Cross-posted to Asexual Agenda.
This post is the first in a series of rants about blogging, wherein I try to help other would-be writers join the ace blogosphere. Please view the masterpost here.
The following is a guest post for the Carnival of Aces by Olivier, who has been a very insightful and eloquent poster at AVEN for the past five years. I personally have found his and his wife’s story quite inspiring, as I find my own attitude/tendencies to be somewhat similar to his wife’s, and had I not discovered asexuality so early in life, I suspect my own story would might have ended up sounding a lot like theirs. Here is how he describes himself:
I’m a heterosexual in a 22-year relationship with an asexual. Like many longer term sexual/asexual relationships, my wife and I had not heard of asexuality until relatively recently (2007), and for many years struggled with the failures of other theories, such as sex-aversion or libido-mismatch, to adequately describe the dynamics of our relationship. I’m incredibly indebted to AVEN for helping us put a name to something that we’d known about – lived – for decades, but had always misunderstood by looking at it through weird normative lenses instead of just seeing it for what it is.
The post is pretty much as he sent it in, but I chose the title.
So. Sexual exploration. I’d been banging around, looking for an analogy (‘cos I like analogies!) when the one I wanted sort of slapped me in the face: exploration! Or in a less 19th-century-pith-helmet way, finding somewhere nice to go on holidays together.
First, a bit of personal background. I’ve always got the impression in asexual spaces that sexual exploration is seen as something natural for sexuals to do lots of, and very much an optional thing for asexuals. I don’t necessarily disagree, but that’s not really been my personal experience. I have pretty vanilla tastes, and so in some senses I’m pretty easy to please sexually – not much exploration required. Just pack me off to the nearest beach, or city full of theatres and museums, or rainforest with waterfalls, and I’m happy. My wife on the other hand, knows that these sorts of things are generally regarded as good holiday experiences, but they do nothing much for her. Some people might decide that they’re basically a homebody and leave it at that. But not my wife, her natural reaction is to go exploring.
And so it was for us at the start. We’d do sexual stuff that I found really quite fabulous, and that my wife was putting a lot of effort into. As people who’d never heard of asexuality, and who saw both ourselves and each other as heterosexual, this seemed to me to be a perfectly normal way to approach sex and relationships. But then it would stop. And when it started again it would be something different, approached with gusto. Until it stopped. In hindsight it’s easy to see this for what it was – an asexual who thought she was sexual trying to find the thing that would do it for her. At the time however, it just seemed like the girl I was crazy about was just way more sexually adventurous than I was. Now, that’s not a bad thing, at all, but it is really, really, really, the wrong expectation to take into a long-term sexual/asexual relationship. Drama and confusion, of course, ensued.
While I was wondering what was wrong with that nice beach town with cool places to hang out, my wife would be planning a few weeks in Afghanistan to see if an element of danger made travel more fun, or a month in a place where nobody spoke a word of English, just for a challenge. And some of these places I enjoyed, and others not so much, but being with her certainly broadened my horizons. Problem was, and is, that even places that ticked all the boxes for her in theory, she didn’t much enjoy in practice. For all that drive to explore, there turned out not to be anywhere she particularly enjoyed going. And while she liked some of them well enough once she was there, she still thought that none of them were worth what you had to do to get there – airports and expense and lots of boring standing in queues.
So what’s a guy to do? My first tactic was to deal with all that boring stuff for her. Spend weeks planning. Get all the details sorted. Have things she liked – good books, tasty food – on hand for every step of the way to make all the transit fun. But when you’ve planned the perfect holiday in your head, there’s only one possible outcome: disappointment. And so with our sex life, until we finally admitted what we knew all along – all that exploration and adventure is basically not going to work for us.
So what to do?
Firstly, take a deep breath and get some perspective. For all the fact that sex is not what either of us hoped or planned, we’re ridiculously well matched and happy in every other department. In travel terms, we may not to get to travel much, but we’ve made sure our home is a great place to be, too.
Secondly, our compromise is to do stuff sexually that’s quick and not very adventurous, but is still something. Ironically, this is what works best for my adventurous wife, and leaves less adventurous me wanting more. Not at all what we would have predicted, but it works well enough for us. So it’s like taking a short drive to a beach we both like instead of spending a week in a resort, which would be torture if one of us didn’t want to be there.
And, you know, that’s not the worst, or most uncomfortable way to live. Sometimes I still get the travel bug, and sometimes even a drive to the beach is too much for my wife, but on the whole, it works, and it works well – simply because it’s shaped by the sort of people we both are. Sometimes all that exploring just makes you want to stay close to home.
…Or at least, that’s how it should be written.
