The theme for July’s Carnival of Aces is Then and Now. Let’s compare the summers of 2015 and 2018.
I am still reeling from the shift, going from identifying as a heterosexual barred from falling in love by her insecurity to a more confident woman still seldom feeling sexual desire… demisexual. The inciting incident for this personal journey was a little over a year ago. I have lurked in the AVEN forums and set up a blog on WordPress, liking the long-form writing. I work through the questions my new identity throws up by writing and reading about them.
A city trip to Amsterdam coincides with Pride, at the start of August. With a thrill, I decide to go, wishing to be amongst other people who have a different orientation. Each museum advertises exhibits, the entire city centre sports flags for my entire stay. The place is proud of its pride and glad for its popularity. With a museumcard I happily browse through galleries and follow a tour guide through a zoo while he explains about homosexual animals.
On the day of the parade, I take out the eye pencils I bought, black, silver, white and purple, and draw flags on my hands. I walk until I hit the main canals, where crowds cluster, wreathed in colourful clothes and cheery music. I run into an aging lesbian I met earlier that week, who thought I was questioning-and-in-denial when I tried to explain asexuality – a practice run, with a stranger in a strange city, before I dare to tell family. We end up talking about how she claimed long-term relationships among lesbians often enough become queer-platonic relationships when they enter their second or third decade. We stay together that day to have someone to share comments with while we watch the floats and boats go by.
I feel a little lost, I am the only one like myself. Still, the day becomes a precious memory. Even in this time and place where there is no fight for rights, the people come to be uniquely blessed. Each time I see people together, I realise they could be friends or family or strangers or lovers, in any combination. This one day a year, anyone could be any sexuality and not be outnumbered. Too, I realise as I look better and see they can be any gender and have a good chance of meeting more people like themselves. It’s a one-day vacation from heteronormativity, from gender roles. It releases something in me.
I leave early, because there isn’t a party for people like me and I don’t much feel like beer or celebrating my sexuality. Still, I smile at all the families who start to leave along with me. They came here to teach their kids this, I realise, a broadening of horizons. Not a bad day out, either, with the festival foods and mellow atmosphere and colourful boats and people and places. Loads more fun than a documentary at school or a representative of the COC (LGBT centre) coming to talk. I find myself hoping they tell all their classmates.
The next day, my last day, I decide I want a souvenir, a symbol of when I went out to celebrate my orientation, even just to myself. I buy a ring with a black band in the middle and put it on my right middle finger. There, I decide, I’m out. A little more sure of myself I go home. I sit my family down, one by one, to come out to them.
After a hiatus, I’ve been blogging again for a while. I have moved and joined a more conservative church, since my own denomination wasn’t around. It caused a whole host of insecurities and fears to upend itself over my head, even though I thought I’d reconciled my faith and my demisexuality. Seems I absorbed some of the poison out in the public domain just fine, even if I was accepted in my personal circle.
I have had an asexual orientation long enough that I am starting to lose the sense of what it was like to think myself heterosexual. One warm night, staying with family, I walk to the bathroom half-asleep in only a shirt and startle at an outrage squawk from my brother. It takes me minutes to realise what the problem is. My body has simply become my body, comfortable and only covered for my comfort. No longer a source of questioning what might make it seem sexy, or shame for what others might see in it.
I am finally confident enough to take the step deliberately into the dating world, though it’s still a slow shuffle as if across an iced-over road. I start to accept that lacking the wish to have sex does not mean I have give up what I do wish to have, most especially kids, far more even than a partner. Not yet, I decide, but I jot down what would be practical to know or prepare in advance and start to research at what point down the line it would be possible, responsible, good. I consider whether to adopt or to carry my own.
I speak in gender-neutral terms of a potential partner. While I am romantic, wish to be romantic, I don’t really know towards whom. I realise I find people striking on first impression, or their minds intriguing to explore further. By these two methods do I identify people to like, people to love. It is by convention that I determine which way it is appropriate to build a relationship with someone, with friendship an easier path and the romantic scarcely explored.
I mentally redefine demisexual when I read about the three instinctual drives: sexual, romantic, attachment. Demisexual: the sexual drive may trigger when attachment (trust, respect, familiarity, community, collaboration, cohabitation) is present.
