The Sexual Appeal of Non-Gender-Conformity

This is a guest post by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch. Rebecca Katherine Hirsch is an acclaimed art model, cat-lover and solo psychoanalytic discussant amongst herself and no one else. In the past she was an NFT editor, UCB comedy person, NYU graduate, Freud apologist, Minnesotan and so much more, like that one time she was THIS CLOSE to being a Babeland sex educator. She is presently hard at work on her first novel to be completed in the summer of 2085, in honor of her centenary! She is a proud member of the gender-blending, sex-positive, self-determination-respecting Barbarism collective, found here. Barbarism also makes exciting experimental videos. She is a Scorpio.

Hello! Have I a disclosure for YOU (and you and you and you):

I am attracted to men who do not hew unbendingly to unrealistic–that is to say, “traditional”–templates for male behavior. I am similarly heartened by all gendered people who work to find the courage to map out their own internal and presented identities in the face of omnipotent, implicit and explicit gender stereotypes!

I love this picture.* And I would like to return to its significance momentarily.

But first! Masculinity as defined by our lovably open-minded, calmly acceptive, live-and-let-live culture is one of—oh wait, let me rephrase: Masculinity as defined by our anal-retentive patriarchy is one of EXTREME STOLIDITY and INTENSE NOTHINGNESS, big braggadocio and mind-numbing manipulativeness born of fear of emotions we demote to “women’s roles.” I do not appreciate these male stereotypes any more than I appreciate the female stereotypical mandates to be passive, sexy-not-sexual, stupid and performatory.

This is frustrating because I am attracted to men. Yet we’ve all have been taught so well to adhere to gender stereotypes. I’m constantly kicking myself for my shyness or my more socially-sanctioned sexual attitudes, only to then kick myself again for kicking myself in the first place because, after all, I’m doing my best! Now thoroughly bruised by my own kicking (what am I, some kind of archetypal female masochist?!), I must remind myself that we’ve all been manipulated by a corrupt patriarchal system. At least I’m trying to reclaim myself and unlearn the old lies. My shyness exists and my sexual attitudes are constantly in flux, so it’s cool! I’m trying.

But it’s also frustrating that so many men buy into the gender myths. Because I am attracted to men and I like male bodies. A lot. I’d intellectually like to be attracted to female bodies. After all, I am attracted to myself. Who would’t be? Look at this body. Yeah. That’s what I said. When I saw myself in the mirror. But alas, I appear to be more moved by the appearance of male-bodied creatures than female. Sexually. My loins are into it. My mind approves. All this leads me to believe I am straight. Now what?

I’m thinking about dudes. I’m into dudes; hot dudes wearing.. I don’t know: Dresses? Lace booties? My bras? A pretty hat? Jewelry? Lipstick! And… a dirndl? SO HOT. The images that just flashed through my head were resplendent.

Look at that picture! Granted the fellow in that picture is way culturally-condoned physically in that he is muscled and drinking Jägermeister without a shirt, which men are generally taught they can do. And if this person were walking down the street in a T-shirt and some pants with his buds, that’d be cool, sure, but my loins just wouldn’t figuratively jump to awareness.

The erotic appeal of interdependent individuality is great! The appeal of stretching the extremely limited norms outside of the gender binary is great. As is the ethicality and empathy to coexist with fellow peoples trying to navigate the world in their own way. In trying to hone in on what exactly elicits such enjoyment in the idea of non-gender-conforming men, I’ve decided that (intellectually) I think it must be the bravery and vulnerability, which as far as I’m concerned operate simultaneously and cross-influence the other.

The guts involved in being yourself are no easy guts to procure. In order to be the self that you are and want to be, you have to first peal away so many layers of externally-created ideas of, in my case, What Women Are, What Women Look Like, What Women Feel, What Women Do Not Feel, et al, ad infinitum. I have never been a man, but I get the impression that men are instructed to similarly neuter themselves: Be strong, be tough, be a man, don’t be a pussy, don’t be a fag, don’t be like a woman because Real Men are The Opposite of Women. All those prohibitions! All those fears! The kind of person I want to be is kind of like my fantasized characterization of a culture that’s better than ours: lovably open-minded, calmly acceptive, live-and-let-live.

I’ve mocked the stereotypes of Strong, Arrogant Man and Weak, Beautiful Woman my whole life while never actively fighting against them. Until you actively disengage yourself from false ideas, you’re still kind of indebted to them. I get that impression a lot from comedy: Many male comics tease “manly” things in “manly” ways without, it appears, ever really questioning or challenging the premise that manly=strong. Except for maybe Rob Delaney. And I’m sure plenty of extremely attractive other male comics who I’d like to bang but not this one.

So I’m sexually and intellectually into non-gender-conformity, however you personally slice it. The male display of vulnerability is so powerful because it’s a direct affront to our rigid, cultural ideas of what Real Men are. And I find it so sexy because it’s rebellious in context and bravely welcoming of vulnerability in content which, to my mind, makes one invulnerable. And because it turns me on in ways I have yet to plumb.

I have not gotten (many) men to act out my fantasies yet but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before all my future lovers will discover throughout the course of our courtships that these fantasies of mine are fantasies of theirs and voila, we can “gender bend” or be our myriad selves while we entangle our loins, and elsewhere, like maybe walking down the street. And I think it’s important to make this known. It seems less a “fetish” to desire people and sexual minutiae that who aren’t cardboard cut-outs and stock characters (like sartorial choice, lovemakin’ positions or approaches!)–than honest.

I think what it really comes down to is honesty.

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*Photo description: A bald, muscular man sits on a street corner at night, drinking Jagermeister while wearing a pink tutu and a tiara.

58 comments for “The Sexual Appeal of Non-Gender-Conformity

  1. norbizness
    November 17, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I have taken it to the next level and become the guy with the brain slug on his head.

  2. dr
    November 17, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for this, partly for the sexy bits, but mostly for the exploration of the way that men are also constrained by received gender roles.

