Until relatively recently, I never considered whether I might be on the aromantic spectrum. It was patently obvious to me that I’ve experienced whatever feeling it is that people refer to as “romantic attraction.” It didn’t really matter that I’ve only had that happen (with complete certainty) once—if it happened once, then surely it could happen again. The potential was all that mattered. Except as the years went on, and I tried very unsuccessfully to find someone (else—I’ve been polyamorously partnered for the past seven years) to date, it’s started to seem less and less like that potential feeling is accessible. So after much consideration, I’ve started identifying as greyromantic. Continue reading
The Victorian Era is sometimes considered to have been a more ace-friendly era, what with its apparent presumption that women were all asexual, and the prevalence of romantic friendships. A lot of discourse goes on about how the Victorians were so repressed and prudish, and we shouldn’t at all want to be like them. Michel Foucault was right to question the repression hypothesis; what seems to have gone on in the Victorian Era was in fact much more complex than the white-washed version that it is so popular to decry.
Enter Clelia Mosher, a Stanford professor who conducted the earliest known sex survey from 1892 to 1920, which you can read about here. Quote:
Indeed, many of the surveyed women were decidedly unshrinking. One, born in 1844, called sex “a normal desire” and observed that “a rational use of it tends to keep people healthier.” Offered another, born in 1862, “The highest devotion is based upon it, a very beautiful thing, and I am glad nature gave it to us.”
Does this sound like an asexual perspective to anyone? It’s a far cry from what people like to assert was typical of the era, sounding much more like something you’d hear people say about sex today. And it makes me wonder… if people knew that sex tends to keep people healthier even back in the 19th century, do we really need so many news articles that say so today? What’s the point of them? How is it news?
So if not all Victorian women scorned sex, why do we think of them as prudish? First, says Freedman, the notion of passionlessness wasn’t universal, it was a class privilege, a way for wealthier women to claim respectability that more sexually vulnerable slave, immigrant and working-class women couldn’t. “To some extent it’s a protection of women from the sense of availability, and in other ways it’s a limitation on them and denying their sexuality,” Freedman says. Virtue was also a way for women to demonstrate good citizenship—men expressed this in the public sphere, and women in the home.
Also, some historical sources are misleading. As Degler pointed out in his 1974 article, until the Mosher Survey, much information about Victorian sex lives came from health advice books, like those of Dr. William Acton, who wrote in 1865: “The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feelings of any kind. What men are habitually, women are only exceptionally.” But these books, wrote Degler, designed to urge temperance to young women, were prescriptive rather than de-scriptive: “The so-called Victorian conception of women’s sexuality was more that of an ideology seeking to be established than the prevalent view or practice of even middle-class women.”
So essentially, people are taking what would amount to today’s most propagandistic abstinence-only sexual education course materials and assuming that what they say is the norm for everyone. Also, how could a man know whether or not women are “troubled with” sexual feelings?
What’s really interesting to me here is the class privilege dynamic, which seems as if it may still be preserved to a reduced extent today. Not that sex is seen as something particularly common (in the derogatory sense of belonging to the lower class, not prevalence), or that it’s a social taboo to enjoy it… but to some extent it seems it is still a social taboo to admit doing it publicly, and talk about it freely. People still attempt to control women’s sexual choices by engaging in slut-shaming and the like. And in the asexual community, sex is often seen as negative because it is gross (well, it is, but so are most bodily functions), and some asexuals portray themselves as being above it. What is this snootiness about? On the other hand, there are people who seem to think reveling in their sexuality puts them somehow above asexuals or anyone else they perceive as “repressed,” as they seem to feel they are in a position to offer pity.
True to my blog title, I think it’s all a lot more complex and shaded than all that. And people should really look into things more before making statements like that.
We were not lovers.
I didn’t know what we were or what we would become. We were in fuzzy territory, the topography a natural blend, unmarked by conceptual boundaries. There were boundaries, yes, but only the kind of boundaries that a river makes as it cuts through stone. There was no sign that said “KEEP OFF” and no assumption that we would be following societal customs about grass. There were no intellectually imposed markings of any kind, really. It was more organic than a hippie convention at the local farmer’s market.
