Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Marrying Anita

I just finished a book called Marrying Anita. Subtitled "A Quest for Love in the New India", it's the memoir of a journalist, Anita Jain, who leaves her life in New York to search for a husband in New Delhi, a city she is basically unfamiliar with as an Indian-American. To Jain's credit, her plan doesn't sound as insane in the book as it does when I explain it to you.

Let me say that I don't understand why so many people view marriage as a major, if not the most important, goal of their lives. I've felt this way as long as I can remember, but Marrying Anita really brought the disconnect home. I understand the desire to have a meaningful relationship, for close companionship. But I don't understand why marriage itself is so important. Maybe it's not a big deal, but I wish I could comprehend this thing that seems so crucial to a lot of other women. For me, during my heterosexual years, I always just assumed I would one day marry a man-- even though I had no idea how this situation would come to pass. Now, I'm not averse to marriage, but when people ask me "Are you going to get married?" the question doesn't seem to make sense. I mean, it's not like anyone's proposed to me lately. Isn't it sort of a moot point?

Sure, I would like to buy a house, adopt children perhaps, and find a person who enthusiastically accepts and heartily praises my efforts to make mixtapes for every situation. I guess if I was married (to a fellow music nerd), all this would be easier. But still, it doesn't follow to make marriage into a goal for myself. In Jain's case, being Indian, it's much more of a cultural expectation than it is for me. And according to her, the West is much more obsessed with sex than with marriage. But from my vantage point, we seem pretty damn obsessed with both.

There's one thing on which I can agree with Jain 100%: That sense of wanderlust; the idea that by changing your location on the map, your life might change, too. The idea that by leaving a place, you can leave behind all the frustration and dead ends you experienced there. Even though I hate change and start missing my cats if I'm away from them for more than a day, I constantly dream of seeing more of the world, of learning about other cultures and viewing other ways of life. Sometimes it's hard to tell if Marrying Anita is more about marriage or more about the New India. This is a good thing. Jain is living between cultures, and her fascination with India's rapid (and sometimes not-so-rapid) cultural changes is present on every page.

If you think you want to read this book, you might want to stop reading here, as I'm about to reveal the ending big-time!

The end of the book left me hanging. You're still wondering if Anita gets married. So I turn to the epilogue, and I find...that she doesn't. Yes, you heard that correctly. The protagonist of Marrying Anita never marries. I was awestruck by this, which goes to show how starved I am for stories about women's lives that deviate from common social mores. In the epilogue, Jain writes:

Who's to stop us if we decide to stay in a city for reasons as intangible as the glimpse of a Mughal-era tomb out of the corner of our eye as we sit in a noisy autorickshaw, or Chandra [Jain's maid]'s lovingly made morning
lassis? Who's to tell us that the moments of grace we encounter in a place are not enough to keep us there-- that instead we need a context, a future, a father, a husband?

Even though I'm no fan of lassis, this passage, and Jain's further exploration of NYC vs. Delhi, resonated with me in a major way. I didn't know that the straight author of a book revolving around marriage could share my own asexual longings. Like Jain in NYC, I am oddly and constantly dissatisfied with my own major world-class city, a condition that few seem to share. Jain says, "It was different in Delhi. My ideas kept flowing from a pipeline that could not be stanched." I'm reminded of my lost love, London, walking slowly along the Thames in the borough of Richmond and coming to insights about my life (including that I might be asexual). What Jain ultimately found in Delhi, I wish I could also find. Maybe if I could better articulate my desires, I'd have a better chance of fulfilling them. But it's hard to find the words for more obscure forms of desire in a world where marriage is king.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

BFFs: Owen and Mzee

When I was a kid, I loved stories about inter-species friendship. I remember one of my favorites being "The Dragon Wore Pink", about a girl and a dragon. A short perusal of a few books from my childhood found stories about a man and an elephant, a crocodile and a bird, and a mouse and a (vegetarian!) cat. I also remember a book about a girl named Emily (that's me!) and her friendship with, again, an elephant. Although I discovered the story of Owen and Mzee as an adult, it captivated me just the same: Owen is a hippopotamus and Mzee is a giant tortoise. They live together in Haller Park, an animal sanctuary in Kenya. During a tsunami in 2004, baby Owen was separated from his family and rescued by a group of humans. At his young age, he wouldn't have been able to learn to live by himself in the wild, so the manager of Haller Park offered Owen a place there.

