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.

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Children of Denial

A few days ago, I had the nerve-wracking experience of having a lengthy discussion with my MtF girlfriend’s mother about her transition. The whole thing started because Cupcake has been on hormones for several months, and is going to start presenting as female full time in about a week, but her mother has been expressing more and more disapproval about the whole thing, and we weren’t sure whether she understood what was going on.

Naturally, this is an extremely difficult thing for parents to deal with. I don’t expect her to just accept it, and I’m sure it will take a long time for her to come to terms with it. Even then, she likely will continue to have qualms about it. It’s just the nature of the beast: this is such a hard, scary, weighty topic and mother-child relationships are so intense and important, how could she (someone with no experience whatsoever with trans issues) simply accept it, and that’s that?

Still, it got me thinking about parents’ reactions to their child coming out to them, especially how frequently they deny what’s being told to them. One of my friends said that she had to come out to her mother as asexual at least three times already, and probably will have to do it again at some point, just because her mother didn’t believe her (or remember?), probably thinking it was just a phase. My own parents are firmly convinced I’m a lesbian, not asexual. They also don’t have any idea about M or Cupcake, and although it bothers me a little that when they learn about her, it will support their idea that I’m a lesbian, I don’t really care enough to tell them about M. And even if I did, they likely wouldn’t believe me anyway, or would find some way to dismiss it. It doesn’t really matter, because I don’t care what they think and it won’t make a difference in the way they treat me anyway. Which I suppose is convenient, but is also just a result of asexuality (and similarly, bisexuality) being inherently invisible, even if people knew and accepted it as a legitimate orientation.

For Cupcake, it’s very, very different. This is not just some invisible fact about her that only becomes a real issue within a relationship, and otherwise is just a mildly annoying social barrier at worst. Nor is it some issue with the partners she chooses, which can be a discreetly hidden family secret, or even kept from family completely. This goes right down to the very core of her identity. It is physical. Nobody who knows her, except apparently her mother, could possibly miss the changes she is undergoing. When she came out at work, nobody was surprised. I watched her tell someone she used to know (over the internet), and his response was just an, “Oh. That explains a lot.”

It is interesting to me that her mother could claim that she never saw Cupcake as being feminine at all. One look at her room screams, “GIRL!” When she said that, I picked up one of her hands, painted with glittery purple nail polish and asked, “Is this feminine?” She seemed somewhat at a loss, grasping for an explanation. “Well, if you knew him growing up…”

I don’t mean to be confrontational, but this is happening. Even if she missed it, even if it was carefully hidden from her, Cupcake is and has been trans, and even if she were to stop her transition and go back to presenting male all the time, she would still be trans–just hiding it. Her mother can’t accept that this is true, says that there are other issues that she’s blocking out, that her divorce and the issues that Cupcake has with her father caused her to want to “reinvent himself, and become a new person.” (“It has nothing to do with that,” Cupcake protested, “I knew I was trans when I was eight, and the divorce happened when I was twelve. How could it have been caused by the divorce if it happened prior to that?”)

Cupcake had a response for every single thing that her mother brought up, but her mother wouldn’t listen to any of it. She holds on firmly to her (largely ignorant, and willfully so) fears about the process, rather than letting those fears be assuaged. She clings to stereotypes to rationalize Cupcake’s experiences away, just because it wasn’t something she “knew” about her son from an early age. I echoed something that Venus of Willendork once posted about then, about how the stereotypical lesbian and gay experience has been repeated so often that there is now pressure on them to make their experiences fit with the mold, rather than speaking out about how it really was, for solidarity’s sake or perhaps just so that people will believe them, and not think their orientation is a phase. Really, there is an even stronger pressure in the trans community due to the Standards of Care, and the requirement of having a therapist’s approval in order to start HRT or get SRS, but I thought using an example from a different community would be slightly less confrontational. I hope it’s something she will think about.

Really, it’s entirely understandable that she would react this way. What mother would want to admit that she knew so little about her child’s pain? Even at this stage, I’m not even certain the immensity of that pain has sunk in yet. For Cupcake, it’s a choice between transition or suicide. If there were a magic pill that she could take that would make her cisgendered, she says she would take it (which, incidentally, highlights a very important difference betweeen transsexualism and asexuality, as the vast majority of asexuals are happy the way they are, and wouldn’t dream of taking such a pill–it’s societal pressure to be sexual that they want to change, not their own orientations). But there is no such pill, nor any other way to magically become cisgendered. Thus, she has decided (carefully, with full knowledge of how difficult it will be) to transition.

