Archive for August, 2008

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.

Body I Mind.

August 9, 2008

Lately, I’ve been doing that thing where I try to exist as far away from my body as possible.  I want to connect with people, I want to relate, but if I can do that without them seeing me or reminding me that I have a physical self (my tendency to crave touch aside), that strikes me as fantastic.  …It’s a problem.  I know why it’s happening, and I know how to work on it.  (After all, a girl doesn’t earn -nearly! – seven years abstinence from an eating disorder not knowing these things.)  But still, it’s… lame.

And it has me thinking about something Elephant said to me when I first mentioned to him the possibility that I was asexual, about how it seemed more likely to him that I didn’t consider myself sexually desirable than that I was actually not experiencing sexual desire.  I don’t know what’s true of that.  I don’t know the probability, really; there aren’t any good studies to guess it for me, and even with a valid statistic, I couldn’t really say for certain what is and isn’t me.  What I do know is that I’ve fought too damn hard to win my life back to lose any piece of myself again, especially to this illness.  I do know that if it turns out that my lack of sexual desire ties back to my lack of self-esteem or my tendency to struggle with my body (not only how it looks but the fact that I have one in the first place), I will scramble tooth and nail to progress still further, to gain back yet another facet of myself, which my illness has controlled for too long.  A few months ago, Elephant brought (good) tears to my eyes with an e-mail saying that — (to the extent that eating disorders are about physicality, which is significantly less than people think) — he hopes that I’ve managed to recover not by accepting a false sense of ugliness but by recogning my beauty.  I want to be someone who can hear a statement like that and instead of thinking, “Holy holy, you really are the most wonderful human being on the planet, aren’t you?” think, “I did.  I did recover that way.”

In the meantime, there are things — in the external world, in addition to my personal experience — that help me recognize there’s nothing wrong with who I am and how I love.  That’s a message I want to dig into my brain and take root there, so maybe I need to give them more room to make a home.  Take a few for your viewing pleasure, and maybe those of us who need to, — (raising my hand on that one), — will do a better job of remembering them.

First up, some stereotypical lesbian goodness:

 

Followed by one of my two favorite Mary Oliver poems:  Wild Geese.  Take these words and know them, and I’ll try to do the same.

‘Tude of the Prude.

August 7, 2008

Source: Getty Images

Often, when people are looking for the requisite “prude” in the room, I volunteer myself.  Occasionally, people who know me well volunteer me also, but that requires a more expansive definition of prude on their parts than the more common (“frigid, antisexual”) connotations.  After all, as the former vice-president of my school’s GSA once put it, I am, “like, this feminist lesbian activist… prude.”  Well, close.  Technically, I’m a queer-positive/ sex-positive/ feminist/ lesbian/ activist/ prude, but that’s only if you want to get technical about things.  According to mi madre, “prude” does not accurately describe me because I don’t pass judgment antisexual-style; I simply use the term to communicate my own (decreasing but still present) discomfort around explicit discussions of sex.  Mi Madre would prefer I use the term “innocent” (as in, “I am an innocent”), which actually puts me off quite a bit more than “prude.”  In my understanding at least, the term “innocence” minimizes my level of experience, implies that I’m uneducated, and suggests I’m more childlike than my peers, none of which I believe to be true.  Prude, meanwhile, always just makes me think of prunes, and given that “purpled and wrinkly” is a pretty accurate description of how I look during a (non-theory-based) sexual discussion (i.e. *blushcringeblush*), I’ve never really minded that the term is one I have to “take back” from a negative connotation, the way that (to a lesser degree, at least in my social groups), I have to take back “queer.”

My experience as a prude in the (hypersexual) college environment has actually been fairly interesting.  In addition to the constant use of sexual rhetoric by my friends and peers, there’s the added bonus of the psych classes, which are frankly nothing in comparison to all that literary analysis.  The constant reading into language, dissecting symbolism, and reading figurative meanings everywhere, would probably set up a great deal of sexual innuendo even in an environment where it wasn’t already so prevalent as it is on a college campus.  I early on became the girl who could make the world’s most sexually-charged comment while completely straight-faced, simply because it never would have occurred to me to take it that way.

