Genderiffic

I’m going to riff on something which is only peripherally related to the “mission” of this blog, but I’m sure no one minds.  Right?  Right.

One of the major topics of conversation last night was gender and the expression thereof, and the ways that both of us have dealt with that. For my part, I’ve been mulling these things over a lot lately, in particular since a recent Mass Effect playthrough as a female character (FemShep, in the parlance) pulled front-and-center certain internal assumptions I had about my own gender expression which I was previously not consciously aware of.

We don’t need to have a debate about the value of video games for cultural expression and self-examination, right?  Right.

I’m not a man who is comfortable with traditional masculinity.  This surprises no one, least of all myself.  But I’m still a fairly masculine-presenting, cis man, male.  For a long time, I hadn’t thought about that at all, largely because I don’t need to.  The world is built on the assumption that someone is male, and it’s easy to miss the ways in which one is “default”.  Instead, the focus tends to be on the differences from expectation, but, ultimately, for me, the differences aren’t as great as the similarities.

This isn’t something I’m terribly comfortable with, though.  I have always associated “masculinity” with negative traits–violence, bullying,gender policing, homophobia, tribalism, jingoism, etc.  I was a small boy, and boys are awful to other boys–myself included. I’m still not nearly as comfortable with men as women, and most of my friends remain women.

But the fact of the matter is that I am, and am obviously, male and masculine.  I don’t have to address it, because the world is designed not to throw it in my face, unlike other folks, but it’s there.  I’m making a choice in how to present even if I am merely accepting the default options.  And I’m not doing it because I feel pushed into it; I rapidly and vehemently rebel against those bits that don’t fit right into my identity.  I am this way because I want to be, because it feels right.

What there isn’t, for masculinity, is any sense of choice.  Any way to do it consciously (as opposed to self-consciously), and in an examined manner.  Any way to accept what works while ejecting what’s toxic.  Almost any other gender expression can be done in a subversive way, as an announcement of both the gender itself and also one’s politics associated with it.

I used to follow The Good Man project (no, no link), hoping that it would be, or lead to, a discussion of how to be masculine in the world as it changes.  It didn’t, and (like all of these sorts of discussions) it was quickly co-opted by men who wanted to whinge about their “emasculation” in today’s society, or complain that feminism has “gone too far”, or to lionize those things that are most awful about what’s expected of men. Business as usual.

Guys, dudes, my brothers, look: we are not being left behind. We started out so far ahead.  Other people may be moving faster than we are, but that’s because they have to to catch up.  And it’s no one else’s responsibility to make space for us.  If we want to be allies, or even relevant, we need to be willing to give up a privileged position.  It’s not “emasculating”; no one else can emasculate you.

I like this identity.  I don’t like some of the things that I associate with it, but I don’t have to do those things.  But unlike other possible identities, there isn’t anything to reclaim here, except from my own negative image of masculinity.  So it’s been unnecessary to do it consciously, and in an examined manner.  I haven’t had to decide how to identify, I just have an identity.  I’m starting to think, though, that it doesn’t have to be that way, that maybe there’s a value in the performance.

There are certainly things that are “masculine” that are worth preserving.  Not bullshit about chivalry, or refusing to cry.  Not simple virtues, like “courage” or “steadfastness”, because to claim those belong to masculinity is to claim that they can’t belong to the immasculine (for that matter, I think it’s essentially false to ascribe things like “being nurturing” and “talking about feelings” to femininity).  Not merely biologically male tendencies, like height and musculature.  Not sexuality.  Not even sex or gender, because there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a reason that anyone can’t take on this image.  But the outward presentation of masculinity, things like:

  • Suits
  • Facial hair
  • Swagger
  • Rolled-up, long sleeve, button-down shirts
  • Leading in social dance
  • Ties
  • Big watches

Anyway, these elements of outward presentation, which I think still have great value that it took me a long time to cotton to.  Take ties, for example: I’ve long claimed to hate them.  Partly, this is because I have a huge neck and the shirts that otherwise fit me don’t easily button to the top.  Mostly, though, in honesty, it’s because I’ve associated them with a bullshit corporate culture that I hate.  But I don’t have to do that. And if I don’t, it’ll be rapidly obvious, and I don’t need outward signals to demonstrate that.

