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The “Freaky” Hobby

What is the correct way to react to people tossing thinly veiled, insulting generalizations at you?

I have a friend with whom I share an unusual, but completely benign hobby. We were taking photographs of it together, outside in a public park. Several people have approached us and idly remarked that “whoever owns THIS [object related to our hobby] must be a complete freak, huh?”. Now if I were on my own, I’d likely tell them to their face that it belongs to me, but my friend preferred to say nothing and is of the opinion that you should say nothing, and admitting it’s yours would be too confrontational.

Personally I think that this behaviour is a lot like slut-shaming or kink-shaming- it’s a way for people to look down and publicly deride others while feeling justified, superior and generally socially acceptable. Again, it is a hobby which does not in any way hurt or insult anybody and which we engage in for our own money.

What does Admin think of this? 1122-13

I have this nagging feeling that I am being asked to approve something I really do not know what it is but which has the potential to be quite offensive.    You did, after all, use the words “freak”, “slut” and “kink” in your short submission and noted that total strangers have little inhibition about approaching you both and commenting on the apparent freaky nature of whatever this object is that you and a compatriot are photographing.  And to admit to owning this item has the very distinct potential of creating confrontation?    Red flags for me.

You are exercising your hobby in a public place and along with that should come the expectation that you have no privacy.   Doing anything in the public arena carries the risk of public commentary regardless of whether it is deserved or not.    My suggestion would be that if you desire to continue doing your hobby in a public place, that you grow a thicker skin because you cannot control the behavior of others.   The alternative is to find a private place to photograph.

{ 83 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous November 25, 2013, 4:24 pm

    Since the OP said that this interaction took place in a park, I was picturing an odd, but perfectly innocent hobby such as disc golf.

  • Library Diva November 25, 2013, 4:30 pm

    Assuming that your hobby is as harmless as you say, these people would be best off minding their own business. After all, if they genuinely believe that anyone engaging in this activity is a little “off,” who knows WHAT the reaction might be, right?

    I do also agree with Admin in that you’re doing something unusual in public, and you can’t expect a wholly positive reaction. This reminds me a bit of the tattoo thread. While it is indeed ignorant to assume that someone who’s inked is a total lowlife, if you choose to get inked in places so highly visible that others will notice, you have to be prepared for the occasional less-than-positive reaction.

    I’ve noticed, though, that people often appreciate seeing individuality on display and are drawn to it in a positive manner. I’m guessing that your hobby has also attracted some people like that, and my advice to you is to just cherish the positive things your hobby has brought you, and do your best to disregard the negative. You’ve gotten a lot of good advice about the kinds of things you can say in the moment. After the moment has passed, the best thing to do is share a good laugh and headshake with your friends about people who feel entitled to approach others and blurt out whatever pops into their heads, and go back to enjoying your hobby.

    If you guys really can’t take it, either forego the public photography, or try to start a Meetup of like-minded people. There’s strength in numbers, and these lone idiots are less likely to go up to an entire group and start insulting them.

    I too am taking you at your word that your hobby’s harmless and perfectly appropriate for public consumption, just unusual. I can’t even guess what it is, but you and your friend might want to run this perception by someone in your life who doesn’t engage in this hobby and whose judgement you trust, just to see if you’re off-base or not, if you encounter frequent negative reactions.

  • sweetonsno November 25, 2013, 4:48 pm

    Both freaky and harmless are in the eye of the beholder. Some people think clowns are funny. Some think they are scary. Some people think dolls are cool and interesting. Others find them creepy. I don’t think it’s polite to criticize someone for an uncommon interest, but I also don’t think it’s rude to notice that someone else is doing something atypical.

    My immediate thought was that it may have been a portable pole. Pole dancing/pole fitness is a great example. Most people think of strip joints and something that is definitely sexual. Anyone who has seen a YouTube video of a competition (or Cirque du Soleil’s Chinese Poles act, come to think of it) will see it in an entirely different light.

    I agree with previous posters that the speaker was probably just trying to start a conversation. When one brings something in public, it ceases to be private. While I don’t think it’s good to criticize someone or pass judgment on them for having an unusual hobby, I can’t say that someone is rude for noticing something unusual smack in the middle of a public place.

  • Allie November 25, 2013, 4:57 pm

    I looked up ball-jointed dolls since several people had suggested them as a possibility and gosh, they are freaky, at least to me. Then again, I’ve never cared for dolls. To each his own. While I do think it’s rude of people to hassle you over your benign hobby, that’s life. You either just have to brush them off or decide to do your hobby in private.

