Category Archives: Asexuality and Christianity
I joke, sometimes, that my demons are all inside my head. A life of insecurities fed by a vivid imagination and an intellect as adapt at self-deception as it is at self-reflection.
I have a hard time acknowledging that this internal conflict is legitimate.
I am fighting myself.
It’s not real.
(Others won’t care.)
I have buried what I want so far I do not have words.
(On top, in ascending order: Fears. Excuses. Euphemisms. Silence.)
I grasp at vapour eminating off what cringes in the shadow.
(I put you there, I am sorry.)
It is reflex, when someone starts in on abstinence, starts in on homosexuality being a sin.
Stop. Listen. Internal fact-check. Extrapolation of world-view. Phrase counterargument. Project likely reaction. Stay quiet.
Empathy. Open-mindedness, I used to think.
The truth: I am weak to claims that it isn’t polite to talk sex and politics and religion.
I allow the dominant discourse to go unchallenged.
When I speak, it is in the other’s words, the other’s paradigm.
Intercultural. Bridging gaps, I used to think.
The truth: I would rather step on my own convictions than another’s.
I contradict myself, from conversation to conversation.
When I attempt to speak honestly, either feeling safe or feeling too angry to curb my words, I still struggle.
I still slant what I think to an angle or omit controversialities or insert rationalisations.
Simplifying, explaining, I used to think.
The truth: I do not wish to break relationships, and worry too vividly.
When I break down in a safe space, with a trusted person, I do not control the words.
I sketch the shape of fears grown like fungus in the dark, hardly knowing the place they arise from.
Venting, being open, I used to think.
The truth: I am scared of things I have not dared to examine, for fear of what I need to change.
I have an outlet, and the status quo continues.
What do I want?
I sit in a dark room staring at deeper shadows.
My eyes adjust.
I am accepted.
What do I fear?
I stare back at myself, older, hands hidden the shadows.
Perhaps holding children, adopted, biological.
(Deliberately a single parent, with added stigma.)
Perhaps holding a partner, unknown age, gender, religion, ethnicity.
(A relationship, might be rejected)
What do I fear?
(Will I remain acceptable?)
If you let go, you could easily step forward, I do not tell myself.
If they stay secret, you could easily stay there, I do not tell myself.
If they come with you, they could get hurt, I do not tell myself.
What do I fear?
(Deeper, go deeper)*
Finding my future self empty-handed.
I look up at the light.
No one I love deserves to live in a pit like this, I tell my future self.
Duh, she answers.
(I imagine she fears less.)
I am accepted.
I still fear the church.
I remain silent, I twist my words, I hide what I believe.
I lie, because I am scared of the future.
I fear having to pay a price for my heart’s desires.
What do I fear?
My present community.
A potential future family.
I am fighting myself.
If I do not win, it will be real.
(Go on the offence)
* I watched Revolutionary Girl Utena, all three seasons in a single weekend. I love fantasy that deconstructs shit, and this came with a bonus absolutely gorgeous queerplatonic relationship (or so I interpreted it). Definitely recommended. (And free on youtube here!)
Discovering my demisexuality, how seldom I really look upon other people and find them attractive in the sexual sense, had a profound impact on my body image. It served as a crowbar that cracked open what I thought was “normal”. Most of this process I became aware of as it happened.
I’ve tried covering this subject a few years ago, but back then I was still in the middle of all this, so I hope this paints a more complete picture of what changed for me.
Step one: shaking off the sexy
If I don’t really think of others sexually, why should I think of myself this way? This sat on the back-burner in my mind while I grabbed clothes and wondered, is this too sexy? Do I even know what sexy is? Do I want to know?
No, I decided. I didn’t, because it really didn’t make me happy. It was just a source of uncertainty. I wanted to stop thinking of myself that way. Shed the gazes I imagined sliding over me. Stop speculating how I looked in others’ eyes. I wasn’t someone who got a kick out of that. I was someone who grew worried.
I talked with other women, sometimes friends, sometimes parents whose kids I served, when we’d had one of those sermons (especially after I’d moved. My new church was more conservative). In these conversations about being female and how that affected seeing one’s body, one subject kept returning. How watching your clothes and how they functioned as you moved through the day was a form of self-defense, both against sexual assault and possible disapproval. The shame that came with acting more indecently, like pain, served a purpose, was a warning signal. Wasn’t it?
No, I decided. It really wasn’t my problem what others thought of me, it was theirs. And in assuming others would disapprove of me, or assault me, I was doing them a disservice. A life’s worth of experience told me that guys are most likely to behave themselves if everyone (including them) think that they can and should. And, really… if I was unsafe, how I dressed or was regarded was probably irrelevant, compared to knowing how to throw a punch, act confident and have a working phone with me.
So, I contradicted those thoughts whenever they arose. Gradually, they stopped coming.
Step two: end of shame
As those thoughts disappeared, it had a large emotional impact. Those worries (Am I sexy? Am I decent? What do others think?) carried a heavy load of anxiety and shame with them. When they stopped, it took a load off my soul I hadn’t been aware of before then.
I am from Holland, where nudity is less taboo than most places. Still, it’s a pretty loaded thing, titilating, scary, even when everybody pretends they’re all fine with it. In other words, still sexually loaded.
Breaking the link between “sexual object” and “my body” made it a much more comfortable thing to inhabit, to regard. Even spots or a few more pounds or a week’s neglected shave carried far less weight, since my body didn’t need to satisfy anyone but myself.
There were times, mostly in the second year after shifting from “heterosexual-by-default” to “demisexual”, when a feeling of euphoria would occasionally come over me simply because I was happy with my physical self. I laughed. I came bouncing down the stairs eager to greet the day dressed in flesh and bones that suited me well.
Step three: rational chastity
To be chaste, in the original sense, is to act morally, with only an emphasis on sexuality, according to the culture or environment you inhabit. Which is very different from chaste in the colloquial sense. I’d always liked the original meaning.
When my sense of self started changing, I asked God what his will was. I asked that a lot, especially the first few years. There just isn’t any guide as to how asexuality or demisexuality should intersect with Christianity, so really the only thing to do is pray.
Here’s what I believe to be true, and feel free to disagree: that I stopped to think of myself as sexual object was a blessing. Losing the guilt and shame over my body was nothing less than God’s will. In this, my demisexuality served my spiritual growth. I lost self-consciousness and negative thoughts and emotions I never should have had in the first place, but were imposed by my culture. Both a sexualised wider Western culture and the must-hide-body-from-men Christian culture.