A corollary to the conscious choice here is that all other choices are equally valid.  It’s important, in being both masculine and enlightened, to have looked at all the other choices.  It’s important to recognize the value of those choices, and it’s important to make the decision for oneself without making a value judgment on people who make a different choice.

Done right, I think this belongs in a similar category with various sorts of gender bending.  Pi radians, 180 degrees, is still an angle, and mathematics doesn’t distinguish it in any special way; it’s just one angle of infinitely many.  The phrase that keeps rolling around in my head to describe this is “hard dapper”, and I think a couple of people out there already close to epitomize what I’m going for.  Check out Nick Wooster:

Or Phillip Crangi:

However, I don’t know anything about these guys’ personal philosophies.  I think the key elements here for me, for this “hard dapper” thing, are:

  • Masculinity as a conscious choice of outward presentation, as opposed to a default
  • A recognition that this is not the same as “manliness” or “maleness”. These are not the things that a man “should be” or “should wear”.  These aren’t things that anyone of another gender shouldn’t wear.  In fact, folks of other genders make this sort of conscious choice all the time.  It’s just an understanding that so can I.
  • A recognition that this is a selection from a spectrum, and not only is it only one choice of many, it is many separate choices.  I can mix and match whatever I want, even if I settle on one theme.
  • A recognition that I can jettison the things that I don’t want.  A tie isn’t homophobia.  A suit jacket isn’t bullying men who are smaller than me. Leading my partner in a tango isn’t gender oppression.

I’m not sure where this is going, but it’s a new era of self-examination and I’m looking forward to the journey.  I think I’m going to have some of my shirts tailored and buy some ties.

Novelty

There is really very little that compares to the jazzed-up thrill of connecting with someone new, of attracting someone.  Non-monogamy has a lot of benefits (and a lot of detriments), but the ability–and the permission–to keep chasing that spark is the one that would be a complete dealbreaker for me.  I couldn’t sign on to something that tried to circumscribe that ability; at least one potential secondary relationship ended quickly because that person needed me to make promises about meeting new people that I wasn’t willing to make.  Newness and excitement is important to me.

This is by way of saying that I had a great date last night.  One that I wasn’t actually sure was a “date” going in.

Dear attractive internet person

Hello there!

I find your pictures attractive and your profile non-repulsive.  I have therefore come to the conclusion that if I were to put my penis inside you, a good time would be had by all, and that we’d both find each other interesting enough to navigate the process.  I suspect that, on seeing my pictures and reading my profile, you will reach the same conclusion.

I propose the exchange of several internet messages during which neither of us brings this up.  After 3-6 messages on each side, we should meet in person and also not discuss these conclusions.  At the end of that meeting, I will make some sort of physical advance, without, of course, verbally acknowledging it ahead of time, and you will either accept that advance or clumsily reject it.  In the latter case, I will apologize, as will, for some reason, you, and we will laugh nervously and make plans to repeat the process.

If, instead, you accept the advance, we will begin another clumsy, non-verbal (of course) process of fits and starts where I will attempt to escalate the contact.  You know, of course, that my end goal is naked body rubbing, as do I, and you have already decided how far toward that we will progress this evening, but of course neither of us will discuss this because that would be weird.  If you do stop me, we will follow the laugh-nervously-and-reset process outlined previously.

Over the course of one or more evenings of this, assuming no major faults on either side (you’re not a juggalo/ette, right?), we will achieve the naked rubbing end goal that both of us have been planning on since we first saw each other’s photos.  It is at this point that we will find out if our sexual styles and abilities are in any way compatible with and enjoyable to one another.  If not, one or both of us will awkwardly avoid contacting the other one until one or both of us gives up.

Assuming that it works out, though, congratulations!  We may now discuss sex.  Also, you can let out that fart.

Sincerely, or as close to it as cultural restraints will allow,

–Nick

Troika

I get this question a lot, mostly from people who are not in but curious about open or poly relationships:

Have you ever had a threesome?

To which the answer is “yes”, but to the implied question–“Do you and Carrie seek out/date/sleep with people together”–the answer is “no”, or maybe “we haven’t”.

