Friday, August 31, 2007

Time waits for no-one

So it’s my birthday in…a couple of hours. And that’s a weird feeling. I’m turning 34. I don’t feel like I’m turning 34. I don’t feel like I’m even close, honestly. It’s like…aren’t people this age supposed to be a little more, I don’t know, sorted? As in, pick a career track and stick to it, be so settled in a relationship that even the though of being with someone else would be inconceivable (I’m settled, but not THAT settled), feeling generally like things are winding down? I don’t feel like things are winding down. I feel like I’m due for another big dramatic change, actually.
Physically I don’t feel old at all. I mean, I can see lines where there used to be none, and the body is not as firm as it used to be, but in general…I actually feel healthier overall than I did ten years ago. It doesn’t feel like things are breaking down – my back doesn’t hurt, I have less headaches than I used to, if anything I have more stamina now. I do seem to need a little more sleep, though. All the things I really like are the same things I really liked when I was 25, or even 17. I’m calmer, there’s a sort of serenity there that wasn’t there even 5 years ago, but other than that…nothing much seems to have changed.
Eh, it’s weird. Anyone else have any idea what I’m talking about? It’s as if I have this idea in my head of what 34 looks and feels like and that’s not how I look or feel, and it’s wierding me out.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More musings about gender and desire

All this deconstructing of gender has got me thinking about how it ties in to patterns of attraction. Specifically, how it ties into my own patterns of attraction.

In my case what attracts me has actually been remarkably consistent through the years – I say remarkably because there have always been clear messages that the specific things that I’m attracted to in men are, well, a bit weird. Not so much culturally approved of.

There’s a definite sense of pressure in American (and British, though not quite so strongly) culture for women to be attracted to men who are rather…macho. It manifests in a number of different ways – sometimes it’s about fetishising power, sometimes it’s about muscles and/or the overall sense that men are “supposed” to be substantially larger than their female partners, sometimes it’s about money. On a physical level there are multiple male “types” that are held up as cultural ideals. And none of them appeal to me sexually at all.

Typical example – the jock thing. I don’t like jocks. I don’t find them sexy. I do find people who have a strong sense of physicality about them sexy, and I have a distinct preference for men who are physically fit (that whole endurance thing always helps, you know?) but the big bulging muscles? Blech. Not my thing. The behavior that often goes with them? Even less sexy.

I can look at those men and find them aesthetically pleasing; I can see why other people find them sexy. But for me…on a sexual level it just does not compute. No response. It’s not even revulsion, it’s just…nothing. A blank space where desire “should” be.

That can be a disconcerting feeling when you’re young, that sense that there’s a way your libido is “supposed” to work and it doesn’t work that way at all. It was for me. I’ve gone through various stages of trying to convince myself that I can be attracted to those men, and it’s never worked. My body just won’t cooperate.

I also never, ever understood the idea of being attracted to wealth, or power. For me attraction is almost entirely physical – if I think someone is sexy I really don’t give a crap what he does for a living or how much money he has. Those things are simply irrelevant as far as my libido is concerned. I’ve known lots of women to whom those things do matter, but for me…again, does not compute. I try to understand it and my mind blue-screens on me.

It makes me wonder, though…are other women actually attracted to those things? As in, the idea that person X is rich actually makes them horny? Or is it a practical thing? Are they choosing to put their financial wellbeing ahead of their actual desires? Or does attraction work differently for them than it does for me, on a less specifically physical level? Are they the weird ones, or am I? Because I just can’t wrap my head around this idea of being attracted to wealth or power at all, and I sure as hell have no desire to wrap my body around it.

A powerful personality, on the other hand…now there’s an interesting thing. See, I’m a dom. But the men I’m attracted to aren’t really all that sub-ish on the surface. If I meet someone and their body language is radiating submission right from the get-go I’m really not all that interested. I want a challenge. I want to MAKE them submit. In my ideal sexual scenario there’s always an element of power struggle. People who give in too easily bore me. Most of the men I fit well with aren’t really subs, not exclusively, they’re switches. There have been a couple of cases in which the first person they were ever submissive to was me. Not only don’t I want them to submit immediately the first time, I don’t want them to submit immediately ever. A fulltime D/s relationship wouldn’t work for me at all. I’d lose all interest in the other person on a sexual level. I’d feel like his Mommy.

