For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for March, 2011

Fatal ‘attraction’

This is one of my INCREDIBLY theory-heavy sexuality posts. I seem to be utterly useless at covering real-world ace problems, and prefer to spend all my time solving self-set semantic sums.

It’s the conclusion to a theory I’ve had to a while, and first put forward near the beginning of this academic year (how long ago that seems). I described the asexual definition of sexuality as:

A definition of sexuality created by people who were told about sexual attraction in the assumption that they’d already know about it. A logical, thorough image of sexuality, like painstakingly painting around something invisible. Very much based on the word attraction. Compartmentalised, due to the difference in the romantic and sexual feelings of many of its creators. I’m guessing I’ll get a bit of flak for saying that asexuality doesn’t reflect reality, but my point is that nothing does. Not completely. I think the asexual theory is utterly awesome because it’s the only one that really looks deep into the complexities of what orientation means.

Instead of the controversy I expected around my ‘painting around the invisible’ metaphor, most of the feedback I got on the post singled it out as the best point. Which leads me to that next sentence. ‘Very much based on the word ‘attraction’. See how little of that thought I allowed out?

I’m fairly certain I experience sexual attraction. There’s no easy definition, it’s like ‘what does having arms feel like?’. The definitions I’ve seen sexual people using to explain it to asexuals seem remarkably, well, wrong. They use metaphors like ‘a hunger’, and asexuals go away thinking they understand, and I’m always tempted to say “Bullshit. Well, YMMV, I expect sexual attraction to feel different for everyone, but that strikes me as one of those self-reinforcing lies.” Sexual attraction is pretty nebulous. And it’s one of the cruellest ironies that sexual attraction has been thought about most extensively by the people who don’t feel it. Because… because I think we’ve got it wrong.

Because we think of sexual attraction as being what the sexuals have decided are the absolute best words to describe these ideas. And I look at the words ‘sexual attraction’ now, and I think of a scientist on a Friday evening, working on a controversial report back when the legalisation of homosexuality was a distant pipe dream, and choosing two random words that seemed to fit.

I warned you at the beginning that this post is highly theoretical. And it is. Because this whole linguistic misunderstanding is pretty academic. Language tends to develop randomly and without plan anyway (and who was it who said that the entire shape of English poetry was based on the lack of rhyming words? This stuff is like weather, big enough to be important, too big to be comprehensible).

I actually like the ‘sexual attraction’ model for various reasons. It encourages introspection, probing your feelings before real-life application. ‘I can’t help feeling attracted to people of the same gender’ is easier to say than ‘I can’t help runnning off and living with people of the same gender’. It keeps the issue of lust and sex in the public eye, which has massive short-term PR disadvantages, but also massive long-term advantages. Furthermore, the asexual movement has to be contextualised by the sexuality theory it finds itself in. This post is me pointing out something interesting and academic that I think I’ve observed, which might feed into other interesting and academic things. I’m in no way saying that we should change our definitions from the very attraction-based (though I do wonder if there is too much prioritisation of things which can count as attractions- this might be a post for another day), because that’s how the world works, now. I think the weather metaphor is helpful again- these are systems we don’t understand. Right now, attempts to harness them are laughable. But we can see patterns, and basic causations.

But we made that choice. From the moment we pinned up that famous ‘asexual- someone who does not experience sexual attraction’ over the doors of AVEN, we were making currents. Now we have to deal with the meteorology.

The white rhinoceros

Ok, I have an actual asexual post in the middle of being written (which will probably lead to another one of my annoying double-posts). This is an idea which is mostly a feminist idea, which I’ve really wanted to blog for the last day or so, but I’ve been avoiding it because it’s not an asexual thing. The idea ended up being central to a crucial point in the ace-related post I was writing, and I decided I couldn’t do it justice in that space, so I’d have to do this as groundwork. Also, given what I’ve just said on Siggy’s blog, it’s hypocritical of me not to include some feminism on here. That way, feminists might learn a little about asexuality and asexuals might learn a little about feminism.

It’s an idea I’ve been trying to express for a while. It came to me when I was reading the lastest post from The 1585, a hit-and-miss essay site which has lately been mostly miss:

(on men dividing women into ‘innocent’ and ‘dirty’) Honestly, even if you are a guy who thinks this is true, do me a favor: go outside and walk around the block, then come back and pick up from right here.  Okay.  Did you categorize every woman you passed on the street as “innocent” or “bad?”  Did you even categorize one of the women you passed on the street that way?  Then why the hell are you under the impression that not only you, but every other guy on earth, does this in 100% of cases?

It’s a thought experiment that we don’t shout often enough, considering that this is where sexism often comes from. ‘Men are this’ ‘Women are that’. I was going to go with some examples, but fill in with whatever makes your blood boil. The answer is usually ‘Think about it for 30 seconds. Think about your (if it was male stereotyping) brother, your father, your friend from college, the campest man you’ve ever met, any queer men you’ve ever met, your sixth form english teacher, that guy at the coffee place, the President of the United States of America (who will one day be a woman, but hopefully that day will not be soon enough for the woman to be Palin), your bank manager, your boyfriend, your ex-boyfriends, your friend’s boyfriends, your pastor, EVERY MAN IN THE WORLD.’ And, presto, you’re wrong.

I’ve decided to call these ‘white rhinoceros’ problems. The game as I understand it is that most people think of a white rhinoceros when someone says ‘don’t think of a white rhinoceros’ (most versions I’ve heard have been ‘white cat’, but rhino is the Pratchett version, and makes a much better name for a phenomenon). When someone says ‘men are like this’, people (and I think patriarchal thinking has a lot to do with this) automatically and unconciously select evidence, filtering out the men who don’t fit the bill, and thinking of a couple of examples of men who definately do. It doesn’t help that these examples could be from media and sexist jokes, where the stereotypes originally proliferate, or that people tend to re-assemble actions and motivations to fit their stereotypes.

