Queeries: how do I stop my colleague making sexual advances?
Our Fagony Aunt guides a reader through a dilemma blurring the boundaries between professional and personal life.
29 Oct 2022
Welcome to Queeries, Aisha Mirza’s advice column at gal-dem. You can follow more of Aisha’s writings and work on Substack here.
I have a query about the boundary between professionalism and sex positivity. I have a Tumblr where I post all manner of things including mental health demises and soars, what I’ve been up to at the weekend, who I’ve been sexing, Black and brown folk in science fiction, pretty flowers I’ve seen… you get the gist. I also post a lot of unfiltered semi nudes that occasionally push the community guidelines. I do this for myself to enjoy – it feels like my precious patch of the internet that’s not for an audience, and a record I can look at when I’m old and less firm.
Recently someone approached me through Tumblr, offering me a work opportunity. They also dropped a sultry selfie. I replied that I was interested, but in a purely professional manner. We had a bit more work chat during which she pushed on that she wants to “get to know me”. She then told me she spent a day masturbating to my Tumblr content, that my selfies have built her confidence. Although I am flattered, and also motivated by the job as it looks quite cool and I need the monies, it’s feeling a little weird. I am not and have not been returning the vibe. Any advice on how to move forward ahead of our ‘work meeting’ which I truly hope is actually about work?
Dear Penguin Joke,
To cut to the chase, it’s a no from me! A strong, vibrant, unapologetic No. And tbh, in my heart of hearts, I want to leave this column there – but in the spirit of ‘doing the work’ and me keeping my job, let’s unpack this nopedy nonsense, shall we?
Listen, I’m sorry this happened. You seem to be taking it on the chin and I love that for you, but I think I would feel very violated if this happened to me! Yes, I call this a violation. Try to be extra soft with yourself around this. Get a hot choc with vanilla marshmallows next time you’re out and about, OK?
I get it, we’ve come to regard boundary-pushing as a normal and acceptable part of day-to-day life. It probably helps us make sense of the fact that we are never truly safe from the whims of someone else’s desire. But it’s shitty behaviour to ignore other people when they say no, which you clearly did here. I’m not saying work life and romance can’t coincide – God knows, when I worked office jobs, I would have k*lled myself were it not for casual flirtation to get me through the day. The point is, you’ve said no.
“It’s shitty behaviour to ignore other people when they say no, which you clearly did here”
Saying no has yet to gain the respect it deserves. We’ve internalised yes-saying as somehow more morally and historically significant. Active, unafraid, powerful – be a Yes Man! But what if you’d rather not? What if you put the ‘no’ in non-binary? Does that make you any less of a bad bitch? Of course not. There is tremendous strength in saying no, especially for sad little people pleasers like me. It can take everything you’ve got in your physical, material and spiritual bank to say no to someone, and just like that, it’s not heard. Just like that, someone else’s internal world is deemed more worthy and you are pushed back into a position of compromise, negotiation and/or violation once again.
What I’m saying, Penguin Joke, is that I don’t want any of us to underestimate the fact that you asserted yourself here, explaining that your interest in this person and the project was strictly professional. Your potential colleague then continued to push forward with blurry messaging and sexually explicit conversation. Even if we give her the benefit of the doubt here and say that she was simply offering the example of having spent all day wanking to photos of you to speak to their high artistic quality, is still careless. There are other ways she could have gotten that across. What she’s doing here isn’t sex positivity. It’s selfish.
“It can take everything you’ve got in your physical, material and spiritual bank to say no to someone”
I hear that another part of this is that you’re kinda flattered by the attention. And I wanna say there’s nothing wrong with that and I’m glad you welcomed it into this little puzzle. There can be so much desire held in violation, for so many reasons. Desire and violation don’t necessarily cancel each other out, but they get a lot hotter when consent is involved. IMO, the problem here isn’t that you’re being appreciated, or that a random on the internet has the hots for you – that bit is fun-ish and you should enjoy it! The problem is that lines are being blurred and boundaries are being ignored and it’s making you feel weird! That feeling of weirdness inside you is all the information you need about this situation. It’s the physical residue of someone fucking with you, it’s your body saying gtfo.
I understand you are due to have a work meeting with this person. The options as far as I can see are: restate your boundaries – potentially clearer and firmer than before – prior to the meeting (and this way you have it in writing). You’re looking for signs that she understands what you’re saying, without excuses, in her reply, and maybe an apology for her behaviour so far. You could also just roll on with this meeting (camera off??) and be ready to reinstate boundaries in the moment if necessary.
Before that, it’s a good idea to sit with yourself and figure out exactly what you will and will not accept from this dynamic. That will help you recognise if your boundaries are being crossed again, and also empower you to get out of the situation if you need to. You shouldn’t have to do any of this though, and I truly wonder if it’s worth the trouble with someone who has already revealed themselves to be kinda sloppy?
“It’s a good idea to sit with yourself and figure out exactly what you will and will not accept from this dynamic”
Money is cool, though I fear you may well end up spending the money you make via this project on therapy? I get that freelance gigs turn us all into desperate little humanoids hungry for a crumb of what we’re worth, and that saying no to jobs can feel stupidly hard. But the good thing about freelancing in this case is that you don’t share an office or network with this fool! You don’t need to put up with this for any longer. Run.
Best of luck to you and may your precious corner of the internet attract only good energy from this day forth, ameen. Unfortunately, this time – much like a penguin joke itself – this person is hard to read, un-funny and does not make me any more likely to want to eat it.
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