Posts Tagged ‘intimacy’

Don’t Think It’s Hot.

August 3, 2008

(This is basically the previous entry part two.  It won’t make sense, most likely, if you read it before that one.  I am hoping, when it is finished, to return from this dear-diary-esque interruption to our regularly scheduled programming.)

A quick update to say that I found Violet Blue’s use of this (not totally work-safe) image today hilariously well-timed, given my last entry.  Maybe there is a bridge being built between asexual porn and the mainstream version, and I just don’t realize it. 

I also wanted to add to the last post this rather spot-on quote from Glad to Be A which managed not only to articulate some things I’ve been thinking, but also to push those thoughts further:

I don’t understand looking at someone and thinking sex.  It makes sense to me that you would have powerful feelings of attraction and a desire to be intimate with, and to please physically, someone who you found not only outwardly attractive but attractive in their personality.  I get love and lust being combined.  But what I find difficult to understand is random lust for a stranger, or even for someone you don’t like,  based purely on them having a nice rack or a great butt.  I find it difficult how someone could get all excited over some hot body, then another one a few minutes later, then another one.  Attraction to a few specific people, based on various qualities, seems like the only thing that makes sense to me.

Perhaps because I find myself fundamentally motivated by emotional connection — (Freud’s insistence that this cannot be the case aside) — I would add to this that I have a total incapacity to forget that bodies belong to people, to unique individuals who have personalities, thoughts, feelings, — the whole shibangabang.  This reality has gotten me into trouble more than once since I came out as a lesbian, when people have insisted I tell them who I think is “hot” or scoffed when a swimsuit calendar sparked a feminist rant on my part instead of an aroused grunt of approval.  Personally, I have a physical response to erotic images of women; I do seem to experience some physical desire toward bodies, (although as of now, I remain completely oblivious to what is so fascinating about genitalia.  Georgia O’Keefe understood it on some level.  I do not), but I grow uncomfortable having a physical response toward bodies that belong to people I don’t know.  I can’t shut off the part of my brain that wonders who the woman is and what she’s like, partly because that is necessary information for me to stay attracted, and partly because I find it difficult to suspend the knowledge that although she’s currently the object of my gaze (and even my desire) she’s the subject of her own experience.  Given the extent to which women’s objectification (and increasingly, men’s objectification) drives socially damaging constructs, I’m actually surprised that so few people mention having an issue with their tendency to gawk at women. 

I mentioned to Elephant when we were discussing asexuality that I’ve been called a “bad” lesbian because my feminism so often trumps my sexual desire.  (I really don’t intend to suggest that people who have those desires without the inhibition are lesser feminists; I hope it’s not coming across that way.  My experience is honestly the only one I’m qualified to describe.)  His characteristically awesome response was, “Sexuality is about what feels good and right, not what some others’ or some magazine’s definition prescribes. Don’t listen to anybody who calls you a prude or “bad lesbian” – that’s all bulls*&t. It just means they are trying to impose their particular libidinal urges on you.”  I see the truth in this and stand by it, but I’m also aware that my own “libidinal urges” are somewhat stifled, both by the fact that I’ve semi-unintentionally divorced my body from the rest of my self, and the (seemingly oppositional) fact that I *cannot* divorce other people’s bodies from the rest of their identity.  I honestly don’t feel that I’m judgmental of other people’s casual sex, virtual and otherwise.  But I don’t know how to suspend the knowledge that there’s a person attached to that sexuality, how to quell or dismiss my curiousity about who that person is, and how to suspend the rest of my personality long enough for my sexuality to take the wheel and allow me to engage in that kind of thing myself.  Maybe that’s not a possibility for me, maybe I don’t even want that to be a possibility for me, but without it, my ability to explore my sexuality is significantly limited.  Even when I luck into an emotional connection, it’s rarely with someone I could potentially partner with.  Add to that the reality that I’d be likely to value the emotional connection to the point that I would (over)protect it against the potential backlash of sexual exploration, and it seems increasingly likely that my questions of sexual identity will remain unanswered for some time.  And well, I simply never claimed to be a patient person, regardless of my rational understanding that I was dealing with something that shouldn’t be rushed.

I would like to return to my own body.  I would like to grow, — slowly, safely, — in my awareness of other people’s bodies, which for me seems to require knowledge of the rest of their identity.  I would like it if the way my sexuality functions (most particularly, its insistence on not objectifying people) would not essentially keep me from having one in the first place.  Does this begin to qualify as an answer to one of those middle school questions, to knowing what I want?

