Sometimes, it really is just a phase. A long, complicated, emotionally moving, all-consuming phase.
For some years I thought I was ace and genderless. I don’t know how or why it happened, but it did. It was just something I had to go through, I guess; I was learning, I knew I wasn’t cis, and I overexposed myself at a vulnerable time in my life. There was to much information. I was on medications that so easily manipulated my thoughts. I drowned in all of it.
I did a lot of writing about being on the asexual spectrum, about not understanding how dating and sex worked. Looking back, these are classic signs of dysphoria that a not insignificant number of trans people experience – an inexplicable sex drive, a discomfort with or disinterest in masturbation, unrewarding sex with otherwise rewarding partners, a jarring disconnect in how narratives of sex and dating say you ought to act as opposed to how we understand we want to act.
It never occurred to me that I needed to be having sex as a man until a few months ago. The thought never once crossed my mind. Or, well, it did, in the form of the occasional dream that scared the crap out of me, but the idea was verboten to my waking thoughts. I had internalized the message of misandry, you see. I was terrified of my own masculine confidence, my own masculine strength and power. It was a Rubicon not to be crossed – even wondering about it was thoughtcrime. So I cowed myself, made my body as small and inconsequential as possible to both those around me and to myself. It made it easier to ignore. In that way, macrophilia might’ve been my child-brain’s very first method of coping with the then-wordless felt sense of dysphoria. The gut feeling, like walking into the room when your parents are angry at each other but they’re trying to hide it from you, that something is off.
When the lightbulb went off, I knew it was different this time. Claiming nonbinaryism felt like a political declaration to me; something hollow but well-meaning enough to be based on a subconscious nugget of truth. Hearing myself try and assert neutral pronouns was like nails on a chalkboard, but I figured that it was just the social pressure to be binary, so I doubled down. I came out to my mom, my husband, my friends. But it was still hollow. I tried writing stories about nonbinary people, but there was that nagging feeling that I wasn’t “writing what I know”. I tried drawing nonbinary people; this too was uninteresting and felt like I was dancing circles around some deeper, scarier truth that I wasn’t ready to confront yet. After a while I figured that I’d never be ready to confront it. With my tail between my legs I let people start calling me “she” and “wife” and “daughter” again. At least it was the devil I knew.
What struck me about realizing I was a man was the sudden change in my dreams. Over the years I’ve come to trust my dreams to tell me the truth about my subconscious – they’re very good at telling me what my fears and desires are, from the banal to the existential. When messages are conveyed, they are clear enough to my waking mind for me to act on them. When my lightbulb went off, I was suddenly male in my dreams. I had a complete and gendered body, not some vague placeholder with disembodied hands like I was playing a video game. I was an embodied person of consequence to my own subconscious for the first time in my life. I felt real.
None of this happened when I identified as nonbinary.
That’s because being nonbinary was a phase. It was a stepping stone that allowed me to learn things about myself that were both true and untrue – it gave me the mental space to figure out that gender is nothing like what I was raised to believe. And though it would be some years yet, it gave me the tools to start deconstructing my experiences with men and masculinity. I guess, in a way, that those notions needed to be torn down before I could build them back up again with better awareness, understanding, and patience.
The fact of the matter is that I would never have gotten to where I am now if I hadn’t gone through the gullible, SJW-fueled phase of thinking that gender is nothing but a construct, that men are nothing but pigs, and that I wouldn’t be caught dead identifying at something so antiquated as binary. (How’s that for “voting” with your gender?) It was something I had to go through.
I read stories about detransitioners – the the redheaded step-children trans people don’t like to talk about – and I see a little of myself in their stories. Even though I was never cis, the sense of having made a “mistake” by thinking you were another gender than you really are hits home. I just count myself lucky that I never made any permanent changes while I was in that headspace.
This is a post that my husband wrote this week in response to a few different things that I’ve written recently. He specifically wanted something to respond to, so I sent him some things that are on my mind these days, and it’s been really great to be talking with him about these subjects and experiences this way. Hopefully I’ll get a few more of these from him in the future!
Long-distance relationships are easy. Long-distance sex lives; not as much? That said, I credit the situation my spouse and I share for keeping “things” more interesting than what seems to await the archetypical long-term relationship sex-wise.
Since even before we were an item, she literally made me aware of numerous kinks and fetishes I never even thought existed. Hell, if I recall, within the first week of us chatting online she linked me to a full documentary about a couple of dudes who get off on cars. Literally. Then they go on a road trip together. The one guy cheated on his own car with some random stranger’s car. Never before had I ever felt violated on behalf of an inanimate object.
It went on from there. I had been living a primarily sheltered internet life at that point, as I’d only recently returned to using the internet regularly after an amount of years that pre-dated things like Youtube and Encyclopedia Dramatica. Here was this person who was opening my eyes, and mind, to facets of sexulaity I’d never given much serious thought to. And this coming from a guy who was in a metal band for the majority of his 20s.
This all definitely fed the inevitable attraction that followed, and led to her eventual very reluctant (and seriously adorable) admission of her kinks. Now, I’ve always been entirely open-minded when it comes to fetishes and whatnot, and figured that pretty much everyone has one, but I was not at all prepared to the world I was about to go into.