The gradual paradigm shift has trickled into my writing, which I’ve picked up again. I cannot withhold my changed understanding of relationships, of love. Each story, by the time I’m writing character profiles, contains an asexual character or a relationship somewhere between frienship and romantic and sexual or someone who wishes never to have a relationship at all. Because these are the things I’ve been thinking about for years, to puzzle out. My mind is too full to avoid them.
I realise with dread I am on the point of another coming out. My friends, my family know I am demisexual. But I’ve been comfortable almost never talking about my orientation. People never really ask about the ring or the absence of a relationship. It feels a little naughty, to be differentunder people’s noses, most of them never realising.
However, if I wish to publish, if I produce something good enough, being asexual will not just be part of my personal identity, but part of my public identity. On Linked-in, on my bio, answering questions from strangers.
I remember that Pride. I remember that atmosphere, that all orientations and genders were accepted on that one day. I remember that people brought their kids from across the country. I remember feeling alone in having an asexual orientation, even as I felt affirmed in being not-heterosexual.
I want to write and these stories call to me. Working through the implications and insecurities of this identity has shaped my voice, because it’s taught me so much that’s worth telling.
So, a year from now, maybe two, maybe three, somewhere there’ll be another story with ace characters, by me. Not really because I’m brave or much of an activist, but because it will, hopefully, make for a good story.
My contribution to June’s Carnival of Aces, hosted by dating while ace.
If you’ve ever heard a person talk about their faith in roughly the following format: “I had something going on, then God happened, then stuff changed for the better,” then you’ve run into a testimony. These word-of-mouth stories are the single most prolific and accessible method for Christians to talk about their lives and their beliefs.
I bring them up because the latest issue of the Asexual had me think about representation, even while I failed to write something clever on time. In my fantasy land, Christians happily bring up how their sexuality and their faith interacted and maybe took them through some hard times and maybe taught them something about themselves or the world and maybe meant their lives changed. For the better, because this is fantasy land.
In short, if I dream of representation, I dream of hearing testimonies from LGBTQIA folks, preferably asexual folks and, for the almond-whipped-cream-on-top-of-a-salted-caramel-cheesecake, demisexual or gray-ace folks.
All the more because these stories are meant as examples and as teaching tools. Testimonies are meant to tell others how to live. While I know, intellectually, there are plenty Christians with another sexuality out there, these are not stories easily found. They are not people likely to speak up, with how controversial a topic sexual orientation is, in the church around the world. Other voices dominate.
So I ache at the near-silence and I keep seeking it out, the person-like-me, both Christian and othered in their sexuality and yet managing to unite these two. I keep kneading my own faith into shapes that I think might be good and hoping someone else has a similar heap of dough already made into a nice cake.
That somewhere, someday, it might not be strange to suddenly hear a person talk about their sexuality and faith: “I discovered I was/struggled with being/came out as (not-cisgender-and-heterosexual (asexual (demisexual))) and then God happened, then my life got a bit better.”
Until it stops feeling like I’m yelling into a wishing well and only hearing my own voice coming back.
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.
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.
I joke, sometimes, that my demons are all inside my head. A life of insecurities fed by a vivid imagination and an intellect as adapt at self-deception as it is at self-reflection.
I have a hard time acknowledging that this internal conflict is legitimate.
I am fighting myself.
It’s not real.
(Others won’t care.)
I have buried what I want so far I do not have words.
(On top, in ascending order: Fears. Excuses. Euphemisms. Silence.)
I grasp at vapour eminating off what cringes in the shadow.
(I put you there, I am sorry.)
It is reflex, when someone starts in on abstinence, starts in on homosexuality being a sin.
Stop. Listen. Internal fact-check. Extrapolation of world-view. Phrase counterargument. Project likely reaction. Stay quiet.
Empathy. Open-mindedness, I used to think.
The truth: I am weak to claims that it isn’t polite to talk sex and politics and religion.
I allow the dominant discourse to go unchallenged.
When I speak, it is in the other’s words, the other’s paradigm.
Intercultural. Bridging gaps, I used to think.
