Friday, April 16, 2010

The Misanthrope

I went to see the play Vigil last weekend and was surprised to find that it had an asexual character. I can't say I was a huge fan of the production, but hey, at least it yielded a blog post. The character, Kemp, isn't hard to identify, since he's one of two characters and has 95% of the lines. He said something like this: "My mother wanted me to be a homosexual, but I don't have a sexuality." He went on to talk about how he found sex repulsive and how while sex distracted others, it had no such effect on him. Kemp related, in my mind, to a recent Shakesville post. The post in question asked: "What are your favorite characters from music, literature, movies, etc. who express a healthy (i.e. consensual) sexuality with which you identify? (Note from Liss: Or lack thereof. That is, if you're asexual, are there characters with whose asexuality you identify?)"

And it made me think...while I can identify a bunch of characters I think are asexual, can I really identify with any of them? Do any of them engage in a "healthy" asexuality? And by this I don't mean lacking in illness, disability, or emotional issues (Good God, no). I mean, do they act in ways that, in real life, would better their situations as asexuals? Usually, the answer seems to be no, if not hell nooo.

In Vigil, I could only guess that Kemp's asexuality was intended to spring from his general unlikeability. He's so rude and unpleasant that it isn't surprising to learn that he has no friends whatsoever. In short, he's a total misanthrope, as are many asexual characters. Part of Vigil, I think, was to break down Kemp's wall and show that he can share non-sexual intimacy with another person. However, this prevailing trope seems totally contrary to most (of course, not all) real asexuals' experiences. It seems like a lot of asexuals really want to be close to other people. What we lack is not the initial desire, like Kemp, but the means to connect in a culture that may not favor the kind of relationships we want to have.

So I was trying to answer the Shakesville question, but I couldn't. I guess I would say my favorite asexual character is Withnail (yeah, him again), but I couldn't say I closely relate to him, and he definitely isn't healthy, what with his constant drinking and drug use. But unlike Kemp, he does care a lot about his friend "I" from the start. And the story seems to be more about trying to keep a friend than learning to experience platonic bonds in the first place. But it was almost like Withnail and "I" were a couple, and Withnail wouldn't be able to function by himself. And a similar thing happened in Vigil. Sure, Kemp learned to love, but it was unclear what would happen to him after he lost the one person he ever connected to. It's like the story was trying to solve an nonromantic problem through the model of "the couple". If I mention "community" will you feel like you've been hit over the head?


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

Yeah, asexuality seems to be used mostly as a suggestion of a bigger personality flaw most of the time. Take Sheldon and Dexter, for example, their asexualities couldn't really be seen as positive things, especially when they're put into the real world.

Gerald from Shortland Street (is that plotline still going? Not checked for a long time) is a good example of positive asexuality. Yes, he's a bit whiney and idiotic, like most soap characters, but he's a genuinely positive person who carves out an asexy niche for himself. He's a real human who happens to be asexual.

Anonymous said...

Whew, I meant to post on this days ago.

That question was too hard for me to answer. I don't always participate in QoTD but this is one I wanted to. Unfortunately, I couldn't.

Name a character in the media who has vulvodynia and a healthy sexuality. Name someone in the media with vaginismus and a healthy sexuality.

The only ones I could think of were Charlotte from Sex and the City and Susanna Kaysen. I don't think that Charlotte's sexuality is unhealthy, but her vulvodynia happened in 1 episode and was never mentioned again. Susanna Kaysen is a real person so I don't feel comfortable using her as an example. Her expression of sexuality is closer to mine than Charlotte's though, since in her memoir, there's no real resolution.

But if you've got any ideas I'm all ears.

Ily said...

SM, yeah, I haven't watched the Shortland Street clips in so long...I believe Gerald and Morgan got married, but even that was awhile ago. I agree, he's probably the most realistic portrayal (and on a soap? sad!), although I can't say I relate to him at all, personally. Maybe I need a paisley tie?

K, I wish I knew. On the Shakesville post, someone couldn't even think of a bisexual character with a healthy sexuality. So for those of us whose experiences of sexuality are even lesser's pretty quiet out there.