I’ve been watching House for years now. When I first started watching, it was sometime between the end of season two and the beginning of season three, and I burned through the first two seasons very quickly and then showed it to my best friend and then-roommate, K, who eagerly awaited season 3 with me. We would stop all our other activities and watch it together when it came on. Sometimes other people would come over to watch it with us, and we’d have little “House parties” but more often, we’d just shut the door and get quite annoyed when other people would disturb us in the middle of the show. As the seasons have worn on the show has held my interest, but it’s been waning more and more. I no longer eagerly await each episode and watch it as soon as I am able. Now weeks or months will pass before I think about getting caught up again. But I’m still watching, even though I am losing confidence in the writers.
Last week, I happened to check the AVEN home page as I (too infrequently) do, and saw that an upcoming episode of House would feature an asexual couple. I watched the preview clip with a mix of hope and deep, cynical dread. I wasn’t surprised at all to see House opposing the existence of asexuality. I was glad that Wilson said it was a “valid sexual orientation,” although the preview (terrible as usual) proved to be misleading, because he was quoting a magazine article when he said that. The show’s formula includes House being nearly always right—could the writers really take the risk of showing House being wrong about this? (Spoilers below the cut.) Continue reading
[Trigger warning for discussion of rape and violence, including a non-explicit excerpt from a survivor’s story. Please note that any hateful or otherwise inappropriate comments will not make it through moderation.]
Via Sciatrix’s Monday Linkspam, I’ve come across a couple of good posts on asexuality and oppression, which I highly recommend: first one from Kaz refuting the infuriating claim that asexuals “aren’t really oppressed.” Then this one on victim-blaming, which references something which apparently happened on the AVEN forums. I think it’s good to read them both together. Kaz writes:
But what I really want to address is the bit about violence.
“Asexuals don’t experience violent oppression!”
I would like it if people stopped saying this.
First of all, I honestly don’t think we KNOW. I know of no wide-scale surveys or other information-gathering measures on this front. It is possible there genuinely isn’t much in the way of violence against asexual people. But it’s possible that we don’t see it because we aren’t looking, because we’re just assuming there is no such thing as anti-asexual violence or specifically hate crimes.
Or—I must interject—is it because we don’t WANT to know? And actually, I created an information-gathering measure about that, but more on that later. Continuing (more behind the cut): Continue reading
There’s been some discussion in a couple of comment threads on here about the problem of gray-asexuals feeling particularly detached from the rest of the asexual community. It seems that most of us, including myself, have a sense of not being fully welcomed by the rest of the community, and may not be able to easily find support for whatever sexual problems we are likely to encounter. I’d like to address this problem and propose some potential solutions, so that perhaps we all might be able to figure out what is most likely to work and take some steps towards implementing at least one of them.
Part of the reason I started this blog in the first place was because my sense of propriety told me that it was not appropriate to discuss what I wanted to discuss here on AVEN, where many members find sex gross and/or just don’t ever want to talk or hear about it at all, whether because it makes them uncomfortable or because they just aren’t interested. Aside from that, I was weary of reading debates about whether grays or just plain sexually sexually active asexuals should be considered “true” asexuals or not. I didn’t want my threads to be derailed by that sort of discussion, as I’d seen some very thoughtful and interesting posts get dragged down like that in the past. In fact, I didn’t care all that much about discussion at all because my thoughts were more introspective and less audience-oriented anyway, so it would have been kind of silly on that level to make them as forum posts, really, but just pretending that I did have some particularly pressing need for support about a sexual issue (from an asexual perspective)—where would I post the topic?
Let’s just consider AVEN for the moment. I can see three main possibilities: the Asexual Relationships forum, the forum for Sexual Partners, Friends, and Allies, and the Q&A. The Q&A is a bit of a stretch, because it is usually used for the most basic questions about asexuality from the newest of newbies, and a quick perusal of the current topics confirms for me that it is still used for that. Since it’s so much like a FAQ, when I used to spend time on AVEN I would always ignore it. So I can’t imagine it attracting the attention of very many thoughtful posters who are knowledgeable about sex and can give helpful suggestions. More likely, you’d attract the attention of those people in the Sexual Partners forum, but you might end up a little lean on responses from the asexual side, and some people may feel somewhat ill at ease posting in that forum because it is supposed to be for allies getting support, and so it may seem inappropriate to post something like that there. Depending on your purpose, though, it might be a good place to go, although there’s no getting around that it’s still AVEN, and even that forum will still boast its fair share of nay-sayers (as SlightlyMetaphysical recently pointed out here). Or if it’s also somewhat of a relationship problem, as the vast majority of sexual problems most likely are, it could go in the Relationships forum. That one is probably the one I would choose, but it’s still a slanted decision because what if the problem isn’t really with the relationship but more like the logistics of sex? To post something like that in the Relationships forum would perhaps encourage the wrong lens with which to view the problem, as people go to the relationships forum to discuss relationships, not sex. And there’s no real guarantee you’d attract the attention of the posters with the most knowledge and insight about such issues when posting in that forum. There’s no guarantee you’d even attract the attention of users who can bear to read about sex, much less those who have even the slightest interest in it. So where can you go?
