Attraction is a peculiar thing, especially once you start picking it apart.
CN: homomisia, transmisia, racism
If you grew up anything like me, you probably never thought much about attraction until you were already well-grown up (like, in your 20s). Many people have the “benefit” of being born cis and straight, and things just “naturally” fall into place.
There probably seems no need to question your orientation or sense of attraction if you do happen to fall the same way as the majority of the population. After all, everything is pretty much geared towards you. Hooray!
But, if you do start to question, or pick things apart, or even just expand your frame of reference (and if you do so with an open mind and not just by accident), it can cause a potentially irrevocable change to your perspective.
While that is likely a positive in the grand scheme, it might not feel like it depending on the community or environment you live in.
Sex and sexuality are still shamed in many places. You’re not even supposed to talk about “good ol fashioned penis in vagina missionary sex between married partners for the purposes of procreation”, because well that’s just not public conversation. The most basic and “accepted by the church” premises of sexual intercourse is still hush hush in many places. Kink is definitely still shamed in most places, and misunderstood in even more.
So many tropes and much violence is perpetrated in the name of homomisia (which means a hatred of homosexuality, by the way).
Anything that challenges the validity or virility of the warm blooded heterosexual cis man must be banned, abolished, and forgotten!
Before I continue, I need to point out for important context (just in case you don’t already know) that I am transgender and identify as a queer/bisexual femme. But for a long time I thought I was a cis straight man, and I experienced the world (and my sexuality/sense of attraction) through that lens. So I have “seen both sides” (not that there are only two sides to see, of course).
I first began to challenge and question my own attractions as a teen. I was raised loosely religious, and so started with that oh-so-helpful built in homomisia. Penises are bad! Better not even look at another man’s penis by accident!
I somehow had the presence of mind and seed of maturity one day to stop and think to myself “well, it may not be natural, and I may not like it, but it’s not really hurting me if other people do it with each other, I guess”.
That seems so laughably quaint to me now. As it should.
But it was a starting point, and that’s what everyone needs to get from where they are to where they ought to be. And I oughted to be at the very least a proper gay ally even if I (thought I was) straight.
The biggest breakthrough however came for me when I was attempting some early efforts at deconstructing my internalized racism, and trying to figure out why I had never been attracted to women of colour, particularly Afro-descended women.
In theory, if I was attracted to women, I should be able to be attracted to any woman!
Back then I was also still under the false idea that woman = breasts + vagina, so again, theoretically any human with breasts and a vagina should appeal to me…
I would learn much later that there is a proper term for this — “Gynephilia” — attraction specifically to breasts and vaginas — and it’s more of a fetish than a type of attraction. (And in case you’re wondering, “Androphilia” is sexual attraction to penises specifically.)
But despite that making logical sense, I was mostly not interested in women of colour. It was because of deeply internalized racism that I wasn’t yet fully aware of. I’m not looking for brownie points by admitting that, I just think it’s important to acknowledge and set a good example for others.
“you’re attracted to what you’re attracted to, it just is what it is, you can’t change it.” not exactly.
I’ve heard people say before “you’re attracted to what you’re attracted to, it just is what it is, you can’t change it”, and well, that’s just not entirely true.
I don’t mean that in the gay conversion therapy sense, but rather if you think you’ll only ever be attracted to one thing, you probably won’t, unless you specifically, intentionally try to. It falls in line with the “Growth Mindset” (vs the “Fixed Mindset”).
It took a long while but I eventually figured out something very important — aesthetic attraction (separate from gender or sex) is a thing and is very heavily influenced by the culture and media you absorb (Duh).
In case you are currently wondering “what does aesthetic attraction mean?” Basically, aesthetic means how something looks. You might prefer the aesthetics of a Picasso painting to those of a Pollock. You might prefer a pinstripe pattern to a paisley one.
The handy image above puts it perfectly: “you were brainwashed into thinking European features are the epitome of beauty”.
And I was.
Not just European “features”, also thinness, abled bodies, youth, etc. I’d been conditioned since birth to prefer certain external aspects of a person, as most of us are.
And through figuring this out, I made big steps forward in regards to both my homomisia, as well as my internalized racism, and more. I realized there was a set of aesthetics that I was most attracted to, and in effect I’d been trained to include “race” as one of them.