After a semester or two of having to occasionally bury my head in my desk (and vowing I would never again enter a class discussion about any story involving a horse), I stumbled into my current, quite awesome constellation of friends, whose extreme sexual comedy, while never directed at me, left me wanting to curl up into a ball more than once.  They were sweet about recognizing my discomfort, and joking me out of it, but over time, I got bored — not with their discussions, or my role as the prude in those discussions, but with the limit that prude-label, as I’d previously defined it, placed on my ability to participate with my friends.  In the “safe space” of that friendship, I began to play back, intentionally making comments that months before I would have said unconsciously or not at all, and enjoying that comments which were merely a bit of smart, well-timed wordplay to me were so hilarious and shocking to my friends.  I enjoyed making them laugh the same way I would have enjoyed it if the humor were geek-based or lit-based, instead of based in sex, and I enjoyed challenging their notion of me, even as I challenged my notion of myself.

I had a fun conversation with David yesterday, which left me thinking (about nine zillion things, including the idea) that playing with sexual drag or sexual humor not only draws other people into the sexual world — (case and point: David’s example in which he, an out and super-visible asexual person, mentions he “hooked up” with someone the night before, effectively pushing his friends to learn more about his experience and perhaps consider it with weight equal to how they would consider a sexual ‘hookup’) — but also allow an asexual or a-leaning or a-curious (yes, I am making up terms at this point) person access into the sexual world.  This was vital for me, and I imagine that it’s vital for many people who land closer to the asexual than the sexual end of the spectrum, because given that our asexuality (or quasi-asexuality) does not inherently make us less relational, there’s still — at least for large numbers of us — the inclination to hang out, to participate, and to connect with our sexual friends.  Sitting in a corner passing judgment (or even being eeked out by) sexuality doesn’t allow me to do that.  Sitting in the middle of the room, using sexual language to my own advantage, while continuing to set up my own boundaries around what’s comfortable, and subvert both the notion of sexuality and the notion of “prude” in dong so, comes quite a bit closer to allowing such things.  Integral to this, of course, is the importance of maintaining and contuining to communicate my own identity so that I’m not simply “passing,” pretending I’m more sexual or sexually comfortable than I actually am.  I can say, though, that humor has offered me a forum for exploring my own relationship with sex and practicing boundaries with other people around that relationship in a way I can’t or have no desire to explore and practice physically.  The bonus for me is undermining people’s assumptions.  I told David one of my favorite stories of this, which involves a discussion with a (sexual) friend across a computer lab about what on earth I should title the essay I’d written on gardens and sexuality in The Magic ToyshopThe friend responded with a thoroughly non-prudish suggestion, I threw back with an attempt to “one-up” him, and before I knew it was actually handing in a paper entitled “Tending the Bush.”  My professor, filing through the essays, turned red, laughed aloud, and looked at me with a grin.  It took me a minute to even realize what was funny; I’d already forgotten the comedy, but I laughed again with her when I remembered, only to crack up when she — remembering just who she was dealing with — turned back to me to say, “Wait.  Was that intentional?”

Indeed. 

Prude allegedly stems from “proud” — not prune — so in actuality, prude and Pride go quite nicely together, even if the combination does occasionally require more ‘splainin‘ than I’d wish.  Plus, a proud prude can occasionally sit through enough of the Wet Spots to earn a hearty giggle at their goodness.

Getting Differences Patched vs. Perfectly Matched.

