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Month: July, 2012

Thou Shalt Like Chocolate [TRIGGER WARNING]

I am generally a placid person, but there are certain things that make me so angry that I have to calm down for three days before I can coherently write about them.  I saw such a thing at the weekend.  A friend had posted a link on Facebook, in the context of some American comedian I had never heard of who had made some utterly offensive remarks about rape; this link was a very well-argued screed on why, although you can never completely rule out any subject for comedy, the more likely it is to hurt people, the more skilled and subtle you have to be to make people laugh rather than simply re-opening their wounds.

And I read the comments.  This was where I saw red.

It was bad enough reading all the comments from all the women who had been raped.  That should not happen to anyone, anywhere, for any reason.  But then I got to a comment from a woman who had been raped, not once, but repeatedly, by this man who insisted he was doing it to “cure” her asexuality.

There is so much wrong here that I have trouble even finding a place to start, let alone staying calm enough to talk about it.  Let’s try kicking off with a little analogy.  I think most of you would consider it uncontroversial that most people in the world like chocolate, at least among those who are fortunate enough to have been able to try it.  And yet there is a small minority of people who don’t.  I personally love chocolate, and if someone tells me they don’t like it I am certainly surprised, because it’s not a common thing.  Nonetheless, if they don’t like chocolate, that is how they are.  I – and, no doubt, you the reader – would get offended on their behalf if someone said things to them such as, “Oh, you should just eat more chocolate until you get to like it.”  Or “Don’t be silly – of course you like chocolate!  Everyone does.”  Or “It’s just a phase you’re going through.”  Or “You don’t like chocolate?  There’s something wrong with you – you should see a psychiatrist.”  And I would get offended to the point of forcible intervention to defend them if anyone were so brazenly ill-mannered as to try to coerce them into eating chocolate.

In fact, as far as I can tell, this sort of thing very rarely happens to people who don’t like chocolate.  I can be reasonably confident of this because, although I like chocolate, there is another hugely popular food that I simply cannot stand, namely bacon.  I’m a vegetarian and have been for almost the last thirty years, so I no longer get put into positions where I may be expected to eat the stuff (which is why I used chocolate rather than bacon for the analogy; most people do not have dietary reasons to exclude chocolate completely and eternally, although they might temporarily reduce it or cut it out if they’re trying to lose weight).  Even before I was a vegetarian, I avoided bacon at all costs; I can’t even stand the smell of it.  And, again, people are generally surprised by this and think it’s unusual, but I don’t get anyone telling me that I should like bacon and I’m somehow wrong not to.

It is generally felt – and quite rightly – that telling people what sort of food they ought to like is just not done.  (Unless they’re children, of course.  In some quarters it is apparently still considered appropriate to inform children what sort of food they ought to like, or even what sort of food they do like.  I don’t consider this at all appropriate, but that is a whole different post and not one connected with asexuality, therefore not germane to this particular blog.)  If you asked a group of people why this sort of thing isn’t done, you would probably get a set of responses similar to these ones:

  • It’s arrogant to tell people what they ought to like.
  • What’s the point of trying to make someone like something when they just don’t?
  • What harm is a person doing by not liking chocolate?  All the more for those of us who do!
  • It’s up to every individual to decide what they like, not other people to tell them.
  • Ewww.  That sounds like something out of 1984.

OK.  Now replace the concept of “chocolate” with the concept of “sex”.  (Bear in mind here – I’ve said it before, but it stands repetition – that many asexual people like sex.  They just don’t connect it to attraction.  But it appears that the majority of us are at least indifferent to sex, and some asexual people hate it as powerfully as I hate bacon.  From her comment, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the unfortunate woman who was raped to “cure” her asexuality was not keen on sex, and probably dislikes it even more following her ordeal.)

Now.  How exactly is that different?  I’ll let you think about that a little before I give you my answer.

– – –

Well, I think that there is a difference.  I don’t think it is a legitimate difference, but it is one that exists in practice.  The thing is, if you don’t like chocolate, that doesn’t stop anyone else eating as much chocolate as they want.  You’re not a threat to them.  But if you don’t like sex, that means that they can’t have sex with you, or at least not with your consent.  In a sane world, this would be no problem either, because there are enough people in it that pretty much anyone can find someone they would like to have sex with who would also like to have sex with them.  Your wish not to have sex with them – whether it’s because you don’t like sex in general or because they don’t attract you specifically – is not, in reality, going to prevent them from having consensual sex if that’s what they want.

Unfortunately, this is not a sane world.  This is a world in which there are people who believe that they are entitled to sex.  Therefore, telling them that you don’t want to have sex with them is an immediate challenge to that belief, and the very existence of asexual people is a standing challenge.  Not all these “entitled” people will go on to attempt to rape you, although I think it’s reasonable to say that nobody rapes unless they do feel that they are somehow entitled to sex.  Some of them will merely attempt to make you feel bad by putting pressure on you, trying to guilt you into sleeping with them, insulting you (to your face or to other people) if you continue to refuse, and other generally anti-social behaviour.  But the bottom line for all of this is that they think, consciously or otherwise, that you are denying them their basic rights.  Your rights don’t come into it, or are conveniently forgotten.

