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.
So after reading up on sexiness… This post and all those it links: https://luvtheheaven.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/an-exploration-of-not-wanting-to-be-sexy-and-of-never-feeling-sexy/
I realised, I’m unaccustomed to thinking of myself as sexy, and as nice as it is to be appreciated that way… it’s made me rather self-consciousness. Especially since I rarely consider anything visual sexy myself, as in causing the buzz in my mind and lower body that’s a precursor to desire or causing attraction.
So, as celebration and affirmation, here’s a list of what I find sexy.
Minds. Interesting bubbles of humanity. I could be delighted by them and revel in them all the livelong day.
Acts-ideas-agents. The trifecta of the body’s input, the mind’s input and the heart’s input. Done right, any input that works on all three levels and is contextualised as “sexy” can get really intense. Charged.
Sensation. Touch. Just. Works.
So, considering all that, am I sexy? All of the sexiness I perceive is based in interaction, preferably the reciprocal kind. It’s rather hard for me to consider it a personal quality.
Although… If a person is the source of much of it… It does tend to get associated with him. So, perhaps, after being sexy with a person for a while they become it, by association.
After a rather intense period of self-discovery, I’ve dropped off the map and what at first seemed to be going to be a few slow weeks turned into months that I needed to invest in other parts of my life.
Having made peace with my (a)sexual self, it stopped being a necessity to research it, think on it, write about it, but.
Even back when I first started, I experienced a sense of freedom and a sense of dread. Neither has subsided. I have, however, started to reap some sizable benefits from being comfortable with and informed about sexuality.
To be honest, I want to record the progression of that, how demisexuality works as an accepted, integrated part of myself, because so far, it’s been good.
And I hope, somehow, somewhere, I can be of the same benefit to someone as other bloggers, researchers and community members of the ace community have been to me.
So you’ll see me around, though with less frequency than before.
Be warned, somewhat explicit stuff. Third part of the three-parter for the September Carnival of Aces.
A big part of my (sexual) identity’s always been what I read and imagine. Basically, all of the stories I consume and produce, all of the worlds I’ve lived in, however fleetingly. They allow me to be more than what I am in my daily life and experience more than what I’d be into in actual fact.
The first twenty-five years of my life I did not feel sexual attraction. I wasn’t actually sure of or interested in this fact until after I did experience it and became aware I hadn’t before that point. A large part of it is a rise in confidence and emotional comfort. I do believe this is due to my demisexuality, that emotional well-being affects whatever capacity for a sex drive I have and attraction I can feel indirectly. Crudely put, if I cannot put myself out there, I cannot let others in well enough to form the emotional bond that precedes sexual attraction.
I did have a very rich fantasy life. I read far and wide. I imagined all sorts of scenarios. What drew me to them, I think, was the idea of being that close to a person, a craving for physical sensations and new experiences. They did a little for me, sexually, but never gave rise to more than mild arousal.
It has deeply affected how I experience sex now that I do have a libido. Physical stimulation’s mostly window dressing. I depend almost entirely on mental stimulation. I can and have masturbated fully clothed in public without moving an inch while others presumed me to be staring out a window, bored. I’m also far more easily attracted to fictional characters because they give rise to a deep connection almost immediately, especially if they’re the point of view character.
On the other hand, discovering demisexuality and experiencing sexual attraction to a handful of real-life people has started to affect what I wish to read and fantasise about. I no longer crave the idea of being close to people now that I can be for real, even if it’s platonically. The physical sensations seem less important and few concepts are new or stimulating anymore.
Instead, I’ve started to retrace what I could be attracted to in real life. Romantic relationships rich in emotional intimacy. Ensemble stories that explore friendships and being part of a group. Crushes in which the sexual component is small or comes later or even not at all, to see what in the range between platonic and highly sexual I’d ever be interested in.
It’s made for an interesting change in reading material. It’s also made for interesting fantasies that, were they movies, probably wouldn’t even shock a five-year-old. They arouse less, but engage my interest in far more areas at once, which suits me better.
Part two of the three-parter for the September Carnival of Aces.
I could write a thousand posts about future fears or current worries concerning my religion and my sexuality. I could show you a thousand shades of theology and at some point, I will get to examining helpful ways of uniting the discourses of Christianity and asexuality.
