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.
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.