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Read your Bible (but I didn’t read that)

Advent.

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.

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I Want to Have Sex Like… Torchwood, Day One

Trigger warning for mentions of sex acts, including non-consensual ones. Also, spoilers ahoy!

Torchwood teamI have a few movies and TV series I want rewatch to write posts for this series. Something in them taught me more about attraction and love. Today’s subject is not on that list. I was happily surprised by it when I rewatched an episode recently.

Torchwood was a nice change of pace from Doctor Who, its parent series. Cardiff a nice change from London, in characters’ accents and setting. The intergalactic conman and his team a nice change from the madman in the box and his single companion. It didn’t leave much of an impression then, but I have to say I’m liking it better now.

The series was hailed as an important step forward for queer representation in mainstream media, mostly because of the character Captain Jack Harkness and its actor, John Barrowman. Its fans were stoked to have a canon slash pairing. The series was meant to go into all the adult themes impossible in Doctor Who and its other spin-off, the Sarah Jane Adventures.

The story

The first episode introduces the team of secret agents that clean up after an space-time rift running through Cardiff, which spits out intergalactic junk. Gwen, newbie with empathy. Owen, cranky doctor. Toshiko, tech whiz. Ianto, sassy butler.

The second episode, Day One, dives right into the first adult theme, sex. I’d written it off as a mediocre attempt at an overdone cliché: a femme fatale alien to shock the prudes in the audience and titillate the rest. And yes, there’s some of that, but it offered a surprisingly nuanced view of how attraction and sexuality works. I wanted to pick out and examine those newly-discovered good bits.

Torchwood Day One GasIn it, a rock falls to Earth, Gwen throws a chisel and on accident releases a cloud of gas from it while the team examines it. The cloud possesses Carys, a twenty-something leaving a tear-filled voicemail to a married boyfriend. Carys becomes a succubus who roofies people with sex chemicals and dusts guys the moment they climax. The team needs to catch her before she kills again.

Sexualised society

“Yeah, that’s what it can feel like,” I thought. A club scene that’s a platform for casual hooking up, complete with voyeuristic manager. A walk through streets with posters full of sexual objectification. A guy cheating on his wife with a younger girl. All of it presented as both normal and alien and on the edge of disturbing. That’s so totally how freaky sex’s presence can be, if it does not excite you at all. Society’s mostly harmless, but sometimes it can exhibit sex the way a haunted house exhibit ghosts.

Torchwood Day One OrgasmTo this world travelled an alien, basically as a sex tourist. Except that the humans dying in orgasm are more like a hit from a powerful drug, the way she describes it. Each time it’s less powerful, so she escalates, as a serial killer or an addict would. The alien breaks down Carys’s body slowly, the way an unending high or hormonal imbalance would.

In sharp contrast stand Gwen and Jack. Gwen with her domestic boyfriend she’s on a date with at the start of the episode, and whose phone call quite literally helps her get over the alien’s thrall. She symbolises the majority’s experience of a good sex and love life. She’s challenged in this episode. Jack, on the other hand, represents a much broader view of sexuality, in dismissing his colleagues as “you people and your quaint little categories” and flirting with everyone for fun or profit.

Objectification and consensuality

Gwen’s questioning of Carys turns into a Katy Perry moment, when she enters the cell to help and is kissed instead. The alien stops when she realises Gwen’s the wrong gender for the succubus’ deadly sex drug hit. This overriding of people’s sexuality continues in a later scene, when a guy proclaims he’s gay before being consumed by the alien anyway. The alien’ roofie power works, regardless of gender and orientation.

Another interesting twist is that it’s not a guy who’s committing sexual violence, but a woman. A woman who is herself a victim of the alien possessing her. It’s made clear it’s not okay, for example by the delivery guy she pulls into her house who’s not into it, and later the guys at the fertility clinic when she first approaches them.

Torchwood Day One GazeAlso present is the dismissal of the non-consensual aspect by the presence of the male gaze, first in the questioning of the night club owner who viewed Carys and her first victim. Owen even comments “he’d love to go like that”. Later by Owen and Jack drooling over Carys french-kissing Gwen before Toshiko points out they should really rescue her. They’d have been too late.

And this is where it gets good. When Owen teases Gwen she slams him into the wall, grabs him by the throat and demands he stop it. She makes it clear that the kiss disturbed her not because it was with a girl, but because it was a non-consensual act, just like it was for the possessed Carys.

So this one episode manages to address several aspects of sexual violence. That going against a person’s orientation’s not the most important reason to be angry it happens nor a protection against sexual violence. That it happens to men, which is as bad as when it happens to women but generally dismissed. That the male gaze, when in play, glosses over whether consent happened and can do much harm, even when, in Owen’s view, he’s just poking a little fun. And most importantly, that the victim is often treated as object, rather than a person, the way Carys is during this investigation.

