Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘body’

He Didn’t Just Objectify Me, Did He? – Gay Men and Misogyny

Heads up, everyone: this is an angry post and it’s a hurt post.  If you aren’t up for dealing with that right now, this is your chance to exit.  That being said, I wanna address an issue that is incredibly important to discuss, yet gets written off as no big deal: misogyny in the queer community, specifically on the part of gay men.  I’ve been thinking and talking about this a lot recently and have gotten mixed responses.  Mostly, the gay guys I’ve talked to are totally unaware of this problem and don’t see how their own behavior fits these patterns.  Ugh.  Women…eh, reactions range from “OMG I KNOW I HAVE SO MANY STORIES JUST LIKE THAT” to “Are you kidding me?  There’s no way it could be that bad.  They’re gay–it’s not like that.”

Oh but it is like that.

[TW: body policing, casual misogyny, and sexual harassment/unwanted touching]

Groping and commenting on others’ bodies (unsolicited, without consent) is a huge problem, regardless of whether you claim to be sexually attracted to that type of body or not.  This happens especially in the case of gay men feeling entitled to women’s bodies.  In a society in which gay men are stereotyped as feminine, they’re both damned for that (“good men are masculine”) and celebrated as experts on femininity.  Since women are supposed to be feminine (cuz we all gotta be gender-conforming, amiright??), gay men are presented as having authority over how women should dress, act, modify our bodies, etc.  Think of the gay bff or fashionista stereotypes.*

What does this mean?

Body policing.  Comments that are not only unwanted, but are potentially incredibly harmful to our body images, self esteem, and mental health.  Touches that, if initiated by straight men, would immediately be identified as sexual harassment.  A lot of misogyny.

Not Sure I’m Following You…

I’m not gonna go into a whole spiel about how and why this happens, trying to convince you that it’s a problem.  If you’re confused or not familiar with this subject, I suggest you check out two articles:

  • Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies” by Yolo Akili – posted last November on The Good Men Project.  I was so excited to find this.  He explains the problem well and I’m always relieved to find folks in privileged positions doing a good job educating our own.  Writing as a queer man of color, he also touches upon the added oppressive dynamic of white men feeling entitled in any way to the bodies of women of color.
  • “Why Do Gay Men Keep Touching My Boobs: The Autostraddle Mini-Roundtable” – Autostraddle writers pick up where Akili left off.  This actually turned into an incredibly interesting (and, it seemed, healing) conversation on Autostraddle.

I’m so glad to see other people discussing the problem of gay men’s sexism prominently and to find shared experiences with other queer women (see: Autostraddle’s comment section, which is mostly devoid of derailing BS posts).  Honestly, it’s something I face a lot, and I’m not always around people who get what I’m talking about.

So…What are you talking about?

  • “You need more makeup.  Here, let me do it.”  DID I ASK YOU TO GRAB MY FACE?  FUCK NO.

  • “Why are you wearing makeup?  You don’t need that.”  Umm HELLO NOT DOING IT FOR YOUR APPROVAL.  I wear makeup for myself, regardless of when you think it’s appropriate.
  • So many anti-vulva/vagina comments.  Vaginas don’t have to be your thing, but disparaging remarks are not needed.  Bodies with vaginas aren’t inherently disgusting, thank you very much, nor are we desperate for your approval.

    Gabby from Autostraddle
    : “The comments are always quintessentially linked to what my/our vaginas might smell or look like. (Sidenote- if you don’t eat it, devour it, lick it off your fingertips, then don’t even for a second make a comment on that shit. Maybe if you did then you’d have the right to say something.  Maybe then you’d describe it as tasting like fresh cantaloupe or smelling like every good secret reason you’ve been late to class this week…)”
  • “I’m totally gay, but it is kinda nice to put your penis in one [a vagina].”  Wow, thanks for reducing bodies with vaginas to just vaginas…or, as they’ll now be known: NPRs (nice penis receptacles).  Note: being told this as a queer cis woman was exceedingly awkward, among other things, because he said it as though I should be grateful that someone was–in the same sentence–telling me he was totally not attracted to me, but that my body was good for something anyway.  Great.
  • Frequent comments against queer women, especially lesbian women. “I used to be beautiful, but now I look like a lesbian!”  Note: gay men seem shocked when I call these remarks out; I’m not really sure why.  Is it because they’re reading me as straight and are surprised that I care about queer women?  Is it because they think women–femme women particularly?–are passive and won’t cross them?  Are they totally oblivious to everything?

