With much hemming and hawing I’m edging into the world of dating, mostly because dammit, I want to try thing thing out and not just sit on the sidelines talking. Can’t say much’s happened yet, aside from me feeling a little more at home tentatively saying I might like someone… just full of confidence, me.
Here’s what did happen: I stopped worrying I needed sexual, or at least romantic, attraction to even start dating.
It just doesn’t happen, with a few stats and a photograph in a profile. And I’m learning that that’s fine.
All I need is a ‘huh, something in common, may want to chat, might want to meet.’ A spark of general interest. Doable.
A few of those developed into chats, with either lacklustre response or none at all. I’m starting to suspect the folks on the other end are good at liking, not at chatting, and I’m not the best in keeping my phone to hand either.
But. But. It feels like a big fear’s been put to rest, the first of a few big hurdles that made me feel I couldn’t cross into this dating thing without being somehow fake.
I do not need to be attracted, at least in this initial stage. It’s fine just getting to know people.
That’s a relief.
It likely won’t stay smooth sailing, but at least I’m getting out of the harbour.
This post was written for the May Carnival of Aces hosted at Prismatic Entanglements, on Nuance and Complexity…
For months I’ve been at this point, dipping my toe into dating sites only to pull it back out quickly.
Drift across the kitchen, cooking, my mind still there, browser window still open.
Oh, god, to do something mostly new, where I feel too old. Where others start as kids, teens, adolescents.
Can I be small again? Bumbling?
Can I take the rejection, when it comes, again and again and again?
Can I allow it not to matter? How do others even do this? Where is the manual?
Not tonight, I decide. Wooden spoon clenched between ring and middle finger, I swipe the window away with my thumb. Cheeks burning, I stir the pasta.
Hungry coward, though.
“Dinner!” I smile at the people I do have, try to focus, to forget a longing for family I carry in my heart.
“Verlangen” is the more visceral desire, craving and the more cerebral longing, missing.
“Koesteren” is to cradle or hold carefully, used figuratively, speaking of tenderness and cherishing.
“Houden van” is literally “(have) hold of” and is the most common translation of “to love” but I like “liefhebben” better, which is more properly “to hold dear”.
“Verkeren” is oldfashioned as a verb, “verkering” is the relationship between the acknowledgement that there is anything more than a meeting or a hook-up, and (optional) the engagement.
Centuries of “verkering”: 13th, to turn around, a change. 15th, to associate with, 17th, to associate with a person with the intention to get engaged, 20th century, to be in a romantic relationship.
These are the words in my head, when I think and lurk and procrastinate.
These words are absent:
“Begeren” to desire, usually sexually. The noun: lust.
“Vrijen” is both being glued together in public and having sex.
To say you wish without taking action is to make the dream a wistful lie instead of a hopeful truth.
I have trawled through calendars of events.
I have made known to a dozen people how hard it is to start on something.
I have nitpicked dating sites and types of events to find objections, based in pop culture, based in insecurity.
I have yet to start.
Finally I sit down and write and write until I’ve peeled the onion to the core.
I do not have dating friends I can ask to tag along.
I do not have places I go out regularly.
I do not have a time in my week where romantic interest is likely to happen.
I do not have the experience I would wish even to say what is normal and what is not.
I do not have clever words or social smoothness to make flirting come easily or at all.
I am so dreadfully scared of all the firsts, the immediacy of emotion that comes with new experiences combining with going into a foreign domain alone where the contact is personal.
“Eelt op je ziel” translates to calluses on the soul, a buffer between you and the world, being inured.
I go into this nearly new.
Bare. Naked. Tender.
I sit with my phone in my hands. I appear as the rest do, just waiting for my bus, spending time.
In truth, I am staring at a black screen, suspenseful soundtrack thumping in my head.
I put my head in my hands and scold myself.
“Just do it.”
“You have to start somewhere.”
“It starts with simply meeting people.”
“Don’t give it so much weight.”
“Be less harsh with yourself.”