August 5, 2008

Last night, in a fit of boredom, I started searching the interwebs for interesting posts on sexuality and asexuality, and came across something that, if I were a little less masochistic, I probably would have had the sense to leave at the first hint of biphobia.  But, as someone who has never really come out as asexual (unless you count those couple of times I came out as questioning, prior to rethinking my own desire to use the term), encountering such serious and misinformed prejudice regarding the asexual community as I did in that post kind of startled me, and I wanted to at least understand (better) what my asexual friends are up against.  I’m hesitant to quote or link the piece here because I sort of feel like that gives power to the wrong narrative, the way that responding to Fred Phelps (or someone similar) would give power to the wrong kind of words, but I think it’s more established in the larger world that what Fred Phelps touts is prejudice.  In some ways, the asexual community and the allies of that community still need to respond to these claims, because how else will we reach a point where they are classified as nonsense?

Rather than parse every problem that I have with womanbythewell’s post on asexuality, I’m just going to do what I can to address her main argument, which seems to be that, by engaging in romantic relationships with people of all sexual orientations (or any sexual orientation, as opposed to strictly relating within the asexual community), asexual people with sexual partners are “selfish […] abusers.”  As evidence, she offers two rather discouraging stories of relationships sexual friends of hers have had with asexual partners.  In one, the asexual partner abruptly “quits” having sex with the sexual partner, except in those times when he worries she might be considering leaving him.  In the second, the sexual person believes that her asexual partner refuses to understand her needs and her feelings of pain and frustration.  The latter relationship ends, supposedly as the result of the asexual person’s “refusal” to understand; the first relationship continues with the sexual partner feeling increasingly rejected and in pain.

I don’t offer either of these stories as models of asexual/ sexual relationships or relationships in general.  Leaving the issue of sex or no sex behind for a moment, there are other clear problems in these partnerships.  For the couple that suddenly “quits” having sex, there’s an abrupt and presumably undiscussed decision that changes an important aspect of the relational contract.  The structure of the relationship is altered without a real dialogue, and I would argue that the lack of communication would be detrimental in any relationship, regardless of the issue it was around and whether the partners had the same orientation or two different ones.  Still, I don’t dismiss the importance of (no) sex in this scenario.  While it’s fairly easy for me to imagine the main problem here as a lack of communication, I can recognize that I might feel differently if I had stronger and more consistent sexual desires of my own.  Given that the sexual partner views sex as a need, the new relational structure has only met the (sexual) needs of the asexual partner, and no compromise has been discussed, let alone tried.  I’ll work my way later to the claim that asexual partnering with sexuals is fundamentally selfish; however, I do see the decision (by any person, of any orientation) to look after their own needs without regard for their partner’s as a fairly selfish one.  Perhaps in these particular relationships no compromise is possible, but I think it’s the lack of an effort toward one (on both sides, as far as I can tell), that leads to the issue.  Particularly in relationships that begin when one person already identifies as asexual and the other does not, (rather than relationships like I understand at least one of these cases to be, in which a person identifies and comes out as asexual while in an established relationship), I think it’s crucial to establish a mutual understanding that “sacrifice,” “compromise,” and taking pleasure in another person’s pleasure (whether that stems from sexual gratification or relief at not having to sexually engage) are necessary.  That said, I’m reminded of a rather spot-on Carol Queen quote I discovered in an interview at her website, which pointed out that issues of time and commitment can be as problematic for “monogamous twosomes” as for “poly people, because it doesn’t have to be one’s time spent with another lover that leads a partner to feel under-appreciated — it could be commitments to work, hobbies, or friends that leads to jealousy.”  As someone who always assumed she could never be in a poly relationship because of the insecurity I feel and the suspicion that I would leap pretty quickly to a place of jealousy, I found this insight incredible.  It hadn’t occurred to me that those same issues could be equally problematic in a mono relational structure.  Likewise, I don’t think it’s occurred to womanbythewell that problems such as neglected needs, one-way decisions, lack of communication, and a relational structure that serves one partner and not the other are problematic in any relationship, orientation(s) aside. 

