This is my contribution to August’s Carnival of Aces, about “deviant identities”, hosted by The Demi Deviant.
Queer In My Dress
I am queer in my purple dress
Pressed between postmodern sexuality
And the outdated marriage myth
I am, willfully not wanting sex,
Faultline in the fiction of virginity
I am queer in my blue dress
Am I lacking? people ask, perplexed
A woman divorced from intimacy,
Dating and the marriage myth?
Truth is, my desire is more complex
For company, beauty, sensuality
I am queer in my red dress
As the third wave wanes, I need to address
How asexuality clashes with
The outdated marriage myth
I want love with no regard for sex
A partner who sees I am not less
To be queer in my bridal dress
Let’s update the marriage myth
This started out exploring a deviant (queer) aspect of my asexuality and ended up trying to express how queer (weird, outlandish, new, upsetting, estranging) asexuality itself can be. Particularly an aspect I don’t often see explored: that asexuality upsets both traditional and modern ideas about sexuality, often at the same time.
In its simplest form, I think choosing to identify as (some shade of) asexual and daring to say “no, I do not feel sexual attraction like that” combines and subverts
a) the traditional ideal of lust or sex as a morally ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing
b) the modern ideal of everyone having a natural sexuality that is inherently human
c) the queer ideal of affirming your orientation through sexual acts
a) absence of lust is a neutral state of being rather than a purity or innocence that can be preserved or lost; sexual activity is optional at all times, rather than forbidden or required at any time.
b) our motivations and experiences are more complicated than (mutual) sexual attraction leading to consensual sexual activity, orgasms, falling in love and sexual-romantic relationships.
c) queerness can be complex and comprise a multifaceted orientation and gender identity that has very little, if anything, to do with sexual acts.
Even as I write this I am aware I am already simplifying by focusing on the above as flowing from an asexual identity above any other.
Yet still, here is my demisexual-panromantic-monoamorous* deviant little fantasy, to wish to find and legalise a longlasting partnership and celebrate that with my community, without having to submit to the strictures society still imposes on that institution.
Oh, and go full femme on the day.
Today, at least.
I might dream of wearing a three-piece steampunk period costume tomorrow. Who knows.
*Since both polyamory and the newly-coined nonamory** are common in the ace community and I came across the word ambiamory*** (someone who can go for either monogamous or polyamorous relationships), I figure we’d clean up the vocab and go for monoamory as the correct word for the majority option on that list/spectrum. Also, also, I think we need a word for the grey area (greyamory? demiamory? semiamory?) between disinterest in relationships (nonamory) and interest in relationships, whether one or multiple (alloamory?).
**Relative, it’s been around a few years, I didn’t know it until this year. I like the new terms cropping up in the a-spec community, especially the ones that are useful. Can you tell I like words? I really like good words.
Trigger warning: explicit discussion of Christian prejudice around sex.
I have come to find these words so poisoned by their current usage that I believe I need to give them up if I talk about not having sex.
Purity/Chastity (in English among Christians) – While these used to mean “being good and whole” and “choosing to act righteously” they are now both used foremost mean “not having sex except with your spouse”. Purity (culture) has come to describe the collective of conservative individuals and institutions that enforce this norm at the cost of personal freedom, human rights and individual welfare. I hate this perversion of two useful words, for a state of goodness and courteous behaviour. Now they’re just a verbal and mental chastity belt for the unmarried. I hate the moral stance and community associated with this word. I believe they act in direct contradiction to how Jesus would act.
Abstinence (among Christians) – If I translate it to Dutch (onthouding) and back to English I get “keeping away”. Its general use I don’t mind. In fact, I agree that it’s easier to keep away from (food, gaming, alcohol, sex) completely than to limit it, if something is harmful to you. In a religious context, I’d equate this to fasting, to abstain from something to improve your life or facilitate meditation.
I dislike abstinence when it refers to not having extramarital sex. The enforcement is always external. Parents, employers, schools, law makers and even health insurance companies are told to make younger people abstinent. They can choose their religion but not their relationships, it implies. They are helpless victims in the face of their own sex drive (boys) or predators (girls). That anything sexual is considered sinful unless “sanctified” by marriage doesn’t help with the fear-mongering.
Virginity – Virgin (maagd) meant only maiden or damsel-in-distress in old-fashioned Dutch when I grew up. When we spoke about morally correct behaviour, both in church and in school, we used the terms “sexually faithful” (to describe the ideal the church was striving for) and “sexually active” to describe someone who is having sex and a denial to describe the opposite. Emphasising it’s behaviour, not magic transformation, for good or ill.
