Part of Your World: Some Personal Thoughts on Sex, Gender, and Identity

I meant to write a tweet and then could not find the way to phrase it. The thoughts persisted and revisited tweeting something about it several times, but always the same block. What compels me to want to share this with my Twitter friends? I have no idea, but the thoughts continue.

While I do not think the central idea is anything controversial, I do have concerns and considerations about it. Anyone who has read any of my posts may detect a strong tendency to qualify most of what I say. We do live, after all, in this Internet age where echo chambers and biases seem to dictate quite a lot of online interaction.

There is what I mean, how one person interprets it, and how a person opposed to that person interprets it. I try to control them all as best I can, but it’s never enough.

The simple thought at the heart of all my fretting is that I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I were a woman.

Why does that feel so wrought? For several reasons.

First of all, I see trouble with the gendered part of that thought. As a man, the idea of life as a woman might suggest that I identify in some way as a woman. As a thought experiment that feels as though it impugns on the experience of actual trans people. As a factual thing it must be counted as a lie, because I do identify as a man.

Which brings us to the second of all – the sex part of that thought. It feels like a sort of cultural tourism to entertain a thought like, “What if I were a woman?” because women do exist and that comes with expectations whether cis, trans, or any other gender where society might ascribe traditional women’s roles to the individual.

Put simply, I in no way actually identify as a woman. I am a cis male, a man, and recognise with that the privilege that I possess.

I suppose it is because the thought arises from admiration rather than envy. I do not envy what it is to be a woman in this world; to be a man seems the obvious choice if it were a choice (that is the privilege). Other than perhaps the rare society, the world has not seen fit to treat women as equals.

From a place of admiration though? Much of it is socially constructed, but I enjoy it all the same – the fragrances, the clothing, the hairstyles, the voice.

I find a lot of what is traditionally feminine appealing, but it does not seem to be in a traditionally masculine way, and it is this thought at the source of my wondering.

It would make sense for me to find myself attracted to women, which I am, but this admiration does not come from that same place. I have written in the past about my sexuality which I find far more complicated than when I was younger. I was (am) a man who likes women alone, and what could be simpler than that? This is the most normalised of all the sexualities.

What I learned with age is that my sex drive is no lesser than that of other men but rather that it requires specific conditions. For example, I need an emotional connection with the specific person. Beauty alone does not entice me because I have a worry, rational or not, that I might discover something later about the person that will cause me to regret having had a sexual experience. Likewise, I never wanted to be a regrettable experience for someone else (to the best degree I could control it).

I also need enthusiastic, affirmative consent of a somewhat unsolicited nature. That is, my partner has to be in the mood already. I discovered with girlfriends past that arousal does not have to come from explicit interest – like saying, “I’m horny” and simply hoping that are too. Doing even mundane tasks is often enough because, and I feel this is not discussed enough, women are as likely to feel aroused as men. Things like doing the dishes has been enough for a girlfriend to find herself aroused and indicate an interest in sex.

The alternative, some version of soliciting sex from a partner, always felt a little too close to persuasion for my liking. It might be perhaps too narrow a sense of consent (I do not think so, but I will entertain a little daylight for debate there), but if my partner is not in the mood and I am then any attempt to have sex feels more like, “Are you willing to tolerate it for my benefit?”

I would derive way more sexual satisfaction from handling things myself than feeling that my partner provided less-than-enthusiastic consent.

The trouble is that I recognise many heterosexual men do not feel this way, and women face enough terrible interactions from men that it’s reasonable for any woman to find men suspicious. It’s such a prolific problem that even other men find it suspicious (and again, enough men do behave poorly enough that I understand why the safe course is to assume it’s an angle).

The truth is that my admiration comes from a non-sexual place though, and this is where that idea of, “What if I were a woman?” seems to begin. It’s as though womanhood is a world unto itself that requires deliberate withholding from men (because of men), and it’s one that I do find superior.

Does that make sense? Not being a woman as a whole, because the public side of being a woman seems troubling far more often than it ought to be, but in this private world sense.

I think perhaps this is why Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” is so appealing to me and I identify so closely with Laurie. He lives alongside these four New England girls, all close in age which gives them an added sense of being peers as well as siblings, and he wants to inhabit their world. I think that’s why Laurie was so keen to marry one of them.

A third concern is the question that arises almost weekly on Twitter: can men and women be friends? The answer is a clear yes and I believe we have reached a point of offence with that question because there is enough understanding about sexuality to know this is possible. The implication part seems to be heterosexual men, their obsession with sex, and the entitlement that some men feel towards sex.

I feel that weighing on young relationships though. Many women, again rightly, have a guard against unknown men because even “nice” is a gimmick that men use in the pursuit of sex. The answer is simply patience and respect, but it still creates a gap between my world and theirs. I think that is where a sense of, “What if I were just a woman who could exist in that space and enjoy these things?” arises.

Expressing that thought means navigating a minefield of opinion, so I kept it close to the vest. My wife is perhaps the only person who knew about this before I wrote this piece, and I think her understanding is most what encouraged me to feel like I could share it with others. She immediately understood, “No, you’re a man who identifies as a man.”

The sense of wanting to be part of a particular world while knowing I never can because it’s simply not who I am is something I have felt acutely but never with enough clarity to articulate it to others.

P.S. On the matter of Little Women, here are a few posts specifically about that story and Gerwig’s 2019 film adaptation:

Jo the Ladybird

Little Women and a Lot of Anxiety

A Teddy Obsession

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