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Marriage Without – notes

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.

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Ride that Rollercoaster!

This post was written for the May Carnival of Aces hosted at Prismatic Entanglements, on Nuance and Complexity…

I

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.

Coward.

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.

II

“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.

III

These words are absent:

“Begeren” to desire, usually sexually. The noun: lust.

“Vrijen” is both being glued together in public and having sex.

IV

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.

V

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.

VI

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.

VII

“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.”

Grace.

Mercy, not elegance.

Letting go and being alright with feeling foolish.

VIII

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.

IX

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.

X

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.

XI

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?

XII

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.

XIII

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.

XIV

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.

XV

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.

XVI

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.

All the birds but us… – April Carnival of Aces Call for Submissions

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?

To submit:

  • Leave a link to your contribution, be it post or vlog or art piece, in the comments.
  • Send your contribution to my email: demiandproud@gmail.com 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:

 

Queering Closeness

Thoughts on the intersection of aromantic and polyamorous experiences

The Dancing Trans

A nonbinary dancer navigating the complexities of dance and society

A Space For Me

Sometimes, I have a lot to say

God Be With Us, Asexuals

Through the bible in 3 years as queer.

The Realm of Asexual Possibility

Ace reviews of five seasons of The X-Files

DemiConsensual: Gender, Sexuality, and Feminism in the Modern World

Making sense of all things gender, sexuality, identity, and feminist in our current culture.

Asexuality New Zealand Trust

Educating New Zealanders about asexuality.