Significant Othering: Attraction Down The Privilege Gradient

Summary

All people who identify as unattracted to a marginalised group, such as transsexual people, fat people, disabled people or minority-ethnic* people, have a continuing duty to challenge this part of their sexual identity.

Responses and Comments

There’s now a second post up collating responses and comments to this article. Of course, you’re still welcome to continue to make comments here!

I don’t feel quite as sure of this as I did when I first wrote it; I think this article contains some confusions around whether expressing attraction is an act of domination (or attempted domination) or a recognition of humanity, and I think those are bound up in problems of misogyny and white supremacy.

But there’s a core of the argument that I’m confident in, which is that, where attractions just seem to happen to correspond to social structures which we know are bullshit, that means there’s probably some bullshittery in those attractions too, which leads to harmful consequences, which there is an obligation to challenge and which can be challenged, though not all of them – some non-attractions/boycotts are self-protective and/or progressively political.

The other problem is that whenever you create work which suggests honest self-challenge, there’ll be some people who try to use it as a tool to damage people. I wish there was a way to prevent that, but abusers get a lot of help in this society to do their thing. The best I can say is first to pay attention to where power flows in any given situation, and second… I hesitate to say this, but trust your gut.

I hesitate because our guts can lead us pretty wrong in some ways about this stuff, as our core of instinctive feelings is shaped in part by all the social forces we’re trying to fight. And, worse, abusers specialise in disorientating/confusing/pressuring their targets to make them lose contact with their gut instincts, or twist them around.

But there’s still a qualitative difference for me between the gut feeling of confronting my own internal contradictions/oppressiveness, and the feeling of someone else trying to pry me open or twist me around in an abusive way. And I suppose that if your gut’s telling you no, you have to sit with that, whatever kind of “no” it is. Change is slow, and needs a ridiculous amount of patience, and it rarely if ever comes from someone telling you what you should feel.

In the end, I think, despite its risks (we often “feel bad” while trying to change), I still hold with what I wrote in The Prudes’ Progress:

If anybody is using this work to make you feel bad, you are automatically right and they are automatically wrong. Feel free to quote me at them.

Received Sexuality

I would like to use the term ‘received sexuality’ to refer to our sexualities as received from the culture in which we’re raised. This is the ‘assumed’ sexuality we’re assigned at birth, based exclusively on the gender we’re assigned at birth. It is heterosexual, often racially constrained, monogamous, only marginally includes BDSM sexualities (if at all) and, of course, it is not asexual.

It is not a coincidence that received sexualities are considered the normative sexualities in their culture. Clearly, these sexualities are assigned at birth because they appear to be the most common and hence the most likely.

I would like to argue that this dynamic also flows the other way, and that the assignation of normative sexuality at birth is also a way in which the normative position of these sexualities is reproduced and enforced. The phrase ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ has been in use for some time but I’d like to extend this ‘compulsory sexuality’ to cover a wider (or I could say narrower) number of axes of attraction.

Liberated Sexuality

Our sexuality can be trained; has been trained, from birth, towards normative attractions. A white man in England is taught from birth that the object of his sexuality is a thin, white, non-disabled cissexual woman. Putting aside evolutionary psychological nonsense about hip and breast sizes, it’s clear that the image of the ‘ideal’ woman is culturally created and sustained, and has differed throughout history and across different cultures.

Heterosexual identification can also be challenged. A cissexual (non-transsexual) woman is taught from birth that the object of her sexuality is a man (actually, it can be argued that women are made to be the objects of their own sexualities, and to experience sex via being acted on by a man, but that’s tangential to the point of this article – more if you’re interested here and here). All children are assumed to be heterosexual until proven otherwise (or until they display non-normative gender behaviour, in which case they’re assumed to be gay!). “Coming out” is an almost universal experience of people with non-normative sexualities, because it represents a rejection of social conditioning. Many bisexual people spend some or all of their lives believing themselves to be monosexual because of this conditioning, and many homosexual people spend a great part of their lives in unhappy relationships with people of a different gender before they, with great effort, recognise and act on their sexuality.

