Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

(Non)sense of Smell.

January 13, 2009

anchor

One of my three brothers has been producing television newscasts for nearly a decade now, and he will be the first to tell you that “news” — perhaps particularly on television — is as much an entertainment field as game shows or nighttime dramas.  Keeping that in mind, it’s always interesting to me, when I do watch the news, to see what’s included and how it’s framed.  The fact that (as my grandma would put it), it’s “all a big dog show” doesn’t change the fact that it’s perceived, a lot of times, as simple fact.  And when the news covers “science” — which we also mis-construe as bias-free — things get doubly shady, meaning (from my perspective, of course) that they get doubly interesting.

Up until almost two weeks ago, when I crossed state lines to spend some time with my niece, I was actually staying with my grandma, watching several newscasts a day from a local station that I probably wouldn’t bother with normally, but which I have no concrete reason to distrust.  When their science beat teased audiences with a story about results from a “new study,” my interest understandably perked.  I have a professor with a feed on her computer set up to alert her of the nine million (or so) new studies that hit the scientific community each day, so I know the news media has a significant amount of material to choose from, and I was curious which story they had chosen and how they would frame it.  I would have been even more interested if I’d known then what I discovered later that night, with the help of some quick Internet searches:  The “new” study, covered by this local news station last week, was actually released over six months ago, in mid-August.   Get with the times, people.  Sheesh.

The study itself focuses on birth control, and its findings — even diluted for the AP feed — are not uninteresting.  According to (other) research, (heterosexual) women (although no one bothers to specify that, annoyingly) are largely attracted to men whose major histocompatibility complex (say that three times fast, or just go with MHC), best complements their own.  Basically, the belief is that genes are encoded in scent and (het’ro) women are attracted to men whose genes are most different from their own.  From an evolutionary perspective, this makes some sense: when men and women with different genetic backgrounds mate, their offspring have stronger immune systems and fewer genetic health problems.  However, with the hormone shift of taking contraceptives, women’s smell-based preferences reportedly shift as well, landing on people whose genes are more similar.

This would largely just strike me as interesting if not for the various conclusions drawn from it, both in that initial broadcast and in the articles I’ve dug up since:  I’ve seen birth control blamed for divorce rates, break-ups, and infidelity, just to name a few of the winners.  The most interesting claim to me, though, is the idea that birth control interferes with the ability to choose one’s ideal partner.  I’m fascinated by the way that ideal is being defined.  Although a few of the articles bother to use terms like “most genetically compatible” or “best reproductive potential,” the majority stick with popular language, making claims about birth control as an obstacle in finding “Mr. Right” etc.  This completely floors me.  Not only have we reduced “relationships” to exclusive heterosexual relationships, but we’ve reduced those exclusive heterosexual relationships to a forum for reproduction.  In the majority of reflections I’ve read on this study, there’s no mention of relational fulfillment outside of procreation, of a Mister or Misses Right whose capacity for babymaking is not priortized.  (God forbid one whose procreative compatibility is irrelevant.)  There are multiple mentions of increased difficulty with infertility for people with similar MHCs and an increased risk of misscarriages, but no discussion of the childfree population.  Arguably, this is not their focus, but even with their focus elsewhere, isn’t it a tricky decision to shift the definition of relationship so far in one direction, to lose track of emotional/ social/ psychological compatibility in favor of the best reproductive odds?  Bizarrely, this leaves only those populations that don’t really need birth control — homosexuals, asexuals, the infertile, etc — “safe” taking it.  Is this really a claim we need to tout on the nightly Healthbeat?

I mean, I’m a big fan of smell myself.  But we have five other senses, not to mention our often stellar cognitive abilities.  How’s about we use them all?

Advertisements

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.

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?

In Search of the Other Half.

