Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married

Recently, I picked up an unrepentant chick-lit book called Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married. The basic premise is that a woman, Lucy, who isn't even dating anyone goes with her friends to a psychic who tells her she'll be married in a year. Her friends' fortunes come true, so Lucy starts believing that hers might as well. (Yes, it's silly.) I'm finding, that like "Cougartown", what I expect to be offensive about something is often not at all the thing that ends up offending me. While I expected to be offended about byzantine ideas of sex and romance, what bothered me more was that the vast majority of characters were gross stereotypes of every kind possible. However, I'm not done with the book (it's absurdly long), so there might be byzantine ideas of sex and romance still to come.

At any rate, I'm glad that no man will ever read this book, because between its pink covers is a manifestation of what I am told men fear most about women: That we view every man we meet as a potential husband. True, it's germane to the particular plot of this book. And true, it can't be said that all women do this, and I would wager that the number is lower among asexual women. However, this is one stereotype that I won't argue with...much. I still remember when I told a friend about a huge crush I had on a certain guy years ago. It hadn't even been established whether he reciprocated my feelings or not, but my friend said, "I've met his parents and they'd be great in-laws". Maybe we haven't taken it to that degree, but I think most women have had similar marriage-minded thoughts about men they barely know at some point or another. Following is my attempt at an explanation.

Like so many other strange things that women do, I think this phenomenon can largely be attributed to the double-standard that women are subjected to; the most well-known one being "He's a stud, she's a slut" for being promiscuous. As people, we're told to be goal-oriented. Go for what you want! Visualize success! But when we get off work and commence the romance mission, we're suddenly supposed to go with the flow. Take it as it comes! Don't scare the guys away! True, there are many books marketed to us that advise women to see finding a husband similarly to the way a detective stakes out a house. However, I would argue that this tactic might indeed scare the guys away and defeat your purpose.

From an early age, we've grown up with girls tittering about how their names would look attached to some boy's. Maybe for a few of us, this was a genuine interest. However, I believe that since this interest was a more socially condoned one than, say, science (and noooo, I don't have personal experience with this at allllll), the practice spread to most of us. And gossiping about your glorious future with boys can make science look like a lonely life compared to all the fun the other girls seem to be having, with their bonding, giggling and trying at being "mature". So maybe that's part of it-- a method of female bonding through peer pressure, where it hardly seems to matter what particular boys or men are involved.

I think these premature thoughts about marriage might also be a holdover from an earlier time, which does imply that we might not be doing it forever, unless our old motives have simply been replaced by new ones. I know that in Jane Austen books, women were supposed to be enthusiastic about unions with men they hardly knew. It's a relatively new thing, being able to spend a lot of time with a man who isn't a relation and who you might not end up marrying. But we have yet to start acting like times have really changed. How's that for a byzantine idea? No offense to anyone from Byzantium.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Whither Goeth the 70,000?

I was working on my little visibility posters, and I decided to make one that would state the asexual population of the Bay Area as a whole. I didn't realize that this large-ish region, helmed by the cities of San Franciso, San Jose and Oakland, actually consists of 7 million people, or, a low estimate of 70,000 asexuals. You might remember my musings about a hypothetical "asexual city". But what I realized is that you already live there, albeit on a technicality. Even if you live in an isolated town of 1,000 people, you still have enough asexuals for a soccer team. Rather than traveling elsewhere, a (relatively) easier proposition might be to uncover the hidden asexuals in your midst.

If you'll allow me to make a mind-reading attempt, you might be thinking, "But where are they?!" when faced with a number like 70,000 asexuals in one metro area. And I don't know. I think of what I might have had to do to find the other 13 asexuals at my college of 1400 people. And I have a feeling that no matter how much I shouted from the rooftops, the majority of the 13 would remain silent. I would make an idle speculation that a lot of asexuals know something about asexuality, but don't relate it to themselves. It's like the way that friends will tell a fat person "oh, you're not fat" because they see fat as being negative, not a neutral descriptor, and not something they'd want to associate with their friend. Likewise, I thought that maybe I wasn't asexual, since asexuals die alone and I wasn't planning on doing so. How I got over that hurdle of denial, I, again, don't know.

What I do know is that "feeling like the only one" doesn't always seem like a worthy focus of my efforts when there are people going through much more terrible things every day. But I think it's a start. Feeling like part of a group may not accomplish anything in and of itself, but it's a first step. If you're wary of the concept, I understand-- I have a strange and abiding fear of cults. Groupthink isn't good. But being a part of something (while maintaining your individuality) seems to be a feeling that undergirds all positive social change. And it's a feeling that I find is largely absent from this country. So I try to make it happen for asexuals, since we're always told to "work with what you have" and I have asexuality. Maybe it could lead to something bigger than asexuality alone, at least I hope so.