There is a fourth possibility at AVEN that I didn’t consider at first because it is fairly new: the Tea & Sympathy forum. I’ve never glanced at the topics until now, but it appears to be mostly for very general emotional support, and so there is still the problem of not necessarily attracting the attention of the right set of people. Especially, in this case, because it seems to be geared towards garnering sympathy, and not so much insight or problem-solving suggestions, so someone looking for that might just get a lot of responses like, “Aww, that sucks! I hope it gets better for you!” Which is fine if that’s what you want, but not really what I would be looking for, if it were me. I don’t care about sympathy for its own sake; I can get that from any clueless friend. If I’m posting on a forum, I’m looking for insight, not a one line piece of empty cake somebody is using to up their post count.
So, AVEN as it is currently is probably not the place you’d want to go to post a topic like that. But where else could you go?
My number one suggestion would be to go to Apositive… or at least it would have been, like two years ago. Part of the reason why Apositive was created in the first place was because of the anti-sexual mindset of a lot of people on AVEN. Apositive was meant to be a place for intelligent discussion that gets beyond the “asexuality 101” aspect of AVEN and the bias against discussion of sexuality, and as such there were some very interesting threads about the logistics of sex and dealing with sex as an asexual. Unfortunately, a lot of the initial enthusiasm for the forum wore off, and it’s been hard to keep discussion active. I think a lot of this has to do with the format of the information being displayed, and the fact that not too long after Apositive was created, the asexual blogosphere began to really expand, diverting a lot of topics that otherwise might have been started on Apositive to the blog circuit. So, while I think Apositive was an ideal environment for this kind of discussion in spirit, unless it goes through a big revival, it may take a long time for a person looking for support to get any responses.
Now, blogs have several advantages over forums. They are easier for people to keep track of because of RSS feeds, for one. I have heard that it’s possible to follow forum posts via feeds, but I have no idea how to set that up myself, and I imagine most people are in a similar boat. (EDIT: Nevermind, I’ve figured it out… however, it does seem weirdly clunky and I’m willing to bet most people still don’t know that it can be done. It just doesn’t seem to lend itself well to RSS feeds.) With blogs, RSS feed links are usually very easy to find, and it takes only a few clicks to set them up. Blog posts also have more longevity, because posts don’t tend to get buried within the archives just to eventually vanish into the ether. Forums are more difficult to maintain compared to blogs and face more risk of data loss and down time, and they tend to be more expensive as well. On blogs, there is a system of tagging and categorizing which most forums lack, and the interactive content is immediately available rather than taking several clicks to get from the static home page to the forum, which you have to join before you will be able to post to anyway. In that way, they are more readily available to the outside community, and especially so since most blogging sites have ways of advertising your content to other people, like the sitemap pings and automatically-generated links to similar posts that WordPress does. I also mentioned earlier that there is a level at which you can be more introspective in a blog post than in a forum post. You don’t have to worry (to the same degree, at least) about whether anybody in the community will care about what you’re saying; you can create your own space to connect with whoever wants to listen. You don’t have to hem and haw over which sub-forum is most appropriate for your discussion to happen in, or whether you’re following all of the community’s conventions. And unlike a forum, which will die out if there are not enough people to create discussion, it only takes one person to maintain a blog. And since it takes only one person, all of the responsibility is also on that person, so you can’t just say to yourself, “I’m sure someone else will have something interesting to post,” to dissuade yourself from taking the trouble to say something like you can on a forum. All of that makes the blog format more productive by putting the focus on the content, rather than the community.
However, the focus on creating content for others to consume is also one of the major drawbacks of a blogging format. If it’s just one person talking about a bunch of stuff, that person can probably get support from the readers for their own crises, but who else can benefit from that? Since I started this blog I’ve had a couple of people write to me for advice on some problems they were having, and I’ve done the best I can to provide honest and helpful advice, but what I can do is limited. I suppose it is one option to start an advice column on a blog, but getting only one opinion in a crisis situation might not be casting your net wide enough, and it also tends to take a while for a response. Of course, the amount of time it takes is often warranted because a good advice columnist will take the time to weigh the situation carefully, do a little research if necessary, and provide as good and fully fleshed-out a response as possible. That opinion may be worth more than the opinion of the average joe who just types out a response as soon as he sees the question based on his own prejudices. But just because a person’s opinion is more widely respected, does it necessarily mean that they will give a better response? I think that there is something to be gained from an advice column, sure, but in a lot of cases it’s just not the kind of support that a person may be looking for. And it may end up being just a tad too public as well, which is why the practice of pseudonyms is so common.
