Category Archives: Personal reflection
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!)
The starting point: a TED talk by Helen Fisher on romantic love that is part of my reading up on sexuality.
I perk up five minutes in.
“I began to realize that romantic love is not an emotion. In fact, I had always thought it was a series of emotions, from very high to very low. But actually, it’s a drive.” (5:27)
My notes, based on what she says –
Three drives – three parts of the process
- Sex drive – to notice – select people to have a relationship with from a crowd
- Romantic drive – to focus – exaggerated attention, behaviour and emotion towards a specific person
- Attachment drive – to remain – a stable bundle of affection, attraction and behaviour towards a person to whom one has committed.
(May trigger in any order – important later)
I hesitate, then make a second list.
- If sex drive not(/rarely) triggered – asexual? – alternative selection process?
- If romantic drive not triggered – aromantic? – alternative method for focusing on specific person(s)?
- Attachment drive – independent from either
In the first flush of ideas of what it could potentially mean, the sweeping click-click-click of possible patterns, I dream big. Research statements for bold, new discoveries.
Attachment drive independent becomes –
The potential succes of relationships that asexual and aromantic people start is entirely independent from their romantic or sexual orientation.
Sex drive / romantic drive not triggered becomes –
Asexual or aromantic people formulate alternative methods to select and court potential partners from (zed/allo)sexual or -romantic people.
Alternative methods perhaps implies –
Asexual or aromantic people use methods to select and focus on partners similar to those they use to select and notice people to form other sorts of relationships with.
As I am writing reality trickles back in.
2018, not 1998.
Not Terra Incognita. Just new to me.
I sigh and go to add questions to my subjects-to-read-up-on list.
Demisexuality means this: sex drive may trigger simultaneously with or after attachment has formed.
This is why I may be dismissed: these drives do not necessarily trigger in order for anyone.
Attachment may come before sexual attraction for anyone. Romantic feelings may come before sexual attraction.
Asexuality: sex drive exists, but is irrelevant.
This is why I dislike being dismissed: I have been sexually attracted, in passing, to only half a dozen people in my lifetime. Other feelings, however, I have felt far more often.
Alternative methods are developed.
If one chooses to try for a relationship. If. Or it happens accidentally.
I am amatonormative, (and heteronormative?).
Aware, but still stuck with these trappings.
Progress. Not answers, but some questions to ask.
- How do I select anyone I wish to know better from among strangers?
- How, from that point, do they become friends or a potential partner?
- What makes that difference for me?
- How do I become territorial or obsessive over people for a time?
- What emotions/attractions/behaviour/thoughts overflow if one person preoccupies me?
- What does attachment look like for me (if I have enough data to say)?
- What are my alternative methods?
- What are others’ alternative methods?
- Do we see a difference in our brain, do we have something that lights up instead of the regular instincts?
I begin and discard several blog entries entitled The Three Drives.
I know too little yet, about brains, about sexuality in brains.
What questions do I elect to answer first?
Also progress, no need to go back and edit impersonal “we” and “you” back into “I”.
I think, therefore I am.
Demisexual. Questioning. Discovering.
Delighting in it.
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.
I told her I was asexual on the getting-to-know-my-patient form.
(Use language they might know.)
It was a test. She passed.
Reward unlocked: basic trust.
She leans forward, in an overstuffed armchair.
I am twisting my fingers, seated on an overstuffed sofa.
“Do you feel like you’re denying yourself anything because of your sexuality?”
I do not feel any less than whole, but…
Non-default sexuality. Limited options.
(There are paths you cannot walk. Choices have consequences even if you’re free to make them.)
“Yes, I do.”
“What, then? What don’t you let yourself have?”
“I don’t know.”
Sex. Love. Relationship. Loneliness. Family. Future. Life. Community. Connection. Status.
I type in mental keywords until I see what’s labeled ‘denied’.
Relief, which ebbs when I realise most results are coloured with doubt (do I want this) and dread (where do I even start) and trepidation (must research alternatives).
“I figure it’ll just be, y’know, harder for me. Or different. Don’t really know how to fit things in my life that I want.”
“I’m not normal.”
“Don’t put yourself down, now.”
“Actually… I like being who I am, a little weird. What it means for my life, though, not a clue. Which kinda brings us back to the whole no-clue-having about my life in general that brought me here.”
What helped, before, upon discovery of my demisexuality, was others who struggled, or didn’t. Their stories.
…must research alternatives…
Find a Let’s Play for asexuality.
