Archive for July, 2008

An Uncharacteristically Concise Post on A/sexual Fluidity.

July 31, 2008

I’ve been thinking again… always dangerous. Pretzelboy proposed in a comment at Ace of Hearts that the portrayal of asexuality in the media contributes to this notion on the part of (many) sexual people that asexual individuals are static types who have shut off part of their personality and will remain closed to the possibility of sexuality for the rest of their lives. I think I disagree with the notion that the media’s portrayal of asexuality is responsible, simply because… when does the media represent the asexual experience, poorly or otherwise? (Ok, there’s that soap opera in New Zealand. Can we say “exception,” anyone?) It seems possible to me, however, that the social concept (in the media and elsewhere) of sexuality as a given and as a driving force defaults into an understanding (or a misunderstanding) of asexuality as a stagnating identification, one which – rather than opening up an individual to what Ace of Hearts so eloquently terms “the exciting challenge” of “learning to express [one’s] love in alternative ways” – stunts one’s ability to love entirely. However it comes to exist, this perspective of asexuality remains, and as irritating as the negativity is, I think it unintentionally underlines one of the exciting things I’ve discovered in the asexual community: a genuine tendency to embrace sexual (or asexual) orientation as fundamentally fluid. I’m really not attempting to promote the idea of an Asexual until Graduation (AUG) or suggest that because there’s an openness in the community to shifting how one identifies, asexuality is indeed no more than a passing phase. Rather, I’d like to suggest that this openness (where it exists; I’m also not implying it’s universal among aces) validates sexual fluidity as a whole. While highlighting fluidity in asexuality is slippery territory at this point, given the perspective that it’s not a real orientation, I think potentially we can use it to point to the fluidity in sexuality as well, so that – rather than invalidating how one identifies or how one previously identified – fluidity itself is validated. I suspect we could all benefit from that, ace or otherwise.

In Search of the Other Half.

July 30, 2008

In the course of my sister’s wedding festivities, I ended up having lunch at a semi-tasty Mexican restaurant with my sister-in-law, who mentioned a conference she recently attended that talked about the Myers-Briggs personality test, in relationship to one’s professional and personal personas. I think most people are familiar with the test, but sufficeth to say that it categorizes an individual in terms of where they fall on four dichotomies (introversion/ extroversion, intuiting/ sensing, thinking/ feeling, and judging/ perceiving). When you take the test, you end up with a four letter descriptor (perhaps you’re an INFJ like Albus Dumbledore, or an ESTJ like Percy Weasley), which supposedly is unchanging. (Unless you’re me, and vascillate constantly between the J/P poles.) Regardless, what interested me about Sister-in-Law’s experience was a suggestion on the part of the speaker that the 20s and 30s are a time when people often explore the “other” aspect of their personality. So, in Myers-Briggs’s terms, our pal Albus would — as a twenty-something — have been likely to explore extraversion, sensing, thinking, and perceiving, while Percy might have explored intraversion — (would have served him to do a bit more reflecting, sans the narcissism, in my humble opinion!) — intuiting, feeling, and perceiving. (At least, this is true assuming that piratemonkey really has their Myers-Briggs evaluation of the HP characters in order. But for the sake of this explanation, let’s assume they contacted Rowling beforehand, shall we?)

The Myers-Briggs aspect of the discussion interested me less than the notion that in our twenties and thirties we explore the “other” side of our personality (perhaps more consistently than we do in later years). Obviously, there’s a sense that the college years (to some extent, whether one attends college or not) are a time for self-exploration and -definition to the point that “what happens in college stays in college” (e.g. the increased heteroflexibility straight people tend to display, or admit to having displayed, at least “that one time in college“), but the idea that we potentially explore specifically the aspects of our personality that are not as dominant or instinctual in our twenties strikes me as interesting.  Especially when you consider that the twenties and thirties are often considered prime dating years, and thus a time for exploring the relational aspect of self in particular.  Case and point, another personality lens: Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, which suggest that the main struggle for 18- to 35-year-olds is “intimacy versus isolation.”  Because one too many sociology classes has forever destroyed my ability to think solely in terms of the individual, I immediately jumped (upon hearing  about Erikson’s claims in an intro psych class) to social pressure to explore the dating scene and seek out a marriage partner between the time one reaches legal adulthood (18, in the States at least) and the time one turns 35.  I argued that this was not necessarily our main struggle, so much as it was the struggle we were encouraged by our society to be having during this stage, a point I still consider valid and possibly valid in relation to other of Erikson’s stages as well.  My point in this entry, however, was that if, as twenty- and thirty-somethings, we are – for whatever reason – inclined to explore our relational selves, and we are also inclined to explore our “other” selves, then it seems to follow logically that we would consider our “other” relational selves. 

Such a possibility seems increasingly likely in our current culture, which manages a sort of fair-weather queer identity, one that allows a certain (limited) amount of freedom for straight people to experiment with queer experience, even as it remains queer-negative in terms of social policy, religious propaganda, the definition of marriage (even in federally-funded sex “education”), et cetera.  I wonder to what extent this privilege of “flexibility” extends to out queers.  (“Queers” in this case excluding bisexuals, as I’m presuming people who are even rather “rigidly” bisexual manage at least as much sexual flexibility as the most heteroflexible folks among us.)  I know that, linguistically at least, gays have been offered a parallel term in “homoflexible”… and yet, I suspect there’s a great deal more at stake (or at least something very different at stake) for gay people than for straight folks.

For multiple reasons (the ongoing animosity many gays and lesbians feel toward bisexuals, the continued insistence of homophobic people that one’s homosexuality may be “just a phase,” etc) experimentation by queers with ostensibly non-queer relationships is tricky, and I think any bisexual who lands in a committed relationship with a partner of the “opposite” gender can begin to attest to why.  While socially gays and lesbians stand firmly in the realm of the other, an exploration of our personal shadow-side can land us in unfamiliar/ traditional territory.  While self-described “heteroflexible” individuals experiment with a social-other that is also a personal-other, the “homoflexible” individual risks a queer identity rooted in the social-other to explore zir personal one.  If I, as a lesbian, follow an impulse in my twenties to date a boy, the consequences are different than if I, as a straight woman, follow an impulse in my twenties to date a girl.  Similarly, while asexuality — given the resounding message of “fuck you” (or rather, “no thank you”) it sends to the hypersexual culture, which insists sexuality (and sexual activity in particular) are defining aspects of the 20-something existence — lands squarely in the “other” category, the out-asexual exploring their other/shadow self risks increased questioning (by the outside world) of their asexual identification.  Claiming the “asexual” label is a difficult enough move for a celibate person to navigate, but what happens to an asexual experimenting with sexual behavior?  Impressively, from the limited number of conversations I’ve witnessed amongs aces, there seems to be a tendency to support sexual exploration, even when such experimentation isn’t all that understandable to the people doing the supporting.  Whether this is just another reason aces are inherently cool, a glimpse of what the queer community looks like sans politics and phobias, or some combination of the two, I can’t really guess.  But as a not-exactly-asexual person who recently started a blog on sex and has thus ended up “exploring” it quite a bit more than ever before, I can say I appreciate the openness.

