For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for January, 2011

Touch, and the Portkey Zucchini

The other day, I wrote about how liberating it is not to have an assumed end-point to your emotions. If you can push past the ‘I want to know them… biblically. I want to have them… monogamously.’ impulse, there are so many ways to know, have, own, use, find, connect to, experience another human being. Sex and romance become symbols of the giddy thrill of experiencing another person, but that experience is richer if you chuck out the guidelines and start with the tailor-made approach.

For example, I was thinking about one guy I met who I flagged as a zucchini possible (a zucchini, in case you’ve not yet heard, is currently the closest we have to a label for people who are in relationships which defy traditional structures of friendship or romance) trying to isolate what I actually wanted from him. It occurred to me that the main thing I wanted from him was his touch. I tend to think of the traditional things, emotional intimacy, sexual involvement, as being quite impersonal, I could have them as easily with one person as with another. And yet there are certain uniquenesses which help me to define relationships.
In terms of touch, I’ve never really understood the point of cuddles, except at moments of genuine isolation, as a physical metaphor for two people enveloping each other, holding each other up. I don’t think I get whatever it is everyone else gets out of touch. I’ve tended to struggle with some aspects of touch, I didn’t hug for much of my teenage years, I’ve always found the contact moves in martial arts too hard because touching another person doesn’t feel natural to me.
There have been two people in my life who have made me feel completely safe whenever we touched. It doesn’t seem to be anything to do with emotion- the first person I actually disliked, and was a renowned jerk. This second one has suddenly started being heterosexist, transphobic and fat-phobic, and that slams the breaks on any blossoming emotional/intellectual attraction for him. It’s nothing to do with sexual attraction- I’m not sexually attracted to either of them. It’s nothing to do with the nature of the touch- hugs work best, but hand-holding or leaning almost as well. If I had to describe the sensation, it’s like their skin has the power to transport me somewhere, hence the nerdy reference in the title. When I touch them or they touch me, instantly I’m somewhere else, somewhere calm, shaded and sombre.

This is really powerful. I’m glad that my life has lead me to where I am now, witnessing the birth of a new model of intimacy, because it means I can witness, possibly even harness, this energy without having to confuse it with sex or romance.

Now I just need to find someone like this who isn’t a jerk…

Why do crushes have to be sexual?

Today, someone found a page of my blog by searching ‘why do crushes have to be sexual asexual curiosities’. I’m counting that as an anonymous question. And my first thought was that they don’t- squishes are an example of the way asexuals are re-inventing the crush, and I’ve seen it used in a load of different ways, from a typical crush with no sexual component to an intense intellectual stimulation of an academic superior. The point of squishing is that no relationship is artificially promoted as ideal, the defining points of a relationship are what it means for you.

But that’s a useless answer to the question, based mostly on the dreamland that’s in my head.

I’ve actually always thought of crushes as signifying romantic attraction, rather than sexual attraction. That might be one reason that crushes have to be sexual- because people assume that the sexual and the romantic are the same.

I think sexuality is useful to justify oneself, and it is particularly useful to justify hedonistic tendencies. The idea of being swept away by lust is overwhelming, that burning feeling in your brain seems so intense that there’s no way it can’t be connected to this sex thing everyone’s talking about. I think sexuality/romance is often used as a metaphor for spontaneity/permanence. Look at the Fisher Model of lust, attraction and attachment. These are made to typify phases of a relationship- the model seems quite prescriptive when attached to asexual or aromantic people, but at one end, you have slow, stolid attachment, at the other you have wild, passionate lust. Lust at first site, lust which does not obey rules. We’re taught that the first wild bloomings of emotion are all about sex.

More practically, non-sexual crushes are bewildering even for someone familiar with asexuality. The script for a crush is “Wow, I really wanna throw them onto my bed and…,” realising that there is no end goal, or that the end goal is simply basic person-person intimacy, can be a bizarre and hollow feeling. I know, I’ve been there. On the other hand, once you’ve got the hang of questioning exactly how you would like your crush to ideally manifest, there is a certain wonderful power in making the crush an end, rather than a means, there is an incredible liberation in enjoying the ups and downs of crushing or squishing for what they are, not as a stepping-stone to something else.

