I’m working on my October book list and one of the books I read, Asexual Perspectives by Sandra Bellamy, inspired me to write a huge thing about aceness. I decided that I should just give it it’s own post because otherwise it would be weirdly imbalanced. Also, it’s Asexual Awareness Week!
This is a collection of a bunch of diverse ace people answering questions about their identities, lives, feelings, fears, and so on. There were demisexual people, aroace people, biro- hetero- panro- homoro-ace people, gray ace people, and a bunch of people who don’t like labels. I didn’t keep a tally (wow, that would have been a good idea, stupid me), but I think maybe a third of respondents were sex-repulsed, maybe a little less. But almost all of the respondents, including the sex-repulsed ones, were sex-positive, which was nice to see. It wasn’t surprising – to me, anyway – but still nice to have my suspicions confirmed, and nice to refute the assumption people sometimes have about ace people being puritans or prudes or trying to shame everyone else or cruelly withholding sex from the masses just for kicks (?) or, the big one: only ace because traumatized. I feel like if your experiences with sex and sexual attraction differ from most other people around you, you will have a more grounded outlook on all of the fear and shame and entitlement and other really bad stuff that comes along with sex-negativity and toxic masculinity, and your view on sex is more likely to be humane. At least, that’s how I think I got mine.
Where there was sex-negativity, it made sense in the context. There were also some off-putting things, like little hints here and there of gate-keeping inclinations, and fetishising certain people happened a little bit too. I kind of think that was bound to happen in a book that was looking to discuss the diversity of asexual realities, because everyone’s human and everyone’s flawed, but I also don’t really know that I should so easily excuse it.
I found a lot of it validating, even comforting, at times, but there were two things that bothered me.
The first: there is a lot of anxiety about loneliness. That makes sense. I think there’s a lot of anxiety about loneliness in general, and being ace in a world that holds (hetero)sexual relationships up above everything else wouldn’t help. It making sense doesn’t really make it better, though.
Many peoples’ greatest ace-related fear was not being able to find someone who would deal with their asexuality, and winding up alone. Those who were in relationships sometimes feared being left because of their asexuality. I think a lot of this is societal pressure, the rest of it is just because the prospect of loneliness is, of course, terrible, and either way, it has real implications on us all. Let’s say everyone you know except you pairs up and leans into their romantic/sexual partnerships as they move into old age. How can that not leave a single person, ace or not, terribly alone?
Some people, especially aros, talked about wanting to find a queerplatonic relationship – a term I’d never heard before but is in fact exactly what I once, as a 15 year old (a 15 year old who didn’t know asexuality was a thing and who thought she wasn’t all that interested in any of the boys that way because girls just kind of didn’t feel that way, right?? If I’d just asked any of my female friends to explain to me their feelings of attraction I would have figured it out a lot sooner) described to my sister as being the ideal type of relationship for marriage and child rearing. Not to preach about things I know very little about but I kind of think that the friendship aspect of even romantic/sexual relationships is the most important part for longevity and taxes and kids, so, I kind of wish there was more out there about these magical queerplatonic relationships. That way, more people who might want them would know that they’re even an option. And also, more people who prize the romance and sex wouldn’t forget that crucial other part as easily.
Personally, I have no idea how I feel about singleness. It’s all jumbled in my brain. Guys who pursued me (three, at most) were the wrong guys, and guys I liked stayed away, either out of disinterest or because they paid attention to the “leave me alone” badge I unconsciously wear everywhere. And I wouldn’t pursue them. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m on the aro spectrum, on the part where I feel the attraction but I don’t want anything to actually happen, or if it’s just because I’m this guy.
I don’t trust feelings of unworthiness and misery connected to singleness – those feelings happen, of course, but I make a conscious choice to try not to trust them. I think they come from growing up in a sex-obsessed, romance-obsessed society. I’m not really complaining about society or the media we consume, because I do really like romance. Sometimes I kind of like sex scenes. Not the ones in Game of Thrones, though, I mean the ones written by actual competent writers, many of whom are women over in the romance genre. Sex scenes that are primarily emotional and, like, kind. And stuff.
You really need to know my sex scene preferences. So it really isn’t the worst thing in the world but it kind of is when it starts making me believe that I’m somehow less-than.
