Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot about touch.

When I was in undergrad I really craved touch, but had no way to get it. Touch was either something that was fleeting and affectionate, or something that led to sexuality. To desire nonsexual touch in a relationship was either creepy (if the relationship wasn’t sexual) or inadequete (if it was.) I saw my desire for touch as toxic, something that could poison my connections with the people that I cared about, and so I kept it far removed. It waited there, unfulfilled and unconnected from any one person, while my brain raced trying to figure out when initiating touch was ok.

Eventually I did figure that out. In my experience touch helps relationships when it expresses and reinforces emotion, it should occur after some activity (a conversation, a particularely powerul dance party) that generates emotion that needs to be expressed. But that’s not my piont.

A few months ago, I was hanging out with an Ace on a college campus who was exactly where I used to be. I asked him how it felt, and he said that he just couldn’t envision finding a relationship where he could have the kind of touch he wanted. He had that same look of humble sadness and fear that I used to have.

My point is that, as the Ace community, we should really get on this.

I started doing an exercise during my talks where I ask people to come up with as many words as they can for distinct forms of cuddling. I get about three: spooning, hugging, and nuzzling. I ask them to compare that to the number of words that they know for different types of sex.

Three words. There are a few more if you really dig for them, but not many. Without more words, how are we supposed to talk about the kind of touch we want? How are we supposed to know what kind of touch is POSSIBLE for us to want? How are we supposed to have meaningful discussions about consent? (Part of why I felt unsafe expressing a desire for touch was that I couldn’t ask people where their barriers were.) How are we supposed to name the kinds of relationships that involve the kind of touch that we want.

Sexual people have lovers, one night stands, fuckbuddies, partners, and books and books filled with positions and tactics that they can’t seem to get enough of. We have, in a few short years, done a fantastic job building an open-source taxonomy to describe the kinds of emotional intimacy that we form. We have biromantics, squishes, squashes, intimate communities, asexiness and ever-present cake. It’s time we spent a little more time talking about touch.

I’m looking at you, Tumblr.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Response to "What Can we Learn from Asexuality"

My friend Rachel White just wrote up an interview we did in NYC at the movie premier there. I wrote up a quick comment on her post, and thought I would post it here.

First off, my fingernails are NOT cute. They’re a wreck. Honestly, it’s a matter of some embarrassment.

Second- you’ll be glad to know that Dan Savage and I are making peace, we’re setting up a Skype call to hash things out. I’m hoping that he’ll get the overlap between what the Ace community is doing and his interest in pushing the national dialog around nonmonogamy.

I want to call out that moment that you describe, where we sit across the table and realize that there’s intimacy there and realize that it doesn’t have to go in a sexual direction. There’s something powerful there, a skill that most asexuals learn of stopping and saying “There’s the potential for intimacy here, what direction do I want to take it in?” It’s not just that there are nonsexual directions to chose from, it’s that some of those directions can create things that are extraordinary.

On a fundamental level, business is about people connecting. So is art. So is politics. So is social justice. So is science. Drive that sense of intimacy in the right direction and you don’t just get a warm fuzzy feeling, you get a killer startup, a magnum opus, a piece of legislation, a community center, a breakthrough discovery. Get smart with it, and intimacy can create anything.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Asex Notes From A Sex Party

I finally made it to a sex party last night.

Recently there’s been a wave of friends inviting me to sex parties, which (if you’ve never had the experience) is a little like your accountant friends inviting you to a REALLY GOOD conference on depreciation schedules. You wanna go, because bookkeeping is one of those things that’s good to understand and because it’s a rigorous intellectual and social challenge, but somehow it’s just hard to find the time.

One serendipetous hole in my schedule later and there I was, in a room with burning sage, about 15 people, safer sex supplies, free snacks and a conspicuous lack of writing implements. The queerness of the place immediately put me at ease. A few trans people took a break from their cuddling to give me a warm welcoming smile, and I knew that everyone in the room would value me exploring my own experience on my own terms. I’ve had very different experiences in some sex positive spaces, and I sat down deeply relieved.

The facilitator who started us off was a real artist, and I took vigorous mental notes on how he established a space for a deep connection that many people in the room were still a little terrified by. He established a fragmented identity structure, where some people used their given names and some people used chosen names like “Firefly” (I’m making up these pseudonyms to protect anonymity.) This let people either tap into their consistent, centralized notion of self (“I am Paul”), or use a new one created for the purposed of exploration (“I am Prometheus”). Very cool trick. There were some light Ganzian tactics as we each told a quick story about why we had come and how our bodies felt in the moment. We discussed the importance of consent, and practiced the art of graceful rejection. The group dynamics nerd in me was cooing. As we went around, I was the only one to belt out my full name, having long since abandoned the notion that my sexual identity is in any way private. “David Jay,” I said. Look me up on LinkedIn.

After the intros, we were instructed to lie on the ground with our feet facing inward and pleasure ourselves. They probably meant to say “pleasure yourselves sexually,” but that constraint just made the whole exercise a lot less interesting. What would you do if someone asked you to lie on the ground and do whatever you could to make yourself happy? I redied myself for a Zen exercise on the nature of happiness; hands on my chest, slow breaths, deck of joyful memories at the ready. It’s always a challenge to translate sexual language into something that makes sense, but when I do I find the results force me to do some very cool exploration. I let out a little chuckle, like I could take whatever the situation was going to throw at me. Bring it, sex party. I reappropriate more sexual tension before breakfast than most people have all day.

