A Heterosexual Sissy's Coming-Out Party

(This article was published in the academic journal Feminism & Psychology 2 (3), 1992, reprinted in HETEROSEXUALITY: A Feminism & Psychology Reader, Wilkinson & Kitzinger, eds, 1994; and again in Sexual Lives: A Reader on the Theories and Realities of Human Sexualities, Heasley & Crane, eds., McGraw-Hill, 2002)


It is a universal fact of human existence that what we know best, that which forms part of our everyday mental landscape, is also that which we most take for granted, and question the least. And so some of the strongest jolts to our awareness, the deepest reorientations in our thought, often come from being confronted with the obvious.

- Miedzian (Boys Will Be Boys)

There are two types of things that are very difficult for us to understand: the very deviant phenomenon, for which we have no name and no concept; and the very normal one, which we tend to take for granted because we have no concept of any possible contrast. Heterosexuality, for a long time in Western culture, has been of the second category. Until recently, general awareness of non-heterosexual people and their lives was almost totally confined to off-color jokes and murky stereotypes, always looking at them from the outside. Only as gay rights and feminist social movements have drawn more attention to actual non-heterosexual people -- their actual lives and their political and social concerns -- have we started to acquire the beginnings of an understanding of heterosexuality in contrast. Even now, though, we tend to take heterosexuality for granted (and thus are not understanding it), except in the immediate context of gay, lesbian, or bisexual people and their active communication of their perspective. We have not tended to look at the social forms particular to heterosexuality, or to consider the effects that heterosexuality has on a person, except for the limited times and occasions when they impinge enough on our consciousness to provide a momentary contrasting backdrop.

Consider the following question. My use of the referents "we" and"they" in the preceding paragraph show that I am consciously writing as a heterosexual person. Can I, a heterosexual person, write about heterosexuality itself if I have only limited secondhand access to the experiences and perspectives of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people? What is the source of my authority to write? Is there any reason to assume that I understand this phenomenon from the inside if I have nothing in my direct experience or awareness to compare it to?

The assumption behind that question is that heterosexuality exists only in contrast to differing erotic practices. Or, to turn an aphorism around, it is as if heterosexuals were interesting and worthy of understanding only for what we do in bed! At the insistence of theorists such as Adrienne Rich, heterosexuals have been challenged to move beyond thinking only of the erotic practices of gay men and lesbians, and to begin to understand the institutional aspects of sexuality. Insofar as heterosexuality is also more than a matter of what individuals with which body parts do to people with which other body parts, there are other possible contrasting positions from which it can be seen from the outside, so as to clarify the meaning of being on the inside. I would like to consider the matter of heterosexuality and what it means from a very deviant position, a phenomenon for which we have no simple name and only rarely even a blurry concept. I assume that you are quite familiar with our culture's commonly shared notions of masculinity, in the sense of prescribed personality and behavioral characteristics associated with heterosexual men? (This would seem to be a reasonable assumption.) Probably you are also aware of stereotyped notions of gay men as non-masculine - more like women than they are like other (heterosexual) men, or at least less masculine and more feminine than heterosexual men are. What, then, is the proper name for a male who is not masculine in his general personality and behavior if he happens to be sexually oriented towards women? And what are the experiences of such males (and do we call them men?) with heterosexuality - their own (if we still call it that), and that which surrounds them?

This is not a research report. I do not have a nice collection of new, interesting formal data to provide for the expansion of our understanding of heterosexuality. Instead, although I may make reference to various things as examples to illustrate a point I'm trying to make, I intend to work mainly with the large pool of everyday knowledge and shared meanings which we all know so well, and to look at it a bit differently. Feminist theory in general had its origins in that process: it was not as if no one had ever noticed that men dominated women sexually, or got paid more to do the same work until feminists did research to prove it, but rather that people had not looked at these things and questioned them and considered what it all meant.

I will supplement everyday knowledge with some impressions gained from my own life. You see, the unconventional male vantage point I have described is the only position from which I am directly able to consider heterosexuality, since this deviant position is the position of my own experience.

