Just last week a friend went on a date with another guy whom he met online. He had been excited for it as he said that they shared a lot in common and there was a definite physical attraction. However, when they met and talked for the first time the date “opened his mouth and purse fell out”. That was the end for him (he didn’t leave or be rude, but just had decided that was terminus of pursuing anything more).
The typical reaction to this is “if I wanted to date a woman, I’d be straight instead”. This isn’t uncommon in the gay male community either where “straight-acting” is listed as a desired quality. I can say I personally have been guilty of this too. I consider myself to be a 6 on the outdated Kinsey scale as I’ve never been attracted to a woman at all. My husband can’t really be clocked as a homosexual and I actually prefer that. Part of it, for me at least, is some level of internalized homophobia. I’ve travelled around the world to some not-so-gay-friendly places and have felt more secure that people wouldn’t automatically assume that we are gay. (Inversely, I find having to repeatedly “come out of the closet” to new people we meet a bit annoying too.)
This stance leads us down uncomfortable roads however. Is it sexist to be only attracted to masculine people? (Which also can be brought around to other lines of questioning like can preferences for a mate be racist/ sexist/ ageist etc?) Is it homo- or hetero- phobic to only be attracted to someone of a certain sex or gender?
What’s even more interesting is that women, and especially lesbians, can wear men’s clothing without much hassle or labels. If a man were to wear woman’s clothing, he’s then a transvestite (or transgendered/transsexual).
Part of it is just preconceived notions, expectations, and boxes we expect people to be in. I catch myself doing it all of the time and I try to analyze where these thought patterns come from. For example, yesterday I was perusing the subreddit “public freakouts” which is just a catalog of humanity circling the drain. In one of the videos, a man and a woman are in a fight. The man pushes the woman and the woman slaps the man. The woman is yelling at the other fight going on “leave my boyfriend alone”. No one was really concerned when the woman slaps the man, but when he pushes her into a van, it causes distress. Not just for the cameraman but for me too. My mind goes on a mental tangent wondering about the woman whose boyfriend is not winning his fight and how she can still “respect” him later.
Those are some of the expectations based on the gender of the participants I had in a short video. A man should not hit a woman even if she is hitting him. A woman should want a man who can protect her. It’s sexist and wrong (well, so is assault and battery) and I like to think of myself as liberal and progressive but I have to re-analyze situations like this and try to understand my thinking.
A big part of it, I think, is we like things to be binary and have issues when they are not. We expect a person to be straight or gay, man or woman, democrat or republican and want to be able to spend less time categorizing than thinking. If PART A=X then we can assume Y and Z. Our brains don’t seem to like it when PART A=X and L and F follow.