New Adventures in Polyamory

Yesterday, I got to meet my fiancée’s new girlfriend.

Since we’ve been together, C has dated several different people, but up until now she’s only done long-distance relationships with people other than me. Those relationships never made me jealous, but because they were LD, I never thought that would be an issue. I always kind of wondered whether or not I’d start to feel jealous if she managed to find someone who was local, but so far, I’m pleased to report that it hasn’t been an issue at all. It’s been about 3 weeks now, so it could certainly still come up, but I don’t think that it will.

In fact, it’s kind of interesting. There are a lot of similarities between my first dates with C and her first dates with her new girlfriend, including (in part) the location. This is another girl that she can spend hours talking to without wanting to go home. She also seems to have a lot of similar interests as me.

But what’s really interesting is how we’re different. For all that I used to wonder whether I really counted as asexual or not, in comparison to her, it’s pretty clear that I don’t experience sexual attraction. C, for her part, says it’s really weird because she’s not used to dating sexual people, and forgot what they were like. Now she’s in the position of trying to decide what she’s ready for. Despite saying that before she met me, she didn’t know if she could date an asexual person, she’s been telling me lately that she’s glad that I’m asexual!

So all in all, being polyamorous has been working out just fine for us. I have actually gotten more enjoyment and amusement from hearing stories about her other partners than jealousy.

One of my absolute favorite things about being poly, though, is that I get to read all the really bad OKCupid messages that C gets. Seriously, they’re fantastic. She’s been compiling a list of the particularly bad ones. Here’s an example:

Oct. 20, 2010 – 8:49pm
How was your day? One of our medics used me as an example demonstrating the efficiency of 14 gauge needles, it looks like a juice box straw if you do not know, it was crazy the blood flow. Got to go talk to you later.

That was sent to her by a complete stranger, whom she had never talked to before. Another person she had never talked to before asked her this:

Apr. 25, 2010 – 12:42am
Hey how are you? How many times a day you like sex?

Or how about this one?

Nov. 15, 2010 – 11:38am
Hi… I am Marc… [Name of City we live in]… Interested?

Or this:

Aug. 15, 2010 – 2:30pm
Hi Im dave a 38 yr old married 6’2 240 i saw ur pic and thought u were very attractive ;) msg me if u want to chat ;)

I don’t know what’s with describing his appearance, but this other guy felt the need to do it too:

May 13, 2010 – 9:08pm
hi it roger 29 5’9 140 brown hair hair and eyes very outgoing down to earth very fun guy to be with i have 7 brother and 2 sister well i love to travel i love to party well i have a good job well i own my house in [misspelled place name] well i love my job on Base well i am a very open person well want to know anything just ask


And perhaps the most pointless message of them all:

Aug. 22, 2010 – 3:25pm
I haven’t heard of any of those bands. Maybe I should check them out.


Guest Post: Why Date An Asexual? An Interview with C

Since I started hosting guest posts, I’ve been bugging C (aka Cat Pajamas), my partner of roughly 3.5 years (and now gayancée), to write one for me. She couldn’t come up with any ideas for the longest time, and so to help her out and make it more comfortable for her, I sent her a bunch of interview questions to answer. If the questions don’t seem to flow from one to another very well, that’s because they were asked in no particular order, just as I thought of them, over email and rearranged later. She’s really worked hard to get her thoughts down and then organize and clarify them better. I’m afraid she found my questions rather frustrating, because they were hard to answer without writing book-length responses. I love that her tendency is to go into great detail about these things… and scribble huge diagrams on my white board about them, too! <3

We don’t often hear much from sexual partners of asexual people, so my hope here is to do a little bit to fill that void. C has another post that she’s working on about sexual attraction as well. If anyone has questions for her that aren’t answered here, feel free to ask in the comments!

From here on out, my questions and comments will be in purple text.


Hi, I’m a 26 year old MTF.  I love to talk about sexuality and some other topics.  I believe I have a very in depth experience with both sexes because I’ve gotten to experience being gay/lesbian/bi in both genders, which is pretty cool and fun to talk about since I think it’s a perspective not many people get to fully experience.

So, if you read that the same way I did, that means I’m at least 200% gay.

Besides sexuality, I have a rather large interests in PC gaming and some outdoorsy hiking/camping stuff.

Can you briefly explain how we met, and how we sort of accidentally ended up in a romantic relationship?

We ‘met’ through a mix of an LGBT group at the university we both went to and me messaging you on OKcupid. Sadly I don’t remember why I messaged you initially, although I do know I was fairly curious about asexuality. We talked online for a time before we decided to go see a movie as friends. The movie wasn’t supposed to be romantic (kung fu panda) and my plan was to just take you back to your place afterwards, but you wanted to just sit around and talk. So we went to a uh, tea/sandwich place that’s kinda artsy and we just sat around and talked.

As it turns out, if you go to see a movie with someone and then talk to them for about 5 hours afterwards and you can’t say good bye, you’re probably doomed to start some sort of romance, whether you intended to do it or not.

Before you met me, if somebody had asked you, “Would you ever date an asexual?” how would you have responded?

I would probably respond with “I’m not sure.” At the time I wasn’t really aware of asexuality and without some information about it or the person, I would probably not do anything. Although I like people that are different from the norm.

If someone asked me that before I started transitioning, I probably would have said “no” since I was quite a bit more sexually active at the time (and ignorant). Once I started transitioning, it would have certainly been closer to a yes (still based on ignorance).

What did you think when you first encountered my profile on OKCupid, and in the early part of our relationship thereafter? Why did you contact me?

When I first encountered it? Who knows! At this point, I’m not sure if there was a reason I messaged you for reasons other than “I don’t know what asexuality is” and I think we had some music groups in common.

I’m pretty sure the reason I messaged you was mainly because of asexuality, since I wasn’t really aware of it and I wanted to know more. I don’t recall wanting to date you. ;)

How did you expect things to proceed? What things surprised you?

Well, ignoring the whole “What? We are dating?” thing… I fully expected the relationship to develop very slowly sexually, so I tried my best to go very slowly. Since usually my relationships have a very sexual nature to them.