Bonds: Homophobia, Masculinity, Heterosexuality

For lack of any adequate pre-existent terminology, and since using long strings of words quickly becomes tiring, I will follow the lead of lesbians who call themselves "dykes" and the militant gay rights group "Queer Nation", and I will seize a pejorative term that was hurled at me and other such males and I will make it my own: sissy. The word is etymologically derived from "sister" and therefore directly connotes the sense of being like a girl or woman. Although this male-centered world tends to emphasize the worst of feminine characteristics, such as dependency and passivity, and the best of masculine ones, such as taking initiative and having courage, femininity is also associated with nurturing, caring, and being sensitive, while masculinity is also associated with violence, vulgarity, and an obsession with winning and dominating. A sissy is a male (regardless of sexual orientation) who is in some way not masculine, who is in some meaningful way more like women than men tend to be, or are "supposed" to be. Maybe he is proud of it. Maybe he has reasons for not wanting to resemble other males in personality and behavior. In my case, I certainly am, and do.

To say "regardless of sexual orientation" is to threaten an assumed connection, a bond which is so rarely challenged that it is rarely recognized as such. When I was being called "sissy", I was also being called "faggot" and "queer" as I was being physically and verbally assaulted. To be a sissy is to be on the inside of Homophobia, surrounded by it, experiencing it constantly. You don't even have to be physically attracted to males to get in.

Patriarchal heterosexuality - that is, heterosexuality in a context where male domination is normative and endorsed by the players - is tied to homophobia. The most virulent and commonplace expressions of homophobia are directed towards homosexual males. Since male gay behavior is first and foremost male behavior, it should seem provocatively odd that male domination would constrain male sexual behavior with such fervor. This is a qualitatively different kind of phenomenon from the functional constraints put on male sexual behavior in order to preserve various social institutions - for example, there are social sanctions against men raping women, molesting children, committing infidelities once married, and so on, and these sanctions appear to be geared towards the general maintenance of the institutions of marriage and family, but they exist in ambivalence, diluted in large part by men's tendency to permit themselves a wide latitude of sexual behavior as long as it doesn't immediately infringe upon other men. Given that, you would expect that the proscriptions against consensual male homosexual activity would be formal but not necessarily internalized or deeply enforced by strong and (almost) universally shared attitudes. You would expect, perhaps, winks and boasts of homosexual activities as something a man got away with, or intends to get away with. It should be an item of curiosity that an angry man in a bar or an angry boy in the schoolyard will shout "You faggot", but not "You rapist" as a term of abuse.

A closer look reveals that the primary image that heterosexual society has of the homosexual man is an image of a dominated man, one who is taking on the feminine sexual role, or who has had that role forced upon him. The boys in the schoolyard don't just say "You faggot"; they also say "Fuck you". In American prisons, it is widely whispered that there are males (especially young ones) who are utilized as receptacles, who are buggered, sodomized by force -they are considered to be homosexual, but those who rape them or insert into them are not.

All sexual activity tends to require at least one deliberate actor if not necessarily two; but the image that heterosexuals have of the active male who is volitionally causing gay sexual activity to take place is oddly focused on a portrayal of the gay male who actively wants to sexually please other men: to arouse the erection, to provide the mouth or the anus, to be used as women are used. Homosexuality is somehow his doing. Effeminate men make it happen. In an interesting equivocation, even those males who can be put into a position of sexual subserviency through force and intimidation are assigned responsibility and their identity is blurred with that of males who actively wish to give other males sexual pleasure. More deeply hidden in the shadows of the socially shared concept of gay male behavior is the image of the male who actively lusts after other males for his own sexual pleasure and seeks them out. Our conventional images have no easy word or image of the male who actively seeks his own pleasurable erotic sensations with other men. His existence is denied, ignored almost completely.

The gay liberation movement and the gay cultural motifs of recent years seem to have addressed this, with gay men criticizing the stereotype of the gay male as effeminate and asserting their masculinity as well as their pride in their sexual preference. Fiction author John Rechy strongly implies that it has become almost "politically incorrect" for men in at least some parts of the gay community in America to be effeminate (see, for example, The Rushes). This threatens the otherwise absolute bonds between images of masculinity and male heterosexuality and between those of effeminacy and male homosexuality.

The image of the male who is effeminate and whose sexual orientation is towards women threatens that same bond from the heterosexual side. The bond hasn't been threatened from that direction very much yet: people may be somewhat more likely to say or think that not all gay men are necessarily sissies, but they are not likely to assert or actively think that not all sissies are necessarily gay, thus leaving heterosexuality the exclusive province of the masculine male. This is the foreground for an examination of heterosexuality: to recognize that heterosexuality is largely conceptualized, unthinkingly, as a relationship between women and masculine males. It is time to develop a more critical awareness of the effects of that bond and how the pieces fit together.

