The “Freaky” Hobby

by admin on November 25, 2013

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… read them below or add one }

Lo November 25, 2013 at 8:07 am

I agree with admin. You need to toughen up a bit if you’re going to be doing something unusual in public.

Although even if the person is directing something at you for something totally benign why not take the high road? Why feel victimized by it? There are plenty of things that people do not find socially acceptable and are willing to judge others for, you can’t win this one. On the other hand, so long as you do not feel you’re doing anything wrong, why not just ignore them? I do think that you are right to own up to it if you feel okay with that. If you say, “Oh that’s mine,” maybe the person will think twice. That’s how you overcome judgement, not by telling others how to feel about things but by showing them that you are okay with something and therefore they’re welcome to be okay with it too.

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The Elf November 25, 2013 at 8:14 am

I’m dying to know the hobby too!

I have a few unusual hobbies that a lot of people don’t understand. There’s gaming (role-playing, larping, board, video, you name it), which is popular but carries a stigma. According to some I’m an addict, a perpentual adolescent, satanic, or in some way “weird”. Since geekiness has somehow become chic it isn’t quite so bad, but back in the day? Oh, you just didn’t say you played D&D to strangers! The second hobby is visting graves, making gravestone rubbings, and researching the lives of the deceased (or the history of the cemetery). “Tombstone Tourism” is an odd one, and most people find it morbid. But I find it fascinating, especially when little information is known. I’ve gotten the stink eye from some people, but thankfully no pointed questions. I think it helps that if I’m visiting a particular grave and there is a funeral service going on in the immediate area, I wait until it is over.

So unless your hobby is truly questionable for public viewing (and I have trouble imagining what that might be), strangers who make comments like that deserve a simple dismissive response. Not a rude response, not noises of agreement, just essentially ignore them. If you want to explain your hobby, to raise awareness, feel free. Just do so in matter of fact tones. “It’s mine. Taking pictures of X is my hobby.” I’d reserve that for people who make less loaded comments, though.

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Abby November 25, 2013 at 8:17 am

It is really hard to judge based on so little information. OP, if it is a completely benign object, why not just say what it was? Also, I am bewildered about an unusual hobby that involves taking questionable objects out in public and photographing them.

As far as whether it’s rude to walk up to a complete stranger and express your opinion on something that they are photographing- I guess it really depends. They might think you are taking pictures of it out of shock and you are in agreement with them that it’s disturbing, and they are trying to be friendly. They might suspect it’s yours and are passive aggressively telling you they find your interest repulsive. I’d say the former is harmless, while the latter is rude. But Admin is right- if the commentary does bother you, take pictures in your backyard.

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Dominic November 25, 2013 at 8:17 am

I’m not sure if this is different from a stranger commenting on one’s visible tattoo(s), perhaps, in which case the response may be, “If you don’t like it, then don’t look.” Without knowing the nature of this “unusual, but completely benign hobby” that somehow at the same time could be “confrontational,” it’s difficult to judge.

What I also don’t understand is, if someone saw OP taking pictures of “it” in public and found “it” so unusual and freaky, where exactly did they think “it” came from, if not from OP and friend? Do these objects just find themselves lying around in public parks to be photographed? And did OP and friend just walk away and leave “it” so they wouldn’t be associated with “it”? Hopefully someone can shed some light on what “it” might be, because now I’m really intrigued.

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ferretrick November 25, 2013 at 8:29 am

I also feel like the author is deliberately holding back the pertinent info-namely what exactly this hobby is, and that if we knew what it was it might change our answer. Regardless, in general the etiquette approved response to a rude, unsolicited comment from a stranger is “Why would you say that?”

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Jinx November 25, 2013 at 9:01 am

I’m going to agree that it’s too difficult to give feedback here without knowing exactly what the object was, especially since my mind has wandered to some terrible places.

At first I thought, well, it’s still rude of strangers to come up and discuss this… but then I got to the point where I wondered what if this object was really inappropriate and these strangers wee gently trying to let you know that children could be present?

Either way, I suppose not engaging with those people (especially if to be rude to them) is a good choice… but if your prop or what have you is offensive (Gosh my mind wanders to some terrible places…) then maybe they are in their right to suggest it’s not appropriate for public (through shaming, which is wrong…. I know).

