Lighting four candles, one more each week. Reading the story of the immaculate conception… Mary, visited by the angel Gabriel. Mary, the archetype virgin who dared to have a kid. Mary, mother of the gently smiling face of women’s split sexuality. (The other face smirks)
Refreshingly, the pastor remarked that we spent too much time focusing on the virgin bit. It was cool, what she did, but let’s not get obsessed, shall we? I settled in for some original food for thought.
Let’s focus on Gabriel, he said. And then proceeded to sexualise Gabriel’s visiting Mary. Proceeded to call his speech “courting her” to have God’s child and “seducing her” with the image of what she’d do. It got a bit suggestive.
And I just. No.
I could not conceive of an angel being sexual, here. This story, out of all stories, is supposed to be non-sexy. That’s the point. Wasn’t no sex. Why read into it? Why pretend there was some sort of spiritual version of attraction?
And then realised that was the whole point: if you’re sexual you can and do read that sort of thing into it. You can read attraction or sexual tension into any story. Into almost any situation, in fact. That’s how powerful our imagination can be. Whether it’s there or not… ‘s mostly in our mind.
Conversely, we can happily go through life without reading a sexual layer into anything. Nothing need be sexual if it isn’t explicit. Not flirting. Not a romantic movie. Not a gaze aimed at us.
So yeah, even the story of the immaculate conception can have a sexual charge to some readers. And in other cases, what might be sexually charged to one person, is not to the other. At all.
I know that what I find to be sexually charged is far more limited than it is for most people. ‘s why I consider myself to be on the asexual spectrum.
And… it’s alright. It’s all in our minds anyway. Like a lusty angel Gabriel is now in mine.
No, not the one from Supernatural. Unfortunately.
The more Sundays than I want to admit, my attention will drift off several times while a pastor exposits about the moral of a familiar bible story. But sometimes what’s said on the pulpit can be such encouragement. I wanted to share the four best points and how they resonated with me concerning asexuality before we return to the planned post, Gay Pride 2015. Again, asexuality is meant as an umbrella-term for the asexual-spectrum identities.
The central theme was who we are, and what should guide us in our identities. Italics are the paraphrases from the sermon. I’m doing this from memory, so excuse the vagueness. It was based off of the second half of Galatians 5.
Public and private layers of identity
We have layers to our identities, from the outward one, measured by our jobs, status, symbols, to our innermost one, what we feel, what our character is, our souls. We depend in the public domain on our outward appearance for treating people, which can cause friction or even oppose our innermost needs.
We notice this in our social circle when the amount of sex we actually want to have doesn’t measure up to that which we feel we should, or what is considered ‘normal’ in a relationship.
I think we’ve also seen it in the asexual community lately because an intimate subject is the object of public discussion, and that can go very wrong when not done with care and forethought.
It echoes even more in the question, should I come out, does the public have a right to this piece of me. Sometimes yes, to tell a story, asexuality becomes part of your public identity, but not always.
The oldest heresy in the book
In religion, it can be a big-ass mistake to let your identity matter, especially the public layer. The attempt to earn your way into heaven by way of pious behaviour has led many a prominent Christian astray. It bars you from truly following God.
Oh boy, did that neatly summarise the biggest barrier for the acceptance of asexuality in the church in the future. First, it means people could reject asexuality as a concept, along with other sexual orientations, based on it not being ‘Christian behaviour’ and ‘sinful’. Second, it could lead to the rejection of people and groups based on their not being ‘real Christians’. Third, it means those trying to earn their way into heaven yell the loudest, judge the harshest and bully their way around whatever playground they inhabit, which makes for a rather toxic Christian community.
We become who we are by what feeds our identity. If we are affirmed and loved it brightens our day. When we hear, continually, that we must look a certain way, we’ll try to do that. When we hear we must be the best, succeed in what we do, we will work every second of every day. We think we are free, but we are slaves to the continual demands we face.
Asexuality is invisible. It means most of us cannot find the recognition we want around us. Deeper than that, we seek other relationships, different types of love than our peers, which can be lonely.
What I like, and what is so deeply necessary, is that sense of affirmation, of safety and community within the asexual community. Most of the posts I’ve read and what has touched me helped me become more comfortable with who I am, educated me by offering ever new possibilities for people to be different and were often written by other people searching to shape their particular identity and frame their particular experience. To the point where I am actively seeking to be constructive and offer whatever thoughts I have and ideas I am building in ways that might at least be helpful and not prescriptive.
