We need to talk: boundaries and consent

This isn’t really related to the show so much as some things we’ve seen recently related to two of the actors in Glee. Also, it’s a novel, and nobody is going to read it. But I needed to write it, so here it is.

Recently, it was said that a fan forcibly kissed Darren Criss at a Glee Live! show, as the Warblers made their way up to the stage to sing Silly Love Songs. Reaction was mixed from outrage to apathy and even some “I would have tried too”.

Chris Colfer

image: CNN.com

And we had the pleasure of watching a 30 minute interview with the amazing Chris Colfer whoisprobablygoingtotakeovertheworld on Piers Morgan Tonight. The pleasure for me ended when he described being “semi-mobbed” at a movie theatre and having to go to his “happy place” and call the police. The crowd was so aggressive with him that he woke the next day covered in bruises. He has previously described being locked in a stopped elevator with some young women for about 20 minutes. He’s also recounted an incident where a father swore at him as he fled a theatre because he wouldn’t stop and take a picture with his daughter. Chris was leaving quickly for security reasons.

Now I’ve pretty massive social boundaries, so all these scenarios make me want to die. In my line of work, people sometimes take my arm (for no good reason) and without asking any kind of permission and it totally freaks me out. So I have my own issues here, and I’ll own them.

It seems like famous people have an awful lot to contend with. No amount of money in the world can make you feel safe, out on your own, if everybody wants a piece of you. In fact, if a fan can get close enough to forcibly kiss an actor on the lips at a Glee Live! show where there’s massive security, it seems like there aren’t very many safe places.

What immediately springs to mind when I hear those stories is “who wants to interact so badly with someone who doesn’t want that themselves?”

For me, the rush of talking to someone amazing is that they want to talk to me. That doesn’t apply if I have to hold them there so hard they get bruises. The rush of kissing someone is, again, knowing they want to kiss me (or having some kind of reasonable hope). That’s why I don’t pay for VIP tickets which include meet-and-greets, because paying to meet someone (compared to paying to see someone perform) just feels a little creepy. I’ll admit to rushing back to my office and working harder on a screenplay or novel, because that way, maybe I’ll meet amazing people like Chris Colfer (someday!) and they will want to talk to me. Also, I might have something more interesting to say than, “Ohmygodyou’reChrisColferOhmygod,” but I doubt it. I have no alternative scenario for kissing Darren Criss because 1. I have no desire to and 2. that’s crossing a line I never thought I’d have to explain to a fan of Glee.

People talk a lot about intentions, and how intentions or other circumstances change how we evaluate an action. Like people who want to defend Karofsky will say that he kissed Kurt, not to hurt or intimidate him, but because he really was infatuated with him. And, really, what’s the difference between that kiss and the one that Blaine gave Kurt, except that Kurt returned the second, and how could the kisser know that ahead of time? Somewhere in that spectrum of situations, there’s a fine line, but neither of these scenarios straddle it.

Intentions, mitigating circumstances are all useful in a legal way. We use these considerations to change the kind of sentence a person may receive, or to evaluate whether or not they are a continued threat to society. In no way do we dare to imply that this information changes what the victim experienced. It doesn’t matter what your intention is, if you kill someone, they are dead. If you rape someone, but you think God told you to do it, they’ve still been raped. And if you kiss someone because you think that their body is public property and it won’t affect them, it doesn’t change the fact that they feel more vulnerable now.

Kissing someone you’ve systematically physically abused, intimidated and threatened to kill is an awful thing to do, even if you’re doing it because you have a crush on them. Because having a crush on someone does not give one permission to abuse and mistreat them. Kissing someone against their will can be devastating to a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It can make them feel like they don’t have the power to consent or refuse. It can make someone who’s really pretty awesome about his fans, a little less awesome (and for a damn good reason.)

I’ve been groped and kissed by people I don’t know who felt they were somehow entitled to do so. And let me tell you, it never feels good. It feels like shit. It feels like that person thought you were worthless and unimportant enough that your consent is not required. And the response I’ve gotten? That it’s a compliment. I should feel flattered that a guy thought my rack was awesome enough to play with or that someone thought I was hot enough to kiss. Except that it never feels like a compliment and it never feels like I’m hot. It feels like I’m powerless.

So, come on, people, let’s develop some boundaries. Let’s make the Glee fandom the best fandom. The one where, in twenty years, the stars will look back and say “The Glee fans were amazing, the best.” and not, “I was so glad when Glee ended, so I could stop being afraid all the freaking time.”


23 thoughts on “We need to talk: boundaries and consent

  1. I have been thinking a lot about this, as well. My Glee/Kurt Hummel/Chris Colfer fixation is really the first one I’ve had on a character portrayed by someone (my only previous fandom experience is Harry Potter, where my obsession with Severus Snape was not linked to an actual PERSON or even the actor portraying the character in a movie), and that makes it a little creepy for me.

