sexuality

“An unpopular or unsure opinion about the GSM community”: 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 8

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: An unpopular or unsure opinion about the GSM community

For those that don’t know, the GSM in ‘GSM community’ stands for ‘Gender and Sexual Minorities’. It’s an alternate name sometimes used for LGBTQ+ communities to avoid alphabet soup problems while still being broadly inclusive.

…And you may not have caught my little linguistic trick in that last paragraph, but it points to a potentially unpopular opinion I have about ‘the GSM community’: I don’t believe such a thing exists.

There are GSM communities. There are lots of them, with varying levels of inclusivity of varying kinds of people who experience marginalization because of their gender (or lack thereof) and/or sexual orientation (or lack thereof). Many of them are wonderful. But there is no GSM Community, I don’t believe there can be one, and I don’t believe there should be, really.

For one thing, talking about ‘the community’ tends to send the message that gender and sexual minorities are a monolith, and we obviously aren’t. For every trans person I see insisting that ‘transgendered’ isn’t a word, I see a another trans person actively describing themself as ‘transgendered’, for instance.

But the other problem with broadly inclusive communities is that pretty much without fail, the voices that rise to the top, the ones that get heard, are the voices of the most privileged within those communities. And so the changes that get made are the ones that benefit those who are already most privileged. And this very often actually makes things harder for those less privileged.

Even something as simple and obviously right as extending marriage rights to all couples regardless of gender make-up has the real-life side effect of helping middle and upper class white gay people consolidate their wealth more effectively, thus contributing to continued income inequality. For reals.

In order for more marginalized voices to be heard, we need something more than ‘the GSM community’. We need a multiplicity of communities with a multiplicity of voices, representing as many different perspectives as possible. I am far, far more interested in hearing from communities of black trans folk, or autistic queer people, or fat femmes, than in listening to anything that can be credited to ‘the GSM community’ at large.


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Monosexuality: I still don’t get it

A few years back, I wrote about how I struggle to understand how monosexuality (that is, being attracted to only one gender – straight or exclusively gay or lesbian) is even a thing. I know now that a great deal of my confusion around this is likely related to my demisexuality – because I don’t experience primary sexual attraction, it makes sense to me that sex and gender are not terribly relevant to my sexuality, I guess.

But this new-found knowledge doesn’t help me understand what it’s like to be monosexual so much as it clarifies why I don’t understand it (on top of the original obvious fact that it is simply not my experience, being bi/pan/omni version of queer and all). And now I also have a whole new set of questions around romantic orientation – I am so curious to hear from people whose romantic orientation is limited only to some genders, but not all, because I can’t wrap my head around it any more than I can sexual orientation. Less so even, because I can at least write off most people’s experience of sexual attraction as simply something I am never going to get, while I actaully feel like I have a pretty good grasp on romantic orientation.

So anyway, my little blog has a grown a lot since I last asked about this stuff, and I might now get more perspectives on this than I did back then, so I’m just going to repeat some of the questions from my first post about this:

So monosexuals: how do you define the boundaries of the sex[/gender] to which you are attracted, and what qualities are the essential ones? Can you explain what might happen if you found someone of a sex[/gender] to which you are not attracted, but who otherwise possessed all of the qualities you would normally consider essential? What makes the difference? Is it even knowable?

And monoromantics: kind of the same questions, I guess?

And people who have different sexual/romantic orientations (sexually pan, but romantically mono maybe?): I super want to hear from you too! Tell me about yourself and how this stuff works, because I want to learn!

PSA of the Day: On sexual attraction and preferences

There is a world
of difference
between

realizing you tend to fall for people who look a certain way

and

deciding that you “just aren’t attracted to”
everyone in the entire world
who doesn’t have those traits

one is pattern recognition
the other is self-fulfilling prophecy

Societal Conflations of Primary and Secondary Sexual Attraction

A lot of the time, I see people making moral claims and/or just arguing about whether it’s better to be (sexually and/or romantically; the two are usually treated as the same thing) attracted to people based on who they are on the inside, or if it’s ok to have preferences based on appearance.

Often times these conversations get totally gridlocked, and it is pretty clear to me why that is, although the people having them rarely manage to see it. It’s that people think they’re talking about the same thing (usually sexual attraction) when they are in fact talking about two different things: primary and secondary sexual attraction.

Brief definitions: Primary sexual attraction is the kind of sexual attraction that a person might feel for another person more or less immediately after meeting them. My understanding is that it is a visceral response based mainly on superficial (or otherwise immediately recognizable) characteristics of people. I don’t totally know, y’all, because I don’t experience primary sexual attraction, so if anyone wants to help me out in the comments that’d be great.