Not only that, but these problems don’t automatically correspond with being asexual, or even with being an asexual who is romantically involved with a sexual person.  In my (admittedly limited) experience, a lot of people in these relationships, sexual and asexual alike, are strongly committed to making sure that their partner’s needs are met to the best of their ability.  There is an ongoing dialogue in such relationships about both sets of needs and potential ways to meet them.  There’s even an AVEN board dedicated to supporting — (not simply educating, but supporting) — the sexual partners of asexual people, as there’s an understanding among many members of the community that being a sexual person with a partner who does not sexually desire you or wish to have sex with you at all can be difficult both emotionally and practically speaking.  Both partners in any relationship, but especially in a relationship with such explicit challenges, need to work to understand not only their partner’s perspective but how their own perspective affects their partner.  To begin with, sexual people need to consider how a celibate lifestyle potentially ignores their partner’s needs and how their orientation can be misconstrued as a rejection of their partner.  Sexual people, meanwhile, have to consider the idea that their need to have sex doesn’t necessarily trump their partner’s need not to have it, and that the pressuring their partner to feel or do more sexually than (s)he is comfortable may actually push them further away.

In a sense, the discussion here actually revolves around consent.  Consensual non-sex as well as consensual sex.  I had a discussion with a (sexual) friend fairly recently, during which she said that she didn’t think she was up to a relationship with an asexual person because she desires sex and can’t imagine comfortably having it with someone who does not.  She suggested that doing so would be “glorified rape,” which strikes me as similar, in a way, to womenbythewell’s suggestion that not having sex with a sexual partner constitutes abuse.  In the same way that an asexual person might, for many reasons, choose to have sex with their partner or agree to establish a relational structure in which their partner’s sexual needs are met another way, a sexual person can consent to meet the asexual person’s need not to have sex, if indeed that’s a need this particular ace-person has, which… is not always the case.

The fact that not all asexual people refuse to have sex points to one of the reasons I strongly disagree with the comment that dating outside the asexual community is “selfish” on the part of aces.  In general, I don’t think that attraction — and even relationships, which are more choiceful than attraction — are as clear-cut as womanbythewell suggests.  Straight people have been known to date gays, choicefully in experimentation phases, and without realizing it in cases when the gay-person remained confused or closeted.  Bisexual people date not only other bisexuals but also gay and lesbian individuals, (and experience similar accusations of wanting everyone as a result.)  Even recognizing that the majority of straight people date other straight people and the majority of gay people date other gay people, I think there’s something telling in the fact that asexuals are currently estimated as one percent of the population.  To be completely honest, the fact that womanbythewell knew of two asexuals in her everyday life bowled me over nearly as much as her comments on them did.  I’ve lost count of the number of asexual people I’ve heard mention that off-line they know of no other asexuals.  As a community that is potentially so small, with such low visibility that even those who might identify as ase don’t know to do so, how are the bi-, hetero-, and homo-romantics of the world supposed to relate to anyone if they limit themselves to asexuals?  As romantic people, I don’t think the desire for relationship automatically establishes us as selfish, and I think those sexual people who have successfully created relational structures with asexual partners about whom they care deeply would probably be grateful that not everyone in the ace community feels it necessary to relate as womanbythewell suggests. 

Even if we limit the issue to one of “sex” or “no sex,” which I think simplifies things way past the point they should be simplified, I don’t think it’s fair to argue, as this blogger did, that asexuals should not “seek out” sexuals because they intend to live an “asexual lifestyle.”  From my perspective, problems in relationships between asexual and sexual people arise from an intention on the asexual person’s part to live a celibate lifestyle and an intention on the sexual person’s part to live a non-celibate one.  Not only are both parties responsible for considering their needs, their partner’s needs, their assumptions, and their partner’s assumptions, but a distinction needs to be made (yet again) between celibacy and asexuality.  Celibacy is a lifestyle and a choice.  Asexuality is an orientation.  You can ask how a partnership can work when only one person desires to live a celibate lifestyle (provided you are willing to listen to the answer.)  You cannot (fairly) ask how a partnership can work with someone who intends to live an “asexual lifestyle,” because as asexual people, what other lifestyle would you expect them to live?

