Friday, April 17, 2009

Looking at men.

It always bothers me when straight guys claim they "can't tell" if another guy is attractive. It's such an annoying form of overcompensation. (It's also not true; maybe a totally straight guy can't make fine distinctions or have a "type," but he can tell you whether Gilbert Gottfried or Brad Pitt is more attractive.) I didn't ask if he gave you a boner, all you have to do is use your eyes and a completely detached, theoretic sense of attractiveness. It won't make you gay.

Likewise, it's really dumb when guys think they have to react to any image of a naked or sexualized man with fifth-grader-ish squeals of "ewwwww!" Is there some rule that if you aren't aroused by penises you must be disgusted by them? Can't you just go "oh, huh, that's a penis alright" and be unmoved, like you were looking at a picture of a deer or a bulldozer or whatever? That also would not make you gay.

I'm always impressed--maybe unduly, considering that straight women and gay men have to do this constantly--by straight guys who are okay with sexy things that don't fit their orientation. A straight guy who can look at gay porn and be amused rather than act like Dracula encountering a cross is Officially Awesome in my book.

I'm not turned on by (most of) the images of half-naked women that pervade media and advertising, but I don't recoil in eye-shielding disgust from them either. The least men could do, in the rare instances where the tables are turned, is show the same decorum.


  1. I understand what you're saying, but there's a difference between a theoretical concept of whether another guy is attractive -- which, as you say, can be difficult between extremes -- and the normal context in which I'm asked whether a guy is attractive. There, it's almost always a specific woman asking me whether a guy is attractive, and I typically have no idea what the correct response would be, but being excessively positive might, yes, expose me to suggestions that I'm going lavender.

    The broader point is that we men don't necessarily understand what you women find attractive.

    P.S. No, I don't like looking at dicks, which is why I don't watch much MF porn.

  2. Excellent post Holly. I have found this to be an odd defect in my straight guy friends.

    Bruno-- I don't think you have to tailor your answer to the woman asking. My ex-girlfriend once asked me who I thought the most handsome man on TV was, and I said Christopher Eccleston (this was while he was the titular character on Doctor Who). She virulently disagreed, claiming he was too skinny and didn't have enough hair and said the 'correct' answer was McSteamy. We fake-argued about it and moved on with our lives.

    [Christopher Eccleston is now my routine answer to the, "Who would you turn gay for?" question. Whether I actually would will always, presumably, remain theoretical.]

  3. one of the implications in all this is that it is worse to be gay than straight, similar to how it is worse to be a girl than a boy (zomg you can't put your baby in pink - people will think he's a girl! eww!)

    girls and gays are disenfranchised members of society, so in some ways it is worse, but not because of who they are, but because of how we treat them

  4. I suspect it's a coping mechanism. If they pretend they can't tell, they can fool themselves into thinking *nobody* can tell, and then they can pretend that everyone is just as attractive as they (with the exception of the Brad Pitts, Johnny Depps and George Clooneys, and even then some guys will say it's just about fame and money), and consequently they have more control in the partnering process.

    I identify as straight, but honestly it's easier for me to see attractiveness in men in the media, because they're not set up to be interchangeable sexbots--there's room for variance and character. (In person, it's reversed, which is why I identify as straight. That and it's about who I want to do things with, not who I want to watch.)

    And Lance - I'm going to have to disagree with you: David Tennant as the Doctor is much more attractive than Eccleston was.

  5. All Doctors are but shadows in the all-encompassing gorgeousness of John Barrowman.

    Bruno - I'd think any woman who knows you well enough to be asking questions like that already knows whether you're gay. If I'm aware that a guy is attracted to women and has dated only women in the past and he mentions that, well, if you put a gun to his head John Barrowman ain't bad looking, "going lavender" really isn't my first thought. (Also, "lavender" isn't something that you "go," you know?)

    Crayonbeam - Indeed. Otherwise a casual acquaintance accidentally thinking you were gay would be no big deal. If you're romantically interested in them it's not hard to correct the perception, and otherwise, really, who cares?

