Wednesday, July 21, 2010

None of the above

I haven't been writing much lately... But I made an asexual T-shirt! :-)
What it represents to me is something like asexual, agender, aromantic, queerdom outside the models...
Printed front and back.
Here it is!

make custom gifts at Zazzle

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Implied gender, and why I’m not “bisexual”

(Some more attempts at trying to explain myself to the heteronormative world...)

"Heterosexual", "homosexual", "bisexual" - what are the implications of using one of those labels about oneself? What are the underlying assumptions of the system wherein these labels exist? Describing yourself with one of those labels essentially says: "There are two (biological) sexes in the world: male and female. Males have penises, women have vaginas and breasts. Every person belongs to either one or the other sex, based on their chromosomes. Every person is sexually attracted to a whole class of other people based on whether their biological sex is male or female. Most people are attracted to people of the opposite sex to their own (heterosexual), some people are attracted to people of the same sex as their own (homosexual), and some people are attracted to people of the same sex as well as people of the opposite sex (bisexual). The nature of this attraction is that some level of interest exists in wanting to do sexual things with the other people."
THAT is the subtext that I'm finding so difficult to relate to. And is the reason why I don't feel "bisexual" really fits me.
Although I am biologically female, the whole idea of dividing people up as attractive and not attractive based on whether they have XX chromosomes like me, or XY chromosomes, makes no sense to me at all. To illustrate, imagine that you live in a world where it is terribly significant what color your eyes are. Let's say your eyes are blue. Let's say that since you were a little child, everyone has subtly and overtly let you know that you are expected to be attracted to people whose eyes are brown. Then you would be hetero-ocular. You start to make a big deal out of that and you enhance and give more meaning to your experience every time you find you like someone whose eyes are brown, and you downplay your experience every time you find you like someone whose eyes are blue. Because if you liked someone whose eyes are blue, you would be homo-ocular. Until one day you realize: "What's all this eye-color crap? I like a lot of people, and I so don't care what their eye color is!" And when you declare that, people tell you: "Oh, so you are bi-ocular then!" But calling yourself bi-ocular is meaningless to you because eye color simply has no relevance to you. Truly bi-ocular people are attracted to people BASED around their eye color in relation to their own eye color, and are able to find blue as well as brown equally attractive, each for their own reasons. Whereas to you, eye color is not something you pay much attention to.
The nature of the attraction is supposed to be an interest in doing sexual things. I've been with this question a lot, what is the attraction that I experience towards people. Trying to understand what is sexual attraction. Growing up and I think through most of my twenties, I implicitly believed that I was sexually attracted to EVERYBODY. I experience this potential for enjoyable touch with, basically, everybody that I spend even a little time with, and with all of my friends. Physical expression of affection is very important to me and my whole life I have experienced frustration about social norms allowing what seems to me to be only a very limited display of affection between people who are "just friends". Yet at the same time, I would never fantasize about actually having sex with someone. When I am really attracted to someone (in my own way), I want to gaze in their eyes, I want to touch them in a most tender and loving way, hold them, kiss them and caress them, I want to talk with them and share truth and authenticity. I want to be comforting and comforted, nurturing and nurtured. When I feel longing for them, I feel it in my chest rather than my genitals. While I feel open to being sexual, it is something I enjoy vicariously rather than for its own sake, and it is not something I have ever felt like I missed, or needed, from anybody. The expression "going all the way" makes no sense to me, because it does not feel like I'm going down any way that has any end-point. I don't understand from inner experience, why relationships in which genitals are touched, deserve a special name and status and are elevated above relationships in which genitals are not touched, as if those other relationships were somehow second-class and less real, or less loving. I do feel like I have a powerful intimacy drive, and yet sex is not my favorite expression of intimacy.
