I was the good doctor’s failed first attempt; the electricity ran through my dead flesh but never jolted the rotten cells back to life and so I remained a disappointing patchwork corpse. He tried to pass me off as human anyway, yet no one believed him. Look, they said, she can’t feel a thing. How can she be human if she can’t feel? They were right, of course. I am only a monster made of discarded meat and I feel nothing. Maybe someone with more talent or luck can break down my disparate parts and use them to build something more worthwhile.
Odd Woman Out, or: Sex-Repulsion and Queer Media
If you spend any time around me, either online or offline, you know I am out and proud. I wear a rainbow bracelet every day; my purse has a button that says “crystal queer” on it; I wear flannel as much as humanly possible; I have a sidecut; and you can bet I’m going to mention my wife at every possible chance. Online, I’m an avid Creampuff, Fannibal, and Amedot shipper, and I run my own asexuality blog. Hell, even my Twitter name is “Queer as Hannibal”. What I’m saying is, you can sense my queerness from a mile away no matter how you encounter me. And that’s on purpose. I don’t want you to have to see me holding my wife’s hand to know I’m queer – I want my very self to radiate so much queerness you can see it from space. It’s an important part of my identity and I spend a lot of time keeping up on trends, issues, and news in the community. I try to spread positivity and inclusiveness, and to learn how to be a better ally to my fellow community members. In short, I am all about queer pride.
I say this so you have some understanding of why I feel conflicted about queer media. See, I’m asexual and definitely vary between sex-indifferent and sex-repulsed. I’m sex-positive in the sense that I think two or more consenting adults can do whatever they want with each other, but I don’t really want to see or hear about it. However, I’m also part of the wlw (women who love women) community, and I feel incredibly invested in positive representation of queer relationships. I’ve been reading the webcomic Band vs Band as long as it’s been running and was dying for the two main characters to get together. Likewise, I watched The Legend of Korra with a hungry eye for anything Korrasami, and always swoon a little when Laura and Carmilla waltz or flirt. As for Steven Universe, well… Amedot is the hill I will die on.
In short, I absolutely put my attention, money, and support into queer relationships in the media and will always defend narratives that help broaden our understanding of relationship diversity. And yet, when my wife warned me there’s a sex scene in the Carmilla movie, I sighed a little in my head. See, being asexual/sex-indifferent and also a part of the wlw community can put me in an uncomfortable position because I tend to lose interest in a fictional relationship when it becomes sexual. It’s not that I think sex is immoral – it’s just not something I can totally connect with, and so it feels like I’m being alienated by something that becomes the focus of the relationship. I love Laura and Carmilla, but there are times in Carmilla season 2 when I get a little uncomfortable with how often they make out. Same with Band vs Band, even though the interactions are chaste and, for heck’s sake, just drawings. Yet while I know that response isn’t logical, fair, or healthy, I still feel this weird twinge of… something. Jealousy? Disappointment? Resentment? It’s hard to pin down, and I usually feel too guilty to examine my emotions.
Therein lies the problem. See, the closer to a sexual relationship two characters get, the less comfortable I am. However, I also know how important representation is, and so at the same time I’m cheering for this couple and what they represent in our changing culture. It leaves me in a weird gray area where I feel like I’m the bad guy for wanting a relationship to remain chaste, but not because I hate queer people being sensual or sexual; I think I just want to see more people like me, and it’s hard each time to lose a connection with a character once they become canonically allosexual. I know a lot of my own issues are wrapped up in this conflicting feeling – my longing to be a “normal” allosexual queer woman versus my simultaneous desire to stand up for people like me – but that doesn’t make the burden easier to bear.
Being sex-repulsed or sex-indifferent in the queer community can be a very fine line to walk. We want, and deserve, more representation and yet we have to be so careful that we don’t come off as sex-shaming or heteronormative. But with so little representation currently, it’s no wonder those misconceptions are rife in our community and so easily cause little sparks to rage into huge fires. Queer people have always been shamed for acting on their sexuality, and that will never change unless we normalize all forms of consensual intimacy. We just need to also remember that for many in our community, sex isn’t what makes them queer – and that’s just as valid. The more we vary what “real” relationships look like, the more everyone in the community will feel comfortable with who they are and what they want.
Open Relationships, Or: That Time I Told My Girlfriend to “Go Pro”
[ If you’re a family member or friend and don’t want to know anything about our sexual activities, I suggest not reading this post. ]
Have you ever interacted with something – a song, a painting, any piece of media really – and recognized that you can’t fully appreciate it because you’re not familiar enough with the skill and effort necessary for its creation? Meaning, have you ever looked at something and thought, “That’s really cool, but it’s probably way more amazing to someone who actually knows how hard it was to create”?
