By Tame Shewolf
When I read Grunthus Grumpus’ article on Unfuckable Me on this site, it triggered a cascade of thoughts for me.
Looking back I see now, it was my own misogyny that very early on, I had decided that I am not going to be pretty. I was not an ugly kid, but I still decided that I won’t be pretty. Today, I feel to an utmost certainty that I am not pretty, and even slightly indulging in dressing up makes me feel like a fraud.
Image: from the work of the artist Jen Collins
I disrespected femininity. I saw it as shallow. I saw it as an act, playing up the damsel role to impress perhaps to get the approval of men, and so, definitely inauthentic. I also disrespected the kind of guys who fell for that display of femininity. At times I would think I want to be a boy so I can show boys how to be better at using their privilege to create something positive, instead of just jockeying for supremacy. I wanted to access the power that even young boys seemed to possess- of being the last word in a discussion with friends, of everybody in your family pandering to you, of that automatic respect and partiality that teachers bestow on guys for being rebellious.
For a girl, friendship was not about wit, but about being agreeable and bubbly; family teaches you to adjust than demand, and teachers shower you with attention for sincerity, not for mischievousness, which they consider cute in a boy. I really felt jealous of guys for the fucking fluke of being born a guy. I felt miserable just watching stupid guys reap the benefits of a patriarchy.
And you know what? I ended up being totally played. Into becoming a “proper girl with brains”. I weaponized “being smart” and “not girly”. I was very uptight and judgmental about a lot of things – all of them rooted in misogyny.
On the one hand, I rejected girls who were good at using their femininity as a tool, but I saw them being disrespected by their peers for the same. On the other hand, I chose to compete with boys but with an internalised hatred for my gender, which made me smaller to them anyway. I dismissed and even patronised guys who were not smart. So, it was like choosing to rebel but still remaining within the themes dictated by the system.
My rejection of femininity really affected me as a teen. I, of course, came across as a lesbian, but not desirable to a lesbian – or so I thought. I was constantly reminded how I could dress better or how I was not feminine enough to be objectively pretty. My parents also kept pointing out my unfeminine ways of sitting, sleeping, combing my hair even and it made me dig in my heels even more. There were too many failed attempts of pretending to be feminine. Attempts at dressing up girly, ended with me feeling totally out of place and incredibly vulnerable. Even taking care of my body (even applying a simple cream) felt as if I was trying to be someone I am not. It would feel like playing into the gaze of men, trying for their approval.I became self-conscious about this entire part of existence and it took some effort to unknot this thinking bit by bit later.
Dressing up is still a soul-sucking chore for me. I don’t go to social occasions or a fancy place most of the time, because of how arduous it is for me to dress up and fail at it so conspicuously. I always fall prey to expectations of me. Recently my guy-friend pointed out my fake laugh, or my dead smile to something that’s not funny, which made me reflect on when the fuck did I fucking pick up this creepy habit? Oh, it was for that crush when I was 15. Kill me.
My successful rejection of prettiness has led me to be the most confident when I present myself in a desexualized way. I get really uncomfortable and angry even if I am reminded that I am a woman. I was uncomfortable with my body perceived under the male gaze (not because I was uncomfortable with my body as a woman.) There is some sense of control I can assert when I interact with people in a desexualized manner. I rid myself of the possibility of a flirtatious interaction where I have to play feminine to succeed. (Not that I have never been part of such conversations, but how demeaning and problematic that short-lived experience is, is brilliantly articulated in Grunthus Grumpus’ article. I have this clarity only in hindsight.)
I guess, desexualizing is also a preemptive rejection of myself before a dimwit guy reminds me I am not ‘his type’.
Image: from the work of the artist Gordana Brelih
The sexualized self of myself adopted stifling masculine notions of sex. In my teens, I ended up discussing sex with only guys, and I have inherited this shitty competitive framework that men are conditioned with when it comes to sex. Sex has actually become a list of to-dos for me. Have I done that? Have I experienced this? Next time I need to try that. How many times I have done it? This was so detrimental and toxic for me. I was so frustrated to not be able to masturbate as easily as a guy, not reach orgasm as quickly as the guy; just imitating this twisted focus on the sex and not the eroticism to reach the head space for sex. How many sex-ed videos and columns and books created by women have I watched/read to decode how my own body works and how my own desire manifests itself. Despite that, there is a sense of the male gaze transfixed at the back of my head. There is this struggle when I don’t know if I am playing into it, or this expression of desire and sexiness is mine alone. Even the suspicion that I am catering to men can shut me down.
Because my reality seems like an ironic dorky ugliness in the face of a singular type of beauty, my fantastical desire requires utter narcissism. In my real life, I may appear unconfident, hesitant and overthinking my awkwardness. In my fantasies, that is definitely not me. I imagine a space where I am assertive and I know what I want and can ask for it and have it. Also, everything is about me! There is no performance to please anyone other than me. But I can no more bridge the two in my erotic life. I also can’t bridge my intellectual belief of equality with men and my reality that teaches me to be suspicious of men, and that woman>>> men. These internal and external conflicts have no positive effect on my personal life.
Image: Alison Saar, Compton Nocturne, 2012
There is so much more that Gruthus Grumpus talks about, which I relate to in some way. I get her angst.
Yet, I am hopeful about overcoming my own thought-police, and bridging that gap between what I want and what is. Being aware of where all this stems from, and reading about gender helps me place my experience in context. I can externalize the problem, and work to be closer to an authentic me. I’m getting there, bit by bit by bit.
Tame Shewolf has been reluctantly blogging since 2009. She has always been interested in talking about sex and sexuality, but only recently mustered the courage to write about it.