Thirteen for Good: Asexual Adolescence as a Twenty-Something.

August 3, 2008

Warning: Severe lack of intellectualism ahead.  Those expecting the over-analysis they’ve come to suspect from this Willendork, (or adverse to the concept of emotional spillage), may wish to seek their blog fix elsewhere for the moment.

Once, when I was thirteen and a practicing band geek, I was on a bus in the ridiculously early hours of a Saturday morning, riding to a music competition with friends.  One of my best friends at the time was sitting behind me, wrapped around her then-boyfriend.  (Shockingly, I’m sure, they have not stayed together since our junior high/ middle school years.)  Perhaps more genuinely shocking to the non-asexual readers in the group was that there being together *at the time* made no sense to me.  From the time my friends began to foster the first of their blossoming crushes, I was fundamentally the girl who Did Not Understand: I did not understand why we had to chase down some boy during recess, only to refuse to speak to him, only to ask his friend to speak to him on our behalf, only to run giggling away before he could answer.  (For starters, I thought the girls were more interesting.  But only for starters.  And only when they were not being so lame in their infatuated tendencies over the aforementioned boys.)

Regardless, the girl sitting behind me was one of my best friends, and I knew her to be a smart, self-aware young woman who would not be inclined to start dating, as a middle-schooler, just because it was all the rage.  So, understanding that I probably looked as bizarre to the two of them as they did to me, I turned around and quite openly stared at them, until inevitably, she was forced to laugh at me.

“…What?”

“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” I prefaced, “because it’s going to sound really horrible, but I have a question, and I don’t mean it as a slam, it’s just seriously a question… because… I don’t understand.”

“Ok,” she laughed.

“Ok. ….Why?

…This is the point, in retrospect, where I start feeling seriously sorry for her boyfriend, an eighth grader whom I barely knew.  I’m not sure how (or if) he managed to make sense of the conversation my friend and I were so comfortably having, sans the context of my personality, even (especially?) once I’d clarified that my question was indeed, “Why are you doing this? Why are you dating?”  My point was one I considered mature at the time: we were in middle school, and therefore there was no effing point.  There was less point, for me, as someone who hadn’t even considered the possibility that she was gay but was uninterested enough in boys not to expend much effort in being straight.  Still… I presumed in the moment that even if I did care, I wouldn’t be compelled to date, and I didn’t understand why anyone else was.

My friend’s response, which I’ve shared with a handful of people in recent years, usually surprises folks (in that, “really? teenagers are insightful?” sort of way.)  She told me that she simply dated to determine what she wanted, what she expected and needed in a relationship, and to learn how to exist in one. She had witnessed and lived through enough crap with her mom’s relationships (with her father and post-divorce) that I think she had reason to take these questions seriously and seek out answers to them. And roughly a decade later, it strikes me that — in my life — all of those questions, and questions that extend from them, which she hadn’t begun to explore at that time, remain unexplored and unanswered… which is not to say that I wish I had started dating in middle school, or that, even in a carefully-crafted-by-Nancy-Garden scenario, where I had been self-aware/ out/ and around other lesbians sooner, I would wish that I had chosen to do so.  I spent my pre-teen and teen years doing other, and in some instances rather important things (saving my own life, for instance), but I find myself frustrated now, not — so much — with the idea that I’m “behind” — (that’s something I had to get over, when I wasn’t able to start college until the year most of my high school classmates graduated from it) — but with the idea that I have no sense of the viable way to begin answering those questions, a problem I believe now has less to do with my age and my lack of experience and more to do with my sexuality (or asexuality) itself.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of the late-bloomer, (a term I’ve always hated quite a bit), and how the most recent reason it fails for me is that, if I were a late-bloomer (which, for starters, would require that it weren’t a ridiculous term), I would — at the time of my late-blooming — seek out sex with the same excitement (presumably) as other “bloomed” people do.  Whether that was ravenous, nymphomaniac-esque excitement or something a bit more tame might vary, but basically I would move forward, as one moves when motivated by an undercurrent of sexual desire.  And if I were asexual (a non-bloomer, for the sake of this increasingly forced rhetoric), I would move forward with my life without a great deal of interest (beyond intellectual interest, perhaps) in sex, and eventually be good with that.  But as whatever I am, as a shall-we-say Venus-sexual, straddling these two labels and trying to make sense of herself through whatever lens seems to provide the best insight in a given moment, how do I move forward?  How do I move forward to answer the questions my middle-school friend was able to begin answering, not only about relationships but about myself as a sexual being, when I seem to be so split between universes?  As a “sexual” person, these are experiences I (almost) want to have, these are pleasures I want to try, these are sensations I want to experience. As an “asexual” person, I can’t even seem to stay in my body long enough to experience them.  The “sexual” side of me seeks out information, is curious (actually, that’s not fair; all sides of me are curious) and wants to go further. It says, “yes, ok, now we know more about how sexuality manifests for people and what kinds of sex they engage in, but what about us? ‘Wut r we in2?’ as the folks in the chat rooms would say?”  Meanwhile, the asexual side (if it were so easily split as this), is totally weirded out by sexuality online.  “Blogs are all well-and-good, but what is with these let’s meet to fuck and let’s cyberfuck, so on and so forth all over the Internet?”  The asexual side is intellectually curious, and the sexual side is like, “hi, I’m not sure you’re aware of this, but you also have a body.”