Secondary sexual attraction is a form of sexual attraction that develops only when a person knows someone really well and has formed an emotional bond with them. It’s based on things like the ways in which those people relate to each other and positive emotions they feel toward one another.

I’m going to go out on bit of a limb here and say that most allosexual people experience both kinds of sexual attraction. The way I think about secondary sexual attraction in an allosexual context is that it’s the thing that allows people to remain attracted to each other over time in long-term relationships, as their bodies inevitably change drastically from however they used to look, and stop having the characteristics that caused the initial primary sexual attraction they may have felt for one another.

My impression is that this sort of thing, over time, can also change the characteristics to which a person is primarily sexually attracted (i.e. if an allosexual person falls for/develops secondary sexual attraction for a person with some characteristic they are not usually primarily sexually attracted, they may find themselves subsequently developing a primary sexual attraction to that characteristic, and responding to it viscerally in the person they are attracted to, and possibly in others.) I’ve seen this in action, for the record; more than one person that I’ve had a long-term sexual relationship has mentioned at some point that they were surprised by how attractive they wound up finding some characteristic in me that they weren’t usually attracted to.

So, secondary sexual attraction is important. And primary sexual attraction is, at least to some extent, and/or at least for some people, malleable.

But, that’s not the same thing as saying the primary sexual attraction is controllable, or that it is fair to moralize about people’s visceral sexual responses to people. I don’t think that most people are capable of completely eliminating their primary sexual urges, nor are they capable of somehow making them egalitarian or whatever the fuck it is that proponents of non-superficial attraction think people should do. You may be able to moralize about someone’s behaviour when they have a visceral sexual attraction to someone but the fact that they experience it (or don’t, for that matter) in response to whatever characteristic they do or do not respond to isn’t in and of itself worthy of judgment. If they use the presence of lack of primary sexual attraction as a measure of other people’s general worth as humans, or are more likely to be friends with or give jobs to people they are viscerally attracted to, that is fucked up and wrong. And that is a real pattern that we see happening to people. But the problem is not inherent to the fact that some (I guess most? this still confuses me to be honest) people do feel this kind of attraction, the problem is with what they do with that fact.

For the record, I also have a *lot* of thoughts about things like people specific preferences for (or against) certain races of people, etc. I do not think these sorts of claims are even remotely benign, and despite what I have said here, I don’t believe that sexual preferences are somehow magically above criticism, but I am going to save further unpacking of that issue for a future post. I simply want to set a foundation here for the idea that I understand that primary sexual attraction exists, and that I don’t believe that it is inherently wrong or less moral than secondary attraction.

“I want to have sex like…”

[This post is inspired by the “I want to have sex like…” series over at Demisexual and Proud, whose writing has been super instrumental in helping me understand myself well enough to even begin to write this. Content note: this post contains references to sexual dominance and submission, masochism, and masturbation]

I have been thinking *a lot* lately about what it is I get from having sex with other people. Or, rather, what I want to get from it, and why I do it at all.

The thing is that I really enjoy the experiences of sexual arousal and orgasm, but I can have those things just fine on my own, no need for anyone else to be involved. (For me) there isn’t some special level of physical pleasure that can only be achieved with other people – I can give myself the best possible orgasms just fine on my own.

But sex with other people is also important to me. When there are other people on my life that I am into in that way it is, anyway.

So, why?

It is clear to me that there is something about the emotional texture of sexual encounters that is vitally important to me, something about the kinds of emotional expression and connection that can happen that is the key to the whole thing for me.

And it is hard to nail down precisely what I want from that, because it isn’t totally stable or always the same, but there are definitely some themes that it is worthwhile to tease out and identify in particular.

The thing about me is that sex is never really about “I want this particular kind of physical stimulation/this particular arrangement of bodies and parts”. It’s almost entirely an emotional/intellectual experience for me, and the physical combinations are just coincidental, almost.

Here goes nothing:

I want to feel desired. I want to feel like my partner’s/partners’ lust is specifically about me and not just a generalized horniness. I want my sexual encounters to be specifically about me and the people I have sex with. This is so, so important. I don’t want to understate it. But also I don’t think it is even remotely enough on its own.

