The other day I was walking to Target: headphones in, eyes forward, steps firm. "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I turned to my right and saw a Black man in his car, maybe around 40 to 45 years old. I asked if he needed directions. He did not. Apparently, he needed my name and my number. I declined, the man backed off, and said that my "sexy" name suited a "sexy woman like yourself." According to Merriam-Webster, “sexy” is defined as: 1) sexually suggestive or stimulating, and 2) generally attractive or interesting. On one hand, yes I would like to be attractive. On the other, my primary focus in relationships is not sexual. As I grow in my understanding of my own sexuality, I struggle to make sexy what I want it to be and not what others understand it to mean.
In my late teens, I rarely wore shorts above the knee. At the height of my paranoia-fueled modesty, I wore a full-length skirt to the beach on a Caribbean family vacation. My mom begged me to take it off and go in the water. I couldn’t. I needed to control the narrative of desire, even if it made me uncomfortable.
My mind ran in a feverish loop as I tried to calculate how to signal my own attractiveness without suggesting anything sexual while also stimulating the interest of a few and rebuking the interest of others. It exhausted me and I started to feel broken. I thought clothing choices were a way out of the game. Then one summer I went to NYC Pride with two friends, and another Black queer woman grabbed my butt, despite my wearing pants. Beyond the shock and betrayal I felt, I accepted that I couldn’t rely on clothing to alter anyone’s feelings or behavior. As the years passed, I grew more confused. I wanted to be attractive, I’d had crushes and dates, but my mind and body would not sync.
I reflect back on the relationships and the—oh-so-Millennial term—“situationships,” I’ve had in the past. Every time sex or physical intimacy entered the relationship, the level started to tilt. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t satisfied. Was it my body? Was it my skill level? Was I repressed? Was it a je ne sais quoi that I had not mastered? Skin-to-skin with the minutes stumbling by, I wondered when I would feel content or fulfilled in some way. A few friends were convinced that maybe sex with a straight cis man would be the key to unlock the mystery. I imagine that my friends believed that sex with a straight man would be revelatory and I would no longer be ambiguous about it. The experience only made things worse. I felt the same. I decided to be celibate until I met someone I really liked.
One morning, years later, I woke up emotionally disheveled. As I broke down in tears sobbing to my girlfriend at the time, I confessed that I didn’t want to have sex, not in the same way she wanted to. I wanted to be desired irrespective of physical touch. I felt guilty, entering into a relationship without divulging the truth. I was ashamed because I believed that the confirmation of queerness lay in consummation. I became depressed. I felt fraudulent. I didn’t know why lust was such an elusive, mercurial sensation. I started researching my feelings online and came across a few asexual forums. I found bittersweet comfort there. I connected with people living in the grey area like myself but I didn’t want to accept it. I wanted healing, not another identity crisis.
It’s hard some days, to recognize that my value does not lie within my flesh. From the beginning of our history in the Western Hemisphere, Black bodies have been valued for what they could do physically, nothing more. Over time and across various revolutions, we have denatured this bond but the stereotypes and internalized prejudices persist. The creepy appropriation of well-known African phenotypes such as full lips and c-shaped butts by white women (see the Kardashians) underscores that our bodies are still marked as inherently sexual and exotic.
I wonder if I would have struggled so much if society didn’t mark my body as hypersexual, if I never had to unlearn any toxic stereotypes. I still wonder what role sex will play in my life. I don’t know where the border between friend and lover lives, once sex is out of the equation. I do know I want long-term companion to spend time and make memories with. I can’t say I know how to achieve this goal, or what to call this type of relationship. All I can do is try.
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