For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for the ‘lingophile’ Category

"I sometimes think no poetry is read…

…save where some sepultured Caesura bled.”
A letter to a living poet, Rupert Brooke

So I found an ancient (given as a gift in 1944) copy of the complete works of Rupert Brooke in a charity shop for 50 pence. And oh my god.

Because up until now, I’ve only read one poem of Brooke’s. I think it was his last, before he died in his early twenties, in World War 1. “If I should die, think only this of me…” (watch as I completely disobey that instruction). The poem is pompous, patriotist, and famous. In my opinion, it’s one of his worst works. The poetry of Brooke seethes with passion and life, even as the things he agonises about are melodramatic, teen poetry.

Here’s the one I’d like to discuss today:

Thoughts on the shape of the human body:
How can we find? how can we rest? how can
We, being gods, win joy, or peace, being man?
We, the gaunt zanies of a witless Fate,
Who love the unloving and lover hate,
Forget the moment ere the moment slips,
Kiss with blind lips that seek beyond the lips,
Who want, and know not what we want, and cry
With crooked mouths for Heaven, and throw it by.
Love’s for completeness! No perfection grows
‘Twixt leg, and arm, elbow, and ear, and nose,
And joint, and socket; but unsatisfied
Sprawling desires, shapeless, perverse, denied.
Finger with finger wreathes; we love, and gape,
Fantastic shape to mazed fantastic shape,
Straggling, irregular, perplexed, embossed,
Grotesquely twined, extravagantly lost
By crescive paths and strange protuberant ways
From sanity and from wholeness and from grace.
How can love triumph, how can solace be,
Where fever turns toward fever, knee toward knee?
Could we but fill to harmony, and dwell
Simple as our thought and as perfectible,
Rise disentangled from humanity
Strange whole and new into simplicity,
Grow to a radiant round love, and bear
Unfluctuant passion for some perfect sphere,
Love moon to moon unquestioning, and be
Like the star Lunisequa, steadfastly
Following the round clear orb of her delight,
Patiently ever, through the eternal night!

I think it might have been the second poem I read. I loved it from the moment I read “who love the unloving and the lover hate.” Such a simple illustration of the cruelty of human relationships.
To briefly explain where I think Brooke is coming from, he was part of a movement which abandoned chaperones, went on long, mixed-sex walks, slept naked under the stars (he went skinny-dipping with Virginia Woolf), but never had sex before marriage. You can kinda see it in his poetry, it’s all about attraction and kissing and mystery- part of what I like about Brooke is that the beautiful, classical language flows from a guy who is seriously horny quite a lot of the time, and willing to talk about it using a form often reserved for true love.
Brooke was also incredibly pretty. Half his friends, by most reports, were friends with him not because of his amazing wordcraft but because he was devilishly handsome. I want to know what would happen if Brooke took up modern day feminism, because a lot of his poems contain, between the lines, this cry of the objectified male. The objectified male who is so, so scared of growing old because all he has are his looks, because he refuses to validate desire when it doesn’t come from someone classically good-looking.

And so we get back to this poem. “Kiss with blind lips that seek beyond the lips.” We try to know people through sex, through intimacy, the act is never the act but some frustrated attempt to connect, to feel like you really, truly know someone when it is truly impossible to. The body is a clumsy metaphor, its own isolation unit.
“Who want, and know not what we want, and cry,
With crooked mouths for heaven, and throw it by.”
Don’t tell me you’ve seriously never felt like this? Me and Brooke can’t be the only ones.

“we love, and gape,
Fantastic shape to mazed fantastic shape,
Straggling, irregular, perplexed, embossed,
Grotesquely twined, extravagantly lost
By crescive paths and strange protuberant ways
From sanity and from wholeness and from grace.”
Here, he’s describing the body as imperfect, monstrous, an illusion of what we truly are. And it’s so fucking queer. “Grotesquely twined, extravagantly lost.” Since reading this poem, I’ve genuinely considered replacing my ‘questioning’ label with that phrase. There is something I find so beautiful, so human, in imperfection.
The imagery here is astounding. Last year, I was doing art (as I think I mentioned), and for his final piece, one of the guys took close-ups of people’s faces and then zoomed in so much on the corner of a nose, the fold of a brow, that they became abstract, hauntingly beautiful patterns of sumptuous flesh. Reading this poem, those photographs are what burn themselves into my mind.
“By crescive paths and strange protuberant ways,” the human body, coming to terms with it, loving it, is a journey. You can literally lose yourself.

