Posts Tagged ‘joy davidson’

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.

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.