Monday, August 31, 2009

The Hot Ones

Earlier this month, Pretzelboy wrote a really intriguing blog post called "The only criticism of asexuality that actually bothers me". This "criticism from below" (ie, from people with a prior knowledge of asexuality) states that it's very difficult to know for sure that you're at the lowest levels of sexual desire when we have so little idea what the median is like. He writes:

Most of us have absolutely no idea what other people are actually like sexually. We have no idea what 50 is like and no idea what 10-20 is like. Rather, we are bombarded with images and messages about sexuality in movies, on TV, in magazines, and on the radio that give us wildely over-inflated ideas of what "sexually normal" is. People get ideas about "normal sexuality" from their peers. But not just from any peers--they get these ideas from their peers who talk the most about sex. And it's probably the people most interested in sex who talk the most about sex.

I can definitely relate to this. People tell me "love isn't like the movies", but how am I supposed to know what romantic love towards other people is like besides the information I get in movies? The curious people on the low end of the sex or romance spectrums have little to no way of discerning what real-life experiences of those things might be like. I long to ask people-- what attracted you to your partner? Why is that relationship so important to you? How do you think romantic love is different from other kinds of love? Why do you stay with someone who is so obviously wrong for you?, etc. However, these questions, if actually asked, would range from bizarre to rude to possibly TMI. And these are the tame questions. I don't think I want to know the minute details of my friends' sex lives. And most people aren't comfortable sharing those things, especially with an asexual who might not be able to relate to what they're saying. However, this leads me with nowhere to get the information about what the average experience of sexuality is. So of course all I know about sex is from a few highly sexual friends and the media. Maybe asexuals should start a research project to get this information from people, where they can answer anonymously. It would definitely be a needed service.

In the post I referenced earlier, Pretzel gives an example from his own life about not being able to know what other people are thinking about sexuality. He writes:

I was long confused about not understanding what it's like to think someone is "hot." I didn't even have much of a sense for "pretty" until I was in my 20's, so I was really confused about conversations about the matter, and I was even more confused about how there was no recognition that people like me even exist [...] Since identifying as asexual, I've found that a number of other people (who aren't asexual) don't get hotness either, and they often expericne a good bit of confusion over the matter. Had I known about this when I was younger, I might not have felt nearly as much of the sense of wierdness that led me to identify as asexual.

It's funny because I think I do know what "hot" is...just more asexual diversity, I guess, although I wonder how many asexuals fall into either camp. I thought it might be a nice piece of edutainment for me to try to define different levels of attractiveness in people. I'll give it a shot:

Beautiful/Handsome: If you were scouting for a modeling agency, these would be the people you'd pick up. They might inspire a head-turn because they're just that aesthetically pleasing. You may or may not be attracted to them.

Cute: You sort of can't decide whether to be attracted to them, or to go "aww" and pinch their cheek. They probably have above-average looks, a boyish/girlish charm and an appealing personality.

Sexy: This person is exciting, cool, and maybe a little unconventional (see the discussion of "sexy-ugly" in the movie Kissing Jessica Stein). I think people who ride mopeds are kind of sexy. While these people have a certain mystique, you don't necessarily want to have sex with them.

Asexy: I'm not sure if we will ever pass someone on the street and be knocked out by their asexiness. To me, "asexy" signifies an intellectual attraction or the hotness that comes from being asexual (which you wouldn't know just by looking at someone).

Hot: "Hot" is where everything comes together, at least in my mind. You find the person aesthetically pleasing. They're cute, they're sexy, and if you had to actually be stuck in a secret elevator with any of these people, this is who you would choose.

I remember writing in my journal years ago that if I ever met another asexual person, I would probably find them unbearably attractive. In a word, hot. Obviously, now I've met other asexuals, and I haven't ripped the clothes off any of them. However, if I needed any evidence that asexuality is actually an orientation, it could be this: That we might be most attracted to other asexuals. Sure, plenty of us are in relationships with people who aren't asexual, but isn't it true that most of us would rather be single than date someone who's totally incompatible sexually? Maybe "hot" is elusive for me because it's something that I'm most likely to apply to the rare fellow asexual. I remember a friend whispering to me about a guy I thought was pretty hot: "No one knows this, but he's still a virgin!" Coincidence? I don't know. Come to think of it, I've never been attracted to anyone whose sexuality was completely known to me. If Alan Rickman was a raging nymphomaniac, would we still like him so darn much? We all have our ideas of what we find more attractive than anything else; to me, it's the idea that someone "understands me". And who more, perhaps, than fellow aces? Not to freak you out or anything.