While I don't feel that "bisexual" describes me very well, and I would feel it would be deceptive to use this word about myself, perhaps I could say that I'm "homo-genderal" - attracted to people of the same gender, that is, a gender somewhere close to neutral, neither male nor female. Regardless of whether they are biologically male- or female-sexed. And what that attraction feels like, is that I want to be around them, touch them, be affectionate with them, relate to them, care about them - I dig them, I feel comfortable with them and at ease. I feel like I belong.
Basically, sex = your genes, xx, or xy, and your physical male or female characteristics. Gender = your subjective feeling of maleness or femaleness. For most people, the two seem to be so welded together that there is never a reason to make any distinction. You are born with a penis, and you feel male, and you are attracted to women. End of story, you never question it. However, some people feel strongly about their gender being other than their sex - and this identity seems to be something they know even as small children, before they ever enter puberty and become sexually attracted. For example, a biological female may feel that their gender is strongly male, and may have a sex change operation to become male. Irrespective of this, they could be sexually attracted to either men (androsexual) or women (gynosexual), regardless of their own gender identification. (The point: it's not being attracted to women that defines your subjective gender-maleness, being attracted to women only defines your sexual orientation. Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, get to be three different unrelated things in this model - whereas for most people they are one thing (the inadequate hetero- homo- bi- model).) Some transgender people feel alternately male or female, or both at the same time, throughout their lives. While some people (like myself) never quite grasp the idea of belonging to a gender, and feel that trying to be either male, female, or both, is a misrepresentation of how they feel. Okay, imagine this. It's like you're born and you're given one of two choices, to be either a republican or a democrat. While you often vote democrat and are in general aligned in superficial appearance and behavior with many democrats, you still feel no affiliation with the democratic party, and don't feel comfortable being labeled a democrat. That's kind of how I feel about being labeled female. I don't feel either like that, or like the other option.
The traditional labels of hetero, homo, and bi, are based on the assumption that THE defining thing in my attraction to people is the relationship of my biological sex to their biological sex (different, the same, or both different and the same). Whereas their biological sex to me is as irrelevant as the color of their eyes. The defining thing in my attraction to people is a sense of emotional and spiritual resonance, a similar degree of self-awareness and willingness to trust and self-disclose. Physical appearance plays a role to the degree that a person is more attractive to me if they are well-groomed and healthy and looking content and comfortable in their body. Also, a strongly feminized or strongly masculinized physical appearance may put me off, for no other reason than that I feel I am being perceived by them inside of that same binary, and that I would have to play a very traditional female role with them, which does not come naturally to me.
Another way to look at it is to see people as colors. Imagine a color wheel. In a color, you can measure not only its hue, but also its brightness and saturation. It’s as if the traditional model divides people by whether they are blue or pink (bio males or bio females), and considers that to be the most important factor.