So then, what should guide me instead? In determining what to do with my physical self, to care for it, to clothe it, to move it. Again, I asked God. I believe the following to be the answer: I have a functional conscience and enough information to make good choices. By letting choice guide me, rather than anxiety or shame, acting chaste (appropriate in a given context) becomes an act of obedience to God. I am thus more able to love my (physical) self now.
If I then also believe that others will act decently, that is further obedience. Namely, in that way I love others. Or, if you will, I treat them as I would want to be treated.
Step four: appearance of joy
When I stopped regarding my body as sexual object, my relationship with each part of my personal routine and wardrobe changed as well. I’ve mentioned my clothes, but really it also included washing, skin products, hair, jewelry, general demeanour, how I moved, what I bought, physical activities, packing for trips, preparing for social occasions and even the spaces I inhabited and how I decorated those. Overall, I just felt much happier and more confident about all of them, which meant they cost less time (angsting) and became more varied (through experimentation).
Each old thing was a little new, because I revised what I thought of them. When everything stopped being even the slightest bit sexual or (in)decent, I had far more mental space to tag possessions as feminine or casual, practical or colourful, suiting certain moods or occasions as I liked them, not as I thought others would regard them. Oddly, since I felt more free to think of them as I liked, they also felt more like they were mine, closer to me, just as I was closer to my body. I believe I’m rather territorial, since that pleased me to no end.
I remain rather lazy with my appearance, but I feel pretty good about it, regardless of what I do with it on any given day.
Step five: satisfying senses
Since my relationship with my body and the world I experienced through it improved, I also started noticing just how much that world and that body affected me. This was part of my wider search of how to give my life meaning given my changed identity. I figured out I am a sensual person. In the relationship sense, in that I feel the desire to connect to the people I like through touch and physical affection is a big part of relationships for me. But also in the me-on-my-own sense.
Buying cotton rather than synthetic textures for my clothes. Bringing a ceramic mug to American-style coffee stores so I don’t get a paper one. Cooking for texture as well as for taste.
I could go on, but, in the context of this whole re-defining my body image, it was a doubling down in my happiness with my physical self. By being more settled in my body I unlocked this source of pleasure.
Step six: heretical heteronormativity
The interaction between my faith and my sexual orientation reconciled them for me. This change in my body image and everything that followed was a large part of that.
It affected my opinion of how many Christians talk about sexual orientations. Initially, I thought of Christian communities as something of a refuge, where the pressure to look and act sexy was less, and lack of sexual activity was far more accepted. However, I came to feel as restricted within the Christian culture I inhabited as I did the wider secular culture, just… differently.
I’ve also felt very good with how my demisexuality enabled me to have a more positive body image and my faith was a help, not a hindrance, with that. It might sound odd, but I believe that such a change in identity is a potential source of spiritual growth to a Christian. Being other, it can be a start to rethinking so much. Living far more consciously, and far more true to the self. That can in turn deepen faith, if to live better equals to live more according to God’s will. If God is loving, and accepting and that acceptance is felt, after seriously questioning it.
In this, then, I find myself opposed to the dominant doctrine, which sees no problem in condemning people for their gender or sexuality, while others who commit what’s defined as serious sexual sins are invited back into community with gratuitous forgiveness. The first church I went to, I found myself accepted. In the current one, while it is very heteronormative, their commitment to “salvation is for everyone” gives… wiggle room, which I’m still negotiating. I’ve had several encounters where that heteronormativity crosses into hetero-exclusivity, organisations whose message could be summarised as “we welcome everyone as-is, but you’re not going to heaven unless you can be molded into an abstinence-only monogamous acting-as-heterosexual person.”
This, to me, is the line where that heteronormativity crosses into heresy. The absolute basic message of Christian faith is that everyone was created by God in love and has a full right to that, as they are. So, I find a community I’ve belonged to all my life hurtling in completely the opposite direction to what I believe. And, in having another sexual orientation, I also find myself belonging to the “them” potentially condemned.
Step seven: know thyself
I am Christian. I am demisexual.
I feel good about my body. My body feels good in the world. I feel better about my body in relation to others. I have learned to love myself and others and the world around me more. I believe this to be a blessing from God. Having a different sexual orientation has been good for my faith. I still feel I belong to the Christian community, but I finally have some understanding with how it also alienates those that I feel kinship with because I no longer identify as heterosexual.
Thanks for reading, if you’ve gotten this far in this very long post. Be aware this is the reconstruction of a personal journey that is, by its very nature, subjective. If your experience is different, I would love to hear about it. If this in any way helped you in some way by reading it, I’d also love to hear from you.
God bless you and have a fantastic life.
Spoilers for BBC Sherlock, mostly. This post will make no sense if you’ve not read up on at least a basic idea of what relationship anarchy is, and also know that my understanding of it is very basic. i.e., the philosophy that you should form relationships with individuals and only allow them to be shaped by what’s inside of that relationship, no outside boxes or limits or pre-defined trajectories.
I’ve been wanting but unable to write this (late) submission for the November edition of Carnival of Aces because it’s a lot harder to put emotional experience into words than it is theory. I also thought I needed to get out several other stories first.
Then I watched BBC Sherlock‘s “The Abominable Bride” with a rather relatable conversation(1), followed by a documentary on Spock on how characters resonate not because they are perfect, but because they are relatable, first of all. Of which, in this case, Sherlock is a very good example.
The conversation, held between a nineteenth-century Watson and Holmes on their knees at midnight staking out the gothic manor of their client, consists of Watson trying to ferret out Sherlock’s type of women and past sexual experiences, and Sherlock dismissing this out of hand and admitting he doesn’t have any such experiences, he chooses not to.
Thing is, this whole episode is set inside Sherlock’s mind. And I wondered, why have this conversation with the imaginary incarnation of his friend? Answer: because I do too. We have this conversation with ourselves, as well as out loud. We affirm what we are to ourselves, verbalise what we believe ourselves to be in the face of complete disbelief and incomprehension and ignorance.
That’s not to say Sherlock’s is or isn’t asexual, what’s important here is that Sherlock’s trying to express a fundamental part of his personal life to a good friend, who just cannot accept it, even inside Sherlock’s mind. And that, right there, is what I related to. What is, I hope, is the point I’ll make.