I’m a huge fan of queer culture (shocking, I know), so I find it unbelievably lame that — as a result of our persistent biphobia, our fear of having our own identification de-legitimized, or some other need I’m not recognizing at the moment — we continue to try and limit other people’s explorations of their a/sexuality.  Labels, in my view, are ultimately words.  They are seriously fantastic tools for communicating our experiences and attempting to explain the lens through which we most often interpret the world, but when we spend our time polishing (and limiting) the definition of those labels instead of using the labels to define ourselves, we end up unnecessarily constraining not only our own experience but that of other people whom we have no right to hold back.  What’s with the queer-on-queer oppression, seriously?  I honestly think it’s past time that we as a community explored our “other” side.  Do you know the one I’m talking about?  It’s the one where we manage to relate to one another without imposing our own experience onto each other or insisting that this person’s lesbianism look like our lesbianism instead of a third person’s bisexuality.  Words are shorthand for understanding people, after all, and as a community, when we continually sacrifice people (ourselves included) for the sake of protecting those words, we have a serious problem.

Fantastic Beasts and How to Asexualize Them.

July 30, 2008

Labels aside, many of us enjoy a good fantasy. Is it possible that the themes of our fantasies are not as different as we think?  To consider this question, I’ve undertaken a tongue-and-cheek exploration of how similar sexuals and asexuals really are.  MLA gurus will note the lack of citations, which suggest this – like Wikipedia — does not constitute a reliable source.  Sufficeth to say that real conclusions about sexuality and asexuality should probably not be drawn from it.  Conclusions about my dorky sense of humor may, however, be in order.  (Case and point, the title of this entry, which is intended to rest less on the notion that sexual fantasies are beastly and need to be asexualized and more on the fact that I, quite frankly, am still a Harry Potter geek.)

Fantasy 1: Domination/ Submission
1a) Sexual: For sexuals, domination tends to involve complete power over the erotic pleasure of a consensual sexual partner. It might be “vanilla” (i.e. non-kinky) or overlap with BDSM.  Sexual fantasies of submission are similar (in that they are consensual explorations of power dynamics in a sexual framework, and may or may not be kinky); however a “submissive” person receives sexual pleasure from being dominated (rather than dominating someone else.)
1b) Asexual: Many asexuals also have domination fantasies. Except, while the sexual domination fantasy is likely to involve, say, a leather-clad woman wielding a whip, the asexual domination fantasy more often manifests in a tweed-clad, androgynous geek, thoroughly pwning their partner at a video game (or other recreational pastime). Sadly, this asexual pwning, both in fantasy and in practice, is not always consensual, although I’ll be the first to admit that with the right partner (and the right attitude) even getting thoroughly stomped at Scrabulous can constitute a good time.

Fantasy 2: Teacher/ Student
2a) Sexual: Perhaps because this fantasy (like that of domination or submission) explores a power dynamic, or perhaps because it allows for sexual relationships which are — in reality — a punishable taboo, it has long been a staple in sexual fantasy, role-play, and pr0n.  The fantasy commonly involves private school garb (the Catholic schoolgirl introduces an added layer of religious taboo) and/or bun-toting, glasses-wearing teacher-prudes who transform into sexual vixens to satisfy their students.  (The glasses, sadly, are usually lost in the transformation process.)
2b) Asexual:  While asexual folks may not wish to know their teachers in the biblical sense, the desire to know them non-biblically remains.  So, fantasies of well-plotted post-class loitering exist; they’re just less likely to evolve into something that would (in the real world) spark dishonorable dismissal and juicy newspaper headlines.  For a good sense of the asexual teacher/student fantasy, temporarily suspend your image of two semi-naked people entangled on a classroom desk, and replace it with, say, two basically-clothed folks getting way too excited about literary analysis, sociology, queer theory (or whatever other fetish asexually arouses them.  Maybe even a theoretical discussion of sex.  Crazier things have happened.)

Fantasy 3: Librarian
3a) Sexual: Take it from Prof. Harold Hill, librarians are just plain sexy.  Similar to the teacher in the previous fantasy, sexual librarian fantasies often involve a modest matron who transforms into a hypersexual Aphrodite basically in one fell swoop.  Another popular version involves what this blurb on the (perhaps no-longer-existent) Library Bar in New York terms “librarians dressed as though they were too busy reading to finish” putting on their clothes.  Often, the sex-appeal of librarians is thought to be rooted largely in what David Austin calls the “quite persistent stereoytpe [that] librarians are sexually repressed.”  Uncork all that pent up sexuality, and boom, you have a less-disturbing, less-vaguely-sad version of a scene from Aimee Bender’s “Quiet, Please,” an idea many sexuals apparently can’t renew often enough. 
3b) Asexual: Asexuals tend to be bigger fans of the library than the librarian.  Whether spying on your reading list, indulging that nagging urge to alphebatize, or overanalyzing their latest read, asexuals often opt for self-checkout, hawt librarians aside.  (Unless, of course, the librarian in question has been identified as a trusted source of a good recommendation, or has shown interest in discussing one’s most recently-devoured tome.)  The asexual funny bone is the one that led me to chuckle a few days back when — perusing a recently reorganized bookstore — I came upon signs informing customers that “romance” and “erotica” had both been “moved to fiction.”  In short, despite what the t-shirt says, reading is as asexy as it is sexy.  After all, trysts with librarians are bound to cut into one’s recreational reading time.

