Now Playing: Do I Wanna Know (Cover) by Hozier (sad to see you go, was sort of hoping that you'd stay)
When you hang out with teenage and twenty-something men - like I used to - you become accustomed to people who are perpetually thirsty, as the kids are saying these days.
I'm not saying that we're always getting it on, but that energy colours all their interactions; you can feel it, electric and thrilling, in every word and every touch. The ones who don't know how to be happy without winking, the ones who daily bask in the heat of the moment that stretches as far as the eye can see. We revel together in the joy of being young and reckless.
I've often said that I like to hang out with men because I admire and envy and live vicariously through their freedom. Men are just allowed to be more sexual, even in non-sexual contexts, even with people with whom they are not or no longer in a sexual relationship with. We understand that they have this energy and that it needs to have an outlet. Men are allowed to behave in a way that for a woman would be embarassing, disgusting, and taboo. How do I know that? Because in openly admitting my own sexual desires and appetites, there are vast swathes of people who level incredibly bizarre judgement at me, whilst my friends slip under the radar by virtue of having a penis.
I don't feel threatened, by the way, by my male friends and their too-tight hugs and embarassingly weird innuendo. It is our way of being comfortable with each other, our way of being our most genuine selves, and there is a lot of respect in that. They are my friends, and the love and respect is mutual and not cancelled out by our status as sexual beings. We can always tell each other to stop, always explain and clarify; sexuality is not the enemy, but in our society our blatant refusal to talk about sex has led to sexuality erasing our ability to communicate, which in turn breaks down relationships and turns things dangerous.
Incidentally, if I did feel unsafe or threatened by the overt sexuality of men around me - and I have, many times - my discomfort does not mean that society sanctions a man's sexuality. Girls are meant to be okay with aggressive male sexuality, and I am, most of the time - but when I don't feel safe, nobody cares. The tension often breaks with a nervous laugh, a patronizing sneer, and somebody saying 'it was only a joke, jeez'.
There's been a lot of kerfuffle in the media about 'gay panic' and 'trans panic'; the idea that criminal violence is excused, somehow, by the mere existence of people not conforming to cis-het sexual narratives. But I think the idea stretches much further than that; men overreact at any display, real or imagined, of any sexuality that isn't cisgender, heterosexual, and male. This 'sex panic' rears its ugly head whenever people find out that I've slept with someone, or that I'm bisexual, or even if I make a flippant sexual innuendo that I've learned off of one of my male slut friends. It comes in imagined match making, in random accusations that I am 'coming on to someone', when men expect to be treated differently than women by a woman who is attracted to both. I had a friend make a big deal when he reached in for a hug and I flinched, because I was triggered, but later down the track when we were all drunk and cuddly he decided to push me away quite violently, because he and we had established that I occasionally gave in to baser instincts. No matter that all of them had been consensual; any expression of female sexuality is a crime.
Men are inherently more trustworthy than women, even when their words and actions do not remotely match up. A male friend of mine can tell all and sundry that he and we are 'just friends', and then sweep me up into a very intimate embrace, and nobody thinks twice. All I have to do is look or act or dress a certain way that implies that I'm not living with Jesus, reach in for a friendly hug, and people think I'm about to rape someone, or that I am 'coming on to them', or that I really want in when I repeatedly tell them that I really do not.
Of course, female sexual violence against men does happen and I'm not trying to diminish the severity of that; but it is rare, and female sexual violence should not be conflated with female sexuality itself, especially considering we don't do that with men, even when all evidence points to rape and assault. This sex panic is less about protecting oneself from sex crimes, and more about shaming and stigmatizing feminine jouissance if it ever dares to bubble to the surface. I've been assaulted. I've been abused. They are situations not of sexual energy, but of total dominance and powerlessness. I have never put anyone in that situation, and it is an insult to conflate a cuddle from someone who is a foot shorter than you, half your weight, and too drunk to speak, much less emotionally manipulate you, with the utter violence and helplessness of genuine sexual violence.
My sexuality does not exist for or for the convenience of men. I cannot be sexual at whim, and I cannot put on a facade of asexuality whenever you deem my identity to be gross or disgusting. Women of all identities, of all orientations, exist autonomously from the entitlement of men. It is not my problem if you find my identity uncomfortable. We consider female sexuality to be so bloody passive; more of a reaction to men rather than something we can take ownership of. People are often under the impression that I am sexual because I hang out with sexual people, or that my partners pressure me into things, but that's just not true. I was exactly the same way when I was in high school and had no partners and no outlet. I just went to great lengths to hide and repress who I was, and people never stopped to consider that maybe I thought and felt and desired just like anyone else. But when I do talk about the times that I have been pressured and manipulated into things, people just don't believe me; just as they think that I am passive and asexual in situations that were actually consensual and respectful, they think that I am some sort of deviant in situations when I was young and scared and really not up for it. My perspective, my opinion, my point of view; none of that matters. Other people get to define my sexuality, and it is incredibly dehumanizing.
In Lacanian psychoanalysis, language silences women by constructing a masculine point of view; we only view sex in the same way that we view many things, by privileging male narrative. Jouissance is a French term that is difficult to translate, but is basically libidinal energy; pleasure and power and therefore empowerment and fulfillment. As a part of women's liberation it is important that women learn to reclaim their bodies through jouissance, to turn a narrative of oppression on its head.
Sexuality doesn't have an on/off switch. My sexuality is part of who I am and it is with me every living, breathing moment; it is woven into every word, every touch, every interaction. This does not make me a rapist, or a freak; it makes me human, and to take that away from me, to shame and stigmatize it, to flip sex panic onto me, is to dehumanize me at a fundamental level. We accept that, for most men, jouissance is always there, and that it isn't just a part of their nocturnal misadventures, but a fundamental part of their identity. It is time that we accept that that is the case for women, too.