Friday, August 28, 2009

BFFs: James and William, Etc

I'd like to give a shout-out to James Buchanan. Our 15th president, and often thought by historians to be one of the worst presidents we've ever had, he was also the only American president who was perpetually single. In fact, he had to enlist his niece to act as his First Lady (I had no idea that First Ladies were so integral to a presidency. Apparently someone has to entertain visiting dignitaries and do "advocacy work" that is important yet no one takes seriously. While Buchanan may not have been all that popular, his niece, Harriet, was-- the 19th century equivalent to Jackie Kennedy). I found this story about Buchanan's own BFF, related on Wikipedia, to be quite sweet:

For 15 years in Washington DC prior to his presidency, Buchanan lived with his close friend, Alabama Senator William Rufus King. King became Vice President under Franklin Pierce. He took ill and died shortly after Pierce's inauguration, and four years before Buchanan became President...Buchanan and King's nieces destroyed their uncles' correspondence, leaving some questions as to what relationship the two men had, but the length and intimacy of surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship" and Buchanan wrote of his "communion" with his housemate.

Even though such expressions of emotion were more common for male friends back then, it seems like even the press at that time wondered if they might have been gay. What the story of Buchanan makes me think of (in a personal, rather than political sense) is that yes, there are a lot of situations where it might be easier or preferable to have a partner or a spouse. But even in those instances, things can still be worked out if you're single. Your friends, family and associates can help you through-- even if they only nominate you for the presidency because you were out of the country when a polarizing conflict occurred. Oh well!

And, here's some more random fun with presidents. When I was in high school, I had, like most of you Americans, a boring US History class. Right above the blackboard (or was it a whiteboard?) were portraits of every US president at the time. I played a game with myself in which I tried to figure out what president was the most attractive. I remember choosing Franklin Pierce. I don't remember what he looked like, so I found a picture:

Also a pretty crappy president (our 14th), he was one of the few not old enough to be my grandfather. Historical accounts praise his "good looks", so maybe I can call them afterall. A notorious alcoholic, he reportedly stated that "There's nothing left to do but get drunk!" and died of cirrhosis. Fun dude. I find it interesting, looking back, how my choice was not influenced by "common opinions" of which president was most attractive, such as Bill Clinton or JFK (this was before Obama). No, I had to scrutinize every one and make my own choice, esoteric as it may be, to go with what little gut instinct I had in the matter.

(Thank you to Lia for answering my question: "Have we ever had a single president?")

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Things Asexuals Like: Overanalyzing

"Going deeper takes longer and hurts more. The courage with which Freud faced the radical madness of modern life in Civilization and Its Discontents is rare. He was prepared to psychoanalyze our entire culture."
--The great Theodore Roszak

Hello, friends! I'm back with another installment of Things Asexuals Like. I think it's pretty obvious that asexuals overanalyze things. And if you think I don't have enough scientific data to make this're just proving my point. I was inspired to write this post when I saw a poll on AVEN about Enneagram types. If you're not familiar with the Enneagram, it's a way to determine personality type based on 9 categories. Usually I'd think this sort of thing is bogus, but my type (#4, if you're curious) described me so accurately that it was sort of eerie. Anyway, in this poll, 40% of AVENites that took an Enneagram test said that their type was #5, "The Thinker". At a distant second place, 14% were #6, "The Skeptic". Is anyone surprised by these results? When people ask "Are asexual smarter?" I think what those people are noticing is not a special intelligence, but rather a disposition towards analysis that can seem like it to the untrained eye.

It has been asked why asexuals spend so much time thinking about and studying asexuality and sexuality in general. And once I started thinking about writing this post, it was suddenly clear to me why this is so. It takes a lot of analyzing, both of yourself and society, to get to asexuality. Overanalyzing is not something you can just turn off once you get to a realization. If you have a tendency to overanalyze things, you've probably had it your whole life, and asexuality is just one of the many things you've thought to death.

