For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Worldpride Conference

So I realise I’ve used this blog to be mostly negative for a very long time. It’s because it’s a lot easier to write about something you dislike and want changed than something that you thought was perfect. Here’s a nice post:

I had the honour today of attending the Worldpride Asexuality Conference, which I think is the first non-academic asexual conference ever. And wow.

The conference had a bizarre sort of coherence to it. There almost seemed to be a single, complex narrative running through the day- I came away feeling like I’d read an incredibly well-crafted novel that I wouldn’t quite appreciate the genius of until the third re-read. I don’t know whether this was because of Michael Dore’s nuanced organising or the presence from the two key speakers, Nat and DJ. The relationship between the two was palpable; Nat addressed their talk largely to DJ, as a reminisce, which added to the sense that an incredible story was finally, in this place, being told (there wasn’t much you couldn’t find in Hinderliter’s history, but the use of first-person prounouns gave Nat’s version an edge). The symbolism of the conference was inescapable- from Nat’s prodigal return to the community that they had started and then slipped away from because they didn’t feel like a good enough representation, to DJ’s request that the asexual community not be about just telling the stories of people like him any more, and Michael’s ability to select a very wide range of voices for his talkers and panelists without any hint of tokenism. The message, so slickly and holistically presented that it goes straight to the subconscious, is that the asexual community has grown up.

 I really can’t fault the conference (apart from pointlessly trivial things like lateness and the disproportionate fruitcake/edible things ratio). When I tried to think of constructive criticism, I only got two things. Firstly, that it felt a bit like the researchers they got to talk to us are basically saying what we’ve been saying for years, but to a different audience and with bigger words. But then I realised that I may have been unique in that viewpoint, especially since I was already familiar with Foucault and had heard Mark Carrigan very recently, and a lot of the people around me seemed to find that segment really stimulating. Secondly, I feel conflicted as to whether I’d like DJ’s talk earlier- the conference seemed like a closed book of people I didn’t know before DJ worked his magic, and then became a network of awesome people to draw on and feed off- unfortunately, too late for me to really get stuck in. Again, that’s probably more of a personal issue, since there was a whole evening of networking opportunity afterwards that I couldn’t attend.

The talk by DJ was seriously incredible. If anyone finds a link to it online, please share it with me. I’ll probably discuss one of the concepts in a later post, the one which made every allosexual person in the room think ‘Get out of my head!’  After his talk, he got us all into groups of two or three to discuss activism. I thought it’d be pretty unproductive. I ended up in a three with Ily (who I embarassed myself in front of horribly by prattling on about her socks) and a guy who said ‘I’m good at comic book art but I have no story ideas’ at exactly the same time as the woman in the group behind said ‘I’ve got some ideas for ace comics, but I can’t draw.’ From the impression I increasingly get from DJ, I’m willing to bet things like this were probably happening all over the room. The guy is actually magic.

So there’s my nice, happy post. I’m not that happy with it, maybe its ‘cos there’s no conflict, but its about time I wrote one. Because today just showed me how amazingly well the asexual community is doing. And how much better it’s gonna get.

Also, on the topic of niceness and joy: Miller is auditioning for a group blog: http://godlessace.tumblr.com/post/26578358827/proposal-asexuality-201-group-blog

If anyone can do this, it’s him.  It’s also by far the best idea for a 201 space- centralised, but outward-looking, space for a big community without the sluggishness and maintenance of a forum, individualistic but collaborative, easy to access but well-moderated (although Miller’s typical troll-handling would be incredible if scaled up to a forum like this). I 100% emphatically endorse this. It’s awesome.

Off-AVEN

On providing everything that is currently on-AVEN, off-AVEN. Here’s what we need. More precisely, here’s what you need to support, if you want to create an asexual internet that can exist fully outside of AVEN, which I’d argue is desirable, given the fact that the community can’t just be one site, and necessary, given the flawed definitions of asexuality that the AVENites seem to be moving towards:

I could link a whole load of other awesome stuff here- non-101 conversations, resources aimed at scientific research, asexual journalism, asexual advice columns. But these are the basics for anyone who wants to make AVEN a non-essential part of the asexual community. I’m especially excited about Asexuality Meetup Groups- it could be the perfect place to store all our information about ace-friendly LGBTQ groups, for example. I’d encourage everyone reading to make as much use of the above as possible.