And then he goes a bit crap and wusses out and says that it would be better if there were no such things as bodies, these perfectly imperfect forms of wonder and delight, because it would be better if we all connected spiritually, throw in a random classical reference, bob’s your uncle, another Romantic poem churned out.

Which is where I get annoyed with Brooke, because he always has such great potential. He definitely wasn’t afraid of breaking the rules of his day, and his poetry seems, when it’s really flowing from him, so transgressive, so full of fire and change, that even a century after he lived, the world still trembles from his vision.

And then something pulls him back. Whether it’s the fact that he’s essentially writing emo poetry about the latest girl to dump him, moping around in his room at the age of 16, or the fact that he’s stuck in the Romantic framework, where there are easy answers and you have to prescribe to them, or because it was Edwardian times, and there simply weren’t the words, or because he was so young that he never got to realise that he could be more than an object, that desire isn’t something you have to justify.

Poetry changed, months after he died. Possibly the most poetry has ever changed. It became about raw power, emotion that could cut through the heart, mockery of those in command, it became a tool for radical critique of society. Brooke died in the old system, and is remembered by it. He is remembered by silly poems about the honour of death and the romance of war, couched in pretentions. Had he lived even three years longer? I think the world could be very different today.

Witness the awesome power of synoyms!

In primary school (dunno what non-UK equivalents are. Kindergarten?), they told us never to use the word said. Or nice. We had a big list of synonyms up on the wall, and we were told synonyms had power. Synonyms were strong and had specificity (my new favourite word).
So we, as asexuals, have the generic word ‘friend’, which we’re trying to extract highly varied, nuanced and specificitised (sorry) meanings from. And we’re having as much luck as juicing a stone. Time to turn, as my teachers would be glad to hear me say, to the awesome power of synonyms.

As a thought exercise, inspired by a comment from WritingFromFactorX, I’m going to list a variety of synonyms and the meanings we might have a chance of getting them to have:

Someone I know- Less formal-sounding than acquaintance, without the commitment of friend.

Acquaintance- A fairly simple one. It’d be nice if we used this more. If you ‘Acquainted’ someone on facebook. It would remove a lot of the extreme end of the devaluation of friend. However, it sounds rather frosty. It’d be tricky to use often in real life without people thinking you were standoffish. Which you especially don’t want to do when you’re forming your Awesome Circle of Asexy Intimacy.

Associate- Someone you associate with. Someone you work as a team with? Would be useful, if it didn’t sound as if you were threatening corporate takeover every time you used it.

Mate- Still fairly casual. To me implies someone you spend time with, but it doesn’t run that deep. Banter and paintball, not soul-searching and commitment. Alternatively pal, buddy, etc.

Confidant- A nice word, indicating a relationship very deep but not romantic or necessarily committed. I think this could be one of the more useable ones on this list, especially if you find yourself with an inner circle who you tell everything to.

Companion- You could get it to imply some sort of faithful commitment outside of sexual/romantic relationships. There’d be a bit of the romantic idea brought it. I think this word would only really be useful if you had a few strong, primary relationships, romantic friendships, binary-blurring stuff, and decided together that you would actively use the word ‘companion’ instead of ‘partner’, to indicate the different nature of your relationship.

Partner- A good fallback for a primary relationship that’s still not best described by standard labels. However, it’s a bit too monogamous.

Darling, dear, treasure, honey, pet, duck- Said with a bit of humour, I think meaning could underlie the joke. If there’s someone with whom you’re very intimate in some way, constantly referring to them as ‘my darling’ (both in first and third person) could show a little more flexibility in the status of the relationship than just ‘friend’. Definitely that you see your relationship as important enough to give them their own unique title.

What do you think? What words do you want in your vocabulary?

PS. The online thesaurus has girlfriend as the antonym for boyfriend. How peculiar.

Asexual literary criticism I: “How would a gay person read this?”