We are utterly alien to what most people believe sexuality is, should be. What most people feel. Whether we are gray, aro or any other variation of (or close to) asexual.
(We should not exist.
Yet. We do.)
The sexual revolution took our bodies and our sexual desires, and sought to ensure everybody owned theirs, that people didn’t have their rights and freedom taken away any longer.
Our rights, duties, freedom are still in question. Whether the desire for sex exists naturally in every rational body never has been in question. As soon as people were recognised as fully independent, sentient and equal (let’s not forget that part of the revolution), they were viewed as sexual beings.
(Until now, until us.)
Into this system of parameters, this post-sixties paradigm of sexuality, we are introducing zero. We are inserting so fundamental a concept, we need to reconstruct the complete logical framework of our philosophy. A big part of our community effort has been defining new words. Recognition of our asexuality is often followed by meditation on what that means for us, for our identities, for our relationships.
No wonder, then, that relationship anarchy, completely abandoning the old confinement of relationship definitions formed in a world in which we did not yet exist, as concepts, seems, well, logical.
If we are to make a brave new world in which we exist, recognised, accepted, should we not leave the old one? Shouldn’t we try to imagine? Like Star Trek imagined a multi-species crew in a time of racism? Shouldn’t we reject (delete) what our friends and family try to push onto us? Expectations that fit as ill as a childhood christmas sweater. Paths in life that we will not ever walk, and even if we set foot on them, it’s at a completely new angle.
However, we are not islands. We live in relationship to so many people. Even if, like Sherlock, we choose to have no sex or romance at all, we have friends and family. So we have conversations in our heads. We have conversations in our homes. We have conversations in cafes and at christmas dinner.
You may have noticed that I use my words (sexuality, desire, etc.) imprecisely. That’s because I’m not done verbalising what I am, what I want, exactly. I know it, but I cannot speak it (in woorden vatten), coin the right phrases.
My problem with anarchy in general is this: we make rules about everything, even if it’s arbitrary ones, just so that we can communicate what we’re doing. And also: I want creation after destruction. If we are to live in a brave, new world, I bloody well want the brave new world, not post-apocalyptic nonsense with every man for himself and that only working if everybody is as nice as Jesus (whether you believe him to be God or good, wise teacher).
My problem with relationship anarchy is this: broken down to my essentials I am a social, territorial creature who seeks community, seeks peers, seeks belonging. Seeks security. I must have some path to walk, some dream to envision. I cannot live for a future composed of a chaotic staticy fuzz, trusting blindly that it will resolve itself into some sort of picture eventually.
My problem without anarchy is this: I cannot keep living in the old paradigm. Living in an openly sexual society in which I, by necessity, must also, naturally have desires in that direction, that suits me ill. Would make my collection of desires (demisexuality) at best what it is now, a topic uninteresting, unexamined in social situations, a taboo that hangs over conversations when everybody else compares what they have or what they want and I dig into my piece of pie at birthdays or flee to the bathroom. Since I am more polite and less outspoken than Sherlock.
A few Sundays ago it was brought home very vividly that the church, as such, offers only temporary refuge as a place where I don’t need to be sexual. I’ve moved, and my current church is more conservative. Since I wanted to be active in ministry, I reached out two of the staff members, because I wanted to be clear on what I could and could not say on the subject of relationships, LGBT issues (since I veer off rather sharply from them there) and sexual morality. I had two lovely, understanding, sympathetic personal conversations about how everybody’s different and how enriching that is with them both, which satisfied me for the next several months. Then… well. The church does not preach any particular behaviour, but rather vocally supports a charity that brought this home…
The dominant Christian (Protestant? Conservative?) consensus about “chastity” (what is correct in regards to sex and decent public behaviour, more or less) is: “Preferably, have no sex before or outside of a heterosexual marriage, don’t even think about it”. Mine is: “Practice responsible and informed sexual behaviour according to your desires and ideals, the general cultural norm of decency and respect others’ human rights.” I cannot reconcile one with the other. Rather, they seem to be growing further apart as time goes on.
“Sexual purity” is the church’s security blanket against a society perceived to grow more sexual, entitled, degenerate and lawless. It’s a blanket that I fear will smother me if I do not step out from under it now.
So. I will be demisexual and Christian and at peace within myself but probably at odds with my brothers and sisters in faith at some point in the future, but that’s a post for another time.
My problem without relationship anarchy would be this: I will very rarely desire to seek out a relationship expected to include sex. I’m demisexual. If my experience holds true, I will be fleetingly sexually attracted to about half a dozen people in the next decade, and one, maybe two, more deeply. I feel sensual, emotional, romantic desire, yes, that well suit the intimacy of sex. Strictly sexual? Nothing. At all.
In the old world, I can only ever be a friend, a relation, an acquintance to people. I would fear to seek out a partner because it’d be unfair, because I might raise expectations I cannot (will not) fulfill.
(I am weird.)
(I shouldn’t be like this.)
(I am. Accept it. Move on.)
Yet, shedding preconceived notions, I gain so much. Because, you see, the repetoire for experiences to satisfy sensual or emotional or romantic desires is far, far wide than only those acts that would also satisfy sexual desire. A body thoroughly warmed and relaxed by the sun on a walk accompanied by a friend could already satisfy the first two, for an easy example.
Familiarity and trust are for me prerequisites to feel even an inkling of a full-on crush that isn’t platonic. By default, I will only grow a romantic relationship out of another, already existing relationship. The current split between platonic and sexual-romantic relationships is, to me, deeply unnatural. Runs counter to my nature.
Relationship anarchy is the only way I can have deeper relationships outside of my family. Accepting that the current system is useless is the only way not to panic. To accept I am not normal is the only way to discover what my norm is.
In other words, in convictions I run counter to my society. In my behaviour I am inoffensive, even rather… chaste.
Does relationship anarchy make sense, then, problematic as it is? Yes, yes it does, because of a humongous potential pay-off, relationships without limits to intimacy, to expression, to levels, to their growth. Wow, what a dream that is.
We’ve truly landed ourselves in a jungle, on a strange, new planet.
We have (given ourselves) such power.
Dif-tor heh smusma.
WATSON (equally precisely): Why do you need to be alone?
HOLMES: If you are referring to romantic entanglement, Watson – which I rather fear you are – as I have often explained before, all emotion is abhorrent to me. It is the grit in a sensitive instrument …
(Watson joins in with what he says next.)