The aesthetics that I was most attracted to would generally be categorized as “more traditionally feminine”, ie softer features, long hair, petite/thin bodies. Of course, there is nothing inherently feminine about any of these things, that’s just what most people have been taught and have accepted is reality. Anyone could have these aesthetics. Regardless of race or gender.
It seems like such a simple thing but it was an irrevocable change that shifted me in the right direction and I could never go back.
And I can only hope by reading this that maybe I’ve planted the seed in your own mind (if it wasn’t there already).
Most people are used to thinking there’s only two types of attraction: romantic and sexual. But there are more. At least 6 different types: Aesthetic, Crushes, Romantic, Sensual, Sexual, and Squishes. Refer to the graphic below or click here.
Just to be clear, no one has to feel all or any of these types of attraction. You feel what you feel, and that’s OK and 100% valid.
I don’t have an exact timeline on all of this but more progress has been made inside my head more recently.
I started on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in May of 2018. When transitioning from a testosterone dominant hormone balance to an estrogen dominant one, it’s very common for one’s libido to take a nose dive. Conversely, going the other direction is sometimes known to lead to a sharp increase in libido, but it varies for everyone, in all cases.
It took probably about 3 months for the full effect to set in for me. Not that I was necessarily the horniest person ever before, but it has been enough of a change that has really given me new perspective.
It became very clear that for me, sexual attraction and desire had been overriding pretty much everything else pre-HRT. I’d had enough sexual encounters pre-HRT to know that I didn’t enjoy sex nearly as much without an emotional connection to the other person (aka demisexuality), so that suggested I must value the other types of intimacy/connection more than just getting my rocks off.
Getting on HRT and stripping away that Burning Lust (TM) really confirmed that theory with a bullet.
It’s also really fascinating because it’s not that I no longer experience sexual desire or don’t find people attractive, it’s just that now there’s much less desire to act on it. I considered myself a grey asexual before, and now I’ve just wedged myself even deeper into that.
It reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where the group has a bet to see who can go the longest without having sex, and George becomes like a super genius during the bet. Obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, but I definitely have felt much less distracted and better able to focus things that have nothing to do with trying to get laid.
At the same time, it has meant that my friendships have probably strengthened, as I’ve been less focused on trying to get into a sexual/romantic relationship and been getting more of my social/emotional needs fulfilled by the people already in my life. And I’m less bothered about being single.
I have actually been struggling more than ever with the idea of dating, because it was a drag before and now it’s like “well, if we don’t hit it off in that way, then it’s just another friend”.
But also, taking away the sexual focus from prioritizing who to interact/spend time with has definitely made it easier to focus on who a person is, and taking more actual interest in them beyond the surface.
It has also meant that my previously very strict attraction metrics have loosened up much more which has been a relief. It’s good but also frustrating because I did recognize a long time ago that my preferences were very limited, and I wished I could just snap my fingers and be attracted to anyone (aka pansexual) because it seemed like that would make things easier. I’ve made progress but it has taken years of hard internal work.
The Not So Pretty “Pretty” Predicament
Furthermore, it has become so much more obvious and clear to me how we treat “pretty” people differently.
Many deny this is true, but it most definitely is. Attractive people are more likely to get hired for jobs or get promotions, regardless of their actual experience, talent, or skill. Attractive people can get lesser penalties when they break rules. I’ve heard the inverse referred to as “The Ugly Tax”.
People will even hang onto a relationship that isn’t working for longer if there’s a sense that they’re losing a really attractive partner and “can’t find someone else equally or more attractive”. Attractiveness drives many things.
If you find someone very attractive, you want them to like you, and I recall a study that was done with young school children where they had a class with two teachers, one of them being much closer to ideals of beauty than the other, and the children perceived the “prettier” teacher as being nicer, despite both being instructed to act as neutrally as possible during the experiment.
So, given my more typical “before” experience, and now my current “after” experience, it’s almost in a way, as if I’ve gotten Attraction Lasik (TM) and am no longer wearing the rosy glasses I used to. Or more accurately: my “standards” have relaxed and I’m not as influenced by patriarchal ideals anymore. My sense of aesthetics does still fall more in line with those ideals than not, but it’s not as critical anymore.
And by the way, just because someone is much more aware of biases and impulses does not mean they don’t still have influence. I still have things to work out for sure, including remaining racism-rooted biases.