Thursday, July 19, 2018

Would You Still Love Me If I Was a Guy?

(Heads up that the following post touches on LGBTQ issues. If I say anything inappropriate, please let me know. I admit I'm on shaky ground here.)

Recently, a friend of mine came out as a trans man. Or possibly nonbinary. It seems like they're still on that journey of self-discovery, but regardless they do know that they don't really identify as a woman. And they're preparing for a transition.

Naturally, they have my full love and support, and I told them so.

Afterward, though, Laura noted that this friend's husband (who was well aware this transition was coming since long before they were married) was very supportive of the transition. Laura casually mentioned that she wasn't sure I would be as supportive if it were her.

Naturally, as such casual comments are wont to do, it kinda stuck with me. She made that assertion weeks ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. It's sparked a fair bit of self-reflection. So, what follows are some rambling musings as I search for answers. Naturally, given who I am, I'll start by talking about a video game.

Thousand Arms is an RPG that was released on the Playstation in 1998. It was a quirky RPG that added a dating simulator element that was deeply integrated into the game's story and mechanics. It's weird, but I remember it being fun and funny at the time.

In the game, you spend a fair amount of time going on dates with the various girls. One of the girls in particular, Wyna, was a sort of barbarian woman--very similar to Ayla from Chrono Trigger in both personality and visual design, but without the primitive speaking pattern. She's very confident, forceful, and muscular; traditionally masculine qualities.

Many of the details of the game have escaped my memory, but I do vividly remember one of the questions Wyna asked during one of those dating segments:

"Would you still be interested in me if I were a man?"

I think her asking that was the first time I'd really thought about that sort of thing. Would I indeed? Within the game, the response you give will probably be based on what you think she wants to hear so you can improve your relationship meter or whatever. However, I rarely take these types of questions lightly.

How much, exactly, did her gender factor into my attraction? It's a question I thought about long after I finished that game. It would bubble up occasionally throughout my teenage years and well into adulthood.

Some context: As a fairly shy, gentle nerd in rural south Louisiana, I was accused of being gay now and then. It was a consequence of the time and place; an accusation slung toward pretty much everyone at some point (some more than others), as if being gay were the most shameful thing imaginable. However, I was never a normal kid; while I was always prudish (generally uncomfortable with the subject of sex and physical intimacy), I don't think I was ever really averse to the concept of homosexuality.

As a kid, the idea seemed pretty straightforward: if you are sexually attracted to people of the same gender as you, you were gay. If not, you were not. So, when I was accused of being gay, I examined myself: was I indeed sexually attracted to other boys? I considered it carefully, and I also considered how attracted I was to girls. So far as I could tell, I was not physically attracted to any boys, but I was attracted to a fair number of girls. Therefore, I concluded that no, I was pretty definitely not gay. Q.E.D.

(Regardless, the accusation itself never bothered me. I didn't care whether other boys thought I was gay, and seeming offended wouldn't have helped anything anyway. My refusal to react made me distinctly not fun to pick on.)

After playing Thousand Arms, however, this conversation with a fictional character had me reflecting on that examination again. If I were attracted to someone as a woman, would I still be attracted to them if they were a man, all else being the same? If not, why not? If so, would that mean I'm gay?

It's the kind of thinking that can really confuse a 13-year-old.

As I grew up, I learned more about myself and what I'm attracted to. I can list any number of attractive traits I've identified in people, some of which are probably contradictory.

There are many traditionally feminine traits I find attractive; physical features, certainly, but also things like emotional availability, kindness, being open about and showing excitement for your passions, an aversion to violence, and so on.

There are also several traditionally masculine traits I find attractive, especially when found in women; things like calm composure, physical strength, confidence and assertiveness, favoring practicality over propriety, and valuing honor and duty.

As I think of these traits, another fictional character I was infatuated with springs to mind: Saber from the Fate/Stay series.

I always enjoyed knights and chivalry. However, in my fantasies, rather than being the traditional knight falling in love with the fair maiden in the castle, I found myself far more attracted to the idea of knightly women willing to don armor and fight beside me; women who valued what I valued, and who I could trust at my back.

There is a lot of art of Saber out there; depictions of the character being decidedly feminine in one way or another. However, within the actual shows I've seen with this character, given the choice, Saber seems to much prefer presenting as male.

In my opinion, Saber has the makings of a trans icon. However, fans often strip the character of these masculine traits, presumably because some men feel the need to strip women of their personalities in order to construct a proper waifu. (I imagine the character is also portrayed inconsistently in various official media as well. The series began as erotic visual novels, after all.)

Stripping women of masculine traits to make them "marriage material" is pretty common, I've found.

Just recently, in fact, I was playing Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns (a game Harvest Moon in the Harvest Moon series). Of all of the marriage candidates, I ended up settling on a girl who was explicitly unfeminine: she's a bit boisterous, boyish in looks, kinda baffled by small talk and decorum, and so on. In fact, she's actually pressured by her family to learn to be more feminine to help her find a husband. And, over the course of the courtship storyline, she actually struggles to become more feminine in order to become more attractive to the protagonist.

This really frustrated me. I imagine there is a popular male power fantasy in which you, I dunno, tame a tomboy and turn her into a "proper" woman or something. But that just seems super gross to me.

No, I was attracted to the character because of who she was, masculine traits and all. I didn't want her to suddenly strive to be a motherly housewife.

(This is part of why I found the relationships in Stardew Valley so much more satisfying: the characters develop over the course of the relationships, sure, but the relationship is more a process of you getting to know who these characters really are, not them changing to become what they consider better marriage material for you.)

Anyway, all this to say that I've come to realize that I'm not exclusively attracted to masculinity or femininity. As I've gotten older, my understanding of myself has evolved beyond my simple "Am I gay?" conclusions.

Generally speaking, no, I'm still not attracted to men per se. Individually speaking, I'm not really attracted to most women either. I'm fairly particular.

Rather, there's a balance of traits, some masculine, some feminine, and many which probably defy gender stereotypes, which attract me to a person. (Really, it's pretty reductive to think of people as being a list of traits anyway, but I'm not going to tangent at this point to delve into my thoughts on the fascinating complexity of human personality.)

All of this leads me to a few questions I've had to ask myself:

Could I be attracted to a trans man? Or a trans woman?

Yeah, probably.

Then, to channel my inner 13-year-old, does that then mean I may be a bit gay?

Yeah, probably.

To answer Wyna's question: Would I still be interested in her if she was a guy?

Yeah, probably.

And finally, would I still support Laura if she were to transition into being a man?

Yeah, probably.

Then again, it's easy to say that sort of thing about a hypothetical situation. Who knows but that Laura might be right; perhaps I really wouldn't be super supportive if she transitioned. The idea neither disgusts nor thrills me, but who knows what the reality would reveal.

On the other hand, Laura also doesn't believe me when I say I'm not disgusted when she doesn't shave her legs. So perhaps the real problem is that she can't imagine how my love would not be contingent on superficial things, like gender and hairy legs.

(Laura is pretty cis, though, so the whole thing's moot anyway.)

Regardless, I think we could all benefit from being honest to ourselves about what and who we're attracted to. We learn a lot about ourselves when we examine our preferences.

As a final note, I want to make it clear that I don't think anybody's worth is in any way tied to their attractiveness to me. My attraction or not to trans people neither validates nor invalidates them. The only reason I spoke of trans people in terms of attractiveness here is because of how this conversation was framed.


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