Gender and Sexuality

I always feel a bit torn when composing titles for my blog posts here. On one hand, SEO and good semantics dictate that my titles should be clear and descriptive of post content. On the other hand, that means really boring titles, like ‘coming out as asexual IRL for the first time’. But now you know what this post will be about despite the lengthy introduction!

Yesterday was an excellent and productive day: I attended class in the morning, had fun looking at phonetics and con-scripts with two guys instead of writing code, ate surprisingly good chicken and lots of cherry tomatoes for lunch, said something useful at a lab meeting full of postgraduates, hung out with someone, made a fool of myself bobbing along to live jazz in the evening, and made major progress in an upcoming magazine illustration. I also outed myself to said someone as both not-straight and asexual. The former was much easier than the latter, although I’d hinted very slightly at both in previous communications. 

So this post is about the hanging out part. I had coffee (well, a ginger tea for me) with a lady who taught me German for two weeks before I dropped the class – let’s call her R for the purposes of easy reference. We ended up talking for three and a half hours, which was fun because I enjoy talking to people, but very exhausting, especially because she:

  • talks a lot and can keep going, and
  • is extremely fannish

while I am neither of these things. I face the same problem with one of my main friend groups at school, and it doesn’t help that I cycle drastically between extraversion/introversion depending on physical state. Despite that, it was a thoroughly decent use of an afternoon, and I got a hug out of it at the end (which caught me off guard). I felt completely drained and overwhelmed afterwards, though, which unfortunately happens very often because despite my shyness I quite like chatting with people and put myself in situations where 120-minute talkathons can happen…

When I arrived at the coffee shop R was reading a book called Sexing the Cherry, which Wikipedia informs me to be a postmodernist work that heavily incorporates intertextuality. 

(My reaction to any fiction ever.) No, but after I read the blurb it seemed like a sexuality book. Just to be sure, I briefly flipped through it, and concluded that it was definitely a sexuality book.* Probably one of those books that reviewers describe as ‘powerful and honest in its exploration of sexuality and desire’ or something along those lines – lines that tend to make me feel like some essential part of the human experience is missing from me (which is something I almost never feel about my asexuality otherwise).

To be honest, whenever I see discussions of ‘sexuality’ in Serious Literature, a lot of it just reads as romantic or aesthetic or sensual attraction – things which I can understand and empathize with – except it eventually crosses over to some sort of activity involving nipples or genitals. (I’ve wondered a few times if maybe that feeling of empathy is, in fact, indicative of sexual attraction. Does sexual attraction require thinking about certain body parts? I don’t know. But my feelings seem neither as physical or as…basic, as instinctual, as the way discussions of sexuality seem to imply they should be.) Maybe it was Freud’s fault, because honestly, sex and sexual desire doesn’t seem to be much of a big deal to people when you observe them in regular non-sexual settings. But from time to time I get faced with a reminder that sex is a big deal to most humans, that sexual desire is a very strong motivator, that sexual acts or the lack of them can cause in most people the same depth of emotion as I feel about certain other things. Media, literature, my classes and professors even, keep telling me that sex is an integral component of life and love. The internet – which I consider to be a very telling reflection of human nature – is filled with anguished writings on sexual desire or sexual incompatibility and of course millions of ‘too horny to function, send help’ posts that seem genuinely distressed.

R mentioned liking postmodernist literature (and the author of this book, Jeanette Winterson) because of how it explored identity and sexuality without being a coming-out story. I wanted to say something about asexuality at that point, but my brain was still forming words, and the conversation flowed away to commenting on our environs as we left the coffee shop.

A while after R and I left the coffee shop, I brought the conversation back in a very inelegant fashion: while waiting to cross the street, I said ‘uh, so you mentioned liking postmodernism because it explores sexuality…’. (I need to work on my segues.) Accompanied by a lot of hand-waving to take the place of actual speech, I tried to explain how I enjoyed smutty fanfiction as much as anyone else, but sexuality seemed to be such a powerful theme in literature and human life, and how I could never really relate to that and…something, I fizzled out by this point. She replied that, well, sex was indeed very important to most people, so…

I tried to do this without talking about asexuality at first, but it was kind of impossible without creating a hypothetical asexual figure to talk about, so in the middle of it I said ‘I identify as asexual’.

Something I found interesting was that I felt very strongly asexual at that moment in response to the foisting of sexuality upon me (in the ‘most people’ part), so much that I didn’t add any of my usual qualifications about not being totally sure, maybe being demi but maybe not etc. The second thing I found interesting was how difficult it was to come out as asexual! I felt very similar to the way I felt before coming out (as not straight) to the ex-English teacher from home: unsure about its relevance to the conversation, worried that it would be weird, and incredibly hesitant to formally mark myself as ‘different’. But also wanting to let the truth out.

I think that the difficulty came about because being L/G/B (and hopefully increasingly, T) is pretty much mainstream and widely discussed and (at least around these parts) completely acceptable, while asexuality is not even talked about and hence has no chance to be perceived as normal. And being normal is important to me, at least, until I get assurance that it’s okay to not be. (Or even better, ‘what is normal anyway?’) Hey, as my friend A says, #collectivistcultureproblems.

I’m not sure why, but I got a very strong sense that R is a high-libido allosexual to whom sex and sexuality are very important. That’s completely conjecture, but because of it I felt like she might judge me harder for being asexual, or even take offence at my asexuality because it denied the legitimacy of her allosexual feelings (this part isn’t logical, I know). She didn’t, of course, and later on she talked quite a bit about hypocrisy in the LGBT community, sexuality being complicated, and asexual fanfiction.