For today, though, allow me to take you to the real intersection of those identities, where personal faith meets demisexuality, in the heart. The full measure of what the greatest command, love others like yourself, does to me.
I am human. A potential for terrible sin and a potential for awesome goodness coexist inside me, wrapped in a fragile body. In order to be the best flawed mortal I can be, at any given time, I need to be able to accept myself fully, while knowing the worst of what I am. I also strive to do what good I can without crossing my limits or forgetting to enjoy it. I love myself.
If demisexual is what I am, I should discover and accept that part of myself and work to incorporate in into my person and express it honestly.
Everyone is human. Each person a creature of unimaginable complexity and incalculable worth. Each person an agent for good and evil. Each capable of empathy, of imagination, of intelligence and stupidity. Each needing other humans to love and to be loved. Each worthy of time and expense and relationships. Each both powerful and limited by society, by their own minds, by circumstance. Each an other to be loved.
Everyone should be loved and gender and sexual identities should not limit that, as they do now. We should explore all the different ways we can love and practice those that suit us.
Everything is creation. Even the smallest slice of science highlights a reality wondrous beyond our wildest dreams. As much as we say, open-minded as we are, our perceptions are limited and limiting and the greatest and scariest thing is to walk beyond them and discover something new.
Confronted with an unfamiliar aspect to humanity, such as asexuality in all its shades and variations, the best I can do is to discover it and understand its implications.
I am a human amongst others, in a creation vaster than I know. And I know that the best I can do, here, now, is to love others as I love myself. For those I love, it means I need to love them well. For strangers, it means I need to accept them as beings with an equal worth to myself, deserving of the same empathy, the same consideration as I, whoever and whatever they are. For my enemies, it means I can wish better for them and work to mitigate whatever evil is committed.
Loving myself, loving others, is ever evolving, always a work in progress, and always worth doing, always rewarding. I can work up hate over what’s wrong in the world or work to clear the path and appreciate that which is good and strange when it comes my way. I choose the latter.
I am mortal. I cannot do as much good as should be done. I cannot love everyone equally. I have no control over the world, over each group, or even completely over myself.
I will stumble over my own prejudice and privilege, fear others’ disapproval over my sexuality and regularly be tied up into knots over whatever mistakes I made. But when I fall, and I will, there is so much to get up for and discover.
I can love myself. I can love others. I can love all of it and it’s best life I could wish for, whatever shape it takes.
I am demisexual, and if I was thus created, who am I to tell God it’s not good? The same goes for the way others are.
I’ve a made a few promises to myself about writing on the internet. Guard your privacy. Be honest. Be constructive. Don’t sneakily take down or edit content. Don’t contribute to the ignorant bullshit out there. You’re going to make mistakes. Relax, you’re just human, so’s everyone else. And don’t feed the troll. Ever.
I went and posted unresearched bullshit in my last “Unstraightening my facts” post. This was pointed out to me with patience and tact, complete with helpful reading suggestions.
After letting my first and second thoughts pass, “Oh God, I’m really wrong, aren’t I?” and “I don’t ever want to post again” (3 AM is not a good moment for making big or small choices)…
I deleted the post and left up the comments.
Because “don’t contribute bullshit” was more important to me than “content must be genuine” and more in line with “be constructive”.
This post is in part for the reader who might going to come along and be like “wtf the empty post about?” and for honesty’s sake. Mostly it’s for me, because I do want to keep posting, and I do want to keep talking about demisexuality and asexuality and identities and relationships.
I couldn’t, with that still up there. So I’m exercising my control of my bitty corner of the internet, and talking it down.
TL;DR: Post was bad. I deleted post.
Defining what intimate relationships people desire outside the norm seems to be hard. For asexual-spectrum people in general, because the lack of sexual attraction somehow demotes both their desire and actual relationships in status. For aromantics in particular, because romance has come to be a surrogate for sexual attraction, in redefining relationships to fit asexuals. Diversity in the asexual community makes it harder still to get a handle on what we could want, rather than what we should want like “normal people”.
Tradition dictates four load-bearing walls for what I call “intimate relationships” in these posts, outside of family (including family-of-choice):
- Romance, the infatuation and attendant gestures to signal the presence of a love and desire for a relationship that differs from the affection felt for family and friends.
