For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for May, 2010

Just a tiny little bit?

So today I’m going to talk about an idea that is used in different ways to invalidate monosexuality and asexuality. It’s the idea that everyone’s a little bit bi. Or, in the asexual case, that everyone’s a little bit straight.

The scientific backing to the idea stems, I think, mostly from Kinsey, who created the scale going from fully straight to fully gay. As with all spectrums, the idea is that no-one really occupies the very extreme points. Everyone is in the middle to some extent. And the important thing about this is that it’s a model, not a theory. The Kinsey scale is important because it provides a sliding scale of sexual attraction. Someone can, plotting their space on the Kinsey scale, be basically monosexual despite the occasional query. That little twinge doesn’t invalidate their sexuality because everyone has them. Bisexuality is normalised.
And you see the occasional recently-outed bisexual getting a bit pushy about this. It’s natural to conclude that everyone is like you, and sometimes the Kinsey scale is used as a justification for the fact that everyone is secretly bisexual, everyone is repressing their desire to be exactly like you. I get where that comes from.
But the important point is that there are still these big monoliths of straight and gay at each end. If you insist that no-one is completely, 100% monosexual, despite everything they tell you, then there’s going to be a lot of people clustering around the 99.9% point. A world in which we’re all theoretically bisexual creates a world in which we’re all theoretically equal. It’s a nice ploy, but it denies the realities of those who genuinely only feel attracted to one gender.

And then asexuality bursts onto the scene, and sexuality GOES 3D!!! (well, ok, 2D). And this desire to make everyone technically bisexual is shown for the other side of what it is- a desire to make everyone the most sexual they could be, out of the misplaced belief that more sexual = more free = happier. The idea is that bisexuality is a liberating concept for straight and gay people has flaws, but is simply laughable if you apply it to asexuals. The freedom to be asexual is the freedom to be less sexual, to be sexually attracted to no-one. The invocation of a tiny little invisible bit of sexuality just negates what we’re trying to say.

So now we actually explore what’s meant by that ‘tiny, little bit’. Does everyone really have a tiny, unnoticeable amount of attraction to both genders? Maybe. I have no idea. Is it relevant enough to base your assumptions of the universe on? Hell no. When you get right down that scale, sexual attraction (already a slightly nebulous concept) looses any meaning it had.

I think this is one reason why the official definition of asexuality is ‘little or no’ sexual attraction. Because it’s so deeply lodged in the public psyche that everyone has these little tiny bits, that no-one can be completely without attraction to both genders. The idea of the invisible but ever-present amount of attraction makes invisible all the sexualities based on lack of attraction to something.

Cisgendered men don’t wear tie tacks: A theory of performative masculinity

So the way I want this blog to start heading is less about the considered, slow and, above all, painfully delay-prone musings about big asexual issues (though asexual issues will still be central), but to open the scope out to more general ideas about sexuality and gender. The gender bit is important. I have a lot of thoughts on gender.

So today, leaving my basic ideas about gender for another time, I’m going to dive straight into the big questions I have about performative masculinity. I may be inadvertently transphobic in this post. If you think I am, please bawl me out on it in the comments.

I’ve always been annoyed with how women can wear things that look pretty, ornament without merit other than the fact that it’s simply good to look at. Men’s clothing is dominated by status, and prettiness is difficult to work in. The image that burnt it into my brain is this one.

See how all the men wear boring suits while the woman has something original? It isn’t very exciting, no, but that just demonstrates how little freedom men have. Even something as simply-tailored as little white bits on the lapels is too effeminate.

Ok, so I realise this freedom screws women over. It’s the freedom to be dolls, judged only on your appearance, the freedom to be cookie-cutter cute, but still. I want the pretty.

And with this sensitivity to the plight of the poor, ugly and unloved modern man, I’ve been casting my eye over various fashion blogs and internet resources designed for people presenting as male. I won’t link any of them here, because I’m going to be rude about most of them. The ones for straight cismen weird me out. They have a tendency to go on and on about how amazing it is to be a gentlemen, and how much better we are than those filthy degenerates who wear white after labour day, or don’t take a stand on the big ‘how many vents should a suit have’ issue. Because that kind of person is just worthless.
The ones for transmen and butch women are a slightly subtler kind of weird. At first, it seems like almost the same plunge into the world of your grandfather. The same excitement about pocket squares and trilbys, clinging to the relics of a bygone age because there is too little beauty in this modern world. But it’s more of a personal feelgood factor. ‘I have this cool new tie tack, isn’t it awesome’. Everything in the cisgentlemen’s wardrobe is designed to create superiority. Not even that, designed to create a snivelling and imagined inferiority in others. Because that’s what these men get out of clothes. Wheras these people raised as women, they, like me, seek out the pretty. They just want fun and style.

