Saturday, November 28, 2009


Apparently, at least one person is using "mountainsexual" as a sort of ski-slope alternative to "metrosexual", but I have to say, I still hope my usage might catch on. (Although I heartily endorse the creation of new slang terms, aren't we all tired of anything even remotely related to the concept of metrosexuality by now?) However, if mountainsexuals were serious about defining themselves (which I don't think they would be), they could also use the Latin, monsexual, pointed out by Mary in the previous post on the topic. We'll definitely need to settle on a term for when we all publish papers on the subject. Anyway, here's the mo(u)n(tain)sexual, as I see it, quote of the day, and God, those parenthesis are awkwardness itself:

Antarctica left a restless longing in my heart beckoning towards an incomprehensible perfection forever beyond the reach of mortal man. Its overwhelming beauty touches one so deeply that it is like a wound.”

--Edwin Mickleburgh

Ideally, you won't find this unforgivably random, but while we're on the subject of quotes, I uncovered another one today that I could relate to especially well:

It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the roller-coaster or the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the home town or country of our birth. The emotion is Janus-faced: we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.

--Carson McCullers

Well, I'm all for exploring curious emotions, and my ears always prick up at the sound of nonsexual longings. It reminds me of the "inextinguishable longing for elsewhere" that Junot Diaz wrote as besigeing people from New Jersey. When I read that I was like, "Finally! I'm not just crazy!" (Or maybe I am, but at least the population of an entire state is with me.) I've felt that way for as long as I can remember, and it always seemed like a curse. I even wrote a poem once about a crush I had on a guy and how minimal my feelings for him were, compared to the longing McCullers wrote about. To this day, channeling it into some kind of creativity is the only way I know how to deal with it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Year 4 of the Journey

Friday is my fourth aveniversary-- so it's about time for my asexual state of the union, I guess. I feel like such an event should involve a roaring fire, brandy, a leather chair, and perhaps a rumpled suit, however, I have none of these things. For me, aveniversaries represent more than joining AVEN, they represent being honest with myself. I'll admit, it's extremely hard, and there are probably a hundred things that I'm hopelessly in denial about. However, in at least one case-- the case of asexuality-- the curtain was lifted and I saw things clearly, despite all the interference and the odds. If I can celebrate magical oil next month, then I can definitely celebrate that. At year 4, I don't want to be something I'm not, but to be happy on my own terms, and that is progress.

And because I seem to DJ my life, here is a great state of the union song which Obama should probably use at some point, but won't. I don't understand the video at all, but I love the song. And, here is a great song about being honest with yourself (at least, that's how I interpret it). In this case, I don't understand the title of the song, but I love the song. Luckily, I think these songs make me happier than a leather chair ever could.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sex! Romance! Intimacy!

Yesterday, I participated for the third time in San Francisco Sex Information's training for future sex educators. This involved being on a panel about "Sex, Romance, and Intimacy" where people of different "relationship styles" were represented. Yes, I was there as a token asexual, which is not a relationship style...but if SFSI wants to educate people on asexuality, I'm happy to help. Before the panel started, I sat in on a discussion about this diagram (poorly reproduced by me):

This made it a lot easier for us to explain our relationship styles. For example, when someone asked me how two asexuals could date, I said that the relationship would exist in both the romance and intimacy spheres, and the questioner had an "Ohhh...I see" moment. While our "cultural ideal" is to have one relationship right in the middle of the diagram, the fact that there are so many other spaces visually shows how our concept of one monogamous, intimate, romantic, and sexual relationship is limiting. So while I dig the Venn diagram, what's most interesting to me is always the other panelists. Outside of this one event, I have never heard anyone refer to themselves as celibate or as an aromantic sexual, which were two of the relationship styles represented. There were multiple similarities between my story and those of the celibate, aromantic, and single (but sexual) person. All these people answered in some degree of the affirmative to a student question: "Did you ever think your relationship style was pathological?" All these people talked about trying to fit into the "cultural ideal" and failing. (There were also a polyamorous and "traditional" monogamous person represented, but our stories didn't overlap much, if at all.)