    When they were filming in NYC last month, I decided to head to Washington Square Park to see them film a scene there. I was kind of excited, had never seen anything filmed before, and I thought it would be fun. Of course, I was there HOURS ahead of time (and ended up having to leave before they even began), and while I was enjoying the sun and weather, there was a little clutch of girls — probably 13-15 though it’s hard to tell as I get older how old kids are — and I overheard one say, “When I see Chris Colfer, I’m going to rape him.”

    And in that moment, the creepiness of it all was too much for me to handle. Because I was there, too. I don’t want to rape, kiss, or sexually objectify Colfer in the slightest, but there I was, next to this hideous girl. I felt implicated in everything that is vile about celebrity.

    I like to think if I were to see Colfer sitting in a restaurant I would give him a beaming “Hey, I know who you are and you’re awesome!” smile. Maybe I would just burst into tears (my reaction when I saw JK Rowling speak at Radio City a few years ago).

    I think one can look at the photos from Colfer’s live performances and get that he in fact enjoys the fans, the crowd, the joy of performing and being beloved by all and sundry — he’s a theater guy. But I feel a lot more comfortable with myself watching GLEE or interview shows in my living room than I ever would queuing up to catch a glimpse of him as he is rushed away by security.

  2. Oh holy hell. That kind of thing (the rape comment) would have had me running for the hills.

    Also, the crowds would have had me running too.

    I really noticed he enjoys performing live, which is awesome. There’s nothing worse than going to a concert to feel like you’re not welcome. I was at a gig where the performer gave out stink to the crowd for clapping while he sang. I’ll just buy the CDs from now on, thanks. But I’ve also been to a couple Melissa Etheridge concerts and she legit loves her fans, and talks to them, and the whole performance feels so damn good.

    That said, I’m very comfortable in front of a crowd, performing or speaking, or whatever, but I am not, in any way, comfortable IN a crowd. The scenarios Chris describes are like a horror movie for me.

  3. Now I’ve pretty massive social boundaries, so all these scenarios make me want to die.

    Whenever someone tries to casually touch me during conversation I instinctively pull back. So then there are these five awkward seconds where their hand hovers in the air in the space where my arm used to be, and we’re both just staring at one another. It always leave me with this urge to apologize even though logically I know I didn’t do anything wrong.

    Hearing about Chris Colfer’s instances makes my stomach twist for him.

    I was actually really hoping Glee fandom wasn’t going to be this type of fandom. I was in Supernatural fandom when someone tackled one of the actors at a convention and I was embarrassed and horrified for days after. I’ve actually got Live show tickets, and I am now praying nothing like this happens while I’m there.

    Kissing someone against their will can be devastating to a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It can make them feel like they don’t have the power to consent or refuse.

    I never understand why suddenly it’s a whole new acceptable ballgame the moment one of the reasons behind a person’s behavior is “Well they have a crush on them!”

    What always baffles me about the defense of Karofsky’s forced kiss (despite the fact that there’s a defense to being with) is that people seem to erase everything that came after it. The kiss was terrifying for me, but what really ramped everything up was the moment later where Kurt literally said “I don’t want you near me” and Karofsky’s response was to put one finger on him and hold him in place. I think I almost hyperventilated. This wasn’t some terrified teenage kid. This was someone taking pleasure out of showing someone else that what they wanted simply didn’t matter, and that no one was going to stop him from doing what he wanted to him not only when it came to locker slams or name calling, but something more sexual in nature.

    The world freaks me out sometimes.

  4. “Having a crush on someone” has always been an acceptable excuse, as far as I remember. My best friend was a boy, and when we started school, he started tormenting me, making fun of me, poking me with a pencil, tickling me and getting me in trouble. We sat beside each other in school (because we’d been best friends for half our lives) but the teacher had to split us up because I was being harassed by him.

    What did my mom say to me? “Aw, he has a crush on you, that’s all.”

    My high school guidance counsellor, actually, used the exact same excuse when my media studies teacher went all Sandy Ryerson on me in my senior year. Tried to flunk me (I was an A student) and went around complaining I was the worst student he’d ever had because I wouldn’t sing dirty songs with him when I was alone in the journalism office after hours, working on the newspaper. Actually, HE probably did have a crush on me. Still, no excuse.

    So yeah, I’ve always been told to put up with the consequences of other people’s feelings about me. Somewhere along the line, though, I obviously disagreed.

  5. Okay, I’m going to risk a bit of flame here to say two things. I don’t know that I’ve ever been “forcibly kissed” (other than as part of a larger sexual attack, but at that point kissing was the least of my worries) but then again I’ve always been pretty “free love” about kisses.

