Saturday, December 20, 2008

Do as I say, not as I do

A little shout out: In Ace of Hearts, the Impossible K writes: "My boyfriend has a tendency to ask if I’m still feeling asexual, like it’s some sort of cold." This got me thinking about the communication issues that asexuality has with the wider world. I realized, through K's experience compounded with my own, that it isn't at all obvious that asexuality is a sexual orientation. It's taken me awhile to figure out that just because I know something, that doesn't mean it's obvious to everyone else. This subject is no exception. An orientation is more than just a transitory feeling, and it's more than who you have sex with. It's an identity. It has weight. While sexuality is fluid, it's fairly rare for people to change their orientations. When people come out as queer in later life, it usually seems to be with the realization that they were queer all along. However, you will constantly find AVEN members in various states of worry over the status of their orientation. They ask, "Can I still be asexual if I xyz?" This is by no means an attempt to put K on the spot, because there are definitely at least 5 posts a week of this nature on AVEN. This is something I'm sure every ace has wondered at some time or another. "xyz" can be having a crush, being attracted to someone, being in love with someone, reading or writing erotica, looking at some sort of semi-pornographic anime that I'm not familiar with, having sex, being aroused, and so on ad infinitum.

In Looking Both Ways, a book about bisexuality, Jennifer Baumgardner mentions a study that found "...91 percent of lesbians who had been out for twenty years or more had been involved sexually with men during that time" (196). So almost all long-time lesbians have had sex with men, but an asexual can't read erotica? I'm tempted to advocate a change to asexuality's "official" definition: "An orientation in which a person does not experience sexual attraction". Would that clear up any of our confusion?

The unsure erotica-reading ace brings up some other issues, of course. The first is that, with some exceptions, no one is telling you that you're asexual. If a woman dates women, people will think she's a lesbian. But what can you possibly do to get people to think you're asexual? It's the old coming out and staying out problem, but it's also the fact that asexuality is primarily a self-constructed identity, and that makes it fragile. There are no social forces pressuring you to be (in the case of straight) or stay (in the case of gay) asexual.

The other issue is that in the confusion of people asking "I do xyz, am I still asexual?", I usually see an underlying idea that they kind of wish xyz made them sexual, that they don't really want to be asexual. When I first discovered the magical world of asexuality, I didn't want to be it either. But various involvements-- in AVEN, this blog, and meetups, made me more comfortable identifying as asexual. Now, I can't imagine being anything else. The advantages to being asexual-- honesty with youself, an accepting community, lack of pressure to be sexy-- are not as obvious as the percieved disadvantages. When I first discovered asexuality, the disadvantages hit me hard, as they might for many others. It was only later that I began to see the advantages. I think the advantages to our orientation is something we need to be more upfront and vocal about. Of course, we're not superior to anyone else, but we do have much to offer.


pretzelboy said...

For me, the motivations behind my own "I do xyz. Can I be asexual?" weren't that I really didn't want to be asexual. I did want to be asexual--or rather, I just wanted to be [i]something[/i]. I had recieved the messages for so long that people like me do not exist, and I desparately wanted to find others who were "like me." In asexuality I thought that perhaps I had, but I was afraid that if I wasn't asexual, my attempts to find people "like me" might just have been doomed.

In reading "Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction" there are two main things that are seen. There is the definition, which someone might fit, but there is also the word, which has an obvious derivation of "not sexual." Someone who does xyz but doesn't feel sexual attraction may feel that can't be asexual because they don't see themself as "not sexual." At least, this is what I guess motivates some people who ask these sorts of questions.

Ily said...

Thanks for sharing your experience-- I know what I mention doesn't apply to everyone. Nothing does, I guess. These are all just impressions that I get.
Can I ask why, if you wanted to be asexual, you questioned it? Maybe you did answer it already. It just seems like the desire to belong and the desire to have accuracy come from two very different parts of us. I'm pretty good at not being honest with myself, but I'm sure individual mileage varies.
I'm glad you found us!

pretzelboy said...

I think that it's kind of a difference between viewing things as an informed person and someone who knows nothing about the subject. If I come to some topic I know nothing about, I'm going to trust "experts" on that subject. On the other hand, if it is something I know a decent amount myself (or I know a decent amount about related topics), then I likely have an idea of the uncertainties, the controversies about the matter, and I feel more entitled to have my own opinion.

When I first approached asexuality, I assumed that there is this thing "asexuality": Some people are asexual, and some people aren't (and some people are probably in between.) This assumption is implicit in the question "Am I asexual?" Now that I know a lot more about the subject, I realize that things are a lot more fuzzy, and that in a sense asexuality is a thing that we in the asexual community are creating.

Having a lot more knowledge about asexuality, I feel like it is a matter of whether or not I want to call myself asexual. When I was new to asexuality, I felt like it was a matter of whether or not I was asexual. Does this sort of answer your question?

The Impossible K said...

Hey, thanks for the shout out! I kinda hesitated when I wrote that post because I could totally see someone relating that to the "Can I be asexual" threads that flood AVEN from time to time...
And like pretzelboy, I don't ask those questions secretly hoping I am sexual. It's just the way I work- I question everything. Ultimately, that makes me more confident in who I am, but the questioning process might suggest otherwise.
While I may do xyz, I have noticed that the way I approach it (or rather, allow it) is entirely different from my boyfriend's own experiences. When I discuss my own feelings and compare it to his, it's more evident that I still feel asexual. So while it may not be obvious to the outside world, I have my own reasons to identify.

Ily said...

Pretzel, yes, that does make sense to me. Thanks for responding, K. I think your comment relates to Pretzel's in that people who've identified as ace for a time will probably ask those sorts of questions for a different reason than people who are just discovering it. I'm aware of that distinction now.

Sea said...

When I was asking questions like that (asking only myself, though, since I was stubborn and wanted to figure it out alone), I wasn't secretly hoping I was sexual but secretly afraid that I was. I've always liked that in this way I was different from everyone I knew.

Also, I really just wanted to keep this word I'd made up for myself through biology class and the dictionary. If AVEN had convinced me that I didn't fit with its definition of asexual, I might have been upset because I felt like it was my word first, at the time. Haha.

Syd said...

I've found that people often don't think of asexuality as an orientation because they believe it's some kind of enhanced chastity (in the media, asexuals are often mentioned alongside celibates, not alongside gay or bisexuals).
Also, when we are saying "I'm homoasexual/biasexual/heteroasexual", we are confusing people. We let them think asexuality is not an orientation since we already belong to one of the 3 'official' orientations.

Ily said...

Yeah, those affectional orientations can be confusing to people who aren't that familiar with asexuality. Not like you should adjust your habits based on other people, but it's something to keep in mind, I guess. I don't use one, but I seem to be in the minority on that.

Ily said...

Also, not wanting to be sexual, or being afriad of not fitting in with the AVEN definition, seems similar to being afriad of fitting in with it or being asexual, at least in my warped mind. There's a "If I'm ____, THEN what?" in both cases that can be quite frightening.