Identity Maintenance

Time passes me by lately like water does a fish—I am always in it, it is always flowing around me, but each moment is just something I live in without really thinking about it. I pay attention only to the strong currents and my eventual destination, letting the usual ebb and tide just make its lazy circles about the unconscious.

Of course, I’m still able to focus on time and its various aspects, bring it out of the background and into the forefront as I am doing now. But that kind of focus might as well be a flash of lighting. For the most part, it passes, and I make neither an effort to live in the moment nor hold fast to hope or memory. Things happen, mostly boring and not worth reporting—or so it was for a while. Unfortunately, no news does not necessarily mean good news, even though I am significantly less likely to update without the motivation of conflict. This past summer, I’ve been beset by a number of injuries and illnesses, including a brief visit to the hospital (which fortunately turned out to mean nothing except that I should take better care not to exhaust myself). Those injuries and illnesses have continued since I started school, which means that I have missed a lot of class and my ability to keep up with assignments has suffered. My relationship with my partner suffered a lot as well—partially, indeed, as a result of my being sick so often—and now we have broken up, albeit somewhat tentatively and while keeping the possibility in mind that we may be able to resolve our differences and work back up to a romantic relationship.

With all this going on, I hadn’t really been thinking about asexuality.  Over the summer, there were still plenty of moments, from time to time, when I would see my girlfriend looking at porn and, upon hearing my comments, she would groan at me and says, “You’re so asexual.” But for the most part, it went unnoticed, and barely mattered.

I have been trying to decide what is different about the part that sex played in our relationship as compared to the part that it plays in a pairing of two sexuals, but I can’t come up with much. It’s not as if it isn’t generally enjoyable, and I can’t say that it isn’t intimate. There were periods when we go without for quite a while before either one of us would crease her brow and say, “Hm. When was the last time, anyway?” That is probably the most obvious sign of my asexuality combined with her relative lack of sexual attraction to me. The thing is, our relationship actually did seem to suffer more during the dry spells than when we were doing it relatively frequently, despite my conviction that sex should not be a necessary part of a relationship.

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On “Creepy Asexual Guys,” Porn, and Misogyny

Occasionally, people will use search terms to find this blog that pique my curiosity. I had never heard of a gray fetish until today, but apparently someone else has. I also sometimes get search terms including words that I know I’ve said before in the same post, but not together, not as the topic of the post. Today, someone viewed my blog after searching for asexual guys, and I was curious to see what else was out there about asexual guys, so I looked, too.

Of course, there were the usual posts about people seeking to date asexual guys, and those with people wondering whether some male relation of theirs is asexual or gay or just socially awkward, but then there was this strange offering by Rabbi Schmuley Boteach. Confused by the title, “Asexual men and the creeps who live on campus”–since when are asexual men associated or equated with creeps?–I clicked the link. The Rabbi’s main argument seems to be a variant on the idea that rampant sexual debauchery leads men to become desensitized to the point that they are no longer attracted to most normal women, but rather only to a very specific type of woman (presumably strippers and porn stars), and to a very specific type of violently misogynistic situation. I have a few problems with this. Number one is the way he defines asexuality:

The male overexposure to women has even led to the death of the heterosexual man as we know him. If the definition of a heterosexual man is a male who is attracted to women, then most men today are barely heterosexual. Think about it. Nearly all the men I know are only attracted to about one in 10 women, that is, the 10 percent of women they consider “hot.” The other 90 percent leave them cold. Doesn’t that mean that they are 90 percent asexual? And I’m not trying to be funny. If a man is not attracted to a woman, then he is not heterosexual. Period. And if he only attracted to a small fraction of the women he meets, then he is fractionally heterosexual.

Although I can follow his logic, I find that logic flawed on the level that this makes no distinction between a person who is asexual, a person who is just extremely picky, and a person who has a fetish. Now, that word has several different meanings, including two that are non-sexual (an asexual might have “an irrational or abnormal fixation or preoccupation” with something that does not arouse them sexually, for instance). By fetish here, I mean an extreme sexual interest in something to the point that the person cannot get off at all without the presence of that thing. I think what the Rabbi is really meaning to refer to here is the development of such a fetish for the demeaning situations (allegedly, at least–as I have limited experience, I wouldn’t know) shown in porn, and the type of woman who looks like she belongs in one.