    Just as a data point, a few years ago I bought a small green canvas bag to carry my tiny laptop around in. It was marketed as a frisbee golf bag, but I liked it because it reminded me of an army surplus gas mask bag that I used to take camping as a kid. But everywhere I went, people gave me crap about carrying a purse. I live in a college town, so this included drive by verbal assaults from frat boys. Eventually I gave in and went back to my way too big messenger bag. So there you go.

  3. November 17, 2011 at 11:33 am

    It’s a sad thing that I have yet to have a lover indulge me in my desire for light cross-dressing.

  4. November 17, 2011 at 11:39 am

    As a woman who enjoys being muscular – and builds muscle (apparently) much more easily than women are supposed to – appearance-related gender norms have always been an issue for me. I think this is HAWT, but clearly the caption on it is meant to be demeaning and imply that by being muscular and small in the breasticular region, she’s totes not a chick you guys. Bleh.

    Of course as a female scientist I’m flouting gender roles anyway, but the muscular/appearance related ones are actually the biggest issue because when I lift, I cannot find shirts that fit my arms anymore.

  5. LC
    November 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Hobbes. I find that woman hot.

    I get very little thrill out of people bending gender norms. I love it, and have lots of friends and lovers who do it, but I don’t get much of a thrill out if it for its own sake per se. I don’t intellectually eroticize it in any way, so this was a very interesting read. I think people who are flouting gender norms often look hot, but I don’t think they look hot because they are flouting gender norms, if that makes sense.

  6. November 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Your last paragraph really struck a chord with me. It is incredible that the average person has allowed the culture to make a “fetish” out of anything that doesn’t fit into an entirely false and limited stereotype, which basically nobody actually does fit into.

  7. November 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    One of the reasons I have kept reading Feministe for so long, while other feminist blogs have fallen off my regular reading list, is that all y’all keep including stuff about how Patriarchy Hurts Men. It’s not a constant stream, but it’s constant enough to give me another reason to keep reading. So thanks for that.

    I do not gender bend much. I am a t-shirt and jeans type of guy. But I do make a point to accessorize with pink from time to time. Cellphone cover. Streamers on my bicycle. Bike helmet–all pink. And, even though I live in Oakland, CA, in the SF Bay Area(tm), these items are cause for many starts-of-conversations. People in the building I live in ask me about it, strangers in cafes make comments. I haven’t been the subject of much (overt) ridicule, though there has been some. I think just a wee little bit of gender play in this way would be fun an educational for lots of men to try…

  8. igglanova
    November 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I find this post a little…objectifying. I’m trying to think of how I would respond to a post about how much a non-lesbian finds butch lesbians HAWT and a symbolic middle finger to the patriarchy and it is not favourable. It’s no fun to be placed on a pedestal this way.

  9. November 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I’m curious about the ins-and-outs (heh) of the erotic workings of pictures like the one linked to–would that be as hot to as many gender-bending-lovers if it were a skinny (or fat) guy with the tutu? Or if he were more androgynous? Sometimes it’s the contrast between the traditional masculinity (shaved head, muscular, drinking booze from the bottle) tropes, and the non-traditional ones, which is really interesting to me, because from some perspectives, it actually reinforces at least some of the traditional gender constraints on men (more muscles = better, real men can handle their booze, etc.), even while playing with them (the tutu, etc.).

  10. November 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    igglanova: I find this post a little…objectifying. I’m trying to think of how I would respond to a post about how much a non-lesbian finds butch lesbians HAWT and a symbolic middle finger to the patriarchy and it is not favourable. It’s no fun to be placed on a pedestal this way.

    I have a huuuuuuuuuuge gender-play kink (+1 to Thomas’s comment about “fetish”), but a major lesson for me over the last few years was not to confuse my kink with someone else’s life or identity. This is extra super-duper important when it comes to fetishizing trans* people (like a certain Erika Moen cartoon that I won’t even link because it still enrages me that much) and queer people, because of all the shit they are already putting up with. Do I get goosebumps seeing a dude (not necessarily a cis dude) happily wearing a skirt? Oh my yes. Does that picture I found once of Meryl Streep in a ‘man’s’ suit (and cannot seem for the life of me to track down again, damn!) set my heart a-racing? And how! (And that’s just drag – non-clothing non-conformity does it for me too.) But that can’t turn into, “Hey you there, person with a politicized and marginalized experience of gender, I have decided that you are erotic because of how I choose to define your gender and/or sex. Wanna hook up?” It puts me in mind of this post, A Message to my Fellow Fat Admirers. Attraction? Fine. Mutual attraction? AWESOME. Dehumanizing and demeaning objectification and fetishizing? HELL NO. And you’d hope that it would be easier to tell those things apart, but yeah… Being attracted to a person who is often socially derided as being fundamentally unattractive based on fucked-up social norms is not a bad thing in and of itself, but A) it’s not a political action that the attractee should be eternally grateful for because you deigned to get a boner (literal or metaphorical) for them and B) it doesn’t mean that you get to decide how they ought to define themselves or see themselves just because you’re attracted to who you perceive them to be.

    Which is not to say that this an extreme to which the OP has gone, just that it’s the minefield that this kind of thing exists in.

  11. Thomas
    November 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    As an aside, I find igglanova’s comment very useful. I am a cis het man who finds various kinds of gender nonconformity attractive, but I need to be careful about what I say about that because it can come across (even if I don’t mean it to, even if I say I don’t mean it that way) as creepy and fetishizing and nonconsensually sexualizing. Intent isn’t magic, and we can hurt people without meaning to.

  12. November 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Gender nonconformity was nothing I did with specific intent. My experience is having had to push aside layer after layer of irrelevant patriarchal nonsense to get to the truth. And at each level pushed aside came a desire to take stock of where I was.

    Where am I now? Where am I going from here?

    I never had the answers, just this compulsive desire to keep moving forward. And now I do feel more free and less constrained, two feelings that come with more or less self-acceptance. But I see beyond one singular paradigm. Gender is so complex on many many different layers. Being intelligent and self-aware provides some idea of it all, but in many respects doesn’t even come close.

    I’ll probably be deconstructing gender within myself for the rest of my life. Gender blankets every phase of our lives and every new identity we adopt for ourselves as we pass through time.