I’m pretty sure the first one she shared was the macro deal, which didn’t strike me as terribly odd. Nor did the D/s, in spite of its considerable influences on overall lifestyle. Later the tough stuff came though, such as the gender realignment and declaration of asexuality. These are not particularly easy things to grapple with as a cishet dude in his 30s. Nor did I expect them to be dimensions I would see in my marriage.
But love is love and I find myself willing to explore a lot of things I never planned. The basic vanilla stuff that I always unconsciously assumed would be the bread and butter of any marriage I would be a part of is basically out the window. Funnily enough though, a lot of aspects of our individual sexualities find these amusing and cute ways of running into each other like tentacles flailing in the dark. (No, not that sort of tentacle action, but hey, if she digs it…)
Like a lot of cishet dudes in their 30s for example, I am a toy enthusiast. I have a disparate collection of figures and statues that run the gamut from Marilyn Manson action figures to vintage Muppet plushes. That mix has naturally included a fair bit of sexy-type figures of comic book and movie women, and before meeting my spouse I had never been specifically confronted by current mates about my interest in them. I once even dated a girl who had more figures of John Lennon alone than I had figures of females put together. But she clearly exhibited an insecurity towards sharing a home with plastic renderings of other women that either turned me on or entertained me somehow. And that’s totally understandable.
Now, having found out about this kink about being one of them feels both ironic and not at all surprising at the same time. And I gotta say, I love the idea of it so far. It comes across as something that can be a lot of fun for both of us, especially in conjunction with the pet play we’ve recently begun exploring. I’ve always been a sort of possessive type, and crossing these with D/s seems like it would put checks in a good amount of boxes, even in the absence of PIV. Also it makes me think of those “hot glue” vids and that’s funny as shit.
About the Dub-Con:
As my relationship with my spouse has led me to feminism, I admittedly recoiled in shock at the revelation shared about our first time. I was reassured after reading her post that it’s ok, and there were some specific kinks served directly by the circumstance. I only just recently learned about the term “dub-con”, but this sure seems like an example of it. None the less I’m extremely glad to receive the reassurance because this is certainly a completely different interpretation of how things went at the time than mine.
Knowing what she thinks of it now leaves me thinking a few different things. Like a new appreciation for the memory itself in light of how our relationship has evolved. And wishing I’d known more about how she was processing the experience at the time. Sexual communication is one of those things that seem simple and obvious that people will find their own special way to suck at.
But I think the most interesting thing here is that I have to admit that this information I’ve just received actually turns me on (only once the CON part was better emphasized). She got a kick out of feeling somewhat manipulated by me, and enjoyed not being a part of the decision-making process as it were.
Embracing more of a D/s lifestyle has been a long process for me, and I’ve always had a bit of a concern as to whether I had it in me, but this kind of stuff really makes me feel like there’s something truly rewarding to be had, and I’m completely certain I would be missing out on a lot of things if I were not married to the person that I am.
[ March 2016 note: While my BIID symptoms have lessened since getting my hysterectomy (which helped to correct some of that feeling of overcompleteness) and since going OFF antidepressants, I still experience this sometimes. This is still one of the more important pieces I’ve written, addressing the elephant in the room that no trans person seems to want to consider being sympathetic about, so it’s one of the few posts I’ve decided to keep. ]
BIID: Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Also known as Xenomelia and Foreign Limb Syndrome.
I was talking with some nonbinary folks on a trans* forum about how what we know about things like phantom limbs and neuroplasticity might apply to us and explain our ability to desire intersexed (or even physically impossible) bodies in the same sort of fundamental way as an FtM or MtF might desire a binary-assigned body, which supposedly can be completely explained by having brain structures unique to the sex they feel they should have been assigned at birth.
Stumbling on resources that informed me that research on phantom limb syndrome has shown that it is possible for sufferers to manipulate their phantom appendages in physically impossible ways, or have fully-functioning appendages that they never had (called congenital phantom limb syndrome). Some trans* men report having phantom penises, and so on. The discussion wound up having me do a search for “the opposite of phantom limb syndrome” perhaps as a means to help explain what goes on neurologically with, say, a neutrois individual who might want no secondary sex characteristics or sexed genitalia despite never not having them. I got a lot of search results about a disorder called BIID, and started reading.
I began to realize that many of the symptoms, coping behaviors, and tendencies match many of my own down to a tee, even though I don’t see any mention of anything even remotely like the sort that I experience. A number of articles and posts about the disorder reference a feeling of “over-completeness”. When I read those words I knew this was what was behind a huge portion of who I am.
Body integrity identity disorder (BIID, also referred to as amputee identity disorder) is a psychological disorder wherein sufferers feel they would be happier living as an amputee. It is related to xenomelia, “the oppressive feeling that one or more limbs of one’s body do not belong to one’s self”.
BIID is typically accompanied by the desire to amputate one or more healthy limbs to achieve that end. BIID can be associated with apotemnophilia, sexual arousal based on the image of one’s self as an amputee. The cause of BIID is unknown. One theory states that the origin of BIID is that it is a neurological failing of the brain’s inner body mapping function (located in the right parietal lobe). According to this theory, the brain mapping does not incorporate the affected limb in its understanding of the body’s physical form.
The basic misconception is that only arms and legs are affected, though once you start doing a little digging, it quickly becomes apparent that that’s far from true. It seems that the disorder can affect your relationship with just about any part of your body; or rather, any part of your body that you are conscious and aware of. It can also extend to affect the relationship that you have not with any particular piece of anatomy, but ability, like being able to see or hear.
