When I was a little boy, I was uncomfortable in social situations. My mother has a VHS videocassette of me in kindergarten. In it, I am sitting on one of my teachers’ lap while all the other girls and boys are sitting in a circle.
“Don’t you want to sit with the other kids?” you hear my teacher asking me.
“No!” I say simply and with quite surprising vigor. It’s a very telling clip. I remember thinking, even at that young age, that I did not like most boys and that I did not want to be like them. I knew, instinctively if not cognitively, that the way I was being socialized was not a way I found comfortable. It wasn’t an accurate representation of who I wanted to be.
By the age of ten and in elementary school, I developed an awareness of sex and had already had my first crush. Unlike most boys who had crushes and who typically made fun of the girls they liked, I never said anything to my crush. I made no initiating move. I did not pursue her.
This “passive” behavior which seemed abnormal for a boy and felt isolating to me at the time was something that I came to learn was not uncommon at all in many men. These days I often meet other men who are just as perplexed about the expectation that men should pursue their romantic interests (why is that our job?) and envious of the so-called “feminine” role that is expected to (passively) attract them. Today, I have a far greater understanding of why this seems backwards to me and (surprise!) it doesn’t have anything to do with my biological sex (male) or my sexual orientation (bisexual) or role (submissive).
Like everything else on a person’s individual sexuality spectrum, an active or a passive flirting persona (for lack of better terms) is, in reality, entirely decoupled from one’s other sexual traits. In other words, the rules of flirting we learn as youths are sexist, and wrong.
The other night I tried really hard to come up with as many different ways of flirting as possible. I thought I might be able to get ten, but in the end I came up with only seven generic activities. The activities I came up with are as follows:
- Compliment someone on something specific such as one’s jewelry or choice of attire.
- Move into personal space with a touch, gesture, or other motion, such as by offering a massage or initiating snuggling.
- Buy an ephemeral or otherwise insignificant gift such as flowers or a card.
- Capitalize on a subtle opportunity to communicate positively such as remembering a birthday or other personally important date or time mark.
- Present oneself with particularly physically alluring traits such as specific, perhaps revealing, styles of dress.
- Behave in ways observed to produce positive feelings such as noticing personal specifics (often that others have not) such as what one’s likes and dislikes are.
- Offer to perform some useful task, such as fixing a broken object (shelf, computer error (I’m really good at that fixing computer error thing)).
There are probably more, but I couldn’t think of them. Every item on this list except the fifth one (“Present oneself with particularly physically alluring traits”) is active, that is, it is an example of pursuit and not of attraction. As someone with a penis, it makes sense that these would be the things I think about when I think of flirting because those are the ones I was taught. It also explains why I am such a flirting retard because I strongly prefer to do the fifth one—which has a lot to do with why I enjoy being someone known for “playing heavily.”
I don’t want to pursue. It’s not because I’m lazy or because I’m unwilling to find partners. It’s because pursuing feels wrong, it’s not fun, it’s not how I want to flirt. Pursuing feels like fucking, it feels stereotypically male, saddled with stereotypically male expectations, expectations that I’m not willing to accept in a sexual relationship because carrying them out doesn’t satisfy me sexually. Pursuing feels like fucking, and attracting feels like getting fucked. When I have sex, I want to get fucked.
This is, unfortunately, a major problem for me when it comes to the realm of Meeting Other People. Put simply, I don’t feel comfortable being the stereotypical pursuer and no one (or too few people) out there feel comfortable pursuing men, because it doesn’t matter if a man is dominant or submissive; every man is the pursuer and every woman is pursued. This is a lose-lose situation for me because it means that to get people to become play partners I have to do the pursuing (lose) or else I don’t get play partners (lose).
Anyway, this seems reminiscent if not identical to the situation that many submissive men find themselves in, if I could generalize a little bit. Put yet another way, it reminds me of the paradoxical conversation of every force or objectification fantasy negotiation. The least objectifying thing in the world you could possibly do is to ask to be objectified. Likewise, the least passively attracting thing you could do is actively pursue a potential partner.
Why does it have to be that way?
Eileen had a clever suggestion when I was talking with her about this the other night. She suggested I go look at books that try to teach women how to flirt and meet men. The logic here is that if I want to learn more about how to flirt and every single book on the subject for men is full of sexist advice for what it sees as the typical man, then I should find books for women full of sexist advice for what it sees as the typical woman far more appealing. There is still the challenge of balancing the fact that I am not a woman on top of the sexist advice, but having looked into the alternative, I am willing to give this a shot. (Does anyone have any good “flirting 101” book recommendations?)
Of course, the problem with all this is the same as it’s always been: there are no good sexual role models for the kind of person I want to be. No famous “beta male” sex icon to use the insulting, hierarchical terminology. I guess I’ll just have to keep making this shit up as I go along.