Thursday, August 4, 2011

Brief Interviews with Attractive Men, Part 4

Brian Pera

How often are you the recipient of unwanted sexual advances?

Almost never. Part of it is that I don't really go out. Maybe that's not part of it, because whenever I have gone out I feel totally invisible. I don't even feel that weird heat a woman friend once told me happens between men and women when there's something there and something clicks or somebody turns "it" on. People, always women, tell me I'm attractive and that other people think so, like there are legions of them lusting after me out there, but I just never sense or see it and feel pretty alone out and about. Sometimes in the past, walking down the street with women, I was told that people were turning to stare at me, but I never noticed, and really almost everywhere I've been - here or abroad - I've gotten zero advances at all. I don't even know the difference between wanted and unwanted. I wouldn't mind sexual advances from a guy but can't remember ever getting anything remotely like them. Any unwanted sexual advances have been from women. Usually I kind of pick up on the fact that they're attracted to me in the way straight women can find themselves attracted to gay guys, and it makes me really uncomfortable, because I'd really just rather sit and watch Toddlers and Tiaras with them. I showed a film in Greece a few years ago, which wasn't a typical gay movie but was clearly made by a gay guy and dealt with things from his/my perspective, and it was a straight festival, and after the screening, outside the theater, something like five women surrounded me with looks on their faces that made me very depressed, because I thought, how sweet, where are the guys? And I also thought, okay so here is yet another example of my artistic intentions playing cupid with the wrong gender.

What do you do when someone you’re not interested in (sexually) is interested in you (sexually)? How do you deflect the attention, if you do?

I ignore it. A woman friend was sitting on the couch with me once last year. I was horizontal, on my side. She sat very close. Kind of against my groin. I was like, I guess I should have a boner, just to make her feel better. It was awkward. Nothing was spoken but I knew I was supposed to have a boner, and that what I wanted, men, was pretty irrelevant.

Have you ever experienced anything you’d describe as harassment?

When I was younger, probably about 19, I went to an antique store and the guy who worked there bent down to show me a cupboard, rubbing against my crotch. Another time, about fifteen years ago, I was in rural Arkansas and stopped at a crap antique store along the highway, and the guy was asking me all kinds of questions, and I thought, uh oh, and then another guy, who was clearly his partner, entered, and said they had more stuff out back, up the hill, in another house. I thought, this could be weird, but I went, because I've always been curious about weird and how far things will go before they're so weird they stop being ambiguous in any way. Also I thought, there might be something really good out there. When we got to the house it barely had existing walls and certainly had nothing in the way of antiques, unless you consider broken down crates antiques, and it was no longer ambiguous, and I thought, now we're in this strange, secret situation together, and I could probably write about this later. "Do you swing?" the guy abruptly asked me, as we were standing there. Only in Arkansas, I thought. I was a very curious person back then and often unwanted and wanted were sort of inter-related to me: It was all part of experience and getting beyond my hang-ups and figuring out what my limits truly were, and about seeing people when the world wasn't looking at them, so I sometimes ended up in situations like this. I also gradually realized that I pretty much never wanted sex, not really, so it was all eventually kind of unwanted in a way and I was just trying not to be as boring as I felt when I was growing up, using these experiences as stepping stones out of my upbringing. I wasn't interested in leaving a bread crumb trail to find my way back. Years ago, living in Memphis, a guy who often came in with his "girlfriend" where I worked showed up at my place down the street, and got pretty aggressive. I did get enough of that in my twenties, because I looked like fantasies some older men had of young, stupid, and innocent. In the back of my mind I always observed this from a cool distance, fascinated by their projections, because I was pretty much born 80 years old and far from innocent. More like deeply misanthropic. So these unwanted things were often followed through to their conclusions because I thought they told me a lot about how people wanted to view me.

What is your advice for a woman who finds herself the recipient of unwanted sexual attention or advances?

Oh who knows. I love to give advice but I have no clue. Sex and attraction are way too complicated for any platitudes I might come up with to make it seem like I have a handle on them. Sometimes I wonder what a woman would have done in that rural Arkansas antique store, or what I would have done had I been one.

Ed. note: Brian's unspoken advice seems to be to avoid antique stores.


  1. I love this series of posts. The detachment--or at least observational stance--Brian describes in his story about the rural Arkansas antique store almost makes this piece read like a travel narrative.

  2. Lorraine, this is my favorite part of Brian's answer:

    "I thought, this could be weird, but I went, because I've always been curious about weird and how far things will go before they're so weird they stop being ambiguous in any way. Also I thought, there might be something really good out there. When we got to the house it barely had existing walls and certainly had nothing in the way of antiques, unless you consider broken down crates antiques, and it was no longer ambiguous, and I thought, now we're in this strange, secret situation together, and I could probably write about this later."

    I almost wanted to put that in boldface.