I would like to use the term ‘liberated sexuality’ to refer to a sexuality which has been challenged in this way and which has overcome all cultural enforcement to find its true nature. I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a fully liberated sexuality under heteropatriarchy and other systems of domination, and that these challenges apply over a lifetime, but that we can certainly get closer to liberated sexuality via constant consideration of these demands. And of course, it may be that a person with received heterosexuality challenges their sexuality and finds that their liberated sexuality is also heterosexual.

Demands vs Requests under Rape Culture

In this article, I’ll make demands of men, and requests of women. I’m taking these two different approaches because of compulsory sexuality, and because of the response I’ve seen to this article. I’ve seen women take these demands painfully to heart and men ignore them. I don’t think this is a coincidence, as pointed out by commenter Cassaundra Blythe. I would like the points in this article to have the strength of demands, but not to have the strength which demands take under rape culture. I hope that “request” is the word which achieves that, and I’m open to further feedback and discussion.

My Requests And Demands

As a lesbian, I request that women who identify as straight consider whether they’re attracted to me.

As a transsexual woman, I request that women who ‘aren’t attracted to trans people’ challenge that self-identification, and demand that men do the same. I don’t just apply this to cissexual people. This also applies to me; because transphobia can also be internalised, I demand that I challenge my conception of cissexual women as the ‘gold standard’ of womanhood, and allow my attractions to continue to extend to my transsexual sisters.

As a white woman, I demand that I challenge my own racisms which might lead me to only pursue attraction towards other white women. I request that other white women do the same, and I demand it from white men.

As a currently non-disabled person, it’s my duty to challenge disablism which means I subconsciously consider disabled people to be invalid subjects of attraction (and often asexual).

As a size 16-18 woman, I must challenge my received fatphobia and not to say, ‘I have a type’, if that type just happens to be the type found on the cover of so-called beauty magazines.

As somebody who is broadly monosexual, I request that all monosexual women challenge themselves to include bisexual, pansexual and queer people in their sphere of attraction, and demand that monosexual men do the same.

As a middle-class anarchist, my politics demand that I – and all middle-class people – challenge our classism and remember that class is a divide created by capital and hierarchical power structures, and that love and attraction can and must defy these structures.

And finally, although this doesn’t apply to me, I demand that men consider women of their own age and, indeed, women older than them, to be valid subjects of their attraction. ‘Youngsexual’ is not a sexuality, guys. And while it’s certainly possible to make a relationship work when one person has both age and male privilege over the other, if you need to hold both those forms of power to make your relationship work for you, maybe it’s time to look at what you’re afraid of when dating women your own age.

Exceptions To My Demands

It’s worth noting that these demands are in challenge to received sexualities assigned at birth, i.e. culturally normative sexualities, and don’t apply ‘symmetrically’ to non-normative sexualities. I demand that you and I challenge ourselves to extend our sexuality to dating down privilege gradients, not up.

For example, I reject the demand often placed on lesbians to consider whether or not we are really attracted to men. Many of my lesbian sisters were assigned female at birth and have already been impressed throughout their childhoods with the necessity to fuck men; their lesbian identity has been found despite that coercion. It is liberated and not received. And as a radical feminist and a transsexual woman, I reject the demand that I must negotiate the unequal privilege dynamics of a relationship with a man. I won’t be told that I must sleep with my oppressor.

I also don’t apply any of these demands, or even the requests, to survivors of sexual violence, though they are free to apply them to themselves. There’s no world in which non survivor groups making attraction-politics demands of survivor groups is “up” any kind of privilege gradient.

Objections And Responses

“I mean like what am I supposed to do, force myself to be attracted to fat people?”

Well, yes.

“But aren’t you saying that I have to have sex with someone I’m not attracted to? I don’t want to have sex with someone out of charity.”

No. Nobody (for the sake of argument) wants a pity fuck. I’m saying that it’s your responsibility to challenge that lack of attraction. Perhaps you’ll challenge it, and find out that you really are attracted to the awesome, fat woman who goes along to your social club. Now all you have to hope is that she’s also attracted to you.

“Isn’t it patronising to respond to these demands?”