* * *

Gay men sometimes speak of having been "born that way". As a heterosexual sissy, I have a strong tendency to think that the attraction to females was something I was born with - I can recall an intense and erotic fascination with girls' bodies, such as the way that genital differences caused that part of their pants to be shaped differently, and it gave me strange naughty-sweet feelings to look at that or think about it. This was happening at an age where I was incredibly naive about sex (all I knew was how babies were made; no one had ever told me that sex was pleasant or that there was an appetite aspect to it), so I didn't know anyone else had ever had such feelings or that they were normal or anything like that. Therefore, when people tell me that sexual preference is all caused by socialization, I'm inclined to doubt them. While it may be true that all people have the capacity to have pleasant erotic experiences with either same-sex or opposite-sex partners, I tend to think that some people may have strong preference tendencies to begin with.

I was not born a sissy, though. My sense of myself as more like the girls than the other boys developed over a period of time during early elementary school, and it had a lot to do with the social status of children. Children were all treated as immature, irresponsible people, not deserving of the respect that adults demanded for themselves. I wanted respect, dignity, and equality with adults, and to my way of thinking at the time, if we demonstrated maturity and responsible control over our actions, we would earn the corresponding autonomy and proper treatment. Furthermore, it was obvious that the girls were doing a very good job of being good citizens and were appreciated for it: teachers and other people's parents had a strong tendency to trust girls and to praise them for being good, whereas the boys were all treated as discipline problems looking for a place to happen. Therefore, there were many times when I was accused of being like a girl and I reacted by agreeing and being proud of it.

Meanwhile, although I had strong girl-oriented sexual feelings during these early years, the fact that I didn't know what they were or what the world expected from male sexuality meant that I didn't have a perspective on heterosexuality until later, when being a sissy ran me up against the scripted roles for sexual behavior.

The meaningful processes of heterosexual interaction can be divided into meeting and courtship, which is the first bundle of scripted sexual behaviors, and the structure and dynamics of ongoing sexual relationships, which is a related but separate bundle of roles and scripts.

Flirting: The Politics of Getting Heterosexuality Started

Stop right there! I gotta know right now
Before we go any further,
Do you love me? Will you love me forever?

- Meat Loaf ("Paradise by the Dashboard Light")

When Kinsey laid to rest the part of the double standard that maintained women got no pleasure at all from sex, everyone cried out that there was a sexual revolution afoot. But such talk, as usual, was deceptive. Morality, outside the marriage bed, remained the same, and children were socialized as though Kinsey had never described what they would be like when they grew up. Boys were taught that they should get their sex where they could find it, "go as far" as they could. On the old assumption that women were asexual creatures, girls were taught that since they needed sex less than boys did, it was up to them to impose sexual restraints. . .

Adolescent boys growing up begging for sexual crumbs from girls frightened for their "reputations" - a situation that remains unchanged to this day - hardly constitutes the vanguard of a sexual revolution.
- Susan Lydon ("The Politics of Orgasm", 1970)

These traditional images of heterosexual behavior are well-known, widely shared, and expected to be shared, enough so that virtually all the adolescents and young adults know that this is still more or less the way things are. Sometimes the flirtation stage actually occurs twice, with essentially the same rules but on two different levels. In a context where there is an implied sexual meaning to any male-female encounter, such as a singles bar or a dance, the first level is the occasion of meeting for the first time. Females usually do a great deal to initiate this, but traditionally not in an overt, direct way. They make eye contact and draw attention to themselves, but it is up to the male to make the approach and say the first word. The second level is more universal, and revolves more specifically around the question of whether or not to engage in erotic behavior. Some variation on the following stereotyped assumptions tends to operate -

1. The females want to "fall in love" and be loved in return by a cute guy who will be the boyfriend, and, within that context, they want good sex (in earlier times, marriage was necessary first). The males don't really like most females that much, unless they are in love, and they aren't necessarily trying to fall in love at all, and, so, in or outside of that context, they want good sex. Therefore...