  3. Now all sorts of things are popping up.

    I forgot about an incident six or seven years ago. I met my partner outside a store at night. His ex partner - we'd only recently gotten together - was standing there, a little drunk (maybe he always was, a little) - with a friend of his. The ex never liked me ("Shut up, slut" was sort of how our rare conversations went.) and I was I guess about ten years younger, and I think he imagined I took his boyfriend away, even though he treated his boyfriend like hell. So things were always tense the three or four times we ran into each other. I stood there trying to be nice, and the ex grabbed my crotch to measure me up, saying something to that effect. I'd never been grabbed like that and it totally shocked me. It was such a radically inappropriate thing, and after he'd done it he just went on talking like I wasn't there. I told my partner that if he ever did that again I couldn't be responsible for my reaction, but the truth is it was so unexpected and bizarre that I'm not sure I ever could react to it. I think it was his way of making sure I understood that while I thought I was smart I could ultimately be reduced to an object, a stupid, inanimate thing, like anybody else. Then too he was pretty stupid so he might have just been drunk and grabbing my crotch.

  4. Didn't read the posts, just looked at the pictures. Jeez, are these what pass for "attractive" men these days? Not an iota of character in any of their faces. Just the same bland cookie cutter girly boy GQ physiognomies that dominate the media these days.

    Come on, how "attractive" do you think these boys will look when they're crouched in a foetal position, sobbing because they're favorite moisturizer is no longer being manufactured?

  5. "their" not "they're"

    I think most women find bad grammar attractive.

  6. Brian, that seems like such an obvious case of sexual harassment as a form of power play, like, "What are you going to do??" So infuriating.

    Travis, I'm considering deleting your comments, but they just make you look bad, so I'm not sure I should bother.

  7. Although, the moisturizer comment is kind of funny. Danny's got manual-labor hands, he could probably use a good moisturizer.

  8. Yeah that's been a real problem for me. People look at my face and say, "There's just no character they're". It saddens me. And the fear I might be a girly boy is something that keeps me up at night, arranging flowers deep into the morning hours. I love it when guys slam other guys by comparing them to women. Because I really don't think our culture spends enough time making it clear just how loathsome anything womanly or feminine truly is.

  9. Possibly my favorite comment ever.

  10. jeez, travis, are you what passes for a troll these days? i mean, you didn't even mention muslims or socialism.

  11. I'm flummoxed. How anyone could infer any misogynistic tendencies from my earlier comment is beside me. I never suggested that anything womanly or feminine was "loathsome."

    My real issue is with the title of this series of posts. "Brief Interviews with Attractive Men" implies that there is some accepted standard of human beauty that these guys conform to, which there simply isn't. "Attractive" is highly suggestive and, by not qualifying the adjective, Ms. Gabbert is guilty of "looks-ism." If she had called this series something like "Brief Interviews with Men That I Personally Find Attractive," why, I might have even read the posts.

  12. You don't think "girly boy" has a misogynistic/homophobic tone?

    It's a play on "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" (David Foster Wallace).

    Anyway I find your accusations silly. Anyone who calls anyone else attractive (or any other subjective term) is obviously voicing their opinion, not a fact. I tried to choose people I have heard described as attractive by multiple people. It's not "looks-ist" because I haven't implied that being attractive is better than not being attractive.

  13. You joke, right? Since when is describing a man's facial characteristics as effeminate considered either misogynistic or homophobic?

    And, yes, you are implying that being attractive is better than not being attractive by singling these men out for your interviews.

    By limiting the subjects of your little survey on sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances to "pretty" people, you are implying that these issues are not relevant to the plain-lookers of the world, male or female. This series would have been far more effective if it was more inclusive.

  14. No, I do not joke. Are *you* joking?

    I was particularly curious about the experience of an "attractive" man as it compares to that of an "attractive" woman, because I know what it's like to be an attractive woman. I am not uninterested in the sexual experience of unattractive people, but I'm not writing a thesis on sexual harassment. Obviously sexual harassment affects everyone. But because sexual harassment is so often an abuse of power, I would expect it to affect men to a lesser degree than women. I would also expect it to affect gay men more than straight men, because straight men have more power in our society.

    Anyway, as I wrote elsewhere, women's looks are on the table ALL THE TIME. I wanted to foreground men's looks for once.

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  16. "I am not uninterested in the sexual experience of unattractive people." Priceless! Aside from doing it more often with the lights off, do you really think the "experience" is any different for the aesthetically challenged?

    I find the overall premise for these posts pointless, like asking a comfortable chair if people to like sit on it more than they do a tack.

  17. You were the one who suggested I interview "plainlookers." And the interviews are not about "doing it" -- which you would realize if you had read them.

  18. One thing that occurs to me is that because of harassment, attractive women are much more aware of their status *as* attractive people than attractive men are. I feel I'm pretty attractive, but I think I'm more doubtful about this because I don't have a lot of outside validation, owing to the fact that, as these posts have shown, straight women rarely harass as much as men do. Obviously I wouldn't say that validation of one's good looks is any defense for harassment--it's just ironic how it all works. Maybe men's greater insecurity even helps lead to this type of behavior? Maybe making an unwanted advance on someone is an attempt to make them notice you and thereby validate your high opinion of yourself.

  19. I don't think attractive women necessarily experience more harassment. They may get approached more but an approach alone doesn't constitute harassment.

    I think women are aware of how attractive they are not because they're being harassed (that just reminds them that they have less power than men), but because their appearance plays a greater role in their social status than it does for men.

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  21. Right, I shouldn't have confined it to harassment. Attention, in all areas of social life, let's say.