I’m not sure if you’re (still) aware of this, but what it comes down to is: I’m only one person.  I’m only one person and the inability to bring my body on board with my intellectual curiosity has recently begun to annoy me.  I understand, to some extent, that — to whatever degree I find anything sexy — (emotional) intimacy is “sexy” to me.  Emotional connection, closeness, people who are genuine, people who respond to me being genuine, there’s a spark in that for me, and I’m beginning to open to a place where I can “sort of almost kind of in a way” conceive of that spark growing into something physical, with someone, at some point.  But if emotional closeness is what “turns me on” (another phrase I’m not overly fond of), much more significantly than breasts and butts or even, say, geekiness and face-painting, what forum exists for me or someone like me to casually explore that aspect of myself?  My explorations of the Internet turn up cybersex chat rooms which push me closer to a what-the-fuck moment than an impulse to join in the virtual fucking, or — at the opposite pole — fascinating intellectual discussions by people who might as well be their avatars or their IP addresses, given the lack of physicality involved in their interactions.  What happens to those of us who cannot comfortably divorce our bodies from our brains (or — as is more accurately my reality — have long since divorced our bodies from our brains, and are struggling to instate a trial reconcilliation)?  Where do we go to answer the questions that strictly-sexual people can answer through hooking up, and strictly-asexual people can answer through a vitalizing conversation (if they feel the need to answer it at all)?  David’s notion of sexual drag suggests that there’s such a thing as asexual “hooking up;” maybe there needs to be asexual pr0n and asexual erotica as well.  (One of my “all-time” favorite searches leading to this blog is the recent “cuddling erotica.”  Maybe it needs to actually exist.)  If you are/ I am a person for whom emotional intimacy is the main motivator for physical (and potentially sexual) intimacy, how do you practice?  How do you explore your options, the way my middle school friend explored it in the safe comfort of actually being thirteen, or the way that people attracted to other practices can explore in Yahoo forums?  Does a driving motivation rooted in emotional connection automatically limit you to a life outside the hooking-up culture, an “all forms of sex must be rooted in established relationships” lifestyle which (while totally understandable) requires significantly more opportunities for relationships than I’ve personally experienced, if one is going to sort out the answers to the “what do I want/ enjoy/ need/ expect?” questions?  Do you become incapable of answering any of those questions in advance of your first relationships?  I am studying-oriented.  I like to come to class (and love) prepared.  Is that so out there?

Maybe not.  Google searches reveal that people (mostly at AVEN, — surprise) are indeed exploring the oxymorons of asexual erotica and pr0n.  And I think I’ve stumbled across an asexual sex party as well.  I don’t know how helpful any of these options are to me (as much as I love a good cat picture, asexualporn.com doesn’t have much to say to the physical portion of my a/sexual self), but their existence remains comforting.  Maybe what I need right now is simply the reminder of orientation as I understand it, as the position from which one comes at the world.  (Queer little lesbian that I am, I could back into a relationship with a boy, unlikely as that seems, and despite the probability that I would choose not to pursue it.  Still, I would — given my orientation — be backing into that relationship, in a way a heterosexually-oriented woman would not.)  The asexually-oriented people who are confusing the general population by exploring (sexually) explicit genres from an asexual perspective offer me some comfort, if not in what they’re creating, than in their simple decision to explore.  Maybe I can manage to back into sex, turn around to say excuse me, and end up finding my place in that world.

