For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for December, 2009

The Masturbation Paradox (don’t mention the P word)

This is less of a post, more just a note for me to handily link to/copy-paste from to save me writing it out each time. I’ve been meaning to write this for some time, hastened by Ily’s re-working of the issue.

It adresses the flaws in the argument that, logically, asexuals who masturbate cannot be called asexual, and have to be called autosexual, as follows:

There is 1 operational definition of asexuality- X. someone who does not experience sexual attraction. There are others, such as someone who doesn’t engage in sexual activity, but these are generally more flawed definitions, and none of them are embraced by the asexual community.

There are 2 operational definitions of autosexuality- A. someone who engages in sexual-esque activity with themself (ie. masturbation), B. someone who is sexually attracted to themselves.

The problem here is that A and X can both be true, but B and X are contradictory. People are often confused between A and B, meaning that they think A and X are contradictory.

In longer speak: If your definition of autosexual is someone who masturbates, then this doesn’t affect sexual orientation, or someone’s status as an asexual. They can be both asexual and autosexual. If your definition of autosexual is someone who feels sexual attraction for themselves, then, you’re right, autosexuals aren’t asexual. However, people who tell you they’re asexual and masturbate almost definately (excluding the possibilities of denial*) aren’t autosexual by this definition, so therefore they’re still asexual.

*and I’m not actually sure whether anyone of this definition of autosexual exists. There probably are some people, though.

Boring but neccesary.
This is a pretty effective logical counter to people who use the word autosexual to invalidate masturbating asexuals. It doesn’t, unfortunately, work against people who say “Well, masturbation’s just inherently sexual”. In that argument, you have two choices:
Try and convince someone that their most regular, fantasy-based, dependable and probably best (from a personal pleasure/achieving orgasm point of view) sex, that’s undoubtedly been the most major feature of their sex life since their teens, isn’t inherently sexual for everyone.
Point behind them, say “Look over there”, then run and hide under a bush until they’ve gone.

Asexuality and the asexual movement

I’ve been sleeping really weirdly of late, so the basic thought-processes of this morning were “Ohh, it’s 7 o’ clock. I really should get up… Ohh, it’s 10 o’ clock, I really should get up. Ohh, it’s noon, I really should get up. Nothing on facebook, nothing on deviantart, nothing on blo- Oh ****, Joy Davidson has commented on my last post!!!!!”

She was really respectful, seemed quite glad I’d written about her actual words, rather than assumptions about her beliefs. I’d ask any asexuals or interested parties reading to check out her comment. I knew she’d been a bit typecast, but it never occured to me before that, in just the same way as media appearences don’t allow asexuals to have the very in-depth discussions they’d like to, she may have been constrained by the same system.

Anyway, one of the things she said was that there’s a difference between asexuality and the asexual movement. It’s something I’ve always known, but never considered before. Like all binaries, it looks fine at first, but is impossibly complicated once you get closer to the dividing line. For a start, we all know it’s the asexual community that defines what asexuality is. And asexuality defines what the asexual community is. I have not a chance of approaching the complexity of the effects of this symbiotic relationship, but Pretzelboy’s definitions series, especially the two awesome posts on the history of asexuality, do a very good job of exploring the issue (I seem to spend half my time as a blogger looking through his archive for places where Pretzelboy’s said it really well).

To assume that the asexual movement and asexuality are somehow seperatable, we have to assume there’s some definition of asexuality outside of the asexual movement, a gold standard by which AVEN’s cheques are measured*. This is obvious. There are people who were asexual before the first asexual groups, people who took the name before they knew anyone else had, and, assuming that there has always been, behind the scenes, such a thing as sexual orientation, I’m certain that there have always been people who experience little or no sexual attraction to anyone. However, there’s a semantic issue here. The word asexual, with etymologically-easy subdivisions, like aromantic and demisexual, its own roots in the language of sexual orienation like homosexual, has influenced the self-understanding of the first generation of asexuals. And the more fixed these become, the more important it will be, in the real world, that the word we chose is asexual, and that the operative definition of that word is ‘you are if you feel like it’, and all sorts of things that came about through the asexual movement will affect the real world applications of asexuality, as opposed to nonsexuality, nonlibedoism, lack of sexual attraction, none of which really made it this far.

It’s not a bad thing. The only way to avoid semantic issues is to not use any words, and I think the operational definitions of asexuality don’t have any real major flaws. Also, even the most semantic people (and I count myself as one of them), eventually start thinking “Blow this. I’ll be exactly who I am, and the words will have to try and catch up with me.” But it’s worth considering.

