Author: Ainsley Meyer
Maybe you’ve noticed these types of female characters. She’s the Kate Hudson in every Rom Com: a quirky, yet marketably attractive white woman who teaches men to appreciate life to its fullest. But these depictions don’t start or end on the screen. If anything, this fiction reflects The trope unfortunately exists outside of het relationships, too.the real worlds we live in.
Oxford Languages defines the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope as, “a type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealing…whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist,” But let’s take cis men out of the equation for a second. I’m a femme dyke and I still find myself in the “manic pixie dream girl” trope.
I’ve moved to cities I’ve never visited. I enjoy cliff jumping and dye my hair and have driven twelve hours to Nebraska on a weekend whim. Due to this impulsivity, I’ve had people construct ideas of me that don’t really exist.
I used to naively think this sort of behavior only came from straight, cis, men, but with time and experience I’ve found this to be a problem in the queer community as well.
The truth is, I don’t quite know the boundaries of who I am. I live with a ‘mental illness’ that causes me to struggle with impulse control. I couldn’t really tell you where I end and my ‘illness’ begins. The edges blur together like cream poured in coffee: it’s impossible to separate the two. Which is what makes being put in the “manic pixie dream girl” box, all the more confusing, painful, and damaging.
I get it…to some extent. Before we deeply know someone we construct ideas of them in our heads to help fill in the gaps, and inform how we’d like to move forward in relationship with one another. It might feel safer to craft an idea of somebody than to fully face the person in front of us as who they are, with their flaws and autonomy intact. But when you see someone you don’t really know as little more than an addition to your own life, or as a means to reinvigorate your passions and make things more exciting, you’ve robbed them of their personhood. When this imaginary role is delegated, especially to femmes, the dynamic can reinforce damaging expectations and toxic dynamics while upholding systems of exploitative relationships.
Our sole purpose in life is not to change your outlook, care for you, make you happy, or make things more exciting. We can do that if we want to! But we’re allowed to exist outside of these roles as well.
The truth is, I don’t quite know the boundaries of who I am. I live with a ‘mental illness’ that causes me to struggle with impulse control. I couldn’t really tell you where I end and my ‘illness’ begins.
As a femme person, I’m always actively unlearning the deeply ingrained idea that I am meant to play a supporting role in somebody elses life. I do not exist just to provide emotional support, excitement, sexual gratification, or to nurture others. I am nobody’s therapist or mother, unless I choose to be. But, no matter how deeply I know these things to be true in my heart, I sometimes find myself falling into the roles that are expected of me. The very same roles I’m so quick to critique. When someone projects unfounded expectations and makes me the Kate Hudson of their story, it puts me in a complicated situation to navigate. I inevitably fall off the pedestals I’ve been placed on and the backlash can be unpredictable.
When I don’t meet the impossibly high expectations that I never asked for in the first place, I sometimes find myself stuck soothing the very same person who has objectified me. Sometimes, it’s easier to just go along with these patterns than to be coerced into doing the emotional labor of pointing out my experience. Or sometimes my self esteem takes a hit when I feel like I’m constantly falling short, trying to live in the magical image someone has built of me.
It might feel safer to craft an idea of somebody than to fully face the person in front of us as who they are, with their flaws and autonomy intact. But when you see someone you don’t really know as little more than an addition to your own life, or as a means to reinvigorate your passions and make things more exciting, you’ve robbed them of their personhood.
In the worst case scenario, we might be met with violence or blame when we don’t measure up to what someone has decided we’re meant to be. When people feel they’re owed something of us, whether consciously or subconsciously, it can be scary to disappoint them. I don’t always know if someone’s dangerous or not. Many of us are hypersensitive to toxic masculinity because the world has taught us we need to be. But anyone can embody traits of toxic masculinity- no matter their gender expression, sexuality, or preferences.
Interpersonal relationships are so unique I believe it’s impossible to definitely say what purpose they’re meant to serve, or if they’re even meant to serve a purpose at all. But idealizing somebody or expecting things of somebody without really knowing them, is never the answer.
As queer people our very existences challenge dated notions of how we’re meant to be, love, fuck, and preform gender. We get to be imaginative in who we are and how we relate to each other, unbound by expectations that are too restrictive for us. Why mirror the same toxic patterns perpetuated by cis men? Why reinforce unfounded expectations of femininity? We should be free to be human- flaws, mistakes, impulsivity and all.
Genuine love or caring does not involve siphoning the liveliness from somebody else for the good of another. Leave the tropes behind. Care and be cared for in ways that keep us free.
About the Author: Ainsley Meyer is a queer writer living in Seattle. She has a day job that keeps her very tired but does her best to write, make zines, take photos, and create, in her free time.