Fantasy 4: Poolboy/ Gardener/ French Maid/ Secretary
4a) Sexual: Whether it’s Legally Blonde’s Brooke Taylor Windham admitting she likes to watch her poolboy wear a thong while he cleans the filter, Clue: The Movie trading in frumpy Mrs. White for the salicious Yvette, or basically any Hollywood secretary wild for her boss, employer/employee fantasies are commonly represented in film.  Although I could probably manage an entire post on why the extension of paid service to include sexual service strikes me as problematic (at best), I’ll save that for another time and simply point to the “taboo” nature involved in this fantasy, which often seems to be amplified by the committed marital status of at least one of the involved parties.  For many people, there remains something tantalizing about the so-called forbidden fruit.
4b) Asexual: Asexuals, in many cases, are just looking for a good Marco Polo partner. They’re likely to be more jazzed about a clean apartment (or filter) than the person cleaning it, they can do their own copyediting (although they have mixed feelings about phones), and as for gardeners… well, let’s just say the asexual concept of “getting dirty with a gardener” usually has more to do with literal dirt (read: soil) than the figurative kind.  They also tend to fantasize more often about paid employment than they do their paid employees.  Mmm, paycheck.

Fantasy 5: Multiple Partners
5a) Sexual: Have you seen a music video recently?  Although music probably lands on my list of things I’d like to see desexualized (or at least see sexual in a less misogynistic fashion), the media clearly reflects and contributes to a fanstasy of multiple partners (although often only granting heterosexual men the right to have said fantasy, but… another entry, seriously).  Sexual fantasies involving multiple partners may involve threesomes, orgies, or simply still another season of The Bachelor.  In practice, they tend to find their basis in relatonal structures such as polaymory or swinging.
5b) Asexual: Simultaneous asexual intimacy with multiple people is most often referred to as a dinner party. Book clubs, stitch-and-bitch groups, and other meetups are also common. In a pinch, group therapy may also suffice.

*

So granted, this was mainly an exercise in dorkhood for me, (and one that took far too long at that!), but I agree with David that blurring the line between sexual and asexual desire is not only necessary, it’s rather a good time.  Beyond potentially getting a smile out of you, I hope this constitutes a good first attempt on my part toward that blurring the desire line, and compells you to consider playing with those boundaries yourself.  I’m all for a good line in the sand where it increases one’s comfort level, but let’s not make walls of those lines, ok?

Let the Soft Animal of Your Body Love What it Loves.

July 22, 2008

After writing last night’s post, (i.e. when I should have been sleeping), I started thinking about whether or not it reads as an attack on fetishism.  Fetishism, after all, is pretty fundamentally the sexualization of things that “aren’t inherently sexual” (for the majority of people, although who defines that majority, I couldn’t tell you) and a licking fetish is apparently pretty common.  However, — perhaps because I have a bias in suspecting this really was not my intention, — I don’t think the idea of desexualizing or considering desexualizing certain aspects of culture is anti-fetish or anti-fetishist, if only because my problem, when I stop to think about it, has little or nothing to do with an individual who finds eating sexy and everything to do with a cultural message that eating is sexy.  The point I’m taking issue with here is the appropriation of an eating/ licking fetish by the larger culture, and the use of that appropriated fetish by both the advertising and pornography industries, which in itself suggests that eating and licking are universally sexy.  After all, porn or burgers marketed solely to people with a licking fetish would probably fall by the wayside pretty quickly.  It’s the “universal” nature of what our culture represents as sex, sexual, or sexually arousing with which I most take issue, if only because — last I checked — we are still largely individuals, and as a diehard queer, I find our diversity (as it relates to attraction, specifically) rather fascinating.  The effort to transform it into something uniform bothers me, not only because it seems spearheaded by corporations who are intent on establishing that uniform desire so they can guide and market to it, but also because it marginalizes those of us who don’t find those universally sexy images sexy at all.

In David’s interview with Carol Queen (which I’m quoting pretty constantly because it’s just that good), Queen points out that “the inability to get away from sex and its symbols” in our simultaneously sex-negative and sex-obsessed culture makes it difficult sometimes for an individual to even define their sexuality in the first place.  After all, if I’m constantly being told my sexuality looks like A, when am I going to find a quiet enough, blank enough space to define it as B?  And if I do manage to recognize that the method of my desire and the way it manifests looks more like B, how will I wrap my head around the idea that B is also a sexuality, and a valid one at that?  Sexuality, after all, looks like A and only A.

The problem I have is with the “only.”  If you, personally, find eating (or practically anything else) sexy, I’m perfectly fine with that.  I’m not fine with being told what I should (and by extension should not) find sexy.  My intention in that last post was never to claim eating could not be sexy; it was simply to request that it not be constructed as always or fundamentally sexy because I think it’s time that we give all people — fetishists and asexuals included — space to determine their (a)sexuality and its details for themselves.  I’m growing rather tired of being the only person in my gender studies classes unwilling to challenge the notion that we’re all attracted to the same ideal and would be even if we weren’t culturally conditioned to find that ideal attractive.  Seriously, despite the amount of variety in all our other tastes?  How does this make sense to people?  — because it does not make sense to me.

I mentioned, rather briefly, in the post on accidentally “coming out” to my mom that, in the stream of philosophizing with which she greeted that admission, there was one statement that I found not entirely irksome, and that I was even compelled to ponder further to see what kind of truth it held (for me).  Her sentiment was one Elephant echoed, actually, when I mentioned asexuality to him, which upped my reasons for considering it.  Basically, her point was that in a society where sex(uality) is constructed in such a rigid, uniform way (not to mention used and abused for some pretty bizarre purposes), a discerning person (or some discerning people), who realize(s) that this is not something that works for them or something they’re interested in developing, might — choicefully, unconsciously, or otherwise — decide to “reject” sexuality.  While I by no means intend to imply that all asexuals are antisexual or that any asexuals have made a conscious (or even unconscious) choice to blow off sexuality because it doesn’t suit them, I can say that there was some chord of truth in this for me.  I think one of the reasons I’ve not been using the asexual label, and one of the reasons the podcast with Carol Queen spoke so much to me is because I want what she was suggesting: a broad enough definition of sexuality that I wouldn’t need another label, that my experience as is would fit the word.  I wouldn’t impose that want or that word on anyone else, but I stand by it as a powerful notion, at least in my case.  If we could really examine where sex is and how sex is operating in our culture, which is ultimately what I was trying to do in the last post, and what I’m doing in this blog overall, then maybe we could dismantle, reconstruct, and expand it in some ways that would suit all of us better… whether we have a licking fetish, no fetish, or no so-called “sexuality” at all.