  • At a former job, a supervisor and a coworker–both gay men–speculated loudly about what my pubic hair looks like and whether or not I trim it.  They were standing right in front of me.  They laughed.  I didn’t say anything because I was so taken aback that I didn’t have a clue what to say.  Just be cool, otherwise they’ll think I’m super uptight.  Remember, they’re gay men so they don’t really mean it in a sexual way so it’s totally fine, right???  

  • All of the comments about my boobs.  All of the comments.  I have very large breasts and gay men (among others) tell me this frequently–in varying amounts of detail–as though I didn’t know.  Thankfully, there’s usually no attempted touching, perhaps because I give off a “touch me and I’ll break your fingers” vibe.
  • Calling me babe.  At work.  The first time they meet me.  When I’ve made it clear I don’t respond to that word.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely into affectionate nicknames.  But unless we have a rapport in which we’ve established that that’s okay, just stick to my name.  For the record: babe is never okay for me.

  • A (queer guy) ex would play with my boobs in this really negatively objectifying way, like they were toys that weren’t actually connected to my body, like I didn’t have so many feelings connected to them (emotionally as well as physically).  I never found a way to tell him how much this bothered me, cuz ya know I was obviously being irrational, right?  He couldn’t be objectifying me, I mean we’re both queer and he was my intimate partner and HOLY SHIT SO MUCH BULLSHIT.
  • Calling people bitches all the time.  As a term of endearment.  As a put-down.  Just stop, okay?  Just because you’re gay doesn’t make it magically okay for you to refer to your friends/your coworkers/your cats as “all my bitchez.”  Did you miss the chapter about that actually being (potentially) really offensive, reductive, and hurtful?  See also: don’t fucking try to reclaim slurs that aren’t yours to reclaim!

What to do?

Regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identity, check yourself!  Where do you fit in these examples?  Have you experienced or witnessed any of them?  Do you perpetrate them?  Gay men: as individuals, many of you are marvelous and dear to me.  But as a group, do not assume you and I will be best friends, simply because we’re both feminine or because you’re gay.  As you might imagine (after reading all this), I’m pretty fucking wary of you.  That doesn’t mean I will bite your heads off immediately; it means I will be guarded around you until you demonstrate that you have your shit together and are aware of yourself and the space you take up.  Check yourselves and check your friends.  Deal?

* Obviously not all gay men are feminine or into fashion.  Yes, those are stereotypes and yes, stereotypes are confining and need to be broken down.  That’s another (related) conversation.  If you post comments about being a gay man who’s not obsessed with fashion, you might be completely truthful, but you’re not being helpful.  You’re derailing the conversation.  You don’t suddenly become not oppressive just because you break stereotypes.

** I clearly wrote this from my perspective as a femme queer woman.  I can’t speak for masculine-of-center women and non-binary folks, but my perception is that there’s a different sort of bullshit that goes down there, more in the vein of “why would you be a woman (or a person ever perceived to be a woman) and be masculine?  You’re wasting your femininity (cuz women are inherently feminine, right??).”  Ughhh so many problems.  I have all of the love for butches, masc-of-center, and gender non-conforming folks.  Y’all are beautiful, handsome, and endlessly snazzy.  Here is my adorable face, just for you:

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I Am Not Overreacting. I Am Not Uptight. I Am Not Kidding.

TW: street harassment

Yesterday something amazing was proven.  Y’all ready for this?  It’s groundbreaking.  *Drum roll*  It is possible to compliment someone–a stranger–on their appearance without scaring them.  Compliments without massive power plays–wow.  As I was going into work yesterday, a man passed me on the street.

