Category Archives: Personal reflection
Two idle trains of thought collided in my head. One was that I usually refer to myself as demisexual with “insiders” (the asexual community and close family) and asexual with “outsiders” (everybody else). The other, well, my language studies included a lot of crossdisciplinary training. We wallowed around in anthropology long enough to internalise several core concepts, such as etic and emic. Etic labels are imposed on a community by an outside observer. Emic categories are what a community develops internally.
Awsum Can Haz Werdzª
It’s no secret that the asexual community spent a lot of its early years generating words. These primarily helped people identify themselves and talk about themselves amongst each other. Here’s a glossary on the Asexuality Archive and the “Everything Asexual and Aromantic” series if you prefer to watch a video.
With the versatility of the English language, these words quickly became versatile, gaining colloquial versions, used as adjectives (ace person) as well as nouns (all the aces)… Several have become mainstream enough that they have been put into or expanded upon in dictionaries, such as the OED last month.
Ace or Queer Sociolect
All this leads me to consider… Is our language distinctive enough to consider ourselves, as a subculture, a speech community? Do we have enough a unique enough vocabulary and set of syntactic oddities to be a sociolect?
Another possibility came up when I did a little bit of digging. Apparently there was a queer sociolect in the sixties and seventies, called Polari. One paragraph this blog article caught my eye:
“Even though a secondary language was needed to support it, if well informed, a person could communicate heavily in Polari. However, its use in more modern times is questionable. Why? The language code would work in binaries (male/female, homosexual/heterosexual, masculine/feminine) and didn’t allow for description of non-binary classifications. For example, words to explain gender fluidity, bisexuality, asexuality etc., just didn’t exist.”
So another possibility is that now, four decades later, we filled a so-far-empty niche in a broader queer sociolect, and contributed a couple words to mainstream English in the process.
I am not at all qualified enough to offer any conclusions on this subject. As language geek and demi/ace person I did want to put the question out there, however. It creates a space to describe how I identify myself.
I, Ace or Demi person
Let’s say the asexual community is a speech community, or part of one. Let’s say the vocabulary we’ve generated has become an ace sociolect or part of a queer sociolect. In that context I am able to express two distinct levels on which I speak of my identity.
Namely, as an informed insider trying to decribe myself towards outside observers, I say I am asexual. This fits in a larger (etic) set of labels, known as sexual orientation, that is familiar to most English speakers. I only need to define the single new word in order for them to fit me into their world view, and then get accepted or rejected.
Among insiders, the asexual community and its allies, such as my close family, I choose a different label. I say that my asexual identity is primarily demisexual. I can add a gender identity and romantic orientation to further specify what I think I am. Thus making use of a far more nuanced set of labels we created to talk amongst ourselves.
Thus some old theory I learned in college and my thoughts on ace identity intersected. I thought in sharing it might be of some use. And, well, it just tickles my fancy how much we’ve been able to affect language, over the years.
ªprovided by the Lolcat Translator
The theme for July’s Carnival of Aces is Then and Now. Let’s compare the summers of 2015 and 2018.
I am still reeling from the shift, going from identifying as a heterosexual barred from falling in love by her insecurity to a more confident woman still seldom feeling sexual desire… demisexual. The inciting incident for this personal journey was a little over a year ago. I have lurked in the AVEN forums and set up a blog on WordPress, liking the long-form writing. I work through the questions my new identity throws up by writing and reading about them.
A city trip to Amsterdam coincides with Pride, at the start of August. With a thrill, I decide to go, wishing to be amongst other people who have a different orientation. Each museum advertises exhibits, the entire city centre sports flags for my entire stay. The place is proud of its pride and glad for its popularity. With a museumcard I happily browse through galleries and follow a tour guide through a zoo while he explains about homosexual animals.
On the day of the parade, I take out the eye pencils I bought, black, silver, white and purple, and draw flags on my hands. I walk until I hit the main canals, where crowds cluster, wreathed in colourful clothes and cheery music. I run into an aging lesbian I met earlier that week, who thought I was questioning-and-in-denial when I tried to explain asexuality – a practice run, with a stranger in a strange city, before I dare to tell family. We end up talking about how she claimed long-term relationships among lesbians often enough become queer-platonic relationships when they enter their second or third decade. We stay together that day to have someone to share comments with while we watch the floats and boats go by.