What surprised me is how comfortable you were with certain kinds of play. Also how open you were/are to various sexual activities. Based on my (old) knowledge of asexuality, I would have imagined you to be a uh, prude. Thankfully that’s not the case.
Continue reading

On “Better Half” – Gregory House Is Not Infallible

…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

Nothing Gray About This: Re-evaluating Attraction

Last week there was an article posted about gray asexuality which quoted my blog and an older interview I did with the writer. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve been taking a blogging break over the past few months, so I’ve been ignoring my blog-related email. As such, I missed her request for a new interview, and the result was that the information is somewhat outdated. It reflects where I was perfectly fine, but not so much where I am now. I’ve been meaning to make a post about this for a while now, and it also fits nicely with this month’s blog carnival theme (attraction), so I may as well do it now even though I’m a little late for the carnival.

I do not identify as gray asexual anymore. At the time when I started my blog, I did, and there were no other blogs or forums out there focusing on gray asexuality, so I decided to start a blog where I could sort of think out loud about it. But after thinking about it for a while, and feeling like my identity was sort of in flux between sexual and asexual, I’ve started realizing some things which have led me to identify as just asexual. I’ve thought about changing the name of the blog, but I don’t know what I’d change it to and the idea of not thinking in black and white is still important to me, plus that would involve a lot of broken links at this point, so I’m leaving it like this for now.

When I started this blog, it was during a time of immense turmoil and stress, in which I had just been subject to a very heavy load of anti-asexualism and some very nasty gaslighting. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it comes from a play called Gas Light in which a man attempts to make his wife think she is going insane by subtly dimming the gas lights and then denying that anything has changed. It’s an attempt to make someone believe that their perception of reality is wrong. Or, in other words: “There are four lights!”

When I started this blog, I didn’t recognize that this was what had been going on. I didn’t know there was a word for it until someone else used it to describe my experiences (this happened more than once, and in several cases I would argue that it wasn’t whatever someone said it was, though now I think their perceptions were accurate while mine were skewed by the gaslighting). I don’t necessarily think it was entirely intentional, and it really doesn’t matter whether it was or not, but throughout the time I knew him, M was manipulating my perceptions of reality. I was already off-kilter at the time because I was in a foreign country, and just from that I was having bouts of derealization (another example of a word I didn’t know until later), but M played the game of doing things behind closed doors and then never acknowledging that anything was going on in public, with the additional standard Pick-Up Artist technique of ignoring/avoiding me and the other girls he must have been treating the same way (several other people told me about them). More importantly for the purposes of this discussion, he led a sustained campaign for nearly a year to convince me that I’m not really asexual, only ever dropping it for long enough that I would let my guard down thinking he had changed his mind.

Which brings me to discussing attraction.

I was attracted to M in various ways. I found him somewhat aesthetically attractive on a visual level (sort of a push-pull sort of thing; if I just saw him in a picture without meeting him I would have thought he was pretty average-looking, though a lot of people seemed to disagree) and considerably more so on a sonic level (he is a musician). I found him intellectually attractive in a way that I know that he understands well because he described similar feelings toward House at one point, albeit in a much more sexualized way than I would have put it. When he wasn’t being a hugely self-absorbed asshole, I enjoyed his company enough that I was willing to overlook his transgressions. I wanted to cuddle with him and kiss him, but I never wanted it to go farther than that. Later on I did sort of want to, but only in a “can I get myself to be okay with this?” sort of way and not in a genuine desire sort of way. I had a genuine desire to be able to be okay with doing sexual things with him, but in reality that wasn’t happening. That got really confusing.

There was another thing, too: I really fucking wanted to scratch him. I’ve always had kind of a thing for scratching, though it’s not something that turns me on, just something I like doing. I’m decidedly more sadistic than I am masochistic. I never asked him if that would be okay because he didn’t foster the kind of relationship where that kind of thing would be acceptable—he never made any effort to gain explicit consent himself, and consequentially he was abysmally bad at sex even when I did unambiguously consent. He made it out like he was so open and accepting of talking about things like that, but he wasn’t. He was blunt and open about talking about sex in public to the point of being considered quite rude, but as far as anything serious or important goes, any time I would try to bring up an issue I was having with him it was always “your problem, not mine.” So something like that was so far off the table I didn’t even consider it.

I had all of these different sorts of attractions to him at varying levels of intensity, and I was being constantly told that I was not really asexual to the point that I began to question whether all of those things added up to what people call sexual attraction after all. The kinky attraction was particularly confusing to me because of how intense (and intensely physical) it was. But the thing is, I still did not want to have sex with M. In an ideal situation, yes, I think I would have wanted to eventually, and had he been the kind of person who would ask me what I wanted and listen to me instead of telling me I was wrong, I probably would have found it enjoyable. But had he been that kind of person, he would have accepted that I’m asexual, if not from the beginning then at least after a certain point. Not having such intense pressure to think I’m “not asexual enough” would have made me considerably less likely to identify as gray in the first place.

At the time when I first started this blog, there had been a lot of arguing around AVEN about who counts as asexual and who doesn’t, with I think some members accusing moderators of not being “real” asexuals. Maybe it’s just that I stopped going to the AVEN forums, but in the three and a half years since I started this blog, I’ve seen a lot less of that kind of elitism. I’ve also, through blogging and also from conversations with my partner (who still needs to make a guest post here about it), come to the realization that desire and attraction are quite separate things, and wanting to have sex does not make you not asexual. I did sort of recognize that before, because obviously you can have sex with people you’re not attracted to, but I didn’t live it until after I met C. Since I saw so many more comments judging other asexuals for being sexually active and (gasp!) enjoying/desiring it back then, and since I was already inclined to doubt my own perspective due to the gaslighting, I internalized those stereotypes too much and thought I was further in the gray area than I actually was.

There’s still room for me to change my mind, of course. The nice thing about the asexual community is that we don’t deny that phases of sexuality exist, and we don’t consider it less valid to identify a certain way for a period of time and another way later. But for the past… mm, roughly two years, the “gray” part of my identity has become less important and fallen away. I’ve stopped hedging and doubting myself.

