Attraction, Objectification and Sexual Culture
This post has been guest posted at Harlot’s Parlour
Chasers. Admirers. Fetishists.
Words that often create a very emotional response from trans folk and many other groups for whom such things apply to. If you’re not in the know (and you probably aren’t, considering my audience) there’s a bit of explaining to do here. Let’s start with attraction.
Attraction (physical or conceptual) is, quite simply, a tendency towards sexual arousal or interest towards a given set of physical traits or a given set of conceptual traits. This tendency is almost always inherent to the individual, sometimes functions in a fluid fashion (but not always) and often results in physical and psychological effects when triggered by being in the presence of, in contact with, or in the position to notice an individual with these traits. This may not occur if traits that would constitute a “turn off” are present on the other person (something that either causes revulsion or simply reduces any sexual interest without causing revulsion). And only if the individual in question has turn offs. Not all people do.
Yes, I know, it sounds a little bit cold and science-y. But that really is the best way to describe it. All it is happens to be what sparks sexual interest. It can be parts of a body or it can be concepts orientated around a person. Your attraction triggers could include someone’s conceptual existence as a goth, or round perky breasts. You could be interested in folk who sing beautifully or in feet. There are certain accepted zones of attraction. These are called orientations and tend to be erasing to other attractions (fetishphobia/kinkphobia) and largely cissexist and binarist in their organization conceptually (as I’ve pointed out in this post). Then there are mostly ignored conceptual attractions (like being attracted to goths) that are pushed into personal taste, despite being as personal, as inherent and as major a part of one’s attraction as orientation. And then there are the attractions that are not accepted (but in varying degrees) and those are fetishes (and in the worst cases, paraphilias). Now, attractions are not wrong. In fact they are never wrong. They are simply a naturalistic part of many human minds, present in all but those who are asexual (no attraction type, not asexuals with no sex drive, they may still have attractions). There are some attractions that are a serious problem for the individual, for instance, pedophiles have an attraction that will invariably lead to rape if they act on it (due to children not being able to consent) but even in those cases, the attraction isn’t the bad thing, the actions are. And there are some attractions wherein the concepts are dangerous for the attracted party, like certain fetishes wherein one is eaten by another. Cannibalism basically. Engaging in sex based on that attraction could get one killed. Rape/surrender of control fantasies are risky because if you’re with someone who doesn’t care if you need to stop, you will likely actually get raped. Most dangerous attractions can be circumvented with simulation, which doesn’t actually invoke the dangerous or problematic aspect, just fools one’s arousal with simulations and faking of the triggers. So even in those cases, the attractions aren’t a problem, provide an adequate simulation and outlet can be found.
So attraction itself is simple and not really subject to ethical quandary.
This includes attractions to marginalized folks. Yes, there are attractions to marginalized folks. Every body type, likely even every concept can be an attraction trigger. In my case, there are folk out there that find the mixture of certain bodily traits on me very attractive. I have a penis, breasts, a curvy body, a minimum of body hair and no vagina. Some individuals find me attractive. Some of those individuals who do, refer to themselves as chasers/admirers/fetishists.
And here’s where things get sticky (that was not a sex joke, fuck off). You see, the attraction itself is not the issue. It never is. What is the issue are the things that surround the attraction, the attracted person and the person who is attractive to them. These things are referred to here as a Sexual Culture. Sexual Cultures are a combination of cultural elements, social trainings and ideologies that orientate themselves around sex, usually in a given context. A puritanical sexual culture is one wherein all forms of sex are evil except for one and only done in certain situations. BDSM sexual culture is one wherein the policies of the ethical system of RACK (risk aware consensual kink) rule every interaction and any that are not ruled by RACK are labeled abuse and struck down. Sexual Cultures are where stereotypes about sex, dating rules, sex rules, sexual conduct guidelines, sexual philosophies and the way that people are treated comes from when it comes to sex.
This exists everywhere. Rape culture theory in feminism? It’s a description of the Sexual Culture of straight cis men. This sexual culture is one that takes the wholly harmless attraction to women (usually cis in that context, cuz feminism fails at accounting trans stuff, even though rape culture affects trans women worse usually) and piles on objectification, bodily ownership, bodies constructed as worth less, sexual violence and a host of other awfulness. The attraction to women is not the problem, the problem is the Sexual Culture around it.
