demisexuality

Embracing my demisexuality has made me more resilient: June 2016 Carnival of Aces submission

[This post is for the June 2016 Carnival of Aces, on the theme of resiliency. The call for submissions is here.]

I am so, so grateful to have found asexual community, and to have found models of sexuality and sexual attraction that reflected my experiences in a very real way. In the (almost) two years since and first embracing demisexuality as a useful model for describing my sexuality, I’ve grown a lot.

It hasn’t always been easy, and I have had periodic doubts, but I’ve also learned to think my way through them, and sometimes come to strong conclusions that helped solidify my sense of identity.

This shift in how I think about myself and my sexuality has made me rethink and recontextualize my romantic and sexual history, my approaches to dating, and my expectations of myself when I do date. I used to beat myself up about not being able to have the kinds of sexual adventures other people have, that I kind of also wanted. I understand now why the ways in which I approach sexual adventure simply have to be different than how many others do it.

And more importantly, I have come to accept that this is really, really ok.

Being able to reconsider what I want from dating, what my expectations are when meeting someone new, and equally importantly, being able to communicate clearly to others around these issues, has saved me a lot of the unnecessary grief, discomfort, self-doubt, and self-denial that I used to continually put myself through. I used to waste to much energy trying to figure out what was *wrong* with me, and now I am free to simply seek out the things hat work for me and not worry about what doesn’t.

It is a huge relief. And it leaves me in a stronger, more stable place, where I am more ready to take on whatever else life throws at me.

I am, without a doubt, more resilient.

Demisexuality and kink: assorted thoughts

[Content note: this post mentions sex, masturbation, and kink but doesn’t reference any specific sex acts of kinks.]

I have had a long-standing pet theory around the ways that my demisexuality and my kinkiness are related, and the ways they aren’t.

The thing is, for almost as long as I have been masturbating*, I have been getting off to kinky fantasies. These fantasies rarely include particular people (though when there are people in my life that I am attracted to, I will also sometimes fantasize about them), but are rather filled with generic placeholders that exist to create the scenarios and dynamics that turn me on.

Which is a long-winded way of saying: it is clear to me that there are certain kinds of dynamics and scenarios that turn me on in and of themselves, and do not require sexual attraction toward the people involved to work for me.

And I sometimes wonder whether it would work for me if I were to try to enact some of my fantasies in real life, with people that shared my turn-ons but that I wasn’t close enough to to be attracted to. I actually really want to believe this is the case sometimes, simply because it would make it a lot easier for me to have the possibility of having and enjoying these sorts of experiences, without the really high bar that is involved in finding people sexually attractive as a demisexual.

…But the more I learn about myself, the more I think this isn’t actually the case. I have had some thoroughly pleasant sexual experiences in the recent past that actually let me check off some things from my bucket list, with people I genuinely like and whose company I enjoy, that I just wasn’t able to actually be fully into, and that were not ultimately particularly sexually fulfilling. They were interesting experiences rather than transcendental ones, basically.

I have also come to learn that the extent to which I am interested in engaging with kink, and the specific kinds of kinks I want to pursue with any individual person are highly dependent on the context of my relationship with that person – no matter how much some dynamic might appeal to me in the abstract, it is not going to be something I want to explore with everyone (I mean, obv, I guess?), or even with everyone I am attracted to, or even everyone I am in love with, or anything else.

Pretty much any change in a sexual/romantic relationship can change the ways I want to engage sexually with that person. And to be honest, I have not ever started out wanting kinky sex with anyone I was into – it’s a thing that develops over time as we figure each other out. And when I write that down it seems super obvious and maybe lots of people will be like ‘um, yes, that is how that works’ (though also I have been guilt-tripped for not being interested in engaging in kink with a particular person – a partner who wasn’t even kinky, but felt like I was somehow withholding anyway because I guess they felt they had some sort of right to every aspect of my sexuality(?) – so I guess not everyone gets that), but for some reason I hadn’t quite internalized it before now.

