Tonight I found myself vocalizing some of my personal experiences and ideas around sexual attraction that I have spent a lot of time expressing already, along with some that I have never previously uttered out loud except to a single person. This part of the conversation came about because we were discussing body politics, identity politics, gender embodiment, and social control of already marginalized sexualities. It became apparent throughout this discussion that binary gender means something completely different in heteronormative communities than in communities where homosexuality or queer sexuality are the norms, even without raising the additional complexity of cisgender and transgender relations within all of these communities — which we did anyway.
I feel quite relieved to find that open, respectful, and frank discussion of the diversity of gender identity and sexual orientation can finally take place among my peers (the majority of whom are still cisgendered heterosexual white men, as has been the case for most of my life). From talking about how mortified I was the first time I experienced an ejaculatory orgasm on a sexual partner’s face (because no one talks about female orgasms, so when it happened, I felt instantly humiliated and ashamed, thinking I had just done something obscene to the poor sod), to talking about straight cisgendered men being attracted to femme lesbian women (specifically, that there are at least two different ways that this can occur) and why those same women, who more frequently than not gravitate towards butch lesbian women, would probably never pursue men as sexual partners (the short of it is that butch is a gender that guy simply is not similar to).
Of course, all this discussion about gender and sexuality raises an important complex I presently struggle with, in my fluctuating state of gender. Who do I find attractive and how do I possibly engage them? My history has revealed that I have a troubling attraction to people who exhibit oppressive traits that I experienced with each of my parents. Becoming aware of that has helped me to walk away before I get too deep into the same pattern, but now I don’t know how to define who I am in simple terms for a prospective lover. All the language I have to define who I am socially read as, as opposed to who I feel I am transitioning towards, is loaded with meaning that just doesn’t mean anything to someone who does not possess the same context with which to understand it all. I also don’t know how to express what I want any more, except most frequently in negation to what I’ve previously felt enormously unsatisfied with.
I remarked at some point that in trying to explore who I am attracted to, this intense process of constant self-interrogation has revealed to me that if there is a particular gender of person I am presently most likely to objectify, that group of people would be cisgendered men. But it used to be cisgendered femme women of a particular body type. This started to change when I started to dismantle the homophobia I had internalized from my natal home environment, but more so when I started the work of picking apart a lifetime of internalized transphobia until I eventually came out about how I genuinely experience my gender. While I still maintain a sexual preference for persons who have a vulva between their legs, what no longer matters to me is the shape or packaging of the rest of the body that is attached, because it’s the content between his/her/hir ears that matters most. I remain open to the possibility of having a lover who comes with an attached penis, though this seems highly unlikely.
I believe that at the core of my tendency to objectify cisgendered men, I would find my experience of incest at the hands of my cisgendered male parent. If I were to tell this to my psychiatrist, I am confident that he would interpret this as a form of penis envy, which is frequently used as a rebuttal of the validity of FtM experience (which of course, doesn’t quite apply directly to my experience, as a non-binary-identifying individual). But I have to be honest with myself in that another aspect of my personal experience that contributes significantly to this complex, is my past experiences of being objectified by cisgendered men as an adult. The incest laid the groundwork for this dynamic, but I’m the one who actively tried to hide in it. Repeatedly. Part of my experience of trying to hide in each repetition of my past sexual trauma was an attempt to cope with the consequences by gradually becoming an uncooperative partner, in the hopes that either the dynamic would change for the better or my partner would simply grow tired of his sexual object. And there were consequences for being uncooperative, too — that is ultimately what brought me to the breaking point in each case.
So it seems like I struggle with a need to take vengeance on or get even with cisgendered men whose bodies somehow trigger these experiences. But it’s specific kinds of cisgendered men, rather than the whole collective of them. For instance, a particularly endomorphic body shape draws my objectifying gaze, but not in all cases. Hairlessness, boyish or very under-emphasized masculinity, and smaller stature compared to me are also important attributes. But probably most importantly, if his body language or other social cues such as the scent he wears, lend the impression that he is gay, queer, metrosexual, or heteroflexible, I quickly reach the point of cruising him in stealth mode. I also tend to read these men as the passive half of a power dynamic, even though I have virtually no basis on which to make this assumption.
Though I know it serves no productive purpose, that it’s completely unrealistic of me to be cruising someone whose sexual preferences are in contradiction to my body, and that it’s precisely the same behaviour as women are subjected to by virtually all men in this society, none of that stops me from doing it. In fact, none of this has stopped me from becoming involved in three long-term relationships with cis men who fulfill all or all-but-one of these attributes. It’s a recipe for a complete mess, and I now find myself consciously trying to avoid becoming emotionally vulnerable to these men. That’s pretty easy to manage when he doesn’t know I’m cruising him — not so easy to navigate through when we’re rapidly becoming close friends or when he suddenly shows emotional vulnerability towards me when we’ve been emotionally vacant buddies for a long time.
I wonder to what extent heterosexual cis men actually experience a similar urge to turn their gaze on specific types of women, though I can be confident that the marked majority will never ask themselves these questions because they are literally rewarded by society and by individual women for not doing that kind of self-interrogation. Having directly and consciously experienced this kind of objectifying gaze from both the subject and object perspectives, which I think it is fair to say is a relatively unique level of awareness, I hang onto the hope that it is possible for all people to become conscious of and dismantle the gaze. How else will we manage to strip away our hidden assumptions about the gender identity and sexual orientation of every person we interact with until they declare otherwise? It simply won’t happen by itself.