Stop the Shame

You know what needs to stop? Well, a lot of things, but in particular stereotyping, laughing at and shaming shy, introverted, inexperienced (sexually, romantically, etc) young men. Why is this so acceptable? I’m here to say that it isn’t ok, and it needs to stop.

Now this is absolutely not to say that other groups or people don’t experience these things, in fact, I’m sure they do. But I am a shy, introverted, inexperienced young man, so I can only authentically speak from that position. My hope though is that any other people that experience these things can relate, and take solace in the fact that someone (me) is standing up and saying it’s not ok.

I shouldn’t have to do this, but I will. I’m a shy, introverted young man. I’ve never had a girlfriend before, or really anything of the sort. I used to have much bigger problems with social anxiety, but I’ve come a really long way. Sure, I’m still working on it, but I’m always improving, and I’m happy about my improvement and where I am today. Anyone who says they have no problems is either in denial or lying. I’m very independent. I take care of my health, eat well, exercise, work hard at my job, have hobbies (even if they aren’t always very social), keep my house clean, manage my money well, and generally do everything any responsible adult should do. In my view, I’m basically a normal, hard-working adult. There are lots of us!

So why then do I need to put up with people stereotyping what a 26 year old male virgin who’s never been in a relationship looks like? Think I’m socially inept? Wrong. I’m not perfect, sure, but out and about, you’d be hard pressed to notice any difference. Think I must be flawed in some irreconcilable way because no one has been in a relationship with me? First of all, no. Second of all, that’s a pretty narrow view of why someone might not have had a relationship before. Maybe I put more effort into friendships. Oh right, I do. I’ve had a series of long-lasting, extremely close friendships since I was in middle school. Think I spend all my time alone in my parents’ basement? Fuck this stereotype. I’ve been totally independent of my parents since I graduated from college, and while in college, I was pretty damn independent too. “Neckbeards”, pathetic losers who can’t get laid, creepy loners, and on and on, it’s unacceptable. It needs to stop.

If we look specifically at the stance our culture takes on later-in-life male virginity, I say it’s fucking bullshit. It doesn’t make you less of a person. It doesn’t even make you less of a man (this is so fucked up I can’t even begin to get into it). It basically means nothing. It’s like some guys have long hair, some guys have short hair, and some guys have no hair. It doesn’t say shit about their worth as a person, or as a man. It just means different guys have different hair. If I didn’t tell you I was a virgin, you’d never even know. So why would you harbor a different opinion of a man if he said he was? That’s what a young man (or anyone really) gets for being honest. I think people who would harbor a different opinion about someone for that reason needs to take a serious look at themselves. They need to really think about why they feel that way, because they’re the ones who are in the wrong.

I don’t know whether to chalk it up to culture’s compulsory sexuality, especially compulsory male sexuality, or what. I do know that since I  have discovered asexuality for myself, I feel safer and freer to be myself (which is how everyone should feel). I’m definitely not saying that’s why I’m a 26 year old virgin (though it is certainly a big factor). The universe is a random and chaotic place. Who could say why? But why I am, or why someone else is (or isn’t) doesn’t mean a fucking thing. Neither I nor anyone else has to justify ourselves to you or anyone else.

Puzzle Pieces That Don’t Fit

[x-posted here from tumblr-land]

I’d seen a few of these ‘carnival of aces’ blog posts kicking around over the past few months and thought that many of them were pretty good. Then I thought, hey, I like writing, I write stuff all the time, I could write one of those things. The topic for September appears to be “Asexuals, Advocacy, and Allies” and while this isn’t a topic I’m particularly interested in or passionate about, it’s a chance to write. I like the idea of flexing my writing muscles. It reminds of me of debate club in high school. The best debates were the ones where you personally despised the position for which you were arguing. Heh, I guess I’m a weirdo.

I only started openly identifying as asexual a few months ago (after about a 6 month journey to get to that point). In retrospect though, it’s clear I had always been…something. It took a while for me to become self-aware enough to look at myself honestly. Please understand that my perspective on this topic comes from that history. A history of presuming I was heterosexual because to me, my experience felt “normal” and I was told that “normal” was heterosexual, so that was how I labeled my experience.

At the risk of dating myself, I haven’t been a student on a college or high school campus since 2010, so the more typical concept of a LGBTQIA + allies club/organization isn’t something I encounter in my day to day life. That said, I understand the point of those groups, and I’m sure they exist outside of college campuses. I’m just not near one right now. I do reside in a state (VT) that is (one would hope, and I expect is) pretty tolerant of all GSRMs though.

My apologies for that lengthy intro. Let’s get into this, shall we?

