I spend more time than most people steeped in images and ideas about what is “sexy” and what is “feminine” and what is “normal” and what is. . . well, what is any number of loaded and subjective words that inspire, entice or infuriate countless people.
Such is the life of someone who thinks and writes about sex and sexuality all day long.
To me, it’s a big playground. I love puzzles, and there are few puzzles as complex and rewarding as human sexuality. I try to be sensitive, and use the right words and say the right things, but let’s face it, that’s pretty much impossible. Words are often useless, and almost always loaded with the contradictory contexts of those who say them and those who hear them.
It’s not that they have no meaning, it’s that they have so many meanings that it is impossible to communicate anything real by using them.
If I say that I find something sexy, someone who is not that way may feel slighted, even though my taste has nothing—nothing—to do with them. If I declare that I love donuts and hate spaghetti, it’s very likely that spaghetti lovers will feel offended.
When it comes to sex and sexuality, words really can get in the way of expressing things that really matter. Especially when expressing ideas that we use to define our worlds and our place in them.
Needless to say, I think a lot about gender roles and how we express them sexually.
Spoiler alert:we all do it differently.
I always start my explorations with myself. My own ideas of sexy and feminine have changed dramatically over the years. When I was first discovering my sexuality, it was all Victoria’s Secret, garter belts and thigh-highs. Then I got all hippie, and I was all about body hair and somehow convinced myself that rag wool socks and Birkenstocks were sexy. Then I got all militant, shaved my head and discovered the power of the mixed metaphor—combat boots and garter belts. Then I became a mother and pretty much forgot that I was a woman at all, much less a sexual one.
And now I am me.
I am this insanely-sexy 42 year-old woman who finally found the incarnation of me that feels totally right. All those other ones were right at the time, which makes me think this one is temporary too, but it is my favorite so far.
At 42, I am in the best shape of my life. I know what I want sexually and am not afraid to ask for it. I have a partner who sets me on fire and is showing me new things on a daily basis. I simply feel sexier than I have ever felt in my life. And it is clear to me that it is because I am fully claiming who I am. On my terms.
I never wear make-up. (Too lazy, and don’t feel like hiding anything.) I mostly wear jeans and t-shirts, though I still love the frilly lingerie of my youth. I have embraced the fact that I don’t have a curvy body, and instead love the subtle curves of the muscles I have from CrossFit. In fact, my muscles are the things that I love most about my body. I earned them, and they are a visual reminder of the thing I like most about myself; I am strong.
I often joke that I am built like a 16 year-old boy. And that when you try to dress me up in make-up and feminine clothes, I look silly.
I just don’t look like me. I am not, I often say, very feminine. At least not in the way that June Cleaver and Audrey Hepburn were.
A few months ago, my dear friend Tim Aguero, who is a brilliant photographer, offered to take pictures of me. I was saying that I felt sexier than I have ever felt and I wanted to see what it looked like. We talked, and I was very clear about what I wanted. I wanted to see me as I see me. No make-up. No fancy photo-shopping. No girlie magazine stuff. Just me. Really sexy. (As I defined it.) So we met at the gym that my boyfriend owns—the place I feel the strongest and sexiest and most me—and spent a few hours taking photos.
The afternoon was a great mix of the lingerie I still love, and weight lifting, which I currently love. He shot this picture of me, actually resting between shots. And it is my favorite. This is me. A strong, natural, still, powerful, sexy woman. Note the weights, the looking away, the pink lingerie. They all matter.
A few days later my friend Andie showed me some amazing photos that she had PicassoMUSE take of her. Andie is, in many ways, the exact opposite of me. She is about the most feminine woman that I know. In precisely the Audrey Hepburn and June Cleaver way that I could never pull off. Her manners are impeccable, she always says the right thing in the right way, her accessories are always just right, she would never leave the house in gym clothes. We crack me up when we go out together. She’ll be in a perfect dress with the right accessories, and I’m in my gym clothes with crap falling out of my pockets.
