Thursday, July 24, 2008

Blurring the Desire Line

So I got an email from someone today who had some awesome comments about this blog and podcast. She was talking about the episode on having a crush and raised an interesting point:

"because the word crush is so sexualized I prefer using 'to be enthusiastic' about someone."

This is a completely legit way to approach things. For a lot of people keeping the line between sexuality and nonsexuality nice and clear is an important part of being A, and I can think of a lot of reasons why it would be a good idea.

I'd like to make a case for the opposite. I love my sexualized language. When I have connect with someone nonsexually, even if we don't touch, I'll sometimes talk about "hooking up" with them. I'll say that I need to get laid (want to cuddle with someone) I'll flirt and tease and can get downright raunchy on the dancefloor.

To me, the line between sexual stuff and nonsexual stuff is ultimately a line that holds us aces back. If my friends all get to "hook up" with people and all I get to do is hold stimulating conversations, then the things I have to gossip about will never seem quite as interesting as the things that they have to gossip about. That's a big deal. The phrase "hook up," while being fabulously ambiguous, bears a lot of social weight. It's an exclamation point. It says "pay attention to what's going on here, because what's happening here matters" and as asexual people one of our big challenges is to demonstrate that our relationships matter.

I like to think of it as sexual drag. Drag is all about blurring lines, messing with preconceived notions of what's male and what's female, which is why it's so fun. Sexual drag works the same way. Once someone knows I'm asexual, they expect me to exist purely in the social space that they have set aside for nonsexuality. I form only friendships, I experience no fiery passions, I have little or no relationship with my own body, yada yada. By breaking that expectation I can force people to reassess their expectations of me (which is handy) and also reassess what they think about sex. Is there a nonsexual reason to make flirty eye contact from across the room? Sure- if I know how to turn that flirtyness into a compelling nonsexual relationship (which ain't that hard.)

In a society where the word "desire" has a sexual connotation, it's tough to get people to realize that we have any. I know from experience that a huge part of forming close, healthy relationships is clearly articulating the things I want, which is tricky when the language for a lot of my nonsexual desires doesn't really exist. Talking about the things that I want in sexual terms makes those desires matter. It makes people say "wait, you're asexual, what do you mean 'hook up?'" and that gives me the opportunity that I need.


Ily said...

So, this totally reminds me of a conversation I had once with a good friend in college. For some reason, I said something like, "I don't hook up with people." She said, "Oh, that's good, it probably makes your life a lot easier." I was like, um, NO!

I think that if I said, "OMG I totally hooked up with this hot guy" my friends would just give me a blank stare. The last time I heard people talk in any great detail about sexual experiences was probably when I spent most of my time with a bunch of sorority girls. I think what language you use depends on a large extent to who you hang out with (an undiscovered pocket of Shakers? Porn stars?)...if other people bring up sex, I want to have something to say. But if it never comes up (like in a lot of my friendships), I'm fine with that, too.
And I like your idea of "hook up" being "something happened here". The word always really annoyed me (always the gossip, I would be all, "but what did you DO???"), but that explanation helps it make a *little* more sense...

Mary Maxfield said...

ok, I'm officially in love with the idea of sexual drag. fantastic.

The Impossible K said...

I love this idea, but Ily has a good point- it all depends on what group you're in. I'm a big fan of "blurring the lines" with sexual lingo and double entendres, but it's easy to take the concept as another way to "pass".

Blue Ice-Tea said...

but isn't donning sexual drag implicitly priviliging a sexual view of the world? if you feel a need to use "hook up" instead of "had a stimulating conversation", doesn't that imply that "hooking up" is superior to talking; i.e. that good sex is better than good conversation? rather than painting good conversation as the asexual version of sex, wouldn't it be better to aknowledge it for what it is, celebrate it, and encourage sexual people to do the same?

DJ DJ said...

b.i.t.- It all depends on tactics. I would say that queering categories is often more effective than challenging them directly if you want people to call them into question. Saying "Hey guys, talking is just as valid as sex!" doesn't challenge the REASONS why people think it isn't, it just challenges the conclusion. By treating talking like sex I force them to think of a reason why talking can't be as powerful, I challenge the underlying assumptions rather than the conclusions that result from them. Once those assumptions have been challenged THEN I can drop the guise and talk about nonsexual stuff openly.