Sunday, February 1, 2009

Erasing Desire

"Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary's life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime."
--Angela Davis

Many thanks to Kim-- I was despairing of having something to post about tonight. Anyway, in a comment to my last post, she shared a link to this article about political lesbians, specifically a group called Revolutionary Feminists that formed in the UK in the '70s. These are women who are active feminists and may or may not have an attraction to women, but decide that they can get more done in their movement by eschewing men. While "men as the enemy" isn't something I agree with, there were parts of the piece I could definitely relate to. The author, Julie Bindel, writes about viewing traditional heterosexual life as a child and doing the whole "Is this all there is?" thing. Like me, Bindel started questioning social norms at a young age. Also, a lot of statements in the article had an asexual vibe. One critic says that political lesbianism is crazy because "it erased desire". And in their manifesto, "Love Your Enemy", the political lesbians in question wrote: "Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women." I can't help but think that such a group could have been a haven for feminist asexuals.

Surpassing the Love of Men
talks about lesbian feminists choosing their orientation. It was the first time I'd really heard this concept. I'd always been told "we were born this way!", but when I considered it further, certain aspects of choosing your orientation make sense. Most aces know that you can't really choose who you're sexually attracted to, because we've tried and failed to manufacture desire. But, you can choose who you hang out with, what activities you participate in, who you have relationships with, who you have sex with, and how you identify your sexuality. I think political asexuals are a definite posibility, although I'm not sure what their politics would be. I wonder how such people would coexist with "choiceless" asexuals like myself. The reaction of "choiceless" lesbians to political lesbians was definitely mixed-- many thought the idea of choosing your orientation set back their cause. While I don't think I chose my asexuality, I also think it encompasses more than just a lack of sexual desire. Even if I met someone whose clothes I wanted to rip off everyday*, I'd still want to identify as asexual. I just believe strongly in what we're trying to accomplish here. It's more than sex, or lack thereof.

*(And why, when talking to aces, is this situation usually called "When you find the right person?" It's very possible that any number of us would be sexually attracted to people who are total assholes. Don't plenty of folks want to have sex with people who are wrong for them? Whoever's spinning this "right person" stuff either can't separate sex and love, or is high on Windex and cheese puffs.)


Lanafactrix said...

Well, I personally would define "the right person" as "whoever lights your fire, regardless of assholitude." This might be TMI, but the first guy I slept with: definitely not a good prospect for a relationship (of any kind, really). But he was, at the time, the right person to have sex with. If you follow the logic?

Ily said...

I can follow that. I think when most people talk about "the right person" though, they're not only talking about the right person to have sex with at the time, but the right person to "spend the rest of your life with" as well. And to me, that doesn't make a lot of sense. I think you're right to separate the two things. One AVENite wisely said that "the right person" for an asexual probably has a sex drive just as absent as your own :-)

The Impossible K said...

Agreed... And I'm so glad you put this into perspective. I've had internal battles with the idea of feeling cognitive dissonance should the idea of sex ever become appealing to me... like, where would that leave me as an asexual? I'm right there with you though- no matter what, I am WAY too devoted to asexuality as a movement to ever want to give it up :)

Lanafactrix said...

should the idea of sex ever become appealing to me... like, where would that leave me as an asexual? I'm right there with you though- no matter what, I am WAY too devoted to asexuality as a movement to ever want to give it up :)

Every movement needs allies!

Kim said...

Always glad to be helpful!

What struck me in the article was the people who claimed that heterosexual feminists somehow betrayed the movement by choosing men over women, as though it was an either-or situation. But then, I've always been wary of people who claim that there is no middle ground.

There may be a relevance in the idea that asexuals can choose to have sex with sexual partners without betraying the axsexual movement. If I'm not mistaken, this has been an issue discussed on AVEN.

Ily said...

Huh, it's funny, I never thought of asexuals having sex with sexual partners being an issue in terms of asexuality as a movement. I think if people are just having sex out of social pressure, that's an issue, but otherwise? Nah. I also think it's hard to betray a movement in any way when its goals aren't well-defined. I can say what I think they are, but that doesn't mean a critical mass of people share them.

I also think it's funny how we (aces) all talk about this eventual possibility that we'll be interested in sex. I think it's awesome that we're so aware that sexuality is fluid, however, how common is it for someone's orientation to change? Once you figure out your "this is how I was all along", that is (for example, I thought I was straight, but now I realize I was ace all along). I don't think asexuality is any more mutable than any other orientation. Sure, it would be more interesting to have a variety of orientations over a lifetime. But I doubt it works that way.

The Impossible K said...

True... Good point, Ily. I think this concern has more to do with lack of education about asexuality- kind of like how many asexuals first question their identity in general, with all those "Am I asexual?" questions you find on the Welcome boards on AVEN.
I'm fairly convinced, for myself at least, that my asexuality is a constant. How I deal with it or use it to empower myself, however, may change.

Queers United said...

That's really cool, I didn't know about that group of rev lesbians. I just read an interesting article in the NYT about lesbian separatists. It is called "My Sisters Keeper"

Miriel said...

I also think it's funny how we (aces) all talk about this eventual possibility that we'll be interested in sex. I think it's awesome that we're so aware that sexuality is fluid, however, how common is it for someone's orientation to change?

I'm not very comfortable with this, myself. While yes, people can change, the large number of times this issue is raised, as it's something "legitimate" orientations don't deal with nearly so much. And I worry that all the "yes, I guess it could happen and my mind is open" statements are sometimes taken as a tacit admission that asexuality isn't a real sexual orientation. A part of me wishes that more asexuals would just put their foot down and just say "no, this is what I am, give it the same respect you would any other orientation."

Ily said...

