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Mon, Dec. 4th, 2006, 03:18 pm

The Archipelago of Desire

When I first became interested in sex, I was instinctively very secretive about it. I didn't talk about it to my friends, to my parents, to anybody. I snuck into my father's Playboy collection, I hit the sexuality section of my middle school library (yay, liberal private school!), I rifled through the racier novels on my parent's bookshelves, and I kept my mouth shut about it. Fundamentally, I did not believe that the people around me were having similar experiences. I felt utterly isolated.

Eventually, in my mid-teens this illusion dissipated somewhat--I realized that my peers (the male ones, that is) had libidos too, that they masturbated,that they too were hoarding porn, I joined, in a small way, the underground economy of glossy porn magazines circulating at my high school.

A little further on, I caught on that most people weren't quite as obsessed with sex as I am--it's a bell curve, and I'm neither at the apex, nor out in the windswept plains of the statistical anomalies.

Sex advice columns are constantly filled with people anxious to know "am I normal?" The columnists nearly always reassure them that they are. Sometimes, the more accurate (though probably less comforting) response might be, "No, but there's nothing wrong with that." You have a footie pajama fetish? Well, that's relatively uncommon, but so what?

I have idiosyncratic tastes in female appearance. What are they? Well, you see it's not that simple. I mean, I can tell you some of the obvious markers. I have a thing for women with short hair, for women in men's clothes, particularly if they have curvy, feminine figures. I'm often drawn to women with glasses, women who bite their lower lips when they're thinking. But I've also been attracted to many, many women who had none of those qualities, and been left cold by women who appear to match all those criteria. A map of my attractions would be some sort of fractal shape with nodes and splittings, dead patches, spinkled islands, intricately folded coastlines.

Is everyone like that? I don't know--I've never been anyone else. Lacking data to the contrary, I've ventured to assume that other people are more like me than unlike, As a starting place, it leads to a few interesting places.

For one thing, it makes hash of the notion of sexual orientation as some sort of essential quality. An interest archipelago (I think Delany uses 'rhizome' for similar configurations) may straddle the gender International Date Line or lie wholely or mostly on one side. To try t assign a fundamental essence to the owner on this basis is absurd, and no less absurd when a gay activist does it than when a homophobe does.

A great many people, especially men, espouse a sexuality wholly congruent with our cultural standards. People who resemble this year's crop of actresses and models are pretty, all other people are icky.

I'm a little skeptical. Some subset of these people are certainly telling the ugly truth. Their erotic universe is really that circumscribed, and that malleable. The rest, though, are driven, not by desire but fear. They have desires that they won't acknowledge, perhaps even to themselves, because they're so anxious to be normal.

What are the proportions of these two groups? I wish I knew.

Tue, Dec. 5th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
laurenpburka

I think maybe you don't need to over-intellectualize your own sexual preferences. I also think that most people don't 'espouse' any sexuality, they just have one and they haven't thought about it much. On the other hand, there have been Fat Fanciers clubs for ages, where fat womean and men who love them meet up and in some cases live happily ever after together. Perhaps the men went through some minor angst over preferences that were not the same as their peers', but then most of them probably got over it and got to work wooing the women they found attractive.

Tue, Dec. 5th, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
vinnie_tesla

Y'know, I went to change the wording of 'espouse,' but when I looked it up, everyone gave "to take as one's own" or "to give loyalty to" as the primary meaning. It does seem to be drifting towards 'to advocate' but for the moment I think it fits my intent all right.

The discussion of my own tastes was meant to be an example, rather than the point of the piece. In general, I think people writing about sex are way too ready to pronounce and generalize without explicitly grounding it in personal experience.

I certainly wasn't trying to suggest that people who are comfortable with their own sexualities are extraordinary, or even rare. But, to draw on the example that you gave, the fat lovers I've had have generally had stories of all the guys they're encountered who are happy to fuck a fat chick, but would never date one.

Wed, Dec. 6th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
mme_louise

I think maybe you don't need to over-intellectualize your own sexual preferences.

Snrk. I think maybe that if you don't like reading this sort of thing, you might be in the wrong blog.

I also think that most people don't 'espouse' any sexuality, they just have one and they haven't thought about it much.

I think you're wrong in the first phrase and right in the second. Most people of my acquaintance tend to claim a "type" of person they are attracted to. The type can be as broad as a sex, e.g. my sister's "I just don't do women." Or, it can be the somewhat quirkier statement made by one of my partners-once-removed: "I don't do short-haired-breeder-boys." In both cases, the statement of type is, in my opinion, as much about claiming participation in a social subgroup as it is about saying something about who they tend to be attracted to.

I had the experience just recently of finding myself staring at the bartender at my local bbq joint. After some minutes, I realized that I was attracted to him. What took me so long? He was a muscular, short-haired, clean-cut, military-looking sort, rather than the bearded geeks I think of as "my type."

So, here's a personal reason to pay attention to the disconnect between the type of person I claim to lust after and the much broader set of people I actually do: it makes recognizing that first flutter of interest much easier.

Wed, Dec. 6th, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC)
tomato_sutra

I've been chewing on a similar question lately as well -- namely that of how deep the tribal instinct really runs for most people, and not just in sexuality. I wonder how significant that sort of social glue really is in this time and place, and how much it's magnified by current events and sociopolitical climate.

I might be way off, but my theory is that much of mainstream culture here (in the US, where I live; dunno where you are) is somewhat insecure about identity to begin with. (We're only a few hundred years old, so we're still the proverbial new kids on the block, I guess.) In politics, in news, in religion, blah blah, there's a conspicuous emphasis on team spirit, on belonging, on some larger sense of "we." I wonder whether this is quite as blatant in other, older cultures... obviously every culture deals with some degree of social conformity, but I get the impression that some are far more relaxed about it. The grass is always greener, I suppose.

And re: sexuality, I'm also reminded that there's still a lot of religious influence in the circles I'm most familiar with, even among people who specifically reject those beliefs when they grow older. It's simply part of the fabric, I suppose; sex, or at least a heavy awareness of it, is everywhere, even though there are goofy social taboos about acknowledging many aspects of it.

Maybe what we're seeing is the effect of a culture trying to figure itself out, and individual attempts to navigate the power struggles between subcultures here. For example, we see ads reflecting (bleah) Victoria's Secret models in dainty underwear all over TV and mainstream news sites, showing miles of skin; more generally, sex imagery is used to sell pretty much everything. But hey, according to various Powers That Be, a flash of actual nipple-skin on TV is considered "indecent." Pubic hair is right out, as is the word "fuck," even though its etymology is rather quaint and harmless. And so forth. Is it any wonder that people clam up? It's still such a minefield.

Or perhaps some get a private thrill from believing that they're kinky, different, abnormal, what have you, and part of the fun is guarding the secret. But that implies self-awareness about sexuality, and I doubt there's enough of that going around, alas.