Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Letting Go, Again

"Like a self-help manual that's been written in Braille, it seems the more that we touch, the more we learn about our failings."
--The Lucksmiths, "Sunlight in a Jar"

Well, it's been a slow week for asexuality in pop culture. Shocking, no? But I've been thinking, again, about this "letting go"concept. Specifically, this: Are traditional relationship structures (think one partner, a few good friends, a bunch of acquaintances, and selected family members) another thing we'll have to let go of in order to lead happy Ace lives? And furthermore, how can we let go when we don't know what to grab as an alternative? I compare the situation to people that tell me, "Hey, it's great that you're vegetarian, but I just don't know what I'd eat!"
Those people don't know that there is a whole wonderful and strange world of non-meat options. And maybe there is a comparable world of non-traditional relationship options. I just haven't found enough yet, to, well, eat.

However, many people have ideas as to what these A-friendly relationship structures could look like. (Picture me pausing at the top of the tofu aisle, with a mixture of fear and wonderment on my face.) Considering the fact that sexual people are 99% of the population, I'm going to focus on relationships that asexual people could have with sexual people. I mean, traditional relationships would be easy if we could all find fellow Aces to have them with. But, sometimes this isn't possible. So, onward to two alternatives.

The AVEN wiki (find it on top of the main AVEN page) discusses a concept called Community-Based Intimacy. Would it be too intimate for me to call it CBI? Anyway, CBI is described as
a "constantly changing network of relationships as [one's] primary means of finding emotional fulfillment..." Believe it or not, this here old sailor is also an old hand at CBI. At the time, it didn't have that name, but looking back, CBI was definitely what I was doing. But it didn't work for me. At all. And it ended up being very sad. Buy me a whiskey and I'll tell you about it sometime. It might work for other people whose emotional needs and habits are different from mine. But I'll have to scratch CBI off my shopping list.

Then there's polyamory. It can be a thorny beast of a concept. But simply put, it is the act of having more than one primary partner. And, unlike your shady ex-boyfriend, everyone involved knows exactly what's going on. I won't admit to understanding it fully. Everyone has their final frontier in the world of sexuality; polyamory is mine. I respect people that are able to do it, but I have no idea how I could. Some see poly life as a boon to asexuals; in a relationship of three people, say, two could have sex with one another, and the Ace in the group wouldn't be pressured for sex. But how could I live in this arrangement without feeling like the perpetual third wheel, the child, or the maid? I am, after all, a jealous person. Knowing this about myself, entering into a poly relationship would be like throwing gasoline on a burning tofu kabob. And no one wants to eat charred tofu. Things that I can see working rarely enough work-- what chance would I have with something I could never see working? Okay, scratch scratch for polyamory too.

There you have it-- two ways that Aces could get down with sexual folks. If you know any more, please, toss them my way. I'd like to consider myself a good test kitchen for the topic-- a sort of barometer for what average views might be. I'm not very radical about relationships, although I recognize the need to be. Like a heck of a lot of people, I've always had a shadowy idea that marriage and kids would occur at some point, but I'm seeing now that I might have to revise this plan. Just because I write about asexuality-- still an esoteric topic by most standards-- doesn't mean I've been able to let go of the "one special partner" ideal. I haven't seen a movie about CBI or polyamory yet. And it probably shows.

So this is the asexual challenge. To somehow find out what kinds of nonsexual relationships work. And I'm talking viable options that even I could love, not ones only for the relationship daredevils among us. This would be a significant contribution to our world, for the sexual and asexual alike. Kind of like Gardenburgers. "Hey, this is pretty good...for vegetarian."


Lia said...