Mercy, not elegance.
Letting go and being alright with feeling foolish.
Let’s start with one, just one.
I download the app.
I find out about the wonderful world that is verifying through Facebook you exist.
I delete the app.
Facebook and privacy. Speak of antonyms.
I have an old account with which I did a lot. I learned, through others’ bad experiences, not to let apps access such information.
I’m in luck. An acquaintance suggests a solution over coffee.
I make an empty facebook account with just my name and picture. Only needs an alternate email address.
I download the app again.
Filling out the profile goes smoothly.
Months’ hesitation means I already have a profile picture.
I fill out the questions like it’s a psychology test, just go with the first impulse.
First drafts can be edited.
I hit the questions about my preferred partner and pause, thumbs hovering over the keyboard on my screen.
I sit down and sigh.
I am demisexual.
I have no idea what my romantic orientation is.
I have a post half drafted entitled “An Elusive Romantic Orientation”. I love the title. I dislike the post. Too whiny, too incoherent.
I have been able to figure out I see relationships as growing, organic. Trees and perennials and bulbs that flower for a month and seeds that may never come up.
I have been able to figure out I wish for a romantic or platonic context, so I know what to cultivate about relationships that are otherwise very diverse.
I have been able to figure out I regard platonic as the default, easiest and safest and most known.
I have been able to figure out that defining something as romantic is like installing extra features and permissions, to my mind. Go for the thrill of flirting. Exercise a greater measure of territoriality and physical affection. Dropping more masks and showing more weak spots and thinking more tender thoughts.
In secret, tend a little flame which burns with hopes for a year from now, sharing time, sharing lives, sharing homes, sharing needs, sharing families and friends, sharing nights and days.
Just a small flame, that appears in idle thoughts before falling asleep and in a belly full of mellow warmth when watching a romantic movie or another couple walking down the street.
“Waakvlam” is a pilot light, the single flame that keeps watch, always on in case something needs to be heated.
I have figured out that, yes, I am romantic. Even that I lean strongly towards monogamy.
I still haven’t figured out the prefix.
The prefix to romantic – when it is something other than “a” – is tied to the partner.
The gender of the prospective partner I need to fill out.
If asked, I would say I primarily, even perhaps only, want to interact on the romantic level. Well, and intellectual and emotional and social and… but.
So much else about a partner is more in the foreground, when I try to think of it, in memory or fantasy.
What do you put before -romantic if partner gender is simply less relevant?
The lack of a word for the thing my brain’s settled on drives me to distraction for a few days.
However, this time the quandary cannot be left to languish unresolved.
I have a profile to complete.
I consider all the gender-neutral words I’ve been using and decide follow the same line here. Simply leave the option for gender open to all of it, and scroll on.
When it comes to personal information, I have another decision to make. Do I say I’m asexual up front?
I do not even consider demisexual. That is a word for the in-group.
I struggled with disclosure when it came to my new church, feeling I had to represent asexuality because of the potential for controversy.
Yet the fact that I feel compelled to be public about such a personal fact makes me want to keep it private all the more.
“Be open if you have nothing to hide” is an attitude that makes me want to close off.
If I am not trusted for what is hidden about me, I am not trusted.
If I am not free to keep myself hidden, I am not free to entrust myself to others.
I do not put my sexuality on my profile.
I click to complete it.
I consider taking the initiative in getting in touch and chicken out.
It’s alright, I tell myself. Let’s see what happens.
“Laat het over me heenkomen” feels to me like stepping into the surf to let the waves play around my legs or drown me, depending on how rough the sea is.
After the first day I stuff my face into my pillow and laugh until I cry.
I have plenty experience with online communities.
The non-commital likes.
The awkwardness of having a chat conversation with a complete stranger.
The sudden absence of the other person.
I have feared this so much and yet it feels so familiar, so easy.
I decide to set a time to check it, like other communities, and put my phone down.
Time to write about this.
Much dawdling and a harrowing ride ended in an anticlimactic stop.