What surprised me most was what the celibate person had to say. She'd stopped telling people she was celibate after getting really insulting responses, similar to the ones asexuals tend to get. I'd really had no idea that people would find celibacy so hard to understand. I guess I just assumed that if you were, at heart, a sexual person (whether you were having sex at the moment or not), that that would be more accepted. Apparently not. Although asexuals can be quick to distance ourselves from celibate people, it seems as though we might have some very similar lived experiences, and it might help us both to set up an alliance...that is, assuming there is even some resource for celibate people. (And I don't know if InCel counts-- that's more like sexual frustration than celibacy. However, I have a feeling that some number of people finding information on InCel might actually be asexual-- I was one of them.)

I thought my answer to "Did you ever think your relationship style was pathological?" was well-recieved. While at first, asexuality was a lot to wrap my head around, I really never thought there was anything wrong with it. I talked briefly about the whole HSDD and DSM thing, and mentioned that just because something is uncommon, that does not mean it is abnormal, and got a lot of thoughtful "mmm"s from the crowd. I also talked about how people react to asexuals, telling us we're damaged, sick, broken, and not even human. To this, I got some "mmm"s of shock, which I took as a positive thing. I think it was good that people were understanding the fact that some of the responses we get are so absurdly unproportional to what we are.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The First Ever Open Post

I know some blogs have "open posts" where people can talk about whatever. Since AVEN is down at the moment, I figure that asexoholics might be raring to talk about stuff. So, feel free to comment with favorite web sites, promotions of your own site, topics you'd like me to write about, best songs you've heard lately, best and worst pet names, travel destinations, etc. The more random, the better.

For example, here's my current favorite site, in which flags of the world are given completely arbitrary letter grades. (A friend posted in on Facebook and I got such a big kick out of it that I've been showing it to everyone since.)

Yes folks, anything goes...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bromance Revisited

(Oh, prewar Oxford! No homework, ever, just champagne-drenched picnics involving linen suits and verdant rivers.)

Back in this post from October, there was a bit of discussion about Brideshead Revisited, a novel that has spawned a few film adaptations. I'd had the 2008 film on my Netflix queue for a while, and it finally arrived this weekend. Disclaimer: I haven't read the book or seen the other films, so I can only talk about this particular film on its own merits. First of all, let me just say: I don't know if I've ever seen two more similar films than Brideshead and Maurice. Similar basics to the story, very similar look and feel. Like Maurice, Brideshead is about two young men attending Oxford at the beginning of the 20th century; one is wealthy and the other from modest means. They become involved in an intense, romantic friendship, but grow apart when one of them prioritizes a relationship with a women. As double-features go, it would be long, but might also inspire some good discussion (if you're not too tired to have it).

One of the more interesting scenes of Brideshead was when one of the leading men, Charles, goes to Venice with his aristocratic pal, Sebastian, and Sebastian's sister, Julia, who Charles later falls in love (or, I would argue, lust) with. An Italian woman advises Charles that their "English romantic friendships" can easily get out of hand, and that it would be a bad idea to let the friendship last too long. She says it's obvious that Sebastian is interested in Charles as something other than a friend. Charles seems to brush off the comment. It seems that Charles is more charmed by Sebastian's opulent and exotic life than by Sebastian himself.

While I couldn't read Sebastian as asexual by any stretch of the imagination, I think many asexuals would be able to relate to the frustration he feels. While Sebastian can have any material thing he wants, he can't seem to maintain the relationship he desires most. His bond with Charles is something that they're encouraged to "grow out of". Sebastian is very childlike in some ways, and his relationship with Charles doesn't seem all that multi-demensional. We see a lot of them drinking, running around the moors, and swimming naked in fountains, but not a lot of evidence that this is anything but the friendship equivalent of a summer fling. However, it's obvious that Sebastian envisioned it differently. When he discovers Charles and Julia kissing in an alleyway in Venice, I really felt for him. I saw it as a moment where Sebastian might have realized that the new world of adulthood was leaving him behind. While he'd always been a heavy drinker, it seemed like he turned further to alcohol to dull the pain of the disconnect between himself and those around him. An asexual of that time period would have been lucky to be in his situation: He wasn't being forced to marry. However, in a society providing a limited amount of social roles, he had no clear place.