July 30, 2008

In the course of my sister’s wedding festivities, I ended up having lunch at a semi-tasty Mexican restaurant with my sister-in-law, who mentioned a conference she recently attended that talked about the Myers-Briggs personality test, in relationship to one’s professional and personal personas. I think most people are familiar with the test, but sufficeth to say that it categorizes an individual in terms of where they fall on four dichotomies (introversion/ extroversion, intuiting/ sensing, thinking/ feeling, and judging/ perceiving). When you take the test, you end up with a four letter descriptor (perhaps you’re an INFJ like Albus Dumbledore, or an ESTJ like Percy Weasley), which supposedly is unchanging. (Unless you’re me, and vascillate constantly between the J/P poles.) Regardless, what interested me about Sister-in-Law’s experience was a suggestion on the part of the speaker that the 20s and 30s are a time when people often explore the “other” aspect of their personality. So, in Myers-Briggs’s terms, our pal Albus would — as a twenty-something — have been likely to explore extraversion, sensing, thinking, and perceiving, while Percy might have explored intraversion — (would have served him to do a bit more reflecting, sans the narcissism, in my humble opinion!) — intuiting, feeling, and perceiving. (At least, this is true assuming that piratemonkey really has their Myers-Briggs evaluation of the HP characters in order. But for the sake of this explanation, let’s assume they contacted Rowling beforehand, shall we?)

The Myers-Briggs aspect of the discussion interested me less than the notion that in our twenties and thirties we explore the “other” side of our personality (perhaps more consistently than we do in later years). Obviously, there’s a sense that the college years (to some extent, whether one attends college or not) are a time for self-exploration and -definition to the point that “what happens in college stays in college” (e.g. the increased heteroflexibility straight people tend to display, or admit to having displayed, at least “that one time in college“), but the idea that we potentially explore specifically the aspects of our personality that are not as dominant or instinctual in our twenties strikes me as interesting.  Especially when you consider that the twenties and thirties are often considered prime dating years, and thus a time for exploring the relational aspect of self in particular.  Case and point, another personality lens: Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, which suggest that the main struggle for 18- to 35-year-olds is “intimacy versus isolation.”  Because one too many sociology classes has forever destroyed my ability to think solely in terms of the individual, I immediately jumped (upon hearing  about Erikson’s claims in an intro psych class) to social pressure to explore the dating scene and seek out a marriage partner between the time one reaches legal adulthood (18, in the States at least) and the time one turns 35.  I argued that this was not necessarily our main struggle, so much as it was the struggle we were encouraged by our society to be having during this stage, a point I still consider valid and possibly valid in relation to other of Erikson’s stages as well.  My point in this entry, however, was that if, as twenty- and thirty-somethings, we are — for whatever reason — inclined to explore our relational selves, and we are also inclined to explore our “other” selves, then it seems to follow logically that we would consider our “other” relational selves. 

Such a possibility seems increasingly likely in our current culture, which manages a sort of fair-weather queer identity, one that allows a certain (limited) amount of freedom for straight people to experiment with queer experience, even as it remains queer-negative in terms of social policy, religious propaganda, the definition of marriage (even in federally-funded sex “education”), et cetera.  I wonder to what extent this privilege of “flexibility” extends to out queers.  (“Queers” in this case excluding bisexuals, as I’m presuming people who are even rather “rigidly” bisexual manage at least as much sexual flexibility as the most heteroflexible folks among us.)  I know that, linguistically at least, gays have been offered a parallel term in “homoflexible”… and yet, I suspect there’s a great deal more at stake (or at least something very different at stake) for gay people than for straight folks.