I know there’s divisions and worry about disrespect and discrimination, but considering that, at least here, the voices who speak up against that are more powerful and numerous than people propagating the poison, I feel pretty good still.
Let it go, let it go
We face fundamental unfairness when we try to shed those chains and try to live well. Why does one person get a bigger piece of the cake than the other? We need to let go of that, if we are to enjoy what we do have. Sometimes it’s hard to cope and we get envious. But that is how mercy works, to let go, turn away and be who you are freely. To let what is good guide you instead of what will gain you approval. Then we are truly alive.
It’s hard to be who we really are, inside and outside. Despite the fact that it’s sometimes hard to face what others think of us because of our asexuality. Despite our searching for our sexual identities, which can be so self-evident to others. Despite it being easier to just pretend at allosexuality, to be defined still by old paradigms and act according to others’ expectations.
Even harder is that inside our community, the cake isn’t cut evenly, or know what to do about it. A big challenge, to face it and overcome it. To be ourselves, never truly defined by even our own terms.
I hope we succeed.
If being on the asexual spectrum means never or rarely feeling sexual attraction, then what is there? I’ve had my first conversations with strangers about asexuality. I was delighted with their honest curiosity, and puzzled by their bafflement, because they kept coming back to that question.
I don’t understand, how does that work? Then what do you feel? What is there, then, for you? What do you have, if not sex or sexual attraction? But that’s not fair, where does that leave you? I can’t even imagine… What do you do? How do you date? Can you have relationships?
That clashes, hard, with the affirmation and enrichment I feel having adopted a demisexual identity and participating in the asexual community. But… it’s a difficult question to answer.
A great question to consider too: what is there? Specifically, what is there for you?
For each member of the asexual community, that answer will be different. If you do not feel sexual attraction, you map out what attraction you feel on other levels. If you desire sex, you explore exactly what you will and won’t want to do. If you don’t desire sex, you explore where your limits lie. If you wish for a relationship, you need to define exactly what options are open for you. If you have a partner, it’s good to look together what you wish to do together, based on both your desires.
What does the community offer?
Articulation, first of all, with its greater lexicon of -sexualities and -romanticities it’s made far easier to explore what exactly is true for each of us concerning sex, love, sexuality and relationships. Belonging, from basic affirmation, “others like me are out there” to platforms for expression, information, communication, commiseration, activism, research, activities, socialisation… community is such a huge boon. Diversity, the asexual community is rife with people with different gender identities, ethnicities, sexual and romantic orientations, ages, experiences… and that’s a breath of fresh air if your sexual identity makes you feel otherwise invisible or excluded.
What does the orientation offer?
A space where sex nor romance is compulsory and it exists in various shapes. Common landmarks, such as not comprehending sexual advertising, sex scenes, etc. Such as not feeling attracted to strangers, not talking about sex with friends or family, being bothered by dating or people harassing you for not wishing to have sex, no really, not at all. The option to have a sex drive, or not. To have sexual fantasies, or not. To perform sexual acts, or not. To appreciate beauty, without feeling desire. To wish to cuddle and touch and kiss, without ever going beyond first base. To have a significant other, a serious relationship, a marriage, without ever consummating it and being perfectly happy with that. To have only platonic relationships or friendships, and being perfectly happy with that.
In short, the asexual community and asexual spectrum and demisexual identity are to me a cornucopia of options for being not/partially “sexual” from which I choose what I actually am without having to conform to any expectations. And then being able to talk about it and act on it without censure or erasure.
Sexual freedom, freedom of choice, speech and action concerning sex and sexuality.
The blog series in which messy reality muddles my neat mental image of sexuality. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? How’s asexuality and demisexuality a “sexual orientation”? And how does it relate to others? How’s “I want you with my brain, but not my loins” translate?
What I think I know:
What I got in secondary school (high school): the Kinsey scale is my preferred choice of partner presented as a spectrum. Nature and nurture combined determine my place on it. That’s called my “orientation”. Names for the varieties are homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual. Colloquial names in Dutch are those words minus “sexual”. In English people say “straight” and a have bewildering variety of words for “homosexual”, most are used as insults, even the neutral word “gay”.