My neatly laid plans lasted all of 10 seconds. Before I could take my first few breaths of Zen happiness, I felt the energy of everyone else in the room pooling around my back like cold water. There was POWER in what they were experiencing, and there was no way I could isolate myself from it. The energy was foreign and forceful, coming off of the people around me in waves that crashed together and rippled. My neck, shoulders, and hands all tensed as I was thrown by the storm. I tried to find a way to level out, tried to ride the group’s energy to wherever it wanted to take me, but despite my training I kept forgetting to breathe or breathing too fast. My whole body felt shattered, and as the rest of the group settled down I lay there, muscles twitching.

We were instructed to stand up and let our desires guide us, which was one again difficult to interpret. I was pretty far removed from any sort of desire. What did I WANT in that moment? To be grounded, to talk, to put myself back together. Part of me knew that finding someone to talk to would be difficult. Everyone else was presumably following their desires in a very different direction, and even if someone DID want to talk my experience would be so foreign to them that I would need to spend the entire conversation explaining the basics. I was in this challenge alone, but that had never stopped me before. I stood up and started to parse the problem as those around me disrobed. The group’s energy was a factor that couldn’t be ignored, and one where the carefully crafted rules of consent didn’t apply unless I up and left. My mind began racing through every model I had of emergent community dynamics, looking for some metaphore that could serve as a guide. Could I rejigger ethnographic technique? The signalling and reverberating pressure reminded me of dynamics in dense crowds and of the kind of open ideation found in really good sustainability workshops, but that was no help in accounting for the foreigness of it all. I raced through memories and models related to the stranger, the outsider, my body and the room forgotten, my mind desperate and alive. All too often the only option in these situations is to either run or square your shoulders and do the fucking MATH.

I needed to write. I started searching the room desperately for a whiteboard or a pen and paper, but the space was poorly equiped for my needs. At the back of the room there was a large cloth hanging to create a barrier, and behind the cloth there was a small space with a hard, concrete floor and little light. Still no pens, but I stayed back there and started pacing, letting my thoughts punctuate through my body and into the floor. I reached out my arms, as if to shape the concepts in the air and nudge them into one another, a great imaginary fractal stretching out around me. I began to dance.

Dancing felt right. My hands and bare feet struck the ground hard, as I let myself explode and fall with the music and the energy just barely dampened by the curtain. I let my thoughts slowly drift away and just MOVED, slowly and then quickly, leaping into the air with the waves and then holding as they crashed across my back. I was alone still, behind a curtain and invisible, but at least I wasn’t shattered. I kept dancing, beginning to wish that someone would join me but knowing that my experience was too alien to everyone else to expect any kind of companionship. I reached out and punched the cloth barrier, letting it bounce and reverberate. I flew into the air and landed with a loud clap. I started making noise.

About ten minutes later the facilitator came back and began dancing with me, his movements small and uncertain, probably to check in and see how I was doing. I thanked him for joining me, and as we danced I began to tell him about my experience, about translation, and about why I had come. I beamed, letting him know that I didn’t need his support but welcomed his company. Someone else came through the barrier to use the restroom, then stopped to dance with us as he came back. The three of us whirled together, and on my signal we took the cloth barrier and pulled it back, bringing our two spaces together.

I looked out across a floor covered in bodies, and was struck by how SLOW they all were. I felt alive, like I was soaring through the open air, and for a moment I couldn’t understand why everyone else was just lying there. There is a certain beauty in it, of course, in the experience of choosing one person, lying on the ground with them and finding a universe in the smallest of movements. But there is also something to be said for harnessing the community’s power and dancing above it all. As my two fellow dancers descended back to the floor I started noticing all of the things that could only be seen from my vantage point. The way that a sudden burst of laughter would arc across the room, giving others permission to roughhouse like children. I started noticing how certain people contributed to the community, how playfullness radiated from her and a sense of safe intensity came from him. I kept on dancing, giddy with the majesty of it all.

I time became impossible to track. I started dripping sweat and took of my shirt to keep cool. Couples who were relaxing would lean back and watch me, and on occassion they would stand and let their limbs flow or even join me for a short while. I couldn’t quite tell, but it seemed like I was creating permission for a different type of movement, one that people were unaccustomed to in this space but that a few of them explored in small, ginger steps. When members of the group that I had noticed took breaks I would approach them and tell them what I saw, explaining their contribution to the community and appreciating them for things that they had been unable to perceive so close to the ground. They smiled at this, though I couldn’t tell if it was because they enjoyed it or if it was because they found my whole presence there adorable.

Eventually I collapsed on a couch, my muscles sore and satisfied. I glanced at my phone to see that I had been dancing hard for almost three straight hours. I was a half hour late to an event that some of my MBA friends were hosting, so I notified the facilitator that I needed to pack up and leave. I would have liked to stay, of course, to close out the night and hear what others thought of my strange practice, but in the scheme of things this night was just my own little experience. I had no real relationships here, no connections to the power that comes from finding shared passions and working in the world. The bigger thing, the more powerful thing, has always been the community where those things happen. And it was calling.