The sort that I have seems to affect the entirety of my body, making me feel like I should be smaller than I currently am. I’ve written about this feeling before. I also wrote about it at the Experience Project. Discovering this is a huge, huge deal for me. It informs my gender, my orientation, my sexuality.
One of the things I’ve discovered since having sexual relationship is the strange way that I seem to process touch. Namely, it seems to be diminished and I’m pretty incapable of feeling anything in the way of marked pleasure from intimate contact, even in so-called erogenous zones. I thought there was something wrong with me for a long time, and just as I was coming to terms with the idea of not getting pleasure out of being touched, I discover BIID.
But that’s just one thing that is beginning to make sense now, within the context of the right parietal lobe theory.
The right parietal lobe is the part of the brain that seems to be responsible for the somatosensory system, and feelings of bodily ownership, proprioception, and sensory processing.
The point-to-point mapping of the body surfaces in the brain is called a homunculus and is essential in the creation of a body image. This brain-surface (“cortical”) map is not immutable, however. Dramatic shifts can occur in response to stroke or injury.
A disruption in body image may be linked to something gone haywire in this part of the brain. And at it’s core, BIID is what happens when the brain has improperly mapped an otherwise complete and functioning body. For most sufferers, that incomplete image may mean that a leg has been left out, or a finger, or the ability to walk. Many folks with BIID report diminished sensation in the offending body part.
Over on the sidebar over there, I call myself a sensation whore. I am. I like pain, I like being made physically uncomfortable. I like feeling weighed down and restrained. And in a way, I consider myself lucky that I do get pleasure from these kinds of sensations, since I can’t otherwise. Like I told my husband, I enjoy being hit because it’s my way of feeling something on my skin.
So then, this opens up another question: how might this inform my orientation? Am I saying that this made me asexual? Maybe, maybe not. But if I’m lacking the ability to really feel erotic pleasure in any way that is meaningful to me, then how can I possibly frame any relationship or fantasy of a relationship that I might have within the context of eros? How can I fantasize about something that I’ve never felt, feel attraction by a means that my body is unfamiliar with? Sure, sexual attraction is more than its constituent parts, but like a human being, you still have nothing if those parts don’t come together in the first place. If you don’t fantasize about sexual encounters in a sexual way, if you don’t masturbate, if you don’t feel motivated to pursue sexual intimacy with someone or something else, if you don’t get a sexual thrill from the sexual contact that you do receive, then I would say that these things together result in asexuality. I think it would definitely explain the way that I do tend to fantasize, though. In one of my previous posts trying to suss things out before I knew about this disorder, I talked about fantasizing about being eaten or crushed or dominated physically and emotionally but not sexually. I guess that these are the things that my subconscious mind knew to be more relevant to my reality than sex and it’s taken me over a decade for my conscious mind to catch up.
Maybe BIID is the cause of my asexuality. Or maybe I’m not actually asexual at all. But that’s the hairy intersection of asexuality and disability, isn’t it? Is one responsible for the other? Can it be? I don’t know.
Though I know for a fact that it’s responsible for my macrophilia. They’re two sides of the same coin, really.
Trans* people, as I found out pretty early on in my research on the disorder, hate BIID with a burning passion. Hey, it’s to be expected– if a bear is chasing you and your friend, you only have to outrun your friend to survive. If society is going to call you a sick freak to justify treating you like shit, the first step in justifying your right to exist is to find someone else to call a sick freak and treat like shit. Sure, it may not actually help you in the long run, but it sure feels good to know that you’re not at the bottom of the social food chain at least.
Part of the “sick freak” knee-jerk has a lot to do with the medical establishment’s obsession with pathologizing sexuality, and especially the sexuality of folks it deems abnormal. This is where we got autogynephelia from: the supposed fetish that trans* women have for themselves. Of course the only reason anyone would want to be a woman is for sexual funsies, right? Nevermind that the vast majority of cis women, when subject to the same criteria used to detect autogynephilia in trans* women, apparently suffer from the disorder also.
The fact of the matter is that people sexualize shit that they find pleasurable and things they find not so pleasurable. They sexualize who they are and who they want to be. It’s basically human nature. Some people use sexuality to heal, and others to cope.
I use mine to cope.
If I can’t change my body to reflect who I feel like I should be on the inside, then I damn will find an outlet to let off that building pressure. If I cannot have the relationship with physical intimacy that I truly want, then I’m going to vicariously experience that through art and stories. I’m going to sexualize the very thing that’s causing me distress and discomfort so that I can at least attempt to have a semblance of control over it before it eats me alive. I am going to find a reason to take pride in that unrelenting desire. I’m going to find a reason to like it.
I suspect a lot of folks with BIID might feel the same. We are sexualizing ourselves, our identities, our experiences to make them easier to live with day in and day out. Do we not have the right to find ourselves sexy and attractive just because we have a disorder?
Me, if I was never meant to be small, then I could still imagine other people who would make me feel small. And also safe. Somehow, in my convoluted daydreams, I knew that they were also keeping me safe from the very thing that was causing me to imagine myself with them to begin with.