The problem is, the way this is worded indicates to me that this has not been thought through and articulated carefully and with a clear understanding of what he is literally saying. He talks of an overexposure to women, for one–how can men be overexposed to a group of people who comprise roughly half of the population? Is he suggesting that we should all be wearing burqas, here? On the contrary, I would infer that he is talking about an overexposure to fantasy women (and any women willing to cater to male fantasy), and an underexposure to real-life women (who are not willing to cater to male fantasy). But this is not made clear in that sentence, so it makes little sense taken on its own.

I think the fallacy with regard to asexuality and heterosexuality is that he is defining them based solely on the percentage of the time that a person is attracted or not attracted, without any regard for the intensity of that attraction when it is experienced, the feelings and attitudes that a person has towards sex, or the fact that these words are labels that refer to the way a person is categorized, rather than indicators of that person’s actual levels of eroticism towards any particular group of people.

For things like this, it usually helps to have a visual model, so let’s use the Storms model. According to this, heterosexuals are people who are high in hetero-eroticism but low in homo-eroticism, homosexuals are people who are high in homo-eroticism but low in hetero-eroticism, bisexuals are high in both, and asexuals are low in both. This seems similar enough to what the Rabbi is saying, but the problem here is in defining what constitutes “high” and what constitutes “low” levels of eroticism.

According to him, if you find 90% of the people around you sexually unattractive, then you are 90% asexual.

However, the people he is talking about devote an extraordinary amount of time thinking and fantasizing about, planning, and engaging in sexual activity. According to him, they have even gone to college expressly for the purpose of indulging in sexual debauchery. You could say that (at least) 90% of their lives are devoted to the pursual of sexual activity. Perhaps they have an extremely narrow idea of what constitutes a sexually attractive woman, and are unable to explore sexuality with the vast majority of the women around them, who do not indulge them in their misogynistic fantasies, but they are still absolutely obsessed with sex. To me, that indicates high levels of eroticism. It’s only a very specific kind of eroticism–as previously stated, a fetish.

So to call them asexual, even while acknowledging that they are “10% sexual,” is highly inaccurate. They would likely not self-identify in that way, and would have very, very little in common with people who do, since usually those people do not miss the sex they are not having, and don’t feel the need to actively pursue sexual activity. Of course, there are people who identify as asexual who might experience sexual attraction a very low percentage of the time, and still consider themselves asexual. I have never heard an estimate of ten percent, and that’s probably quite high, but theoretically, such a person could exist. That’s because these words are labels that are meant to express how people are the vast majority of the time, without getting into very fine details like that one man a lesbian might fall in love with. The Storms model might more accurately look like this (image originally found in this thread)–a blur of different colors with no clear lines in between. There is no simple litmus test that people can take to determine their sexual orientation, and how much a person is attracted to x gender alone is not the only factor that goes into its determination. For those who exist in the borderlands, there may be many more things to take into consideration aside from attraction to people.  There are objectum sexuals, and people who are aroused by certain situations but not by the appearance of other people, to take into consideration as well.

In short, being a sexual person does not mean that you want to bone EVERYONE, or even everyone of a certain gender, and being asexual does not necessarily mean that you NEVER feel sexual attraction. Although the main factor for determining sexual orientation is the level of attraction one feels for other people, and which gender those other people are, it cannot be said that men who are only attracted to women 10% of the time are only 10% heterosexual, because that shows a lack of understanding of how self-identification and use of a label that describes sexual orientation works.

And, just for further clarification, I’ll repeat an example I used a long time ago about the availability of attractive women:  In a country with an extremely skewed gender ratio like China, where there are so many more boys than girls, a heterosexual male might only encounter a small percentage of women he is attracted to on a day-to-day basis, but does that mean he is not heterosexual? Not many people would answer yes to that question, but if you follow the Rabbi’s statement through to its logical conclusion, then he must.

I have many more thoughts about this, but I’ll have to cut it short for now. I may return to this topic in a future post, though.

Edited to add: I’ve made a second post about this: Dismantling Emotional Flatulence.

What We Search For

And by “we,” I mean my readers.

Since I started blogging, I have been consistently amused by the search engine terms that people use to find this blog. I thought I would share some of the standouts with you all, so you can share in my amusement.

This past week, someone wanted to know, “are asexuals stupid”? I was a little confused, as I don’t see a correlation between intelligence and not experiencing sexual attraction (if anything, the stereotype suggests the reverse), but you know, whatever. On the other side of the coin, someone else searched for “intellectual asexuals.”