I’m almost certain that my approach to a typical romantic relationship is vague openness. If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. Or, maybe less passively, the opportunity will present itself, and then I can either choose to act or choose not to act. Once, during a conversation, again with my sister, without having planned it or contemplated it at all before that conversation, I said, “I’m not interested in a relationship right now.” (I was talking about the times I’d been badgered about being single. Which occur often.) After I’d said it, I was shocked at how true it was. It didn’t mean I’d never be interested. Or that I’d never been interested in the past. It just wasn’t a priority in the moment, but how was that even possible? All the rom-coms say that single women are constantly miserable. And rom-coms, as we all know, are right about absolutely everything.
Another example: my work environment is weird for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that I’ve been asked like four times if I wanted to get married. Not to the person asking, omg. Just in general. I found these conversations weird because I kind of thought that the default assumption is that everyone, especially women, wants to get married. But then we’re all millennials in that department so maybe not, anymore. The point is, each time, off the top of my head, my response has been, “It’d be good for taxes, and paying bills.” And I meant it. It wasn’t a deflection, it wasn’t meant to insult anyone or make me come across as an Ice Queen (although it has been taken that way). It was just my honest opinion – quite a bit more apathetic towards typical heterosexual relationships than most people’s are (I’d just say “romantic/sexual relationships” if those conversations weren’t always heteronormative). Marriage is a good idea because of how society is built. All the other stuff is a nice bonus if you can find someone decent, but, otherwise, meh?
So I may legitimately feel like that, but if I allow myself to stew on singleness, or if well-meaning family members ask what in the hell is wrong with me anyway, I start to feel like something is actually wrong. That feeling is stupid. HOWEVER, when my group of mostly single bffs start pairing off for real, and some of them are maybe going to have kids, and later on, when, y’know, everyone starts dying, there is an EXTREMELY HUGE IMPETUS for having a partner, for support, for companionship, for occasionally changing the cat litter, etc. And by that point, it’s usually kind of too late. Or at least that’s what the rom-coms say (but in this case I think they’re kind of right) (it doesn’t help that most rom-coms have incredibly weird ideas about what “old” is for women) (and what “old” is at all).
But I guess at least it isn’t the 1700s? Am I right, Jane?
(imagine us high-fiving)
ALL OF THIS to say that while I’m glad I read this book, and a lot of it was helpful, it definitely contributed to my mild existential terror. Yay!
You’ll remember I said there were two things that bugged me, and here’s the second: very few respondents defined sexual attraction and sexual desire the way I would have. So I’m gonna do mine. Maybe I’m wrong. Someone tell me.
Sexual attraction is what you feel when you see someone, and maybe at other times too, like, if you think about that person later, or, if you see someone in a specific context, but whatever, there is a person immediately on your mind for whatever reason, and you feel something really primal? It’s somewhere in your lizard brain, and it suggests to the, I don’t know, ape parts of your brain that this person is, for lack of a better word, sexy. Lizard brain says, “Pay attention to thisssssssss, maybe important and relevant to your interestssssss?” (I’m hilarious. Shut up.) And then the ape brain takes over, and somewhere in there desire might start to happen, and then more complex thoughts happen. I don’t know. I haven’t been sexually attracted to anyone ever, so, my description of how it works is probably way off. But it helps me understand it, anyway.
Sexual desire is broad. You want to have sex. In general, with someone specific, whatever. I think you can feel sexual desire without sexual attraction – and, conversely, I’m sure you can feel sexual attraction without it necessarily leading all the way to sexual desire.
I don’t know why it bothers me so much, why I need to explain how I see it. But whenever I see the definition of sexual attraction as “wanting to have sex with someone specific” I think that short-changes us. First of all, I think “wanting to have sex with someone specific” is actually what sexual desire for a specific person is. And I think wanting comes after attraction, and although lots, LOTS, of ace people don’t feel the desire part either, or only feel it to a certain degree, some ace people do actually want to have sex, full stop. Some also want to do it just to see what’s up. Some want to for their partner. And some ace people also want kids and want to have them the usual way, even sex repulsed people, so although that isn’t typical sexual desire that still kind of is sexual desire, yes? I don’t know, I just think we could use a more inclusive definition of sexual attraction – one that doesn’t conflate it with desire.
All right I looked it up properly and I feel better now because that definition is more like what I came up with. It seems like everyone’s confused and still figuring it out, but it looks like the basics, at least, are covered.