Fortunately, there is a site which combines the benefits of blogs with the community aspect of forums, and adds a level of privacy to boot. The Asexuality Livejournal community is probably the best place to go currently for support on issues having to do with sex. It is generally pretty supportive, has a fairly wide user base (1,891 members), and because friends lists (the primary way in which LJ users view recently updated posts) are very similar to an RSS feed, people will tend to see the post right away and respond quickly. Because it’s not a forum style, there’s also no incentive to post one-liners just to raise one’s post count or anything like that, so I’ve noticed a smaller amount of shallow replies on LJ, and usually the people who are disgusted by sex will have the sense not to click the LJ-cut, or at the very least not to respond. Of course, there are idiots and trolls on LJ too, and from time to time there is drama, but compared to AVEN (and a lot of other LJ communities), the asexuality comm is pretty relaxed. I think there are a lot of people on the LJ community who mainly spend their time there instead of AVEN because it is a more welcoming and often more intelligent environment. And since the group of people who are more likely to engage in sex, be okay with sex, and identify as gray-asexual, demisexual, etc. are less likely to feel welcome on AVEN, I think it makes sense that you will find more of those people seeking refuge on LJ. So if you’re looking for a quick response from that group of people, the asexuality LJ community is the place where you will most likely find the best support.
The drawback is that it does require you to make an LJ and know how to post to communities (and learn how to use an LJ-cut! If you don’t use them appropriately when posting to communities, you will soon find out why you need to learn that tag by heart). Another drawback is that people who aren’t on LJ or don’t check it regularly won’t see the post, but with so many members that’s not much of a drawback. But it’s a somewhat insular community, and people who aren’t on LJ already and don’t know about the community may never find out about this avenue of potential support. Because I lived on LJ for so many years, I used to take it for granted that people knew about it, but in a lot of cases that isn’t really true. I am hoping that people who are looking for this kind of support but don’t know about the community will see this post and learn about it, and hopefully get the support they need.
However, I also think that we need more options. That AVEN, the first site that comes up on google when you search for asexuality, can be such a hotbed of resentment, derision, elitism, and general nastiness towards sexuals, sexuality, and “gray-ness” is awful. Is it any wonder that people think that asexuality means hating sex? To some extent it is understandable that there would be a lot of members there who do not want to hear about sex, but I think there really ought to be a sanctuary somewhere on AVEN for asexual people who DO want to discuss it. Maybe it would be worthwhile to create a new forum on AVEN specifically for questions about sex/sexuality, wherein it should be acceptable and expected to be a bit more frank and explicit than it would be on the rest of the forums. This might reintegrate some of the people who have left because they didn’t seem to relate to the community mindset so well, and it would have the added advantage of being easy to find.
This might, however, be somewhat to the detriment of any other websites that attract their user bases from people who left AVEN to look for other sources of support. But I think it’s more important to have that support available wherever we can create it, and I think it is actually kind of shameful that we don’t have that support available in a place where it should be so obvious. (Likewise, I think it is shameful that there is no forum specifically for aromantics, and I hope that will also be rectified at some point.) AVEN has more resources devoted to it than any other community for asexuality, and it also tends to be more support-driven than other places in asexual internet land. Why such a huge oversight?
I am also asking myself: What can I do to help rectify this situation? How can I provide anything beyond my own perspective? I have done something for this more often maligned part of the community (though when I started this it was really more for myself than anything else) by making the various intersections between asexuality and sexuality the focus of my blog, but what else? I don’t have the resources to start a new forum for this kind of support, especially since there already are venues for that. I suppose I could open my blog for questions and advice, though I am not sure I am qualified to give it. If people want to ask me, though, I will answer. I could also open up the blog to guest posts. Does anyone have anything to say about being gray-a, demisexual, or just a sexually active asexual here? I like the idea of hearing from other people on here, so if you’ve got something, please drop me a line!
If anyone has any more ideas, let’s hear them!
I am loathe to write about this, really I am. But I’ve been surprised several times over the past two or three months by certain high-profile members of the community referring to asexuality using a definition that I was under the impression that we had a fairly common consensus going that asexuality is not. I’m not talking about new people who don’t yet understand what we mean when we talk about asexuality, here. It is to be expected that we would always have that kind of conversation going on at AVEN’s forums, as new people come in and rehash old conversations that they haven’t participated in yet. But I generally don’t go on AVEN because I had those discussions six years ago, and at this point I don’t usually find anything new and interesting on the forums. That’s not what I’m talking about.
No, I’m talking about stuff like a casual remark that if a person is asexual, that means that they don’t like sex. Around here, I would think that kind of assumption would be considered quite silly. Is it not? I mean that as a serious, earnest question: is it not? Even among asexuals who have been around the block a time or two, is that question really, seriously up for debate?
A while ago, during a privately conducted debate, I had a disagreement with Pretzelboy on the issue of how asexuality is defined. I had taken it for granted that we were debating with the definition “an asexual is a person who lacks sexual attraction” specifically in mind (I’m taking it for granted also that the “lack” is relative rather than absolute, and whether it is distinct enough to warrant the asexual label can only be determined by the person experiencing it), but apparently that was only my own assumption. He raised the idea that some asexuals actually define themselves as “not sexual” which, not to put too fine a point on it, to me seems just as much a so-vague-it-becomes-nonsensical definition as it would be to claim a definition of sexuality so broad as to make it possible to claim that all humans are sexual (in a non-scientific context).
