In who you love, “personal preference” is neither personal nor preferable.

“I’m just not attracted to (trans/nonbinary/queer/disabled/non-white/etc) people”.

I’ve seen this a lot both on and off the internet. Someone voices a lack of attraction toward a certain marginalized group, framing their statement in such a way as to deflect accusations of bigotry.

“It’s just a personal preference.”

Yep, I hear ya, notwithstanding the person saying this often doesn’t have any members of the group in question in their close circle of friends either.

I’m torn in these situations, because as a person with an invisible disability I want opportunities for intimacy, and I don’t like the idea that my being considered for a date while passing as neurotypical is conditional upon the passing part.

I also value consent, though, and I’m adamantly opposed to the idea that I should just be entitled to intimacy with neurotypical people cuz equality. That just sounds terrible.

Still, while I embrace the idea of choice, it’s problematic to simply cite “personal preference” when stating you’re not attracted to people in a marginalized group, and I’ll explain why.

Behind “personal preference” is a lifetime of culture, media, and peers subtly and explicitly telling you who deserves your love and who doesn’t. Those deemed most worthy of love and sex in media are usually cis, white, straight, young, thin, able-bodied, need I go on? Anyone outside the normalcy metric who is portrayed as worthy of love is still usually “other”; “the exception.” Kids pick up on these things and ostracize anyone who likes anyone outside of who they’re supposed to like. Heck, in Grade Eight I was bullied into stopping hanging out with the kids with disabilities, and I had one. Passing. *Sigh*.

Just think, heterosexuality as a construct did not even exist 250 years ago. There is no “personal preference” without history, and history can be revisited and put to scrutiny.

It’s also not possible for your “choices” to exist outside of the scarcity or abundance provided by prevailing relationship models and their inherent inequities.

Pretend there’s no capitalism or monogamy. Do able-bodiedness and earning potential remain as important in who you develop attractions to? Nope. Humans thrived for millennia under a relationship anarchy model, where sexual diversity improved bonds & increased chances of survival. I’m not suggesting people with disabilities ruled the roost pre-agriculture, I’m merely illustrating that monogamy simply wasn’t a thing, and so one didn’t have to imagine a life of sexual scarcity in packing multiple, lofty, and even potentially conflicting needs into one mate.

That a primary sexual relationship must also be a primary emotional, financial, and co-parenting relationship is a new idea, is socially expected, followed as though it should be a given, usually fails, and is an unlearnable construct.

Remove monogamy as the dominant relationship model and institute a system of guaranteed basic income, and suddenly a person with a cognitive impairment who faces multiple barriers to employment but is otherwise a catch becomes a choice without risk.

There is no “personal preference” without social strata, and social strata can be scrutinized and subverted.

As a child with “high-functioning” (based on society, not me) CHARGE Syndrome, I was encouraged to present as being as neurotypical as possible. The more “normal” my mask, the more deserving I’d be of employment, friendship, and love.

Those who rewarded me when I “passed” as normal knew what people’s preferences would be. They knew what society’s are. Instead of being brought up to challenge those preferences, I was brought up to buy in, so part of me understands when others buy in too.

But “personal preference” is, to a large degree, adjustable. As I’ve aged and become more socially aware, my tastes have become more diverse. Besides undoing a lot of internalized ableism, I’ve become more attracted to androgyny, less porn-like bodies, neurodiversity, other shades of skin…

Preferences change with the times and with life experience. So when someone cites “personal preference” and just stops there, I don’t push that individual on it because, again, consent, but I do observe a disinclination to look deeper.

If I say something like “Not wanting to date someone with a disability because they have a disability is ableist”, it’s not because I think you should betray your own feelings and do it anyway, immediately, despite what your body tells you. I’m not saying undo your monogamy or your ability/race/height preferences right here, right now, or anywhere ever for me specifically. I’m saying the journey of confronting personal preference is both worthwhile and crucial in a divided, othering world. It’s a journey that, however personal, is best when chosen freely.

For a complementary perspective regarding queer/trans/PoC communities, read this extraordinary piece from Black Girl Dangerous.