Saturday, February 28, 2009

Relationship 2.0

This is going to be about undesired sexual attention. In AVEN forums, I often see people complaining and freaking out about those sexuals who won’t leave them alone and just don’t get it. And what I hear in their frustration is asexuals wanting respect and wanting to be believed and acknowledged and seen for who they are, because there is (not surprisingly) probably still some insecurity and fear about asserting themselves as different, and the hope is that being believed and respected by other people would bring these asexuals the peace of mind and comfort in their own skin, that they need so much.

Fact is, if by a fluke of fate you find yourself asexual, it means you just set yourself up for MORE exploration of “relationship” rather than less. That’s right, you can’t sustainably use the “asexual” label as a way to avoid having to deal with people because you just can’t handle them. Because your label is going to be continually challenged and disbelieved and suspected. And unless you’re comfortable hiding out in your room forever playing video games and chatting online only with other people who are safe because they are “asexual”, you will have to continually question and carefully observe what is going on in the relationships that you enter into. One of the things that I liked most about AVEN when I first found it, is that you were being invited to not assume this as a monolithic identity, but rather to use the word to describe yourself for as long as it makes sense to.

So as with everything else, in order to assert yourself, it's best to come from a place where you are really, really comfortable with yourself. If you go out into the world saying to people "I've determined that I'm asexual and I never ever want to have sex ever, how gross" while you still have doubts and insecurities inside of yourself, and so you’re really invested in people believing your statement, because you think that will help you believe yourself – well you’re just not going to be convincing. People can always feel that you’re not sure of yourself, sometimes subconsciously, and they will respond to your insecurity with doubt and dismissal, sometimes also subconsciously (even if they verbally reassure you). So how do you become sure of yourself?

It’s paradoxical, but the more flexible you are and the more you allow for your identity to not be fixed, the more stable and unshakable you are. It’s scary because we are used to having firm and solid definitions of everything. And society’s rules are not made to accommodate a lot of “I don't know". Nevertheless. The ultimate tool you always have at your disposal is telling your own complete truth, and sometimes that truth is “I don’t know”, or “I don't relate to that question" or "I'm not sure what that word means" or "I don't remember ever feeling that way" or “I have mixed feelings about that”. Just be as truthful as you can – and speak from your own authority, from what you really, really know to be true for yourself. But the more you try to present yourself to people using external labels of identity, the easier it is for them to dispute that.

It’s like in literature, you have passive and active characterization. I can write a novel and say “John is outgoing, friendly and cooperative”, or I can narrate a story in which John does and says certain things that demonstrate his character. Which are you more likely to believe, the conclusions that I’ve made for you about John, or the conclusions that you’ve drawn yourself based on what you have seen about John?

I haven’t actually said to anyone “I’m asexual”. In some relationships, I’ve mentioned that asexuality is an orientation that I relate to and understand the most. Other times, that hasn’t even been necessary, I’ve just described how I feel about certain aspects of sexuality. And what I get back from friends is a lot of understanding and support and acceptance. I’m making sense to them, even if their experience is different.

Does everyone who is trying to romance you necessarily have to know that you identify as asexual? I don’t think so. There’s someone who is really, really in love with me right now, and since I’m living the crazy experiment of not knowing and not defining my relationships inside the friendship/romance dichotomy, so I’m living from a place where nothing HAS TO happen, I’m allowing myself to simply enjoy his company and enjoy as much physical affection from him as I like without having it have to mean anything. At the same time I’m also being super attentive to myself and clearly knowing what I do and don’t want, and communicating my boundaries. I’m allowing this powerful intense energy to flow towards me from him, while knowing where I stand, and allowing any response that arises in me, to happen. Even allowing for the possibility that if at any point the unlikely impulse comes to have sex with him, I will. Everything is so much easier when I no longer tell myself that I have to resist or fight anything, or on the other hand that I have to follow and fall in and reciprocate. Just doing what comes naturally. I’ve let go of a lot of guilt there. As long as I was telling myself that I should be a certain way, there was plenty of discomfort. Now I allow myself to feel anything that is felt in the moment, and it’s great to have that validation in real time from within my own body that no, I don’t actually want that.