Now, I’m just asexual. And there really are four lights.

Questions From Google

A lot of people seem to like typing full questions into google instead of just key words, and so I tend to get hits from people asking questions about asexuality. I find these quite interesting, because they reveal something about the people asking certain questions, and they reveal what people are still ignorant about when it comes to asexuals, or in other words, what we need to focus on when spreading awareness. So I’ve decided I’m going to start to periodically answer these questions with a blog post, in the hopes that if any other random googlers show up here asking questions, they’ll be enlightened. And perhaps in the process, we’ll be entertained. All search terms appear exactly as they were typed into google, so I take no credit for any spelling or grammar errors.

Standard Definitional Disclaimer: Asexuality refers here to a sexual orientation among humans.  It does not have anything to do with biology, whether that means the biology of non-human asexually reproducing species, or humans with non-standard anatomy (if you’re looking for that, google intersex conditions instead). Asexuality means not experiencing sexual attraction; it does not mean or imply that we are “not sexual” in any way at all. The term is analogous to homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, etc. Asexuals are a widely varied group that may have little else in common with one another aside from not experiencing sexual attraction to others as a general rule.

So here is round one!

Q: why are asexuals ugly
A: We’re not, but thanks for playing! If you know an asexual that you consider ugly, you should keep in mind that you don’t know all the asexuals in the world. I’ve met some pretty cute asexuals, myself. There’s no way to tell whether someone is asexual just by looking, so you may have met some too, without realizing it.

Q: can you find asexualness attractive?
A: Yes, people who like asexuals are out there. As another person informed me through another search term: i find asexual people sexy. Someone else searched for asexual charm so unless they were looking for something like the black ring or a symbol on a keychain or something, I suppose some people find asexuals charming, or at least the ones they’ve met. I’ve also personally had a guy tell me something to the effect of, “It’s just really fascinating to see an otherwise sexless creature in a sexual way.” Fascinating clearly meaning, in the context of the conversation, that it was a sexual interest.  (By the way, it’s creepy to call someone a “sexless creature,” don’t do it. We’re not inhuman just because we lack sexual attraction.)

Q: how to like someone who is asexual
A: Huh? Why are you looking for a how to guide? If you like someone, you like them. If you don’t, you don’t. Maybe you can learn to get along, see things from their point of view, but you’re not going to teach yourself to like them in that way, if that’s what you’re going for. If that happens, cool. If not, then why try to force it?

Q: how to convert an asexual person
A: WHAT!? NO NO NO NO NO, STOP!! You can’t “convert” an asexual person, just like you can’t convert a gay person, and if you try, you will do a tremendous amount of damage! Why do you want to convert them anyway? Everyone would be much happier if you just accept it, trust me. Yes, even you. If you’re not getting the sex you want, the first step to maybe making it more comfortable for an asexual person to have sex with you is to STOP TRYING TO CONVERT THEM. Listen to them, try to understand their asexuality and their feelings about sex. Be patient. Be kind. Never pressure them, or otherwise try to seduce them. We know when you’re trying to seduce us, and if you try it, you’re missing the point completely. Which makes us uncomfortable, and far less likely to be okay with having sex with you. If sex does happen under those conditions, it will be some really shitty, possibly even traumatizing sex. Whereas if you accept and try to learn about asexuality, if you listen and respect the asexual person’s feelings about sex, then you just might, if the asexual person is willing, have the possibility of having good, great, or even spectacular sex. If you’re patient enough to try, and you’re willing to accept responsibility for obtaining explicit consent, where the asexual person is saying yes, not just not saying no. If you’re willing to accept the possibility that sex will NEVER be an option first. If you don’t want to put your time and effort into that, then it’s better that you just move on without trying to convert anybody. Please. Don’t do it.

Q: is someone that has had sex before asexual
A: They could be. Asexuality doesn’t mean that you’re celibate necessarily, although some are. Lots of asexuals do have sex for whatever reason, and some even do it because they enjoy it. Imagine that! Click around here if you want more information about that; you’re in the right place.

Q: what happens if you arouse an asexual person
A: That completely depends on the context of the situation and the feelings of the person who is being aroused. If you arouse an asexual person… then they’re aroused. That doesn’t mean they’re not asexual, because sexual attraction is not necessary for arousal to occur. However that particular asexual individually feels about being aroused will probably determine what happens next.

Q: could asexuality account for most sexual dysfunctions
A: No. Asexuality is not a sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunctions are not caused by asexuality. Some asexuals also have sexual dysfunctions, but non-asexual people probably account for the vast majority of people who have sexual dysfunctions. If you want more info on this, check out these posts, and K’s blog.

Q: is it asexual to fantasize but not want to have sex
A: Not necessarily. I mean you could be asexual and fantasize without wanting to have sex, sure. But you could also be asexual and still want to have sex, for whatever reason. With or without any fantasies. And you could be sexual and fantasize but not actually want to have sex. In fact, I think plenty of sexual people do that all the time. The key thing here is, neither fantasizing nor wanting to have sex is a deciding factor in whether you’re asexual or not. They might be clues, I suppose, but the basic question is: Do you feel sexually attracted to other people, as a general rule? If not, then you might be asexual.

Q: what kind of sex are asexuals into?
A: LOL. Are you kidding me? What kind of sex are sexuals into? What kind of sex are people into? You might as well be asking those questions! I could answer for myself, but not for every asexual. We’re different people, we all like different things. And you know, this may surprise you, but some asexuals aren’t into sex. (Did I really just have to type that? Wow. Novel concept, to say the least.)

Q: what do asexuals masturbate to
Q: do asexuals masturbate when thinking about partner?
A: How about you ask a specific asexual instead of trying to generalize to all of us? That is, if you know any who would be comfortable answering such a deeply invasive question for you! If not, don’t ask any questions about masturbation at all. If you don’t know if they’re comfortable with it, ask them if it’s okay to ask personal questions first. Do realize that it’s very different to talk about one’s sexual orientation than it is to talk about one’s own personal sex life, and that we will all have varying comfort levels with talking about something so private, just like everybody else. It would probably be better to make it an open question for different asexual people to give their own answers on the internet somewhere, so they can be anonymous if they wish. I’m sure it varies quite a bit. Each one of us can only answer for ourselves, not for all asexuals everywhere. Not even all of us masturbate, you know that right? But hey, you get some points for realizing that masturbating does not make somehow make a person not-asexual.