For multiple reasons (the ongoing animosity many gays and lesbians feel toward bisexuals, the continued insistence of homophobic people that one’s homosexuality may be “just a phase,” etc) experimentation by queers with ostensibly non-queer relationships is tricky, and I think any bisexual who lands in a committed relationship with a partner of the “opposite” gender can begin to attest to why.  While socially gays and lesbians stand firmly in the realm of the other, an exploration of our personal shadow-side can land us in unfamiliar/ traditional territory.  While self-described “heteroflexible” individuals experiment with a social-other that is also a personal-other, the “homoflexible” individual risks a queer identity rooted in the social-other to explore zir personal one.  If I, as a lesbian, follow an impulse in my twenties to date a boy, the consequences are different than if I, as a straight woman, follow an impulse in my twenties to date a girl.  Similarly, while asexuality — given the resounding message of “fuck you” (or rather, “no thank you”) it sends to the hypersexual culture, which insists sexuality (and sexual activity in particular) are defining aspects of the 20-something existence — lands squarely in the “other” category, the out-asexual exploring their other/shadow self risks increased questioning (by the outside world) of their asexual identification.  Claiming the “asexual” label is a difficult enough move for a celibate person to navigate, but what happens to an asexual experimenting with sexual behavior?  Impressively, from the limited number of conversations I’ve witnessed amongs aces, there seems to be a tendency to support sexual exploration, even when such experimentation isn’t all that understandable to the people doing the supporting.  Whether this is just another reason aces are inherently cool, a glimpse of what the queer community looks like sans politics and phobias, or some combination of the two, I can’t really guess.  But as a not-exactly-asexual person who recently started a blog on sex and has thus ended up “exploring” it quite a bit more than ever before, I can say I appreciate the openness.

I’m a huge fan of queer culture (shocking, I know), so I find it unbelievably lame that — as a result of our persistent biphobia, our fear of having our own identification de-legitimized, or some other need I’m not recognizing at the moment — we continue to try and limit other people’s explorations of their a/sexuality.  Labels, in my view, are ultimately words.  They are seriously fantastic tools for communicating our experiences and attempting to explain the lens through which we most often interpret the world, but when we spend our time polishing (and limiting) the definition of those labels instead of using the labels to define ourselves, we end up unnecessarily constraining not only our own experience but that of other people whom we have no right to hold back.  What’s with the queer-on-queer oppression, seriously?  I honestly think it’s past time that we as a community explored our “other” side.  Do you know the one I’m talking about?  It’s the one where we manage to relate to one another without imposing our own experience onto each other or insisting that this person’s lesbianism look like our lesbianism instead of a third person’s bisexuality.  Words are shorthand for understanding people, after all, and as a community, when we continually sacrifice people (ourselves included) for the sake of protecting those words, we have a serious problem.

Boys Oh Boys.

July 18, 2008

Several thousand years ago, when I qualified as one myself, I was on a listserv for (very) young writers, most of whom appeared to be in their pre-teens.  Amid the pretty constant dreck that was submitted — (no offense intended, of course; I wrote quite a bit of dreck myself in those days; still do on occasion), — someone submitted a story that seriously blew my mind and which, in the years since, I’ve often wished had been a published piece, simply so that I could track it down.

The plot, as I remember it, went something like this: A teenage girl was uprooted and planted on a new continent, Australia I believe, where she proceeded to write pretty constantly in her diary about how unhappy she was to be in a place where she knew no one (and of course, how irritating she found her parents.  Rather realistic portrayal, in a lot of ways.)  Eventually, she met a young boy who completely won her over, and a rather hearteaning intimacy developed between them.  I have a vague image of them riding the same motorbike and another of him playing piano to accompany her singing…  Eventually, somehow, — the details have escaped me, — she discovered quite unexpectedly that this boy was actually a bio-girl, not a term I knew at the time and not one she was aware of either.  (The extent to which this was a portrayal of an FTM character is blurred significantly by my obliviousness to such things back in the day, but to some extent, the boy-character did fall under the broader use of “transgender” as an umbrella term, and for the sake of clarity, I’ll continue to use “boy” and male pronouns and such in my explanation here.)  Since the story was told from the girl’s perspective (her diary entries, I think), its themes ran less along issue of trans identity (largely tragic scene of Boy playing piano for a recital wearing a dress, aside) and more around the girl’s discernment process. Understanding that her boy was not recognized as a boy (and that she would not, if she hadn’t been more-or-less misled, have recognized him that way herself), she began to ask the question: if he is a girl, or even partially a girl, and I’m straight, does this change the way I feel about him? Does this change the relationship we have or the relationship we can potentially have?

