Disoriented

After yet another thought-provoking conversation with Riboflavin, I’ve been pondering what my life would be like were I, in fact, a dude. (The Sig Fig can relax–this is entirely hypothetical.)

When I was a kid, I daily wished that I could be a boy. I was utterly convinced there had been some serious mistake; clearly I was meant to be a boy. While being a tomboy can be cute for a few years, once you hit middle school it becomes embarrassing, for everyone involved. Sixth grade was honestly the worst year I can remember, filled as it was with my awkward attempts at hetero “dating” (“going out” would be a better term, but neither one is accurate. Come on. Nobody goes anywhere in sixth grade) and my ritual embarrassment at the hands of Those Two Cool Girls. Luckily for me in high school I found Teen Theatre, which (among other lifesaving things for a dyke growing up in rural southern Oregon) embraced all the ways we grow up female.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still occasionally think about what my life would be like were I male. I used to think I would be one of those sensitive, really super awkward sweet guys. Very little play, very intense friendships, and terrified of getting someone pregnant. (It’s actually a good thing I’m a homo, because on either end of a heterosexual relationship I would be terrified of unplanned pregnancy above pretty much all else.)

After my conversation with Riboflavin, though, I realize that I’d have a hard time being a straight man because I have a hard time with straight women.

Now, don’t get me wrong–some of my best friends are straight. But I really have a hard time understanding straight women. I feel like we’re from different species. Straight women make me feel like a mutant. A clumsy, ugly, bizarre mutant. Honestly, large groups of straight women make me more uncomfortable on the train than large groups of drunk men do. I don’t understand them, sometimes I can’t communicate with them, and I’m totally not attracted to them.

I mean, some of them are attractive. I recognize that. But I liken it to great art. I can recognize that a Michelangelo is beautiful, but I’d rather look at some random German expressionist any day. And since finally acquiring the language to understand my homo nature (when I was little I definitely had crushes on older girls who were probably straight), I’ve never crushed on, much less attempted to date, a straight woman.

So, gaydar jokes aside, what is it that draws us to our (potential) mates? Do we just happen to have preferences for certain characteristics that other homos (or other heteros, if that’s your thing) happen to embody? I know there are homos who fall for straights every day, just as heteros have their hearts broken by players for the other team. But it seems to me that the majority of us are real gone on people of our orientation. So how do we know?

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18 Responses to Disoriented

  1. Riboflavin says:

    So many jumping-off points in this post. But for now I’ll limit my comments to this: Let’s say you identify as a woman who likes women. But if you’re never attracted to the type of people that straight men are attracted to, doesn’t that start to mess up the idea of gender as a binary affair?

  2. pandanose says:

    Well, yes and no. Being attracted only to a certain category of women doesn’t mean I’m attracted to a third gender necessarily, does it? Not being attracted to the same type of people that straight men are just means that my sexuality isn’t defined by heterosexual norms. Within this model, the gender binary can remain intact–unless someone wants to gender-identify as “lesbian” rather than as “woman.” Which I don’t.

  3. Josh says:

    Okay, so does that mean that some people call gender the same thing as sexual-orientation? How about making the group even more specific: let’s pick a subgroup. Pretend I only like lesbians with green hair. Does that mean I can assign myself a different gender; does each fetish get its own gender? I hope not, because if a person had multiple fetishes, then it/they’d be multigendered, and that’d screw up the census.

  4. pandanose says:

    Well, we now know that one can gender-identify as a pirate, so basically the sky’s the limit.

    But seriously, I do know that the lesbian separatist movement in particular sometimes blurs the lines between gender and sexuality, so that “woman identified woman” can be viewed as separate from “woman.”

    You realize, of course, that there’s a difference between attraction to an orientation and a fetish. Unless you think that the bulk of men in the world have a heterosexual woman fetish.

  5. yunjin says:

    Well, I don’t think the terminology between fetish and orientation is really useful. I like to think orientation as a strong, permanent fetish. It’s just that the dominant fetish is termed “normal.”

  6. G says:

    I’m attracted to women, period (with vague, carnal fantasies about gay men, but I digress). Within the subgroup of women, I find that certain personality traits that are not dyke-specific are what turn my head. I haven’t found that it’s an orientation to queer women so much as an attraction to a certain collection of traits that only some women, some queer and some not, have. Venn diagrams and all that.

  7. Josh says:

    But isn’t that essentially what this thread has decided: that most heterosexual men have (at least) a “heterosexual woman” fetish?