I remember watching a documentary called Before Stonewall that was about, as you can imagine, gay life in America before the Stonewall riots. Before the Kinsey reports came out, homosexuality was thought to be a rare thing. So, when Kinsey shared how many gay people there really were (and asexuals, but no one seemed to care), it was really empowering for the gay population. Even if it was just to know that out of every 10 people you passed on the street, one was gay like you. So yes, we need a more accurate study of our numbers. But even 1% is not as small a number as it seems to be. So where is the 70,000? I look forward to your thoughts...

[Edited for errant zeroes...]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cougars and Gift Sex

Carolyn will be disappointed if I don't write about cougars, and I do try to give the people what they want. It would also be a shame to have watched the show "Cougartown" for nothing. If you haven't heard of "cougars", I'd be a bit surprised because they've been getting a lot of press lately. Cougars are simply older women who are dating younger men. Since the opposite (older men, younger women) has been going on since time immemorial, I really have no idea why we are suddenly so fascinated with cougars. Now that women can make as much money as men, and don't necessarily have to marry for financial reasons, why shouldn't we pursue men of whatever age we want? Of course, it's telling that when women date younger men, it gets a name and is pegged as a social phenomenon, unlike the reverse situation with older men.

[Above: Courtney Cox (Jules) and Busy Phillips have hijinks on "Cougartown"]

The cougar phenomenon even got its own TV show on ABC called "Cougartown". I've been watching this show because I was convinced it would give me something to blog about; it did, but as you'll see, the meat (or tofu) of this post won't be about cougars at all. Anyway, the show is about a 40-something divorced woman (Courtney Cox) trying to "get back out there". Contrary to popular belief about cougars, she isn't having a ton of random sex. I guess that would be more HBO than ABC. In fact, there is only one younger man that she dates in the show, and he receives relatively little screen time. It's been a while since I've watched a half-hour show with commercials, and it's remarkable how little actually happens. For example, one episode concentrates on the efforts of the main character, Jules, to get her cranky neighbor to play a game of golf with her ex-husband. Although the cougar concept might sound titillating, "Cougartown" is actually pretty mundane.

I was sure I'd find something about "Cougartown" disturbing, and I did, but it had nothing to do with cougars. In the show, Jules' best friend is a married woman with a baby who lives next door. In one episode, this woman gives her husband a few cards that say "SEX"; he can use them for sex whenever he wants and she "can't say no", an arrangement she doesn't seem very happy about. Ah yes, the phenomenon of "gift sex". It's been discussed on AVEN before, where people generally seemed to think it was a bad idea. There are times for all of us when we just don't feel like having sex-- the difference is only that for asexuals, it's usually all of the time. I think using sex as a currency is just asking for problems-- isn't it likely that you'll resent unwanted sex, even if you're agreeing to it? For me, the concept hearkens back to the day when men would "expect something" from women if they took us out to dinner, bought us gifts, etc. Even if you're highly sexual and you've had sex with your partner 10,000 times, you should still be able to say "no" to sex whenever you want to, something that gift sex makes a lot harder and more awkward to do.

[Above: Zach Galifianakis (Ray) and Jason Schwartzman in "Bored to Death"]

Anyway, gift sex is something that is commonly explored in pop culture, usually for laughs. For example, in the current HBO show "Bored to Death", the best friend of the main character is dating a woman who rarely has sex with him, something he complains about in every episode. The only time they'll have sex is if the guy, Ray, agrees to jump through some sort of hoop, such as going to therapy or getting a colonic. All this couple seems to do is argue about and negotiate the frequency of sex. They aren't married, and they don't have kids-- since they both seem so unhappy, why are they even together? It really isn't clear. One might think it would be beneficial to asexuals that so many couples with disparate sex drives are portrayed in pop culture, since many of us contend with this issue. However, the story is always the same and doesn't offer very many alternatives. It's most often the man who wants sex, and he either nags until the women gives in, or they go through gift sex-related rituals. How the woman feels about all this is usually never explained. Maybe it's funny that a man would endure a colonic for the promise of sex with a chronically annoying woman, but if so, it's a joke I just don't get.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How Friendships Form

I'm glad people enjoyed the poem! So, we've delved a bit into how romantic relationships are initiated--Shades of Gray also wrote a post recently that described the process in a way that made a lot of sense to me. It seems like the same factors for romance-- being in the right place and time combined with chemistry-- are similar to how friendships are initiated. I realize that I've never written about the topic of how friendships are formed. So here it goes...