Q: is it hard to be an asexual
A: No, not really. I mean, it can be, but not strictly because you’re asexual in and of itself. But because asexuals are a very marginalized minority—so much so that people don’t even know we exist, or don’t “believe in” us, as if we’re unicorns or something—we do face certain problems that other people don’t have to deal with. These range from feeling erased, to having a much smaller dating pool, to having your romantic relationships not considered “real”/serious relationships, to dealing with obnoxious/invasive comments, to harassment and bullying, to facing lots of social pressure to have sex with a romantic partner (as if it is an obligation), to even “corrective” rape. In other words, you wouldn’t have such a hard time if people (and circumstances in some cases) didn’t give you a hard time. The vast majority of the time, when people aren’t giving me crap about it, it’s not hard for me to be asexual at all. So I’d say it’s not hard just to be asexual, but it’s hard to be asexual in a world where asexuality isn’t accepted.

Q: are bisexuals dangerous
A: No, don’t be silly. Bisexuals are no more or less dangerous than your average person. And that post title? While I do think that spreading the idea that sexual orientation is based on and measured by behavior is generally a bad thing that has negative consequences for asexuals… That was a tongue-in-cheek over the top sensationalistic headline. Clearly nobody ever gets my humor around here. Therefore everything is ruined forever. (Yes, I am an elephant. I should really own that shirt already.)


Well then, that’s it for this installment. If you want to ask me a question but don’t want to try to find my blog through google to do so, I’ve set up a formspring account for that purpose, located here. You can ask anonymously if you want, and you don’t have to ask about asexuality, you can ask whatever you want. I’ll answer most things, unless they compromise my anonymity in some way. If you want my advice on a situation, that’s fine too, although I don’t know if there’s a character limit on formspring, so if you want to ask something longer you might have to email me instead (if you do, let me know it’s okay to post the reply). Ask away!

Beauty Conscious

So, for reasons you can probably guess, I’ve been seeing a lot of a certain plastic surgeon this past week (since I’m making a vague attempt at anonymity and want to avoid affecting his google search results, I’ll leave out his name, though if you really want to know about it, you can email me—you FTM types in particular might want to). And just about as soon as I walked into his office for my partner’s pre-surgery consult, right after he found out who I was, he goes, “Wow, you have a pretty partner!” And continued to talk about my looks for a little bit. He commented on my skin, the balance of my face, and so on. But not my eyes, which is a little odd (though understandable given his profession), since that’s what people usually comment on. I very rarely get comments on my skin or face shape. And… I think there has yet to be a single time when I’ve seen him that he doesn’t make some kind of comment about my appearance, at least once. Well, other than yesterday, when he came in wearing an expensive suit and was like, “Hey, how ya doin? Looking good! Okay, bye!” We’re staying right near his office and he comes to check in every day, so that’s saying a lot. He took me to the grocery store the other day and couldn’t resist commenting to a friend he was on the phone with, “You wouldn’t believe the pretty girl I have here pushing my cart right now. One of my patient’s friends.”

It’s a little annoying, as a side note, that he keeps referring to me as my partner’s “friend” in public, though I guess he’s trying to be careful not to out us as a lesbian couple if we don’t want to be out. Not that it matters around here, anyway. It’s a big city, nobody knows us, and we barely received a second glance (if we did at that, I’m not sure) from anyone while we were walking down the street holding hands. It’s a nice change; too bad we won’t get too many chances to do it for this trip.

Anyway, that aside, I’m a bit annoyed by all the compliments. I mean, I understand that it’s his business to notice a lot about people’s appearance—he can tell with just a glance when there’s a very slight asymmetry that most people never notice, it’s pretty impressive—but it’s just kind of like… Okay, I’m pretty, can we move on now? Maybe? No?

Well, I guess the doctor is making the assumption that the people who come here like to be complimented on their looks. To be fair, it’s probably pretty accurate. But I’m not here for me. And maybe it’s just paranoia, but I tend to feel like putting so much focus on me might be detrimental to the self-image of any other patient who might overhear.

I don’t really know how to act when people compliment me on my looks, never even mind when they do it this often. Smile awkwardly, mutter a “thank you,” I guess. Culturally, I suppose it’s expected that girls and women should say something disparaging about some part of their bodies, and then praise another woman’s looks instead, though that’s a little bit of a different situation than this. “Oh, but I hate my thighs, and you have such nice ones,” that sort of thing. I won’t do that, because I think it plays into bad body image for one thing, and why can’t women be allowed to just accept compliments, like men can? I don’t like that kind of culturally enforced modesty and derision towards oneself. It’s annoying to go around boasting and being smug, and that goes for both men (especially men) and women, but do we really need to go to such extremes to avoid seeming arrogant or competitive? It’s considered unfeminine to have some self-confidence, I guess.

Honestly, I’d like to just say, “I know”—meaning, “Yeah, I know you think I’m attractive, let’s move on”—but people read that as narcissistic or otherwise rude. I’m not staring at myself in the mirror a lot or anything, I’m just sick of hearing about it. I just want to brush those compliments aside, because they bug me. It’s not like I’m trying to look pretty. It isn’t an accomplishment, it’s nothing I’ve worked at. I don’t wear make-up, I don’t pluck my eyebrows, I hardly do anything to enhance my appearance beyond basic hygiene. I don’t even wear my contacts anymore, and I have very thick glasses that will always distort the line of my cheekbones, no matter what style frames I wear. When people compliment me on my writing, or something else I’ve done, I feel good about it. But when people compliment me on my appearance it makes me feel awkward and bad, because there’s so much focus on women’s appearance in general, and because it makes me the object of a lot of other people’s envy. Also, because I’m naturally thin and petite, I used to regularly get a lot of snide comments about how I “must” have anorexia, and lots of people pushing me to eat more than was comfortable. It was a repeated exchange that went kind of like this: “Ugh, you’re so thin, you must be anorexic. You should eat.” “But I’m no—” “EAT!” I rarely had any outright harassment about how “disgusting” I am, except from my sister (who is mean to everybody), but there was still a sense that I shouldn’t look the way I do, because it’s other people’s ideal. I realize I’m privileged because my body happens to match the current social ideal. I wish it didn’t have such a drastic effect in the way people treat me.