I think if your object legitimately *wasn’t* something freakish or offensive (but apparently could have been interpreted as such), you missed a huge opportunity to educate people that the object isn’t a nasty, kinky thing that will scar children for life…. “it’s actually the ______ and many artists photo it and respect it for ______ ” and you could show them you are quite an average lovely person and dispel those misconceptions.

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Amy A. November 25, 2013 at 9:22 am

My friends and I collect Asian ball-jointed dolls (BJDs), and like to photograph them in public places like parks. Some people might find it odd to see a group of adults “playing with dolls”, but we’ve never encountered the hostility the OP speaks of.

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A November 25, 2013 at 9:27 am

The intentional withholding of the exact “potentially confrontational”, yet “benign” hobby leads a person to believe that it is not so benign. However, I wonder if that non-benign-ness is exactly why the OP and her friend participate in this hobby? Is it possible the hobby is used as a way to get a reaction and the reaction isn’t what was expected?

I agree with the Admin’s suggestion on this situation: either grow a thicker skin or find a private place for your hobby.

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Cat November 25, 2013 at 9:37 am

It sounds as if it was only a general remark. Since the person speaking did not know it was your creation, it could not have been a thinly-veiled insult aimed at you.
That said, I stand by my idea that humor is the best way to deal with most things. A man I know once worked for a large magazine company; and he received an irate phone call from a person claiming that everyone employed by the magazine was a Communist. He replied, ” I beg your pardon for correcting you, but there are many people here who are not Communists. Now, I, myself, am a Communist, so I can safely say you are in error.”
For your misunderstood projects, there’s, “Sir/Madam, you have no idea…”, give an owlish glance and walk away. There’s, “Oh, no, I am a freak and he/she never comes to our meetings.” Or even, “How on earth did you know that? I am Sam Freak and this is my wife, Mary Smith Freak. So nice to meet you!” Amble away or, for fun, skip, and don’t wait for them to think of a reply.
For personal insults I employ, “What a shame you feel that way when I am so fond of you.” (That works for many racial, ethnic, and religious groups too.)
G.K. Chesterton, author of the “Father Brown” mystery novels, once said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” Life is best if we do the same.

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Firecat November 25, 2013 at 9:43 am

I think The Elf said it very well. I’m also a gamer, and am on the convention committee for a local science fiction convention. Most people either don’t care or find it interesting, but I’ve gotten a few rude remarks, as have several friends of mine who share one or both of the above hobbies.

One example: Last year, several of the convention attendees were moving into the hotel and happened to be in the elevator with an airline pilot. The pilot asked what kind of event was moving into the hotel. They told him, and his response was a sneer and “Oh, well, I like to spend my time on things that are REAL.”

Another example: In the earliest years, the science convention wasn’t large enough to take up the entire hotel, so sometimes, other events would be in the hotel at the same time. One year, it was a group of women from a particular religious denomination. A lot of the ladies were very nice (one asked me about the convention, and after I explained, said that her nephew was an artist and would probably love this). But there were several others having a loud conversation about how the hotel shouldn’t allow “groups like that” to have space.

I think “What an interesting assumption” would be a good response in either of the examples I cited, and maybe in the OP’s case, too. Or “Why would you say that?” Still, it can get…old…from time to time.

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Tanya November 25, 2013 at 9:51 am

I don’t think the OP was saying that merely admitting to owning the item in question would be confrontational– rather, that once the stranger has explicitly said the item’s owner must be a “complete freak,” it may appear confrontational to reply “I’m the owner!” as if one were looking to have further argument on the topic.

As for a comparison to slut-shaming or kink-shaming, I don’t see this as the same thing, really. Both of those involve the shame-r intending to shame the shame-ee. Here, the strangers apparently don’t realize that you’re the owners of the objects, and while they are probably feeling superior to the “unknown” owner and attempting to share that feeling of superiority with you (kind of like how you might see an episode of Jerry Springer and remark to a passer-by, “wow, people who go on that show are nuts” without necessarily knowing if that person has ever been on it), they would be embarassed to realize that you are one of the very people to whom they are trying to feel superior.