The lens of sexuality is always the easy answer to reach for when a sexual person is questioning their feelings about attraction. But it isn’t always the only lens that fits. I think this is one of the great things about the theory I see coming out of the asexual community. Sexuality becomes just one tool amongst many. And non-sexual feelings can be as spontaneous and fiery as any lust.

You make yourselves another: On make-up and power

“God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another”

-Mysogynistic rant in Hamlet, III i.

So while catching up on the blogs I lurk, I discovered S. E. Smith on feminism and make-up:

Few feminist conversations confuse me as much as the one surrounding makeup and beauty standards, a reminder of my outsider status in the feminist community in a lot of ways because of my gender and socialisation. This conversation is conducted in a way that assumes everyone is on the same page, everyone is thinking the same things, everyone has the same experiences, but that’s not actually how it goes. With the makeup conversation, there are some of us who feel really, really at sea, and it’s hard to express it in a way that doesn’t come off strangely, evidently.


Read the rest. Something about this really struck me, so much that I needed to talk about it even though I don’t think S. E.’s personal blog allows comments, and it doesn’t properly fit with the theme of this blog, though I manage to shoehorn asexuals in later.

Firstly, my experience is of agreeing with S.E. I’m young enough not to have encountered the middle-class job-market sexism yet, but the only people among my friends who feel they have to wear make-up are goths. I can name at least 3 ciswomen friends who I know for a fact have never worn make-up a day in their lives, several more of the gothy persuasion who have never worn ‘respectable’ make-up. A lot of people I know simply don’t wear make-up in their daily lives and it isn’t a problem.

And this reaction sounds a lot like “I haven’t experienced it, so it’s not a problem,”- the standard reaction of the privileged. I can’t comment on the lived experience of people of a different class, generation, culture and gender to me, who I’ve never met. If they say expectations of wearing make-up are a problem for them, I’m going to believe them. What I don’t like is the assumption that everyone else’s experiences are the same, because a lot of people really don’t have that problem.

I’m going to go further than S. E. and argue that make-up can, in some circumstances, be a source of power. S. E. points out that transwomen are under expectations not to wear make-up. As a cisguy, if the walls of gender expectation came tumbling down tomorrow, I would rush out and buy make-up. Partly because I love the performativity, partly because the simplest contouring and eye-shaping makes my face into what I want it to be, not what it is. I’ve mentioned on yadaforums a group of people who I hang with who tend to do the whole ‘getting ready for a night out’ thing with a massive amount of clothing and hairstyling for both genders, and how comfortable I feel with them. The same group of people also often spend hours sitting in a circle and, unigenderedly, putting on theatrical make-up. Again, I feel so comfortable.

So, yeah, make-up is something I want, want, want, and am never going to be able to have, and I’m going to spend as much of my life as possible appropriating that privilege at halloween and Pride marches until I’m too old for that to be acceptable. And I’m slightly bitter.

That’s not to say that you’re not allowed to complain about unfair cultural expectations on you. I am entirely sympathetic, and will fight for your right not to wear make-up. But when you consider that, in my experience, make-up is entirely a choice for all women who aren’t in the fashion buisness, your cries of “Oh god, it’s so DIFFICULT being able to do this thing that you’re NEVER going to be able to do!” are not going to make me like you.

Lots of people are not allowed the privilege of make-up. At the time when asexuals were the big ‘trend piece’ in the media, I recall there being some talk about a programme where asexuals were presumed not to want the make-up which would make them look good under the studio lights. Asexual people were refused this marker of performativity, attractiveness, which everyone else was expected to want. Asexual people apparently do not have the privilege to wear make-up, to re-invent themselves, to be whatever they want to be. Asexual people, the station presumed, are less-than-normal.

Make-up can be oppression. Make-up can be objectification. Make-up can be privilege. Make-up can be power.