Only if you do it in a patronising way. It’s not patronising to search for prejudice and conditioning in yourself and look to deconstruct it.

“But I don’t fancy this group because they’re objectively not hot/sexual. Anyone can see that.”

This one’s often applied to disabled people, fat women and some trans women, as well as other groups. I’m not sure how to answer it except to say you’re wrong. People in all these groups can be, and are, sexual, and maybe if you were friends with a few more of us you’d see that.

“But I don’t fancy them because they’re oversexed/hypersexual and they scare me.”

This one can be applied to minority-ethnic people, fat women and some trans women. It’s based on stereotypical attitudes, often reflected in and reproduced by pornography and to some degree other media. It’s often based on fear.

It’s interesting (and by ‘interesting’, I mean I hate the world) that fat women and trans women are included in both ‘asexual’ and ‘hypersexual’ stereotypes. I think this speaks to the ways in which female sexuality is only socially condoned when it can be narrowly defined and controlled. The sexuality of trans women and fat women is socially unaccepted because our bodies don’t conform to patriarchal norms, and so it must be understood as in some way ‘other’.

“I’m not racist! All my partners have been white, but that’s only because almost everyone in my social circle is white. It’s just statistics.”

Perhaps it is. Perhaps it’s not. Unless you challenge yourself, you’ll never know. That said, “all my friends are white” isn’t necessarily a good sign.

“I’m a transsexual woman and I already have to deal with men who fetishise my transsexuality. The last thing I need is you persuading more men to start coming into trans communities and chasing us.”

I hear ya. Oh, chasers. What are you like? (Some trans folk call these men tranny-chasers, and they’re a scourge of online trans forums). Well, for a start, plenty of chasers are probably either gay or bisexual, but because of internalised homophobia are treating transsexual women as a way to get cock (because in their minds, all trans women have cocks) without having to break their self-image as heterosexual. If they took up my challenge, maybe they’d stop being chasers altogether and would go off to have happy gay relationships with men. Or maybe they’d discover that they’re bisexual or pansexual, and that their sexuality includes transsexual women, not as a fetishistic object, but as whole human beings.

This applies to other groups too. Don’t replace your non-attraction with a fetishisation of the exotic, because you’re making the same mistake – you’re not actualising an attraction to a real human being.

“What about attraction to children?”

You know who I hate more than a devil’s advocate? A paedophilic devil’s advocate.

“What about gay men?”

Glad you brought it up. It might seem like I’m suggesting that gay men have a duty to consider whether they’re really attracted to women, since women are less privileged than men under patriarchy. Male-on-male attraction is less privileged than male-on-female attraction in a heteronormative society, but more privileged than bisexual identity. So I only partially include gay men in my challenge. I challenge them to expand their attraction to include women, not to abandon their attraction to men. But I don’t challenge them very loudly, since they’ve probably at least considered attraction to women on their path to their current identity.

In Conclusion

We all stand to benefit from repairing the damage that capitalism, patriarchy and body hatred have inflicted on our sexuality. Those of us in privileged positions can discover new attraction to many amazing, magnificent human beings. Those of us who are marginalised according to body type are tired of being shunned, and may even be able to discover more sexual solidarity between ourselves. And lastly, every expansion in freedom also allows the freedom not to be attracted, or not to exercise attraction, because truly free choice that also feels free is often only possible in a non-punishing, non-coercive, choice-rich environment.

So what are your demands?

* A note on the term minority-ethnic. This term seemed to be the one settled at in a recent race awareness training session for bi community activists in the UK.

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23 thoughts on “Significant Othering: Attraction Down The Privilege Gradient

  1. Aww, I love this post :) Really nicely written and really well thought through. I accept your challenge :p

    I think it’s pretty complicated – sometimes I find it hard to tell, with even very basic things, whether I really want them or whether I’ve just internalised them. I find it easier to trust them more if they’re obviously not received, if anything.

