Monday, December 7, 2009

I Love A Charade

A recent post from Espikai got me thinking about certain party games and the asexuals who loathe them. You know the type: Truth or Dare, Spin the Bottle, I Never. If you think that everyone escapes these games in grade school, well, you'd be incorrect. I've heard tell of people playing Spin the Bottle in college, and I have personally played I Never over the age of 18. From early childhood, I would do everything in my power to not participate in these games. My MO was usually to disparage the games as stupid and immature, portraying myself as far above it all. This was a line I held from grade school until college. But, no one ever seemed to find it odd: While I would rope unsuspecting friends into Monkeys-in-a-Barrel tournaments, I was much too adult and mature to play I Never.

The game I feared most wasn't actually a game, but a sort of ritual that my sorority had. At our chapter meetings, someone would get into "the hot seat" for a few minutes and field no-holds-barred questions from the rest of the group. Of course, most of the questions involved guys and sex. Unlike some other groups, our sorority didn't really have any hazing, so maybe this event was a sort of substitute. No one ever seemed to express any disapproval of it. And even though I found the activity to be somewhat cruel, I didn't speak up against it either; I didn't want to be thought of as a spoilsport, a prude, or someone with something to hide. Even though these were people I trusted and a community I cared about greatly, at the time, I wasn't yet out as asexual. My sexual inexperience seemed so beyond the pale that I couldn't risk bringing it up. Every meeting, a different person was called on, and I would always dread the moment. However, and here's the odd part again: I was never called on. Even when there was an, "Okay, who's never been called?", it was still never me. We were a very small group and it was impossible that people would not know that I'd never been in the hot seat. And I think I might have been the only person who was spared. Whether it was an oversight or an intention, I was allowed to keep my secret.

Why are these sorts of games so popular? I think it's because we really want to know what's going on in other people's sex lives. Not necessarily because we want to gossip about it, but because we want to share experiences and see if ours are normal. However, we got the notion somewhere that it's inappropriate to have honest conversations about these topics, and so we couch them in awkward and embarrassing games. No one wants to admit that they might be seriously interested about the subject of their friends' virginity. At least, this is one theory. A more cynical theory is that having people air their sex lives semi-publicly can have the effect of fostering conformity or policing a group, and emphasizing what is "okay" to say and what should be kept secret. People with more "standard" sexual experiences might be more willing to talk about them (or be honest about them), leaving people with more "non-standard" experiences more likely to be quiet about theirs.

It's been going on 5 years since I realized I was asexual, and no one has asked me to play any of these games. As an adult, Apples to Apples seems to be the standard, rather than Truth or Dare, and thank goodness for that. However, I almost wish I could go back to the hot seat, because my reaction today would not be the same as it was then. First of all, I would speak up and say that I didn't think it was a good idea; that if we wanted to tell people our secrets, we should be encouraged to do it of our own volition. I would tell people that for me, the innocent "who do you have a crush on?" question doesn't resonate with the chummy sense of inclusion that it might for others. I would say that for me, it was a question I've always feared, and explain why that was. I would ask why we were assuming that everyone in the group was straight, and why there was an atmosphere where it would be hard to admit that you weren't. At the time, I didn't know any better than to keep my mouth shut. But now? I would still rather play Monkeys in a Barrel than I Never, but if it came, I'd try to face it stoically, and use it as a chance to get people to rethink their assumptions about sexuality. It would be worth a try, and quite possibly, this would make everyone lose interest in the game anyway. Charades, anyone?


Unknown said...

I recently joined a sorority myself and, while we have no "hot seat" policy, I'm still having a hard time adjusting to how open the other girls in the house are about their sexual experience. Even girls I barely know will tell me about their hookups, or failed hookups, or whatever. There's a definite assumption about the normal sexual experience and desires of all the girls in the house, and it makes it difficult to carry any sort of conversation on the subject.

On the other hand, I've always found I Never to be mildly interesting in a 'Jane Goodall observing the strange primates behavior' sort of way.

Ily said...

Assuming you're asexual (I guess this is one of the few places I can assume that), you'd be the first other ace that I've talked to about being in a sorority. At the time, there were 3 other sororities at my school, and I don't think I would have been comfortable in those. The group I was in definitely had the least interest in partying, which accompanied hookups for most people. I did tell people that I wasn't interested in random hookups, but I don't think anyone would have taken that statement to the conclusion that I wasn't interested in sex at all. When people told me about their hookups, I would just nod, smile, and, for some reason, feel privileged that they chose to tell me, someone who couldn't relate much to that desire. Maybe if I'd known I was ace at the time, I would've had a different reaction.