At the time, this story completely changed the way I thought about relationships.  It coincided nicely with a sense I had around that time that in reality everyone must be bisexual, and that any other orientation was basically prejudice on our parts, sex being as irrelevant a reason to discriminate against potential partners as race or eye color.  The object of the girl’s affection in this story had managed to bypass the girl’s “orientational sexism” by presenting himself as a boy, and thus they had both had a chance for intimacy on a level they would have missed out on otherwise.  Interestingly, while experience dismantled that (“hetero or homo = prejudice”) notion for me over time — (I still conceive of orientation as a spectrum, but I believe some people, myself included, are close enough to one [homo] end or the [hetero] other, that it feels completely bizarre for us to identify as bi, and I don’t consider that prejudice on our parts; I consider it reality) — the content of the story stayed with me, and lately (obviously) I’ve been remembering it again.

I’ve been remembering it as I consider the notion of orientation and how it affects intimacy.  I remember, listening to Carol Queen the other day, she said something about how orientation (whether you label it a sexual orientation or a romantic/ affectional one)  speaks to the people you’re drawn to and the way they energize you (regardless of the acts you wish to engage in with them).  Basically, then, orientation serves as a discriminator, not necessarily in the negative way that I mentioned conceiving of it earlier, but in the sense that those of us who wish to find partners need to be able to discriminate between potentially compatible people and people who wouldn’t work so well.  Obviously, we use factors other than sex/gender to do this as well — like how well we know the person, their age, their politics, etc — but for whatever reason (because it’s so common, because there’s a heteronormative bias about the sex/ gender we’re supposed to find attractive, because orientation and gender are so married in our social thinking anyway) — there’s a great deal more emphasis on our preferences for our partner’s sex or gender than the other aspects.  For instance, while I may identify for myself that I’m largely attracted to progressives, if I told people that I was a progressiveromantic or a progressivesexual, the best response I could probably hope for is a rather amused giggle; if I tell them I’m homoromantic or homosexual (moreso the second one, given the tendency of people outside the ase community to not know the terminology), I’m more likely to have the statement understood and even taken seriously, (although quite frankly, the term progressiveromantic prompts an amused giggle on my part as well.)

So, why does a person’s biosex or their gender matter?  Does it?  On the one hand, I can totally see that it does, and I can answer (for myself at least) that it matters because, to the extent that your body is what I find attractive, I am about 900 times more likely to be attracted to a female body than a male one.  Or, — and maybe this is a better articulation of the same thing, — if I am attracted to you-beyond-your-body, to your identity and your personality and the all-but-the-body of who you are, that attraction is somewhat more likely to attach to your body (as well) and make your body an entity with which I wish to do things, if you are a girl.  However, just as the discussions between the asexual and sexual communities are challenging notions about what sexuality is and means, they’re also challenging the definitions and boundaries of intimacy, not only for society-at-large (or semi-large, given the relatively small number of people who are aware this discourse is happening) but for me personally.  Because if I identify as lesbian, which basically means female homosexual (as much as I despise that term) and the asexual community is redefining intimacy around or without or beyond sexual relations — (by their most hard-boundaried, “sexuality = sex” definition), — doesn’t that have something to say to how I, as a lesbian, could potentially have intimate relationships with men?  Isn’t that (nonsexual intimacy with the men I adore) something I aspire toward, something I want?

I think it’s a major problem in our society that intimacy is a euphemism for sex, something we use in our more sex-negative moods to avoid a straight-up discussion of fucking.  Because it’s possible that if I were the fictional Australian emigrant in the story that started this post, my discernment process around my partner’s transgender identity would not lead me to the conclusion that gender doesn’t matter, that rather (perhaps to my own devastation) I would recognize, particularly if I were someone aspiring toward a sexual partnerhood, that this did change things for me and was not something I could dismiss (my desire to do so aside.)  Even still, I think I would be grateful for the opportunity to have that relationship as long as I did, for the fact that this intimacy with this person had existed and had meant something to me.  Given that as the case, I’m more than a little excited about the idea of expanding my sense of intimacy so that, while “sexually” (to whatever extent I do anything sexually) I may continue to “discriminate,” I wouldn’t have to in terms of intimacy.  I have no desire to ignore my orientation; I worked too hard years ago to sort it out to make a false claim at bisexuality now.  But I also wonder, thinking of and holding in my heart the handful of really marvelous boys and men I’ve lucked into over the years, why I don’t spend more energy seeking out male people and relating to them.  It has me thinking that maybe one of the things asexuality can potentially teach me, personally is how to have intimacy all the way around, the boundaries of who-can-share-my-bed aside.

