Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Hide and Seek.

June 26, 2009

hideseek

Photo Credit: Hooligantastic.

Lately, the topic of choice over at Asexual Explorations has been sexual repression, one that has been on my mind lately as well, in a slightly different sense.  As Pretzelboy points out, the term “sexual repression” has roughly as many definitions as it does letters.  Thus, when people use the term,

[s]ometimes they mean that a person isn’t willing to acknowledge their own sexual feelings. Sometimes they mean that a person is deep-down really interested in sex despite the plain reality that they aren’t. Sometimes they mean that not having sex somehow in a super-secret way causes neuroses. Sometimes they mean that a culture is sexually restrictive with its negative messages and oppressive rules about sex. Sometimes they mean that a person isn’t able to express their sexuality because of such rules. Sometimes that mean that a person who isn’t interested in sex must be disinterested because of such societal rules, ignoring the fact there might be other reasons for not being interested in sex (like lack of desire, for example.)

I’ve written — rather minimally — in the past about the accusation of sexual repression, particularly the definitions that resemble denial and a reaction to upbringing/ abuse.  It’s a response asexuals who attempt to come out often receive, and I’ve stated before how my own experience of the asexual community defies its characterization (from folks like Joy Davidson) as a place where important explorations of self and sexuality are truncated.  In response, largely, to Davidson’s claim on 20/20 that if you’re going to label yourself asexual, “You may as well label yourself not curious, unadventurous, narrow-minded, blind to possibilities. That’s what happens when you label yourself as…as…sexually neutered,”  I pointed out that — since finding the asexual community — I had learned more about myself and my sexuality, expressed more curiosity, adventured further into the sexual world, and opened my mind up more to what sexuality is, how it works, and what it can be, than I ever had as a person defaulting into sexuality.  Commenters on that post suggested a similar experience, which is mirrored in the livejournal forums, and presumably on AVEN as well, although I don’t frequent the forums there and therefore can’t speak to trends.  For many of us, it seems, an asexual label — or even interaction with the community sans labelling, which seems to be more of my role these days — allows something that assuming sexuality does not.  Introspection, an increase in knowledge/awareness (of sexuality as well as asexuality), and eventually self-actualization seem — at least for some of us — to be outcomes of our interaction with the ase community, even as Davidson and her doppelgangers claim this interaction fundamentally limits us from those experiences.  I have seen more willingness to recognize and support fluidity in the asexual community, for instance, than in any other sexual community, straight or queer.  Individuals bringing “confessions” to the table — of shifts in orientation within the homo-/ hetero-/ bi- scheme or from asexual to sexual, of realizations that trauma/ religion/ identity confusion/ etc did play more of a role in their asexuality than they previously realized — receieve, in my experience, a similar respect and support to those who come to the forums asking for support of their asexuality.  I have yet to see the same for lesbians who come to identify as bi, etc.  For many asexual people, there seems to be a fundamental value, which suggests that figuring out one’s identity, as an individual, matters significantly more than which identity one determines.

As David said on the Montel show a few years back, “here [in the asexual community] is a place you can come to explore yourself.  Here is a place you can talk about yourself.  We’re not saying, come to the asexual community, and then just give up trying to figure out who you are.  It’s a community where we’re very actively asking questions about ourselves.”  For some of us asking those questions, the answers lean — in time — toward sexuality.  A year ago, I was trying to wrap my head around how to come out as asexual or potentially asexual; I felt recognized in what I read on the subject, and supported in the ace community.  Now, although I still respond, act, think, and feel, much more like an asexual person than a sexual one, I recognize that I am — in all likelihood — someone whose sexuality, whatever it looks like, has largely been shut down through negative experiences.  My sister’s statement to me last year, that it was less likely I was asexual and more likely that I’d been “raised by our parents” — (a reference, largely, to their body-phobic/ sex-negative perspectives) — has proven wise in a way I almost hoped, initially, that it would not.  As the therapy I’ve been receiving for years (for reasons unrelated to sexuality) begins to explore this territory, it becomes increasingly clear that I am in many ways just what the Joy Davidsons of the world are seeking: the girl raised in a (bizarre attempt at rejection of) hyper-religiosity, in a culture of abuse and trauma, with medical conditions (and treatments) that can contribute to hyposexuality.  I score at least 3/3 on the trifecta for dismissal.  Davidson claimed on 20/20 that “there may be something, maybe something physiological, intricate, maybe something that has to do with trauma or abuse, or repression or a severe religiosity that has predisposed you to shutting down the possibility of being sexually engaged,” and here I am — the prototype for this explanation.  And yet… I still don’t agree with her, and I don’t agree with her criticisms of asexuality or the community built around that identification. 