So here’s the facts:

52% of AVENites polled said that we should change the definition of asexuality to ‘does not experience sexual attraction and/or has no desire for partnered sex’.
In another poll, 47% of AVENites said the definition should be ‘does not experience sexual attraction and/or has no desire for partnered sex’, while 49% preferred the old definition.
 In a third poll, there was a 50/50 split between those who don’t mind and those who disagree with changing the definition to ‘the lack of an inherent inclination to engage in sexual relations’.

 The third thread is particularly interesting- ‘rewording the definition of asexuality to increase clarity.’ It’s a wonderful euphemism- minor policy change, got to consider the PR angle…

It doesn’t say ‘Change to the operational definition of asexuality which will invalidate the identities of thousands of asexuals.’ It doesn’t say ‘Change to the operational definition of asexuality which will encourage slut-shaming and anti-sexual elitism in our communities, and representations of our communities.’ It doesn’t say ‘Change to the operational definition of asexuality which will drive a wedge between the ideological basis of asexuality and those of other queer identities, which will cut asexuality adrift from every other discussion of and campaign for the rights of sexual identity for the last century.’ No. ‘To increase clarity.’

I don’t have much to say about this. The first thing I want to say is, as an allosexual person, I call bullshit. Sexual attraction is totally, 100%, definitely, A Thing. (Personally, I’d go so far as to say that it’s actually Several Different Things). I can’t describe it(/them). Someone on one of the AVEN threads said that an asexual describing sexual attraction was like someone who had never eaten chocolate describing the taste of chocolate. It’s a good analogy, because an allosexual person describing sexual attraction is like someone who has eaten chocolate describing the taste of chocolate. It still can’t really be done, unless the listener has tasted something relatively close, and even then, never perfectly.

So I’ll just say this. I’ve experienced inherent desire* to have sex with people without being sexually attracted to them. Not often, and it doesn’t tend to be especially person-specific (because that would make it sexual attraction), but still. Also, I’ve been sexually attracted to people without having any inherent desire to have sex with them. Often. And definitely.

*I’m defining ‘inherent desire’ as desire free from pressure, experimentation, desire for partner’s happiness, etc. I’m not sure that’s a line that can actually be drawn, but that’s a post for another day.

Secondly, I’d like to use this timely interval to remind people that no other sexuality has an Official Website. The way I see it, the AVEN Project Team, the AVEN FAQ, the AVEN Media Team and the AVEN Meet-up Mart still do fantastic and necessary work. But why do they have to be connected to the forum? A forum which gains an official status simply by its connection to them, and a forum which is now apparently getting to the tipping point where the majority of its members believe that asexuality should have a partially/entirely behavioural definition. If AVEN forums keep on this course, I see only four ways of developing the online communities from here:

1. The AVEN project team, etc, breaks off from the forum.
2. The people behind the AVEN project team get involved in other things, and leave the forum to organise its own resources, with whatever definition it chooses. AVEN ceases to be the one official site.
3. There is a contradiction between the very definition of asexuality as agreed by the AVEN members and as publicised by AVEN’s media wing.
4.  AVEN’s project team and media wing change to the behavioural definition.

I dislike the behavioural definition. I think it doesn’t fit real experiences, it causes anti-sexual elitism and it alienates us from other sexuality movements- unsustainably. The common analysis is that rejection of the behavioural definition in favour of the orientation definition is the only reason AVEN survived while other early ace communities failed, and I think it’s as important, if not more important, now than in the early days of the movement. Of course, the AVENites have a right to their views on what defines asexuality. If they want to have a website based on their definition, I wouldn’t wish to stop them. But I think we have to consider whether we can still link to them as the main hub of asexuality, when their definition is so misguided, both in terms of truth and PR. I have always been in favour of more extra-AVEN resources, and this news just strengthens my views. The future belongs to the orientation model. And the future does not, I fear, belong to AVEN.

The numbers game

Dear Romantic Asexuals (and other, especially avoidant, asexuals who want to have intimate or committed relationships)

You’re told that nonsexual romantic relationships are a numbers game of two compatible asexuals meeting up.

You’re told that asexuals and allosexual people can work out relationship compromises, and then, if you ask what that looks like, you’re told it’s your partner having other lovers.

And everyone who argues this, allo or ace, will laugh in your face if you doubt them. But please, please doubt them. They’re wrong. They’re so wrong.

 

Who the heck said allosexual people all want sex?

Take this one study, which says that 9% of (USian, 25-45 year old) women and 14% of similar men describe themselves as virgins.
Now, admittedly, that’s gonna include a fair number of 26 year olds who have it on their to-do list. But not with the urgency that some people think all allosexuals have. And a good chunk of it seems to be devout christians, who might be on a no-sex-before-marriage pledge. But think of all the people on this list who just aren’t that interested, would possibly have it but wouldn’t mind not- that’s got to be at least 1% of the population. That DOUBLES your chances.
And then count all the people who’ve had sex, at some point, but don’t especially mind going without. That’s the number I can’t even guess, but I reckon there’s a lot. Seriously.