I experience this frequently with my girlfriend. Chriselle plays the guitar and writes her own music; I gave up the flute after a week in elementary school. She has a blackbelt in kung fu; I’m as graceless as a t-rex. She speaks multiple languages; I remember about 1% of my German and bailed on French after one class. She is an attentive, generous, and extremely talented lover; I’m sex-indifferent most of the time, and sometimes sex-repulsed. My point is, a lot of her skills are somewhat lost on me, as I can only appreciate them from an outsider’s perspective. And that seems like such a shame! If you master a complicated painting technique, you want someone to say, “Wow, that technique is really hard; you did a great job!” instead of, “This painting is cool :)” with no understanding of how hard you worked.
Case in point: about a year ago, after my lady had made me feel really, really good in certain physical ways, I realized her particular skills in the realm of lovemaking are basically wasted on me. Don’t get me wrong, I know she’s good – I just can’t appreciate how good the way someone else with more varied and refined tastes might. I’m just an amateur, and she deserves to do stuff with a connoisseur. So once we were done and cuddling, I looked over at her and exclaimed, “You should go pro!” with probably a little too much enthusiasm. No, I didn’t mean she should become a prostitute. But I did mean she deserved to have other sexual partners. I meant I thought we should open up our relationship.
If you’re in an asexual/allosexual relationship, just about everyone who knows will give you their uninvited opinion on whether those kinds of relationships can work or not. People who know nothing about either of you will tell you all sorts of bullshit: that romantic relationships need sex to work; that asexuals have a duty to let their allosexual partners sleep with others; that allosexual partners are selfish for wanting to have sex with other people; that monogamy will kill your relationship; that polyamory will kill your relationship; etc, etc, etc. And none of it is true, at least not for every single relationship every single moment. People change. Relationships change. Desires, turn-ons, and turn-offs change. In the beginning of our relationship, for example, we both wanted to be monogamous for personal reasons. We started dating with the understanding that sex wasn’t an option – then it became something we explored together – and then something that we had differing and sometimes conflicting feelings about. Change happens. We’re not the same people we were a year ago, and we won’t be the same people in a year that we are today.
My point is, we started out monogamous but then at some point I got to a place in our relationship where the thought of Chriselle sleeping with someone else felt… totally okay and cool. Like I would for any of my friends, I just wanted her to be happy and have experiences I couldn’t personally give her. As long as we remained loving, committed partners on the road to marriage, I didn’t see any issue with her having other folks with whom she could explore her sexuality. I wouldn’t stop her from training for a marathon just because I hate running, would I? No, I’d support her and be happy if she found other people to have that experience with. Sex honestly felt the same way – she’s good at it and wants to have it more often than I do, so why not find some other people who can fulfill that desire? I know she loves me and will always return to me. She knows I love her and encourage her to do this because I care so much, not so little.
Cut to the present. Our lives have been unbelievably hectic and in the rush of fostering kittens, planning a wedding, and dealing with work stress, our open relationship has yet to move past the theoretical phase. Chriselle has been chatting with some people on the OKCupid and Her apps, but except for one or two possible leads she’s really only making platonic connections. I think this delay is for the best, though, because it’s given both of us a chance to really get used to the idea. While a year ago I wasn’t sure how I would actually react when my suggestion became reality, now I know that I’m really very okay with it. Last night we lay in bed and I watched her swipe through matches, asking questions about what attracted, or did not attract, her to certain people. I was partly asking because it’s always hard as an asexual to grasp the concept of “sexual attraction” and how allosexual people experience it. However, I was also asking because it made me truly happy to see Chriselle putting herself out there. Even if none of those people work out as a “swim buddy”, let’s say, she’s still incredibly brave to hang out in the pool. I remember trolling dating sites for months and years for that one real, often fleeting connection, and it suuucks.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I lay in bed last night watching my soulmate and best friend look for possible sexual partners and all I felt was excitement for her. Not jealousy. Not fear. Not anger or guilt. Just the excitement you feel when you care about someone and want them to be happy. It was a weird feeling, to be honest, because society teaches us to be jealous and possessive of our romantic partners – to feel otherwise must mean our relationship is broken or weak or messed up, right? No. If you love someone, you trust them. If you love someone, you want them to be happy. If you love someone, you share their life, not own it. Polyamory isn’t for everyone, but neither is monogamy. If we learned in high school health class that relationships can come in all shapes and sizes (and that those shapes and sizes change over time), maybe we wouldn’t have to do all this unlearning and relearning as adults.
Can asexuals feel love?