Man 1: I like your outfit.

Me: Thanks!

Then we both kept walking.  This interaction was not creepy, aggressive, or terror-inducing.  It did not make me reach for my keys or rush into work and slam the door shut behind me.  We’re certainly not obligated to want compliments or be open to receiving them, but overall Man 1’s approach was pretty low-risk.  I appreciated the compliment and continued on with my day, looking fly.

The Much More Common Alternative

After an awesome day at work (dear god, I wish that were more firmly rooted in my memory than the rest of this shit), I headed to the train to go to an artsy networking event further downtown.  While walking to the train, I saw a group of five men–all in their 60s–standing on the sidewalk together.  As I neared them, one of them came up to me, moving progressively closer to the point of nearly pushing me into the buildings.  I was on the phone with a friend and trying to ignore the man walking with/on me, while his posse stared me down.  I sped up and so did he.  Then he pulled out the same old line that is thrown at women all the fucking time: “Smile!  Hey, smile!”  He said it five times, with increasing aggression.  He kept pushing and his buddies kept staring.

This is when the diatribe that is constantly playing inside my head actually came out of my mouth.  Pulling ahead, I spun around and yelled “NO!  I SMILE FOR MYSELF!  I DO NOT SMILE ON COMMAND!!”

They all stared, taken aback.  I hurried away.  A second later, a voice in my ear asked “Did someone just tell you to smile?”  Having momentarily forgotten about my phone conversation, I’d clearly just yelled in my friend’s ear as well as at five men on the street.  Whoops–that part was unintentional.

It wasn’t until I reached the train platform (a block later) that I realized I was shaking and freaking out. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself. “I just yelled at five men for harassing me.  Finally.  I’m glad I did, but that was scary.”

“WTF?  That’s so sketchy.  Who does that?”

To anyone reading this and thinking, “Wow, that’s so messed up.  You must’ve been in a ‘bad neighborhood’ or have really bad luck”: NO.  CHECK YOURSELF.  This stuff happens all the time, everywhere.  If you’re unaware of it, you’re in a position of extreme privilege.  I’ve had literally this same encounter–let’s call it the “smile bullshit”–at least four times in the past two weeks (minus the attempt to push me into a wall–that took things a big step further).

What type of man would do that?

All kinds.  Our society trains us all to believe that men deserve access to women’s bodies.  Do all men buy into that?  No.  Some boys and young men are raised around wonderful people who adamantly reject this notion.  Others work hard to unlearn it.  But still, there are zillions of men all over the place who believe this–consciously or not–to varying degrees.

I’ve noticed an awkward dichotomy in the way our society views older men.  Either:

  • a) they’re automatically assumed to be perverts and merit extra suspicion, or
  • b) when they’re actually predatory, their actions are justified to no end. “Oh don’t worry about him–he’s just set in his ways.  He doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Generational differences, blah, blah, blah.  He doesn’t mean anything by it; it’s harmless.”  FUCK THAT.  YES, IT’S MEANT TO BE AGGRESSIVE AND NO IT’S NOT HARMLESS.

Why does this happen?

Because patriarchy.  (Isn’t that the answer to so many things?)  Women and girls are always supposed to smile, appease, and be visually appealing and available to men.  Especially if you are feminine, in which case you should acquiesce passively at all times.  Great system, right?  *Gags*  This shows up in childhood when kids are told “Give a kiss to that relative you’re uncomfortable around.  He’s your [insert familial relationship here] and he’ll be sad if you don’t.”  It shows up from pre-teenager-dom onward when men catcall, yell at, make demands of, and physically grope and grab at gender minorities on the street, in our workplaces, in stores, in relaxation spaces, on the beach, at the everywhere in the world.