Right now, I'm picturing you standing at the top of the tofu aisle, with a mixture of fear and wonderment on your face...it's a good picture :-)
To stay with the food metaphor, since it's working so well, it was tough at times coming out as a vegetarian, never going to a restaurant without wondering if there'll be something you can eat, the uncomfortable explanations, the fact your grandmother will never accept that there really are such people as vegetarians....
It seems like maybe you got through the hardest part, except what happens if you go the the supermarket, and it's really big, but YOU CAN'T FIND THE DAMN TOFU!!!
I'm not really trying to preach to the converted here, because I know that you, Ily, have done everything you can to bring together the asexual community in San Francisco, and I think that your efforts are showing some results. I'm actually hoping your other readers might hit that comment button and read this too...the only way to create and explore the new kinds of relationships that will work for the A-team is to get out there and FIND EACH OTHER!!! Even if it's hard, or expensive, even if you have to take the bus...it's that important. How empowering would it be if AVEN held a meeting sometime during the next year for all its California members? What would it feel like to walk into a room full of people who are ready and willing to accept you for who you are? I guess kind of like standing at the top of the tofu aisle...

Lia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ily said...

Hi! Thanks for the thoughtful comment!
You know, the tofu is usually near that salad in bags. Strange but true.
Except at Trader Joe's, where it seems to be near the hummus.
Anyway, I totally dig your points, but my point was: even in the years to come when we have huge asexual conventions and cruises and breakfast cereals and whatnot, we still can't live in a vacuum. In most cases, we wouldn't want to. A/A relationships and A/sexual relationships are two different animals, dontcha think? And it's the second type that I actually think is more important to discuss, since it covers so many more people.
What I'm also hoping is that it wouldn't just be A people who are willing to accept me/us for who we are. That's why our non-A allies are so important, and why we should all value them and give them free promotional gift bags.
I agree that having a "hello, my name is:" nametag-worthy event would be a great goal for us, but remember that I haven't even met my goal of 10 people in SF yet. It will happen, but I think it behooves us to explore other things in the meantime. Patience, my grasshopper! :-)

Lia said...

First, I have every expectation that asexuals can find acceptance from large segments of the non-asexual population. I think that's reasonable to expect, and that it will happen. That notwithstanding, I know we also agree about how good it will be to get the A-team members together in greater numbers. But- I think my comment above focused on developing the potential for A/A relationships because of some reactions I had but didn't say about the possibilities you described for A/sexual relationships. I see problems with those options, as you seem to also. First, for CBI, it describes a "constantly changing network of relationships" that would meet one's needs for emotional fulfillment. The trouble is, constantly changing relationships do not fulfill most people emotionally. I know that change is inevitable, but that being said, most people want some kind of stability in their close relationships. That's why so many of us spend so much time and energy looking for that one "significant other". And how would those constantly changing relationships provide the support one would need to raise children?
I also agree with you about the problems of polyamory. There is an issue of equality within the relationship that would be a problem for many, if not most, people. Also, jealousy can go in a lot of directions in a threesome.
I don't have any new suggestions, and I do think these are very important issues to think about. However, I also think there are important reasons, many of them having nothing to do with sex, why people look for that one special partner. Maybe you don't have to let go of everything just yet. Patience, my grasshopper....now
where do I pick up my gift bag? ;-)

Anonymous said...

To extend your vegetarian analogy, must it really be only a foray into the unknown recesses of the tofu aisle? What about taking a fresh look at some of the nuts and legumes and other protein-rich relationships you're already consuming? A lot of us might find fulfillment in existing relationships with friends and family, and don't see the absence of romantic partnerships (or the difficulties of forming them in the first place) as a lack. Sometimes I think people get so focused on finding that one "significant other" that they forget about all of the other others in their lives who are every bit as significant. Here's one recipe to try out: I was a bit nervous about being alone and disconnected from people after I graduated from college. So I moved back in with my parents and I've been commuting to grad school. Granted, this arrangement wouldn't work for everyone (suppose you have nut allergies), and there's a certain amount of social stigma attached (beans, beans, the musical fruit...), but look at what I have: a small network of intimate relationships that an asexual/nonromantic orientation doesn't complicate. Neat, huh?

Ily said...

You know, I really need to stop using metaphors. I think I'm starting to get lost. :-) But, I have a pretty good idea that I understand what you're saying, Anon. I know asexuals (and sexuals too) aren't all seeking romantic relationships-- just because some of us want one person to glom onto, doesn't mean everyone does. Even though living with family might be a misunderstood option, I think it can be a good one. Families can be great sources of social support, if, of course, you like yours.
But mm-hmm, seeing the same old things with new eyes is an important part of discovery too. Good points.