The truth: I would rather step on my own convictions than another’s.
I contradict myself, from conversation to conversation.
When I attempt to speak honestly, either feeling safe or feeling too angry to curb my words, I still struggle.
I still slant what I think to an angle or omit controversialities or insert rationalisations.
Simplifying, explaining, I used to think.
The truth: I do not wish to break relationships, and worry too vividly.
When I break down in a safe space, with a trusted person, I do not control the words.
I sketch the shape of fears grown like fungus in the dark, hardly knowing the place they arise from.
Venting, being open, I used to think.
The truth: I am scared of things I have not dared to examine, for fear of what I need to change.
I have an outlet, and the status quo continues.
What do I want?
I sit in a dark room staring at deeper shadows.
My eyes adjust.
I am accepted.
What do I fear?
I stare back at myself, older, hands hidden the shadows.
Perhaps holding children, adopted, biological.
(Deliberately a single parent, with added stigma.)
Perhaps holding a partner, unknown age, gender, religion, ethnicity.
(A relationship, might be rejected)
What do I fear?
(Will I remain acceptable?)
If you let go, you could easily step forward, I do not tell myself.
If they stay secret, you could easily stay there, I do not tell myself.
If they come with you, they could get hurt, I do not tell myself.
What do I fear?
(Deeper, go deeper)*
Finding my future self empty-handed.
I look up at the light.
No one I love deserves to live in a pit like this, I tell my future self.
Duh, she answers.
(I imagine she fears less.)
I am accepted.
I still fear the church.
I remain silent, I twist my words, I hide what I believe.
I lie, because I am scared of the future.
I fear having to pay a price for my heart’s desires.
What do I fear?
My present community.
A potential future family.
I am fighting myself.
If I do not win, it will be real.
(Go on the offence)
* I watched Revolutionary Girl Utena, all three seasons in a single weekend. I love fantasy that deconstructs shit, and this came with a bonus absolutely gorgeous queerplatonic relationship (or so I interpreted it). Definitely recommended. (And free on youtube here!)
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.
Discovering my demisexuality, how seldom I really look upon other people and find them attractive in the sexual sense, had a profound impact on my body image. It served as a crowbar that cracked open what I thought was “normal”. Most of this process I became aware of as it happened.
I’ve tried covering this subject a few years ago, but back then I was still in the middle of all this, so I hope this paints a more complete picture of what changed for me.
Step one: shaking off the sexy
If I don’t really think of others sexually, why should I think of myself this way? This sat on the back-burner in my mind while I grabbed clothes and wondered, is this too sexy? Do I even know what sexy is? Do I want to know?
No, I decided. I didn’t, because it really didn’t make me happy. It was just a source of uncertainty. I wanted to stop thinking of myself that way. Shed the gazes I imagined sliding over me. Stop speculating how I looked in others’ eyes. I wasn’t someone who got a kick out of that. I was someone who grew worried.
I talked with other women, sometimes friends, sometimes parents whose kids I served, when we’d had one of those sermons (especially after I’d moved. My new church was more conservative). In these conversations about being female and how that affected seeing one’s body, one subject kept returning. How watching your clothes and how they functioned as you moved through the day was a form of self-defense, both against sexual assault and possible disapproval. The shame that came with acting more indecently, like pain, served a purpose, was a warning signal. Wasn’t it?
No, I decided. It really wasn’t my problem what others thought of me, it was theirs. And in assuming others would disapprove of me, or assault me, I was doing them a disservice. A life’s worth of experience told me that guys are most likely to behave themselves if everyone (including them) think that they can and should. And, really… if I was unsafe, how I dressed or was regarded was probably irrelevant, compared to knowing how to throw a punch, act confident and have a working phone with me.
So, I contradicted those thoughts whenever they arose. Gradually, they stopped coming.
Step two: end of shame
As those thoughts disappeared, it had a large emotional impact. Those worries (Am I sexy? Am I decent? What do others think?) carried a heavy load of anxiety and shame with them. When they stopped, it took a load off my soul I hadn’t been aware of before then.