This is not to say that men never experience street harassment or that perpetrators are always men.  There are many targeted identities and many factors that could lead to someone being harassed.  However, in the vast majority of these cases, men are the harassers and people perceived to be men are safer on the streets.**  Because many men never experience street harassment (and other types of “casual” attacks), they’re often totally unaware of its existence and prevalence.  There are two groups of out-to-lunch people here:

  • The willfully ignorant: men who’ve been told by women in their lives about these incidents, but refuse to believe them and try to invalidate their experiences. “You’re overreacting.” “That’s never happened to me, therefore it can’t be true.” “Jeeze, can’t you just take a compliment?”  These men are tacitly endorsing harassment.  They’re assholes and I have no time for them.
  • The unenlightened: some guys have literally no idea that this shit happens.  They’re not trying to support patriarchal attacks, but they’ve never given them any thought.  I start telling stories like this and they’re actually blown away when I tell them that–even in my most relaxed state–I live with a constant baseline of fear.  I don’t let fear govern my life and curtail all my actions, but it’s always there.

Then there are the guys who are aware, look out for these situations, and call them out.  I appreciate those guys and I feel safer around them.  Yet this post is not about them and they do not deserve magical ally cookies just for being decent human beings.

It is never the responsibility of oppressed groups to educate privileged groups.  No one is obligated to do this, but I do believe it’s valuable to speak out if and when we want to, so that some of this inadvertent ignorance decreases.

Aftermath of Shitty Encounters

Beyond all of the bullshit already described, the thing that really makes me angry is how these comments–tossed out at no expense to the harasser–have the power to ruin my day.  Ya know what I mean?  I had an awesome day at work, after which I texted several friends and my mom about how excited I was to have met all these amazing artists.  I accepted an awesome opportunity, bonded with people over sequins, and was feeling on top of the world.  Then, the unwanted actions of five strangers threw my mood from euphoric to scared and wanting to curl up in a ball in bed.  I spent the train ride down to my evening event talking myself out of that and willing myself not to let those guys ruin my night.  Fortunately, I ended up meeting some great people and I’m glad I went.  Still, I hate that this bullshit happened last night, that it impacted me enough that I’m still preoccupied with it today, and that it happens all the time.

Attention, Chicago residents: I am sick of this.  You come near me in a potentially threatening manner and biting your head off is the very least I will do.  Stay the fuck away.

**I am referring specifically to this type of catcalling “smile for me, baby” street harassment, which is usually directed at women and feminine-presenting folks.  That is not the same as racial profiling, trans*phobic attacks, etc. and should not be equated to those.

Everyone Take 2 Big Steps Back

TW: harassment, general obnoxiousness

When the bank associate asked how my day was going, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  In my head I snapped, “It’s 95 degrees out and I fucking hate people.  How do you think those combine?”  Out loud I stuck with “I’ve been better” and muttered something about being busy running errands.  As I sat in the Bank of America office, I wondered to myself about the best ways to tell someone to GTFO.  When I got home, I was still stewing about it, so I made this handy graph:

How to find the illusive fuchsia dot?  What is the maximal combination of polite-ish-ness and firmness that gets the point — “you need to back off” — across, without making a huge scene?  And before you even find that perfect phrase, how do you decide when to call things out?  Do you have the energy?  Feel safe enough?  How do you gauge what “counts” as a big enough deal that you’d say something to interrupt it?

Today I went to the dentist.  You know the drill — if your teeth are fine, you spend most of your appointment with the hygienist anyway and then see your dentist after your teeth are already clean and polished.  I still go to a children’s dental practice and, being a children’s practice, they kick you out after you graduate from college or reach the 20-something age range.  I went to this appointment knowing that it would be my last there.

After having my teeth cleaned — that joyous process that includes gum-poking metal instrument thingies — my dentist came in.  The first words out of his mouth were “Looks like you’re gonna hafta find yourself an adult dentist” while simultaneously pinching my nose.

Me in my head: You say as you pinch my nose…excuse you?  When I come here you can touch my mouth and nothing else.  When was the last time you pinched the nose of an adult man?

Me: …  *blank stare*

I contemplated saying something, but decided not to.  I didn’t want to be rude and just wanted to leave ASAP.  (Of all the ridiculous societally-conditioned responses, I was worried about being rude to the 67-year-old man who had just pinched my face.)  He called me honey as I scooted out of the office and told me to come back to visit and say hi.