Things I’d Like Desexualized: Eating.

July 22, 2008

So, I’ve been thinking lately about the people, places, and things that are sexualized in our culture, which I really wish were not.  I’m not advocating for a return to “modesty,” such that a flash of ankle is once again scandalous, — if only because censorship is largely not my style and I believe that sexuality has as much right to a social presence as asexuality.  That said, I do wish that certain things, which I question the inherent sexuality of, — (on a sidenote, is anything inherently sexual?)  — were not infused with sexuality by the media and other forces.  (To be honest, I’ve also been thinking that it might not be a bad idea for me to have some shorter*, series-type posts of a variety I might still be able to add when the school year starts up again, and my blogging-time diminishes significantly.  Perhaps “Things I Would Like De-Sexualized” could serve as one such series.)

First installment, then: Eating.  I would seriously like to see eating desexualized.  I understand that tongues and lips and mouths in general are pretty intriguing, but the constant barrage of girl-sucking-lollipop, girl licking-ice-cream, or girl-eating-popsicle is frankly starting to get to me.  The obvious implication is that the girl — (is it just me or are sexual images of men eating significantly more rare?) — is interested in licking and sucking other things, and so something as fundamental to sustaining life as keeping oneself nourished becomes an innuendo.  I’m a fan of a good juice pop, but I can’t say I’m a fan of the juice pop as a phallic symbol, and I can’t say I’m particularly comfortable with the fact that lapping up an ice cream on a city street seems to present “valid” reason for a catcall.  Can’t it just be about my sweet tooth, or the fact that it’s boiling outside?  Can’t we avoid confusing the appetite for hunger with the appetite for sex?

I know this one bothers me personally largely because I’ve struggled a great deal with food (for entirely different reasons) in the past, and I like to think of it as something I can more or less comfortably associate with now, but - in its sexualized sense – eating still feels at least somewhat counterintuitive to me.  It’s another message about food and the social significance of eating (along with all the messages about what to eat, what’s healthy to eat, what’s acceptably non-fattening to eat, and what constitutes “cheating”) that strikes me as at best unnecessary and at worst damaging.  As I write this, I begin to wonder, too, about the extent to which the sexualization of eating is a gendered issue; is this yet another thing that only women have to worry about?  Not only has everything from bananas to candy to meat (red meat after all, is the ultimate symbol of manhood) been imbued with sexual undertones, society willingly encourages women to pose with the same foods we’re discouraged to actually eat.  I doubt anyone really believes that Paris Hilton regularly grabs a meal at Carl’s Jr., but the ads linking her to that establishment weren’t really looking for a celebrity endorsement along the lines of “X Celebrity Likes Our Product, So You Should, Too.”  Instead, they were linking three different kinds of meat: the flesh of the burger, the flesh of the sexualized Paris and the flesh of the heterosexual men she was expected to arouse in the hope that this would successfully stir up scandal/ business.  I understand that “sex sells” has become as central a mantra for the advertising industry as “location, location, location” has been for real estate, and yet I wonder– why is a restaurant, which has the *actual means* to satisfy an appetite for food (presuming one can stomach Carl’s Jr.) bothering to arouse an entirely different appetite?  If I ever decide to embrace full-fledged omnivorism again, do I really have to suffer the onslaught of ads reminding me of what even dictionary.com recognizes, — that “meat” is slang for penis and that advertising will happily use my appetite for one to imply my “hunger” for the other?

I think, the next time an asexual is irked by the comment that sex is like food and not having it is the equivalent of starvation, (s)he might consider the bizarre education our sexual peers are receiving around the correlation of the two.  Then maybe we can summon sympathy enough to quell our outrage, and instead do something constructive.  Say, ask these sexual friends to consider the following images and decide for themselves whether eating is (inherently!) sexy or just plain sexualized, and whether we’re ready to desexualize it.

(Source: istockphoto.com)

(Source: canada.com

Monkeys = asexy.  (And so, for the record, does Ralph Wiggum.)

 

*Didn’t really manage that “short” part, did I?

Boys Oh Boys.

July 18, 2008

Several thousand years ago, when I qualified as one myself, I was on a listserv for (very) young writers, most of whom appeared to be in their pre-teens.  Amid the pretty constant dreck that was submitted – (no offense intended, of course; I wrote quite a bit of dreck myself in those days; still do on occasion), — someone submitted a story that seriously blew my mind and which, in the years since, I’ve often wished had been a published piece, simply so that I could track it down.

The plot, as I remember it, went something like this: A teenage girl was uprooted and planted on a new continent, Australia I believe, where she proceeded to write pretty constantly in her diary about how unhappy she was to be in a place where she knew no one (and of course, how irritating she found her parents.  Rather realistic portrayal, in a lot of ways.)  Eventually, she met a young boy who completely won her over, and a rather hearteaning intimacy developed between them.  I have a vague image of them riding the same motorbike and another of him playing piano to accompany her singing…  Eventually, somehow, — the details have escaped me, — she discovered quite unexpectedly that this boy was actually a bio-girl, not a term I knew at the time and not one she was aware of either.  (The extent to which this was a portrayal of an FTM character is blurred significantly by my obliviousness to such things back in the day, but to some extent, the boy-character did fall under the broader use of “transgender” as an umbrella term, and for the sake of clarity, I’ll continue to use “boy” and male pronouns and such in my explanation here.)  Since the story was told from the girl’s perspective (her diary entries, I think), its themes ran less along issue of trans identity (largely tragic scene of Boy playing piano for a recital wearing a dress, aside) and more around the girl’s discernment process. Understanding that her boy was not recognized as a boy (and that she would not, if she hadn’t been more-or-less misled, have recognized him that way herself), she began to ask the question: if he is a girl, or even partially a girl, and I’m straight, does this change the way I feel about him? Does this change the relationship we have or the relationship we can potentially have?

At the time, this story completely changed the way I thought about relationships.  It coincided nicely with a sense I had around that time that in reality everyone must be bisexual, and that any other orientation was basically prejudice on our parts, sex being as irrelevant a reason to discriminate against potential partners as race or eye color.  The object of the girl’s affection in this story had managed to bypass the girl’s “orientational sexism” by presenting himself as a boy, and thus they had both had a chance for intimacy on a level they would have missed out on otherwise.  Interestingly, while experience dismantled that (“hetero or homo = prejudice”) notion for me over time – (I still conceive of orientation as a spectrum, but I believe some people, myself included, are close enough to one [homo] end or the [hetero] other, that it feels completely bizarre for us to identify as bi, and I don’t consider that prejudice on our parts; I consider it reality) — the content of the story stayed with me, and lately (obviously) I’ve been remembering it again.

