Monday, December 29, 2008

Why I Can't (Online) Date

...And it might not be why you think.

So, Katie's A Year of Online Dating has gotten me thinking about-- you guessed it--online dating. Nearly every single person I know seems to do it, and I've tried it as well. While I know people who have met their current partners in the "real world", I can only think of one person (who I don't know very well) that casually dates different people in the "real world". Online dating is the rare topic that is both fun and somewhat profound. Since online dating, unlike "traditional" dating, is still at a point where it can change drastically, and since we love talking about new ways of doing these sorts of things in the ace community, it's definitely a relevant point of discussion.

I recently wrote an article for AVEN (I'll share it with you later) about how I used to blame unrelated things on my asexuality. And I realized that the reason why dating (especially online) is so difficult for me involves many other factors besides my rare orientation. So here they are: Some reasons why I have a bugger of a time doing online dating. I hope you'll find them amusing. I find it funny because I was told by my friends that because they thought I was a good writer, online dating would somehow be my "thing". Ahem, not really.
  1. I'm not photogenic. On a dating site, your photo is usually the first thing seen by the other person. But I haven't looked good in a photo since I was about six years old. One of my friends commented on a picture of me being "classic Ily", and my expression was "You're not seriously trying to take my picture, are you? Silly human." Usually, I just look stoned (I'm not).
  2. I can't sell myself. This is why I also have such a hard time getting a job. But I can't even describe myself in a way that makes sense. This is why my "About Me" section on my Facebook profile has been "I'm not an enigma, just a contradiction" since time immemorial. And I didn't even make it up, it's a quote from Croupier. I do agree with High Fidelity that "You are what you like, not what you're like" (read that statement carefully). But, just listing what I like might be a little too avante garde for most.
  3. I don't have a "scene" that is one of the "biggies" in San Francisco. A lot of people here can be categorized as geeks, hipsters, yuppies, people who go to Burning Man, etc. When you read someone's online dating profile, you're trying to figure out where they fit. But what if you, like me, don't fit into any certain group? I think that makes dating in general more difficult. If you asked me what my "type" was, I'd say "People with red hair who ride bikes in 3-piece suits". Yeah. Really not helpful.
(Also, check out Quench's awesomely accurate post on the trials of online dating while genderqueer. Online dating is supposed to give us more choices, but does having to select your gender and orientation from a drop-down box reinforce "the binary" more than traditional dating?)

So, a mere three things are big roadblocks for me in the online dating world. And is this where the future of dating is going? Don't get me wrong, I still like to meet people online, or wherever I may find them. But I doubt online dating is going to become "my thing" anytime least, beyond the theoretical.

So, have you noticed any other bugs in the online dating method?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Waiting to Be Unzipped

A while ago, randomly, I started thinking about this article, which was published on Salon ten (!) years ago. Entitled "Waiting to Be Unzipped", the piece was written by a 24-year-old heterosexual woman who also happened to be a virgin. I read this a while after it was published, but many years before finding AVEN. At the time, I'm pretty sure that 24, the age I am now, seemed fairly out of range. The author, then-grad student Mindy Hung, wrote "Those who react [with incredulity] forget that getting sex takes dedication, courage, interest and effort. It's not as if losing one's virginity is a common and unavoidable household accident. Penises do not fall from high shelves." I found I had remembered that line almost verbatim, years after last reading the article. Even though it didn't have to do with asexuality (directly), it really made me feel less alone at the time. So, I just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When Romantic Comedies Attack

From the blog Shapely Prose, I found out about a new study about romantic comedy films and relationships. (Read the article here.) The study, done at a university in Edinburgh (I love all things Scottish, which encouraged me to read on), found that fans of romantic comedies are more likely to have unrealistic expectations about relationships: That sex should always be perfect and that partners should be able to know what the other one is thinking. I guess this isn't very surprising, but I found it interesting because I do enjoy some romantic comedies. I find that we tend to enjoy parts of media that resonate with us, and ignore parts that conflict with our values. That's why we can listen to Ghostface rap about killing people (depending on our musical tastes, of course) and not be scarred for life. One of the films included in the study was While You Were Sleeping, which I remember as a favorite movie of mine as a child. I'm not sure why, as I was a very scientific and feminist child. But that just goes to show that romantic comedies have infiltrated most of our lives, regardless of our personalities and interests.