What's odd about the film is that the storyline involving Sebastian is compeltely abandoned. True, Charles is the main character and the movie is about his development (or lack thereof). However, we leave Sebastian dealing with an illness, and we don't even know if he's still alive by the end of the movie. Rather than being about Sebastian and Charles's relationship, the movie seems to really be about Charles's impressionability, followed by his ruthlessness in getting what he wants. It's one of those stories that you know from the start just can't end well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Conundrum of Asexual Characters

There are a lot of fictional characters who, with a few small tweaks, could have been realistically portrayed as asexual. One example is Trey, one of the men of "Sex and the City". I recently re-watched the episode where Trey and Charlotte, his wife, are given homework by a sex therapist. Trey refuses to tell Charlotte about his sexual fantasies and huffs about not being "a sexual person". When Charlotte tells him that she is, indeed, sexual, he makes no move to agree that he is as well. (Most people consider it a big insult to be told they're not sexual-- if Trey saw himself as sexual, it would have made sense for him to protest Charlotte's statement.) But despite all this, he is obviously intended to be a sexual person, just an uptight one with issues.

But even if a character is intended to be asexual, how would anyone ever know? Wouldn't they be read as an uptight sexual with issues, even if their asexuality is intended? I can understand why writers would not want to use a still-unusual word like "asexual", and I know this from personal experience. I once took a writing class in which I presented a play I'd written about a woman with Asperger's syndrome. There was intense debate in the class over whether I should actually use the word "Asperger's" in the play or not. And once the word "Asperger's" was brought up, it was all anyone was willing to talk about. Other writers got to talk about character development, plot, arc, and all that other stuff-- but I only got to talk about Asperger's. It was extremely frustrating. So I can imagine why writers might not want to go through all that. Not everyone can have a platform to not only present their work, but to explain the unspoken neurologies or sexualities of their characters.

The best explanation of asexuality without using the word "asexual" appears in, of course, The Bone People. Keri Hulme writes this dialogue for her asexual protagonist, Kerewin:

I spent a considerable amount of time when I was, o, adolescent, wondering why I was different, whether there were other people like me. Why, when everyone else was fascinated by their developing nature, I couldn't give a damn. I've never been attracted to men. Or women. Or anything else. It's difficult to explain, and nobody has ever believed me when I have tried to explain, but while I have an apparently normal female body, I don't have any sexual urge or appetite. I think I am a neuter. (266)

The Bone People is a classic book, read by many people. I wonder what a sexual reader, unacquainted with asexuality, might assume about Kerewin. Of course, Kerewin lived in isolation in a remote area. It would be completely realistic for her to not have ever met anyone else like herself. While The Bone People was written in the 1980s, it's still realistic for an asexual person to have never met another ace, and to not know that there is a word describing their sexuality that is in use for other people. If writers want to be realistic, the unnamed asexual is much closer to the truth than the "out" asexual.

However, we're short on even unnamed asexuals like Kerewin. I think it's unlikely that a sexual author would write about asexuals. Most people haven't even knowingly met an asexual, so why would they write about one? But if "Shortland Street" can do it...why can't anyone else?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Adulthood and its Discontents

The most recent episode of The A Life, about asexuality and school, got me thinking about my own life between the ages of 6 and 18. We're all told that "adulthood" (and I do air quotes here for a reason) will be better than school, however, it's astonishing how similar "adulthood" is to childhood. I've found myself wondering why I've stayed so long at a job that has convinced me that hell is really on earth (Warning: Hell isn't red, it's beige). And I think it's for the same reason that women may not fight their attackers: I've been set up to think and behave a certain way, and I can't easily slough it off, even if I want to. All throughout school, this is the message I was given:

"Sit down, shut up, and do as you're told. If you have a problem, keep it to yourself. If you have a valid concern, which you won't, there's nothing that can be done about it. If you follow our unwritten rules perfectly, you will be rewarded with neglect. If you dare to question anything you will be tormented and abused. We're right, you're wrong."