2. Males come on to females, usually because they are physically attracted to them, since their main interest is physical and appearance is a physical phenomenon. Sometimes they come on to a female because she has a reputation for being sexually available to males whether they love her or not. Either way, the females can reject the guys they don't have any interest in at all, but the other males have to be kept interested but slowed down so that proximity and time creates the possibility that he will really start to like her, perhaps fall in love. Females do not overtly come on to males.

3. Males who are rejected are allowed to keep on trying, since males who think they are not really being rejected, just slowed down a bit, are supposed to keep on trying, and sometimes you can't tell which is which anyway. But if a male thinks a female is being too hard to get, so that it isn't fun for him any more, he can quit paying attention to her - he doesn't have to keep on trying. Females are not supposed to pursue the matter. It is up to him to press the issue.

Feminists have made it apparent that the scripted roles for heterosexual behavior are oppressive and humiliating to women - keeping women passive, mutating their own sexual appetite so that it becomes the man's ally and the opposite of their self-determination, making sex a conquering of women by men, and eroticizing male domination itself. They have also indicted masculinity itself, as an identity construct that seems to depend for its existence on being extremely different from females and very glad of it, and contemptuous of all things female and feminine. Since the advent of the feminist movement, courting behavior has lost some of its gender-specific rigidity, but for the most part only to a degree. Some individual clauses of the silent "contract" described here may not apply to certain age groups, certain ethnic or cultural subgroups, and so on, but single heterosexual people seldom operate with a blank slate rather than a set of expectations, and those expectations are usually gendered, more or less according to the scripted roles given above.

Interestingly, a concept of women's oppression is actually embedded in the basic sexist courting roles. The assumption woven into the script is that casual sex (as opposed to sex in the context of an ongoing, loving relationship) is oppressive to women, and that men who seek it are preying upon them. Heterosexuality, then, is a competitive struggle between the male and the female. That men would want to prey upon women is assumed to be part of male nature.
A male person with little or no interest in trying to dominate and oppress females might find the male role script distasteful, and consider relating sexually to women differently; indeed, from overhearing female conversations, it might seem that women are perpetually on the lookout for such fellows. Unfortunately, as Anaïs Nin once pointed out, women may demand a more sensitive man, but aren't sure of what to do with one when they find one.

The problem actually lies not with the inconsistency of women, nor even directly with an insufficiency of sensitive men, but rather in the structure of the scripted roles themselves. It is a much more serious problem for male sex role nonconformists than for our female equivalents. There is not as strong a conceptual bond between femininity and heterosexuality for females as there is between masculinity and heterosexuality for males. Sex between males and females can and often does result when females do not obey the script - for example, they may take a far more active and overt role in causing sex to happen, or they may act on an interest in casual sex by accepting male overtures without any attempt to play "hard to get" or to slow the man down - and this is an important point, even though females who behave in this fashion are subjected to labeling and contempt from both males and females. Non-feminine females, or masculine females, have a range of images and stereotypes that include heterosexual activity: the slut, the bitch, the castrating dominating strong woman, and so on. These are negative, of course, but they could be (and sometimes have been) proudly adopted by nonconforming assertive women, and in theory, at least, such women could eventually meet men who like them that way through the operation of the heterosexuality script. When males do not obey their scripted role, there is no provision within the script which calls for heterosexual behavior to take place. If it is to take place at all, it must do so outside, beyond the script and its assumptions about what various behaviors mean.

There is no happy medium. The sissy must behave against a patriarchal backdrop, not in a vacuum. Sexually assertive behaviors which would not be considered oppressive otherwise are open to being interpreted that way precisely because other men, in general, have behaved as they have. Nowhere does this have greater impact than in the matter of the simple, honest declaration of sexual attraction. Surrounded by females complaining of the exploitative, insensitive nature of men's raw sexuality, and often confronted head-on with the generic automatic female response to all male expressions of immediate sexual interest, the sensitive young male who identifies with and respects women is likely to be rapidly polarized. He ends up being driven towards a masculinizing track of ceasing to feel hurt by such interpretations of his sexuality, or else towards complete (or nearly complete) cessation of expressing appetite for women in order to avoid being accused of, to put it tritely, "being only after one thing."

The sissy whose sexual orientation is towards women brings the possibility of very different concepts of heterosexuality, perhaps so much so that a new term would be needed for this as well. But the heterosexual sissy is conceptually homeless. And so was I, until I conceived of myself. Which I did. But that makes it sound easy, and getting to that point was an agonizing, stressful experience, and I had to do that alone.