So too does this apply to chasers and attraction to trans women (and the lesbian community’s fetish for trans men and possibly even FAAB nonbinaries). I can’t speak too much on fetishes for nonbinaries in general as I’m not familiar with most of what they deal with. Same with trans guys (luckily others have gone in depth on the topic like on this link). So I will be discussing the Sexual Culture of Chasers/Admirers and folks who are attracted to us but don’t id as chasers/admirers. I may also make some references to the Sexual Culture of Devotees (or individuals who are attracted to people with disabilities that do not id as devos) due to my own disabilities. If you want more in depth material on this topic in relation to disability you should read the FWD post by meloukhia on it. Another source on devotees and the PWD community can be found here However, the concepts are more or less the same for these two groups (and presumably, this may even be able to be extended to fetishes for POC and fat individuals, but as I possess white privilege and thin privilege I am not in a position to say much on those two topics.) so you can safely extend what I’m discussing here to the Devotee Sexual Culture as well.
One of the things you’ll notice in the posts above is a laundry list of awful, objectifying shit done to PWD by some of these folks (picture stealing, pushing for sexual stuff before trying to get to know the person, etc). A similar laundry list exists for many Chasers. The oppositional assumption on our parts goes a bit off the wall however as most will assume that simply possessing the attraction in question is enough to make someone a creepy objectifying asshole (something the second post linked goes into). This is a flawed assumption, due to the fact that attractions aren’t what causes objectification, Sexual Culture is. Much like how some radical feminists will assume that any cis man attracted to cis women (once again erasing trans folk, yay unradical feminism) will invariably objectify her by the mere fact that she is marginalized and he is privileged. The power dynamic is certainly a problem and not being mindful of it can create serious problems for partnerships wherein one or more individuals are privileged and one or more of the other individuals are marginalized on the same axis. But this doesn’t necessarily mean one will objectify the other(s). Much like with straight cis men vs. women (cis or trans, of any attraction type), devotees and chasers only can become objectifiers if the Sexual Culture they are steeped in is an objectifying culture and they allow themselves to be influenced by it.
And this is not assured.
Now that we have the reflexive assumptions handled let’s talk about how objectification finds it’s way into these groups (and yes it is out there) The Sexual Culture of a group that is attracted to a marginalized group is often subject to the same dehumanizing elements of the primary culture it exists in that causes the marginalization of the group in question. Cis men have cis male privilege and participate in the culture that marginalizes all women (and does so even worse to trans women). Their sexual culture has been influenced by this primary culture, adopting the dehumanization, worth loss, public ownership, removal of agency and exploitation that all women face (trans or cis, although trans gets nailed harder due to the intersection of womanhood and transness). So too does this apply to the sexual cultures of Devotees and Chasers/Admirers alike. PWD and trans folk are subjected to dehumanization, worth loss, public ownership, exploitation, removal of agency, construction as having wrong bodies and construction as being irrelevant just through the standard function of the primary society that these groups all operate in. These forces exert an influence (sometimes a very strong one) on the Sexual Culture. In turn, the influenced Sexual Culture can take on these aspects, which are made intensely worse by the fact that the Sexual Culture is orientated around sex (wherein loss of agency, dehumanization and etc creates a Rape Culture because these things translate to ridiculously harmful sexual involvements when sex is thrown in). So bam, just like with het cis guys and women, these cultures spill over folks attracted to PWD and folks attracted to trans women. Which means that these folk (just like het cis guys) have an uphill battle to fight against a culture that tries to drown them in the idea that we’re all just sexual objects.
This is not helped by the number of devotees and chasers (I don’t have exact numbers, so I can’t say if it is a minority or a majority. Most likely, somewhere in the middle) that give into this social training (or absorb it unawares) and become creepy stalker fuckjobs or exploitative assholes. These folks not only marginalize the hell out of us, engaging in exploitative, boundary ignoring behavior that at best is stalkeresque and creepy and at worst involves rape and violence, they also create a very strong fear of anyone having the attraction in our group (as per the assumptions made above). Because let’s face it, many of the creepy asshole types in these fetish groups will try to abuse sex positive views and twist the situation into a question of attraction, while trying to push the eyes off of their just utterly awful behavior. This fucks things up fairly badly for the folks who aren’t creepy at all and still id as the group in question. And this is an issue in and of itself. Individuals attracted to PWD and individuals attracted to trans women are often regarded as sick, fucked up or wrong somehow. Which isn’t good for them and it’s pretty damn bad for us too. It constructs our bodies and us as undesirable (both PWD and trans folk face this) and anyone that does is broken somehow. The creepy fuckjobs who infest these groups and thrive due to the problematic Sexual Culture of the group further enforce this idea of an attraction to my body as being broken (which further stigmatizes my body, just a giant clusterfuck everywhere) because they act so awful that we start practicing oppositionalism just to protect ourselves.