Another more facetious reason for the difficulty might be that I, uh, like looking at girls with short hair and tend to get aesthetically attracted to people who present close to androgynous. R’s not ridiculously attractive** or anything, but is obviously lesbian and definitely on the masculine side of tomboy femme and…well. Uh. Although I concluded rather quickly yesterday that a relationship is so far off the table that it’s probably hiding under a sofa in the apartment of a bewildered insurance agent who lives four blocks down, I guess there was still some subconscious ‘I shouldn’t tell attractive people that I don’t feel a type of attraction that’s probably important to them’ type of thing going on.

I’d be interested in knowing what sorts of reservations other ace-spectrum people feel, if any, when letting other people know about your aceness. Let me know with a comment!

(As an addition to what I wrote above, I feel completely comfortable with the idea of wearing an asexual friendship bracelet (am in fact in the process of perusing YouTube tutorials to learn to make one) or a more standard rainbow pride bracelet, but actually saying the words ‘I am asexual’ out loud is difficult.)

* I don’t know if it’s actually a sexuality book. She recommended it quite enthusiastically, so I plan to read it (and Winterson’s other work, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit being the most famous) at some point.

** I was walking to the lab with my bro N a few days ago, and had to completely change the route we were taking because she’d caught a glimpse of a boy who was ‘extremely attractive’ and wanted to follow him. This friend also tells me gems like ‘intercourse is lots of fun’. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed sexuality much with her, but her random acts of sexual-ness amuse me to no end. She’s great.

Here is an excellent post written by an allosexual in a relationship with an asexual and how they’re handling things. I’m appending, as commentary, what I wrote on her blog:

This is both beautiful (I’m so happy for both of you!) and reassuring – I’m…somewhere on the asexual spectrum, but I’m worried that I’m neither sexual enough (by a far cry) for an allosexual partner, nor completely asexual enough for an asexual partner. As a result, I’ve wondered about open relationships like these, and strongly considered having them myself, where the allosexual partner can go have sex with other people while remaining emotionally monogamous to the ace partner – and it is wonderful to read a first hand affirmation that such relationships can exist. I wish you and Tara all the best.

Not too sure how reblogs work yet – let me know if this is showing up funny for you.

redbeardace on Tumblr is asking about what to include in his planned The Asexual’s Guide to Orgasms:

As I mentioned last week, I’m considering writing some stuff regarding orgasms and masturbation from an asexual point of view.

Before I begin, I’d like to find a bit about what you all think should be covered in it.  Is there anything you think is important to mention?  Is there anything you’d like to know (or wish you’d known years ago)?  I’ll probably be setting up an anonymous survey to get a wide range of perspectives, so are there any questions you’d like to see asked there?  Is there anything you think it would be best to avoid?

Since I have a few more followers now (thanks!), I thought I’d try to help promote his post on WordPress in addition to replying on Tumblr. Asexual arousal is another topic that’s important to me and one that I’ve written a bit about in my private correspondence, because its presence is confusing. If I think about it too much, it tends to make me do a little shuffle among the asexual spectrum before settling back down at my current default, ‘asexual-ish’.

I think it would also be a very good idea for allosexuals to hop over to his blog to submit questions or comments they might have (click here to do it!). Perhaps due to the nature of our orientation being defined as the absence of something else, I feel like discussion in the asexual community has a tendency to devlolve into wild mass guessing and blind men’s arguments. Which is why I really like it when I’m browsing through AVEN threads (usually arrived from frantic Google searches in moments of self-doubt) and see a ‘I’m not asexual, but…’ post.

Allosexuality, asexuality; neither makes sense without the presence of the other, and I am all for more non-asexual people joining the discussion. It’s surprisingly difficult to find sexual perspectives that are written with the same sort of specificity and objectivity with which aces discuss sexual attraction and romantic/platonic feelings. (Which are hugely helpful, by the way.) I don’t mean that it’s hard to find objective writings on allosexuality; more that writings on allosexuality – not about particular facets of allosexuality, about sexual attraction itself – don’t even seem to exist. I suspect it may be because the world at large generally assumes that discussions like those don’t need to happen – everyone knows what sexual attraction feels like, everyone knows what sex means, everyone has sex or wants to have sex, right?

All right, my actual responses to redbeardace, which are necessarily a bit squicky and hence under a cut:

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My Facebook newsfeed today brought a recent initiative called Come Out, Come Home (COuCH) to my attention. This appears to be a project by Sayoni in partnership with International Coming Out Day, and a platform for Singaporeans who have come out to share their stories – where, to whom, and how they came out; subsequent reactions; dealing with fallout etc. I quite liked that it was for both LGBTQ people and allies – coming out as an ally is no less significant (or terrifying!).

After reading both the stories currently posted on the website (from Ding Tai Boon and Stephanie Wong) I ate a bit more of my avocado and waited for a rush of motivation to be more out to hit me.

Nothing happened.

The idea and stories were lovely, of course, but I just wasn’t feeling particularly enthusiastic about the idea. I wasn’t strongly against it, but it didn’t really call to me the way it might have a year ago. Still, I dragged myself over to their pledge form, and filled out most of it before I paused and gave up. Only later did I realize that this didn’t feel quite right because I was trying too hard to do being gay* ‘right’ all over again.

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