  • Crochet addict November 25, 2013, 5:56 pm

    Anything done in public should be done with the expectation that the general public may feel free to make comments/voice opinions. I love taking pictures of cemetery monuments, and I’ve only once had a bad reaction from other cemetery goers, as I’m discreet. The incident I encountered was when the local historic society had a Halloween tour of the main city cemetery- the tour leader told me loudly that she did not approve of my presence while she was lecturing(I believe that this was because the tour was one that people paid for, and therefore, the particular leader does not want anyone within hearing distance), so when she voiced her concerns when my path crossed hers, I apologized and moved to a different part of the cemetery to take pictures of the fall foliage. I am wondering if the OP practiced discretion- I am reminded of a coworker who saved pictures of an obscure religious nature on a shared drive at work. As I am part of the same flavor of religion, I knew that they were benign, but several of the coworkers sharing the drive in our department did not. Yes, it was benign; but again, it would not always be interpreted that way.

  • amyasleigh November 25, 2013, 6:16 pm

    Likely going off at something of a light-hearted tangent: I am a railway enthusiast, a hobby which in my country is often regarded with some contempt, as a pursuit engaged in by social failures / geeks / strange people. My brother, with whom on the whole I get on very well, finds my railway interest extremely boring, and is not very happy with my occasional tendency to yield to temptation and bend his ear about it. He and I have a running joke, by which we use as “code” for my railway stuff, the name of a more-generally-accepted, usually thought of as ladylike, craft-type hobby (I’m male, by the way). Having read various PPs here — I so wish to substitute, as our code expression, “Asian ball-jointed dolls”…

    Being serious — so long as the OP’s hobby is indeed benign and non-offensive: passers-by should not be obnoxious about it; but often, that is how people who are “more opinionated than considerate”, behave. I feel that it is basically on the hobby-practicers to find ways to deal with this regrettable phenomenon — ways which, assuming they wish to stay within the bounds of etiquette, are etiquette-approved.

  • Decimus November 25, 2013, 7:37 pm

    I’d certainly like to know what the hobby was. But it doesn’t really matter. If you’re in public, you just need to accept people may decide to say rude things.

    An example – I once went to a “weapons practice” event the Manhattan SCA held in a public park near Greenwich village. So there were a number of people in replica armor practicing with wooden or nerf weapons. Several drag queens wandered by and one of them called the SCA people freaks. I just felt that was part of life in the big city.

  • Victoria November 25, 2013, 7:52 pm

    I agree with sweetonsno. Both freaky and harmless are in the eye of the beholder.

    I was once at the park with my LARP group, and a middle aged woman followed us around for twenty minutes loudly and repeatedly informed us that we were going to hell. We ignored her and she finally went away, but we found out later she had complained to park services. This happened pretty frequently. We met once each month, and this happened every other month or so. Apparently, having our group in a public place meant others felt they had the right to berate us for non-conformance.

    LARP is also unusual and completely benign, and the OP is right. It is similar to shaming, and used as a way to try to force people to be “normal”.

    On the other hand, we also had people who loved to watch us acting, and sometimes people found out about our group and joined, all because they had seen us in the park.

    OP, if you’re not ashamed of your hobby, feel free to tell the muggles so. If it’s not illegal, and won’t scar any children in the area, you’re good.

    I am REALLY curious though.

  • The Elf November 25, 2013, 8:50 pm

    Hey, AIP. The way I was taught to do a rubbing was to use this special pressure sensitive paper. It picks up the pattern with a very light touch. Good to know that is a potential problem, though. Thanks for the tip!

  • Cattra November 25, 2013, 9:34 pm

    I would like to hear back from the OP to find out exactly what this benign object is.
    As previously suggested, if it’s so benign, why not mention it.

    AthenaC – I too, met my now husband in the same World of Warcraft Guild. There is still a fair stigma surrounding this, even though it is still very popular. I prefer to say I found someone I had gotten to know for years online in game, rather than a random unknown person picked up in a bar.

  • Noodle November 25, 2013, 11:56 pm

    I have a number of the Asian ball-jointed dolls as well (Taeyang specifically) and only one person has told me they are freaky. I don’t photograph them outside, though…maybe that’s why? They can be posed rather realistically, especially as far as dolls go, and some of them do have eyes that might creep people out.