Noskcaj Llahsram said...

When I was in the States I was amazed that Sororities and Frats actually existed, and I was kind of excited to see what one was like, never got the chance too, though. O well. Here, your faculty is like what your frat would be I guess; anyway ever year we have a 'corruption test' that had three sections: sex, drugs, and illegal actives. Same Idea, a way of talking about "naughty" things couched inside a game. Well the year I took it, we had a disgustingly poor showing; even with about half the points on the sex sections I ended up winning, entirely because I had gone through a whole psychonaut phase, so I cleaned house on the drug section. Now I'm exempted from those games 'cause I get to top any story with "have I told you about the time I fought Napoleonic werebears in Hollow Earth from the back of a brontosaurus ... ... Then I realized I was playing [videogame] and according to in-game clock my character has been running into a wall for the past three hours"

Myself--Who Else? said...

Ooh ooh! I was in a sorority too! Definitely a weird place to be as an asexual, with all its focus on hooking up, sex, dating, and gender roles.

Of course, I didn't know I was ace while in college, but I do remember feeling icky a lot of the time. I felt a need to aspire to the whole progression of lavaliering, pinning, engagement and marriage as the established ideal. We'd have exchanges with fraternities and I remember feeling that I was supposed to be excited about it, but couldn't. And I was always bothered by the way fraternity guys assumed things about me and my willingness to hook up because I was a "sorority girl." And treated me like I was stupid, with low self-esteem, like someone they could "trick" into bed with their masculine wiles! (Which, to be fair, probably did work on a lot of other girls. Just, sexual ones.)

Looking back, a sorority was a really nonsensical place for me to be, and when I talk to my current friends about it they find it hard to believe I was ever a part of it. It's just that at my college, you pretty much had to be in the Greek system if you wanted to have any friends at all, it was such a heavily Greek campus.

Anonymous said...

First thank you for keeping this blog. I have never been in a sorority and like you I would share your response. I am at a moment in my life where I am questioning if I have any sexuality and what that means. I am looking for people to discuss this with and was hoping you would be willing.

Anonymous said...

De-lurking to say hi, and that I'm another ace in a sorority!

Sometimes it's a bit of a strange experience, living in the house. I do try to stay sex-positive about everything, but sometimes there's just too much tmi.

Isaac said...

Ily, I didn’t know game like I Never before college, probably because I avoided the contexts where they find these stupid things interesting. I have never taken part of them, but I have witnessed them among college students and even among graduate students.

My first counterexample involves a group of graduate students consisting of master’s and PhD students and a couple of postdoctoral researchers. The “I never” game turned into “I’ve never ever had sex in,” and a contest between a master’s and a postdoc for the proving the other was more pervert. As I was cooking and having solid food, I was allowed to witness it without taking part.

My second counterexample involves a group of bisexual or bi-supportive college students who played I Never in order to out one of them who was in the closet and rejected to thank the support they had given him against the homophobes. So, neither elementary school nor straight only.

I also dislike this “everybody is straight” environment. By the way, are all these environments of forced disclosure of sexual live women-only, as they seem to be? I think that this happens in one-sex-only environment, and assuming heterosexuality is key in these cases. They disclose and inquire because they assume that you are oriented toward the same sexual objective and that this objective is external to the group. Hey, only suggest that you’re a lesbian and that you have a crush on one of the girls of the club.

Shine, I liked this description as primate behavior watching. It describes very accurately what I do. By the way, Kinsey was a zoologist.

Why can’t they have frank talk about sex in a mixed environment?

Anonymous said...

1) My entire COLLEGE was 1 sorority, so we had strict rules about intitation rites and one of them was nothing about sex that the initiates are not cool with. You can't make fun of their sexuality or lack thereof and you can't ask them to expose any secrets they have. They have the right to say no to anything on their schedule if it is unacceptable to them. I think this brought me great peace of mind when I was a freshwoman.

2) I actually enjoy playing "I Never", but that might be because I only play it with friends I trust and because I can get points for things like "I never have eaten bacon", which throws a big curveball at most of my opponents.