I’ll start by being brutally honest. Until I started looking into all this and self reflecting, I would’ve said the “A” in LGBTQA stood for “Allies”. Don’t worry, I always got all the other letters right. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever personally met LGB people though. The thing is, I never explicitly considered myself an ally. I simply considered myself NOT to be an ignorant jackass. My view of life pretty much from high school on was that, “Just being is hard for everyone. If you’re not actively hurting me, or my right to be me (whoever that was), I have no problem with you.” Somewhere hard-coded deep within myself, I considered LGBTQA people to be such a non-issue, I never even really thought about it.

Over the years, I had a few gay friends, likely at least one questioning friend, and a disaster of a “date” with a young bisexual woman. In retrospect, I guess you could’ve referred to me as an “ally”, though I certainly never felt like it. I was an “ally” to those people as much as I was an “ally” to any of my other friends. We were friends. I wanted to be the same supportive person to all my friends simply because they were my friends. If you want to refer to that as a “good ally”, I think that would be appropriate. It’s just not the term I would’ve used at the time.

I think in a way (especially in my younger years) the concept of an LGBTQA ally bothered me. I was always the “puzzle piece that didn’t fit”. If you can think of the vector, chances were I had taken crap from it at some point. From sexual harassment (from both male and female classmates) in high school,  to random jeering and heckling while I was going about my day in college, and everything in between, I’ve put up with a lot. Through all that, I never felt like I had an ally. No one (least of all me) could say how I was different, or why I so frequently seemed to be the recipient of such negativity. If I didn’t have an ally, why should anyone else?

Trust me when I say that I understand how horrible that might sound, but I felt so alone during that time. It felt like those negative attacks would never end, and they never did. I had to graduate and move away to get peace. Was this directly because I was asexual? No. I wasn’t identifying that way at the time, but I was different in visibly obvious ways that were likely the result of my asexuality (and introversion too). Again, it all seemed normal to me. This was how I had always been.

What about an alternate past? What about a past in which I did know I was asexual and identified that way. What about a past in which I did join LGBTQA groups (assuming they were accepting)? Would that have helped? I think it would have helped. The help wouldn’t have been because I would’ve had the “allies” I felt I didn’t have before, but because I was a part of something where my “difference” was clearer and didn’t matter. Having a group of support (even if indirect) to fall back on would’ve been massively helpful. Having that acceptance from others would’ve been helpful.

Getting younger me to that alternate past would’ve been extremely difficult, and I’ve known about asexuality since I was 15! This is where I think advocacy comes into play. If LGBTQA groups in high school or college had been more vocal about the wider variety of orientations and feelings, I could’ve started my introspective journey much earlier. That probably would’ve spared me from many uncomfortable moments and difficult situations. Instead of resenting groups like my high school’s gay-straight alliance, I could’ve joined them, and strengthened their entire cause through greater diversity. Whenever they did their advocacy events, I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines. My experience, which should’ve been included, wasn’t. No one was speaking for me, and I was clearly different, and struggling alone.

Knowing what I know now, about myself, about allies, about asexuality, I don’t think I ever personally experienced someone you could describe as an ally with one exception. One teacher, my high school shop teacher, who was also a great mentor to me, was the one who called out a girl in class for sexually harassing me. If he hadn’t said anything, I certainly wouldn’t have. Unfortunately I was sexually harassed again in that same class a few more times (by different people), and outside of his watch.

Ultimately, if I or anyone else doesn’t know what they are, they’re going to feel exactly like I did. They’re going to struggle exactly like I did. They’re going to resent the very people and groups with whom they should be allying themselves, just like I did. That’s why I think that advocacy is where efforts should be aimed. Without advocacy, any allies you are fortunate enough to find are going to be be sporadic, no matter how well-intentioned, like my shop teacher. If there’s knowledge and advocacy, especially in existing LGBTQA groups, good allies will follow necessarily.

As for me, allies are a bit of a moot point at this point in my life. I’m older, independent, and am battle-hardned so to speak (complete with unfortunate scars). I don’t feel like their existence in my life now would serve any useful purpose. I would love it if no one else had to go through what I did though.

 

There you have it. Thanks for reading! I enjoyed writing this and hope that it provides an interesting take on the subject as well as  adds diversity to the carnival.

 

Friendly Bike Tips

I’m a pretty avid bicyclist. I’ve ridden thousands of miles over the past few years all over the place, and in Canada too. I’ve commuted to work on my bike, and ridden in very remote isolated roads. In most of my time riding before moving to VT though, I was riding on back roads with very little traffic.

Now though, I frequently need to ride through the capital city of Montpelier. Sometimes that’s my destination, other times I’m passing through on my way to somewhere else. Montpelier isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. In fact, it’s the smallest state capital. It has two main streets: Main Street, and State Street. These streets are joined together at a somewhat odd intersection with a pretty normal light. The thing about Montpelier, and truthfully much of Vermont, is that there aren’t many options for detours or bypasses. You have limited options when going through somewhere. In Montpelier, this pretty much means that depending on which direction you’re coming from and where you’re headed, you’ll have to end up on Main and/or State street.