Trans* people think that we don’t deserve the same rights, respect, and considerations as they feel they’re entitled to because we “fetishize disability”. Sorry, but this is horseshit, and it’s exactly the same thing as saying that trans* women don’t deserve respect because they’re just fetishizing femininity. We are not doing this for attention or for a sexual thrill any more than a trans* person is, nor should we be robbed of our sexual agency simply because we suffer from mental illness. The debate about the medical ethics of voluntary amputation is a completely different consideration and I’m not going to go into that here. Suffice to say, I’m a firm believer in bodily autonomy, and if someone’s overall quality of life would improve by becoming disabled, then I would support that choice if reasonable alternatives have been exhausted.
And what about the gender thing? How could this possibly inform my gender too?
Well, I’ve written about it before. Somewhat. Using fragmented and incomplete language.
My gender is “small”, “cute thing”. I sort of vibrate between pretty fairy boi, manic pixie girl, BMO, and housecat. But those are all just aspects; the real me is nothingness. A ghost haunting a house that belongs to a different family– I might chose to obey the floorplan? But really, I just end up walking through the walls all the time anyway. I barely even care that there’s a house there to begin with.
But really. What is gender but a collection of feelings and affirmations about who we are in relation to our bodies and cultures? Of course “and then some”, but gender is also these things. My gender is both nothing and small. And for some reason I have it in my head that for small, genderless things, puberty is meaningless, secondary sex characteristics are mostly an annoyance, and genitalia are birth defects. Having diminished sensation all over does carry over to my genitalia. I don’t seem to be able to feel much down there other than “I’m being touched” and “ow ow ow”. I didn’t even really consciously or symbolically understand that I had genitals until I was well into my teen years. Why should I? When I touched myself in the shower or whatever, it didn’t feel different or special in any way. It was literally just like scratching my ass. You might say that my brain, for all intents and purposes, has incompletely mapped my innie-junk, and has incompletely incorporated that part of my anatomy into my understanding of what constitutes “me”. To speak a bit more poetically, it honestly feels faint to me. Distant, in a way. I would much rather trade friction and penetration for the simple feeling of something large and heavy simply resting against it. For some reason, that actually allows me a glimpse of what it might be like to have that area of my body fully integrated in the way that I imagine it should be.
I think the research going into BIID (what little there is) might be of interest to the agender and neutrois communities. I for one feel like my gender identity, which consists of both, is for sure informed by the disorder. Who knows, maybe wiring in the right parietal lobe might have something to do with the feeling of alienation from secondary sex characteristics and anatomical sex, in the same way that other structures might be responsible for FtMs’ alienation from their chests and MtFs’ from their genitals.
I don’t have much more to say about the subject, really, other than that this has been an intense discovery for me and has provided me with something of my own personal “unified theory”. I hope that this post might help someone else who struggles with similar feelings or experiences dysphoria of a sort that’s hard to pin down. I’ve spoken to others about this, and there is apparently some evidence to support a link between having BIID and being transgender. I’ve only spoken to one trans* person so far about this, a trans* woman who desires to be paraplegic, but the disorder itself is pretty rare and finding people who have it is proving to be really difficult so I don’t even have anecdata to refute that or back it up.
I’m hoping that I can get back to finishing the next part of the macrophilia series after this. Still, it might take some time. I’m still trying to figure out what this means for my identities, especially if it’s causing them. Do I give a shit if it is? Right now, I don’t think so.
So on tumblr at some point recently I came across a post called “Advice to Allosexual Partners of Asexuals“, and it was fantastic. Navigating the bedroom as a queer ace that has a lot of kinks and fetishes (and one huge paraphilia, pun intended) has given me lots and lots to unpack over the past few years. But a small excerpt from the post really caught my attention more than the rest of it:
Sexual scripts make as much sense as dragons. We know what to expect when a dragon appears in a story. We assume sexual tropes in fiction serve the same narrative purpose as fire-breathing dragons, not that they actually exist.
And it really did a good job of helping me home in on some stuff that was just that much harder to decipher before. That stuff being… how in the hell do I deal with sexual scripts as an ace, and maybe more importantly, how do they deal with me?
I don’t know at what age I started internalizing these narratives, and it’s probably a silly question to ask anyways: from cartoons to, well, porn, it seems to permeate a large number of interpersonal interactions we see in media. The boy trying to win over the girl who’s oblivious to his advances, what kissing on the first date means, how to let your shoulder skin show just so as you turn your body away from him and nurse your cocktail to signal that you’re interested. To me, that’s all graduate-level stuff. I can’t even grok “so, what are you doing friday?”.
And the caveat here is that yes, I’m actually married. I am the first person out of anyone I’ve gone to school with or been friends with to be married. And I’m ace. And gray-ro. And I didn’t even have a first kiss until I was several months into this first committed relationship.
But first things first: what are sexual scripts? (There’s a wikipedia article about it.) It’s basically a language, like math, that no one is a native, or even particularly fluent, speaker of, that was expressly developed to help people navigate sexual and flirtatious encounters. Except, it’s not really a language either. Unlike actual narratives, which are mostly a different thing, scripts don’t seem to reference things that actually happen to real people in real situations; they reference themselves, and are invoked, however clumsily, like some arcane magic designed to summon the dukes, princes, and marquis of hell. Flip open an issue of Cosmo and you’ll see little difference between it’s tips on how to ace that first date and the convoluted instructions found in the Ars Goetia.