In short, if you decide to inform these people of their error, go ahead and do so– it may change their impression of your hobby, and if they’re embarassed by their mistake, that’s on them. Maybe they’ll learn that it’s dangerous to assume things about people and express those assumptions out loud.

By the way, is the hobby taxidermy?

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Lex November 25, 2013 at 10:00 am

This is a difficult one. As the OP has declined to identify her hobby clearly there is some understanding that others may find it strange. I Cosplay and regularly go out in public in elaborate gowns and props (to the amusement and light-hearted shame of my Significant Other) and have drawn rude comments from ignorant people, chavvy teens who have nothing better to do than insult people, grumpy old people who have nothing nice to say to anyone etc etc but at the same time I’ve received some genuine compliments on my workmanship (I hand sew my gowns) and many people look past the ‘weirdness’ of my wearing a full length gown with boned bodice and corsetry and appreciate the intended art. My current project is a steampunk project which no doubt some would think ‘freaky’ and I fully plan on wearing said gown complete with top hat, steampunk goggles, leather holsters, steampunked nerf guns, etc to a place where I can be photographed in a suitable surrounding – I was thinking our local submarine museum would make for excellent photos. I’m certain some people will call me names. I choose to ignore them.

Sometimes people say rude things because they don’t know how to handle their own discomfort. Either that or they want to enquire about whatever-it-is and don’t have the courage. Instead of focussing on the negatives, engage the person in a positive conversation about your hobby:

Them: ‘Whoever owns THIS must be pretty freaky right?’
You: ‘Actually, it’s our project. We made it by hand/It’s designed to do XYZ/We’re members of the local WHATEVER organisation and this our project. If you want to know more, check out BLAH BLAH on Google.’

Focus on pushing the creative aspects of your hobby in non-confrontational and informative way. 9 times out of 10 the person will be instantly embarrassed that they said such a thing and by being gracious about it you give them a get out clause: “Oh, it’s not my thing really but good luck with it.”

Often people that don’t participate in a certain hobby are terribly ignorant of the work and passion that goes into it. My gowns take WEEKS and WEEKS of sewing, yards of fabric, trims, findings etc. For me, the finished product is a piece of art, and the creative process itself is the hobby. People see things on the internet and have no concept of their respective value and so feel they are entitled to demean it. Educating the ignorant in a non-combative way is the best way to encourage people to open their minds and respect the work regardless of their feelings about it.

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Allie November 25, 2013 at 10:07 am

ferretrick, I prefer “how nice” (as in “whoever owns this must be a sick freak” “how nice”). But I agree not only di I think we need to know what the hobby is, but I’m dying to know ; )

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Goldie November 25, 2013 at 10:16 am

I’ve run into a lot of unusual hobbies that, for no reason I can think of, have incredibly bad reputations with the general public. So I’m willing to give OP the benefit of the doubt and believe that the hobby is in fact completely benign.

The author is probably not telling what the hobby is, because he or she are already tired of dealing with people’s uninformed opinions of it on a daily basis. Although I personally am dying to know what the object was.

I would look whoever said it in the eye and say that the object is mine. But I’m old and jaded enough that I have no problem saying it.

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Raven November 25, 2013 at 10:25 am

If you’re doing something in public, brace yourself for public comments. That isn’t to say that public comments are appropriate, but they’re out there, so look out.

If what you’re photographic is truly benign but maybe just odd (roadkill? barbies without heads? I’m at a loss here) then don’t worry about it.

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NostalgicGal November 25, 2013 at 10:27 am

1) thicker skin. It’s where the unknowing and those that are not into the hobby can see, you’re going to get attention if it can be seen.

2) find/arrange a different place to do your photography. Some places can be had free for a short time for the asking. If it’d be offensive to the venue-backdrop normally, don’t use that place.

3) The person has a right to withhold the particulars of what the hobby is or what it entails but. It definitely isn’t mainstream if they’re getting those sorts of comments; and it certainly unleashes the imagination of us readers and commenters. I can think of several things that might be of a nature that the people indulging may not want to totally ‘fess up to; yet are fairly innocent; and it takes a nosedive from there.

