Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sympathy for the Hermits (Asexuality & "Being Asocial")

In my last post, I talked about this ad, which referred to "asexual, a-social, a-everything girls". The quote may have been from a Jack Kerouac book, but even so, it's a real stereotype that might gain prominence as asexuality gets better-known. Me, I would say that for an introvert, I'm quite social. Some asexuals really are asocial, and many are not. But to play both the devil's advocate and the asexual's advocate, it can be hard sometimes to maintain a thriving social life as an asexual, depending on your own personality and circumstances. Some stereotypes begin with a grain of truth. And I think this could be one of them, as small as the grain might be.

What do lots of people do for fun? Go to parties or bars. And what's the point? To have fun with friends, yeah, but also to meet potential sexual partners. After I realized I was asexual, I saw no point to drinking, which many view as an "enabler" of sexual activity. And drinking is a big part of social life in many places. Although I enjoy a beer or two, many asexuals are avid teetotalers. What is a major topic of conversation for lots of people? Sex, people that are "hot", crushes, dating, etc. I know some asexuals enjoy these conversations, but for others, it's awkward and hard to contribute. Especially if you're not comfortable telling others that you're asexual. Even if you are, maybe people make fun of you, or you get belittled for being "repressed". Depending on your age and social circle, you may be the only single person among your friends, stuck as a third wheel while people's interests have shifted from group activities to partnered ones. No, I'm not a hermit, but if you wanted to be one, I could understand.

So one reason for the stereotype is that a lot of people's social lives involve sexuality in some sense. That might be a "duh" to you, but it's something I'd never really thought about in these specific terms. I remember being told that it was normal to spend four or five nights a week with your romantic partner-- I was like, "lolwhut?" Even an ace-friendly columnist wondered why we'd seek out other asexuals to socialize with in meatspace. If you're not having sex, why bother leaving the house? (Well, eventually you'll run out of hummus, or ingredients to make hummus.)

In the end, what I find most offensive about the "asocial" stereotype is that it views an asexual mode of relating as inferior or unworthy of mention. It discounts the ingenuity that asexuals sometimes display in order to be social in a sexual world. It discounts the hard work that some of us exert to maintain relationships when our preferred modes of intimacy are little understood. It implies that if we are asocial, it's because we're asexual, not because we live in a culture where it's increasingly difficult to make meaningful personal connections. Or maybe we feel alienated from being constantly bombarded by messages about the importance of sex (and romance). And if we are asocial for a reason that has nothing to do with asexuality, the stereotype implies that such a thing can't be the case. It's insulting from every angle.

So what's the solution? To impress on people how fun we are, the lives of the party? To extol the great relationships we have, and how we're capable of dating and marriage? Since all of these sentences end with question marks, the answer is that I'm not so sure. No doubt, asexuals are no less fun than any other group. Our social lives can thrive as much as anyone's. But I don't want to be in denial about the fact that there can be real barriers to asexuals being social. It's good to show that anything is possible-- of course we can date, marry, have kids, have close friends, and be social butterflies. But we shouldn't ignore the factors that can make all those things hard to accomplish for many who want them.

[The painting above is by Roger Brown, originally seen at the Cantor museum at Stanford.]


Lanafactrix said...

I've gotta say, I hate it when couples start acting as if they're a unit. What, you've got a boyfriend so now you can't drink coffee?

nekobawt said...

sometimes i daydream about being the barrista/proprietrix of a coffee shop/tea house--called "the meet market," an ace-friendly hangout/"safe" spot where people can go and not expect to deal with the hassle of getting hit on. free wifi, several nooks for meetup groups, maybe a rotating display of local talents and/or merchants. maybe a biweekly open mic. maybe a wii.

maybe one day i'll actually do something with all these ideas i keep having. *grin*

Miss Paramecium said...