This is only the beginning, but I hope the end of the emotional rollercoaster.
Time for some unhealthy snacking and people watching at this fair.
I was going to write “ man person”, but no strikethroughs in titles allowed on wordpress. So, scholarly brackets it is. I’ll worry about being inclusive to aliens when we meet some. This is my contribution for the April – Carnival of Aces.
My friend tells her unlikely love story, and concludes, “I had a list, so I knew who to date. He just fulfilled every item on it. I knew he was the one.”
“I… can’t even imagine.”
“What’s on your list?”
“I don’t have one. I suppose I’d like to just… see what develops when I meet someone.”
“No list? C’mon, what’s your type, what’d you put on there?”
I’m quiet for a few minutes. Her sharing at least obligates me to give it serious thought. “Really wouldn’t know what to put on it,” I admit in the end.
There’s a list in my head. It’s for me, not any partner:
- Be at peace with loneliness, so company is joy, not necessity
- Have a good circle of friends, then worry about romance
- Have a stable income, so you can support a household
- Meet in real life for dates, online contact hurts too much
“D’you want me to set you up?”
“Er… are they nice?”
“Yeah.” How else do I ever meet anyone?
A month later, I’ve still heard nothing.
What I want: a list of ways asexual people identify partners in life, so I can try things, and support from friends when I admit to seeking a partner.
What I have: a list of expectations people have for how a good, normal, healthy woman finds a partner, and all the ways they joke about helping, and won’t, because it’s too unusual.
“God, I hate being single.”
“We all deal with some level of loneliness, in or outside a relationship.” The later in the evening, the more philosophical, though not necessarily wiser, my brain.
“I guess, but, I’d really like some company, y’know?”
“Depends on the company,” I mutter.
I forget my own advice, gradually.
Out of my own fantasy, the things I did like about being in a relationship, pop culture and idle conversations I build a new, false image I wish to chase.
I start living in fantasy land.
It’s an excellent image to fall asleep with, but a bad thing to believe in the waking world.
“Well, it’s a blessing, really, for your life, if you don’t desire anyone.”
“So you can focus on other things. On God.”
“What do you mean?”
Well, like Paul said, if you lust after others, you must marry. If you don’t, you’re more blessed because you can focus on serving the Lord, like him. Feel happy.”
Even as someone who actually does ministry, this made me balk.
I feel this is going to become the asexual equivalent of the scenario where gay people are accenpted so long as they are celibate and “they focus on God’s love.”
Sex is for heterosexual people, right? Bleh.
Oh, I desire another. Just very, very rarely sexually.
I don’t know how, but I know I do.
“I can’t seem to actually start. I remain this… armchair philosopher.”
“Scared? Lazy? Ignorant?”
I tell her of all my insecurities.
“Stop thinking so far into the future. Meet people. Give them space to become your acquaintance or friend or significant other, whatever develops. All you can do is create the opportunities and invest the time to grow new relationships. The rest is not yours to control.
Okay, helpful list.
- Meet people
- Stop worrying
- Enjoy the meeting of minds
- Be conscious of but not stopped by my sexuality.
I am spending a lot of time with someone in a relationship that is… not going well. Mostly, I’m in charge of making sure she eats and has enough fun, someone else is playing the part of confidant.
They pose for a picture. “Wait. I need to unlock my phone for you. It’s secured with my thumbprint. No one else can access it.”
“Oh wow, that seems handy, in case it gets stolen.”
I get one of those glances, one of the heavy, unsmiling ones. “Yeah, well, I got tired of his spying, y’know? My messages are none of his business.”
He messages her daily. He reads her email. He upsets her, over and over.
Yet, she loves him, he loves her. They’re trying.
The realisation comes gradually that I have been idealising realtionships.
Living in fantasy land is safe and easy.
There are things, being single, that I’ve been taking for granted.
My own space, respected.
Being on an even keel with others.
I realise I do have a list.