Not to mention, there’s the sexual element of it, which I’m rather uncomfortable with. I’m not about to say everyone should stop being sexually attracted to me, of course not. Everyone is entitled to their own sexual feelings. But when they’re directed at me, I just don’t know what to do with them. I’m not even talking about when people are being creepy, just when they’re politely telling me I’m attractive, in a reasonable way. So again, I just kind of shrug it off and thank them awkwardly. Sometimes I will tell them I’m asexual, if it’s a situation where that’s appropriate. The doctor certainly doesn’t need to know, nor do I usually decide to say anything about it to people I’ve only recently met, unless I’ve spent a lot of time with them since then. But if I do mention that I’m asexual, usually that commits me to a long discussion about it in which I am asked obnoxious questions. That can be just as uncomfortable as having a lot of comments about how sexually attractive I am directed at me, sometimes more.

The irony, of course, is that one burgeoning stereotype (born from the misconception that we “just can’t get any” most likely) about asexuals seems to be that we’re all ugly and unattractive anyway. For evidence, this year my blog has received hits from the following search terms:

why are asexuals ugly
can you find asexualness attractive?

And there were several other variants more than a month old that I’m not going to bother to go hunting for. To answer those questions, I’ve also received hits from these terms:

i find asexual people sexy
asexual charm
how does one attract an asexual
how to get an asexual to want you
how to convert an asexual person
what kind of sex are asexuals into?

So apparently there are people who are attracted to and really want to attract asexuals out there. Imagine that. That last one is particularly funny to me. I’ll have to make a post to answer those later.

You know the funny thing? My partner isn’t even sexually attracted to me, or at least is only barely, most of the time. She’s sexual, but doesn’t really get sexual attraction to people very much. At least not for their looks. Mostly she seems to like certain body parts and situations, or people taking a dominant attitude towards her. Only rarely does she say my appearance itself turns her on. (I wish I could get her to do a guest post on this. Maybe someday.) I think in part this is why I’m much more comfortable with her, although sometimes it also worries me, since I’m not on edge from her being super attracted to me all the time. I would probably be very used to it by now if she was very sexually attracted to me. Overall, I can sort of deal with regular sexual attraction; I’ve gotten better at it. It tends to creep me out when people find me attractive specifically because I’m asexual, especially because the last person who told me that kept calling me a “sexless creature” (like I’m not even human!) and was very coercive. I guess that’s similar to the descriptions I’ve read from racial minorities who are creeped out when people are attracted to them primarily because of their race.

Am I bothered by being sexually attractive? I guess not really, I don’t really have major issues with my body. I don’t even know what my weight is most of the time, or at least I didn’t until I started having to go see doctors regularly. I don’t particularly care to know, so all I’ve got is an idea of a general range in the low 100’s. I’m not actively trying to look unattractive or anything, not like one survivor who tearfully confessed to me that the reason she has an eating disorder is not because she wants to match an unrealistic beauty ideal, but because she wants to look as ugly as possible so nobody would ever want to touch her again. The most I’ll usually do is wear a baggy t-shirt with a sports bra to cover up or at least minimize my breasts, so that I’ll get at least less attention from my appearance. I’m bothered more by the way that people handle their sexual attraction to me than by the fact that I’m attractive to a lot of people.

It’s just… kinda weird to regularly hear/know/contemplate all this stuff about unrealistic beauty standards, and then be told that you basically are the standard, or at least the more realistic version of it. I mean, I’d still be photoshopped if I appeared in a magazine or something, I’m sure. But something similar to my face is what this plastic surgeon aims to create. To me, that’s just… weird.

This post has been brought to you by Compliments, Introspective Tendencies, and Too Much Time On My Hands.

Policing the Definition: Is There a Gold Standard?

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?

Wanting It (Indifferently)

There’s a new article out that addresses hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) and the DSM-V: Women Who Want to Want.

There have been comments already about the article’s odd non-mention of asexuality and the strange mantra that Lori Brotto tells her patients to repeat (“my body is alive and sexual”) whether they believe it or not. There’s concern about the possibility of pushing people too strongly to be sexual, and I share those concerns.

Somewhat related, I was also amused at the article’s mention of something that (via my close associations with transitioning people and the trans community) is already well-known to me: the placebo effect of taking hormones. You start taking hormones, and suddenly every zit is a sign that it’s working. You get comments like, “My skin feels softer already!” and “I think my hair is growing slower!” from people who started taking hormones only a few days ago. Which is of course nonsense. Those things do happen, sure, but not THAT fast! Of course people are going to think T is giving them zits when they’re not even on it!

Brotto’s mantra seems to me to be working with that same effect. And maybe for some people it can be useful… but for others, it might seem like something that is working for a while, but then end in disappointment when they realize that there is not really all that much of a difference, and their problem is still there. And is it really a good idea to continue to conflate the concept of life with sexuality? Because even if we use the broadest possible definition of “sexual,” there are plenty of living things which are not sexual in any sense of the word. It’s stupid, of course, to say “my body is alive” if the state of aliveness is actually what is being referred to, because that’s bleeding obvious! So of course I think she should change that word. But it’s also possible to be vigorous and effervescent, if that’s what’s meant by “alive,” without being sexual at all. I realize it is aimed at helping patients harness a certain “sexual energy” or whatever, but I still think it’s an ill-conceived and inappropriate metaphor all around. Do we really need any more of a push in the direction of “nonsexual = dead”?