    Jfp - Actually, I think it's more like pretending that male attractiveness simply doesn't exist. Men are supposed to woo women by being rich or successful or sensitive or assholes or something, not by having a hot ass. The weird part is that there are more cute men than rich ones, so this view doesn't really serve most guys' interests.

  6. I can make a sort of general distinction between guys who are general considered to be attractive to many members of the opposite sex and those who aren't but beyond that it's honestly quite hard for me to make any meaningful distinctions.

    I think part of the problem is that there is a sort of somewhat artificial standard for attractiveness for both men and women. Personally I like (believe it or not) chubby redheads. Other men really like the skinny Asian girl thing. Both of these are outside what is normally considered to be optimum female attractiveness but there it is. I would assume that a similar breadth of variance exists among females and therefore it would be quite hard to figure out what any one of them might find attractive.

    As far as porn goes I agree with Bruno. I don't enjoy looking at naked men, regardless of the situation. I am not repulsed by it either, but I am not going to sit there and stare at it like I would a women.

    I discussed this topic on several different occasions with a few women I used to know, using the "painting" example. If they were to hang a picture of a fully nude person in their house would they rather have it be of a man or a woman. About 2/3 wanted a woman. I don't know if it's cultural or genetic but men seem to be the hardy tug boats while women are the sleek sailboats.

  7. Holly

    This conversation reminded me of the discussion of The Scarlet Letter in high school, where my teacher swore that "intelligence was sexy". For an adult, it IS, but not for high school inmates.

    Yes, cute is more common than success (or brains for that matter). Cute will, however, only get you so far.

    And, still, there is a lot of insecurity as to what is masculine, and how to be masculine, all of that. There is still a lot of societal pressure on male sex roles. This pressure can be hard to overcome when you're still figuring out how you fit in into society.

  8. I couldn't agree more with your post. My straight husband seems to go against the norm, and will say when a guy looks good, but like Bruno he isn't looking at their package, just overall appearance.

  9. I know all your tricks. This is the one where you insist that you want me to be open-minded, and then I admit that I'm secure enough to know when another guy is attractive, and then everybody finds out I'm gay.

    I mean, thinks I'm gay.
    I mean, shut up.

  10. My straight husband is actually rather better than me at identifying whether a given man is "attractive" according to standard cultural norms. I can certainly say whether I find someone attractive but am pretty clueless when it comes to understanding why, say, George Clooney is considered hot (when I don't find him so).

    This was actually a bit of a problem for me pre-college, when I was highly aware of the negative social impacts of dating/ even expressing interest in people who weren't considered attractive. I'd wait until I heard someone else comment favorably on a boy before joining in or flirting with him. Thankfully I got past that insecurity.

  11. The misconception of masculinity is a HUGE problem here.

    When it comes to attractiveness in another man (speaking as a straight), my thought is "would I want to look like him?". Unfortunately, too many folks don't understand this...

  12. Sarah- you're not alone. I can't for the life of me see George Clooney as hot, and this was true even back in his ER days and long before I learned of his obnoxious politics.

    Yeah, I'm definitely down with the "misconception of masculinity" thing, and the oh-no-I-can't-seem-gay thing was always a MASSIVE turnoff to me. Not because I was that invested in gay rights, but because I'm really only attracted to men who are secure in their masculinity. Think Joe Namath in pantyhose- the pantyhose aren't hot to me, but that he'd be willing to wear them and it didn't compromise his masculinity an iota (because he knew it couldn't) is.

  13. It's also not true; maybe a totally straight guy can't make fine distinctions or have a "type," but he can tell you whether Gilbert Gottfried or Brad Pitt is more attractive.Hey now, that's not fair. I've known women who were more attracted to (notionally, not literally) Gilbert Gottfried than Brad Pitt.

    So, when we say we don't know if some guy is attractive, at least for some of us, it's because we really have no idea what you people want. (Seriously, all the women who swoon over nasty, filthy, dreadlock moustache Captain Jack Sparrow have forever broken me of even making any attempt at guessing what y'all find attractive.)