Asexuality (ace) does not appear on that spectrum, so it needs a new one, especially if things like demisexuality are going to exist. It’s the degree to which you actually wish to engage in sex, in thought or deed. What I’m not really sure about is what’s the opposite, and what’s the middle of that spectrum?
What I found:
On Asexuality.org’s wiki1, I found asexuality was granted a designation, X, like the Professor. And that the view on sexual orientation’s less deterministic than it’s generally presented as: one can change over time, and one can be somewhere vaguely inbetween starkly hetero and not.
For that matter, there are more sexual orientations, including pansexual2, and gray-a or grey-a3(?), who are attracted in different ways and degrees (e.g. to all people, or occasionally). Demisexuality falls somewhere in that grey area, where the will to have sex exists, but only sometimes. Anything not asexual is called allosexual.
Then there’s Storm’s model4, in which the degree to which one is attracted to one’s own gender and the opposite gender is measured independently and there’s room for gay, bi, hetero and ace.
There’s the collective identity model5, in which sexual identity is shaped by how much you fall out of the norm of any given group. This resonates because for me sexual orientation wasn’t ‘in the picture’ until I had the time and inclination to feel attraction and went in search of what I was, thus making me something other than the default silent crowd. On the other hand, it supposes you do have a pre-set attraction…
The ABCD model6 of defining asexuality makes a distinction between romantic attraction and sexual attraction, saying one can feel either or both. This model makes a space for romantic asexuals to have relationships resembling allosexuals, but not so much for those who are aromantic.
The primary-secondary attraction model7 is most useful when you are demisexual, because it takes time into account as a factor for sexual feelings. In other words, though you may not be attracted at all to anything new, it’s not strong enough to be an independent signal, it can piggyback on previously existing connections, mostly emotional ones. For asexuals, it takes another factor into account, namely, that while you may not have sex for pleasure, primary desire, there are other reasons, under the heading “secondary desire” to engage in sexual activity.
Nonlibidoism8 is a good model in that it makes a distinction between wishing to engage in sexual acts with a partner (according to your orientation) and wishing to engage in sexual acts at all, including masturbation (your libido).
Under the heading “Not interested”9 the wiki explains that interest in sex does not equal attraction. When one is asexual, it simply comes (mostly) from other sources, such as curiosity, emotional fulfillment, enjoying physical acts of affection but not sexual acts per se, wishing to have kids, etc.
The opposite of that is being antisexual10, an article that contains many reasons why sex is not a good thing for some.
There’s a whole lot of models, not just the one I knew, to define sexuality. There’s even more gray areas than defined sexualities, so I presume that as time goes by, we’ll be adding to that list rather than simplifying it. All models have some benefit, which I’ve tried to point out, so I think they work best if mashed together. I’ve learned several words and distinctions I was seeking, here goes:
- Sexualities, there are many more than the four options that binary gender would suggest there are (homo, bi, hetero, ace) and attraction to the own and the opposite gender could be independent or related. The ones such as pansexual, gray-sexual and demisexual fill in some of the gray areas.
- Libido is the wish to engage in sexual acts at all. So someone who wishes to engage in sexual acts, but is uninterested in doing so with a partner, has a libido and is asexual.
- Attraction is the feelings you have for a potential partner, these may be romantic or sexual. What attraction should be called for an aro-ace if they feel it is unclear. It also develops over time, in the case of demisexuality attraction is gradual rather than immediate.
- Interest or desire is the choices one makes about behaviour one wishes to engage in… so an allosexual may be entirely disinterested in sexual activities, and an asexual person may wish to engage in sexual activity, and vice versa, for many and complicated reasons. If a person is not just disinterested but actively wishing not to engage in sex for a variety of reasons, that is called antisexual.
- A sexual identity or orientation is formed because people seek to define what sexual activities and interests they have that are outside of the norm in their society, which’d explain why I’m writing about being demisexual now, and don’t really have a word for what I was before I defined myself as such.
- AVEN wiki: Kinsey scale
- AVEN wiki: Pansexuality
- AVEN wiki: Grey-A
- AVEN wiki: Storm’s model
- AVEN wiki: Collective Identity Model
- AVEN wiki: ABCD model
- AVEN wiki: primary-secondary attraction model
- AVEN wiki: Nonlibidoism
- AVEN wiki: Not interested
- AVEN wiki: Antisexual