Really, though, I wasn’t all that bothered by or interested in that part of it. I was too distracted by the ideas presented by Basson to pay much attention to Brotto:

A different manifestation of desire — not initial hunger—– appears about two-thirds of the way around Basson’s circle. There, in the diagrams she began publishing in obstetrics and sexuality journals 10 years ago, come the words “responsive/triggered desire.” For Basson, this is necessary to satisfaction. But it comes after arousal starts. So a typical successful experience might proceed something like this: first a decision, rather than a drive, to have sex; next, as Basson puts it, a “willingness to be receptive”; then, say, the sensations of a partner’s touch; next, the awareness of being aroused; then the “responsive desire” along with increasingly intense arousal; and at last the range of physical and emotional payoffs that sex can provide and that offer positive reinforcement leading back to the top of the diagram, to the reasons for setting off on the circle to begin with.

I have sometimes wondered if I might consider myself sexual if I had been presented with a different model of sexuality than the one that society adopts. And under this model, I might be considered so.

This describes pretty much exactly the way that I myself navigate sexual activity. It was never about desire to begin with; it has always been a conscious decision to go ahead with it, for me. Of course, it isn’t true that I decide I’m going to have sex before I find myself in the middle of foreplay every time. But it is true that I made the decision to have sex with my partner, and gave her my implicit consent to initiate if she wants to, told her that it is generally okay for her to touch me in ways meant to arouse me, and I’ll stop her if I don’t want her to do it right then. Almost always, I end up aroused and able to enthusiastically consent. Of course, it helps that C is good at reading my signals (which are subtle and probably difficult for most people to read), and that she knows what I will respond to. She doesn’t push beyond my limits, is careful to stop whenever I say it’s getting painful, and also checks in with me whenever my facial expression is so ambivalent that she is not sure how I am doing. Over time, we’ve built up a safety net that allows me to be receptive to her as a general rule. And because that safety net is in place, I’m able to relax and follow my body’s cues to experience this sort of arousal-desire that Basson is talking about.

And so I think she is onto something, here. Society’s model of sexuality really is very attraction-focused, but the truth of it is that attraction often has very little if anything to do with enjoyable sex. Lots of people, probably women more so than men, find it pretty easy to have sex with people they are not attracted to. Of course there are people who say that they can’t imagine having a sexual relationship with someone they don’t find sexually attractive, but a lot of them settle anyway. Sometimes it takes a bottle of alcohol and a sense of desperation to get them to do so, but other times? I know a guy who met a girl a while back that he kept saying he wasn’t attracted to because according to him she is a “hambeast,” and now they’ve been together for six months or so, and live together as well. And I wonder how many married couples there are who don’t find each other sexually attractive anymore, but are still perfectly able to enjoy having sex with one another? Maybe some of them stop having sex for that very reason, but I suspect a lot of them keep on going at it–a little less like bunny rabbits, maybe, but still!

However, as much value as I see in Basson’s approach as described here, I don’t think it covers everything. There’s still the idea of lust–a concept I feel greatly removed from. I don’t really get it. At all. I never find guys hot in a “check the oil” sort of way. Or girls, for that matter. The attraction part of it is just missing for me, and even if it is an overblown cultural ideal more often than it is a reality, I still feel pretty alienated when I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t get it, which happens pretty frequently.

So I call myself asexual. And although my moniker hints at me being in the gray area between sexual and asexual, and I guess since I find sex enjoyable then according to some people I would be considered sexual, I’m really not feeling particularly “gray” lately. I don’t think that having sexual desire pretty much only when it is sparked by physical arousal is very strong evidence of being sexually attracted to people, and that missing attraction is (for me) what asexuality is all about. That’s the only definition that makes sense to me, and during the years that I have identified as asexual, despite my frequent reevaluations and openness to new experiences, my own asexuality has only become increasingly clear to me.

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.

Why Trendy Bisexuals Are Dangerous to Asexuality

Over the years, a bunch of people have made the point that asexuals have something to add to discussions of sexuality, because their differing perspective on the topic lends an ability to see certain points that others miss. Since I’m currently incapable of forming any coherent thoughts on the topic of asexual gender variation, I thought I might try to add my perspective to an essay that I recently stumbled upon: Sexa Rubelucia’s Defense of Trendy Bisexuality, wherein she attempts to do just that.

She makes a few good points in the essay, but my main issue with her argument is that, while she seems at least aware of the difference between sexual attraction and sexual behavior, she does not acknowledge its relevance to the topic at hand. This is an issue with the definition of bisexuality. This is about what it means to be bisexual, or not. And the commonly accepted definition of any sexual orientation is based on attraction, not behavior, although many people seem to have a muddled and inconsistent understanding of this, including the author of this essay. Reading the essay, I have no clear idea of what her actual views on “real” biseuxality are, though she offers the following definition of fake bisexuals:

Trendy bisexuality is … the kind of bisexuality in which a girl has sex with, hooks up with, or makes out with, other girls to arouse/get the attention of a guy (or guys) watching, or because she wants to be able to say she’s bisexual as she knows it makes her sound sexier to guys, or just because she’s heard that it’s cool to be bi now. It’s distinguished as “trendy” bisexuality to indicate that these girls only do it because it’s “cool” and because lots of other girls do it. The term “trendy bisexuality” is meant to be insulting, and women who self-identify as “trendy bisexuals” only do so in a self-effacing, deliberately ironic way.

It’s clear that she understands what the difference is between so-called “trendy bisexuals” and real bisexuals–that is, the motivation for their behavior. However, she curiously does not address the distinction between orientation (a relatively set pattern of gender-based attraction) and behavior, which is being clarified by people who use the terms “trendy” or “fake bisexuals”–clearly, people question whether such people ought to be calling themselves bisexuals at all. She seems to go back and forth on this, acknowledging her own low level of attraction to women and how that qualifies her to claim the label “bisexual,” and then later saying that a woman who has had sex with other women’s claim to be straight is somehow suspect. Instead of looking at the very obvious definitional qualms that people have with trendy bisexuality, she focuses on feminist objections to the phenomenon of, as she so aptly calls it, “female/female sex as a performance.”