This should be mind-numbingly obvious, but the evidence shows that someone needs to keep saying it: nobody has any automatic right to a consensual activity.  When you put it in those blunt terms, it’s on the same level of obviousness as “you need suitable building materials in order to build anything”.  It’s tautological.  The fact that an activity requires a consensus automatically, by simple definition, precludes anyone having a right to it.  And the moment someone does start thinking they have a right to it, there is going to be trouble.

Not the moment they actually rape someone.  Not even the moment they start to consider raping someone.  They may never get as far as that; they may perfectly well be horrified, at a conscious level, by the idea of rape, and so do everything they possibly can to get “consent”.  No.  It is the moment of arrogating sex as a “right” that is the where the problem starts.

A person who truly believes that sex is a consensual activity rather than a right is not going to feel threatened by the existence of asexual people.  They are not going to want to “cure” us.  They may feel we’re missing out (news flash: most of us don’t agree with that assessment, although there are some who do at least some of the time; as always, you can never generalise 100%) and therefore feel sorry for us, but that tends to be about as far as it goes.  Oh, and you do also get the ones who don’t believe we exist.  Yes, well, that’s fine.  We’ll just go on existing anyway.  As far as I’m concerned – and, as usual, mileage varies on this – I’m not particularly worried if you don’t believe I can be asexual because you think there is no such thing, as long as you accept the fact that I am not going to go to bed with you.  Simples, as a certain meerkat is inclined to observe.

As I’m sure everyone reading this is aware, it is not just asexual people who sometimes get raped under the pretext of “curing” their sexual orientation.  It also happens to lesbians.  This is particularly true in certain countries, but I have heard of cases of it all around the world.  Asexual women and lesbian women have this in common (in general): they do not want to have sex with men.  To a man who feels he is entitled to have sex with any woman he happens to want, that is a clear threat.  Such a man will, consciously or otherwise, assume there is something wrong with any woman who refuses his advances, because there are only two other choices available: one is to accept that sex is a consensual activity and therefore the woman has the right not to consent to it, and the other is to continue to believe that he is entitled to sex but that there is something wrong with his approach.  (I say a man here because the overwhelming majority of rapists are male, but the general idea applies equally well to female rapists and indeed to any rape scenario.)  And if he has a convenient label to put on what he considers to be “wrong”, then he can tell both his victim and himself that he is trying to “cure” it.

Of course it’s patently obvious that raping someone isn’t going to “cure” anything.  To go back to the chocolate, if you hate chocolate and someone force-feeds it to you in order to “cure” your dislike for the stuff, what’s likely to happen?  More than likely, you’re going to throw up, so you then get that added in on top of your existing dislike.  Even if it didn’t make you physically sick before, it will now – possibly even the very thought of it will now make you feel queasy.  And I don’t believe rapists don’t know this.  But they say it because they can’t say “You won’t give me MY SEX!  It’s MINE!  I must HAVE IT!  Your opinion on the subject DOESN’T MATTER!” without being aware that this makes them a selfish, arrogant, dehumanising swine who seriously doesn’t deserve sex with anything other than maybe a non-functioning vacuum cleaner.  But it would never do to admit that, so they have to keep up as much pretence as they can that there is something wrong with you.

Well – there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t like chocolate.  Or bacon.  Or sex.  But there’s everything wrong with a person who insists that there is.


“Middlemarch” and other weapons of mass distraction

Life is a real swine for younger asexual people these days.  I feel extremely sorry for them.  When I was growing up, if you were in the 13-17 age group and had a boyfriend or girlfriend, it was looked on as unusual and rather unnatural; most parents tended to disapprove, especially at the younger end of the age range.  These days, it seems that children are expected to start pairing up even in primary school.  While I wouldn’t want to discourage genuine affection, it is rather worrying to think that it should be generally expected, and even more worrying to think that a child or teenager should be considered weird for not wishing to have a partner.  And yet I keep hearing precisely this from young asexual people; they are subject to a huge amount of pressure in this respect, especially in American schools.  Obviously asexual teenagers are not going to be the only ones affected, either.  Everyone matures at a different rate, and no teenager should have to feel pushed into finding a boyfriend or girlfriend when they are simply not ready to do so yet.

Apart from the fact that they are under so much pressure, there is something else I notice, in general, about young asexual people.  Most of them have a lot of difficulty realising when someone fancies them.  I can relate to that, because I used to be very much the same.  Fortunately, that is something it is possible to learn as you get older, and I have learnt superbly well, for the very good reason that I really hate having to hurt someone’s feelings.  If someone is trying to make a pass at me, I would far sooner divert them the moment I realise, not let them sit there and build up false hopes.  It has now got to the point where I can usually tell a man is interested before he realises it himself.  Sadly this tends to fail spectacularly with lesbians, because I have very little experience of being fallen for by them, but I am doing my best to learn.