Don’t assume your reality is worth more than mine.

The joys of passing

I’ve told my mother I consider myself asexual three times. Each time, I was wracked with fear, trying to explain the inexplicable. Each time, I rooted the discussion in discussions of sexual orientation, making it perfectly clear that this was my version of orientation. I concisely explained what asexuality was and my relation to it- no easy feat considering how non-typically grey-a I’ve felt even at the best of times. Each time, my mother indicated grudging, troubled respect.

And then I watched her face as she meticulously and unconciously forgot the conversation that just happened. Each successive coming-out was a new first. She couldn’t internalise the fact of asexuality, because she wasn’t willing to listen.

Passing isn’t fun if you have no other option. Forced denial of who you are is not privilege.

On Barney Stinson

Major exams finished, and I promised myself I would write a happy-go-lucky post with lots of pictures of Neil Patrick Harris, claiming my vague theories about his character’s aromance (this won’t make much sense if you’ve not seen How I Met Your Mother)

Yesterday night, my housemate laughed and laughed as she read out sections of one of the books his character is meant to have published. With each quote, I fell quieter and quieter, trying to ignore it, hoping it would stop.

Today, when I finally got round to checking the blogs, I found that a man very like Barney Stinson, a man who Barney is a parody of, recently shot a woman in the face.

I’m all out of happy-go-lucky.

So Barney is aromantic.

I’ve been trying to supress my queerification of Barney, because I knew that the show is a parable of romantic privilege, held up as moral behaviour. I know that Barney is the freak in a group of decent people, decent people who do decent people things like moan constantly about the one, ditch their friends for the new strangers they’ve decided to pine after.

I know that I’m the freak in a group of decent people. And I always will be.

Barney’s relationship with Robin reminded me stiflingly of my own conceptions of what it would be like to date. At first, they resisted all roles, those of boyfriend and girlfriend, those of man and woman. With each other, they were freer than they were without each other. And he was so, achingly, happy. I’ve never seen him smile like that.

And then convention set in. Relationship convention, gender convention. They became trapped in what had been such a promising relationship. He became the most miserable I have seen him.

Barney’s book is a parody of pick-up artists, a group of people who started with evopsych and made it more mysogynist and less scientific. It is called the Bro Code. And no pick-up artist would ever write this. The first rule is Bros before Hos. The entire system is evident of that delusion Barney labours under- that he can say something and make it true. That he can have the power of words in a world which keeps him ignorant. And the code which he tries to lock everyone into is, dispite its overlay of mysogyny, is very basic. Underneath all the bluster, all the self-assurance, it is a simple cry for help- “don’t leave me”. “Don’t let this mean so much less to everyone around me than it does to me.”

Of the few episodes I can currently remember, one strikes me. The others are content to live in their romantic fabricated worlds, constructed by a constantly renewing act of denial. Barney realises that the group is drifting apart and his desperation, childish tantrums and attempts to communicate what he feels without the language to do so drive the episode. And, at the end, the voice of Ted, arch-romantic and Barney’s main ‘bro’, begins the closing narrative with “Of course, the group did drift apart…” I mean, it’s true to character- Ted is a jerk (not like I’m biased or anything). But that inevitability with which he cruelly dismisses Barney’s fears, marks them with that ‘not wanting what you’re supposed to want- not grown up enough- invalid’, the way he doesn’t consider how every single one of them has something to move onto, something to look forward to, except Barney, who has darkness and loneliness and a hunger with no name.

Somewhere in the world, a woman lies in a critical condition, having been shot in the face. Somewhere in the world, thousands of men consume the poison of the man who shot her. Somewhere in the world, right now, someone who thought they had something special but didn’t have the words, who needed that connection, is getting rejected in favour of that sick dream. They can’t even express their loneliness. Somewhere in the world, presumably, are the millions of people who find it funny. And the world is shit.