So I internalized lots of narratives and stereotypes. (It all turned me into an angsty woman-hating machine, rebelling against a gender that I had no idea I was allowed to walk away from altogether.) I was exposed to my first pornographic material at 12, but I would be old enough to smoke before I thought to ever touch myself. I was fascinated by the idea of sex and all the other nameless, unknown stuff that accompanied it (like D/s), but I was never aware that I had my own set of reproductive organs. I never had that innate understanding of being female, and having a vagina, and that’s where the penis went when a boy and a girl loved each other. Aside from the fact that not understanding myself to be female is now easily explained by not being cis, the rest interests me.
I experienced arousal– quite acutely, painfully, even. I still do sometimes, though not as often because I’m on a pretty libido-deadening medication. But I was actually fine like that. I enjoyed the feeling of being aroused for its own sake without being distracted by the pressure to turn it into something more “legitimate”, like stimulation or climax. Of course, I started masturbating for a few years before deciding that it’s not so much my thing, as I’ve talked about lots before. Historically, when I got aroused, I was motivated not to touch myself, but to write and draw. So I guess it’s no wonder that when I started doing what everyone else was doing, and what I was “supposed” to be doing all along, it felt a little lacking.
I still don’t really know how, exactly, this all plays out in the context of being alone and unpartnered for my whole life. Physically, I’m still alone–we’re a long-distance couple–and nobody seems to be able to fathom how this is not the most difficult thing in the world for me. And then they go on to marvel at my supposed will, virtue, integrity, whatever. Truth be told, the physical isolation is the least trying part of not being together, and I just sort of shrug and think to myself at how awkward it would be if I said “hey it’s not actually killing me to not be able to have cuddles-on-demand”. And don’t get me wrong, I like cuddling and kissing and physical intimacy as much as anyone else, it’s just not even remotely a dealbreaker. It’s not a major point of contention, it’s not an active daily struggle for me. No, I couldn’t do this forever, just in the same way that I couldn’t conduct this relationship entirely over snail mail, but I can do it for a while.
Where all of that becomes relevant to the topic at hand, I guess, is how it tells the story of our courtship period, and what a courtship period is without the aid of sexual scripts.
So we were, and still are, long-distance. We’d known each other for 7 months, and been an exclusive item for 4 by the time we first met and got to mingle with our physical selves. We didn’t have to use and interpret any coded language to gauge the others’ interest. There was no traditional “first date”, “second date”, “third date”. We went out for pizza and hung out at Universal Citywalk for the evening, not knowing if that counted as a first date or not, and not caring.
Actually, that’s a lie. I did care. I cared quite a fucking bit, actually, hence the point of this post. That first weekend together was one of the worst I’d ever had (I wasn’t eating or sleeping because of the anxiety, and I looked like death). I was fretting over the meaning behind our first stolen kiss. What it meant when I wound up sitting in the aisle seats during our bus and train excursions. And so on and so forth. When you’re raised in a culture that warns you to keep on the lookout for sexual scripts in every minute gesture, it’s easy to get carried away. It’s a bit like being in a house you’ve been told is extremely haunted, and suddenly you start to hear every creak and take note of every shadow. And what are folks that can’t recognize them? They’re unlovable, clumsy losers that are missing out on an essential human experience.
If that’s a person that can’t recognize sexual scripts, then what’s an asexual who doesn’t even care to recognize them?
Sexual scripts and narratives caused me a lot of grief in the first year or two of my relationship. I tried reading his mind and saying all the right, indirect, things because that’s what I was told I should be able to do. It was my first sexual relationship, so I chalked it up to inexperience. But as time went on, and I still didn’t feel like I was getting into the swing of things, the advice I was used to hearing, “cure your sex problems with more sex”, wasn’t working. I realized, shit, I actually had to talk about my sexuality and what my expectations were. What his were. We actually had to cut the crap and lay things out. And growing up, reading Cosmo, I had gathered that talking to your partner was the scariest things eve and a last-resort to save a sinking ship. I know this isn’t unique to asexual relationships in the least, but I feel like as a demographic, we are less likely to understand or pick up on the nuances of flirtation and sexual scripts and so have to rely more heavily on other things like “honest communication”. It’s why I couldn’t understand how dating worked, it’s why I never knew how to say “yes” to a guy asking me out (not that I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to, now that I think about it).
I’m just not wired for that kind of interaction. I didn’t even have a true desire to be– I was told that it was one of the only ways that I could safely gauge my standing with someone of “the opposite sex”. So it was almost a matter of safety, to me. I’m glad, actually, that I got to realize my sexuality with someone whom I was already in a dedicated relationship with, and that neither of us felt the need to rely on dramatics to engage the other. Someone could have easily picked me off before he did, recognizing my sexuality-blindness and leveraging it to their advantage. It gives me the creeps to think about how easy it would have been to take advantage of me in my public school days. Thankfully, it was that very same struggle to see those scripts that bored a few of the shadier boys to tears and made them leave me alone. So that’s what the scripts have to say about me: that I’m boring, inexperienced, or disenfranchised. At worst, it signals that I’m easy prey.
And the only reason I didn’t end up boring my now-husband? He says he was pretty bored of the scripts himself by the time he found me anyways.