But anyway, my point is it is weirdly relieving to have grasped this understanding enough to maybe start developing better strategies for figuring the hows and whens and “do I even wants to”s of engaging with my kinky self and fantasies.


*which, for me is a thing that didn’t start until I was 16, and even then it was literally a “so, people seem to think this sex thing is a big deal but I don’t get the interest at all, but maybe I should try and see what an orgasm is like or something?” experiment and not something I felt any natural drive to do. At least not until after I figured it out. This digression brought to you by “how did I not realize I was on the asexual spectrum way earlier than I did?”

Squishing and crushing, part 2: other times I say ‘crush’ instead of ‘squish’

I left a couple of potentially pertinent things out of last week’s post about squishes and crushes. The point I was making is true: I do sometimes use the word ‘crush’ when what I mean is ‘squish’, simply because the meaning of ‘crush’ is close enough in most contexts that people will get my point without me having to get into a deeper conversation about asexuality (which, shockingly enough, I don’t always want to do).

But there’s another place I use the word crush that is worth mentioning. Sometimes I will say to a romantic partner, “I have a crush on you”, and in that case crush is the word I want, and I am choosing it deliberately. I use it to mean “I am so into you [sexually]”. I am using it here to specifically point at a feeling I am having that is different from my squishes (that hard-to-define, non-sexual attraction I have sometimes to people), and that is unquestionably sexual in nature.

The way I use the word ‘crush’ in this context is also describing a feeling that, for me, can never be fully disentangled from the feeling of being in love. I don’t feel this feeling for people I am not in love with (which makes it different from what most people mean when they talk about crushes), although I don’t always feel it when I am in love either (which is why I differentiate the feelings at all). To some extent, it is one of the ways I say “I love you”, but that ‘s not entirely it.

For me its also a way of talking about a feeling that, in polyamory circles, gets called ‘new relationship energy’ (or NRE). There is a particular rush of goodfeels that can come with new romantic and/or sexual connections, full of endorphin-y goodness, that human biology simply can’t sustain over the long-term, for the most part. It doesn’t last forever, and in any long-term relationship, it is just about guaranteed to lapse.

What I do find, though, is that it can come back! It works like a cycle of periods of endorphin-y goodness, followed by less intense periods that are sustained by the friendship-y, caring, and less intense love-y feelings, until eventually, (always, for me), those super intense early-relationship feels come raring back all over again. And that’s when I am likely to start telling a partner all over again how much of a crush I have on them.

I actually think those feelings are the closest experience I have to a regular old crush, since it actually involves, like, pantsfeels for someone. If I imagine feeling that way about someone I was not in love with, I think that’s about what a crush is for many people?

Please let me know if I’m wrong or whatever.

Squishing and crushing

I really love the word ‘squish.’ Specifically, I love the word squish in its ace-communities-relevant sense of an intense liking or non-sexual attraction for someone, that includes a hard-to-articulate desire for them to return your hard-to-articulate feels for them.

I love the word ‘squish’ in part because it was specifically reading about squishes and their distinction from crushes that helped me come to the realization that demisexuality is a useful model for understanding myself. And I love the word squish aesthetically because it actually just feels right as a word to describe the feelings that I used to understand as crushes, even though they never really were the thing that most other people talk about when they talk about crushes.

It’s the right word to describe a thing I experience. It sounds right and feels right, and actually means the thing I want it to mean, and I can’t even explain how much I love finding those kinds of words.

But sometimes I still use the word ‘crush’ when I know I mean ‘squish.’ Partly it is out of habit – I spent well over a decade describing my squishy feelings as crushes before I even learned about squishes. But the other part of it is that if I use the word ‘crush’, most people will have a close enough idea of what I mean, whereas if I use the word ‘squish’ I might then find myself in a conversation I don’t necessarily want to be having about what that means, and get derailed into playing Ace 101 with someone (which is still new enough for me to be less boring than Gender 101 is to me now, but is definitely not always something I am in the mood for.) And particularly around things like celebrity squishes (i.e. people I do not and am not going to have any kind of relationship with), I don’t feel like the distinction is important enough to split hairs about.

