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  • Writer's pictureEdie Montreux

Backhanded Compliments

Compliments don’t need to be backhanded to slap you across the face. 

Recently, I removed my coat at someone’s house, and the host complimented my fresh-from-work outfit. 

The first instant reaction in my head: LIAR!

The second reaction: Ah, fuck. I thought this outfit was safe. No one has ever said anything about it.

Most of my acquaintances know not to give me compliments. It’s awkward. If I don’t know the person well, it’s usually just a brush-off, “Thanks?” If I do know the person, it’s, “Fuck you. Can we talk about something else?”

I recently read a blog on Tumblr that related to my specific plight in high school. Boys at the blogger’s school gave compliments to reel in unsuspecting girls with comments like, “Girl, you look so pretty today,” and then torment them with insults.  This took me back to gym class, where four boys regularly surrounded me on the walk from the track to the school. 

Boy 1: “Hey, you ran really fast this morning.”

Boy 2: “Yeah, but we could still catch you, if we wanted to.”

Boy 3: “Don’t run so fast. You make us look bad.”

Boy 4: “You’re still butt-ugly, though.”

Boy 1: “Yeah, but I’d let you suck my dick. Wanna do it right here?”

Boy 2 and 3: (chanting) “Do it! Do it!”

Boy 4: “I don’t know, man. That’s pretty desperate.”

That’s a summary of my freshman year in high school. Same gym class, same bunch of jerks. This didn’t start freshman year. I’ve been subjected to public shame since I started public school. First it was the N word: my classmates were stupid and blind. Then it was lesbian, or trans, or gay, “because if you want to be a boy, you’re trans, and you like boys, so that means you’re gay,” said one of my third grade classmates. By sixth grade, we’d moved on to fat, and brace-face. Now, people hate me because I’m skinny. Fuck that. I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I’m a very private person because the world has shown it’s not ready for my awesomeness.

Anyone who tries to compliment me on how I look doesn’t understand me at all. I do not give a shit about my physical appearance. Hair tame? Check. Clean clothes? Check. Shower and deodorant? Check. Woohoo–I shouldn’t draw any unnecessary attention to myself. Anyone who’s been bullied knows that the last thing you ever want to do is stand out. I thought I had it down to a science, but I do like the shiny, so maybe I need to designate my silver scarf to convention gear. (Conventions: the only time compliments on my outfits will be accepted. “Why yes, my Queen cape IS fucking awesome. Thanks for noticing!”)

My physical appearance stands out enough as it is. People see a skinny girl with long, curly hair and think, “Princess.” Well, yeah, Lemur treats me like a princess, but he would do so even if I cut my hair short and gained a ton of weight. So why do I keep my hair long? The more weight on it, the looser the curls, the less I look like an atomic cloud. Why work out? The zombie apocalypse. Seriously. Cardio. 

A true compliment to me is laughing at my jokes, and not in a cruel, “ironic” way. Inviting me to do something outside of work, like coffee, lunch, or happy hour. Sending me funny posts about language, or gaming, or books. Asking me for help with grammar and English stuff. Compliment my mind, my sense of humor, or the message on my quirky t-shirts. 

Commenting on how I look puts me back in the box with the rest of the objects. I’m not going back in the box.

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