    But if you are putting yourself out there in any way, there will always be someone out there to make an unwanted and rude comment. I also play pen-and-paper RPG’s (Dungeons and Dragons-type games) and I made the mistake of putting it on a dating profile on a mainstream site as opposed to one geared more at “geeks.” I even added that I GM once in a blue moon. Yes, I had some men make fun of me and make jokes about my social skills, say it’s devil worship, etc. or make comments about girls playing those types of games. That’s just the risk I took when I chose to post that on my profile.

  • VM November 26, 2013, 12:19 am

    I had a boyfriend who’s a knight in the Society of Creative Anachronism. Tourneys are usually held in public parks, so curious onlookers are legion. One of them came up to him, gestured at his sword and shield and armor, and asked “don’t you think this is weird?”

    He replied: “Golf — now THAT’s weird.”

  • Celia November 26, 2013, 1:19 am

    I’m not sure on this. Part of me thinks that we need more info.

    However based on the info provided “unusual but completely benign” I want to give Op the benefit of the doubt.

    I’ve seen stacks of posts on here where complete strangers have commented on an Ops style of dress, weight, tattoos, scars, food choices at supermarkets etc – all things that happen in public places – and by far, the consensus seems to be that strangers commenting on things that aren’t interfering with them is rude.

    I don’t believe what the Op is doing is “interfering” with others, as none of the comments seem to be “stop doing that. you’re bad. my children can see. you should do that behind closed doors” or whatever

    They are comments about the freakish nature of whatever the hobby is that Op is photographing. Maybe a bean dip response or a bright “a lot of people feel that way about x. we happen to really enjoy x *bright smile* isn’t it a lovely day to be in the park?”

    The Op did say, the strangers have “idly remarked” so that doesn’t suggest to me that they are being confrontational and more so that their comments are made in fascination and curiosity. I think it only becomes confrontational in the way you respond. You have the choice about being confrontational or not.

    I certainly wouldn’t snap at them or claim angrily “they are mine and i’m not a freak” but something like I suggested above.

    Obviously if Op comes back and says they’re photographing blow up dolls, fetish gear, implements of torture, then I might change my mind and say – keep it somewhere private!

  • lakey November 26, 2013, 1:25 am

    I feel that the OP was perhaps being a bit thin skinned. The word “freak” isn’t that offensive a word. If your hobby is unusual, it will draw some comments in public that may not all be positive. There really isn’t any harm in this. If you are comfortable with your hobby it shouldn’t bother you that someone describes it as “freaky”.

    Tanz, on the other hand, described situations where comments are made about people who are overweight. Making comments about someone’s physical appearance, especially a feature that is often viewed negatively such as weight, is rude. Anyone over the age of 13 understands that people are self conscious about their weight. One of the reasons that these comments are considered rude is that they are very personal. A person’s weight is much more personal than a hobby that they choose to engage in.

    I went through a period of time where I was overweight. Also, I have always been a bit introverted and socially awkward. A comment about my being shy or quiet would never have bothered me as much as the most round about comment about my weight.

    OP, enjoy yourself with your hobby. If others think it’s nerdy or whatever, there are a lot worse issues in life. I picked “nerdy” because I’m picturing you involved in Cos play or something like that.

  • Alice November 26, 2013, 4:38 am

    I agree with some of the comments, grow a thicket skin, if it’s truly harmless and you know you are doing nothing wrong then don’t mind what other people say. Like Ashley, I also cosplay and I also get my share of strange looks and comments: “where’s the party” “it’s not halloween yet/halloween was last month” “what are you” “when’s the play”. You gotta grit your teeth sometimes, some people not only don’t understand they also don’t ‘want’ to understand.

    I’ve found that ‘rude’ is sometimes the unfortunate default for some people and as soon as you explain your hobby the comments do a 180 “you look pretty” “your prop is cool” “I might look it up”, they don’t mean to be rude but that’s their reaction (wether they realize it or not).

  • Miss-E November 26, 2013, 6:49 am

    Here’s the thing: if you are engaging in something in public, you are subject to public opinion. Maybe it won’t be polite, maybe it won’t be kind but you can’t really do anything about it. If someone came to your home and made fun of your “hobby” (which sounds soooo much worse when you won’t actually name it btw), you’d be well within your rights to respond. But a stranger in the park? It’s kind of a no go, because this public space is theirs to enjoy too and there might be some other blog post about how awful it is having people engage in offensive hobbies in public!