  13. November 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    So about fetishization — hate it. And I don’t like the broader uses of the word common in kink circles, either. Fetishization is the soulless consumerism of sexuality. It’s dating or having sex with the characteristic rather than the person, and nobody should be doing that. I’ve never had a lover or a partner who wasn’t a whole human being with an inner life and subjectivity and I never wanted to treat any partner as a screen on which to project my own preconceived notions — which is what fetishization does. So when people use “fetish” to mean attraction to any characteristic that isn’t considered attractive to the mainstream, I seriously bristle. It pathologizes most of us, because most of us are attracted to some people who are not conventionally attractive in some way, and it conflates a healthy diversity of attraction with an unhealthy reduction of human beings to narrow categories.

  14. November 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks so much guys!

    Yes, I certainly did not mean to objectify or indeed “fetishize.” I just wanted to put forth a plea for greater acceptance of all gendered expressions and… impudently express my wild and raw and… totally normal… sexual desires.

    (but it’s also possible that my true motivations are a mystery to myself. perhaps part of me does delight in objectifying where I’ve previously felt objectified. but i think–and maybe i’m wrong–that the perhaps unconscious immediate ‘objectifying’ interest in treating a totally hot dude as a “sex object” becomes diffused in real life outside of my fantasies both because i’m been societally trained so well to be the ‘maternal, acceptive female creature’ who gets fetishized as opposed to fetishizes but also because that initial spark of interest which is, after all, based solely on physical attraction transforms into a greater awareness of the full person once communication and sharing of information and all comes in.)

  15. November 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Thomas MacAulay Millar:
    So about fetishization — hate it. And I don’t like the broader uses of the word common in kink circles, either. Fetishization is the soulless consumerism of sexuality. It’s dating or having sex with the characteristic rather than the person, and nobody should be doing that. I’ve never had a lover or a partner who wasn’t a whole human being with an inner life and subjectivity and I never wanted to treat any partner as a screen on which to project my own preconceived notions — which is what fetishization does. So when people use “fetish” to mean attraction to any characteristic that isn’t considered attractive to the mainstream, I seriously bristle. It pathologizes most of us, because most of us are attracted to some people who are not conventionally attractive in some way, and it conflates a healthy diversity of attraction with an unhealthy reduction of human beings to narrow categories.

    I might be inclined to push for an even more narrow and rigorously specific use of the word fetsh than you allude to here, but generally speaking YES! THANK YOU!

  16. November 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: and nobody should be doing that

    except for that part

  17. November 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Well, Marlene, that was slightly overbroad. Nobody should be nonconsensually fetishizing anybody. If people want to work out dynamics among themselves that are intentionally reductive in that way, it’s a consensual kink and I’m fine with that. In that sense, it’s of-a-piece with literal objectification within scenes, such as human furniture. But that’s kind of an in-the-weeds discussion among kinksters about the politics of oppressive dynamics within play.

  18. LotusBen
    November 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I’m not an expert on feminist theory, but I don’t have a problem with objectification per se. It should have limits though. I think having relations where one dishonestly uses or manipulates people is really problematic. But I’m a 27 year old hetero male and I know I will always sexually objectify women, at least to some extent, as part of my arousal structure. As long as they are fine with this and aware of what I’m thinking and feeling, I don’t see a problem. Some people actually get off on being objectified.

    For example–me. To me being objectified is an exciting experience that in and of itself is novel and gender bending. I don’t want people to permanently discount my subjectivity or inhumanely use me for sex, but if in courtship or fooling around, a woman temporarily objectifies me or a part of my body, I actually find that really arousing. Maybe I’m not using the word like y’all are using it. But, for example, if I was at the beach and a woman came up to me and the first thing she said was “I think your biceps are sexy,” I would be really turned on, provided I liked the way she looked and carried herself. I like the idea that I can be perceived as a sex object, just as women traditionally are.

    This brings me to the point of the OP. I’ve always felt constrained by masculine gender norms and been interested in exploring more feminine ways of being. Don’t get me wrong, I am male-identified and definitely like being masculine, but ideally I want to be masculine AND feminine. When I was younger I sometimes pretended to be a girl on the internet because I was terrified of expressing feminity in real life. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more comfortable with expressing more traditionally feminine things openly and publicly, whether that means wearing pink nail polish to work, being a rabid and vocal Sex and the City fan, or just honestly expressing vulnerable emotions like sadness, fear, or loneliness.

    So I appreciated the OP’s post, actually, because it’s nice to hear about women appreciating that. Many women (and people generally) don’t. A common reaction is for people to perceive me as gay, which I’m not. So I sometimes feel like no one can really appreciate or understand where I’m coming from. But I guess you just have to be yourself, right?!

  19. Wiley
    November 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I don’t have anything terribly intelligent to say, but I both exhibit queer/non-conforming gender and am attracted to people who exhibit queer/non-conforming gender. I’m also attracted to people who appear to be more conventionally gender-conforming, but I’ve found that queering your life, whether by dressing in men’s clothes (I’m a gay FBP) or having read a lot of Foucalt, bumps you up a few notches on my hotness scale.

  20. November 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    igglanova and others: Yes, fetishization is a thing that some people sometimes do to gender nonconforming people, and it is wrong. As Thomas MacAulay Millar said, no one should be nonconsensually dating or having sex with the characteristic rather than the person — and that goes for descriptions of desire, too: we shouldn’t reduce people to one characteristic without their consent. Fetishization of gender nonconforming people being the problem that it is, I don’t want to speak for anyone else about whether this particular post is problematic; I didn’t find it so, but I’m not a gender nonconforming man.

    That being said, I think we should also be careful about what we assume to be fetishization, much as the OP said. When a straight woman is primarily attracted to traditionally masculine men, and looks for traditionally masculine characteristics in potential objects of desire, we don’t call it a fetish. But I am a queer woman who is primarily attracted to butches and transmasculine people, and who looks for queer masculine characteristics in people I might be attracted to. Is that a fetish, then? I don’t think so.

    Every day, people look at pictures of people they don’t know and decide they are attractive based on purely physical characteristics, including perceived conformity to gender norms — or lack thereof. I think this can be okay, although it is not without problems, for sure!

