Beyond the Binary: Question Twelve
June 21, 2013 § 1 Comment
Last post in this series before the weekend – panel bios here. Another linked question today.
How bad should I feel about the frequency with which I am attracted to genderqueer/androgynous folk? I worry it might be objectifying.
If it is objectifying (which I guess is probably up to individuals to define for themselves), I’d be interested in deconstructing how that’s different than being monosexual towards binary genders (e.g. gay/straight). Is there something fundamentally different about being GQ that sets it apart from binary genders, so we’re not talking about ‘another’ gender, but something else altogether? Or is it simply that there are more distinct lines around identities at the binary ends? (i.e. we probably mean similar things when we say ‘woman’ but could mean completely different things by ‘genderqueer’)
Jennie: I guess everyone has different sensitivities but this doesn’t bother me personally as long as anyone interested in me is experiencing a genuine attraction and not just curiosity – I’m not interested in being someone’s science homework. I’ve actually found it quite rare that patners have taken a genuine interest in my physiological differences and, though I’ve still had fun with others, that genuine interest has made for much more satisfying sex. Although I can enjoy a meaningless one night stand with somebody pretty as much as the next man, I tend to find I have better sexual chemistry with people who respect me for who I am – including my gender – whether or not our association is going to last beyond breakfast the next morning.
I’ve found that some people have been attracted to my gender because it makes them feel less obliged to stick to particular social codes around sex – to perform as expected for a person of their gender. Sometimes even people who feel comfortably male or female feel terribly constricted by gendered roles. I think it’s a terrible shame for them that this cn extend to the bedroom and affect their enjoyment of sex.
CN: I have to smile at the first question, because I know the person asking it and she’s probably the least likely person to objectify someone EVER. But, on a more general note, I think it can be fairly easy to tell if we’re objectifying someone – are we attracted to them as a whole person, with their gender being part of that whole – or are we ignoring, or misinterpreting a whole person to focus on what we think that particular gender means in service to our desires?
Something I find interesting about this question of gender/desire/objectification is the role of social signifiers – even when we know intellectually that those signifiers might be entirely or partially constructed, or just plain nonsensical. I think there’s definitely a link in the social consciousness between a certain type of androgynous presentation and the idea of rebellion, wildness, artistry, eccentricity and possessing ‘authentic’ outsider credentials. Obviously, it does take a certain amount of rebellion to be able to present the self as neither/both/whatever when society says that you have to choose, and I’m not immune to finding the idea of looking androgynous enticing because of this, in part. But I do get tired of people assuming that I’m some kind of Byronic gender hipster because of their own ideas about what being androgynous means.
As a personal, and somewhat facetious, example – I love glasses. Love them. And I know that the only reason I love them is because of the social script that I’ve received about what wearing glasses means – not only the widespread ‘smart people wear glasses’, but because of being told early on that most pianists wore glasses because of the constant peering/reading from a young age, and because my most adored piano teachers wore glasses. Someone can go from ‘kind of attractive’ to ‘super attractive’ in my eyes just by putting on a swanky pair of spectacles. It would be patently absurd, and also dehumanising, to only date people who wore glasses, and make tonnes of assumptions about them because of it – and then be angry with them/drop them if they didn’t live up to my assumptions. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ogling someone I care about as a whole package when they put on their glasses to read a score.
I don’t think objectifying works in a different way with genderqueer people than it does with any other type of person – I’m going to quote Granny Weatherwax (as always) “evil begins when you begin to treat people as things”. If any person is a thing to be labelled and used towards a particular end, with no regard to their interiority and personhood, then I’d call that objectification, and be opposed to it. And I really wouldn’t say that we mean similar things with ‘woman’ and completely different things with ‘genderqueer’ – not at all.
GrrlAlex: I’m unsure – we’d need to chat about this one.
Hel: If you’re attracted to genderqueer/androgynous people as individual people, rather than as fetishised ideas of what genderqueer/androgynous people are like, then I don’t think there’s a problem. Objectification isn’t the same as attraction, as any good feminist will tell you. 😉 (And I actually think that people can – and frequently do – mean very different things when they talk about ‘men’ and ‘women’! And I’m terribly confused by monosexuality generally – given the immense diversity within the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’, I’m not sure how someone can reasonably say they’re only attracted to one of said categories, unless it’s used in a historical/descriptive sense, as in “thus far, I have been primarily attracted to women”.)
Basically, I think attraction is just as broad and complex and interesting and chaotic and weird and awesome a thing as gender-expression. I think it can be helpful to think closely about what’s going on for you – in terms of both sexuality and gender – and what sort of understandings of yourself/others you’re working with, but I don’t think that finding a significant number of genderqueer/androgynous people attractive is in itself a problem of any sort.
Nat: I don’t think there’s anything inherently objectifying about being attracted to people who don’t fit or intentionally reject the gender binary, or even necessarily being attracted towards a particular androgynous aesthetic, as long as this isn’t used to misgender people or judge their ‘success’ at their nonbinary gender.
However I often find online spaces for ‘androgyny appreciation’ to be creepily objectifying and misgendering, especially those were people post pictures of celebrities and models then argue about whether they’re ‘really androgynous’ or ‘just ugly’/’too pretty’/other binary enforcing criterion. These also seem to primarily celebrate people who are young, white, tall, thin and able-bodied, while policing standards of appearance within those limited criteria. My view of androgyny is that it’s any gender presentation which is not readily gendered within a binary framework, which is a much wider category than the aesthetic labelled as androgynous in the fashion world.
I think there’s probably also a separate discussion to be had here about binary attraction and how this often including some trans* people whose genders should not be included or excluding some people whose genders should can be problematic, objectifying and misgendering.