One animal in Owen's large enclosure was a huge, crotchety, 130-year old tortoise, Mzee (his name means "wise old man" in Swahili). As soon as Owen got out of the truck, he made a beeline for Mzee. At first, Mzee wasn't happy with all the attention Owen was giving him. However, park staff soon found Mzee encouraging Owen to eat. Soon after that, they were spending all their time together. They sleep next to each other, rub noses and nuzzle each other. According to the book "Owen and Mzee", the reasons are unclear why these two animals seem to like each other so much. It's pretty much unheard of for a reptile and a mammal to form such a close bond. But to the many people who come to visit Owen and Mzee, it's obvious that they are, indeed, BFFs.

I find it surprising that in all my writings about relationships, I haven't covered the human-animal bond, besides identifying that asexuals like cats. Growing up, I felt really different from other kids, and I identified more closely with animals than with humans-- much like Owen identifies more with Mzee than with other hippos, even if it doesn't seem to make much sense. It sounds a little sad, but maybe non-human friends shouldn't be underestimated. In a 1998 study by Gail Melson at Perdue University, she found that "pets fulfill many of the same support functions as humans for both adults and support, like human support, is associated with less stress and better adjustment and that this relation holds across varied family characteristics." It's true that relationships aren't exclusive to relationships between humans. It seems as though since ancient times, some people have always felt the need to escape humanity, if only for a little while, among animals.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thoughts on Love Songs

Listening to this song, "Falling in Love" by The Flower Machine, got me thinking about love songs. In my interview for the Chronicle, I remember being asked if I could relate to love songs. I wasn't really sure what to say at the time, because the answer is that I don't know. I haven't experienced romantic love or "falling in love" in the traditional sense, but I do enjoy love songs as long as they're not corny or cliche. I relate on some level, but it might not be the same level as someone who's fallen in love with another person. I feel like if it's a song I consider to be good, I sort of experience through the music what's being expressed in the song. I usually can't relate to the situations being described, but I can relate to the emotions behind them in some way. A while back, whenever I had something really difficult ahead of me, it would make me feel better to listen to a certain song that was about selling cocaine and hollering when you see cops. I couldn't relate to that situation AT ALL, but something about it struck me on an emotional level, the idea of striving against obstacles. I think it's the same idea with love songs. I have no evidence that on a basic level, my emotional experience differs much from anyone else's (at least, on the basis of sexuality). I think my love-song emotions just might get expressed through different channels. Music might be where these channels come together.

My all-time favorite love song has to be Billy Bragg's "Strange Things Happen". You can hear it on Youtube here, although the accompanying video appears to be a random tour of someone's garden. I'm a big fan of Billy Bragg in general (he also wrote my all-time favorite song on any topic, "A New England"), but I really don't know what it is about this song that makes it my favorite, at least as far as love songs go. Maybe it's because he's such a strong lyricist, but a lot of people are. I guess, like falling in love, the reason I like this song might exist somewhere separate from my ability to express it verbally. So, what's your favorite love song? I wonder if there could be any difference in the types of songs asexuals and sexuals choose. True, I'll never get a big enough sample here, but it would be interesting to know.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dude. Let Me Eat My Couscous!

I'm vegetarian. Have been for about ten years now. Even if this means going to France and eating mostly couscous, or going to Japan and eating mostly ice cream, it doesn't bother me. I've eaten a lot of good things, a lot of weird things, and as long as vegetarian meatballs and buffalo wings continue to be produced, I will be content to never eat meat again for as long as I live.

That said, when you're vegetarian, there's also a small "coming out" that garners reactions-- but there are only two. It usually happens when I'm eating with a group of omnivores that I am acquaintances with. They'll see me ordering or eating something without meat, and ask if I'm vegetarian. "Yep", I'll say, wanting to get on with whatever conversation we were having. But it can't end there. People usually ask why I'm vegetarian, and I'll give a short answer. They process this, and then the perpetual two responses come. Number one: "I was a vegetarian for ___ years." "I don't eat red meat." "I only eat things that are grown locally." etc. So they're not vegetarian, but they're trying to show that they relate to my choice in some way. Number two is something like: "I could NEVER be vegetarian!" "But steak is soooo good!" "You mean you don't eat ANY meat?" and so forth. They seem to want me to admit that yeah, I have tripped up and had a few bacon cheeseburgers-- but the thing is, I never have. They seem frustrated, and are left grasping at...what, exactly?

I was discussing this with my mom, a "pescatarian", someone who eats fish but no other meat. She described the two responses as "I'm good like you" or "You're bad like me". The moral judgement is totally assumed; I don't care about judging people at that moment, just eating my couscous in peace. Asexuals are very familar with the "You're bad like me" response. ("You mean you NEVER have sex?" "Do you masturbate?" etc) However, my mom noticed, no one declares to us that they're trying to cut down on sex. Why do people think we're being holier than thou when we're really just being ourselves? Unlike vegetarianism, a choice I made to, apparently, be better than you (it's obviously all about you, by the way), we didn't choose to lack sexual attraction. Do people still feel bad and shameful for having sexual deisre? Since I don't, I wouldn't know. However, considering how messed up our culture can be about sex (oh, Gethen!) I wouldn't put it past us.