    And I think if it is okay for a woman to post a picture of a man and talk about how much she likes his muscles or how good he looks in a suit (which often means, on one level: how much she likes his performance of traditional masculinity), then it should be okay for a woman to post a picture of a man and talk about how much she likes how he looks in a tutu and tiara (that is, how much she likes his gender nonconformity).

  21. November 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I’m not at all implying that attraction to gender nonconformity is inherently fetishizing — quote the opposite, in fact. I’m just saying that I don’t like it when the word “fetish” gets used broadly because it conflates healthy attraction to people with less-traditionally-attractive characteristics with actual fetishization. Being attracted to gender nonconformity isn’t necessarily fetishizing, being attracted to fat partners isn’t necessarily fetishizing, etc, though lots of folks have experienced people who fetishize them for a particular characteristic.

  22. Tony_
    November 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Hi, Rebecca. It’s such a strange word… non-conformist. Does it mean, simply someone who does not conform, or as it (and you) seem to imply, some kind of ideology, conscious rebellion? Because as I understand it (and I haven’t read much on this topic), I am non-conforming but I have never made a conscious effort to be non-conformist. It only tells you what I’m not, not what I am.

    What else am I not? I’m not into professional sports, I don’t watch much TV– ok, any TV. I don’t drink much. I’m asexual- more accurately gray-A. I’m not white. All of which puts me outside ‘traditional’ masculinity but also outside a lot of other main streams.

    None of this has taken much in the way of courage, guts or bravery. I’ve done that in other areas, but the parts of my identity that make me non-conforming are not a part of that. Some of it I was born in, the rest of it is pretty much all I have ever known. It is society that has to deal with it, I suppose. Perhaps the part that requires courage is asking society to acknowledge and accept me for my differences when it refuses to do so.

  23. Tony_
    November 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    You never even used the word non-conformist.

  24. November 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: I’m just saying that I don’t like it when the word “fetish” gets used broadly because it conflates healthy attraction to people with less-traditionally-attractive characteristics with actual fetishization.

    If you’re talking to me, I didn’t mean to imply that I was taking issue with what you said! I was agreeing with you, actually, and I very much like how you said it in comment 19. Like you, I’m trying to show how being attracted to a characteristic doesn’t have to be fetishizing, and that it’s problematic to assume that attraction to non-normative characteristics IS fetishizing — while acknowledging that fetishization of gender nonconforming people is a real problem that exists and should be confronted.

  25. LC
    November 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: It’s dating or having sex with the characteristic rather than the person, and nobody should be doing that.

    Yeah, I have that issue as well. (And thanks for the clarification you made later about how all attraction isn’t this. Seems obvious, but sometimes needs to be said.)

    Tony_: Does it mean, simply someone who does not conform, or as it (and you) seem to imply, some kind of ideology, conscious rebellion? Because as I understand it (and I haven’t read much on this topic), I am non-conforming but I have never made a conscious effort to be non-conformist.

    I’m with you on that as well. I’ve had people sometimes *praise* me for some non-conforming thing I’ve done that wasn’t done with any foreknowledge it was supposed to be non-conforming. In the end, I’m not sure it matters very much. I have a problem with non-conformist as a knee-jerk ideal (like knee-jerk contrarianism) but I do appreciate people who adopt a philosophy of questioning norms all the time, which is what I suspect the more philosophical non-conformists are doing.

  26. Tony_
    November 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    In the end, I’m not sure it matters very much. I have a problem with non-conformist as a knee-jerk ideal (like knee-jerk contrarianism) but I do appreciate people who adopt a philosophy of questioning norms all the time, which is what I suspect the more philosophical non-conformists are doing.

    Oh yes, agreed. I’m not saying I have a problem with people who adopt non-conformist/non-conformism as a philosophy or approach to thinking about norms- that’s a good thing. Everyone should be doing that. It’s just a very different thing from simply ‘being different’. The latter can be very natural, inborn, even passive, yet a very important part of existence. The former really represents something more deliberate, and intellectual. Of course, the two can interact, as a person who is different in one respect uses the insights gleaned from this difference to question other norms, or a person uses intellectual questioning of norms to accept and understand their innate deviations from the norm. And I’ve certainly benefitted from that.

  27. AMM
    November 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    In a way, I really liked reading this, but in another way, it make me nervous.

    Since I consider myself reasonably non-conformant — for instance, I’m unmistakably a guy, but wear a skirt most of the time when I’m not at work — there’s a part of me that really wishes that there would be people who would appreciate me for that aspect of me. I don’t get harassed for what I wear, but on the other hand, 99.9% of the people I encounter act as if they were completely unaware that I’m not wearing jeans and a T-shirt. I think I understand why they do it, but it still makes me feel invisible. (Would they still say nothing if I walked around naked?) It’s like manna from heaven when I’m at a dance and someone says they like my skirt, or even wants a closer look. I also can’t help wondering if my non-conformity is one reason I’ve not hit it off with a woman since my divorce a decade ago.

    On the other hand, I’m afraid of being seen as what I’m not. My main contact with “gender non-conformant” people has been online at crossdressing sites, and the folks at the sites I’ve visited are simply incapable of imagining that it isn’t about my “inner woman.” (I’ve looked and looked inside myself, and I’ve never found an “inner woman” or an “inner man”. Just me. :-( ) I’m non-conformant in a lot of ways, not just gender, and I really hate people stuffing me into this or that box.

    There are a lot of aspects to me, some of which you could call sort of masculine and some of them sort of feminine (if you’re into that sort of thing) and some of which aren’t either, but for me, they’re all just who I am. I would really love to be with someone who would appreciate my unusual taste in fashion, but only if they would also appreciate other things about me, like the way I play music, or how I am with my kids, or how well I do my job, or the nobility of my soul (ha!), or something.

    I guess this is sort of like what other commenters are saying about not being fetishized.

