Significant Othering: Responses and Links

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:

My Demands

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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“Challenge accepted!” ^.^

This one made me very happy. :)

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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).

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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.

This also feels like an excellent time to link to an article about compassionate communication co-written by Meg Barker and Jamie Heckert:

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.

Privilege & Oppression, Conflict & Compassion

Conclusion

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?

Further Reading

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.

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21 thoughts on “Significant Othering: Responses and Links

  1. it’s really great to have all of the dialogue up here: presented in a somewhat more concise way than most comment threads as well!! Thanks.

    I’d like to add a phrasing which I think I am thinking with: to recognise the sexualities of others. I think my (sexual) attraction is a lot about the response I get from others – even the initial ‘they’re hot’ is based on perceiving a possible responsiveness(if not actual). This also goes for friendships and other attachments – what sort of reciprocal relationship is possible? It’s awareness of possibility that turns me on.

    So as to whether I consider others as sexualities that could be orientated towards me – [on reflection provoked by this discussion] I believe I do tend to exclude the more ‘other’, the more distant – and in particular those who are most de-sexualised.
    ps: I love the demands phrasing!

  2. I definitely recognise that thing of possibilities and reciprocity being what’s hot. Sometimes I think I’m over-socialised to it so that, if I realise there’s even a chance someone’s into me, I lose all ability to figure out if I like them independently of that. It’s like I’m stuck in their head and I can’t see my own stuff.

    Tangent Alert: As I write this comment I wonder if maybe characterising attraction as a mutual exchange of cues rather than a thing one person feels for another person (and maybe vice versa, maybe not) is a way to get beyond that – not to try to be in one person’s head all the time, either mine or theirs, but instead to concentrate on the dynamic between us.

  3. To me, this would be so much more beautiful if “Demand” was replaced with “Invite”.

  4. @Mathrynn: I think you might be looking for my sister site, “A Liberal TransFeminist”. ;)

    IMO we’ve been gently inviting privileged people to challenge their privilege for plenty long enough. I don’t have any problem with my use of the word ‘demand’. If it still bothers you, you might want to ask yourself: 1) What the fundamental difference is between a ‘demand’ and an ‘invitation’ when made to somebody who holds a privileged position over you, and 2) What it means if all marginalised people must maintain an upper bar on their expectations of privileged people, without any being permitted to state firmly what they expect.

  5. Lisa,

    I was responding to this post: https://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/significant-othering-attraction-down-the-privilege-gradient/,

    Not the post you quoted by Pyromaniaccharlot.

    What is the fundamental difference between a demand and an invitation? In the context of sexual attraction? Initiating sexual contact? Responding to requests for sexual contact? Cause that’s what I thought we were talking about primarily, and it’s just different than other social interactions. It’s different than hiring for a job, or speaking at a meeting, or ordering in a restaurant, or anything else. “Gently Inviting”, or even “bawdily” “lustily” or “provocatively” inviting, even “challenging” keeps consent front and center. “Demanding” – not so consent-centric.

    Now I sound like a tone troll, and I’m making you sound like a nice guy tm.

    I really do get that you are not demanding sex from anyone you fancy. ToTally 11111!!!!!! get that. Can you understand how hard it is not to hear an echo of that attitude in the word “demand”?

    Your overall point about desire is huge and so right-on. I’m so proud of the feminist blogosphere for the virtuoso deep textual analysis and critical thought so often on display.

  6. a nice guy tm

    I’d rather you didn’t use that phrase with reference to me, even in the way that you’ve used it, even in a “I don’t mean that” context.

    This blog is unapologetically radical. The debate between liberal and radical worldviews & tactics goes on and on, and won’t be answered here. I’m glad that you see the difference between this post and a coercive demand for sex. I trust that other readers will do the same. If they don’t, I’m sorry, but I think that challenging prejudicial attitudes towards attraction is not unimportant, and that it’s a place where radicalism (and demands) are: 1) Not as different from invitations as you might think, because people with privilege don’t give a shit what we demand, and 2) Absolutely vital as part of a broad diversity of tactics when considered in a context where attraction demands are made of fat bodies, black bodies, trans* bodies, female bodies etc. all the time.