YES! This is it! I'm constantly seen as asocial because I'm nineteen, never had a boyfriend, never visit bars or clubs and still think that making out is really gross.
Nevermind that I'd talk for hours if you bring up books or movies or pretty much anything that isn't anyone's sexlife - noo, I'm asocial because I'm not seen at parties.
... okay, that was a rant...
By the way, I love your blog. I'm happy I found it - you're adding a whole new dimension to the world and I must say I feel much more comfortable there.

Sciatrix said...

Oh, YES SO MUCH on not forgetting that being ace and having a "normal life" with the kids and the friends and possibly the partner can be... way more difficult. (Well, kids on your own in general is difficult. And not all aces even fit into the "date, marry" paradigm, and when you take that out of the equation as well then it gets particularly tricky. But of the ones who do, you get into the "much harder to find someone to date in the first place" thing...)

People will do things to socialize like... my group of meatspace friends will do things like have girls' nights during which they specifically bond over which of the guys we know are hot and which aren't, that kind of thing. And of course I can't relate to that at all, and mostly I skip it entirely rather than feel awkward. Which is an entire avenue of socialization I can't really participate in.

I don't know what to do about the stereotype either, precisely. Except to do as you said--show diversity, say "some asexuals are very very social and some aren't and some really aren't" and point out that we're people, not a monolith.

Ily said...

@Lanafactrix: It's hard for me to see where the "unit" people are coming from, sometimes. I mean, if you're in a committed relationship, aren't you assuming that you'll be spending years and years together? So surely you can leave your partner alone for a few hours? Even people that I love very much, I'm not sure I'd want to spend 24/7 with.

@Nekobawt: That would be awesome, I've long wished that asexuals had some kind of meeting place in meatspace, like the equivalent of a gay bar.

@Miss Paramecium: Rants always welcome here. I'd like to think that after around age 21-22, people's views about you might start to change. I know that for me, after I graduated college no one cared if I went to parties or not.
...And thank you so much for your kind words!

@Sciatrix: Good example with the girls' nights...that does sound pretty awkward. My sorority had those, but I think we would just talk about whatever, not necessarily guys. Then again, I didn't know I was asexual back then. Yeah, I think stereotypes are one of those things it's hard to really "do anything" about. I just wouldn't want us to make a huge deal about how asexuals are NOT anti-social, and then make the people who aren't so social feel invisible.

Lia said...

I agree with all the comments so far. Wouldn't it be great to have an A-bar! I wish asexuals had more venues to meet one another and socialize comfortably. Unfortunately for those who want to socialize, though, there may be even more aces who are not comfortable socializing at all. I think one reason for this may be that the groundwork for being asocial is laid very early in the lives of many asexuals, probably before they even realize their sexual orientation. Being from an older generation, I can't be sure how early kids today start getting interested in sexuality, but certainly by 5th grade or early middle school? Around that time, a kid who may later realize he or she is asexual, can start to experience a lot of social discomfort. That's when the big topic, among girls for sure, is who's got a crush on whom, who's cute, starting to date, etc. By now the ace preteen is finding he or she has less to talk about. Girls might avoid the slumber parties where boys are the main topic, followed closely by clothes and how to attract boys. So I think many aces get to adulthood already hampered by years of social awkwardness before they even know they're asexual. I know gay and lesbian teens don't have an easy time either, but they often identify their sexual orientation earlier and also may be helped by increasing public awareness and acceptance, and the existence of groups they can join to support their sense of identity and self-esteem. Younger asexuals have to go it alone, and it seems sad that they may end up feeling more comfortable that way.

Minerva said...

This post is simply spot on. I found myself muttering "word" out loud frequently while reading it. I particularly enjoyed that you highlighted the very real "hard work" that often goes into maintaining relationships (whether friend, partner, or in-between) in the context of a social atmosphere where relational activities are routinely sexualized. I can't even count the number of times I've surprised friends while finally admitting how much thought and intent goes into my interactions with them. Thanks so much for this post!

Ily said...

@Lia, I think those are good points! There are lot of reasons why someone might be socially awkward, but being asexual as a young teen certainly doesn't help.

@Minerva, no, thank YOU! :-)