Dear Prudence

Help! I Don’t Know What to Do About the Way My Friend Looks at Me Whenever We Talk.

I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Man with his arms crossed over him. A pair of eyes float next to him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SB Arts Media/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Q. Up Here: I am a transmasculine person who has been on testosterone for over a decade (so I look pretty “male” at this point), but I have never had gender-affirming surgery as I do not personally feel a need to get surgery to “fix” any part of my body.

I wear a binder every day to flatten my chest, but I do not like to wear a very tight binder as it is uncomfortable and I will likely be binding for the rest of my life. I would like to be gentle with my body! The result is that my torso does not quite conform to a shape generally recognized by our society as “‘masculine.” However, I generally don’t worry too much about this, as I think it’s a subtle enough issue that most people would never really notice unless they were staring at my body, which would be incredibly rude anyway.

I recently realized that a friend of mine stares at my chest ALL. THE. TIME. At first, I thought she was just one of those people who doesn’t look others in the eyes when she talks. But then I realized that she DOES look me in the eyes when I’m wearing something that completely hides my chest (for instance, an unzipped jacket obscures the body parts in question). Earlier in our relationship, I had wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, and dismissed my own concerns that she might be staring at my chest…but as time goes by, I really can’t dismiss or ignore it any longer.

If this were just a casual acquaintance, I would probably just avoid her forever, but her kid is friends with my kid and my kid wants to go over to her house several times per week. That means I have frequent interactions with this woman. I will add that she is otherwise incredibly nice and kind, and has been quite generous with our family. I don’t want to be nasty to her, but I would like this behavior to stop, and I’m so angry about it that I’m not sure how to set a boundary without biting her head off. I also can’t believe that she, as a woman, is doing this—my impression was that all women know that it’s completely obvious (and unacceptable) when someone is staring at your chest. Any advice on how to deal with her?

A: Every time you catch her, you can draw attention to it with something innocuous like: “Oh, no, is there something on my shirt?” or “Uh-oh did I spill coffee again?” or “Are you trying to figure out if this is a regular sweater or a holiday ugly sweater? I saw you staring, I know it’s a little tacky but I like it, haha!” She’ll eventually catch on that she’s not being discreet.

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