I’m not quite sure what to call that. Is there even a word for it? I know that it’s not a unique thing, and I know that there are men out there who complement me perfectly, because I’ve met them. I also know that couples that work that way tend to confuse and vex a lot of BSDM folks, probably because they’re not quite sure how to classify them.

I’m not sure how that particular kink intersects with my sexual preferences in general, but I’ve always wondered if there’s some sort of connection. Which brings us to…

The men I find sexy. I’m ignoring the girls for now because in all honesty I’m a lot more flexible there, and I don’t have quite such a clear “type”. With men though, I’m not very flexible at all, preference-wise.

So what do I like? I like skinny, but ideally with a little muscle definition, especially in the abs. I like pretty, REALLY pretty. Most of the men I find truly appealing were probably mistaken for girls quite a few times when they were younger. In fact, looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever been really attracted to a guy who hasn’t been addressed as “miss” at some point. I like dark hair and pale skin. I adore high cheekbones and full, pouty lips. Pretty hands do terrible things to me. I have an odd fetish for collarbones, and for shoulders that look bite-able. I also tend to prefer dark eyes, although blue or green eyes on a person with black hair can be stunning. Kind of sounds like the goth stereotype so far, huh? I’ve always wondered how much of my initial attraction to that particular subculture was all about the boys (and the girls – damn, did I love goth girls when I was a teenager). I also really, really like clothes. I’ve never dated a man who was indifferent to clothes, one of the ones who dress mostly just to avoid arrest. I like guys who I can play dress-up with.

A quick glance around my blog should give an idea of what I’m getting at. See, skinny pretty boys as far as the eye can see! I tend to plaster my site in VK boys, partly because that particular scene abounds in men who fit my type, and partly because those particular guys tend to be shameless camera whores, so it’s not too hard to find pretty pictures of them. OK, so in a couple of cases it’s because I also like their bands, but the guy I have up on the sidebar right now comes from a band that I’ve never much cared for, and as sexy as he is I still think he sings like he has peanuts up his nose. Sometimes it really is just about the ass.

Now here’s where the whole idea of gender comes in…how would YOU describe those guys? I kind of feel like part of what I’m responding to may be a very specific gender identity, or at least gender expression. Note the complete lack of interest in anyone conventionally macho. Note the preference for all things femmey. But, just to complicate matters…there’s a certain point at which men become too femmey for my tastes. I can think of dozens of VK guys who fit that description, who to me just look like, well, girls. There isn’t the particular blend of masculine and feminine that seems to be the sexual trigger for me. What do you call that? That weird mix of masculine and feminine characteristics? And why is it that in my case it’s so damn specific?

The one way in which I used to conform to typical ideas about what women are “supposed” to want is height. I always had a preference for really tall men. Which is sort of funny, since I’m 5ft2 and even the teeniest men are usually taller than me. For a while in high school I refused to date anyone under 6ft tall. Then I moved to London and met this one guy who was maybe 5ft7? 5ft8? And just the sexiest damn thing I’d ever seen. At that point I started reevaluating the height requirement. It never really disappeared, though; I just sort of slotted him away in my mind as the exception to the rule. I still clung on to the idea that men are “supposed” to be tall.

In the last few years that’s started to change, and I’m not quite sure why. Maturity? Not caring so much about what other people think any more? In a weird way I think maybe my insistence on the men I dated being tall was a way to counterbalance the gender ambiguity of the men I preferred in other people’s minds. As in, OK, so my boyfriend’s girlier than I am, but hey, he’s a foot taller than me! That has to count for something, right? Please don’t beat both of us up, random sexist dude.