    1) I do not consider Karofsky’s kissing Kurt in the locker room to have been such a terrible offense. It was shocking, but when Kurt pushed back, K stopped and he left. He didn’t escalate at that point. If that had been the end of it, I would have no serious problem with that act in and of itself. It was not nice or well conceived, but I don’t think K thought he was doing anything wrong or violent or aggressive — I think, in his mind, he was probably doing the opposite, and letting down all of his defenses and probably at the most vulnerable point of his life. And when Kurt pushed him off, he realized he was not wanted; he left, humiliated. And I think THAT is what turned him into the monster he became after that, to wit…

    2) I agree completely with SILVERKIT about the “cake topper” incident. THAT was scary as hell, that was violence (though the physical contact was minimal), that was abusive, that was just plain awful. That Karofsky behavior is not so easily shrugged off. It is that moment that makes the interactions between Kurt and Karofsky in the Prom episode a little hard to swallow — because I think Kurt is a smart guy, and I’m not sure why he is so ready to forgive Dave, and reach out a sympathetic, friendly hand.

    Perhaps it is what Blaine told Burt in the tire shop many moons ago, about Kurt being the “most moral, compassionate person” he’s ever met? Is he just so big hearted that he can let not just the public bullying go (I can do that, have done that), but the calculated, private terrorizing? Because as much as I am really interested in Karofsky as a character, I think we need a little more in the penance department from him than a couple of tears before Calculus…

  6. Your counselor and media teacher …. AAAAA-WHAT?! I don’t know what’s worse, the teacher being inappropriate, or the counselor suggesting that it was totally ok *because* he liked you, when yeah, that’s the bigger problem.

  7. >a fan forcibly kissed Darren Criss

    This is always and obviously wrong, but as you mention, it seems particularly insane when the wrong-ness of this is a primary storyline in the fandom they are part of.

    >being “semi-mobbed” at a movie theatre and having to go to his “happy place” and call the police.

    Even more heartbreaking for me was that he felt he could not even try to do anything to defend himself had he been able to. Even while being mobbed, he wanted to be the gracious one.

    I hope that should I ever be in a position to see something like this going down, that I will do something to help stop it.

    Like shanna yarbrough above, my fixation on Kurt Hummel is a first for me, and I definitely feel a bit of the creepy factor that she mentions. For a long time, I wouldn’t let myself get interested in learning about Colfer himself, because being a fan of an actor was really crossing a line for me. What I have learned of him, though, has pushed me past that line for better or worse, because I honestly do like and admire what little I know of who he is. I think that in some alternate universe, we could have been friends. The key words are “alternate universe”, and I’m well aware of that.

    Colfer and Criss both are exceptionally gracious regarding the craziness of fandom. Criss in particular has fandom in his veins, so he understands the fervor if not the excessive actions. I don’t know if that makes fans be more forward with them than they would be with other celebrities. I do think it makes it feel like even more of a shame, because I wouldn’t blame either of them if they decided to close off further.

  8. I see this all the time when it comes to sports figures. So many people are fixated on “omg they’re so hot I want to do all these things” and tend to forget there’s a person behind it. I get people asking me “OMG so if you get to meet (famous football/soccer star) here how are you going to get them to do stuff with you?” and I just go “… whaaaaaaat are you talking about?”

    My extent of things is that I’d like to meet them, maybe get a hug with permission, a picture, be able to tell them thank you. I’m not in the interest of harming them, breaking up marriages, or anything of that strange ilk.

    Celebrities are people too; it’s sad to see this going on. (I don’t watch Glee, for what it’s worth..)

  9. I see what you’re saying, and the kiss could definitely be read in that way (I almost like that reading better, actually, than the way I’d been seeing it) but in the overall context of what was happening, Karofsky’s intentions are still irrelevant. He violated Kurt, whether he intended to or not.

    However, I don’t find Kurt’s willingness to be nice to Karofsky as hard to believe. I certainly don’t expect them to attend the Sing-along Sound of Music together, or fall in love (in fact, if Kurtofsky happens, I will be a very unhappy bunny), but I can understand how Kurt would love to have another out gay student at the school.

    I can also see how Kurt may see that Karofsky coming out will make his life significantly better. The jock comes out? Suddenly the fashionable soprano being gay is old freaking news. And Kurt may not need community because of all the support he does have in his home life (and with Blaine) but he certainly wants it. And he can see it, just at arm’s reach.

    Also, I think redemption plays really well into Kurt’s sense of drama and his life as a narrative.

    I’m also very invested in Karofsky as a character. I find it hard to be, because I don’t fit the Karofsky fandom, but I really want his story to be handled as well as Kurt’s has been (or better, I’d take better, too).

  10. In fairness to the guidance counsellor, I don’t think he was excusing the behaviour (that’s more a problem with my wording) but he was giving me a way to look at it that might make sense. I only had a couple months left of school anyway, and was accepted into my school of choice, so it was sort of “keep your head down, get through the next couple of months and it’ll all be over”. The teacher was a fucking perv.

