I’ve been overwhelmed and delighted by the reaction to Significant Othering: Attraction Down The Privilege Gradient. It seems to have gotten most of its attention on Facebook, with over 200 shares, which makes me happy because it means that people are engaging with it on an individual level.
Now that it’s a few weeks on, I’d like to come back to the subject with a roundup of responses. One of the downsides of conversations taking place on Facebook is that they’re taking place in isolation, so part of the idea is to bring some of the threads back together with this post.
If your comment is included here, it’s because I’ve asked you if you’d consent to me including it, and I’ve anonymised it as well except where explicitly asked to leave names in. Some take the form of question-and-answer, other comments I’ve reproduced in their entirety, others are summarised, one or two are satirised and finally there’s a section of further reading at the end of this piece.
One very long conversation in particular took shape around the feeling by some (white) readers that it was not racist for them to feel attraction exclusively towards other white people, arguing that they were “born this way”. I haven’t included all these remarks, because there were too many, but one long quote below includes many of the points of view expressed.
First, though, I’d like to lead with my favourite – a set of demands by pyromaniacharlot made in response to the demands in the original piece:
- I demand that you re-examine who and how you love.
- I demand this, because other than being who we are, re-examining who we love is one of the most radical actions any one person can engage in. Loving can change your worldview, and it can define your battles. Love can transform you and free you.
- I demand that in this realm, first you let go of everything you’ve been told is ‘valid’ and ‘proper’. Then start again at the beginning, by *respecting* the people around you. All of them. We are all people, not objects existing for your pleasure. Respect that people have autonomy, and that they have the right to make their own informed choices. Thou shalt not coerce, manipulate or dehumanize.
- From there, I demand that you make up your own rules. Love that is brief is no less valid than love that lasts for decades. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, and can happen between people of all genders, races and ages. Love doesn’t have to be exclusive. Love doesn’t have to be gentle.
- Finally, I demand that you accept your love and carry it proudly. Beauty comes in many forms, and noone has the right to tell you otherwise. Stand by your lovers, support and defend them, even if the world tells you otherwise. Especially if the world tells you otherwise. Because noone has the right to police your heart, and no love is wrong.
My Response: <3 !
Other Comments (and Responses, Where Applicable)
I also wonder how this might be perceived by people who are fearful of sex. Personally, sexual attraction and the discussion/idea of sex was pretty terrifying for me for a lot of my life because of sexual violence I experienced. I definitely think that victims of sexual violence and how they might perceive your demands should also be considered.
Great point about sexual violence. I also think maybe it ties into the “I don’t want to have sex” article that went around recently.
Would women class as a marginalised group in this context, or does the fact that sexualisation is part of that marginalisation work against this?
I don’t even know! In some ways I feel that *everyone* is trained to be attracted to women. In others, that woman/woman attraction is attacked and marginalised, or made into a sexual object.
As a girl who stopped being slim around the age of about thirteen I think I would be quite offended to be told (either up front or later on down the line in a relationship) that someone had trained themselves to be attracted to women like me….the idea gives me the creeps.
I think it’s a difficult subject. The call, I think, is for people to train themselves to destroy the inner prejudice/received sexuality which means that ‘people like you’ are struck off their list. When that prejudice is gone, a liberated sexuality remains which might or might not include you.
sorry but found article full of holes – spent years trying avoid the ‘black shagger’ both male, female and lesbian. Spent years being the vehicle by which others basked in my ‘blackness’, others being 100% caucasion i.e ’cause you’re black and my friend/daughter/my daughters friend/my sons friend it goes on, then I myself are cool/politically sound/special/tolarant/deserving of some medal’. The reflected glory can be sexual in origin or otherwise. Also found article horribly assumptive about what biologically born men am women does and doesn’t find attractive in other human beings, assumptive trans individual are more aware about gender issues than any individuals and bases ideas about cis and cis privalege on hetro-normative ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman.
I used to be size 16-18 and I never realised how people would treat me so differently when I got to my size now (12 and I’ll probably shrink further, training for a marathon). It really opened my eyes, as I was still me, just less fat. I don’t think we can force ourselves to change who we’re attracted to however, but we can educate ourselves about our prejudices…
For me, the key is to allow yourself to be attracted to the people you would not usually be attracted to rather than to a group. That way, you look at the individual and the characteristic is not the thing you are attracted to.
I understood you mean liberated sexuality as transcending socialisation, whereas what I am talking about is an accepting but not condoning (i.e. it’s ok to be who I am even if it’s not ok to create people like me through x mechanisms). I also believe in the importance of picking our battles. We have so many duties (politically, socially, to ourselves and our families/partners) that it can be overwhelming. While it’s great to bring up the point, I would say that to me it read a bit like trying to guilt people if they don’t do it. People can NOT do things for very legitimate reasons, like prioritising other struggles.
I take a lot of pride from my belief that I chose my sexuality. There’s an inherent biological urge down there somewhere, but that’s not nearly as fun or gratifying as political eroticism.
I’ve noticed from speaking to people on a one-to-one basis that “received sexuality” tends only to be what is shown in outward behaviour. A person’s real sexual tastes can be extremely wide and varied, they just don’t talk about it with most people for fear of the reaction they’ll get.