HOLMES and WATSON (almost simultaneously): … the crack in the lens.
HOLMES: Well, there you are, you see? I’ve said it all before.
WATSON: No, I wrote all that. You’re quoting yourself from The Strand Magazine.
HOLMES: Well, exactly.
WATSON: No, those are my words, not yours! That is the version of you that I present to the public: the brain without a heart; the calculating machine. I write all of that, Holmes, and the readers lap it up, but I do not believe it.
HOLMES: Well, I’ve a good mind to write to your editor.
WATSON: You are a living, breathing man. You’ve lived a life; you have a past.
HOLMES: A what?!
WATSON: Well, you must have had …
HOLMES: Had what?
(Watson pauses a little awkwardly, then points at his friend.)
WATSON: You know.
HOLMES (angrily): Pass me your revolver. I have a sudden need to use it.
WATSON: Damn it, Holmes, you are flesh and blood. You have feelings. You have … you must have … impulses.
(Holmes closes his eyes in exasperation.)
HOLMES (through his teeth): Dear Lord. I have never been so impatient to be attacked by a murderous ghost.
WATSON: As your friend – as someone who … worries about you – what made you like this?
(Holmes has opened his eyes and looks at his friend almost sympathetically.)
HOLMES: Oh, Watson. Nothing made me.
(From somewhere to his left, scrabbling claws can be heard together with a sound of a dog whimpering anxiously, or as if it is in pain. Holmes turns his head in the direction of the sound.)
HOLMES: I made me.
Outtake from the script of “The Abominable Bride”, found here: http://arianedevere.livejournal.com/81409.html. Copyright owned by the BBC, props to the writer for the transcription.
For December’s Carnival of Aces, about staying in the closet, I’d like to write about my own struggles with my fellow Christians. Thinking I should tell them about asexuality, feeling I can’t.
I am a practicing Christian who identifies as neither hetero nor gay, but as demisexual. I’ve explored my sexuality in my mid-twenties. I’m from an open culture and a liberal church and a loving family.
Aside from a few private conversations, I am in the closet. This blog has a pseudonym. Acquintances don’t know and, mostly, don’t ask.
Part of me just doesn’t want it. Sexuality is mine, not for others to know or judge. As a woman, you’re too quickly an object anyway. I honestly love being a sexual subject, undisturbed, not much noticed because of beauty or age or behaviour. Unshamed and as such, unashamed. Not harrassed so far and yes, I’ve been lucky but I can say this for my country: people can just be people.
One drop of acid in all the honey…
I dread to speak of asexuality to my brothers and sisters in faith. At the same time, how the hell are they going to get informed, given a fair chance to be a constructive part of the discussion, if someone doesn’t speak up?
After several hours’ bible study and arguing in prayer, I can only conclude the following: the core of the Christian gospel holds for sexual natures and behaviour as it does for any part of us. In other words, being Christian, you believe you are forgiven any wrongdoing, you believe you are loved. You believe this is a base to build an awesome, joyful life and be a good part of humanity. More to the point, you believe all people are loved, equally, by a God whose say-so you’ve accorded the absolute and ultimate authority.
I felt confirmed in my own faith and practice. I felt the more puzzled by why sexuality, any (a)sexuality should be a problem. I felt the most surprised by my own troubled and continued silence.
Why can’t I come out to fellow Christians, if I believe God Himself is alright with my demisexuality?
Truth is: I’m scared.
I don’t believe most of my fellow Christians obey God. I have seen them exclude, discriminate and commit violence on people with other sexualities. It does not inspire confidence. I have found some of them to be as proud as the Israel chastised by old-testament prophets. I think them to be so far from the truth, sometimes… will I be accepted in my lifetime?
Yes, by some. Not by others. But fear speaks in black and white, not shades of grey.
I have trouble quantifying exactly what my concerns are. I can’t say what would be the correct course, for one community to engage the other. On a personal level, it’s silenced me. It may do for a while yet.
Lighting four candles, one more each week. Reading the story of the immaculate conception… Mary, visited by the angel Gabriel. Mary, the archetype virgin who dared to have a kid. Mary, mother of the gently smiling face of women’s split sexuality. (The other face smirks)
Refreshingly, the pastor remarked that we spent too much time focusing on the virgin bit. It was cool, what she did, but let’s not get obsessed, shall we? I settled in for some original food for thought.
Let’s focus on Gabriel, he said. And then proceeded to sexualise Gabriel’s visiting Mary. Proceeded to call his speech “courting her” to have God’s child and “seducing her” with the image of what she’d do. It got a bit suggestive.
And I just. No.
I could not conceive of an angel being sexual, here. This story, out of all stories, is supposed to be non-sexy. That’s the point. Wasn’t no sex. Why read into it? Why pretend there was some sort of spiritual version of attraction?
And then realised that was the whole point: if you’re sexual you can and do read that sort of thing into it. You can read attraction or sexual tension into any story. Into almost any situation, in fact. That’s how powerful our imagination can be. Whether it’s there or not… ‘s mostly in our mind.
Conversely, we can happily go through life without reading a sexual layer into anything. Nothing need be sexual if it isn’t explicit. Not flirting. Not a romantic movie. Not a gaze aimed at us.
So yeah, even the story of the immaculate conception can have a sexual charge to some readers. And in other cases, what might be sexually charged to one person, is not to the other. At all.
I know that what I find to be sexually charged is far more limited than it is for most people. ‘s why I consider myself to be on the asexual spectrum.
And… it’s alright. It’s all in our minds anyway. Like a lusty angel Gabriel is now in mine.
No, not the one from Supernatural. Unfortunately.
Part two of the three-parter for the September Carnival of Aces.
I could write a thousand posts about future fears or current worries concerning my religion and my sexuality. I could show you a thousand shades of theology and at some point, I will get to examining helpful ways of uniting the discourses of Christianity and asexuality.
For today, though, allow me to take you to the real intersection of those identities, where personal faith meets demisexuality, in the heart. The full measure of what the greatest command, love others like yourself, does to me.
I am human. A potential for terrible sin and a potential for awesome goodness coexist inside me, wrapped in a fragile body. In order to be the best flawed mortal I can be, at any given time, I need to be able to accept myself fully, while knowing the worst of what I am. I also strive to do what good I can without crossing my limits or forgetting to enjoy it. I love myself.