One other thing I wanted to mention (for my own personal reference really, as I am writing this post as much to note my own personal observations than for any other reason) is that she brought up something that Cupcake had already mentioned to me two months ago: the possibility that her depression would start (or had started) to go away since she had gotten into a relationship with me. What Cupcake had previously told me was that she had had some self-doubt about her transition, wondering if she had just been lonely, and that her trans issues would go away when she got into a relationship. This proved to be completely untrue, because even with me, she still has freak-outs about trans stuff, even though she is no longer lonely. Her mother seemed to have the same doubts, though neither one of us mentioned what had happened between us earlier (I wonder if perhaps we should have, but I certainly didn’t want to bring it up without getting Cupcake’s approval first). I wonder, personally, what it is about relationships that makes people think they are a magical panacea. I’m sure many of us have been told that we will start wanting to have sex once we’re in a (committed romantic) relationship (with the right person), as if we are just too immature right now, and need someone to “awaken” our sexual desires. But I’m in a committed romantic relationship and I’m still asexual. And Cupcake is still trans.

There are certainly parallels between the way that parents react to asexuality and the way they react to transsexualism, although the latter is much more extreme in pretty much every way. This is one reason I think asexuals should have a place within the queer community, even though we face very little discrimination (if it can be called that at all), compared to the GLB’s, and especially T’s. There are plenty of differences in the issues that need to be addressed, and the danger of banding together is that one group will be so concerned about their own issues that they’ll leave the others out, but there are still commonalities that allow different types of queer people to understand one another better, and parents having similar reactions is one of them.

The power of denial is certainly very strong, and it’s something I’ve run into a lot, especially with relatives. But the discussion we had with her mother seems to have done some good. Cupcake says that since then, she’s been super nice about everything, which is probably her way of apologizing. She seems to be thinking about everything we said, and although I expect it to take quite a bit more time, I have high hopes that she’s on her way to acceptance.

Less Relevant

Lately, I’ve encountered an odd problem. Every time I open up a new post and attempt to write, I find myself stumped on what to write about. Where once I had tons of things to say, now they all escape me.

In the past few months, a lot of things have happened. That’s such a bland statement, but I don’t really know where to start if I were to talk about everything, nor do I even really want to publicly catalog all the events that have occurred since October. Still, I feel an obligation to keep this blog going, if only at a very much stunted pace.

The truth is, asexuality no longer seems very relevant to my everyday life.

This is not to say that I no longer identify as asexual, just that my asexuality has faded into the background in such a way that I don’t really have much motivation to post about it—not to mention the lack of time! I am hardly ever even on my computer anymore, except on those rare occasions (like now) when Cupcake decides she would rather bond with her video games (which, if it gives any indication of how often this is, she complains that she’s been taking such long breaks from them to play with me that when she returns to them, she has to relearn how to play the games).

One of the things I was frustrated about with the dissolution of my relationship (non-specific to romance) with M was that, although I felt that, given the time and understanding, I could have gotten over my discomfort with sex and learned to enjoy it despite my lack of interest. Because he wouldn’t listen to me and try to work with me (nor could he even apparently understand what I was asking), I couldn’t. Either way, I viewed him as a “practice run” of sorts, which allowed me to get past a hurdle which otherwise most certainly would have impeded my current relationship.

I most certainly did not expect this relationship to start as soon as it did, or progress as quickly as it has, but nevertheless, I’m in a good position now to try the things I couldn’t with M. Every obstacle I encountered with him is gone. Asexuality was something that Cupcake and I dealt with early on in the relationship, and with her understading, I have gradually become more and more comfortable with sexual activity, to the point that it’s no longer an issue.

I’ve found—contrary, perhaps, to popular opinion of asexual women—that it’s pretty easy for me to have a orgasm. I can (and generally do) enjoy myself when having sex, but when I’m not having it, I don’t really crave it. I can take it or leave it. And I still don’t understand what sexual attraction is.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would say that, because I enjoy sex, I must not be asexual, but really? The key to my enjoyment is in the approach my partner takes towards asexuality. If they try to convince me I’m not asexual, I won’t be comfortable with it. If they try to understand asexuality, accept it and work around it, then it won’t be an issue. Of course, it helps that my partner’s attitude towards sex is similar to mine in various ways, and if it weren’t, she and I would probably have more difficulties, but I think they would still be resolvable, as long as she accepted my orientation.