So, in conclusion, challenge ‘allosexuals need sex’. It’s a fucking massive thing to just assume.

This post brought to you by the ‘It’s complicated’ side. The ‘scientific’ evidence in it is… pretty fucking weak (if anyone has better, would love to see it). But see this as a laying down the gauntlet. We have actual numbers that suggest that sexual activity isn’t massively important to all allosexuals. If you want to keep stating ‘allosexual need sex’ like it’s proven fact, find something to back it up. Anecdata doesn’t count. ‘Everyone knows’ doesn’t count. You’re going to have to start doing better than that.

Mind the Gap

An idea that manifests itself in my head as a graph, and I’ve been trying to think of the words for it in my head for so long that I’ve now given up. It’s graph time.

 

Pretend this first graph is a bell curve. It’s the closest I could manage in 30 seconds of MS Paint. The x axis represents some amalgam of libido, desire, attraction. Lets call it ‘how much you want to have sex’. Where wanting to have sex is for  the forseeable future, not right now. The y axis represents how many people in the population have that level of desire. As you can see, a small subset of people are in the light blue shaded section. This is the space reserved for ‘asexuals’.

The first problem with the model is that asexuality doesn’t belong on the same scale as how much you want to have sex, because asexuality =/= not wanting to have sex. There’ll be some asexuals up in the non-shaded section, and there’ll be some non-asexuals in the shaded section. This is the other problem with the model:

 

This graph shows the level of desire people identify themselves with to the rest of the world. The bell curve is now skewed towards the sexual end, and there’s a gap between the asexuals and the rest of the population.

In quite a lot of circumstances, people who can rely on the label ‘asexual’ can validate their place at the low end of the spectrum. It’s abnormal, but it’s self-conciously, militantly abnormal. People (especially men) at the low end of the scale who aren’t quite low enough to get the label asexual, however, will often find immense pressure to identify upwards. Hence we get the second graph. The important point here isn’t just the skewed distribution. It’s the gap between asexuals and everyone else. This gap creates two problems. Firstly, non-asexual low-libido people don’t get to have role models. The gap self-perpetuates. And, secondly, as I discussed ages ago, asexual people don’t get to be part of the population. Asexual people are off to one side, away from the data set. They’re outliers with the reason for their outlieriness plain to see. And that skews the graph even more.

Which is bad for asexuals. Like, really bad for asexuals. Asexuals looking for romantic partnerships, for instance, really need to live in a society that is willing to accept that we’re on a scale, that there aren’t the outliers and then a gap. Acknowledgement of non-asexual low-libido voices is a massively big deal for asexual people. As well as the low-libido people themselves.

This is me finally managing to put into words when people say ‘what about the asexuals’ when they mean ‘what about the people who don’t want sex’. Sure, ‘what about the asexuals’ is a hell of a lot easier to say, but it doesn’t actually help ‘the asexuals’. It isolates them.

(PS. This post has been a LONG time coming. I was struggling to think how to present it back here, a post which I rediscovered today from a link in Figleaf’s asexuality tag. The second catalyst was this post by the ever-amazing Ozy of No,SeriouslyWhatAboutTehMenz?, which is an example of a post where I’d have, on further reflection, preferred every instance of the words ‘asexual men’ to be changed to ‘men who don’t want sex’, with an occasional ‘like, for example, asexuals! Spread the visibility love!’. This postscript added after a guilty realisation that I’ve been nothing but critical of NSWATM on this blog, and I want to clarify that this is just because it makes me Think Things, and, where the things are in agreement with NSWATM, I don’t often bother to write posts on them, because it’s already been said by someone with a much, much larger audience.)

Once out

 

I’ve been thinking about the way asexuals are pressured not to identify as asexual. They’re pressured not to be out, not to put words to it, not to ask people to respect their identity and use their words.

And something about it suddenly makes sense.

Everyone is allowed a free coming out once in their lifetime.

You’re allowed to id as straight/cis until you’ve figured the whole thing out entirely, and then you’re allowed, just once, to set yourself a new identity. And if you misuse it, you’re really going to have to fight for the next identity.