I don’t know how many cisgendered men really wear tie tacks. Apart from the very elderly, there are probably a few. It doesn’t stop me imagining the entire tie tack industry being kept alive by transmen and butch women who buy into this idea of performing masculinity.

Men don’t seem to perform masculinity through clothes. Or when they do, it’s about clan allegiance or status symbols. And I feel slightly sorry for these people raised as women, who’ve thought “Right, I’m going to go out and dress like the best guy ever.” Because that’s applying female principles to the thing. They dig through the history books and the antique shops, looking for ways to perform masculinity, when masculinity is performed through absence.
I see myself in them. Looking for something that will be positive, that will be pretty, when all men seem able to hope for is something simple enough to make them look good, or status-filled enough to make them better than scum like us.

On Doctor Who and Liz One

So I try to say what I have to say, here. I confess to things even when I’m worried that some members of the asexual community may not approve. I try to create a voice for the renegade. However, today, I am about to cross the line. I am about to admit to the worst crime an asexual could commit.

I ship Ten. and Liz One.

And here’s why:
(note: if you didn’t understand that sentence, this blog post may not make the most sense)
(note: actually, having now finished this, I advise you that this article (apart from the tiny history bit at the beginning) really is completely irrelevant unless you watch Doctor Who. Which you should.)

Elizabeth the First (henceforth to be known as Liz One) was one of the most powerful and iconic female leaders Britain has ever had. In her day, she was consistently thwarted by society’s perverse gender expectations. She masculinated herself, famously declaring she had the heart and stomach of a king. When she ascended the throne, she also became as contractual a virgin as the Jonas brothers. She could never marry or have sex, because both of those assumed that the man was in charge, and no man could politically be in charge of the queen of England. She wore white and pearls and fetishised her virginity, turning it into her strength.

So, an asexual icon? Well, no. If she was a virgin, it was probably only in a Clinton definition of sex. In her intact hymen rested her intact political power. But there is little doubt that the Virgin queen broke the rules. She was barely past puberty when she was rumored to engage in heavy petting with her patroness’s husband (even better, the man was her half-brother’s uncle, his wife was her father’s widow- how’s that for soap-style drama?), and the rumours kept on flowing.

Doctor Who is a nine hundred year-old Time Lord, much beloved of asexuals. Now, he really is an asexual hero. He travels round the world with lots of pretty girls and still is nothing more than a charming intellectual. He recently reacted to an indecent proposal with the same puzzled horror that I can imagine I would. He doesn’t seem to be attracted to humans. But recently, there have been some suggestions of something more.

We first met Liz One when she recognised Tennant’s Doctor. He had done something she disliked in her past, his future, but it wasn’t revealed.
Then, as Tennant’s time drew to a close, in a possible attempt to solve one of the many small inconsistencies the show creates and then forgets about, Tennant boasted idly “They don’t call her the Virgin Queen any more.” He implied that, in his loneliness and fear of mortality, he had raided history for the trickiest conquest. I was, frankly, a little disgusted. I felt they had taken the character where he never should have gone.
They haven’t dropped the idea. Liz Ten, in a far future, may have mentioned something about Liz One having been very fond of the Doctor (I’m not sure, though. The reference slid past me at the time. It may have actually been the present queen, Liz Two). And, this weekend, it was mentioned again. “Have you heard about Elizabeth the First? Well, she thought she was the first”. So there were more before her? Does our time-travelling nerd-action-hero have regular love affairs?

And that was when I realised, I am actually really happy for him if he does. True, I’m annoyed by the new phallus-wielding Dr of this series (“Yours is bigger than mine”, “Don’t start all that”. “I can’t feel my feet, or other parts”, “I can feel all my parts just fine.”), but the Doctor is meant to connect with people in wide varieties of ways. He is momentary and life-changing, and is the perfect person to challenge the stuffy sexual confinements most people throughout history have been placed in. His relationship with the Madame du Pompador was one of the most touching moments in the new programme. The reason he can’t get close to his companions is because they will age, but what makes the Doctor a person, not just a big, world-saving concept, is the fact that people can change him. A particular person in a particular circumstance can force him to embrace a relationship he’d never have considered, just like humans do. We saw this with Rose, River, du Pompador, the Master, and this is the Doctor’s greatest strength- other people define him as much as he defines them.

So the Doctor finds a woman, trapped and alone. Sexual but with an enforced virginity. So very strong and forceful, like the other people who have the power to wrap the Doctor around their willpowers. They are both all alone, with no one who will understand them. They both want just a temporary feeling of kinship, and of belonging. She can’t forsake her duty, nor he his. They connect in a way which is relevant for both of them. Even if he was asexual, he could still gain a lot from the experience. And the fact that they were probably also in the midst of an alien invasion probably helped.