Note on the series: This started off as one post, but it’d be fiendishly long if I did that. I’m now considering doing it in three, this introduction and comparison to homosexual criticism, then a post linking to various worthwhile pieces of asexual criticism, then a conclusion on what asexual literary criticism might look like. I could take this series down another aromantic, non-binary route, but I’m going to try my absolute hardest to drag it back to standard, possibly romantic, asexiness. Which basically means screeching the blog to a halt and turning it back the other way again, but these things have to be done.

Note on homosexual literary theory: I don’t actually dislike it. It’s because I respect it that I am especially disappointed when it descends to laughableness. I did a whole essay on the homoerotic themes in Hamlet last year. Along with one about the stagnancy of traditional romantic models in Brideshead Revisited, and another about the heteronormativity of WWI literature. Looking back, I wonder what my teachers made of me.

This is based on the summary of literary criticism in my English textbook, and, more specifically;

What lesbian/gay critics do:
[points summarised in brief]
1. Identify lesbian/gay authors
2. Identify lesbian/gay pairings in mainstream work, and then discuss them as such, as opposed to reading same-sex pairings in non-specific ways
3.Set up an extended, metaphorical sense of ‘lesbian/gay’, so that it connotes a moment of crossing a boundary.
4. Expose the ‘homophobia’ of mainstream literature and criticism.
5. Foreground homosexual aspects in literature which have been glossed over.
6. Foreground literary genres which influenced ideas of masculinity and femininity.

To which a queer friend responded: “Not all of us!” (by which they meant, ‘Some of us just read and criticise literature while also being gay.’)

Maybe you can see my criticisms of this section of criticism. For a start, it’s trying too hard, mugging the book in favour of the critic’s obscure and unobjective approach (so, in #3, for example, practically any sort of conflict could be seen as ‘gay’. And since conflict is at the heart of literature, the kids at school were entirely right when they told you reading was ‘gay’). From a more asexual point of view, #2 is downright disrespectful- why must you read a relationship as being gay when it is actually a close friendship? That just a) denigrates further the already impotent power of friendship, b) allows no possibility of an asexual reading, c) makes it harder for two people of the same gender to be allowed to be friends without someone reading into it.

And it occurred to me that we already have the basis of an asexual literary criticism (PHD material? That would be kinda cool). A lot of what we do is ‘literary’ criticism (see Ily and Shockrave), Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Sheldon Cooper, Dexter (wow, writing the names of all those aliens/psychopaths/sociopaths all together made me feel kinda sad).
And notice we’re fighting already against homosexual criticism, gay people and asexuals both laying contradictory claim to Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, even Spongebob Squarepants. We are never given heroes. We must find those we like the best, and then fight like hell to make sure no-one stronger takes them.

And this is part of where homosexual criticism invisibilises us. It’s not just stealing our characters, it’s actually writing us out of existence. In the frantic desire to analyse what isn’t necessarily there, gay critics, hungry for evidence, revert to the following formula:

Absence of heterosexuality = Homosexuality

Gee, doesn’t that look familiar. Where have I seen that before? How about, oh, everywhere?

Salad


First off, here’s a picture of Spiderman, making the American Sign Language sign for ‘I Love You’. It’s derived from a mixture of the signs for I, L and Y, so what Spiderman is actually saying, as he swings his way through the streets is “I love you, Ily!”
This is clearly a shoutout to the fantastic and most prolifically asexy blog Asexy Beast, and its writer, Ily. Even superheroes demand asexual visibility!

Now, with that acknowledgment out of the way (random, but I promised Ily I would), here’s a David Mitchell-esque rant about innuendo that I thought asexuals might particularly enjoy:

Did you really have to make the word salad gross? Just from a foodie point of view, didn’t you think there was enough of a force in the world that made salad seem disgusting already, to all those people who are scared of vegetables and things that haven’t been grilled or fried? Did you really have to make it so that, whenever anyone says “I’m going to have a [blank] salad” in company, someone else is going to take advantage? See, it might seem like harmless fun at your en- to you, but this rant really isn’t about sex. Can you understand that, innuendo? Do you get that something could possibly not be about sex? Because what this is about, is language.