  14. If a girl asks a guy if someone is attractive, isn't it a little weird to reinterpret her question as being about whether *she* would find him attractive? I mean, why should she need to ask that? I'd rather presume that if she asks you if you think a guy is attractive, she wants to know if you think he's attractive.

    I fancy cats rather than dogs, but I can still say I prefer a husky to a bulldog and a Lhasa Apso to a Chihuahua. It doesn't make me a dog person, just says that I have opinions.

    Mary Kaye

  15. "Eeeew" is sooo... 14 year old.

    But, at least in the "society" I'm in, being a bi male is mostly frowned upon. 80% or more of the women in this "society" are bi, BTW.

    In the mainstream world out there (in other words the "society" my parents are in :-) I know of quite a few married guys with kids who got divorced and "turned gay". That's OK. Sheesh, my ex was "gay" for a while after she divorced me. She's straight again now.

    Never bi.

    It's a strange old world innit?

  16. Holly, I can think of a reason to correct someone falsely misidentifying your orientation (either way). If you're a straight guy you want friends keeping their eyes open for women they think you might like, to point you to them or point them your way. If you're a gay guy replace "women" with "men." How to change the sentences for straight or gay women is left as an exercise for the reader :)

  17. I used to be that guy who would say "i can't tell". Nothing to do with preserving my masculinity or "eww gay" or whatever nonsense, too. Here's why.

    1. I've spent some portion my teen and adult years evaluating the looks of women. I have developed a taste, a scale of attractiveness, etc. I'm straight, so i didn't spend nowhere the same amount of time on men, i mean, you can't even compare it.
    "hey, a girl, do i like how she looks?" versus "hey, a guy. alright."
    This doesn't seem to be an issue for most girls i know. I think that's because girls are being taught that their looks are important, so they end up building a scale for woman looks, even if they are otherwise uninterested in women.
    2. I never cared all that much about how i look. I'm not (universally) hot and i'm not ugly, and that's that. So looking at other men and thinking "would i want to look like that guy?" is (was) a nonsense question. Would i want to look like that house? Like that bulldozer? Okay, maybe that bulldozer, yeah.
    Thinking back, I realize that there were a couple guys that made me go "oh WHOA so cool!", and if anyone asked me at that moment whether i would want to look like that guy, i'd say "hell fucking yeah". But,
    3. Even when evaluating other guys purely aesthetically, i would never "get" what my girl friends liked and why. George Clooney, Brad Pitt? Okay, i guess i could stand looking at them for prolonged periods, but how exactly are they better than Joe Nextdoor sitting over there? Also, some of their boyfriends? Like, just what? And don't even get me started on boybands. Eww.
    So, because obviously they know better because they are girls, i just discarded my judgement on the whole subject. Not like i cared anyway.

    So when a girl would ask me, "do you think that guy is attractive?", my answer would inevitably be "how the HELL should i know?", or alternately, "well i wouldn't want him to fuck me, if that's what you're asking". I'd be able to tell you whether his looks make my eyes bleed or not, but not much beyond that. What does it even mean that a guy is attractive, isn't it one of those womanly mysteries, that maybe gay guys are in on?
    (Yes, that's what some commenters already said. But i want to stress that (for me at least) it's not a matter of wanting to somehow please the asker, or turning the question into "do you think i find him attractive". It's a matter of having no basis whatsoever for answering the question. Not even fully understanding the question.)

    A couple years ago some of my friends managed to explain to me that all this is bullshit and that there is nothing wrong with looking at guys and judging them by appearance on my own terms. So I got in the habit of doing that from time to time. Still there's the matter of "viewer experience".

  18. I don't know if straight men really mean it in an "I'm-not-gay" way or not. I'm a lady into ladies, and my opinions on whether men are attractive is basically, "I don't know, he's a guy." Not that I hate men or anything or am trying to prove how gay I am, I just... don't find men attractive. Except for David Tennant, but that's to be expected.