We did not talk again until a day had passed. I was, quite frankly, distracted by my vibrant social life. You see, after spending the summer heartsick and pining, I had gotten back into the swing of things. No longer isolated from scholastic pursuits, I found myself surrounded by people. There were fickle people, people who started to shun me because they happened to catch me in the company of those with whom they were no longer friends. There were people who were with me for just half a season, and only then because of my roommate, with whom I got along quite well. But there were also a few that I am still friends with today. The night after I went on an accidental “date” with C, one of those friends was going through a personal crisis, and so I invited him out bowling with me, my roommate, and a very lively group of foreign exchange students she referred to as the “Chinese Mafia.”
The next day, when I invited C to come out to “the fair” with us (because that’s what my friends told me that it was, but as it turns out it was just a lame corn maze), I thought it might be awkward because of what was going on between my friend and one of his friends who would be there also. I wasn’t really thinking about C that much, aside from the thought that she might provide a convenient excuse to duck out of the way if the feathers started flying. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I thought it would be nice to see her and all, but I worried that perhaps she was a little more eager to meet again than I was. As ever, I was being cautious.
When she showed up around 2 p.m., my immediate impression was of how nervous and awkward she looked–she was mid-transition but had not gone full time yet, and her male clothing did not suit her face. She does have a girlish face, all big pouty lips and pretty green eyes–eyes which were covered up by glasses with those lenses that change into sunglasses when exposed to harsh light, except that they seemed to be broken, remaining permanently a translucent light brown. Her body, too, was covered up. But there was no mistaking her femininity; it pervaded every shy line of her body–the way she held her arms, the way her lips turned up in a cute grin at the sight of me. “What? No hug?” she pouted, a little put off by the way I had, in my continued rush to get ready, just ushered her in. So I hugged her then, and it was not the same as the one from the other night–shorter, more stilted–because now I was much more nervous about it. But it was still nice.
There were a bunch of people from the QSA going, and so we met up with a bunch of them at the maze, and went through it all together. Truth be told, we trailed after them. Neither one of us was particularly interested in navigating the maze, so we held back and walked next to each other, talking about various things. Tentatively, she bumped her hand against mine–a sign that she wanted me to take it. I was not so sure I wanted it to go in this direction–at least not so soon!–but I decided to just go with it to see where it would lead. We walked and walked, hand in sweaty hand, until the others, still ahead of us, found our way out.
It was clear, at this point, that she was beginning to become somewhat infatuated with me. How much so, I did not know. I felt rather distanced from her at the time, and uncomfortable showing affection like that in public. The others were giving us looks of surprise every now and then, and though I do not remember whether they said anything in front of us then or only later on, when I was explaining how we met, one of them said, “Wow, look at those two! They are totally canoodling!”
Once we were done at the maze, we made our way back to the dorms with a number of tiny pumpkins that they had given away there. While C and I had been walking around on our own, it seems that tension had been building between three of my friends over some issue or another, I can’t remember anymore. We were hanging out, waiting to see if they wanted to go out to dinner with us or not. At some point, C sat down on a comfy zebra-striped chair that R had salvaged from the newly redecorated art building, and then pulled me onto her lap. I was surprised that she would go that far after only the second time that we had met in person, and while I was a little uncomfortable with it, I wasn’t uncomfortable enough to say anything about it. After I got used to it, it was kind of nice.
Then T and W showed up, irritable at each other and both angry at R. At some point, C and I relocated to my bed, curled up next to each other and held hands, watching the three of them duke it out. “You know, I felt bad for them,” C said of it later, “But at the moment, I was really too happy to care.” Ultimately, T and W stalked off to go do something else, leaving R in tears at my dorm. So the three of us went out to eat together, to cheer her up. This involved a lot of impractically one-handed eating, since C sat next to me and had my hand under the table, and refused to let go for as long as she could help it.
