Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook about the word “sapiosexual” and how it is ableist, among other problems. While many responses were good, several people objected, claiming that we were telling them who they should be attracted to or who they should sleep with. I’ve seen this with many other discussions about people’s attractions related to race, weight, and other traits as well. Someone usually comes into those discussions and says “I can’t help who I’m attracted to! I can’t just decide to be attracted to someone!”

I think what isn’t clear to some people is that we’re not asking people to be attracted to people they’re not attracted to. Rather, when someone’s preferences are in line with some axis of oppression, it’s worth examining how society has lead us to those preferences. It is absolutely not true that our desires exist in a vacuum – they’re a product of our culture, and our biases.

In other words, if you find you are only attracted to white people, it would be a good idea to examine your feelings about race. If you find you are only attracted to thin people, you may have underlying negative feelings about fat people. If you only are attracted to people you deem to be “smart enough” it’s likely you need to think hard about your ideas about intelligence. If you defend these preferences aggressively when someone points out you may be coming from a place of prejudice, then you especially need to examine your biases – they’re showing.

In fact, there is evidence that prejudice corresponds with sexual attraction in these cases. Last year an Australian study found “Sexual racism, therefore, is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of personal preference.” Body size preferences also seem to be influenced by culture, according to this study which found “The universality of an ideal [waist-to-height ratio] is thus challenged, and historical changes in western societies could have caused these variations in men’s preferences.” In other words, our culture and the biases of that culture influence our sexual preferences.

No one is saying you have to be attracted to people you’re not attracted to. Attraction doesn’t generally work that way. However, since attraction is in part based on our subconscious biases and prejudices, we can use our attractions to help us better recognize in what areas we may be judging people unfairly. Furthermore, I suspect working to become less racist, sizeist, ableist, and otherwise oppressive will likely change our sexual preferences over time. Challenging our own prejudices often changes many things about our views of the world, and I doubt that excludes our sexual outlooks.

Not Telling You Who To Be Attracted To

Meme Discussion, Grammar Edition

CN: Ableist and otherwise problematic meme, discussion of ableism, racism, classism.

A friend from outside of my social justice circles posted the meme below on their Facebook page. The background is an image of black text on white paper, with red pen circling a the word “you’re.” The overlaying text reads: “I don’t judge people based on race, creed, colour, or gender. I judge people based on spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.”


You know, I used to do this. Then I learned that what I was often judging people on was the quality of the schools they had access to growing up (and thus their childhood socio-economic level), their learning disabilities (dyslexia etc), and whether or not formal academic English is their first language (sometimes it turns out it is AAVE, another dialect, or a foreign language). I decided I did not want to judge people based on these things anymore.

Instead, I want to decide who I respect based on their values. One of my values is trying to recognize the ways in which my thinking oppresses other people, and trying to change my thinking to be less hurtful to people.

Ironically, as this meme is claiming to be a statement against racism and sexism, it has the risk of perpetuating racism in less blatant ways. Racism is not just judging people for their skin color – it also involves treating things that you associate with non-white people as bad. Judging people for using AAVE is racist. Judging people who speak and write more than one language, however imperfectly, is racist. Subtle racism, displayed in disdain for different communication styles, is racist and this meme perpetuates it.

Ableism is still one of those things that people don’t even think of when they create a list of prejudices they don’t want to hold. When this is pointed out, they will often recognize that they don’t want to judge people with physical disabilities, and further pressed they will recognize the need for empathy towards people with profound mental disabilities. But this work on lack of judgement rarely goes as far as recognizing the ways in which our biases may harm people with learning impairments, less visible disabilities, and mental illness.

I had access to pretty good schools growing up, and was taught formal grammar in classrooms that were mostly safe and mostly reasonably well funded. Not everyone has access to the kinds of schools I did. I have been inside schools that are not safe, that are not funded, and that are incredibly difficult to learn in. I had class on my side growing up, and not everyone did. This meme illustrates the classism that judges people for the access they have had.

I want my ideas to be understood by readers, so I make an effort to write in the clearest way that I know how. Often, but not always, this involves using formal and semi-formal English grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This tactic works for me, but it isn’t always best. There are situations in which I will forgo these conventions for language that is more appropriate for the situation, and I’m fairly fluent in speaking Internet, which is pretty clearly its own dialect. I recognize that others will use dialects they consider appropriate to the situation, and sometimes the intended audience is not me.

Meme Discussion, Grammar Edition