You really do get into a habit of flipping out when you hear the word chaser or admirer. That protective shell builds when someone gets the “omg that’s hot” look in their eyes when they find out you’re trans. That protective shell is even thicker if you’ve been stalked, had pictures stolen, or even was exploited, abused or raped by a possible chaser type (as I was). And this has an effect, just like in the linked comment, the solution Goldfish offered to the friend in question was to not identify as a devotee. Because the name itself, the identity associated with the attraction is in and of itself stigmatized now because of this oppositionalism and because of the creepy fucks who claim the title. Same with chasers. I mean, let’s face facts. If someone came up to me and said, “hey, I know you’re trans and I find that really attractive, I’m an Admirer” my alarms would go off and my walls would go up really quick, unless I knew the person well and knew they weren’t one to objectify me. But the solution really isn’t for them to find a new name. Identity is a tough thing to drop and really the identity isn’t the problem. The problem is that they are steeped in this very bad culture that creates some very bad apples and those apples subsequently go out and make our lives a living hell. Oppositionalism doesn’t really solve this, it also doesn’t really protect us. The really creepy fucks will just pretend not to be chasers at all if they really want to manipulate us. Putting guards everywhere to keep out folks with a given id will not fix that.
So what do we, as marginalized people, do? What should they, as those who are attracted to us, do?
Well for one, it isn’t our responsibility to fix the people who hurt us and subsequently clear the names of the people who don’t hurt us but are associated with those people who do. In fact, our only responsibility is to be mindful of the actual risks and dangers and to avoid stigmatizing ourselves to ourselves. So we need to learn to carefully separate attraction from objectification so that we’re no longer asserting that finding our bodies attractive is some awful horrible thing. That’s the only thing left to do. We aren’t obligated to trust folk as, after all, none of you wear signs. So handling the conceptual end of it and preventing our bodies being further construed as wrong, broken or bad is where our work ends.
The majority of the work falls to those who are in these communities, who id this way, to clean up their own houses. What does this mean? Ethical Devotees and Ethical Admirers, the folks who just have an attraction and are decent folk, who don’t objectify and love the person not just the body or concept, have the job of cleaning up their respective communities. This entails many of the same things that cis heterosexual men have to do to avoid objectifying and hurting women (cis or trans) in general. I’ll give it to you all in a list:
So to ethically minded Devotees, Admirers, Chasers and other fetishists, this is what you need to do to clean house and clear the names of your communities, while clearing the harmful objectifiers from your ranks and avoiding becoming one yourself:
1: Be Mindful of Privilege: There is a very unequal power dynamic in any relationship you have with the folk you’re attracted to. Work to compensate for it. Work to comprehend what advantages you have and avoid invoking them. Make sure that this mindfulness is an expected trait in your community. Understand that as a cissexual and/or cisgendered and/or currently abled person you may be regarded as a danger to us because we can’t determine who’s who among folk. So be cautious and be respectful.
2: Fight The Culture: Boycott the websites that steal pictures of folks with disabilities or take unwanted pictures of trans folk and display them. Speak out against objectifying behavior and stress the importance of safety, consensual involvement, love, empathy, safe words and the dangers of privilege. Call out problematic statements and actions by your devotee or chaser peers. If you know a friend in your community who goes into support group chats or goes to activist and support conventions to troll for a quick fuck, call him, her or hir out. Make sure the community knows of that person’s bad actions and make sure that such a thing is not condoned.
3: Don’t Expect Cookies: Face it, it’ll be years before many of us will feel safe with fetishists. Many of us never will. In fact, some of us will likely always just be creeped out by your attractions (cuz of personal taste). And that’s even if you make huge strides in changing your Sexual Culture overnight. Chances are, there will still be static from folk on you for your attractions and ID, because this fear and disgust at the objectifiers has been building for a very long time. Not everyone is gonna wanna be your friend. Don’t push it. We do have a right to protect ourselves and since we can’t know who is trustworthy, if someone is creeped out by you or wants space, give them space. The more you push your way in with folks who already have reason to worry about your peers, the more you’ll end up coming across as one of the creepy ones and hurting your cause.
4: Be Mindful of Context: Having the hots for someone can sometimes make folks act stupid. I fall over myself when a cute girl is nearby, usually blushing and making words not function quite so well in my mouth. Folks who are used to being pursuers can sometimes come on too strongly and not think when they meet someone who really sparks them. Be mindful of where you are, who you’re talking to and other factors. You might be at a kink rally, lots of fetish minded people together, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to have the same fetish as you. Assuming that a PWD or a trans woman at a table is going to be cool with you trying to go into scene with them or even swooping right in to ask them out is a bad call. It really comes down to the same sort of thing as regular dating. Get to know the person before you go for the sex. Unless you’re in a context where it’s basically an orgy party or something, and even then, considering the assholes who are your peers, you might still want to ask permission first.