Strange (But Not Incompatible) Bedfellows: Aces and Sex Ed.

July 17, 2008

A few days ago, I read this article by Girl With a One-Track Mind’s Zoe Margolis defending a recent recommendation by the Brook Advisory Centres and the Family Planning Association (both in the UK) that children “be provided with appropriate information about relationships, their bodies (eg the names of body parts and the differences between women and men) and educated about sex as something other than a biological function.”  Personally, I think the fact that such a suggestion needs defending (against such marvelous headlines as “ZOMG, call f0r sex less0ns at age f0ur!!1!” –l33t speak mine) evidences all on its own what a royal mess sex education has become, (as much in the US as the UK, obviously), and I’ve been thinking since I read it about the ways that asexuality, in all it’s discussion-causing glory, can help with this problem.

One marvelous thing about the asexual community (because, in my of-course-totally-non-biased opinon, there are many) is that we/they force the larger society to reexamine concepts with such staid definitions that people have forgotten to consider them answers to questions, and have completely forgotten to ask those questions — (like “what is sex?  what is sexual desire, sexual attraction, and sexuality?” to name a few) — for themselves.  (This, I think, is how we end up with articles in Seventeen magazine — which I thankfully never read, but did pick up in a doctor’s waiting room once in absolute horror — about what constitutes losing one virginity*.  Note: Two lesbian perspectives were presented, one of which suggested that lesbians cannot lose their virginity unless they choose — god knows why — to have their vagina penetrated by a penis.  If I’m not mistaken, the other suggested that for a lesbian kissing would qualify as a loss of virginity.  This … was almost enough to make me triple-major in education and pursue the possibility of teaching sex ed myself because, um, wow.  I love that these are the two lesbian voices you choose to publish, Seventeen.  My increasingly sarcastic kudos to you.)

But I really did have a point somewhere… let me wind my way back to it.  Oh, right: asexuality and the expansion of sexual education.  I think the asexual community has so much to contribute to this discussion because what the leading voices in this debate seem to be saying (from my perspective; the mainstream media and the conservative right, assuming there’s still a slight difference between the two, obviously have a different take) is that we need not only better sexual education but also all-around relational education.  As this article (which Violet Blue linked to) suggests, most teens (rightly) do not consider their sex ed lessons relevant to their actual lives.  Programs, like the one that article details, (developed by the University of Western Sydney), which “trained [participants] to interpret body language, practice standing up to people, raise issues with their friends, and […] reflect on their behaviour and expectations” offer tools for social interaction beyond and within the erotic realm, not to mention a level of self-definition I would argue (and probably not without backup) is never seen in current sex-ed programs.  The question becomes one of safe, healthy, and self-defined intimacy, which includes physical (and in many cases sexual) intimacy but is not limited to such.  It certainly is not limited to heterosexual genital intercourse as a) a way of getting pregnant, b) a way of contracting STDs, and c) something to be avoided at all costs (at least until marriage). 

Aces are fantastic people to help facilitate this discussion because the very existence of the asexual community — in addition to the various discourses that take place within it — challenge the concepts of what is and isn’t sexual, and (perhaps even more importantly) push people to define those rather gray boundaries for themselves.  (One very small thing I will say for the Seventeen survey is that it pointed to the subjectivity inherent in terms like “virgin” and although it did not necessarily, to my recollection, encourage girls to determine a definition for themselves, it did perhaps unintentionally spark the question of how set-in-stone a “pure” definition — pun intended — can be.)

