Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What's stopping you?

I usually have a judgmental reaction when I hear quasi-scientific statements to the effect that “x characteristic evolved IN ORDER TO y”. It’s the same Creator-with-a-Purpose-in-Mind paradigm masquerading as a more impersonal Nature/Evolution-with-a-Purpose-in-Mind. Why doesn’t anyone expose that kind of thinking? It's ubiquitous in popular press and supposedly research-based literature. It’s people with a coat of science over a core of superstition.

But today, I’m going to allow myself just that kind of completely subjective, unscientific and unjustified speculation, which will not increase objective understanding of humanity one iota. It will be more like a rant that’s not rationally founded. (Although I wouldn’t object if anyone can point to scientific research connected with such questions! I’m just too lazy to spend time on research myself. It’s easier to shout out opinions from the bleachers.)

I’m speculating that the “purpose” of sexual attraction in the human species is so that individuals who find themselves in the inexplicable grip of this powerful drive are forced to get beyond the otherwise powerful fear we humans tend to have of the Other, and become physically close enough to perpetuate the species. This might also explain why society conditions us to believe that the most intimate relationships are necessarily our sexual relationships. That only this apparently immense force over which we have no control, can bring two people to get over themselves and allow themselves such intimacy and vulnerability. It’s like those episodes of Star Trek (yes I’m a geek) when the screenwriters wanted to allow their viewers to be voyeurs of a romance between two characters which would otherwise have been unacceptable: they seemed to always invoke some strange mysterious alien force that inhabited the body of this or that person and made them act in a romantic and sexual way towards another crew member, right? So that when it was all over and the alien force departed, we could rest assured, it’s still okay, the fabric of our inhibitions has remained intact, and it’s back to business as usual.

Well as far as I’m concerned, it’s the same thing with non-sexual intimacy. One would think that with our higher faculties we would no longer have to fall back on sexual reflexes if intimacy is what we want. But still we are programmed to believe that we can only be ultimately intimate and vulnerable and real with other people if we are simultaneously sexually attracted to them, and want to have sex with them. It’s as if wanting to be emotionally/physically intimate and completely open is something shameful, and we need a legitimate excuse (our alien force, or in this case sexual attraction) to enact it. As if to say, no, really, I would leave you alone if I had a choice you see, but this attraction thing is forcing me to want to be intimate with you, I’m terribly sorry. As if the only legitimate place in which complete intimacy was allowed, was if there is a sexual contract of couplehood in place; otherwise we have a different contract: to continue to play the game of being afraid of each other and hiding from each other to various degrees, because we are, after all, “just friends”. It’s then tricky and confusing to navigate those waters of expectations. I want more intimacy and at the same time I'm afraid to demolish implicit societal agreements. But it's happening anyway.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Recognizing lack of sexual attraction

I think people should talk more about sex. No, let me rephrase that to be more accurate. I’m disappointed that in my past, I did not initiate talking about sex more. So many assumptions would have revealed themselves so much sooner. Or would they? Maybe I just wasn’t ready for it.

When I first encountered the term ‘asexual’ and the asexual community online, I was averse to the idea of considering myself asexual. I was too much in the mindset that there was something wrong with "these people", that they were just immature; especially after reading some posts by teenagers who seemed to simply fear the powerful unknown sexual experience, fear growing up. At the time I was seriously considering if I should be calling myself bisexual. It was only months later that I came to AVEN again, having faced more of myself and dropped more preconceptions. And I could read it with new eyes, and laugh with the joy of recognizing my own experiences described, with the joy of not being alone.

One of the first things I noticed was the fact that asexuality was being defined by the absence of something that an asexual person would by definition not understand to begin with. “Asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.” That statement works for the sexual world, it means something to “normal” people. How about an internal definition? How does an asexual person experience themselves from within, without referencing something that is not part of their world in the first place? An asexual person who hears the official definition might not recognize themselves in it.

See, I had never even considered that I did not experience sexual attraction. Because it did not occur to me that I was any different from everybody around me who talked and acted as if we were all experiencing this same thing. I figured I must have it; I have attraction to people, it must be sexual. And I always felt awkward and insecure, because in reality I didn’t understand it, I didn’t get it. It was almost completely mystical to me. Sure, I was always able to recognize very obvious and overt sexual come-ons, but most my interactions were more subtle, and there was always a nagging question at the back of my mind, in all relationships, whether something sexual was happening or not. Always wondering – is this it? I like this person - does that mean that I want to date them? What was the magic formula by which people recognized this in each other? I kind of assumed that I must be sexually attracted to some degree to pretty much everyone I liked, and to all my friends. That any look, touch, gesture, expression, word indicating closeness, could be seen as leading someone on, could be somebody’s subtle hint or meaning something. I preferred to block this out of my awareness most of the time, because it was too much to handle. But overall, it affected me, I found myself alternating between being very open and very reserved – never knowing how friendly is too friendly. Mostly being more reserved than I would have wanted to be - just to be on the safe side.

Last year I had some pretty direct and graphic conversations about what “sexual attraction” actually meant to different people, and how they experienced it. And I’m told that it is CLEAR to them, that it hits them suddenly and unmistakably, that they have specific sexual fantasies about the person they are attracted to, that it’s this amazing and magical pull, and so on. I feel like I’m off the hook! When I allowed for the option that this sexual attraction business is just not something that I experience or should necessarily experience, it did wonders for my self-confidence and how I show up around people. I’ve felt so free since then, like a huge weight was lifted off my back, the weight of having to be so careful because you don't know how things work and human relations never quite make sense to you. I feel much more at ease now to look at people, touch them, be open with them - and I know that however they want to interpret it, is their own business. Because I know where I'm coming from, and I keep checking with myself. And since I've recognized my asexuality, I have experienced loads of attraction that I allow to come out as it happens, because it's just what it is, but having sex with someone or wanting to make them my significant other does not occur to me, and that’s perfectly acceptable. I can simply be who I am. There is no expectation. And if this amazing and magical pull does happen some day, I want to be able to allow it just the same.

So how would asexuality be described from the inside, so that an asexual person who does not know of asexuality, might recognize it when they read about it? So much of my self-description has been by negation lately; what can I say that I do want?

Update: Found this thread discussing Defining asexuality from an asexual perspective. Hope to get back to this!