Sunday, June 22, 2008

Asexy Ambivalence

In my last post, I described a scene from a book where the author, upon realizing she was a lesbian, checked out everything she could on the subject from the library and read and read, surrounded with these books. Eventually she realized being a lesbian meant more than simply reading about it and went to the relevant group on her campus, whatever they may have called it back then.

Within asexuality, there is no analogue. There are no asexual groups on campus. There are no asexual bars in town. Before identifying as asexual, I was a confused single person with an atypical reason for not being able to get a date. Now I’m a less confused single person with basically the same problem—there’s no one that I’m interested in. I still have the same basic ideal for my life—get married, have kids, be a professor, do research and teach. Amongst asexuals, this makes me feel very traditional.

When I first identified as asexual, I felt that it was an incredibly important part of my life. I was an asexual person. Just as before I found AVEN, I continued to never hear anyone talking about asexuality, but felt as though I should. ASEXUALITY!!! How is it that there is so little information? Why has no one been interested in this until so recently!? Why doesn’t anyone care!?! Whatever I did, I felt strongly that I did it as an asexual. It was a fundamental part of who I was.

I came out to a friend living in a different state. She isn’t that close to me and I never see her anymore, so coming out to her on Skype was easy. Then I came out to my mom. That was hard. She took it well. The fact that my hope to get married and have kids still fits with societal expectations made it easier. As did the fact that she knows someone she has long believed to be asexual and has seen that he is able to be a loving husband. If I had been wanting a less heteronormative relationship, she would have been accepting, but I think she was a bit relieved to find out this wasn’t the case.

Since then, I’ve only come out to a few people. Telling my mom was awkward and I didn’t want to have to do it again, so instead of telling my older brother and sister (in-law), I dropped a bunch of large hints over a period of several months, and eventually they picked up on it. I’ve told a few other people since, generally only if it somehow seemed relevant to something we were talking about. Two of them already knew people who were asexual.

In the time since identifying as asexual, I have come to have come to feel deeply ambivalent about the matter. When I spend time with family or with friends or at church, if I think of my asexuality, it is often with a sense of its utter irrelevance. In the context of these relationships, all the sexual attraction I’m not feeling doesn’t matter. Life is important. Family and friendships are important. Being loved by God is important. All the sex I’m not interesting it having? Who cares? While pop culture strongly impresses on us sex-normative values, I mange to avoid much of this, and most of the people I spend time with typically don’t make me feel strange for my asexuality, whether they know about it or not. In grad school, it is assumed that people in our department come from a wide range of different cultural and religious backgrounds, so it is assumed that people have different beliefs and values so I can pass as not having sex for religious reasons. At church, our priest has fairly open views about human sexuality, but still, it’s church. It doesn’t tend to be a place where people make you feel strange for not having sex. And as for family, my mom is definitely not scandalized by my not having sex. She is, after all, my mom.

After the initial excitement had waned, the problem of asexuality’s negative definition has come to bother me more. People typically identify around things they are interested in—there are organizations for dancing or sports or music etc., but not many about not being interested in dancing, not liking sports, and being apathetic about music. As an identity, asexuality only makes sense in so far as it violates strong societal expectations—we are regularly reminded about how sexy we need to be. Regardless of coming from a more or a less traditional background, sex (at some point) is believed to be an essential part of the social relationship that is supposed to be our most important one (or ones, if that’s what you prefer.) Not being interested in sports is a legitimate option, but not being interested in sex? That’s just weird.

As a teenager, I had no interest in sports (I’m bad at them as I don’t have particularly good co-ordination, and watching them is just plain boring.) Cultural models tell us that guys are supposed to be interested in sports; and women typically less so, but these aren’t particularly strong cultural model and it has become normal for women to be interested in them (either as participants or spectators.) As a male, my disinterest may be somewhat unusual, but in high school I had at least one role model (a certain teacher) who functioned as a male uninterested in sports, so I felt a bit atypical, but still okay. But (male) role models of someone not interested in hot women? The only cultural models I received that allowed for this was being gay. But I wasn’t gay.

But suppose that I had such role models? Suppose that I had at least some information about asexuality, some indication that it was okay, that I wasn’t alone. I would have felt less isolated on account of it, and it is quite possible that it would have been much less important to me. I think I was 15 or 16 when I first started to realize how peculiar I was in terms of things I hadn’t felt—the first time I had a crush on a girl was in 6th grade, so at the time I had assumed this was the sort of thing that people were telling me I would start feeling at puberty. After all, I had been told that I would start liking girls (and I did—about four in six years), but they didn’t tell me how I would like them. I was 24 when I learned about asexuality. Without those eight or nine years of feeling different from the rest of humanity in a way I did not understand and could not explain but was constantly reminded of and the resultant feelings of confusion and isolation, would my asexuality have felt important to me? Would I feel any desire to connect with other asexuals? Or would it have simply been an unimportant fact about me, like my hair color or dislike of bologna?

At present, I feel a deep ambivalence about my own asexuality. I am very interested in the matter in a theoretical way. I strongly feel that increased visibility is important, creating materials to help nonasexuals understand asexuality is important, and there is a need to help those who are questioning or recently self-identified as asexuals to better understand their own (a)sexuality, have tools to think about their lives and understand the experiences of others, regardless of how they end up choosing to identify. In light of my own experience, this is something I want to help with. On the other hand, I have come to feel that when considering the things in life that are truly important, my asexuality is simply irrelevant. I am glad that I know about it; it has helped me understand myself, made me feel less confused, less isolated, and if I do form a romantic relationship, it will enable to me communicate things that need to be communicated. But in the larger scheme of things, who cares? There’s more to life than sex, and nobody is telling me otherwise.

3 comments:

Ily said...

Hey, could it be, another blog on an asexy theme? Yay! Can I link to you?
Maybe we need to frame asexuality in terms of what we do (find alternate ways to have meaningful relationships/lives without feeling forced to be sexual) rather than what we don't do. There are some groups that unite over what they don't do (vegetarians come to mind), but then again, vegetarians also do active things, like support animal rights or share recipes. I don't see why we couldn't as well.
As far as role models go, I agree. I hope that we can be role models for a younger generation; maybe they won't be as confused, and that would be a big success.

pretzelboy said...

It'd be great if you add a link to my page. As for re-framing asexuality in a non-negatively defined way, I imagine it is a problem that we will be wrestling with for a long time.

Ily said...

Done, and yes.