This last message gets a ham-handed treatment. Gwen lectures the team about losing their humanity and attempting to profile Carys as if she’s in a Criminal Minds episode. As a result, that message is the most clear and the least palatable. I like the way the rest is handled better.

Sexuality and sexual freedom

Rather than attempting to say sex is right or wrong, the episode attempts to point out the right and wrong ways to have it. One’s represented by the alien representing Carys, in all its deadly sexual violence. The other’s represented by Rhys and Gwen, as a regular couple in an established relationship that makes a good counterbalance for this new, demanding job she’s taking on. It’s also represented by Jack, who likes to kick 21st century hang-ups about sexuality in the teeth with flirting and racy comments, all the while respecting people’s actual limits and being quite the gentleman at times.

The first episode sets up a mutual romantic crush between Jack and Gwen. He’s the romantic, mysterious hero for her. She’s the symbol of humanity and empathy for him. For Gwen it coexists uncomfortably with her relationship with Rhys because monogamy. For Jack it coexists comfortably with his later relationship with Ianto but goes unfulfilled. I’m somewhat unclear as to whether they are sexually attracted to one another. I’d say yes on Gwen’s end, on Jack’s end I’m not sure… I’d say it’s a platonic crush which actually makes him a little uncomfortable, seeing as how he’s mostly sexually attracted to people and rarely on an emotional level, and the last time it ended badly and he got a case of eternal life out of the deal, after which he’s had to watch people he loved die without him. Guy’s got some issues.

Team lunchOne scene, a team lunch, neatly captures the reactions people can have to a non-standard sexuality like Jack’s, which is either omnisexuality or pansexuality. Gwen, as the newbie, is shocked to be talking about it. Owen speculates he’s gay, because he’s not straight and dresses in period military clothes. It’s a rather binary and stereotypical view. Ianto appears dismissive. Tosh comes closest, declaring he’s shag anything gorgeous enough. The conversation’s short and treated as exchanging gossip between colleagues which is where the topic’d come up.

Sex is not special

In short, sex is treated as a power for good and for harm, that occupies people’s attention and really, that they obsess over too much and have too many hang-ups over, when you really don’t have to. If Carys is taken as a representative of all that’s bad in sex, it’s to say that consent and respecting a person are important. Gwen’s the representative of sex as part of a relationship and a healthy work-life balance most people attempt to have. Jack’s a walking challenge to current sexual morality. So far, so good, but also pretty typical.

One line that seemed bleak last time now struck me as powerful, even hopeful.

“Travel halfway across the universe for the greatest sex, you still end up dying alone.”

Gwen kisses JackIn other words, it’s not special, not worth all the grief. It’s underlined by Gwen giving Jack a chaste kiss as a thank-you, not sexual but meaningful. For Gwen, it’s a momentary break from her traditional monogamy. For Jack, it’s connecting physically and emotionally to a person in a way he rarely does.

It’s a small little moment that tied all the themes in the episode into a neat bow for me. That sex isn’t meaningful, but the connecting of two people is and yes, sex might be one of the means to that end. As a person on the asexual spectrum, that’s what made me love the episode, not just enjoy it.

It’s a view of sex that helps if you aren’t having it or don’t desire to have it at all. After all, if there’s one way to connect people, there’s plenty of others to choose from as well. It’s also a view of sex that helps if you are having it, but don’t necessarily feel any attraction. It’s still, meaningful, as long as it helps you connect to the other person.

Images

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http://i245.photobucket.com/albums/gg76/GadflyRage/torchwood/dayone/dayone03.jpg
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http://www.orgonebox.org/allegoric/wp-content/gallery/torchwood/torchwood-day-one/torchwood_day_one_(11).jpg

Asexuality and the Good Sermon

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.

Affirmation

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.

Absence and substance

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.

Unstraightening My Facts: Sexual Orientation

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:

Professor is X, like asexuality according to Kinsey

I want you with my brain!

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.

Adjustment

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.

Further Reading:

  1. AVEN wiki: Kinsey scale
  2. AVEN wiki: Pansexuality
  3. AVEN wiki: Grey-A
  4. AVEN wiki: Storm’s model
  5. AVEN wiki: Collective Identity Model
  6. AVEN wiki: ABCD model
  7. AVEN wiki: primary-secondary attraction model
  8. AVEN wiki: Nonlibidoism
  9. AVEN wiki: Not interested
  10. AVEN wiki: Antisexual

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