Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ode to Secondary Sexual Characteristics

As I remember it from school, the primary sexual characteristics are basically the various organs. Genitalia, ovaries, fallopian tubes, etc. The secondary ones include everything else. More hair on men, lower voices, larger larynx, shape of jaw, etc. I've had various reasons to appreciate and appraise those secondary characteristics lately and here is a collection of those thoughts.

The attraction to these secondary characteristics is immensely strong. After all, when you think a woman is very attractive, you aren't usually thinking. "I bet she's got superproductive ovaries." No, you see a leg shape, a type of voice, etc. Of course, these secondary characteristics are supposed to be an indication of reproductive health, according to the evolutionary account. When a doe thinks "hey, nice antlers, hoo-yahhh" that's supposed to be because strong healthy males can grow huge antlers. It's intriguing that the draw of these secondary items can be so strong that for many they outweigh the primary ones. There's a fair number of men (no, I have no idea the percentage) who are attracted to Male 2 Female transvestites who looks like a beautiful woman even when they fully know what's underneath. The attraction to the secondary characteristics is so strong it just outweighs the reproductive side of things.

In my French class, there's a woman who seems to be extremely drawn to male secondary characteristics as part of her own identity. You can only tell she is a genetic female due to the faint outline of breasts that she hides under baggy clothes. Otherwise, she's taken on every stereotypical masculine characteristic she can from short hair to jeans and military outfits. She's changed her name to a male name, which we only know because at the beginning of each class, she has to have the feminine name called from role on day one before she can tell the teacher her new masculine name. She even carries a bottle for her spit. That's right. She chews tobacco as well, which I haven't seen since Tennessee. She has more masculine characteristics than me. The way to tell how serious she is is because her voice is lower than mine. My best guess is that she has started hormone treatments, but I have no clue what I'm talking about here. It's just interesting to see both the attraction to characteristics as sexual or romantic attraction, as well as the draw to them as a matter of identity.

Regarding the limitations of the secondary characteristics, however. As people may remember, I've had the stupid idea for a while of a Hawaiian Hottie Handbook, in which I ask attractive people around me about their diet and exercise routine. Yesterday, B and I went to the beach in the evening and there was a couple there that I debated for ever and ever if I should speak to. They looked to be about 20. He was covered in muscles from head to toe, but not the protein shake muscles that get gross in my opinion, but the Men's Health muscles that you might actually want to look like. His female companion was a similar cover of a magazine type except where he was big, she was small. Slender and curved everywhere. She had even grown her hair out down to her waist. I of course never actually spoke to them, even holding B as my defense, because I just don't do that sort of thing. However, when B and I were leaving, I noticed that they had started taking pictures of each other. Nothing wrong with taking a picture of your girlfriend while on vacation in Waikiki. But these weren't just vacation photos. They were modeling. She would turn to be a silhouette in the sun, with the upturned calf and a twist of the bosom. He donned stylish sunglasses and flexed. Later he literally started doing pushups as she filmed him. My reaction was:

OMG, these people are full of themselves.

Yes, they have great bodies, but they are obsessed with their own bodies. The attitude of self-absorption was so overwhelming, I was instantly glad I never spoke to them, because who wants stuck-up people as role models in a book?
My final bit is on a similar theme. It's the oft observed fact that the way you feel about someone changes how you see them. When I was in China, James, my roommate, and I hung out with a large group of Chinese women studying English. They were friends and one of my many regrets in life is that I lost contact with all of them after leaving China. This was of course 14 years ago. Anyway, there were maybe six women that we hung out with, seeing movies, going shopping, etc. What I was remembering is that one of them was tall and thin and classically attractive enough she was a local model, mostly on campus. Being male, one did notice her first. She was outgoing and vivacious, friendly and enjoyable to be around. One of her friends seemed quiet and mousy, and her body was just not that of a model. She wasn't always around laughing at your jokes and making you feel great. As time went on though, the model's personality began to wear thin. Outgoing began to seem more demanding. Vivacious could become annoying. Similarly, as one's opinion of her changed, the way you saw her physical appearance changed. Thin began to be skinny and angular. For her friend and mine, quiet began to seem peaceful. Mousy became determined. Not being around to laugh at my jokes was because she was independent and living a life. She also became more and more attractive physically as I held her in higher esteem as a person.

Thoughts for the day.


-bc said...

I have always thought that someone's personality has a lot to do with how attractive you think they are. When someone is initially physically attractive, but has a personality that you find annoying, you quickly lose attraction for them. One the other hand, if someone at first isn’t particularly attractive, but they have a personality you like, they become more attractive in your eyes as you get to know them.
Also I have some thoughts about what you were saying about secondary sexual characteristics. I think that straight men are attracted to female secondary sexual characteristics and straight women to male secondary sexual characteristics. Now, think of this. I am going to try to not sound like I am stereotyping. Most gay men are perceived to have female secondary sexual characteristics and that is exalted in gay male society. Gay men do not like being perceived as having the traditional male secondary sexual characteristics. So, gay men, even though they prefer someone of the male sex, are still attracted to someone with female secondary sexual characteristics.
Lesbians are similar in that they exalt male secondary sexual characteristics, such as the woman in your French class. So even though they are female and prefer someone of the female sex, they are still attracted to someone with male secondary sexual characteristics.
So, even though lesbians and gay men are called ‘gay’ they actually are attracted to the secondary sexual characteristics of the opposite sex.

I’ve also noticed that usually a feminine or ‘lipstick’ lesbian will be in a relationship with a manly or ‘butch’ lesbian. A ‘queen’ or feminine gay man will be in a relationship with a masculine gay man. So even though they are with someone of the same sex, their relationship is still broken into ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ roles.
I have always thought it interesting that gay men are not attracted to the same type of men that straight women are. If straight women and gay men both prefer men, why the difference in who they choose? If straight men and gay women both like women, why would gay women be attracted to different women then straight men would be attracted to? It is the differing quests for secondary sexual characteristics. Why to preference for different secondary sexual characteristics? It seems that everyone wants a ying for their yang.

pacatrue said...

Hiya BC. thanks for the thoughts. I've begun to pretty much divorce the question of sexual orientation from the one of sexual identity or gender attraction. What I mean by that is only that for every "butch/femme" lesbian couple, you will find one that is "femme/femme" or "butch/butch". Moreover, my undertanding is that those terms are becoming more and more useless, if they ever were helpful. No one of any orientation is just a label of course. I have no idea if my co-student was attracted to men or women. As far as I know she likes getting in fights, chewing tobacco - and men who do the same.

I don't necessarily disagree with your main point that many people of various orientations, while desiring certain primary characteristics, still desire a different set of secondary characteristics. I guess my worry is to only have a couple sets. For instance: Straight men like female primary and secondary things, while gay men like male primary and female secondary. I think every combination is appealing to someone out there. In the end, I like to believe people fall for people, not for sexes or genders.

I think I can tie this back to the relationship between feelings for someone and physical attraction, which was your first point. I am going to quote a story of mine, which none of you have read.

"My eyes followed down her torso as it slipped inwards at the side with just the smallest of dimples at the bottom. It was like a dream come real. But as I looked at her, I heard a voice in the back of my head, 'Does she look like your dream, or has your dream always looked like her?'"

Anonymous said...

i haven't visited in a while and it's ironic that i did today. last night, while in the grocery line, i noticed two youngish women in the next line over. they were chatting, looking at fashion magazines, etc. when they were done checking out, the taller of the two turned around enough for me to see HE had a mustache. i was so surprised i almost dropped my gallon of milk, because in ALL other aspects, that person looked just like a woman, down to the curly ponytail.

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