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  • Writer's pictureSarah Foley

TSS - 019 ~ the 'pick me girl', bisexuality and deviant sex

content warning: homophobia, sexual trauma

At nearly 26, my sexual self-awareness is significantly different from when I was 18. Partly because I’ve spent the last three years exploring my murky relationship with sex, and partly because I spend so much time talking, thinking about and researching sex. As you’re no doubt aware from my other posts (sorry), pleasure and presence are now at the forefront of my sex. I’m unwinding from years of separating my mind and body and fucking for the sake of being desired. This post is about navigating my history of using sex to make me different, cool, wanted, and all the ways I fell into the ‘pick me’ patriarchy as I did it.

As a young person developing a sexual identity, I began recognising and capitalising on something that queer women face and relates totally to our pornified adolescences. I allowed myself to explore my sexuality knowing that bisexuality is often fetishized and sexualised by masses of heterosexual men. This fetishization presents a whole heap of issues, but in my 18-year-old brain, bisexuality - or more so all the parts of ‘deviant’ sexuality - was hot. I loved the parts of the male gaze that made me feel desired. In fact, the male gaze has nothing to do with women feeling good in themselves, but being wanted in any way felt shocking to me. I was bolstered knowing that it was socially acceptable to explore sex with women, without being de-feminised or demonised, until it became your sexual identity. While I was genuinely wanting to navigate and somewhat naively ‘determine’ my own sexuality, I did so with a certain level of enjoyment of the product of the pornification of bisexuality. This is an entirely different experience from men who have sex with other men, wherever they may fall on the spectrum of sexual identity. My understanding is that queer men experience intense amounts of judgement around their masculinity the moment they stray from the heterosexually enforced norm. I’ve discussed this in an earlier blog post (TSS- 004), but want to consider now how my own fetishization of female bisexuality and deviant sex intersected with my sexual development.

For the next few years of my young adulthood, I continued to try to navigate where I sat in the greyness of attraction, before finding myself presently closer towards heterosexuality than I would have expected. I certainly wonder what it would have looked like to explore this if I had of been able to unravel entirely from the internalised homophobia that intertwines all of our notions of sexual identity. No matter how open I was, some part of me felt relieved to identify safely as heterosexual, reflecting my internalised phobia and the reality of heteronormativity. The point is: awkward, intoxicated, clunky as it was, I didn’t feel fear amongst my social circles to try different things. I was certainly paranoid about my parents finding out, and disturbingly relieved when I didn’t feel the need to come out to them, but within my own peers, I felt largely unashamed - in fact - it was social capital. As I explored my sexuality generally, the ‘pick me’ phenomenon showed up frequently.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, ‘pick me’ or the ‘pick me girl’, is emblematic of the competition driven into women by patriarchal conceptions of gender roles to be constantly competing to ‘win’ the man. In a simplistic way, I get it- there are SO many amazing women on this planet, men are so lucky to have us- but, it inevitably means that women are pitted against each other, usually by other women, to ‘get’ the - often very mediocre - guy. And this attitude of women as competitors flows over into so many aspects of our lives: careers, families, aspirations. We become trapped in being unable to see the success of many as greater than the success of one. Derogatory and heteropatriarchal, the concept of the ‘pick me girl’ forces us to drag each other down so we can be the ‘best’, the winner of the patriarchy.

Once again, our sole purpose is to be desirable to men. I know that in my circles, we are all aware and actively subverting this as best we can. But that’s not to say that it’s not still rampant and unconsciously impacting our choices. Every time I catch myself judging a woman, I know I’m probably doing it because of an ingrained competition that breeds jealousy and a toxic ‘I’m not like other girls’ attitude. Are you surprised that there’s not the same ‘pick me boy’ concept? Heterosexual men get to largely exist knowing they have worth outside of their desirability, so there’s no need for the same kind of romantic competition. Young straight men don’t have to fight for space, they already know they have it.