  28. igglanova
    November 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    OK whoa, I never said the OP was fetishizing GNC men. I was careful to avoid using inflammatory language like that. But I find posts singing the praises of queer people’s gender presentation voyeuristic when they do not come from an insider of the culture. It just seems inappropriate for Feministe to publish an article with no larger point than ‘ANDROGYNES ARE HAWT.’ And the amount of detail spent on musing about said hotness feels faintly creepy to me. I mean…would we post an article with no larger point than ‘GENDER-CONFORMING CIS WOMEN ARE HAWT!’? I’m guessing not, because there is no exoticism to be had there and the only thing you’d see was the voyeurism.

  29. LotusBen
    November 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I disagree with some of what you’re saying igglanova. I don’t think the point of this article was “ANDROGYNES ARE HAWT.” The OP seemed to be pretty honest and self-revelatory in speaking about not just her fantasies but her insecurities, own body image, etc. I think the article was clearly written using a feminist lens and a similiar article talking about attraction to gender-conforming cis women would also be feminist. I guess I’m missing the point where being honest about your sexual attraction to certain people is the same as voyeurism. If you are a redhead is it voyeuristic to talk about how beautiful you think people with brown hair are? Stupid example, but I’m trying to make my point. Please elaborate on your thinking if you would; I’m interested.

  30. Tony_
    November 17, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Well, the flip side is that a post calling out the hotness of gender-conforming cis women would be kind of pointless, whereas this post at least challenges the established norms of our culture in some way. That would be the obvious point, no? I still go back to the thought that it’s very hard to express anything about ‘non-gender-conformity’ because it’s so non-specific. There’s very little that unites all non-gender-conforming men (or anyone) except in opposition to something very specific- although very broadly, vulnerability and rebelliousness can be said to apply. In the sense that when we assert ourselves, we are much more likely to need to do so in rebellion to norms, and we are also more likely to be vulnerable to oppression on account of our differences.

  31. igglanova
    November 17, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Well, for one thing, brunettes are not part of a subculture that is often either stigmatized or fetishized. I hate doing this comparison, but maybe you could see my point more clearly if this were an ode to the sexiness of black women that was written from the perspective of some white person. At least I hope we’d agree that that would be off-putting and alienating to many.

  32. LotusBen
    November 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I do agree that the original blog entry was off-putting and alienating to many–I mean, you were put off and others have expressed similar sentiments. So I’m not saying you should like what the OP said; you’re entitled to your feelings. However, I look at it differently, and I did like what the OP said. I would also have no problem with a white person talking about how they felt attracted to black women, although I agree with you that many would. Maybe I am just different than most, but my perspective on most things is: if it’s honest and not intentionally cruel, I want to hear it. Even if it makes me uncomfortable. Although in this case, the OP didn’t make me uncomfortable but rather flattered.

    I am a GNC male but maybe I was not defensive because I’m not part of that “subculture.” My best friend is a transwoman, for what it’s worth, but other than that I don’t regularly associate with any GNC people. Also I guess I’ve had gotten enough put-downs and insults in my life for any number of things that if I get a compliment, I tend to accept it, rather than nullify it for some sort of political reason.

  33. November 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    “OK whoa, I never said the OP was fetishizing GNC men. I was careful to avoid using inflammatory language like that. But I find posts singing the praises of queer people’s gender presentation voyeuristic when they do not come from an insider of the culture. It just seems inappropriate for Feministe to publish an article with no larger point than ‘ANDROGYNES ARE HAWT.’ And the amount of detail spent on musing about said hotness feels faintly creepy to me. I mean…would we post an article with no larger point than ‘GENDER-CONFORMING CIS WOMEN ARE HAWT!’? I’m guessing not, because there is no exoticism to be had there and the only thing you’d see was the voyeurism”

    this.

    also,is the guy wearing a fairy costume in some way gender NC?
    how?
    he’s a super built macho looking cis guy,who one would assume is either a gay man saying “ha fairy costume on my ultra macho body=joke” or possibly straigtht frat guy making halloween joke or some such…..wouldn’t GNC be david bowie, chris crocker, johnny weir,etc?or EMO guys? the pictured male strikes me as actually mocking gender non conformity.
    just this FTM’s opinion……………

  34. AMM
    November 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I find posts singing the praises of queer people’s gender presentation voyeuristic when they do not come from an insider of the culture.

    Not sure if “queer people” is the same as “gender non-conformant.”

    If so, it’s news to me that I’m part of any sort of gender non-conformant culture. Every group I’ve tried to belong to has had some sort of culture to which one was supposed to conform, so the idea of having a culture for the non-conforming seems like an oxymoron — sort of like a club for non-joiners.

  35. November 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    I get where you are coming from igglanova, but I read Rebecca’s remarks as not necessarily referencing a queer gender identity but approaching a broader idea of what gender presentation is acceptable within gender identities. I think Brigid makes a good point about how our culture regards any sexuality outside of accepted conventions as fetishizing which works to not just “other” both sides of the attraction. Objectifying people is definitely an issue to stay aware of, but I think there is room to explore sexual attractions outside of convention without them being necessarily objectifying. I don’t think this is the same thing as someone outside the LGBTQ community saying that butch lesbians or femme gay man are hawt, but rather explores gender presentation in a different context.

    Gender non-conformity isn’t something that only happens in queer communities. I’m a het cis-male, but conventional male gender roles have always felt very alienating to me. This all acts on a spectrum, though. As much as I feel alienated about traditional gender roles for men, I do still feel essentially male. The article’s discussion about recognizing her straightness feels very similiar to my relationship with gender. I feel male, but I don’t feel like male needs to mean for me what I’m told it should. Mind you, I’m also not a male who wears bras and dresses, but I am not infrequently read as female. I have a fat body, which means a lot traditional gender cues just don’t apply for me. I often wear my hair long and while my wardrobe is fairly conventional in cut, not always in color. The last time I was mistaken in public as a woman I was wearing a red dress shirt and a purple sweater, for instance.

