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Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
There's nothing sexy about starting a band.
Talking about starting a band is sexy. Playing in a band, once everything is said and done, gets you laid like the Mattress Giant off I-270, but the process of starting one is anything but. It's just you in a room with a bunch of other dudes fumbling around to try to find a sound. Things are not quite clicking yet, your styles and personalities haven't quite figured out how to fit together. But there's something thrilling in that, the possibility that it all COULD come together, and that possibility is what keeps you at it, keeps your failing and trying again and growing closer as a group. Starting a band is asexy.
If sexy is about being alluring and desirable, asexy is about being unapologetically true to oneself and one's passions. According to the urban dictionary:
While Dictionary.com defines sexy as:
–adjective, sex⋅i⋅er, sex⋅i⋅est.
1. concerned predominantly or excessively with sex; risqué: a sexy novel.
2. sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality: the sexiest professor on campus.
3. excitingly appealing; glamorous: a sexy new car.
Something about the interplay between these two terms is fascinating to me. In the eyes of many of my friends, the two are one and the same. Being true to oneself and one's passions make you desirable, hands down. In my geeky queer hometown of San Francisco doing your thing, whatever that thing happens to be, is incredibly hot. Typeface nerds are hot. Drag queens are hot. Line-dancing biophysicists are hot. In open and accepting environments focusing on being asexy almost always leads to being sexy. The opposite is not necessarily true. Going out of ones way to be sexy means following the crowd, grasping for things that seem to make other people glamorous and appealing at the expense of genuine self-expression. Being asexy makes you sexy, but being sexy does not necessarily make you asexy.
This has not always been true. When the term "sexy" was in its cultural infancy it meant anything but a two-stepping, thrift-store clad graduate student. Some googling reveals that the term "sexy" first cropped up in publications like the LA times around the early 1920s. World War I had just ended, and the most advanced propoganda machine known to man, headed by Frued's nephew Edward Bernaise, was retasked to sell consumer products in what became the birth of american consumerism. People were realizing that people brought products not just becuase of their functionality, but because of much subtler social drives.
In Hollywood, where the barriers between the mainstream film industry and the porn industry were still paper-thin, people needed a way to describe the fact that stuff with "sex appeal" had a way of flying off the shelves and selling out at the box office. "Sexy" emerged because sex sells. Sex appeal became so ingrained in consumerism, and consumerism so engrained in our culture that what started (possibly) as a tagline for soft-core porn has become intertwined with the way that we think about all sorts of desire. Heirloom tomatoes are sexy. Green jobs are sexy. iTunes apps are sexy.
If "sexy" came to us from consumerism, "asexy" comes from a reaction against it. In the 1960s and 70s, a massive backlash against consumer culture led to a nationwide epidemic of unsexy behavior. Feminists gave sexy Hollywood starlets the finger, shaving their heads and rebelling against a society which defined them in terms of a sexual role in which they were fundamentally uninterested. Gay liberation followed suit, laying the groundwork for a politics of sexual identity founded on self-determination, self expression and unapologetic celebration of any and everything (so long as no one got hurt.) It was with these ideals that the asexual community first began to hobble together, much like the band in the first paragraph, around 2002 and 2003.
This early asexual community was full of people looking for a place to just be ourselves. We didn't want to be alluring or desirable, we just wanted to be validated and celebrated for who we were and to escape from a culture where the mandate to be sexy was often overwhelming. So we got busy celebrating. We busted out the cake and started partying about all of the nonsexual desires that made our lives hum. "Asexy" was our way of giving one anothers' passions an unjudgemental nod. Fly fishing is asexy. Fuck You Penguin is asexy. Your 76-page paper on the composition of medieval brick is asexy.
All of this makes me wonder if it might be time to bring asexy back. Todays hot trends aren't like the Hollywood producers and starlets of the 1920s. They look like steampunk, DIY, the viral YouTube remix and fighting climate change. What's sexy today is sexy precisely because it had the guts not to be. What's appealing isn't showing some skin or flashing some glamour, it's having the chutzpah to have fun keeping it real. More and more people are realizing that living life chasing what's sexy makes you anything but. With any luck, the juggernaught of sexy may finally be grinding to a halt and people may start looking, quietly, for a word to take its place.
Caveats & footnotes:
- I fully acknolwedge that the majority of bands out there are not just a bunch of dudes, and that in many circumstances a bunch of dudes together in a room is totally sexy. For the purposes of this exercise we're assuming a straight, all-male band totally in it for the chicks.
- Oh god. If you look up "asexy" in the dictionary is my name really there? That's terrifying.
- As my friends will attest it takes me, like, forever to cook anything.