- Sex, the act that serves as hallmark for such relationships, for pleasure, duty or procreation.
- Marriage, the ritual that serves as the crowning public declaration and permanent contract for such a relationships.
- Children, the product of the sex, usually preferred after the marriage and aside from creatures in their own right, also the concrete product and immortalisation of such relationships.
Usually, marriage and children serve to hold up the construct. Western society prefers romance and sex. What asexuality implies is that relationship between people itself is all that is needed. The truth everyone ignores is, the four walls, even if all of them are present, would be a hollow construct without it.
That doesn’t help in quantifying relationships, but at least we can shovel some bullshit aside, this way.1
1. I started reading the webcomic “Shades of A” because it looked like a hilarious parody of Shades of Grey. I finished reading it and its sequel because it’s a good and vivid exploration of what it means to have an asexual relationship without all the comfortable limits of a ‘normal’ relationship.
I have tried to quantify what type of relationships I as demisexual could in theory have, besides epic romance1. Since then, I have wished to define my relationships along traditional lines less and less, because I’ve come to appreciate the peculiar freedom of regarding people as a 99.9%-not-a-sexual-person. Much ambiguity and embarrassment have drained from my regard of other adults, even when they put out sexual cues. It’s just… okay to ignore and approach them as person.
Since this is threatening to become a ridiculously long, rather disjointed post otherwise, I’m breaking it up into its different subjects.
So, in morphing from ‘normal’ to ‘demisexual’ in paradigm as well as orientation, I have combined some points of speculation to see if I can see where this redefining of relationships is headed. That’s why the rest of these posts are basically those points laid out, and then the direction they point me in. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the topic, because this is a train of thought in progress.
I crave one or a few intimate relationships. Beyond a circle of acquaintances and friends and relatives, I need a few humans to anchor me. This role is fulfilled by close family, but as an adult I want to share my life. My own inclination leans towards one such partner. I assume other humans have similar (but not identical) desires.
1. An earlier post “Not Just Epic Romance”.
Rainbow flags waved along boulevards and bridges all over the city centre. For ten days, including two weekends, museums had special tours, cafes had special offers and cinemas had special films. There were walks and talks and concerts. Friday was the parade’s eve, with a march to the Gay Monument and the Drag Queen Olympics. Saturday was the finale, with eighty decorated boats in the official parade and many more moored three to five boats thick to the side on some stretches, filled with spectators and students and beer. Locals and visitors and families and tourists mix and bunch together whenever there’s a bridge, one in three wearing a pink shirt.
The LGBT community is part of Amsterdam’s identity and city marketing much like it is for San Francisco. For the average Joe, that means it’s comfortable to live there as member of the LGBT community, the locals won’t stare as much and the tourists come especially to stare. During the Pride, it means the city is proud, the cultural sector colours pink, corporations sponsor a boat in the canal parade. Awareness is raised for the HIV-positive and LGBT minorities abroad but mostly people come to enjoy and relax.
What made it interesting as an event was more intangible, however, which is what I hope to make sense of in this two-parter about the Amsterdam Gay Pride of 2015. This part is more about how it influenced my public identity, the other more about what demisexuality has come to mean to me in private, during.1
What’s with all the heteros?
A strange question, perhaps, but I wondered what all the heteros who came to Amsterdam got out of the event. To see the parade or enjoy a concert, yes, but… if you walked the streets, they were the ones in the rainbow hats and the pink shirts. People who were gay or bi came to be themselves, albeit with beer and music, so they didn’t dress up… unless they had an additional reason. But no, it was a girl convincing her boyfriend that they both ought to wear a headband with miniature penises waggling on metal coils, and the Korean tourists counting out euros to buy a “Gay For a Day” shirt.
They were, in that little bubble of space-time, outsiders. They needed to wear something special to participate. What love and sexuality was exhibited here was queer, not theirs. For a very short time, it was normal to grab a hand or a kiss from someone with the same gender, not the opposite one. It was, for that matter, normal to mess with gender altogether. So the cisgender heteros felt the need for a souvenir or a costume, the way you do at a Renaissance fair or a carnival, to fit in with a different sort of normal.