List (to be specified):
- Adult of similar age
- High integrity
- Similar ideals
- Compatible life goals
- Equally affectionate
- Does not discriminate
- Comfortable with who I am
Seeking: a person of good character.
Hail, brave content creators, welcome to the April edition of the Carnival of Aces. With the spring equinox behind us, Passover and Easter upon us and April Fool’s day tomorrow and everything around us blooming and reproducing… Well, no time like the present to feel melancholy. Or cheerful. One of the two.
This month’s theme’s inspired by a medieval Flemish-Dutch sentence:
Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu[,] wat unbidan we nu[?]
All the birds have begun nests except me and you, what are we still waiting for?
Penned in the 1100 by a monk, probably to test his quill, it’s the oldest sample of my native language. It’s always struck a chord.
Rarely does a shift in orientation work out in a person’s life according to expectations. We wander into such wildly unexpected and unknown futures.
I think we need those stories.
So the question for this month:
How did your (a)sexual and (a)romantic orientations impact your (expected or imagined) future?
Prompts to help the creative juices flow (feel free to deviate):
- All the (other) birds:
- Was there a clear or typical path in life that you decided to diverge from, when others didn’t?
- My nest:
- What life have you begun to build since your (a)sexual and (a)romantic orientations changed?
- Except me and you:
- If you had to sketch a potential life or partner or relationship or family, what are some of the ingredients that make it a good, safe, peaceful and/or joyful prospect?
- You’ve decided you do not wish for a partner and may find fulfilment in your life through alternative means, please share!
- Still waiting
- What expectations for your life are you uncertain about or struggling with after having discovered your (a)sexual and/or (a)romantic orientations?
- Leave a link to your contribution, be it post or vlog or art piece, in the comments.
- Send your contribution to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org so I can host it on my blog.
- Leave your thoughts on one of the prompts in the comments.
Please do let me know if you’ve contributed somehow, I do wish to honour all the awesomeness. If you have specific preferences for pronouns and/or descriptions for your submission, let me know those as well, please. Late submissions added throughout May.
Associated posts, links to be added as they appear:
- Parade of posts for April (on this blog)
- The March parade (luvtheheaven’s blog)
- The Call for submissions for May (hosted by Prismatic Entanglements)
- All of the Carnival of Aces parades! (Asexual agenda)
My contribution to the March Carnival of Aces, about physical health and bodies. Go check out all the contributions.
Explicit language about sex, though I try not to be graphic.
For twenty-five years all the landmarks of developing sexuality and romantic relationships pass me by.
I blame my impopularity, my insecurity, my anxiety, my depression.
I have a few crushes. I think those feelings are attraction.
I look at a man I have known for several years.
In disbelief I feel my lower stomach roil with heat and my groin clench. I flush.
I flee to the hallway and slide down a wall.
That was sexual attraction. Out of nowhere. Already waning.
I realise I have never, ever felt it before.
My mind explodes.
I find the word “asexual” online. I read, ferociously.
I am demisexual, I decide.
I feel highly relieved.
The general practicioner looks at me. “Are you sexually active?”
I tick the box for single on the document, on every document.
I am in Amsterdam during Pride week.
I buy a purple dress and paint flags on my hands.
No one recognises asexuality as a thing. I comfort myself with forum hopping.
Weaving through the crowds I realise the most important thing about Pride is intangible: lack of expectations.
People bring their kids to experience a place and time when anyone’s sexuality and gender can be anything and it is okay.
It is festive, but I am alone and unknown. I leave early.
On the way home I buy a black ring and put it on my right middle finger.
There, I am out.
I take a photo.
I fill out another form. Yes, I’m single, dammit.
For the first time, I want there to be a question about sexuality.
“I’ve been flirting with you for ages!”
“I honestly didn’t notice.”
“Oh my God.” Skype makes his laugh a muffled thing. “Do you like me? I mean, you were not responding, so.”
“…yeah. But. I wasn’t gonna say anything. This is online.”