Oh yeah, I guess there is a third response, although it's not too common: "You're vegetarian? Me too!"

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Left Hand of Darkness

I heard there was something asexy about this book, so I read it (which took awhile). The book in question, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin, might be the first sci-fi novel I've ever read. Left Hand is about Genly Ai, an envoy from a confederation of worlds called the Ekumen. He's sent to a faraway planet called Gethen in order to pursuade the countries there to join that group. On Gethen, the people have evolved in a unique way in which they are neither male nor female most of the time, and basically asexual. But for a few days a month, they enter "kemmer", in which they develop male or female sexual characteristics and are interested in sex with others and able to engage in it. The rest of the time, they're not interested in sex at all. Whether people take the "male" or "female" role seems to be random, and people switch from month to month.

Gethen has no concept of gender or masculinity/femininity, which Genly, a man from a "bisexual" society, constantly struggles to comprehend. People like Genly are described as "perverts" who are "constantly in kemmer". There's also a bit of an unconventional love story that blurs the lines between friendship and romance. This was the part of the book that most touched me emotionally. I was really pulling for the relationship between these two people, and I won't tell you what happens, but the ending is a sad one. For someone who doesn't like Hollywood endings, I did want them to live happily ever after together. Maybe because in that society, there's no pressure for everyone else to do the same.

Aside from the constantly cold temperatures (people from other worlds call Gethen "Winter"), Gethen is definitely a place I would like to visit, especially the country of Karhide where the book begins. If you're into extremely intricate "worldbuilding", you will love this story. The detail makes you wonder where the book is going sometimes, but you'll become, quite uselessly, an expert on all things Gethenian. LeGuin called her world "a vision of genderless justice" and it does hold elements of wish fulfillment for me. Sex on Gethen, whether you have it or are celibate, is just so matter-of-fact, not mired in all the judgement that we put on it. While some people take a "vow of kemmering" and have a monogamous relationship with that person, there's not a lot of "romance". There's no dating or marriage, and everyone has an equal chance of bearing children. In Karhide, people seem to live in some sort of communal arrangement called Hearths, in which children are cared for. At any rate, you're seen as a person first, not a man or woman-- there's no other way. I know that gender has shaped me, as it's shaped all of us. Could we ever move beyond that baggage? It sounds like a great thing to leave it all behind.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Praise of Confusion

Last week, I was interviewed by a reporter from The Chronicle (howdy!) for an article about asexuality and AVEN. I was asked some good questions that made me think. One point the reporter brought up was that although there may be a definition of asexuality, it's not really that concrete or obvious, and this is confusing. I agree, it IS confusing, but I realized later that the potential confusion over who is and isn't asexual might actually be a good thing. I'm no fan of intentional vagueness, but sometimes unintentional vagueness can leave you with a rich heritage, if you don't fight it. Along these lines, the first thing I think of is Judaism. In all my studies of religion, I've found Judaism, my own religion, to be the vaguest. All the prayers seem to say the same thing: God is our God, there is one God. I always wanted more information about God, but I never got it. I think it's because of this vagueness that Judiasm developed such a long tradition of lively discussion and debate on spiritual matters.

So it is with asexuality. The asexual community is one of the only places (and I just say this to be inclusive, because I know of no other place) where people are having discussion on the nature of sexuality, and on what defines their orientation. Of course, this discussion can be tinged with angst or anxiety, but for me, it served to expand my knowledge of myself, other people, and society in general. When I identified as straight, do you think anyone ever talked about what that meant? The answer, obviously, is no. Being heterosexual was supposed to influence the trajectory of my life, but it was never defined. For someone who feels as little attraction as I do, "liking guys" wasn't clear enough. In what way was I supposed to like guys? How few guys could I like and still be straight? What actions were supposed to accompany attraction? I would never know the answers. In my teenage years, I didn't have enough experience or information to even articulate these questions, although they hung out in a shadowy way under the surface of my "default" sexuality. It's my time with the asexuality discussion that's enabled me to come up with them now.