I don’t remember doing anything after that, so we must have each gone home. I returned to my relative solitude wondering what I might have gotten myself into, and whether it would be something that would be good for me to pursue. It bothered me a little that C seemed to be pouring herself into our potential relationship so fast, while I was still processing what had gone on in my previous not-relationship. I do tend to let significant relationships (in a broad sense, including friendships) linger on my mind far longer, perhaps, than other people do–long after the feeling is gone, I still keep trying to work out a system of interaction that might have worked out better than what had actually happened. At that point, I was not sure I was ready to get into a new relationship like that yet. I had not expected to find myself faced with that possibility so soon, nor for C to enter my intimate space so quickly. I understood that she was very affectionate with her friends, as she had warned me about it a little, but still, it took me by surprise. I would like to say it took me pleasantly by surprise, but at the time, I really was fairly neutral. It wasn’t something I had expected, and I wasn’t sure it was where I wanted to go, but it wasn’t so bad either. For a while, I just couldn’t make up my mind.
So, Ily got me thinking with her comment on my last post and subsequent post about how it all started, and I think that’s a worthy topic to explore. I have been one of those people who goes, “Uhh, I don’t know, it just sort of happened,” when it comes to the question of how I started dating C. Maybe explaining the circumstances of our first meetings will help both to elucidate how a friendly outing can unexpectedly turn romantic, and to give me some much-needed perspective on what we started with, and how we ended up this way. I have a lot to say on this topic, so I won’t try to say it all in one post!
It was just over a year ago, now. The girl and I would have celebrated her birthday two days after she broke up with me, and our first anniversary the day after that (if we bothered to celebrate it, that is; she doesn’t like to celebrate arbitrary dates, but I think it might as well be an excuse to have fun–but so much for that idea!). We met on an internet dating site, but it had never been our intention to go on a date. It was supposed to have been an innocent friendly outing to see Kung Fu Panda at the dollar theater, and that was all. “I’m going to be too shy to talk to you when we meet,” she told me over IM. I didn’t quite believe it, because we had already had several fairly long and interesting conversations before, just not in person. And, sure enough, after I suggested that we go and get something to eat–since I was interested in actually getting to know her, albeit as a friend and not a date, and 90 minutes in a dark room just sitting next to one another and watching a movie didn’t really give me that opportunity–sure enough, we got to talking.
And after we had gone through a pot of tea at the local hippie New Age gay-friendly tea and trinkets shop, we didn’t want to stop. So we didn’t. I said that we could stop by my dorm and grab the moldy bread that I had been meaning to take out to the pond, and feed it to the ducks. We kept on talking and talking, and when we were done with the bread we started wandering around campus together. We wandered vaguely in the direction of her car but then never went to it. We kept circling around it, until it was more than obvious that neither one of us wanted her to leave. We kept ending up near the dumpsters, which spawned an inside joke about dumpsters being super romantic.
We talked about all sorts of things, dating being one of them. I told her I didn’t understand how dating worked, and had never really been on an actual date before. I didn’t really know what they were like; all I knew was that traditional dating seemed so structured, so overly formalized. I didn’t understand the game, the etiquette, or the point. Because, after all, from my perspective, it seemed to me like dating, at least in the mainstream world, was aimed primarily at two things: sex in the short term, and marriage in the long term. Neither of which I was even the least bit interested in, so why would I want to bother? Not knowing what the other person was after would have made me extremely uncomfortable, and not knowing what I was supposed to do would make it even more so. I’m sure my date, unless maybe he was someone like M, would have been quite uncomfortable with it too, because of the way I was acting. About three years ago, there was a boy who had a very obvious crush on me, and although he was generally pretty charismatic, always seemed rather weird when it came to me. Eventually, he asked me out on a date, and while I considered going out with him, I had to turn him down because it would have just been too awkward for me, and probably painfully so to him. But it wasn’t that I was uninterested in relationships in general, mind. Only that I would never date someone traditionally.
Then she told me about her dating experiences, which were mostly internet based, but included one case of what struck me as pretty much a romantic friendship, where the two of them were so close they really could have been thought to be dating. The only reason they weren’t, she thought, was because he was too straight to go for someone with a male body, which she still had at the time. It was almost like a more informal version of dating, it seemed. I wondered if dating wasn’t always as strict as it had seemed to me at first. I wondered if my lack of experience was just limiting my perspective on what it was like to go on a date. Maybe it isn’t always like how it is presented in the media, which was up until then my only source for understanding how the dating world worked. Meanwhile, she was telling me that she had been previously involved in a polyamorous relationship with a married couple. She described some of their sexual escapades, which I found interesting but confusing at the same time. When the topic turned to whether or not we would be a good fit for a date, she said, “You’re really not my type at all. So don’t worry, I’m not trying to date you.”