I have found this emphasis on sex as activity and choice to be very empowering. Discussing sex as physical intimacu and what that means is a positive and constructive way to discuss biblical ideas without judging people. It’s also closer to the source material, the emphasis on well-considered and respectful behaviour in a relationship. Not an obsession with the preamble or the legal institution. It also allows for the discussion of how other people may make other choices because they follow other principles without condemning them out of hand.
A second reason I dislike the concept of virginity is because I believe it leads to superstition and false teaching.
Superstition: ‘virginity’ is an abstract, near-magical thing you can lose, akin to holiness, which elevates you above the rest of humanity. If you have it, it makes you an object to be protected or sacrificed or violated.
False teaching: correct sexual behaviour is more important than any other choice you make. It may condemn you to hell regardless of anything else you do in life. It supersedes even your choice to become a Christian. So long as you only have heterosexual intramarital sex God will love you best.
If being an asexual Christian has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not a better person for not wishing to have sex. I’m an equal mess of good and bad to any other human, with my own unique failings.
Normally I’d leave a post like yesterday‘s alone, to be interpreted as you will, but it came out of a lot of feels and thoughts combining and sitting in a great big knot in my head this month (well, last month) and the poem was the overflow of the untangling… and I did wish to share that. You’re welcome to skip it and simply enjoy the post as-is, though.
As far as stages of coming out is concerned, I feel I’ve sat at synthesis for a long time. I wrestled anew with what it meant to be demisexual after I moved, what it meant for my faith (especially the expression thereof in commmunity) and what it meant for my writing. I lacked a sense of acceptance in my new environment, but that collided with a growing dissatisfaction of my own. Being demisexual has made me a different person, has put me on a different path and that has made me less sympathetic to those people that would only tolerate me out of privileged ignorance, rather than truly accept me.
What I’m far more new and hesitant to is the panromantic label, I feel I’m at about ‘acceptance’, certainly not at ‘pride’. Especially since it feels like it’s dragging the queer label in by the hand. That label is a loaded one, in my head. The publically known one I’ve placed al lot of the baggage on that I feel I dodged by being ‘only’ a type of ace… yeah. Add to that that living amongst more conservative folks, mostly in church but also the occasional colleague or friend I speak to during the week, most of whom I’ve had conversations with at one point or another when I mention I’m from a (politically) more socio-liberal church that raised the issue of blessing same-sex marriage* for member discussion and vote while I attended. All the ins and outs of religion-fueled homophobia have become much more well-known to me, suffice to say, and hit far harder because I’m not, myself, straight anymore and starting to maybe, tentatively consider identifying in private as queer. So I feel squeamish and conflicted. It’s not pretty.
Some of the biggest shifts in my progression from feeling included to excluded by the Christians I interact with are not about being queer, but the idea that everyone feels lust. For example, each sermon on the topic of reigning in sexual sin leaves me feeling more skeptical. Not just for the assumption that everyone has lust bleeding from their ears and eyeballs, but the assumption that one becomes more virtuous for having less sex. I certainly don’t feel more virtuous. The lack of peer pressure to have sex within the Christian community, which I liked so much initially, no longer makes up for the assumption I’ll have a ‘healthy’ sex life after marrying or forego a relationship altogether. I want a to have romantic-platonic or queer-platonic relationship, dammit**.
It also really doesn’t help when I have mental will-they, won’t-they-reject-me games with myself when I imagine bringing a woman rather than a man to church, when I have a moment to myself during coffee after service… Feeling out the roots I’d pull up since some of the folks have become good friends and I like several of the activities I’ve gotten involved in.
I also made the mistake of googling asexuality and Christianity together and read a lot of things that deserve warnings and zero screen time. Time and distance from my hetero-by-default frame of mind have made it a lot harder to step back into it, to sympathise with a point of view where I was part of the unthinking majority. I still stumble so much even when I encounter other minority identities, in speaking to and about them respectfully, inclusively, but at least I have a taste of how much work it is to bridge the gap when someone doesn’t really accept you, how hurtful being excluded can be, even in passing, impersonally, indirectly. I’ve sat in church so, so angry at a guest preacher rejecting ‘those unnatural homosexuals’ and how they ‘chose wrong’ and wanted to jump up and punch and yell and run out and instead wandered about the rest of the day with an unvoiced question in my head: I wonder what you’d make of me, then, sir. Until my poor unsuspecting mother casually asked me how I’m doing and it took me an hour to pour her ear full of all the worries now hanging off that initial question like it’s a set of monkey bars.