Art’s main job isn’t decoration or beauty or avant garde, here. In Dutch, the highest praise an art piece can get is that it vervreemds, estranges or makes something other. To break its audience out of the familiarity that blinds them, to refresh and transform their reality. To open minds to what is strange and yes, queer.
During the Gay Pride in Amsterdam, it was love and gender and sexuality that were vervreemd, the more unusual expressions made normal and the norm, heterosexuality, just one of several options. That wasn’t just theoretical, but a lived reality in the streets. You literally weren’t to know what the person in front of you, behind you, beside you, thought of themselves or preferred in their partners. Everyone was just people.
Only those who thought that was strange felt the need to dress up.
And it was to this vervreemding that I could connect. Demisexuality means you might find some people you know attractive, but mostly everyone is just people. Not sexual, not attractive, not beautiful. Just people. And within the asexual community, this is what we’re struggling to label: to us everyone is just people. We choose to act on it in different ways, but at the core of it is the same conflict: people are just folks to meet, when to others they may stand out on a sexual level.
The streets at Gay Pride? They’re the crowd I’d be comfortable in, seeking a partner, no expectations, anyone can be any label. Anyone can desire any relationship on any level, or not.
LGBT(QI), not LGBTQIA
I distinguish between LGBT and LGBTQIA because I think as subculture or umbrella it’s evolving to be more inclusive, and accept asexuality as part of that umbrella. In some places it is already, in some it’s not. Largely because of the creation of communities and activism of local asexual-spectrum individuals… a work in progress. In Holland, we’re not there yet. Though I believe most would welcome us, we are as yet unknown. Literature is scarce, our meeting places still in the process of being created, awareness a dim glow on the horizon of the most open-minded.
So while I felt some kinship, I did feel like a spectator. Because I represent a type of sexuality that isn’t known, let alone accepted. I both was and was not ready to show it.
Private performance in public
I decided on a discrete display that fit my budget: buy some eyeliner pencils and draw a demisexual flag on my hand and wear it out in public. It was quite an adventure simply to draw and photograph it in the privacy of my room. Nerve-wracking to step out onto the streets a few days later, flag on my hand. The first few minutes, I hid my hand against my thigh, until I almost fell over in the tram on my way to the canal parade.
No one noticed.
By the end of the day, neither did I.
When I came home, I finally looked at my hand and decided I was okay with this, to wear it as I do any part of myself, invisible to most and relevant to those who care.
Permanence and peace
Two days later, even the thickest black line had nearly washed off my hand. I traced it, knowing it would disappear and missing it. I wanted a souvenir, not of something I am not, like the heteros at Gay Pride, but of something that I discovered I am and was now settling into being a comfortable fact of my life, a cog wheel that smoothed out a big stutter in my self-knowledge.
I bought a silver ring, with a black line in the middle. Not quite an asexual ring, but halfway there, for demisexuality, enough to feel like promise, a private symbol that could sit around the middle finger of my right hand. I had grown comfortable with who I am, in this week, and it was good to wear that openly.
So what’s it taught me about the sex I might like?
I liked the freedom in this crowd, how utterly heteronormativity was gone, any sexual orientation was welcome. This is the type of gathering I feel comfortable in, meeting people, swapping stories about sexualities and being okay to communicate about love and gender and sex because there’s less assumptions than in your average crowd.
At the same time, I was a stranger, asexuality wasn’t here, to the point where I could walk around unrecognized unless I’d literally painted a sign and I’m in no way there yet, may never be. Asexuality got a mention in the summary on TV later, which was already pretty cool, but that’s what I was really missing, peers and a mention somewhere in the material.
Next year’s the big-ass EuroPride in Amsterdam, a two full weeks and probably a festival with activities on an even bigger scale than this year. I’d hope we can get a group together for that and visit.
Until then, I’m back to finding spaces with open-minded people and figuring out what I like as demisexual and how to express that in a heterosexual-normative world. I’ve won another measure of self-acceptance and that, that’s the true treasure I’m taking away from that week.
- The first part, “I am neither straight nor queer” can be found through the link. More posts in the series can be found via the “demisexual satisfaction” category or the “sex-like” tag.
Images: mine 🙂