Maybe I should extend this to a less semantic level, now. The fact that asexuality started off as an internet orientation gives it a sort of memishness. It’s main proponents are people who can spend their time stuck behind a keyboard, making it’s activists a little different from most other activists. The fact that you have to fight to even find it (though that’s changing more and more), means that it attracts introspective researchers. The fact that it models itself on the big three sexual orientations has a whole host of meanings. Decisions of the asexual movement affect asexuality itself, and it’s often difficult to find where the gold standard exactly is.

No particular conclusion for this, not at the moment anyway, it’s just a thought.

*To explain this metaphor: The gold standard is the amount of gold kept in a bank. In the old days, all bank notes were promissery notes, saying that they were worth exactly so much gold from the bank. You could keep circulating the notes, knowing that, if you ever wanted, you could exchange them for gold, but no-one ever did. It was enough just to know that the gold was there somewhere, keeping the value of the money stable, making sure the promises were worth themselves.

At more financially savvy times, the banks lent and printed more money than they actually had gold to refund for, because they knew that whether there was gold or not didn’t actually matter. In the early 19th century, the English radical politician Francis Place went so far as to threaten the collapse of the British banking industry by encouraging all his followers to go to the banks and take out all the gold that they had notes for, even though there wasn’t anywhere near enough. No-one, now, bothers with the gold standard, money is entirely judged by trust and confidence, hence the lack of trust and confidence leading to the current economic recession.

Don’t know how much of that was relevant to the post, but it does make a rather nice story.

Q + A with Joy Davidson (part 1)

This series is designed to give me things about the small world of asexuality to talk about, other than the slightly insular view of things running round other blogs, and the very insular view of things running round my head. Each time I update it, I’ll pull another question/answer from this article, and analyse them. I’ll try to be relatively fair about it, giving an asexual perspective, but also considering Joy’s perspective.

I have no idea what the copyright situation is with quoting things. I’d like to point out that the copyright on this article belongs entirely to ABC News, and I’m quoting directly from it for the purpose of analysis.

Part One:
I am 19 years old, and I’ve been having a lot of trouble convincing my parents that I do not experience sexual attraction. After watching the asexuality story on “20/20,” my father looked at me during your comments and gave me a very snide “See?” as if he feels that I should force myself to do something that I have absolutely no interest in. Is there anything I can say to my parents that will make them understand that sex just is not for me?

This seems to be the relatively confident asexual to start off, so no-one can accuse the article of bias. However, notice that they don’t use the term asexual in relation to themselves. Also notice that (if these letters are indeed genuine), Davidson’s own comments have caused increased friction in at least one family with an asexual in, and are used by the father as an authoritative justification of his doubts.

This is also the comment that should be easiest enough to answer. Even someone who doesn’t believe in asexuality should see that someone who doesn’t want sex at the moment should be given space by their parents, and just needs to adress how to get everyone communicating properly.

Davidson Responds:

I hope you can see the weird humor in having a dad who says, “Be more sexual!” while most of your friends’ folks are probably saying, “Wait!”

A humor that a lot of asexuals have pointed out. Some have said there’s a magic age of about 16, after which they suddenly get a bit more involved in Project Grandchild.

But I would hate to think you’re rebelling against your father’s pressure. Rebellion may be part of growing up, but knowing when someone has a good point, (even if it IS your dad!) is part of being a grown-up. In this instance, your dad is picking up on the idea that lack of interest in sex can be based on something other than an irreversible condition called asexuality.

I suppose the crucial difference here between Joy and I is what we’ve read into the letter. She says ‘picking up on’, while I think ‘refusing to let go of’ is probably more accurate.

I don’t feel it’s worth mentioning that the unsubtle way in which she immediately says “You’re rebelling” is quite insulting. It seems people often use whatever’s there to justify it not being proper asexuality. In this case, the girl may very well be rebelling. However, the only information in the letter is that she has a dad who’s annoyed with her. QED- she must be in a rebellious phase!

Also- irreversible condition. Why don’t we have more asexuals who ponder language bias? It’s struck me that it’s an interesting aspect of the asexual movement.