I am stoutly of the opinion that the best diversionary techniques are the ones where you manage to convince the other person it was their idea to back off.  Occasionally, I must admit, it is necessary to be totally unsubtle, as I did with the gentleman at the opera, who really wasn’t taking any hints.  Happily, that is fairly rare.  Most people can be gently diverted with no harm done on either side.

The easiest ones to get rid of are the chaps who randomly turn up on the Internet.  You know the type, I’m sure.  I’m talking about the ones who seem to think Facebook is some kind of dating site.  They see your profile picture, and despite the fact that they know absolutely nothing about you, they then lose their head and message you out of the blue with a shedload of inappropriate endearments.  I suspect that a) they are usually drunk when they do this, and b) they send out these messages in batches to a string of women they don’t know, just in case one of them replies and is interested.  Now, of course, there’s always the simple option to block them, and depending on the exact tone of their message I sometimes do this as well.  But, generally speaking, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary I prefer to believe these chaps genuinely don’t realise that sending love notes to strange women is as creepy as heck, and that tactfully discouraging them in a friendly sort of way will do far more good than simply ignoring the blighters.

So I generally reply something like this:

“Dear ——, Many thanks for your message.  I was a little surprised at your expressions of affection, since you don’t actually know anything about me, but if you mean that you are interested in getting to know more about me I am quite happy to exchange messages for a while until we feel that we know each other to some extent.

“So, first of all, what are you reading at the moment?  I can thoroughly recommend Middlemarch by George Eliot.  Although the story is rather depressing on the surface, there is a great deal of depth in it and I find it repays careful study.  By all means get back to me and let me know what you think.  Kind regards, ——.”

This has had a 100% success rate so far with random strangers.  I’ve never heard from a single one of them again.  Of course, you don’t have to use Middlemarch; the technique is simply to pick something you have read and enjoyed but that you are pretty sure Drunk Love Message Man won’t be remotely interested in.  To be honest, in my experience you’ve probably frightened most of them by the time they get to the end of the question “what are you reading at the moment?”.  It’s amazing how many random messagers don’t read at all.  If they did read, I suppose, they wouldn’t be randomly messaging strange women.  They’d be trying to chat them up in a bookshop. 😉

It becomes one step more difficult when the gentleman in question is someone you have already got to know a little.  You have things in common already, so you generally can’t just Middlemarch him out of the water.  Generally, the best technique here is to find a man you like and admire, and keep finding ways to drop his name into the conversation.  Anyone who is interested in you is going to be on the lookout for potential rivals, and if they think your affections are already engaged elsewhere, they will generally back off.  The best bit is that you can even tell them, quite truthfully, that you are not in love with the person you keep mentioning, and nine times out of ten they won’t believe you.

I did this a couple of years ago with one particular chap.  We had got quite friendly via the Internet, and I was starting to think he might be getting romantically interested and just beginning to consider ways to head him off, when he disappeared completely for several months, refusing to answer any e-mails.  Now I don’t consider that is any decent way to treat one’s friends, online or otherwise, unless there is a very good explanation, such as needing to put all one’s energy into caring for a dying parent.  (Yes, I know someone who was in that situation, and yes, I totally understood why he was out of contact for so long.  He had all my sympathy.)  So when he suddenly reappeared out of the blue with no explanation for his absence, and started a massive charm offensive, I strongly suspected that I knew what had happened.  I could, of course, be wrong, and have seriously misjudged him; but in the light of subsequent events, I don’t think so.  I suspected he’d been starting to try to romance me, then found a girl he liked better, dropped me like a hot brick in order to chase her, caught her for a while, and then it had all gone badly wrong so he had decided to go back to me as Plan B.  Sorry, matey, but I am nobody’s Plan B.

So I told him politely how nice it was that he had got back in touch, and then in every single e-mail I sent him, I squeed about Charles Daniels.  This wasn’t difficult, I have to say.  Charles is pretty squeeworthy.  He’s an outstanding baroque tenor and also a thoroughly nice man, and I get to as many of his concerts as I possibly can (which has been difficult lately, as he hasn’t been singing in the UK very much – he’s been very busy practically everywhere else).  And I have to say it didn’t work.  I should have thought a bit harder, I must admit.  I was dealing with an intelligent man who knew perfectly well that I don’t mess about with married men, and also that Charles is married.  I could have squeed about Charles till I was blue in the face and it wouldn’t have had the desired effect.

So I changed tack.  I sent him a nice photo taken at one of Charles’ concerts.  “I remember you said you wanted a photo of me,” I wrote, “so here’s a picture of me and my best friend.  I think it’s a really good one, don’t you?”