You are strongest when you don’t have to convince anyone. When they tell you how much they want to be with you, can you, instead of wincing and trying to get away, just look them straight in the eye, feel what’s going on for you right then and there, and express it? I would personally find that much more believable than hearing “I’m asexual, leave me alone”. I think it’s a great challenge for asexuals to learn to absorb and deal with and become comfortable with direct sexual energy – and I see it as an inevitable part of maturation, to be willing to face that at some point. This guy who’s in love with me, I simply told him that I was very open to people, and that that didn’t mean I wanted a relationship - but that I knew this could be confusing. And he WAS confused, but he said that I was wonderfully strange. :) Well, I enjoy being strange. And if at any point he wants to ask more, I can explain more. But I don’t feel like I HAVE TO make him understand what I’m all about. And that’s freedom.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What would you ask an asexual?

I took this asexuality survey for the National University of Ireland. Their idea is to explore the experience of asexuality and sense of identity as an asexual, and I'm really glad that they provide space for essay-type answers rather than pigeonholing you into multiple choice. And happy that someone took this on, and would really like to see the results!

"How would you define your gender identity" is a relevant question, since I would expect many respondents not to have a strong gender sense. Some other questions seem largely irrelevant, like how does ethnicity or age or religion affect your asexuality. Age probably only has relevance in that people take you more seriously the older you are, but that goes for everything and not just asexuality. I'm curious about religion, as a disproportionate number of AVENites seem to be non-religious/atheist/agnostic. Pretzelboy is also making some guesses as to why so many don't have a religious affiliation. I guess the assumption many people on the outside make, is that being religious and believing you should not have sex much, makes people asexual... But in reality it seems rather the other way around. My completely unscientific 2 cents would be that a lot of religion is about instructions how to deal with sexual desires and channel them towards some spiritual ideal, doing right as opposed to wrong; and as asexuals are already living the experience of being outside of society's norm and not even having to control their sexual appetites, not fitting in and thus not having a strictly black-and-white view of the world, that kind of religion simply does not seem relevant, and has little appeal for them.

Some good questions in this survey were around relating to others, disclosing one's sexuality and how that has been accepted. How does asexuality fit into your self-concept. Other questions were decidedly too generic, like listing the good points and bad points of being asexual. And I would like to see more specific, juicier questions being researched, such as:

- When did you first realize you were asexual? Have you ever felt sexual? How did you discover this identity, and how did it feel? What did you identify as before?
- Do you ever fall in love? If you are attracted to people, do you have a gender preference?
- How do you feel about touching and sensuality? Hugging, kissing? How do you express affection and how do you view intimacy?
- What kind of close relationships would you ideally like to have in your life?
- Have you been in sexual relationships and how do you negotiate that? If you have had sex without actual desire for it, why did you do it?
- Do you want to have a family, children?
- Do you have a sex drive? Do you masturbate and how do you view masturbation? How about orgasm?
- Do you have a spirituality/religion and which? Does it bear any relation to your asexuality? How much does your (lack of) spirituality/religion define you?
- How was sex viewed in your family of origin, and do you think that has had any effect on your asexuality?
- When did you first realize that someone was sexually attracted to you, and how did you know? Are there particular areas of daily life that are confusing to you and that you would like more understanding around by people in general?

You know, lots of questions researchers could ask. Just imagine that your best friend comes out to you as asexual, what would you be curious about?

Update: Here Pretzelboy suggests some good Topics for future research in a more methodical way than me.

Recognize an asexual

I stumbled on these posts on AVEN here and here, talking about wearing a black ring on your right middle finger as a sign that you are asexual.

I like the idea of increasing visibility, especially among each other. I went and bought myself a nice-looking but inexpensive black band off of Ebay. And although I don't expect to be seeing large numbers of people sporting black ase-rings just yet, I want to support this as I'm hoping that the symbol will penetrate public awareness over the coming years and make it a little bit easier to exist as a legitimate minority. So this post is kind of an encouragement to spread awareness for all those who wish to pick it up. Wear a black ring on your right middle finger when you want to claim an asexual identity. Tell everyone who is interested in your ring, and let them know that this subculture exists. I'd complement this with the "ace of hearts" symbol where appropriate.

Hopeful vision of the future: guy tries to romance girl who seems to be playing hard to get. Guy checks her left ring finger. Nothing. Then guy checks her right middle finger. Guy sees black ring. Guy knows and understands that this means she is not interested in sex with him, thank you very much, and does not take it personally. People do not pressure you with questions and expectations about getting together with someone, or getting married, are not continuously suspicious of your permanently single status. The hope is that maybe one day asexuality would become at least as commonplace and accepted as being gay is today.