It’s My Right (Which I’ll Engage if I Want To.)

August 1, 2008


The image above is from one of six posters being distributed by the Family Planning Association (fpa), (the UK’s leading sexual health charity, according to their website), as part of their annual Sexual Health Week, the theme of which this year is “It’s My Right!”  The “It’s My Right” campaign strives to convey that everyone, (including those with learning disabilities/ difficulties), has a fundamental right to have sex and relationships.  This image, which I ganked from their homepage, is followed immediately with the line “Everyone has the right to have sex.”  Although I have a soft rule against agreeing with statements as general as this one (on the basis that more things are gray than aren’t, and I have a sense, always, that someone somewhere could come up with a situation in which I would disagree), my impulse here is to support the statement.  In a consensual relationship, without exploiting the other person(s) involved, with the understanding that consent and exploitation are tricky lines to define, I believe that everyone has the right to have sex.  However, I do take issue with aspects of the campaign, or the language the campaign is using, because while I follow them as far as that endstop, I also want to edit out the period, put in a semi-colon, and add “everyone has the right not to have sex.”  Now… given that this year they’re attempting to advocate for a population (people with learning disabilities/ difficulties) who society attempts to force into an asexual identification and lifestyle (similarly to the way we attempt to control and limit the sexuality of other populations, such as senior citizens), I understand that the flip-side of that statement isn’t necessarily relevant to their cause.  But isn’t there a way to articulate their cause without hurting other groups that are just as in need of strong advocates?

If you suspected I meant the asexual community, you guessed right, although honestly it’s not the fpa’s decision to leave out the second-half of that “everyone has a right” statement that bothers me.  (After all, we’d never get anything written if we also had to write the flip-side.)  It’s the fact that some of their language strikes me as directly harmful to asexual individuals, which I find bothersome.  For instance, in the image above, if you can manage to read it, the caption says, “People with learning disabilities enjoy sex. It’s a fact of life” which frankly, sparks a serious facepalm on my part.  A fact of life?  Seriously?  I recognize the possibility that they’re trying to play on the “facts of life” rhetoric that surrounds those painful, sit-com-esque discussions of “the birds and the bees” but I think they make a serious misstep when they imply that enjoying sex is a universal given.  Are there no learning-disabled people who suffer pain during intercourse for medical reasons?  And even if they are somehow exempt from such problems, do they also manage to magically land further from the asexual-end of the desire spectrum than the rest of us?  (Do they not have the same probability of being asexual, even if that probability is truly 1 in 100?)  This seems especially ridiculous to me given that autism sometimes leads to a learning-disabled classification (however problematic that equation is) and autism has been notably prevalent in the asexual community. The truth remains that even if the fpa could prove that all learning-disabled people desire sex, I would still take issue with their claim that all people do, given that I’ve met several who simply don’t.  I much prefer the less catchphrase-worthy version on their Sexual Health Week page, which reads, “Everybody has the right to have sex and relationships if they want.” (Emphasis, not surprisingly, mine.)

I think this struck me more tonight because I just finished reading about a decision by a circuit court in DC that declared “sexual relations” a “major life activity,” such that the inability to engage in them (in this instance, due to various treatments/ surgeries related to breast cancer) would qualify as a “disability.” Now, obviously, asexuality is not defined by an inability to engage in sex, but rather a lack of desire to do so. Still, I think there are serious ramfications for asexual people as part of this decision, especially since the “you’re disabled!” argument is one of the ways people routinely invalidate asexuality as an orientation.  By (legally) declaring sexual relations a major life activity, the court is setting up for oppression a population of people who haven’t engaged in that activity.  Just as people who are “missing out” on marriage or “missing out” on having children suffer the social consequences of those decisions (whether are not they truly are decisions), those who would dismiss asexuality now have one more prop for their argument that asexual individuals are “missing out” on experiencing sex.  (Regardless of whether or not they’re compelled have sex in the first place.)