I have had sex with two partners, but only when I was single (I don’t have any experience with foursomes or moresomes or sex parties or such).  It was fine.  My limited experience has led me to the conclusion that–for me–multiple-partner sex is all right, but not enough better than single partner sex to justify the added logistical difficulty.

Partly, I think I just lack that particular fetish, which means that I don’t find the situation inherently hot.  I like looking at naked attractive people as much as the next human being, but it doesn’t go beyond that for me.  Also, my particular kink pattern tends to include a sense of responsibility for everyone else’s pleasure, which is fine one-on-one but starts to get distracting with multiple partners.

I also suspect that the majority of people–or at least men–with this particular fantasy haven’t really thought it through.  Can you rub your belly and pat your head at the same time?  Some of us can, most of us can’t, and that’s without the other distractions of sex.  Three is a weird number–at least one person has to be doing two things at once at all times, or doing one thing while something very distracting is happening, or else someone is likely bored.  I really enjoy giving oral or manual stimulation, but doing it right requires some real concentration.  It’s also for this reason that “69” stuff is less interesting to me than it’s apparently supposed to be.

In any event, many people–Carrie included–have suggested that maybe my relative lack of interest stems from the circumstances of my forays into this territory.  I.e., hooking up with strangers always sounds hotter than it is, and the dynamics are entirely different with someone you know and have affection for.  Which is possible, but the other thing about multiple-partner sex is that it just takes a lot of arrangement or else a weird confluence of circumstances.  In general, someone has to be really into the idea, and I’m not and Carrie is only circumstantially so.  Most couples that go down this route seem to end up spending a lot of time and energy unicorn hunting, and neither of us is strongly inclined to do so.  We’d probably have to be hunted down by some enterprising unicorn with a couple crush.

Which is mostly to say that, much like the “what, you mean like two girlfriends” stereotype, the questions that people tend to ask before getting into open relationships are mostly the wrong questions.

Ignoring profile elements you don’t like

A friend whom I’ve mentioned before posted a conversation to her tumblr recently which illustrates another irritating bit of online dating that I’ve run into.  When I asked her if I could use this one as the lead-in to a blog post, she said “Yeah, no problem! Feel free to mine the treasure trove of my failed love life for material”, and so I am doing just that. To set the stage, she mentions multiple times in her profile that she’s looking for a monogamous relationship.

Guy on OKC: Stockings are amazingly hot to me, I’m obsessed with technology, and I’m at least in an open relationship looking for a female counterpart. Do those qualify for your interests in perhaps getting to know each other a bit? Oh, by the way, my name is. Nice to have crossed paths on the tangled webs of the internet.

Me: I am not entirely sure where the sense of entitlement that is so pervasive in the Seattle poly community comes from. You should be more respectful of people’s stated preferences.

Him: Someone is a little sensitive. Maybe you should lighten up a bit. 🙂

Him, again: I also wanted to thank you for giving me a glimpse of your true personality before it was too late. It would have been a waste of both of our time if I had found out you were such a miserable person later on in the friendship we could have had. I hope you can learn to enjoy life a bit more and eventually learn to not be so presumptuous.

Because, of course, she’s the one being presumptuous here.

I’m aware of this phenomenon partly through my own experience and partly through participating in the journals.  A lot of online daters just simply don’t care what you say you’re looking for, and feel free to hit on you regardless.

Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, this is through ignorance; someone either misreads a profile element or simply doesn’t read the whole thing.  The latter is probably forgivable in the grand novella that I’ve written about myself, but the average profile is not eye-wrenchingly long.  At the very least, one should read the “You should message me if” section on OkCupid before, you know, messaging someone.

Often, though, it’s deliberate.  I know of several people who explicitly ignore someone’s limits if they don’t match them. For example, several older men have written in the OkCupid journals that they feel perfectly justified in contacting someone who states outright that they don’t want to hear from anyone their age.  I also know of a lot of women who will contact men who say that they’re not looking for anything monogamous on the assumption that they’re just looking for the right person with whom to be monogamous.  And of course some men and women who are in poly/open relationships feel perfectly justified in hitting on people who explicitly state that they’re only interested in monogamy, as above.