They will say that heterosexuals are people who look for contrasting hues, homosexuals look for non-contrasting hues, and bisexuals look for both contrasting and non-contrasting hues. In any event, it's about hues. Whereas I perhaps perceive and parse the color spectrum along a different axis altogether. Maybe what is of primary significance to me as a color is not my hue, but my saturation. I’m attracted to other people who are unsaturated colors.

The fact that this happens to overlap with both contrasting and non-contrasting hues, is beside the point for me. I perceive people who are strongly based in a gendered identity, as more saturated, and less interesting. Maybe I also see more hues than just pink and blue.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What DO you mean by sex?

And finally, we get to the actual title of this blog: What DO you mean by 'sex'? I’ve found myself slightly irritated and offended when I hear the word ‘intimacy' used as a synonym for ‘sex’. It sounds as though that negates and cheapens so many other things that are intimate, and very meaningful, to me. As if ‘sex’ were the pinnacle of human relationship. So, what is ‘sex’, actually?
As traditional mainstream thinking would have it, the most narrow definition of ‘sex’ would be 1) sticking a penis into a vagina. This, for some reason, is believed to be an act of great significance with long-ranging relational ramifications. It is the ultimate test of so-called fidelity in a relationship and sometimes used as a trump card (“Okay, so we may have done A and B and C, but we never ‘had sex’”. Voila.) The narrow definition can then sometimes be expanded to 2) sticking penises into other human orifices and/or penetrating vaginas with other objects (in a non-medical context) - still the focus is on penetration and penis/vagina. All of this can still land you in jail if done without consensus. A definition broader than this would then be 3) rubbing naked genitals in some way, genitals including vulva, penis, anus, testicles, I suppose, the infamous “Down There” region (somehow this brings up images of “He Who Shall Not Be Named”). There’s something about this obsession with genitals, I don’t know. I’ve sometimes described myself as “lacking a genital fetish”, as opposed to most of the population. But even if I expand the definition further and say oh, you know, touching other naked parts of the body, or French kissing, that’s also a form of sex. And I could come up with a list of behaviors and actions which could be considered sexual. But for me, that just doesn’t cut it.
Sex, the way I relate to it, is so not about body parts. All of this can be done with me and I still don’t experience it as 'sexual’. I don’t begin to desire that genital involvement when ANY part of my body is touched, in any way, by anyone. Nor is it about physical arousal. I’ve found that I can be quite physically aroused (increased sensitivity through the body, alertness, wetness) as a symptom of feeling close and connected, and I’m still pretty indifferent to all the above concrete actions. I know even sexual men can become physically aroused simply through stimulation – without any desire to engage in the above acts. Nor is what I call sex about wanting orgasm. That is something that just doesn’t compute for my body, no matter how much sensual stimulation it experiences, there’s never this sense that there is too much tension and it needs to be released. For other people, those who masturbate and consider themselves asexual, masturbation is not seen as an inherently sexual act only because it involves the genitals. It is seen simply as a function of the body, an itch that needs scratching.
When a person loses their head over me or gets all passionately hotly sexual over my body, I don’t actually experience their desire as pleasant – I experience it as disconnecting. Like, they are having their own trip, but I’m not really involved, they are not really seeing me, they’re not really there with me. I’ve heard of mutual masturbation, and that's kind of what regular sex seems like: a solitary experience in the company of another body. It can be interesting to watch, as long as I’m not required to be turned on by it. I don’t really desire to stimulate anyone in a way that makes them need to orgasm. Feels kind of distasteful, like I’m using them, manipulating them. Like I have power over them. And it feels slightly repugnant to me to be invited to use that power imbalance to make their body do tricks.
So, in my world, it’s not about climax, it’s not about physical arousal, it’s not about body parts – and yet there is still something that I experience that I will dare to call sexual. That I will be able to relate to myself next time someone says that humans are inherently sexual beings. Rather than deny that statement, I will simply take the liberty of defining how I experience my sexuality, and what that word means to me.