A long comment thread, somewhat paraphrased:
attraction is an instinct, instincts are primal and thus cannot be altered therefore it isn’t racist that I only fancy white people and it is VERY RUDE to suggest that I might be racist. I am heterosexual, and that isn’t seen as a choice, therefore only finding white people attractive is something I have no choice over. If 10% of people are gay, why can’t 10% of people be incapable of finding a black person attractive? If you make the conscious decision to rule out black people as potential partners then THAT is racist. Any subconscious racism is overridden by the conscious mind and therefore irrelevant. If I had a prejudice I would know about it and therefore I don’t I’M NOT RACIST I’M NOT RACIST you don’t have any evidence that I’m racist! To say that everyone is at least a bit racist is prejudiced. Why aren’t you agreeing with me, I’m trying to HELP you!
“Challenge accepted!” ^.^
This one made me very happy.
Nature and nurture probably both play a part in determining what kinds of people an individual finds attractive, BUT people who do not experience a high level of free will will not be able to do anything about the cultural part, ie will not be able to take up your challenge as they won’t experience their preferences as choices. To argue that we have choice over who we are attracted to is damaging to (eg) the fight for gay marriage, as part of the argument there is that you cannot choose your sexual orientation.
I didn’t respond to this at the time, but I wanted now to make a remark on the comment about gay marriage. I’ve said before and I still feel now that, “You should let us get married because we can’t help it” is not the strongest ground on which to build a defence of gay rights. It’s a useful tactic, in an arsenal of many tactics, because it’s effective on certain groups of people, but it shouldn’t be the only basis – if you even choose to fight for gay marriage at all (I don’t).
I don’t think that (eg) lesbians should not challenge their non-attraction to men since lesbian culture can be very anti-man and I think that someone who spends a lot of time in that kind of social space (online or IRL) might end up ruling out all men on principle. Same with other subcultures.
I don’t think that, just because I don’t demand that lesbian women challenge non-attraction to men, that means I’m demanding that they don’t. I just don’t think I have the right to demand it. There are trade-offs involved with dating up the privilege gradient, and this article is about the imperative to challenge non-attraction down that gradient – as tricky as it can sometimes be to speak of ‘up’ and ‘down’ in such a reductive way.
Finally, I’d like to end with a reflection on how it can feel to read an article like this. One friend writes that:
I think that it is important to acknowledge that there is a difference between the kind of -isms/oppression that are carried out consciously and with malice, and those which are unconscious/insidious/don’t come from people’s conscious choices. I think that a lot of the offence taken by people in the discussion was because they are well meaning people who are not really aware of their own privilege and think of themselves as not being part of the problem, thinking that I was accusing them of the former, rather than the latter form of -ism/oppression.
We want to consider our own preferred strategy for addressing such conflicts (‘compassionate communication’), and to interrogate its strengths and limitations, as well as the strengths and limitations of an alternative strategy (‘naming oppression’). Our aim is to raise questions and to chart where we are currently at in our own – often uncertain and uncomfortable – journeys in relation to these issues. Clearly these strategies are not mutually exclusive, but rather there is much to be learned from bringing them into an ongoing dialogue.
I think that the conversation about our attractions will continue, in queer space and beyond – this piece certainly won’t be the final word. I’ll continue to welcome responses and I aim to respond to all comments. Most all all, I’d welcome your demands. If you could ask anything, what would you dare to ask?
So, I’ve noticed some of my fellow male fat admirers throwing tantrums when women object to be sexualized without consent. These dudes whine about how the women are telling them aren’t allowed to find fat bodies attractive. Cut that shit out. Like now.
We must shift from a politic of desirability and beauty to a politic of ugly and magnificence. That moves us closer to bodies and movements that disrupt, dismantle, disturb. Bodies and movements ready to throw down and create a different way for all of us, not just some of us.
I’ve been reading these recent conversations about “the privilege of being desired” bop around Tumblr these past few days… I am queer, trans, white and fat and I find that even in the political spaces and ‘communities’ that surround my life there is a definite erasure and rejection of disabled bodies, fat bodies, non-white bodies and a pretty intense privileging of masculinities – just to scrape the surface.
… not everyone has the benefit of having their attractiveness reinforced by others. Personally speaking, I get complimented on my looks maybe a few times a year, getting called “cute” at best… The one relationship I had, I was made to feel completely undesirable for being fat and butch and that no man would want me unless I stopped being those things. Culture backs up that assertion, and so does experience.
One of the most common questions I get asked is about whether or not men having specific sexual interest in trans women is an inherently othering, dehumanizing or cissexist thing. I provided a fairly brief response in my FAQ post, but it’s something I feel is worth investigating a little bit more deeply.
Anyone can see that there’s a difference between having a thing for long necks or thick eyebrows and having “no fats, no fems, no Asians” as a kind of door policy. If your personal preferences are exactly in line with your (sub)culture’s dominant paradigm of beauty, desirability and disgust, you probably need to interrogate your desires.
There’s a lot of resistance to thinking about the politics of sexuality in this way, which I totally get. Our sexualities are our own, they’re personal, and in such a puritanical world any critique of sexuality can seem messed up. But our desires are absolutely influenced by our cultural context. When you really look at the way patterns of desire map onto what bodies are privileged and what bodies are marginalized, it becomes obvious that our desires are political. I am absolutely not about critiquing the way one person falls for another. The problem is with a community trend. When we leave sexuality trends unexamined, sex becomes a space where privilege and oppression run amuck.