If demisexual is what I am, I should discover and accept that part of myself and work to incorporate in into my person and express it honestly.
Everyone is human. Each person a creature of unimaginable complexity and incalculable worth. Each person an agent for good and evil. Each capable of empathy, of imagination, of intelligence and stupidity. Each needing other humans to love and to be loved. Each worthy of time and expense and relationships. Each both powerful and limited by society, by their own minds, by circumstance. Each an other to be loved.
Everyone should be loved and gender and sexual identities should not limit that, as they do now. We should explore all the different ways we can love and practice those that suit us.
Everything is creation. Even the smallest slice of science highlights a reality wondrous beyond our wildest dreams. As much as we say, open-minded as we are, our perceptions are limited and limiting and the greatest and scariest thing is to walk beyond them and discover something new.
Confronted with an unfamiliar aspect to humanity, such as asexuality in all its shades and variations, the best I can do is to discover it and understand its implications.
I am a human amongst others, in a creation vaster than I know. And I know that the best I can do, here, now, is to love others as I love myself. For those I love, it means I need to love them well. For strangers, it means I need to accept them as beings with an equal worth to myself, deserving of the same empathy, the same consideration as I, whoever and whatever they are. For my enemies, it means I can wish better for them and work to mitigate whatever evil is committed.
Loving myself, loving others, is ever evolving, always a work in progress, and always worth doing, always rewarding. I can work up hate over what’s wrong in the world or work to clear the path and appreciate that which is good and strange when it comes my way. I choose the latter.
I am mortal. I cannot do as much good as should be done. I cannot love everyone equally. I have no control over the world, over each group, or even completely over myself.
I will stumble over my own prejudice and privilege, fear others’ disapproval over my sexuality and regularly be tied up into knots over whatever mistakes I made. But when I fall, and I will, there is so much to get up for and discover.
I can love myself. I can love others. I can love all of it and it’s best life I could wish for, whatever shape it takes.
I am demisexual, and if I was thus created, who am I to tell God it’s not good? The same goes for the way others are.
A group that advocates the need for less sex in relationships… is religious leaders. I am only acquainted with my own, so excuse the Christian bias, here.
Here’s why this isn’t helpful: they still advocate for intimate relationships outside family to include romance, marriage, children and sex, albeit after marriage. Such relationships are elevated in importance over all others. Worst case, relationships with people of other religions and friendships with other genders are actively discouraged.
Aside from the misinformation and social problems this causes, this theory is especially weird when contrasted with practice.
My religious community has provided me with a half-dozen types of relationships, from “habitual greeting on a Sunday, but member of the same community” to “see them every week in small groups and also hang out randomly because they’re cool people” I have no words for outside of that community, because “fellowship” has become a weird and icky word in the Christian propaganda.
It’s a relationship sandbox for people re-entering society after some type of isolation, such a long-term therapy, and sought out either by individuals or by organisations encouraging them to go to church. Social engagement is important, too, whether through volunteer work or by churches cooperating with non-profits and grassroots initiatives.
On top of that, and hardest to explain, is how central and intimate a relationship with God is. I guess with one or multiple gods, or saints, if your religion is different. Prayer is a private conversation. A religious text is a personal diary or a letter as much as it is a history. Science is an exploration into the endless wonder an eternal mind produces. Human variety is an expression of how limitless we can be, not how limited we are.
In other words, a church can provide a feeling of community and a platform for platonic (and yes, romantic or sexual) relationships few other organisations can. Prescriptive attitudes and a bias towards monogamous heterosexual marriages is detrimental to that.
So to this questionaire1 I’d like to add:
- Do you exclude any people or individuals out of principle?
- Have you ever outright told people they were “wrong”?
- Do you have a pro-active anti-discrimination policy?’
- Do you organise activities aimed at socialising?
- Do you encourage or discourage relationships of any kind?
Further reading (and image)
1. Self-evaluation guide for welcoming churches (blog post).
The more Sundays than I want to admit, my attention will drift off several times while a pastor exposits about the moral of a familiar bible story. But sometimes what’s said on the pulpit can be such encouragement. I wanted to share the four best points and how they resonated with me concerning asexuality before we return to the planned post, Gay Pride 2015. Again, asexuality is meant as an umbrella-term for the asexual-spectrum identities.
The central theme was who we are, and what should guide us in our identities. Italics are the paraphrases from the sermon. I’m doing this from memory, so excuse the vagueness. It was based off of the second half of Galatians 5.
Public and private layers of identity
We have layers to our identities, from the outward one, measured by our jobs, status, symbols, to our innermost one, what we feel, what our character is, our souls. We depend in the public domain on our outward appearance for treating people, which can cause friction or even oppose our innermost needs.
We notice this in our social circle when the amount of sex we actually want to have doesn’t measure up to that which we feel we should, or what is considered ‘normal’ in a relationship.
I think we’ve also seen it in the asexual community lately because an intimate subject is the object of public discussion, and that can go very wrong when not done with care and forethought.
It echoes even more in the question, should I come out, does the public have a right to this piece of me. Sometimes yes, to tell a story, asexuality becomes part of your public identity, but not always.
The oldest heresy in the book
In religion, it can be a big-ass mistake to let your identity matter, especially the public layer. The attempt to earn your way into heaven by way of pious behaviour has led many a prominent Christian astray. It bars you from truly following God.
Oh boy, did that neatly summarise the biggest barrier for the acceptance of asexuality in the church in the future. First, it means people could reject asexuality as a concept, along with other sexual orientations, based on it not being ‘Christian behaviour’ and ‘sinful’. Second, it could lead to the rejection of people and groups based on their not being ‘real Christians’. Third, it means those trying to earn their way into heaven yell the loudest, judge the harshest and bully their way around whatever playground they inhabit, which makes for a rather toxic Christian community.
We become who we are by what feeds our identity. If we are affirmed and loved it brightens our day. When we hear, continually, that we must look a certain way, we’ll try to do that. When we hear we must be the best, succeed in what we do, we will work every second of every day. We think we are free, but we are slaves to the continual demands we face.
Asexuality is invisible. It means most of us cannot find the recognition we want around us. Deeper than that, we seek other relationships, different types of love than our peers, which can be lonely.