I feel a little lost, I am the only one like myself. Still, the day becomes a precious memory. Even in this time and place where there is no fight for rights, the people come to be uniquely blessed. Each time I see people together, I realise they could be friends or family or strangers or lovers, in any combination. This one day a year, anyone could be any sexuality and not be outnumbered. Too, I realise as I look better and see they can be any gender and have a good chance of meeting more people like themselves. It’s a one-day vacation from heteronormativity, from gender roles. It releases something in me.
I leave early, because there isn’t a party for people like me and I don’t much feel like beer or celebrating my sexuality. Still, I smile at all the families who start to leave along with me. They came here to teach their kids this, I realise, a broadening of horizons. Not a bad day out, either, with the festival foods and mellow atmosphere and colourful boats and people and places. Loads more fun than a documentary at school or a representative of the COC (LGBT centre) coming to talk. I find myself hoping they tell all their classmates.
The next day, my last day, I decide I want a souvenir, a symbol of when I went out to celebrate my orientation, even just to myself. I buy a ring with a black band in the middle and put it on my right middle finger. There, I decide, I’m out. A little more sure of myself I go home. I sit my family down, one by one, to come out to them.
After a hiatus, I’ve been blogging again for a while. I have moved and joined a more conservative church, since my own denomination wasn’t around. It caused a whole host of insecurities and fears to upend itself over my head, even though I thought I’d reconciled my faith and my demisexuality. Seems I absorbed some of the poison out in the public domain just fine, even if I was accepted in my personal circle.
I have had an asexual orientation long enough that I am starting to lose the sense of what it was like to think myself heterosexual. One warm night, staying with family, I walk to the bathroom half-asleep in only a shirt and startle at an outrage squawk from my brother. It takes me minutes to realise what the problem is. My body has simply become my body, comfortable and only covered for my comfort. No longer a source of questioning what might make it seem sexy, or shame for what others might see in it.
I am finally confident enough to take the step deliberately into the dating world, though it’s still a slow shuffle as if across an iced-over road. I start to accept that lacking the wish to have sex does not mean I have give up what I do wish to have, most especially kids, far more even than a partner. Not yet, I decide, but I jot down what would be practical to know or prepare in advance and start to research at what point down the line it would be possible, responsible, good. I consider whether to adopt or to carry my own.
I speak in gender-neutral terms of a potential partner. While I am romantic, wish to be romantic, I don’t really know towards whom. I realise I find people striking on first impression, or their minds intriguing to explore further. By these two methods do I identify people to like, people to love. It is by convention that I determine which way it is appropriate to build a relationship with someone, with friendship an easier path and the romantic scarcely explored.
I mentally redefine demisexual when I read about the three instinctual drives: sexual, romantic, attachment. Demisexual: the sexual drive may trigger when attachment (trust, respect, familiarity, community, collaboration, cohabitation) is present.
The gradual paradigm shift has trickled into my writing, which I’ve picked up again. I cannot withhold my changed understanding of relationships, of love. Each story, by the time I’m writing character profiles, contains an asexual character or a relationship somewhere between frienship and romantic and sexual or someone who wishes never to have a relationship at all. Because these are the things I’ve been thinking about for years, to puzzle out. My mind is too full to avoid them.
I realise with dread I am on the point of another coming out. My friends, my family know I am demisexual. But I’ve been comfortable almost never talking about my orientation. People never really ask about the ring or the absence of a relationship. It feels a little naughty, to be differentunder people’s noses, most of them never realising.
However, if I wish to publish, if I produce something good enough, being asexual will not just be part of my personal identity, but part of my public identity. On Linked-in, on my bio, answering questions from strangers.
I remember that Pride. I remember that atmosphere, that all orientations and genders were accepted on that one day. I remember that people brought their kids from across the country. I remember feeling alone in having an asexual orientation, even as I felt affirmed in being not-heterosexual.
I want to write and these stories call to me. Working through the implications and insecurities of this identity has shaped my voice, because it’s taught me so much that’s worth telling.
So, a year from now, maybe two, maybe three, somewhere there’ll be another story with ace characters, by me. Not really because I’m brave or much of an activist, but because it will, hopefully, make for a good story.