“You were just gonna pine. Pathetically.”
“Well, yeah. I’m… kinda glad to be having this conversation, though.”
I discover that being in love comes with heightened awareness, especially of my body in the world.
Flirting, once I’m aware, is an addictive adrenaline rush.
I feel tender, vulnerable.
I stop blogging. This is for me.
“Your vagina’s kind of narrow.”
I glare at my doctor. What part of ‘never sexually active’ was unclear?
“You never masturbate?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
She grimaces. “This may hurt.”
She slides in the I.U.D. Aside from a dull ache, it’s fine.
Five years’ worth of birth control, installed.
Our flirting, our conversations continue.
I am shameless. I grew up in a culture open about sexuality. I see no reason to hold back.
I find my imagination has the greatest influence over my body.
Anticipation can buzz for an entire day beneath skin.
I want touch, I crave it.
The flip side, he lives in another country.
I love the attention, the banter.
I want company. I want another body, close.
The calls become explicit too, sometimes.
I delight in the celebration of body, it is so new.
I am, perhaps for the first time, interested in manly bits.
I love the touch, even imagined, even removed. Giving and taking.
I love the gaze. I love the sounds. I love the play of talk and touch and exploration and affection.
However, as it becomes more… focused, it becomes less interesting.
Reality is less without imagination fully engaged.
The more it is about just the genitals, the less my body and mind are into it.
The popping, crackling full-body fizz as we suggested, flirted, started, settles down into a low, steady buzz in my belly, depressingly familiar from masturbating.
Now, as then, orgasm is simply an end. A sudden stop to pleasant sensation, like stepping in a cold shower.
I have learned not to let that buzz culminate and tip over, but now it does.
“Did you finish?” he asks and I answer in the affirmative.
I do not fake that, but I fake how it makes me feel.
I fear he notices.
We end that call and I curl up wanting to cry.
Orgasms do not work as advertised and I want an afterglow badly.
The foreplay is not supposed to be the highlight, dammit.
When I start counting in months, I feel his physical absence acutely.
The difference with friendship turns out to be the level of preoccupation and the territoriality that comes with it.
He is a missing limb, in my thoughts but never under my hands.
We drift apart. His disinterest grows and I become stiffer the longer I want more than I can have.
I start babysitting, for some money.
Children, I discover, like touch, especially when they can dictate it.
Since touch has always equaled affection in my family, it is very, very easy to love the kids.
I also discover babysitting can stop from one day to the next.
The first time it ends I cry for several days on the couch, I simply think I am sad.
The second time was longer, much worse, and I realise how much more territorial I was over kids than even a romantic partner. Even when I knew they were not mine.
I am preternaturally aware of my womb for several months.
After the third time is bad, so bad, I swear off babysitting.
I fill out another form. I tick single, and no, for sexually active.
A year in my new town, I finally feel comfortable to start touching the people I have come to know.
A hug, a supporting hand.
I do not realise just how much it relaxes me until I am asked what’s made me so cheerful.
I meet my new doctor.
“I am not sexually active, no. I am on the asexual spectrum.”
She gives me a weird look at my wide, wide smile.
Two years seems to be the mark for me to be settled enough to start feeling attracted to people.
A grinning woman, oozing charisma and feminity, makes me weirdly cheerful and want to stare like a creepy stalker.
At the coffeestore, to make it more cliche.
No flush, no buzz, though. No desire to touch.
Oh, oh. Aesthetic attraction, I realise. For a real, live person.
I meet a young woman, single.
She is going to be a foster parent.
It is a revelation. Many ways lead to Rome. I need not take the most common one.
My anxiety hits me over the head again, out of nowhere.
My sex drive remains. I still feel the occasional attraction, mostly aesthetic or romantic, once even the flush of sexual.
I blamed all the wrong things when I was young.
I am demisexual, and it is simply my nature, not a symptom.
I have tried to cover all the feelings that relate to my body and are encompassed by my demisexuality.