My three primary internal identities are all bound up in ways that I’ve found to have made them grow into more or less a single, unified identity. I have no word for this singular identity (other than, I guess, “me”, if I want to be corny and completely useless about it), but it can be approximated by terms like “pet” and “cute”. But it makes absolute, perfect, seamless sense to me in my head, and I found myself having to describe it in words for the first time the other day when my husband, in a bout of confusion and frustration, asked me to explain how my gender presentation could have so little impact on, well… the rest of the stuff. (He’s cis and hetero and is struggling to embrace my desire to sometimes pass as male or just be masculine-of-center.)
It was then that I realized just how much my identities have been informed over the course of my adolescent development by the visual language of cartoons and children’s media. It’s more than just this, I discovered: the visual language to describe those kinds of characters and those kinds of realities has an enormous impact on how I see myself and how I interact with the world around me. Growing up, I identified with a lot of girl characters, sure–and none of what I’m saying here is based on anything I consciously understood at the time, or anything I affirmed to myself, but are rather based on gut feelings I remember having, inclinations and fascinations towards certain character archetypes and narratives–but what I can recall feeling towards them was markedly different than how I identified with animal/non-human characters that exist, for the most part, without gender being part of their list of character traits.
(I know this sounds like it’s going to be a post about gender and not asexuality thus far but like I said, these things are all one in the same for me.)
How I felt toward girl characters (and human characters I strongly identified with in general), in retrospect, probably had a lot to do with my attempts to figure out how I wanted the world to see me. I never had a very good grasp of the concept of gender growing up (I still haven’t internalized a lot, but now I celebrate it instead of try to cover it up by mimicry!), so presentation was an all or nothing thing to me. During the times that it mattered immensely, I’m sure that what I was feeling was social dysphoria and wanted to fit into the world in a way that was suitable to me and my self-image. But during the times that it didn’t matter, I think I could say that I felt more in-tune with something that ran way deeper than presentation, and those were the times that I most strongly identified with genderless characters.
I think there’s definitely some underlying subtext about the trope of the genderless, asexual animal sidekick character that I think can be summed up by a single, really strong word: dehumanization. I mean, just look at how negatively charged the pronoun “it” is. To not have a discernible gender entails Otherness and a certain lacking of humanity (and the respect that goes with that). To take a quote from a tumblr post I saw this morning that really made me think about this subject:
Read as queer, read as straight, read as cis or as visibly trans. It doesn’t much matter for me because the cane, the visible disability erases all of that and replaces it with a sexless, genderless, romance less, loveless blob of personal medical questions, hallmark looks and sad faces from others over my “sorry state”
The subtext that I’m talking about is made super plain here. Being agender, asexual, and aromantic strips you of your perceived humanity, right to autonomy, and right to respect in the eyes of other people. Being thought of as these things (when you aren’t them) is a soul-crushing and enraging experience because you’re being viewed as subhuman. This isn’t something that I wish on anyone.
But at the same time… I’ve thought of myself as a blob before. And a thing. And pretty casually, too.
So what does this say about me? I don’t hate myself, I don’t see myself as subhuman and inherently unworthy of respect, love, friendship, happiness, et cetera. In fact, I think I’m a pretty rad person that has some interesting things to say and some nice art to offer the world. But at the same time, too, I see myself as pretty darned Other and that my identity isn’t something that can be recognized at a glance, let alone understood by, well… pretty much everyone I will ever meet.
In my marriage, I fill the role of “cute one” way better than I do “wife” or “domestic partner” or whatever. In bed, I am “cute one”. Out and about, holding hands, I am the “cute one” still. Like a beloved pet, I am sexless, genderless, and even ageless to a degree. I’m his best friend and staunchest ally. I get a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment playing the role of sexual partner and wife, and it’s something I want to do for the rest of my days, but at my core I’m… a lot less than that? More? Something else entirely?
Basically how it all fits together is this: I am a blob. A cute, funny, talented blob that has ups and downs, joys and sorrows, dreams and aspirations. I know what it’s like to get mistaken for a gender, but I don’t know what it’s like to be one– I play at gender like a child plays doctor. Gender and sexuality are also projected onto me. Statistically speaking, this is always nonconsensual, aside from a single anomalous presence in my life, which is my husband. In the surreal cartoon-speak of my mindscape, my husband is hyper-gendered in comparison to myself, is steeped in that extra dimension of reality so thoroughly that he can see right through me when I pretend to be a gendered person because I lack a certain intrinsic quality that I can’t even begin to fathom. My play is encouraged, entertained, but always however mocked and derided. In the world of BDSM, humiliation sometimes has an enormously cathartic effect on the subject of the humiliation scene; I’ve heard that being made fun of for being something that you aren’t is an incredibly empowering and cleansing experience, and it’s something that has sometimes been present in my aromantic, asexual fantasy relationships. Another aspect is that my “blobness”, that which makes me inherently subhuman to the rest of the world (and is an absolutely negative experience for the vast majority of people) is ultimately celebrated. Acknowledging my lack of gender (and sexuality) and my inability to pretend to be a gender (or to be sexual) is celebrated as that which makes me special and worthy of love and care. In this dynamic, which has essentially reached the level of archetype in my own head, I am constantly being validated for being something they can’t know, which allows me to engage them in a way that I don’t truly understand either but they do and need.