For starters, although I can fathom a sexuality I do not yet experience, although I can recognize the multitude of factors that have (most likely) dismantled what might have been a much more “traditional” sexual development, and publicly claim them on this blog, I don’t project my experience onto all members of the community.  Are there others in the community who have ended up there with the help of trauma or bizarre religious teaching?  Certainly.  Are they the only people there?  I doubt it.  And, given the relatively poor understanding the scientific community has about the development of desire, attraction, and orientation, isn’t it equally possible that people end up in other orientations for these same reasons?  Straight girls try on homosexuality for a semester to rebel against their upbringing.  Lesbians are constantly (if decreasingly) accused of responding to trauma inflicted by men through an attraction to women.  Gender (and relationships between people of defined genders) are policed as medical issues.  So, why is asexuality — which, if it is constructed through personal experience and biology, is no more constructed than other forms of sexuality — so unacceptable?

My personal stance, for some time now, has been that I don’t care what I “end up” being — asexual, sexual, or attracted to rutabagas — so long as I can feel that I am genuinely that, and not hiding out in an orientation that keeps me safe from personal realities too frightening to face.  And so I move forward, attempting to understand and heal whatever I have left to understand and heal.  In the meantime, however, I don’t find anything immoral about a temporary identification.  I may have chosen against actually self-describing as asexual, but I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with a person similar to me who chooses to do so.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing to identify a safe space, in which to do the necessary work.

For many, asexuality is not a safe space.  It’s an identity, — and one that sometimes brings misunderstanding, pain, and rejection, even ridicule or betrayal.  For others, it’s the exact security necessary to begin the difficult process of unpacking one’s past.  Winter, one of the asexual people present on the Montel show said that “We [in the asexual community] are not a place you go to hide from your sexuality,” — and she’s right.  That’s not the purpose of the community.  “Asexual” is not intended to mean traumatized or confused.  Yet, it’s unrealistic to suggest that traumatized and confused people will not end up there.  Opponents of asexuality attack the community for providing a place to hide, despite the fact that it’s not the community’s purpose.  It’s my personal opinion that rather than claiming none of us are hiding, or that those who are have no place in the community, we might choose to ask what’s wrong with hiding.  I’ll say again that I value introspection and self-actualization.  However, I know that exploring difficult issues and working to heal them requires the secure environment where one can do so “safely” and with support.  Being badgered into sexuality has done nothing for me.  Being allowed to identify as asexual has allowed me to address the possibility that I am not.  So, while I agree with Winter’s statement that the ace community is not intended for hiding, I disagree with what follows, her idea that, “If you are just looking to hide from a problem, we aren’t the place for you.”  The community, with its refusal to force sexuality, its tendency toward supporting folks, and the surprising willingness of (many) members to gradually educate themselves (and in certain cases, each other) about sexuality, may be just that place.  I don’t advocate hiding forever, but I reject the idea that hiding temporarily can’t help.  Sometimes we need support in what we have been — or feel we have been — to explore what we might become.  Sometimes it’s only in finding a place to hide that we uncover the courage to seek.

In Which Asexuality Goes Green.

January 5, 2009

colorwheel

I meant to post this, as a much shorter snippet, well over a week ago.  But I didn’t finish babbling before I had to leave that evening, and alas, it hit the back burner until now.  So, um, enjoy?

