Each person who is interested in dating and sex could write long lists of various traits that are either deal breakers or make a potential date more attractive. Most people only want to date people who fall within a specific age range. Some people won’t date conservative Christians. Some people won’t date those who are not a conservative Christian. There are people who won’t date a smoker or, vice versa, a person who dislikes tobacco smoke. Some people only date those who are interested in marriage and children. Other people look for casual sex. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. People can have all kinds of quirks about what they find sexy or physically attractive. A person can like big boobs or small boobs or they can strongly dislike breast implants. Or they can like breast implants. A person can have preferences about a potential date’s body weight, muscle mass, height, hairstyle, etc. For example, I find certain voices sexier than others. And if a potential date has beautiful hands, I’ll really like that (yes, I’m an artist; the stereotype that artists pay attention to people’s hands is true about me).
If I asked out some person and they refused with the explanation “you are not my type,” then that would be understandable. Nobody owes sex to anybody else, and people are free to choose whom they want to date. If a person was filling out their profile in a dating website and wrote information about their likes and dislikes, then that would be reasonable.
What is less reasonable are people who feel an irresistible urge to loudly proclaim “I wouldn’t date a person with characteristic X” out of context in situations where this information is utterly irrelevant.
One of my blogging colleagues recently wrote a blog post about the history of splitting out the “T” in “LGBT” and made the argument that people should strive to remain united in our opposition to various forms of bigotry. Then, in the comment section, somebody had to type a comment starting with words:
I’m a dyke, which means that by definition I am not interested in dating people with penises. Sorry, but that’s a deal breaker.
Statements like these make me roll my eyes and wonder what’s wrong with some people. The only answer I can give would be, “So what? Why should I care about your personal dating preferences? This is not a dating website.”
The person who typed this comment (“kathleenzielinski”) probably has a long list of various traits that would be deal breakers when it comes to whom she’d be willing to date. After all, very few people are willing to date anybody who has human DNA and a pulse. Yet she chose not to list all other criteria that are relevant for her when selecting potential sex partners but she felt compelled to inform random strangers on the Internet about the fact that she wouldn’t date a trans woman. Why?
Here’s a story. When I was in my teens, some boys from my school felt compelled to inform me about the fact that they wouldn’t want to fuck me. Apparently, they believed that they were oh so important and amazing and my value as a person depended upon whether they wanted to fuck me. Presumably they expected to hurt me and make me feel worthless by informing me that I am not fuckable due to having pimples on my face, too small boobs, and not sufficiently girly behavior. Meanwhile, I could only roll my eyes and wonder what was wrong with these immature kids. To begin with, our dislike for each other was mutual and I had zero interest in dating them, for a number of reasons, including rudeness.
This is a painfully common form of misogyny. In past, sexist people believed that a woman’s value depended upon how many suitors willing to marry her she managed to get. Nowadays, according to some people, a woman’s value depends upon how many men find her sufficiently sexy to qualify as fuckable.
If some woman has too much body fat, is too muscular, with too small breasts, too masculine, no longer a virgin, trans, etc., then some people will try to insult her by stating, “I wouldn’t date/fuck her.” Either that or people will tell her phrases like, “You should lose some weight, and then I’ll date you.”
Of course, in some circles men can also face similar demeaning and discriminatory attitudes suggesting that a man’s worth depends upon how many women he has managed to get into his bed.
Among people who use the phrase “I wouldn’t date people with characteristic X” as an insult there appears to be a curious characteristic—they seem utterly oblivious about how (un)attractive they are in other people’s eyes. For example, transphobes seem to believe that they are oh so sexy and trans people are desperate to have sex with them. Meanwhile, most trans people would be unwilling to date a transphobe.
People cannot consciously control what we perceive as sexually attractive. Some aspects of what we like appear to be influenced by genes. Life experiences contribute as well. Maybe somebody’s first true love was a man with a shaved head and a beard and afterwards this person perceives shaved heads and beards as extremely sexy for the rest of their life. (In my case, my first boyfriend influenced what kind of voices I perceive as sexy.)
And then there’s the culture we live in. Thanks to fashion magazines, movies, etc. media, we are bombarded with toxic messages about which bodies are beautiful or ugly, desirable or not desirable. We see these images telling us what ought to be considered conventionally attractive and desirable every day from a very young age, and these messages often influence and form our tastes.
What people perceive as sexy is at least partially beyond their conscious control, thus all that’s left for us is to seek dates who have whatever characteristics we like. And if somebody has a strong genital preference, whatever, they are welcome to date whatever people they perceive as attractive.
While we cannot control whom we perceive as sexy, we can control how we act. And being a rude jerk is a conscious choice. I don’t think it is a good idea for a person to loudly proclaim, “I would not date a fat / flat-chested / very muscular / black / Jewish / trans / old / non-virgin / careerist / disabled / amputee / scarred etc. woman.” That’s just plain nasty. It’s even worse when people come up with statements like, “No [insert characteristic] person would want to date an [insert characteristic] person.” For example, “No real straight man would want to date a flat-chested, muscular, careerist woman.” Alternatively, “No lesbian would want to date a trans woman with a penis.” We don’t need to promote prejudices about how people should look or whom they should perceive as attractive.
Labeling some people as undesirable and non-fuckable harms everybody. People who happen to have whichever characteristic that was classified as undesirable are encouraged to feel negatively about themselves. Meanwhile, people who happen to perceive those supposedly “undesirable” people as sexy anyway are stigmatized for having weird tastes. For example, when some straight men and lesbians perceive trans women as attractive, some bigots will start to question their sexuality. And that’s just bigotry, it’s perfectly normal for a person who is sexually attracted to women to also like trans women. Given how rare naturist resorts are, we don’t even get to see the genitals of most people whom we perceive as sexually attractive.