Since we're forming an asexual culture as we go along, I can say that I think it would be a shame if we rushed to some ironclad definition of asexuality. I like that there's no asexuality police ready to kick people out of the club for doing some "non asexual" activity. I know not everyone enjoys the confusion, but at least the asexual community is a place where it's okay to be openly confused, which is not a common thing to find. No one will foist an orientation on you, which is also rare in this world. Sexuality is fluid, we say, which can be both confusing and comforting. Questions can lead to more questions, and I think that's what really changed me; I acquired a new attitude where I don't accept "the default" anymore (although this is sometimes very annoying!). I hope we can remain a group where that lively discussion goes on, long after asexuality is well-known.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

BFFs: Friedrich and Karl

A while ago I wrote about "Marx and Engels", one of the most asexual songs ever. It's an interesting coincidence then, that Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx were the third pair of BFFs to come to the top of my head (along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton/ Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola). These economist-philosophers were most famous for The Communist Manifesto, which they wrote together in 1848. Four years earlier, they had met in Paris, and their friendship would prove to be lifelong. In the 1850s, Marx and Engels lived in England, Marx in London and Engels in Manchester. Engels supported Marx and his family financially for quite some time. Marx was married with children; Engels had a long relationship with a woman, but was opposed to the institution of marriage. Marx died in 1883. Engels would live 12 years longer. After Marx's death, Engels compiled and edited what must have been thousands of pages of Marx's Capital. In one of his prefaces to Capital, Engels described Marx as "the best, the truest friend I had- and had for forty years- the friend to whom I am more indebted than can be expressed in words..." They both liked large beards that made them look rather unapproachable:

Aside from sharing interests and enjoying each others' company, the 3 BFFs I've covered so far seem to have one thing in common: A massive outpouring of creative energy. I don't know if our current times are as fertile for that kind of partnership. It seemed like in the 1800s, when men and women largely lived in different spheres, it might have been common for same-sex friendships to be the most important relationships in people's lives. I'm glad that women and men are more integrated now, but today, if you're married but you're closer to a friend than to your spouse, that would be considered very strange.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Things Asexuals Like: Doctor Who

This is what I think I know about Doctor Who: It's a TV show on the BBC in which people time-travel in a phone booth (what's a phone booth?). The show has run for an extremely long time but the title character is most recently played by David Tennant, who people seem to find quite the asexy beast. Knowing as little as I do about Doctor Who, I seem to be in a small minority among asexuals. WHO is Doctor Who? Is he supposed to be asexual? Why do we like him so much? Remember when everyone was talking about "The first rule of Fight Club", even people who have never seen or read Fight Club? That's what it's like to be an asexual who's never seen Doctor Who. Even so, I can identify if you have a Doctor Who Livejournal icon and I might be able to pick David Tennant out of a lineup, probably because he's appeared multiple times in the "Who do you find beautiful/handsome?" thread on AVEN. As you can see, Doctor Who appears to be part of our culture, whether we're watchers of the show or not.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The German Baby

On Friday, I got to go to a small meetup where we locals hung out with a globe-trotting AVENite on her way to Sydney. Apparently, they're having a meetup there today with 20 people. Whoa. We met at Peter's Cafe, a diner in Millbrae where I ordered an extremely terrifying pancake called "The German Baby". An enormous, dense concoction, I was repeatedly warned that it would take 35 minutes to cook. The waitress kept telling me that "The baby is on the way". And later, "How's the baby?" We had a jolly time talking about travel and our worst sunburns ever. Yay for unofficial meetups!

Someone also coined the term "Post-pride depression". Apparently that's what I'm suffering from at the moment. Oh, woe! I'll go drive down 280 to the dulcet tones of Orange Juice...maybe that will distract me from thinking of rare ailments I can potentially use to get out of my job assignment.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nervous Habits

This week, I was contacted by the reporter from the Chronicle, wanting to interview me for a larger article on asexuality. I wasn't sure at first, but then I decided I would go for it. First of all, I was worried that future employers would Google me and find things about my sexuality. However, as it is now, they would find "Radical Asexual Blogger" next to my name if they bothered to go to page 2 of the results. And for the longest time, my top result has been from "The Magazine of Persian Weddings". Don't ask. I was also told by a friend that employers would think I was less distractible because I wouldn't be checking out my co-workers. However, I am constantly looking for cute new co-workers to add a little excitement to my day, so...

I was also worried about the offensive comments that people will no doubt leave on the newspaper's website. If people's own "friends" tell them that rape would straighten them out, goodness knows what strangers would have to say. However, if the article could make a few asexual people realize they're not alone, I think it would be worth it. And having it be in a local paper might even get a few more people to meetups, which I would love. The fact that other AVENites wanted to be interviewed made me feel a lot better, because I tend to worry about things for no apparent reason. Thanks, guys.

Pride may be over, and I may have met my meetup goal (if more than 10 people are regularly attending, the format may have to change), but I don't plan on "sitting on my laurels", whatever that means. Not totally sure what I'll do next, but I have been wanting to make some asexually-related videos for quite some time...