I’ve been remembering it as I consider the notion of orientation and how it affects intimacy.  I remember, listening to Carol Queen the other day, she said something about how orientation (whether you label it a sexual orientation or a romantic/ affectional one)  speaks to the people you’re drawn to and the way they energize you (regardless of the acts you wish to engage in with them).  Basically, then, orientation serves as a discriminator, not necessarily in the negative way that I mentioned conceiving of it earlier, but in the sense that those of us who wish to find partners need to be able to discriminate between potentially compatible people and people who wouldn’t work so well.  Obviously, we use factors other than sex/gender to do this as well – like how well we know the person, their age, their politics, etc — but for whatever reason (because it’s so common, because there’s a heteronormative bias about the sex/ gender we’re supposed to find attractive, because orientation and gender are so married in our social thinking anyway) — there’s a great deal more emphasis on our preferences for our partner’s sex or gender than the other aspects.  For instance, while I may identify for myself that I’m largely attracted to progressives, if I told people that I was a progressiveromantic or a progressivesexual, the best response I could probably hope for is a rather amused giggle; if I tell them I’m homoromantic or homosexual (moreso the second one, given the tendency of people outside the ase community to not know the terminology), I’m more likely to have the statement understood and even taken seriously, (although quite frankly, the term progressiveromantic prompts an amused giggle on my part as well.)

So, why does a person’s biosex or their gender matter?  Does it?  On the one hand, I can totally see that it does, and I can answer (for myself at least) that it matters because, to the extent that your body is what I find attractive, I am about 900 times more likely to be attracted to a female body than a male one.  Or, – and maybe this is a better articulation of the same thing, — if I am attracted to you-beyond-your-body, to your identity and your personality and the all-but-the-body of who you are, that attraction is somewhat more likely to attach to your body (as well) and make your body an entity with which I wish to do things, if you are a girl.  However, just as the discussions between the asexual and sexual communities are challenging notions about what sexuality is and means, they’re also challenging the definitions and boundaries of intimacy, not only for society-at-large (or semi-large, given the relatively small number of people who are aware this discourse is happening) but for me personally.  Because if I identify as lesbian, which basically means female homosexual (as much as I despise that term) and the asexual community is redefining intimacy around or without or beyond sexual relations – (by their most hard-boundaried, “sexuality = sex” definition), — doesn’t that have something to say to how I, as a lesbian, could potentially have intimate relationships with men?  Isn’t that (nonsexual intimacy with the men I adore) something I aspire toward, something I want?

I think it’s a major problem in our society that intimacy is a euphemism for sex, something we use in our more sex-negative moods to avoid a straight-up discussion of fucking.  Because it’s possible that if I were the fictional Australian emigrant in the story that started this post, my discernment process around my partner’s transgender identity would not lead me to the conclusion that gender doesn’t matter, that rather (perhaps to my own devastation) I would recognize, particularly if I were someone aspiring toward a sexual partnerhood, that this did change things for me and was not something I could dismiss (my desire to do so aside.)  Even still, I think I would be grateful for the opportunity to have that relationship as long as I did, for the fact that this intimacy with this person had existed and had meant something to me.  Given that as the case, I’m more than a little excited about the idea of expanding my sense of intimacy so that, while “sexually” (to whatever extent I do anything sexually) I may continue to “discriminate,” I wouldn’t have to in terms of intimacy.  I have no desire to ignore my orientation; I worked too hard years ago to sort it out to make a false claim at bisexuality now.  But I also wonder, thinking of and holding in my heart the handful of really marvelous boys and men I’ve lucked into over the years, why I don’t spend more energy seeking out male people and relating to them.  It has me thinking that maybe one of the things asexuality can potentially teach me, personally is how to have intimacy all the way around, the boundaries of who-can-share-my-bed aside.

Strange (But Not Incompatible) Bedfellows: Aces and Sex Ed.

July 17, 2008

A few days ago, I read this article by Girl With a One-Track Mind’s Zoe Margolis defending a recent recommendation by the Brook Advisory Centres and the Family Planning Association (both in the UK) that children “be provided with appropriate information about relationships, their bodies (eg the names of body parts and the differences between women and men) and educated about sex as something other than a biological function.”  Personally, I think the fact that such a suggestion needs defending (against such marvelous headlines as “ZOMG, call f0r sex less0ns at age f0ur!!1!” –l33t speak mine) evidences all on its own what a royal mess sex education has become, (as much in the US as the UK, obviously), and I’ve been thinking since I read it about the ways that asexuality, in all it’s discussion-causing glory, can help with this problem.

One marvelous thing about the asexual community (because, in my of-course-totally-non-biased opinon, there are many) is that we/they force the larger society to reexamine concepts with such staid definitions that people have forgotten to consider them answers to questions, and have completely forgotten to ask those questions — (like “what is sex?  what is sexual desire, sexual attraction, and sexuality?” to name a few) — for themselves.  (This, I think, is how we end up with articles in Seventeen magazine – which I thankfully never read, but did pick up in a doctor’s waiting room once in absolute horror — about what constitutes losing one virginity*.  Note: Two lesbian perspectives were presented, one of which suggested that lesbians cannot lose their virginity unless they choose — god knows why — to have their vagina penetrated by a penis.  If I’m not mistaken, the other suggested that for a lesbian kissing would qualify as a loss of virginity.  This … was almost enough to make me triple-major in education and pursue the possibility of teaching sex ed myself because, um, wow.  I love that these are the two lesbian voices you choose to publish, Seventeen.  My increasingly sarcastic kudos to you.)