(On a side-note, the best comment on a movie I've ever read was "Black Lizard made me gay". This was an extremely bizarre old film about a murderous drag queen. I'd like to say, following this study, that While You Were Sleeping somehow made me asexual by hopelessly warping my ideals of sex and relationships, but this makes absolutely no sense. I think I do have a relatively healthy view of sex and relationships, despite all the movies I've seen.)

[This is where I'd usually include the poster from While You Were Sleeping, but it's just way too corny to bear repeating.]

I can't deny the fact that there are some really great romantic comedies: Kissing Jessica Stein (totally asexual), When Harry Met Sally (which I think is good mostly for the strength of its writing), and Moonstruck are a few that I can think of offhand. A movie like Muriel's Wedding, which might be billed as a rom-com, is actually about the importance of friendship. The writer of the aforementioned Shapely Prose entry makes a really interesting point about our relationship to media:

Because those of us for whom these unhealthy messages are going to resonate? We seek them out, because they represent existing beliefs and desires. Regardless of your opinions on nature and nurture, by the time we’re consciously consuming non-Teletubby media, young women are not empty vessels in danger of being filled with bad ideas. We already got the bad ideas, from the input we get every day, from years of media we might not even have paid attention to, from offhand comments that seemed innocent at the time.

I know you're not supposed to end a piece with a quote, so I'll remind any local folks (and interested others) that we have a meetup coming up on January 4th! 1PM at Crossroads Cafe.

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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Against Love

Yes, I was able to get a lot of reading done while I was in LA. I thought this book, Against Love: A Polemic, would be amusing to read along with Dancing in the Dark, which gets a little gooey at times. A "polemic" is basically a rant. This means that the author, Laura Kipnis, doesn't need to present evidence for her case, and doesn't feel obliged to follow much of a structure. This made it difficult to really get a handle on what she's trying to prove. However, it doesn't seem to be love that Kipnis is against, but marriage and monogamy. She seems to view adultery as a metaphor for revolution, which I remain skeptical about. If you're not into monogamy, wouldn't something like polyamory, or just staying single and having sex with whomever you wanted, be a better solution than adultery?

Anyway, there were two parts of the book I really liked. One was a long, very funny list of things you're not allowed to do when you're married, such as wearing cowboy hats and playing computer solitaire. The other was a comparison between our culture's capitalist work ethic and our relationship ethic. Kipnis talks about love as a social management tool: "If without love we're losers and our lives bereft, how susceptible we'll also be to any social program promoted in its name" (26). She quotes Marx to show the similarities between "working at relationships" when all the joy is gone from them, and working hard for little reward in corporate America. Maybe it's because I can't seem to talk about work without thinking to myself, "Oh God, I totally sound like Karl Marx right now", but I think there's some truth to this. (Perhaps it's also my love of comparing disparate concepts.) Our work life can't be separated from the rest of our lives, try as we might. And is capitalism really the greatest set-up for healthy relationships? Kipnis and I would say no. But what is? The problems presented in Against Love are obvious, but the solutions remain evasive.

Even I can relate to the interplay of unsatisfying work and unsatisfied desires. When I was 16, I worked a boring, thankless, minimum-wage job at a bookstore that was close to going out of business. I developed a not-too-small crush on a co-worker, a 20-year-old man we'll call Tony. I remember standing at the cash registers and watching Tony walk by. Suddenly, all was silent and I could only hear the beating of my heart. That sounds cheesy, but it's exactly as I remember it. Also, it bears mentioning that I hadn't "liked someone this way" since the 5th grade. Looking back, I can't remember any desirable attributes that Tony had. I remember what he looked like, but it wasn't anything that impressive. At the time, I remember wondering what I would think if Tony, for example, asked me out. My honest answer to myself? "I would be horrified." Maybe the age difference was a little sketchy. But it was probably because I was asexual and had no real interest in the guy beyond a desperate need to pass the hours.