Far be it from me to claim that sex as a performance is a necessarily bad thing (especially considering my own advice on the topic), but some of her claims are a little suspect. I’m sure there’s something to the whole feminist “sexual expectation double-standard,” but her emphasis on how people who object to this on feminist grounds must be man-haters is a little overblown, in my opinion. Some people simply don’t like the idea of performing to fulfill a man’s fantasies, and I don’t think it necessarily means that they hate all men (or even all heterosexual men) because of that. When their fantasies are about women existing as objects meant for their use, it’s understandable why some women would be uncomfortable with that. I, personally, wouldn’t go so far as to say that other women shouldn’t ever engage in any erotic activities with other women solely with the intent of arousing men, but I still find this practice distasteful because there is such a heavy cultural bias towards the fulfillment of male fantasies (which she does mention), and I think that distaste is very much legitimate. I also do think it is interesting that in the same breath as she dismisses others’ claims that straight girls engage in bisexual behavior because they have low self-esteem, she writes off people who have a repulsion to and/or ideological problems with society’s conception of sex as having low self-esteem:

Girls who have low self-esteem do a lot of things. Some girls have low self-esteem and therefore have promiscuous sex. Some girls have low self-esteem and therefore refuse to have sex at all and write feminist theory about why all sex is bad and wrong and evil.

And then there is this little gem:

The overarching answer to the concern of “someone will get hurt” is that it’s sex!  Someone always gets hurt!  It feels really great, and then it confuses you, and then someone gets hurt, and then everyone deals with it.  There’s pretty much nothing you can do to prevent that. (emphasis hers)

Um… what? I mean, first of all, from that previous quote, she acts like sex is so wonderful that anyone who has problems with it must have low self-esteem… and then she says this? I sure HOPE people don’t ALWAYS get hurt when they have sex! Even I, an asexual woman, am not so cynical as to say such a thing, and you know? I guess you could call me naive if you want, but that hasn’t been my experience, either. There was a time when I wondered if I would ever be able to get through sex without pain, but I have since discovered that I am perfectly capable of it, on both an emotional and a physical level. There ARE precautions that people can take to keep themselves from being hurt, and even those who are acting outside of their orientation can benefit from them. I wonder, that this woman would say such a thing, especially in this context. I understand very well how a lack of experience and understanding about one’s own desires (or lack thereof) might lead to less-than-stellar communication (been there, done that!), and I don’t think people should be vilified simply for that. However, this reeks of an unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s actions. If people are not up-front and honest about their intentions, including whether or not they are experimenting, then things are likely to go wrong, and if somebody gets hurt because the other person wasn’t honest, you can’t claim that it was the fault of the person who WAS honest. Of course, when entering into any kind of relationship, there is always the risk of being lied to, or hurt in any other way. But just because someone understands that they are taking that risk, does that mean that it is acceptable for people to do manipulative and unsavory things to them? Should people just never trust anyone, ever? How about: “Well, it’s your fault you got raped, because you knew there was a chance I might have been lying to you!” No. This is just a way of avoiding blame.

That’s not to say that ALL “trendy bisexuals” engage in this behavior, because some people, I’m sure, are actually up-front about the fact that they are just experimenting, or solely interested in sexing women because they want to attract men. Those who aren’t, however, incur the displeasure of those they mislead for a very good reason. Either way, this argument just barely misses, and then dismisses, the real issue:  that trendy bisexuals are MISLEADING PEOPLE by calling themselves bisexual in the first place (and do note, I didn’t say they are “using” people, because I agree, that’s a useless phrase, and plus, it’s such a narrow term it misses some of the broader implications). They aren’t actually bisexual, even though they engage in sexual behavior with people of both genders, and tend to claim that label (the writer of that essay is an uncommon breed in that she actually calls herself a trendy bisexual; usually, that is a label that only other people use to describe someone, while the person being called a “trendy bisexual” just calls herself bisexual).  And this can potentially hurt both the people with whom they are intimately involved, and the wider bisexual, lesbian, and even asexual communities due to its spreading of the misinformed conflation of behavior with a label that’s not about behavior at all.

She continues:

But really, what sinks this complaint is that trendy bisexuals are pretty clearly distinguished from serious lesbians, usually by the fact that their boyfriend is standing no farther than a few feet away.

I doubt this very much, as in my experience (as a biromantic asexual woman partnered to a bisexual passing trans woman–meaning, we look, act, and are treated like lesbians in public), many men seem to assume that most, if not all, out lesbians (who are attractive, at least), are just trendy bisexuals, and would be receptive to their frequent catcalls and offers for threesomes. I really can’t stress enough how frequently this happens. In fact, just a few hours ago, as my girlfriend and I were walking back to our car, just holding hands and not being overtly (or even covertly!) sexual at all, some guy ran into a curb because he was too busy staring at whooping at us to pay attention to the road. You could argue, perhaps, that these men aren’t really seriously harming us by expressing their interest, but the degree to which (even the smallest amount of) female-female affection is sexualized makes me think there is something more insidious going on. My (non-sexual) affection for my girlfriend is routinely trivialized and cast as a simple ploy to gain male attention, when in reality, it has nothing whatever to do with either men OR sex, at all. This is indeed an example of male narcissism, but I am deeply concerned with the idea that this narcissism is harmless. It represents society-wide beliefs that have real-world consequences, which trendy bisexuals may not be aware of because they play into and reinforce the beliefs that other people hold, but women who are seriously committed to one another are much more likely to encounter. The main issue, aside from the demoralizing assumption that women exist for men and the extreme focus on sex, is that we lose credibility. We are much less likely to be taken seriously, as people will assume this is “just a phase” that women go through in college… and if, for example, my mother thinks this way, I may have a disaster on my hands when I finally come out to her, since I am still financially dependent on her and she has quite a bit of power over me. Is this not a legitimate concern?