With much hemming and hawing I’m edging into the world of dating, mostly because dammit, I want to try thing thing out and not just sit on the sidelines talking. Can’t say much’s happened yet, aside from me feeling a little more at home tentatively saying I might like someone… just full of confidence, me.
Here’s what did happen: I stopped worrying I needed sexual, or at least romantic, attraction to even start dating.
It just doesn’t happen, with a few stats and a photograph in a profile. And I’m learning that that’s fine.
All I need is a ‘huh, something in common, may want to chat, might want to meet.’ A spark of general interest. Doable.
A few of those developed into chats, with either lacklustre response or none at all. I’m starting to suspect the folks on the other end are good at liking, not at chatting, and I’m not the best in keeping my phone to hand either.
But. But. It feels like a big fear’s been put to rest, the first of a few big hurdles that made me feel I couldn’t cross into this dating thing without being somehow fake.
I do not need to be attracted, at least in this initial stage. It’s fine just getting to know people.
That’s a relief.
It likely won’t stay smooth sailing, but at least I’m getting out of the harbour.
This post was written for the May Carnival of Aces hosted at Prismatic Entanglements, on Nuance and Complexity…
For months I’ve been at this point, dipping my toe into dating sites only to pull it back out quickly.
Drift across the kitchen, cooking, my mind still there, browser window still open.
Oh, god, to do something mostly new, where I feel too old. Where others start as kids, teens, adolescents.
Can I be small again? Bumbling?
Can I take the rejection, when it comes, again and again and again?
Can I allow it not to matter? How do others even do this? Where is the manual?
Not tonight, I decide. Wooden spoon clenched between ring and middle finger, I swipe the window away with my thumb. Cheeks burning, I stir the pasta.
Hungry coward, though.
“Dinner!” I smile at the people I do have, try to focus, to forget a longing for family I carry in my heart.
“Verlangen” is the more visceral desire, craving and the more cerebral longing, missing.
“Koesteren” is to cradle or hold carefully, used figuratively, speaking of tenderness and cherishing.
“Houden van” is literally “(have) hold of” and is the most common translation of “to love” but I like “liefhebben” better, which is more properly “to hold dear”.
“Verkeren” is oldfashioned as a verb, “verkering” is the relationship between the acknowledgement that there is anything more than a meeting or a hook-up, and (optional) the engagement.
Centuries of “verkering”: 13th, to turn around, a change. 15th, to associate with, 17th, to associate with a person with the intention to get engaged, 20th century, to be in a romantic relationship.
These are the words in my head, when I think and lurk and procrastinate.
These words are absent:
“Begeren” to desire, usually sexually. The noun: lust.
“Vrijen” is both being glued together in public and having sex.
To say you wish without taking action is to make the dream a wistful lie instead of a hopeful truth.
I have trawled through calendars of events.
I have made known to a dozen people how hard it is to start on something.
I have nitpicked dating sites and types of events to find objections, based in pop culture, based in insecurity.
I have yet to start.
Finally I sit down and write and write until I’ve peeled the onion to the core.
I do not have dating friends I can ask to tag along.
I do not have places I go out regularly.
I do not have a time in my week where romantic interest is likely to happen.
I do not have the experience I would wish even to say what is normal and what is not.
I do not have clever words or social smoothness to make flirting come easily or at all.
I am so dreadfully scared of all the firsts, the immediacy of emotion that comes with new experiences combining with going into a foreign domain alone where the contact is personal.
“Eelt op je ziel” translates to calluses on the soul, a buffer between you and the world, being inured.
I go into this nearly new.
Bare. Naked. Tender.
I sit with my phone in my hands. I appear as the rest do, just waiting for my bus, spending time.
In truth, I am staring at a black screen, suspenseful soundtrack thumping in my head.
I put my head in my hands and scold myself.
“Just do it.”
“You have to start somewhere.”
“It starts with simply meeting people.”
“Don’t give it so much weight.”
“Be less harsh with yourself.”
Mercy, not elegance.
Letting go and being alright with feeling foolish.
Let’s start with one, just one.
I download the app.
I find out about the wonderful world that is verifying through Facebook you exist.
I delete the app.
Facebook and privacy. Speak of antonyms.
I have an old account with which I did a lot. I learned, through others’ bad experiences, not to let apps access such information.