I love words so much, and I want squish to become a more commonly known word, and so I use it sometimes, and I talk about it sometimes, but at others, not so much.

Communication is complicated, basically.

Be yourself (but stretch): dating while demisexual (April 2016 Carnival of Aces submission)

This month’s theme is a very challenging one, and I want to thank our lovely host over at A3 for coming up with it!. For this post, I am going to focus specifically on ways that I can affirm and celebrate my demisexuality in a dating context, since that has been on my mind of late anyway, and because I do feel that it can be a perpetual struggle for me.

I have adopted a strategy of being reasonably upfront about my demisexuality in some (largely passive) ways, in the way I date. My sexual orientation is listed as queer and demisexual on my OKC profile, and I have a link to this blog from my profile as well, for anyone going for extra credit.

People tend to miss those indications, though. Which is fair. I don’t often look at people’s basic stats when I’m on OKC either – I do filter by some of them, but once I’m at a profile I’m far more interested in what people have written there then which boxes they checked.

And I don’t talk about being demisexual when I am on dates with people. So I think a lot of the people I date don’t know about it really. It’s weird, because on the one hand I am afraid of discouraging people, but on the other hand, I want to discourage the kind of people who would be discouraged by that, anyway, so. I don’t know.

I’ve… gotten pretty good at seeming kinda allosexual (mostly accidentally, in how I coped with the weirdness of dating while demisexual back when I had the extra challenge of not realizing that I was demisexual) over the years, in small ways. I usually know within a couple of dates if there is just going to be nothing happening with a person, to be honest, so I can cut things short before people start really expecting sex to happen, so there’s that. And I think there have been times when I have just faked it til I made it – I don’t have to actually be attracted to someone to enjoy sex with them, though I do enjoy it immensely more when I am.

So yes. I guess my approach to dating while demisexual is very much a case of being myself, but stretching that self to fit more closely to expectations. Though I don’t entirely know why I do that, other than a long-standing ingrained habit of avoiding awkwardness, or more specifically, of avoiding disappointing people. I’m… not entirely comfortable with it though, when I think about it.

I am definitely interested to see what others are contributing to this topic, and whether my feelings of discomfort around it are shared!

Dating while demisexual: the bright side

I’ve written a few times about the anxieties and confusion I have experienced as a result of my demisexuality (from back when I didn’t understand that I am demi). I’ve also been having anxieties of other kinds around my dating prospects as a queer, trans, and non-monogamous person. I obviously only want to date people who are into and supportive these aspects of myself, and that limits my dating pool significantly.

I have been including the fact that I am on the ace spectrum on the mental laundry list of “obstacles” to me particularly when it comes to finding a potential partner of the sort who might want to co-parent with me, but I just realized today that my demisexuality is actually a plus in this regard.

You see, allosexual generally find love (or whatever) by first finding people they find sufficiently sexually attractive to date, and then seeing if they are compatible in the broader romantic/whatever-kind-of-relationship-they-want sense. But I don’t need to start with that narrower pool, though – literally anyone is someone I could be attracted to, if we are romantically compatible.

It’s not going to make a huge difference, but at least it’s something.

Genderqueer and demisexual: two sides of the same coin for me

This is my submission to this month’s Carnival of Aces (which I am hosting!) I have been wanting to write this post for years now, so I’m glad I’ve given myself the kick in the pants I needed to actually do it!

For a long time now, it’s been intuitively clear to me that my experience of gender, and particularly my feelings about the gender binary, and my place in it (i.e. the fact that I don’t have one really), is deeply linked to my experience of sexual attraction, and the fact that I am demisexual. In particular, I guess it is linked to the fact that I am demisexual and queer – I suppose much of what I am going to say will not totally apply to exclusively homo- or hetero- oriented demisexuals.