  2. Personally this view bothers me. It comes across as if you are glorifying pansexuality. I do believe that it is important to understand why we attracted to who we are, but you take it too far. I do not need to try to see if I could be with a women because i simply am not attracted to women. There is no need for me to do so as I am perfectly happy finding the man of my dreams. Attraction is not something we chose, yes we may be able to expand it but that is an individual decision and cannot be asked of the masses.

  3. @p4tch35: Thanks for the comment. First, I do think that pansexuality (and bisexuality, etc.) are glorious. That doesn’t mean that I think that other sexualities are inglorious; just that I’d be amazed if, in a fucked-up society, all the sexualities we naturally found were our truest, deepest sexualities, and that the extent to which we don’t find out who we are is worryingly-in-line with oppressions which already push many people to the edges.

    … we may be able to expand [attraction] but that is an individual decision and cannot be asked of the masses.

    Why not?

    Or, to turn it around, why ask it? Hmm, that sounds like the topic for a new post to me… :)

  4. Meep. I’ve only now gotten to read this post >.< Shame on me indeed.

    I thought it was brilliant. I really like the idea of challenging sexuality on all sorts of axes. I found your comments really helpful especially where it came to bisexuality and to challenging monosexualities. Good food for my brain ^_^

    Just a few comments, though:

    I find that the term "minority-ethnic" is problematic, on both terms: that is marks the majority as a minority, and that it marks white people as lacking ethnicity. Both terms situate White Europeans as the default or standard. As an alternative, I much prefer "racialized", as it very clearly marks a social act of assigning "race" or "ethnicity" to some groups while standardizing others (or even, just one other).

    Another issue about race is that not all people are assigned a same-race sexuality. This assignment is probably more true about white people than many other people. For example, as someone who grew up as a Mizrahi woman, I was constantly encouraged to date (and marry) Ashkenazi men. That is to say: for many racialized people, whiteness is considered a trope, an achievement, a way of gaining social status and a pathway to class mobility.

    Regarding liberation – I know you said it can never actually be achieved, etc., but your definition of it kind of made me flinch, what with words like "true" and "nature". I don't believe in "truth" or the "natural", and I would like to challenge the idea that oppression is imposed upon us from the outside and that somehow, inside, we still maintain a pure core of… pretty… flowery… things, that we just have to "liberate" and then be happy. Rather, I think that oppression is built into us, and if we want to work our way out of it, we have to *change* ourselves. I'm thinking about the image of sculpture, for example: Leonardo said that the statue is already in the stone and only needs to be carved out – and that would be the "liberate your inner self" approach. My approach is more like plasticine is relation to the statue in the stone – if you don't like the way it looks, alter it. But there's no core to "expose" that is inside.

    Lastly – about hypersexualization – just wanting to mention that bisexual women are also heavily hypersexualized, especially in hetero-cis male culture of the pornographic kind, wherein bisexual women are imagined as always available and always willing both to have sex with and to perform bisexuality for straight men. Obviously, these attitudes are often used as pretext for sexual harassment and assault of bisexual women (also known as: "You're bisexual? Great, now can I watch?"), as well as a "reason" for avoiding relationships with them, in particular by lesbians (also known as: "She would leave me for a man").

    Would love to hear your thoughts on that. Thanks again for the post ^_^

  5. @bidyke: I was really hoping you’d read and comment on this. Thanks. :D

    I thought it was brilliant. I really like the idea of challenging sexuality on all sorts of axes. I found your comments really helpful especially where it came to bisexuality and to challenging monosexualities. Good food for my brain ^_^

    I’m glad! You’ve given me so much brainfood, it’s great that I can give some back. Braaaains!

    I much prefer “racialized”, as it very clearly marks a social act of assigning “race” or “ethnicity” to some groups while standardizing others (or even, just one other).

    To the extent that it’s appropriate for me to pick a term to ‘like’, I really like ‘racialised’ (sorry, gotta spell it the English way when I write it) too – I like how it, like you say, highlights that work is being done to create this category of person. I’ve seen so few people using it, though. I was surprised too that the event settled on “minority ethnic”, and that terms like that and “BME” are so common in the UK. I seem to spend a lot of time when writing this kinda article trying to work out what the ‘right’ term is. I’m still working on not putting all racisms into a single “racism” box; maybe as I get better at that, it’ll start becoming clearer to me where the different terms are more appropriate. Sorry, I’m still learning here, I know that a lot of the time when I talk about race I’m definitely not there yet.

