Doesn’t vs. Hasn’t

I was reading a thread on Apositive a while ago about “romantic”/affectional orientation, and it reminded me why I don’t like defining asexuality as “a person who DOESN’T experience sexual attraction.”

I’ve gone through a lot of different identities, with regard to my affectional orientation. I started out assuming I was bisexual, because at the time I thought that most people are actually bi but due to societal pressure never realize it. Later I changed the label to pansexual/omnisexual to reflect my interest in androgynous, and possibly differently-gendered people. Eventually I realized I was equally uninterested in everyone, and began calling myself asexual, pan-romantic.

A little further down the road, as I finally became interested in pursuing romantic relationships, I noticed a definite tendency to be attracted to women more often than men. For a while, I thought I was just pickier about men, or that there simply weren’t enough pretty specimens in my area. But after the pattern persisted for a couple years, I started seriously questioning whether I would ever be comfortable being with a cisgendered man, due to the power imbalance and lack of understanding of queer issues that I perceived such men to have. I wondered if I shouldn’t just start calling myself a functional lesbian.

Then M fell into my lap, and I realized that I was right the first time, I am just pickier about men. Still wondering if that imbalance and the lack of understanding are surmountable obstacles, though.

So, defining orientation based on not having a certain kind of attraction can be really tricky, as the only time it can be fully determined that one doesn’t experience that attraction or whether one simply hasn’t yet, is on one’s deathbed. It’s understandable, then, though still annoying, when people spout that tired old “right person” rhetoric when we tell them we’re asexual.

And then there are asexuals like me, who aren’t sure whether they’ve ever experienced it because they don’t know how to define it, or know that they have but only ever feel it once or twice in so many years, or even if they feel it, still haven’t felt any desire to act on it, ever, and don’t value sexuality enough that they think it probable that they will in the future. I think determining asexuality is a little more complicated than just “Sexual attraction: ON/OFF.” It’s about the interplay of frequency and level of attraction/desire, value placed on sexual activity, societal influence/politics, identification/disidentification, and probably other factors that I’m not thinking of right now (feel free to throw out suggestions, guys). Lack of sexual attraction is widely touted as the single factor uniting all asexuals, but that’s not really true. The real factor that unites asexuals is identification, which is the result of all these other factors working together.

But I have problems with that idea, too, because it implies that if you don’t identify as asexual at any point in you’re life, then you’re not asexual at that point. I’ve always been asexual. We have to keep in mind that these are terms used to describe ourselves, not terms that necessarily define ourselves. I’ve always known I wasn’t interested in sex, but at different points in my life, my interpretation of that lack of interest has changed. In my youth, I didn’t consider it a significant factor in determining my orientation, but as I got older it became more and more a point of difference between myself and my peers, and as my mindset “solidified,” less and less likely that I would suddenly become interested.

Now, actually, I am interested, but not because I feel any desire to get jiggy with it myself. I just like finding out what it means to other people, because I’m fascinated by personal differences, and want to learn to relate to other people in a way that can include sex. I know I can do it, and I know I can even enjoy it. I want to find out where my limits are, and push my boundaries a little. I want to figure out ways that I can comfortably compromise, and explore different forms of intimacy.

Ultimately, I think it’s all about mindset. That’s not to say that all asexuals have the same mindset, because of course it varies wildly, but there are a lot of similarities with the ultimate result that we all identify as asexual. I could possibly identify as either asexual or hyposexual, but I make the choice to identify as asexual. There are also a lot of potentially asexual people who don’t realize that they have that option, probably because they haven’t heard of it or thought about it much.

Doing Gender

It’s interesting to me that an apparently disproportionate number of asexuals are also of non-traditional genders—whether that be transgender, bi-gender, agender, or otherwise gender neutral or deviant. Of course there are no real statistics out there about it yet, but I would really like to see a study done on asexuality and gender, probably more so than any other kind of asexuality-related study. I really want to learn more about what connection gender has to sexuality, because apparently they’re connected. I wonder if that connection is more biological or socially constructed, however.

I have always found it strange that some of my cisgendered heterosexual friends have told me that being with someone of the opposite sex makes them feel like “more of a man/woman.” I don’t understand that sentiment, because I don’t connect gender with sexuality at all. I suspect that, more than anything else, it has to do with people buying into heteronormativity, and feeling some kind of psychological reward for meeting social expectations which have been built into the identities they’ve constructed for themselves.

It seems that any person who goes against society’s heterosexual agenda (Honestly, I don’t think there is such a thing as that mythical “gay agenda,” because gay people really aren’t out to corrupt children and turn them gay, but there’s certainly a very prevalent “straight agenda,” because turning people straight is exactly what every person who would use the term “gay agenda” is trying to do.) tends to be much more likely to question gender norms as well. Well, why not? If you’re already breaking the most important rule, what’s a few more?

What’s interesting to me is not so much which gender people claim as their identity, but how they do gender, that is how they present themselves to the world as a gendered (or genderless) person. It seems that asexual women tend to be less interested in dressing up and showing off their bodies. Why should we be, after all, if we are taught that the most important reason to do so is to attract a mate? Why should we want to appear sexually attractive, if we don’t want to have sex?
Continue reading

Sensual vs. Erotic

Someone asked me recently whether I (paraphrasing) engaged in sexual activity just to please my partners, or whether I also enjoy “sensual/erotic” things.

It’s interesting to me that sensual and erotic here are used as synonyms, or near-synonyms. To me, they’re not. I know what sensuality is, and I definitely do enjoy it, but I actually had to look up the definition of “erotic” before I started writing this (“You know you’re asexual when…”). As I suspected, the word does not apply to me, since the key component is sexual desire, which I do not have.

Or to be more accurate, I suppose it could apply to me, to my body, as perceived by someone else, but I would never use the word to describe anything but someone else’s perceptions. It just doesn’t have a place in my personal lexicon.

But I do enjoy sensuality, and part of that involves touching, and being touched by someone else. Sometimes that results in physical arousal, but I have an odd habit of not even noticing when I’m aroused. The goal for me is not arousal and physical release, but just to luxuriate in the senses.

I suppose for a long time, I mistook this sensuality for sexuality. It took me a while to realize that other people didn’t think the same way that I do. But that doesn’t change the fact that for me, the idea of sharing a nice, long, hot bubble bath with someone I love strikes me as infinitely more intimate and fulfilling than having sex.