So far, the number one search term of all time is “positive metaphors,” followed by (I suppose predictably?) “sex”–but my question is, how many pages of search results did these people have to wade through to find MY blog? That’s some real dedication, there. Asexuality is only the third most searched-for term that people use to find my blog.

Of course, the sad fact is, I get TONS of variations on a cure or treatment for asexuality, denial, whether or not asexuals exist, and so on. (For those people who will inevitably make it to this post that very same way, I suggest you go to AVEN and read the faqs.) I also get a lot of people searching for stuff about sexual frustration and fear of intimacy, though I don’t think they’ll find what they want here.

Oh, and masturbation. Lots of people searching for masturbation, whether specifically asexual masturbation, or just plain old masturbation. How many times can I say “masturbation” in a single paragraph? Apparently five.

There are some that I’m a little confused about how they led to my blog–I mean I can sort of see it, but it’s a bit of a stretch. One such is “polyamory bullshit.”

My favorites, though, are these two: “vagina of asexy girl” and “vagian asex.” I had another asexy moment there, because it took me several weeks to realize (only after my girlfriend pointed it out) that those were probably typos made by people who were looking for something to jack off to. I hope they didn’t find what they were looking for, because otherwise, that’s a little bit creepy. Incidentally, the fetish post has been by far the most popular.

Overall, one rule holds true: the “racier” the words used in the post, the more likely it is to pique others’ curiosity, even if the post actually has very little to do with whatever they were searching for originally. The general public still sees us as some weird, unbelievable novelty. On the up side, I suppose at least I am helping to raise awareness!

Edited to add: Today’s winner! And oh, it is a gross one: “vagina has grey around it” …I’m not even going to comment on that one.

I don’t have a gender! According to Stupid.

Breaking my short hiatus to report that, according to some friends of an acquaintance, I’m not asexual, I’m bisexual. Because if I were asexual, I wouldn’t have a gender.

Right… What? I don’t even actually know how those two things are supposed to be related, because even if they were mistaking sex for gender, how would that make me bisexual? What, am I automatically bisexual now just because my girlfriend is MTF? Nevermind that asexuality has nothing to do with gender, and that there actually already is a word for people with no gender identification (a few of them, in fact).

I should start keeping track of these stupid assumptions, then go back over them after a year or so and give out awards for the most idiotic.

Yes, I have a vagina.

And yes, it works.

This weekend, my local QSA had a meet-up, and then we all went out to a popular gay club for a fun night of dancing and drinking (for some). It was supposed to be straight night, but not many straight people showed up. So we had the run of the place, while the few people there who were not from our group mostly just sat around and watched us.

My friends, of course, alcoholics that they are, had me buy them drinks. While I was at the bar with an officer of the group offering an extra set of hands, an older lesbian lady started asking us about our group, where we were from, and whether we were all gay. She pointed at the officer and said, “You’re straight, aren’t you?” He laughed, and said, “How did you know?” (She had probably been watching him dance with his sort-of girlfriend.) Then she pointed at me.

“So what are you?”

“I’m asexual.”

“What!? Are you kidding me!? What’s wrong with you? Do you have a vagina?”

I laughed. It was a reaction I’d come to expect, but it’s not something I can respond to, especially when faced with such a bold, baldfaced, honest reaction. She was quite loud about it, too; I wondered briefly exactly how much more tact she would have shown if she had been sober. There was really no other appropriate response BUT to laugh. She went on about it for a little while longer, and then offered a stuttering apology.

“I’m sorry, that was mean. I’m the last person who should be saying something like that.”

The QSA officer chimed in, “Yeah, we’re all about acceptance here, man.”

Still laughing, I told her it was okay, and then the drinks were ready, so we took them back to the group. I told the other asexual girl (oh yes, there was another one!) what had happened, and we had a good laugh; she wondered if that lady would even remember what asexuality is in the morning. If so, hey, at least one more person knows we exist. If not… oh well.

Anyway, it was really nice to meet a fellow asexual in person, finally. We had a good, long talk about cats, college life, and not having sex. Hopefully later on in the semester, we can co-ordinate an effort to raise visibility from within the QSA. Now that there are at least three of us (there’s another girl around here I’ve been chatting with via email, though she hasn’t been to the QSA), they will probably take us more seriously this year. I’m thinking perhaps I’ll join a panel, and do some tabling on Coming Out Day… However, the group is pretty unorganized, so I’ll probably have to do most of what I want to do by myself. Any suggestions for how to raise awareness, as well as ideas for meet-ups, are quite welcome.

