Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's all ammunition for the gender bend and the bedroom twist

I'm finally becoming relatively comfortable with my sexual orientation, even though it still may not have a concrete label, or even a comfortable place on the Kinsey scale. However, give me, oh, five years, and aesthetisexual might be a legitimate word.

There was a time, mostly throughout high school, when I identified as bisexual, though I don't think that I ever said it outright. I think this is because even then, I knew it wasn't right. While I have on very rare occasion been attracted to women, and done Stuff with (though not had sex with) women, my attraction to people of the same sex is so infrequent and unpredictable that it would quite frankly be misleading to display it as an integral part of my sexuality.

Misleading. So, who am I leading, anyway? I am of the conviction that the purpose of labels of any kind, though perhaps even more so with sexual orientation, is to allow us to identify and relate to one another more easily and immediately. I'm not about to denounce labels; in fact, they can be extremely useful, even fun, when they work. It's just a part of how language shapes society and guides interpersonal interaction. For example, I was at a club a couple of weeks ago, and someone (who I'm now friends with on LJ) asked me on a loud, crowded dance floor if I was queer. Obviously, this was not the time to wax philosophical about aesthetisexuality and the gender spectrum. So, after about thirty awkward seconds of semi-verbal fumbling, I decided that it would be in everyone's best interest if I just said, "No, not really." It wasn't because I was being hit on or anything like that, I just wanted to err on the side of the least misleading. Even if the answer I gave did not feel descriptive or accurate, it was the least misleading of my currently available options.

Even though I know that the potential for attraction to the same sex exists in me, it makes itself known so rarely that it is almost, though not entirely, irrelevant to this discussion. It is worth mentioning that there is an undeniable stigma against women who call themselves bisexual and don't actively and constantly prove the queer part of themselves. And quite frankly, I think there is valid cause for this stigma, and it is not something that I am willing to be associated with.

Another reason that bisexuality felt ill-fitting is its inherent implication that there are only two genders. And not only does that exclude a lot of people, but those are some of the hottest people! I think that pansexuality is a great word, but to most people's ears, it either drips with pretension, or doesn't mean anything at all. It also implies, much like bisexuality implies, though does not necessitate, an evenness of occurrences of attraction to both or all genders.

So, does that leave me with heterosexuality, then? That feels just as inaccurate, but there is less of a stigma associated with its inaccuracy. However, it does not feel inaccurate due to my extremely rare attraction to people of the same sex; I know plenty of straight-identified women who are "open" to that kind of thing. And narcissist that I am, it is entirely possible that I could be the only woman for me. My biggest problem is related to what I mentioned before, about labels as a vehicle for people to more easily relate to one another. I'm inclined to say that I don't relate to most straight people, but upon further speculation, if the majority of the population identifies as straight, and the majority of the population is also pretty unsavory, then the math alone makes this both obvious and erroneous. Many of you probably don't relate to "most straight people" either, whether you yourself are queer or not. So, with that sorted out, I've realized that what bothers me about letting people assume that I am straight (the perception of heterosexuality, as I'm sure we all know, is generally not dependent on coming out but on staying quiet), is all of the other assumptions that most people don't even realize that they make about the people that I am attracted to, and how I relate to them. Sure, everyone of any given sexual orientation has different taste in humans. But it tends to be so extreme for me that it actually prevents me from relating to people with whom I supposedly share a sexual orientation. If someone who doesn't know me particularly well (a gay man or straight woman, specifically) asks somewhat rhetorically, "Isn't So-And-So hot?" my response is usually, whether simply in my head or actually
spoken, "Nah, I don't think so. But I see how they could be, if that's what you like." While it may just be a matter of taste, it sincerely feels like I'm talking to someone who is attracted to a different gender than I am. It happens very consistently.

While I do think that the Kinsey scale is extremely useful for our understanding of sexual orientation as a spectrum, it is not something that I feel comfortable using. Your place on it relies on the frequency with which you are attracted to one sex in relation to the other, but what about the
gender spectrum? While the people that I am most inclined to have sex with do have penises, it feels wrong to characterize the objects of my desire by their sex alone. As far as my own orientation is concerned, sex is merely the canvas on which the whole art piece rests.