I’m in luck. An acquaintance suggests a solution over coffee.
I make an empty facebook account with just my name and picture. Only needs an alternate email address.
I download the app again.
Filling out the profile goes smoothly.
Months’ hesitation means I already have a profile picture.
I fill out the questions like it’s a psychology test, just go with the first impulse.
First drafts can be edited.
I hit the questions about my preferred partner and pause, thumbs hovering over the keyboard on my screen.
I sit down and sigh.
I am demisexual.
I have no idea what my romantic orientation is.
I have a post half drafted entitled “An Elusive Romantic Orientation”. I love the title. I dislike the post. Too whiny, too incoherent.
I have been able to figure out I see relationships as growing, organic. Trees and perennials and bulbs that flower for a month and seeds that may never come up.
I have been able to figure out I wish for a romantic or platonic context, so I know what to cultivate about relationships that are otherwise very diverse.
I have been able to figure out I regard platonic as the default, easiest and safest and most known.
I have been able to figure out that defining something as romantic is like installing extra features and permissions, to my mind. Go for the thrill of flirting. Exercise a greater measure of territoriality and physical affection. Dropping more masks and showing more weak spots and thinking more tender thoughts.
In secret, tend a little flame which burns with hopes for a year from now, sharing time, sharing lives, sharing homes, sharing needs, sharing families and friends, sharing nights and days.
Just a small flame, that appears in idle thoughts before falling asleep and in a belly full of mellow warmth when watching a romantic movie or another couple walking down the street.
“Waakvlam” is a pilot light, the single flame that keeps watch, always on in case something needs to be heated.
I have figured out that, yes, I am romantic. Even that I lean strongly towards monogamy.
I still haven’t figured out the prefix.
The prefix to romantic – when it is something other than “a” – is tied to the partner.
The gender of the prospective partner I need to fill out.
If asked, I would say I primarily, even perhaps only, want to interact on the romantic level. Well, and intellectual and emotional and social and… but.
So much else about a partner is more in the foreground, when I try to think of it, in memory or fantasy.
What do you put before -romantic if partner gender is simply less relevant?
The lack of a word for the thing my brain’s settled on drives me to distraction for a few days.
However, this time the quandary cannot be left to languish unresolved.
I have a profile to complete.
I consider all the gender-neutral words I’ve been using and decide follow the same line here. Simply leave the option for gender open to all of it, and scroll on.
When it comes to personal information, I have another decision to make. Do I say I’m asexual up front?
I do not even consider demisexual. That is a word for the in-group.
I struggled with disclosure when it came to my new church, feeling I had to represent asexuality because of the potential for controversy.
Yet the fact that I feel compelled to be public about such a personal fact makes me want to keep it private all the more.
“Be open if you have nothing to hide” is an attitude that makes me want to close off.
If I am not trusted for what is hidden about me, I am not trusted.
If I am not free to keep myself hidden, I am not free to entrust myself to others.
I do not put my sexuality on my profile.
I click to complete it.
I consider taking the initiative in getting in touch and chicken out.
It’s alright, I tell myself. Let’s see what happens.
“Laat het over me heenkomen” feels to me like stepping into the surf to let the waves play around my legs or drown me, depending on how rough the sea is.
After the first day I stuff my face into my pillow and laugh until I cry.
I have plenty experience with online communities.
The non-commital likes.
The awkwardness of having a chat conversation with a complete stranger.
The sudden absence of the other person.
I have feared this so much and yet it feels so familiar, so easy.
I decide to set a time to check it, like other communities, and put my phone down.
Time to write about this.
Much dawdling and a harrowing ride ended in an anticlimactic stop.
This is only the beginning, but I hope the end of the emotional rollercoaster.
Time for some unhealthy snacking and people watching at this fair.
I was going to write “ man person”, but no strikethroughs in titles allowed on wordpress. So, scholarly brackets it is. I’ll worry about being inclusive to aliens when we meet some. This is my contribution for the April – Carnival of Aces.
My friend tells her unlikely love story, and concludes, “I had a list, so I knew who to date. He just fulfilled every item on it. I knew he was the one.”
“I… can’t even imagine.”
“What’s on your list?”
“I don’t have one. I suppose I’d like to just… see what develops when I meet someone.”