The things we have in common are mostly our open hearts and minds and laser-focus on human sexuality as not only a human right, but an inexhaustibly interesting source of pleasure. And, obviously, we both love to have our pictures taken.
Her pictures were so different from mine. Fantastic hair and make-up, totally sexy poses, direct eye-contact, absolutely drenched in the kind of “come hither” that I suspect shipwrecked Odysseus on the island of the Sirens. She is the definition of sex-pot.
After looking at her photos for a while, I realized that she was wearing the exact same lingerie that I was in mine. And then I started thinking more about Andie and I.
Andie was born with the body of a man. All parts working and in tact, and spent most of her life trying to be a man, as both her body and the world around her expected her to be. She has told me heart-breaking stories, and soul-inspiring stories, about rebuilding her life as the woman that she always knew she was.
I don’t know the Andie that pretended to be a man.
The Andie that I have always known is one of the most feminine women I know. Knowing the road that she took to get here always makes it all the more admirable to me.
I take my femininity for granted, as it was granted to me. Hers was earned. It was hidden and ridiculed and told it did not belong. And it survived anyway.
Take a moment to really look at the two pictures. Each of strong, powerful, sexy women. And ask yourself, as I have, what makes each of us feminine? I don’t have an answer. But I love the puzzle.
For me, a tiny woman who was born with a body that matched my sense of self, I am attracted to the things that many people describe as masculine about me. My muscular body. My stillness. The way that I stand my ground literally and metaphorically. The way that I don’t invite you in easily. The fact that it takes me 10 minutes to wake up and get out of the house because I don’t really “do” hair and make up and complicated outfits. Those were the things I wanted reflected back at me when Tim took pictures of me that were, as I defined them, very sexy.
For Andie, who was born with the body of a man that did not in any way match the woman who she knew she was, her sexy photos were altogether different. She was a powerful seductress with flawless hair and make-up, open to the world, inviting, a sensuous symphony of mainstream society’s idea of feminine.
I was born a woman. She was born a man.
I defined my sexy photos with words and poses that society would call masculine. She defined her sexy photos with words and poses that society would call feminine.
And we were both, unknowingly, wearing the same black and pink lace lingerie.
Looking only at visual cues, if I hadn’t told our backstories, it would be easy for most people to deem one of us more feminine than the other—although one would quickly try to back-pedal out of the statement.
It’s worth thinking about. I don’t know what it means, maybe you do.
But I do know that underneath her girlie flair is an incredibly strong woman who stands her ground. And I know that under my still strength there is a playful kitten that few ever see.
We both look at our photos and think the same thing,“That is so me.”
Alyssa Royse is a hot mama in her 40’s raising a teenage daughter and 2 young step-daughters. She is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and PR hack who is now working entirely to promote healthy sexual freedom for all humans – because sexual agency is a human right, and also an important part of health and wellness. A popular speaker and guest writer, she can be found most often on her eponymous blog, AlyssaRoyse.com, on her new startup venture, NotSoSecret.com and as the co-host of the weekly radio show Sexxx Talk Radio on The Progressive Radio Network. (Downloads available on both prn.fm and in iTunes.) When she’s not thinking and writing about sex, she is generally playing with her big, queer, bi-racial family, traveling, reading or at the CrossFit gym sweating. Yes, she would probably love to come speak at your conference, or write something for you, contact info is on her blog. No, she does not want to date you, her dance card is blissfully full.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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July’s Full Moon in Capricorn: The Heart wants what it Wants. The 4 Stages of a Good Divorce. How to Love a Woman who Scares You. Our Soulmates are Rarely Who We Expect. I Still Think of You. Men, Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves: Size Matters. To the One Who Tried to Break Me. An Open Letter to the Fixers. How your Stored Memories in the Amygdala can lead to PTSD. How My Sister’s Death Transformed my Self-Perception.