Update: Aromantic sexuals- still evil

What’s this? An asexuality test? Now we can pinpoint with precise accuracy whether someone is a/romantic or a/sexual. Like, HALF the bandwidth of AVEN could be saved by this simple test! If only there weren’t these minor flaws in just a few of the questions:

1. Confuses sexual attraction and sexual activity.

2. Gives two options- finding sex a ‘biological necessity’ and ‘not caring’ about sex. Also, ‘liking to date’ and liking casual sex, and ‘not caring for a partner’ is kinda a restrictive spectrum. In fact, I’d personally agree with ALL FIVE of those things (admittedly, the first one only from a species-wide viewpoint). It makes ticking one box kinda hard…

3. How would you describe your libedo? Erm… irrelevant to my sexuality? We’ve kinda discussed this one. To death.

4. And this is where my WTFromance gets the better of me. I want EVERY SINGLE kind of relationship they propose. The rub being- I want them with different people, possibly at the same time. Because I’m fickle like that.

5. Do you think you are asexual?  Finally, the question is right! But every single answer is wrong:

‘Yes. I do not desire, want or care about sex’ -Not the definition of asexual

‘Maybe. I am a bit indifferent to sex, so it would be interesting to see the results’ -I’m not sure where to start with the wrongness of this one.

‘No. I am a sexual being.’ -A relatively trivial and arguable point, but I think that everyone with some sort of reproductive organs or piping is a sexual being. My definition of ‘sexual being’ is based in biology, not in sexuality. Of course, you can make a word have two meanings.

Ok, so badly written quiz, you say. Wait! There’s more! Here’s what I got:

Aromantic sexual

You are basically out to fulfil your sexual desires without buying into romance or love. On a purely honest level, you are admirable, but as an exemplar of social standards, you are dispicable.

Erm… thanks? This quiz just called me dispicable- I’m sure gonna give it a high rating. I mean, luckily, I wasn’t the only one it stereotyped. “American society is alien to you (asexual aromantics) and you are alien to it.” I mean, they’re TECHNICALLY correct- I’m not American, nor have I ever been to America, so, by the traditional meaning of ‘alien’ as ‘foreign person’, I am definately alien to America. God, this quiz is insightful. Or I could have been a Romanic Asexual!  Which means ‘of or relating to Rome or Latin’. So, you know- TOGA PARTY (do any of those people know how heavy togas are? They are definately not party gear, unless you have lots of chaise longues to be pinned to). Anyway, as well as all that lead poisoning, and the discomfort of living in a society that seems to socialise mostly through orgies, I would also ‘seek a prince or princess’, ‘suffer agonising loneliness’ and ‘be burned by my partner’s groinal needs’. No, serously.

Why am I spending all this time taking the piss out of a quiz which probably took 5 minutes and isn’t even spelt correctly? Well, I’m not gonna lie, it’s partly because when I took the quiz and got “Oh, hi! You’re dispicable! (dictionary definition: worthy of hatred and contempt)”, that really, really hurt. BUT! It’s also partly because very, very shortly after I took that quiz- this guy showed up.

It feels rather great to have someone else who has some stake in the label ‘sexual aromantic’ to be blogging. Because now I have someone to justify how dispicable I am. Because he has lots of awesome ideas about intimacy, and the way romantic monogamy as a culture creates and uses artificial intimacy scarcity. Let’s pull out some quotes from his two non-101 posts:

[On possible definitions of aromantic] saying that aromantics can form deep emotional connections, but they aren’t a “purposely initiated monogamous separation as found in romantic couples”. This definition seems little better, as it puts the essential difference in external, culturally defined relationship practices. This definition would include all polyamorous people in the definition of aromantic, which seems to miss the point….

…I think we’re onto something here. According to J, this natural high is much stronger with people she would consider herself romantically attracted to, doesn’t require touch but is amplified by it, doesn’t require symbolic gestures like flowers but is enhanced by them, and is not necessarily connected to sexuality, conversation, or “good company” (though it can and often should be combined with those things)….