Sometimes though, the tasks of feminism can seem endless and exhausting. Sometimes it’s easier

to just fall into the crowd and temporarily submit. I fucking love Love Island, and I know so many extraordinary feminists who do too. But the media I consumed as a young person, prior to being able to love and also deconstruct TV, told me I had to be different, that I could only win by pushing other women down. Fuck- rewatching Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging is shockingly bad. Not to mention, Wild Child, all the Disney princess movies, She’s the Man, Cinderella Story, Ten Things I Hate About You… it’s an enormous list. All the movies I LOVED as a kid. The ‘pick me girl’ embodies traits that aren’t like ‘other girls’ a distinction entirely based on gender binaries and misogynistic notions of normalcy in women. She’s the ultimate ‘cool girl’ (do we all remember the discussion of this in Gone Girl?). Now considering that traditional constructions of knowledge of female sexuality rely on female passivity and lack of interest in sex, no matter how far we come from this, it still drags down the unconscious societal expectations of the kind of sex women want. So, if I could offer hedonistic, uninhibited sex, I thought that made me different, better. Yuck.

As a young person, I’d unknowingly enact this phenomenon in my sexual relationships. Prior to my extremely privileged academic knowledge of sex, I used sex as social capital constantly. Even during my degree, I continued to use sex and sex acts to be ‘different’ to other girls. I worked in ethical erotica and made sex my entire life. I was internally existing in an ecosystem of self-hatred, shame, body dysmorphia and trauma. While the first threesome I had at 18 was out of genuine desire, a truthfully gorgeous exploration, by the third, I was doing it to offer something ‘different’ to the partners I did not feel worthy of. Whether it be the pornification of adolescent knowledge of sex, or my own sexual desire, I was aware that I could offer uninhibited sex and believed that this would make people intrigued enough to stick around to get to know the actual me. Bisexuality, or even a guise of this, offered something ‘different’, or so I felt, at 18, 19, 20. I felt the intense dichotomy of wanting everyone to know, but being terrified of my parents finding out. My internalised homophobia meant that I wanted all the benefits of indulging and being a part of the fetishising of bisexuality, without the holistic owning of the identity, the stigma. I am conscious of not using the word ‘courage’ to describe embodying queerness, but I do feel that there is an ease to existing heterosexually without being othered, that might be different for queer people.

Looking back now, I can see the desperate desire for affirmation, safety and love in my attempt to find my own sexual identity. The media I personally consumed, as well as my own sense of what love looked like, very much suggested a ‘higher existence’ in deeply sexual people. True adults, who truly deserved a place on earth. I didn’t just use perceived queerness as social capital; I was also genuinely exploring. I know that if I was having the same sex now that I was having at 18, it would be for different reasons, centring my pleasure in a way that wasn’t happening before. It was never the sex or the kind of sex I was having that was the problem, it was my motivations.

It wasn’t just queerness though that made up my sexual identity as a young person, it was a combination of many perceived deviant acts: sex in public, uneducated BDSM, anal sex, unprotected sex, threesomes, dangerous sex, even just the amount of sex. Watching Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac as a young person, I felt seen, I could never get enough. In part, this was due to my relationship with my own pleasure, but mostly, was down to the need to be wanted by men. I felt that there was some gateway to the depth of adult love, that relied on intense, constant sex. This was matched by my bodily desires that actually wanted as much sex as possible. It makes total sense that navigating my sexual trauma after this period involved a total rejection of sex, especially after years of disjointed sex that made me feel simultaneously powerful and completely out of my body. I thought for so many years that sex deemed ‘vanilla’ was boring, and that the more fucked up the sex I was having, the more desirable I would become. When I was older and beginning to experience the first symptoms of trauma and truth resurfacing in my body, I was in a sexual situation with a phenomenal woman, but I felt truly terrified at the thought of being intimate and vulnerable with her. It was like my body began to swing in the opposite direction after years of feigning attraction to whatever and whoever. The vulnerability that presented in being older, wiser, more self-aware, meant that I could not push my body to have queer sex I wasn’t 100% sure of. I think partly though, this was to do with feeling deeply respected, safe, and equal with women, my counterparts to the patriarchy. Within the walls of being really seen in my vulnerability, I could not use sex anymore. A similar occurrence happened with my current partner, spurring on my sexual trauma healing journey, where the terror of being treated with respect, safety, and genuine love meant I could not misuse my body anymore.