Fun fact: no, we can’t!
I’m just a monster with a barbaric heart.
In some states it’s legal to shoot me on sight;
in others you need a permit.
I’ve been waiting for someone to put me out of my misery.
It hasn’t happened yet, but still I hope.
but you make it so hard
we fight over everything
and you cry so fucking much
can you please get a hold of yourself? I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you’re cold and breakable as porcelain
and anxiety riddles you like hairline fractures
do you even have a backbone? I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you can’t do anything totally right
and mostly you just fuck things up
would it kill you to accomplish something?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you are flawed through and through
and have been from the start
must you always disappoint me?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
I’m tired of giving excuses for you
and accommodating your whims
don’t you think you owe me by now?
I want to love you
but you make it so fucking hard
I want to find freedom in acceptance
and yet I slip back twice for every inch I gain
are you as tired as I am?
Do you ever experience a piece of media – a book, a song, a movie – and get hit with the knowledge that this thing would have totally spoken to your younger self? That if you had experienced it at, say, sixteen or seventeen, who knows how it might have changed you?
Flashback to myself in high school, circa 2006. I hadn’t yet discovered asexuality and assumed, for all intents and purposes, that I was straight (despite having zero interest in dating). If you had asked me then why I so adamantly adored Elizabeth Hurley in Bedazzled, Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil, and Clea Duvall in The Faculty*, I would have said it was because they were so cool, so badass, so confident. I might have said it was because I wanted to be like them in some way, or just tag along on their adventures.
Um. Yeah. I was pretty oblivious to things. In my defense, though, my peer group didn’t use labels like sapphic, homoromantic, or really anything besides the L, G, and B. I didn’t know it was possible to like girls without, well, LIKING girls, so I never analyzed the feelings I was having at the time. Even after I learned about asexuality at the age of nineteen and officially adopted the label for myself at age twenty-one, I still spent several years agonizing over what my strange attraction to girls meant. It wasn’t until I was almost twenty-six that I finally opened that door a crack – just enough to let in the girl who would become my fiance.
I say all this with a purpose, I promise. See, a couple months ago I started a local queer meetup. We happen to all be in one way or another attracted to women, so when we held a movie marathon last week, we watched sapphic movies. One of these, But I’m a Cheerleader (BIAC), was a late 1990s comedy featuring Natasha Lyonne as a closeted lesbian sent to a conversion therapy camp by her parents. It’s a very silly movie with an undercurrent of dark realism that makes the friendships and romances all the more poignant. It also, to my embarrassingly giddy surprise, features a Clea Duvall who looks exactly like her Faculty character Stokley. On whom I have had a raging crush since high school. Oh, and should I mention this is a movie where you get to watch Stokley make out with another girl? How the internet didn’t let me know this movie existed sooner, I will never know. And I will always be bitter about that. You let me down, Tumblr!
Anyway, all this is to say that the ending of the movie made me cry. Not Carol, which we watched first, oh no. BIAC made me cry. Why? Partly because the ending is so sugary sweet (a sapphic movie with a happy ending? yes please!), but also partly because I watched the whole movie thinking This came out in 1999? I could have watched this as a kid? As a confused teen who had no idea why she got so mad that Stokley wasn’t a lesbian after all? You mean I could have had an actual queer Stokley to obsess over all these years??
I’ve read and watched a lot of queer media since I was a teen, but none of it quite hit me like this movie did. I sincerely think that if I had watched BIAC as a teenager, I would have known ten years earlier that I was sapphic. Ten years! Ten years I could have spent learning to embrace my identity, instead of agonizing over it. Ten years I could have spent making friends with other queer people, instead of feeling unwelcome in those circles. Ten years I could possibly have spent dating and exploring my desires and boundaries. Ten years of angst and loneliness that could have been ten years of friendship and pride parades.
That thought kinda hurts, to be honest. I’m in a good place now – proudly ace and proudly sapphic – but I wasn’t for a long time. I struggled, especially in college. There are songs I can’t listen to because they’re just filled too much with that old longing. When I see queer representation in media these days, especially in shows like Legend of Korra and Steven Universe, I feel simultaneously joyful and jealous. Joyful that representation like this might save someone years of hurt; jealous because I could have used that representation, too. As a kid, I was too deeply in the closet to even think of seeking out queer media. I can’t imagine how much seeing queer relationships in “regular” media might have opened my eyes. I know being a queer kid today isn’t easy, but I’m still so happy to think that even one kid might be saved the emotional bog through which I had to wade.
*and Michelle Rodriguez and Gong Li and Fairuza Balk…
here is your measure of salt
with rot come the wolves