All things considered, I don’t see myself as being limited by my orientation in any real way. Outside of the bedroom, it doesn’t affect my life, and even its effect on my sex life is negligible, now that I have found someone willing to work with me rather than against me. For being such a weird couple, Cupcake and I have a surprisingly “normal” sex life, to whatever extent at least that a cis/trans lesbian couple can have. I might as well be sexual, for all the effect that has on the way we interact sexually. In the long run, though, it will likely make things easier for us that I am asexual. I realize this probably isn’t something that most asexual people in relationships with sexual people can say—there certainly is a lot of angst among the romantic asexuals about the possiblity that they might never find a comfortable relationship. Some might not be able to handle sexual activity at all, and so I don’t expect my own “solution” to be workable for everyone. Still, I think it’s important for me to make my story available to the rest of the community, so that it may provide some hope, and perhaps even help to disspell some myths about asexual people.

In Flux: A Gray Manifesto

It occurs to me that although I started this blog specifically to talk about issues that affect gray-asexuals, I haven’t actually addressed the issue directly, except on my about page.

So to rectify this, I want to go into more detail about my personal identity, my political identity, and my reasons for choosing to present myself to the public the way I do, even though that public identity is too stark to match up with my true identity.

I am out as an asexual to everybody I associate with for long enough that the subject comes up (which is usually fairly quickly, though not in the case of professional associates and extended family members). I am out as gray-asexual to only a select few. This is because most people do not have enough of a conceptual background in asexual discourse to understand what I’m talking about, and do not care to acquire it. Which is just as well, because most of the time I am not willing to spend so much time educating others on the particulars of my existence, especially when they would like as not reject it anyway. I only trust those details to those few who are either asexual themselves, show a keen interest in asexuality, or those I would be intimate with. In that latter case, I will quite patiently and persistently attempt to build understanding, but it’s an absolute deal-breaker if I ever determine that it’s impossible to create. No exceptions.
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Confessions

I was reading PostSecret today, as I do every Sunday, and this secret caught my eye.

There will be people, I’m sure, who will think that the person who wrote that postcard is probably asexual, but I’m not one of them. I mean sure, they could be, but I think it more likely that this person is sexual, and just for whatever reason is more interested in playing Rock Band than having sex under whatever circumstances, simply because it seems to be a much more common scenario among sexuals than they like to admit (and of course, there are many more sexuals out there than asexuals).

I have a friend whose designation in our little social circle is to be the token horndog. She is infamous for her wild sexual behavior (and, well, wild behavior in general) and the group makes a point of prodding her stories about her sexual experiences out of her. She is quite vocal about her sexual desires, fantasies, and experiences, but although she gives the impression that she thinks sex is fun and she wants to have a lot of it, she recently admitted to me privately that she actually has never even once had a positive sexual experience, in all the years since she lost her virginity (and she lost it early). She thinks the reason is because she was never in love with any of the people she’s had sex with, and that one day, with the right person, she’ll be able to have a lot of great sex. But in the meantime she pretends that it’s been a lot more fun for her than it really has been.

She’s not the only person who has admitted something like this to me (I guess it’s safe for people to tell me because I won’t tell them they have a problem for not liking it all the time). I’ve had three other friends (who identify as sexual) confess that they just don’t like sex as much as they think they should, and a few of them have even considered whether they might really be asexual. Sex now, as it’s defined by our culture, has become this great big concept that eats away at reality because of how hyped up it is. I’m sure there are people out there who really do think sex is just the greatest thing in the world, but there are a lot of people who are just going along with it. Maybe they are going along with it in order to combat negative attitudes about sex, but in that case I don’t think they’re really being sex-positive, because how can lying about how great sex is be a positive thing? It’s only going to put more pressure on people to exaggerate their own experiences, and set up false expectations that will eventually lead to disappointment.

Really, I’m shocked by how much pressure there already is on people to have more and better sex. A little while ago I read this rant on Heartless Bitches International, and… wow. Are you kidding me??? There are actually women who are willing to stick a needle in their G-spots to pump it up with collagen??? OUCH. And I thought visits to the gynecologist were bad.

I’m not sure I agree with the feminist slant of that article, though, if only because the pressure to be sexual is equally bad for men. Although there is certainly a double standard in place in that women who (are perceived to) have a lot of sex are seen as sluts, while promiscuity for males is something that builds confidence and social status. I do think that, although “orgasmo grrl” may be the new cultural ideal, the old feminine ideals are not dead yet, and so female asexuals may still find it a little easier to admit to being asexual than their male counterparts.

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?
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Positive Metaphors: Chandelier Culture

This post has been a long time coming. I first thought of this, oh, maybe last February? Possibly late January. At the time, though, I was much too busy with school to pursue the idea further, but I’ve been turning it over in my mind since then. Now, I’m finally ready to share.

I believe the asexual community, as a community that has sprung up around a negatively-defined orientation that is considered unthinkable by the larger community, suffers from a negative conceptualization. In plainer English, because we spend so much time trying to explain ourselves (and hopefully legitimize ourselves) to the rest of the world, and because in doing so we focus so much on what we lack compared with them, we are often put in a precariously defensive position. We have to keep saying, over and over again, “No, there is nothing wrong with us. We’re fine the way we are.”