Not really a big deal. Like I said, it’s a small city (only about half the population and physical size of the little dumpy town where I grew up). They’re constantly trying to promote what a “great city” it is for bicyclists. There isn’t much they have to “do” though, because it’s so small, and relatively busy that people can’t drive fast through it anyway. There are crosswalks, pedestrians, slow moving cars moving through the intersection, etc. It’s more dangerous as a driver honestly, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I don’t know about everyone else, but when I was a little kid, probably in elementary school, we had a bike safety course. Of course, right? Truth be told, we probably had a few. A bike is the fastest, easiest way for a kid to get around before s/he can drive, so knowing how to ride safely was obviously something relevant to little kids. It was pretty basic stuff. Hand signals, riding with traffic, stopping, etc. Basically (and most state laws I’m aware of codify this), as a bicyclist, you’re afforded all the rights, rules and responsibilities of a motor vehicle operator except where such rights, rules and responsibilities simply cannot apply due to the physical nature of bicycling. For example, I have the “right” to ride my bike up to 50mph in a 50mph speed zone. Unless it’s downhill, it’s pretty unlikely I’m going to be doing that.

What’s more important is that bicyclists follow other traffic rules. As a motorist first, and a bicyclist second, some of the idiotic things I see frustrate me to no end.

Look, I know stopping on a bike is inconvenient. Is it really necessary for you to come to a complete stop at a stop sign? Probably not, but you should absolutely slow down and look around. That does two things. One, it makes you aware of the current traffic in the intersection. Two, as a motorist in that intersection, when I see you looking around, I can be pretty sure you’re aware of me. We’re both have an understanding of the situation, and can easily proceed safely.

Do not pass stopped cars on the right. I see this again and again. I even had one moron hit my mirror while I was waiting at a traffic light. It is so fucking dangerous. Not only are you riding on my right, a place I’m not expecting to see any other cars, but you’re riding in a narrow space with parallel parked cars on the other side! What if one of them opens a door in front of you? You can’t swerve left, because I’m there. If you don’t want to wait in line with the other cars at the light, fucking dismount, and walk your bike on the sidewalk and cross in the crosswalk with the pedestrians.

Obey marked lanes!! When you decide to ride diagonally the wrong way across the turning lane at an intersection, I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. You didn’t hand signal. You’re just riding in some unknown pattern. It doesn’t matter that you’re “just zipping over there real quick”. A car can kill you like a bug! There’s a reason for traffic pattern rules. We all know (or should know) the same rules. This lets us anticipate what other drivers will and won’t be doing. If everyone just did what they thought they could because it would be “real quick” things would be “real shitty” for everyone…kind of like in Boston.

As a motorist, if I hit your dumb ass, it’s almost assuredly going to be “my fault”. I don’t want to hit you. I’m keeping as alert as I can possibly be to minimize that risk, but somewhere along the way, you need to behave in a predictable, rational manner. Otherwise you could get hurt!

When I’m riding my bike through downtown, I always stop, or nearly stop at all stop signs. I try to make myself as car-like as possible, especially on state street. They recently painted these bicycle symbol chevrons all down the street. Apparently they mean that bicyclists can take the full lane. This makes sense because both sides of the road have parallel parked cars, and in-road crosswalk posts. This often leaves drivers little room to pass bicyclists safely. Honestly though, I did that before the markings were there. With all the stuff going on on that street, it’s hard to break 25mph. Much of the time you’re going substantially less than that. Most bicyclists should be able to keep up, at least in the very slowest sections.

Taking the lane like that can feel weird. I admit I didn’t for the longest time because I just lacked the confidence. Once you build that confidence though, taking the lane makes you massively more visible to drivers. And honestly, even if you’re not quite keeping up with the flow of traffic, taking the lane means the person behind you won’t try to pass you. They may get frustrated by this, so you should exit the lane as soon as you can safely do so, but not before. If you feel that them passing you would be unsafe, remain in the lane. I so rarely see bicyclists do this, and I wish they would. I promise that most drivers in all but the most bike-unfriendly places won’t even notice. They may even appreciate it.

Every time I see a bicyclist following traffic rules, I feel all warm inside. All the motorists who see him/her will have a positive image of how bicyclists are. Every time I see a bicyclist running stop signs, or passing on the fucking right, a part of me dies. When you do that–when you do stupid shit that pisses motorists off (and rightly so)–I and other bicyclists have to deal with their negative attitudes toward us later. Maybe they decide not to give me any extra room when they fly past me. Maybe they decide not to make it easier for me by letting me go first through a 4-way stop, even if they were there first. Maybe they decide to yell things or throw shit at me when they pass me. As a traffic rule non-abiding bicyclist, you own some of the blame when those things happen to me or anyone else.