It seems to me that there is an unwillingness to accept the fact that lesbians even exist, and that it is not at all clear (especially not immediately so) whether any given female-female couple are actually lesbians (this goes back to the issue of orientation vs. behavior, and how that is likely to contribute to the invisibility of groups like asexuals and bisexuals). Although there will certainly be people who assume they are lesbians, people also tend to see what they want to see. The fact that trendy bisexuals exist lends credence to heterosexual males’ wishful thinking, and though that may not actually be what the trendy bisexual is aiming to do, it is understandably annoying to lesbians that this happens, especially since it happens with such frequency. It also undermines the credence that people are likely to give to actual bisexuals, a group that is presumed to an even larger extent than lesbians not to even exist. Again, going back to visibility issues and the damage that defining orientation by behavior does. The writer of this essay seems to be aware of the behavior/attraction distinction, but she is blantantly dismissive of it:

I’ve heard plenty of women say “Oh, I’ve had sex with girls but I’m straight” (note: That is a pretty ridiculous statement), but I can’t even imagine a man saying the same thing about having had sex with a man.

Why is it ridiculous for a girl who has had sex with girls to claim that she’s straight? She is basing her statement on her patterns of attraction, and NOT on her behavior. It is a perfectly legitimate statement. I am asexual, but I have had sex, and that doesn’t make me any less asexual. That I have had sex does not automatically mean that I experienced sexual attraction (contrary to popular belief, I’m sure), because arousal can be a purely physical response to stimuli, that does not spring from any sexual attraction. If it’s possible to be aroused without feeling sexual attraction at all, it’s certainly possible to be aroused by an attraction to something else (in this case, the men that are turned on by lesbians) and then have sex with someone who did not inspire the initial attraction.

The author goes on to explain that that statement would be even more ridiculous in reverse, with a man insisting that his having had sex with a man does not make him gay, and rightly so. To most people in our culture, that would seem like a contradiction, but there have been other cultures where male homosexual interactions were even institutionalized, as mentor-student relationships that were considered a rite of passage. I am thinking of the ancient Greeks and Tokugawa-era Japan, here. As I understand it, it was quite normal in those cultures for men to have sex with other men without being presumed to be homosexual, as those men usually also took wives. There was no stigma attached to this, as there is in our culture, which is probably the reason why our men are so afraid of doing anything whatsoever that might lead others to assume that they are gay. That a man has had sex with another man, in my eyes, would not automatically mean that he is gay, except that since that assumption is so prevalent throughout this society, and since there is so much stigma attached to that act, so much homophobia running rampant throughout society, it would be quite a stretch to think that a heterosexual man would be so willing to experiment that he would even be willing to subject himself to that stigma.

To be gay is to lose social status. For men, who are ascribed a higher social status than women, it is a very, very bad for their image to appear effeminate in any way. Having sex with other men is seen as a marker of effeminacy, because of the way that society conceives of the power structure that is built into sex. To be a bottom in an act of gay sex is to act as a woman, and in so doing, sacrifice one’s (ever-fragile) masculinity. Which is, of course, probably the reason why, as the author observes, there is no male equivalent of the trendy bisexual in American culture (though there is something similar in Japan, but it is usually outright acknowledged that the guys are doing it solely for the girls’ benefit, instead of them claiming to actually be bisexual). Curiously, she fails to comment on that power structure, but she does point out some of the differences between gay male sex and lesbian sex:

Lesbian sex is far less necessarily physically threatening than gay male sex.  Penetration isn’t a requirement for two women to have sex with each other, whereas a man who identifies as bisexual is basically saying he’s willing to take it up the ass.

But is this really what he is saying, or is this just what people assume he is saying? What about a bisexual man who is strictly a top? And since when is penetration required for gay sex? I have known gay couples who never engage in penetrative sex because they don’t enjoy it, but do have other kinds of sex. Obviously, one alternative is oral sex. I also remember reading about one society (maybe the Romans? but I can’t recall which) that considered the anus dirty, and instead of having anal intercourse, they would engage in frottage–i.e., men would rub their penises between the closed thighs of other men. This statement highlights how incredibly phallocentric and extremely focused on penetration our society is. Even though anal intercourse is not the only form of gay male sex out there, it is the only form that society recognizes as such (and furthermore, people specifically focus on the bottom without considering the top, which shows how much focus there is on the person who is being “emasculated” and stripped of their social status).

An asexual perspective might be useful here, because in searching for an alternative form of sexuality that might be more tolerable to us than the usual penetrative kind of sex, we often realize how incredibly narrow society’s definition of “sex” is. There are many, many other ways to do sex than just penetration. In the case of lesbian sex, too, this must be acknowledged, because not all lesbian sex involves a strap-on. It is interesting to me that the author of that essay acknowledges that penetration is not required for lesbian sex, but doesn’t realize that it isn’t required for gay male sex either. It strikes me as something of a double-standard. After all, lesbians can and do penetrate each other–why, then, with all this focus on penetration, is that not considered THE way that lesbians have sex? In fact, to many people who hold such a penetration-centric view of sex, it is not even obvious that women CAN have sex with each other, because most women haven’t got a phallus–at least, not one that’s biologically attached.

In short, her arguments leave me unconvinced.  I wonder whether she has ever heard of asexuality, and what her reaction to it would be.  She doesn’t really seem the type who would take well to the idea, what with her comments about self-esteem and how “ridiculous” it is for girls with a history of having sex with other girls to call themselves straight. I would expect her to dismiss my experiences, claim I am insecure, and say I must be a man-hater because I dislike the way men sexualize me and trivialize my emotions (to say nothing of the actual objectification). I do have a problem with trendy bisexuals, but not because I think they shouldn’t act the way they do, on feminist grounds. My problem is that they are straight women who call themselves bisexual, and thus spread misinformation about what a sexual orientation even is, which can be harmful to ALL non-heterosexual orientations. It would be fine with me if they would at least acknowledge that they are not really, or only barely, attracted to women, and are mainly turned on by them because it turns on men. (I can, after all, understand enjoyment of others’ sexual reactions, as that is the main reason why I even have sex at all.) But most of them don’t (and actually, I wouldn’t call anyone who did a “trendy bisexual” at all; in my eyes, she would just be a straight woman who engages in bisexual behavior), either because they don’t understand what the term “bisexual” means themselves, or they are simply not willing to say they engage in behavior that is viewed negatively, even though that is the truth. They either do not realize the harm that they are doing to the larger community by spreading misinformation, or are not willing to take responsibility for misleading people. I don’t think these concerns are off-base; in fact, her essay only serves to trouble me more.