I am attracted to femininity, but I am also mostly-heterosexual. This is no coincidence, though; I am attracted specifically to rebellion against gendered expectations. I suspect that this may be part of why the separation between sex and gender has always been so obvious and important to me. If you were to look at the gendered qualities of the people that I am attracted to, and associate them with a sex, I should without a doubt be attracted almost exclusively to women; and yet, I'm not. And I'm not talking about general associations with psychological femininity, such as sensitivity and emotional availability; I think that most people value those things, and they are also slowly and thankfully becoming slightly less gendered. I'm talking mostly about men treating their bodies in a way that women are expected to treat their bodies. I've realized that as an aesthetisexual narcissist, I am attracted not
necessarily to people who look like me, but to people who treat themselves much like the way that I treat myself, and think about themselves much like the way that I think about myself. This is not the case in most straight relationships. I don't feel like I am attracted to an "opposite" sex, because the qualities that draw me in are not opposite in the slightest. Its so deep-seated, too, such that it doesn't feel like a mere preference or fetish, but like its own sexual orientation.

[Generally I don't like to make predictions, but I do think that Ryan was the most masculine person that I will ever be with.]

I think that an attraction to femininity is actually quite integral to my concept of aesthetisexuality. I find it extremely interesting that, when looking at qualities in terms of stereotypes and binaries, men are active and woman are passive. But in the sphere of aesthetics, this association gets inverted; the feminine aesthetic is active, while the masculine is passive. Women are expected to take charge of their bodies, remove most of their hair and meticulously groom that which is left, paint their faces up, spend time and effort pondering their clothing choices. The masculine aesthetic is almost an anti-aesthetic; to be rugged is to decidedly neglect cosmetic matters. It could be argued that going to the gym is the masculine equivalent of, say, leg shaving or makeup doing, but there is something very utilitarian about body building. Form is the sole function of the feminine aesthetic, and I love that.

However, rebellion against gendered expectations can be somewhat problematic for the aesthetisexual female. Much like the men that I am attracted to, I do the things that are expected of women...but I
am one. I often get the impression that the effort that I put into crafting my form-over-function appearance is taken for granted, or worse, pitied, because I might just be complying with social expectations. Let me tell you, I would make almost all of the same aesthetic choices if I were male, and I suspect that the outcome might be even more impressive. I'd be even more of a narcissist, that's for damn sure. But then again, I'm not exactly in dire need of more narcissism. I relate much more strongly to my femininity than to being female, and I've known this since I was about fourteen. I am of the belief that, more often than not, if your gender expression "contradicts" your sex, you tend to have more emotional investment in your chosen aesthetic, and have given more thought to it. This, of course, sets me up for more than just a hint of frustration. It also means that I tend to be somewhat envious of the people whom I'm attracted to, and this is yet another reason that I feel disconnected from the concept of heterosexuality; straight people aren't supposed to want the same things, aesthetically speaking, as the object of their desire.

In the past, I've been much more verbal about my relationship to my gender (who remembers Sebastian?) than to my sexual orientation. I suppose this is generally inverse to the way in which most people come out.

I'm still working on an objective definition of
aesthetisexuality, because for the most part I have been thinking about it specifically in relation to my own experiences. I want it to be accessible to more people, in the future, though. On one hand, aesthetisexuality could suggest a disregard for gender, such that aesthetic craft overrides sex. However, this isn't how I use the word in relation to my own identity, though I do like the concept of it. I suppose that would be, then, merely a more specific kind of pansexuality. It appears that "aesthetisexual" is more of a modifier than a fifth, concrete orientation to be added to hetero, bi, homo, and pansexual. But my problem is that I don't relate to any of the more concrete words, and want to use only my made-up modifier. Pretentious as that may be, I feel so invested in it that I hardly care.

If this was my coming out post, then what did I just come out
as? Straight-ish? Aesthetisexual? Some combination thereof? I suppose that this wasn't even a traditional coming out, especially if the conclusion is based in heterosexuality more so than that which is typically considered queer; it's more of an explanation and exploration.


