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.