I’ve been reading some very interesting things lately, upon my long-belated reentry into the blogosphere.  Among them are Pretzelboy’s recent thoughts on the claim that “all people are sexual.”  It’s no secret that I was a fan of Carol Queen’s comments to David about a more inclusive definition of sexuality that could even encompass asexuality, although I maintained reservations along the lines of “I wouldn’t want anyone claiming that my homosexuality could be encompassed in their ‘more inclusive version/ of heterosexuality.”  I said a version of that in response to Cory Silverburg’s article as well, but was largely assured by those asexual-identifying folks who responded that the idea bothered them less, because they didn’t see asexuality as the binarial opposite of sexuality (ala homosexuality and heterosexuality) but rather as a place on the larger spectrum of sexuality. 

However, Pretzelboy has raised some points recently that draw my mind in new directions, although the conclusions are (as usual) pending.  With the exception of his superb satire, perhaps the most compelling point in Pretzelboy’s series (for me personally) occurs when he questions the effect of broadly defining sexuality on asexual sex-ed students:

The people in sexuality education seem to use a “broad” definition of sexuality because that makes sense in their lives. But for asexuals sitting in on their classes, does such a definition make sense of their experiences or does it render them invisible? Does this “broad” definition empower them or does it declare them disordered? Does it validate their experiences? Does it help them think about decisions they have to make regarding relationships, regarding sexulaity, and about their lives more generally?

I have no desire to render anyone invisible.  Based largely on Pretzelboy’s posts, I highly doubt that the clearest understanding of asexuality is rendered through the lens of sexuality.  Imagine the inversion.  Imagine basing our understanding of sexuality entirely — or even largely — on asexuality.   While it’s less likely, given the power of the majority to determine social perspective, it’s hardly less confining.  I’m reminded of a train ride I took recently, and the difficulty I had seeing the minimal landscape through the foggy glass of the train windows.  I’m reminded even more of a series of Through the Viewfinder (TTV) photos a friend of mine has been working on, in which each shot is taken through lenses from two different cameras.  The representation of the image loses certain clarity, and in some ways its realism is compromised as a result.  I would argue, however, that it’s not necessarily the lens on asexuality that’s the true problem, but more precisely, the prioritization of this one perspective, this one representation, this one understanding.

When I first read Pretzelboy’s posts, the metaphor that occurred to me had nothing to do with train windows or photographs.  Rather, it was a metaphor of color.  This is hardly unprecedented in the discussion of a/sexuality, I know.  We’ve had the problematic metaphor of asexuality as equivalent to colorblindness and the general discussion of the a/sexuality spectrum in terms of the color spectrum, but this particular thought had more to do with how we come to understand each individual color.  Take green.  Based only on the color wheel, if someone asked you to explain green, you could answer them in several different ways.  You could say that green was like blue, but with a higher concentration of yellow.  You could say that green was like yellow, but with a higher concentration of blue.  You could direct them to imagine the complementary opposite of red, or a “cool” color more in range with purple than, say, orange.  Each of these explanations would give the person some information about green, likely increasing their understanding of the color.  Ideally, each of the explanations could combine with the others to create a strong foundation for understanding green, so that it was not simply a matter of choosing the best description (is it best to imagine the opposite?  or to describe things that are similar?), but of offering a multitude of descriptions, which — in concert — help highlight the true nature of the hue.

For the purposes of this post, I’m calling asexuality green, and I’m wondering if the obstacle in our gaining (or offering) clarity about the nature of asexuality isn’t so much a problem of looking through the wrong lens (i.e. coming at it from the “complement” perspective of the sexual red, and trying to understand it as the opposite), but rather an issue of too few lenses.   If we could understand asexuality not solely in relationship to sexuality, but also in relationship to its color-wheel neighbors, (the blues and yellows of its world, say celibacy or homosexuality or… well, what might you suggest?) , as well as  in relationship to colors with similar degrees of warmth, and finally — based solely on its own information (viewing green starting with green), we might have a more multi-dimensional grasp on the experience.  The problem I see now is that one perspective — the perspective that starts with the opposite and works its way around the wheel — has been prioritized to the point that it’s difficult to start anywhere else.  And that’s limiting our understanding.

Come to think of it, that’s limiting our understanding of sexuality as well.  Having comprehended it largely on its own grounds, rarely investigating the surrounding and complementary territories, how much can we truly know?