What I like, and what is so deeply necessary, is that sense of affirmation, of safety and community within the asexual community. Most of the posts I’ve read and what has touched me helped me become more comfortable with who I am, educated me by offering ever new possibilities for people to be different and were often written by other people searching to shape their particular identity and frame their particular experience. To the point where I am actively seeking to be constructive and offer whatever thoughts I have and ideas I am building in ways that might at least be helpful and not prescriptive.
I know there’s divisions and worry about disrespect and discrimination, but considering that, at least here, the voices who speak up against that are more powerful and numerous than people propagating the poison, I feel pretty good still.
Let it go, let it go
We face fundamental unfairness when we try to shed those chains and try to live well. Why does one person get a bigger piece of the cake than the other? We need to let go of that, if we are to enjoy what we do have. Sometimes it’s hard to cope and we get envious. But that is how mercy works, to let go, turn away and be who you are freely. To let what is good guide you instead of what will gain you approval. Then we are truly alive.
It’s hard to be who we really are, inside and outside. Despite the fact that it’s sometimes hard to face what others think of us because of our asexuality. Despite our searching for our sexual identities, which can be so self-evident to others. Despite it being easier to just pretend at allosexuality, to be defined still by old paradigms and act according to others’ expectations.
Even harder is that inside our community, the cake isn’t cut evenly, or know what to do about it. A big challenge, to face it and overcome it. To be ourselves, never truly defined by even our own terms.
I hope we succeed.
While staying in the US, I’ve had Chick-fil-A’s fresh lemonade and loved it. The trouble is that they are part of a group express a “Christian” philosophy that opposes mine. Much like Hobby Lobby who recently has in court tried to fight for a weird-ass religious freedom1. What’s so bad about it is rather neatly on display in a twelve-minute sermon. Go watch it2 if you’d like and then come back to read what’s so toxic about it for a Christian demisexual in an asexual community, associated with a wider LGBTQIA community.
I’ve commented as I listened. Warning: prejudice and sarcasm.
The first minute is lighthearted stand-up comedy. When he’s established himself as a jovial all-American guy, he starts.
1:13 “I want to sound a warning: there is a war on religious liberty in the United States of America.” First off, no there’s not, there’s freedom of religion. Second, he’s claiming there’s a fight and thus an us versus them with his words right off the bat. Not a good sign. Third, what people spout off in America doesn’t stay in America, but finds its way around the world, especially since English-language material is dominant in the worldwide Christian community, the way what’s said in Arabic finds its way around the umma.
1:28 “This war on religious liberty is targeting people of the Christian faith.” It’s hard for a vocal, affluent majority to be the underdog. Notice that he tries to create enmity amongst the audience with his words before defining the supposed villain.
1:49 “We are on the verge of having our faith criminalised.” After plugging his book and name-dropping Mike Huckabee (? no idea who the dude is, not sure I want to Google him) he digs the hole for the as-yet mysterious enemy a little deeper. By the time he lets them enter stage left they might as well be wearing devil’s horns. And you’re about as far as you can get from persecution, in America. Hell, even in Holland we’re rather privileged as minorities go. Muslims catch the worst of the prejudice.
…I’m going to skip over Miley Cyrus, who he just mentions for pearl-clutching mileage…
2:14 “It was about that time that Phil Robertson, one of my heroes of the faith from Duck Dynasty did an interview with GQ magazine.” Nevermind that this dude from a B-rated TV show is clearly set up as part of the “us”… that interview was controversial to the point where it’s actually on the Wikipedia page of Duck Dynasty when I googled it.3 (and hey look, there’s Mike Huckabee too, mentioned in one breath with Sarah Palin, the world’s most famously clueless Republican. Oops.)
2:25 “Phil Robertson defended traditional marriage.” A marriage in which a man marries a woman to form an alliance between families, gain property and secure legit offspring. A marriage in which a man must have sex to produce an heir and spare, and a woman must have sex because her body is the property of the husband. A marriage which has little to do with equality, love or living a happy life with the partner of your choice and all those other modern things we young rebels wish to have.
…Miley Cyrus again, for bonus pearl-clutching… (“celebrated for her active debauchery” SRSLY?)
2:33 “But Phil Robertson castigated for standing up for the Bible” Notice that our mysterious villain has yet to be revealed and Phil Robertson, too, is first firmly established as a paragon, before it’s said WHAT actually he defended. Now it sounds as if Robertson’s defended the Bible literary, historical or spiritual value. I doubt that’s actually what he said. (Especially since I got spoiled by the Wikipedia page, like a good quasi-millenial)
2:43 “I feel like a Duck Dynasty guy living in a Miley Cyrus world and Washington DC is twerking on all of us.” MENTAL IMAGE… MY POOR EYES… Also, getting close to a conspiracy theory without revealing the subject of the discussion. I notice that the sermon’s been cut for length. I’m glad.
2:56 “I believe that we are just a few short years away from the government imposing their will on Christian churches.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the heart of our conspiracy theory, in which freedom of religion will suddenly disappear. Brace for further wild speculating along this line.
3:05 “I believe that pastors could find themselves at odds with the law of the land” Because freedom of expression will suddenly disappear as well??? There are always pastors at odds with the law. They are diverse, like the Christians in their congregations. That’s the point of your freedom. And of redemption. Can’t choose for or against God if you can’t choose.
3:30 “Brothers and sisters, my fellow southern Baptists, the Supreme Court may have redefined marriage, but God hasn’t redefined anything.” Actually, He has. Over the course of the Bible He changed the law by which humanity was supposed to live several times, and it’s subject to further interpretation by way of Bible study and personal revelation according to even the most conservative Christians. The definition of marriage changed as well, as this boy explains in his Bar Mitzvah speech on marriage equality4.
3:57 “On Friday, a mom-and-pop bakery out in Oregon was fined [a lot] for refusing to participate in a lesbian wedding.” What, you want your country to condone discrimination for “religious reasons”? Very, very, very slippery slope. Also, as far as I know you may pick your customer, but you cannot break a contract once they are your customer or then proceed to harass your customer… so what part of the story aren’t you telling me here?
4:06 “[Amount repeated] That was the price they had to pay for standing in the faith.” No… that’s what they were fined for discrimination and thus violating human rights. As Christian, you’re supposed to appreciate every human, actually, and their sexuality, even if you object to it, should be no reason to treat them badly. As Christian with another sexuality, that makes me very scared of what you’d do if I visited your church and spoke up about it.
