So the night before last, I was walking down a pedestrian street lined with cafes and bars. Although the weather had turned and it had started to drizzle, I was walking slowly scanning the establishments to see if any appeared to be serving food. A drink and a bite to eat would have suited me just fine before turning my feet towards home. Most of the places appeared to only have people drinking. At one bar, the clientele appeared to be entirely male. At an outdoor table, one man sat on another man’s lap and they were kissing.
Before I tell you what went through my mind, I would like to explain why I want to engage in a bit of over-sharing.
A day or two earlier, I had become embroiled in a comment thread that got me hot under the collar. The original subject was statutory rape, a subject about which I have fairly complicated feelings, sufficiently complicated that can’t clearly summarize them here. I had gotten in what I believed was a very civil exchange with someone who said that he tried reversing the gender roles and he was surprised by his own reaction. I can’t remember what on earth I said, and I don’t want to go look at it because I don’t want to get mad all over again, but a third person, with whom I have hitherto never had any exchanges whatsoever, responded to my comment by saying that statutory rape was different for girls and boys because men like sex more than women. Anyone who knows me would anticipate that I would go ballistic.
There are a few issues here, but one that has the widest application is the matter of the individual versus the norm. It is not currently fashionable on the left to be an individualist. Since my childhood, people seem to have become increasingly occupied by establishing what should be considered the norm rather than in defending the right of the individual to deviate from it, the right of the individual to make a life he or she wants to live. Attempts to establish a norm have the effect of being coercive to those who do not conform to it. At best, one is left feeling like a freak.
Growing up, in the wake of the sixties, there seemed to me to be a greater tolerance for a wider array of character traits. (One day, I will link this to my grand critique of meritocracy.) We have endless debates about what is natural, debates that will never have a resolution as long as human beings live in societies because there is no natural. There is no man in a state of nature. There will never be an end to the arguments about whether a given characteristic is due to nature or nurture because it is in our nature to nurture. In our arguments about what is normal, what is typical, what is average, what is natural, we lose the diversity of human experience. Our sense of what can exist becomes attenuated.
Flaubert mocked the received wisdom of his day in his Dictionary of Received Ideas. We, today, have our own received wisdom. We know how to make ourselves congenial at a gathering of strangers. What not to say.
I do not want to say what gets women as a category sexually aroused. We could sit here and quote studies and have a battle of examples. However, what we would miss is that there are some sexual thoughts that it is socially acceptable to voice and others that, while not exactly forbidden, would turn people away from you at a social gathering. So while I’ve been at parties where, in mixed company, men have made lascivious jokes about hot women, what went through my mind, ever so briefly, while walking down the street the night before last, I have never heard mentioned.
As my eyes fell on the two young men kissing at the cafe table, I was aware of a twinge between my legs, of a slight quickening of my breath, a flush in my face. As I walked past, my eyes did not linger nor did my head turn. No one passing me passing them would have known what was going through my body and my mind.
It would be incorrect to say that I was surprised by my response. I have long been aware that I think the sight of two men together can be hot. But what occurred to me was that I’ve never heard another woman say that. We could argue about whether or not “women are turned on watching two men.” But what does that statement even mean and what wisdom would that argument yield? If fifty-one percent of women were not turned on by watching men together, then we would say that “women” are not turned on by watching men, effectively ignoring the minority. Should only ten percent of women respond as I do, we should be made to feel like outright freaks for our subconscious response. Then we could get into the ridiculous argument as to whether or not this response is shaped by our societal conditioning. Then surely someone would come along with an elaborate socio-biological argument about why women have not evolved to find two men together sexy, an argument which would then truly make the women who do feel that feel like freaks, like a random mutation unfit for survival.
It occurred to me that it is widely accepted that heterosexual men find watching two women engage in sexual activities to be highly exciting. Of course, there must be some variation in how exciting men find this to be and there probably must be some men who are more or less uninterested in this. However, it does remain that received wisdom has it that men enjoy watching two women.
By this point in my thoughts, I had long left the two men at the cafe table behind. It was a gay bar and it would be a good guess that the men were gay and probably would not be especially appreciative of a female voyeur. On the other hand, I thought, what if they were bi? Maybe not them, but perhaps two other men…. Then the thought went through my mind, “Bisexual men are hot.” It wasn’t a complicated thought, or especially thought out, nor was it one that hadn’t ever crossed my mind before. In fact, it has crossed my mind many times before that it would be especially thrilling to have sex with two bisexual men. I’ve had sex with two heterosexual men and it has always slightly disappointed me that they seemed to be incapable of physically enjoying each other.
Then I recalled another exchange in a different thread on a different site where a bisexual man was bemoaning the fact that bisexual women are seen as hot while bisexual men are not seen as hot. However, what was he bemoaning if not received ideas. Who establishes who is hot? Certainly, no one asked me.
So, in telling you that I find the sight of two men engaged in sexual contact arousing and that I find bisexual men to be hot, you may feel that I have given you too much information. But the reason I want to say this is to reinforce my sense of my own individuality, and hopefully yours as well, as opposed to my membership in the generic category “woman.”
Returning to the subject of the thread that got me so mad a few days ago, the question of statutory rape, we need to consider the possibility of a violation against an individual, not against men or women as a category.
Part of my complicated response to this thread was due to the fact that a few days earlier I had read a post about male victims of sexual assault. When I read in the comment thread that the young man in question shouldn’t be considered a victim because men like sex more than women, I was reminded of how sexual assaults against men are not taken seriously. I think it would help if we could view people as individuals rather than as primarily members of a group.