But I really did have a point somewhere… let me wind my way back to it.  Oh, right: asexuality and the expansion of sexual education.  I think the asexual community has so much to contribute to this discussion because what the leading voices in this debate seem to be saying (from my perspective; the mainstream media and the conservative right, assuming there’s still a slight difference between the two, obviously have a different take) is that we need not only better sexual education but also all-around relational education.  As this article (which Violet Blue linked to) suggests, most teens (rightly) do not consider their sex ed lessons relevant to their actual lives.  Programs, like the one that article details, (developed by the University of Western Sydney), which “trained [participants] to interpret body language, practice standing up to people, raise issues with their friends, and [...] reflect on their behaviour and expectations” offer tools for social interaction beyond and within the erotic realm, not to mention a level of self-definition I would argue (and probably not without backup) is never seen in current sex-ed programs.  The question becomes one of safe, healthy, and self-defined intimacy, which includes physical (and in many cases sexual) intimacy but is not limited to such.  It certainly is not limited to heterosexual genital intercourse as a) a way of getting pregnant, b) a way of contracting STDs, and c) something to be avoided at all costs (at least until marriage). 

Aces are fantastic people to help facilitate this discussion because the very existence of the asexual community — in addition to the various discourses that take place within it — challenge the concepts of what is and isn’t sexual, and (perhaps even more importantly) push people to define those rather gray boundaries for themselves.  (One very small thing I will say for the Seventeen survey is that it pointed to the subjectivity inherent in terms like “virgin” and although it did not necessarily, to my recollection, encourage girls to determine a definition for themselves, it did perhaps unintentionally spark the question of how set-in-stone a “pure” definition — pun intended — can be.)

Personally, I think the please-god-let’s-improve-sex-ed discussion is one for the asexual community to consider (or continue) jumping on board with not only because of what we stand to gain (inclusion, mainly; “asex ed” and what that could mean not only for self-identified asexuals and confused teens who may find a great deal of comfort in asexuality’s existence), but also because of what we can offer.  It’s ironic, in a way, that asexuals could be of service to sex ed (not only because of the nominal differences) but because doing so involves individuals who self-identify as asexual offering better education to a demographic that seems to have asexuality imposed upon them.  Excuse me if I’m alone in finding it kind of awesome that we, a group of people who have little to no sexual desire, could ally ourselves with teenagers against the forces that continue to insist they should not have those desires, when (what appears to be) the (vast) majority of them, frankly, do.

Then again, I’m also just a fan of a good revolution.

 

*In my attempt to link something resembling this article — which I believe now was from the August 2007 issue of Seventeen — I came across this mention of the Kaiser/ Seventeen study on virginity, which also involves an extremely problematic (read: heteronormative) definition of what it means to be a virgin.  I sounded off with the suggestion that they read Virgin by Hanne Blank, which I still haven’t finished, but which dismantles the majority of their “fast facts” pretty quickly.  Perhaps you’d like to yell at them as well?

You Call That A Headline?

July 17, 2008

Given the two-posts-in-24-hours-craziness the other day, it probably looks like I’m becoming a bit of a blog-aholic, and honestly, I won’t deny that as a possibility. I think it’s quite possible that I’m developing my own semi-asexy version of the one track mind and need an outlet for the relentlessness. (It’s also possible that I expect to be a bit m.i.a. in the coming week, as I have family visiting for my sister’s wedding — shoutout to couples that restore my faith in marriage, by the way, — and am attempting to make up for it by posting several hundred entries before they arrive.)  This however is less “real entry” than “random newsy update,” so I should get on with my intention, which was simply to point out that in addition to the few new asexy blogs that have been added over the past few days, I’ve also put a few extra links under Blogroll.  The first is to a convenient livejournal version of this exact blog, which I’ve decided to go ahead and put together (complete with hilarious lj icon) on the basis that most of us are already overcommitted (IRL and on the web) and for those overcommitted people already on livejournal, a blog can be significantly easier to read (and to remember to read) if they can simply have it on their friends’ page. So, I have attempted to swallow (or spit out, rather; I don’t like to push things down) my hatred of the ads on current free lj accounts, and established The Livejournal Willendork.

I’ve also linked my creative writing journal, which — while largely irrelevant to the topics here — does push me one step closer to integrating the various aspects of my identity, and which may be of interest at times, not simply to those of you who are interested in creative writing anyway, but also because I have recently begun to try my hand at stories (again; I’d taken a break from them for several thousand years), and I’m finding that the queer-dork in me seems to take the spotlight in that particular genre. This means that queer storylines and characters, including asexual storylines and characters, are a definite possibility in the future; so if that appeals to you, give it a gander.

(Oh, Lord.  I just suggested that you give “gosling” a gander.  I am officially, even unconsciously, a dork.)

Exciting, yes? I thought so. And maybe I’ll even get back here in the next day or so to post one of the five million (a)sexuality-related thoughts spinning through my brain (largely as a result of David’s two-part interview with Carol Queen, which sort of had me spinning around my apartment in that “holy crap, do I actually make sense to other people?” way I find so exciting, and which — if you haven’t already heard — you should totally give a listen. Maybe even if you have already heard it. We reread good books after all; we may as well relisten to good podcasts.)

Until then…

The Transgender/ Asexual Easter Bunny.

July 15, 2008

So, I have this friend.  (And I don’t mean one of those hypothetical friends people use when discussing themselves in the third person.  This is a non-hypothetical, flesh-and-blood friend of mine.  Or possibly a very believable hologram.  But I digress.)  And once, maybe over a year ago now, she told me that although she supports gay folks, she simply doesn’t “believe in transgender people” — meaning their very existence strikes her as suspect, as somehow not yet legitimized.  This kind of comment, in a new relationship, would probably establish a person firmly in the “acquaintance” category for me, but given that I’d grown used to valuing her friendship by the time she told me this, saying sayonara didn’t seem like my most compelling option.  Instead, I said my piece and hoped that eventually, she would meet some cool trans folks who, purely by existing as real people in her life, would help her understand the reality of transgendered experience, so she might move from a position of ignorance into one of alliance.  I also vented to a friend about the comment — which struck me as horribly misguided and hurtful — who sparked a hearty laugh when she replied, “What?!  Are trans people like the Easter Bunny now?” 