I want to feel taken care of/cared for. Sex is one of many aspects in a relationship where a partner has an opportunity to make me feel special, and valuable, and worthy of effort and care, I really need that. I want my body to be played like a musical instrument, to produce amazing melodies of my pleasure. Though it is actually possible for me to have too much of this, because:

I want to reciprocate that caring. It is, similarly, very important to me to be able to figure out how to give specific pleasure to my partners, to feel a direct connection between what I am doing and their expressions of pleasure. It is such a powerful feeling, that experience. And that alone is often all I need, even, as long as it isn’t the only thing, all the time.

I want us to be in it together. For me, this is about more than just both of us being happily involved and enjoying ourselves, even. Ultimately, it is important for me to know that I and anyone I am having sex with have a similar understanding of the acts we are engaging in, and of their significations when we do them. This is important, and complicated, and difficult, because I will be the first to tell you that there are no acts in sex that have stable “meanings” or imply singular dynamics.

If a partner is hitting me, it could mean that I am being submissive, and I am just absorbing whatever sensations they are choosing to throw at me. It could also be that it is something I have demanded of them, and that they are doing as a form of submission to me. Or it could just be something I asked for from a peer as we collaborate in mutual pleasure. What’s important is that we both understand whichever instance in the same (or at least similarish) way.

I want to be able to explore the different social-emotional permutations of the same things. For me, this is really the heart of queer sex.

I want spontaneity and improvization. I want to throw out every script for what sex is or how it is supposed to work. I want to kill the entire concept of “foreplay” in the fire of a thousand suns. Touching me in ways that turn me on shouldn’t be about getting me aroused so that I can then move on “real” sex.

I want to take the scenic route, and I don’t care if we ever get to whatever destination other people think we should be aiming for. If a thing is working, that should be the thing we are doing, not a stepping stone to some other more expected thing. My positive responses are an encouragement to continue the thing you’re doing, not a magic signal that you get to level up now. There are few things more disappointing to me than having a partner react to my positive feedback by deciding it’s time to move on and try something else.

Really, though, there are really almost no set “rules” for how to make my body respond with arousal, pleasure and orgasm. Trying to set them based on past success and follow them will usually backfire, because the important thing is for things to not be the same all the time. I need spontaneity in order to actually be in the moment, really. And when I am fully present in that way, I am regularly surprised by how my body responds to new or uncommon stimuli, and that’s half the fun.

Like, there have been times when I have randomly been brought to (sometimes even multiple!) orgasm by having my head scratched, or my gums massaged, or just from holding my breath. I have even had empathy orgasms from seeing/perceiving/experiencing my partner’s approach to and experience of orgasm. Orgasming because of literally anything other than the expected things is pretty much my superpower. My body is fucking weird and unpredictable and I love it so much. And when someone is willing to really engage with it, to play and explore with me, we have so much fun together!

I want playfulness. All these things I say about deep feelings and intense connections don’t have to be serious business, ok? I am a person who is going to want to laugh when someone’s bodies (or the combination of bodies) makes funny noises. Because it’s funny. Because sex isn’t serious and we don’t need to pretend our bodies aren’t the weirdest frigging things in the world. They are. And the things people do with them in the name of sex are weird (like seriously, I’m gonna put this kinda dangly part of myself into some other part on you, mmmkay? And people like to act like that’s not the weirdest idea ever, but it is, ok?) We are doing weird shit with our bodies, and sometimes it is funny, and that is important to me, too.

Above all, I want sex to be deeply communicative. This sort of runs though all of my other points, too. I want our bodies to be able to converse and understand each other. I want to feel seen and understood, not just verbally, rationally, or intellectually, but viscerally, physically, emotionally and ultimately metaphorically, in ways I can only express non-verbally. And that is a very high bar to set, but it is so worth it when I get it.

And, ok, I mean, that is a *lot* of pressure to put on sex. And anyway, some of these emotional aspects are just generally important romantic relationship things (feeling cared for, desired, and valued; being able to collaborate in mutually pleasurable activities; and remaining spontaneous and continuing to discover new things about each other all have non-sexual relevance). I don’t need all of these things all of the time (I am, in fact, perfectly happy with a purely lustful quickie on occasion!), and some of them are preferences/ideals than requirements. The only things I absolutely need are points 1-3. And those can for the most part be established outside the sexual context.

Really, because I am demisexual, the emotional context of a relationship is where desire begins and ends for me. Loving and being loved are what desire is for me, they are the only way I understand it. The bottom line is that if I don’t feel love, and if I don’t feel *loved*, then I’m not going to be able to access any of the other stuff that makes sex awesome for me. The best I can do is go through the motions.