I've realized that the making of good friends does not depend on the length we've known each other or shared interests. I've also realized fairly recently that even though I might want it to be otherwise, not everyone is going to become my best friend if I just put in enough effort. A friend is not a close friend is not a best friend, and people don't seem to move easily between categories. Despite the prevailing "wisdom", I've never been able to make friends simply by joining groups or doing activities. As a kid, I met my best friend because we happened to be sitting at the same picnic table. As an adult, friendships don't seem a whole lot less random. They've always seemed as dependent on the right time/place and chemistry as romantic relationships might be. Just like romance, there doesn't appear to be any formula for friendship, either.

I've realized that you can have an acquaintance for years who never really becomes your friend, even though on paper they might look like they should be. It also seems like people are more open to new friends at certain times in their lives, and you have to catch someone at the right time. If you do, you can stay friends with that person even if they move away or get busier later. If you don't, the friendship just isn't going to happen, no matter how much the two of you might share. That's why you aren't going to make friends from joining things alone. Of course, you have a better chance of making new friends if you meet new people. But it sometimes seems like you have to meet an exhausting number of new people (there go the thoughts of an introvert) to make one friend. Making friends (and maintaining friendships) is not always easy, especially for adults who are out of school, and deserves as much discussion as romantic relationships get.

I wonder if technologies like Facebook are changing the way we view friendship at all. I know people that have 300, 500, 600+ friends on Facebook, and I'm sure they wouldn't consider all these people to really be friends. But it's strange how a "friend" can either be the most important person in your life or someone you hardly know. I wonder how other people define friendship-- do you call someone a friend based on length known, amount of time spent together, sense of connection felt, mutual interests, the fun you have, a sense of accountability, shared past, or something else entirely?

*Thanks to the writer of Edge of Everywhere for the conversation about friendship, among other things (and good company in the extreme cold)!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

To Love Many Things: Mary Oliver

Back in 2008, I wrote about the asexiness of the poem "Aimless Love" by Billy Collins. A reader, Tomatl, told me to check out Mary Oliver, especially her poem "On Love", and I finally did. I don't think I've ever read two poems that were more similar to each other than "Aimless Love" and "On Love". Apparently, Oliver is one of very few living poets that is avidly read-- a category in which Collins would also be included. And "On Love" isn't an isolated example of the importance Oliver places on love and intimacy that has nothing to do with sex, (traditional) romance or even other people. The book including that poem, Red Bird, is chockablock with love songs to ponds, foxes, rivers, trees, dogs, hills, and as the title suggests, every kind of bird that you can possibly think of. I think one of the things, if not the thing I love most about poetry is the fact that in that particular form, all kinds of love are equal. A poem about your lover isn't going to be considered any better than a poem about a friend (or a brick wall) just because it's about your lover. Writing a poem about your love of an owl is no more or less important than writing a poem about your love for baseball, God, or a woman. A lot of people think poetry is boring, but I think it's very subversive, and is allowed to commonly contain ideas that are rare elsewhere.

I've talked about it enough, so here's "On Love". Personally, I think it's nowhere near the best poem in the book, but I will be quiet now and let you judge:

I have been in love more times than one,
thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting
whether active or not. Sometimes
it was all but ephemeral, maybe only
an afternoon, but not less real for that.
They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway people beautiful to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some-- now carry my revelation with you--
were trees. Or places. Or music flying above
the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun
which was the first, and the best, the most
loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into
my eyes, every morning. So I imagine
such love of the world-- its fervency, its shining,
its innocence and hunger to give of itself--I imagine
this is how it began.

The epigraph of the book is a quote from Vincent van Gogh: "But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things".

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy AVED!

Yes, AVED-- Asexuality Visibility and Education Day, is upon us. I think it's a great idea and I hope it continues long into the future. This "newsworthy and noteworthy" stuff that my professor of PR used to tell our class about is definitely something that's good to cultivate. You can check out this thread to see what different people all over the place are doing to spread the word for AVED.

