Posts Tagged ‘sex-positive’

In Which Asexuality Goes Green.

January 5, 2009


I meant to post this, as a much shorter snippet, well over a week ago.  But I didn’t finish babbling before I had to leave that evening, and alas, it hit the back burner until now.  So, um, enjoy?

I’ve been reading some very interesting things lately, upon my long-belated reentry into the blogosphere.  Among them are Pretzelboy’s recent thoughts on the claim that “all people are sexual.”  It’s no secret that I was a fan of Carol Queen’s comments to David about a more inclusive definition of sexuality that could even encompass asexuality, although I maintained reservations along the lines of “I wouldn’t want anyone claiming that my homosexuality could be encompassed in their ‘more inclusive version/ of heterosexuality.”  I said a version of that in response to Cory Silverburg’s article as well, but was largely assured by those asexual-identifying folks who responded that the idea bothered them less, because they didn’t see asexuality as the binarial opposite of sexuality (ala homosexuality and heterosexuality) but rather as a place on the larger spectrum of sexuality. 

However, Pretzelboy has raised some points recently that draw my mind in new directions, although the conclusions are (as usual) pending.  With the exception of his superb satire, perhaps the most compelling point in Pretzelboy’s series (for me personally) occurs when he questions the effect of broadly defining sexuality on asexual sex-ed students:

The people in sexuality education seem to use a “broad” definition of sexuality because that makes sense in their lives. But for asexuals sitting in on their classes, does such a definition make sense of their experiences or does it render them invisible? Does this “broad” definition empower them or does it declare them disordered? Does it validate their experiences? Does it help them think about decisions they have to make regarding relationships, regarding sexulaity, and about their lives more generally?

I have no desire to render anyone invisible.  Based largely on Pretzelboy’s posts, I highly doubt that the clearest understanding of asexuality is rendered through the lens of sexuality.  Imagine the inversion.  Imagine basing our understanding of sexuality entirely — or even largely — on asexuality.   While it’s less likely, given the power of the majority to determine social perspective, it’s hardly less confining.  I’m reminded of a train ride I took recently, and the difficulty I had seeing the minimal landscape through the foggy glass of the train windows.  I’m reminded even more of a series of Through the Viewfinder (TTV) photos a friend of mine has been working on, in which each shot is taken through lenses from two different cameras.  The representation of the image loses certain clarity, and in some ways its realism is compromised as a result.  I would argue, however, that it’s not necessarily the lens on asexuality that’s the true problem, but more precisely, the prioritization of this one perspective, this one representation, this one understanding.

When I first read Pretzelboy’s posts, the metaphor that occurred to me had nothing to do with train windows or photographs.  Rather, it was a metaphor of color.  This is hardly unprecedented in the discussion of a/sexuality, I know.  We’ve had the problematic metaphor of asexuality as equivalent to colorblindness and the general discussion of the a/sexuality spectrum in terms of the color spectrum, but this particular thought had more to do with how we come to understand each individual color.  Take green.  Based only on the color wheel, if someone asked you to explain green, you could answer them in several different ways.  You could say that green was like blue, but with a higher concentration of yellow.  You could say that green was like yellow, but with a higher concentration of blue.  You could direct them to imagine the complementary opposite of red, or a “cool” color more in range with purple than, say, orange.  Each of these explanations would give the person some information about green, likely increasing their understanding of the color.  Ideally, each of the explanations could combine with the others to create a strong foundation for understanding green, so that it was not simply a matter of choosing the best description (is it best to imagine the opposite?  or to describe things that are similar?), but of offering a multitude of descriptions, which — in concert — help highlight the true nature of the hue.

For the purposes of this post, I’m calling asexuality green, and I’m wondering if the obstacle in our gaining (or offering) clarity about the nature of asexuality isn’t so much a problem of looking through the wrong lens (i.e. coming at it from the “complement” perspective of the sexual red, and trying to understand it as the opposite), but rather an issue of too few lenses.   If we could understand asexuality not solely in relationship to sexuality, but also in relationship to its color-wheel neighbors, (the blues and yellows of its world, say celibacy or homosexuality or… well, what might you suggest?) , as well as  in relationship to colors with similar degrees of warmth, and finally — based solely on its own information (viewing green starting with green), we might have a more multi-dimensional grasp on the experience.  The problem I see now is that one perspective — the perspective that starts with the opposite and works its way around the wheel — has been prioritized to the point that it’s difficult to start anywhere else.  And that’s limiting our understanding.

Come to think of it, that’s limiting our understanding of sexuality as well.  Having comprehended it largely on its own grounds, rarely investigating the surrounding and complementary territories, how much can we truly know?

‘Tude of the Prude.

August 7, 2008

Source: Getty Images

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

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

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

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


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