…So here’s a preliminary definition, that I’d love to get some comments on:

“Aromantics are people who do not experience the feeling of romance. Romance is a natural high that occurs in the presence of certain people, without obvious connection to sexuality, ‘good company’, or emotional intimacy.”…

…Looking back at my life, a lot of the things I’ve done have been an attempt to squeeze a little more intimacy out of the world around me.

There is, however, a socially sanctioned way of getting more intimacy: a “relationship”. In a (sexual, romantic, monogamous) relationship, you have a lot more freedom and power to gain intimacy. You are supposed to be a scheduling priority, and you can expect a certain amount of regular alone-time. You have some say into where your partner lives, and if the relationship goes long-distance you’re assured of constant communication and visits as frequently as possible. You have both the time and societal permission to really let down your barriers and be emotionally vulnerable. All of this is wonderful. There’s a reason I don’t spend much time single…

…No one negotiates with their platonic best friend about how their relationship will progress… but why not? Platonic relationships can be just as meaningful as the best sexual/romantic relationship, why not give them the same time and energy and communication skills? Why do we assume we have to only be “partners” with people we’re attracted to? If we decouple intimacy, sex, and romance, then we have so many more ways we can make our relationships work for us. Why not have a straight guy and an asexual guy as primary partners, with the straight guy having sex with women on the side? Why not have a triad where only one of the relationships is sexual? If we break down the assumption that we have to sleep with people we’re intimate with, we can start to solve our intimacy problem.

I think the (whateverwe’regoingtocallourselves)romantic scene needs this. I suspect a lot of the exciting discourse around romance, intimacy, relationship models, is going to happen around Intimacy Cartography. I’m happy because I finally have a second go-to blog for this stuff, now Asexual Underground doesn’t update regularly. I’m also happy because a (possibly) aromantic sexual is contributing to society. Is honest and emotionally mature and non-deceitful. Is, essentially, not wearing an opera cape and a twirly moustache. On a purely social level, we’re dispicable. We’re worth hating. Which shows we’re onto something good…

Monogamy and power

(Still deep in exam time. A five-minute jotting down of thoughts:)

There’s a term in the poly community called ‘compersion’. It means being happy that your partner is happy with someone else, like the opposite of jealousy.

I think, had I queerplatonic relationships, I would comperse VERY easily. To the point of barely caring what my partner got up to. The way I see it, as long as I’m happy in our relationship, it wouldn’t bother me what else they’re doing. If I’m not, it’s probably a fault of our relationship, not other relationships they’re having.

With friends, however, compersion tends to be more difficult.

I think the reason for this- the reason I would find it easier to be in a poly arrangement than a person who started out monogamous, is to do with power. Monogamous people are used to a lot of power. In some cases, enough to say things like “I don’t care if she’s the best receptionist you’ve ever had, I don’t want you employing attractive women!” and have that be seen as reasonable or in some way founded in rationality. Aromantic people have so depressingly little power. Often, not enough to say “It’s great that you’re connecting with her! Now, maybe we could go grab a coffee sometime and talk about it… oh, ok. See you around…” without being unreasonable, irrational.

I think that’s why I’d have an easier time dealing with jealousy than previously monogamous people. I’m so used to having no power at all, to the idea that, throughout my life, I might only get a tiny handful of relationships where my wants are respected enough to keep me on as a friend in some vague capacity after pair-bonding, that the idea of any power at all, any statement of “You’re special to me. Don’t leave,” any hint that I’m worth basic respect, that my love is worth prizing, would mean the world to me. As an aromantic person, that basic level of satisfaction, that major poverty of power, would be a state beyond a dream.

Queer privilege

[I’m on an enforced minimisation of blogging atm due to important exams. Also, the 101 project is taking up time. Naturally, this means I suddenly have more ideas I really want to blog than ever before.]

This is my take on why hetero-aligned asexuals are queer:

I’d be so screwed if I was hetero-aligned.

Looking back through my life, there’s a good chance I’d never have discovered asexuality, never have discovered feminism, gender-non-conformity, polyamory. There’s a good chance I’d never have read MYSELF as queer. I’d have read myself as broken. I’d have been different, with no tools to accept it.