And this is supposed to be our "preparation for adulthood" and for the workplace? What kind of horror is this "adulthood", that it would suit us well to become silent victims of circumstance? While some lucky few among us might be told to think for ourselves in school, that message can be easily lost in the strength of the message above. It's astounding that I'm capable of even one independent thought, and it's not surprising that I second-guess myself constantly and feel comfortable beating myself up. Adulthood is a range of ages beyond 18. "Adulthood" is a means of social control. Adulthood has something to do with freedom, responsibility, and citizenship. "Adulthood" has something to do with accepting your fate and your "place", the place that was marked out for you in elementary school.

I took a break in the middle of writing this post. I was going to come back and do a more explicit tie-in to asexuality, but in the meantime, I'd read a few pages of this book A People's History of the United States. And in the couple of pages I read were some criticisms of school as a breeding ground for yes-men. Oddly enough, observers in the 1800s had similar things to say about school as I do. Howard Zinn writes:

...the spread of public school education enabled the learning of writing, reading, and arithmetic for a whole generation of workers, skilled and semiskilled, who would be the literate labor force of the new industrial age. It was important that these people learn obedience to authority. A journalist observer in the 1890s wrote: "The unkindly spirit of the teacher is strikingly apparent; the pupils, being completely subjugated to her will, are silent and motionless, the spiritual atmosphere of the classroom is damp and chilly"

...Joel Spring, in his book Education and the Rise of the Corporate State, says: "The development of a factory-like system in the nineteenth-century schoolroom was not accidental." (263)

From an early age, we're trained to be on "search and destroy" mode for people's differences. At the risk of sounding like a bad movie review, it's a testament to the human spirit that there are some tolerant and open-minded people in the world as it is, even if there might not be as many of them as we'd prefer. The dichotomy of destroyer and destroyed is something I would like to leave behind with the 1890s.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Waiting for a "Hell Yes!"

"How can you lie there and think of England when you don't even know who's in the team?"
--Billy Bragg, "Greetings to the New Brunette"

"No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise."
--Rorschach, Watchmen

A few days ago, I read this excellent post about asexuals and rape. The author linked to another interesting post about the concept of "enthusiastic consent". This was defined as an unambiguous "Hell Yes!" to sex, rather than the drunken mumbles that sometimes pass for consent. In that post, Hugo Schwyzer writes that the opposite of rape is not consent, but enthusiasm. I guess it's a radical statement, but it shouldn't be. When I read that, I had a 'Eureka!" moment. I finally realized why things like "gift sex", which I wrote about here, are such disturbing ideas to me.

So this will be a post about sexual consent and "compromise", although I wasn't sure if I should even write it. What do I know about sexual compromise? Nothing from firsthand experience. But it's impossible to be part of the asexual community without hearing about the issue again and again. Yes, all this will fall into the category of "Well, easy for you to say." But if it's so easy, shouldn't I just as well say it? Isn't it better to think about this stuff on a hypothetical level first, rather than when you're already in bed with someone?

Anyway, I come with a proposition: That when asexuals talk about sexual compromise, the idea of enthusiastic consent needs to be considered. I don't think there should be a double-standard, where sexuals ought to be enthusiastic, but asexuals have to be resigned to sex they don't want just to keep a relationship together. In his post, Schwyzer writes that enthusiastic consent "sets the bar pretty darned high." Well, yeah. I thought one of the positive things about having sex today, rather than in times past, was that you could have some standards, perhaps even high standards, about the sex you decided to have. No, it's not easy to have high standards in America today. We can't expect health care, a decent education, the maintenance of our personal safety, or a stable job. But can't we at least set a high bar for the things we can more easily control? Like Billy Bragg's girlfriend of song, many of us are still having sex in the Victorian era, engaging in what Schwyzer calls "sex characterized by obligation, confusion, and detached resignation".