5: Stop Bad Shit From Going Down: If you see someone creeping us out, acting fucked up or exploiting one of us, don’t let it continue. Step in and say, “hey, look, she doesn’t want to talk to you, back off” or “stop trying to touch him”. Or if you’re less confrontational take the offending individual aside and speak to them in private about their lack of tact and their creepy bullshit. Oftentimes apologizing on behalf of your peers goes a long way to reminding us that hey, there are ethical devotees and chasers out there, that aren’t giant douchebags. They’re also helpful to us cuz well, life is stressful for marginalized folk.
6: Be Mindful Of Our Feelings: Don’t say things like, “I love your people”, or “your kind is so hot to me”. That’s creepy, othering, privileged and just fucked up. We aren’t sex dolls. We aren’t walking porn. Treat us like people. And if you already do, make sure your peers do too. If we look uncomfortable, back off (or get your friend to back off). Don’t expect sex and don’t let your peers expect it either. A big portion of rape culture is entitlement and a lack of empathy. If you care about our feelings more than how much you want us in bed (or even just want to date us) you will be golden in avoiding going down the bad path. If we find your attractions creepy, don’t make a damn argument about it. It’s no different that being a little freaked out by bloodplay or scat (ew scat), different folk have different tastes and certain things just squick certain people. If you stick around and try to push us, you’re just adding to the problem. If one of us says, “get the fuck away from me”, go, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Bye.” and walk. Any other option will likely just add to the problem, stress us the fuck out (which we do not need as marginalized people) and make you look like a creepy doucheface.
7: Don’t Blame The Victims For Not Trusting Your Kind: Always remember too, it’s your peers who ruined this for you, not us. Cis het guys don’t have call to yell at girls who don’t trust them for being untrusting. The massive number of rapes done by guys, the abuse, the exploitation and the unwanted objectification done by het cis guys is why this is going on. Same for us. We’ve gotten stalked, our privacy has been invaded, some of us have been abused and even raped by people who have your same attractions and claim your same title. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t like them because there’s no way for us to know what you’re like at first or even second impressions (like mentioned on this post). So instead of pissing and moaning at us because we’re rightfully very scared, worried and apprehensive, handle your people, fix your group, clean house. Don’t expect us to endanger ourselves cuz you’re nice. That means you aren’t so nice after all.
8: Avoid And Stop Entitlement: In the end we’re people. We have agency, will and we make our own choices. We have our own wants, needs or desires. Those needs and desires may not include you. Get over this. And for those that are already good there, make sure your friends get over it too. Us being rare or unusual does not entitle anyone to sex with us, pictures of us or anything else. It does not entitle folks to stalk us or try to learn our address, real name, etc. It does not entitle folks to catcall or to walk up to us and say sexual things without even knowing our names. Don’t walk around as if you own us and if you don’t, make sure none of your peers do this too.
And that’s just the main ones. The fact is, folk being attracted to my body is a good thing overall. The disgust I see on the faces of lesbians and the hate from straight cis guys isn’t ever pleasant and I rarely feel sexually appealing or even nice looking. Someone finding my body type attractive is good and it’s a huge fucking shame that a whole mess of objectifying, creepy douchenozzles have to ruin that. Now, if you find it creepy that someone finds your body attractive, that’s fine too. I know for a lot of folks, they don’t want to have a mixture of traits or they’re working to treat whatever is causing their disability. That’s fine, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of us are not changing anything (non-ops, PWD who are happy as is, etc) and would like to be loved. I’m not ever gonna look at you and say, “oh god, you’re attracted to trans folk/PWD? You’re fucking disgusting.” There are certain fetishes that I find a little offputting (if you find my IBS sexy, that would be offputting because it involves poop and ew poop) but your attraction is not bad. What is bad is your peers (or you, if you’re not so ethical) acting creepy, not respecting us as people and doing exploitative, abusive or objectifying things without our agency, will and choice being honored. That is the problem. And it’s up to you to fight it.
Clean house. Clear your name by stopping the awfulness. And then maybe we can all enjoy the benefits of living in a world where everyone’s body has someone that can get that spark from it.
Filed under: activism | 34 Comments
Tags: ableism, cissexism, fetish, identity, kyriarchy, marginalization, objectification, orientation, PWD, rape culture, sexual culture, sexuality, transgender