Being Bi/Ace, Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split

This post is for the May 2018 Carnival of Aces on “Nuance & Complexity,” which I am hosting. Please check it out and consider submitting! Cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

Last time I talked about how there’s a lot of extra scrutiny about attraction for both bi and ace people, which makes inhabiting that intersection difficult, and the misconceptions that become barriers to talking about it. Now I’m going to talk about some specific aspects of my own attraction and how it’s different enough from the norm that it usually goes unrecognized.

I really recommend you go read part one first if you haven’t yet, especially the last section about the double-bind between being questioned about my place on the Kinsey Scale while also trying to fight the misconception that being bi means being attracted to only two genders in a binarist way.

I’m going to talk about my attractions to men vs. my attractions to women, not because I’m only attracted to men OR women (I’m not!), but because it’s just the most illustrative comparison I can make. My attractions are sparse to begin with, and since non-binary, androgynous, and other gender-variant people are a smaller population that I get less exposure to, a distinct pattern hasn’t emerged. It can follow either pattern, be a mix, or be something else entirely.

And keep in mind, this is still going to be simplified. I’m only focusing on aesthetic attraction, because that is the most frequent form of attraction that I experience, so I can make generalizations about it more easily.

However! As I discussed in the first post, I… really don’t experience attraction categories as distinct and easily separable, and a lot of my experiences are… probably better described without referring to them as a kind of attraction? I’m still trying to figure out how (and whether) to talk about those. But since I have strong aesthetic preferences and my experience of aesthetic attraction is so unusual that people are not even aware that it could be like that, I want to talk about it here in order to make space for myself and anyone with similar experiences.

The Visual Paradigm of Aesthetic Attraction

In ace communities, whenever we talk about aesthetic attraction, it’s almost always exclusively centered on visuals.

How many times have you heard non-sexual aesthetic attraction explained by a comparison to looking at a painting? If you’ve been around for a while, I’m guessing a hell of a lot. I’ve resorted to it before myself, but I’m not sure it conveys what we want it to, because I think we underestimate the possibility that paintings may inspire sexual feelings. I’m afraid our reliance on this analogy is a bit naive.

Siggy once described his experience with aesthetic attraction this way:

“It’s more like, people pop out in a crowd. I notice them even if I wasn’t initially paying attention, like hearing someone say my name, or running into someone I recognize. It’s unmistakeable, and it’s either there or it’s not.

When it happens, the only thing it makes me want to do is look at them, similar to how I might want to scrutinize someone I think I might recognize. I suppose it feels good to look at them?”

Notice that the only mention of any sense other than sight is just an analogy. While he does mention music as a form of art later in the post, when it comes to discussing attraction to people, it’s all only about appearance.

Sometimes the sight bias is explicit: AVENwiki, Asexuality Archive, and The Asexual all define aesthetic attraction as inherently visual. We can also see it here in the first submission to this Carnival:

“Sensual feeling is so much vaster than that. It encompasses so many nuances of touch and taste and sound and even melds with aesthetic attraction, because sight is a sense, too.” (emphasis added)

Now, I 100% agree that aesthetic attraction is a subset of sensual attraction, so that is a good point! People usually discuss sensual attraction only in the context of physical contact and tactile senses, but I think sensual attraction can involve any sense.

But look how sound, mentioned right before the bold part, is excluded from the working definition of aesthetic attraction. Aesthetic attraction is equated with sight, and that is an accessibility problem.

If we define aesthetic attraction like this, then what about blind people? Is it just impossible for them to experience attraction based on aesthetic preferences? I think not.

I think I have actually never seen any ace people talk about aesthetic attraction based on any sense other than sight?

So let me be the first.

The Gender Split: Primary Modality and Repulsion

Now, when it comes to women, I’m primarily visually-oriented. On a daily basis, at least one or two pretty ladies will catch my eye—if not in person, then through one kind of media or another.

Not so with men. I am rarely visually attracted to men.

In fact, I am sort of biased against a lot of traits considered conventionally attractive in men, like facial hair or the kind of excessively muscular build that you usually see on bodybuilders or actors who play superheroes (in the U.S. at least). These things are not just unattractive to me, they are the opposite of attractive—in other words, I feel repulsed by them as if by same-pole magnetic force.

In contrast to the usual use of “repulsion” in the ace community, I would describe this as a fairly more “neutral” feeling that doesn’t necessarily involve feelings of disgust. Whatever you’re picturing by my use of the word “repulsed,” my feelings are almost certainly milder and more matter-of-fact than that. More of a “Nope” than an “Ew.”