I dropped the argument at that point, because I couldn’t see how we could get past that point to discuss what we had really been trying to talk about, if we cannot even agree on a standard definition. But it’s been niggling at me for a while since then, and I have started thinking about the topic again recently after reading the discussion about masturbation going on in the asexosphere as of late, as well as this post from Asexual Curiosities. I’d like to highlight one comment that stood out to me, made by Siggy on Ily’s first post:
Well, no one says that asexual means utterly lacking in anything sexual whatsoever.
Except that they do. Because isn’t that exactly what so many sexual people tend to think when they first hear the word asexual? They think asexual = not sexual = lacking anything sexual whatsoever. Because to them, sexuality is a broad term which encompasses EVERYTHING sexual. And to a lot of people, that even includes the physical reality that human beings are a species that is sexed, and reproduces via sexual intercourse. And yes, that definition of what it is to be “sexual” does make sense in at least one context, although I think it is kind of silly to use it just to state the obvious well-known fact that humans reproduce sexually.* And Siggy is right (I hope?) that asexuals have not asserted anything of the sort, but that’s the key misunderstanding, isn’t it? They really think that’s what we’re saying. That is, they think that we are saying that we are utterly lacking in anything sexual whatsoever, something that would necessarily make us not human. They really, honestly think that’s what we’re saying!
* In many cases, I think they are using this statement to infer something else (that it is impossible for a person not to experience sexual attraction given the way that humans reproduce sexually), but that assertion does not logically follow from what they are saying. After all, just because people may experience some aspects of what would be called “sexuality” it doesn’t mean that they must experience all of them (in fact it’d be pretty hard to find someone who does, if you consider how many kinks there are out there). Since it is not a valid assertion and that has been covered extensively elsewhere, I am not talking about it here. I am only talking about the ones who assert that we are not asexual because we experience any one thing that could be considered an aspect of sexuality (including but not limited to the fact that we exist because of sexual reproduction).
Part of the problem, of course, is that the only other exposure people have to the word “asexual” comes from biology class, so in that context it becomes understandable when the idea of hermaphroditic self-fertilizing species or amoebas comes into play. But even when it is understood that we are using a different definition which does not include some new form of human reproduction, people will still tend to think of the word’s meaning in terms of what its root components mean: not sexual. What does that mean? It’s still confusing, because “sexual” is an adjective that is applied to a very broad range of situations and activities, including things (like kissing and dancing) that fall in some sort of gray area where there is no consensus that it should be applied. So, people will tend to understand the word “asexual” each in their own individual way, depending on what they consider sexual. Even if their definition of “sexual” is not so broad as to include the basic physical fact that humans are a sexed species, the vast majority of people will consider acts which physically engage and stimulate the genitals to be sexual even if they do not fit whatever criteria that person thinks of as qualifying as sex. Therefore, to most people it would make sense to consider the masturbating asexual (or the sexually active asexual, for that matter) to be a paradox, and thus conclude they are not really asexual at all.
So how could it possibly be useful for any one of us to define asexuality as simply “not sexual” if that is the conclusion that the majority of people are going to draw from it? Even if people do realize that “asexual” is meant to refer to one specific aspect of sexuality, there is nothing in that definition to indicate which aspect that would be. Why wouldn’t people assume it refers to behavior?
Maybe masturbation is something that may or may not be considered a form of sex, depending on what you think “sex” means. And maybe it’s something that may or may not be considered “sexual” depending on what “sexual” means. But that’s a moot point. It doesn’t matter, because the definition of asexual that we are using isn’t really “not sexual,” it’s “lacking sexual attraction” specifically. Even if we contend that masturbation does not have to be considered sexual, what criteria are we using to determine that? From what I can gather from that discussion, it’s the lack of sexual attraction or interest/enjoyment which leads to that conclusion. You can certainly masturbate without experiencing sexual attraction—at least I sure hope so, because otherwise how could we explain the masturbatory practices of children? I doubt there are many who would contend that a child’s masturbating experience contains sexual attraction to anyone, but people still call it a sexual experience. So we must ask ourselves: are we using the same criteria that most people are using to determine what is or is not “sexual?” Probably not. Most likely, they will stick with their own definition because it makes the most sense to them. If a person defines physical stimulation of the genitals (for purposes of arousal and especially orgasm) as sexual, it is not very convincing to say that it is not sexual just because the component of attraction is missing. Attraction is more of a side point to the physical act, under this definition. I have met sexual people who don’t specifically think of any attractive people while masturbating, but they still consider masturbation to be sexual in general.