My identity: demisexual.
Widen the search parameters, lieutenant.
What I say in my head: not ‘impossible’ but ‘difficult’.
How much have I denied myself, thinking that?
How much, by leaving things undefined, unexplored, chaos.
By choosing nothing, what did I choose?
Lesson from a therapist: a good one will not just accept, but help.
Questioning sexuality included.
Reward unlocked: active trust.
In writing this, I have had to go back and change every ‘we’ and ‘you’ into ‘I’.
False sense of safety in generalities and impersonal language.
How much have I denied myself?
Must research alternatives.
I stick my tongue out at the advertising, after checking the isle is empty.
I buy chocolates.
Quest part the first: Count Your Blessings.
Reward unlocked: family hugs.
I debate whether to post this. Therapy is personal.
It is exactly the sort of story I’m seeking.
I trawl blogs.
I am not alone.
Still comforting, several years in.
I read a book on feminism, women and desire, femininity and sexuality. Another. And another.
My head gets stuck, thinking. I confuse several people with my doubts, speaking of it.
What does it mean, I wonder, I ask the page. For a demisexual. Or cross out demi and insert whatever applies.
Sexual freedom on the asexual spectrum. Liberated. How? What does that even mean?
I realise, exactly that.
Freedom, to be a complete individual with honest desires. No more and no less than what I am.
A shape of desires unique to me. To explore.
The freedom to explore. The myth – until I believe it, until it is fact – that I am worth an exploration. A sort of Grand Tour of the sexual world in words… until I come home.
Where I belong, with words and language that I shape.
To word the shape of myself, this new thing.
Take a bucket list. Cross out what I – only I, not what-I-should-be – don’t want to try. Keep what I do want.
The freedom, to edit later, how I worded myself first. To evolve, too, in the shape of my desire.
The desires I have, not what-I-should-be.
Should. A standard. A standard that is meaningless, if the world still assumes humans are all sexual.
I am free to deny. Liberated to say no. Or maybe. Or a little bit. Or very rarely, with that someone I meet once in a blue moon.
Maybe, in a few years, I’ll desire you that way. I will not desire you now. This is okay.
I am free. Yet.
It is a freedom that is an ideal, itself a desire. A freedom that takes years, to reshape myself gradually after that first break from being sexual.
A freedom that can be lonely, because “no, nothing, thanks, I’ll sit here, quietly” can be easier than a full reshaping of the self until it can be said: “This, this is what I do want.”
To dare say.
But, I want. I want to word myself positively. I want to be free. I want to speak in desires.
I want more than to simply say: I want no sex, I seldom want sex, I want sex very rarely with maybe this person in that circumstance.
I feel I am bursting at the seems with want. For a full partnership, for love, for a future.
Sex, the thing unwanted, seems paltry.
I do not want to live defined by that.
So, I attempt words. I try to reshape the self. I strive for the positive, for the wanting.
The freedom to desire only what I want. No more, no less.
The freedom for words, for actions, unpunished. Room to speak. Room to grow.
The desire for acceptance, for fulfillment.
A life in freedom.
A self free to desire.
Desires freely worded.
Freely denied, too.
A freedom that only invites and does not demand.
Isn’t that desirable?
I can unite my desires and my freedom. I will.
I want to, to reconcile these, and have words.
For my contribution to January’s Carnival of Aces, I hope to explore how my sexuality impacted my view of my physical self. Sex and gender feature obliquely. A person is much more, and I hope I can delve a little into those deeper layers.
Being demisexual means, to me, that my lust or arousal is triggered very rarely, and always, only, within the context of a pre-existing significant emotional connection, whether the person on the receiving end is real or fictional. On a day-to-day basis, this means I experience the world stripped of all sexual connotations and subtext, the way we imagine only a child can. I know it’s there, the same way I know the planet is round. As an intellectual point of interest only.
Physicality, for the purposes of this post, is the sense or experience of the body. Body image. The experiencing of sensory input. Bodily contact, movement. The material part of myself.
Here’s where sexuality and gender played the biggest role.
As a woman I often saw – see – my body in third person. Subject to the approving eyes of others, which made shopping a harrowing experience when I let the insecurities get to me. I wasn’t particularly aware of it, until a large part of those doubts disappeared.
Redefining my sexuality meant I wasn’t obligated to feel love or lust like others anymore. There was a new normal that gradually asserted itself.