Our society cannot see sexuality or gender as a growing thing, as a complex enigma which doesn’t always relate to the simple words we demand it to be expressed in. We have an idea that if you cut someone in half, ‘gay’ or ‘boy’ or whatever is written across their heart. Culturally, problems in identifying become problems of social pressure. ‘How do I create a new identity within heteronormative society?’ is the acceptable question. ‘What identity suits me best?’ is read as a proxy for this question, finding out who you are is equated utterly with overthrowing repression. ‘Finding out’ is a euphemism for ‘admitting’.

Because everyone is secretly one thing, and everyone gets one chance to say what that thing is.

And so when someone comes out as asexual, a definition based on ‘I haven’t yet, so probably won’t’ more than ‘I definately have’, they are literally losing something. They’re losing the chance to be something else. They’re taking up their one chance to define themselves as Not Straight.

And you don’t get that back.

Love is like pain.

 

That’s a pointlessly dramatic start. I’ll elaborate.

Pain is a famously fickle emotion. One person cannot understand what type of pain another is in. How it feels, how much it hurts. We assume a common vocabulary, but there is no guarantee that there is any real commonality.

 

Or, to deepen the metaphor, attraction is like colour. We think we all have the same words, that we all see the same spectrums, that the models in everyone’s heads are interchangable. And they really aren’t.

I would really recommend that video. I think, as a simple demonstration of perception, it’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life. For those who can’t or don’t want to watch 8 minutes (you can skip the first 4), there’s a succinct summary here. Also, for the scientifically minded.

And this is  the problem I have when people ask me to describe what is going on in my head regarding sexual attraction. My answer is; at least 3 different things. It’s difficult because we’re told that there is ‘sexual attraction’, and I have essentially no linguistic ability to seperate this further. It feels like staring at a wheel of identical squares and being told that one is different. Sometimes I think there could be as many as a dozen entirely seperate phenomena going on in my head that I’ve never been trained to recognise.

There are two problems here. The first is that I believe the colour analogy fails significantly, because there are actually a finite number of colours that we essentially (ignoring colourblindness for the moment as being unweildy to the analogy) share. Europe and the Himba tribe may not have the same models or words, and may end up actively contradicting each other, but the colours we see could be fed through a computer and the computer would ignore all that.

When it comes to sexual attraction, I think that people are actually all different. There are probably a huge number of people out there who have their own feelings, which they identify as sexual attraction, which are completely alien to me. There are probably people (given how the rest of the world doesn’t share the relentless asexual focus on the word ‘attraction’) who define what they feel as sexual attraction when it would feel, to me, more like romantic or aesthetic attraction which links, in practical terms, to the sex drive or to associations of sexual enjoyment. In short, there’s a whole load of sexual attractions that I don’t, as a sexual, experience.

The second problem is that this complicates even more the idea of where the line is between sexual attraction and other attractions. I see it as an attempt to square up my terminology with society’s- there has to be a vague boundary of generalised meaning for ‘sexual attraction’, and I can presumably apply whatever I think that is to the feelings I have, to see if they’re sexual attraction or not. This is a fraught process. To give one example, I’ve been aware since before I developed sexual attraction of what I’m tempted to call the ‘man on the street’ test. That is, if you walk past someone on the street and find them attractive in a sexual (still a difficult word to define) way, that counts as sexual attraction. I’ve absorbed this to the extent that fleeting urban encounters are now the way I judge my attractions (which are incredibly fluid, in random cycles of aroud about 2-3 weeks- the fact that they’re actually strong enough now to show the patterns intrigues me) and, recently, the first time I felt that potential for sexual responsiveness when passing a woman, I felt shockingly like my gynophilia had just become ‘official’. This view ignores fantasies, which are traditionally almost the sole element of judging where one is on the Kinsey Scale. I also really have no idea about becoming sexually attracted to someone as a result of their personality/after knowing them. I genuinely don’t know if I do this or not.

(and a quick note for any asexuals who suddenly have the impression that everyone on the streets is secretly lusting after them- my guess would be that these forms of attraction don’t commonly take the form of, say, graphic fantasies. For me (and, I think, for others, but who knows), this form of sexual attraction is a lot closer to aesthetic attraction, the sexual element comes in with what I described above as ‘potential for sexual responsiveness’. I don’t know how to describe that in other words, but it’s a small, internal feeling. I’ve described it before as when you open a door onto a room in total darkness, the feeling you get which tells you that there’s open space in front of you.)

So that’s the post on sexual attraction(/s) that I’ve felt almost duty-bound to write for quite a while. Shortly before starting this post, I described it as a ‘This is what sexual attraction feels like, guys. loljks, I actually still have no idea’ post. Because the question itself, I believe, is fundamentally unanswerable.

 

Irritating, isn’t it?

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