We’ve been really fortunate that in the past couple years there has been an increase in literature about dating practices and romance. A 2008 study finally demonstrated how white people employ gendered and racialized preferences when selecting potential partners. And most recently, a study in Men and Masculinities (entitled, “The Perils of Being a Nice Guy”) describes in great detail how heterosexual women engage in sometimes contradictory desiring of ideal male partners; while these women say that they value the nice guy, they only really want to be with the hegemonic bad boys.

Why isn’t there more talk about contradictions between gender politics and desire? Why is it okay for progressive feminists or gay people to hate on hegemonic masculinity where it exists and then also harbor desires for the same characteristics that make up this destructive ideal? Why should we reward ourselves for wanting the bad guys and turning away the nice ones?

First, it should be noted that when I refer to desiring “the bad guys” and turning away "the nice guys,” I am referring to images of men and behaviors that are both gendered and racialized. My vantage point (which I’d argue is quite similar to the vantage point of many heterosexual women) is the mainstream gay male community, where ideal types are traditionally white, typically masculine, and are within a range of body types that lean taller and thicker.

Second, before I have a rant about progressives that employ contradictory desiring, we have to talk about beauty privilege and American individualism. There’s a lot of talk in sociology about the American individualism, but the piece of it that I want to bring into this discussion dissects this national philosophy to understand a privileging process. In the U.S., there is a sense that individuals can do anything as long as they work hard enough, no matter the struggle. Best encapsulated by the phrase, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps" (a phrase that, correct me if I’m wrong, was a defining message of Reagan’s successful presidential campaign), individuals are not only capable of but ultimately responsible for any success or failure that they encounter. The “bootstraps” mentality has often been used to justify cutting welfare programs and policies designed in the interest of racial equality, and now, I argue, also justifies beauty ideals and acceptable romantic desires.

Although we’ve seen a lot of feminist work in the last couple decades about beauty and how oppressive beauty ideals can be, rarely do you see a discussion about how beauty privilege is reproduced at the individual level. The beautification processes that many of us engage in (everything from putting on make up to working out in the gym to modifying how we talk or move to be more attractive) reflect a “buy-in” to a mentality that if we work hard enough at it, we can be one of the beautiful people. While true to a minimal extent, this is actually a mechanism to reproduce structural inequality between beautiful “types” – or rather, groups of people at the top of hierarchies of race, gender, class, ability, etc. – and those who are not beautiful. For example, drawing on the 2008 study linked above, rarely, if ever, do femmey Asian guys get the girl.

After wasting countless (seriously, countless) hours not only hearing the complaints of others but also whining myself about not feeling attractive and not being able to get the guys that I want due to systemic, oppressive beauty ideals, I’ve decided to try and step back think about matters of blame. Yes, like many other gay guys that are sometimes quite literally rendered invisible to the Hot Gay Plastics, I tend to blame the hot gays for everything. Why should they deserve this kind of attention? Why can’t I even get a lick of the attention that they get in the world, when it’s **so clear** to me that they don’t deserve it? And why wouldn’t they want to be with me?

And there the problem is, in that last sentence: Why wouldn’t they want to be with me? For many, myself included, there seems to be this deeply rooted thought that perhaps, if they (the hot people) realize why they’re wrong, if they work hard enough at it, they’ll realize that my desire for That Type of Guy deserves to be rewarded; that I can be squeezed into the mainstream ideal of success and desirability that has also for years denied me of its privilege. In essence, despite having been subjugated by structural inequality, my romantic desiring often reflects the same hegemonic ideals; and further, this process of whining about beauty and trying to make myself beautiful has felt so natural that often I forget to look at my track record and realize how implicit I am in this inequality.

It feels trivial to admit and think about the fact that many of us want what we can’t get or also that we want something that either doesn’t exist or doesn’t make us happy, but it’s important. Particularly given recent talk about the “mancession” and the honestly quite pathetic (but nonetheless real) crises couples face when male partners take up traditionally female domestic roles, these are crucial questions to ask in the interest of gender and romantic equality.

So, male-interested parties – take a second and step back. Think (again) about your dating track record and images of people you’d really want to be with. Are they all white? Butch? Have a tendency to treat people like shit? Look like or act like Brad Pitt? And, perhaps more importantly, what are the qualities in men that turn you off? Hot People don’t exist unless there’s a market for them. Never forget that we’re the market.

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