I might suggest to the OP that as long as it harms no one; does not exploit anyone or anything (including small children and animals) … that they might move to securing a more private place to indulge in photography.

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Kati November 25, 2013 at 10:29 am

Is this hobby Asian ball-jointed dolls, by any chance?
Back when I was collecting, one of the members of the largest forum would take them out to do photostories, and one of her friends would go along and take pictures of the reactions of passersby. Some of them were really quite hilarious.

Unfortunately some people feel they have the right to be rude to anyone they think is different. “How sad for them,” as the saying goes.

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TheGeek November 25, 2013 at 10:34 am

Judging by the language used in the OP’s letter and what I know about odd but perfectly benign hobbies that may or may not take place in public, I suspect Ball Jointed Dolls. Collecting, modifying, dressing and photographing them is a fascinating hobby and subculture in some areas, but to the average observer, it’s adults playing with children’s toys.

Having been mistreated and publicly shamed for dressing up for LARP and at Renaissance Fairs, even when your ‘strange’ hobby is in context, people who don’t understand can say some nasty things.

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acr November 25, 2013 at 10:34 am

The fact that the OP used the words “kink shaming” and “slut shaming” make me wonder if the object being photographed was in some way sexual? Maybe you’ve just run into some kooks. Or maybe the object you are photographing is offensive and/or distasteful to many people, and in that case I think the polite course of action would be to find areas to take your photographs that are less well trod.

OP, are you perhaps seeking to offend so you can feel righteous and/or put upon?

My uncle was a doctor and he had a real human skeleton in his house. There are photographs with me as a young child sitting next to this skeleton on his couch. While I consider his possession of this object benign, I would not take it to public parks to photograph it, because I feel that trotting around a set of genuine human remains would make many people very very uncomfortable, and I find that discomfort to be reasonable. Part of being a polite citizen is balancing your rights with society’s expectations, etc, in public spaces.

If a person came to a playground and proceeded to turn the air blue with foul language, I would consider that person rude. Even if they are speaking in a friendly way, and not an aggressive way, the casual dropping of foul language in a public space set aside for the use of families and children is rude.

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Shalamar November 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

I agree – if you’re in public, and the object you’re photographing is extremely unusual and has the potential to be offensive, you’re going to get comments. Deal with it.

I’m remembering when a friend of mine, who is very blunt, went to a “Black and Blue Ball”. For those who don’t know, it’s a party for folks who are into S&M, bondage gear, and the like. My friend, who’d had a few drinks and never has much of a brain-to-mouth-filter at the best of times, started proclaiming loudly about all the “FREAKS”. The bouncer came up to him and said politely “Sir, in this environment, YOU’RE the freak. You’re welcome to stay, but if you do, I ask that you keep your comments to yourself.” My friend took the hint and shut up.

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Yvaine November 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

My guess is something benign but “nerdy,” like foam weapons for fantasy LARP.

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KA November 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

From The Elf: “There’s gaming (role-playing, larping, board, video, you name it), which is popular but carries a stigma. According to some I’m an addict, a perpentual adolescent, satanic, or in some way “weird”. ”

This is what I was thinking when I read the first part of the post – maybe they were posing in LARP gear or something like that – then the reference to the “object” that inspired total strangers to stop and comment on its freakiness (or that of its owner). While making those kinds of judgements about complete strangers – out loud – is pretty rude, this comes off more as a “I’ll do what I want and you’d better not judge me, admin justify me,” post.

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PrincessButtercup November 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

You say you’d tell them to their face that it belongs to you, yet here you avoid at all costs mentioning what it is… Odd to say the least.

I don’t consider calling someone a freak to be an insult. Freak is usually used to mean unusual or different and I was raised to be proud of that.
If you really see nothing wrong with what you do then smile and say “I personally really like it.”

