Archive for June, 2009

Hide and Seek.

June 26, 2009

hideseek

Photo Credit: Hooligantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porn: You’re Doing it Wrong!

June 25, 2009

bunny pr0n

Photo ganked from hamsBlog.

Asexuals read Playboy for the articles.  Asexuals watch hotforwords to learn the etymology.  Asexuals… watch PG Porn and analyze it so thoroughly they lose the joke. 

Ok, so actually the last of those blanket statements applies to me, and in spite of how logical the ace identification would be, I still — er– don’t identify as asexual.  (After all, when have I ever been logical?)  I was, however, intrigued by the notion of PG Porn, which I first heard about on an installment of Loveline last month, (listening goes against my prudish tendencies, but I’m a wee bit obsessed with all things Dr. Drew), and which sounded like potentially good material for a post.  After all, I more than owe a blog post at this point, owe a bone thrown to any loyal readers still loitering about after all those months of silence spent bartering my life for a degree. 

PG Porn, the brainchild of filmmaker James Gunn, is described as “non-sexual” pornography.  In fact, at least one of the videos features a “non-sexual content warning” — (“this video contains graphic footage of some really happy guys in a bus […] who are totally awesome and just want to be nice”), — which also happens to predict (and attempt to pre-empt) my over-analysis.  (“If you are still reading this, you may be taking your PG Porn viewing just a little too seriously.  Not that we don’t appreciate the close attention, but it might be just a bit obsessive.  That said, we like you better than the people not reading this.”  Aw, shucks.  Thanks, PG Porn.)  The warning bodes well for the films; likewise, the hilariously off-beat description that first led me to Gunn’s page: “How many times have you been watching a great porn film – you’re really enjoying the story, the acting, the cinematography – when, all of the sudden, they ruin everything with PEOPLE HAVING SEX?”  The seemingly delusional perspective on porn’s filmic merits aside, the blurb reads like a plug ganked directly from the AVEN boards.  I decided that a parody of porn, some ace-approved Bizarro-world version of the stuff, must await.  Right?  A less beastial (technically speaking) version of asexualporn.com must be a click away.  Mustn’t it?

Well… maybe.

The issue, (at least, if you’re hoping PG Porn will represent more than an amusing premise well-executed), lies in the ongoing difficulty of defining what is “sexual.”  After all, any claim of non-sexuality requires an understanding of “sexuality,” in order to decide what it’s rejecting, what it’s rebelling against.  Consider the e-mail conversation I had with a friend last year, in which we discussed my involvement with the asexual community and my own questions about whether or not I identified as asexual.  At one point, he suggested I had “fallen victim to the media’s narrow definition of sexuality as things a person does with her vagina,” an uncharacteristically pointed line that irked me for a few reasons.  Not the least of those reasons is this: if I’ve made that mistake, and one could argue I have, then I am most certainly not the only one.  Perhaps it’s the lack of comprehensive sex education (although my health class film-strips thankfully pre-dated the abstinence-only Bush years ), but an increasing number of people these days seem to equate sexuality and genitalia, from the preteen girl who claims giving oral sex is non-sexual (after all, it doesn’t involve her vagina) to the right-wing fundamentalist whose concept of homosexuality directly resembles the “adult” video rack.

Likewise, what’s been removed from porn to create its PG counterpart, is the physical act of sex, not sexuality as a whole, or even more than that layer of it.  Take casting in the films, which combines mainstream actors with adult film stars, and note that the vast majority (potentially all) of the women involved fall into porn star category.  Why?  Because by cladding these women in the same skin-tight, low-cut tops or short skirts that they wear in their non-PG porn roles, the tittilating sexiness of porn’s premise is preserved, in a new “tv-friendly” form.  (Since the films currently air on Spike, the tv channel that originally marketed as “the first network for [misogynist heterosexual] men,” the inclusion of male porn stars apparently made less sense.)

If I’m starting to sound something like Tipper Gore circa the late ’80s, I apologize.  In many ways, the PG-porn premise requires that the majority of more X-rated porn be left in tact.   Doing so helps the films read as spoofs on the “gutter” minds of viewers, in much the same sense as the card game Dirty Minds:  “If we set up this entirely nonsexual premise,” both game and films argue, “we bet you’ll mistakenly presume sex!”  In truth, however, both entertainments rely, if not on sex, than on sexiness.  As David at Love from the Asexual Underground, pointed out in a post late last night, “sexiness” is defined as

1. concerned predominantly or excessively with sex; risqué: a sexy novel.
2. sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality: the sexiest professor on campus.
3. excitingly appealing; glamorous: a sexy new car.

at least, according to Dictionary.com.  If that’s true, and if Gunn’s joke is any indication, it’s significantly easier to remove the sex from porn than it is to remove the sexiness.  And of course, the more that other layers of sexuality — beyond physical sex acts — were stripped away, the more the films would begin to resemble other forms of cinema: a romantic comedy, maybe, or a Disney film.  Or just a plain old, plot-free box-office flop.

The point that struck me when I first watched the videos, which David’s post has in some ways helped me articulate, is that while PG porn may (or may not) be able to claim a “non-sexual” identifier, it simply cannot qualify as “asexy.”  Because while non-sexual — and in some uses even asexual — can (and increasingly is) defined simply as lacking sex, asexy implies something more.   Paul on urbandictionary.com defines asexy as “an adjective used to describe an asexual person showing intelligence, confidence, style, physical attractiveness, charming personality, baking skills, or any other combination of sufficiently positive and unique characteristics” — an explanation that nicely underlines David’s assertion that “being true to oneself and one’s passions makes you desirable, hands down.”  (Incidentally, this may explain why I’ve never been able to define what I find aesthetically appealing in people, falling back on seemingly vague statements such as, “I like people who look like themselves.”)

Sexiness, even its relatively non-explicit manifestations — like PG Porn, just does not necessarily equal asexiness.  Certainly, there’s a section of the Venn diagram where the two overlap, but increasingly — particularly in media — the asexy elements of desire (and desirability) are ignored.  Like its more graphic predecessor, PG porn lacks something fundamental to asexiness: character.  Without character, without identity, there’s no sense of uniqueness, quirk, self-actualization, passion, or any of the other things that give relationships meaning.  Perhaps the asexual, in particular, needs sex to bear “meaning,” but I doubt the asexual is the only one who feels a loss at the increasingly reductive definitions of sexuality.  After all, I don’t identify as asexual.  Yet, the ace community often comes closer to reflecting me than the cult of sexiness.  Maybe that’s because of the thought some asexuals put into sexuality, into what it could be, how it could develop, what it could include to better meet individual needs.  Or maybe it’s because while I’ve never been able to see myself as sexy, (or particularly wished that I could), I do aspire to asexiness.

After all, if — as David claims –“typeface nerds are hot, drag queens are hot, [and] line-dancing biophysicists are hot” in asexy terms, maybe the overly analytical blogger has some asexy steam as well.   “Asexy people suffer through porn for the blog posts”?  Hawt.