It’s not everyone, of course, but it’s a sizable minority of at least OkCupid’s userbase.  And it creates a sort of arms race of lies; I know lots of women who list an age range that’s smaller than they’re actually looking for because they know they’ll be contacted by people who are a couple of years outside of it, anyway.  I know people who list themselves as “seeing someone” when they’re looking because they know that enough people will hit on them anyway (although I question the quality of person who would do so).  And of course the limit-breakers know this, and so they increase the amount by which they’ll exceed someone’s limits, and so on.

What’s worst, though, is that so many of these folks feel like they’re entitled to do this.  For an example, see the conversation above, where “Guy on OKC” gets incredibly snippy and implies that there’s some character flaw in the monogamy-seeking person he contacted for a) wanting monogamy and b) being upset with him for ignoring that explicitly-stated desire.

To some extent this is just human nature, of course, and probably unavoidable culturally.  If OkCupid wanted to, they could add filters that prevent someone from contacting other people–they used to have something like this, but they’ve long since dropped the feature.

I don’t really understand why you’d want to contact someone who has essentially already told you they’re not interested.  It’s always possible that they’d make an exception for you, but it’s vastly more likely that you’re wasting everyone’s time.  Before I approach someone on any dating site, I’m careful to check what they’re looking for, including age ranges, genders, and special requirements they list explicitly, etc, and that’s courtesy to some extent but it’s also largely that I have things to do other than spamming strangers.  Important things!  Like I have this one blog I write where I complain about internet strangers!

Dating site roundup

I’ve been trying to branch out a bit as far as dating sites are concerned.  OkCupid is fine, but it’s getting less fun as they’ve been successful in killing off the journals, and there aren’t a lot of folks in Providence on it.  My searches all end up sending me to Somerville and Cambridge, which are fine places and which don’t seem all that far until you start traveling there once or twice a week for dates.  I feel like that would be fine for someone I’m seeing, but for just the getting-to-know-you stage it’s a bit much.  Makes first and second dates logistically difficult, because I have to:

    1. Work out that I have an evening free.
    2. Contact one person to see if they’re available, because the last thing that one wants is to double book an evening (again).
    3. Wait for that person’s response, and:
      1. If they’re available, nail down scheduling
      2. If they’re not available, repeat steps 1-3 with someone else

It has proven easier not to deal with it, and just to contact friends if I’m going to be Bostonish of an evening.  Although “easier than dating” is, in general, a low bar.

So.  Dating sites.  I have decided to try some, and while it’s probably too early to tell, I can at least give you my preliminary assessment.  I try these things so that you don’t have to.

OkCupid is, of course, the premiere dating site for the geek/nerd continuum, and also for poly folks.  Thus, it is the premiere squared site for geeky poly folks.  Except that premiere is 1 and 1 squared is 1 and blah.  Anyway.  This is the place to start, and to put the most effort.  You probably already know all about this place.

PlentyOfFish is both the world’s largest free dating site and the world’s most hideous, with site design that rivals old Angelfire pages.  I’m convinced that it’s the “largest” primarily because they refuse to let you leave the site.  You can’t delete your profile, nor can you prevent them from emailing you afterward.  You can check out any time you blah blah eaglescakes.  Don’t sign up for this site. It is terrible and it will stay with you forever. It is the internet equivalent of having your friends force you to watch John Waters’s Pink Flamingoes and then never being able to wash the terrible out of your brain.

xdating is PlentyOfFish but worse and with more fake profiles.

Fetlife  isn’t a dating site per se, but is often used that way.  It’s probably second only to OkCupid among the poly set, and could be worth signing up for.  It’s worth noting that your profile on Fetlife is probably going to be way worse for your career prospects if an employer finds it than your profile anywhere else short of Adult FriendFinder.  It’s also way NSFW in general.  It’s also no use if you’re completely vanilla, but I honestly don’t believe such people exist.

Match.com, eHarmony, and basically all traditional, paid dating sites don’t allow for nonmonogamy at all.

Date Hookup is pretty bare-bones.  It’s got an okay philosophy, but not much functionality.  There’s little to sort users by except superficial characteristics.  If you really care whether your potential date is a 25-year-old atheist latina, it may be a good choice, if any such people are on it.

