Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Boston Marriages, Part the First

(Boston Marriages: Romantic but Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians, book, edited by Esther D. Rothblum & Kathleen A. Brehony, 1993

I'm only a third of the way through this book. And it is very interesting. I don't mean 'interesting' as in 'a euphemism for freaky and weird'. I mean it as in 'I kind of want to quote 90% of it to you'. But I won't. You'll have to schlep to the library for yourself.

As you can probably imagine, I was psyched as a kid on half-day to read a book with the word ASEXUAL in the (sub)title. Then, to my woe, the term was constantly misused throughout the book. What sounded like a study on asexuals in lesbian relationships was actually about sexual lesbians who happen to not be having sex. This sounds like word soup, and it's true that these two kinds of relationships might look exactly the same from an outside perspective. But the differences between people with no sex drive and people with a sex drive that they're just not using in their primary relationship are potentially immense. Take, for example, the editor's 7-point checklist for components of a Boston Marriage. (The term Boston Marriage originates from Henry James' novel The Bostonians, in which a number of female characters shared romantic but nonsexual friendships.) Points 2 and 7 in this checklist make it hard for asexuals to relate to the editors' conceptions of a Boston Marriage. 2) states:

One or both of the members are still sexually attracted to the other. In this regard, at least for one of the partners, the Boston Marriage is different from a friendship.

Why a completely asexual relationship could also be different from a friendship is probably enough to write another post on. And point 7:

The two members of the Boston Marriage usually have little or no direct communication about the lack of sexual activity in their relationship and the nature of their relationship.

Is it me, or does this sound just awful? I would hope that two asexuals would be able to talk about the relationship. That should, ideally, be one of the benefits of having a partner who has the same sexual orientation as you do. There were even more cringe-worthy moments in the book when the term "asexuality" (being without sexual attraction) was used instead of the correct term for what was being discussed: "celibacy". Celibacy is a matter of choice, whereas most asexuals will tell you that they were born this way. Mis-use of the term "asexual" takes the wind from the sails of those who would use "asexual" as the descriptor of their sexual orientation.

However, I will freely admit that having a scholarly little book confuse asexuality and celibacy is among the least of our problems. Still, people need to know this stuff.

But, since Boston Marriages is a compilation of articles and interviews by various authors, attitudes on sexuality (and lack thereof) vary widely. I did find some parallels to the asexual (as I use the term) experience. For example, here is a quote from the book which is a quote (round and round we go) from another book by Sarah Hoagland. I hope she won't mind if I substitute the word "lesbian" with "asexual"...

We need new language and new meaning to develop our [asexual] desire, especially as we explore and develop what draws us...and this is an interactive, not an introspective, matter. We need a lot more discussion and exploration among develop the meaning of [asexual] desire, and to heal our fragmentation.

Intriguing, no? I think I'll leave off here. I won't be posting tomorrow-- it's my birthday-- and believe me, the best gift you can give this soon-to-be-23-year-old blogger is comments :-) This is an interactive matter, remember? But I know you're all holding your breath to find out more about Boston Marriages, so I will be back soon...


DJ Danjerous said...

To be fair, that book was written well before the modern definition of asexuality existed. I remember finding and reading it before starting AVEN- not quite what I was hoping for, but it touched on the power and complexity of nonsexual relationships (and the lack of language out there to talk about them.) I've been in radio interviews with the author once or twice, she's very cool.

Heidi said...

Ah, the Boston Marriage. Sounds like a great idea to me, regardless of the definition complexity =) Happy day off tomorrow!