Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thoughts on Romance, Media, and Asexuality

This post started out on the topic of J.K. Rowling announcing last week that she regrets having Ron and Hermione end up together at the end of the Harry Potter series. It, however, delved off into something else and with this article a piece from the Guardian expounding more upon what Rowling said, I have far less quarrel with this topic. There is the continuing tension between an author revealing that writing doesn't end with the publishing of a book and the fans feeling a certain kind of connectivity and power with the characters. But this post didn't really deal with that. Instead, it dealt with the focus on relationships in books and other forms of media. And I decided to keep that bit in and nix the Harry Potter discussion and talk about something tricky just in time for Valentine's Day. This post (like so many of my posts these days) was difficult to write and it's highly personal. So if you don't want to deal with my TMI, then skip today's post.

Have I ever talked much about asexuality on here? Briefly here it seems. Well, I'm about to talk more about it. Over the last year or so I have deeply considered whether or not I myself am asexual. I certainly don't care about sex as much as some people, or perhaps even many people, and, while I do experience sexual attraction, it's very, very infrequently, and generally only after I experience some emotional attachment due to something a person has done, something they have said, or something along those lines. As I have greatly noted over the years, I do not have to personally know the person for this to occur. After seeing more and more about asexuality online, I have a great deal of understanding for asexuals, though I am not one myself (as I do experience sexual attraction) though I would say I'm some degree of greysexual (someone in some degree between asexuality and sexuality).

Realizing this has been a great comfort to me. In the recent past, when I couldn't understand why I had never really dated and why, perhaps more to my alarm, I had rarely met anyone I actually wanted to date, I beat myself up for it. I thought I was doing something wrong or that I was weird or just being "too picky" (as I had been told by my grandmother). I struggled to understand why people could so easily say things like, "Oh my God, I would totally sleep with him/her" or "He is so sexy" just by looking at someone and, more so, why they reacted so strangely when I disagreed or couldn't express the same sentiments. I struggled to understand how easily kisses could be shared when they seemed to have a higher intimacy for me than most people and I continued to be embarrassed that I'd never actually had one. When I wrote a blog post about struggling with modernity, isolation, and being single for one of my classes, I began to notice how unhealthy my fear was of admitting that I was in my twenties and had been single my entire life. I felt like I'd done something wrong, like I'd missed some vital part of puberty in high school where I was supposed to end up dating. But I hadn't felt like dating in high school. I hadn't really felt like dating until the later end of my college years. I was convinced that I was being too dreamy or too romantic or too focused on the impossible. I am dreamy, and to some degree romantic, and I have a strong belief in the impossible. But it wasn't this that had caused my perceived problem - it was the simple fact that I had never been in the time or place in which I had truly wanted to date someone. It took me two more years to really recognize this and only last fall did I finally really understand that there was nothing wrong with me but that I was just different. I was single because I was single. I had only once or twice actually physically met someone I wanted to date. My feelings of shame and embarrassment at twenty-three years of single-tude began to make more sense to me and was no longer enveloped in such negativity. I had never really tried too hard to date because... well, I had never met anyone that made me want to try. I was kind of lonely, I was kind of depressed about it, but when it came down to it, I couldn't really think of any opportunities where I regretted not being more in pursuit of a relationship. The one date I have ever gone on, I asked the guy out and, well, it didn't work out, but I'd done what I could (and now can't understand what I liked about the guy in the first place, weirdly enough. Perhaps because he got back together with his ex-girlfriend and I'm just happy that she got a second chance and I don't really care about myself in this matter).

Reading about asexuality on Tumblr and seeing this article that my friend Tyler posted about wanting to love someone without sex really hit me and helped me understand how I was viewing such things and thinking about them. Perhaps I found it easier to develop relationships in my head because not knowing someone prevented me from worrying about how I would have to handle intimacy with another person or I could handle intimacy on my own terms and not have to worry trying to explain it to someone. Perhaps I was so fraught with judgement and confusion about people who treated sex with causality because I could not at all understand it for myself. Perhaps I felt such stigma for my fangirly ways because I was concerned that on some level I would only have relationships in my mind and never in real-life. Realizing why I was thinking these things helped me to stop being so hard on myself for them and opening my mind more. I wasn't afraid of intimacy, I wasn't reluctant to experience it - I just wanted to experience it at my own pace with someone I trusted and truly cared about. And I simply had never met a person like that.