Ily said...

Hey, other aces in sororities! We almost have enough to start our own...or at least a handball team.

If I ever play "I Never" again I'll have to remember to use "I've never eaten a banana", which is true.

There were a lot of things I didn't like about being in a sorority (like trying to recruit people from a largely uninterested student body), but if I hadn't been involved, I don't know if I ever would have realized how important community was to me.

Thanks for all the comments and delurkings!

Isaac said...

The more I read your comments, the less I understand what fraternities/sororities are, how they work and why people want join them.

Fellmama said...

The token sexual weighing in here ;)
(And hey, it's nice that there's a community where I AM a token, eh?)

I think your first speculation is right, Ily--the media give us such a hopelessly skewed vision of sex that everyone's confused about what's "normal." I know I've had lots of conversations with my friends about sex that end up with someone saying "omg, that's not just me?!"

I wonder if the popularity of Truth or Dare and I Never would decline if we had more comprehensive sex ed in the US. Seems to me that if teenagers (and even college students) knew how to ask their questions, they might not end up having to play games to get answers.

Ily said...

I guess fraternities/sororities are pretty much an American thing? Although I think they're having a slow decline in popularity here. It's not too important to understand them, unless you're wanting to join one. In general, I'm not really a fan of frats/sororities because they tend to be way too conformist and racially segregated. But, some individual chapters can be more progressive. On the whole though, they're sort of throwbacks to an earlier time-- most of the groups were founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I actually saw a lot of similarities between being in a sorority and being a Girl Scout. In both cases, it was a community with certain activities and rituals, where there was some sort of connection with other members simply because you were in the group. (For example, you could go to another country and connect with other girls simply on the basis of being Girl Scouts/Girl Guides.)

And don't worry L, we don't expect you to represent all heterosexuals ;-) It's sad, I don't even remember sex ed. It must have had a great impression on me!

heidi said...

I made it through 12 years of public schools, 3 years of college and I've never even heard of "I never" ...? Anyway, my college was a tiny religious school that was pretty mellow except for sex and being homophobic - if you were out, you were asked to leave. I eventually left as part of the protest (lots of things to protest, there) but it always confused me: if you weren't having sex, why would it matter who you weren't having sex with? Campus policy for unwed students: no sex. So I always brought up the "I'm not having sex with anyone, male or female, why does it matter who I'm attracted to?" and got a lot of blank stares. Le sigh.

Ily said...

Huh. I know different Christian denominations have different views, but I thought the general line was that gay people were tolerable as long as they could keep their "urges" in check. I would also guess that people holding out for marriage are probably some of the more oversexed people out there, did you find that to be true?

heidi said...

Oddly enough, most of the folks who claim the religion have no problem with homosexuality - and the popular opinion is that the school is too uptight (well past the party line, if you will). The religion itself has no comment one way or the other, which disappoints me a bit because one of the texts offers that marriage is to be a "union of masculine and feminine qualities" and says NOTHING of gender. As for the oversexing of the campus population, for some people, yes... but the majority were socially awkward and/or too nervous/self conscious to ever get laid =X

Fangirl said...

I never minded those sort of games. Also, I always win "never have I ever" because I don't drink, smoke, imbibe anything that's not prescribed in any fashion, or have sex. I've never done a "hot seat," though, but I don't particularly think I would mind. I actually had a long and in depth discussion about my asexuality with a kid in my study abroad program who was just flabbergasted at the idea of someone not having an interest in sex. (He wasn't judgey about it, just really curious about the concept.) I didn't mind his questions at all. Maybe that makes me a bit odd, but I guess I've got no shame or embarrassment about it, and I never have. I'm also not flustered by people's tales of their own sexuality, and find them very interesting in the same way I might find musicians talking about their gig interesting. (I'm tone deaf and play no instruments.)

Anonymous said...

I like your explanation for why people are so fascinated with these games.

For me, games like truth or dare are a big part of some of my earliest memories of feeling different. I even sing about it in one of my songs (I'll send you the link). I opted out by doing things like chiming in when a girl with a boyfriend said she didn't feel comfortable participating (because that made it easier to say I didn't either, even though I didn't have a boyfriend to use as an excuse), or pretending to be sleeping while everyone spilled sex secrets.

Ily said...

Thanks! I'd like to hear that song, for sure.