Maybe part of that uncertainty comes from being the first generation of out asexuals. While there are some older people on AVEN, most are very young, and we don't have precedents for people who come out in their teens and 20s and then remain asexual throughout their lives. That precedent will end up being us. So I think it may change in the future, but we'll see...

Adair said...

My orientation changes. ^^

Then again, I'm 18, so maybe I'm just wrong, but I mainly struggle with not having the vocabulary to describe what I am, because the main characteristic of that is inconsistency.

I remember seven months when I was a lesbian. Usually those periods of intense sexuality don't last quite as long, but they do happen.

I'm usually very attracted to men, but I think that might be more of a heteroromantic thing--but it crosses back and forth along the very blurry border between sexual and non-sexual.

Sometimes I'm bi--at the same time.

Mostly I'm ace, because I doubt that I'm capable of having an enjoyable sexual relationship on anything but an incidental basis.

What I value most in the asexual movement is the acceptance of a vast range of variation in human sexuality, and its openness in discussing it (oh, alongside the positive messages about life and personal worth sans sex).

I too fear that one day I'll "change". Or, more, that I'll find out that I was wrong all along because of my inexperience, and go back to being a nice normative lesbian or something. That I just had to meet someone and do some activity that, right or not, turned me on to the degree that drives all of the sexuality in so evident in culture and in some of my friends and acquaintances.

But I don't want that to happen, because being gray is too important to me, and also because, well, I don't want that to happen--sexuality isn't my idea of happiness because I've almost never experienced it as such but have experienced sexual stuff in a lot of unpleasant ways (no rape or other true trauma, just unpleasant orgasms and bad physical intimacy and bad sex) that seem to dominate my experience just because that's the way I am.

I would much rather develop into someone with a non-sexual reason for living and sense of self-esteem and an alternate way to meet my emotional and social needs, and make lasting, productive, satisfying bonds with other humans.

Looking back, I guess my orientation hasn't ever changed in the dramatic sense we usually mean when we wonder about hypothetically, but it just has an enduring trait of eccentricity and variability. I feel like I can't call myself asexual partially because I've spent four years identifying as bi and fear the social repercussions of "changing my mind", partially because I know I'm not entirely averse to sex and that I am sometimes sexual enough that others could perceive my desire, so I fear the vicious gossip--"She says she's asexual but she's totally drooling over so-and-so. It's really pathetic, she and, like, three other girls in the class just grovel when he says something."--and also because my experiences and sexuality are different from most other asexuals, so I wouldn't feel "right" adopting the label even as I know it's very applicable on some levels.

Argh, I wish I fit into a box just so that I had a simple word to explain it that wouldn't make me worry about everyone else's preconceptions! But, hey, I dealt with semi-closeted terror of the social stigma on self-identified bisexuals (ESPECIALLY female ones who could be told they DIDN'T KNOW because of lack of experience), and I really should have learned something from all that.

(to be cont'd, if you don't mind, b/c I think it is at least somewhat in the spirit of this blog)

Adair said...


Be yourself? Be as honest as you possibly can be? Say what you believe even if you know your beliefs have changed and may change again? Explain why being bisexual and asexual isn't contradictory? (Actually, I think that's my hardest one here:

"Hey, I'm bi enough that I identify with that label and it's really useful sometimes. It's how I understood myself from the moment I read the word, and I still think it's applicable enough that I want to use it, but I'm also in the asexual camp, and right now that's the more important orientation identity to be "out" with. It suggests what I want and don't want at this point in my life, and it's tied to some great discourse on the complexity and variability of human sexuality, interpersonal relationships, and lifestyles. I'm still definitely in an experimental stage, poking and prodding my own sexuality, but I'm not actually an experimenter--I'm not motivated to seek out new sexual experiences for myself. I prefer to observe and examine my responses when they happen to me for other reasons, and I'd be perfectly happy if I didn't engage in any more sexual experiences in my life. See, that's part of the appeal of the asexual political message to me: Life can be good without sexuality. You don't have to want to be sexual. You don't have to do things that are sexual, and you don't have to have sexual relationships. To me, it's not a matter of whether or not I'm capable of enjoying them--it's just that I don't want to try at the moment. Maybe it's a little bit because I'm disillusioned from past experiences, but maybe instead of acting like that's a reason I should try to 'get past it' and be more sexual, you should consider that perhaps I'm disillusioned from sex for good reasons--that my chances of enjoying it are slim, and it's not worth the effort and the unpleasant memories. I want to think of myself as functionally asexual now, and take on the social challenges of asexuality, and see where that leads, and I don't see that as in any way contradictory with anything about me that is sexual, or with my old bisexual identity."

Huh, I didn't think I could say all that. Or even that it was there to say. Thank you for your wonderful comment boxes that allow me to grow personally through convoluted ramblings inspired by your posts!

I also reminded myself of the Kinsey "incidentally whatever-sexual" labels. So I guess I'm primarily asexual, incidentally sexual, bi, and not looking for a romantic relationship. Extant vocabulary doesn't fail me after all!

Hmm, but does it restrict me?... ;)

Ily said...

Adair-- I appreciate your musings, you bring up some very good points. Like, why is there this big stigma against "changing your mind"? Does it have anything to do with the fact that most of us start out thinking we're heterosexual? We can have 10,000 different combinations of coffee and yet if you go beyond gay, straight, or (sometimes) bi, people will give you a hard time. I think the "gray" you're talking about could be a state of mind. It seems like normative and radical viewpoints can be found in any sexuality (or lack thereof). I can also really relate to what you're saying about a lack of vocabulary. Although my sexuality isn't as fluid as yours, lacking the right words does trip me up in other areas of my life, like trying to describe my emotions when they're more complex than "happy", "sad", etc. The comment boxes are there for you, so feel free to write as much as you like when the spirit moves you :-)