I’m framing this conversation very specifically around cis, straight men and women as that is my area of experience and in an effort to keep this piece representative of one concise idea; however, please take liberties to apply this dynamic to various genders or sexual identities as may apply. And if you have specific feedback or examples either within or outside of the confines of the heteronormative dynamic, please share them in the comments or send me a message. I’d love to hear your experiences!
So, you’re a man. A man who likes women. A man who likes women who knows a thing or two about how many of society’s structures are rigged to not allow women as many privileges as a men (re: equal pay, equal representation, equal rights, etc. etc. and so forth). A man who potentially likes a woman who knows a thing or two about how many of society’s structures are rigged and also shares their body and/or sexuality overtly, lovingly, and boldly. This could come in many forms: Maybe she’s a stripper, a burlesque dancer, a model, an artist, a porn actor, a dominatrix or sex worker of some sort, or simply a woman who loves her body and feeling sexy in it.
Maybe it’s the kind of like where you “like like” them, or maybe it’s the normal regular like with a side of “Man, you are sexy and amazing for sharing how sexy you are,” or maybe just a regular like with a side of “Man, you’re rad for sharing yourself in that way that—in spite of how society is set up for you to feel tons of shame and also pretty unsafe—you do it anyway!” No matter the type of like…it can be difficult as a man in any of these contexts to show your appreciation for this kind of a woman. Arguably, this could be difficult in regards to any kind of woman.
I get it. It can be tough out there. Society hasn’t shown you perfect kindness as a straight* man. Sure, you have droves of privilege in almost every industry and make more than women without even trying; however, you’re expected to be STRONG and PERFECT and have arms the size of redwood tree trunks and all the right answers all the time and take care of everything and initiate all the conversations on Tinder first and never ever cry or enjoy anything in your butt lest you’re judged to like pussy less because of it and therefore be less of a ~*man*~, but also what’s so bad about that because gender is fluid like sexuality is fluid gender isn’t real!
But I digress.
Since I started pole dancing roughly three years ago, I noticed that many straight male friends would bring up my pole videos in conversation or privately, but never “like” or publicly comment on them due to being unsure of what was appropriate or how it would be construed, most of them citing feeling nervous about seeming “creepy.” This fear of being “creepy” is one I’ve found to run rampant amongst straight men who desire to admire women. And it’s one I witnessed arise in a number of conversations I had in creating the second issue of my zine, Divine. Men viewed their sexuality at a distance, similar to how they viewed women; and on top of it, they felt unable to appropriately express their adoration or appreciation for a woman. Where was the line between appreciation and “creep?”
Fear of men is not an unfounded fear, to be certain. It was just a week ago that I received a postcard from a man who found my zine in a shop and wrote me asking for an attractive woman with XX chromosomes who would fuck him everyday. The creep lives, no doubt. But you are not a creep. You’re just a chill dude that is so nice and respectful and, probably “woke” enough that you’re paralyzed by the dichotomy of loving women and feeling sad for your gender’s plight on them. The system is rigged. But all is not lost.
Where was the line between appreciation and “creep?”
First, let me help you gain a little better understanding of how some women may feel about sharing various levels of their sexuality. My stripper, pole dancer, artist friend, Sydney Southam, asked me in a conversation about her piece for Divine how I felt about desiring objectification, such as in her case of being a stripper, or in my case of sharing nude or partially nude photos and videos of myself. We are feminists who believe in equal rights for all, and while part of this battle means fighting against the automatic sexualization and oversexualization of women’s bodies, it also encompasses the right to use and own our bodies to elicit sexuality if we so choose. So how does this world of desired objectification work? Here’s my best answer:
Chosen sexual objectification, such as that engaged in by a stripper in a strip club, lives in a world of consent just like any other act between two humans or sexual encounter. For example, if you desire to engage in a BDSM sexual act with someone—say , you’d like to explore spanking—you might sit down with your partner, talk about your desires, your fantasies, your needs, and your limits. Then, you would agree on a set of rules or communication tactics, and then proceed to enjoy the experience. In a strip club, the stripper has consented to perform a sexually tantalizing act for an audience. There are rules around this performance, which may include: you don’t touch the stripper, you tip the stripper, and so on and so forth. The stripper lives in the confines of these rules and consents to have her sexuality consumed within this set of rules for the amount of time she is on the stage or in the club working that night. This does not mean she consents to have sex with you later. This does not mean she consents to literally anything else outside of that interaction, nor should she be treated with any less respect than the Queen of England or any other human on the planet. It is a relationship of consent that has rules, either spoken or implied, and lives within the confines of those boundaries. I believe this thought structure can be applied to many scenarios.