I don’t want to live in a world where the main support group for people who think they’re broken because they’re different is inaccessible. I want people like the confused, hurt and alone individual I would have been to be told ‘It’s ok. Queer is here for you. The identity is yours to use if you feel safe in it.’ I want the other me to have something that feels safe, that feels real, somewhere to belong for just a little while while all the messages and the pressures of society float above my head. Somewhere out of the storm, where I can gather my strength to fight against it.

Even if I’d found asexuality, even if queerness was accepting, I think I might still have been fighting a loosing battle. It depresses me to realise how many of the people who have expressed an interest in queer relationship structures, the type of relationship structures I need, are primarily interested in relationships with people of the same gender (and/or are generally gender-subverting). I really don’t think I’ve seen any aromantic or even much asexual queerification of cis het relationships. Because straight and queer can’t touch. Which makes me sad, because I think it’s actually less likely, at this stage, for a successful queer cis het relationship to happen. I have a couple of other posts bouncing around in my head at the moment about heteronormativity, and how the people it’s starting to screw over the most are straight people. I feel… relatively optimistic right now about my chances of a happy life, and some of that is due to having a wealth of potential zucchinis (queer relationship partners) who aren’t a gender-gap away in terms of communication. And a lot of it is about having the support of the queer community, both asexual and, wider, about having a whole group of people, spread out all over the world, who can accept me for who I am, who do the transgressive, who dare to accept difference.

And that is what’s keeping me up, right now. That’s what’s keeping me whole. And that, that is what Queer means.

And that’s why hetero-romantics need queer. That’s why we should be there for them. No arguments.

Born to perform

Wotcha, dudes and dudettes. Let’s talk about PERFORMATIVE GENDER. And performative sexuality. And how they’re often confusingly confused.

And by talk, I mean squeal excitedly over this. And this. And this.

Because they’re all utterly amazing. And the first two, the one I found this morning and the one I refound this morning say such a lot about masculinity. Performing masculinity when it’s not automatic. Performing masculinity when you’re queer. Performing masculinity when you’re asexual.

I’ve been thinking recently about how amazing it would be to perform asexuality. Without purchasing a shirt that says ‘this is what an asexual looks like’ because that’s, you know, cheating! A surprising number of people have twigged from my general demeanour that I’m queer but not gay, and I’m now wondering, as a little social experiment, how high I can ramp up that number. How intuitive can I make my sexuality presentation? How on earth do you codify asexual?

I think some of it is about challenging gender stereotypes, but in a way which differentiates oneself from the camp. Personally, for example, I’m thinking in terms of the Edwardian morning suit, more than the muscle shirt, the feather boa. Alternative gender constructions that don’t owe much to previous ones. But I don’t know how much that’s just me, and the pernicious influence of the yadas.

I think there’s a lot I tend to reveal by the way I act, just on the basis of going around and being non-normative. I think some of it is in the way I just refuse to fit in the box in anyone’s head marked ‘single’, or ‘looking’. Some of it is in the way I play with sexuality, sexual attraction, gratuitously in conversation, with a perspective that’s clearly alien. Some of it, maybe, is in the way I’m clearly unmotivated by the possibility of relationships, and it shows in how I express myself.

I’m building up all these little flags, just from living in my own head long enough that I have an automatically new perspective.

And this roots itself in how I perform masculinity. It seems perfectly obvious to me that I’m affecting masculinity from a queer viewpoint. To follow DJ’s terminology, I’m subverting masculine sexual power by bringing that power to the heel of my asexuality.

In conclusion: Just read the posts/song I linked to at the beginning. While you’re reading Garland, think about how what he’s saying is also kinda relevant to asexuality, in a whole number of interesting ways. How performing gay has such a wide number of functions, and performing asexuality maybe the same. No, I’m not doing the hard work for you. Yes, I should be. Sorry, I have essays to write. Like, genuine, non-asexual ones.

There’ll probably be more on this later though.

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