Personally, I think the please-god-let’s-improve-sex-ed discussion is one for the asexual community to consider (or continue) jumping on board with not only because of what we stand to gain (inclusion, mainly; “asex ed” and what that could mean not only for self-identified asexuals and confused teens who may find a great deal of comfort in asexuality’s existence), but also because of what we can offer.  It’s ironic, in a way, that asexuals could be of service to sex ed (not only because of the nominal differences) but because doing so involves individuals who self-identify as asexual offering better education to a demographic that seems to have asexuality imposed upon them.  Excuse me if I’m alone in finding it kind of awesome that we, a group of people who have little to no sexual desire, could ally ourselves with teenagers against the forces that continue to insist they should not have those desires, when (what appears to be) the (vast) majority of them, frankly, do.

Then again, I’m also just a fan of a good revolution.

 

*In my attempt to link something resembling this article — which I believe now was from the August 2007 issue of Seventeen — I came across this mention of the Kaiser/ Seventeen study on virginity, which also involves an extremely problematic (read: heteronormative) definition of what it means to be a virgin.  I sounded off with the suggestion that they read Virgin by Hanne Blank, which I still haven’t finished, but which dismantles the majority of their “fast facts” pretty quickly.  Perhaps you’d like to yell at them as well?

Mono (Not the Virus) and Poly (Not the Wog).

July 15, 2008

Let’s begin with a (somewhat relevant) shout-out to Ily at Asexy Beast, whose page bears the tagline “Of course, there’s always something to fall in love with.” That’s what I’m musing on today, the thoroughly beautiful fact that I am constantly head over heels with something or someone or somethings or someones, and (furthermore) loving every minute of it.

Years ago, in one of my first online journalblogs (ah, reminiscence), I coined a term for this propensity, the tongue-in-cheek word “polyffectionate,” which — if it isn’t obvious — is meant to play on the notion of “a” as a prefix meaning “no(t)” (although the “a” in “affection” is actually part of the root), which suggests the need for a term that could designate the spectrum’s other end, given that I (for one) was a girl of many ‘ffections.  Nearly seven years later, I stand by “polyffectionate” as a self-descriptor, and in fact, a little over a month ago, when — while leafing through a copy of Eat, Pray, Love in a local bookstore — I came across Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of herself as “the planet’s most affectionate life form (something like a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle),” I chuckled more than a little to myself at how true this is for me as well.  The rather surprising thing?  I find I mind it less and less.  My propensity for dorky crushes — be they on people*, fictional people, bands, songs, movies, books or art pieces — keeps me rather happily occupied.  As I mention (or rather extol upon) in one of the recent spoken-word pieces (what was that about anonymity?  eh, fuck it … figuratively speaking, for you asexy types), I often don’t even mind that my crushes (when they do land on nonfictional people with whom I am actually friends) have gone unreciprocated, and thus undeveloped into relationships, up to the present point.  I simply enjoy them for what they are and enjoy the fact that I can freely jump from one love to another, like a hyperactive schoolgirl in one crazy game of hopscotch, without obsessing (too often) about the fact that I have yet to find a dateable girl.

I wouldn’t limit this kind of crazy-crush-happiness to the asexual community, but I do wonder if my quasi-asexuality influences it at all, in the sense that a lack of (or low level of, or delayed experience of) sexual attraction keeps a person from creating that traditional relational hierarchy that places True (Sexual) Love at the top and works its way down through family and friends to acquaintances.  I stand by a concept of asexual people that allows for them to have committed relationships (should they choose to do so) that are equally valid in comparison to the commited relationships of self-identified sexual people, and in fact, I aspire toward that single commited relationship that would stand separate from other equally awesome but not quite as touted friendships (et cetera).  I understand myself well enough to know that I would crash and burn if I ever tried my hand at polyamory, for instance; I’m too prone to the “why am I not enough for you?” insecurities that would make that kind of relational structure hell in a hurry.  That said, I think there might be something to the idea that asexual (and semi-asexual) people have the freedom to explore more possibilities and explore them simultaneously because the factor most commonly used to designate that one superior relationship — (sex, of course) — is often removed from the picture. 