I totally believe that you’re not inclined toward having sex right now. But do I know for sure that you will never be interested? Not without a crystal ball. We all develop sexually at different paces. Some of us are sexually precocious, and some of us are late bloomers. Just because someone is in her late teens or early 20s doesn’t mean she is necessarily in full bloom. What you feel now may not be who you are so much as where you are in your own unique cycle of development. By labeling yourself too soon, you run a serious risk of mislabeling yourself, then feeling duty-bound to live up to it.

“I believe you. But I don’t.” At this point, she’s stopped answering the question and just started listing her own views. I hope she gets back to the problem with the father soon, because it seems to me that the girl is pretty mature about knowing what she wants and turning her identity into the problem is just going to make her relationship with her dad, and those of thousands like her, more difficult.

There’s no doubt that when you feel like an outsider, when all your friends seem boy crazy or girl crazy and you’re not, you’ll want to gravitate to a group that better reflects where you stand. I’d be down with that 100 percent if the group in question stood for accepting how you feel right now but also supported the possibilities for change. I’d be more comfortable, too, if the group offered education instead of an “if you think you are, you are” approach to the matter of asexuality. Lay psychology is sometimes intuitive and smart, and sometimes more about inclusion than pure wisdom.

Now, these are interesting criticisms of the asexual movement, and I’m not just going to brush them aside (although it’s obvious at this point that the original letter mentioned asexuality, and that it’s been whitewashed out).

The question of whether asexuals are ‘allowed’ by the movement to change their ways is a long one. In my recent change from asexual to who-knows (which is now approximately back to demisexual), I found that asexuals were all entirely enthusiastic about me questioning myself, but I did feel constrained by the asexual label, and there is a certain fear of leaving it that has to be adressed, if we’re sure that eager asexuals aren’t just denying their partly sexual natures. I’m aware that both Joy and I are rambling horribly, so for now, I’ll just ask that you read this post by the formerly asexual-identifying Venus of Willendork, written with Joy’s objections in mind.

I personally love the self-definition of asexuality. I’m not sure Joy quite grasps the consequences of denying people the right to define themselves. One reason asexuals don’t offer an education is because there is none to offer. Not just asexuality, but sexuality too, is indefinable. There is very little concrete knowledge out there about sexuality, and only the possession of concrete knowledge that someone else doesn’t have can possibly raise someone to the level of a Teacher, rather than a Wise Friend.
There is also absolutely no way of deciding any sexuality other than self-identification. Without self-identification, there would be no sexual orientation in the world.

However, the idea of the asexual community offering an education is an interesting one. Maybe, rather than leaving the vulnerable minds of new asexuals in the care of whoever stays in AVEN (and that place, especially the repeated threads, does get a bit too dull after a while), and the occasional awesome but jokey flow chart, it would be better if some form of asexual authority eventually arises to put together some sort of e-guidebook for those questioning if they’re asexual. A serious flowchart, perhaps. The FAQ of AVEN is a good example of one or a few asexuals committing what’s often thought of as the horrific crime of speaking for all, and maybe it’s something that has to be done occasionally, as little as possible, to gain respect. Maybe there should be some sort of protocol for ‘am I asexual’ and ‘I am (or varient). What next?’. Maybe Joy’s right, and it’s too important a thing to leave to chance, as the term becomes better known, and we get more and more asexuals who aren’t neccesarily keenly introspective and able to navigate their own way round finding out if they’re asexual.

In addition to the timing of sexual development, there are plenty of other legitimate reasons that someone could feel asexual without being in a permanent or irreversible state. The short list includes endocrine imbalances, history of trauma or abuse, subconscious negative attitudes about sex, fear of being swept up or losing control, depression, anxiety, and the effects of undiagnosed medical conditions. Some people might even just like feeling “special” or “unusual.” In fact, there are so many convoluted possibilities that only a trained person can help you sort them out.

More of the same.

Is it scary to dig around in your emotional and physical recesses? Good grief, yes! But when you have another 70 or 80 years of life ahead of you, don’t you owe it to yourself to spend a few of them doing that kind of excavating?

I completely agree with her here. And we do need to encourage this kind of thought. But, at the same time, it’s already being encouraged more than she realises, and there’s no need to police the first few years of everyone’s asexuality to make sure they doubt themself all the time.

Also, I did spend years and years not just questioning, but actively trying to invent sexual attraction. And a lot of questioning, of course. This girl’s older than me, and Joy’s completely dismissed the idea that she could have already spent years trying to figure things out.