    I know from my experience as a man who is attracted to fat women that non-conventional sexuality is often defined sight-unseen as fetishizing by a judgmental culture. The culture at large makes no distinction between men who are sexually attracted to fat women and men who objectify fat women. To the larger culture, we are all fetishists, and that’s really dangerous. Not just for the people being labeled as fetishists, but for the people being labeled as fetishes. I know coming from the other direction shows much more concern for the people being labeled fetishes, but I think there is still a lot of risk in this whole paradigm. Personally, I don’t like using “fetish” in this sort of context at all. While it’d be easy for me to other people who share my sexual attractions but act upon them in disrespectful and objectifying ways, I feel like fetish should refer to sexuality and on that count I don’t see any useful distinctions, and I suspect that might carry over to issues of non-gender conformity. The sexual reaction of both groups can be the same and I think should be respected. The issue comes in the behavior and interaction with the persons who they are sexually attracted to and I think that’s where lines ought to be drawn on what behavior needs to be expected of people towards those they feel sexually attracted to. Its not impossible and is obviously done with conventional sexuality all of the time. Finding that balance respects the subject of the attraction and also respects their opportunity to be the subject of sexual attraction on their terms and with their consent.

  36. Matt
    November 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I sort of have a problem with using the term non-conformity. It establishes a diverse group of people with wildly different beliefs, reasons, ideas, feelings as a sort of monolithic group. Groups are inherently conformist. Its sort of like the MORP episode of MITM where all the people who didn’t get invited to prom tried to have their anti-prom and they just couldn’t agree on anything. Because they weren’t part of a cohesive group. People gravitate to groups where the conformist behavior is similar to their individual beliefs. As sort of shown in the episode, all the “rejects” are not friends. You had the nerds, geeks, goths, *insert stereotypical minority group here*
    Their opinion on the ideal party wasnt the same and it just didn’t go well, plus when some faux progressive/liberal characters felt social shame and invited them to the real prom, pretty much everyone wanted to go.
    There can’t be a non-conformist culture because culture is social/group based.
    I also have a problem with the OP identifying non-conformity as inherently courages and will based.
    Aside from some privileged intellectual groups, most cases of non-conformity are not a choice. A person often desperately wants to conform and “be cool” but its just not possible for them. Its these same sort of intellectually non conformist, privileged people who “stretch the genber binary” or any other kind of binary. the rest of us are just trying to be happy, have fun, be ourselves. Dressing in certain clothes, talking a certain way, doing certain activities isn’t being done as a “statement”. People who don’t conform to the normative values of their culture may occasionally make a statement, somewhat influenced by what part of culture they are not conforming to, but generally when you act different its not to shove it people’s faces.
    I feel that the main post is explicitly fetishizing behavior for their erotic enjoyment, and even including people who are not actually following the line of her fetishizing. I suppose the psychological term is projecting, she states that she wants to gender bend for the purpose of gender bending as opposed to doing it because thats just how she feels. She mentions wanting to be sexually aroused by womens’ bodies, and I have to wonder why? Isn’t she being influenced by a certain part of non traditional culture which considers, consciously or not, people who have feelings outside of the social norm to be good and those who don’t to be externally constrained and somehow inferior? Otherwise I don’t understand why she would wish she enjoyed womens’ bodies when its clear she doesn’t.

  37. November 18, 2011 at 3:08 am

    But, Matt, where is the line between wanting to gender bend to gender bend and wanting to do it because that’s what she feels. Isn’t wanting to do it, to do it what she feels? I’m really hesitant about trying to audit sexuality to decide what is okay and what isn’t. That’s not to say that there aren’t valid concerns about one’s identity being objectified and sexualized without regard to consent in different communities, but that doesn’t mean a sexuality which incorporates any particular identity is necessarily bad. I took the discussion of wanting to be attracted to women as an expression of trying to make sense of her sexuality and identity within the tools she was given by our culture as opposed to some wistful hope for a sexuality she considers more intriguing or adventurous. I remember hearing the “non-conformists just conform to non-conformity” retort, too, but while marginalized communities are not immune from being judgmental, I think the opposition to “non-conformity” being advocated ultimately doesn’t acknowledge the existence of very real social conventions in our culture. Any conventions of a “non-conforming” subculture still exists in the shadow of those larged social dictates. They simply aren’t equivalent social forces. The context the OP put forth the discussion of non-conformity was clearly one of exploring a resistance to enormous social pressures to behave and believe in a certain way. I don’t think the acknowledgement of the social price for resistance was meant to suggest people don’t conform for shock value or whatever the most sympahtetic rendering of that reaction might be so much as an acknowledgment that its not as simple as just being who we really are. Even trying to get to the point of knowing who we are in a society with such powerfully prescribed gender roles is a challenge, to say nothing of the toll of actually living as we are. No, we don’t do it for some sort of prize, but that shouldn’t prevent people from exploring the ways social convention does make it a struggle for people who feel unrepresented by thos standards.

  38. November 18, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Ms. Hirsch, I read your post here yesterday and found this post this morning, and I felt like you’re both saying the same thing, just from different angles.
    http://bioblog.biotunes.org/bioblog/2009/01/30/breasts-and-society/
    I do think that aggressive generalizing about clothing and colors (boys CAN’T like pink!) does harm to our society and makes men conform to a ridiculous standard.

  39. Jen in Ohio
    November 18, 2011 at 9:08 am

    (I’ve looked and looked inside myself, and I’ve never found an “inner woman” or an “inner man”. Just me. :-( ) I’m non-conformant in a lot of ways, not just gender, and I really hate people stuffing me into this or that box.

    Yes, very much this for me as well. Fwiw, my theory on the gender part is that the internal, subjective experience of attachment to gender identity is not a universal phenomenon; that some people experience it very powerfully while others experience it to lesser degrees or not at all. And clearly some people just have a terrible struggle imagining how other people’s psychological territory can be arranged very differently from their own, so there are all of these ridiculous arguments where mule-headed folk are 100% certain they can accurately define other people’s gender.

    As a kid most people called me a tomboy — sometimes approvingly and other times clearly as an insult — and I was mistaken for a boy, but I’ve never wanted to be a boy. Thing is, I’ve never really wanted to be a girl either. I never really gave a shit about how people perceived gender, how they categorized it, or how they drew distinctions between the only two gender options that our system had defined in opposition to one another. I cared very much that people were always trying to shove me onto one side of this binary rather than just let me hang out in the middle. I did not understand why so many people claimed that there was no middle, I mean, I was RIGHT THERE.