In my case, when I post a photo or video of my body framed in a sexual manner, the boundaries are definitely blurrier and much more implied; however, I do believe they follow the same construct. If I post a photo of my partially nude body on my Instagram, I consent for you to admire it in the same or similar light. I believe the rules and limits, in this case, are set and implicated by the context of them living on my Instagram account, which also houses photos of my design work, my zine, my cat, my dancing videos, selfies of my face, and even, sometimes, food. I expect that anyone who is viewing a sexual photo from this account recognizes my identity in its wholeness and receives these photos in context…which is, after all, king.
If I didn’t want you to interact with the post, I wouldn’t post it. The post is not about you. It is not about having sex with you. So, conversely, if you “like” the post or comment something supportive or appreciative on the post, I would not make it about me or about having sex with me. Within this boundary of understanding, no one is a creep and no one owes anyone anything. We are left with love, joy and celebration of sexuality and pleasure, devoid of shame or fear of safety. (How great!)
So, now on to flirting. We’ve established that posting or interacting with public sexual content does not imply that a personal sexual relationship is desired or promised to anyone, on any side of the coin. But what if it is desired? Women of this nature do desire connection and relationships just like anyone else. So how do you move from a world of public to personal sexual interaction? Well, I believe there are two main ideas at work here that I am only doing my best to parse from my own personal experiences; but I will share them for the insight they may hold for you:
The first is that—as someone who works with and around sexuality—I find a man who can accomplish public part of this equation, i.e. navigating sexuality in the world in a way where he’s able to admire it and engage it in a positive, loving, and self aware way, yet in a way that does not have to relate to whether or not he will ever have sex with that person, as the biggest turn-on. If you don’t know how to separate your public, ideological, general appreciation of sexuality from your personal relationships and intimate intentions, this is your homework. If you do, you need to have confidence in the fact that you are rare and that this quality is incredibly sexy. I’ve found that with the latter, I have to actually invite the man to bring thoughts to a personal place. I have to give him super explicit permission to look at my photos and fantasize about the two of us, because in this case, I do desire that personal interaction. But this type of person is typically also well-versed in explicit consent, and so both parties are very happy to exist in this manner. On somewhat of a side note, I’ve also given explicit permission to men to fantasize to my photos while also making it clear that I’m not interested in a personal relationship. I’m happy if my photos bring pleasure and healing, as long as the boundary is clear. In any case, everyone is operating through and around clear communication as consent.
The second part to this formula is closely related to the first, but I feel is worth calling out on its own. And that is: Sexual feminist women have X-ray vision for bullshit. We have done a lot of work to love a part of ourselves that society has worked super hard to demonize and laden with shame and fear for ages. We’ve been forced to examine our identities, our relationships, and the world around us; and we have to navigate our boundaries and needs constantly, everyday. It forces a level of self awareness on us that is not forced on you, as a privileged cishet man (extra privilege points for being white!). So if you’ve been walking around for decades living in an illusion of self, we will know. If you’ve been “spitting game” at repressed women for years, and you’re confused why it’s not working with your feminist dream girl—there you have it.
All of this constant navigation of our identities in an inhospitable environment is tiring. All we want is to relax and go with the flow, but it just so happens society does not go with our flow. Its tide rages against our shores, tearing at us every chance it gets. So when we think about dating, making out, or wanting to get naked with someone, toxic masculinity, attempts at “game,” or any kind of bravado will have us yawning before you can even buy us a drink.
We love communication and consent. You can never overdo consent. Consent is super sexy!
To summarize: You are not walking in a minefield, you are just flirting with a feminist, potentially a sexual feminist. And she’s just a person who wants to feel connected and listened to and supported like any other. Someone who wants to have fun and relax in spite of all of the annoying, tiring, sometimes lonely and terrifying situations dating can put us in. Engage with us. Celebrate with us. Love sexuality with us. And be genuine to yourself and with us.
Society has done the straight man much kindness, but also leaves a lot to be desired in terms of bodies, sex and relationships. We don’t need you to make the first move or be the biggest or the loudest or the most confident in the room. We don’t need you to be perfect all the time or have all the answers. We just need you to understand us, listen to us, be kind and respectful of us. And if there’s anything you’re unsure about, ask. We love communication and consent. You can never overdo consent. Consent is super sexy! And in this process of listening and asking and understanding—who knows—maybe you’ll even find a joy and wholeness in your own sexuality that you never thought possible.
Excerpted from Divine magazine
Divine is a sex-positive art and story zine created, curated and published by Jillian Adel in Los Angeles, CA. It’s mission is to authenticate and deepen connections to the self and those around us by making work that celebrates a diverse range of sexuality, gender, identity, relationship and bodies.
The third issue, Divine 003: Men, was released May 18th and features 11 contributors that span a range of locale, medium, and experience in a self-published, 5.5×8.5 in. 60-page booklet, accompanied by a limited-run, risograph booklet / fold-out poster.
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