    I’d be curious to know why it is useful to separate orientation from fetish, other than fetish connates something dirtier than orientation. Perhaps it would’ve been less distracting to conflate the two terms under some umbrella word like ‘preference.’

    I’m not saying that keeping a gender binary is good for its own sake, I’m just not sure why placing “women” and “women identified as woman” in different bins helps anyone do anything with one “gender” that they couldn’t do with the standard gender. And I’m not sure why “women identified as woman who prefer other women identified as woman” is a gender, or rather, what more you get for calling it one.

    I’ll admit things probably get more complicated with transgender—something I know virtually nothing about. So, I want to keep to the women who are women thing. Already in this case I’m a little confused whether all this word play doesn’t really just divert focus from tangible issues of more viable consequence.

    In my mind, the ultimate goal of discussions like these is to point out that everyone deserves the same basic human dignities afforded to all people regardless of race, gender, orientation, [insert list of appropriate and acceptable attributes here]. However, so much of this language tries to go out of its way to invent reasons to call one person different from another. In my mind it seems almost like ordering and buying the fanciest, custom, hand-made gun you can find with the express intent to shoot yourself in the foot. That said, I think it’s super important to have to have a free, public market of ideas, so maybe that’s good enough justification for me.

  8. G says:

    I’d be curious to know why it is useful to separate orientation from fetish, other than fetish connates something dirtier than orientation.

    My understanding of a fetish is that it’s an attraction to a certain characteristic that is so strong that it caricatures and dehumanizes the object of attraction. Therefore a heterosexual woman fetish would be an attraction to heterosexual women that ignored the humanity and personality of heterosexual women. That is, the fetish would manifest as wanting to have sex with ANY heterosexual woman, i.e. the guy in the bar who’ll “hit” anything so long as it (yes, “it”, b/c fetish objects are not people to fetishizers) is female and straight.

    That’s different from an attraction. Most straight men, while attracted to women in general, do not want to have sex with every single straight woman they see simply by virtue of them being straight and women.

  9. Josh says:

    Thanks, G, that’s really helpful. Maybe the problem with the word theory is common to the word fetish: people in the domain (whatever that is for the word fetish) use it to mean something very different from the general public.

    Your definition makes fetish much rarer than it’s common usage since I don’t believe (though I don’t know) that many people would pass your have-sex-with-ANY-fetish-object test. I’d find it hard to imagine that most people who have, say, a bondage fetish would have sex with any other person who owned a pair of handcuffs. Maybe they just have a fetish and should call it a strong attraction to avoid confusion. Is there a more generally accepted term for this sort of behavior?

    Anyway, this was sort of my point. While I think it’s good to be this precise with language, we stand to leave my other question behind: what can a “woman” do that she couldn’t otherwise do unless she identifies as a “woman identified woman” and what more does that woman identified woman gain if she gives herself the gender “woman identified woman who likes other women identified woman”?

  10. pandanose says:

    But is anyone here actually arguing in favor of lesbian or woman identified woman as a gender? I know I haven’t, though I’ve brought up the possibility. My original question was less “Am I a different gender?” than “How do we successfully attract ourselves to people with similar orientations?”

    I’m not looking here to change or add any language–I absolutely agree with Josh’s point about the fancy handgun–but rather pondering within the existing language.

    Obviously a lot of this is about cues and context. There are a lot of things a woman can do, say, and look like that will clue me in that she might (or definitely is) a lesbian. Likewise, I’m more likely to assume she’s gay if I see her in a lesbian club or at Dyke March. But since so many attractions are fleeting and aroused at a distance without these cues or contexts–a stranger on the train, the woman ringing you up at the grocery store, someone you’ve just met at a party–I wonder if, in fact, people of the same orientation do share some unique characteristics.

  11. mk's ladyfriend says:

    For me, Looking Gay is very important in a potential mate, and sometimes I feel a little weird about this.

    Part of it is that I want my partner to be okay with being a homo and okay with everyone else knowing it. If a girl is sporting several pieces of Lesbian Flair (short hair, metal in the face, sensible shoes, indie t-shirt silkscreened with maybe a sad looking rat next to a tornado), it initiates the Lesbian Flow Chart. Which goes like this:
    I see pieces of Flair—->She is someone I can checkout—->Is she attractive?—->It doesn’t matter, my girlfriend is more so.

    Now, to get to the part I feel weird about. If you take a perfectly attractive woman and put her in some stretchy pants with a word on the butt and give her a ponytail: completely unattractive to me. Add some kind of manicure for increased appallingness. (Nothing says “I will be an uncomfortable lay” like french tips.) Also, I just described my former boss, a lesbian Republican, to a t.