“No list? C’mon, what’s your type, what’d you put on there?”
I’m quiet for a few minutes. Her sharing at least obligates me to give it serious thought. “Really wouldn’t know what to put on it,” I admit in the end.
There’s a list in my head. It’s for me, not any partner:
- Be at peace with loneliness, so company is joy, not necessity
- Have a good circle of friends, then worry about romance
- Have a stable income, so you can support a household
- Meet in real life for dates, online contact hurts too much
“D’you want me to set you up?”
“Er… are they nice?”
“Yeah.” How else do I ever meet anyone?
A month later, I’ve still heard nothing.
What I want: a list of ways asexual people identify partners in life, so I can try things, and support from friends when I admit to seeking a partner.
What I have: a list of expectations people have for how a good, normal, healthy woman finds a partner, and all the ways they joke about helping, and won’t, because it’s too unusual.
“God, I hate being single.”
“We all deal with some level of loneliness, in or outside a relationship.” The later in the evening, the more philosophical, though not necessarily wiser, my brain.
“I guess, but, I’d really like some company, y’know?”
“Depends on the company,” I mutter.
I forget my own advice, gradually.
Out of my own fantasy, the things I did like about being in a relationship, pop culture and idle conversations I build a new, false image I wish to chase.
I start living in fantasy land.
It’s an excellent image to fall asleep with, but a bad thing to believe in the waking world.
“Well, it’s a blessing, really, for your life, if you don’t desire anyone.”
“So you can focus on other things. On God.”
“What do you mean?”
Well, like Paul said, if you lust after others, you must marry. If you don’t, you’re more blessed because you can focus on serving the Lord, like him. Feel happy.”
Even as someone who actually does ministry, this made me balk.
I feel this is going to become the asexual equivalent of the scenario where gay people are accenpted so long as they are celibate and “they focus on God’s love.”
Sex is for heterosexual people, right? Bleh.
Oh, I desire another. Just very, very rarely sexually.
I don’t know how, but I know I do.
“I can’t seem to actually start. I remain this… armchair philosopher.”
“Scared? Lazy? Ignorant?”
I tell her of all my insecurities.
“Stop thinking so far into the future. Meet people. Give them space to become your acquaintance or friend or significant other, whatever develops. All you can do is create the opportunities and invest the time to grow new relationships. The rest is not yours to control.
Okay, helpful list.
- Meet people
- Stop worrying
- Enjoy the meeting of minds
- Be conscious of but not stopped by my sexuality.
I am spending a lot of time with someone in a relationship that is… not going well. Mostly, I’m in charge of making sure she eats and has enough fun, someone else is playing the part of confidant.
They pose for a picture. “Wait. I need to unlock my phone for you. It’s secured with my thumbprint. No one else can access it.”
“Oh wow, that seems handy, in case it gets stolen.”
I get one of those glances, one of the heavy, unsmiling ones. “Yeah, well, I got tired of his spying, y’know? My messages are none of his business.”
He messages her daily. He reads her email. He upsets her, over and over.
Yet, she loves him, he loves her. They’re trying.
The realisation comes gradually that I have been idealising realtionships.
Living in fantasy land is safe and easy.
There are things, being single, that I’ve been taking for granted.
My own space, respected.
Being on an even keel with others.
I realise I do have a list.
List (to be specified):
- Adult of similar age
- High integrity
- Similar ideals
- Compatible life goals
- Equally affectionate
- Does not discriminate
- Comfortable with who I am
Seeking: a person of good character.
Dare to volunteer as a host for Carnival of Aces, and that is inevitably the month you will get swamped, or so it seems. I tried to find the actual quiet month, too.
Several weeks of being a supportive person, and catching up on things after, didn’t leave much room to write. As reward, I’ve received a much-needed reality check about relationships. More about that in my own contribution to April’s Carnival.
This is also to say I’m sorry for my late responses to all, I really do appreciate everyone who’s contributed. I started this month so absolutely stoked to be able to play a host to a festival that’s provided me with a lot of writing inspiration.
I’m really looking forward to reading everything.
I live in a progressive society.
I am ‘not sexually active’, rather than a virgin (maagd).
Virgin and maiden and damsel (in distress) are the same word in Dutch.
Everyone is the hero of their own narrative.
I was a child in the nineties.