My current cheap n' easy visibility idea is this: I made little fliers (it took about 10 minutes) that said: "At least 750 people in [my town] are asexual. You're not alone" and then told them how to go on AVEN to look at local meetups. I ended with "People who do not experience sexual attraction-- we like cake, though." I'll try to post a picture when I have some more time. Anyway, I'll be posting it various places around town as I find them, to work the local angle. If anyone in town knew me, this might be awkward...but no one does! Ha ha!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Another Country

As I've mentioned in the past, I have an obscure little learning disorder called Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD). Like all "disorders", it comprises a bunch of things I'm supposed to be bad and good at, not all of which apply to me. However one of the main facets of NLD is a difficulty understanding nonverbal communication, which people will gleefully tell you is 90% of all communication. I don't know if someone who does understand nonverbal cues can really understand what it's like to not understand them. The best analogy I can come up with is that I constantly feel like I'm in a different culture. It's very interesting, but can be tiring as well. When I was prepping to study abroad, everyone was telling me about how much culture shock I'd experience-- and I was only going to England, at that. However, I experienced no culture shock whatsoever that was attributable to English vs. American culture. It's not that I felt more comfortable in England than I did in America, but that I feel equally uncomfortable anywhere that nonverbal communication makes up 90% of communication.

I'm not saying this to make you think I'm really unusual or anything, just to point out that none of us are "just" our orientations, and we all have other traits and experiences that inform how we go about relationships. Hopefully among friends, we can be honest about the way we see the world without having people yell at us about what "causes" our orientations. Anyhoodle...

I've been trying to articulate this post for awhile, but was inspired to get 'er done by today's post from Shades of Gray. In that post, she talks about the issues surrounding initiating sexual activity when you're an asexual (or gray-asexual) in a relationship with a sexual person. Of course, I wouldn't know how to initiate sexual activity. But in my case, that's like worrying about calculus when you can't do arithmetic. What's baffled me ever since my friends started dating en masse was how people initiate romantic relationships. My wonderment about this seems to come from an unlimited wellspring. I could chalk it up to being asexual-- how the hell do you know who to date when you're not attracted to anyone-- but it seems like plenty of asexual people date. I could also chalk it up to NLD somehow-- but it doesn't follow that I can figure out how to make friends but not how to date people. I can sort of understand how online dating works, probably because in its early stages, it takes place in writing, my preferred mode of communication. I read a statistic somewhere that one in eight people who get married met their partner online. That's a pretty big number, but still, most people are finding love through more organic means. So the initiation of dating, as well as its importance in our culture, do feel like entries in a rulebook that I never got.

Maybe that's not a terrible thing. But, I've got to be honest, I'm not one of those "asexuals who could get sex if they wanted". I've always had some degree of interest in dating, but could never figure out a way to get it to work for me. While I've felt some degree of romantic attraction in the past, I haven't had a real crush (as opposed to a fake crush, thank you) in years, and my crushes never accompanied feelings that I wanted to be in relationships with those people. I seem to be getting more aromantic with age, if such a thing is possible. Other asexuals seem to "fall in love" with people, something I can't understand (unless we're talking about Felt's "Penelope Tree" or some such). Maybe I'm just trying to fit myself into a mold where I really don't fit. I'd think it would follow that my romantic feelings about Felt songs could translate to another person, but perhaps not. Maybe part of my lack of understanding stems from the fact that it's hard to understand couple relationships as one person sitting and thinking. Half of the energy of the hypothetical relationship (one would hope) would be brought by the other person. So maybe it's a futile thing to ponder as an individual. Andrea Dworkin would probably hit me over the head for saying such a thing-- to the plumbers of the depths of (a)sexuality, no line of inquiry is too pointless, no question too random, no train of thought too convoluted. Well, I promised articulation and didn't deliver it. But, I'd love to hear any experiences that people have, asexual or not, with initiating romantic relationships. Or is anyone else like me about this stuff?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Things Asexuals Like: Introversion

Again, this isn't really something we "like" per se, but something that seems to predominate among us. According to a poll on AVEN, 93% of 261 respondents claimed to be introverted. I've looked for statistics about what percentage of the total population is introverted versus extroverted, and conclusive evidence is hard to find. However, I've found no evidence that introverts could possibly be more than 50% of the general population. From the results on AVEN, one might think that introverts are just more likely to be on AVEN. As far as people who live on AVEN 24/7, that's probably true. But these days, most everyone is online, regardless of personality type. What I'd be more likely to believe is that introverts are more likely to question their sexuality, since we tend to spend more time alone with our thoughts. Introverts are also often told they're wrong-- that they need to be more outgoing, friendly, or social. There's a big divide between America's ideal personality and the introvert, a fact that could lead to increased self-questioning. Perhaps extroverts are more likely to go along with a crowd, whether it be to a party or to heterosexuality.