    On reflection, there are two places where this kind of demand up the privilege gradient isn’t justified. The first is towards survivors, because there’s no world in which non survivor groups making attraction-politics demands of survivor groups is “up” any kind of privilege gradient. The second is towards asexual people; a friend remarked recently, “What you might call ‘the sexual world’ exists in relation to asexual people in the same way as homophobia does in relation to lesbian and gay people, or transphobia does in relation to trans* people.”

  7. Thanks for the thoughtful response. Thanks in general for doing the work to host a blog and for putting out challenging, radical writing. I hear and respect your request regarding using “nice guy”. Thanks for the feedback on that, and the manner in which it was delivered.

    Beyond that, I feel like you are accusing me of being “liberal” rather than “radical”, and that you are using these labels to discount what I am saying. Hell yes, challenging prejudicial attitudes toward attraction is vital. Also, very difficult, often heartbreaking, often thankless. But potentially so powerful!

    My original comment was offered in the spirit of a single datapoint of feedback. Here’s another one: As a middle-aged heterosexual woman who is passionate about feminism (I’m sure you notice me dodging certain labels here) and sullen about performing femininity, I already feel like an asshole for not desiring women. I’ve spent lots of time trying to reason myself into being attracted to people I “should” be attracted to, acting from guilt, acting sexually from concern for the feelings and rights of others instead of authentic sexual impulse. It’s what women are trained to do in a patriarchal society, and as feminist, I get to feel guilty and shamed about succumbing to that as well.

    I have very rarely felt, from any quarter, a sense of being invited to partake of a vast and delightful banquet of sensual and sexual delights, but shit, it would be pretty awesome if more women did get that. I think it would radically change the world.

  8. @Mathrynn: I’m sorry that the word “demand” doesn’t sit well with you based on your experiences. Thanks for recognising that demands are valuable/important anyway, even though they don’t work for some individuals. I definitely hear where you’re coming from on feelings of guilt for not being able to have the most “feminist” sexuality.

    I think that demands such as these function best when they exist alongside a whole spectrum of tactics, including invitations, encouragement and gentle challenge at one end of the scale (what might be called the liberal/engagement side), and autonomous direct action on the other end (what might be called the radical/militant/autonomous side).

    Note that I’m not suggesting autonomous direct action by women-loving-women against heterosexual women! A demand is about as far as I feel comfortable going, and even there I recognise that it’s problematic, as many women (including many heterosexual women) are in a state of primary crisis as a woman under patriarchy. There again, it’s also problematic to never make any demands at all up the slope of homophobia and biphobia towards heteronormativity.

    I have very rarely felt, from any quarter, a sense of being invited to partake of a vast and delightful banquet of sensual and sexual delights, but shit, it would be pretty awesome if more women did get that. I think it would radically change the world.

    I can’t argue with that! :) Maybe if more of this existed, you’d find that the existence of the occasional demand – like the ones in this article – sat better with you?

  9. “I definitely hear where you’re coming from on feelings of guilt for not being able to have the most “feminist” sexuality.”

    Right? Isn’t that twisted? Have you written much about this?

    Strongly agree with everything you say above. There’s no progress in social justice without demands. Mostly we’re way too nice about it, in my opinion.

    In my mind, though, I’ve got a sort of metaphorical picture of a safety zone around the bathing suit area:)

  10. Lisa,

    I read ‘Significant Othering’ this evening, and was particularly struck by this – ‘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’ – and here again in this post – ‘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.’

    Similar thoughts have been plaguing me recently – can you direct me to further discussion of this, either on your own blog or elsewhere?