    Another issue about race is that not all people are assigned a same-race sexuality…

    I didn’t know that at all! Thanks for filling me in. I think I can edit the article to handle that.

    Regarding liberation…

    So tricky. :/ I get why you flinch, and maybe “true” and words like that aren’t quite what I want to get at. I guess I want to think about the people we’d be in a world without structured oppressions. I don’t know that those people would necessary be good or happy people, but maybe they wouldn’t have attitudes which are built around absorbed structured oppression in the same way.

    Lastly – about hypersexualization – just wanting to mention that bisexual women are also heavily hypersexualized…

    Hmm, yes, I see what you mean. I’m planning at least one more article in this series, talking about why challenging attractions is important, and I’ll use that opportunity to list a few more corrections/comments, I can bring this point up there, as it’s a great example actually of the kind of thing I’m looking to highlight. :)

  6. (Note from Lisa – this comment cut down somewhat mainly for the reasons Twisty gives here.)

    This post is really really inspiring as a hetero-cis male-bodied person who recently realized he had little to no reason to maintain the label of “straight.” I mean, I’ve been attracted to and made out with many a man, so what claim or interest do I have in that label!? Hooray, first few months as a queer!

  7. Pingback: My demands « Pyromaniac Harlot's Blog

  8. Pingback: Cissexism and transphobia in bisexual communities | Bi radical

  9. First: I’d like to say I did read your second post where you comment and expand on the responses you got from this article. Anyway, my feelings on what you said are:

    No thanks. I refuse to “challenge” my sexual desires and actions for the sake of some vague political goal. There is no “right kind” of consensual sexual atraction, and I will not try to move towards a “more right” one. I love whom I love, I’m atracted to whom I’m atracted to, and I’ve decided years ago that no one has the right to suggest (much less “demand”) that I change those things in the name of politics, religion or arbitrary “moral standards”.

    Plus, by saying we should challenge ourselves to be more inclusive in our sexual desire, you seem to be making the point that being sexually desired is a good thing and is something everything wants. Honestly, I can’t understand why someone would want to make themselves more sexually desirable. Yeah, sure it atracts atention you like, but it also atracts a hell of a lot of unwanted atenction. I’ve been bothered for years by the idea that I SHOULD want other people to see me as, pardon my French, fuckable. I don’t think I’d be improving anyone’s life if I made a conscious effort to find them fuckable too (in fact, that would be patronizing as hell).

  10. @Natasha: The place where I think we’re probably closest to agreement is where you write that:

    I’ve been bothered for years by the idea that I SHOULD want other people to see me as, pardon my French, fuckable.

    Yeah, that bothers me too. I think you’ve put your finger on the biggest thing missing from this post, which I’m very aware of: I don’t really set out why I think these demands are important.

    I totally agree with you that seeing-as-fuckable – which, if I call it ‘objectification’, are we still talking about the same thing? It feels like we are – is messed up. I think that what I’d like to prompt people to aspire to is an openness towards the idea of a sexual connection, not towards objectification.

    I think that sexual attraction can do other things than objectification. I think there are a lot of different kinds of “attraction act”, and that many people perform some attraction acts towards people they find attractive.

    An example of an attraction act which is widely done, even by many monogamous or polyfidelitous people outside of their closed relationship, is smiling at somebody because they find them attractive. Light conversational flirting might be another example.

    Attraction acts can be community-building (of course, they can also be creepy or coercive, which is why sometimes “beauty privilege” – and the constant expression of attraction acts people feel moved to direct at those with beauty privllege – ain’t all that), even between monogamous people.

    That’s why my demands were to challenge prejudice and to work to remove layers of externally imposed unattraction, which perhaps brings us to a point where we may disagree:

    I love whom I love, I’m atracted to whom I’m atracted to, and I’ve decided years ago that no one has the right to suggest (much less “demand”) that I change those things in the name of politics, religion or arbitrary “moral standards”.