Lately I’m finding that I just don’t care about how tall men are any more. I still love the look of tall + skinny, but the idea of man who totally fits my type in every way but just happens to not be very tall doesn’t trigger the same instinctive “I can’t do that” reflex that it used to. In fact, of all the men I’ve encountered over the past year or so the one I reacted to most strongly in terms of sheer attraction was about 5ft7. And OK, so he’s GORGEOUS, but still, in the past the fact that in heels I’m looking him right in the eye would have bothered me, and now it doesn’t. What’s up with that?

And then there’s another thing, a thing that I think had a lot to do with that instinctive feeling that I shouldn’t be going for men who weren’t tall that I had for a long time. If you take a guy who fits my type and he’s, say, under 5ft8, what’s your initial impression of that guy going to be on a physical level? Petite. In some cases positively delicate. And that’s something that’s totally verboten in our culture, women being attracted to men not just in spite of the fact that they’re delicate and sort of vulnerable-looking, but because of it. Women aren’t supposed to feel protective about men. We aren’t allowed to have that feeling that a lot of men have about women who are fragile and delicate and beautiful, that weird combination of lust and protectiveness and sheer fascination. It’s OK for men to feel that way about women, but for a woman to feel that way about a man? Freaky. Not OK. Positively unnatural.

And yet in some cases I do feel that way, and I think I always have. Maybe it’s a dom thing, maybe not. Who can ever really untangle those things, the way kinks and aesthetic preferences intersect? The way your personality affects what you’re attracted to? The way how you like to fuck affects what you’re attracted to?

I also think that this is part of why I’ve always been so puzzled by the standard boilerplate feminist argument that men are big and scary and aggressive and dangerous and women are little and frail and delicate and vulnerable. Those men that I’m attracted to? Even the really tall ones are still pretty damn delicate, really. The dude currently decorating my sidebar? 6ft1, 127 pounds. Not exactly burly, probably not much use in a bar fight. The guy who I recently encountered who I had such a weird visceral reaction to? He weighs about 115 pounds, which is less than many women I know. I’m supposed to view this person as physically invulnerable in the sense that some radfems seem to think all men are? Once again…does not compute, at least not for me. And I’ve met lots of men like that over the years.

In an odd sort of way I feel protective about those kinds of guys. Actually, there are lots of men who I feel protective about. I have a concert buddy who I get incredibly protective about sometimes, and OK, he’s only 17, but he’s about 6 ft tall and he towers over me. And it’s not just the age that triggers that protective instinct, it’s the personality. There’s a particular dynamic that I always seem to have with gentle, soft-spoken, introverted guys, and a sense of protectiveness has always been a part of that. I see those men as vulnerable, in some ways far more vulnerable than myself, and in a certain way that’s part of the attraction.

I’m guessing that the standard explanation for all this would be that it’s a kink, a sex thing, and on some level I’m sure it is, but then again…why should we assume that men are invulnerable? And isn’t vulnerability part of what attracts most people to each other? Is it really so odd for that to be part of what attracts someone to a particular person, just because of gender?

I’m still trying to sort all this out in my head. I had a weird moment there, when I met that man, the one who I was really drawn to, and I realized that that sense I have of him as soft and delicate and oddly vulnerable is part of what I find so attractive. And then I realized that on some level I’ve always been that way, I’ve just written it off in a lot of cases as something else, as sisterly feelings or kink or some other thing, when in fact I think it’s something that’s far more basic than that. It’s part of my nature to be drawn to and want to protect vulnerable things. It’s also part of my nature to be fascinated by beauty. Combine the two and of course I’m going to find that person nearly irresistible. Why the hell did I ever try to convince myself otherwise?

In this case I blame both the patriarchy and the feminist theory. How often do you get to say that?

Opening the floor to comments now. Does anyone else have any idea what I’m talking about here? Am I really the only woman in the world who feels this way? Do other women have that same protective feeling towards the men in their lives, just not necessarily so much based on appearance? Do any of us really buy the theory that men are invulnerable? And if most of us don’t, how the hell did that idea ever become such an entrenched part of feminist theory? And finally…how does this all tie in to the way we conceptualize gender, and what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine”?