At Least Let Me Call it By Name.

September 28, 2008

Q: What’s one good piece of evidence that I am overly-busy with school?
A: It takes me a month to realize I’ve been referenced and linked by the ever-awesome Cory Silverberg.

There are a couple of points I want to make in response, the most important of which is just an acknowledgment of his spot-on statement about certain people in the asexual community dismissing the issues of people with disabilities. Looking back at the post he linked, I’m smacking myself upside the head a little because it really does ignore — however unintentionally — the issues of disabled persons. I’ve never been a fan of forced asexuality — on teens, on the elderly, on people with disabilities, etc — but I’ve been so focused recently on the asexual perspective, that I think I lost track of the notion that there are other perspectives out there.  And honestly, I think it’s really important that communities in general (and the asexual community specifically) not lose track of those other perspectives, even when they seem conflictual. I think we’re strongest when we recognize the distinct populations within our community, and — in addition, — ally ourselves with other communities.  The disabled community strikes me as a population of potential allies, because in a sense (as Silverberg points out), members of both communities are looking for greater freedom to express their orientations.  Whatever combination of sexual, asexual, able, or disabled we are as individuals, I think we’re all looking for ways to express that and to have it acknowledged or affirmed by others. I think it makes complete sense that we would work together for that kind of freedom, and I would honestly welcome ideas about how to go about it.

There was one other piece of Cory Silverberg’s article that I wanted to address.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s his line, “It still feels right for me to say say that all humans are sexual.”  In all honesty, it’s a difficult point for me to comment on because, although I see it being painful for certain members of the asexual community, including people I consider friends, it’s not particularly problematic for me on a personal level.  Since I’m not all that attached to the “asexual” label, since it’s not one I use to identify myself, and since a broader definition of sexuality (that encompasses a good deal more than sexual relations) really would satisfy my own needs, I don’t feel entirely “qualified” to comment here.  And yet, my gut reacton to the statement “everyone is sexual” — given that a significant number of people are attesting they’re not, remains one of (at best) unease.

I think I understand what Silverberg intends by this comment.  At the very least, I know what I mean when I’m compelled to say such things.  The desire not to separate, to instead remain unified, is a strong one, and one I think the asexual community benefits from acting on.  A healthy alliance is a fabulous tool, after all, and I understand being concerned about polarization.  My unwillingness to embrace a sexual/ asexual binary was (you may remember) the main reason I stopped considering “asexual” as a potential self-descriptor.  It’s been more helpful for me personally to view asexuality as one area on a continuum (a continuum which stretches into sexuality as well.)  Maybe this has to do with my general dislike of binaries; maybe I simply don’t feel compelled to handle another minority identification; maybe I am internalizing some “a-phobia” or clinging to some sexual privilege — I honestly can’t say for sure.  What I do know is that I gained acceptance of myself and my orientation first by exploring the asexual community and later by shelving that identifier.  Although technically my participation in the asexual community (sans identifier) continues to shape my orientation and increase my ability to accept who I am, for me personally both statements are true.  Silverberg’s desire to see everyone as sexual — albeit with a broader definition of “sexual” than many people I know (more on that in a later entry) — is one I often share.  That’s hard for me to admit, and yet, it’s true.

However.

Before I left California,  I had a really marvelous conversation with David about how much I dislike the binary and how it concerns me to see asexual people distancing themselves so much from sexual folks (and vice-versa, although I think it happens less in the other direction, if only because relatively few “sexuals” are aware of asexuality — even now — and those who are don’t always validate it enough to identify in opposition.  If you’re going to use something as an Other, I think you’re required to accept it as a reality first.)  David’s responsee was really interesting, and suggested to me a reason for constructing those much-detested binaries that I’d honestly never considered before.  His point — as best I can remember it — was basically this:

When he was “questioning” what made him different from his friends who were so interested in sex, there was no binary.  The term “asexual,” the asexual/ sexual binary, and the potential continuum of asexuality/ sexuality essentially (i.e. for practical purposes) did not exist.  All that existed was sexuality, in its very limited “sexual relations” sense.  And given that he did not feel such a sexuality fit him, he had to go outside of it, create another term, and establish a meaning for that term in order to communicae his experience.  If, in the years since then, the “non-sexual” identified space has begun to grow into sometehing as clearly (or rigidly) defined as sexuality was in David’s (although honestly I don’t know that it has; my experience of the ase community is that it’s very open to fluidity and exploration), then things have shifted from the days when he founded AVEN.  In a sense, I think this represents a victory for the asexual community, but I can also see why some people are inclined to say the next step should be expanding “sexuality” to include the “asexual” space.  A more fluid definition of sexuality allows all of us to be part of the “healthy” “normal” group, without challenging the notion of what is healthy and normal. It allows all of us to be “the same” without questioning why we have to be. Difficult as expanding the definition of a term can be, in a sense, this is still the simpler path, and it’s hard, at times, for me not to be one of the people advocating that we take it.

And yet, when I stop to think about it, when I try and imagine how I’d feel if “asexual” were an identifier I used and valued using, the suggestion that asexuality is “just” another sexuality starts to strike me as a hurtful move.  I identify as lesbian, and I can basically guarantee for you that no matter how broad, inclusive, and accepting “heterosexuality” grows, I will never feel quite comfortable or truthful or right identifying as straight.  Even if heterosexuality evolved to a point where other straight people could conceive of my identity and experience using that label, I think the terms I use now — lesbian, queer, etc — would remain important to me.  I think those of us who don’t identify this way need to remember that the term “asexual” has functioned — and functioned importantly — for people whose experience of sexuality was not one like Silverberg describes, of an aspect or filter of experience that exists in all of us, regardless of whether we desire sexual relations, but rather one that was much more limited, often to sexual relationships or the desire for sexual relationships.  In my opinion, we need to include in our effort to advocate for sexual expression the absolute right to self-identify.  We need to be able to adopt the term (and the definition of the term) that suits us best — because protecting our idea of the universal human truth has to be less important than allowing each other to fully communicate our individual experiences.  I suspect that Cory Silverberg (to continue semi-unintentionally singling him out) recognizes that, because he recognizes the problem of one group of people telling another group of people it doesn’t exist, but given that some asexual people don’t view their asexuality as a sexuality at all, I worry that his earlier statement might be taken as just that.  My sense of the situation remains that, if we’re going to really listen to each other, which is something I feel we need to do more of, — (it’s a fundamental part of intimacy, isn’t it?) — we have to allow each other the right to our own words and the right to defining our own words, even as antonyms of those chosen by another, and even when we, personally, don’t necessarily see them as oppositional.

ETA: Since I wrote this, Cory Silverberg posted the following comment clarifying his statement about everyone being sexual: “I’d be interested in what you think […] about the way I describe people as sexual. Essentially what I’m saying is that people who are asexual are sexual, and their sexuality is expressed in a way that’s different than someone who isn’t asexual. I think if we started with the premise that we’re all sexual, but that doesn’t have to mean we all want or do the same things, it would address both people who are asexual and people with disabilities.”  I’ve already offered my own thoughts on that here, but I’d love to hear from other people (however they identify).  What are your thoughts?

If You Recall, The Scarlet Letter Was “A.”

August 25, 2008

Somehow these professors I’m dealing with don’t seem to recognize I have blogging responsibilities.  It’s really quite sad.   And in the craze of moving back across the country and beginning yet another semester of schooling, I missed talking about how when David and I hung out, we got to talking about his podcast with Carol Queen, — how awesome it was, how awesome she is, etc — which resulted in him telling me about an event at the Center for Sex and Culture (which Carol Queen co-founded) that he was hoping to attend, and inviting me to tag along. I had to think for a minute (about how many different ways I knew to say yes), before settling for “um, yeah” and agreeing to meet him in the city.  The event was actually a reception welcoming Heather Corinna of Scarleteen.com, a site offering comprehensive sex education via the Internet to all of those teens and young adults who can’t get it in the classroom.  (And when I say comprehensive, I mean it. Scarleteen covers everything from body image to reproduction, pleasure to rape prevention, and much, much more… including a recent letter discussing asexuality and linking AVEN.)  Do I need to bother mentioning that the event was fantastic, that the CSC is fascinating — (there’s just nothing like being shown a display of vibrators by a guy so uninterested he founded asexuality.org) — but pales in comparison to the awesome people who inhabit it?  Or is that already obvious?