    I don’t know you and I don’t feel that I can interrogate you, as an individual, on your own attractions (though I might if were, say, friends and had a good, proven ability to talk about tricky subjects).

    But I observe, and I’m sure you’ve observed too, that on average, as everyone follows this doctrine of “I love who I love, I’m attracted to whom I’m attracted to”, the groups who they are attracted to are suspiciously in line with broad swathes of social prejudice. Prejudice which changes with the time and the culture. That is to say, we’re not born this way, we learn to be this way.

    If privileged people won’t challenge their non-attractions towards marginalised people, who is meant to fix this? The marginalised people? That doesn’t seem fair. Should we just put up with it? Will it just ‘go away’ when we fix the marginalisations themselves? Maybe, but that’s asking us to wait a long time, and we don’t say this about other inequalities – we tackle them, all now, all at once.

    No, I think the privileged people have to do the work. If there is a privileged person’s burden, that’s it: work to undo the harms caused by the systems of domination from which you benefit, because it’s more your moral responsibility than it is anyone else’s.

  11. @Lisa Millbank: I’m not saying I didn’t have privileged “unnactractions’ before. I remember only one: a cisexist prejudice against non-op transwomen. I used to think it would be “weird” to be with a girl and then see a penis when she took off her clothes. It was totally a ”that part doesn’t belong there”, binary, stupid line of reasoning. But that didn’t change cause I consciouly challenged anything. It changed over time, as I met non-op transwomen who were beautiful inside and out, and I realized I couldn’t care less what they have between their legs, I wouldn’t mind being stuck in the elevator with some of them and I wouldn’t mind asking some of them to be my wife.

    I don’t think that, if I had thought about that at the time, it would have made any diference. I didn’t see them as “less than women” or as some “third gender”. It wasn’t a matter of changing my way of thinking, it was just….life, and meeting non-op women whom I found very atractive. To me it’s no diferent than the way I used to HATE the accent ppl have at Rio de Janeiro and, after 3 years of dating a man from there, I find it very sexy and cute. I now have good memories of that accent.

    I’m not atracted to fat women, maybe one day I’ll find a very atractive fat woman and that will change. Maybe other fat women wil them remind me of her, and I’ll start noticing things abt them. The point is, if this happens, the atraction will come FIRST. I’ll just think ”Huh, this is new.” I don’t see the point in “challenging” my unactration to then cause: a) no amount of challenging will change smth as primal as sexual desire (nature or nurture, it’s stil primal, at least for me) and b) there’s no point to it.

    An example of an attraction act which is widely done, even by many monogamous or polyfidelitous people outside of their closed relationship, is smiling at somebody because they find them attractive. Light conversational flirting might be another example.

    Well, then we fall back on my point. Should I only smile to people I find atractive? Shouldn’t I be nice to people just because it makes everyone’s lives easier? I think we should be telling people ”Don’t be nice only to people you would shag. Don’t be rude to someone or treat them like they’re invisible just because you deem them unfuckable”.

    I don’t know if I treat ppl I find atractive diferent (I know I act like an idiot around girls I find cute. If I start being atracted to MORE ppl, it will have undesirable effects in my social life) I certainly don’t give the could shoulder to anyone I find unatractive, I don’t see how finding them cute would change anything.

    While reading your post, I was reminded of a disabled woman I know (we went to college together and I see her everyday cause she works near where I work). I don’t know why I specifically thought of her, I never thought anything like ”People in wheelchairs are not my type” and I’m pretty sure I’d still find her unactrative if she weren’t in one. Anyway, I’ve tried to think of smth atractive abt her and it creeped me out! I felt I was completely objectifying her. Maybe what you meant by challenging our desires is diferent, but I can’t think of any other way of “challenging” my sexual desire than trying to sexually desire ppl I would normaly not. Cause that’s precisely the point, desire is not rational, I don’t have a reasoning for why I like the things I like (and don’t like the things I don’t like) and I can “think” about it for a decade, but nothing will change. Changing would involve acting, and acting would involve objectifying.

