Sex & Gender

op-ed: i don’t act like a boy. i act like an a**hole: redefining my identity without using gendered stereotypes.

April 2, 2014

The hustle and bustle of my twenties has isolated me; it’s not often that I am blessed with the opportunity to immerse myself in the lives of new people. I am talking about really diving deep into the inner workings of a foreign group. Before my brief time studying in Italy, I hadn’t found myself privy to forced socialization and the benefits it often yields. My time abroad was filled to the brim with feelings of both excitement and horror. I was constantly consuming a cocktail of self-confidence and nerve wrecking confusion. Making friends was similar to speed dating or a business pitch. For the sake of time, I tried to compress my identity into short memorable phrases; the struggle to seem clever, interesting, honest, and true all within a five-minute conversation began.
“Ugh…I’m from Atlanta, well no Alabama. I am Multiracial. Yes, but Black Ugh…no, yes I said ‘ex-girlfriend’. No, I’m not bisexual. I self identify as Queer. I think of myself as more of an Equal Opportunity Lover who doesn’t neatly fall into categories. Yea I guess it would be easier to say bisexual, but I’m not…so… What? Why did we break up? Ugh well I operate like a boy.”

By Skye Wilson, AFROPUNK Contributor

My audience for this cornucopia of descriptive dysfunction was a group of male art students. I had become fond of one in particular. As time passed, I found myself pushing that tired line, “I operate like a boy” around like a nervous politician. I wanted it to serve as an invitation, but also a warning. I wanted him to come play, but understand that because “I operate like a boy” I will not be responsible for the aftermath.

Well before we got started, we stopped. I was bewildered. I had grown very used to hearing “yes”, and I had forgotten what “no” felt like.

So I did a little bit of reflecting. Maybe what I was selling wasn’t appealing, but what the hell was I selling? I combed over every conversation; eventually I decided to put that filthy five-worded sentence up for trial. I challenged myself to break down what exactly I wanted to express when I said, “I operate like a boy”.

When I say, “I operate like a boy”, I am using it as a badge of honor. It’s my visa into a club of casual hook ups and emotionless encounters. Those five words are my promise to you that what will eventually ensue will be free of commitment. I know that I am not the only person whose ever used this. My whole life I’ve heard plenty of heterosexual females drop this line in casual conversation, in mid-flirt, and during post-make out introductions.

Despite its commonalty, there is something very wrong about its use. We are using a negative stereotype, a popular rhetoric about men to justify our behavior. When in reality, our behavior is not bound by sex or gender. How we behave transcends the confining “normative” gendered boundaries. Our behavior can be negative, but it is human. It does not belong to the “man” tick box.

What I, we, actually want to say is that there has been some collateral damage connected to our sexually liberated past. We compartmentalize. We often separate the acts of the flesh with the feelings of the heart. We accidentally turn a blind eye to the emotional needs of our lovers and use their silence as justification for our ignorance. This is not a male trait; this doesn’t make us boys, or men. It makes us assholes. It makes us selfish. It makes us selectively blind. Those we leave in the wake are not “girls” (though they may be). They are human beings. Humans, who found something in us worth loving. In return we consumed their bodies and threw back the rest. We have made mistakes. We have learned. I have learned. I now understand that being free doesn’t mean being careless.

I am Queer. I’ve been a**hole, but those two things are not related. I am a lover. Everyday, I get better at it. Today, I am freeing myself from the self-imprisonment of my poorly written preface. I operate like me, for the good and the bad.