The roads can be safe and enjoyed by everyone, but we all have to do our part. If you wouldn’t do something in a car, don’t do it with a bike.

Writing My Vacation

For the next two weeks I’ll be on vacation from work. I hate the newspeak work “staycation” but that’s basically what will be happening. Much like the past few years, I haven’t really been in a good enough position mentally to plan, much less go on any substantial vacation. After the debacle last year where I waited and waited until I finally snapped at work I knew this year what I had to avoid. So about a month ago I just scheduled two weeks in the end of September with some vague notions of what I might want to do. One of the things I’m really hoping to do is get some really great writing done for this blog! I’m also hoping to try again at writing my book.

I came up with the basic idea for the story way, way back in 2005. I was still writing a lot even back then, but it was mostly blog posts and poems. So many poems. Eventually, I stopped writing poems. I don’t know why I stopped, it was like my brain shut off to doing it. At the time though, I did try to just jump in head first and write the story. This was probably in early 2006. I got a solid chapter in and then things really degraded for me. Between a tumultuous last year of high school, and a painful first year at college, the story was the last thing on my mind.

I mostly forgot about it until this past winter. It just sort of popped into my head. Seems like quite a few things have been randomly popping into my head over the past year. Anyway, I don’t know why, but it just seemed like a good idea to really think about the story again. Could I really take this idea and convert it into an actual novel? I managed to find the original copy of the story I had started almost 10 years before and looked it over. It was pretty bad, but bad or not, it jumpstarted my memory of what I had wanted to write. I grabbed my laptop, sat on the couch and just brain dumped a few thousand words. I started describing the characters. A few of the terms. The history and description of this future world I had envisioned. Then things naturally progressed into a plot. By the time I was done, I had what felt like a solid outline of a story I that was cool, and something I would want to write. I hadn’t noticed, but during the brain dump, the main character turned out to be so much like me. Or at least, how I imagine my ideal self.

With outline in hand, I decided to take a crack at writing the story. I mean, everything was done, all I had to do was write it. I am a good writer. I know I’m a good writer. I’ve had people telling me my writing was really good for almost a decade. Yet when it came to writing this, a story I genuinely believed in, and felt such relief from my daily life just imagining it, I completely psyched myself out:

“You’ve never written anything this big or complex.”

“You’re not a writer. You’re just like every idiot fan-fic writer on the internet who thinks they’re the best thing since sliced bread.”

“You don’t know how to write a book.”

“Everybody thinks they can write, most of them can’t. You’re no different.”

…and so on.

If I talked to you the way I talk to myself, I guarantee you would take a swing at my asshole face. I don’t care if you’re the biggest pacifist since Gandhi. I don’t know why I talk to myself like that, or why I listen (and I do). I started writing the story, but I couldn’t shake those stupid thoughts. Writing became a chore, rather than something I enjoyed. It literally became the best sleep aid I’ve ever used. I started obsessing over word counting, and reading things I wrote the next day and thinking they were absolute juvenile trash. Though I started with a set schedule, and even planned on giving my dad the first few chapters by the end of February, within a few weeks, I went from writing 3-4 nights a week to 1 night a week, and soon to none.

Naturally, I blamed myself. After all, I was the one who failed to write it. Those criticizing thoughts were coming from my head, not anyone else’s. So the whole thing ground to a halt. I’ve worked really hard on myself in the intervening months. Really hard. If I myself had told me in February, that I’d feel the way I do now, and am ready to start writing this thing again, past me would’ve scoffed and thrown some kind of hot liquid in present me’s face. I’m very hopeful that a break in routine will help me get the jump on writing the story, and my unhelpful thoughts. I even treated myself to a new laptop (replacing one from 2006) as a symbol of my belief in myself that “yes, you can write this. I do believe in you.” I don’t have enough cheerleaders like that in my life. The least I can do is try to be one for myself. I also feel more relaxed writing on a laptop because it’s lighter, and I can sit with it anywhere. Sitting at my computer at a desk just feels like work.

So here’s to my vacation. Let’s see what great stuff gets written.

List of Things

It might seem odd to many people, but I’ve never actually felt an intrinsic compelling reason to enter into a romantic relationship. Sure, there were plenty of external reasons, like not wanting to be left out, and not wanting to look different, but there wasn’t much inside me that was pushing in that direction. I remember the first time I thought about getting into a relationship. I imagined it in stages. Each stage progressed along to the next in a staircase fashion. When I thought about it this way, entering a relationship didn’t make sense. If you didn’t know you were going to want to go through all the stages (I definitely didn’t), why would you bother to begin with?