I never heard from him again.  Sometimes it’s really useful to have a best friend of the opposite sex. 😀

“But you don’t *look* asexual!”

I like the asexual pride flag.  (That’s the background of the graphic in the header, for anyone who hasn’t twigged.)  I was absolutely delighted when I discovered that was what it was, because it is a set of colours which fits very naturally into my existing wardrobe.  So, just for fun, I made an Ace Pride Skirt.  It’s full-length (as all my skirts are); it’s a medium grey; and it has a wide border near the hem made from ribbons of the appropriate colours.  A very smart skirt it is too, though I do say so myself, and I wear it quite regularly, not just when I’m trying to make a point.  It’s comfortable and it goes with a lot of different things.

I also wear a black haematite ring on the middle finger of my right hand.  Not all asexuals bother with this (in fact I surreptitiously counted black rings at the last asexual meet-up I went to, and got a figure of about 20%), but I like to do so as it is quite a useful thing to refer to when you need to explain your asexuality to someone in a hurry… as you will see in a moment.

So, a few weeks ago I went to the opera.  Not just any old opera, either; it’s my friend’s new and very exciting opera company, and she was singing the lead role.  I got myself duly poshed up for the occasion.  The ace pride skirt is not only smart but good for travelling in (I had to take the train, so I didn’t want something that was going to crumple easily), so I wore that, and I teamed it with a nice white blouse, a jacket that was similar to the purple in the ribbons but heading a little more towards fuchsia, a smart hat heading slightly further in the fuchsiaward direction, my “Winterfell” necklace (snowflake obsidian, white howlite and silver grey glass beads), and full make-up.  I don’t often do the full make-up thing, but what the heck.  Oh yes, and my summer shoes, which are white, totally flat, and refreshingly classless.  They go with anything, from ultra-casual to ultra-formal.  For anyone even vaguely familiar with asexual symbolism, the general effect would have been Flaming Ace Goes Posh, which was fine with me.  Unfortunately, not everyone is. 🙂

The opera duly happened, and was an absolute triumph; considering I had had my friend wibbling at me about it for several weeks and almost everything that could have gone wrong in that time had done, I was astonished at how good it was.  I’d expected something good, but not necessarily something outstanding, and this was.  Afterwards, we all gathered in the venue’s bar lounge on a massive operatic high for cake and wine (yes, in fact I was the one who brought the cake!), and there was this chap…

Well, he insisted he wasn’t trying to chat me up, and it’s certainly possible that he wasn’t consciously trying to do so.  Nonetheless, he was getting into my personal space so badly and ignoring all the hints I was trying to give him to back off that in the end I had to indicate that shiny black ring I was wearing and ask him if he knew what it meant.  He didn’t, so I gave him a quick run-down, which was the point where he a) insisted he hadn’t been trying to chat me up and b) finally got out of my space, after which we managed to have a perfectly pleasant conversation.  It’s fair to say he was surprised, though.  He blinked at me and uttered the immortal words, “But you don’t look asexual!”

If I’d thought I could do so with a straight face, I would definitely have interrogated him further on that one.  As it was, I was already having a terrible job not to laugh, and I didn’t want to hurt the poor chap’s feelings.  As far as I was concerned, I’d gone out looking so asexual that I wouldn’t have been out of place on a pride march, but I was perfectly well aware that most people don’t know about either the colour code or the black-ring thing, so the only sort of person who would have been likely to recognise me as asexual would have been another asexual.  Not even just another asexual, but another asexual who was at least to some degree involved with the awareness movement.  It’s not like going out in a rainbow shawl and then having someone surprised when you tell them you’re a lesbian.

I still want to know, though: what do people who are not asexual think asexuals look like?  He must have had at least a vague idea in his head, or he wouldn’t have been surprised by my failure to match it.  The truth, of course, is that asexual people look just like any other people.  There are formal asexuals, casual asexuals, asexuals who just like to be comfortable and don’t spend a huge amount of time on their appearance (normally me, though I do like to be decently co-ordinated), downright scruffy asexuals, asexuals of all types of fashion subcultures, and for that matter very sexy asexuals.  That last one is not a contradiction.  As a society, we really need to lose the idea that dressing to emphasise the figure is automatically a signal that you want sex.  It isn’t.  I don’t personally want to go out in a miniskirt, fishnets and high heels, because that is not me (apart from anything else I would find it annoyingly uncomfortable), but if that’s what someone else likes to wear, then it really isn’t anyone else’s business to read it as meaning they’re looking for some sex, and it certainly isn’t anyone else’s business to decide that means that the miniskirt-wearer must therefore naturally, automatically want sex with them.

Anyway.  For me it’s simple enough.  I’m asexual, therefore ipso facto I must look asexual.  I am one example of what an asexual looks like.  There are lots of other examples, and they all look very different from me.  Isn’t that grand? 🙂

50 shades of baffled

Of all the wide variety of things that people get up to in this world, one of the most eternally mystifying for me has been pornography in all its forms.  You may well think that’s weird.  OK, let me walk you through my reasoning on the subject.