You might think this is trauma-related, but I’ve always been like this. I do have traumatic aversions to certain traits, and those are stronger, but I don’t think the details are especially relevant here. Trauma generally impacts my comfort level with men more than my attractions to them.

It’s not that I’m never visually attracted to men, it’s just that most of the time my feelings about them range from neutral to negative when I’m just looking at them, especially in static images—which makes dating apps that first ask you to rate people based on pictures a non-starter for me.

Aural Aesthetic/Sensual Attraction

Instead, I am primarily attracted to men in a completely different way: their voices.

There’s nothing like the allure of a great male singer, with a deep, clear voice, who is still able to hit those high notes. I have pretty strong preferences about singing style too, as my partner can attest from the many complaints I have had about vocalists from bands she likes.

It’s not limited to songs, either. Radio voices, acting, and people just talking can spark this sort of attraction too, and then all I want to do is just keep listening.

This is definitely aesthetic attraction. It’s just a different mode of engagement. I struggled with what to call it for this post—audial? sonic?—but ultimately settled on “aural” because I like it best, my spell-checker already recognizes it as a word, and it doesn’t have competing associations with video game characters, so it’ll probably be more search-friendly. But some people pronounce it the same way as “oral” so it might be confusing in spoken conversations. I don’t espouse this as a label for a “new” distinct sub-type of attraction though. It makes more sense to expand existing definitions.

I suspect that although it might not be the primary form of attraction for most people, this experience is not that uncommon. I’ve heard so many people talk about how so-and-so has a “sexy voice” that I think this is a lot more well-recognized outside of the ace community, even though there is still more focus on appearance overall. But the way that it is generally framed in terms of sexiness outside the ace community, combined with the ace community’s lack of acknowledgment of it as a thing that can be non-sexual as well…

It just feels alienating. Surely I’m not the only ace who feels this kind of attraction ever?

Maybe it’s just that we focus so much on appearance or personality that we don’t even consider sound-based appeal.

Appreciation or Attraction?

For a long time, because of all this, I didn’t recognize this as attraction either. I guess I thought of it as more of an intense aesthetic appreciation. But there’s a difference, and it is immediately recognizable to me. I don’t really know how to describe it, so let me give a few examples instead: there are vocalists whose talents and artistic style I really appreciate, but I’m not attracted to them. Like Daishi from Psycho le Cému, or Kyo from Dir en grey (two bands with completely different aesthetic extremes—engage with the latter at your own risk, they revel in being disturbing).

I guess there’s an extra layer of immediate fascination with the people I’m attracted to, beyond my appreciation for the music itself—they stand out more. There’s more of an intensity to my enjoyment of it, more of a thrill. It may lead me to want to know more about the person, and sometimes there are other kinds of attraction mixed in there as well. I’m more likely to develop a visual component to my attraction to a guy if I already like his voice, though often it’s more about his style and dynamic mannerisms than his actual physical characteristics. But it varies a lot.

Generally, people aren’t aware that this is even a thing I experience. Because it isn’t visual. Because it’s something that mostly happens when I listen to music, and I usually do that alone since hardly anybody I know shares my taste. Because it’s something I have had no idea how to talk about, without giving the wrong impression.

If you ask me a question like, “Come on, when was the last time you saw a guy you were attracted to?”—which is usually how people phrase it—then my answer will be a frustrated shrug.

But if you ask in a way that doesn’t preclude my primary mode of attraction to guys, you’ll get a totally different answer.

I think we need to do better at acknowledging a wider variety of attractions, without falling into habits that reinforce a visual bias. And I’d really like to stop having people suggest that I’m not “really” bi, or that I’m “more lesbian” just because only some of my attractions are obvious to them. This is not a lesser experience, just because I engage with it differently.

I’m convinced that I can’t possibly be the only one.

So I want to know:

  • Do you ever experience aural aesthetic/sensual attraction?
  • What other attractions (or attraction-like experiences) have you had that don’t really fit in with the way we usually talk about attraction in the ace community?
  • Do you experience a gender split in your attractions too? Do your attractions to some people get discounted/dismissed more than others?
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4 thoughts on “Being Bi/Ace, Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split

  1. Pingback: Being Bi/Ace, Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split | The Asexual Agenda

  2. Dang, that’s some hard core ableism you’ve pointed out that seems totally obvious now that you mention it. You’re right, aesthetic attraction is basically always defined via vision and really nothing else (or nothing else that’s treated as being just as important). I’ll definitely keep that in mind when I’m writing about different kinds of attraction so as not to exclude anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Being Bi/Ace, Part One: Scrutiny About Attraction and the Kinsey Scale | Prismatic Entanglements

  4. Pingback: Nuance & Complexity: May 2018 Carnival of Aces Round-Up | Prismatic Entanglements

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