I've had cause recently to question my sexuality. This is probably a lot less angsty than it would be if I were still a teenager, but it's also kind of confusing. I've always seen myself as heterosexual, and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that I think men are all that and a bag of chips in terms of attraction. However, it seems that I also respond to women. Or at least some women. And it isn't the same as the way I respond to men, which is a lot more obvious, so it's not as easy to be certain about what is actually going on. I know I like women, but do I like women *like that*?
Thing is, I grew up in small town NZ (read: 1 hour on the bus to the local area school that had 200 students) in the 1970s and 80s. Where I came from, homophobia was the norm and the only women-who-liked-women that were visible were those who had the courage to be open. They were few and far between, tended to fit the butch stereotype, and wore purple t-shirts of that colour that came to be known as Lesbian Purple. They hung out in the Women's Studies dept at the university and did not move in the same circles as me. I certainly was nothing like these women, and they were the only example I had of non-hetero sexuality. Other people assumed everyone was straight. I assumed everyone was straight. And part of this, for me, was not looking at women, not objectifying them, not going *phwoar* over them in the way it was perfectly fine for me to go *phwoar* over men.
So I didn't. I am very well trained, in the same way I'm well trained to suppress my sexuality around women because where I come from, a woman who is seen as sexual is fair game to men and a threat to women, and that has real and measurable consequences when your livelihood relies on people's goodwill. Being a eunuch around women is my default behaviour, and a corollary to that is that I avoid looking at women in the same way I'll look at men. I'm not supposed to, right? OK, partly this is to do with the general objectification of women and how I feel about that, but if I'm honest I didn't become aware of that until much later than when I trained myself not to look at women. Looking at a woman, like, perving at her, looking at her body all over, especially her crotch, feels like an invasion, something I shouldn't do, *wrong*.
And yet, when I'm surrounded by hot people doing hard stuff as I often am at circus, it's the women I look at first. Circus is such a thing that people tend to nonchalantly expose themselves in ways that would have been shocking to my teenage self. Women are not supposed to spread their legs like that! The horror! Only, it's not horrific, it's kind of hot. And admitting that to myself and allowing myself to actually look, has stirred up some very interesting stuff. I found myself asking why, if I'm only into men, do I spend so much time wanting to look at women? And deliberately not looking at women, for fear of.. what? Getting caught? Catching myself out?
So because I'm nothing if not proactive, I decided to perform some experiments on myself. Not like that, get your mind out of the gutter..
I subscribe to two Tumblr feeds related to circus. One is called HotCircus, and the other is NakedCircusFreaks. HotCircus is pictures of people doing circus stuff, that look hot. I don't agree with everything they say is hot, but a lot of it is. There is no gender bias in HotCircus, so there are plenty of pictures of women, and these women do not know I'm looking at them so I feel less weird about perving. So I do, and I've been making a point of being thorough about it. Not to beat about the bush, but I've been deliberately seeking out and looking at pictures of women's crotches.
Yes, this is a major breakthrough for me to give myself permission to do this. What I've found is that when I actually allow myself, I quite like it. Now, in my worldview, the crotch area isn't the most appealing bit on either men or women. I've always enjoyed the aesthetics of bodies. Women generally being more flexible (although nakedcircusfreaks has a lot of *very* stretchy men on it), they are able to make more pleasing shapes, and the woman's body (IMO) lends itself more readily to that combination of grace and strength that I find so admirable. So I've been able to pass off that type of perving as admiration, aesthetics, and anything but being turned on by looking at women. Until I look at crotches, at which point I can no longer dissemble what I'm feeling to myself.
Every good experiment needs a control group though, right? Enter NakedCircusFreaks.
NakedCircusFreaks is all pictures of men, and I suspect-without-knowing that it's aimed at a gay male audience. I am not linking to either of these Tumblrs btw because work, but NakedCircusFreaks is exactly what it says on the box. They aren't all naked (in fact last night I watched one of the best fully-clothed cyr wheel performances I've ever seen on there), but enough of them are, and there are sufficient gratuitous exposed, spread-butt shots that it seems obvious they are designed to appeal to men-that-like-men. If it were aimed at women, I suspect there'd be a lot more soft-focus, and the content would have more bulging biceps and fewer genitals, because that's generally what the world thinks women want to look at in a man. Me, I look at woman-aimed male erotica and feel vaguely manipulated, as if someone's going "I know what you want, Women." And that's not really a turn-on. So anyway, NakedCircusFreaks isn't designed to titillate women, IMO. But it does have its fair share of male crotches for me to perv at for my experiment.
What I found was that I would flick backwards and forwards between these two sites, first looking at the men, then looking at the women, and finding that my response to both of them was roughly the same.
Now, I'm less confused. I know that if I allow myself to look at women the way that I 'naturally' look at men, I have a sexual response to that. I have never been with a woman (apart from kissing and a bit of deliberately-safe-zone touching). I have been attracted to women in the past but only a very small number of women, and always after I've known them for a while, enough to be a little bit in love with them. And every woman I've felt like that about has been straight, so I've been able to pass it off as a girl-crush and move on without ever having to find out what might happen if. Convenient!
By the way, I don't expect anyone else to find this as interesting as I do, but for me it's a bit of a revelation. Especially the extent to which I've denied this side of myself for umpty number of years. I have no intention of rushing out and hitting on women willy nilly (is it still willy nilly if both participants are women?), because I have no reason to do that. I mean yes, part of me is going "Holy fuck what have I been missing?" but the more sensible part is going "All in good time, no rush." I am in a stable relationship of years with a beautiful man who is completely unfazed by me going "OHAI, think I like girls too ok?" and one of the fantastic things about this happening in my 40s is that the concept of delayed gratification is not purely abstract.
Where my life's at right now, this kind of thing isn't a big deal. I am very glad I no longer live in a place where everyone is threatened by my sexuality even if I'm straight (because women's sexuality is scary, yo), and where being even a little bit not-straight means social ostracism and being forced into a stereotype. There is no pressing need to prove anything, to myself or anyone else. My identity is pretty stable and this feels more like an extension than a change. I'd describe it as like that thing people feel when they go to their first burn:
"I belong here, how come I never realised that before?"
Don't worry, I'm not going to go all Burner-Evangelist on your arse - or any other part of your body. Not my style. In due course, if the opportunity arises, etc etc blah blah. But at least the door has started to open now.
So that's where I've got to with that. News at eleven.
[later] Just almost-shouted "I am not making this up" at my doctor on the phone. I'm pretty sure she believes me, but there is yet another doctor visit in my future, where once again we are back to "Is this musculo-skeletal or something else?" SO.FRUSTRATED.