    Take the same perfectly attractive woman, give her the all important fauxhawk, some tattoos, and a pair of cargo shorts, and I will probably pant a little. The thing that makes me feel a little weird is that I’m blind to the attractiveness unless The Flowchart is initiated by pieces of Lesbian Flair. The creepy thing is that for me at least, is that branding and a biological urge are a little too connected for my comfort.

    The branding thing aside, I think one’s ability to pick out a potential mate in a crowd depends on what kind of person you’re attracted to more than homo vs. hetero. I’m attracted to dykes who look like dykes, and as a result I just don’t register femme lesbians, straight girls, or men in general unless I’m paying attention. Some sort by Great Ass, others by Race, others by Perceived Income. Ooh, I could also get Boolean … “Butch OR Dyke” AND Carhart NOT Performance Art.

  12. mk's ladyfriend says:

    I hate typos I can’t fix.

  13. pandanose says:

    I didn’t notice your typos, but I’m allowed to edit comments. Though, as a general rule, I don’t.

    So finally someone has answered my original question. We have one vote for Lesbian Flair.

    I tend to agree, although my idea of Flair tends to be a little less tangible. Riboflavin and I were talking about this the other day, actually. For me, the three constituent elements for dykes are Eyes, Voice, and Confidence. (The last one is perhaps the hardest to quantify, but I’ve noticed a lot of lesbians swagger.) A few straight women (or, to be fair, women I believe to be straight, and profess themselves to be so on the Facebook) have fooled me with individual elements, but as a general rule I’m usually right if I go for the trifecta.

    (Should I be offended that you pant?)

  14. Riboflavin says:

    I wonder if any part of attraction has to do with just our initial assessment of whether a person is likely to be attracted to us. I feel like this might be the case in some ways, but I can also disprove my own suggestion. When I think about your typical straight-looking girl (I’ll borrow ladyfriend’s description, french tips and everything) – I would assume that she was straight, but finding out that she was gay wouldn’t make me more attracted to her. On the other hand, though, let’s say I met an attractive guy and heard that he was gay. After an angsty minute, my attraction would shut off. However, if I found out that he actually did like girls, then I’d probably start being attracted to him again.

  15. mo says:

    i’m a little confused by early discussion points about the gender binary… indicating that certain conditions allow it to “remain intact” suggests that this is a goal. it is perhaps not relevant to the conversation, but does this discussion take place within the framework of a gender binary?

    additionally, social cues are a fundamental form of communication and, undoubtedly, influence why we are attracted to certain someones and not other someones. take, for example, the idea of being attracted to a person in one outfit and but not in another. because social norms exist, those norms create expectations as well as social contracts. if a person fits into a certain set of social norms, they are abiding by certain rules… we are socialized to make this assumption. so when i see someone with piercings and tattoos, i say, “ah, we live by the same social rules”. this easily follows to include the kinds of relationships a person might be interested in having. now we would be in luck if i could remember any given sociologist who has talked about this, but i can’t. suffice it to say there is a lot of theory about how social cues form social contracts and these contracts give us permission to experience attraction in a certain way…. for example, i see someone with a hot tattoo, they got this tattoo with the knowledge and intent that people would be looking at it, we have an agreed she is someone to whom i could be attracted. sans tattoo and offering different social cues, i have no agreement with this person and feel less of a connection. i think this relates to Riboflavin’s point of information affected attraction.

  16. mo says:

    oops, that’s “information affecting attraction”.

  17. pandanose says:

    Re: the gender binary remaining intact. This wasn’t to imply that it’s a desired goal, so much as to counter Riboflavin’s assertion that my not being attracted to the same women as straight men somehow disrupts the gender binary. I personally don’t like to think of gender as strictly binary, but I also don’t think this particular example does much to disrupt it.

    I like mo’s example of the tattoo, but it doesn’t cover everything, obviously. To use my previous example, most women with more “masculine” voices probably don’t think to themselves “Aha! If my voice is huskier, I will be more attractive to lesbian!” Whereas if a woman gets a tattoo of two interlocking woman symbols, she knows she’s putting out a very obvious symbol.

  18. mo says:

    sure, no single example can thoroughly explain attraction. much like the “nature v nuture” debate, i think we have to acknowledge both social and organic aspects of attraction. oddly, i think a husky voice is still a social cue, as there are a lot of women who train their low voices to be higher and socially appealing. the social cue, then, rests in a disregard for social expectations. and probably she has hot pheromones, so she’s got you even before she exercises her carefully nonchalant vocal range.

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