I’m a gender-queer drag queen and I’m only attracted to ‘straight acting men’. Obviously, I’m long-term single.
You won’t see this preference displayed on my Grindr profile, because on a conscious level I’m quite nice. I’ve read the first few pages of Gender Trouble like three times and I understand how dating preferences can perpetuate the oppressive gender-norms that have often isolated me. I’m marginalizing queer people by refusing to have sex with them; as a queer person, that’s troubling because I neither want to marginalize myself nor absolutely to rule out the possibility of having sex with myself. These are complicated issues.
It’s just that my subconscious hasn’t reached this Millennial aporia. My subconscious is still at home in 2005, sweatily pausing Brokeback Mountain and presuming that gay relationships should always be depicted by straight actors and obviously end in death.
I’ve tried to educate my subconscious. I mean, I’ve really tried. I’ve had long-term relationships on an entirely conscious level, with lovely queer people, waiting every day for my subconscious prejudice and cognitive dissonance to melt away and my erection to do the reverse. But no dice. So I’m writing this article.
The idea of internalized gender-normativity is less discussed than its sibling, internalized homophobia, but it has certainly been highlighted in queer communities recently. The thing is, with all prejudices, we tend to talk more about the damage they do than about how to overcome them. Fortunately, around 100 percent of TV drama is crime fiction, so I have an expert grasp of pop psychology: Thus I know that to expunge a prejudice, you’ve got to find from where that prejudice arose.
So what is the source of gender-normative romantic desire? I’ll depart from TV for a minute, obviously still bearing ‘daddy issues’ in mind, and turn to look at a theory from actual psychology. The theory is that your gender-identity determines the gender-role you want to play in your relationships, and that that in turn determines the gender-presentation of the people you’re romantically interested in. My gender-identity is feminine, so I want to play a feminine role in my relationship so I look for people who’ll play the masculine role; consequently, I look for masculine men.
It’s simple enough, but how can this theory account for anomalies: For cases where a person’s gender-identity doesn’t seem to determine the gender-role they want to play or the gender-presentations of the partners they choose? I know a number of bread winners who are more feminine than their husbands and more than one house-husband who’s more masculine than his wife. Some of my most feminine cis female friends are what I can only describe as ‘tops’ and I’ve known some undeniably masculine lads who like the girl to take charge.
These examples are people whose gender identities haven’t determined the role they want to play in their relationship. I bet you can think of others. Are these people working against their gender identity? Maybe. Perhaps they want something particular from their relationship that’s more important than their gender identity and for which they’re willing to dispense with their natural gender roles. Novelty, perhaps, or excitement? It’s possible. Relationships can serve a lot of different purposes.
But I doubt that this is their experience (I was going to ask them but then Focus Features re-released Brokeback Mountain and everything kind of got side-tracked). I’m pretty sure these people would say that, rather than being an obstacle to be overcome in pursuit of some greater good, their gender identity just wasn’t a big factor in their relationships.
Something clicked when I read an article by the writer and photographer Meredith Talusan. It was headlined, After My Transition I Stopped Liking Men From Gay Porn Fantasies and in it Talusan told the story of a blind date she went on. The guy who showed up, she realised half way through dinner, was exactly the ‘straight acting man’ she’d dreamed of before transitioning, and now that she had transitioned she just wasn’t interested. It immediately reminded me of something a friend of mine said when he first transitioned: That for the first time, now that he was being read as a man, he quite liked the idea of sleeping with men.
It seemed to me that once Talusan had embraced her femininity she stopped needing her partners to serve as a counterpoint to that femininity. In the same vein, once my friend had embraced his masculinity he no longer felt that sleeping with men could threaten it. Both cases suggest that when your gender-identity makes sense in your life, you don’t need to express it in your relationships. I’ve since spoken to both people and they’ve endorsed my reading of their experience, triple-filtered as it is through my own self-therapizing.
I like how this idea divorces gender-roles from gender-identity. Gender-identity can determine gender-role but only in relationships where one or more partner is using the relationship to express their gender-identity. When neither partner feels the need to do this, you can pair the most masculine person with the most feminine person and still you’ll have no reason to suppose that one will play ‘the man’ and the other ‘the woman’.
Gender-identity is just like ambition or anxiety; another piece of baggage that can dominate your relationship if you repress it in your life. When someone has something to express, a gender for example, and when societal pressures silence that expression, its likely to come out in the safest, most intimate space they know, often their relationship. That’s not the worst thing in the world when you’ve got a loving, supportive relationship that facilitates your gender-expression without being dominated by it. But it can be pretty damaging.
Firstly, it can ruin your relationship. Several studies conducted by UCLA Professor of Psychology Anne Peplau have linked strong gender roles to low levels of satisfaction in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. If you’re using your relationship to express yourself then its likely to last as long as the tricolor emo fringe that expressed how I felt about System of a Down when I was fifteen.
Secondly, if you’re single (which you will be before long if your relationship is an attempt to assert your gender) then you’re likely to remain single. If you’re looking for a partner that is a counterpoint to your gender identity; you’re massively reducing the number of fish in the sea. It’s as limiting and as arbitrary as star sign dating.
So what to do if you’re a perpetually single gender-queer drag queen looking for a ‘straight-acting-man’? Well, obviously you won’t find him. And your problem, it appears, is that you’re limiting your gender-identity in your everyday life, causing it to bubble up to the surface in your romantic life. All you have to do is stop limiting your gender-expression and you’ll be able to fall for a nice feminine person.
Obviously this method assumes you’re the one controlling the limits of your gender-expression. If expressing your gender involves people recognising your gender then we may need a plan B. Folks on the street are going to see your gender like they see modern art (interesting, maybe an example of true traditional gender, certainly an interesting comment on gender, rewards a long look–kids should do more of it in school). And obviously this method doesn’t work if the feminine person you fall for wants a ‘straight-acting-man’.
About that plan B… Maybe if you write articles about the issue it will go away? That’s how articles work, right? Well I’ve reached the last paragraph so I just used Tinder profiles as test subjects and my preferences seem to be basically unchanged. My conscious self was being so very open minded but my thumb was swiping like Mary Whitehouse. I’ll write a couple more articles and try again in a month.
Or you could always accept that you’re fundamentally outdated and put Brokeback Mountain on? The re-release has deleted scenes!