  1. I really love your take on gender performance and the subtle ways that it differs from Butch/Femme dynamic that I'm used to.

  2. I've spent the past day thinking a lot about the subject of my own sexual orientation and how I see myself in relation to other men and women, which drew me to go back and read your past aesthetisexuality entries.

    As far as labels are concerned I am inclined to call myself bisexual, though I have only had sex with one girl and I am attracted primarily to men over women. Perhaps it is because I am more picky when it comes to women. My attraction to them is based heavily on their personality and how they carry themselves. That isn't to say that those things do not matter to me when it comes to men, because it obviously does. I freely admit to being very superficial, especially when it comes to men, but I do not consider myself shallow. While the first thing I pay attention to is looks (and those look DO matter despite their potentially awesome personality), if their personality does not meet my standards, then the looks don't matter. This may inpart because of my past history of allowing myself to deal with, for lack of a better word, douche bags. Anyways, my point is, when it comes to women, their looks aren't the first thing that attracts them to me, as it is in men. While I can find myself sexually attracted to a man whose personality does not appeal to me in a way that would make me want to pursue anything, women who lack whatever that personality trait may be (I haven't truly figured it out yet), despite how incredibly beautiful they may be, do not appeal to me. I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, but putting it into words, even though they don't entirely make sense, is rather cathartic.

    Sadly, when I did realize that there were women I was actively attracted to, it still took me a little while to be comfortable with labeling myself as bisexual. As you know, back when I was 13/14 I was a tom boy. Until the past few years, I really had a lot of trouble relating to girls, and while I still do, it isn't as bad as it used to be. Back then I wanted so badly to be one of the guys and did whatever I could to prove that I was just as much of a "dude" as they were, despite being a girl. However, dressing and acting like one of the guys resulted in my friends deciding for me that I was gay. Obviously I have no problem with homosexuals, but having others decide my sexual orientation for me was incredibly frustrating. I tried to talk to them about it and explain that acting like a boy didn't mean I was also strictly attracted to women. Their response was that I merely didn't realize yet that I was gay. They backed this up by saying that one of their mothers (who is gay) thought I was as well. Trying to explain to them that I thought they were incorrect was like bashing my head against a wall. They by no means thought that me "being gay" was a bad thing, but they refused to believe that there was any other option. The ironic thing was that I had a crush on one of them (my friend Kris), for a long time.

  3. When I finally did realize that there were times that I found myself attracted to women in addition to men, I was terribly embarrassed that I had been so hurt by them deciding my sexual orientation for me even though they were in fact, partially correct. I find that tragic considering that there has never been a time in my life that I considered non-hetero sexual orientations incorrect. I really expected better of myself. Not to try and overly defend myself, but I will say that my being so embarrassed wasn't a result of the thought of considering myself gay, it was just the act of admitting that I was partially wrong. Like someone telling you that you're lost while driving, and insisting that you know where you are going, and finally realizing that they were right the whole time and you were being stubborn. Furthermore, what struck a nerve was the fact that their assumption was based strictly on my appearance and acting boyish. It's the same assumption that transvestites are gay because they dress like women.

    That all aside, the biggest thing I have always found myself struggling with hasn't been my sexual orientation. It has been where I find my personality in the spectrum of males vs. females. It's really hard to describe and perhaps if we had this discussion in person it would be easier. I think you would have good insight on this. The problem arrises when it comes to my inability to FULLY relate to men and women alike, despite their sexual orientation. I feel lost. Though I no longer have the trouble relating to females as I once did, I still can't fully. However, at the end of the day I AM still a female, and so no matter what, males, no matter how progressive, will never fully relate to me. I am comfortable with my gender, but socially, something seems off. Perhaps it's nurture over nature and all of this is a result of spending most of my youth with boys. I do want to stress that don't think there is intrinsically anything wrong with this in any way. It does leave me feeling stuck in a sort of personality limbo. Then again, maybe everyone feels like this for one reason or another.

    WOW. That was WAY longer than I intended it to be!