If I’ve learned one thing from my occasional attempts to have sex with people for whom I don’t feel that kind of desire, it’s that I’d usually much rather masturbate. So.

Gender, sex, and my body

I am beginning to realize that in some ways, I am genderfluid, moving among agender, genderqueer/genderfuck, and boyish identities. And part of what causes this sense of myself to shift around is the way I shift between contexts in my life, and in particular, how different contexts cause me to consider my body in different ways, depending on who is perceiving it.

It turns out that the ways in which I am comfortable talking about my body, and the ways in which I want it to be perceived, vary wildly based on context. Here, I’m just going to focus on three broad contexts to give a sense of what I mean.

My body in a medical context

As I’ve said before, in a medical context, I am generally comfortable identifying my body as “female”. My body has all of the physical characteristics communicated by the word female in that context; it is a short-hand that communicates a lot of information to doctors about what parts my body has, and so I use it as such, and I am mostly ok with it for myself.

I do wish that we had other terms for this – I don’t like that the male/female binary aligns linguistically with the masculine/feminine one. I hate any implication that my body is feminine, so much so that I don’t like selecting a box on forms which only specify ‘m’ or ‘f’, because it is less clear that I am only stipulating ‘femaleness’ in the medical sense.

The point for me here, really, is that my gender is not currently even remotely relevant to me in a medical context, so I just don’t sweat it too much.

My body in a public/social context

When I am in public, it is most comfortable for me to desexualize my body as much as possible. I feel this is strongly related to my demisexuality – because I just don’t ‘get’ primary/physical sexual attraction, it is confusing and troubling for me to deal with other people directing that sort of sexual attention toward me. I don’t know what it means, really, and particularly as a non-binary person, knowing that if someone who doesn’t know me is sexualizing me, they are probably sexualizing me *as a woman*, is deeply unsettling and inherently invalidating to me.

I don’t even want to be androgynous, as that suggests a mixture of binary genders – in a public context I strongly prefer to be read as agender, generally.

This is complicated, though. Because as I just said, I don’t equate my agender self with androgyny. I would honestly really love to be able to wear whatever the fuck I want without it making people think it means I have a fucking gender.

Really I want a body that can wear all kinds of clothes ambiguously. (I mean, really I want to live in a world where other people aren’t constantly making sexual judgments of each other, but y’know…) Mine, right now, doesn’t. I want to be able to feel more comfortable fucking around with my gender expression. In some ways, I want a body that is less clearly medically “female” probably (though really I just want people not to objectify my body). I don’t quite know yet how or if I’m going to go about that.

My body in a sexual context

[Content note: some explicit sexual language, but no references to specific sexual acts.]

A bunch of things here. In many ways I totally and unproblematically love my body in a sexual context. I love its capacity for for so many different kinds of pleasure, and when I am just just giving myself sexual pleasure, that is all there is to it. Gender doesn’t have anything to do with it.

But it’s not just me. I form sexual connections with other people sometimes, and that means contending with their understandings and perceptions of my body, and the way that is communicated in their interactions with me and my body.

And this is where the idea that my body can comfortably be described as ‘female’ goes out the window. What’s true medically, and I guess in some sort of rationally ‘real’ sense (whatever that means), is absolutely not the right way to approach my body sexually.

My sexual body is very explicitly and particularly a trans queer body and needs to be approached as such. Although there is a bunch of basic wisdom about cis women’s erogenous zones that can be transferred over onto my body, without being able to move past the basic physical facts of my body parts, it would be very easy for a sexual partner to seriously invalidate my own sense of myself as a sexual person, and the ways in which I relate to and perceive my body sexually. It’s… a hard thing for me to navigate effectively, but I’m doing ok.

In part, because I am actually a bit at a loss to describe my experience of gender in sex. More than anything, the way I identify as a sexual person is just “queer,” so I guess genderqueer is pretty ok, but really I want to go even further, I want to be queer *as fuck* y’all, which makes me feel really good about “genderfuck” which packs the kind of rhetorical punch I really want to express here. But then, sometimes I even slip into something that feels more solidly boyish. And also I think even just in writing this that a sense of myself as agender has maybe been sneaking in here for me, at other times. And then other times it’s really just extremely fluid and refuses to settle down into anything.

Fundamentally, the thing I think I need my sexual partners to understand is that despite all appearances, and even while I’m happy to own being a queer agender/genderfuck/boy (such as I am, when I am) with a vulva, my body is not just ‘female’, ever. And I crave engagement with all of me, engagement that understands that sometimes what looks like a vulva, isn’t. Sometimes it’s a cock. Sometimes it’s something else entirely.

