restricted access 5. Queering Heterosexualities? Metrosexuals and Sexually Fluid Straight Women

From: Straights

NYU Press colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

>> 181 5 Queering Heterosexualities? Metrosexuals and Sexually Fluid Straight Women Matt Becker told me that on his drive over to my office, his girlfriend asked whether he was going to come out to me as a “metrosexual.” I thought to myself, “When did metrosexuality become part of Americans ’ discourse around straight masculinities? And what does it mean to the straight men who embrace the term as well as those who don’t?” Similarly, new terms like “heteroflexible” signal that some straight women now define their sexualities to include same-sex experiences. Although my interviews predate the rise of this neologism, why did ten of twenty-nine straight women I interviewed think of their sexuality as fluid? Some researchers think of sexual fluidity as a practice confined to lesbian, bisexual, or nonheterosexual women (see Diamond 2008), but I explore straight women’s experiences of same-sex desire, fantasy, and intercourse. By exploring these changes and shifts in gender and sexualities in contemporary American society, this chapter looks at the meanings and practices of queered and nonnormative heterosexualities through the narrative accounts of the black and white straight men and women I interviewed. The rise of a post-closeted culture has meant the uneven and complicated normalization of conventional gay men and lesbians by heterosexuals and the broader culture. And as the normalization of homosexuality has diffused into the larger culture, the boundaries between straights and gays have shifted in relation to the social 182 > 183 that negotiate variable kinds of sexually fluid experiences, ranging from fantasies to sexualized and sexual encounters with other women. Queered straight women are allies to queer people and members of queer subcultures. While this positioning is based in part on their enactment of sexuality as fluid, it also emerges from their antihomophobic political ideologies. But, like metrosexual men, these queered straight women challenge the conventional sexual order through their practices of sexual fluidity and antihomophobia, while at other times reconstructing it by enacting binary constructions of sexuality as heterosexual or homosexual, or in making claims to heterosexual privilege instead of contesting its establishment. In understanding the rise of metrosexual masculinities and their relation to the context of a post-closeted culture, we need to bring economic and cultural shifts into view to grasp the contours of the present conditions of contemporary masculinities. Since the middle of the twentieth century, middle-class men, historically white males, have been increasingly employed by corporations and other similar workplaces where self-presentation became pivotal to the role of the worker. These white-collar workplaces emphasize, then and now, the importance of communicative skills, a “good” personality, and an “attractive” appearance in projecting the interpersonal and professional qualities needed to succeed in these environments (Faludi 1999; Goffman 1959; Luciano 2001). In white-collar employment, appearance has taken on a heightened importance as one’s clothes, grooming habits, and bodily capital have become part of the package in performing the role of a “successful” middle-class professional (Salzman, Matathia, and O’Reilly 2005). White middle-class heterosexual male workers consequently signal their professionalism by being au courant, well-coiffed (Barber 2008), and variably stylish—adopting styles associated with gay men, who are stereotypically associated with practices such as being welldressed , well-groomed, and body-conscious. By hybridizing gay masculine styles and practices into their heterosexual masculinities, heterosexual men have been noticed for the seemingly gay male appeal or metrosexual masculine performances they enact in various contexts (Demetriou 2001; Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). Paradoxically, metrosexual masculinities are hybridized masculinities that both contest and reinforce hegemonic masculinity. In other words, metrosexual 184 > 185 conceptions of gay and lesbian sexualities, expand the borders of the community to include bisexual and transgender persons, and protest normalizing discourses, identities, and practices that inscribed binary conceptions of sexualities and gender. Queered straight women, then, negotiate a sociohistorical context where sexual and gender practices, desires, and identities have been renegotiated through the lens of queer culture in the communities of lesbian, gay, and queer people. Against the sexual and gender binaries that maintain normative heterosexuality and gender normativity, queered practices of sexual fluidity, as well as a relational conception of identities as socially constructed, negotiated, and changeable, made sense to heterosexual women who socially and politically identified with lesbian, gay, and queer subcultures. It is in the context of a postcloseted culture after the queer cultural turn that I explore straight women’s enactment of sexuality as fluid, their practices of antihomophobia , and their political commitments to queer friends...