“Asexual” as a Pejorative

A little while ago, I was googling aimlessly and stumbled upon this little gem of a blog post, wherein the author tries to insult Barack Obama by calling him asexual. I laughed. It’s almost precious, isn’t it? The feeble attempt to smear him using a word that she doesn’t even know the definition of… I can hardly imagine that a grown woman wrote this. I feel like I’m reading something written by a catty fourteen-year-old girl, except about politicians instead of her classmates. If that’s all the McCain camp can come up with, well. That’s pretty sad.

I don’t know about you guys, but if Obama really were asexual, that’d make me more likely to vote for him, not less. After all, if he’s not distracted by scandalous sexual affairs, then theoretically he’d be more likely to actually get some work done.

But still. It got me thinking about non-asexuals using the word “asexual” as an insult—a pretty rare phenomena, but one that may gradually become more common as awareness of asexuality spreads. Obviously, it’s not something we want to happen, but to some extent it’s inevitable. Rather than getting upset about it, we should take advantage at least of the fact that people are now starting to mention asexuality, by listening to what they say and learning what they think it means, and why they think it’s bad.

With this particular example, the closest approximation I can come up with for what this person thinks asexuality is, is some form of emasculation, possibly an intersex condition or the state of being a eunuch, or maybe just impotence in general. Maybe she thought she was coining a term herself, or maybe she’s heard of asexuality before and is just severely misguided about its definition. Either way, asexuality here is conflated with gender. Why?

Well, apparently for men, gender identity is closely connected with virility. Because if you’re not interested in sex, guys, then you must be a woman. (Right, cause that makes so much sense… and WHY EXACTLY is it an insult to call a man woman-like anyway, hmmm???) There’s something wrong with you, you’re not fulfilling your proper societal role, which I guess is to be horny all the time. (Whereas women are supposed to be… what, exactly? She can’t be implying that women are asexual, can she? Maybe they are supposed to be gossipy and shallow.)

Here we see a very definite sexual-normative prejudice as well as a distinct anti-homosexual bias. She may be too batty to make much of an impact, but that’s basically the kind of attitude we’re up against. Coming from someone more mainstream, it could very well hurt the community.

So I’m trying to think, now, of any other time I’ve heard “asexual” used as an insult. The only thing I can come up with is an episode of House from season four, during the survivor arc, wherein one of the contestants complains about Ridiculously Old Fraud’s favor with House. I remember it because after it aired, M (obnoxiously) pointed out that “they bashed asexuals!” With a little help from the saved convo and ctrl + find, I was able to find the exact quote (the episode, btw, is “Guardian Angels”):

“Why does he get to be Bosley?”
“You want to be Bosley? Bosley’s like the asexual messenger boy.”

But other than that… I can’t think of any other times I’ve heard “asexual” used as a pejorative. Of course I’ve heard people imply that it’s bad, but not specifically use it as an insult. If any of you guys can think of any other times when you’ve heard it used that way, please do comment, because I’d love to get a better idea of why these people think it’s insulting! Plus it’s always amusing to see people try to make an insult out of a label we wear proudly. ;)

Greener Grass: Understanding That Other Patch

Jealousy has always been a curious thing for me, since I experience it so extremely rarely that my relation to it is most often as a spectator tilting her head to the side at this weird thing that humans apparently feel with such strength of emotion that it makes the stomach roil and the head fill up with so many images which each introduce a fresh wave of agony. Even in situations in which I suppose I should have been expected to feel it (I was well aware that M was carrying on liaisons with many other women besides me), if I experienced it at all, it was as a thought rather than an emotion, which in any case I only entertained for a little while.

