Combating heteronormativity – one conversation at a time.

Often male celebrities are fawned over well into their 60s or even 70s. The older they get, the more distinguished they’re thought to be.

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Let me apologize in advance for how long this rant has the potential to be.  I’ve been bothered by this for a while now, as my best friend, and partner in crime, Suz can attest to.  She’s listened to me bitch about this on more than one occasion. And bless her heart, she never tells me to shut up and get over it. Since this is a fandom-related blog, I’ve decided that it’s important to discuss social issues I’ve been dealing with in relatable terms. I also have no desire to discuss more personal relationships in such a public format.

Every few weeks a well-enough-intentioned acquaintance whom I’ve recently befriended on Facebook will start asking questions about my fascination with Mary McDonnell. While I rarely shy away from discussing Mary’s work or my affection for her, these conversations cause a bit of aggravation for me because the term ‘role model’ invariably gets thrown out by the other party as the summation of my Mary Situation. Now don’t get me wrong, Mary has many, many characteristics that make her worthy of being a role-model: her feminism, her charitable endeavors, and her genuinely kind spirit. All these qualities certainly inspire and push me to become the best version of myself. However, to simply refer to Mary as my role model is to deny a very real and important facet of her appeal – my attraction to her.

preemmy06This just in! Sarah is physically attracted to Mary McDonnell!

I do not hide the fact that I’m attracted to Mary. I am very specific – if hyperbolic – in my language, using clear indicators of physical attraction which are far too numerous to include here but include any number of references to her legs, her mouth, her décolletage and/or my being in love(lust) with her.  The fact that these indicators are so consistently construed as an attraction-free, role model paradigm is not only a microaggression against my identity, it’s a sign of our society’s heteronormativity and ageism.

Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the inherent ‘default’ sexual orientation; every other orientation then exists as a deviation from the norm. It is the belief that people are straight until proven otherwise.  It is the reason that when I meet new people, they ask if I have a boyfriend, not a girlfriend.  It is the reason that playful toddler-aged boys are called “future ladies’ men” and why it is considered “a shame” when attractive, successful men come out as homosexual. These ideals are instilled in us from childhood.  All one has to do is think of the numerous fairy tales they were taught as a child. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid – heteronormative conditioning. This conditioning is so thorough that when a woman is literally standing in front of someone discussing her attraction to another woman, so often the listener infers a platonic admiration from the exchange.

When the moment of clarity dawns on these acquaintances, as it always does, their realization that I’m physically attracted to Mary is almost always followed with some variation of “How old is she?” Even more predictable is the “she’s old enough to be your mother!” response upon being informed that Mary’s in her 60s. I do not, in any way, see her age as a barrier to my attraction. Instead, her age is one of her most attractive features. And if one were privy to my far more personal crushes, they’d soon learn that I tend to be attracted to women significantly older than I am. Mary is the rule, not the exception.

dc33I guarantee you, at no point, am I ever surprised by how old she is.  So, I’m quite well aware of how her age compares to mine, thank you very much.

Here’s the kicker though: why does it matter?  If you were to replace Mary’s name with say George Clooney’s or even Sean Connery’s there would be no such similar surprise. Often male celebrities are fawned over well into their 60s or even 70s. The older they get, the more distinguished they’re thought to be. Why then, is it so abhorrent to people that a woman in her 30s could unquestioningly – and unapologetically – be attracted to a woman in her 60s?

SirSeanConneryMy friend has literally never been reminded that this man is old enough to be her grandfather.

It’s because our ageist society instills in us that a woman is only attractive and desirable in her prime years – prior to her turning 40 (or increasingly 35). A few years ago, Allure magazine conducted an aging study that found men believe female beauty peaks at 29. This means that women – just as they are coming into their own, gaining life experience and the confidence that comes with it – they’re relegated to the category of undesirable. Youth is prioritized over knowledge, experience, confidence and wisdom. Ageism goes hand in hand with heteronormativity because women are held to a standard of beauty that aligns with the expectations of heterosexual males. This doesn’t just hurt queer women constantly forced to defend their attraction to older women – it impacts all women.

The moral of all this: don’t automatically assume that every single person that you meet day in and day out is heterosexual. They aren’t. When someone clearly tells you that they are not heterosexual, do not attempt to force them back into your narrow view of society. Instead, try to understand why your view of socially accepted attractions is so narrow and expand your horizons.

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And finally, Mary McDonnell is smoking hot, whether you agree or not!

Anatomy of a Fangirl Crush

“The fangirl may not live on a compound in southern Utah, but she usually has at least a dozen wives at her disposal. We contract lady crushes faster than we can immunize ourselves.”

– Kathleen Smith, The Fangirl Life

If you are a fangirl – or are blessed to have a fangirl in your life – then you know that we can catch feelings for a new character as quickly as a normal person can order a beverage at their favorite coffee shop.  Sometimes faster.

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Throughout the years I’ve crushed on a number of worthy male characters

While I’ve crushed on both male and female characters, I will be the first to admit that I almost always fall for the women harder; and those crushes extend past the characters and onto the actresses portraying them with exceptional regularity. These crushes are more intense and longer-lasting (having forced me to watch hundreds of hours of really bad Lifetime movies. Hostile Makeover anyone?). Recently, I’ve developed a new crush and that got me thinking about the stages fangirls go through when we develop a new lady (or male) crush.