First of all, I know that most people like sex.  Most people like sex a lot, in fact.  They even go so far as to say that they need sex, as though it were food or oxygen or something.  Fine; no problem.  Let’s go with that.  I have no concept of what it is to feel as though I need sex, but let’s suppose that the people who say they need sex literally do so on the same level that they need food.

Even if that is the case, it is also true that porn isn’t sex.  As far as I can see, porn is to sex like a painting of a Roman banquet is to food: extremely idealised and no use whatsoever when you’re hungry.  And this is the bit I really don’t understand.  If you need sex and are in a position to have it, then surely you can do that and porn becomes irrelevant.  But if you’re not in a position to have sex, then wouldn’t looking at porn be simply frustrating, in the same way that you wouldn’t want to look at the image of the cake in my header if you hadn’t eaten for three days?  I therefore have to conclude that porn is illogical, Captain.

Now, clearly, from most people’s point of view there must be a flaw in this thinking somewhere, or porn wouldn’t be as popular as it is.  It’s certainly true that not everything in life has to be logical, but it’s also true that people do not generally seek out painful and frustrating experiences, and therefore if I use logic on the information I have available and deduce from it that porn must be at best irrelevant and at worst frustrating, then I obviously have some significant information missing.  I therefore have to go back and re-examine my original assumptions.

This leads me to put forth an alternative hypothesis.  Although porn isn’t sex, it is in fact sufficiently similar to it to satisfy sexual needs.  That certainly fits better with the available evidence, but it seems to create as many problems as it solves.  If sex is a genuine need, why should porn satisfy it?  We don’t satisfy our hunger by looking at photos of cake, or even looking at real cake that we can’t access ourselves.  And if sex is not a genuine need and can therefore be satisfied by something that is not sex, then why are so many people insistent that it is?

This tends to be the point where I give up and decide that I am never going to understand it.  It just is.  There are plenty of people in the world who like it, and as far as I am concerned they are welcome to it, provided that:

  • they keep it away from children, who do not have the sexual or emotional maturity yet to understand that porn has nothing to do with real-life sexual relationships;
  • nobody is harmed or exploited in the making of the porn;
  • and they don’t ask me to look at it.


Once I finally realised I was asexual and started talking to other people who were, I discovered a really useful word, and that word was “squish”.  A squish is a strong emotional attachment to someone, rather like a crush, but not in any way romantic.  It’s not something that is limited to asexual people; I know someone who is definitely sexual and still has a lot of squishes, mainly on gay men and monks (possibly because both sets of men have the advantage of being “safe” from the point of view of someone who wants their squishes to remain squishes rather than turning into romance).  Nonetheless, it is primarily asexual people who have recognised this phenomenon, given it a name, and thought seriously about it.  There are a number of possible reasons for this.  There is, for instance, the fact that many asexuals are aromantic and experience only squishes, not crushes or other forms of romantic attraction.  It may be the case – though I haven’t seen any investigations on the subject – that asexuals are more prone to have squishes than sexual people; on the other hand, it may alternatively be the case that everyone gets squishes, but sexual people are more likely than asexual people to mistake them for crushes and act accordingly.  I incline somewhat towards the second theory myself, because I’m pretty sure I have actually done that in the past.

Something else I have learnt from talking to other asexuals is that I am actually a little unusual in that my squishing preference lines up precisely with my romantic preference.  I squish exclusively on men.  (I’ll talk in a moment about how I distinguish a squish from a crush.)  Among those asexuals who have a romantic preference, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of correlation between that and the people they squish on; in fact it seems to be most common to squish on both sexes, regardless of romantic preference.  I also have a very strong tendency to squish on baroque singers, but that’s just me.  I love baroque vocal music.  It tends to cause a lot of strong emotions, and often these get attached to the people singing it, provided that I know and like them.  My best friend, and major squish, is a semi-professional baroque countertenor, and he is a supremely adorable little poppet.

At this point, you can probably immediately see how to tell whether I’m squishing on someone or crushing on him.  I would never in a million years refer to someone I am in love with as a “little poppet”.  This – as I eventually and rather belatedly realised – is squish talk.  It also, incidentally, has nothing to do with physical dimensions.  My best friend is currently an excellent approximation to the dimensions of Henry VIII in his later life.  I did once tell him I was concerned that I tended to treat him like a superintelligent cuddly toy, but since his response was that that was the nicest thing anyone had said to him for ages, I stopped worrying about it. 😀

Now I’ve been thinking a little harder about this.  My “squish talk” sounds quite maternal, and there’s certainly a maternal element in the way I feel about some of my squishes.  (Ah, yes, that’s another thing; it is quite possible, and indeed pretty normal, to squish on several people at once.  This is another way to distinguish it from romance, since the majority of people are not polyamorous.  If you are polyamorous, I suppose it’s slightly more complicated.)  But it isn’t simply maternal, and after some reflection I realised that maternal language is a way of expressing the fact that you feel a strong and emotional attachment to someone but it is not romantic.  There isn’t really a genuine “squish talk”, because squishes aren’t something that most people even think about, so it has to be borrowed from elsewhere – anywhere that isn’t romance, basically.