4:22 – 5:10 Marriage clerks have to resign if they refuse to bless gay marriage, oh the horror. Well, duh. The separation of church and state, advocated by Martin Luther himself 500 years ago, ensures churches a measure of freedom in the management of their privileges, such as blessing marriages, but also means church and state may differ on the subject. It ensures you are free to practice your religion as you see fit while others’ rights are not infringed upon, which may create mild moral dilemmas for people with government jobs. Oh, the horror.
5:18 “The Supreme Court’s decision now means that Gay Rights trump religious liberty.” No, it doesn’t, it means that Christians practicing their religion may from now on not infringe upon one of the basic rights of people because of their sexual orientation. For someone with a non-standard sexual orientation, that’s very comforting. God has not punished Holland with a great flood for legalising gay marriage years ago. Though that flood may still happen, if you keep ignoring environmental change.
5:20 “Churches and faith-based organisations must prepare for the law-suits and government investigations that are on the way.” Yes… if you discriminate against people, then yes. Be prepared for the law to be enforced by the government of your country and God save you from America…oh, wait… Also, did I mention the conspiracy theory?
5:43 “Thank goodness there are men of God like your pastor […] who are willing to stand up to the government and stand up for the Word of God.” Don’t worry, no really, you get to choose what happens inside your church, just not outside. And I am a Christian, who together with other Christians went over the Bible rather thoroughly, led by a pastor, and then decided gay marriage should absolutely happen in their church, indicated by a vote from the members and ratified by the church council and included in our rules, completely according to church management as Calvin proposed back during the Reformation. I feel insulted that he accused us of being less than Christian. As a member of a religion who knows her position to be alien to others of that religion, I feel discouraged.
6:13 “Public schools where they are now deconstructing gender, they’re teaching children about gender fluidity.” Oh good, that should be a helpful addition to sexual education that should lessen bullying based on gender and help even cisgender children with being more comfortable with not being very manly or girly-girlish. Inviting a guest speaker would be really good. A pair of representatives from the local LGBT awareness centre answering crude questions from red-faced teenagers really helped prevent bullying based on sexual orientation in our high school and helped me not be totally clueless ten years down the line now I’m exploring my own sexuality.
6:20 “[They’re teaching t]hat there’s no such thing as male or female. That you might wake up feeling like a boy, but by third period you might start feeling like a girl.” Er… you should fact-check. Really, even the five-click google method of research should suffice. (in which you click the top five results after googling a question, fact or word) Here, I’ll help: “God in his eternal wisdom created more than the two simplistic gender roles your limited mortal mind can conceive of.” There you go, I’ve even packaged it in Christianese.
6:27 “And that’s okay.” Yes. It is, if it works like that for someone.
…and we’re skipping his hyperbolic story about a Nebraska school, I feel he’s repeating his mistakes… (“You’ve got to start calling the kids purple pinguins.” SRSLY?)
…and we’re also skipping further ‘anecdotes’ of people being ‘discriminated against’ because of their opinions on LGBTQIA issues, I feel he’s on repeat again and I don’t know the specifics of those cases…
9:15 “Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this. ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’” You do realise he was protesting his church’s pacifism towards the Nazis and arguing for not condoning the Holocaust, right? Ooooh, Godwin’s law!
9:30 “We have reached a Bonhoeffer moment for every Bible-believing Christian in the United States of America” That’d be why I’m speaking, or rather writing, instead of just punching a wall and yelling at God about your utter stupidity and could He please have a little less mercy on that. And this is relevant for Christians worldwide and especially every asexual spectrum person among them and in touch with them.
…we get our final ‘anecdote’, a boy’s religious valedictorian speech was ‘censored by five government officials’ and he was ‘helped by the holy spirit’… (Ripping your speech in half is ‘an act of civil disobedience’ SRSLY?)
11:00 “They may demand to know the content of our prayers. They may try to shut down our bakeries. They may try to silence our voices. But we will not be silenced. We will not be intimidated. A Chicago pastor said this. We don’t bow down to the Republican Elephant. We don’t bow down to the Democratic Donkey.” I give you some more pearls of conspiracy theory rhetoric. AND THIS BUGS ME, WHO IS OUR MYSTERIOUS VILLAIN??? He has yet to name a concrete person or group the audience is meant to oppose. It’s implied it’s some sort of amalgam of the government and the LGBTQIA community, but MYSTERIOUS VILLAIN IS MYSTERIOUS!!!!!11!!!1!
11:22 “We bow down to the line of Judah.” Oh really? If you want to follow Mordechai’s example from the book of Esther, you’re only to bow down to God, not Jesus’ human patrelineal ancestors. “The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.” Right, that one. Good save.
Aside from a cathartic blog post, I hope this serves as an example of what harm this type of rhetoric can bring if you’re both Christian and part of the asexual community. A short summary.
- These rich, white, heterosexual men and women in power are imaging themselves in the role of victim and underdog, fearing a nebulous mish-mash of government and LGBTQIA activists and promoting that fear. They lash out like cornered cats you really want to avoid.
- The inaccurate and defensive speechifying means there is no occasion for a dialogue or hint of welcome for the strange and unknown, like, say, an often overlooked and relatively new fourth sexual orientation and its diverse expressions in a percent of the population and the implications this might have over the course of their lives.
- They refuse adamantly to consider people who aren’t cisgender or heterosexual as normal or Christian. THAT HAS HUGE IMPLICATIONS. It means they refuse me and any Christian or seeker with an LGBTQIA identity spiritual guidance. It means they refuse us unbiased pastoral aid. It means they refuse us the space to practice our faith in peace anywhere they are present. It means they refuse to recognise us as Christians. And for one Christian to disapprove of another’s journey as follower of God… That hurts. I can be part of a different church and another denomination but… I would at least like for God to judge my worth, not for my fellow believers to sit in judgment when they really should know better.
- They spit this venom not just at Christians with an LGBTQIA identity, but at other Christians who approve of the LGBTQIA rights to be informed, educated, married, etc. and really, at anyone. To put it mildly, that gives me a bad rep by association, okay. I gotta explain that bullshit ad nauseam if I want to identify as Christian in public or people think I think like that too.
- Being American and white and English speakers, they play a large role in determining what the mainstream discourse is, what gets told in churches, in the media and in Christian schools and organisations worldwide. They are a roadblock in the face of myself and other demisexuals, grey-asexuals, asexuals, aromantics and others on the asexual spectrum from finding out about that sexual orientation, from being accepted for it, from being able to integrate it with their religious beliefs and identities. And I think that’s very sad.