It works similarly to the No True Scotsman fallacy, but with a slightly different premise. The point is that it’s a crucial element in society’s ability to make people believe things which fundamentally are not true. It’s crucial to that act of double-think which permeates sexism. On the one hand, there are ‘the men I know’, and on the other ‘ men’ as a construct, the men that ‘everybody’ knows about.

And, yes, I’ve used ‘men’ throughout this post, when it would have been more immediately obvious that this theory has applications in feminism if I was using ‘women’ as my example (the idea that ‘women are bad at maths’, for example, which Figleaf covers in the link above). Tough. My feminism has personhood for all, and recognises damaging gender stereotypes for what they are, regardless. (Also, the particular stereotype I was thinking of throughout was the vexatious ‘men think about sex every 7 seconds’, even though it has the far more elegant comeback: *looks around* ‘Hey, look, human civilisation. Pretty neat, huh?’)

Thinking objectively

I’ve already mentioned several times my annoyance with the meme, possibly second-wave feminist in origin, that sexual attraction (normally along male -> female lines) can be alternately described as objectification.

I’ve tended to talk before about how the false equation screws up sexual attraction, by presuming it runs along gendered lines, by essentially censoring straight/bisexual male sexuality. I’d like to talk today about how it screws up the idea of objectification.

Because asexuals are objectified. No-one is putting us on billboards in our swimwear, no-one is making it clear that our careers depend on our looks. But we are called inhuman, psychoanaethetic (literally ‘numb inside’), we come in droves to asexual spaces complaining that society says we’re ‘broken’. Not ‘dysfunctional’, ‘unhealthy’, ‘unnatural’. The word is always ‘broken’. If sexuality is human, then we are less than human. And when you literally choose to equate your sexuality more with a burnt-out toaster than with a human being full of hope, it hurts to look up at the people who get to be people and hear them say that the thing you’re missing is the thing that is turning them into an object.

And the other reason, the reason which is slightly contradictory to the first one, is that objectification is natural and not bad. It’s important to distinguish the loss of personhood, which I was discussing above, with just being used for something. Recently, if you’ve been following my blog (to a relative value of recently), you’ll notice I’ve been pulling apart sexual and romantic behaviour and isolating it as a series of needs and wants. I’ve immersed myself in this mindset, to the point that the needs and wants of sex seem no different to me to the needs and wants of having someone for good conversation, or cuddles. Or anything in this awesome list, which is just a start to the ways we can break down relationships, up to and including using someone for Dr Who watching.

When you take the whole of human interaction and make sex one tiny part of it, surrounded by a plethora of other relationship features just as pressing, just as economic, the idea that sex objectifies, more than love or friendship, just becomes a self-evident contradiction, spitting into the sun of human intimacy.


So the Portkey Zucchini I mentioned? God, I fancy him. Not sure if it’s a crush or a squish, but it’s incredible, and intense and-

-not that way.

I was getting annoyed because I didn’t know what I wanted. So I sat down and had a serious think about my wants/needs from the relationship. They are:

-The intellectual connection. Which is visceral and dynamic and beautiful.

-Touch. Again, NTW (Not That Way). Not really anything more than two quite touchy-feely friends.

-Some form of prioritisation. Again, it’s mostly prioritisation in a way which a friend could easily expect, time alone together, planning spending time together when it gets more difficult.

So everything I want from him is absolutely nothing more than friendship. Which gets complicated, because my brain is telling me that this is zucchini territory. And then, for example, my friend to whom I am out about WTFromantic stuff was incredibly confused when I said I wanted to set Portkey up with someone I know. It’s not even that I wouldn’t be monogamous with him, so him dating wouldn’t be an issue. It’s just that I am crushing on him, and I want a relationship with him, but…

…not that way.

Yes and no

So we’ve been talking a lot about sex-positivity recently. This is a pretty good example of the sort of conclusions the asexual community has been coming to, written by someone who might not be on your regular reading.

And I’m going to admit, I’m annoyed when I see statements about how ever-wonderful sex is in sex-positivity. I don’t like it when people act like bi or pan is the most enlightened sexual orientation, because who you’re attracted to isn’t a matter of political expediency, and some people can’t or shouldn’t help being attracted to people who fall almost entirely to a particular side of the gender binary, or attracted to no-one. That’s basic.

I don’t like it when people say that sex is sacred, that it is a primal force within us all, that every sensation is a sexual sensation because sex equals life. I don’t want to have to explain why using your personal religious beliefs to create perscriptive rules about how and whether people should have sex is a really fucking bad idea.

And I almost can’t believe I’m saying this, it’s so blindingly obvious, but the reason everyone isn’t spiritually pansexual is because no is a really GOOD word. No goes beautifully with sex. Without it, the entire sex-positive mission just crumbles. Because we are genuinely all unique flowers. That means some of us get turned on by Pamela Anderson, and we somehow can’t operate an equality policy when it comes to David Hasselhoff. We SHOULDN’T be operating an equality policy with our minds, or our beds, or our genitals. It means some of us will absolutely love that special move with the leather implements, and some of us will be bored or uncomfortable. It means we all define sexuality on our own terms. Defining sexuality on your own terms, a fundamental human right, means making  full and total use of the buttons marked ‘icky’ and ‘dull’ and ‘not for me’.

Why is this difficult? Seriously?

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