Things I’d Like Sexuality to Value: Aging.

August 4, 2008

Source: Dove Pro-Age campaign.

After I wrote that entry kicking off the (potential) series of “things I’d like to see desexualized,” I started musing about whether there’s anything I would like to see sexualized, if only because I’m a fan of balance.  I honestly don’t know that I would like to see anything sexualized in the way that I most immediately think of sexualization, as a means of commodifying people’s bodies and harnessing (other) people’s desires for the sake of marketing.  I did start to think, however, about the possibility that in our culture sexualization is semi-equivalent to value, in that what we don’t sexualize, we don’t particularly value.  In the scheme, then, of expanding and redefining sexuality so that it is more inclusive and less off-putting, I’ve been thinking lately of “things I would like sexuality to value” as the counterpoint to things from which I’d like to see (the assumption of) sexuality removed.

First installment?  — Aging.  Particularly aging as it relates to women since men (not surprisingly) seem to have the long end of this double-standard-stick, in that our culture characterizes older men as “distinguished” and “accomplished” while lamenting the crow’s feet appearing on its “haggard” old women.  The flip-side of our desire to halt the sexualization of young girls is to value the physical reality — and even the “sex appeal” — of aging women.  When we define the “sexy” female as small, smooth-skinned, et cetera, we set ourselves up for so-called cultural pedophilia, and while I firmly believe that there are people and forces at work in the world that are choosing to sexualize young girls for other reasons, I stand by the “croning” of older women as part of the fallout from that.

Furthermore, since we live in a culture that has apparently decided that individuals turn in their sexuality when they start receiving their social security paycheks, and that (all) older people are fundamentally asexual and should stay that way, — (Viagra aside, the most common response to “old people having sex” remains “ewww!”)  —  the decision to value aging in sexuality could result in the necessary understanding that sexuality continues (in various forms), even after it moves past the point where the media willingly plays voyeur, to the point where we insist we’d rather not think about it. 

Valuing aging, to the point we view it as having sex appeal, also takes a step toward valuing health.  Rather than striving in our seventies to look as we did in our teens, we could look forward in our teens to how we would be viewed in our seventies.  Rather than pumping our skin full of botox and replacing our organic bodies with increased amounts of silicone and plastic, we could see the glamour in our real physical selves.  I understand why the marketing industry won’t get on board with that (Dove somewhat accepted), but I don’t understand why actual people refuse.  I read an interview once with Cybil Shepard in which she said one of her main reasons for taking a role on The L Word was that it offered her a chance to continue exploring the sexuality of a character, an unheard of opportunity in mainstream (i.e. non-cable/ hetero) media.  Is there no such thing as a wrinkle fetish, in a culture that’s willing to fetishize so much else?  If we’re willing to speak up for the value of freckles, why not age spots?  Who decided what was sexy, and who (else) isn’t willing to leave it at that?

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.

What’s Your Story? (Women Speaking Truth to Power).

August 1, 2008

Allow me to exploit this blog (just for one post) for the purposes of my current internship, and a project I’m a part of there called “Women Speaking Truth to Power.”  The goal of the project is to collect stories from women (age 18 and over, for liability reasons) — particularly stories of triumph — in whatever medium you choose to share them (i.e. writing, video, art, music, or basically anything else.)  A collection of these stories will be posted on the Girls Speak Out web page for Women’s Projects.  I think it would be kind of awesome if there was an influx of work by asexual writers (not to mention the other queer people who read this), although you certainly wouldn’t have to write specifically about an asexual/ queer experience unless you wanted to… We are multi-faceted beings after all.  I just wanted to throw it out there, as I know a number of the people who read this are women, and a number of the men who read this know women, and all of those women have stories worth hearing.  So, please consider contributing and/ or passing along the word.

More information here or behind the cut. (more…)