I am still now relearning my sexuality, and how it intertwines with the sexuality of my partner. I am learning what is mine and what is his. But I am beginning to feel honest sexual desire in my body that I was worried I might never regain. For despite all my recollections and learnings, I still sometimes miss the time before I knew what had occurred in my body and just fucked and fucked and fucked. The actual desire for sex that sat in my body as a young person, was kind of awesome. I was overwhelmed with it, and the experiences that came with it. I wonder if some part of the desire for deviance was actually just finding a place for all the insecure sexual desire that I had, and was not directing towards myself. I had a two-birds-one-stone solution: I had the desire for sex, and it provided some kind of self-esteem reassurance that I craved. I was unaware of the language of sexuality that I used, sex as overcompensation almost, and I am glad that I didn’t know that had anything to do with my actions. That extra layer of awareness would have brought on the trauma recollections far earlier and I’m so glad I had those years of bliss before I was ready to navigate it.

Crucial to this post is the reflection that unlike other people, as is a reoccurring theme in this blog, I was afforded the opportunity and privilege to express any and all forms of sexuality without social isolation, or really any ramifications. Being white and middle-class meant that there was less policing of my body generally and there was space for me to float between the unhelpful binaries of respectability and sexuality without judgement. I was not shamed for my behaviour (mostly), and if I needed sexual health support, I could have had it in a heartbeat. I was allowed to drink recklessly without being harshly surveiled, and I had a safe home to return to. I was allowed to tiptoe between sexual identities without being forced to decide, and my body was significantly less subjugated to begin with. I was able to act recklessly and know that it was extremely unlikely there would be any negative consequences for my behaviour. My sexual experiences were tied up in white heteropatriarchal privilege as a femme presenting cis-gender woman. I was able to benefit in some ways from the sexualisation and fetishisation of bisexuality in women, because I fit into norms that I did not have to work to meet. And at the end of all this, I still identify as closer to heterosexual than anything else, thus being able to tell you this story without having had to navigate coming out, having a queer identity and the actual negative products of bisexual fetishisation. And even further to this, I’ve been able to financially and sexually profit off deviant sexual behaviour as adding to my heterosexual identity and social capital in a sex-positive, feminist Melbourne demographic.

What is important in all of this, is that I am deeply and authentically sex-positive and always have been. I have earned money profiting off my sexuality, and I feel so much love and joy in that. There is nothing wrong with having all kinds of sex and being whatever the fuck feels right for your sexuality, but I was not doing it for the sake of being more authentic or pleasurable, I was doing it for male approval in the way I was taught by my media consumption and mitigated by my overwhelming desire to be wanted. My sexual exploration might look entirely different if I was doing that now, my notions of pleasure and sexuality continuing to change as I do my own healing and reflect more on what sex means to me. I still feel the deviant desire sometimes, and I love it. From the Kinsey days onwards, once we realised no one has the same kind sex, I think we began working against hierarchising sexual behaviour. But we are a long way from being truly equal in how we see sex.

A final thought: I think we shouldn’t feel bad for falling into the ‘pick me’ tropes or for using our sexuality as capital, because it is not a revolutionary idea that women and gender diverse people also carry homophobic and patriarchal knowledge that is often so deeply unconscious it can be bewildering to notice. It’s also okay, in my opinion, to know that you’re doing something that supports the patriarchy because it’s just really fucking hard to be a feminist 24/7. What feels subversive and good for you, is good for you. If you are behaving in a way that even remotely prioritises your pleasure in whatever way that might show up, that’s literally revolutionary. I love us for even trying, we deserve to try.

Poor grammar and clunky sentences edited by my darling wordsmith Louise Cain <3



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