I’m not going to explain here exactly what that means, or how that engagement manifests. I’m sure there’s literally a million different ways it can be done. My spouse-person and I are still finding new ways to mash up against each other, so.

And the other thing is, my genitals don’t necessarily matter all that much. When things are going really well for me, my pleasure isn’t located anywhere, it’s everything and everywhere; it’s my whole body, all the parts seen and unseen.

Sexually, my body is best understood outside of the male/female bullshit construct. My body is queer as fuck, and capable of so much more than the either the male or female sexual scripts allow for (which is not to say that this makes me special or whatever; lots of people of all genders benefit from ignoring these scripts and the “normal” ways on understanding, interpreting, and engaging with bodies of different types), and I want it treated as such.

My body and me

Fundamentally my relationship with my body is made problematic by the ways in which other people try to force their own perceptions/understandings/meanings onto it. My body is awesome, and other people so often want to limit its reach and its powers of signification. And my attempts to moderate this tension are what make my non-binary/genderfluid/genderqueer identity what it is, defined to a great extent by what I am not, and defined, ultimately, by the foundational importance of queerness to my politics, and to my aesthetics.

Demisexuality: debunking a common misconception

So, sometimes this thing happens when demisexuality gets talked about, where someone will say something along the lines of “well, that’s just normal; most people don’t want to have sex with people they just met!”

Which, I mean, this is true for many people, for sure! I can’t say whether it is most or not, but it is certainly a large number of people! The thing is though, that demisexuality is not just about whether or not you will feel up for having sex with new people – it’s about whether you feel any sexual attraction for them *at all* without knowing them well/forming an emotional connection.

There are, in fact, a lot of reasons why someone might feel a basic level of physical sexual attraction to someone, but still not want to have sex with them. Particularly for women or members of any marginalized group, trust is incredibly important to ensure one’s physical and emotional safety, and often the level of trust required to feel safe to have sex with someone can require a strong emotional bond, much like that which demisexuals require to feel attraction.

So, for instance, if Person A is sexually attracted to Person B, Person A may not know for sure whether that attraction means they want to have sex with Person B until they know more about them. Because physical sexual attraction isn’t the only or even necessarily the most important part of the equation, for lots of people, for lots of reasons.

But I don’t think that’s the same thing as not being attracted to the person until you get to know them. And the thing that generally defines demisexuality as I understand it is the complete lack of this initial sort of physically-based sexual attraction, and not simply taking time to decide whether to act on that attraction.

I’m not saying any of this to try to invalidate anyone’s identity, either. If the way your sexuality works resembles what I’ve described above, and it is useful to you in any way to call yourself demi, please by all means do!

I just think that it is very important to make it clear that that is not all the demisexuality implies, and that the demisexual experience is very often extremely different from the way most people experience sexual attraction.

The thing is that for me, until I reach a point at which I have formed a bond with a person and suddenly all the lights of “want to have sex with this person” go on in my head, I have literally no idea whether I could ever possibly want to have sex with that person. I can’t tell you whether they are attractive to me based on what they look like, because that is pretty much irrelevant to me, I think?

There are, of course, aspects of people’s *chosen* personal presentation (make-up, hair, clothes, etc. – things that carry information about personality/interests/aesthetic preferences) that will make me more likely to want to get to know them, or make me think there’s a possibility of something there.

If I’m being totally honest, though, those appearance-based hunches rarely actually go anywhere; the sexual connections I have formed seem to have had no real correlation with whether or not I had an initial aesthetic attraction to a person.

To be totally clear, I can absolutely identify whether people are conventionally attractive in accordance with the standards of the culture I grew up in, and I’ve definitely developed certain aesthetic preferences from being immersed in that culture; it’s just that none of that has any impact on whether I have sexual feelings about anyone ever.

And I mean, I guess I’m not really sure if my experience is all that different from a majority of people. I know it is significantly different from the conception of sexuality and sexual attraction portrayed in the media, though I also know to take that with a grain of salt.

I know that in adolescence I found myself totally at a loss when friends would comment on other people’s “cute butts” or whatever, because it never occurred to me to be looking at people’s butts, and I never found the spark of any kind of attraction there when I tried (though I am extremely fond of the butts of the people I’m into, that comes along with the development of attraction, and not before).

And that could have just been me being a late bloomer, I guess, except I never grew out of it, and I am quite confident that I have bloomed as a sexual being by this point, so.

That’s what demisexuality is like for me, anyway.