AsexyAsexual, who has a livejournal account detailing her “quest to find [her] husband a girlfriend” (and sexual partner), talks in her most recent entry about a conversation she had with David Jay about “community-based intimacy” as a viable relationship strategy, specifically for asexual-types.  She describes it as involving a few primary relationships and a number of secondary relationships, which the way I understand it, serve to supplement but are perhaps not as intimate as the primary relationships.  (Correct me if I’m wrong here, kids.)  I find this terribly interesting because while something about the idea compells me quite a bit, I also suspect it would not exactly work for me.  There’s something ironic about the following truth, but I suspect I am not independent enough for this type of community, although perhaps it’s less an issue of “not independent” and more one of “not self-secure.”  I struggle to imagine a set of community-based or polyamorous relationships in which I would genuinely trust that I was valued and feel secure in the idea that I was not expendable, and while I can see that being the case in a monoamorous — (is that even a word?) — relationship as well, there’s something about a reciprocal commitment to one person, at least within the time period of the relationship, that I think would help convince me of my importance to that partner.  Granted, a few more years of therapy might convince me of it as well, perhaps even to the point that being “the one and only” for someone else (which strikes me as a pretty unrealistic thing to expect someone else to want or to expect myself to be) no longer feels so necessary.

Still, I think in a way, even with my borderline envy of the relational structure David was describing to AsexyA, and my tendency to fall for anyone and everything, something about a one-on-one relationship (although a less enmeshed, healthier version than I’ve been describing here) appeals to me.  I suppose that for such a diehard queergrrrl, I have some remarkably traditional points:  I want someone in my life who loves me and is willing to commit to making it work when she would rather bail.  I want to come home to this person, routinely, and have them come home to me.  I want to have a family together, although I struggle with attempting to determine in advance of knowing The Girl what that might look like or what it might mean.  I’m struck, however, by the possibility that desiring to create a family of some sort and desiring to create a community of intimate relationships is actually more similar than it is different.  In some ways, my “family” may look more in keeping with tradition (although less so if you start to plot its details or if you broaden “tradition” past the American 1950s), but the two still share some common goals.  When it comes down to it, who isn’t looking to connect with people, to establish a system of relationships that allows them to give and receive some version of love, in a way they find nourishing, fulfilling, and downright enjoyable?  If you can find a way to do that, more power to you, and seriously, I’m always open to pointers.

 

*Did you really think I’d link the people?  I’m not an entirely open book, thank heaven.

Be propelled by passion, not invest in outcomes.

June 13, 2008

This entry overwhelms me a little; it’s difficult to write.  This is the entry where I take on my own subtitle, where I rethink the labels entirely, and wonder who exactly will still be compelled to read when the perspective offered is not that of a potentially-asexual-lesbian, but rather… simply… mine.

Changing the presentation of a blog several entries into writing it, just as I’m growing comfortable, starting to make friends, and starting to draw readers frankly puts me a little on edge.  And helping to push me over said edge is my uncertainty that I’ll be able to properly explain why I feel compelled to do this, why – to flat out say it – I don’t particularly consider myself asexual now, after what feels like eons of agonizing over the possibilities (sexual, asexual, sexual, asexual).  It doesn’t help that Elephant, my dear and lovely Elephant, is at the center of it, and that miscommunication on my part might unfairly implicate him, might make it seem as if he talked me out of a viewpoint that was helping me feel more comfortable in myself, more secure, more like I knew where I was coming from, and less like a lone freak in the sexual mainstream.  The last thing I want to do is mislead even my most distant reader about someone so close to my heart, especially when the truth – although a bit more complicated than this – is that Elephant flat-out encouraged me to explore the possibility of asexuality, suggested that I dress myself up in whatever labels or identities felt worth trying, and understand that such exploration is healthy and normal and all that other stuff I strive to be.  (Ok, so I don’t entirely strive to be normal, but I do make an effort toward avoiding clinically abnormal, at least when the DSM definitions aren’t thoroughly pissing me off.)  He was, however, concerned – as he initially thought I was telling him I didn’t consider myself relational at all, which – given that connection and relationship are basically the most important things to me – thoroughly freaked out the both of us.  I can see it irritating asexuals to hear that this sexual friend of mine immediately connected disinterest in sex with disinterest in relationships, period, but honestly, I don’t think he intended offense.  I think, from what he wrote to me, that he simply has a very broad definition of sexuality, one that starts with the fluttery excitement of crushes, spans the spectrum all the way into cuddling, kissing, and sex, on the timeline of the individual and… if said individual doesn’t progress all the way across the continuum – (“progress” is a poorly chosen verb, as it implies that sex is somehow superior to crushing and cuddling and so forth, which – as someone who three days ago was leaning toward an “asexual” identification – I’m certainly not going to argue; cuddling all the way!)  – that’s their experience.  Let’s take a walk through Alanis Morissette’s utopia and exist sans judgment, shall we?