  11. @Sarah: I first came across some of those ideas in the first feminist text I read, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, where she talks about women as object and men as subject. Catherine MacKinnon takes up the idea from around page 16 onwards of Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory, where she writes:

    A woman is a being who identifies and is identified as one whose sexuality exists for someone else, who is socially male. Women’s sexuality is the capacity to arouse desire in that someone. If what is sexual about a woman is what the male point of view requires for excitement, have male requirements so usurped its terms as to have become them?

    (As an aside, this links really closely for me to the idea of The Male In The Head – if you don’t want to buy the book, here’s an abstract – which shows that both parties in heterosexual sex see male ‘needs’ as primary, with female needs being invisible.)

    I don’t have any good links for this, but the way I see MacKinnon’s points playing out for pre-heterosexual girls (by which I mean, society designates them as pre-heterosexual, regardless of their actual or potential sexuality) are that a girl herself, or her friends, are expected to act as male proxies for this ‘capacity to arouse desire’. Girls and women attempt to look at themselves and each other with the male gaze in order to assess/confirm whether they’re meeting MacKinnon’s definition of ‘womanhood’ (perhaps one of the reasons that women-loving gazes such as lesbian and bisexual gazes – do these differ? – are seen as so transgressive in those pre-heterosexual environments).

  12. Sarah and Lisa – hiya. I’ve just got my own experiences to add here: I’m female (and was raised as such), and I thought I was het for ages, and then I worked out I was bi. This wasn’t because I suddenly found myself physically attracted to women, because I always had been and I figured that everyone was attracted to women. Women are on every billboard, they’re the standard way in which any form of media represents ‘sex’, or ‘beauty’, or ‘goodness’. Rather, it was when I realised that I’d also be up for a long-term relationship with a woman. So there’s that.

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

  14. I’m uncomfortable too with the framing of the demands in the original post, for the same reason as Mathrynn above. But I also see why they’re necessary. Here are my demands for achieving the same end, partly pulled out of some of the good responses you quoted:

    First, that everyone is given respect and is seen as a worthy person who can be desirable. This means never saying “ewww, _____ people having sex are gross” [commonly old/fat/disabled]. I’m not interested in being attracted to everyone, but it is important that I am not revolted by anyone.

    Second, be open to attractions: your label is descriptive, not prescriptive, and there’s no shame in reverting to “sovereign” or “queer” or “fuck you who cares”. I demand that nobody reject an attraction because they thought they were ________. The attraction exists; the label is just a pass at characterization. Relatedly, be open to and conscious of your relationships with other people.

    Third, pay attention to the spaces you inhabit and whether those are inclusive and representative (see “but all my friends are white!” above). If they are not, see about making them more so. “We just don’t happen to know anyone who’s [x]!” is not a defense, it’s a symptom of a problem.

    I think if everyone worked on those three aspects of “hidden” prejudice, they would find themselves attracted to more people — without even addressing attraction itself beyond just openness. Then again, this comes from my perspective as a pansexual person whose attractions are at least 50% mental — if I know someone and they are not disgusting to me, there’s a good chance I will become attracted to them.

  15. Hey :)

    Really like these posts and comments. Just came across them through a tip from a friend. Shared it on bloody Facebook and will do so on the other networks that can use some pepper ;o)

    One thing that jumps to my mind is that I feel a strong analogy to the old 1970s ‘political lesbianism’ that stimulated women to leave their straight relationships and swap their hubby for a woman. Now the European context is different form the North American one but still I recognize a lot of similar reactions and allergies.

    I want to say: all this is not new, and we still have to tackle a lot of arguments and mostly fears for our demands. I really think that much of mainstream biologistic tactics (as “we can’t help it) is not even stupid, but in the end also dangerous) (and fuck marriage yeah)

    thanks for all your work until now and good luck for the future :o)

    transqueer love, vreer

  16. @vreer: Thank you. I too think that this conversation is a lot like the political lesbianism one. I don’t think we should consider that conversation over either!