And I don't mean to say that I or anyone else "likes" overanalyzing. There can be a certain thrill in coming up with connections between esoteric topics, but it's usually not that fun. It may not be asexuality that leads so many of us into anxiety and depression-- it might be our constant overanalyzing of a mad world. The life of overanalysis can be a very lonely one. Since most of the pillars of our culture ("Buy something and everything will be fine!") survive based on our not thinking about them too much, overanalysis can be both profoundly powerful and profoundly isolating. In fact, I analyzed myself right out of mainstream culture. I wish I could go back to the days when I thought George W. Bush might do an OK job, but sadly, those are gone forever. Now, I get irked whenever I see "Male or female?" as a choice on a survey. Asexuality can be very radicalizing, which I don't think is a bad thing. But that's just one more reason why we need to stick together. One overanalyzer looks like a lunatic, but put a bunch together and it's a movement.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Frigid Bitches

I recently read an insightful post dealing with rape at the blog Fugitivus. The author talks about how women are discouraged from speaking up for themselves in every area of their lives. Then, people are surprised when we fail to scream "NO!" or fight off a rapist. And if we react passively to such violence, it wasn't a 'real' rape. The whole post is great, but this is my favorite part:

If women are raised being told by parents, teachers, media, peers, and all surrounding social strata that:

  • it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (”mean bitch”)
  • it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (”crazy bitch”)
  • it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (”stuck-up bitch”)
  • it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (”angry bitch”)
  • it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (”bitch got daddy issues”)
  • it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (”dyke bitch”)
  • it is not okay to raise your voice (”shrill bitch”)
  • it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (”mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.

And we should not be surprised when they behave these ways during attempted or completed rapes.

Indeed, the vast majority (if not all) of my fellow women have said yes, or said nothing, when they really wanted to say no. Whether or not it was rape, most women have had experiences of a sexual nature that they would have rather not had. People who say "You're asexual? You must have been sexually abused" are in denial of how many people, particularly women, actually experience sexual assault. We all know women who have been sexually assaulted-- how many of them are actually asexual? According to RAINN, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Obviously, this doesn't match up with the statistics on asexuality. Not all asexuals are out n' proud, and I think these unsure folks, who are in the majority, are even more vulnerable to saying yes just to go along with "what is expected". It's pretty hard to say "NO!" to unwanted sexual advances when you are, like most aces unaware of asexuality, trying to "fit in" and be sexual. I bet that a lot of asexuals who came out later in life can attest to this.

And there's another link between asexuality and crazy, angry, and/or shrill bitchiness. Whenever people ask about my asexuality and say things like, "Were you raped?" "Are you a virgin?" "Have you ever had an orgasm?" my insides are saying something like, "GO FUCK YOURSELF!" But, that never comes to the surface. It would make me a crazy bitch, right? So, instead, I do what "good girls" do-- try to politely and reasonably educate these boundary-crossing people. Whenever I do this, it makes me feel ashamed, violated, and like I have let myself down. I always promise myself that next time, I will assert myself-- maybe not scream "GO FUCK YOURSELF!" but mention that the question is inappropriate. However, in the moment, I become so scared of retribution, of being labeled, perhaps, an "uncooperative bitch". Maybe if this happens enough, and I feel like a traitor to my self-worth enough, I will start not to give a damn about being thought of as any kind of bitch. Of course, I advocate education. But not when you're feeling attacked and disempowered. When a not-so-thoughtful sexual person finds out that you are asexual, they can automatically start coming at you hard with the social privilege that they discover that they have and you lack. A situation like this is not a good ground for education.

Like many women (and men), I am obsessed with what other people think of me. Even though I've always been a feminist, even though I know that being called a bitch usually means you're trying to stand up for yourself, my conditioning is very strong. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that being disliked is the worst thing in the world. And I can't believe that I'm alone in this. It seems absurd that you'd worry about being disliked by, say, someone trying to sexually harass you. But women think this all the time. I hope that just because in the past, I haven't been as much of an "angry" "mean" and "stuck-up" bitch as I'd like to be, that it isn't too late to start. Luckily, being a frigid bitch is something I've already got down. Maybe that's a good beginning.

Administrative notice: I'm going on vacation until August 23rd, so I'll resume blogging once I get back (Unless I get eaten by a moose, that is). Until next time, bitch on, angry bitches, bitch on...