I won’t give a run-down of the event, mostly because I attended it, and journaled about it, and chronicling it yet again would probably bore me past capacity, despite the awesomeness.  But I do want to talk about one of the main things I took away — aside from the awesomeness of Heather Corinna, Scarleteen, and Carol Queen.  Ever since I started immersing myself in the asexual community, which — somewhat shockingly from my perspective — was only a few months ago, I’ve benefitted immensely.  I’ve made friends, I’ve learned loads, and I’ve been more fully introduced to sex-positivism even as I’ve been more fully introduced to asexuality.  One of the great things about this event, which I didn’t get to properly express my gratitude for at the time, was that it drove home for me once again how accepting and supportive many sex-positive people are of asexuality, above and beyond more “standard” “sexual” folks.  I think we hear a lot about the Joy Davidsons of the world, who refuse to accept asexuality as legitimate, and walking into a room where such vibrantly sexual people didn’t even blink twice at David (or me, considering I was basically “asexual by association” that night) was really powerful for me.  An intern, whose name I can’t remember given the ridiculous amount of time that’s now passed, said something about how sex-positivism is about allowing people to do what they want, which includes not doing anything (ostensibly sexual) in the first place.  And Heather Corinna herself sent me an e-mail in the day or two that followed pointing out that the sex-positive culture (and people who’ve been working in sexuality for more than five minutes) is (/ are) so used to accepting alternative orientations that adding an asexual orientation to that list of the accepted is easier than some of us (myself included) might think.  I think — whatever the implications of this — it’s really affirming for me because it suggests that the support of this orientation extends beyond people who self-identify as having it.  It also suggests that an asexual identification doesn’t cut someone off from the sexual world as much as people tend to think, which has definitely been my experience.  I swear I learned more about sexuality while (and since) identifying as asexual than I ever did before finding the ase community.  It’s awesome to have that affirmed by people like Heather Corinna, who I trust know what they’re talking about.  Their ease around asexuality helps put some of my lingering prejudices about the community to rest, which is past due, seriously.  And their ease around orientations in general helps to remind me that. however I end up identifying, whatever I end up being, it will be an acceptable facet of the way that I love in this world.

And I’m good with that.

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.

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.

Envying the Soup Cans Their Labels.

June 19, 2008

I find it interesting (and a little sad) how much weight I apparently believe labels carry.  Given the  circumstances under which I (for the moment at least) decided to shelve the asexual label – as a self-identifier – (specifically the level of choice involved and the fact that I didn’t feel the term was somehow “taken” from me by someone else) I only really felt sad at the loss of community.  If I don’t identify this way, how can I continue to be on the same page with people whom I relate to so strongly?  I still don’t know the answer to that, exactly, but on top of it, I’m finding myself confounded by other questions, including, how do I wrap my head around the fact that I have more in common with people who call themselves asexual, which I’m choosing not to do, than people who call themselves sexual, which – although I’m not exactly *calling* myself, I’m “defaulting” to – given the current social assumptions – by not stating I am asexual…?  I think I somehow expected myself to become more sexual by relinquishing the asexual label.  I mean, if others are going to see me as sexual now, shouldn’t I actually *be* sexual?  But of course, no major transformations have occurred in the past few days.  I haven’t suddenly taking an interest in jumping into bed with anyone.  I still find sex all kinds of strange.  I am, in all honesty, the exact same person who couldn’t think of a better self-descriptor than “asexual” … and felt unbelievably relieved to discover that term.   Which leaves me at kind of a loss.  After all, one of the things that keeps me from believing labels are truly only good for soup cans is their ability to connect people.  I’ve met some of my best friends over the years through the help of shared labels – gay, writer… It matters less what the label is, and more that it’s shared.  I think in some ways it weirds me out to just be myself – even though obviously “myself” is the label I most need to accept – because it’s such a lonely one to claim.  Obviously, everyone is unique, even if they carry an asexual or a sexual banner, but if I just stand here and say, “well, I’m not really willing to say either because while I feel more asexual, I don’t consider myself asexual, I’d like to believe sexuality is expansive enough to include me, but while I’d like to believe in a sexuality that expansive, I can’t wrap my head around it well enough to actually consider myself sexual” I end up in a pretty lonely camp.  And even if I can, at some point, wrap my head around a definition of sexuality so platonic that I’d feel comfortable claiming it, there’s something strange about knowing that other people who feel as you do choose a different (and antithetical) term.  Why am I striving to carve myself a niche in a group with whom I feel I have less in common, when there’s a perfectly lovely group of people with whom I have quite a bit in common, that I could simply associate myself with and be done?