    Just a heads-up, I made a minor edit to your comment to remove the disablist (ablist in NA) word ‘dumb’ and replaced it with ‘stupid’. If you’d rather not have your comment edited, please let me know and I’ll delete it for you so that you can post again w/different wording.

    transqueer love backatcha!

  17. Lisa, I am actually impressed that you have one of the more womyn-sensitive perspectives on this critical issue in terms of respect by the trans community for womyn, and so I am hoping that you will be able to hear what I am saying. I would like to go back to discussion of the use of the word “demand” and give you a persepctive that may help you to better understand why womyn find it SO objectionable.

    You had a very insightful comment further upthread that I found to be extremely perceptive and sensitive; “On reflection, there are two places where this kind of demand up the privilege gradient isn’t justified. The first is towards survivors, because there’s no world in which non survivor groups making attraction-politics demands of survivor groups is “up” any kind of privilege gradient.” WOW. you GET it. THANK YOU.

    Now I am hoping you can make the mental jump that is so hard for those outside of the survivor group to understand. ALL womyn, every single one of us that was born and raised as a girl and a womyn and that knows we are at risk of impregnation, ALL of us are survivors. This is the thing that people who haven’t been raised up under the CONSTANT threat of sexual violence don’t get. Just like those of us who have lived our lives as white people can never fully understand the fear people of colour live with, those not raised as girls really don’t understand on a visceral, emotional level what it is to be raised with that fear. And to be raised in a world where none of us escapes untouched. There is a continuum of abuse, and some is more severe in a particular instance, but the pervasiveness is itself a huge factor. Whether it is being groped on the bus, grabbed in the cloak room at school, abused by family or friends, “date” raped, bullied, catcalled, followed on a dark street, EVERY woman has experienced male sexual violence. And the reality is, most of us it has been WAY more than once and most of us have had at least one very severe incidence. I myself suffered years of CSA, have been groped in public places dozens of times, escaped an attempted rape twice, been flashed/subjected to the sight of public masturbation 5 times and have had to physically beat a stalker bloody, in a public place, to get him to back off. I am pretty much average. So understanding this, perhaps you can see that it is NEVER acceptable to DEMAND sex from any womyn, ever.

    If it is true, as you said, that “there’s no world in which non survivor groups making attraction-politics demands of survivor groups is “up” any kind of privilege gradient”. Then the only way you can suggest that womyn are ever ““up” any kind of privilege gradient” is if you deny the constant male sexual violence that we are subjected to. Since the most basic and fundamental assumption of radical feminism is that womyn, as a class, are subjected to constant male sexual violence, the only way you can deny that reality is to deny radical feminism. So……yes, one can NEVER “demand” anything sexually, even so much as attraction or consideration, from ANY WOMYN. It is not feminist. It is NOT radical. and it is NOT ok. (and it IS perceived and felt, on a gut level, as VERY triggering. and that MUST be respected)

    Yes, it is completely reasonable to EXPECT that no-one should EVER characterise any other human being as: gross, repulsive, unattractive, disgusting, icky, ugly, nasty or anything remotely in that universe. THAT IS WRONG. But a woman can certainly say, “you are a lovely and loveable person, but just not my type” and that is always going to be reasonable. I don’t have a problem with being EXPECTED as a womyn to acknowledge the humanity and beauty of any and every other human being. But I most certainly DO have a problem with anyone DEMANDING that I find them sexually attractive.

    I have reason to believe, based on prior evidence of your perceptiveness, that you CAN get this. Thanks :)

  18. @Cassaundra:

    I hear you.

    All I’m really asking for is, as you say, for everyone to “acknowledge the humanity and beauty of any and every other human being”.

    (Though maybe with a note that we should be very suspicious if, after they think they’ve done this, the human beings who they still consider the least human and least beautiful just happen to correspond to the human beings sitting at the bottom of various systems of domination.)

