I recently went to a convention with a friend over a weekend. It was just a short time away, but it is only my second time away from my family. I always travel either with my son or my husband. Having a social circle and friends to go out with is a fairly new experience for me. But that’s a topic for another time.
Since I usually travel with family, I’m seen as a mom or a wife. Before that, I always hung out with my guy friends. The last convention I went to without my family, I ended up going out to the parties with two of the married men in our writing circle.
Though I like feeling and looking pretty, compliments bother me. Being presentable is part of our culture, its a necessity, and it makes me feel more confident to look good. But being complimented on my appearance bothers me. I want to be a peer. I want to be respected and valued as an individual. My physical attractiveness should not matter.
While I’m not at my physical best, I have had to deal with harassment more often than I am used to. In the particular ‘hood I live in now I’m a target of catcalls far more than I have ever dealt with in my life. For some reason as well, lately I’ve been told by quite a few people that I look much younger than I am. All of this has been something of a frustrating trend for me.
Back to the convention. I was there with a perky and attractive friend. She’s much more comfortable in her skin than I am, and I was able to enjoy listening to her interact with others.
While I have no complaints about the weekend, I did notice that on more than one occasion, it seemed to me, that we were dealt with or spoken to differently because we were a pair of younger looking women at a convention. Mind you, I’ve never been the sort to go out with girls, so I’ve very rarely dealt with this.
My nerves started up and I started thinking about how much easier it was to approach fellow writers and pros when I had gone out with the two men from our group at the last convention. I felt distinctly safer, less pressured, and less of a target.
I came to realize that what bothered me so much were two separate issues.
One was how I am perceived because of my gender, which I’ve covered. Plenty of feminists talk about how women are often disrespected and seen as less than. I’m not going to go into that too much more except for the fact that I don’t see myself as just being a woman. I never have.
I have always seen myself as an equal to my male peers. Sure, I knew I was shorter, not as strong, and a little more compassionate and definitely more motherly. I’ve always felt like I could just be one of the guys.
But the other part that I realized bothered me so much had to do with sexual attraction. I’ve come to realize that I associate sexual attraction with disrespect. So much to the point that watching other people pursue others makes me uncomfortable.
I also realized that if I think someone is physically attractive, I often assume they must be arrogant, full of themselves, or generally unpleasant. This realization, and how deeply rooted it is, really struck me. I began to realize that if I was not married and were to date, I would likely treat an attractive partner poorly.
I get crushes all the time on people, but only after being introduced to them and getting to know them on a personal level. The fact that I don’t take attractive people seriously is disturbing to me. I think it speaks volumes about our culture, how we are trained to think of others as objects of desire rather than individuals.
I perhaps, have just taken this to the extreme and separate physical attraction and intellectual/emotional attraction almost completely. I’ve assumed for so long that I’m not good enough to deserve the affection of a pretty person. If an attractive person pays attention to me, they must be using or manipulating me. So I internalized that idea to the point that I refuse to see anyone as attractive, and if I do, I distance myself unconsciously.
And vice versa, if anyone seems to be interested in me and express interest in my appearance or sexuality, I distance myself. So much of my experience has shown me that sexual interest or appreciation of my physical appearance means you don’t see me as a person, as someone with a mind, with thoughts, feelings, goals and aspirations. I’m a conquest.
Or, worse yet, if you don’t find me attractive, as a woman, I’m not even worth your time.
I want friends. I want colleagues, I want respect. I understand that most people don’t separate sexuality from their relationships the way I do. It’s part of their personality, it’s how they work, and the pursuit of such things is natural, healthy and comfortable for them.
For the first time in my life, I’m beginning to realize I’m perhaps a little more on the pansexual, gender fluid side. And I love that I live in a time when we are becoming more accepting of the fact that there is no gender binary.
That being said, I’m happily married. We’ve gone through a great deal together, we’ve learned and grown a great deal. These issues don’t come up often in my relationship, because they’re a non-issue.
But as I go out an attempt to meet people in pursuit of my writing career, I realize that sexuality, gender norms and expectations are still come up. I’m just more aware now of how it impacts my relationships.