Examining My Attractions
Examining My Attractions
A lot of us have a romantic or sexual “type” and favour some physical attributes or personalities over others. Many of these preferences are harmless: like enjoying charismatic people, or those with deep voices (I certainly have a weakness for the latter). Unfortunately, some have rotten roots, particularly those relating to identity markers like skin colour. The greater ones awareness of systemic inequities in society, the harder it is to ignore this reality. I began to examine my attractions for bias, slowly eradicating the -isms and -phobias that hid in plain sight.
“I don’t like Black women. I’m not racist, that’s just my preference,” is not a valid statement, no matter how many times I hear it. Have you met every Black woman who has ever lived, whilst reprogramming your mind to eliminate implicit bias from your worldview? It’s doubtful. What you consider attractive has been shaped by the way you're socialized. It’s not a coincidence that physical features labelled desirable in visual media are the same ones that offer social privilege.
I’m not suggesting there’s something inherently wrong with being attracted to people with a particular privilege. But if everybody you’re into is thin, white and cisgender, it might be worth unpacking that. Most systems of oppression are so deeply woven into our social fabric that we don’t notice the ways in which we uphold them. We’re not supposed to notice. That’s the point.
So much can change when we decide to notice.
Shifting My Thinking
I was born and raised in a suburb of New York City that was both affluent and culturally diverse. A confluence of factors benefited my education overall, but also meant I grew up in a bit of a bubble. The kind of place where teachers smugly taught racism like it was a thing of the past (ending with the Civil Rights Movement, apparently). They conveniently omitted that Long Island is among the most racially segregated sections of the country.
Almost all my friends and suitors were straight, white, able-bodied, and upper-middle class. In a place full of people that fell outside of these categories, only implicit bias and internalized racism can explain this. I was formally taught to treat all people with kindness and respect, but I had meanwhile absorbed the harmful notion that some were more deserving of that than others.
Spending decades stewing in a society built on toxic social hierarchies has done its damage. As an adult, I’ve decided to shift my thinking to become a better global citizen, one whose life spreads more love than harm. I’m also motivated by the desire for more authentic connections with other people.
When you’re drawn to someone that you know you’re supposed to want, it’s easy to gloss over the reasons you’re not right for each other. I’ve engaged in entire relationships because “the math” added up. We have the same privileges, hobbies and opinions - doesn’t that make us compatible partners? Once I started to untangle my conditioning from my “preferences,” I realized that the bias limiting my choice in partners was also limiting my understanding of myself.
Doing The Work
For me, unlearning bias looks like filling my Twitter feed with the voices of people marginalized by the state, those who educate and organize for the betterment of their communities. Engaging in discussions and asking questions in good faith whilst knowing when to do my own research. It means reading fewer books and articles by cis white men, or anybody writing about victims of discrimination without consulting them. Choosing to consume visual media that celebrates bodies deviating from an artificial “norm.” None of this is a quick fix, but so much can change when we’re willing to adjust our information diet.
I discovered more empathy and understanding for all people, particularly those I’d been conditioned to demonize or devalue. I’m choosing better friends and partners and finding more emotional depth in these relationships. I’m also less anxious about how others perceive me, understanding that people who aren’t doing their own anti-oppression work are not appropriate company for a Black queer woman like me.
My goal has never been to weed out suitors who are privileged in a certain way. I’m careful not to overcorrect and start fetishizing or collecting friends from different marginalized backgrounds to fill some fucked-up quota. I’m simply observing the trends in my experience and being honest about where certain “preferences” stem from.
Attraction is a tricky thing to simplify. It’s messy, complex, and confounding. But it’s hard not to notice that expanding my attractions has introduced more genuine connections with far more chemistry. I’m attracted to people with attributes I’ve never felt drawn to before, making them even hotter. These days my most intuitive self is calling the shots, and every new connection feels charged with potential I can’t wait to unravel.
To be clear, it’s important to do anti-oppression work because it reduces immense suffering for wide swaths of the human race, and not just because you’ll have more interesting relationships. However, I do believe that this approach to interpersonal relationships does ripple outward and helps us shift power structures for the good of us all.
We can find so much strength in being the change we want to see.