I know that, as asexuals, certain people will not want to have their nonsexual relational experiences framed as sexual, and I totally understand that because, more often than not, I wouldn’t either.  Still, something about the broadness of Elephant’s definition clicked for me.  I liked the lack of dichotomy involved, the total grayness so in keeping with the spectrum I see sexuality existing on, and I liked having him articulate my position on that spectrum as fluid, because I (personally) feel it to be so as well.  This was somehow different than being told I will grow out of where I’m at, that it’s “just” a phase (what isn’t, seriously?), and so forth.  It was basically him suggesting that I’m not as different as I think I am, regardless of how I identify, and that I can use whatever terms I want to describe myself, as long as I’m not using them to be self-critical.  (If he sounds bossy, he only sort of is.  He’s straight-forward and super-opinionated, but for years now, he has consistently proven himself to have no other agenda than to see me thoroughly myself and happy, and so, while I don’t always adopt his opinions, I do tend to weigh them pretty heavily.)

I’ve never considered my (potential) “asexuality” self-criticizing.  In fact, I’ve felt freed from self-criticism (and social criticism) by adopting the term.  It was a word I could offer to explain why I was not “how I was supposed to be” in sexual terms – why I didn’t have the proper desires, respond to sexual jokes in the proper fashion, or engage in the proper sexual acts.  It was an alternative to the post-traumatic pathology I had feared for years was the (only available) explanation.  It really has been a blessing to me for discover this.  And yet, I realize now that it may be time for me to adopt a different identification – if only temporarily, again – because although the term itself was not something I flagellated myself over, it was – largely – in response to such flagellations, both from myself and from others.  If I hadn’t so often received the message that there was something wrong with my method of connecting with people, with what I felt and didn’t feel, wanted and didn’t want, I don’t think I would have felt the need to seek out an identifier like “asexy.”  I don’t think I would have felt the need to explain myself.  The root of this descriptor, then – if only technically – is the criticism.  It’s the brother who tells me, (as a joke that unintentionally grazes a sore spot), that I’m a “bad lesbian” because I respond to the swimsuit calendar as an outraged feminist instead of as an aroused lesbian.  It’s the gay-straight alliance meetings that devolve into still more pressure to go to the lesbian bars my friends themselves refer to as “meatmarkets” with the implication that it is past time I jump on the sexual bandwagon.  And at this point, at least, I need – for my own sake – to refuse the outside insistence that I’m not who I’m supposed to be (and my own internalization of these messages) and just go back to being myself.  Myself, the dorky queen of crushes, the girl who aspires toward cuddling, who is slowly growing comfortable enough around the discussion of sex to find it fascinating (if not so much worth trying), and who is free from the binding expectations of others – sexual, asexual, or otherwise.  I don’t like this idea of sexuals and asexuals.  These are not nouns in my world; they are adjectives.  A sexual person, an asexual person, and sometimes the same person skating back and forth between definitions, as I have been these past oh-so-many months, as I will probably tend to continue doing in the future.  So, while I’m hoping to be able to continue writing about asexuality and sexuality, to continue exploring something that fascinates me, I’m not setting out now to do so as an asexual, a sexual, a gray-a, a demisexual, or any other such thing. 

For the moment (at least), I’m just going to call myself me and let that be enough.  Here’s hoping some people are still along for the ride.