Likewise if we say that masturbation isn’t sexual in some cases because the people who are doing it don’t enjoy it, and are doing it only to “scratch an itch” or feel obligated to keep it up for health-related reasons. Let’s replace “masturbation” with “sex” then. Sometimes sex isn’t enjoyable. Sometimes people feel obligated to have sex because they want to maintain the health of their relationships. But does that mean that sex is no longer a sexual experience?
I hope I am mostly preaching to the choir here, but if there really are asexuals out there who say that asexual means “not sexual” in any sense except to explain its component morphemes, I’d like them to consider this: if we use a definition that is so incredibly vague, how can we make important distinctions like the difference between asexuality and celibacy? And how do we avoid non-inclusive, elitist statements like “you’re not really asexual if you have sex/masturbate/like sex” if we use a definition that is so open to interpretation about what is and is not sexual?
On AVEN, that attitude is very much discouraged. Nobody likes it when somebody starts saying “you are not asexual because you do x” and the admod team is quick to warn people who do. That is why I had thought that there was indeed basically a consensus among at least the more weathered members of the community that we are going by the “lack of attraction” definition; if we use the other one, then honestly? We have no business telling anybody to stop telling other people that they aren’t asexual because they do things that those people think of as sexual. By defining an asexual person as simply “not sexual” with no other qualifications, we would be encouraging other people to fill in the blanks with their own ideas. Which may or (more likely) may not match the meaning we intend to get across.
I find it really weird, then, to discover that we have this kind of contradictory state of affairs within the community with regard to our standard definition. Truthfully, it made me wonder whether my perspective is really welcomed by the community or not. If people do accept this definition, then am I not asexual enough? Pondering this question has left me somewhat unwilling to make any blog posts lately.
I think this is where the idea of policing each other comes into play. Nobody likes it (except those who are doing the policing) when people police others’ “rights” to call themselves asexual based on their own definition of what is or is not sexual. I think maybe this desire to be inclusive is so strong that many of us don’t want to say, “No, your definition is wrong.” (Yet clearly we do engage in some sort of policing, and attempt to keep people who make such statements out of the community.) So we shoot ourselves in the foot by being so open to whatever way that people want to define themselves that it hurts efforts at making a consistent, coherent, and cohesive education effort. We cannot expect other people to understand what we are talking about if we do not apply a critical standard to our own definitions/discourse as rigorous as the standard that outsiders will most certainly be holding us to.
Honestly, I think that “asexual” is a misleading term, and the only reason why it makes sense at all is in the context of other words that refer to an individual’s sexual orientation, like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. If we had a different cultural context which did not include those concepts, most likely none of us would have come to identify as asexual in the first place. Actually, all four of those words sound quite silly if you don’t have any knowledge of their context. I mean, really? Bisexual? What could that mean, that you’re double-sexual? But if you know that “sexual” in this context refers to an individual’s sense of sexual attraction, and if you know that the prefixes all refer to the gendered direction of that attraction, then you begin to be able to decode the word. (Although even once you’ve got that down, you have to also understand why “homo-” and “hetero-” are used instead of “andro-/gyno-” which would make more sense in a non-homophobic culture.) Only then does it become intuitive to invent the word “asexual” to describe a lack of sexual attraction!
The problem, of course, is that other people tend not to understand this context at first, and think we are saying literally what the root components of the word mean. But that doesn’t make sense. We can’t (and don’t) argue that we do not experience anything that could ever be considered sexual whatsoever, so why do any of us even continue to engage in debates over what is and is not sexual, when it comes to explaining to outsiders why asexuality is possible? Why do some of us accept “not sexual” as an appropriate definition, if it is so vague that it could mean anything? Especially, why accept it while still clearly being influenced the pervasive norms of the asexual community, and apparently still using an operative definition that equates “not sexual” with “not having sexual attraction?”
Is our disidentification with sexuality so strong that we are reluctant to admit that any part of our experiences might be considered sexual at all, ever? Is it a reluctance to admit that they might have a point, if we were actually saying that? Are we just being drawn into a straw man debate?
It all boils down to this: if we are to have a chance at being accepted within the wider community—the community of non-asexuals, or those who do experience sexual attraction—then we’ve got to recognize that the binary distinction asexual/sexual that we often use to refer to insiders vs. outsiders is not a literal reference to people who experience aspects of sexuality vs. people who don’t. We need to acknowledge how broad a category “sexuality” is, and make it clear to everyone that we are only referring to one aspect of that, the only one that it seems we really have all got in common: a relative lack of sexual attraction, distinctly low enough to warrant such a classification. If we can’t come to any sort of consensus about the basic definition of “asexual” within our own community (which is completely based around that term!), how can we expect others to begin to understand? How can we expect them NOT to dismiss us as a bunch of people who can’t possibly have a point because we are saying contradictory things?