    It’s popular among some of the younger queer women (maybe other groups as well) to use “tomboy femme” as a descriptor, and I might’ve used that in my 20s, but now that I’m in my 40s using the word “tomboy” as any kind of identity marker feels a lot like writing nice things about Echo & The Bunnymen on my science folder. So with a nod to queer theory I adopted “genderqueer” just so people would have a different word to use and I can at least try to avoid the more boring arguments other people want to have about how to define gender.

    All that said, I usually think genderfuck is smokin’ hot, but genderfuck is a conscious activity, not an identity.

  40. LC
    November 18, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Jen in Ohio: And clearly some people just have a terrible struggle imagining how other people’s psychological territory can be arranged very differently from their own, so there are all of these ridiculous arguments where mule-headed folk are 100% certain they can accurately define other people’s gender.

    So with you here.

    Jen in Ohio: All that said, I usually think genderfuck is smokin’ hot, but genderfuck is a conscious activity, not an identity.

    I’m more or less with you on this as well, but I think people construct identities based on activities all the time.

  41. littlepitcher
    November 18, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Matt, thanks for the reality-based analysis of nonconformity. It is more likely for the nonconformist to be desexualized than fetishized, especially cis hetero females. The social pressure to be completely asexual is essentially forced female libido mutilation.
    Many openly nerdy and nonathletic men can be quite sexy, probably as a result of intelligence. So far, dumbasses have no fetishists or cult porn, AFAIK.

  42. CBrachyrhynchos
    November 18, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I guess I find this sort of thing to be deeply scary and problematic. It’s not particularly Rebecca’s fault here. It’s just that I’ve been gender-checked so often in painful ways, had my non-conformism treated as “sexy” and then “threatening” in the same relationship, and seen that whole thing bound up within D/S power dynamics so often that I’m a bit touchy and paranoid about it.

    Sexy and arousing is nice, but what I want is comfortable. I want safe spaces where I can do and be without the painful process of unpacking why that doing and being is transgressive or arousing.

    And that means that I’m gender-checking myself, not because I place a high value on masculinity, but because I’m just not in a space where I can deal with all the emotional issues that go with certain things.

  43. AMM
    November 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    What “Jen in Ohio” said (#39) really resonates with me. And I think I agree with Matt (#36), assuming I understood him correctly.

    Two things:

    First, I find it hard to believe that the OP really finds all gender non-conformant men (GNCM) “HAWT.” She didn’t go into enough detail for me to really know, but I suspect that she has some images in her mind of what a GNCM looks or acts like, and that’s what appeals to her. But there are far more ways to not conform than to conform, and I’m sure that some of them would turn her entirely off. Or maybe she’d say about some of them, that’s not really non-conformant, even though by the plain sense of the phrase it is. All too often, this kind of stuff is like, “A: everybody in town is welcome. Me: what should I bring? A: Oh, sorry, by ‘everybody,’ I didn’t mean you.”

    Second, I was bothered by igglanova’s comment (#28). Again, it comes across to me as speaking about a specific gender non-conformant culture as if that encompassed all people who don’t conform to society’s gender expectations of them. Again, it’s the sort of thing you fall into when you define people by a negative (e.g., “the non-6-foot-tall community.”)

    That’s why I prefer to describe myself in terms of what I am, rather than what I’m not, like: “skirt-wearing man,” or “someone who prefers non-competitive physical activities”or even “techie.” (FWIW, being a techie is far more important to my idea of myself than being male.)

    Finally, I wish the OP would respond in some way to this comment thread. If she doesn’t respond, it makes it seem like she’s happy with her opinion and it doesn’t matter how the people she’s got the opinion about might feel about it.

  44. Jen in Ohio
    November 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Me: I usually think genderfuck is smokin’ hot, but genderfuck is a conscious activity, not an identity.

    LC: I’m more or less with you on this as well, but I think people construct identities based on activities all the time.

    I agree, LC. I should’ve said “genderfuck AS a conscious activity”, which would have been more true to my meaning. I meant to draw a distinction between a behavior and an aspect of identity, but I do realize there is overlapping territory on that Venn diagram.

  45. suspect class
    November 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I’m not entirely sure what the OP is going for. I share igglanova’s discomfort with this post, and agree with AMM that it’s not entirely clear what the OP means by gender non conformity. And agreed that there are so many ways to talk about gender non-conformity that it seems to me the OP must have something specific in mind (like genderfuck, perhaps), not just all non-conformity. I did read this post to be mostly about what the OP thinks is hot, and how she believes/hopes that all her future lovers will think that enacting her fantasy is hot. Maybe because she’s planning to use mutual interest as a filtering tool, but it sounded more like it was about the assumption that a significant number of men or all men have an inner desire to–do something–that falls into her idea of what gender non-conformity is.

    Basically, I’m not sure what’s interesting about an individual person’s desires as a feminist issue. How that works in reality might be, how her family and friends react to this might be, how she finds a way to bring this up within a relationship ethically might be. But just objectifying dudes who wear skirts (which *seems* to be what the OP is talking about), while maybe not always problematic, doesn’t seem to offer much for discussion other than a) I’m glad someone finds this thing I do hot b) I’m glad someone else finds this thing I find hot to be hot c) This feels weird and objectifying and it makes me uncomfortable.

    To be clear, I’m not saying “How could you Feministe? This is not a feminist issue!” but I’m not sure what it is we’re supposed to be taking from this. Boys in skirts are hot? Sometimes, I agree.

  46. AMM
    November 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Has anyone else looked at her blog? (The “Barbarisms” one that’s referenced above?) I took a look just now.

    To be honest, I found it a bit weird, and not in a good way. It seemed to be a bunch of random thoughts, pictures, and essays with no obvious theme, except maybe that she thought they were interesting. (BTW, the last post is from June.) I felt too uncomfortable to look at it in any depth, because it somehow kept making me think of the people I’ve known (like my ex) who seem not to live in the same reality as the rest of us.

    It now feels to me like in her post she’s not really talking about real people at all, but just some sort of sexual fantasy objects, and she doesn’t sound like she’s aware that there’s a difference. I find it rather creepy.