So: the way I experience sexual attraction is not primarily based on any physical attributes of the people I am attracted to (although I have interesting thoughts about how, once I develop a sexual attraction to someone, it does psychologically attach itself to their physical beings – this goes on the unending list of things I will maybe write about one day). Attraction is, for me, based on emotional connectivity and intimacy (plus some amount of randomness/magic).

I’ve also written before about how it can be confusing, and even upsetting, to me to be on the receiving end of advances from other people based on their experience of primary sexual attraction for me. I don’t know what to do with it, it is extremely intimidating and just plain weird to me. I just don’t get it.

And I know that I started leaning into a more masculine-androgynous presentation, the freedom that I felt in that came in large part from the way it freed me from the traditional hetero-male gaze and the uncomfortable attentions that come with that. Because ultimately, masculine-androgynous isn’t truly (or at least for sure isn’t *always*) a good expression of my actual experience of my gender.

As I’ve more recently realized, I am genderfluid, and not just that, my fluidity and the gender I inhabit at any given time is highly context-dependent. Most of the time, and in many contexts, I am functionally asexual, because in many contexts, I am surrounded by people for whom I don’t and will never experience sexual attraction (i.e. contexts not conducive to the development of emotional intimacy, such as most working relationships, and all random day-to-day one-off interpersonal encounters). And most of the time, I am agender. I am not expressing gender, I am not experiencing myself as having a gender, binary or otherwise. I just am, and it’s fine.

In other contexts, I am more likely to feel actively genderqueer. There isn’t any really hard-and-fast rule for when I will feel one way or the other, but my gut nevertheless feels like this is connected to my experience of my sexuality. I wish I knew how to explain the difference between feeling agender and feeling genderqueer, but I don’t know if I can. I know that when I am genderqueer, I have a gender (though not one that fits into the binary), and when I am agender, I don’t. But I also know that the feeling of having a gender isn’t even universal to people who identify as having one, so that’s probably not helpful.

A lot of this may come down to my connection with my physical self, (a.k.a. my body). I have never been strongly connected to my actual body. I am one of those people who never knows where their limbs are, and I often forget to take care of my body because I am so caught up in my head. The less emotionally safe I feel, the less connected I tend to be to my body, in part because of past traumas, and the fact that dissociation is one of my major coping mechanisms/what happens when I get triggered around those traumas, but also I get the sense that my disconnection from my body pre-dates any such trauma, and is just this weirdly ingrained part of who I am.

…And this is where I always lose the plot. I have a very visceral sense that there is a direct connection between my confusions around sexual attraction growing up and my sense of alienation from/parallel confusion with gender norms – they feel like the same thing to me, to be honest. But getting to precisely *how* they are same is a loop I can’t quite close with words.

I just can’t play the sex game the way allosexual people do. And I can’t play the gender game the way cisgender people do, even the non-conforming ones, somehow. And that inability is an expression of the same part of my inner self, which I can feel and which makes total sense to me, but that I don’t know how to describe.

It’s in how I perceive the world. It’s in how different parts of the world perceive me. It’s in how I react to these perceptions. And it’s in every other interaction I have.

I am genderqueer. And I am demisexual. And both of those statements are just ways of saying “I am me”.

Call for Submissions! March 2016 Carnival of Aces: Gender norms and asexuality

Hello all! I am so excited be your host for this month’s Carnival of Aces!

For those that don’t know, a blogging carnival is an online event where a host blog suggests a theme, and people submit pieces based around that theme.

The Carnival of Aces is a monthly blogging carnival that was started all the way back in 2011, and is currently run by the awesome ace resource The Asexual Agenda. For more information check out the Carnival of Aces Masterpost.

Last month’s Carnival was hosted by It’s an Ace Thing, on the theme of platonic attraction. Check out the post roundup!

For this month, I’ve chosen the theme of gender norms and asexuality. The relationship between gender norms and asexuality is interesting to me because of just how much traditional ideas of gender are directly tied to traditional (i.e. compulsory and hetero) ideas of sexuality.

