Posts Tagged ‘aven’

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.

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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.

So Much Racket, Something Out of Kilter.

October 5, 2008

I promise I don’t hate my university nearly as this and other recent entries might make it sound.  Still, I’ll admit that there are times a private, Catholic school in the Midwestern heartland strikes me as the worst decision I could have made (although my choices were admittedly limited.)  In those moments, which often revolve around such goings-on as what I have now officially termed “the Fagbug bullshit,” I tend toward a desire to flee.  I had another such moment this past week, which resulted in a bit of a meltdown and required one hell of a pep talk from a favorite professor, who was thankfully able to convince me that the good I do on this campus more than balances out the harm done to me.  In all honesty, the good done to me outweighs the harm as well, but when I’m being forced to read a New Yorker article based entirely on gag-inducingly repulsive gender stereotypes (not for a gender studies class, mind you, but for a writing class) and when I’m receiving word that the campus may not have enough time to “process” and “recover from” Erin Davies’ speech before the next GSA event we want to have (featuring AVEN’s own David Jay), I start to lose my mind a little.  I filed an unofficial complaint with the professor about the article (which advocated pain for the sake of fashion, threw in a 98-pound adult woman presumably just for good measure, and in general contributed to — instead of challenging — the rephrensible practice of teaching women they are ugly and worthless, so that they’ll be more comfortable trying on shoes than other clothes, and learn to feel “valuable” by buying more, specifically if the “more” in question is a dumptruck full of designer stilettos).  Although he initially blew me off (while pretending to agree with me in part), the professor (who’s notorious for sticking to his original arguments and never, ever giving in) actually conceded the article’s repulsivness after I once again took it apart in class.  Sexual stereotypes appall me almost as much as their acceptability in our current cultural climate, and I said as much.  I can’t see how an article based entirely on gender stereotypes is allowed to stand, when an article based on racial stereotypes or religious stereotypes would be reamed immediately.  My professor’s initial argument was that there are plenty of women who love shoes, who will pay exorbitant fees to own more of them, and who really do base their value on such things.  The notion, apparently, is that because this exists we’re not allowed to question why it exists or to question why it’s allowed to continue.  Instead, as a feminist, I’m supposed to consider myself an anomole and move on with my crazy-divergant lifestyle.  I don’t think people realize how offensive that is.  I may not cling to gender or to “doing gender” as much as many other young women I know, and I may hate the binary with a passion.  Regardless, I do still identify as a woman, and I do still have an echo of Sojourner Truth in my head when I’m told that the term “woman” generally (and therefore “really”) means all of these things I am not.  An article in my school newspaper this week, discussing what male students and female students consider necessary for their dorm rooms, confirmed the same hypothesis.  According to said article, I am neither female (obsessed with clothes) nor male (obsessed with video games).  I am somehow less representative of my gender than my female classmates, because unlike many of them, I do not conform to the norms.  Apparently, gender is defined quantitatively.  If enough people agree to a definition of women, it no longer matters how destructive that notion of womenhood is; it becomes the legitimate defintion.

I cannot be the only person who thinks this is lame.

It’s actually the same thing I find bothering me (most) with the fights for our GSA events this year.  I’m increasingly hearing from people behind the scenes that, in spite of how much we’re actually *supported* by the administration, the real concern is that the events will upset/ offend someone outside the school and as a result, the school will end up in hot water politically or (perhaps worse) lose funding.  I understand this argument so much better than the bullshit excuses they keep trying to give me.  I understand the fear of people losing jobs, of bad press for the university, or decreased resources to serve the students, faculty, and staff.  I really do.  I don’t understand the notion that our events are somehow more “controversial” than a hundred other things that are allowed to take place on-campus, or that a flyer advertising them will upset some unidentified member of the student body.  Am I not a student?  Are my friends and the other group members not part of the student body?  Are the faculty and staff who attend our meetings and our events, who write us letters of support, somehow less representative of this campus than those who conform to the notion of what it means to be Midwestern, or Catholic, or of a certain age?  Of course not… which is why they should just drop the smokescreen, admit it’s about money, and quit trying to pass off the significantly more offensive lies.

