Remember Bryn? She’s the one who alerted me to my very brief moment of Autostraddle celebrity? She’s a beast at so many things, but lucky for you, one of them is writing about gender assumptions, sexuality, and language. Don’t believe me? Read her guest post about how her suavity with the ladies confused a male friend:
* * * *
I was hanging out with a male friend a while back and catching him up on my life, which mostly involved detailing a number of my recent sexual exploits, when he remarked, “Dude, I don’t know whether to think you’re a slut or a player.”
I paused, taken aback, then laughed it off. “Well, maybe I’m both,” I joked. “But anyway, so, the next morning…”
At the time I didn’t dwell much on it, but I’ve returned to that conversation quite a bit since then. His comment was offhand and I’m sure he meant it as a joke, yet I can’t seem to let it go. It unsettles me that my identity is, in his eyes, bifurcated: I sleep with women, therefore my sexuality is impressive; I am a woman, therefore my sexuality is shameful.
Normative framing of sexual behavior relies on gendered tropes of conquest, assertiveness, and mastery for men, and passivity and restraint for women. The terms “slut” and “player” derive their power and meaning from social expectations that position men as pursuers who “score” when they get laid, and women as meek recipients of romantic attention whose moral fiber is considered suspect if they “give it up” too often. This heteronormative framework is the dominant cultural idiom and most of us operate within it at least to some extent on a daily basis, relying on it to both guide our own behavioral decision-making and to police the actions and desires of others.
My failure to conform to this idiom was jarring to my friend. His instinct was to categorize my promiscuity as slutty, but since my desire was directed toward other women – an orientation we have in common – that initial instinct conflicted with his impulse to congratulate me on my demonstrations of sexual prowess, as he might have if I were a male friend. My behavior was consistent with what would be considered acceptable if I were one of his guy buddies, but inconsistent with what he understood to be socially appropriate behavior for a female peer, and his ambivalent response reflected his confusion at these unresolved judgements.
My own feelings about my friend’s reaction are mixed: on the one hand, I resent that he may never treat me in quite the same way he treats his close male friends, simply because I am a woman and my behavior and expressions of desire are therefore anomalous to him. On the other hand, much as there is a part of me that sometimes wants to be “one of the guys,” and hopes to be validated for the success of my sexual pursuits, I don’t actually want to disempower the women I sleep with by treating them as conquests, any more than I want to be disempowered myself. Because it prevents my sexuality from being easily pigeon-holed, therefore, my exclusion from the normative framework of sexual behavior is ultimately probably a good thing.
Related Post: My GMP article about why going down is often a one-way street.
Related Post: Do you hope your child will be straight? Is that a problem?