    I just don’t know what diference does it make to someone if I’m atracted to them or not. Making a conscious effort to change that seems too much like “I don’t wanna deprive these people of the joy of being desired by ME!”

    But I observe, and I’m sure you’ve observed too, that on average, as everyone follows this doctrine of “I love who I love, I’m attracted to whom I’m attracted to”, the groups who they are attracted to are suspiciously in line with broad swathes of social prejudice. Prejudice which changes with the time and the culture. That is to say, we’re not born this way, we learn to be this way.

    Well, I usually hear “I love who I love” from queer ppl, so…LOL. Personally I am pansexual, I love butch women and I am atracted to a lot of body/facial “types” that aren’t normally thought of as atractive. I’m not saying this to play the ”I’m not a racist, my best friend is black!” card, I’m just saying it because I don’t think my taste is “in line with broad swathes of social prejudice”.

    I don’t think it makes a diference if I was born this way or if culture made me this way. It’s probably both, since I remember being atracted to certain ethnicities/body types FOREVER and I remember some crushes (like transguys) ”developing”. I don’t think it makes any diference, cause these things don’t change anything except my dating pool and my drooling over celebrities and Youtube vloggers.

    If privileged people won’t challenge their non-attractions towards marginalised people, who is meant to fix this? The marginalised people?

    I hardly think marginalised people are loosing sleep over not being found attractive by privileged people. This feels too much like ”Fine, I’ll make the effort and start thinking you’re suitable for shagging!” I just don’t see how that can play out in a NON patronising way.

  12. Hey @Natasha. It sounds to me like the way you work on privileged unattractions is through time, and spending time with people, and through slowly getting to know them as people. That’s a method! I know other folks – including me – for whom other methods have worked, so I don’t really wanna say exactly how people should do the work. I also think that it’s only objectifying to work on privileged non-attractions if you do the work through objectification. I’m not recommending that! I don’t think that “acting involves objectifying” – that’s a very broad statement, and it just doesn’t apply, for example, to the way I and some friends of mine have changed our own non-attractions. I appreciate that it could mean that for you, but not for me. So maybe not or others.

    It’s such an individual thing. More, I want to highlight that it can/should be done. I think you’re totally right that people shouldn’t treat other people like shit just because they find them unattractive, but given that people do act like that, what’s to do? Communities are built and held together by strands of latent attraction, among many other things. Telling marginalised folk that they’ll just have to wait until after the beauty revolution doesn’t sound very fair.

    I don’t think my taste is “in line with broad swathes of social prejudice”.

    And I didn’t say anyone’s individual taste is. I’m talking about society as a whole.

    I hardly think marginalised people are loosing sleep over not being found attractive by privileged people.

    Many really, really are. Especially when almost everyone is privileged in relation to you. I know trans* folk who’ve stayed in relationships with abusive (privileged, mind you) people because their dating pool was just this (holds up finger and thumb close together) big. I’m not saying there should be a freedom to date, or to fuck, or to be sexualised, but when the size of your dating pool is just coincidentally related to how privileged you are, I highlight that as a problem!

    It’s so tricky to express this. Being unfuckable is a marginalisation. Being fuckable is not necessarily a privilege!

  13. @Lisa Millbank: I think you’re totally right that people shouldn’t treat other people like shit just because they find them unattractive, but given that people do act like that, what’s to do?

    Change that ! I don’t think anyone who treats smn like shit just because they find the person unatractive will make any effort to challenge any prejudice. Respect is a duty, not a favor. Saying ”If you really think about it, these people are actually atractive, so be nice to them” is really NOT the way to go. It only reinforces the idea that respect is smth you should EARN by looking/behaving a certain way, or that some ppl deserve more respect than others.

    I know trans* folk who’ve stayed in relationships with abusive (privileged, mind you) people because their dating pool was just this (holds up finger and thumb close together) big.

    I know trans* folk who’ve stayed in relationships with abusive (privileged, mind you) people because their dating pool was just this (holds up finger and thumb close together) big.