There’s a bunch of ways you could go with this theme, and here are some possible ideas to get your writerly thoughts going, grouped into two rough categories:

  1. Personal experiences of gender and asexuality
    How has your asexuality (or demi or gray-sexuality) affected your feelings about your gender? Has your gender presentation ever caused problems for you related to your asexuality (e.g. unwanted attention or expectations of your behaviour)? Alternatively, does your gender identity have any impact on your feelings about your asexuality? Does your understanding of your gender inform your understanding of your asexuality, or vice versa?
  2. Attraction(s), gender, and asexuality

    • For anyone in the community: does gender play a role in your experience of platonic and/or aesthetic attraction? How do gender norms impact your platonic relationships? Tell me about how that works!
    • For romantic aces (and demis and gray-as): does gender play a role in your experience of romantic attraction? How, and why (or why not)? How do gender norms play out in your romantic relationships?
    • For demis and gray-as who have experienced sexual attraction: does gender play a role for you in that? Where does gender come into play for attraction based on an emotional connection rather than physical traits?

Or maybe the topic of gender norms and asexuality has inspired you to think about something completely different and you want to write about that! I am excited to see what all of you have to say about this topic.

Posts can be submitted to me in various ways:
email: valprehension@gmail.com
twitter: @valprehension
Or you can can post a link in the comments here if you want!

If you want to submit anonymously (or if you want to submit with credit but don’t want to host the post on your own blog/tumblr/whatever), send me an email, and I can put your post up here as a guest post!

“My Identity Is Not An Umbrella Term”: Asexuality and my role as a demisexual person

This post from The Thinking Aro is very important

“Asexual” is not an umbrella term.

“Aromantic” is not an umbrella term.

“Ace” is not an umbrella term.

“Aro” is not an umbrella term.

A demisexual is not an asexual. A gray-asexual is not an asexual.

A demiromantic is not an aromantic. A gray-romantic is not an aromantic.

“Ace” is short for “asexual,” not for demisexual or gray-asexual.

“Aro” is short for “aromantic,” not for demiromantic or gray-romantic.

I’ve been thinking about this post every day since it originally went up, and I want to do bunch of things here.

Most importantly, signal-boosting. You should all read the whole thing. It may not be an easy read for you if you are (like me) demi or grey-a, but it is vital that you do so. There is a lot of white-hot anger here, but please don’t let that make you disregard it; know that that anger is coming from a place of hurt, and a place of marginalization, and recognize it and own it as something you may have contributed to. You may disagree with some of the rhetoric used, but please do not focus on the details here, because the point being made is far too important to waste time splitting hairs.

This post is important to me, because although I have definitely had instincts telling me that it would be somehow appropriative of an experience I do not really have to describe myself as ace or asexual, I also know that I have not always been vigilant about listening to that voice inside me.

This post reminds me that while I am demisexual, and that is a real thing, and it is a thing that it is important to talk about, and it even makes me a part of the asexual community in some ways, none of this makes me asexual.

This post reminds me that my primary relationship toward asexuality and asexuals and aromantics should be one of allyship, not that of a peer. I do not know what it is to be asexual or aromantic, and I never will. And my demisexuality does make me privileged relative to asexuals; society is better set up to accommodate my experience of sexuality and my ways of organizing my life and relationships, and being understood is easier for me than it is for asexual people.

This post reminds me that it is important to keep asexual and aromantic narratives in the centre, to boost asexual and aromantic voices as much as possible both within and outside of asexual communities. Demis and grey-as often outnumber aces and aros, and our voices threaten to silence those most marginalized among us, and we need to pay attention to that tendency and do our best to stop it.

This is also complicated for me, because most of what I write about comes from a place rooted in lived experience, but what I can do, and need to make more explicit effort to do, is always, always take the time to step back and acknowledge the ways in which my experience is not an asexual experience, even while it may contribute to a larger examination of sexuality that includes asexual experiences.