Whereas everyone else seemed to have their compelling reasons, I didn’t. Instead of looking for reasons that made sense to me, I just pushed myself forward anyway. This was uncomfortable, and largely unsuccessful. It made me feel bad, inferior, unlovable, and any other negative adjectives you might imagine. I didn’t even really think about not having my own reasons and drives. When I came across and started identifying with asexuality, I finally felt the nudge to look at relationships from a more internal perspective.

This was a very freeing thought. Wow, I could define things wanted in a relationship independently? I could identify things that got me excited and seek those things from relationships? Such a radical thought, right? I honestly don’t know how friends were defining relationships years ago, or even now. I don’t know what they were seeking. I never actually knew. Now I have the opportunity to think about what’s important to me, and what gets me excited. Could it be that identifying these things actually makes relationships more compelling to me? It absolutely does! I think one of the things is something I’ve always known, even if I kept it under pretty tight wraps for much of my life, and that’s emotional closeness. Feeling emotionally close to someone, and having them feel the same way about me is something that deep down, I’ve always wanted. I think this is probably a pretty common desire, though many might hesitate to admit it.

There are also things that I realize I don’t have to want. Things I can say ‘no’ to. Things I don’t have to be afraid of. One of these things is kissing. I really don’t want to kiss anyone. Not in any passionate mouth-mouth way anyway. In the few times I went out on “dates” with girls, it was always buried in the back of my mind that they were going to expect it. It was part of the cultural narrative, and they were going to expect it, and what was I going to do? I became kind of focused on it and I think the fear got in the way of me enjoying the moment. There are plenty of things like this. Things I don’t want, but are part of a cultural narrative. A narrative that I’m now feeling comfortable about dumping.

But this isn’t about the things I don’t want. What things do I want? I had so much fun running through this thought experiment. I felt like I was really getting to know me, and just imagining some of these things just left me with such a warm, happy feeling about myself and my future. So here they are (these are mostly physical things, and unless otherwise noted, I’m imagining these scenarios where we’re both fully clothed):

  • Sitting next to her closely, kind of like cuddling (but I don’t really have a solid definition of what that is). Being physically close to someone is really intense for me. I don’t let many people inside my personal bubble space often, so this feels like something that’s really special to me.
  • Lying next to her with my head on her chest so I can hear her breathing and her heart beating. I’m sorry, but I think this is one of the most intimate things I can imagine. I’ve always felt really alone in the world, and doing something like this seems like it would be absolutely amazing. That’s another person I’m listening to. They’re alive. I can hear them. I’m not alone in the world. How could anyone want anything more than this?
  • I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t too crazy about holding hands, but when I thought about it in more detail, I realized that actually, there is a way I would feel more comfortable with it. If we were sitting or lying down somewhere, I think I’d find it very enjoyable. In that context, it’s an active thing you’re doing rather than just holding hands while walking around. The latter feels like something that’s secondary. You’re not really focusing on it. When I’m in motion, like while walking around, I just have this quirk that I need full motion of my body. If we were sitting down together, I don’t have that concern, and I can focus on the touch-touch connection.
  • I don’t know exactly how to describe this next one, but I’ll say one of the things I most like the feel of is my hair when it’s been warmed by the sun. I think I would enjoy someone else’s hair being warmed by the sun as well. I guess you could call it head petting? That makes me think too much like a dog or something, but hopefully the idea is clear. This just seems like something nice to do, with a touch component that feels nice.
  • I’ve said here and previously how I feel about kissing (specifically the normal idea of romantic mouth-mouth kissing), but that doesn’t take kissing of the table completely. On the whole, it’s still less important to me, though I can imagine for others it’s a bigger deal, so there are a number of compromises I think I can make here. One is me kissing her on the cheek. While that doesn’t mean much to me, I think I could find it enjoyable. I think it’s probably the only way I’d be comfortable kissing someone else. On the other hand, if she wanted to kiss me in other ways, I don’t think that would be a problem. On the cheek, a peck on the mouth, anywhere above the shoulders, I would be fine with that. And though it’s not a “kiss” per se, I’m going to toss eskimo kisses in here, because it’s cute as hell, and honestly would mean a lot more to me than more conventional kissing.

This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list, but these are all things that I’m really aware of now. Things that give me nice warm feelings when I think about them. Things that intrinsically compel me to engage in a relationship myself. This is such a change for me, and it’s so positive. I never could’ve honestly considered these things previously. There were just too many cultural pressures, especially associated with being male. Please pardon the phrasing, but that’s a fucking shame. To any guys out there: Find your own way. You don’t have to feel pressured to act a certain way. You don’t have to want things “everyone” wants. You don’t have to want things the cultural narrative says you have to want. You can want things you want. Nothing you want to do takes away from your male-ness. If you’re male, and you like doing something, then you’re defining male-ness to include that something. Period.