Well, likewise. She wasn’t my type either, or so I thought. But at the same time, I did enjoy her company a great deal, and on many levels she seemed to get me, and what she didn’t get right away, she had already proven through our few weeks of chatting over the internet that she was curious enough and open-minded enough to put a great deal of effort into discussing. Although she wasn’t sure about dating an asexual herself, at least she didn’t have a problem accepting it–she was even intrigued by it. She brought to the table a cutesy style backed by a lively intelligence, an intriguingly unconventional perspective, and collections of sex toys and socks. I wasn’t in the least bit infatuated with her and wouldn’t get to that point for quite a while, but I did like her. I suppose that’s how a lot of people must feel on first dates, now that I think of it.
Apparently, the secret to getting me to date you is to approach me strictly as a friend.
Tired of walking, we went off to find a secluded bench somewhere, hoping that our already hours-long conversation wouldn’t be disturbed anymore by passing people that we knew. We sat Indian-style on top of it, facing one another, and I remember feeling the coldness of the thick marble slab seeping through the seat of my jeans. I don’t remember if I was wearing a jacket; I don’t think I was. Since it had been a hot afternoon and I hadn’t planned on staying outside so late, either I hadn’t bothered to get one, or I had gotten one that was too thin. In reality, we were right near my dorm so I could’ve gone to get a nice warm sweater if I had wanted, but I didn’t want to bother going back there, and risk the awkwardness of seeing people we both knew who would want to invite us to come hang out with them. For some reason, even then we were bothered by people interrupting our private, two-person-only conversation. So I was cold, and my hands were especially so. I folded them together as if I were praying, rubbed them together a little bit to generate heat. She stilled my hands, and covered them with her own to keep them warm.
We kept on talking and talking until it was nearing midnight. She had an early class, so she really had to get home and get some sleep–I had already kept her up past her usual bedtime. Finally, we parted, but before we did, she said, “This is a date, isn’t it?”
I still hadn’t really thought of it as such, but it seemed to be true. “I guess so,” I said. I didn’t know, really. I thought maybe it could be.
We hugged each other then, and it wasn’t like a typical friendly greeting. I had friends that would give me long tight bear hugs, but this wasn’t one of those. It was long and lingering and ever so slightly awkward, but nice, too. I was kind of shocked about it, that our meeting could have run so counter to both of our expectations and intentions. I didn’t have any fuzzy feelings, I wasn’t sure if I would develop them, and I didn’t know what would come of it, but for the moment, I was okay with seeing where it would lead.
My calendar informs me that today is Friendship Day, but I’ve never heard of such a thing. A quick wikipedia search tells me only this:
International Friendship Day is celebrated annually, on the first Sunday of August, in several countries. It was initially declared a holiday in honor of friends in the United States by the U.S. Congress in 1935.
What? 1935? That was 78 years ago! Why haven’t I heard of it until today? Where’s the publicity? Do we value our friends so little that even Hallmark won’t try to cash in on this? I’m astonished that we even have a holiday for it!
Why is it that Valentine’s Day is such a big deal, but Friendship Day is relegated to the realm of the forgotten? So many people are single on Valentine’s Day anyway, and so the celebration doesn’t even apply to them (unless they do the Singles Awareness thing, but that’s more counter-culture than mainstream), but I’d venture to guess that almost everyone has friends. Why don’t we celebrate them? Make them feel appreciated? Why don’t we use this day as an excuse to get together and have fun, like they do in Argentina?
It saddens me that we are so focused on romance to the exclusion of other kinds of relationships, that so many people maintain their friendships only until they get married. The biggest problem with society today, in my opinion, is that intimacy is relegated strictly to sexual relationships. Only one type of relationship is validated, and the rest are seen as unimportant.
Even if nothing else ever comes of it, I hope that asexuals, as people who blur the line between friendship and romance (or, in the case of the aromantics, who don’t seek romance at all), will help to challenge these values and create a more open society with regard to the forging of human connections.
Maybe one day this holiday will be remembered and given the attention it deserves.