I am a person who has been angrily or sneeringly accused of being gay all my life, (usually in uglier terms), and therefore because I always had a strong sexual interest and orientation towards girls (and later, women), I had all the seeds for homophobia planted in my head, too. You see, I was made to be afraid of the idea that homosexuality might be what "happens" to boys like me whether it's what we want or not. Since I didn't particularly like other males, generally speaking, that just made it all the more scarier. Constantly being confronted with it, having it shoved in my face as an accusation, I finally reached a point (while still virginally inexperienced with women) when I had to ask myself whether or not they were right -- was I gay? Answer: well, I have the capacity to be, if I want to be. After a lifetime of being accused of it, I give myself permission to enjoy gay sex if I ever want to, and I'll be damned if I'm going to spend the rest of my life worrying about it, but that's not really what I want right now.

The real fear that was revealed by considering it as a possibility was the fear of never having the sexual experiences and close relationships that I had always wanted with women. I saw that I'd have to deliberately search beyond the norm. My sexuality was different.

And in that moment, I came out of my own closet, at least to myself (since I was still an invisible identity with no word for it, there was no easy way to express what I understood about myself to anyone else). I stood "acquitted" of having to be anything I didn't want to be. I rejoiced in being a sissy and celebrated the fact that my sexuality is oriented towards women, but isn't dependent on or defined by a committed effort to avoid sexual feelings and experiences with men. And suddenly it all seemed really simple. The rest of it was just a matter of coming out to the rest of the world...

Excitement: A Transition Paragraph

Journalist Stephanie Gutmann is an ardent foe of what she calls the date-rape dogmatists. "How can you make sex completely safe?" she asks. "What a horribly bland, unerotic thing that would be! Sex is, by nature, a risky endeavor, emotionally. And Desire is a violent emotion. These people in the date-rape movement have erected so many rules and regulations that I don't know how people can have erotic or desire-driven sex."
- Nancy Gibbs, "When is it Rape?"
(Time, June 3, 1991)

Stephanie Gutmann is not the only person I've heard say or come close to saying that sex would lose its sexiness if it no longer included the element of the "hunt", the attempt to seduce and the thrill of the chase, any of which blur into coercion and domination if it is not just a game. In the times when I've overheard rare discussions about the heterosexual attractiveness and possibilities of sissy men, it has often been asserted that such men have too much in common with the women for either of them to feel much excitement. There is no gap for the spark to jump. You get two sweet, nice people together, and nobody's going to do anything except with the permission of the other, assuming that anyone has the "balls" to bring the subject up. Nobody getting turned on, chased down, and had by someone who knows how to arouse the traitor body. Nobody feeling the triumph of coming in for the "kill", gleefully and sardonically taking and having the teasing sexy someone they'd been wanting so long. This is the only available image for getting together outside of the scripted sex roles: bringing up the subject verbally and discussing the matter rationally and politely, so that all the cards are face-up on the table. The fun and spontaneity is dead on the cold dry dissecting table of intellectual analysis, and there's no danger, tension, or suspense.

This, they say to me, explains why opposites attract. It explains why heterosexual men must be masculine. Women want real men, and that's all there is to it.

I think they still might find it upsetting to be reminded that some of the women want real women instead. Until the middle of my own feminist-era lifetime, the idea of even one woman actively seeking sexual pleasure on her own initiative was censored out of people's imagery, perhaps because it is so threatening to another one of those bonds, the bond between maleness and the "masculinity" of active sexual lust. As I said before, all sexual activity tends to require at least one deliberate actor if not necessarily two. Lesbians are certainly oppressed, as women and as gay people, but, interestingly, a great deal of their oppression has taken the form of denying their existence or of rendering it "safe", some kind of cuddly, unimportant, not-really-lusty female activity that some women engage in when they can't catch a man. (In contrast, the idea of gay men seems so important for the institution of heterosexuality that I think that if there were no gay men they would have been invented as mythical creatures. There needs to be something that boys are afraid of becoming if they don't embrace the actively dominant, anti-woman attitudes of masculinity.) At any rate, the very existence of lesbians and of women's own lusty sexual appetite and tendency to act upon it directly does bring to mind one possible answer to the "opposites attract" argument outlined above for why sissy males would be boring to women because no one would take the initiative - let dynamic, assertive women who are accused of being unfeminine seduce the sweet sissy guys! It would keep the old gendered scripts active, albeit running in reverse order, but at least the women wouldn't have to worry about oppressing the men by expressing and acting upon any sexual desire they felt for them.