PolyMatchMaker has such potential, but it’s lightly populated and locks much of its functionality behind a paywall.  It’s okay.  There was one other interesting person in all of Rhode Island on it, and we went out a few times. Worth trying for free.

CasualKiss does so many things right.  It has a lot of features that I want OkCupid to incorporate.  You can have both a sexuality and a “looking for”, solving OkC’s eternal problem of bisexuals who are nevertheless only looking for one sex right now getting swamped with inappropriate messages.  It expands the possibilities into couples, as well.    It allows you to search distances more granular than 25 miles.  You can search by what type of relationship someone is looking for, like a fling, or just friendship.  And it is completely empty.  No one within 50 miles of me has been “online recently”.

So, I would say that if you’re poly/open, looking to date online, and don’t have any profiles yet, you should sign up for, in this order:

  1. OkCupid, and as a distant second:
  2. Fetlife, unless you’re one of the handful of truly vanilla people and then:
  3. PolyMatchMaker, and when you inevitably find no one there, go back to OkCupid for a while, then maybe
  4. CasualKiss for the novelty of it.

Ticker

Nick: I’m starting to notice a cycle I go through when I haven’t hooked up with someone new for a while.
Maybe “cycle” is wrong. It’s more like a ticker that just counts upward.
In any event, mundane activities get more difficult if there are attractive people around. It gets harder not to ogle, and I have to concentrate more to hold a conversation with someone I’m attracted to.

Josh: Have you tried trying to sublimate the effort not to ogle into some sort of flirting? Or are these situations in which that’s not really appropriate?

Nick: Well, as a rule it wouldn’t be appropriate for most of my social interactions.

Josh: does social include professional?

Nick: Yes.

It mostly includes professional.

Josh: (thought so. here it’s often used to mean what happens in one’s ‘free time’)

Nick: Ah, I see. I wouldn’t use it that way with some jobs I’ve held, but this one does require a great deal of professional social interaction.

Josh: Makes sense.

Can you sublimate it into some sort of ‘deniable flirting’, by which I really just mean being friendly to people, making/holding eye-contact, and smiling.

s/./?/

Nick: Sure, and I do, and it helps a bit, I think. I’m not sure.

It’s not something I’d really recognized before, mostly because this particular anxiety is one that has been there most of my life.

Josh: I certainly find it does. Especially with students.

Nick: I’ve only recently noticed when it dipped.

Josh: Mhm.

Fortunately, I rarely find people that much younger than me particularly attractive.
And academic-professional interactions tend to happen rather differently from how I imagine those of IT professionals with clients.

Nick: Likely so.

Josh: Do you find people more attractive when you’ve not hooked up with someone for a while?
Nick: I don’t think so, but I find their attractiveness harder to ignore.

Josh: More something else, then? More strongly desired? More like you want to fuck them?

Nick: The latter, certainly. Or, it’s more imperative that I fuck them.

The part of my brain that I’m always tamping down in order not to drool on certain people gets harder to tamp down.
My ability not to overtly ogle people gets compromised, and it’s more effort to control my eyes and head.
And there’s an anxiety buildup. Which doesn’t reduce the anxiety around approaching people, so it’s just more anxiety about the whole process.
Maybe the anxiety of not-approach needs to exceed the anxiety of approach.
Or, you know, maybe I’m a human being with free will making excuses. probably one of those.
Josh: I guess I’m wondering if the desire to ogle is merely that, or if it’s an expression of a desire to fuck either that person in particular or someone in general.

Nick: Probably all of those.

There’s always a desire to ogle and a desire to fuck attractive people, but the desire to fuck someone in general is the variable part.
Although it’s “someone new”, really, not “someone in general”.

Josh: Mhm. I know that feeling.

Nick: I wonder if that’s socialization, or a hormonal cue, or something else.
Or a combination.

Josh: My assumption on these matters is that it’s a combination of approximately 95% socialization and 5% hormonal cue.

That might be overplaying the hormonal cue slightly.

Nick: Perhaps. Or the socialization governs how the hormonal cue expresses.

Josh: Or how we respond to it, which is more or less the same thing.