I'm aware that a standard of enthusiastic consent presents a conflict for asexuals who badly want to be in a romantic relationship, and yet may not be enthusiastic about sex under any circumstances. But I worry about asexuals for whom "does not pressure me to have unwanted sex" is not a necessary factor in a relationship. When we feel like we have to choose between being alone and having sex we're not thrilled about, how are we going to view ourselves? What does a choice like that do to our self-esteem and mental health? As much as our partners may love us, we still need to advocate for ourselves. I've always felt uncomfortable about the common idea of asexuals having sex "to please a partner". Sure, you can please a partner and be enthusiastic, in fact you're more likely to please them if you are. But having sex "to please a partner" with no other motivation is a pretty low spot on the evolutionary ladder of consent.

Unlike Rorschach, I don't take such a hard line on compromise. But I would wonder if compromise is always good, in all situations. I feel strongly that when we talk about sexual/asexual relationships, we have to make sure that asexual needs are not seen as subordinate to sexual needs. I also think we shouldn't be afraid to keep our relationship standards high, as hard as it may be for a group so small. I think we all deserve a partner who will make an effort to get enthusiastic consent out of us, whatever our orientation may be. Rather than the traditional waits for love or marriage to have sex, why not wait for a "Hell Yes"?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Lonely American...Psych!

I really wanted to blog about this book The Lonely American. It would have been totally perfect and brought up a lot of interesting points, but since I actually haven't read it, just flipped through it...that's not going to happen, exactly. I was also thinking about a TV show I enjoy a lot, HBO's Entourage, and suddenly, in some random alchemy of a liberal arts education, these two things, Entourage and lonely Americans, connected in my mind.

Psychologists, sociologists, and other -ologists have been telling us we're lonely for quite some time, at least since The Lonely Crowd was published in 1965. Since '65, the number of confidants we have and the frequency of visits we make to friends has been steadily dropping. While I haven't read The Lonely American, I have read Bowling Alone which I'm sure makes a lot of the same points-- on the whole, Americans are pretty lonely, getting lonlier, and as you might imagine, it's not a great thing for us. However, in our culture of "rugged individualism", it can often be seen as shameful or a weakness to talk about loneliness. Obviously, if we're facing any social problem, not talking about it just worsens it. But, between not wanting to appear vulnerable and thinking we might be the only ones with the problem, not a lot of discussion gets made about how lonely Americans really are.

And here's where Entourage (main characters shown above) comes in. The show is about a movie star and his 3 best friends. The guys are never, ever alone. And in the other shows I watch, the same thing appears to be true to varying extents. Even shows that occur in workplaces show the characters either collaborating closely together on the job or spending time talking over drinks after work, things that don't happen in many of our real workplaces. Watching Entourage, I found myself thinking, "I wish I had an entourage". There are a lot of things in the show to wish for: A huge house, Porsches and Maseratis, expensive clothes, fame, adoring fans, seeing your face on a movie screen. But I think that for most of us, the most valuable thing shown is actually the entourage itself. Yes, it's realistic for famous people to be surrounded by others all the time. But for the rest of us, it's wish fulfillment: extreme edition. Wish fulfillment has its place, but I think the fact that loneliness is hardly ever portrayed in pop culture only encourages the (incorrect) idea that everyone is surrounded by friends except us.

Maybe we'll find a portrayal of loneliness in a literary novel or rare independent film. However, it is something that is largely absent. True, there are films where overcoming loneliness is a theme. However, the problem is usually solved in magical ways that we couldn't duplicate in our own lives. That, or the extent of loneliness is a short montage to "One is the Lonliest Number" or "All By Myself". Anything beyond that would be so far removed from an audience's expectations that I believe they would be very uncomfortable. Common tropes around loneliness, such as Bridget Jones sitting by herself with a bottle of vodka, obscure the fact that loneliness can happen anytime, anywhere, and with any beverage.

So at the risk of sounding like the brooding Russian playwright that I am, I say More! More loneliness in movies and on TV! Maybe it sounds a little twisted, but nothing gets people talking like TV and movies do. If we saw loneliness portrayed in pop culture, then we could more easily discuss the concept. No, I don't have any solutions, but the first step is, after all, admitting that there is a problem.