By Tatenda Muranda (@iamqueennzinga)
After a male companion said to her “I’m so glad you’re not gay anymore”, Tatenda Muranda writes about ‘corrective dating’, which she defines as a ‘narcissistic third party bodily entitlement to someone in the belief that they can be seduced/romanced into rejecting their sexual preferences and choosing you instead.’
The original version of this article first appeared here
It must have been early spring because the mid afternoon breeze was neither warm nor cold and the gainsboro sky wasn’t looking to be noticed. I was taking a stroll with Cassava Boy (a male companion) when he reached over to me, squeezed my hand and excitedly giggled, “I’m so glad you’re not gay anymore”.
His words created a weird moment in which my, usually, rambunctious self felt more astounded than insulted but for some reason I simply couldn’t find the energy to do anything more than scowl, pull away and proceed to jog forward. My reaction might have been because we had been together earlier and, in my mind; my taste was probably sitting on his tongue and validating his point. Or it could have been because I myself was not quite sure how to process his half-truths, as they had been so neatly arranged to suit his ends, or maybe I simply felt guilty. Either way I choked.
This debacle happened during a period in my life when I had realized that I preferred women to men, while also acknowledging that men had their uses. Having foreseen the potential my truth had for complications and unnecessary attachments, I had started making a habit of informing my male companions that while we were likely to have a good time, I was not looking to have anything serious because they were not quite what I was in the market for. For some reason I had convinced myself that these boys would take my statements at face value and avoid getting hurt. Jeepers was I wrong.
The story of Mr. Ankhoncious a.k.a. Mr. ‘But we had a special connection’
I met A when I attended a series of seminars exploring Africanist philosophies and we connected over our mutual appreciation for Amìlcar Cabral, hip-hop music and Blaxploitation movies. In my mind, I had found a great thinking buddy but in his, I was his “African Queen”. He made that clear when he proposed that we try to ‘get to know each other better’. At first I shut him down as I had been besotted with a beautiful ‘boi’ but after that affair fizzled out, I found myself dejected and bored so I capitulated.
We arranged to meet for brunch, the most platonic of all mealtimes, and proceeded to discuss a variety of issues. At some point he mentioned that I was the type of woman he was looking for to which I responded that he wasn’t a woman at all so he wasn’t quite my type. To this he exclaimed:
“ Um wait are you a lesbian or something because you really don’t look or act like one…”
I should have figured out that he was an ass then but I had hit a dry spell and winter was coming so I rolled my eyes and told him that things weren’t that simple and that right now all I could say for sure was that I wasn’t “into men in that way…”
Needless to say this didn’t deter him and after several hang out sessions and lots of discussions about the importance of boundaries and consent I decided to let him ‘scratch my itch’. Long story short – he got tied up in some strings that were never there and when I got over it, things hit the fan. At first he played it cool and tried to convince me that I couldn’t prefer women because I had been with him and we had clicked so much. When that didn’t work his calm demeanor descended into emotionally charged calls accusing me of using him; where he shifted seamlessly from blaming me for his troubles at work to begging me to reconsider. I had to cut ties.
I mean, sure we clicked but I also just liked the fact that I had been saving money on vibrator batteries. Plus, I hadn’t quite figured out how to avoid getting attached to women and couldn’t afford any complicated emotions on my part. So yeah maybe I had used him but in my mind, being that it was a negotiated casual relationship, we were using each other. Still he did confess that he saw himself as the man that would change everything, but his delusions are his problem and not mine. Anyways, people should learn to listen.
People, as I have learned, have an uncanny ability to locate themselves at the center of another’s sexuality, regardless of how that person understands it for him/herself. At its most benign, this defect manifests itself in the delusion that all a person really needs is some ‘good D’ or “convincing”, of the non-physically violent kind, to make them forget what they know they want and have them settle for the convincing party instead.
I call this ‘corrective dating’ and I blame rape culture for it.
There have been plenty of lessons for me in all this but this story is not about me per se. What is is about is my inability to understand why some men ignore my warnings and how they could genuinely believe that they would be able to make me fall out of myself and into love with them? It is not as though I ask them to guide me through a process of self-realization nor do I lie to them about what is happening. Nope. There is always nothing but honesty on my part, so I concluded that what they lack is basic respect.
You see the corrective dater holds a false belief that they can seduce or romance a person into rejecting their preferences and choosing them instead. What lies at the heart of this is an assumption that people are unable to truly know themselves and are therefore amenable to persuasion provided that the right person does it. So when a person consensually gets involved with the dater – while establishing clear boundaries – they feel perfectly entitled to reconfigure the terms of the relationship unilaterally. This process usually entails the dater ignoring anything that the other party has said about their preferences and/or circumstances.
If you think about it, there is something incredibly narcissistic about a person who feels as though they have the right to shape something as intrinsic as another person’s sexual and romantic orientation. It speaks to a sense of third party bodily entitlement where one person feels as though they can mould another’s identity through their presence in that person’s life. That kind of delusion simply can’t be framed as hopeless romanticism, so let’s not even try.
Now queer people are not immune from displaying corrective dater tendencies. Sure the most visible dynamic is straight man/queer woman or queer man/ straight man but I am pretty certain that we can all name at least one friend (if not ourselves) who has tried to ‘turn somebody out’. You know that whole game when you know that a person isn’t queer because they have explicitly said so but pursue them anyway because you have convinced yourself that you love ‘the chase’, or whatever, and maybe you two mess around for a while, but very soon you find yourself rejected and crying in a corner somewhere, then swearing off straight girls/ boys and then bashing bisexuals because of your own folly.
If you had stopped for a second and reflected you would have seen that what you were trying to do was change somebody to suit your needs. Which is a total fail because everybody can have sex with anybody but not everybody can connect with everybody – and whom you can connect with is what fundamentally determines your sexual orientation.
At this point I can already hear the haters rambling on about how people who genuinely know what they want do not ‘dabble’.
But let’s get real for a moment.
It’s a myth that queer identified women do not choose to sleep with men – some do. Just like it is a myth that all heterosexual identified men do not sleep with other men occasionally – some do. Sometimes straight girls sleep with other girls, lesbians sleep with transmen and gay men shag their female friends and no, it is not always a matter of experimentation. Sexual identities, desires and behaviours do not always move in the same direction and that is totally ok. People are complicated. You only have to look around to see that.
So in a world with all this grey, might I humbly suggest that people check their egos at the door and start paying attention to what people tell them about themselves? The fact is, we are all fantastic and sexy and unique and amazing and we can never ever change another person’s sexual identity and preferred way of being just by getting involved with them. It’s simply not possible.
But do you know what is possible?
Challenging and deconstructing rape culture. So let’s all drop the corrective dater tendencies and start prioritizing mutuality, consent, respect and boundary negotiation in all of our relations. That, to me, sounds like a much better plan.
Tatenda Muranda is a Pan-Africanist and a self-identified suit in a feminist activist. She is a co-founder of HOLAAfrica! and has worked with a number of human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Advocacy Centre in Ghana and the Commission for Gender Equality in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her interests lie in human rights (particularly women’s access to socio-economic rights), development finance and social entrepreneurship. She currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, where where she works at the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa and is an active member of the Mahogany Educational Trust where she coordinates the mentorship program.