I also found one footnote in Against Love that sort of relates to asexuality. Kipnis writes: "...a 1999 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that more that [sic] 43 percent of women and 31 percent of men regularly have no interest in sex, can't have orgasms, or have some other sexual impediment (80)." To be clear, there's no evidence that asexual people can't have orgasms. It's the lack of interest that, well, interests me. Kipnis is obviously using these numbers to show how dysfunctional we are today. But to me, it proves that a lack of interest in sex is, for lack of a better word, normal. It makes sense that peoples' sex drives would go through phases of high and low. Kipnis implies that without monogamy and marriage restraining our desires, that we would all want to have tons of sex all the time. But somehow, I doubt that.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dancing in the Dark

"A light rain helps"
--Harrison Ford on romance, from Dancing in the Dark

No, not Bruce Springsteen (although I love that song, I have to say…) This
Dancing in the Dark refers to the book that E. Kay Trimberger calls Isn’t It Romantic in The New Single Woman. The title is different, which I don’t understand, but it’s the same book. At any rate, I read it. It’s sometimes corny, at times enjoyable, at times a little embarrassing, and very, very asexual. It discusses, in hyperbole that even I envy, the romance that its author, Barbara Lazear Ascher, finds in bird-watching, architecture, pastries, paintings, typewriters, a singing class, and so on. Romance isn’t sexual for Ascher—it’s exhausting. For example, Ascher takes four days off to fly to Madrid, go to the Prado, and burst into tears upon seeing a Van der Weyden painting. She then stands in front of a Velasquez for hours. Oddly, this just made me wish I lived in New York, as Ascher does. My own beloved museum, London's Tate Modern, would only be a (tolerable) 7 hour flight away, instead of an excessive 12 hour one. However, with the Met in my own backyard, what need would I have of any other museum? As much as I love the Met, though, I can't imagine there's anything in there that would make me cry.

But, like I said before, Ascher's definition of romance is my favorite so far. For better or for worse, romance is a prominent theme in our culture. So it's heartening to know you can find it with an owl or a typewriter. If it's romance you want, you don't need to wait for a partner-- you can go out and find it by yourself, which I think is a nice idea. It's an unusual book, but a sort that I value. It gives a minority report, so to speak, of desires and longings that aren't often described.

When I went to Madrid, the Prado was closed. Maybe I should have waited around.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dear Lucilius...

I wrote here about the philosopher Epicurus and how his ideas on living situations could be useful to asexuals. I want to talk about philosophy again. Even though it has almost no overlap with pop culture, the supposed theme of this blog, it's something I've been very interested in for a long time.

When epicureanism was at its height, its major "rival school" was stoicism. Oddly, I find as much to like in stoicism as I do in epicureanism-- if I had been a Roman, I'm sure my compatriots would have been annoyed by this, but it's the modern era, so we can choose what we like. Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca (mentioned briefly in that last post as well) happens to be my all-time favorite book, probably because it changed my life more than any other. While I would have liked to have a conversation with Epicurus, Seneca is another story. Pompous, pretentious, and patronizing, he was probably difficult to talk to. He taught that poverty was edifying, but was a multi-millionare, and has been called "history's most notable example of a man who failed to live up to his principles." But I like Seneca more for this. He's human, and that really comes through in Letters from a Stoic. One place I disagree with him is in his zest for suicide. ("Wouldn't you be proud of your son if he was enslaved and then dashed his head against a wall?" No, I would be very sad.) However, he met his end with (supposed) equanimity when Nero ordered him to kill himself, and he did (pictured below).

But it wasn't Seneca's personality that drew me in, it was (most of) his ideas. As you know, I have trouble dealing with the ignorant masses, and Seneca helps me with this. He tells Lucilius, the guy he writes his letters to: "The many may speak highly of you, but have you really any grounds for satisfaction with yourself if you are the kind of person the many understand? Your merits should not be outward facing." And many more times, Seneca tells Lucilius (and us) to ignore the doings of "the crowd" at all costs. He castigates group-think, whether it relates to getting wasted or watching gladiators. I found those points especially relevant to my life as an asexual.

Also relevant is Seneca's insistence that philosophy is the best possible use of your time. Whether you agree with that or not (and I don't know if I do), it provided an alternate narrative for me. People will tell asexuals that sex is God's gift to us, and that the height of life is romantic love, marriage, and children. Seneca would probably smack these people upside the head and tell them God's gift is reason. To the stoics, the goal of life was virtus, a sort of multi-pronged virtue that involved wisdom, courage, self-control, and justice. And you didn't need money to achieve that (although Seneca had tons), you didn't need a high position, you didn't need to be attractive or well-liked, you didn't need your health, and you didn't need sex, love or romance. All you needed was an observant and independent mind.