Yet I am put in the odd position of often being expected to feel envy rooted in yet another emotion I don’t know what it’s like to feel, and told I don’t know what I’m missing for not feeling it. I suppose that’s true enough in one sense—not reacting that way myself, I may never know exactly what it’s like to react in that particular way to that particular stimulus (or rather, in the expected ways, to that particular set of stimuli). But what I recoil from is the idea that I can’t know what I’m missing, that not having that reaction myself, I can’t possibly understand the reaction of others. I’ve touched on this idea before, when I mentioned the oft-cited analogy that sexual people tend to come up with for why they can’t explain themselves to an asexual person, of trying to explain red to a colorblind person—why red, I wonder? So many people independently come up with the color red, yet all my friends and relatives with color deficiencies tell me they actually can distinguish that color. I’m being glib; I know red is culturally and psychologically associated with sex, but my point is, you can see from the choice of colors that even if we were literally talking about explaining red to a colorblind person, it would still be more about the speaker’s (mis)understanding than the listener’s. Perhaps it is a better figure of speech than I first pegged it to be, but if so it’s only unintentionally good, because it’s presented to demonstrate what’s taken as truth about its subject, but it actually better demonstrates the attitude of the person who is not its subject. My criticism of that attitude still stands, but now I want to expand on it. Continue reading

Asexual Elitism

It bothers me when I hear some asexual saying that they feel like they’re somehow above sexual people because they have no interest in sex. Um… what?

Usually, I’ve noticed, this attitude is held by asexuals who are disgusted by sex. And it makes sense that the two would go hand-in-hand, because it’s usually the disgusted ones who are the most sex-negative, and the most likely to adopt a dichotomous, divisive way of thinking. Not that this is always true, of course; some disgusted A’s still manage to maintain a sex-positive attitude.

I’ve seen all manner of different kinds of claims about how asexuals are better than sexuals, but the one that gets me most is the claim that asexuals are more intelligent than sexuals. There seem to be a lot of imagined correlations (not even false correlations, because there hasn’t been any research yet to create those, as far as I know, unless you count Bogaert’s census study, which is probably highly inaccurate) about asexuality floating around out there, but even if there were a study that found that asexuals had a statistically significant, overall higher level of intelligence than sexuals (and assuming that this study took into consideration possible false correlations such as the intersection between asexuals and people who like to spend a lot of time on internet forums), why get all elitist about it? In truth, such a correlation could possibly exist, we don’t know; but even if it did, it doesn’t mean that we are all smarter than all sexuals. In fact, by taking an elitist attitude, you would be proving yourself to be unable to grasp what correlations actually mean, and thus… You’d look stupid.

Another form of asexual elitism worth mentioning is when people say that asexual love seems more pure or true, but I think Spin from Apositive.org already has that topic covered. ;)

Causality

I always wonder why it seems to matter so much (to other people) what asexuality is “caused by.”

Of course, there are a lot of people out there who would say that asexuality doesn’t really exist, and that it’s just repressed sexuality caused by trauma, or “latent” sexuality caused by a lack of appropriate hormones or whatever pseudo-scientific bullshit theory is being spouted these days without any evidence to support it whatsoever.

But my question is not whether or not asexuality is, or can be caused by either of those things (because of course, sexuality in humans is highly complicated and possibly a little bit like HTML—in that if there is even one component missing, it might not work; so there are probably many different potential causes for asexuality), but whether it matters.
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Fear of Intimacy

It occurred to me that my previous post kind of vaguely hits on one of the common things that asexuality is dismissed as, i.e. fear of intimacy.

“Oh, you’re not asexual, you’re just afraid of intimacy.”

I suppose I am, to some extent, afraid if intimacy, if you define “intimacy” as being emotionally open and vulnerable to another person who may not care, which I don’t know that I would, because it seems to me (and I’m no expert on these things, so I’m not entirely sure this is what they’re referring to) that it really involves being afraid even though you’re sure that the person you care about DOES care about you in return.

Under those circumstances, I would have no problem. I’m certainly not afraid of sex; that’s fine, as long as I know my partner will look out for me. I can be emotionally open, too, if I’m sure of my partner.

But if I’m afraid of intimacy, I think asexuality is the cause, rather than the effect. I am only afraid of getting involved with other people because I know I don’t care about the same things they do, and they probably don’t care about and are not prepared to give me the things that I want out of a relationship. I’m willing to compromise, but they may not be. To get into a situation where I’m giving up so much, and getting nothing in return… well, that’s painful, and to be avoided. And that fear is actually legitimate, because it’s perfectly plausible that I’d get myself into such a situation if I don’t exercise caution.

If I were sexual, I would still have to worry about getting into a situation like that, but chances are, since I would have much more incentive to get into sexual relationships, I wouldn’t be so vulnerable in sexual situations. I would feel that I was at least getting something from them, beyond the satisfaction of seeing my partner satisfied, and so it wouldn’t be so much of a drain on me. I wouldn’t have to be so careful, because I wouldn’t have as much reason to be afraid.