Maybe it’s as simple as that sense of “having less in common” with sexuals, and not wanting to let them stand.  It is extremely important to me, as an “ally” of the asexual community (which I suppose is where I stand now) to continue respecting and working to understand why individuals choose to identify that way, and at the same time, I recognize that part of the reason I choose not to is because the dichotomoy of sexuality/ asexuality really bothers me.  For me, self-describing as asexual means buying into that sexy/ asexy binary, and I’ve never really met a binary I didn’t feel the need to dismantle.  That said, I’ve clung to the term “gray-a” since I first found it; I never thought of asexuality as something strictly separate from sexuality, so I don’t know how well that holds as an explanation of my feelings here.  Maybe I just worry that other people will see it asexuality and sexuality as mutually exclusive.  Because as much as I want a term that I’m comfortable with, a term that describes me well, I also don’t want to feed into any more social division.  Us-and-them so easily becomes us-versus-them, you know?  That dark side of diversity has crawled under my skin of late, I think.

In other news, wish me luck in convincing the people in my life that really, it is necessary that we attend Pride next weekend.  (My second summer in the San Fran area, and for the second summer, people are flaking.)  Last year, my not going was practically headline news when I returned to the Midwest (“Lesbian Spends Summer in San Francisco and Does Not Attend Pride”), and could easily have led to my impeachment in the GSA over which I preside on-campus.   Ok, in truth, that’s a slight exaggeration.  Maybe “I want to go, damnit” is substantial?  I’m leaning hard on people, so cross your fingers for me, if you would.

Be propelled by passion, not invest in outcomes.

June 13, 2008

This entry overwhelms me a little; it’s difficult to write.  This is the entry where I take on my own subtitle, where I rethink the labels entirely, and wonder who exactly will still be compelled to read when the perspective offered is not that of a potentially-asexual-lesbian, but rather… simply… mine.

Changing the presentation of a blog several entries into writing it, just as I’m growing comfortable, starting to make friends, and starting to draw readers frankly puts me a little on edge.  And helping to push me over said edge is my uncertainty that I’ll be able to properly explain why I feel compelled to do this, why – to flat out say it – I don’t particularly consider myself asexual now, after what feels like eons of agonizing over the possibilities (sexual, asexual, sexual, asexual).  It doesn’t help that Elephant, my dear and lovely Elephant, is at the center of it, and that miscommunication on my part might unfairly implicate him, might make it seem as if he talked me out of a viewpoint that was helping me feel more comfortable in myself, more secure, more like I knew where I was coming from, and less like a lone freak in the sexual mainstream.  The last thing I want to do is mislead even my most distant reader about someone so close to my heart, especially when the truth – although a bit more complicated than this – is that Elephant flat-out encouraged me to explore the possibility of asexuality, suggested that I dress myself up in whatever labels or identities felt worth trying, and understand that such exploration is healthy and normal and all that other stuff I strive to be.  (Ok, so I don’t entirely strive to be normal, but I do make an effort toward avoiding clinically abnormal, at least when the DSM definitions aren’t thoroughly pissing me off.)  He was, however, concerned – as he initially thought I was telling him I didn’t consider myself relational at all, which – given that connection and relationship are basically the most important things to me – thoroughly freaked out the both of us.  I can see it irritating asexuals to hear that this sexual friend of mine immediately connected disinterest in sex with disinterest in relationships, period, but honestly, I don’t think he intended offense.  I think, from what he wrote to me, that he simply has a very broad definition of sexuality, one that starts with the fluttery excitement of crushes, spans the spectrum all the way into cuddling, kissing, and sex, on the timeline of the individual and… if said individual doesn’t progress all the way across the continuum – (“progress” is a poorly chosen verb, as it implies that sex is somehow superior to crushing and cuddling and so forth, which – as someone who three days ago was leaning toward an “asexual” identification – I’m certainly not going to argue; cuddling all the way!)  – that’s their experience.  Let’s take a walk through Alanis Morissette’s utopia and exist sans judgment, shall we?

