When I last took suggestions and then polled IAM members as to what annoying oft repeated question I should next address in a column I was more than a little surprised at the response:
“Can I touch you?”
My surprise was accompanied by a somewhat vexing block in terms of writing the column. This was exacerbated by a national tour and other concerns, but I did not simply walk away from the challenge. In fact, I regularly polled myself and some others as to the nature of this particular quandary.
I have touched upon the issue of touching before, notably in my column on confronting rudeness. However, that was primarily the case of unwanted contact and in particular, unexpected, unwanted contact. As we all probably know from experience, and perhaps are even guilty of ourselves, human beings are very tactile by nature. Touching may well be an instinctual response. We often find ourselves admonishing children to look with their eyes and not their hands but more than a few adults could use a refresher course on this subject. The sight of interesting and unusual modifications can often turn otherwise reasonable polite adults into children. A simple ‘can I look at your tattoos or piercings?’ may be quickly followed by their grubby hands pawing away at you.
But what if they do ask (and wait for a response) to touch your tattoo, piercing, implant, or whatever? Now, it may be my paranoia acting up again but I think there is something potentially insidious at play here. Asking first is the polite thing to do but when refused it sets them up to play the victim and cast the modified person badly. How could you, the modified person, refuse such a polite request?
Actually, it’s quite simple. You don’t want to be touched. Touching someone is only rarely really appropriate behavior. Asking politely to do something inappropriate does not make it acceptable.
You might turn it around and ask them if you could touch them back, but this hardly amounts to anything unless every single modified person they ever meet does the same – even to the point of initiating the request. They will not know what it means to have strange people regularly trying to grab at them, and thus they will not appreciate the situation. They will go on thinking that it’s somehow different when there is body modification involved. The implication becomes one similar to the accusation of attention seeking. That people who modify their bodies are asking to be asked to be touched.
While not as desperately serious as saying a woman in a skimpy outfit wanted ‘it’ after a rape, this is basically the same argument and it is as rampant as it is offensive and logically bankrupt. I only bring up such an abhorrent example as rape in hopes that it might be enough to wake some people up. Touching someone’s tattoo without consent is an assault; the constant requests to touch are harassment.
But of course, this is a foggy minefield to walk through since everyone has their own comfort level for physical contact and requests. At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I often let people touch my tattoos, implants, and piercings. However, I reserve the right to refuse anyone at anytime regardless of past acceptance on my part.
The fact that enough people suggested and voted on this to make it the overwhelming choice for a column tells me that many people are not having trouble. My initial reaction was along the lines of, ‘well, at least they are asking instead of just grabbing,’ but I see now that misses something.