But, really, it isn't that simple. For one thing, little boys do not grow up being warned about predatory girls, and for the most part males do not in any other way internalize stuff that would give them the complex of reluctances and ambivalences about sex that makes up that part of classical femininity. There is no sense of danger and suspense because, to paraphrase Mae West, you cannot seduce the willing. To whatever extent we do need a sense of danger and suspense and tension in order to make flirtation sexy, putting the responsibility for sexual initiative on women will not provide it for sissy men, however many other things it might solve. In our society, which eroticizes domination and power conflicts, the most likely location of such an eroticized situation for a sissy male would be with other men - because it is forbidden, because it has been warned against, because it has been so effectively painted as a sexual phenomenon which stalks males and must be feared and fought against. This, really, is the crux of the argument about "opposites attract".

If it is true that all people have the capacity to experience pleasurable erotic sensations in sex with people of the same sex in some situation, and it is also true (at least in the world as we know it) that issues of power, conflict, and vulnerability tend to add the fuel of excitement and suspense to potential erotic situations, then all men in western society have been set up to respond under the right circumstances with erotic passion by being seduced in some way by other men simply because it is possible and yet forbidden. In a short, tight loop, it becomes possible partly because it is scary, which is why it is so scary! Here, indeed, is the bottom of the valley of homophobia, and from here the links between homophobia, heterosexuality, and masculinity in men start to make sense.

Coupling: The Politics of Keeping Heterosexuality Going

If there is any widely shared image of a non-masculine man functioning in an actively heterosexual situation - a "sissy archetype" - then it's Caspar Milquetoast, a mild-mannered ineffectual married man dominated by his wife. He does what she wants him to do. Presumably, she married him in order to use him as a source of money or social status. We still can't visualize him flirting or participating in those brief hedonistic sexual encounters called "one-night stands". If the conventional male's sexual interests are constructed first around the fear of being gay and the need to prove otherwise, they are further shaped by a desire to avoid the fate of Caspar Milquetoast, who probably married her because that was the only way he was ever going to have any access to heterosexual erotic experiences. The applicable epithet is "pussy-whipped".

In patriarchal male-dominant society, the logical norm to which one might expect men to aspire would be the opposite of this: a man in an ongoing relationship with a woman in which she does what he wants her to do. And there are such images, head-of-the-family patriarch images, but they aren't the central masculine motif at all. In fact, all images of the male engaged in an ongoing relationship with a female are at least faintly tainted by the Caspar Milquetoast image, and the most masculine images are those in which male-female relationships are the most temporary and superficial, tightly constrained to an impersonal and oppositional erotic contact. These are the forms of male-female contact that are traditionally assumed to be exploitative of women, as discussed previously. In short, it would appear from the imagery that all heterosexual possibilities must involve the domination of someone, either men or women, and that the possibilities for men's domination lies mostly in short-lived superficial encounters. Since research seems to indicate that marriage is emotionally and psychologically good for men and bad for women, this is another assumption that should seem odd to us without further explanation.

Some forms of exploitation do seem to work best during occasions of short-term contact, such as robbery, whereas others work better over a protracted period of time, such as slavery. Interestingly, the forms involving short-term contact are usually exploitations of people who are not truly weaker in the context where exploitation is taking place: if the thief does not escape quickly, the person whose property has been stolen may gain useful access to systems of law enforcement and the exploitation will not work.

In the case of male domination in a close erotic context, the male is cloaked in shared images of male authority as well as far less ambivalence about the permissibility of his sexual behaviors, and furthermore is in a much better position to use physical force - these all contribute to male domination, and sometimes suffice to do so over long periods of time.