We were never told we should be the damsel.
Thus, it remained a word for other people.
…Born from the Virgin Mary… (geboren uit de maagd Maria)
Except that was not the Mary I liked or pictured.
My Mary was the respected wife of a middle-class carpenter with half a dozen children, who had been exiled to Egypt and returned to Israel only to move to a completely different town and build a new life there succesful enough to afford a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the only woman on the planet to have raised God the Son with reasonable succes and saw him go off to do inexplicable things and then had to bury her eldest child.
The woman who went and asked that same Jesus for a miracle because her friends’ wedding was about to go off the rails.
The Virgin was a blue and white robed statue in old chapels.
Thus, it remained a word for other believers.
I was never asked if I was a virgin.
Society never impressed this word on me, but went out of its way to reject it as oldfashioned.
I was always asked if I was sexually active.
So, I was ‘not sexually active’.
Thus it remained a label for other cultures.
I never needed the word to describe or defend the fact I did not have sex.
It was rather taboo to ask if someone had ever had sex.
If you had it, presumably you boasted.
If you did not speak of it, it was assumed you simply did not have it recently.
I moved too much so I did not grow up in one place.
I did not have a family that considered my sexual activity its businesss.
I had no people come on to me uninvited or presuming they could have sex.
Thus, it remained a line of defense for other people.
I did have talks with friends, of course I did.
It is really easy to turn the conversation to other aspects of a relationships.
People really love to talk about their own experiences, if they talk about it at all.
I also had kind enough friends that they simply respected my being single as a choice.
When I had a relationship, it felt so utterly personal, tender, vulnerable, I was circumspect.
In talking to my partner, the past seemed so much less relevant to discuss than us, now, until it didn’t exist anymore.
Thus, it remained a discussion I never had.
Every single doctor I have ever had.
Are you sexually active.
I get, perhaps, a look.
Thus, it remained a question I was never asked.
The only time the issue of virginity was raised, was in a religious context.
It came dripping with bad and worse associations. Submission. Purity culture. Patriarchy.
I felt revolted at the mere idea of identifying with it.
I like having my judgment respected when it comes to my sexual activities.
I like having the freedom to discuss what I did and did not do without immediate censure.
I like having no law or rule dictate or limit my activities so long as I do not harm or harrass anyone.
I like the sense of safety and respect and responsibility that awards.
I like the idea that I answer to God, and God alone, when it comes to whatever consensual sexual activity I engage in.
The idea that I make choices to follow what I believe is right freely, in my own time and without outside pressure.
I like it a lot.
I like sexual freedom.
Thus, it remained a discussion I tried to avoid.
I am not a virgin.
I have never had occasion to identify with the word.
I have never much discussed it and when I did, disliked it.
I do not apply this label to myself.
Ironically, people will apply the label if I am ever very clear about the limits to which I have been sexually active.
I cannot even make sense of where that line is drawn.
Is there one?
I do not wish to be a virgin, with all that that entails.
I am simply ‘not sexually active’.
Lady bits will be discussed in this post.
I live in a progressive society.
I am ‘not sexually active’, rather than a virgin (maagd).
There are reasons for this. I want to illustrate that.
It’s always felt so… natural (vanzelfsprekend).
With great glee, teen magazines and sexual education revelled in one fact when I grew up.
Only one percent of girls would have their hymen intact and bleed when they had sex.
Hymen. In Dutch, literally virgin seal (maagdenvlies).
The accuracy of the statistic wasn’t important.
Its repetition was.
Scientific fact or fiction as a mantra, a talisman.
Your hymen will 99% likely not be intact.
It meant, do not fear sex.
It meant, it won’t hurt, try it.
It meant, you are safe, don’t worry.
It meant, there is no magic.
It meant, there is no unforgivable sin.
It meant, you will still be the same person.
There is no magic.
Your body cannot be a sacrifice.
Your blood does not have special powers.
You will not be targeted by evil sorcerers or monsters or bogeymen.
There is no unforgivable sin.
You are not more virtuous for having had less or more sex.
You are not more holy before you have sex.
You do not have to be an angel.
You will not be a slut.
You do not need to be ‘kept safe’ for your own good.
You are safe, do not worry.
You are not in danger because you are innocent or beautiful.
Others’ lust is not on you.
