I Need Attention: Seeking Male Validation
Conventionally, femininity is rooted in the idea that it must be desirable by heterosexual men to be valid. This is especially true in the case of transfeminine people. While it’s easy in theory to just reject this idea, since femininity is beautiful and strong regardless of if there’s a man present to view it, it’s much harder when you need to assert your own reality every single day as people try to tell you that you’re not “woman enough”, or that you’re not “real” at all. There are so many factors that play a role in this- people arguing that your biology makes you a man, beauty standards that highlight feminine and Eurocentric features, self-doubt surrounding gender, and more. It makes people who don’t pass feel the need to compensate by being much more feminine than they’d like to be, striving toward reaching these beauty standards, for any reason from personal safety to appeal. For cis girls, too, there’s always an element of competition, weaponizing and prioritizing femininity for male attention instead of using it to uplift other girls, while at the same time having it be belittled as something to be subsumed by a man. Girls simultaneously need to practically break their necks to be as feminine as possible while being constantly and misogynistically belittled for femininity and the desire to satisfy beauty standards, all for the end goal of being in a straight relationship with a man who will appreciate their beauty. This puts a huge pressure on people, especially transfeminine people, to value themselves solely based on how feminine and girly they can be, seeking validation from any source of societal acceptance.
I thought that I was alone in feeling this way, asking myself all kinds of questions like: Why am I so insecure? Why can’t I just validate myself? Why can’t I just be like other girls and feel powerful all by myself? Why do I need attention? Why is the bottom line of my happiness someone who probably uses 4-in-1 bath products? All the other girls I know live their lives without this feeling, so why can’t I? What I found was that this mindset was much more common than I initially thought, and I definitely wasn’t alone. After asking my girl friends and some Make Muse team members, I was shocked to learn that many experienced feelings similar to mine. This put into perspective just how patriarchal and male-centered sexuality and self-worth for girls can be instead of letting them be proud of their femininity and appearance without the need to impress a man. Women are supposed to be something to be taken, and men are supposed to be the ones to take it. We’re just supposed to be good little fruit, waiting to be plucked.
Validation is such an odd feeling, and while many transfeminine people know that there’s no reason at all to want to be affirmed as a woman by some boy on Tinder wearing Vineyard Vines, there’s something darkly enticing about being called a woman, even if by seeking validation from a heterosexual man. You’re desirable. You’re fuckable. Any inkling of your maleness is gone, because a man who only likes women likes you. The entire population of women and NBs can be giving you all the affirmation you need, but as soon as a man calls you a man, it’s like the world ends. Even if you’re cis, it seems like men’s desires play a big part in self-esteem. If you’re a woman, you’re only as good as the desire you can conjure up. You’re only as worthy as your body allows. If you’re not feminine and conventionally attractive, what do you even have to offer? It’s like women are just shells, waiting to be filled with the attainment of male desire. Obviously, this is dangerous, misogynistically employed thinking, and the fact that it’s societally encouraged is something that I’ve come to be disgusted by.
Worthy Without a Man’s Attention
For me, I had a phase where I went on dating apps like Tinder just to find out if people thought I was pretty and desirable, even though I knew that I had no intention of being in any relationship. I don’t even think I really wanted the sex. I just kept needing attention insatiably. I just wanted to know that I was an option- an option like all the other girls they absent-mindedly swiped on, seeking validation through superlikes and constant swipes. So I would base my worth on how many men I could get to like me before I apologized and cut them off completely. That’s what this poem is about. It’s about compulsory dating in order to quell the insecurities that you can’t dispel by yourself. But more importantly, it’s about bending over backwards for an average straight man because you feel like you’re supposed to, needing attention from a boy since that’s the “final authority” on your desirability. .
Even if what we’re looking for is a boyfriend, we shouldn’t feel the need to be wanted by a man just to feel wantable. We shouldn’t be staying up, waiting by our phones to get that late night text to prove that we’re valuable. We should just be able to be ourselves, and the authentic love that follows from whoever ends up seeking our affection should be what makes us feel validated instead of the attention of tons of randos holding a fish in their profile pics. The most important type of attention is self-care and self-love, and a man won’t fix the deeper problems that we have. We just need to be mindful, and work every day to build a foundation of self-love, because messages saying “u up?” definitely don’t feel the same as waking up to a self that we know is amazing and worthy of love that doesn’t need to be hunted down.
If you ever feel like you’re not enough because of a man (or girl or whoever, but especially a man), it’s hard to shake those emotions and tendencies toward seeking validation from others. But you need to know that you’re whole as you are- everything else is just an add-on. Like Cher said- “a man is absolutely not a necessity.” A man is like dessert, but you can be fine and full with just a meal. YOU are the meal, the snack, or whatever, whether you think it or not! The best thing to do when you get really strong feelings of loneliness is to find other outlets for it instead of desperately throwing yourself into negative romantic or sexual situations that you know will end up with you just being hurt and more frustrated. Call a friend, watch a movie that makes you feel good (or a romantic movie if you wanna cry and move on), journal your feelings until you get it all out, or listen to a good album you can get lost in. Whenever I need attention or validation, I always go to my friends first, or I try to create something that I’m proud of. Another helpful tip is to say daily affirmations in the mirror, where you point out what you like about yourself and smile while doing it (even if it seems silly). Following all of these tips has made me much less reliant on others for validation, and has given me a way to be my own validation.
The connoisseurs line the room looking prim and proper
Penguin suits wrapping bodies
Huddled and squawking years sprinkled with French
Glasses bathed in empty and dusty air
The other wines murmur
Permeating notes of cigar box and electricity
Bottlenecks waiting to be grabbed by hungry birds
Nursing their appetites like eggs between their feet
Sitting pretty in our Sunday best, suffocated by manicured hands
We sit silently, plum and golden, necks craned anxiously
An assembly line of fingerprints upon my skin
They aren’t you
They aren’t you
I don’t care about credentials
If they aren’t you
I’d rip my label off with no hesitation
I’d change my bottle a thousand times
If I’d look better on your table as a decanter
I’d sit and face the wall for endless days and nights
Until you decided to take the tiniest sip
I diluted myself as to not stain your lips
You’ll drink me up, making my home in your vintage cabinet
Only to be taken out during special occasions
“Your bottle is photosensitive, dear”
“I want you all to myself”
“You must wait until after 5:00 to drink, you know”
I’m aware I’m just another bottle in the cavity
Of your mansion walls
But I could’ve been water before you touched me
With those Midas hands
You gave me the gold that doesn’t glitter
You gilded my mind so even I thought
I glimmered in your light