This post has deservedly humbled me, and I am writing this to commit to remembering this feeling, and moving forward with it in my heart. I hope that some of you will hear its call as well.

‘Reasons I Should Have Known I Was Asexual’

[This post is part of the November 2015 Carnival of Aces, a monthly blogging carnival centered on asexuality and the asexual spectrum. This month is hosted by (A)sex and the City around the theme ‘reasons I should have known I was asexual’. Check out the previous Carnivals here: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/a-carnival-of-aces-masterpost/]

As a demisexual person who only came to that identity in my mid(-to-late)-20s, I would have known I was ace much earlier if I lived in a culture that didn’t talk about sexual attraction as a singular monolithic experience, as if it is the same for everyone. I would have known that my experience of sexual attraction (such as it is) was not generally comparable to the the norm if people, in general, were more willing to stop using the catchall term of “sexual attraction” (or even just “attraction” as it is often even more vaguely called) and to actually break that experience down into the different ways it manifests.

I find it really interesting now to look back on the ways I struggled to frame my experiences around sexuality prior discovering the language of demisexuality (as I did here and here), and just how many times I have since felt motivated to very minutely break my experiences down in ways that deconstruct the usual (non-ace) discourses around attraction (from when I initially “came out” as demisexual, to my repeated attempts to solidify that identity for myself and push back against a culture that leaves no room for the ways I have (and have not) experienced attraction. These ideas are important to me, and useful in so many ways.

I know that there are many valid criticisms to be made of the primary/secondary distinction in sexual attraction, as it doesn’t explain nearly all of the variation in the ways that ace and non-ace people can experience attraction. There are also ways in which the distinctions among sexual, romantic, aesthetic and/or platonic attractions are inherently murky, fuzzy or otherwise forced. None of these categories should be used prescriptively, and these boxes are porous and their distinctions and boundaries are fluid and open to interpretation (as so many categories are).

But I also know that having language that allowed me to break down my own experiences in these ways and see them in a new light was revelatory and allowed me to gain a better understanding of myself and the ways I relate to other people, and why my attempts to force myself to follow standard narrative arcs around attraction to other people simply didn’t work and left me anxious and miserable. And I know I’m not the only person who felt that way upon stumbling into ace circles and learning new ways to talk about these things.

Even though some of these categories are subjective and different people use them in somewhat different ways, it is still all less confusing and more open to nuanced conversations then simply and opaquely stuffing all of these varied and complex things under the singular category of “attraction”, and pretending we all know what that means. Non-ace folks: I honestly don’t know what y’all mean when you do that, especially when you so often seem to be switching between different interpretations without even realizing (let alone acknowledging) that you’re doing it.

I would have understood my ace-ness much earlier if more people took a more nuanced perspective on how sexuality and attraction works.

And, more importantly, I really should have known I was ace much earlier. Because we should, societally, strive to bring more nuance to these discussions, around attraction and desire and sexuality generally. I think that everyone would benefit from the concepts and tools the have been developed in the ace community for talking about these things.

Ways of breaking down different types of attraction, and the different bases for those attraction (primary/secondary attractions, or the framing I prefer which considers whether the attraction is primarily based on physical characteristics or on emotional affinity, or whatever else) are useful in conversation about how non-ace people experience attraction, in the never-ending debates about sexual preferences and whether or not they are mutable, and whether racism and anti-trans bigotries are somehow acceptable when they manifest in sexual preferences.

I would like to see nuanced discussions of how non-ace attractions evolve over the course of long-term relationships, as people’s bodies drastically change with age, into things their partners would not have initially been attracted to.

I would like to see so many different discussion that are impossible without the concepts created by ace folks of all kinds.

I should have known I was asexual because we should all have known that attraction is a complicated and many-faceted thing that manifests in different ways for different people (and in different ways even within any individual’s experience) and feels different for different people, in ways that go well beyond base-line sexual preferences and orientations.