Yet a lot of the metaphors that we use to explain asexuality would seem to contradict that, which weakens our position. Actually, I don’t think I have ever even heard of a positive metaphor for asexuality (granted, I haven’t lurked on AVEN or Apositive in quite a while, so I may have missed something, but…). They all focus on something that we lack, and of course, there is really no way around that because after all, it is a negatively defined orientation. But what I want to point out is, in grasping for an easy way to explain asexuality to sexual people, I think a lot of times we come up with overly simplistic, somewhat inaccurate figurative speech that, rather than making things clearer, actually obscures the meaning we intend to convey. Continue reading

Acting Like an Asexual

I think it’s weird when people talk about “asexual behavior.”

I have no idea what that phrase means. For that matter, I don’t really know what “sexual behavior” means either, since that can cover such a broad range of activities—even ones that are fairly harmless, like dancing, can be described as sexual.

But it bothers me. There are so many things out there that are so associated with sexuality, that if an asexual (or at least a known asexual) does it, it’s considered to be contradictory to their asexuality. Flirting, for instance. I have always tried pretty hard not to say things that could be considered flirting, because it makes people assume that I’m sexual (and interested in them). But maybe I want to show romantic interest in someone… How do I do it? How can I do it without leading someone to assume that I’m sexually interested in them as well? Honestly, the fact of it is, since I’ve always avoided flirting, I have no idea how to do it, period, let alone make that distinction clear.

Another thing is making sexual jokes. For years and years, I would laugh at others’ jokes, but never say what I was thinking myself for fear of whatever they might think. I’m sure I probably came off as prudish, but I’m not really. I’m not squeamish about sex at all. In fact, I’m fairly desensitized to it. I find it kind of fascinating, in a distantly intellectual way. Ironically, I have an acquaintance who often comes to me for advice about sex, because I know more about it than she does herself, even though she is sexual.

Oh, and then there’s the big one: having sex. And one step up from that, enjoying sex. Like, if I’m asexual, and I have sex and don’t find it completely repellent, then I’m not a “true” asexual or something. Whatever. Asexuality is not celibacy, we all know that, but for the sake of the people who wander in here from google, I’ll say it again: asexuality is a preference, celibacy is a choice. I prefer not to have sex, I don’t find that it comes naturally to me. Even when I’m bed with the most attractive guy I’ve ever met, whom I’m completely in love with, I’d rather just sleep with him literally. But if he wants to have sex, I’ll do it (provided he will look out for me). And, although this hasn’t matched my actual experience yet, I believe that on some level, it can be enjoyable for me. There was that one time that if it weren’t for the physical pain that inevitably comes with not being used to it, I probably would’ve found it mildly pleasant. But I just don’t feel a need for it, and I don’t think I ever will.

I really do wish that people understood asexuality a little better, because I find myself being less than completely true to myself with other people because most people have a much more rigid view of asexuality than I do. There’s a public face and a private face, and the public one is oversimplified so that I can get along a little easier. It’s like wearing a mask of my real face, with certain features exaggerated, and others covered up. I guess it’s more like makeup than a mask. But it’s tiring to keep up sometimes, and it makes me break out under the surface, so here, I take it off. Here at least, I can recognize that although I’m close enough, I don’t completely fit the definition, and certainly not anyone’s ideas of how people that do fit that definition can or should act.

What Does It Mean to Have a Sexual Identity?

For all its ancient, primal beginnings, sexual orientation is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Perhaps “phenomenon” isn’t the right word. What I mean is, the concept of sexual orientation, as we understand it today, is relatively recent. The word “sex” was coined sometime in the sixteenth century, at which time the word was specific to male/female interactions, which were of course the norm. It wasn’t until 1868 that the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” were invented, by a group of Germans speaking out against a proposed “unnatural fornication” law which would prohibit any non-reproductive sexual act. If you’d like to read more about this, check out The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz. Or, for those of you with short attention spans, you can find a much briefer history here.

Now, obviously, for as long as there have been people, they’ve been populating the earth by having sex. But in different cultures and time periods, ideas about sex have varied wildly. Even within a single culture, there are plenty of groups of people with differing ideas—today, we have throwbacks to a more religious era believing that sex is wrong outside of marriage, as well as people who celebrate their freedom to have unattached sex. But the concept of sexuality, this idea that all one’s sexual deeds and desires and whatever else create a definable whole, some basic instinct to have sex with x kind of people from which so many other things sprout, has only been around for a little more than a century. Continue reading