Speaking of cultural narratives, I don’t want to leave sex out of the dialog here. You’ll notice it’s not really included at all in my list above. That’s genuine. It’s not part of my list. I’m willing to do it. I think it might be fun, but it’s not a driving factor for me. Before I continue, let me be clear: no one, myself included, is obligated to include sex (or anything) in their list of things. That said, I do understand how important it is for people. Well, maybe I don’t fully understand, but I have a good hunch. So is there any way I can spin sex as an activity in such a way that I would include it in my list? I think there is. The way I can imagine it working (and please excuse my euphemisms) would be in a mutual “self-gifting” type of context. (Are you on board with the euphemism? Great!). The amount of trust I would have to feel for this to work is immense. I would have to know that she understood how far outside of my comfort zone this was. I’d be doing this for her. A mutual “self-gifting” type of context is something that allows for more freedom and flexibility I think, which makes it much more attainable. That said, more conventional sex is not totally off the table. It’s just not on my list. With a respectful partner, I’m willing to talk about this stuff so we can both feel satisfied, and respected. I think the “Want! Will… Won’t.” charts are brilliant, and a great way for someone like me (or anyone) to feel great about this kind of thing. Please check them out! Borrowed from http://smarthotfun.com/wantwillwontchart/ (reproduced here to save on her bandwidth).

Will Want Won’t Instructions and

Will Want Won’t Example Chart (Giving)

Will Want Won’t Chart (Receiving)

Will Want Won’t Toys (Giving)

Will Want Won’t Toys (Receiving)

Statistics are Rad

Let’s talk about normal.

I know there’s a big push from a range of people to stop calling things or people “normal”. Their argument (and it’s a good one) is that there is so much diversity among people, how can anyone be “normal”? You know what? I completely agree with that. People who say that are absolutely correct, and we’d all be a lot better off if we took that fact to heart.

The problem I have is that we can’t simply remove the concept of normal from our dialogs. It’s a useful concept, and those dialogs are important. Yes, no individual is “normal” per se, but if we follow that road to its inevitable conclusion, we just end up in relativistic hell. I personally insist on using the word normal, and when I do, I’m referring to the statistical normal.

Standard bell curve

Hey baby, I like your curves.

It’s true that among individuals, each person is different. That is to say, they fall somewhere different on a normal distribution bell curve. There are actually a mathematically infinite number of positions you could be on the bell curve. An individual could fall on any one of them, and possibly be the only person ever in the history of the universe to fall there! So yeah, basically everyone is different, and even math is cool with that. But still, the idea of “normal” is useful. I’m of the opinion that when you’re dealing with a large set (like people) and discussing complicated attributes (like with people) chances are, you’re going to be describing a bell curve like the one pictured above at some point.

There’s a mean (μ) and the concept of a standard deviation (σ) from that mean. If you take everybody who falls within one standard deviation of the statistical average, you’d be taking 68.2% of the entire population. That’s already the majority, but I wouldn’t quite call it normal. 31.8% is still a huge chunk of people. So instead we take two standard deviations. Now we’re talking about 95.4% of the population. That’s more than the majority, that’s normal.

This is such a useful concept. You can objectively say whether or not someone is normal. Before you start grabbing pitchforks and torches, let me explain the crucial factor here. “Normal” is not (never, ever ever) a judgment of validity, acceptability, or a reason to discriminate or anything else. It’s an objective, unbiased mathematical concept. Someone being normal or not normal means about as much as whether or not they the like The Simpsons. Some people do, some people don’t. It doesn’t really say anything about them as people. If 95.4% of the population liked The Simpsons, then I’d say liking The Simpsons was normal and not liking The Simpsons was not normal. It’s useful for me to be able to say that. It’s a useful statistical fact about the population, and I can use that language to have a dialog with someone else about the population. Do I care that 4.6% of people aren’t normal and don’t like The Simpsons? Not really. It’s just a fact of the population.

Playing Devil’s Advocate, I will say that many people have a hard time separating the objective, unbiased normal vs. not normal from the subjective, biased good vs. bad. If you think that may describe you, then you might consider not using the word normal. Try to get that notion of good vs. bad out of your head. I personally don’t have a problem with the idea of statistical normal. Math is my lover. We’ve been BFFs since Sesame Street. Yes we had a rough patch with discrete mathematics and theory of computation, but it’s never lied to me, and I expect it never will. It has no agenda, no bias and is as close to absolute truth as humans may ever get. That being the case, I think I’ll continue to stick to using words and concepts I understand that are backed up by mathematics and objective logic.

Unicorn Farts

I don’t exactly remember when I first knew someone who had come out as non-heterosexual. I suppose there could’ve been someone I knew in middle school, but in racking my memory, I can’t really recall anyone. That’s not to say there weren’t. In fact, I’m sure there probably were, but this was middle school and the height of puberty for me. Suffice it to say my memory of that time is less than clear.