  11. Sqwook, the slippery slope from Kurt fan to Colfer Google-stalker was a tough one to navigate, but I too have that AU feeling — it’s amplified by the fact that I grew up in the same repressive Central Valley of California, and Forensics (speech & debate) also gave me my only social safety net in school, and I am hugely impacted by the fact that my romantic role in high school ( and college) was almost exclusively to date and then transition clever, targeted, sarcastic gay boys out of the closet. If I were not a couple of decades older than Colfer, and I’d run across him at State Quals for Speech… He would have been on my radar.

    And I thought in the first rush of fangirl excitement about him that THAT was my take-away from the show: I actually contacted a bunch of those great guys from HS and college and told them how proud I was to have travelled adolescence with them, how much I valued their company, etc. To be frank, I married one of them and it was very sweet to reach out to him (now my ex) and talk about Glee and what it would have meant to us if it had been around when we were younger.

    But I’ve come to realize that my intense interest in the Kurt storyline and through that CC is actually rooted in something else, altogether. Particularly watching scenes with Kurt&Burt, over and over in a very OCD fashion, and saying to myself that I would be that sort of parent if my son were to come out to me one day, and recognizing that Burt doesn’t expect Kurt to change, knows he can’t, knows he doesn’t NEED to, I had a very painful epiphany that I need to be THAT sort of parent to my actual son — who is 5 and autistic — instead of fantasizing about how supportive I would be of my imaginary gay son.

    And so I have learned the chief parenting lesson of my life from Glee. And it’s already helping, a lot, in my relationship with my very cool, very different boy. Born this way, baby.

  12. oh there are some scary, scary people out there. To be honest, I’ve never been one to get starstruck, but I ALWAYS ask permission for a hug unless they are initiating it – maybe that’s why I’ve been able to meet some awesome people that I have! I don’t know.. personal space isn’t a bad thing…

  13. My coworkers torture me by hugging me for no reason and without warning. I would be very happy to simply speak to someone I admire. That’s why I love doing interviews with interesting people. I’m not bothered in the slightest if I touch them (or would prefer to not) or get a photograph. I just want to ask questions!

  14. Not to derail this entirely into a discussion of consent on the show, but shouldn’t the fact that Kurt was telling Karofsky that he was not attracted to him have been a pretty good indication to Karofsky that his sexual attentions were not wanted? I’m not sure there’s any way to kiss someone during a heated argument, after physically abusing them, after they’ve made it perfectly clear that they are not attracted to you, that isn’t in some way aggressive or violent.

    I do think the writers intended for the kiss to be what you’re describing above, but the writers also upped the creepy sexualized intimidation Karofsky perpetuated after that kiss for drama and then handwaved it away when they needed to “redeem” him, so I tend to take their intentions with a grain of salt.

  15. That’s actually a pretty awesome lesson to take from the show. And a tough one. I wish more parents would put as much heart into being a good parent as that.

  16. Very good point re: Kurt’s declaration that he’s not interested. It was immediately before the kiss. No way Karofsky had any kind of reasonable hope that his affections would be returned.

  17. Did you see that someone actually pulled Darren Criss off the stage last night? He was twittering about it like crazy. He seemed EXTREMELY upset and angry — especially given that he’s such a soft touch usually.

  18. Wow! Well thought out and well written article as always. I am a big fan of Chris Colfer and his talent and would love to one day be in a position to have a conversation with him. I also attended two of the Glee Live performances and loved it. But after the concert, when everybody was pressed up against the gate to see the cast- I just couldn’t bring myself to join in. Because I guess I don’t want to be lumped in with that kind of fandom. It sickens me that someone who professes to be a ‘fan’ would purposely violate someone in that way. When that lady grabbed Darren and kissed him, she was not thinking about what would make HIM happy, or showing her appreciation for his talent, but she was just ‘wanting a piece of him’ for herself, and taking what was NOT being offered. I read the tweets after the lady pulled him off stage, and he did seem VERY angry, with due cause. I hope this doesn’t ruin it for his fans that are truly happy for his success and love to see him perform live.

  19. It puzzles me.

    A lot of people have talked about the DC tweets as him taking it all with a sense of humour. I didn’t read them like that at all. Maybe it’s growing up in the most passive aggressive family in the world, but I took those tweets as him being quite upset. I don’t blame him either. It had to have been very scary, especially for someone who’s used to being so comfortable with his fans.

    PS: I recognise your name… are you responsible for the awesome Chewie statuette? Pretty much the coolest way to get a celeb’s attention, for sure! And totally nonthreatening, which is a plus! 😉

  20. Pingback: Darren Criss in London: The Coolest Girl « Deconstructing Glee

  21. Pingback: Extra Credit: We Need to Talk—Tina’s Crush | Deconstructing Glee

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