I am from Holland, where nudity is less taboo than most places. Still, it’s a pretty loaded thing, titilating, scary, even when everybody pretends they’re all fine with it. In other words, still sexually loaded.
Breaking the link between “sexual object” and “my body” made it a much more comfortable thing to inhabit, to regard. Even spots or a few more pounds or a week’s neglected shave carried far less weight, since my body didn’t need to satisfy anyone but myself.
There were times, mostly in the second year after shifting from “heterosexual-by-default” to “demisexual”, when a feeling of euphoria would occasionally come over me simply because I was happy with my physical self. I laughed. I came bouncing down the stairs eager to greet the day dressed in flesh and bones that suited me well.
Step three: rational chastity
To be chaste, in the original sense, is to act morally, with only an emphasis on sexuality, according to the culture or environment you inhabit. Which is very different from chaste in the colloquial sense. I’d always liked the original meaning.
When my sense of self started changing, I asked God what his will was. I asked that a lot, especially the first few years. There just isn’t any guide as to how asexuality or demisexuality should intersect with Christianity, so really the only thing to do is pray.
Here’s what I believe to be true, and feel free to disagree: that I stopped to think of myself as sexual object was a blessing. Losing the guilt and shame over my body was nothing less than God’s will. In this, my demisexuality served my spiritual growth. I lost self-consciousness and negative thoughts and emotions I never should have had in the first place, but were imposed by my culture. Both a sexualised wider Western culture and the must-hide-body-from-men Christian culture.
So then, what should guide me instead? In determining what to do with my physical self, to care for it, to clothe it, to move it. Again, I asked God. I believe the following to be the answer: I have a functional conscience and enough information to make good choices. By letting choice guide me, rather than anxiety or shame, acting chaste (appropriate in a given context) becomes an act of obedience to God. I am thus more able to love my (physical) self now.
If I then also believe that others will act decently, that is further obedience. Namely, in that way I love others. Or, if you will, I treat them as I would want to be treated.
Step four: appearance of joy
When I stopped regarding my body as sexual object, my relationship with each part of my personal routine and wardrobe changed as well. I’ve mentioned my clothes, but really it also included washing, skin products, hair, jewelry, general demeanour, how I moved, what I bought, physical activities, packing for trips, preparing for social occasions and even the spaces I inhabited and how I decorated those. Overall, I just felt much happier and more confident about all of them, which meant they cost less time (angsting) and became more varied (through experimentation).
Each old thing was a little new, because I revised what I thought of them. When everything stopped being even the slightest bit sexual or (in)decent, I had far more mental space to tag possessions as feminine or casual, practical or colourful, suiting certain moods or occasions as I liked them, not as I thought others would regard them. Oddly, since I felt more free to think of them as I liked, they also felt more like they were mine, closer to me, just as I was closer to my body. I believe I’m rather territorial, since that pleased me to no end.
I remain rather lazy with my appearance, but I feel pretty good about it, regardless of what I do with it on any given day.
Step five: satisfying senses
Since my relationship with my body and the world I experienced through it improved, I also started noticing just how much that world and that body affected me. This was part of my wider search of how to give my life meaning given my changed identity. I figured out I am a sensual person. In the relationship sense, in that I feel the desire to connect to the people I like through touch and physical affection is a big part of relationships for me. But also in the me-on-my-own sense.
Buying cotton rather than synthetic textures for my clothes. Bringing a ceramic mug to American-style coffee stores so I don’t get a paper one. Cooking for texture as well as for taste.
I could go on, but, in the context of this whole re-defining my body image, it was a doubling down in my happiness with my physical self. By being more settled in my body I unlocked this source of pleasure.
Step six: heretical heteronormativity
The interaction between my faith and my sexual orientation reconciled them for me. This change in my body image and everything that followed was a large part of that.
It affected my opinion of how many Christians talk about sexual orientations. Initially, I thought of Christian communities as something of a refuge, where the pressure to look and act sexy was less, and lack of sexual activity was far more accepted. However, I came to feel as restricted within the Christian culture I inhabited as I did the wider secular culture, just… differently.