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Feel free to insert your own joke here about how I have a very specific type

But first, some history: A year and a half ago, I decided that I needed to watch Stargate SG-1. My friend was watching at the time (she always gets me hooked on whatever she is watching) and I needed to understand all of her FEELSY messages.  So I started the series myself. Of course I immediately fell in love with Samantha Carter (and later Janet Fraiser, because JANET BBY). When I finished the series, I debated starting Stargate Atlantis, but ultimately put it off because I despised one of Atlantis‘s main characters, Rodney McKay.  However, this summer I decided that it was time!

Because I’d already watched SG-1, I was familiar with the character of Elizabeth Weir. I also knew that I preferred Torri Higginson’s warm and vulnerable Elizabeth to Jessica Steen’s distant, stand-offish portrayal. I remember messaging my friend and saying “I don’t like this blonde chick.” Her response was akin to “don’t worry, she gets replaced soon.”

I already had a mini-crush on (Torri’s) Weir from her SG-1 episodes and I figured that once I watched Atlantis, that it would turn into a full-blown crush. She met all of my criteria for “fictional ladies worthy of crushing”: a brilliant brunette in a position of leadership. (If you need clarification, look at the pictures above again)

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No offense to Steen.  I just prefer my brilliant scientist leaders more…..brunette

Stage One: The Character Crush

This is the initial stage of any new crush. The fangirl becomes captivated by the wonderful character she’s just met and the way that the character exhibits her strengths and vulnerabilities. If that character is the sole leader charged with protecting her people from cylon, wraith, or wayward governments, stage one can happen almost immediately. Messages to your friends asking “WHY IS SHE SO GOOD?!?!?!” are par for the course at this stage.

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I entered Stage 1 the moment that Elizabeth fought to get John Sheppard on her team – you know, ten minutes into the pilot.

If the character happens to be taken prisoner by hostile forces, but manages to talk her way out of the situation (with a quivering lip, no less) prepare for stage two, because it’s happening. It’s legit.  That happened.  Elizabeth Weir negotiated herself out of a hostage situation without having to surrender a single thing.  That’s how awesome she is.

Some characters never make it past the stage one crush.  That’s perfectly ok.  It doesn’t mean that you love Juliet Burke any less.  It just means that you want to spare everyone else from that level of suffering.

Stage Two: Recruitment

Fangirls are marvelous creatures who took our childhood lessons to heart.  We love sharing more than anything else in the universe (aside from our ladies). When we find a new show or character to flail over, the only thing that we want is to share the discovery with every other fangirl that we know. We begin steering every conversation toward the newest affection.

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My fangirl motto

For example:

Sydney:  My birthday’s tomorrow.

Me: Excellent! You know how you should celebrate?  Watch Atlantis and flail over Elizabeth Weir with me!

Given the number of friends that I have brought to the Sanctuary fandom, I can confirm that the only thing better than flailing over a new crush is flailing over a new crush with your friends who are now equally crushing on her thanks to your help.

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Do you have a moment to discuss Helen Magnus?

Unfortunately, as with all great female characters that my poor, unlucky heart has come to love, Elizabeth Weir’s story ends far too early.

Stage Three: Mourning

If you are an unlucky fangirl like I am, you spend a lot of time mourning your lost loves. I would compile a list of all the ladyloves this heart has mourned, but I’d never finish writing this blog after that. I’d just lay down on the floor and cry.

Mourning lost characters can take many different forms. With some, you stop watching the show for a while.  After Janet Fraiser died, I took an eight week hiatus from SG-1 in order to work out my feelings. When I realized my feelings would never be “worked out,” I figured I might as well finish the show.

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The saddest episode in Stargate history

Sometimes, we live in complete denial.  After finishing Battlestar Galactica, I  absolutely refused to watch any of season four. Ever again. As far as I’m concerned, BSG ends right after the third season. Laura Roslin is healthy, happy, and alive.

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Sometimes we consume every other piece of media that said actress has ever starred in.  However, take it from me, if your new crush is Elizabeth Weir, for the love of all fangirls everywhere, do NOT try to watch This Life.  Just don’t do it!  Ok?  No, I don’t want to talk about it.  JUST. DO. NOT. DO. IT. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Natalie Lawson may look sweet and innocent.  But do NOT fall for it.  She’s just waiting to rip your heart out and smash it into a million tiny pieces.

Stage Four: Crossover

The crossover crush is the terminal stage of any fangirl crush. You’ve exhausted all of Torri’s film and television credits and you’ve begun watching interviews, convention panels, and other assorted videos that you can find. When this happens, you’ve already crossed over.

At some point, you’re going to find a video in which Torri makes a random dolphin noise for absolutely no reason at all. (x) You are going to laugh, watch it a dozen times, and realize that you are dealing with a massive goober (which, is your last prerequisite for any IRL crush). Just go ahead and sign your heart away at this point.  She has it for as long as she wants it.

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This nerd is smiling because she knows you’re powerless to escape

If you find yourself – or your fangirl friend – rolling around in a puddle of FEEEELS about a lady you had no idea existed just a few days ago, just remember that it’s a totally normal part of our nature. All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. Over and over and over.