I definitely knew people in high school though. I’d say likely as far back as freshman year, but certainly after that. Naturally the high school had a gay-straight alliance group, which I was aware of, but mostly ignored out of pure indifference. All things considered, I’d call it a pretty tolerant high school. Yes kids that age will be kids, and there were totally unfounded rumors to be had about a handful of openly gay teachers, but really, no one cared. Homophobia? I just can’t recall anything like that existing. Certainly none that I witnessed first hand.

Before I continue let me just say that I certainly never had any negative or homophobic views towards any gay or otherwise non-heterosexual people I knew personally, or otherwise. Honestly, my opinion then (and now) was that their existence affects me exactly not at all. A unicorn farting in sound proof room on the bottom of the ocean would affect me more than knowing some kid who was gay in high school. I just did not care. I was simply aware of their existence and went on with my life.

I did have what I considered even then to be strange feelings and opinions about the gay students I knew, and groups like the gay straight alliance. I remember it pretty clearly. I just could not understand how they knew they were gay at such a “young” age (we’re talking like 15-17 here). I thought you had to be way older to realize that stuff. I thought maybe some of them were saying they were gay to be special, or get attention. I felt horrible about these thoughts at the time because they totally did not jive with my attitude towards gays. I mean, I knew they didn’t choose to be gay, but somehow, they just knew they were gay? How did they know? How could they possibly know? Because I felt bad about these thoughts (was I harboring some repressed homophobia?), and truthfully just didn’t understand them, I kept them tightly under wraps hoping that eventually I’d figure it out.

Well high school has long since ended, and I never did end up figuring out those thoughts. But now, what’s this? Asexuality pops its funny little head into my life. Now those thoughts start to make a bit more sense? Ironically, if I hadn’t kept them under wraps and had talked about them, preferably with one of the students who was gay, or even the gay straight alliance, I might’ve come to learn things about myself at a much earlier age. All they would’ve had to ask me was “well, how do you know you’re straight?” That sound you’re hearing is the sound of the cabin depressurizing at 30K feet. They knew they were gay. They didn’t need to wait until they were older. Just like my friends who knew they were straight. They didn’t need to wait until they were older either. I was waiting. I’ve been waiting ever since.

I’m definitely relieved at having realized all this. Those questions and feelings I had weren’t repressed homophobia, they were accurately reflecting my experience. An experience that seemed to fall horrendously short of the experiences of heteronormative friends. An experience that left me feeling grossly inferior and defective. If only I had put one and one together. The ridiculous tragedy of it all was that I knew the term “asexual” at the time. I heard it from my dad of all people. He mentioned that he thought this kid I knew was asexual. I didn’t know what it meant (or what my dad thought it meant), but I knew that kid, so the term was basically defined for me by the his characteristics (which certainly could’ve been interpreted as asexual). Funnily enough (and mostly irrelevant), that same kid actually came out as gay a year or two ago.

I think the takeaway here is that for each of us, our experience, to us, is normal. Even if I knew exactly what asexual meant at the time, and someone told me outright, “dude, this is you!”, I wouldn’t have accepted it. I couldn’t be. I was normal (at least, I wanted to be), and “normal” was heterosexual. I am genuinely laughing out loud at how silly that train of thought seems. Oh well, that’s what I thought. In a way, it’s still what I think. It’s what gives me pause when thinking about asexuality now. To me my experience is normal (I’ve never known anything else) and society says “normal” is heterosexual, therefore…this experience is heterosexuality? I guess it worked for me because for the most part, I can and have ostensibly passed as straight. As long as you don’t start digging around anyway. It’s getting a hell of a lot harder though the older I get. A 26 year old “done nothing sexual, experienced nothing romantic” virgin? I’m starting to run out of excuses, even to myself. As I saw on another blog, “I’m heterosexual but not very good at it.”

Now though, I care a lot less, so grab your shovels and dig away, people!

Analogy Shmonalogy

So I think I want to take a crack at describing how I personally understand sexual attraction. This is just me and how I feel. In no way would I claim that this is the only way to understand it, or even the best way, but for me, it’s what makes sense.

I’ve seen a lot of places that compare it to a “hunger” like for food. While I get that analogy conceptually, it doesn’t really click for me in a way that I can really feel and identify with. Other descriptions that are more direct often describe it as “seeing someone and feeling drawn to them in a sexual way,” or perhaps “seeing someone and feeling a ‘heat’ and having sexual thoughts directed toward that person.” For me, the more direct descriptions are actually far more useful in forming an analogy that clicks and feels right. Of course, you have to take the time to think about what analogy would make sense in your life, but doing that was worth it for me.