Sexual harrassment is a crime.
We make laws, we bring justice.
If you are in danger, we are on your side.
We will teach you how to speak up.
We will teach you how to fight.
We will teach you how to be prudent.
We will teach you how to wield our laws.
Do not fear sex.
You will still be the same person.
Your body is yours to do with as you please.
We have enshrined this in the declaration of human rights.
We are dedicated to bringing this freedom to everyone around the world.
This freedom is your inalienable right.
Try it, it won’t hurt.
Here comes the sticking point.
What if I don’t want to try sex?
Then I don’t, I suppose.
They said, your hymen will likely not be intact.
You may not have a detectable hymen in the first place.
It may break when you ride a bike or a horse.
It may break when you insert a tampon, fingers or a device.
It may break with rigorous physical activity.
They said, be careful with the vagina, that may be narrow.
The vagina may be narrow.
I have discovered the truth of this last part.
It is a flexible channel with muscles around it.
Go figure what inactivity does.
The Dutch ride bikes regularly from age four.
I have always wondered if other nations had a higher percentage of intact hymen.
I preferred tampons.
We swim a lot, in Holland.
Hobby, outing with friends, day out in summer, exotic vacation.
Imagine having a 25% chance of not being able to do that.
It’s hard to bend over and see, easier to touch lady parts.
We were informed it’s good to clean and be familiar with those lady parts.
We were told about a terrifying host of things that can be wrong .
Mostly, I remembered it was good to inform a doctor if anything seemed off.
That means knowing how my genitals looks when they’re alright.
Relevant: stimulating devices.
I explored enough to know parts were functional.
I found that it worked differently for me, however.
It took me a while to figure out, hey, other sexuality.
Upon the stage of public opinion, the Dutch don’t really have conservative evangelicals.
We have conservative Muslims.
They are not considered white, so they are ridiculed more openly.
Thus, Christian girls worry a lot less about being a virgin, at least in a clear physical sense.
Muslim girls, well-informed, do worry about not being virgin in any discernable physical way.
I have overheard several serious discussions of the wonders of goat’s blood packets in the marriage bed while on the train, over the years.
An intact hymen is for other cultures and other times.
Physical inspection was for horrible quack-doctors among Victorians.
Physical mutilation is for horrible witch-doctors on other continents.
Here, just sign a petition, send a card.
Except, not really.
I read about sexual education going out the window.
I read about girls not knowing about or being scared of their own genitals.
I read about women feeling scared about not having an intact hymen.
I read about people getting sick, of STDs spreading again.
I speak to fellow Christians honestly believing this is all a good development.
I am speechless.
Your hymen is likely not intact.
It’s just a little fold of tissue.
I find I am holding a talisman.
My contribution to the March Carnival of Aces, about physical health and bodies. Go check out all the contributions.
Explicit language about sex, though I try not to be graphic.
For twenty-five years all the landmarks of developing sexuality and romantic relationships pass me by.
I blame my impopularity, my insecurity, my anxiety, my depression.
I have a few crushes. I think those feelings are attraction.
I look at a man I have known for several years.
In disbelief I feel my lower stomach roil with heat and my groin clench. I flush.
I flee to the hallway and slide down a wall.
That was sexual attraction. Out of nowhere. Already waning.
I realise I have never, ever felt it before.
My mind explodes.
I find the word “asexual” online. I read, ferociously.
I am demisexual, I decide.
I feel highly relieved.
The general practicioner looks at me. “Are you sexually active?”
I tick the box for single on the document, on every document.
I am in Amsterdam during Pride week.
I buy a purple dress and paint flags on my hands.
No one recognises asexuality as a thing. I comfort myself with forum hopping.
Weaving through the crowds I realise the most important thing about Pride is intangible: lack of expectations.
People bring their kids to experience a place and time when anyone’s sexuality and gender can be anything and it is okay.
It is festive, but I am alone and unknown. I leave early.
On the way home I buy a black ring and put it on my right middle finger.
There, I am out.
I take a photo.
I fill out another form. Yes, I’m single, dammit.
For the first time, I want there to be a question about sexuality.
“I’ve been flirting with you for ages!”
“I honestly didn’t notice.”
“Oh my God.” Skype makes his laugh a muffled thing. “Do you like me? I mean, you were not responding, so.”