A little while ago, I created a survey meant to measure gender variation in the asexual community, because I suspected that a large number of asexuals, in one way or another, do not conform to gender norms. There have been polls around AVEN and elsewhere in the past which have indicated that there is a significant percentage of trans members, and in my four or five years of observing the asexual community, I had noted how often the subject of gender has come up–over and over again, people will ask whether others identify as androgynous or gender-neutral in some way (often making a connection between that and asexuality); or mention that they don’t “get” gender, or don’t feel like they have a gender at all. In that latter scenario, what follows is usually a bunch of people agreeing with that sentiment, and then a trans person will chime in to try to explain the subtle nuances of gender, and that devolves into a frustrating argument wherein there is usually a lot of misunderstanding (to put it mildly), and a clash of gender essentialist/social constructionist vs. intrinsic inclinationist views. I will likely make a post on that kind of argument later, but for now, I can’t bear to deal with it, and anyway, I want to focus on the task at hand.
Before I post the actual results, I feel it necessary to make some distinctions clear: this survey is by no means academic, and was faced with a number of problems which no doubt affected the results. This is not meant to provide solid statistics, but rather just a general idea of where the community stands with regard to gender diversity. But, if this serves to give people who actually have the means to do real scientific research on these ideas about what to examine, then so much the better.
I want to post something addressing the difficulties I had with the survey in detail, but I fear I will bore those of you who are just anxiously waiting for the results, so I will save that for another post. However, I do need to address definitions here before I begin: “Transsexual” refers to someone who wants to change their body (generally within the male/female binary), while “transgendered” can mean different things to different people, but here I use it as an umbrella term to encompass a range of people who explicitly identified themselves as such, either by ticking the “transgender” box in the question about which gender one identifies as, or by writing it in the comments. There is a significant difference between the two, since some trans people don’t identify as trans, but just women or men, no qualifiers necessary. Although I was aware of that, it’s not what I was looking to examine, so in order to simplify the results, I combined them; however, in any future surveys there would need to be a means of addressing this issue. Since this requires conscious identification with the label, there may have been (actually, there most definitely were) some people who may be considered transgendered under certain definitions of the word but who do not personally identify with the term, or have not yet figured out where they stand. In particular, this is likely to leave out some androgynous-identified people (and here, I use “androgynous-identified” as another umbrella term to refer to several different gender identities which would typically be considered “in-between” male and female: androgyne, neuter/neutrois/agender, bigender/intergender, and so on), who are not sure whether the term fits them. For these people, there is no standardized approach to gender, as there has come to be for transsexuals. Some may want to physically alter their bodies in certain ways, others may want to alter their bodies in different ways, some may rely primarily on gender expression rather than changing their physical sex, and still others may be content not to do anything at all. There isn’t an easy way to sort these people, because they defy conventional categorization. They tend to overlap with other categories, and this overlap may confuse any statistics formed from the survey.
For short, I am going to refer to all trans people on the FTM spectrum (including androgynous-identified) by FTM, and all on the MTF spectrum (likewise) with just MTF. Again, keep in mind, I am NOT INCLUDING those who did not specifically identify themselves as trans at some point in the survey.
Now, on to the actual results.
This is already a well-known fact which has come to be expected, but the online asexual community is extraordinarily female-dominated, and since the survey was posted on LJ, which is extraordinarily female-dominated itself, the results are naturally skewed. However, what’s interesting to me is that, not only do females outnumber males (79.2% to 14.7%), but 87% of the transgendered respondents were female-born as well. This is interesting, because while I’m not sure what the actual FTM:MTF ratio is for the general population (I have seen various estimates ranging from 1:8.7 to 1:0.66), it is considered to be roughly equal, and certainly a lot closer than the 20:3 that responded here. It is doubly interesting because there is significant evidence that testosterone increases sex drive, whereas a switch from testosterone to estrogen reduces it. For this reason, transitioning FTMs are often stereotyped as aggressive hornballs, while it might be more expected that MTFs would, upon transition, become closer to asexual (as happened with my own girlfriend).
This may be a new piece of evidence, as it seems that many asexuals are unaware that there is such an extremely unbalanced ratio of FTMs to MTFs, as evidenced by this thread on AVEN. It is interesting to me that the OP of that thread thought that trans people within the community were predominately MTF; perhaps this has to do with the fact that (for disgustingly sexist, phallocentric reasons) people so often sensationalize MTF transsexuality, while completely ignoring the other side of the spectrum.