As you close off words, as you make more and more obscure sexual acts share the same lexicon as innocent things, what you are essentially doing is making those words unusable in the context they were meant to be used in- in an uninterrupted conversation that isn’t about sex, but is instead about, say, watersports.
Have you read 1984, innuendo? In that book, people are controlled by words. When there are things they can’t say, there are things they can’t think. The greater the vocabulary, the more open the consciousness of society.
I reckon you’re also starting to go bad for sex, as well, innuendo. Sex being all about communication, why can’t it be “You want to stick your what where?” All these nonsense terms for obscure (dare I use the term pornified?) acts almost amounts to using Urban Dictionary as a checklist. Which is not going to give anyone what they really want in bed.
I think you’re dying, innuendo. It started with come. One of the main verbs in the English language and you thought it would be oh-so-clever to take it for yourself. And now almost every book or short story or imperial-verb using conversation in the world contains an innuendo at least once.
The problem, innuendo, is not that you’re too hard. It’s that you’re too easy. You, innuendo, are a slut (word used rhetorically, this blog does not endorse slut-shaming). Sure, we’ve had our good times over the last few years. Remember that time when the racist Americans all called themselves teabaggers? Gee, that was fun. Or the last time we watched Rocky Horror together, when Frankenfurter was like “I’m coming” and we were all like “So’s Brad!” See, you used to know how to have fun, innuendo. Now you’re trying too hard.

So, innuendo, when you finally die, under the crushing weight of your own hunger, I’ll be at your funeral. I’ll even go to the wake. There’ll be salad. And it won’t be funny.

On redefining queer, and who’s allowed to use it

First off, a quick asexy link, courtesy of my friends at American Virgin. I think I’ve heard about this film before, and I’m guessing the first place they came to fundraise was AVEN, but, in case you haven’t heard the trailer, go and take a look.

Anyway, I forgot to write down the big list of topics I had to write about, so now I’ve forgotten them all, and I’m back to writing whatever comes into my head.

How does this reclaiming the word queer thing work, guys? Are we still meant to be slightly disapproving of anyone who uses it and doesn’t fit in the LGBTQ crowd? Does it still hurt too much that we don’t want to give others a free pass to use it?

I ask because I may one day decide that asexual is too confusing a shorthand for demisexual etc, and decide queer would be better. If I label myself queer, am I defining myself by a word that over half my friends can’t even say? Cos that sort of sucks for them. It sort of sucks for me, as well, when they try and explain what I am, and can’t use the actual word that I find most helpful.

Is it free to use, but you have to be prepared to grovel the instant any non-hetero-cis person takes offense?
Or is it based on how progressive you are? Feminists and sex-positive people get in free? Do you have to donate a certain amount to gay rights organisations (in which case, I’m not entitled, and won’t be until I have some actual disposable income, in several years time [hopefully])?
Maybe you have to have a seal of approval by an actual queer person. If so, we could get little cards printed. That would definately save on confusion.

Or maybe we could just say ‘ok, a word’s a word. What’s more, it’s the only word we’ve got for a concept that needs expressing*’. If it’s used in hate, sure, point out the hate, same as you would if someone viciously spat the word ‘gay’ at you, but just agree that the word itself isn’t offensive any more.

*And a concept that needs expressing is a concept that EVERYONE needs to be able to express.

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.

Pomoromantic

Ok, just another quick little post to keep this blog in a state that somewhat resembles life.

I thought up the best new label the other day. Not only is it rather fun, it’s one that I think the asexual community could use, and one that I personally could use.

Various asexuals have discussed the idea of pomosexuality (Post-Modern Sexuality), a general desire to blur all the lines of sexuality and break out of identifying yourself as a conventional sexuality. I never really understood it until I pondered the meaning of ‘pomoromantic’.

My guess is that a pomoromantic asexual is one who doesn’t fit in with romantic orientation, one for whom romantic orientation doesn’t makes sense, even in terms of a lack of it, or one who deliberately goes out of their way to challenge and break apart the conventions of romantic orientation.

An asexual who subscribes to the community-based intimacy or non-binary relationship theories, for example, rather than just saying that neither ‘romantic’ nor ‘aromantic’ apply to them, could label themselves ‘pomoromantic’.

So, I’m upgrading myself (again) to a demihomosexual pomo(hetero?)romantic greysexual in questioning. Yay!

Anyway, I like the word so much that I’m going to go sign in to AVEN for the first time in ages and make a thread to see what people think. If you like the label too, please do your bit to spread the word, since I’m not in a particularly widely-read corner of the asexosphere.

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