Even if, in the end, you are more convinced than ever that you’re incapable of being attracted to anyone, male or female, at least you will have come to that conclusion after educated and responsible consideration. I’d really like to see you give yourself the advantage of time, and, ideally, have at least a few sessions with a qualified sex therapist so that you can talk about all your feelings beyond the pressure imposed by either your family or your peer group.

*goes back and looks at the question*
*looks back through the answer again*
*looks at the question again*

You know what, this is what really harms asexuality. Joy Davidson here admits that not wanting to have sex, not feeling sexual attraction, can be a valid way to live your life. However, when an asexual reaches out to her for help, trying to find out how to live this life, all Joy does is melt into a flurry of reasons she might not be asexual. Yes, doubting yourself is important. But I would love, just for once, to see some professional advice about asexuality from the other side of the coming out line. It’s like the only asexual issue is whether we exist or not, and we’re too busy with that issue that we have no time to actually exist.

The definition of insanity

I’ve remembered what I liked about that rather tacky, obvious, and capital-motivated article on MSN that I discussed five minutes ago.

It ends with the words: “they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results!”

And the aromantic majority of my brain and the cynical majority of my brain joined together (as they do depressingly often) and thought ‘hmm… that’s also a really good definition of dating’.

Now, I ought to say, in fairness, that this doesn’t relate dating and insanity in any actual form at all. For a start (and I feel almost embarrassed to be this simplistic when the rest of the asexosphere rings to intelligent thoughts on the medicalisation of sexuality and the DSM IV) , that’s a really bad and obviously colloquial ‘definition’ of insanity. There are lots of times when, counter intuitively, doing the same thing and expecting different results is very sane. The problem is, dating falls across both these categories like a small circle in the centre of the standard Venn diagram*. Sometimes, it really does live up to this categorisation, and I can’t help but feel that only the incredible importance society places on dating makes people keep trying again and again, when they’d otherwise recognise that there’s something wrong at the root of whatever systems they’re following.

*Graphical representational tangent approaching:
A small circle placed across a standard Venn diagram would actually not be very accurate, because it would contain areas where repeating is a sensible thing to do and areas where it’s not, but also areas in the total population (probably ‘all scenarios in which you can repeat something expecting the same results’) which somehow don’t correspond to either ‘x’ or ‘not x’ and areas that somehow correspond to both. A better Venn diagram would be a square divided horizontally, vertically or diagonally into two sections, with the circle lying across this line.

So just what do you do all day?

The annoying girl (let’s call her V) from the last post returns! In a birthday party she had last Saturday, she brought her boyfriend along, who knew all about my asexuality, and he became the third person (after V and a guy from college), who responded to this news with the question:

“So just what do you do/think about all day?”

On the basis that pretty much everyone who I’ve ever come out to who isn’t a largely disinterested virgin has said this in some form, and it’s something I’ve not heard of from any other asexual, I think this idea deserves more examination.
Before, I’ve always answered with “Whatever you do/think about when you’re not doing/thinking about sex,” and they go away still bemused. This time, and largely to annoy V, who thinks I have some problem with her sexuality, and because I was revelling in the discomfort of this conversation, I asked her boyfriend, “How often, as a proportion of the day, do you spend on sex and girls?”
And he said, after much thought, and after we’d debated whether time spent sleeping could count, that everything he did was because of sex and girls. From the high-class degree he’s studying to the amount of time he works out, everything he does (direct quote) “is so people can find me attractive, and spending time with people who find me attractive.” He then asked me why I hadn’t accomplished anything major with my life. I have, in fact, done very little, despite not having this overwhelming amount of time dedicated to sex and romance, which he seemed to feel was fairly normal.

At this point, trusty V, in an effort to make the conversation awkward for me, and not for her, began to suck his face off. I escaped to the prudish corner of the room (which, given the inexperience of my friends, was basically all of it that didn’t have V in it).
But that’s been rattling round in my head ever since. What do you do all day? What have you achieved with the time you’ve been granted by your asexuality and effective aromanticity? What positives have you made out of a situation that would make people like V feel life isn’t worth living?

I was going to write this down and blog it, but I didn’t have an answer. I felt there was no conclusion. And then, today, on the irritating MSN popup window that always opens, I found this article.
I tend to like perusing the dating articles on MSN (which they have about once a week, sponsored discreetly but not too discreetly by an internet dating service), on the basis that, since this girl ruined Cosmopolitan for me, it’s the best way to press my face against the glass of cosy, vapid, thoughtless heteronormativity, and feel that sort of blankness that comes from seeing your future everywhere, which is normally denied to me.
In a cynical, objective way, of course.