    A friend of mine has visible tattoos and complained to me once about people asking her about them (not even necessarily in a rude way but asking for the meaning, etc). I have visible tattoos as well and I told her that if you don’t want people to comment or ask, you put them on a part of your body that is hidden! Because the truth of the world is: if you deviate from the “norm” people WILL comment on it. It’s not right but it’s how the world works. So you can either toughen up, or keep your “hobbies” at home.

  • Stella November 26, 2013, 7:42 am

    Doll photography sounds a likely possibility to me. If that’s what it is, commenting on that saying it’s weird is rude and judgemental. I personally don’t get the attraction, but I’ve seen some shots of the dolls that have been very impressive, and calling people weirdoes for liking that stuff is just ughhhh. Same as ragging on cosplayers or LARPers.

  • MamaToreen November 26, 2013, 8:43 am

    Overheard at the NY ren faire, from a woman in typical street clothes, “Look at all the freaks”.

    I don’t think she understood the concept

  • The Elf November 26, 2013, 10:00 am

    Hey Noodle, seems like by putting that on your dating profile you just found an effective way to screen out creeps. Anyone who would take the effort to send someone a message that essentially rejects them for a date based on their profile, instead of just moving on to someone else in the system, should not be the kind of guy you’d want to date!

  • Lerah99 November 26, 2013, 11:46 am

    I am very curious what the hobby is. Because the actual object does make a difference.

    1) One of my guy friends is a Bronie (a male fan of My Little Ponies). He will create his own ponies by painting them, customizing them, changing the hair, etc… So if he were out taking pictures of his sparkling purple winged pony with rainbow hair at the park and someone came along to say “Wow! Who ever owns that is a FREAK!” Then the commenter is in the wrong and just looking to start an argument. No one will be traumatized by seeing his ponies. No one will feel flustered trying to explain his ponies to their 5 year old.

    2) Another friend loves to make “dickerdoodles”. They are cookies in the shape of male genitalia. She gives them away to all her friends as holiday gifts. Now if she decided to take these to the park to photograph, then I could understand someone passing feeling the need to comment. That doesn’t mean male genitalia is “shameful” or “disgusting”. It simply means that it is not really appropriate for a public park.

    Since the poster did not tell us what her “totally benign” object is, I can’t make a decision one way or the other.

  • Kali November 26, 2013, 12:36 pm

    Am I the only one who thought taxidermy?

  • AMC November 26, 2013, 1:38 pm

    I’m picturing something like LARPing (live action role playing). It’s a benign and legal hobby that is often done in parks but may be viewed as weird or silly by outside observers. In general, I think it’s rude to offer unsolicated opinions to strangers about their appearance/interests/life decisions unless if directly impacts you, in which case there are probably more official ways to handle it.
    If someone were to approach you again and say “Boy, whoever does that must be a freak, huh?” I think the best response would be to smile and say “Why no, not at all. It’s actually quite fun. You should try it!”

  • Margo November 26, 2013, 2:06 pm

    I think agree with the suggestion that carrying out the hobby in a public place = no expectation of privacy so you should just sick it up.

    Making personal (and particularly uncomplimentary) comments to strangers in public is rude.

    I think a perfectly reasonable response would be to say (in a mild, non-aggressive tone) something such as “Really? I think it’s fascinating / beautiful / interesting”

    Or just a faintly puzzled/surprised look and a comment like “Hmm? Yes, I suppose it could be seen like that” OR “that’s one point of view, certainly”

    (I admit, I’m curious about the hobby, but I don’t see any reason to disbelieve the Op when s/he says that the hobby is unusual but benign.)

  • helen-louise November 26, 2013, 2:39 pm

    I agree with everyone else so far – without knowing what the object is, it’s impossible to make a judgement.

    1) If this hobby involves items which are *genuinely* benign, e.g. taking plushies to the park and photographing them to make a story, then it’s no one else’s business. If people wish to be rude about it, there is no need to engage them with their rudeness.

    2) If this hobby involves items which are not suitable for viewing by young children, then I would remind the kink-aware OP that “safe, sane, and consensual” includes the consent of any audience.

  • AIP November 26, 2013, 2:49 pm

    Hi Elf; I’ve actually never heard of that paper and so long as it’s acid-free (especially for limestone) it sounds ideal! I’ll have to check it out – thanks 😀

  • FerrisW November 26, 2013, 8:33 pm

    I do hope the OP pops up to tell us what their hobby is. I’m fairly liberal in what I think is acceptable in a public place, but it really does make a difference!

