Monday, December 17, 2007

Asexuality and Desire

It’s always striking to me what people will do in the name of a desire they cannot describe. Our culture is filled with contradictory arguments that extol us to “follow your heart” while carefully demarcating where is and is not acceptable for our hearts to lead us. With such a densely woven web of external cues about what to desire, how to desire it, and how to act on those desires, self-reflection about the what’s, why’s, and how’s of desire falls to the wayside. When was the last time you stopped and actually assessed what you wanted for yourself?

I spent relatively little of my early life thinking about what I wanted. Instead, I focused the whole of my efforts on discerning what was expected of me and accomplishing it. When I began college, I got mixed-up with the campus pride group and the more time I spent around it, the more pressure I felt to “self-identify.” We’d commonly introduce ourselves by going around the room listing our sexual-orientation, gender identity, and pronoun preference. Each time it was my turn, I’d excuse myself just before it was my turn or I’d find a humorous way to distract the crowd. I didn’t want men; I didn’t want women; I wanted community and for people to stop expecting answers I had not found for myself. Most of all I wanted to know what I wanted but didn’t…

Eventually I found the term asexual online and it seemed to fit. I approached it with a characteristic skepticism and some apprehension at embracing any label most people had never herd of. Asexuality is not a refusal or desire, for me it was the first step in understanding personalized desire as distinct from (yet informed by) dominant social norms and expectations.

Coming to terms with my own asexuality meant realizing that a lot of commonly held notions and pervasive examples of how to configure my personal life weren’t going to work for me. While I had a vague impression that this was the case before, understanding myself as asexual accented the particular elements of that American dream that could never resonate with me. Having come to understand many nuances of what I don’t want, it is time for me to question what I actually do want. With each desire comes a whole new set of paradoxes and with each attempt to apply those desires to social circumstance comes a whole new set of complications.

I want to be close to people, but I don’t want to have sexual relationships. I want to experience intimacy with people, but I find it hard to trust them knowing that they will value a sexual partner more than a friend. I want commitment but not necessarily monogamy. I’m open to raising children, but only alone or with a collective. I want to have people I can be affectionate with but I don’t want to send the wrong messages.

The most exciting aspect of the asexual community is openness to desire without hedonistic excess that I have found (disappointingly) to be the hallmark of many movements that embrace desire. The openness I’m cultivating neither rejects nor embraces desires; it recognizes them, plays with them, makes informed decisions about whether and to what extent I need to act on them. Our seeking should be tempered by a willingness to examine ourselves, to identify and understand our motivations, not merely act out every impulse. Not to hold asexuals to a higher standard than sexuals, but don’t we owe it to ourselves to explore what we need as well as what we want?

1 comment:

Hezaa said...

"We’d commonly introduce ourselves by going around the room listing our sexual-orientation, gender identity, and pronoun preference." Oh wow; I'm so glad the Alliance at my college doesn't do that. It puts a lot of pressure on people, like you said. I think there are so many more interesting things about me than my sexual orientation (asexual) and my gender ID (none), like my being a physics major or a musician. I can talk about physics or music for days XD. Anyway, I'm glad that you found terminology that works for you. Are you a member of AVEN (I'm pianycist there) or have you listened to David Jay's podcast?