I think part of my attraction to this alternate "story" comes from being a woman trying to posses the best of both "feminine" and "masculine" attributes. Even though this is the enlightened year 2008, I still think that while men are primarily defined by their accomplishments, women are defined by their relationships. Of course, I have to tie back into pop culture somehow-- whenever I watch an action movie where a male lead is having adventures, I always feel like he can take or leave sex-- if it wasn't for women throwing themselves at him, he would probably just go on exploring. But women in films are usually portrayed as "needing a man". You don't "need a man" to do philosophy. And since I can't exactly go around the world fighting crime, philosophy will have to suffice.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I saw Milk this weekend. It was good, although it didn't contain much information I hadn't heard before. (I guess that's proof of how good The Times of Harvey Milk was.) But I enjoyed it, and it made me proud to consider Milk one of my heroes. It really reinforced how politically savvy and strategic he was, even though his political career only lasted a few years. A large part of the film centered around Proposition 6, which would have made it legal to fire gay teachers and teachers that supported them. Although 6 failed, it started out looking like it would pass by a large margin. Milk made the point that if people knew just one gay person, they would probably vote no, and encouraged everyone around him to come out.

Of course, I compared this to asexuals...although no one is trying to fire us simply because we're ace, I think coming out is just as important for us. At only 1% of the population (perhaps), it's less likely that someone will know at least one asexual. But if someone does, are they going to say that asexuals aren't human? Or are they going to think before saying something like that? Being gay and coming out in the '70s, you risked everything, perhaps even your life. So we can at least endure some rude comments and incredulity, can't we? That's not necessarily an easy question for me to answer. I don't want to see the world as it is, as an ignorant place, and I don't want to assume that people are going to be stupid and mean. When you come out, you see the best and worst in other people. It can be a lot to handle, and it's not something any of us asked for. But without coming out, where can we get as a movement?

Milk also got me thinking about movements in the pre-internet and internet-centric worlds. No matter where asexuality goes, it will always be a movement that started on the internet. And that will make it easier to (unfairly) discount. People will say things on the internet ("you're the only asexual in the world") that they probably wouldn't say to your face, and that they definitely wouldn't say to a group of people. What's more powerful: A group of 10 people hanging out in the Castro or a group of 1,000 on AVEN? And if gay rights hadn't been a matter of life and death at the time, would anyone, including the gay folks themselves, have cared? I guess you could call asexuality a matter of life and death, if you look at our elevated levels of depression, an illness that can be fatal. Maybe we should spin it that way, instead of being the happy asexuals who are fine with everything. To give people hope (one of Milk's big themes), you first have to aknowledge that some are hopeless, don't you?

Friday, December 5, 2008

To Hell With Poverty

So, I didn't mention why I was stuck at LAX this week-- I was doing my training for Americorps Vista. (It's like the Girl Scouts meets the US Army.) Apparently, my main goal will be to alleviate poverty here in San Francisco. Good luck, Ily...but, even though my task is gargantuan, I have to give props to Vista for seeing my AVEN experience as an asset. I took it off my resume for awhile, but put it back on for Vista because it was just too relevant. At my interview, I was told: "When you talk about AVEN, your eyes light up." This was a little embarrassing, and, all told, this job will not help me with my own poverty. However, I got what I wanted-- an employer that likes me for who I am.

Of course, being my liberal-artsy self, I was thinking about asexuality and poverty. During the training, I was not surprised to find that I live in "relative poverty" (as opposed to "absolute poverty, i.e. living in a box). Bogaert's study found that asexuals are poorer than the rest of the population. But unlike our supposed religion (more) and education (less), our poverty does make sense to me. Look at all the asexuals who are in other groups that are more likely to be poor, such as people on the autistic spectrum, people with mental illnesses, and transpeople. I've learned that when you're weird (and let's embrace it, people) it doesn't rain, it pours. Even if aces don't have an "official" oddity, we may have different values or beliefs than the world at large, which may make work more difficult. (For example, I refused to work at a company that "made the world worse", which, honestly, seems to cut out most of them.) We're also less likely to have partners to support us, whether that means cutting costs by living together, marrying rich, or being able to use someone else's health insurance. Marriage did, after all, begin as an economic benefit, and it still is. Like the contributors to That's Revolting!, I support a broadening of what are "queer issues" and "asexual issues", and poverty is at the top of my list. I leave you with this timeless advice from Gang of Four: "To hell with poverty, we'll get drunk on cheap wine!" I wish you all prosperity, whatever that means to you.