I’m part of the “furry fandom” which was made infamous by episodes like csi: fur and loathing, which focused on maybe 1% of the fandom and made it seem like it was all of the fandom. I am not part of that one percent so when someone turns up their nose and sneers “Are you one of those furries?” I smile and say; yes I am and I can tell by your reaction that you have only heard about a tiny piece of the fandom. The majority of us are friendly, giving thoughtful people. In fact the convention that I am on staff of I spend most of my weekend working hard on a charity auction to benefit a shelter that takes in big cats that have been abandoned and abused. The attendees at that convention have also raised money to help victims of hurricane Katrina, help the family of a member who died after a heart transplant failed and on and on. While a small number of people do questionable things, the large majority help so many in many ways.
If you truly have no issue with your hobby then stop being so ashamed of it and give others reason to not be ashamed of it.

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Marie November 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

If OP is afraid to tell what the “object” is while being completely anonymous on the internet, I highly doubt it’s something appropriate to photograph in public. This letter is not asking for a real answer, but is only written to get approval.

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Amber November 25, 2013 at 11:12 am

The Hobby doesn’t matter, if (as the OP declares) it’s benign, everyone was fully clothed in public and it wasn’t some sort of explicit photo shoot. I think people are looking too hard at the slut/kink shaming comment from the OP. I’ve heard people who dress up like Klingons or frequent Ren Faires or are in to Steampunk or Cosplay or LARPing or whatever called “freaks” by people who are uncomfortable with anything outside of what they consider conventional hobbies. And I’ve certainly heard the word “slut” flung at Cosplaying women. Female characters in comic books, movies and video games often have costumes on the skimpy side thanks to our culture’s obsession with the male gaze, so a woman dressing up as her very favorite character may be showing more skin than usual and thus have some of our more troglodite members of society label her as a “slut” for putting on such a costume.

Anyway, the Hobby doesn’t matter. What matters is how to react to a troglodite, and it’s the same across the board – a death look, a cold “excuse me?” and moving away and refusing to interact with the stranger who butted themselves into your business for no other reason than to make a rude comment.

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admin November 25, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I was more influenced by the fact that the OP’s partner refused to admit ownership of the photographed item so as to avoid “confrontation”.

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GoTwins November 25, 2013 at 11:27 am

While I don’t comment on others’ choices, appearance, etc. and think it’s rude of anyone to do so, I *DO* have to wonder what it is you do that seems to compel others to comment on a regular basis.
Would I want to come across this when taking a walk with my 5-year-old?

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Daisy November 25, 2013 at 11:36 am

The noted (and often contentious) American journalist H.L. Mencken frequently received extremely critical mail from outraged readers. He had a stack of cards printed with the message, “Dear Sir (or Madame): you may be right. Sincerely, H.L. Mencken”, and mailed them out in reply. Why not borrow his idea? Just smile politely, say “You may be right”, and go back to your hobby. If what you’re doing is neither immoral nor illegal, why do you care about the opinions of strangers?

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AthenaC November 25, 2013 at 11:36 am

The Elf – It appears we have a few things in common. When asked how I met my husband, I enjoy telling people that we were in the same World of Warcraft guild just to watch their shocked expressions. :)

I was also pleasantly pleased to discover recently that some of my friends also share my enjoyment of walking through cemetaries and reading the stones. I just think it’s really neat and life-affirming to see permanent reminders of people who once walked the earth the same as we are doing today.

But yeah, I agree, I can come up with at least a couple “freaky” to the masses yet benign hobbies such as these.

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Ashley November 25, 2013 at 11:43 am

Sounds like some of the stuff I’ve overheard while cosplaying.

I just let it roll off my back. I hate that it comes with the territory, but it does. Anything “weird’ or “different” gets you odd looks and stupid comments even if what you are doing/talking about is entirely harmless. Most of the situations I have been in where someone shaming me for it is put in their place by a group of people wanting my picture and treating me like some sort of celebrity. Once though I found myself alone, because I took a late lunch that day so instead of being one of maybe 50 people in costume trying to eat lunch at the mall, I was one of probably 5. Sat down, slouched a bit, started eating fries like they were going out of style. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed three girls trying to take my picture, for reasons other than the appreciation of my costume. They were some distance away so I turned my head, raised my voice a little, and said “You know if you want my picture, all you have to do is ask”. Immediately a bunch of eyes were on the situation. They turned beet red and left. I could have probably gone over there and been quieter about it but I was tired and my food was tasty.