    So, I’d like to demand that. I think it’s ok to demand that. I think that many people don’t acknowledge that, and others say they’re doing it when they’re not.

    But I do understand how the word “demand” when spoken to women anywhere near the subject of sex can twist and hurt and tap into that deep well of male violence against women in a way which draws energy from it, has the power to coerce and shame, and does more than just “demand”. I can certainly count on the fingers of one hand the women I know who haven’t faced serious sexual violence, and the issues you’re talking about do concern me deeply.

    So I’ve changed the original article in several places, including changing several uses of “demand” to “request”, and it now includes this note:

    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 responses 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 and many others. 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.

    But I’d also like it if everyone who I make demands and requests of in the article, could work harder to understand that this isn’t about saying they should have sex against their will, objectify people, or give in and accept male sex-right.

    It’s about expecting people to make a personal commitment to identify and deconstruct prejudicial views about groups of people, and to identify their own place in systems of domination and take responsibility accordingly.

    I hope that possibilities for attraction can flow naturally once prejudice is destroyed. At least they might flow in directions which don’t align so well with systems of domination.

    But I want to observe that most of the negative responses to this article seen elsewhere – I’m not including yours – that raised this rape culture objection to “demands” only raised it against that one particular point, and didn’t seem to note that it also demanded other things from women. And as long as “gross, repulsive, unattractive, disgusting, icky, ugly, nasty” are the dominant ways in which transsexual women are thought about and often talked about, I don’t think we’re even close to a world in which our humanity and beauty are even conceivable, let alone acknowledged.

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

  20. @Sarah [Iseult]

    You asked:

    I read ‘Significant Othering’ this evening, and was particularly struck by this – ‘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’ – and here again in this post – ‘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.’

    Similar thoughts have been plaguing me recently – can you direct me to further discussion of this, either on your own blog or elsewhere?

    This is a slightly belated extra response, but I just re-read Feminist Perspectives on Objectification and I think it references something that talks about this:

    Bartky explains that, typically, objectification involves two persons, one who objectifies and one who is objectified. (This is also the idea of objectification put forward by Kant as well as by MacKinnon and Dworkin.) However, as Bartky points out, objectifier and objectified can be one and the same person. Women in patriarchal societies feel constantly watched by men, much like the prisoners of the Panopticon (model prison proposed by Bentham), and they feel the need to look sensually pleasing to men (Bartky 1990, 65). According to Bartky: ‘In the regime of institutionalised heterosexuality woman must make herself ‘object and prey’ for the man. … Woman lives her body as seen by another, by an anonymous patriarchal Other’ (Bartky 1990, 73). This leads women to objectify their own persons. Bartky argues that the woman ‘[takes] toward her own person the attitude of the man. She will then take erotic satisfaction in her physical self, revelling in her body as a beautiful object to be gazed at and decorated’. Such an attitude is called ‘narcissism’, which is defined by Bartky as the infatuation with one’s bodily being (Bartky 1990, 131–2).

    In being infatuated with their bodily beings, Bartky argues that women learn to see and treat themselves as objects to be gazed at and decorated, they learn to see themselves as though from the outside. Narcissism, as Simone de Beauvoir also points out, ‘consists in the setting up of the ego as a double “stranger”’ (Beauvoir 1961, 375). The adolescent girl ‘becomes an object and she sees herself as an object; she discovers this new aspect of her being with surprise: it seems to her that she has been doubled; instead of coinciding exactly with herself, she now begins to exist outside’ (Beauvoir 1961, 316) (For more on Simone de Beauvoir, see the entry ‘Simone de Beauvoir’.) However, this ‘stranger’ who inhabits women’s consciousness, Bartky writes, is hardly a stranger; it is, rather, the woman’s own self (Bartky 1993, 134).

    And the reference for those quotes leads to Bartky, Sandra-Lee, 1990, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, New York: Routledge.

    Hope you find it interesting! :)

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