It’s not quite the same as friendship, either.  All my squishes are friends – it wouldn’t make sense to me to squish on someone I didn’t know at all, any more than it would to fall in love with them – but not all my friends, not even all the close ones, are squishes.  A squish has a certain emotional sparkle about it which it shares with romance, and this is why I think it is often confused with a crush (and why I’m sure I’ve done that myself in the past, before I was clear about what was what).  For me, though, there’s a quick and simple test to tell which is which.  It is to ask myself: would I want to smooch with this person?  If no, it’s a squish.  If yes, it’s a crush.  Simple, but it took a heck of a long time to work it all out.

I had sorted out the concept of a squish in my mind, without actually having a name for it, some time before the point where I realised I was asexual.  It wasn’t easy to do, though.  The concept itself is not a difficult one, and as I’ve already said it is not limited to asexual people; nonetheless, it is not much talked about these days and often misinterpreted when it is.  The way I read The Lord of the Rings, it seems blindingly obvious to me that Sam has a massive squish on Frodo, but my opinion there seems to be in a tiny minority.  So many people read it as a gay relationship.  I maintain that if Tolkien had wanted to have two of his characters in a gay relationship, he would have handled it rather like George R R Martin did in his series of books A Song of Ice and Fire: the two characters concerned would have been careful not to show affection in public because of the prevailing social mores in the mediaeval world in which the fantasy is set.  (This is regardless of the author’s views on homosexuality.  They shouldn’t really come into it.  If you want to create an authentically mediaeval world in which women, homosexuals, or even for that matter left-handed people, are treated with any reasonable degree of fairness, then you’ve got a problem, and you need to be a very good writer indeed to solve it.)

I suppose the take-home message here, if there is one, is this: squishes exist.  They are not just friendships, but neither are they crushes.  There isn’t a generally accepted language to talk about them, so people may express them in slightly odd ways.  You quite possibly get them, and even if you don’t, you probably know people who do.  There may even be someone who is squishing on you.

Enjoy it. 🙂

Asexuality and Asimov

Most people have heroes, especially when they are teenagers.  I was no exception.  My heroes, in the main, were scientists; Marie Curie was quite high on the list, and would certainly have been higher if I had been subject to any kind of “girls can’t do science” pressure.  Fortunately I was lucky enough to escape that.  I went to a girls’ school, a fact I was extremely happy about at the time; I still believe single-sex education is better for some pupils and should be an available option.

But she wasn’t at the top of the list, and the reason for this was that I had never really been able to get much idea of her personality.  I liked – and still do like – interesting characters.  This was why my ultimate teenage heroes included Magnus Pyke, who, for those who don’t remember him, was a gloriously eccentric and unfailingly enthusiastic populariser of science, particularly the quirkier bits.  I had a photo of him on my bedroom wall in the act of eating a fried locust.  And the other major hero – certainly the only other one of whom I managed to get a picture – was Isaac Asimov.

Isaac Asimov

Asimov was absolutely the person I wanted to be.  Not only did he really know his stuff about science, but he had a wonderful gift for writing about it with real clarity and enthusiasm.  At a time when most science writers were rather earnest and poker-faced, he was a terrific breath of fresh air; I had enough enthusiasm myself to carry me through the dullest of books, but it was so nice to find someone who so obviously shared it and didn’t mind letting the world know.  I actually first came across him as a science fiction writer, having won a book token as a school prize and decided to try part of his “Nightfall” collection because it looked interesting on a quick flip through.  I very much enjoyed his science fiction and ended up reading pretty much everything he wrote in that area, but it was as a science writer that he really caught my imagination.

Now Asimov wrote quite a lot about writing, and in the process of reading that, I found out quite a lot about him as a person.  He had a chatty, informal style, so that you could almost believe you were sitting there listening to him speak.  And one thing that he wrote about with regard to his science fiction was that he had tremendous difficulty handling romance in his writing.  That struck a chord with me, because I had already found the same problem in my own creative writing, and it was a relief to know that it wasn’t just because I was still in my teens.  If someone Asimov’s age had it, then it meant it was a genuine problem rather than that I shouldn’t be trying to write stories aimed at a general audience at my age.

I also realised that this was one of the reasons I liked his work, and indeed SF in general (which, at the time, didn’t have a lot of romance in it generally).  I don’t hate romance in books.  I can even enjoy it if it is really well written, for which read, more or less, written by Jane Austen.  It’s just that I find other things so much more interesting, on the whole, and I wouldn’t have been at all keen on the idea of interrupting all the cool science stuff and fascinating alien character development just so two beings could have a smooch.  Not that I begrudged them their smooch, but maybe, you know, do it off-screen, as it were?  While we get to read about the cool stuff?