I really can’t tell why, but this article got me thinking about my seemingly inevitable slow-motion realisation of some innate aromanticness in me. Somehow, it got me thinking about how people invest such a great amount of time in boyfriends and girlfriends, and how I have nothing to fill that void, no hope of an intimate connection that is just automatically an intimate connection, because society says it is.

And that’s when I realised. I can spend all of my life forming those intimate connections with other people, connections that don’t have to end, and that have a healthier amount of communication than the standard romance, and that are more tailored to our needs. And I can spend all of my time, outside of work and recreation and sleep and all that other stuff, thinking about my friendships, where they are, how to improve them, how to let my friends know how much they mean to me. THAT’s what I do all day. And I really think I’ve picked the longest straw.

Being come-out about

There’s one girl I know who’s incredibly rude and erm, forthright in her views, lets say. She does it in a way that’s hard not to love, and you take the sort of crap unthinkingly from her that you wouldn’t from anyone else. Anyway, I can only think of two (non-internet) people who I’ve actually come out to (her, and my mother. Almost everyone else who knows I’m asexual, including me, knows because she told them.

The fact that I came out to her and then she outed me to myself is rather confusing, and a result of me finding asexuality twice, and not thinking much of it the first time, except casually mentioning it to her. After that, everyone who walked into the room was told within ten minutes that I’m asexual.

Anyway, we all got our grades this summer. I didn’t get enough to go to university, so I quickly hopped onto a nice year-long art course, ‘cos it’d be fun, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. She went to university, decided she didn’t like it, and dropped out after three weeks. So she moved onto my course, with my help. I’d planned to keep my asexuality pretty secret, considering the amount a couple of guys on my course bonded around sex. I managed (not lying or denying myself, but not having The Talk), for another two weeks. Then guess what’s just happened. Go on, you’ll never guess.

Anyway, this (being the only tiny tidbit of asexual-related thing that could vaguely be considered to be happening to me at the moment) got me thinking about how little I’ve been bothered by the reactions to my outings. Apart from my mother (I still have no idea what happened in that conversation), the most common response was “oh?”, the best was “ok.” and the worst was “huh”. I seriously can’t relate to the people who’ve had drama about it.

Anyway, as mentioned in the last post, Dr Who Buzzcocks is on the iPlayer, so I have no more time to rationalise about this now. I’ll probably return to it next time I come out/are outed.

Random musings of an internet nature

I guess comfort and danger are always going to be the two driving forces in my life, sailing (too) couragiously out into the big wide waters of unknown situations, pushing myself further at every success and back to safety at every failure (or at least the ones that take a little getting over). Hoping for dreams and dealing with reality sometimes seems too much of a sudden change to not leave a mark, but I suppose it’s just like muscles that tear to grow.

The reason I’m posting this here is that, for the last month, maybe two, I’ve been spending so much less time on the internet. Before I could spend hours on here, it was where I felt safe. Now, I just check e-mails and facebook and deviantart and blogger and think “Hmm… I wonder what I could do in the real world.” Which is awesome, it really is. I’ve done so much new stuff, and so much that was always a ‘I really should’ has become a ‘Got the T-shirt’, and that’s completely going to continue (unfortunately for my blog).

But I experienced my first medium-ish set-back with mood swing just now (I’ve taken up sewing, and a costume I was making ended up a little small. A tiny thing, but sometimes you get an emotional investment), and I immediately got on my computer, in the hope that the nice kind internets would soothe the pain. And, of course, they haven’t. They aren’t my safe harbour any more. They’re a tool, not a recreational activity. Which is irritating, because the internet as a recreational activity had no possibility of failure. It also had no possibility of success.

Time to get away from comfort. That’s what this kind-of gap year was all about. From now on, my entire life is going to be things with successes and failures, and this small blog doesn’t really get a look-in.

Anyway, David Tennant and Catherine Tate are hosting NMTB, and it’ll be on the iPlayer soon. If there’s one thing an internet-embittered asexual can still enjoy, it’s Dr Who related hijinks! :D

(I’ve been torn for a while on whether to take this blog down a more personal, private lifey type road, or a critical analysis of asexual culture. The problem is, it’s difficult for me to combine the two, because asexuality really isn’t part of my mental landscape any more. It’s just a complete non-issue, personally. Maybe that’ll be the death of the blog, but it’s good news for me)

Tag Cloud