“…yeah. But. I wasn’t gonna say anything. This is online.”
“You were just gonna pine. Pathetically.”
“Well, yeah. I’m… kinda glad to be having this conversation, though.”
I discover that being in love comes with heightened awareness, especially of my body in the world.
Flirting, once I’m aware, is an addictive adrenaline rush.
I feel tender, vulnerable.
I stop blogging. This is for me.
“Your vagina’s kind of narrow.”
I glare at my doctor. What part of ‘never sexually active’ was unclear?
“You never masturbate?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
She grimaces. “This may hurt.”
She slides in the I.U.D. Aside from a dull ache, it’s fine.
Five years’ worth of birth control, installed.
Our flirting, our conversations continue.
I am shameless. I grew up in a culture open about sexuality. I see no reason to hold back.
I find my imagination has the greatest influence over my body.
Anticipation can buzz for an entire day beneath skin.
I want touch, I crave it.
The flip side, he lives in another country.
I love the attention, the banter.
I want company. I want another body, close.
The calls become explicit too, sometimes.
I delight in the celebration of body, it is so new.
I am, perhaps for the first time, interested in manly bits.
I love the touch, even imagined, even removed. Giving and taking.
I love the gaze. I love the sounds. I love the play of talk and touch and exploration and affection.
However, as it becomes more… focused, it becomes less interesting.
Reality is less without imagination fully engaged.
The more it is about just the genitals, the less my body and mind are into it.
The popping, crackling full-body fizz as we suggested, flirted, started, settles down into a low, steady buzz in my belly, depressingly familiar from masturbating.
Now, as then, orgasm is simply an end. A sudden stop to pleasant sensation, like stepping in a cold shower.
I have learned not to let that buzz culminate and tip over, but now it does.
“Did you finish?” he asks and I answer in the affirmative.
I do not fake that, but I fake how it makes me feel.
I fear he notices.
We end that call and I curl up wanting to cry.
Orgasms do not work as advertised and I want an afterglow badly.
The foreplay is not supposed to be the highlight, dammit.
When I start counting in months, I feel his physical absence acutely.
The difference with friendship turns out to be the level of preoccupation and the territoriality that comes with it.
He is a missing limb, in my thoughts but never under my hands.
We drift apart. His disinterest grows and I become stiffer the longer I want more than I can have.
I start babysitting, for some money.
Children, I discover, like touch, especially when they can dictate it.
Since touch has always equaled affection in my family, it is very, very easy to love the kids.
I also discover babysitting can stop from one day to the next.
The first time it ends I cry for several days on the couch, I simply think I am sad.
The second time was longer, much worse, and I realise how much more territorial I was over kids than even a romantic partner. Even when I knew they were not mine.
I am preternaturally aware of my womb for several months.
After the third time is bad, so bad, I swear off babysitting.
I fill out another form. I tick single, and no, for sexually active.
A year in my new town, I finally feel comfortable to start touching the people I have come to know.
A hug, a supporting hand.
I do not realise just how much it relaxes me until I am asked what’s made me so cheerful.
I meet my new doctor.
“I am not sexually active, no. I am on the asexual spectrum.”
She gives me a weird look at my wide, wide smile.
Two years seems to be the mark for me to be settled enough to start feeling attracted to people.
A grinning woman, oozing charisma and feminity, makes me weirdly cheerful and want to stare like a creepy stalker.
At the coffeestore, to make it more cliche.
No flush, no buzz, though. No desire to touch.
Oh, oh. Aesthetic attraction, I realise. For a real, live person.
I meet a young woman, single.
She is going to be a foster parent.
It is a revelation. Many ways lead to Rome. I need not take the most common one.
My anxiety hits me over the head again, out of nowhere.
My sex drive remains. I still feel the occasional attraction, mostly aesthetic or romantic, once even the flush of sexual.
I blamed all the wrong things when I was young.
I am demisexual, and it is simply my nature, not a symptom.
I have tried to cover all the feelings that relate to my body and are encompassed by my demisexuality.
This is not a complete account, I have chosen to include the first (or only) time I felt or acted on certain attractions.
I decided to leave out times when that attraction was not directed at a real person but a fictional character, especially since sexuality seems to function very differently in imagined and real scenarios.
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!)