This is not a complete account, I have chosen to include the first (or only) time I felt or acted on certain attractions.
I decided to leave out times when that attraction was not directed at a real person but a fictional character, especially since sexuality seems to function very differently in imagined and real scenarios.
The starting point: a TED talk by Helen Fisher on romantic love that is part of my reading up on sexuality.
I perk up five minutes in.
“I began to realize that romantic love is not an emotion. In fact, I had always thought it was a series of emotions, from very high to very low. But actually, it’s a drive.” (5:27)
My notes, based on what she says –
Three drives – three parts of the process
- Sex drive – to notice – select people to have a relationship with from a crowd
- Romantic drive – to focus – exaggerated attention, behaviour and emotion towards a specific person
- Attachment drive – to remain – a stable bundle of affection, attraction and behaviour towards a person to whom one has committed.
(May trigger in any order – important later)
I hesitate, then make a second list.
- If sex drive not(/rarely) triggered – asexual? – alternative selection process?
- If romantic drive not triggered – aromantic? – alternative method for focusing on specific person(s)?
- Attachment drive – independent from either
In the first flush of ideas of what it could potentially mean, the sweeping click-click-click of possible patterns, I dream big. Research statements for bold, new discoveries.
Attachment drive independent becomes –
The potential succes of relationships that asexual and aromantic people start is entirely independent from their romantic or sexual orientation.
Sex drive / romantic drive not triggered becomes –
Asexual or aromantic people formulate alternative methods to select and court potential partners from (zed/allo)sexual or -romantic people.
Alternative methods perhaps implies –
Asexual or aromantic people use methods to select and focus on partners similar to those they use to select and notice people to form other sorts of relationships with.
As I am writing reality trickles back in.
2018, not 1998.
Not Terra Incognita. Just new to me.
I sigh and go to add questions to my subjects-to-read-up-on list.
Demisexuality means this: sex drive may trigger simultaneously with or after attachment has formed.
This is why I may be dismissed: these drives do not necessarily trigger in order for anyone.
Attachment may come before sexual attraction for anyone. Romantic feelings may come before sexual attraction.
Asexuality: sex drive exists, but is irrelevant.
This is why I dislike being dismissed: I have been sexually attracted, in passing, to only half a dozen people in my lifetime. Other feelings, however, I have felt far more often.
Alternative methods are developed.
If one chooses to try for a relationship. If. Or it happens accidentally.
I am amatonormative, (and heteronormative?).
Aware, but still stuck with these trappings.
Progress. Not answers, but some questions to ask.
- How do I select anyone I wish to know better from among strangers?
- How, from that point, do they become friends or a potential partner?
- What makes that difference for me?
- How do I become territorial or obsessive over people for a time?
- What emotions/attractions/behaviour/thoughts overflow if one person preoccupies me?
- What does attachment look like for me (if I have enough data to say)?
- What are my alternative methods?
- What are others’ alternative methods?
- Do we see a difference in our brain, do we have something that lights up instead of the regular instincts?
I begin and discard several blog entries entitled The Three Drives.
I know too little yet, about brains, about sexuality in brains.
What questions do I elect to answer first?
Also progress, no need to go back and edit impersonal “we” and “you” back into “I”.
I think, therefore I am.
Demisexual. Questioning. Discovering.
Delighting in it.
Got Valentine on the brain.
I do not want your naughty bits
I don’t want any sex
I do not want your dirty talk
No beast with the two backs
I do not want your nakedness
I do not want you bare
Unless you wish to sunbathe too
Unless you wish to share
I do not want your fondling
I do not want your touch
Unless you lack attraction too
Want cuddles just as much
I really want your loving, though
I really want your heart
I really want to love you too
I really want to start
I really want to share a life
I really want your mind
I want to know just what you think
Return that trust in kind
I really want to know the joy
I really want to court
To buy the roses down the street
Cook food that you adore
I want your love and no regrets
Society can fuck off
To love you, honestly myself
True love, so help me God
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.