Me in my head: Fuck off.

Now I’m sitting at home pissed off about this encounter, while I’m sure he didn’t give it another thought.  Had I considered for a moment about how much this would bother me after the fact, I would’ve said something.  Instead, I went to the bank, where the oh-so-friendly bank associate and manager tried to start a long conversation with me about my acting career goals, when all I wanted to do was get home.

The big question that I really want to poll: how do you handle microagressions?

  • The dentist who inappropriately pinches your face
  • The guy on the el who interrupts you 3 times to start conversations about nothing, even though you’re absorbed in a book and also have earbuds in, meaning it’s very unlikely that you want to talk to anyone
  • The much older man who approaches you on the train platform, while you’re engrossed in a book and deliberately not looking at anyone, to ask you all about what you’re reading and do you like it and why are you standing so close to my face?!
  • The long line of eyes that turn away from their tasks and stare unabashedly at you as you walk into/out of a building, evaluating everything on/about your body

These events aren’t calamities.  They don’t signal the end of the world; but they do remind us — women in particular — that we live in a society that doesn’t consider our bodies and time our own.  (Note: there are many types of bodies and gender presentations that society considers public property.  This is not exclusively a “women’s issue.”)

There are some actions that are immediately identifiable as harassment.  Someone yelling or honking at you from a car, calling out to you on the street, following you, yelling a slur, etc.  What about more subtle instances that make us uncomfortable?  How do you respond to long, invasive stares?  People chatting you up and “being really nice” when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk to them?  Strangers who assume that they deserve your attention and that you should entertain them with conversation (or more).  All the things that we’re told repeatedly “aren’t a big deal” (code for “Why are you so offended when someone invades your space and won’t leave?”)  Any advice about reasonably low-key ways to tell someone to back the fuck up?

BREAKING NEWS: Queer Ladies Love Maddow

Autostraddle recently released its annual line-up of the 100 “Hottest Queerest Women in All the Land.”  For those of you who don’t spend your time fawning over queer culture websites (who are you?!), Autostraddle is a popular site for “news, entertainment, opinion, and girl-on-girl culture.”  What does this actually mean?  It means all the women (and others) of the queer (and other) persuasions just freaked out about how much we all loooooooooooove Tegan and Sara and OHMYGODRACHELMADDOOOOOOW!!

As usual, this year’s list is full of myriad talented, accomplished, and very attractive individuals.  But flipping through the pages, it’s impossible not to notice that most of them look pretty similar.  There is certainly some diversity of gender presentations–I’m always happy to see that–but the vast majority of these women are white.  Moreover, they’re predominantly young, slim, and white.  I counted fewer than 20 women of color on the list, as well as the cast of The Peculiar Kind, grouped together as #64.  None of them are in the top 10.

How do I know the exact number of women of color on this list?  I don’t.  It’s obviously not possible to decipher a person’s racial and/or ethnic identities just by looking at them or their name, but it’s apparent that the list is dominated by light skinned women, most of whom are repping similar sizes and body types.  So really, what this list tells me is that Autostraddle has rounded up yet another group of people who embody queerness as something that belongs primarily to young-ish, thin-ish, white people.  This misrepresentation happens all over the place.  Queerness is generally marginalized in mainstream everything (shocking to hear, I know), but as long as the few queer individuals that do appear show only a sliver of the queer community (the white, cisgender, and usually class-privileged sliver), then we’re continuing to divide and marginalize within our supposed community.  And that shit needs to stop.

EDIT: Apparently some clarification is needed.  The problem is not a lack of out LGBTQ people of color.  The problem in this case is that there’s a wide array of women of color who are routinely overlooked in favor of white women, who get the bulk of the recognition and publicity.  We cannot pretend it’s some sort of accident that hot people lists–and other images of which bodies our society/media consider beautiful–are overwhelmingly white, unless they’re specifically categorized as POC.  The same goes for ability, body type, size, and cis/trans* status.  This shit is old and needs to be changed like now already.

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