Because attraction and dating is political
''It's not my fault, if I'm only attracted to *blank*''.
''Attraction is personal and there is nothing I can do about it''.
These are opinions we hear often. Because sexuality is something most people see as private, they think it is individual but it is not quite true. The idea that being only attracted to one race of people or only people who are of a certain size is something that most people don't even want to debate anymore. Is there an objective and purely natral component to attraction and dating? Who you choose to be simply friends with, to have casual sex with or to date is political and it falls in the category of desirability politics. Being a Black physically disabled woman, this is something that takes a lot of space in my dating life and maybe some of you can relate to that too.
We talk about desirability politics when we look at the level to which someone is seen as desirable because of their social position. Your social position is constructed by your economic class, your social class, your sexual orientation, your race and ethnicity, whether you are cisgender or transgender and also whether or not you’re disabled. It takes into account the ways in which you are privileged and marginalized before having to consider the details of your physical appearance.
At first glance, I am a Black medium sized woman and that says something about my positionality. Being Black, I am marginalized because of my race, but I am privileged because I am not overweight and because I am cis. My disability is mostly invisible, meaning most people won’t first consider it. However, it is a crucial part of my positionality because in this ableist society, it affects my value as a human. According to systems of oppression, the most desirable partner is one that fits in every single box, meaning they are White, middle-class and upward, straight or straight passing (because this can also apply to LGB people), cisgender, thin and able-bodied. If you only find yourself to be attracted to people who fall in these categories, you should probably ask yourself a few questions. Furthermore, just because certain people experience attraction to people who are not at all in these categories, does not mean that your ''preferences'' are just as valid. Politically, they do not have the same weight and they are not the same. Does that mean you cannot be attracted to people who fit in those norms? Of course not, they are people just like everybody else. If your partner fits in these categories, does it mean you love them less? Obviously not, this is absolutely not the point I am trying to make. The issue comes if you chose your partner because you believe they are superior due to these categories, and if you believe these categories make them objectively more attractive. For example, if you have a White partner and you believe that them being White makes them more attractive because you think non-White people are unattractive. We all have a type, wether we acknoledge it or not. However, we need to deconstruct it and understand why we have one to begin with.
In a patriarchal society, the capital for women is beauty, and the capital for men is women. In a heteronormative world, women show their worth through their ability to get one man but men show their worth through their ability to get many women who are seen as desirable. Maybe this is a controversial view but I definitely think that men date primarly according to desirability politics. I mean, we all do to a certain extent but men more than women and it is because of the capital that comes with it. Sure, men will have casual relationships with many women but a lot of them they would never date because they recognize that in the eyes of other men, these women are not desirable. ''Yeah, I had sex with her but I wouldn't want anybody to know'', is something pretty common for a guy to say. The reason for that is the value this woman has according to him. He knows that disclosing the sexual relationship he had with her won't be beneficial to him, if anything, he could be seen as desperate and have his reputation be affected. Dating is even more political because it is obviously more public. The person you walk hand-in-hand with in the streets says something about you. A woman's level of desirability affects the way her male partner is perceived, because, as I said earlier, the capital for men is women. For women and girls, it doesn't really matter who you sleep with or date, the number simply has to be low.
Men have more to gain than women in this situation but they also have more to lose. In a society where it is believed that all a woman can bring to the table is her body, if it is not considered to be desirable, then you are seen as useless.
As a woman attracted to men, it is impossible not to fall into the trap of linking my value as a human to the attention I get from men. It is something I must battle because we are socialized that way. Being Black and therefore being racially marginalized is already a struggle of its own because the expectations for Black women are so high, the bar for us is so high. We must have a certain body type that is hard or simply impossible to obtain without plastic surgery, we must have light skin and have hair that is not too curly otherwise we are not seen as desirable. The fetishization of Black female sexuality exists through our body and what we are expected to do with our body. We must know how to dance, twerk and be sexually dominant because that is the fetish attached to us. Physically, there are things I cannot do because of my disability and so in the eyes of certain men, I become sexually incompetent; as a human I am now useless. Knowing that you are not at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to attractiveness and desirability makes you vulnerable to abuse because it often makes you insecure. ‘‘They could do so much better than me’’, is something I’ve told myself. I had people try to pursue me that I didn’t want to entertain because in my mind, once they would learn that I am disabled, they wouldn’t want me anymore. On the contrary, I have entertained people that I did not want and who didn’t treat me right because I felt like nobody else would want me and I was scared that I would die a virgin and alone. This time is over, and if you are there now, cut it out. Marginalized folks are vulnerable enough on a systemic level, you cannot let it enter your personal relationships.
If you are someone who has more social capital because you are White, cisgender and/or able-bodied and you are dating or casually seeing someone who doesn't have these privileges, do not prey on their vulnerability because that can destroy someone’s sense of self worth for years. If you are seeing someone and truly think to yourself that you are better than them because of something they cannot change about themselves, please leave them. Even if you don't think the other person knows how you feel about them or if you don't think it is a big deal because it is just a casual relationship, they probably do know and they probably do care, yet they are staying because they are insecure. This person is great but your biases and prejudices are clearly clouding your judgement. But to be very honest, in a better world, they leave you. This person, whoever they are, realizes how judgemental you are and understands that they deserve someone who sees them as the beautiful being they are, despite society's opinion. In a better world, they realize that they deserve better than you.
But how can you challenge these ideas? Ask yourself why you think you deserve ''better''. Why are you so insecure in your own value that you need to use others to your advantage? Why is it that your vision of beauty is so narrow? Why do you believe that someone's race, size, abilities or gender identity affects their worth as a tool for you? This may sound harsh but this is the base of it all.
I know I am a great person; I don’t need anyone to tell me. I have control over who I accept in my life and that is a right that I must apply, for my own good. I have standards and I have the right to apply them, and if you are in a similar situation, so do you. You are more than your social location and the people who disagree do not deserve to see all the small and beautiful details that make you, you.
PS: Here is a podcast I participated to on the topic!