What I didn’t expect was for that ball to bounce back. I stopped imaging my own body as attractive or sexy. It became a (much less sexual) collection of all the features that remained. Healthy, tall, cold or hot, numb or sensitive, tired or brimming with energy.
Other people’s view of me became just that, somebody else’s problem. I sloughed off much of the fear and worry with losing that objectivation. My physical person turned into a tool to experience myself and the world as it was.
If I still step outside myself it is with much more enjoyment. My wardrobe is far, far more varied. Dressing myself has become an exercise in gender performance* or practical consideration or deliberate presentation.
The asexual community was really good for me when it came to deconstructing concepts such as relationships and attraction, how these aren’t simple, how these aren’t the same for us. How they might be different for each individual, in fact.
Thing is, I don’t have much to go on. I don’t feel attraction often, I haven’t a big history of many relationships that I cannot sort into easy categories like “friends” and “family”. So beyond some self-examination and speculation, it’s not a productive place for me to go.
However, I do have a fully functioning body. What’s that doing, then, if it’s not feeling the lust other adults do? Cause I certainly don’t feel frigid, or like a mind in some earthly prison. I am much happier now than I ever was with my body, in fact.
Turns out it’s just… experiencing the world. Sunshine on skin. Fresh food for tastebuds. Physical exercise for stretching muscles and losing energy. Good music for the ears.
I was grounded in my senses like any other human being. It should have been self-evident, perhaps, but it was a revelation. Because once I knew, I could do it more deliberately. And the world is a fantastic place. Who knew?
I feel I have been told: being asexual means you’re less happy because you cannot experience that ultimate completion of the ultimate connection between human beings that is the sexual act for expressing romantic love. Accepting asexuality, or demisexuality, means that – on some level – you will be alone. I feel I have been told a lie.
We probably cannot fulfill – and must redefine – some societal expectations and our normative role, within our cultures. True. We will probably need to be braver to find what we seek, and seek longer than the average Joe. True.
I cannot love more or less for having redefined myself. I do not seek less affection from my peers and my family and my community.
In fact, I seek more. I find more. Because, get this, I finally know what I want. Having my world stripped of all the illusions that came with thinking myself heterosexual, means a haze of confusion that isolated me from others is gone.
For example, I feel (fear?) that I’m rarely going to have a sexual or romantic partner. I also know I want physical affection. Just because repeated experience tells me I feel better for having it. So I dare to cross some of those lines that my individualistic society draws, and hug, and touch, within the context of all the platonic relationships I have. What I find if I dare is, most people respond, often smiling, in kind.
I know that I want to feel good things, and together with someone. So I simply go do stuff I like, and bring some company. Intimacy and shared experience achieved.
And yes, that’s simplification, but the lesson I am learning remains, which is, I want stuff from people, together with people, and often they’re simple, about touch and company and intimacy, and there are many ways to get those things. And because it’s all about finding ways to love people and be loved, this journey of discovery is in and of itself enjoyable.
I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse of how discovering my sexuality has had – by and large – a positive impact on how experience my body, in relation to itself, the world and others. I am very curious to hear how your sexuality has impacted you, on this and other levels.
It’s a subjective experience, and one that evolves, but I do believe it’s a significant one. For me, at least, it’s meant a lot to have an ace spectrum along which I could (re)define myself. It’s given me back my body in ways I didn’t even know I’d lost it. I hope it’s helped you in some ways too.
*I hope I’m not overstepping any bounds here, but I feel that, even being a cisgender female, there are days when I am, if you will, more or less feminine (and in Dutch female and feminine would be the same word, here (vrouwelijk)). It plays a significant role in what I put on in terms of clothing, jewelry, make-up, hairstyle, how I walk, and yes, sometimes even influences my choice of activity, or is influenced by my choice of activity perhaps, I’m not sure. The biggest deal – for me – was how much of this remains once sexual subtext/connotations were taken out of the equation, and it’s all the more enjoyable for it.
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.
Well, I thought I’d need a little time to settle in after my move, and here we are, a year later.
I can’t say it was on purpose, but… it was a natural break. After a few months of research and thinking and exploring my sexuality it was good to simply live life with it as part of my mental make-up. Get some answers to questions that only time and experience can answer. Or just plain-old new experiences in a different place and culture. Because, yes, going somewhere else means, in part, reinventing who and what you are.
So I wanted to share some of that, likely less formally than previous posts now that demisexuality feels less like something I’ve studied and more like something I’ve lived. Hope it’s useful anyway.
See you around and I’m off to see what’s new in 2016, never mind that it’s almost 2017.
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.