The Ethics of Attraction

I think I have a view different than most of the people I tend to associate with when it comes to dating preferences. At the base of my view is the idea that you can’t really control who or what you’re attracted to, and that’s okay. So long as you’re treating everyone with respect, you’re not doing anything wrong if you don’t find yourself attracted to certain features of a person (and therefore, the person as a whole).

We can find some insight into why I hold the views that I do about attraction by looking at same-gender attraction. It is widely acknowledged that gay people cannot control the fact that they are gay. Furthermore, it is quite common among people who experience same-gender attraction to fail to realize they do until later in life because heteronormativity is so ingrained in today’s society. That is, due to overwhelming societal influence, they believed themselves to be straight. (To add some weight and credibility to these statements, it’s worth noting that both of them apply to me.) Both of these things we generally take to be okay, i.e., it is okay to be gay and it is okay to mistakenly think you are straight. Also noteworthy is that we do not pressure straight people to critically examine their feelings to make sure they are genuine and not merely the result of societal pressure.

My unusual views (within my circles, at least) on dating come from generalizing this analysis of same-sex attraction.

Thus, failing to be attracted to fat people, refusing to date a man who isn’t over 6′, not wanting to date a trans woman as a straight male, preferring that your female partner have shaved legs or your male partner have a six-pack, not finding yourself attracted to a specific race, and finding blue eyes to be the most attractive are all permissible to me. At the very least, I suspend judgement on their wrongness. This may seem unpalatable to many, but I fail to see how these cases are significantly different from what is described with regards to same-gender attraction above.

That is, we ought not blame someone for failing to be attracted to a fat or trans person because they have been influenced by the fatphobic or transphobic attitudes of society, in the same way we do not blame someone for mistakenly believing they are straight because they have been influenced by the heteronormative culture of society. In all cases, we ought to just accept it. (The same argument goes, mutatis mutandis, to the other things I’ve mentioned.) It is even puzzling what the correct course of action would be if we didn’t accept it – as evidenced by thousands upon thousands of testimonies from gay people, attraction is not under our control. It cannot simply be demanded that we alter our feelings of attraction (or lack thereof) towards any person or group of people, nor is it plausible that there is some sort of process we can undertake to change our feelings overtime, as evidenced by the failure of conversion therapy.

Again, the key point is that, regardless of who or what we are attracted to, we still treat everyone with respect. This means supporting people’s right to use whichever public restroom they identify with, denouncing body-shaming done under the guise of “concern for their health”, defending women’s right to do what they want with their body, standing up against the racism propagated by the Trump administration, and the like. So long as we are being good members of society in this respect, our dating/attraction preferences are not the appropriate objects of moral scrutiny.

We do not owe our attraction to any specific group of people, nor are we required to critically examine and consequently change our attractions. How could we be? This seems impossible.

I will admit that one phenomenon I have not managed to completely square away with my intuitions regarding attraction is that of fetishization, e.g. white men exclusively dating Asians precisely because they are attracted to the feature of “Asian-ness” (often referred to as “yellow fever”). As a preliminary response, however, I will say that this sort of attraction seems phenomenologically different from the ones listed above. We might also say that in the case of fetishization one is failing to see an individual as a person, whereas in the aforementioned cases it is merely a failure to be attracted because of some feature of that person, so the former is necessarily dehumanizing while the latter is not.

If I were trying to make my argument conservatively, I would say that at the very least there is some tension between the way we regard some instances of selective attraction in comparison to others, and there is at present no principled way in which to distinguish them. However, I am more inclined to take the stance I currently have, and tentatively suggest that there are ways to address the fetishization problem. More work needs to be done on the topic, but the point is that work can be done. I do not think this is an insurmountable problem for my position. And, if it were, what are we to say of same-sex attraction? It seems any route we go which deviates from mine runs into problems.

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