I know that, as asexuals, certain people will not want to have their nonsexual relational experiences framed as sexual, and I totally understand that because, more often than not, I wouldn’t either.  Still, something about the broadness of Elephant’s definition clicked for me.  I liked the lack of dichotomy involved, the total grayness so in keeping with the spectrum I see sexuality existing on, and I liked having him articulate my position on that spectrum as fluid, because I (personally) feel it to be so as well.  This was somehow different than being told I will grow out of where I’m at, that it’s “just” a phase (what isn’t, seriously?), and so forth.  It was basically him suggesting that I’m not as different as I think I am, regardless of how I identify, and that I can use whatever terms I want to describe myself, as long as I’m not using them to be self-critical.  (If he sounds bossy, he only sort of is.  He’s straight-forward and super-opinionated, but for years now, he has consistently proven himself to have no other agenda than to see me thoroughly myself and happy, and so, while I don’t always adopt his opinions, I do tend to weigh them pretty heavily.)

I’ve never considered my (potential) “asexuality” self-criticizing.  In fact, I’ve felt freed from self-criticism (and social criticism) by adopting the term.  It was a word I could offer to explain why I was not “how I was supposed to be” in sexual terms – why I didn’t have the proper desires, respond to sexual jokes in the proper fashion, or engage in the proper sexual acts.  It was an alternative to the post-traumatic pathology I had feared for years was the (only available) explanation.  It really has been a blessing to me for discover this.  And yet, I realize now that it may be time for me to adopt a different identification – if only temporarily, again – because although the term itself was not something I flagellated myself over, it was – largely – in response to such flagellations, both from myself and from others.  If I hadn’t so often received the message that there was something wrong with my method of connecting with people, with what I felt and didn’t feel, wanted and didn’t want, I don’t think I would have felt the need to seek out an identifier like “asexy.”  I don’t think I would have felt the need to explain myself.  The root of this descriptor, then – if only technically – is the criticism.  It’s the brother who tells me, (as a joke that unintentionally grazes a sore spot), that I’m a “bad lesbian” because I respond to the swimsuit calendar as an outraged feminist instead of as an aroused lesbian.  It’s the gay-straight alliance meetings that devolve into still more pressure to go to the lesbian bars my friends themselves refer to as “meatmarkets” with the implication that it is past time I jump on the sexual bandwagon.  And at this point, at least, I need – for my own sake – to refuse the outside insistence that I’m not who I’m supposed to be (and my own internalization of these messages) and just go back to being myself.  Myself, the dorky queen of crushes, the girl who aspires toward cuddling, who is slowly growing comfortable enough around the discussion of sex to find it fascinating (if not so much worth trying), and who is free from the binding expectations of others – sexual, asexual, or otherwise.  I don’t like this idea of sexuals and asexuals.  These are not nouns in my world; they are adjectives.  A sexual person, an asexual person, and sometimes the same person skating back and forth between definitions, as I have been these past oh-so-many months, as I will probably tend to continue doing in the future.  So, while I’m hoping to be able to continue writing about asexuality and sexuality, to continue exploring something that fascinates me, I’m not setting out now to do so as an asexual, a sexual, a gray-a, a demisexual, or any other such thing. 

For the moment (at least), I’m just going to call myself me and let that be enough.  Here’s hoping some people are still along for the ride.


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