If I were to theorize, I would think there are several reasons for this: 1) It is a female-dominated community, so likely feminine socialization plays a big role. Females are probably more likely to realize that they have the option of being asexual, because they are more likely to be exposed to other females who identify as asexual. Due to the fact that male socialization is so sex-oriented, males may not ever be exposed to asexuality the way females are likely to be, and thus never realize it is an option, and the libidinal effects of testosterone surely do not contribute to the formation of an asexual identity. Some MTFs may, even upon encountering asexuality and finding they can identify with it to some degree, reject the notion that they could be asexual simply because it is not a way they have been used to thinking of themselves. I have more thoughts about that, but I’ll save it for another post. 2) FTMs may feel more limited sexually than MTFs, due to the fact that while vaginoplasty has become fairly sophisticated, phalloplasty leaves much to be desired. For this reason, a large number of FTMs choose not to go through with bottom surgery at all. Lacking the proper genitalia may be a contributor to asexuality, and those who have already had the experience of being asexual may not want to become sexual (it seems there aren’t many asexuals who would; likely that is because it is difficult to accept the identity “asexual” unless one is satisfied being that way). A number of asexuals on the FTM spectrum indicated that, rather than going for SRS, they would prefer to have their genitalia completely removed, thus becoming neutrois.
I wish I had something to compare this to; I would like to do a survey of the trans community to see how many of them identify as asexual, and whether there is a similar ratio there.
More results, in bullet format:
I’m going to have to split up this post into a series to cover everything that I want to, because this is getting way too long. Later, I will post more about the results, including some of the comments I received, and discuss some of the issues that I ran into while doing this survey. Until next time!
For those of you who have been wondering where I’ve disappeared to these past few weeks, I’ve recently gotten a girlfriend, and she has been regularly kidnapping me. Met her on OKcupid, and by coincidence we turned out to have already met in person, but not directly spoken to one another, at our local QSA. We sort of ended up going on a date by accident, as our originally planned “first” friendly meet-up ended up lasting five or six hours longer than expected. I’m quite pleasantly surprised at this recent turn of events; I hadn’t expected to find someone so soon after M, especially not around where I live.
She has been ridiculously supportive about asexuality, too. She not only asks questions, but also spends a lot of time thinking about it by herself, trying to come up with definitions of sexual vs. non-sexual attraction. She listens to me and tries to understand, and being a fellow queer person (currently without much of a sex drive) it comes quite a bit more naturally to her.
I’ve been trying to balance my time with her against school, my friends, and the internet. Since my priorities are in that order, and we’re in the middle of midterms, well. My updates to this blog have obviously become less frequent. I’m going to try to post more often, but I surely won’t be able to keep up at the same pace that I did previously. I will also eventually get around to replying to comments.
Anyway, this past Sunday was declared Asexuality Visibility and Education Day. I don’t spend much time on AVEN anymore, so I wasn’t aware of that until three or four days prior, but somehow I managed to arrange a meet-up with the two other asexual (or close to asexual) girls I know of in this area, whom I met over the internet (one on asexualitic, the other on LJ). We went to a little international cafe, and ended up talking for four hours. Which is certainly unexpected, since all three of us are shy and introverted. It was a great success! I guess meeting people over the internet really does work.
It occurs to me that although I started this blog specifically to talk about issues that affect gray-asexuals, I haven’t actually addressed the issue directly, except on my about page.
So to rectify this, I want to go into more detail about my personal identity, my political identity, and my reasons for choosing to present myself to the public the way I do, even though that public identity is too stark to match up with my true identity.
I am out as an asexual to everybody I associate with for long enough that the subject comes up (which is usually fairly quickly, though not in the case of professional associates and extended family members). I am out as gray-asexual to only a select few. This is because most people do not have enough of a conceptual background in asexual discourse to understand what I’m talking about, and do not care to acquire it. Which is just as well, because most of the time I am not willing to spend so much time educating others on the particulars of my existence, especially when they would like as not reject it anyway. I only trust those details to those few who are either asexual themselves, show a keen interest in asexuality, or those I would be intimate with. In that latter case, I will quite patiently and persistently attempt to build understanding, but it’s an absolute deal-breaker if I ever determine that it’s impossible to create. No exceptions.
A month or two ago, I remember reading a thread (or part of one anyway) on AVEN started by an asexual who is attracted to virgins. Several others piped up, saying that whenever they found out that someone wasn’t a virgin, they were immediately turned off by that person.
One member in particular had an unreasonable, extremely negative, judgmental view of anyone who had ever had sex, and the thread quickly devolved into an argument with this person (who IMO made a total ass of him/herself). The thread was at least six pages long, so I didn’t read all of it. I read just enough to get the gist of the argument, and see that it wasn’t going anywhere–it was like arguing with a fundamentalist. This person was beyond being disgusted by sex. S/he HATED sex, and seemed to put a great deal of time and effort into avoiding it. Such an extreme viewpoint, to my mind, casts doubt on a person’s claim to be asexual. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this person might actually be a person suffering from sexual anorexia, or just regular old sexual repression. It seemed dubiously similar to the kind of fortresses that people in denial build to keep reality out. This sort of “us and them” mentality, this militant rejection of ANYTHING sexual, is something that I think damages our cause. After all, how are we ever going to get sexual people to accept us if we won’t accept them? For this reason, I think it’s important for asexuals to be sex-positive.
But enough about that. What I wanted to talk about was virgins. Continue reading