Seriously.  What is it about certain identities that makes people in positions of privilege feel threatened to the point that they deny the legitimacy of those identities entirely?  Why must the trans population and the asexual population — (which I suspect faces this response just as often) — constantly be given the same lack of status as the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or our old pal Santa Claus?  There is nothing about another person’s sexual orientation (or gender identity) for the rest of us to believe or disbelieve.  We aren’t talking about a debate issue or a religious doctrine; we’re talking about an individual’s personal identity, and I don’t believe anyone else has a right to step in there (with the potential exception of a skilled team of therapists with a real understanding of gender identity and orientation issues and a real acceptance of all people.)  In the one instance I can think of when I have found it incredibly difficult to believe that a person who came out to me was “actually” a lesbian, I still advocated for her right to identify that way, despite the fact that her decision to do so (when what she really meant seemed to be more like “manhater” and the identity seemed to allow her a place to hide out and not deal with her violent dislike of 1/2 the population) was rather painful to me personally.  I chose to support her right to identify as she chose because even if I did somehow, telepathically, understand why she was choosing to use this term (and even though the term was one I personally adopted in order to stop hiding out), what right did I have to question the legitimacy of her own self-assertion?  Even if there were a large population of lesbians whose relational/ sexual orientation had more to do with their distaste for men than their taste for women, what right would I — as a peer of theirs — have to judge that, to claim that their lesbianism was somehow less valid than my own?  I have no idea what caused my own (a)/sexual orientation.  For all I know, the reasons could be just as ignoble as this girl’s were, or they could seem that way to others (as hers seemed to me.)  More and more, I believe that the “why you are how you are” conversation only matters to people who take issue with how (read: who) a person is.  The members of the LGB community currently searching for a way to prove a biological basis for sexual orientation often fail to recognize that the problem, really, isn’t the contention that sexual orientation is a choice but that anything but heterosexual orientation is considered the wrong choice and pathologized, demonized, and punished as such.  (I’m not saying I believe I chose to be gay or that I could change my orientation if I was so compelled, but honestly, which is the more powerful statement: that I didn’t choose to be a lesbian or that I *wouldn’t* choose to be otherwise?  The first option suggests that a non-hetero sexual orientation isn’t choiceful, while the second suggests that it isn’t wrong.  I believe both of these statements, but if I’m picking one to shout from the rooftops, I’d choose the latter without question.)

Unfortunately, in my experience, a large portion of the world doesn’t seem to feel as I do.  They don’t seem to have the same respect for people’s right to live as they are.  The amount of evidence one must choose to ignore in order to believe that a transgender identity or an asexual orientation are not valid (but rather misguided responses to trauma, etc) astounds me, and at the same time, I think it pales in comparison to the fact that one has to ignore *actual people* and refuse their stories the weight that they deserve.  How do you tell someone that their experience doesn’t matter?  I don’t care if you’re the most repressed, mentally ill trauma surivor on the planet (well, I do, actually, but it doesn’t affect my opinion that), you still have the right to be who you are without anyone else saying, “I don’t believe you.”  If a year from now, I came out again as straight, (not bloody likely, mind you), I suspect I would still be angry with people who had not supported me as a lesbian… because I think the need to be supported overrules the need to be right.  What gives people the impression that their “duty” to correct someone’s mistaken view (of their own identity) wins out over their duty to support another human being?

A few months back, when I was talking about asexuality to basically everyone I knew, (while of course, leaving out the rather pertinent fact that I recognized something of myself in this identification), I lent a copy of Bitch to a (somewhat skeptical) professor of mine so that he could read KL Pereira’s article “Do Not Want.”  To his credit, he was significantly more open to the idea of asexuality after he finished it – (kudos to Pereira for that; this is a man who still thinks a bisexual’s “true” orientation is revealed when they settle into a long-term relationship, thus ending their ambiguous experimentation phase) — but his resounding question afterward was actually, “When does it stop?  If a group as tiny as one percent of the population” (allegedly; raise your hand if you don’t believe it’s more) “starts to form a community, when is it ever going to be too few?”  Basically, he was trying to suggest, by way of a slippery-slope argument, that at any moment we would be seeing two- and three-person communities of people with a valid sexual orientation not yet recognized by the larger population.  “Why can’t we just be individuals?” he asked me.  I simultaneously saw and did not see his point.

The not-seeing was the more intense response so I’ll start there.  My own question, in response to his, was why does it matter?  If there are actually two or three people out there so committed, so well-organized, and so intently focused on getting the word out about their experience (which I think anyone in any “movement” would agree is basically required) that they can do so successfully despite their small numbers, what about that is potentially negative?  I don’t understand what we (meaning those outside the population in question) stand to lose by others speaking up about their experience.  I desperately need someone to explain the threat to me. 

I think people have dissected this, in terms of transgender identities, pretty thoroughly and the resounding response is that “we” (if not the we I’m personally a part of) feel a tremendous need to protect the strict gender binary, the one that looks like check-boxes outlined in bold lines (rather than a spectrum of varying hues.)  We will sacrifice people for the sake of preserving this (false) sense of gender, (excuse the strong social constructionist bias, if you please), rather than recognizing that gender has no purpose without people to serve.  …But what of asexuality?  What leaves some sexuals feeling so threatened that they must insist asexuality is a fantasy, a pathology, or some other invalid way of relating?  I haven’t heard anyone really begin to sort this out yet (no real surprise, given the lack of research being done on the more basic questions), but as I consider it, I’m reminded of something my mom said to me today, during an extensive and unexpected discussion about LGBT rights following an encounter with some HRC volunteers on a sidewalk corner.  (They were trying to raise money to help in the fight to pass anti-employment-discrimination lesgislation.  I listened to the guy’s spiel and told him, sincerely, that when his superiors decide to support a trans-inclusive ENDA, I’ll give what I can.  He told me, I hope also sincerely, that they’re working hard on it, that they “got a lot of flack” for supporting the non-inclusive version.  Well, duh.  I almost told him that while I was glad to hear they were working on it, I would prefer they work on it because they finally recognized the importance of doing so and the supreme ethical misstep of their former position and not because they were being harassed by trans folks and their allies.  I wanted to say “that ‘flack’ was justified, Sir; if it weren’t, I’d be on this corner with you.  Why do you think I’m not?”  But I digress again.