I’m extremely bothered by the notion that only conformists are allowed to be representative.  If, by diverging from a gender norm, I sacrifice my right to claim that gender-label, how does the definition of that label ever change?  We could have a million women defining that identity differently than the New Yorker is defining it, but “woman” would still be based in the stereotypes, because to so many people, feminists, (self-identified or otherwise), are somehow not “real” women.  And to “improve” things even further  — (can you hear the sarcasm?) — those of us who dismiss (even partially) those gender norms are considered somehow free of their influence.  For the same godawful writing class that assigned the New Yorker piece, we had an in-class reading about the purse, — its history, its sociological and psychological meaning, and so forth.  The claim at the end was that women were tending to use purses less (at the time the article was written), and that this represented some sort of sexual freedom, or perhaps more accurately, freedom from gender roles.  I consider this conclusion worthy of a whole-hearted eye-roll.  Even if you could prove to me a statistically significant correlation between how often women use a purse and their decision to reject or accept gender norms, I don’t think you can claim that the decision to reject those norms represents freedom.  As someone who rejects at least a handful of those norms on a daily basis, I don’t think the rejection itself is a full enough definition of freedom.  Internal freedom is powerful, but to some extent, I think freedom does require external approval, acceptance, or at least tolerance as well.  A woman in a culture that observes Purdah might feel internally free enough to socialize with men, but that internal freedom will not protect her.  Likewise, a woman at my college might feel internally free enough not to shave her legs or not to wear a shirt during a sports practice, but this will not provide her real immunity to the consequences of such actions, which can range from raised eyebrows and ostracism to action on the part of the school.  In my experience, the rejection of sex and gender norms does not automatically translate to a release from them.  As often as not, the result is instead a constant battle between personal choice and public environment, between one’s own understanding of the world and the conditioning that world provides.

There’s a marvelous passage in Megan Seely’s Fight Like a Girl speaking to the issue:

I believe that there is a special type of pressure for self-proclaimed feminist women.  We understand nonfeminist-identified women strugle with self-image — look at our culture!  Diet fads, personal trainers, and cosmetic surgery.  Between 4 and 20 percent of college-age women are estimated to have an eating disorder, and approximately 80 percent of fourth graders are dieting — they’re nine years old!  But feminists don’t recognize themselves in those statistcs — we’re the ones who know the statistics; we’re not supposed to be part of those statistics.  And so we continue to harbor the secrecies of our betrayal. 

Seely is speaking specifically to the social pressure on women regarding appearance, and as a feminist-identified woman in recovery from an eating disorder, her specific observation rings true for me.  However, I think the basic notion remains true even generalized to other populations and/ or other sex and gender expectations.  Even when we firmly step away from what’s expected of us, even when we “claim our freedom” from stereotypes we find harmful or simply not genuine, rarely (if ever) can we manage to escape their scope of influence fully enough to no longer feel their impact.  Whether I’m in tears of frustration over once again seeing in print an argument I know is harming women, or in tears of defeat over not measuring up to standards I’ve long since recognized as flawed, the emotion testifies that I have not fully escaped.  And since those of us who would like to escape the system cannot manage to do so, we continue to fight to reconstruct it, to see it dismantled and improved.  This becomes significantly more difficult, however, when we’re not seen as one with the population that we’re still a part of and that we’re attempting to protect.  If I’m not seen as a woman because I own only three pairs of shoes, if I’m seen as free from sex and gender stereoytpes because I just as often stuff my pockets as carry a purse, then how can I argue that this system is hurtful for women?  “Plenty of women,” I’ll be told “are fine with it.”  And my own experience will be dismissed.

But I am no less of a woman than my purse-toting peers.  I’m no less of a student than my homophobic classmates.  And I’m no less of a feminist for the pain I still experience, living in this environment.  I’m a feminist lesbian student at a Midwestern Catholic university, and I will  represent.  (Because I struggle to know what else to do and because, when you represent, things sometimes happen: Both Erin and David will be speaking on my campus this week.)

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?

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.