I wouldn’t claim at all to be a gear head, but I do love cars. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I love lots of machines. I’ve always been completely mesmerized by things like cars, trains, and airplanes. How many times did I hurt myself as a kid running out of the house at breakneck speed hoping to catch a glimpse of an airplane flying overhead? Too often. Just recalling all the stubbed toes on doors, slips, and falls makes my back hurt! I loved every bit of it though.

This past weekend while walking through town, I saw a late-2000s Porsche 911 parked on the street. Glossy black. Hard top. Just gorgeous. I couldn’t even walk by it without staring at it, and looking inside. Immediately I found myself imagining what it would be like to drive it. How great that would feel. How it would sound when it started. How the clutch would feel. What it would be like to take it around some corners on my favorite roads. All of these thoughts and feelings just happened.

Now, let me just clarify as clearly as I possibly can right now: I am not sexually attracted to cars. That would be ridiculous and not at all the point I’m attempting to make. There’s nothing at all sexual about looking at the Porsche and feeling those things and having those thoughts. That said, I do think the kind of feeling that I had while looking at it is analogous to what sexual attraction towards a person would feel like. The immediate attention. The imagery of fantasized details about an experience. Feeling like I just wanted to be a part of that experience. That amalgamation of thoughts, feelings and attention directed towards a person in a sexual way is what I understand sexual attraction to be like.

Having discovered this analogy is really useful to me. My reaction to the Porsche? That was totally real. I really felt and thought all those things. I wasn’t scratching my head going, was that it? Was that this “attraction” I’ve heard about? It was crystal clear, obvious, and powerful. If this was called “car attraction,” I’d have zero doubts that I experienced it. I don’t at all expect that everyone (or even anyone) else will be able to relate to this story. And even though I had this experience, and got really excited that I’d be able to write about it and explain how it was analogous to sexual attraction, describing it was actually pretty tough. That makes me think I’m definitely on the right track, since people who experience sexual attraction describe having same difficulty explaining it.

With this analogy in my back pocket, sexual attraction feels even more foreign to me than ever. I suppose I’ve had a fairly small number of “was that it? was that sexual attraction?” moments during my life. Many of those moments have happened recently. I’ve been really focused and in tune with my feelings on the matter, and attentively listening to myself as I try to figure myself out. When I hear people say it’s one of those “you’ll definitely know if you felt it” kinds of things, I’m hesitant. That’s a great explanation, but would I really know?

Well, if sexual attraction is anything like my experience with the Porsche, then I’m here to say that yes, you would absolutely know. There’d be no way you could miss it.

I think this was a very useful exercise for me, and I’d encourage anyone struggling to understand sexual attraction to try to find a similar analogy in their own lives. Don’t be discouraged if the food/hunger one doesn’t really click for you. It didn’t for me. I think everyone just uses that one because everybody eats, so it’s a broadly relatable thing. That doesn’t make it the best though, and it doesn’t mean it will click for everyone.

For any car fans out there, I’ll just leave you with this piece of high-octane “meditation” material:

Alternate Future

Back in an earlier post, I was writing about a few simple, potentially obvious (to many), but serious questions I had started asking myself. Questions like “why do I want a girlfriend?” “why do I want sex” and “do I even want sex?” When I wrote that piece, I was mostly focusing on the fact that I had thought to bother asking those questions at all. In a way, they seem like questions no one would ask. I imagine many people would have easy quick answers if they were asked. The fact that I don’t is intriguing to me, but it’s also scary.

I would definitely need to think about my answers to those questions, and some of that thinking might take a while. What I can do however is start to provide a sort of general perimeter which serves to greatly narrow down what the true answers might be. This perimeter allows me to say with absolute confidence that my answer to “do I even want sex” is NOT an immediate, unequivocal, and enthusiastic “yes!” I’m absolutely sure of that, and if I’m brutally honest, I have been for quite some time. Long before I began identifying with asexuality. As a young man in a sex-saturated culture, how could I have admitted that to myself (to say nothing of anyone else)?

You know what? That scares me quite a bit. There are potentially serious consent issues there. This is hard for me to imagine, but if some woman (let’s just say she’s “hot”) just showed up next to me, ready and willing, I would say “maybe” at best. An answer of “no” would be at least as likely, and far easier. “No” is not consent. “Maybe” is not consent. Not by a long shot. And based on my history of “doing things because I thought I was supposed to,” I can easily imagine an alternate future in which I did go through with something like sex, dubious consent and all. In fact, because I know me so well, I’d say that alternate future would have been almost inevitable. I can’t convey how scary that feels.

However, that alternate future is one that thankfully will not occur. Knowing that is tremendously relieving. Having a label like “asexual” allows me to feel totally secure in saying, “No, I don’t have to do anything. No, there’s nothing I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing. This is as valid a way to be as any other.” That’s a pretty powerful result from something that’s “just a label.” This is just one of the reasons why I choose to call myself asexual. This is why the label needs to exist.