Now, of course, if I’d known then what I know now, I’d have thought, “Hey, wait a minute.  You are a 14-year-old girl and you would rather read about alien psychology and robot detectives than romance.  Have you considered the possibility that you might be asexual?”  But, of course, I didn’t.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing as asexuality.  So I blithely went on reading Asimov’s work of assorted varieties and thinking instead, “This chap is great.  I really relate to him.”

And then came what I ought to have realised was the kicker.  Asimov described how, to his own lasting surprise, he ended up getting married.  To his even greater surprise, he and his wife subsequently had a child.

Now, just think about this for a minute.  Here you have this man who is not generally shy about talking about his personal life in print.  He doesn’t say something like “The doctors had told us we were very unlikely to be able to have children,” or “My wife thought she was too old to have children when we got married,” or anything like that.  No.  All we get out of Asimov is “My wife told me she was pregnant, and I was absolutely flabbergasted.”  And it never occurred to me at the time that there was anything particularly unusual about that reaction.  It seemed to me perfectly reasonable that someone could feel generally rather indifferent about getting married, having children or both, but then fall in love and decide that actually they would like to marry that particular person, and then be startled when children came along.  Because that was exactly the sort of situation I could imagine myself in.

Of course we can’t ask Asimov directly whether or not he was asexual, because he is sadly no longer with us.  Looking back, though, I’m pretty sure he must have been somewhere on the asexual spectrum, and I’m equally sure that was one of the main reasons why I related to him so well.

Rest in peace, Dr Asimov.  You taught me more than you will ever know, and I still love robot detectives.

An interesting parallel

My lodger is a highly intelligent programmer with a degree in physics.  He is also high-functioning autistic.  That is to say, he’s never been formally diagnosed, but he does have a set of behaviour patterns which are typical of the autistic spectrum, and he also has a severely autistic teenaged son.  (When I say “severely”, I mean he doesn’t speak and he was still in nappies when my lodger last had contact with him; he was then aged thirteen.  The fact that my lodger is no longer able to contact his children is a real tragedy and not something for which he is in any way to blame, but I’m not going to go into the details of all that here.)

Now he is, as I say, highly intelligent, and once he began to realise that he didn’t process social cues in the same way as everyone else, he set about learning to use his mighty brain power to compensate so that he wouldn’t be disadvantaged in social situations.  He now does this so well that most people don’t notice unless they have worked with people on the autistic spectrum in a professional capacity.  These people can still invariably pick him out.  I have nothing but admiration for him, because it is obviously quite a feat to have to do intellectually what most people do instinctively.

And then I suddenly realised I do pretty much exactly that with sex.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t consider asexuality to be some kind of disability or malfunction; if anything, I find it a blessing.  Nonetheless, the parallel is still useful, and it’s something I can point to in order to explain to other people how I relate (or, generally, don’t relate) to the whole mysterious world of sex.  As stated previously, I’m not totally asexual; I can feel sexual attraction in very limited circumstances.  That still doesn’t make the whole thing easily comprehensible from my point of view.  I still can’t see a sensible logical basis for the existence of porn, for instance, even though I can see that it is obviously very popular.

As a matter of fact, even that is a parallel.  My lodger is not totally asocial.  He likes people in general, and has always been comfortable in one-to-one conversations where there is a definite subject.  It was just small talk that confused him.  It’s not hard to compare that to where I am with sex.

The key is knowing where you are starting from.  My lodger was really bewildered until he realised that he was mildly autistic rather than everyone else being strange.  I had very much the same experience, and it was considerably amplified in my case by the fact that there have been large shifts in societal attitudes towards sex during my lifetime.  To take an example, one thing I really don’t instinctively understand is sex without commitment.  That just makes me blink.  Now I was brought up at a time when that was not only frowned upon, but considered to be somewhat abnormal, and so of course it was very easy for me to believe that it was abnormal.  These days it is both much less frowned upon and considered more normal, even by those who feel that the best thing eventually is to form a long-term relationship.  For a very long time, when I thought about it at all, I had this vague impression that society had gone slightly insane, because who in their right mind would want to sleep with someone they weren’t certain they truly loved?

And then the penny dropped.  I’m asexual.  The way I look at it is actually rare.

