Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Smiling through the happiness

Ok, I've been spending way too long writing about asexuality. The reason I know this? I saw an advertisement today for eye-drops, which said "You may be up for the christmas party, but your eyes won't show it!" or something similar. The idea being that you have to look smiley and happy. Looking happy being prized over being happy (especially for women, whom the advert was aimed exclusively at) is a big issue in itself, but my immediate thought was to the implications this has for asexuals.

The first of these is that we always have to seem happy in our sexuality for our sexuality to be recognised. Technically, an awful lot of asexuals could count as HSDD if it wasn’t for the ‘distress’ criterion. Distress is held up as the thing separating asexuality from HSDD, but I don’t know a single asexual who has never experienced distress over their orientation. That’s perfectly natural, it’s a new orientation, and the complexities of living as asexual can get really, really overwhelming, but asexuals have to smile through it all. If not, our sexuality is judged to be destructive, unhealthy, and the books even back it up. What’s worse, since the community is so focused around visibility, this pressure to smile at the world comes from inside the community, too. It would be nice if the world would give us space to not enjoy every minute of the ride.

I think asexuality gets a particularly bad deal here because aromantic people as seen as single, thus ‘Bridget Jones’; people who don’t want sex are seen as broken, unhappy, unconfident. I don’t know how our heteronormative world took the word ‘No’, one of the most powerful things you can do in the bedroom, a ‘no’ which is routinely scorned, cajoled and belittled, and turned it into a mark of lack of confidence.

And this segues rather nicely into my second point- consent. I’ve long realised this is (/would be, chance would be a fine thing) an issue for myself, but I’ve somehow never thought to associate it with all the other asexuals who want to/ wouldn’t mind getting frisky. The model which we’re told to want is the enthusiastic consent model. In its extreme, the progression went:
No means no (basics of consent, but lacks awareness of situations in which consent is impossible)
Yes means yes
OH, YES, GOD YES! means yes (enthusiastic consent)

Reading Emily Nagoski (awesome writer, maybe too heavy on bodily fluid discussion for the repulsed, a little gender-essentialist for me) recently, I was struck by the consent issues that her view of responsive desire brings up. How does someone with responsive desire ever say “OH, YES, GOD YES!” at the start of a sexual encounter? The only things they can say are no, maybe and a relatively unenthusiastic yes. She breaks it down:

The idea that functional sexual desire requires wanting sex out of the blue is bullshit – pervasive and intractable bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless.


She suggests further down that ‘desire’ should be replaced with ‘willingness’, and that suits me. A lot of asexuals are physically incapable of desire for sex, it doesn’t stop them being willing. Bottom line- enthusiastic consent is a barrier too high for a lot of people to live up to.

And yet- and here’s the issue- it’s fairly important as a notion. The idea that you have to actually want it and not just be coerced in some way is something I’d love to fight for, especially when not-really-consent is an asexual issue too. ‘Willingness’ is something which can be manipulated, ‘desire’ can’t. And I’m lost. How can we create a definition which helps those who don’t pass the desire criteria while still making sure that the system works for the majority?

When I told Sciatrix I was writing this post, she linked me to this conversation. There’s some interesting stuff going on in there, and I especially like the conversion of ‘green-yellow-red’ (yes, go carefully, stop), which I tend to hear in a BDSM context, for asexual uses. The very concept of ‘yellow’, that there is consent which isn’t enthusiastic or total, is likable, and it keeps the power of consent in the hands of the consentee, while other non-enthusiastic, non-total consent mechanisms can be more easily abused.

So, I leave you with this. A world in which displaying our emotions labels us mentally disturbed, and bottling them just makes us more damaged. A world in which we have to confront bigots daily without anger. A world in which we’re encouraged to smile when we don’t want it, but can’t manage a smile if we do.
And even if we get out of this still happy, we have to keep smiling through the happiness.
Till next time, folks,
Keep smiling

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