The concept of smallness and physical diminutiveness obviously permeates this entire conception, but that’s a whole different essay on its own, to be honest, and it’s a theme I’ve touched on in previous essays concerning macrophilia.
But I guess I’ve yet to answer the prompt questions: What does my appearance have to do with my asexuality? My presentation? My physical looks?
And the best I can really do to answer them is to say “everything and nothing”. Playing with the concept of Otherness through my presentation gets me one step closer to making my self-image a reality, as nebulous and impossible as it may be. The further I distance myself from common conceptions of “normal human”, the more genderless and sexless I become, and the less social dysphoria I feel even at the potential expense of my right to respect and autonomy. When I am gendered, though, my sexuality unfortunately becomes a public concern. If I look like a tomboy, I’m obviously a lesbian. If I perform normative femininity, I’m obviously straight. There is no looking like an asexual, an agendered person, a non-libidoist, a macrophile, a BDSM pet and bottom.
I can, however, look cute.
[March 2016: I no longer really identify as ace much, for the same reasons that I don’t identify as any particular gender – I’m no longer in the business of trying to predict or prescribe myself and my attractions (especially since they warrant so little action in the real world) and I’m trying to cut down on the amount of snappy jargon I use in favor of more long-winded descriptions of my lived experience. This post may or may not have been an attempt as “adding epicycles” to a broken framework. The term “asexuality” doesn’t serve me anymore (and the culture certainly never did) so I see no reason to keep using it. However, it seems like a few aces liked this post, so it’s staying. It’s funny – the jist of what I was trying to get at here, that “shit is complicated and socially constructed and cannot really be compartmentalized” needed to get away from the traditional framing of queer theory to really be actualized! ]
So to answer some of the questions put out by this month’s prompt before I get started:
Are you interested in such?
Yes! And I’m very passionate about and interested in the culture and narratives surrounding this rarely-visited corner of sexuality, so double yes.
Because, to put it simply, it feels good. In the body, in the mind, in the soul.
Do you think that being asexual makes it harder to express or fulfill such desires or not?
I’m going to hedge my bets on “yes”. For reasons I’ll go into below.
Do you think that such things are oversexualised or that there should be a wider acceptance of nonsexual kink or does that not trouble you? Relatedly, do you think there’s a lack of resources for asexuals interested in such or not?
Yes, yes, and yes. The thing that the aforelinkedto post that I was responding to made me realize was that indeed “instrumental sexuality” is a thing, and it did very much need a word to describe what that thing is. But it is not paraphilic sexuality. And people who practice in instrumental sexuality are practicing something that is immoral because it is, by definition, oblivious to the presence or lack thereof of consent. When we talk of “oversexualization”, we usually mean to approximate a concept that is better served by the term “instrumental sexuality”; that is, complete, and oftentimes self-righteous, objectification of others for personal (sexual) gain. Because, let’s face it: there is nothing inherently unethical about individual sex acts, and I’m sure most aces would agree with me. It is the lack of obvious consent, or that the consent was coerced in some way(given under threat of something), or contextual cues that hint to us, as viewers, that the consent was not important enough to depict is when things get iffy. It’s the wholly pervasive attitude of entitlement to sex and sexual imagery that I think is what aces find so extremely off-putting.
Do you think that an asexual experience of kink is fundamentally different from a sexual one, or not?
Of kink? No, not really. I don’t feel like my status as an asexual has hindered my ability to relate to others who share my paraphilia at all, and there are many kinksters/fetishists who are sexual but don’t participate in sexual play. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I take the position that “kink”, “fetish”, and “paraphilia” all mean very different things, and rarely do I use them interchangeably. (I go into it a bit… in, well, many of my posts because I’m a stickler about making use of a better vocabulary, but here and here are good reads for that.)
I’m going to start off by saying that… I have no idea what it’s like to be another ace doing their aceness. This is me and my relationship to sexuality.
Okay, so, for as long as I could remember I thought I was your average sexual cishetero girl. I can assuredly blame this on the fact that nowhere in any media I was exposed to was I ever presented with an alternative to this reality, aside from the vaguest notion of lesbianism. The fact was that it didn’t matter what I actually felt like, how strange it was to hear my friends talk about crushes and kissing, dating, the allure of a sexual relationship, it was that sexual, romantic, relationships were an eventuality for everyone, and that was that. No ifs ands or buts. Nevermind the fact that I was an adult before I realized that touching myself was something I could actually do (and then realized that it was something I didn’t have to do ever again), or that when I fantasized, it was of weird stuff that I’d never really heard anyone else talk about.
So I didn’t have any language with which to describe my thoughts and feelings. I had access to words like “sex”, “crush”, “make out”, “date”, and that was it. And for a kid growing up in an area where sex ed was minimal and the act itself described as being PIV intercourse when a man and a woman love each other, how else was I to conceive of my own wibbly-wobbly fascinations that just bordered on the sexual? Like, sometimes they involved penises? So clearly me thinking about penises meant I was thinking about sex and that I was a heterosexual girl that was desiring heterosexual sex with a boy. But what about the times that I thought about boys’ mouths (and being able to fit in them)? Well, boys kiss girls with their mouths, so obviously I was thinking about some form of making out. What of the times I thought about sitting on a boy’s shoulder, laughing and adventuring? Clearly, boys and girls only act like that when they’re dating, so I must have been imagining a date (for some reason, the dinner and movie slipped my mind, but it was still very much a date).