But not always. Sexual sensations have emotional content in and of themselves, and have a tendency to create or strengthen empathic connections and shared identity. Intimacy, in other words, has a tendency to spread. Domination that depends on an ideology of Difference and Superiority, as male supremacy tends to, is incompatible with a sense of connectedness and shared identification. If this is revolution, though, it is confined to the level of individuals. Shulamith Firestone, writing in The Dialectic of Sex about how love is the pivot of women's oppression, said that the only thing that makes a man's feeling of connectedness and identification with a woman stand out and look so special is the backdrop of his attitudes towards women in general, within which women are not perceived as equal, interesting, or even as people. And yet, this experience, the "holy grail" of women's sexual existence within patriarchy, merely causes each woman to hope that one man will be led by sexual and related emotional experiences to identify with her and therefore see her as a person while continuing to view other women as subhuman, tangential, unworthy of consideration.

But intimacy has a capacity far more fearful than the mere capacity for undermining ideologies of superiority. When a sense of shared identity and connectedness has been created, and exists strongly, the individual's identity becomes meshed into the relationship itself, and with the other person or persons. Like a center of gravity, this shifted sense of identity affects personal orbits. To be in love is to be vulnerable to the opinions, needs, and wants of the other who is now no longer strictly other at all. To be in love is to risk being more deeply in love than the other, to become subsumed in another's life and interests and immediate emotional condition and concerns more deeply than one's own - or, rather, they become one's own.

This is not to say that love is only about power and domination. The person who has the dubious distinction of having someone fall more or less unilaterally in love with her or him must often deal with an emotionally fragile, dependent person who follows about, puppy-eyed and pathetic. For most people, this is not preferable to a more balanced relationship with the richness of needing and feeling needed, enjoying the emotional intoxication of identifying while experiencing the joys of having another become intoxicated with them in turn. But love is not separable from power and the possibility of becoming thoroughly decentered and probably hurt in the process. Love is not safe and cannot be made safe.

Patriarchal custom makes a valiant try, however. When one considers how little the masculine personality construct and the overall male experience prepares males for the emotional interplay of interconnection and caring and need, it becomes readily apparent why it has to. The marriage contract and the less formal structures by which ongoing heterosexual relationships are commonly assembled are generally geared towards promises of forever, promises of exclusivity, promises of ever-continuing deep feelings on a mutual basis. In the current era of legal, obtainable divorce and greater individual freedoms in such personal matters, they don't tend to work very well. But to the extent that they do work, creating "safe" situations where leaving the relationship or getting involved with someone else is out of the question for those involved, they result in boring, stagnant unerotic relationships dragging themselves off into the sunset. Because without the excitement and the fears and the vulnerability that come from risking love with another free person, there is no gap for the spark to jump.


Erotic excitement, according to patriarchal ideology, depends on the tension created by setting men against women in a power struggle, setting them at cross purposes with conflicting interests that create the possibilities of vulnerability and domination. The scene of this conflict is the period of negotiation for sexual experience: if he "scores", he wins and moves on; if he falls in love and sticks around for an ongoing relationship, she wins; if he gives up and moves on without "scoring", it's a draw.

Heterosexuality with sissies involved doesn't include erotic excitement as constructed by that particular system, but if the false patriarchal division between courtship and ongoing relationship is recognized for what it is and discarded, there are other sources of eroticized vulnerability, and I've not found matters boring.

The sissy quite possibly has prided himself all his life for his development of "feminine" strengths. Although contemptuously conceptualized as a dominated Caspar Milquetoast, he has no necessary reason to fear the ongoing relationship that would ordinarily characterize a female win. With no fragile rigid sense of identity dependent on how different he is from women, the possibility of falling in love and identifying deeply with a woman has a less frightening face, and so he is probably more ready to share and care. The hard part, other than figuring out who (or "how") he is in the first place, is finding women who have recognized that there is nothing for them within the boundaries of the heterosexual game script of how boy meets girl and stays with girl, and are therefore looking outside beyond it. Most likely, these are women who are not committed to a sense of themselves as heterosexual feminine women. Fortunately, female identity is less constructed around proving that one is not a lesbian, and feminism has certainly helped. Feminists understand best about discarding the role scripts and starting off from scratch with no sexist assumptions.
It is unclear who holds the advantage at close range. The typical woman available for the sissy to play with is probably more experienced with the specific dynamics of erotic and other intimate emotional connectedness, and could probably get involved with another man much easier than he could get involved with another woman. On the other hand, there are fewer men like him than there are women like her, and they both know it. Furthermore, most strong women are not used to playing with men who are their emotional equals in intimate relationships.

All in all, it tends to be rather risky and frightening for both, with lots of vulnerability and tenderness and sparks jumping around all over the place.


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