Further reading and watching
- Last Week Tonight’s report on Hobby Lobby’s case in court for religious “freedom”. (video)
- Fox News dude Todd Starnes’s sermon “Chick-Fil-A is the official chicken of Jesus” (video)
- Duck Dynasty wikipedia page (webpage)
- Duncan McAlpine Sennet’s Bar Mitzvah speech on marriage equality in Portland Oregon (video)
Despite earlier posts, here’s my contribution for July’s Carnival of Aces. Belatedly, I realised I had an answer for one of the questions: “Is it appropriate to speculate about the a/sexuality of individuals who lived before asexuality and sexual orientations were a well-accepted concept?” Yes… because I have one possible answer of what life asexual-spectrum women might’ve chosen centuries before the sexual revolution happened and they had, y’know, more of a say in the marrying and sex-having matter.
For the collection of asexual (pre-)history, I wanted to add something that might otherwise be lost because it concerns Christians, women and the Middle Ages. A combination that calls to mind nuns or witch burnings or ladies courted by knights… not industrious single women living celibate lives. The begijnhoven as they existed in Holland, though varieties could be found throughout Western Europe. Much of the material that follows is a summary from several websites and a Dutch paper1 and Belgian paper2 on this topic that are absolutely worth a read.
- Places: begijnhof, plural begijnhoven.
- People: begijnen.
Start of the begijnhoven
The oldest begijnhof, beguinage in English, that remained in operation the longest, was in Breda3. There is also one in Amsterdam4, should you wish to visit one on your holiday. They were small communities of women in urban areas. The first record, in 1267, shows women in Breda being granted land by the lord of that city, and freeing them from any duties to him, making them essentially yeomen rather than vassals, with their own bits of land, an enviable position back then. They were even granted the right to build their own chapel and cemetery, giving them control over their own religious practices and final resting place as well, confirmed by their next patron and the bishop. By this point, they’d apparently already been established for thirty years, having had an infirmary and several small houses from 1240 onward.
Outside of monasteries lived several communities of religious women who wished to remain unmarried and focus on charity work. The begijnen were among them. They took a vow of celibacy, yes, but only for the time they’d live among the begijnen. They took no vow of obedience except to their leader, chosen from amongst the women. They also never relinquished their possessions, though many donated part of what they had and led sober lives in an increasingly decadent society with an increasingly corrupt church.
Life in a begijnhof
Life as a begijn was initially an attractive alternative to both marriage and a monastic life for rich noblewomen and young women from the urban elite. Soon, rich and poor were drawn to it, because it offered a measure of independence while they could supply for their income either out of their own fortunes or by taking a job with a steady income, occasionally supplemented with gifts from richer women.
A begijnhof was both a protected environment and a place of independence. It operated much like a kibbutz or commune, closed communities of up to 300 women. It was a self-sufficient collection of gardens, vegetable patches, its own church, houses. A school or infirmary if many of the women taught or were nurses. Everyone contributed part of their income and did some of the work inside.
They worked and did a lot of charity outside the begijnhof, which was very different from your average monastery. They sought engagement with the world. They became teachers, nurses and worked in the textile industry, where they competed to the point that they were called a women’s guild. Their celibacy gave them an uncommon freedom of movement in the city while out on errands and visiting people.
This life offered a good alternative for women refusing an arranged marriage or not eligible to donate a dowry to a monastery to enter it. But more than that, women entered the begijnen who were plain uninterested in married life, women who wished to move to the growing cities, focus on their work and maintain some independence in their finances, possessions and daily lives. They were also prolific writers, though their often religious works had the second-rate reputation romance novels do these days.
The movement endured for a long time, the last begijn died in 20135, and it flourished in times when women were relatively free, the late Middle Ages and the seventeenth and eightteenth century, while it suffered in more conservative times, the Reformation and the Romantic or Victorian era. It never recovered during the 20th century, likely due to overall secularisation. By then, women were fighting for an independent if not celibate life in other ways.
Why co-opt this as asexual (pre-)history?
I like to think that women make places for themselves, even in cultures where that’s hard. Assuming that asexuality occurs naturally and a significant part of asexual women had little to no interest in sex, romantic love or marriage back then too, they had to build a different life. No doubt many simply remained unmarried and went on to become content spinsters and eccentric aunts. Others would have been forced into marriage and left the unappealing marriage bed once their husbands allowed them, or perhaps entered a monastery. And yet… this alternative seems to have existed too: a way to live a full life without sex, even way back then, in communities of like-minded women. I do not suggest all or even most of these women were asexual, but I think this life might’ve held significant appeal for women who would have been ace-spectrum had they lived in the 21st century.
It also casts an interesting light on modern-day abstinence/celibacy/[preferred-label]. In words, these women’s choice for celibacy matches that of people preaching pre-marital abstinence or those choosing celibacy for religious reasons. In practice, their lives show parallels with people choosing not to have sex for practical or personal reasons. It freed them from living according to the sexual morale of their time. They had no interest in (waiting for) romance and the married life that followed, but prioritised building a life for themselves. It freed up time and space in their lives for other activities, to an even greater degree than it would today. They were socially engaged to the degree they wished, from recluses to women out and about all the livelong day. And most importantly, they found each other, a supportive community that lived as they did.
Last but not least, it’s a boon for Christian women on the asexual spectrum. Enterprising women who managed to express their faith, live in financial independence, hold down jobs and have the safety of close-knit communities with other women even 800 years ago seem good role models. Like an ace-spectrum version of Proverbs 31. Perhaps it could even aid in creating a good discourse for asexuality in the Protestant or Catholic church. An example that, no, good Christian lives don’t ‘naturally’ include sex. And, no, women of faith weren’t just quiet, meek, indoorsy types. And there’s more to the Christian tradition around women than virgins, wives and nuns.
Yeah… let’s just say there’s a hen house and I’m feeling a little foxy.
1. De Begijnen van Breda: een studie over het leven van de begijnen, met de nadruk op hun geestelijk leven, doctorate thesis by Ine Roozen from Tilburg University (PDF)
2. Tussen hemel en aarde: Begijnen in de Lage Landen, by RoSa (PDF)
3. Begijnhof in Breda (website)
4. Begijnhof in Amsterdam (website)
5. Een stad voor vrouwen – Begijnen en begijnhoven in vroegmodern Europa (webpage)