpful. Ask if it’s okay to untwist someone’s badge or lanyard–this would be a good and totally not awkward way to test the waters. It’s also a great way to remember someone’s name if you’re like me and IMMEDIATELY FORGET NAMES AFTER THEY ARE TOLD TO YOU.
However, just because they say yes once, that doesn’t mean the answer will be yes all the time. You are not entitled to someone’s personal space or body because they said yes on one occasion. Consent is not all-encompassing and can be revoked at any time. Again, let me stand up and say it for everyone in the back: CONSENT CAN BE REVOKED AT ANY TIME.
Not everyone likes to talk about sex, and not everyone likes to know what you are into behind closed doors. Not everyone feels comfortable with PDAs, and not everyone wants to be in the same hotel room while you and your partner are foolin’ around in the bed next to them. ಠ_ಠ
Respecting these boundaries is crucial. While you may feel comfortable talking about your bedroom behavior, that definitely does not mean that other people around you do. Don’t ever assume someone is okay with being exposed to graphic or explicit sexual discussions or behavior. And if you make a mistake—which can happen when surrounded by throngs of sparsely clothed Poison Ivies!—apologize, understand where you went wrong, and move on. And most importantly, don’t let it happen again.
State your boundaries
Not everyone feels comfortable communicating or knows how to define their own comfort level, but there are some tricks if you are too nervous or shy or are afraid of offending someone! If you don’t want to be touched, use the inevitable con-flu and sickness to define your boundaries. Try saying: “I’m not feeling well and I don’t want to get you sick, BEST NOT TOUCH ME OK. IT IS 4 UR OWN GOOD.” While it may not be the truth, it still communicates that you don’t want to be touched, and establishes a physical distance. Or sometimes, after a particularly huggy day at a conference, I’ll just say, “I’m done being touched for today. We can hug tomorrow if I’m up for it.”
For online spaces, you have a keyboard—use it! I like to call this technique “THE KEYBOARD SANDWICH.” For example: “Dear xXHamiltontrash5ever, I have loved how our friendship has grown over the past few months. Would you mind not calling me ‘sugarloafmuffinpuff’ any more? It makes me feel uncomfortable. However, I love when you reblog my Poe/Finn gif sets. Are we cool? Thanks, xXHamiltontrash5ever. -Me” This 1) tells your friend that they are valued and you’d like to continue your friendship, and 2) gives specific instructions on how and how not to treat you.
If they ignore it and continue to do something you’ve said no to? That’s when you BLOCK ‘EM.
Understand the Code of Conduct
Every con you plan on attending should have a Code of Conduct easily visible on their website, or even printed on badges or in the programming book. (If a con does not have a code of conduct, I wouldn’t recommend going.) VidCon’s Code of Conduct spells it out very clearly:
If someone doesn’t want to talk to you, don’t keep talking to them. If you do not have permission to touch someone, do not touch them. VidCon loves surprising and interesting unplanned activities, but sometimes things you think are cool might make other people extremely uncomfortable or be very dangerous.
Any behavior that goes against the Code of Conduct of the conference you are attending will most likely result in you being escorted off the premises. Familiarizing yourself with the Code is a sure way of understanding the mutual boundaries which every single person at the conference has agreed to for the weekend. Be proactive. Know the code.
So you’ve been flirting pretty hardcore over the internet and your friend/interest/loveofyourlifemaybeyouhope is going to be at the convention you’re going to. Or maybe you’ve made plans (with parental permission if needed!) to meet up and find yourself yearning for some intimacy. JUST ASK. LIKE, SERIOUSLY JUST ASK. It’s so scary but you’ll get way further with an “I’d like to kiss you right now,” then either 1) not kissing them or 2) not respecting boundaries and going for it anyways. Maybe the relationship between you and your friend/interest/loveofyourlifemaybeyouhope feelings and boundaries is different IRL. THAT IS OKAY. Ask questions. Be upfront about it.
Never do this without asking for explicit permission first. Never bombard someone with graphic imagery of what you’d like to do to their body without for sure knowing that you have permission to say those types of things. If you are bold enough to ask someone for a picture, and they say “no,” it is OFF THE TABLE. Do not ever ask again, or shame them into feeling like they’ve made the wrong choice, or manipulating them to send a picture regardless of their initial response.
And if someone does want to get consensually textually active with you—never ever ever share those text or pictures with someone else.
Just don’t do it.
We discussed this above, but I’ll say it again. If someone constantly keeps their distance from you, best to keep that distance. For example: I have a lot of red curly hair. I AM BASICALLY MERIDA. A child once asked me if I was a princess while I was standing in the grocery store trying to pick out my Ben and Jerry’s flavor for the evening. People like to touch my hair. SOMETIMES THEY ASK AND SOMETIMES THEY DON’T. I do not like my hair being touched if I am not asked first. Sometimes I’ll give permission first if I am comfortable with the person, even if we’ve just met. This is me giving my consent, and guiding the person into my personal space for this one-time thing.
Another example: This New Years, I invited someone to cuddle with me… I’ve never seen someone get up so fast, so I pretty much knew they were into it. We cuddled. It was great. It was perfect communication and consent and ultimately, we both got something we wanted out of it. YAY.
Having preconceived notions of what you will do together at a con can be dangerous. And laying out those expectations to your interest—or even their friends—can lead everyone down a path of misunderstanding and discomfort. Even if you believe you’ve been 100% respectful of someone’s boundaries, super polite, and you’ve done “everything right,” this still does not mean you have permission to flirt or be sexual with that person. Understand that the scenarios/hopes/dreams/daydreams that live in your head may have created a dreaded MANIC PIXIE DREAM [GIRL/BOY/PREFERRED PRONOUN] fantasy where other people exist solely to actualize your con experience. Shut that part of your brain down and do what John Green tells us to do: Imagine People Complexly.
And allow YOURSELF to be imagined complexly. Try saying: “I’m a little nervous to meet you! Thank you for understanding while I sort out what is happening with my body/mind/feelings/The Force.”
No =/= “Maybe later”
No means no, and I can’t believe it’s 2016 and we are still talking about this. “No” is never a “maybe later.” THIS IS SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. If someone says, “no,” or uses other words and/or body language to try and dissuade you from continuing to pursue them, do NOT respond with, “I can wait until you are ready.”
Again, understand boundaries and listen to what someone is telling you. If they are uninterested, then leave them alone. If they have an interest in pursuing a friendship and only a friendship, let them come to you when they are ready set boundaries they feel comfortable with.
Everything laid out above applies to ALL KINDS of relationships: friendships, romantic relationships, friends with benefits, people you just met, people you’ve known for a decade. It applies when you’re staring at your laptop, and it applies when you’re interacting with people face to face. It applies to sexual situations, and it applies to platonic ones. If you are ever unsure if your behavior is appropriate or not, probably best to stop what you’re doing, and reevaluate. There are no hard and fast rules for how to be the Poe Dameron of flirting, but showing respect for someone’s boundaries is, in my opinion, the sexiest way to flirt.
Happy conning, Sparklers!
Sparklers, there is heavy content here. Have you had positive fandom flirting experiences? A negative experience? Tell us about it in the comments, or send an email to Auntie (email@example.com). and let’s talk about it!