And all of these thoughts, of course, were, at their core, driven by an innate desire for me to have a penis in my vagina.
I went along with that. It served me well enough for many a year. Coupled with the cultural expectation that women/girls don’t make the first move ever, and that made such an unchecked belief even easier to internalize. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in sex, you see, it was that no boys were interested in me, duh! Nevermind the fact that I hated being asked out on the occasion that such a thing did happen, and could never imagine myself partnered up at all and would turn down each one. These were pesky details and/or behaviors I could chalk up to being an insecure teenager. (I would turn them down because I wasn’t good enough? Oh it makes so much sense now. Silly me, wanting the peen but being too scared to get it.)
College came around and I started actively trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I was clued in when I became aware that I had a list of favorite tags on AdultFanfiction.net–that’s how oblivious I was used to being–with which I would find new porn to read and not feel any inclination to masturbate to. “Maledom” was #1, so I looked into it. Long story short… I consider myself a full-fledged BDSM kinkster. Shortly after that I found an author that was a prolific writer of size-difference sex and relationships, which led me to finding out that I was a macrophile all along. Several years later, and here I am.
So how was I able to go so long, and function as well as I did, without having any clue that I was asexual? The answer lies in what I’ve started calling “approximate sexuality” or “approximate sexual attraction”, a mechanism by which I could mistake the entirety of my paraphilia, various orientations (which are all andro-, by the way), and my intense fascination with tactile sensation for sexuality and want for sex. I am capable of feeling romantic attraction (which I have reason to believe is a secondary attraction), tactile attraction (as opposed to sensual, which seems more “huggy” and “cuddly” to me), and paraphilic attraction (or kink attraction, which I’m sure would be a better term for lots of folks). These attractions produce various desires: wanting to be emotionally intimate, wanting to be physically intimate, and wanting to enact/explore paraphilic themes therewith. Slap a fetish for male genitalia on top of it all, and what do you get? Something that looks freakishly like heteronormative sexuality. But this still isn’t heteronormative sexuality, not by a long shot: the uncanny valley is the extent of its mimicry, and I was acutely aware of this vague, weird, homunculus of a sexuality since before puberty and could never put my finger on why it felt so different.
Now I can’t help but begin to wonder how the myriad constellations of others’ expressions of asexuality and attractions can be lined up just so as to trick the eye into seeing something sexual where there is none? How often does this happen? How many people, unaware of their asexuality, continue to operate under the assumption that, well, they’ve gotta be sexual because X, Y, and Z? How many people are distraught, like I was (for a very short period of time, thank god) that they were broken because they’d kept trying to fit their square peg in the round hole instead of understanding that there was a whole world of square holes out there?
I have sex, and I enjoy it; I’m still ace. I practice BDSM, I indulge kinks and paraphilias; I’m still ace. Likewise, speaking French does not make me French. When I’m having sex for sex’s sake, I will always occupy that spot in the uncanny valley of being just fluent enough in this language of sexuality to get by. But if I have sex for another reason? A paraphilic, fetishistic, kink-tastic, reason? If sex is a means to a non-sexual end? Then that’s my native tongue, and I will sing it from the rooftops.
And I want it to be understood that I’m not using you when I have sex with you. I’m using the sex act itself as a proxy for something that I can’t conceivably get much of anyplace else, and the fact that you’re attractive, and funny, and enjoy my company, and find me hot just makes that experience worthwhile. So what if one person playing Frisbee finds in the game a zen moment while the other finds exhilaration? Who ever said they had to get exactly the same thing out of any given moment together? Sure, it’s a penis in my vagina, but it’s also so many other things. But at the same time, let’s just say that if I could get my paraphilic fulfillment in another way, and just as easy as I can currently get sex, I would be investigating it with my SO. (I have no idea what this alternative means would look like, so I can’t even begin to say anything for certain beyond that. Would it replace sex for me? I have no idea, but it would be a competitor I’m betting.)
I’ve been grappling with the idea of possibly having a sexuality despite being ace, and I think I can now safely say that I have a proxy sexuality (I use sex to accomplish nothing but a slew wholly different, non-sexual stuff), whereas before I knew that asexuality and the various attractions existed, it was approximate (my tendency to fantasize/desire non-sexual stuff was approximated by the mainstream model of sexuality out of necessity). But I’m a grown-up now, and thank god I’ve discovered that there are grown-up words for these things–if there aren’t, I make them up–and I’m not just restricted to those same four words that I used in gradeschool to describe me and my attractions/relationships. Sometimes you want fantastic accuracy with these sorts of things; after all, you can’t cut a diamond with a sledgehammer.
So I’m hoping that these words and concepts that I’ve kinda-sorta outlined here in passable detail help somebody. Maybe it’ll be a useful tool if someone is overwhelmed in trying to tease out the threads of their identity and attractions because it just seems so hopelessly complicated for some of us– and I’ll admit it, sometimes I envy the seeming simplicity of others’ asexuality. Or maybe they’ve figured it out already and can look at this and go “hey, that makes a lot of sense!”. Figuring out where we’ve been is a crucial part of figuring out where we are right now.
My parting words, I suppose, are this: Have whatever kind of sex you want, or don’t have any at all. Your fetish/kink is fine without sex, and your asexuality is fine without celibacy. So go git ’em.