Now that I've burdened you all with my personal musings, the question remains of why am I suddenly talking about this? It was something I discussed with Tyler in in London and found the conversations enlightening. I talk about it here in the hopes that maybe my over-revealing will help someone who was perplexed like myself. There isn't a lot of discussion of asexuality and variations of it and, while I'm not exactly a representative for asexuals, I'd like to show my support and empathy for them.

And secondly, I am really tired of same-old romantic relationships in the media. I recently reread Romeo and Juliet for my vlog series and I think it unleashed all the built-up hatred I have about people reading the play and thinking it's the most romantic thing on the planet. It's not romantic; it's bloody sad that they die because of discord between their families and that they are in such a pressured time frame and state of mind, they think it's a good idea to get married right after meeting each other. The popular interpretation of the play in many ways better serves to show our issues with viewing romance in popular culture than what Shakespeare really wrote about (but more about this in the vlog). The point is, I have a lot of strong feelings about how we talk about love and relationships in society as it is. Initally, Rowling's comments about Hermione and Ron bothered me because it seemed like she was focusing more on the romance at in the books than the issues of them saving the Wizarding World. It seems to represent this need for marriage and children to have a happy ending that I've already seen too much in literature and film and, while Rowling can't be held responsible for this wide cultural trend, the fact that she included it so much in her last books continues to bother me.

But what bothers me is how much it's continued elsewhere. Try to think of a popular song on the radio that isn't about love - it's kind of a struggle. We're a society obsessed with passionate love and, while we mean well with it, it often covers up perfectly valid and just as powerful other forms of love, be they romantic or not, and they often don't get their due.

However, I still care deeply about romance. Yes, in my life, I want to fall in love (with a person in my vicinity, not in my head, thanks). And yes, I want to get married. But they are not the be-all, end-alls of my existence. I am more than a marriage that, honestly, may never come. Realistically, I have other stuff to focus on than just marriage. I've got things to write, books to read, topics that need researched, plays to see, friends to get coffee with, brunches to have with my parents, dead fictional characters to weep over. I have serious career goals and personal interests that I will not give up and people I care deeply about that I will not cast aside in the pursuit of "true love". Too often I see people throw away their dreams for a person who wouldn't throw theirs away for them and I refuse to do that. I'll make sacrifices, but only ones that I can truly make without regrets and ones that my partner would make as well. But when I'm in the home good section of Target, stocking shelves and watching couples shop to decorate their new apartment, I can't help but feel a little jealous. But I know that intimacy doesn't come easy for me and that, while I can see a lot of good in people, I don't fall in love as easy as I think. It might be a form of love I'll never know. And to see so much written about how negative that is and how unfulfilled my life will be without it deeply concerns me. I've known plenty of other powerful forms of love, thanks - family love, platonic, friendly love. A love for the world and a love for cities and a love for the way things just are sometimes. While I'd really like to experience romantic love, I also know that I don't like how selfish it seems in cultural perceptions. I don't want someone to be "all mine" and I don't want to possess someone. I want to share the world with them and understand how they see it. Basically, when I heard this song from Starkid's Twisted musical, I thought, "Yes, this is it! This is what I want!"

This blog post seems like kind of a mess to me, so I hope it makes some semblance of sense. I guess what I'm trying to say through all of this is that love is a lot more complicated and nuanced than it's often perceived and... well, I find it a shame to see relationships - even if they are fictional - whittled down to something so simplistic and narrowly defined. I'd love to see a world where relationships are more than just marriage and sex and supposed happy endings. I'd like to see more difficulties in relationships - I'd like to see the struggles between Ron and Hermione to make their relationship work, dammit. I want to see couples that are asexual, that express intimacy in different ways, that don't even have a romantic relationship but care about each other deeply. But I'd also like to see sexual relationships that are not heteronormative, that are not cookie-cutter replicas of each other, that define sexiness in broader terms, that focus on deep intimacy and communication. Relationships of this variety are emerging more and more and I'm grateful, but I'd like there to be even more acceptance of this. Because maybe if we can see and accept it in a fictional character, the rest of society - and ourselves - will be more likely accept it too. 


  1. Gina, all I have to say is ME. TOO.
    Thank you for this post. I hope whatever is in your future it's a wonderful one.

    1. Thank you so much, anon. Best wishes for a bright and wonderful future for you as well.