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Ily, 24, is Keeping Her Name..."

I'll admit it: For as long as I can remember, when the Sunday New York Times has arrived at my house, the "Weddings" section is the first thing I read. If I'm short on time, that's all I read. For those of you who aren't familiar with this phenomenon, the New York Times will have a few pages devoted to people getting married. There's a picture of the couple, and a blurb about them, usually containing their educations, jobs, who their parents are, and where they're getting married. And every week, there's a larger story about a couple, including the intricate details of how they met. This week, the couple in this profile experienced the ultimate 21st century meet cute: The woman posted a loveseat on Craigslist, and it was love at first sight for the man who showed up to buy it. He took a picture of the loveseat in its new home (could I make this up?), sent it to her, and asked her out. At their wedding, their cake had a miniature loveseat on it.

When I read this loveseat story, for some reason, it finally became clear to me why the "Weddings" section appeals to me so much. You really wouldn't think I'd be a fan-- it's corny, traditional, and full of i-bankers. Although I have to say, I have some rough ideas of what I'd want my potential wedding to look like, I'm not attached to the idea of it ever happening. But even I can see that the "Weddings" section is the only place in the newspaper where everyone will always be happy, no matter what. Half of these beaming new couples will probably end up getting divorced, but there's not even a shadow of that knowledge: It's your wedding and it's going to be the happiest day of your life, godammit. And I don't know any of the people, so they aren't going to make me buy them an expensive gift they don't need, or any of the other annoyances that can occur when someone you know actually gets married.

But it's more than just that. I realized that the wedding stories give us something that we all crave-- and it's not marriage. It's a narrative. I guess it's been obvious from the dawn of time that humans want everything to fit neatly into a story. However, I had never connected this to my readings about weddings. These days, unless you're extremely religious, the search for narrative can often be elusive. In the weekly wedding anecdote, I find a plotline that eludes my own life, as much as I try to impose it. When I see the mad dash towards marriage in this light, it isn't quite so inconceivable. If you're in the "Weddings" section, then our culture is telling a story about you. Being asexual, I feel like I have little choice other than to make up this story myself.

(And because you're totally wondering, here's one of my wedding ideas-- pizza and beer! Of course, there will be appropriate pizza for every conceivable dietary restriction, as well as root beer for all the teetotaling asexuals.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Gavin Newsom? Not Sexy.

I was recently reading a young-adult novel called Perfect You. Even though the title actually refers to a brand of vitamins, it is indeed a love story. At the beginning of the book, the heroine is very attracted to a guy that she thinks is an asshole.

And I don't get that at all! Is it an asexual thing? If I don't like someone's personality, they're literally ugly to me. At times, I've thought someone was cute, but the minute they're revealed to be obnoxious or hold views I strongly oppose, my perception immediately changes. It's like how people would say, "Yeah, Sarah Palin's political ideas terrify me, but she is kind of hot." And like how a friend of mine expressed some shock that I didn't think San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is sexy. Not only do I totally disagree with a lot of Newsom's governance ideas ("Ooh, let's stop giving homeless people money and give them services! Psych! There are no services!") , but he just doesn't seem like a nice guy in any way. I have no idea why he keeps getting elected-- does he somehow use hotness as a sort of hypnotism that only asexual people and Republicans are immune to?

However, if I like someone's personality, does that automatically mean that I find them unbearably attractive? Uh, no. Like macaroni and neon cheese powder, personality and attractiveness appear to be two separate things that can only exist together, at least for me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Post-Dating World

There's one more issue discussed in Marrying Anita that made me nod in recognition. We can put men on the moon, Anita Jain says, but we can't figure out some consistent way to meet people for matrimonial purposes. I have heard (this is me talking) that we are so technologically advanced that we really only need to work for 2 hours a week. But apparently, since some critical mass of people insists on working for 40 or more, the rest of us have little choice but to do the same. Dating, like the 40-hour week, should be obsolete, but it isn't. Jain talked with some nostalgia about arranged marriages, which still occur in India. However, as an American, no one I know of has had an arranged marriage since my dad's grandparents. I doubt they'll be coming back in any great force. As frustrated as you might be with your job, you're probably not going to take up sustenance farming.