  14. While I found this post to be very, very interesting and I think it had a lot of great points included in it, my problem is this: it’s not that simple. For example, my personal situation: I’m a cissexual white queer (somewhat) femme woman who is dating (and very attracted to and sexual with) a transsexual white queer man who passes as cis 100% (yeah, I know the whole passing-as-praiseworthy thing is super problematic, but it makes a difference in this scenario on how we’re perceived socially). Who is dating down the privilege gradient here, him or me? I have cis privilege where he does not, but he has male privilege where I do not. Also, I’m all for exploring one’s sexual attractions and sexual options, and I’m definitely for questioning and shedding received sexuality, but demanding that people try to force attraction to marginal bodies seems degrading to both parties involved. I have a favorite Kate Bornstein quote that I think is applicable here if you change the word “gender” to “sexual orientation”, “It doesn’t really matter what a person decides to do, or how radically a person plays with gender. What matters, I think, is how aware a person is of the options.” Lastly, while no one should indeed tell you that you must sleep with men, someone should tell you that every individual man is not “your oppressor”, rather patriarchy as a system is. Just sayin’. Anyway, those points aside, thank you for this highly intriguing read; you’ve given me one more way to stretch my mind today. :)

  15. Hey @Caroline, thanks for the comment.

    I don’t think it’s important to identify, in individual situations, who is “up” or “down” a gradient that’s multidimensional and intersecting. I think it’s more useful to look at attractions, in a broad sense, both of individuals and of groups, and to identify areas in which attractions are directed up or down gradients. I think it’s similar to other areas of intersectionality, where you need to avoid the trap of trying to analyse who – when multiple intersecting identities are in play – is “more” or “less” oppressed, or even who oppresses each other; instead, it’s best to look at which dynamics are in play in that particular interpersonal relationship, and how they may vary across time, mood and space.

    I’ve found people’s interpretations of my demands very interesting. Some say that this is demanding that they patronise marginalised people, others that they won’t “force” themselves to like marginalised bodies. I didn’t actually say either of those things. :) I think it’s potentially interesting that “patronise” and “force” are some of the ways in which challenging attractions are understood, when there are so many other ways to develop our understanding of the richness and complexity of marginalised lives and bodies; some of which, for me, might include open-mindedness, humility, challenging my own privilege and identifying and questioning “disgust” and “of course not” reactions in relation to considered attractions.

    someone should tell you that every individual man is not “your oppressor”, rather patriarchy as a system is. Just sayin’

    I find this a little patronising!

  16. Pingback: “I’m afraid the masquerade is over and so is love, and so is love” « The Blog of Disquiet

  17. First let me say that I’m with you 100% on your main thesis. It’s often expressed as the puzzled question, “But how do you have sex??” The conditioning that sex means penis in vagina runs so deeply that many people can’t conceive of any other way that sex could work. My own answer to the specific question, for what it’s worth, is that two people who love each other will find ways of touching to give one another pleasure, without getting stuck which body part is touching or being touched.

    On a personal note, this dovetails with my own recent thinking about my own sexuality. For the past year or so, I’ve been moving toward understanding myself as queer-oriented; that is, that I’m attracted more to queer people than to “straight” people. (Define straight how you will. I’m generalizing for brevity.) Of course I don’t mean that I’m attracted to every queer person I meet — just that the people I’m attracted to mostly turn out to be lesbian or gay or trans or non-binary etc.

    More recently, though, I’ve been questioning that — there have been straight people I’m attracted to too, so “queer-oriented” isn’t exactly right either (though it is what I put on survey forms that think they’re being inclusive by offering check boxes for straight/gay/bisexual).

    After reading your essay, I’m thinking that the people I find attractive are the ones who have chosen their sexuality; that is, that they’ve looked inside and challenged the conditioning and the assumptions, and have found their own sexuality to which they can be true. As you point out, that introspection is usually part of forming a queer identity; but there’s no reason why it can’t also be part of forming a straight identity. So, thanks for that insight.

  18. Pingback: Can heteronormativity be smashed? « Automatic Writing

  19. Pingback: communities built on exclusion — the essay and what happened at KinkForAll « a heinous butch

  20. Pingback: reader question: pansexual attraction | rainbowgenderpunk

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