Still more bizarre is the fact that the circuit court decided to focus on this particular aspect of the case in the first place.  Granted, I don’t have a great deal of legal expertise, but it seems to me that this case — in which Kathy Adams was fired from the US Foreign Service after developing breast cancer — was one of employment discrimination and/or potential paternalism by the employer.  The case went like this: The State Department argued that “many of its posts lack[ed] the follow-up care it believed Adams required” which gave them cause to revoke her medical clearance.  Adams then sued, on the grounds that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 “prohibits federal agencies from discriminating in employment against disabled individuals.” The State Department shot back that Adams had no record of a disability, in response to which she apparently argued that “her breast cancer treatment rendered her completely unable to engage in sexual relations.  Due to the scarring from her mastectomy and breast reconstruction, her overall post-surgery physical appearance, lack of physical sensation, loss of libido accompanying her medication, or some combination of these factors, she claim[ed] that her ‘ability to enter into romantic relationships ha[d] been crippled indefinitely and perhaps permanently.'” Rather than sorting out whether the State Department had the right to fire Adams based on their understanding of her treatment requirements, the courts (apparently) took the bait and spent their time determining whether Adams’ post-treatment condition constituted a disability, such that she would deserve protection under the Rehab Act.  According to the court’s decision, “as a basic physiological act practiced by a vast portion of the population, a cornerstone of family and marital life, a conduit to emotional and spiritual fulfillment, and a crucial element in intimate relationships, sex easily qualifies as a ‘major’ life activity.”

This is where my jaw started to drop, friends. I mean, any points they gained by trading in “everyone” for “a vast portion of the population” were basically demolished for me when they decided sex was a crucial element of intimate relationships.  I don’t think it even requires the introduction of asexual couples into the conversation to prove that not all intimacy is sexual.  As often as we use “intimate” as a euphemism for “sexual,” it still doesn’t even rank among the top 5 definitions (of thirteen, mind you) on dictionary.com. Intimacy also covers friendship, personal closeness, and even those romantic relationships that do not involve or do not yet involve sex.  So, how is it a crucial element exactly?  And how is it a cornerstone of family and marital life, when plenty of married couples aren’t having it (or aren’t having it often), and I can vouch (much to my relief) for the fact that I personally have never had sex with anyone in my family, and I don’t think this has lowered the quality of our dynamic.  (Quite the opposite, actually.)  While I can see, to some extent, the notion of reproduction as a potential cornerstone, unless we’re giving “sexual relations” the rather limited and heterosexist definition of “egg meets sperm” I don’t think that qualifies either.  Ever heard of in vitro fertilization anyone?  Surrogate parenting?  Adoption?  We can make families without sexual relations, even if babymakin’ still technically requires the fertilization of an egg.

The court even went so far as to state that, “at the risk of stating the obvious” (emphasis mine, again) “sex is unquestionably a significant human activity, one our species has been engaging in at least since that biblical injuction to ‘be fruitful and multiply.'” Oh.  Snap.  Did you seriously just cite the Bible as a historical source in a legal judgment, DC?  Tell me you didn’t.  Please.  Please tell me you didn’t.  Of course, even if you strike that last part, you’ve still managed to silence the experience of an untold number of people who are not having sex, on top of declaring them disabled.  Rather than dealing with the main issue at hand (potential employment discrimination), you’ve taken it upon yourself to label sex significant, when plenty of people who have every ability to engage in it are vocally disagreeing with you.  Can you see me rolling my eyes at you, Washington?  Are you paying attention?

To top it off, the decision is being cheered by certain members of the sex-positive/ sexual communities, who feel that the open-ended definition of “sexual relations” (read: the lack of a definition), which both the plaintiff and the judges seem to understand pretty broadly, (in that they imply everything from “body image and libido to ability to engage in physical activities and the emotional and spiritual fulfillment that may result from sexual activities” is included), suggests legal protection for sexuality in general, rather than simply for reproduction (as was the case in previous rulings.)  To be perfectly honest, I’m a big fan of a broad definition of sexuality.  I would really like to live in a society where “sexuality” and “sex” mean more than sexual acts, although I doubt many people think about more than that when they hear the words at this point.  I am all for a more inclusive definition, and legal protection for newly included populations; I would just urge the sex-positive community (and the fpa and Washington) to pay attention to all the voices out there (including those at AVEN), and make a serious effort not to throw anyone under the bus in their attempts to advocate for someone else.

Short version (since what preceded obviously wasn’t one): Everyone has the right to be who they are, but that includes the right to not be who they aren’t. So, while we all have the right to safe, healthy, consensual sex; we also have the right to no sex at all, and to not be granted a “lesser” or “disabled” status based on where we fall on the a/sexual spectrum… which I guess just points back to why we need to fight for a DSM that doesn’t pathologize asexuality, as well as a place in the sex-positive community, which would lend toward enough of a dialogue that decisions like this one aren’t so automatically praised.

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.

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?


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