    I don’t know if I have unusual hobbies or just meet a lot of rude people, but I’ve had numerous people make disparaging comments about my hobbies (which range from painting to novel writing to sci-fi to nail polish obsession, so nothing too extreme in my opinion) along the lines of ‘you must have a lot of time and money on your hands’ and ‘who in their right mind would care about that?’, as well as ruder comments. I give them a big grin and say ‘what an interesting assumption’ and ask about their hobbies. Inevitably these are something that is seen as ‘normal’ (such as watching or participating in a particular sport, drinking, gardening etc, all of which I am uninterested in myself and would even find boring if I was to engage in it) and I say ‘that’s not my cup of tea, but I’m glad you enjoy it’. I feel this points out that we all have different opinions and different things we enjoy.

    Also, The Elf- I just wanted to say that when I read about you doing grave rubbings my initial reaction was of slight recoil (as most things to do with death are to me), but then I couldn’t get past how wonderfully sweet it was- the idea that people who are probably long forgotten being remembered by you as you do the rubbings and look up information about them is beautiful- those people had an impact on the world and so the fact their existence is acknowledged by you is just lovely and moving.

  • NostalgicGal November 26, 2013, 9:07 pm

    As far as shaming: I’ve had people tell me my unicorn head silver pendant was the mark of the devil and I’m going to go to hell. I must be crazy, because I put a quarter in a sticker dispensing machine and actually got one of the BIG glittery ones on the display board instead of a little one and said ‘oh neat!’. Shame on me, because I handed a quarter to a young father so his under two son could enjoy the ride-it-horse outside the store while mom finished shopping and checked out.

    Someone’s going to take offense about something, sooner or later. And just because you don’t immediately agree, repent, drop what you’re doing; you are so (fill in blank).

    Taking pictures of dolls is benign. Taking pictures of costumes; okay, I can live with that. Explicit art objects… um, maybe not for consumption by smaller public. “Furry” costumes and lifestyle; might want to stick to Halloween time to take those.

    The more this one ages, the more I think it’s taking pictures of dolls. There’s a lot worse things to be doing. I used to do fancy teddy bears, dressed in costumes; and would take pictures of the finished items before they went to the one that contracted for them. I got a few comments but mostly once I indicated it was doing catalog of work; they’d move on.

  • LizaJane November 26, 2013, 10:34 pm

    I’m curious about exactly what the object is and also what the OP means by “for our own money.”

  • LizaJane November 26, 2013, 10:52 pm

    Also, some people take things beyond the limits of “common” decency at what seems like any opportunity. Several posters have mentioned ball jointed dolls and the fact that many people think it’s weird for adults to play with dolls. Well, let them think it. However, the people I saw posing their BJDs in VERY suggestive poses in a public park really shouldn’t be offended when other people in the park were offended by their hobby. And yes, it happened.

  • EllenS November 26, 2013, 11:10 pm

    The thing I can’t get my head around, is that from going back to re-read the wording of the OP, it sounds as if OP and Friend are not immediately identifiable as the owners of the objects being photographed. This brings up a few points in my mind:
    1) I am just having trouble visualizing such a thing, unless they are trying to appear as curious passersby themselves.
    2) Perhaps the commenters are not actually speaking TO OP, but to each other within OP’s hearing? Naturally, any remark which is not addressed to you, can and should be ignored, no matter how passive-aggressive it may seem.
    3) If indeed it is not apparent that OP is the owner, then there is no possible resemblance to other instances of “shaming” or insults based on one’s personal appearance. If the person making the comment does not know that OP is the owner – because OP is concealing that fact – how could it be intended as an insult?

    The whole situation is just confusing.

  • acr November 27, 2013, 9:47 am

    To the people who reference LARP: I recall reading on WhiteWolf’s official site that they strongly encourage people not to LARP in public areas so as not to offend or confuse passerby. I’ve LARPed myself, but always in a space reserved for that purpose, or one that sees very little public traffic. Since in a LARP the players may be talking about killing people, drinking blood, etc, I actually do think it’s rude to do it in public areas.

  • Enna November 28, 2013, 1:42 pm

    I agree with admin on this one – if the OP will not say what he/she is doing how can we possiblely comment on it fairly? I do agree that scary and creepy can be in the eye of the beholder however, even if it is offensive there is no excuse for rude and nasty behaviour. The people who take offense should go to and inform the authorities if it is illegal or dodgy looking.

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