  47. November 18, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Imagine my sadness when I realized that no singing the praises of butch women would appear in this post. Tampoco lauding the beauty of drag queens.
    Not your deal, I get it, thats cool.
    But maybe you should have said ‘the appeal of the mildly nonconforming hetero man’ then I would not have bothered clicking on the link at all.

  48. November 19, 2011 at 11:09 am

    norbizness:
    Ihavetakenittothenextlevelandbecometheguywiththebrainslugonhishead.

    I love Futurama, but Gender Bender was kind of a kick in the face. Having Bender in a tutu while getting beat up was to show how dainty women are. But all the while, Bender is pretty sexy in that tutu.

  49. November 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Agreed, that blog is pretty creepy. Thanks, guys!

  50. Opheliac
    November 20, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Rachel:
    ImaginemysadnesswhenIrealizedthatnosingingthepraisesofbutchwomenwouldappearinthispost.Tampocolaudingthebeautyofdragqueens.
    Notyourdeal,Igetit,thatscool.
    Butmaybeyoushouldhavesaid‘theappealofthemildlynonconformingheteroman’thenIwouldnothavebotheredclickingonthelinkatall.

    I agree! I’m not butch myself(but not very femme either, I’m just a gothy nerd girl, I guess), but I’ve always been very attracted to crossdressing women. Especially if wearing suits. And Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone is just about the hottest thing ever. Butch women need more love xD

  51. Noah
    November 20, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    I think it’s important to mention that if you date enough “gender non-conforming men,” you will almost certainly end up at some point with a pre-transition trans woman. So try to be aware if there is a “guy” who is behaving unusually in bed so that you don’t do things sexually that make her uncomfortable.

    I am also just wondering at what point a hot gender non-conforming men becomes a trans woman who is reviled. The moment one realizes she’s a woman I suppose. Why is it cool for men to wear skirts, but not trans women? Ah, transmisogyny….

  52. Mysti
    December 3, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Not necessarily a bad thing to like to like ‘nonconformative’ guys, even feminine and cross-dressing ones, but is seems the OP defines ‘nonconformative’ as ‘not masculine’ for guys, and ‘not feminine’ for girls, all that is doing is exchanging one double-standard for the other,” for a man to masculine is conformitive and that’s bad, for a woman to be feminine is conformative and that’s bad.”

  53. December 4, 2011 at 6:00 am

    I don’t know that it’s really necessary to break down Rebecca Katherine Hirsch’s original post in such detail, is it? That is, to analyse what she’s saying as a serious critique of gender or gender non-conformity. In fact, this seems contrary to the spirit of her post.

    To me what she’s talking about is simply what gets her hot. And yet by doing this, by declaring the truth of her own sexuality, she contributes to the expanding of possible truths for everyone else, in however small a way. That is, by offering it as another option against the overwhelming cultural expectations of what her – and everyone else’s – sexuality should be.

    In this spirit I’m with Wiley in post 19:

    Wiley: I don’t have anything terribly intelligent to say, but I both exhibit queer/non-conforming gender and am attracted to people who exhibit queer/non-conforming gender. I’m also attracted to people who appear to be more conventionally gender-conforming, but I’ve found that queering your life, whether by dressing in men’s clothes (I’m a gay FBP) or having read a lot of Foucalt, bumps you up a few notches on my hotness scale.

    Yes indeed :) – though in my case I’m a straight femme MBP attracted primarily to female masculinity.

  54. Sam
    December 4, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Hey-

    I think there might be an inherent contradiction in the argument, and I think you briefly touch on it, without getting into it: Being non-conformative will hardly ever be a sign of weakness, and almost always be a sign of strength – “the guts to be yourself”. So, in that respect, being *non-conforming means being conforming* to the masculine ideal – nothwithstanding the fact that some people may not get the “only real men can wear pink”-point. Of course, women being non-conforming with respect to that aspect have it harder than men, because non-conforming will actually mean non-conforming for them, even on the meta-level.

    Gender conformity is a crutch needed by many people who wouldn’t know how to appropriately interact with the other sex in absence of well known scripts. And that’s most people, because most people *are weak* in that respect. And because they’re *most* people, their behavioral expectations tend to have a lot of weight.

    Btw, two days ago, I was in the Subway, standing next to a group of four young women who were talking about how cross-dressers are usually straight guys, but how they had trouble imagining being with a guy who did that. There are important incentives to conform to gender expectations when it is possible: being different may increase the quality of potential matches, but it will also significantly reduce the poolsize.

  55. tovyasagain
    December 4, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    I’m a little confused by the use of the term “vulnerable” in this article. In terms of gender conformity as a guy, vulnerability isn’t exposing yourself to potential negative opinions – it’s actually reacting to it.

    In some ways, a guy who confidently employs non-conforming style is being *extra* strong in the male-emotional-conforming sense – the “I’m going to act like I don’t care what people think” one. A guy breaking the vulnerability trope would be one who wasn’t afraid to go out in his new outfit and visibly be upset if he was harassed for it – who was willing to show nervousness, or act like he felt out of place.

    Don’t get me wrong, you’re definitely still describing liking guys who aren’t conforming to gender roles as far as style goes, which is great! But I wouldn’t describe them as guys who aren’t conforming to emotional gender norms – the term “vulnerability” doesn’t really make sense if “Reacts to any hostility with confidence” is also involved.

  56. December 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    I so agree with Lady Gaga’s Joe Calderone being so hot!

    Who cares if the author is sexually attracted to muscular men who aren’t afraid to show so called- feminine traits. I hardly think that is political. She is just being honest. I know people who are attracted to chubby guys who act uber macho. I don’t get it, but I’m not going to ridicule them for who they find sexy.
    I am attracted to drag queens. Also, slender men. And if the slender man feels confident enough to not force himself into the masculine ideal of our society: very attractive. I find all sorts of feminine bodies attractive but definitely have a preference for slender men. I don’t have anything against muscular guys. I didn’t decide to prefer one to the other.
    I am not objectifying them or lusting after them. Having a type I am typically attracted to doesn’t mean that is the only thing that decides who I am attracted to.

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