As a teen, I just accepted the fact that I must be non-dateable. Adults kept telling me that I won’t find a husband unless I loose weight, learn to cook, start dressing as a woman, use make-up, start acting in a more submissive and humble manner, etc. I wasn’t interested in getting married at 15 anyway, so I mostly just shrugged and decided that I’ll worry about all this crap later in life after finishing school.
Simultaneously, I was also encouraged to suppress and deny part of my sexuality. I was told that I must like only masculine boys and men. I had nothing against masculine men, so at first I sort of accepted this narrative. Only later in life, after more careful self-examination, I realized that I also like effeminate men. And trans men. And androgynous people. And women too.
To my relief, I also found out that I had no problem getting laid despite all my various traits that were labelled as “undesirable” by conservative bigots. Disaster averted!
By the time I was 23, I realized that I am trans. “Trans” being the umbrella term and “agender” being the more exact term to describe my gender identity (or lack thereof). But in terms of gender expression, I am much more comfortable with presenting myself as more masculine. Once again, I got a bit worried. This time I wondered whether people will want to date a masculine-leaning trans person who flattens his chest, dresses as a man, and has a pussy. Again, it turned out that some people were fine with who I was. Since I had no interest in setting a Guinness World Record for the greatest amount of sex partners a person has had in their life, I was perfectly happy with that. Once again, disaster averted.
Ultimately, it is not bad to have personal preferences. It is reasonable to seek partners who happen to have whatever characteristics you like. When a person’s preferences happen to roughly align with societal prejudices and oppressive narratives, it might be beneficial to at least try to examine the origins of said preferences. A lack of interest in some group of people who have been labelled as undesirable by society might stem from some prejudice. How people talk about their preferences also matters. Privately refusing an invitation to a date with words “you are not my type” is one thing. Loudly proclaiming in public places out of context that, “I would never date a person from subgroup X, because some aspect of their bodies (be it skin pigmentation, genitals, body fat, etc.) is disgusting” is an entirely different matter.
I’m in a facebook group named “terfs are the incels of feminism”. It mocks and points out their hypocrisy in social media posts or news articles. TERFs and other bigots actively try to join.
I avoid criticizing or commenting on the appearance of anyone, including those in question. But nothing gets under a TERF’s skin (and leaves no grounds for a comeback) as much as saying,
“No wonder you’re lonely and an incel, with your personality.”
Exactly. There is so much more to being ‘member of X gender’ than what genitals one has, and attraction is based on those traits that are accessible to the senses.
Also, even though until a certain timepoint all the people someone was ever attracted to shared traits A, B, and C, does not mean that the next person they find attractive will definitely share all those traits. People are more than sums of traits anyway.
Well said. I had very similar thoughts going through my head whilst reading that comment section. I think it is totally OK to have preferences, but it is not OK to spout them loudly in a public arena unprompted and without contextual relevance.
Thanks for this post.
I’ve also noticed that when someone categorically states they aren’t interested in sleeping with subset X of people rarely stop talking there. For example, transphobes who say “I’m not attracted to trans women” will almost always go on to say something like “because I’m only attracted to REAL women,” thereby accusing trans women of being “fake.” Then, when called out for the transphobia in the second half of their statement, they will lie and say “the trans agenda is saying I’m transphobic because I’m not attracted to trans women!”
Brony, Social Justice Cenobite says
My view of the behavior has been evolving.
I now see it as a negative example of a performative need to socially display one’s dislikes. The instinct is connected to irrational things and in transphobia confuses bad behavior with anatomy.
I also see a political bias in associating “performative” with “illigitimate” that complicates things like how “virtue signalling” often comes with the implication that the person does not mean it and it’s a general behavior that can be done dishonestly.
Andreas Avester says
There’s some discussion about discrimination of trans people. In the comment section, somebody will type, “I would not date a trans woman, because penises are icky and, as a lesbian, by definition, I am only interested in dating real women.”
(1) The fact that you don’t perceive some people as sexually attractive does not mean that they should be discriminated by the society in any way for example by denying access to public spaces.
(2) A deeply problematic attempt to tell other lesbians to whom they are allowed or forbidden to be sexually attracted.
(3) The fact that you personally aren’t sexually attracted to certain people does not mean that nobody should be attracted to them or that they are somehow inherently undesirable.
(4) Publicly stating that some bodies or body parts are disgusting and that some people are overall undesirable contributes to promoting bigotry and prejudices.
(5) There’s an attempt to state that trans women are not real women.
The fact that some person happens to prefer sex partners with specifically shaped genitalia is the only thing that’s actually not problematic about statements like these.
But no, when transphobes get criticized for saying such crap, they will whine that, “I got unfairly labeled as a bigot just because I don’t perceive penises as sexually attractive. Moreover, trans women want to rape me by forcing me to have sex with them against my will.”
Anton Mates says
The one caveat I’d make here is that, for a queer person in a heteronormative society, this information sometimes is relevant in public situations. As long as, e.g., lesbians are being explicitly pressured to date men, there’s value in their being able to publicly push back by declaring, “nope, don’t want to, never will and you can’t make me.” Of course, no comparable pressure exists for lesbians–or anybody else–to date trans people. The dominant discourse already asserts that trans people are unnatural, unlovable and deceptive; it helps no one to “bravely” agree with that.