Once that happened, it was extremely helpful, because it meant I was able to start re-evaluating everything from a different perspective.  It does seem to be true, to some extent, that fashions in sexual behaviour change somewhat; someone who wouldn’t have been comfortable sleeping around in the 1970s might well feel more free to do so in the early 21st century.  Sexuality does not seem to me to be a totally individual thing.  One obvious area where this applies is the increasing acceptance of homosexuality.  When I was growing up, as far as I was aware I didn’t know any gay people, although I almost certainly did by sheer force of statistics.  The first time I knowingly met a gay person, I was at university (and very charming he was too, although he did rather waste his time trying to convince me that Shakespeare was gay.  The Bard was almost certainly bisexual.)  Now, I know a whole lot of gay people, and the phrase “openly gay” is happily starting to become defunct.  (Let’s face it, was anyone ever “openly straight”?)  And I think this is great; nobody should have to hide such an essential part of who they are.  The proportion of gay people in the population is very unlikely to have changed in that time, but the proportion of people who will tell you they’re gay has gone through the roof.  Why?  Obvious – the more people there are who are open about it, the more confidence other people gain to do likewise.  There is safety in numbers.  Whether or not you personally are gay is a matter of how you were born, but how society treats you if you do happen to be gay is a social more subject to change, and thankfully it has improved a lot during my lifetime.

Nonetheless, despite the broad changes in the way society looks at all things sexual – some of which I think have been positive like the one detailed above, others much less so – I think there would still have been a pretty basic disconnect for me, even if society had stayed much the same as it was when I was growing up.  The bottom line is that most people think sex is great, whereas I think it’s a really rather tedious idea except in certain very particular circumstances.  However that is interpreted in society, that’s still going to leave me scratching my head at some point.

But now at least I have some idea where I’m coming from myself, so when other people do something I don’t understand, I can allow for that and quite often I can work it out intellectually.  It’s actually quite liberating.

Sometimes it’s comforting to realise you’re the odd one out. 🙂

Why cake?

Round about March this year, I realised I was asexual.

Now this was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.  I was, after all, well into my forties, and as far as I’d always been aware, I had a sexual orientation and it was straight.  It was just that – well – I had never been particularly interested in using it.  I had briefly wondered a few years earlier, but concluded that I couldn’t be asexual because I am capable of falling in love.  This turned out to be a fairly basic error.  Many – probably most – asexual people are perfectly capable of falling in love and sustaining romantic relationships; those who can’t are called aromantic asexuals, and I am not one of them.

There is a mine of information about asexuality on the AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) website, and if you are interested in this area and haven’t already seen it, I can warmly recommend it – in particular the FAQ section, which is one of the best I have ever seen online.  I’m not going to quote them at length, but I will give their definition of an asexual person.  An asexual person is one who does not feel sexual attraction towards others.

Now that’s a pretty clear definition, but it also covers an awful lot of possibilities.  Asexual people are pretty much as varied as sexual people, and that is one thing I would like any readers to keep in mind, if they will; I am going to write from my own experience here, but that doesn’t make me in any way a “typical asexual”.  There is no such thing, any more than there is a “typical sexual”.  For instance:

  • Some asexuals find the whole idea of sex disgusting.  Others don’t, and will have sex (and even enjoy it) in certain circumstances, for instance to please a partner.
  • Some asexuals enjoy various forms of porn, as long as they don’t have to have any sex themselves.  Others – and I’m one – simply don’t get the point of porn.
  • Some asexuals have a low or non-existent sex drive, as most other people would probably expect.  Others don’t.  They have a high sex drive, but it doesn’t involve attraction.  It’s perfectly possible to be asexual and still be a regular client of prostitutes.
  • Some asexuals can form romantic relationships.  Others can’t.
  • Of the asexuals who can form romantic relationships, some prefer the opposite gender (heteroromantic), some the same gender (homoromantic), and some don’t mind (biromantic).  There are also other, less common, variations, all of which are detailed on AVEN.
  • Finally, not all asexuals are absolutely 100% asexual; some can experience sexual attraction in certain limited circumstances.  People who feel sexual attraction only rarely and without any apparent pattern normally identify as “grey-A”, whereas those who feel sexual attraction only in the context of an existing romantic relationship are called “demisexual”.  (That’s actually me, if we’re going to split hairs.  However, I also don’t form romantic relationships easily, though they tend to be strong when I do.  This makes me technically a demiromantic demisexual, but I prefer to identify as asexual because I basically am for practical purposes.)

Another thing: asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy.  Many sexual people are celibate, and many asexual people aren’t.  Celibacy is a chosen lifestyle rather than an inbuilt orientation (or lack of one).

So… what does all this have to do with cake?  The simple answer is that cake has become something of a symbol in the asexual community.  There are various ideas about exactly how that came about, but what they all seem to boil down to is “cake or sex?  We’d like cake, please!”  And since I was rather well known for my cakes even before I realised I was asexual, it seemed to be particularly appropriate here.

I’m going to use this blog to talk about my own thoughts and experiences regarding asexuality, and I may also at times refer to other people’s experiences, suitably anonymised.  Please don’t be shy about commenting; you don’t have to be asexual to join in the fun.  All I ask is that you are respectful not only towards me, but also towards other commenters, even if you feel they are being less than respectful themselves.  I’ll keep order here and ensure as far as possible that this is a space where everyone can feel safe.

Virtual cake all round, folks!