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The_Dakotas November 25, 2013 at 11:50 am

I can’t help but wonder if the OP collects pose-able dolls (Pullips/Blythes/BJDs/etc), as I have done so in the past (having a toddler around has put the kibosh on that for awhile now unfortunately!) and I have had some negative reactions when photographing them in public.

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James November 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

I think the etiquette-approved response should be to assume the stranger meant “complete freak” in a positive way. Your assumption of his intentions with his comment could possibly be wrong, so just assume it is. Force your mind to do it.
If you decide you want to confront the person about his comment it will be easier for everybody if you obviously hadn’t taken offence. You might laugh and say something like “I bet it seems Freaky but i like it so much because…” I could see that being way easier to respond to than “Why would you say that?”

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internetmama November 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I’m willing to be a little easier on the commenters. They might just not be thinking the OP and her friend find the “whatever” so intriguing that they’re taking a picture to show their friends and that the OP has nothing to do with the creation.

I was in a store parking lot and saw one of those very small Smart cars that had a large fake wind-up key placed on the back in a whimsical manner. I took a picture with my phone because I thought it was so cute. Somebody passing by admired it with me.

Now this was a positive interaction. We weren’t criticizing so maybe that made it (hopefully) not rude. But I wonder if the commenters in the park are not realizing the OP is the creator and simply giving their opinion on what they think is an anonymous thing. I think it’s the risk the OP takes in displaying it in public, knowing it is controversial.

And I do really want to know what it is.

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Ruby November 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I think the LW is looking for attention by doing that in a public park.

Keep kinky stuff in your own house. Nobody wants their children to see that. Photograph it in your backyard.

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babaran November 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm

If you have NO shame on your hobby and you do not feel other’s opinions are important to you—why do you care? My husband and I have a business where people make comments on it all the time, and because they hold no importance to me, I simply smile my “oh your lack of etiquette is showing” smile and my silence on their proclamation usually has them shutting their mouths in a hurry.

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EllenS November 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I also suggest the perfectly polite, “That’s an interesting assumption”. There are a lot of reasons someone might have or be photographing odd or potentially offensive items, but as Admin said, if you are going to put hot-button items in a public venue, you must expect reactions and learn to deal with them. After all, the public park “belongs” to the observers, just as much as it “belongs” to you.

I am reminded of a recent incident – one of my supervisors is involved in the local school board and fielded a complaint from a parent about bullying and harassment in the school. As evidence that the school had a longstanding toxic culture, (a point on which I have no direct knowledge), the parent included a yearbook photo from the 1970’s in which students were depicted smiling and painting Nazi symbols. What he failed to notice or comprehend, apparently, was the large poster for the show “Cabaret”, along with other props and set pieces for the show, and that the photo was of the Drama club preparing for a production (if you are not familiar with it, nobody in their right mind could interpret the show as being pro-Nazi- if they saw or read it, which this parent obviously had not.) Perfectly innocuous in real life, but not perhaps the best choice for the yearbook.

My point being, that there may be perfectly legitimate, personal, or nobody’s-business reasons to have, use, photo or display various unusual or potentially offensive items, but people react to what they SEE, and put their own interpretations on it. If you know your belongings are so likely to provoke strong reactions, that even claiming ownership would be “confrontational”, then I agree with Admin, grow a thicker skin or find a private photo spot.

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L November 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I’m not sure I think the tone of this response is in fitting with E-Hell’s regular ethos. Judging by their prominence in admin’s response, I can’t help but wonder whether the comparisons to slut- and kink-shaming flavored admin’s tone. Then again, they flavored my willingness to accept “benign” for public practice. I wishOPwould weigh back in with an explanation of the hobby. I suspect she elided it to escape the influence of stigma, but those details really are necessary.

If OP is being honest that the hobby is benign (no exhibitionism, etc.) and merely one that carries a stigma, then while it may be pragmatic for OP to grow thicker skin (although it sounds to me like she handles herself well usually but held back recently out of consideration for her friend), it is very likely still rude of passersby to comment. What if for example, someone had a “normal” object like a cat in a carrier on a bench in the park, not obviously in their possession, and a passerby commented: “Wow, the only people who own cats are lonely people with no humans in their lives!” That’s obviously a tired, reductive, patently untrue stereotype and I think most ehellions would agree the correct response is: “What an interesting assumption.”

