Once upon a time, I almost convinced myself I was straight—because I wasn’t attracted to girly girls.
It seemed rational at the time. If I wasn’t attracted to the women I saw on TV (and in most lesbian porn that I surreptitiously explored), I couldn’t possibly be anything but straight! Right? Well, living under the tyranny of binary gender, it’s a bit difficult to figure out that queerness can present itself in all sorts of different ways, just like people can. Similarly, it’s a bit difficult to figure out that gender presentation, gender identity, and biological sex characteristics are categories that can align with expectations, but can also wildly diverge.
Here’s the truth of it: I couldn’t care less what’s in somebody’s pants (or shirt, or whatever). The characteristics to which I’m attracted can present in people who identify strictly as women, strictly as men, strictly as neither, or as some combination of the two. What I am attracted to, on a large scale, is boyish masculinity. It took me a while to figure out that being attracted to boyish presentation didn’t just mean I liked boys. Yes, I like boys…but I also like bois.
This is why I like pansexual as a label so much: it conveys my attraction to people of all gender identities/sex characteristics, but doesn’t presume anything about my attraction to people of various gender presentations.
So why am I attracted to boyish people? The simple answer is that I’m not sure—who can explain why we’re attracted to all sorts of things? The longer answer involves delving into what it means to present boyishly, or at least what it means to me.
The attraction to physical, outward boyish presentation is what I won’t really try to explain. For men, I guess maybe I find boyishness less hegemonic and thus more appealing than typical “manliness”—similarly, for women, boyishness messes with the expectation and status quo of womanhood on its face, and I’ve always enjoyed the company of people who mess with expectations. But it’s the psychological/social aspects of boyishness that I really find more appealing.
What really gets me is the awkward charm—the sense that flirtation doesn’t quite come naturally, and that sexual interactions (while completely desired) are unexpected and thus even more awesome than they would be otherwise. Boyish folk, in my experience, don’t enter an interaction expecting to get laid. It’s not quite insecurity, but rather an overall extra sense of gratitude for everything that is given. I love that, and how it makes interaction seem deeply genuine even if it’s just a bit of flirting. “Boyish” works because it conveys that youthful sense of wonder and gratitude for sexual and romantic fulfillment.
I’m sure I could psychoanalyze myself further, but I’ll leave it at that: I fall head over heels for awkward, genuine people with a boyishly masculine self-presentation. Most of the time, anyway.
The funny thing is that coming to terms with my queerness and my attraction to boyishness has opened a space for me to be even less concerned with gender than I was before. By recognizing that boyishness goes beyond physical gender presentation and into the realm of personality and social self-presentation, I’ve given myself room to be seriously attracted to people of all gender presentations, including femme folk of all levels of femme-ininity (still different from the hetero girly girls I once wondered about).