I’ve also felt very good with how my demisexuality enabled me to have a more positive body image and my faith was a help, not a hindrance, with that. It might sound odd, but I believe that such a change in identity is a potential source of spiritual growth to a Christian. Being other, it can be a start to rethinking so much. Living far more consciously, and far more true to the self. That can in turn deepen faith, if to live better equals to live more according to God’s will. If God is loving, and accepting and that acceptance is felt, after seriously questioning it.
In this, then, I find myself opposed to the dominant doctrine, which sees no problem in condemning people for their gender or sexuality, while others who commit what’s defined as serious sexual sins are invited back into community with gratuitous forgiveness. The first church I went to, I found myself accepted. In the current one, while it is very heteronormative, their commitment to “salvation is for everyone” gives… wiggle room, which I’m still negotiating. I’ve had several encounters where that heteronormativity crosses into hetero-exclusivity, organisations whose message could be summarised as “we welcome everyone as-is, but you’re not going to heaven unless you can be molded into an abstinence-only monogamous acting-as-heterosexual person.”
This, to me, is the line where that heteronormativity crosses into heresy. The absolute basic message of Christian faith is that everyone was created by God in love and has a full right to that, as they are. So, I find a community I’ve belonged to all my life hurtling in completely the opposite direction to what I believe. And, in having another sexual orientation, I also find myself belonging to the “them” potentially condemned.
Step seven: know thyself
I am Christian. I am demisexual.
I feel good about my body. My body feels good in the world. I feel better about my body in relation to others. I have learned to love myself and others and the world around me more. I believe this to be a blessing from God. Having a different sexual orientation has been good for my faith. I still feel I belong to the Christian community, but I finally have some understanding with how it also alienates those that I feel kinship with because I no longer identify as heterosexual.
Thanks for reading, if you’ve gotten this far in this very long post. Be aware this is the reconstruction of a personal journey that is, by its very nature, subjective. If your experience is different, I would love to hear about it. If this in any way helped you in some way by reading it, I’d also love to hear from you.
God bless you and have a fantastic life.
I told her I was asexual on the getting-to-know-my-patient form.
(Use language they might know.)
It was a test. She passed.
Reward unlocked: basic trust.
She leans forward, in an overstuffed armchair.
I am twisting my fingers, seated on an overstuffed sofa.
“Do you feel like you’re denying yourself anything because of your sexuality?”
I do not feel any less than whole, but…
Non-default sexuality. Limited options.
(There are paths you cannot walk. Choices have consequences even if you’re free to make them.)
“Yes, I do.”
“What, then? What don’t you let yourself have?”
“I don’t know.”
Sex. Love. Relationship. Loneliness. Family. Future. Life. Community. Connection. Status.
I type in mental keywords until I see what’s labeled ‘denied’.
Relief, which ebbs when I realise most results are coloured with doubt (do I want this) and dread (where do I even start) and trepidation (must research alternatives).
“I figure it’ll just be, y’know, harder for me. Or different. Don’t really know how to fit things in my life that I want.”
“I’m not normal.”
“Don’t put yourself down, now.”
“Actually… I like being who I am, a little weird. What it means for my life, though, not a clue. Which kinda brings us back to the whole no-clue-having about my life in general that brought me here.”
What helped, before, upon discovery of my demisexuality, was others who struggled, or didn’t. Their stories.
…must research alternatives…
Find a Let’s Play for asexuality.
My identity: demisexual.
Widen the search parameters, lieutenant.
What I say in my head: not ‘impossible’ but ‘difficult’.
How much have I denied myself, thinking that?
How much, by leaving things undefined, unexplored, chaos.
By choosing nothing, what did I choose?
Lesson from a therapist: a good one will not just accept, but help.
Questioning sexuality included.
Reward unlocked: active trust.
In writing this, I have had to go back and change every ‘we’ and ‘you’ into ‘I’.
False sense of safety in generalities and impersonal language.
How much have I denied myself?
Must research alternatives.
I stick my tongue out at the advertising, after checking the isle is empty.
I buy chocolates.
Quest part the first: Count Your Blessings.
Reward unlocked: family hugs.
I debate whether to post this. Therapy is personal.
It is exactly the sort of story I’m seeking.
I trawl blogs.
I am not alone.
Still comforting, several years in.
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.