Obviously there are too many blanks in this letter to be sure, but if the object and hobby are genuinely and completely benign, then I think the passersby are probably rude, and OP should stock up on “What an interesting assumption”s or “So kind of you to take an interest”s for future hobby outings.

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Stacey Frith-Smith November 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

It is kind of a tricky question with so many holes in the backstory…like Swiss cheese. In public, you have an expectation that others will ignore your personal space as long is it doesn’t impinge on theirs. I guess that is the deciding factor. Extremes of noise, odor, movement, visual stimuli and touch are all going to draw attention. At one time there was a somewhat stricter code about what was acceptable- being in public entailed the obligation to keep the scent, voice, appearance, physical aspect, and physical contact with others within the bounds of “normal”. Now we have an entitlement mentality that brings more of a challenge in the regard that others are both more likely to confront and to incite confrontation. Perhaps we could all benefit from remembering that public space is shared and therefore we are all, in a sense, both guests and hosts in that sphere.

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catherine November 25, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I’m assuming it’s something like a RealDoll, which, while unusual, is hardly publicly offensive when it’s clothed. I agree that as soon as you move into a public forum, you open yourself up to rude comments from strangers. A non-confrontational answer like “it’s mine, I’m photographing it as part of a project I’m working on” is going to be more than enough to send most onlookers on their way. Or ignore them, if you aren’t doing anything wrong and aren’t comfortable answering, you don’t have to.

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nk November 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

If SEVERAL strangers express shock at your object being in public, then I’m willing to bet it’s something that doesn’t belong in public. The fact that you compared expressing surprise at your hobby to slut-shaming and kink-shaming further supports it as something that should be done in private. There are many things that are fine to do at home but improper to do in public, and I have a suspicion that whatever you were doing is one of those things.

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mark November 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm

I have to agree with nk, if you are getting this reaction all the time then odds are good that this object probably is sufficiently “provocative” to not bring in public, or else just get use to people giving you grief over it.

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Beth November 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I am SO CURIOUS about the nature of this completely benign hobby that doesn’t hurt or insult anyone but nevertheless gets you called a freak in public and has such weird objects associated with it that you won’t even admit to owning them. Like one of the other comment leavers, I was a geek back before EVERYONE had an Avengers t-shirt, and I certainly got my share of funny looks. However, I would never have dreamed of denying I was a science fiction fan. I was proud of it, or I wouldn’t have been in public in a Star Trek uniform in the first place. There’s no sense letting your freak flag fly at half-mast. If you act ashamed of your hobby yourself, you’re not doing it any favors. Manners doesn’t demand anything more of you than not being rude in return, but I would say that if you really feel your hobby is completely innocent, be proud of it.

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Elizabeth November 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm

You are being purposefully vague. By not providing a clear and full picture, I cannot offer an opinion. And of course I’m wondering why you are being so vague …

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The Elf November 25, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Amy’s example (photographing Asian ball-jointed dolls) is a good example of something perfectly clean and harmless but could be seen as “freaky” (adults “playing” with dolls, men “playing” with dolls, different cultural norms creating an “off” look for the dolls, etc), though I’d still wonder why a passerby would feel the need to comment.

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Firecat November 25, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Given that the commenters had already referred to the owner of the item (whatever it happened to be) as a “freak,” I can see being reluctant to admit ownership. Maybe if the commenters found out that the person they were talking to owned the item, they’d be embarassed and slink away. Or maybe they’d choose to “up the ante” on their rudeness.

The OP’s friend had no way of knowing, and if, say, the commenters were much larger and/or outnumbered the OP and friend…yeah, I can understand the reluctance to admit ownership, and not necessarily because of the nature of the item itself.

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Rap November 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm

“I was in a store parking lot and saw one of those very small Smart cars that had a large fake wind-up key placed on the back in a whimsical manner. I took a picture with my phone because I thought it was so cute. Somebody passing by admired it with me.

