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On Transparency

Columns | March 1, 2019

Transparency is a lot like honesty. By definition, it means to be able to see through something. And in the social context, it  refers to the various social masks that we hide behind in our daily interactions. To be transparent (socially) is to live without the facades we often put up to protect our social insecurities and anxieties. Honesty with our intentions and feelings seems to be the most obvious act in becoming socially transparent.

Anxiety and insecurity are constants in my life (if I think critically—beyond my own drive to focus on myself—they are perhaps constants in everyone’s lives). But for me, specifically, because I’m openly queer and trans, it would be injudicious to separate my anxiety from being queer or trans. Because of this, I’m very rarely vulnerable in my social life. This is especially the case for my “romantic” (lol) life. Among my social anxieties, the fear of being rejected for being myself is one of the big ones (don’t worry, I’m in therapy).

Once again, beyond myself I think this all represents a larger anxiety faced by many queer people pursuing romance. I, and many others, have noticed that there is a pervasive issue in college queer communities with the cliché of “the experimenter.” In the masculine liberal-arts rendition, the story goes like this: the soft-boy is best defined as, to quote The Reductress, a self-identified feminist “boy [who] wears nail polish, but not condoms.” From this understanding, this “sexual-label-averse” cis-boy rarely engages in queer sex beyond a sloppy, soggy tongue down a guy’s throat at a party. While I don’t bring this narrative up to define the boundaries of queerness and I absolutely support people in their processes of gender and sexual discovery, at the same time, “the experimenters” fucking hurt people. These explorations of gender and sexual discovery often come at the expense of other  queer people. And for this reason, queer people, myself included, often attempt to avoid a run-in with an “experimenter.”

Once,  I had a long-lasting, non-consensual flirtationship with an “experimenter.” He fit the mold so well: visibly hyper-masculine, self-declared activist, “radical” performer of negligible gender transgressions (after having the life changing experience of reading A Cyborg Manifesto) and glorified stud inside the confines of an expensive liberal-arts college. Nevertheless, he was honestly really hot. I met him early on in college, and we became (I guess) what we might call acquaintances. Whenever I interacted with him, he was forcefully flirtatious. Dominating my space; standing really close to me in small a doorway; staring directly into my eyes; pushing his arms against the wall, effectively locking my eyes on his arms, forcing me to look back at him. At some point, people began to tell me the vague social notification that he was “into me” (BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!?!?!?!?!).

 

The stories of his sex life were hot gossip, but always had an exclusive focus on him being with White cis-women. Nevertheless, while people would tell me he was into me, it never felt real or maybe I chose to never believe it. He seemed so cis/het/masc. But my biggest reservation  was that he was “an experimenter.” His flirtatious actions were so ridiculous that it just felt performative. All of these acts were so dramatic, and, quite frankly, the picture of campy masculinity. To me, our dynamic never felt securely genuine. Was he asking me how I was doing or was he asking me about how I was doing? Is telling me I’m sexy meant to be flirtatious or does he think that’s being sex-positive and living in a post-sexual revolution climate? Maybe the answers to these questions seem obvious, but I continue to second guess any of my conclusions. Although this flirtationship continued for a while, it eventually fizzled out naturally. To this day, beyond several sensational social media posts that allude to the possibility of sucking a dick, as far as I know, his sexuality is strictly focused on cis-women.

Another fear I had in pursuing a possible “experimenter” was coming across as the foolish-queer-who-doesn’t-know-he’s-straight trope. In popular culture, and real life, straight cis-people get off on discovering—or perhaps just thinking—that a queer person is into them. The logic is based in the self-serving masculinist notion that we must all find traditionally masculine, straight cis-men so sexy that our urge to be with them is insatiable. For example, myfriend’s (straight) boyfriend once told me the greatest moment in his life was when “a gay guy in the gym locker room checked him out.” While this story mostly made me question his sexuality, his narrative presents the trope of “the queer” acting foolish in pursuit of the uncontrollably sexy straight man—“because how could they really not tell he was straight?” I didn’t want to be regarded as so stupid! What made it even worse was that I felt when I did talk about it with people, I was coming off as the foolish girl who thinks a guy is into her when  he’s actually not Even in writing this piece, I’m anxious that people who know the situation will make the same conclusion.

Beyond all of the anxieties I had and still have in engaging with “an experimenter,” it is important to recognize that he was the only person in the flirtationship who was being non-transparent. In all of mixed messages I was picking up on—regardless of their validity—my own method to avoid getting hurt or look foolish or desperate was to instead wear a mask of apathy. Every interaction was met with an attitude of “I don’t really notice you.” Yes, I could have engaged in the situation and attempted to discover what the fuck was going on, but, let’s be real, that’s way too forward for an anxious mess like myself. It’s much more comforting to just put on my mask and perform the evasive Mariah Carey “I don’t know her” shtick than to actually be honest and figure out the truth of the situation. But none of that is helpful for me and my mental health.

Ultimately, my concern here is not with “the experimenter” but with the lack of transparency so many of them, others, and myself  have in our social, sexual, romantic or whatever relationships. Yes, people who are “the experimenters” should be more transparent in what they’re hoping to get out of their experiment (many people do want a friend with benefits!) But the issue of being non-transparent can go far beyond the lack of transparency in dealing with “an experimenter.” With that aside, I, too, was not very transparent. I put on a mask and tried to protect my feelings by being ultimately just kind of rude. To conclude with a lesson, I say we all should be more transparent and honest with our intentions in sexual, platonic or any other  kind of relationship. This is especially hard for queer people, where sex is made so much more complicated because of the world. Nevertheless, I want to feel and act with full honesty in all of my relationships. I want to know if you have an issue, and I want to tell you if I have an issue. I want to live without being worried about what people think of me. I want to live with transparency, knowing where I stand in every situation.And I want to do the same for everyone else.