Trigger warning for fatphobia.
I’m about as sex-positive as they come — I participate in workshops on kink and consent, attend BDSM parties, keep a diary of my sexual conquests (because I’m proud of them), and yell at everyone who shames sex work. I was part of the first wave of SlutWalkers before the movement was outed as totally racist. I’ve read Female Chauvinist Pigs and am wary of the dangers of self-objectification. I support ethical porn.
I’m also the sort of sex-positive feminist that isn’t afraid to ask for sex. And as a woman, particularly as a fat woman, I’ve found that often, men don’t respond the way I want them to.
I remember the way I used to respond to rejection when I was younger, before I’d found feminism and before I began feeling comfortable with my body: I would get really upset. As a shy, insecure, fat virgin in high school, I internalized the rejection. There were always the “you can do better!” and “forget about him” remarks when I commiserated with my friends. They, too, knew how shitty it felt to put yourself out there and to get rejected.
Now, years and loads of feminist sex encounters later, I struggle to not fall back into that high school mentality. It’s often easy enough to brush it off when casual sex is the end I’m seeking — it doesn’t hurt that badly when someone casually rejects a casual proposal. But recently, due both to personal circumstances and a deeper analysis of my sex-positivity, that shit has stung.
I’ve lately found myself in a situation akin to blogger Crunkashell over at the Crunk Feminist Collective in her controversial post “Asking For Sex: What Do You Do When the Guy Says No”? I have a (fairly recent) ex who I in no vague terms asked to fuck me, and he said no. And my response, as a single feminist who is sometimes into men, was also akin to hers — was he doing this to play games with me? Is this evidential of some sort of power dynamic between us that I was unaware of?
The answer, in this situation, was as simple as his response: no, this isn’t a game. He genuinely just doesn’t want to have sex with me. And here I am, dealing with the repercussions of his lack of desire, and by extension, the lack of desire of any guy who doesn’t want to sleep with me. It’s like a radical anti-heteronormative rewriting of He’s Just Not That Into You.
The first, most obvious and least complicated response to being denied sex, is the first outlined in Crunkashell’s response post to “Asking For Sex” — that everyone, regardless of gender or orientation, has the right to say no. Consent and anti-rape activism are a huge part of my feminism, and I would never, ever deny that someone can and should say no to me if they’re not interested for any reason. From that standpoint, both in theory and practice, it’s completely okay for my ex (or guys in bars, or friends I have crushes on, or anyone else) to say that they don’t want to have sex with me.
But there’s still that nagging high school voice in the back of my head, the one that tells me that when my ex (or guys in bars, or friends I have crushes on, or anyone else) doesn’t want to have sex with me, it’s because there’s something wrong with me. I’m unlovable, I’m too fat, I’m unattractive, I’m too loud, etc., etc.
Sometimes, if it looks like it is the fat thing (which fortunately isn’t the case in this denial of ex sex), I can respond by getting pissed off about fatphobia, by reminding myself that there are plenty of people who do want to sleep with me, that being fat and attractive certainly aren’t mutually exclusive and that moreover, my fat is attractive. I can employ all of the generic techniques for handling rejection, with my own feminist spin.
But at the end of the day, the issue remains: I have been rejected, I will be rejected again. And for all the complicated analysis that I or anyone else can employ, perhaps it’s enough to say that rejection sucks and it’s ok to be hurt by it.
Written by Noor Al-Sibai
Header image used with permission from Faye Daniels