Now this was a positive interaction. We weren’t criticizing so maybe that made it (hopefully) not rude. ”

Speaking as a Smart Car owner (without the optional wind up key), one of the things the dealer warned me about that I didn’t take seriously at the time is that people are *really* fascinated by Smart cars and will come up and talk to you even though they don’t know you. So this might relate to the mysterious hobby.

I don’t think it’s *rude* when I find someone taking a picture of my car or posing their children in front of my car (yes, people do this) or when people ask to see the trunk space or how the engine starts or what the mileage is, but it can get irritating if I am clearly loading groceries or on my way somewhere.

ANd people have occasionally had really *negative* opinions about Smart cars and thats where this might relate to the unmentionable hobby because its really no one’s business what motivated me to buy a “death trap” (not true btw) and its really no one’s business whether I can drive it on the highway (I can) or what kind of a moron buys a car that can’t be driven in X, Y and Z scenarios (I didn’t take my previous car “mudding” or “drag racing” or “hauling a boat/camper” – I drive in a city with constantly mild weather) It’s really no one’s business why I bought it, and OP, this might be the angle you could take with your weird hobby item. If it’s not offensive or breaking a decency law, it’s really no one’s business. And thats what you tell people if they attempt to shame you – you like it, and its not their business.

This advice clearly doesn’t apply if your hobby item is breaking a decency law, obviously.

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The Elf November 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

My, my, do the geeks come out of the woodwork or what?

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MichelleP November 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Now, I find these hobbies fascinating! I must live a boring life because I have no idea what most of these things are. What is furry fandom and ball jointed Asian dolls?

I agree that if it’s offensive, it shouldn’t be out in public. I also believe that if it’s not, no one has the right to comment rudely.

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gramma dishes November 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Sorry, not buying it.

If the OP is too embarrassed or ashamed to tell us here on this ultra-nonjudgmental site what the object was and the friend was reluctant to admit to owning said object, I’m guessing it WAS freaky or disgusting or provocative or some other similarly adjectived thing and they knew it would provoke a reaction. If you know you’re going to get a reaction and you get one, then that’s what you wanted. You can’t then feign surprise or offense when it happens.

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AIP November 25, 2013 at 3:04 pm

The friend’s non-response isn’t rude. The person sodded off quite soon afterwards presumably. The OP, is possibly one of those people who just want to have a witty or biting comeback. It may feel great to put them in their place, but is it polite? Now personally, I wouldn’t be too bothered about pleasing this complete stranger, so anytime I’ve been bothered when photographing in the past (unless it’s by someone carrying a camera) a drawn-out “Yyyyyyyyup!” and not making eye contact is all that’s needed.

As an aside to The Elf, part of my job is dealing with historic graveyards and grave markers so your hobby is practically commonplace to me :) One word of advice though, we strongly advise against taking rubbings or using chalk to pick out letters in faded inscriptions. This is because over time the friction will cause damage and accelerate erosion- especially with sandstone, soft limestone or shale.

Light is your friend in this case; low, raking (sideways) light will bring up the text really well. Winter, early morning and evening is excellent for this, depending on orientation (here orientation isn’t always strictly east-west in historic graveyard). I actually often use a high-powered LED battery to the side if the monument and it works fine. :)

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Tanz November 25, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I think this has two answers.

On one hand I think admin is right; when in public you need to have a ‘thick skin’ so to speak because you cannot control the actions of others. This is a fact, albeit a regrettable one.

But OTOH I think commenting on something not related to you is rude, and so I agree with the LW that they should have been able to photograph their hobby without others giving their unsolicited opinions. I also don’t think that people who do unusual things, or are unusual, somehow ‘deserve’ the rude reactions of others just because they buck the trend of social normality. For example, I myself am fat. I have had many experiences of random strangers commenting on me and my size in public – none of them were positive. I know that being large angers some people, but does that mean that there is something inherently wrong with me, or that I should hide away because my bulk angers some people? I would say the answer is no.

If someone is doing something truly rude/explicit in public there are official ways to deal with that. But we let the bullies win when we excuse people who attempt to police what others do in public because “I think it’s weird/I don’t like it”.

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