Sunday, September 9, 2007

Kissing Jessica Stein

(film, dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, 2002)

I don't hate this movie, as evidenced by the fact that last night was probably the third time I've seen it. It deals with how confusing sexuality can be, which is rare in films, but it does this with a hefty sense of humor. When talking about sexuality, a sense of humor is always essential.
For those that haven't had the pleasure, Jessica Stein is about Jessica Stein, a 28-year-old single, straight New Yorker who is having trouble finding a good man for her. She's an intellectual who loves Rilke, so when she sees a personals ad quoting the poet, she answers it on a whim, even though it's from a bisexual woman, Helen. Helen and Jessica begin a relationship, and things are going smashingly, except for the fact that Jessica is, well, not really into women sexually. This quote seems relevent:

Helen: I just find a lot of things sexy.
Jessica: Oh. I don't.

Not only is Jessica less than keen on ripping Helens's clothes off (as Helen states in the film), she also denies the nature of their relationship to the important people in her life. It was even more painful and awkward to watch this time around. Maybe because we're entering into-- dum dum dum dummm-- asexual reading between the lines land. Because a lot of us thought we were straight (or gay, or straight then gay, or straight then gay then bi, or any combination of these) for years, decades, or eons before realizing we were actually asexual, wanting to hold on for dear life to our last vestiges of straightness can seem all to familiar. And as bad as we feel for Helen when Jessica introduces her as "my friend from the gym", Jessica's fervent denial is all-to-common. How can it not be, when the society we live in is constantly trying to scare us straight?
Jessica also has an issue with being "too picky" when it comes to men, and "never thinking anyone's good enough for her". Now, not everyone who's picky is asexual, but I'm going to venture that most asexuals, at some time or another, have hidden behind the shield of "picky". It's an easy way to describe how you feel-- not being attracted to anyone-- without going into messy terms like "sex drive" or declaring that you actually have a different orientation. Or, other people might accuse us of being "picky" when we fail to acknowledge the hotness of that bartender or grocery bag boy. And because it makes equally no sense to say, "no, I'm not picky at all", what can we do but agree?
Proving the asexuality of fictional characters can be a circuitous route. But what's the harm in a little inference? I can't find any evidence in this film that Jessica isn't what some call a "romantic" asexual. It's important to remember that some asexuals do seek romantic relationships. And sometimes, we even wear dresses.

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