Also tied into the knot of thoughts, I would very strongly prefer to have a relationship that did not include anything more than kissing, call it asexual or platonic, regardless of the orientation(s) of my partner. Though I cherish each contact with a person for what it is, just as I have acquaintances as well as good friends, I’d ultimately want for one of them to flourish into a sharing-the-rest-of-our-lives, whatever that looks like. One contention in the QPR post really set me off**, namely, that the relationships – involving neither a formalisation nor sex and, in the case of the post, not the hallmarks of romantic relationship – could be dismissed as an especially deep friendship. Just as same-sex relationships used to be, still can be. Just as the type of relationship I desire, with romantic elements or not, may be.
This stings, because in Holland people are marrying way less because it’s not considered what makes a relationship ‘real’, like living together does or bringing your significant other along to meet friends and family. I feel it could be easily argued, by extension, that having sex or bringing flowers or the initial surge of territorial, sentimental obsession we call romantic love isn’t what makes a relationship ‘real’ either. The sexual drive, romantic drive and attachment drive*** are three separate instincts, after all, and I think we as a community could make a good case for them functioning perfectly well independent of each other. In short, you can have no sex, no romance, no marriage ceremony, (even no monogamy) and yet have a relationship that deep, that significant, that lasting, that it could arguably be equivalent to marriage.
I’ve seen enough couples together long enough that even without any outward sign, at some point people around them got tired enough of referring to them as “my boyfriend’s brother” or “my aunt’s partner” that they shifted to using terminology you’d normally use after a formalisation… so “my brother-in-law” and “my uncle”, in these cases. In other words, without anyone coming out and saying it, these relationships (often only defined by people always being mentioned together, Tom-and-Jane, Dick-and-Cathy) had passed some mental benchmark that made them as-good-as-married, in people’s minds.
What I’m saying in a roundabout way is, I think, that we don’t really know what makes a significant relationship a true and deep attachment with our chosen partner. We have some characteristics by which to identify them, but just like you can’t really define a woman by having breasts, long hair or a skirt, you can’t really define a ‘real’ marriage/relationship/person-and-partner based on whether there’s been a ceremony or sheet sharing or dates. I think that all the different folks in the ace community illustrate that truth beautifully. I also think that kicks some people into a big-ole existential crisis, if their ideas are broken down like that.
I like the idea though, that we can’t really define relationships, limit them within an absolute definition, the same way we haven’t really define life, or sentience, or reality. Gives us something to keep on wondering about.
So there I was, picking my own conflicted feelings about my labels apart, and my ideas on relationships, keeping the question in mind: what do I want? What would it look like if I had one?
What if… what if… this question I prefer to wallow in. My favourite pastor once said that the devil got so little attention in the bible because he wasn’t worth it, was deliberately omitted. The focus was on how people ought to live, ought to be bettering the world. On the promise of a better future, in defiance of a broken world with imperfect people making mistakes left and right. That we – Christians – would be harshly rebuked for how much we focus on fear, infighting, judgment, division. When I come to church to celebrate my faith and get rejected by a human in the middle of worshipping God, I can’t help but feel the truth of that. I think of the families that I saw come to Pride, three years ago, just to show their kids first-hand gay, bisexual, trans people were people too. I think Jesus would have loved that, I think he would have loved to be there.
In honour of that, I tried to put some of my hopes down on paper. To make it as accessible as possible, I decided to omit labels that might not mean much to outsiders. And I wrote this way-too-long author’s note about all the thoughts I carried around that led to writing “Marriage Without Sex or Ceremony”.
*) in our country, blessing civil partnership as well as marriage, both of which are legalised at city hall before the (Christian) couple has a bigger (optional) ceremony in church, both levels open for any couples as of 2001. Our denomination dumped the decision to be open to blessing them on the individual congregations, to avoid offending anyone (thereby disobliging everyone).
**) While I’m a panromantic, I figure my partner may not be, and that’ll influence the shape of the relationship, especially considering it may grow either out of formal dating or informally out of an existing friendship. I got schooled on the topic by this post on QPR’s, which also left me poking at what exactly I’d name the relationship I want to have, and that inspired the title for the poemish freewriting on my relationship fantasy.
***) This TED talk influenced my ideas on relationships a lot, especially its claim that one has three instincts or drives that make us partner up, that could trigger in that order, out of order or independent of each other.