Sufficeth to say that my mom, (who is a tremendously progressive person and a huge supporter of gay rights/ my rights/ etc but nevertheless — or perhaps as a result – always attempts to see the other side of things, if only to better build bridges between the polarized edges of a debate), suggested that one of the reasons certain people might argue for same-sex couples having all the same rights as straight couples, minus the actual word “marriage,” was that they value the uniquely heterosexual experience and fear losing it in a sea of other experiences.  Obviously, I don’t believe that heterosexual couples have any more right to marriage than the rest of us, but I do believe that heterosexual relationships — like any other kind of connection– have unique aspects that are exciting, powerful, inspiring, et cetera, and have just as much right (but no more) to be validated by society.  This concept (finally) brings me to the second point I wanted to make to my professor, which was basically that if he really sees the continual surfacing of new populations and movements as a negative occurence, perhaps the most viable “strategy” to help reduce the need for such communities is to validate the experiences people have as individuals.  If the addition of statistics — (“but there are x many asexuals in this room!  but x in y of the people you know are transgender in some way!”) — weren’t required to convince people to listen to an experience and take that story seriously, we might be less inclined to gather them.  If our stories were being heard (truly), we might be less inclined to tell them in unison, as a united front.  Basically, if I mattered to you enough as a person (singular) that you could honestly tell me “I believe in, respect, and support who you are” than I might have less reason to show you there are others like me.  Why spend the effort to legitimize an already legitimate experience?

Of course, in the meantime, why be so anti-community?  Or anti-movement, for that matter?  Personally, I think it’s past time that all of us — me, my friend, the HRC volunteers, and everyone in between — have the sense to believe in, respect, and support each other.  Personally, I believe it’s past time that everyone stand up to acknowledge the existence of the Easter Bunny.

Mono (Not the Virus) and Poly (Not the Wog).

July 15, 2008

Let’s begin with a (somewhat relevant) shout-out to Ily at Asexy Beast, whose page bears the tagline “Of course, there’s always something to fall in love with.” That’s what I’m musing on today, the thoroughly beautiful fact that I am constantly head over heels with something or someone or somethings or someones, and (furthermore) loving every minute of it.

Years ago, in one of my first online journalblogs (ah, reminiscence), I coined a term for this propensity, the tongue-in-cheek word “polyffectionate,” which — if it isn’t obvious — is meant to play on the notion of “a” as a prefix meaning “no(t)” (although the “a” in “affection” is actually part of the root), which suggests the need for a term that could designate the spectrum’s other end, given that I (for one) was a girl of many ‘ffections.  Nearly seven years later, I stand by “polyffectionate” as a self-descriptor, and in fact, a little over a month ago, when — while leafing through a copy of Eat, Pray, Love in a local bookstore — I came across Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of herself as “the planet’s most affectionate life form (something like a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle),” I chuckled more than a little to myself at how true this is for me as well.  The rather surprising thing?  I find I mind it less and less.  My propensity for dorky crushes – be they on people*, fictional people, bands, songs, movies, books or art pieces — keeps me rather happily occupied.  As I mention (or rather extol upon) in one of the recent spoken-word pieces (what was that about anonymity?  eh, fuck it … figuratively speaking, for you asexy types), I often don’t even mind that my crushes (when they do land on nonfictional people with whom I am actually friends) have gone unreciprocated, and thus undeveloped into relationships, up to the present point.  I simply enjoy them for what they are and enjoy the fact that I can freely jump from one love to another, like a hyperactive schoolgirl in one crazy game of hopscotch, without obsessing (too often) about the fact that I have yet to find a dateable girl.

I wouldn’t limit this kind of crazy-crush-happiness to the asexual community, but I do wonder if my quasi-asexuality influences it at all, in the sense that a lack of (or low level of, or delayed experience of) sexual attraction keeps a person from creating that traditional relational hierarchy that places True (Sexual) Love at the top and works its way down through family and friends to acquaintances.  I stand by a concept of asexual people that allows for them to have committed relationships (should they choose to do so) that are equally valid in comparison to the commited relationships of self-identified sexual people, and in fact, I aspire toward that single commited relationship that would stand separate from other equally awesome but not quite as touted friendships (et cetera).  I understand myself well enough to know that I would crash and burn if I ever tried my hand at polyamory, for instance; I’m too prone to the “why am I not enough for you?” insecurities that would make that kind of relational structure hell in a hurry.  That said, I think there might be something to the idea that asexual (and semi-asexual) people have the freedom to explore more possibilities and explore them simultaneously because the factor most commonly used to designate that one superior relationship — (sex, of course) — is often removed from the picture. 

AsexyAsexual, who has a livejournal account detailing her “quest to find [her] husband a girlfriend” (and sexual partner), talks in her most recent entry about a conversation she had with David Jay about “community-based intimacy” as a viable relationship strategy, specifically for asexual-types.  She describes it as involving a few primary relationships and a number of secondary relationships, which the way I understand it, serve to supplement but are perhaps not as intimate as the primary relationships.  (Correct me if I’m wrong here, kids.)  I find this terribly interesting because while something about the idea compells me quite a bit, I also suspect it would not exactly work for me.  There’s something ironic about the following truth, but I suspect I am not independent enough for this type of community, although perhaps it’s less an issue of “not independent” and more one of “not self-secure.”  I struggle to imagine a set of community-based or polyamorous relationships in which I would genuinely trust that I was valued and feel secure in the idea that I was not expendable, and while I can see that being the case in a monoamorous — (is that even a word?) — relationship as well, there’s something about a reciprocal commitment to one person, at least within the time period of the relationship, that I think would help convince me of my importance to that partner.  Granted, a few more years of therapy might convince me of it as well, perhaps even to the point that being “the one and only” for someone else (which strikes me as a pretty unrealistic thing to expect someone else to want or to expect myself to be) no longer feels so necessary.

Still, I think in a way, even with my borderline envy of the relational structure David was describing to AsexyA, and my tendency to fall for anyone and everything, something about a one-on-one relationship (although a less enmeshed, healthier version than I’ve been describing here) appeals to me.  I suppose that for such a diehard queergrrrl, I have some remarkably traditional points:  I want someone in my life who loves me and is willing to commit to making it work when she would rather bail.  I want to come home to this person, routinely, and have them come home to me.  I want to have a family together, although I struggle with attempting to determine in advance of knowing The Girl what that might look like or what it might mean.  I’m struck, however, by the possibility that desiring to create a family of some sort and desiring to create a community of intimate relationships is actually more similar than it is different.  In some ways, my “family” may look more in keeping with tradition (although less so if you start to plot its details or if you broaden “tradition” past the American 1950s), but the two still share some common goals.  When it comes down to it, who isn’t looking to connect with people, to establish a system of relationships that allows them to give and receive some version of love, in a way they find nourishing, fulfilling, and downright enjoyable?  If you can find a way to do that, more power to you, and seriously, I’m always open to pointers.

 

*Did you really think I’d link the people?  I’m not an entirely open book, thank heaven.


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