I’ve not yet heard any asexuals judging their relationship, but I, for one, will stand by the right of the Doctor to enjoy sexuality (or not) in whatever way works. If we apply that right to real people, it’s got to start with fictional.

Maybe we just need to find a new asexual idol. Spongebob Squarepants, anyone?

Pretty

Oh how I love the word pretty. It sort of means not very much when you talk about a woman, maybe something along the lines of “Well-presented, with a symmetrical face.”

But when you’re talking about men. Then it seems to express everything I want it to.

A pretty man is attractive, like a picture. You could stare at him for hours, but there’s no indication that there’s anything below the surface. A pretty man is slightly boyish, slightly androgynous, generally dreamy. He isn’t automatically sexy. Sometimes the joy is just in the sheer aesthetic qualities. The artistic formal elements, line, form, shape, seem to merge and create, through simplicity, through sheer randomness in thousands of pairings of chromosomes, over millions of years, a form indescribably wonderful.

Pretty is a light word. It trips easily off the tongue, the two short syllables floating up like bubbles into a blue sky. It means something trivial, a shallow sort of feeling, the opposite of the intense, brooding passions of hot and sexy.

Pretty is a precise word. Use it in the wrong place, such as to describe someone with a Y chromosome, and, in the little echoes of that little word, the tables of ‘objectification’ and attraction crash to the floor of the temple of heteronormativity.

Pretty is an innocent word. It liberates and sanctions. Something pretty cannot be bad, or shameful. It is a word that has nothing to hide, everything to give.

Pretty is an empty word. It can be laden with whatever intent you need it, it is an opening for so many questions. It is the start of a dialogue.

N.B. I. This is mostly based on some extra thoughts from my last post, that I considered squeezing in there and then thought deserved their own, highly linguophile post.
N.B. II. Yes, I used an extended biblical metaphor. What’re you going to do about it?
N.B. III. You know when you say a word loads and it starts to distort and loose all meaning? Totally happened while writing this.

On shallowness

So there’s this idea, one of those sorts of ideas you see out of the corner of your eye, one of those ideas that just builds up as millions of tiny words, said or unsaid, and it looks something like this:

“[Romantic] asexuals are so pure and innocent. They can be attracted to people without all the shallowness of sexual attraction. They’re an inspiration to us all.”

Ok, so, in some ways, I’m the reverse of a romantic asexual. An aromantic grey-a. But seriously? When do I get to be an inspiration?

There’s a girl at college who acts nervous around me. Either she thinks I’m terrifying or she fancies me. And that made me realise- I’ve never felt that way. When I have a crush, I never feel scared of the other person. I just feel admiration for them. Because, get this:

I am unable to form that sort of deep attatchment to someone*
*although I can do deep friendships.

Every feeling I get is shallow. Every crush, sexual or demi-sexual urge, everyone I’ve stared at in the street, has been just a nice collection of body parts, clothes and mannerisms to me. I appreciate people cold, like a photograph, and I just cannot comprehend the world of people being heart-stammeringly, sickeningly, burningly in love with another actual Person. To have a crush on a conciousness, rather than an image.

I am entirely, 100% shallow. And I love it.

I’m a good feminist boy, but I wince whenever a feminist sees sexual attraction (from a man to a woman) and labels it ‘objectification’. Don’t get me wrong, I think objectification exists. But using it as a synonym for sexual attraction? Well, that’s just forcing straight men to deny their sexualities in a way which would be bigoted if you did it to any other orientation. The heart wants what it wants and so do other organs.

I always thought asexuals could do something about that. I looked into myself, and I saw that my attraction was clean. Geometric. Shorn of the complex and centuries-old ideas of ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’. It was nice and innocent and so, so shallow. Without being corrupt.

But it seems like we might be part of the problem. However we present ourselves, especially the romantic asexuals, there’s always going to be that little part of people’s heads that beatifies us without our consent. You can see it in people’s righteous anger when you out yourself, assuming that you think you’re above them. Because sex is bad and wrong, and we’ve escaped it.

So I try to be dirty. I take everything clean and innocent, everything unsullied by the constant war of the virgin and the whore and fire it at the world, to show that we’re not saints. We’re not children. We are not better, nicer, higher. We understand the biology, maybe better than you. We make jokes about it, maybe wittier than yours. There is no innocent asexual because there is no guilty sexual. If I’m asexual, and I’m like you, then you can’t be bad. And all that phyical attraction? All the stuff most asexuals lack? Is fine. It’s who you are, and it’s really not worse than the deep stuff.

I am shallow. And shallow is good.

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