So, since I wrote the above about a month or two ago, I’ve been reframing the idea of sexuality for myself, away from genitally-oriented pleasure and release, the cultural default, and expanding the concept to an exchange of energies, a play and turning of yin and yang, a dance of delight in each other’s existence, going nowhere and serving no purpose other than being present with each other and feeling each other’s most intimate direct physical expression in a given moment, and responding to it in a cooperative way. Now I’m sure many sexuals can read that and say, yes, that's all part of good sex, of course it’s not just about genital pleasure and release, that’s way too crude. But from what I understand, apparently for most people, sexuality as they first begin to experience it in their youth, manifests itself through these genital drives, the need to “get off”, and the overwhelming desire to be sexual with particular people who they find “hot” and who cause them to have some kind of mysterious reaction in their pants. As they age and mature, they (sometimes) learn more about sex as an expression of love and sensitivity to their partner, and don’t necessarily just go for the release – although it still seems to be the norm to think that genitals must be involved or it’s just not sexual (as, I assume, in Lori Brotto’s recent survey). With me, I never followed that pattern, and so I thought something was malfunctioning and that I could ultimately not claim sexuality as part of my humanness.
I never experienced primary sexual attraction, any sex in the past was always mostly emotional for me, mostly trying to be an expression of love, the physical part was incidental, and seemed formulaic and stilted that genital stimulation would always be considered the culmination of intimacy and love. I now get the exchange and blending of energy part – it’s a very physical experience – and yet even when feeling arousal in my body, it’s still not about sticking body parts in each other and getting off. I still don’t relate to the “release” part – I’m just enjoying feeling myself with the other person, but not needing it to go anywhere, not even needing to get naked necessarily. There’s an intensified, energized feeling and a joy of communion and directness of contact and openness to each other. Which doesn’t need to reach any culmination and resolution, as far as I’m concerned. It can just continue. There’s a prevalent belief it seems that when one experiences arousal, this is always something that needs to be “taken care of”, through sex or masturbation. Not true. Not for me. I enjoy experiencing a sense of heightened arousal in the body all for its own sake. It has never occurred to me that I should mess with the genitals in order to get rid of it.
Or another experience. The first one in a series, since then. I had this meeting with someone I trust deeply. We had both agreed that we would meet and speak from complete honesty and transparency and truth, holding nothing back. I found myself so excited going to meet them, I was thinking – “this is an invitation to sex – this is sex – this is better than sex”. It was. :) To be able to be completely, completely open and available with another human being, to be entirely present with our whole minds, emotions, and bodies, to each other as we are. No barriers. Speaking from immediacy of direct experience. Then just looking in each other’s eyes. Touching not even needed. Feeling totally united and complete. Touching only becomes needed when the feeling that we are apart, and need to connect, returns.
Now I’m letting myself tentatively propose that the difference between "normal" sexuality and my sexuality is this: "normal" sexuality is driven by urges, desires to mate with specific people based on their physical attractiveness and sometimes also emotional closeness. As a person ages and gains experience, these desires can become more refined with expressions of love and less urgency to simply mate for mating sake. Many people have said to me, "I can no longer just have sex, now I only respond to making love." The same people have also expressed to me that they feel different from the average because of this. (Correct me, sexual people, if you feel this is a misrepresentation.) That is, the sexual act is viewed as having gained a spiritual significance for them.
Whereas in my world, there is no "sexual act" per se, because all authentic and deep relating with another person is viewed as equally (a)sexual, just varied in intensity: all are an opportunity to bare ourselves to each other and embrace one another, in whatever form that takes. The fact that sometimes this involves physical nakedness and arousal and touching genitals, is circumstantial.
I'm saying that maybe my sexuality has just always been more subtle than is the cultural norm. And as I say this, I mentally contract and brace, ready to be clobbered by society saying “what, you want to be better than everyone else, how dare you?” There’s this need in our conditioning, whenever something is different than the default, to immediately see it as either “devil” or “angel”, so if I assert a different sexuality, I know that many people, even well-meaning ones, will instantly go to explaining it as either “repressed, immature, undeveloped, pre-orgasmic, unwilling to let go” or “beyond the desires of the flesh, better, more evolved”. So, I consciously step out of that paradigm of linear progression towards a superior version of human, and simply say, I am a natural variation in a mosaic of possible expressions. I claim the right to be as I am.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Word games - sexual attraction again

I'm gonna do a really quick side post here because I'm in the middle of writing a longer post on "what is sex, anyway", and it doesn't look like it's gonna be finished any time soon. So this post is just to express some of my frustration and to demonstrate the circular nature of the concepts we use and the seeming impossibility to break into that self-contained universe unless you already know what it's talking about.

One concept that I would really like defined, is the ever elusive sexual attraction. I mean, what literally, concretely, specifically happens in the experience of people, in their bodies, in their emotions, in their perceptions, that they then go and label that "sexual attraction". It's an open question to anyone who wants to answer it.

Here are the results of my wild goose chase around dictionaries:
sexual attraction: attractiveness on the basis of sexual desire
sexual desire: a desire for sexual intimacy
sexual intimacy: (no definition)
sexual: of or relating to or characterized by sexuality
sexuality: sex
sex: sexual activity
sexual activity: activities associated with sexual intercourse
sexual intercourse: the act of sexual procreation between a man and a woman; the man's penis is inserted into the woman's vagina and excited until orgasm and ejaculation occur

Well there we go. Apparently sexual attraction is all about desiring to insert penises into vaginas and exciting them until ejaculation occurs.

I have a sense that even some sexuals would find that definition too narrow and limiting.

Does anyone else get a feeling that there is a LOT of vagueness and indirectness here? Like every time you ask, you get sent to someone else (or some other dictionary entry) that might answer your question. These terms are either not well and clearly defined and explained, or I don't inhabit the same experiential universe as the dictionary-makers.

Imagine that you come from Alfa Centauri and you know nothing about "wug" (stand-in for "sex" here). Now go and read articles attempting to define "sexual attraction/desire" and replace "sex" with the word "wug" and see how self-referential they are and how they don't really explain anything in a helpful way. It's all about the externals of the experience - what influences it, what different kinds there are, what disciplines have studied it, what it has been called and how it has been classified, where and in which species it exists, what are some other words to call it, what can adversely affect it - but really NOTHING about IT, from the inside, how IT feels! As if we all know what we are talking about.