As a teenager, I always thought traditional dating existed, but apart from my own experience. I'm kind of sure that some sort of dating went on at my high school, but I was too busy studying and trying to get into college to really notice. I always assumed that in college, I would be able to find some other eligible bachelors to date. However, NO ONE DATED. I felt cheated when I discovered this. People would "hook up", which would sometimes lead to a romantic relationship. Obviously, I never hooked up with anyone, so my half-hearted desires for a boyfriend were never realized. Then I got to the "real world", which is where dating would finally happen. Or is it? Dating still seems as removed from me as it did in high school. I have no idea how it works. But I believe that no one else knows, either. That's why I get frustrated at books like He's Just Not That Into You. They assume we're still dating, but I'm pretty sure we've moved on to post-dating. From where I sit, there are no rules anymore.

One thing I actually miss about living in a rural town is the lack of choices available. In some ways, it made life easier, and I think that's why arranged marriages can seem attractive. It seems like our choices today in America have multiplied much faster than our ability to deal with them. How much time have we spent looking at 20 kinds of soymilk (okay, maybe that's just me), 50 different kinds of jeans, 500 kinds of wine? It's not a novel idea, but maybe asexuality is the new arranged marriage. Maybe having our dating choices cut way down from the get-go is a blessing in disguise. But then there's the issue of combing through huge groups of people to find the ones with little or no sex drive. Men on the moon, and we can't figure out a way to do this? Maybe the thing is that we want love to be spontaneous and serendipitous. We want, to use Roger Ebert's phrase, meet cutes. But at the same time, it sucks to be disappointed when we can't accomplish this. To quote a visionary of the 2-hour workweek, "We could be living in an earthly paradise by now". But it seems like our conflicting desires (for serendipity AND stability) stand in our own way. According to the philosopher Schopenhauer, if we were able to find our lovers with no trouble on our parts, we would be so bored that we'd kill ourselves. I don't know if I'd go that far, but it begs the question: Is the convolution of dating, or post-dating, something we can ever get past? Or are we somehow hardwired to keep confusing ourselves?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tintin, Watchmen

I found an interesting website called TV Tropes. It's a sort of wiki that records various themes in TV, film, anime, comic books, and literature. One of these is asexuality, and the length of the anime section makes me realize that I really need to watch more anime. They really did a good job of describing asexuality and some of the issues that we contend with in terms of fictional portrayals (did someone we know write this page?). A potentially asexual character that never occurred to me before:

Tintin! TV Tropes says, "...even compared to the (very chaste) standards of the other characters of the series. It's even difficult to remember him talking to a girl." Indeed. All I remember is some guys ransacking his apartment and chloroforming him. Oh, childhood memories. And another character whose sexuality (or lack thereof) I have pondered:

Rorschach! From Watchmen (book and movie). He was my favorite character in Watchmen, which is saying a lot, since he's a misogynistic right-wing nutcase. He's repelled by anything sexual, although this probably has to do to his past; his mother was a prostitute and in the book, we're shown Rorschach as a child walking in on his mother with a client. Much like Dexter (of the books and TV show), the irregularities of these characters' minds and their antisocial behaviors obscure any real knowledge of their sexualities. TV Tropes brought up another Watchmen character that I had never considered as possibly ace. The site says, "Of all the characters in Watchmen, Ozymandias is the best reflection of real life asexuality. In a graphic novel which features the sexualities of all the major and several of the minor characters, Ozymandias's is not ever mentioned or displayed in any way. Rorschach, on the other hand, comes across as repressed a sexual/emotional train wreck, but not truly asexual in the sense of the sexual orientation" [Cross-out is theirs].

Ozymandias is not a reflection of real-life anything-- he's just as bizarre as Rorschach, albeit in a different way. However, he could come across as a really physically fit, technologically skilled version of Sherlock Holmes. Ozymandias is billed as the smartest man in the world, and thinks the world of himself as well. Like Holmes, another man who is way too smart (and knows it), Ozymandias found intellectual pursuits more stimulating than sex or romance.

It's worth noting that on the TV Tropes page of potentially asexual characters, men outnumber women at about 10:1. This seems in keeping with my own observations of pop culture, however, we all know that there are more women than men on AVEN. As always, media lags behind real life, if it isn't ignoring it entirely. And again, I'm left asking where my fictional girls are at.