Maybe the people who claim "asexuals are smarter" are actually noticing a trait of introversion: The majority of "gifted"people (IQ over 130) are introverted. So maybe those people are actually noticing a real phenomenon, although they phrase it in an unnecessarily elitist way.

I'm an introvert, although apparently not a very strong one, since I tend to get bored when I'm by myself. I also don't like being alone with my thoughts, since I come up with disturbing things like the fact that I'm asexual-- har, har. I think it's important to note that being introverted doesn't necessarily mean you're shy or anti-social. My favorite way to understand the concept is that extroverts get energy from being around lots of people, while this tends to drain introverts. For me, the level to which I'm drained by social activity depends on how well I know and like someone. I can chat with a good friend for hours, but I have low tolerance for "cocktail party"-style banter with strangers. I need time alone to "recharge" from those situations.

One problem I had with writing this post is that I have no idea what the extrovert experience of life is like. The overwhelming majority of my family and friends have always been introverts, which seems unusual since by some counts, we're a minority of 25%. However, this enabled me to better avoid what seems to be a strong anti-introvert bias in American culture. Especially in the job market, the more introverted you are, the more you will get shafted (with some flexibility based on your field, but we don't all get to be computer programmers, you know). According to the well-known article Caring For Your Introvert, extroverts have a hard time understanding introverts. However, I feel like I know the experience of being sexual a lot better than the experience of being extroverted, since I have many sexual friends but few extroverted ones. It's also worth noting that values related to introversion and extroversion vary based on culture and gender. Let me tell you, it's hard to be the strong, silent type-- and female. But apparently, introverts are big in Japan.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Own Not-So-Private Utopia

"Yet one of the things that gets in the way of that struggle is the ingrained belief that our deep needs for loving community are actually aberrations and holdovers from childhood fantasies or immature yearnings for utopia that the mature individual will eventually overcome (175)."
--Michael Lerner, Surplus Powerlessness

When I read that, I did a double-take-- I felt like I was reading something out of my own journal. I've longed to feel a sense of community for as long as I can remember, and my interest in community-building is the main motivator behind my activities in the asexoverse. I know I'm not alone-- that most people, sexual or asexual, yearn for community too, even if they can't name the feeling (this is what Lerner writes, as well). However, it's not something that's usually spoken of. This is something I wrote in my journal on April 1st, 2006:

Ever since I read that article on Manchester in the 80's, I've been thinking about how cool it would be to be part of a minor cultural renaissance. Find my own Manchester to put on the map, you know? Living in a random town somewhere with a small group of artsy people, I'd record my friend's band, maybe play some keyboards on it, the people living next door would do the cover art and we'd sell it at the record store down the street. We'd get picked up by a small label, become a cult classic, spawn a few imitators and never be filthy rich. And of course we'd still meet at the pizza shop or whatever local place we've been frequenting since the beginning. I have no idea if this sort of life exists exists or is even possible, but if it did, I think I would be satisfied with it...I think...that what I really want is to be a part of a movement, or at least feel like a part of one. Even if it was auxiliary, or I didn't accomplish much, or I didn't realize it at the time, I guess I've always been a part of something...until now. And I wish I didn't care, but I do.

When I wrote this, I was almost about to graduate from college, and knew little of the world outside of school. I had no idea what the future might hold for me. Looking back, this entry strikes me as something that might look strange to someone who wasn't me and also a bit sad. Strange, because even though this was a vision of my future, it contained no details about where I lived, what job I had, if I was still single or not, or any of those details. Sad because I hardly wanted to rule the world. I just wanted to record an album that some people liked, a relatively minor thing, but I still had "no idea if this sort of life exists or is even possible". Even so, I gave voice to something that was a big dream for me. Today, it almost frightens me to think too much of that dream, and it definitely feels like a faraway utopia; I don't know how to connect the life I want and the life I have. Is that everyone's issue?

I know this post probably seems even more depressing than the last one, but Lerner's whole point is that this stuff shouldn't be. It should give us some hope, maybe, that other people feel the same things we do, even if those things are rarely mentioned and beaten down in our culture. Apparently, our desire for community is part of a "human essence" that even the most powerful forces can't take away. At any rate, I'm a very "solutions-focused" person and I know that my dream will never have any chance of manifesting if I keep it a secret. Sure, the chances may not be good for it now, but they're zero if I never tell anyone about it.

(Also, I did ask for "awkward" and not "highly disturbing" depictions of sex. However, I have to declare Gatto the winner of this challenge. Thanks for being a longtime reader, oh feline one. If you dare, check the original post for his winning comment.)