More trans, less sexual

sex-blocksI’m not just writing this because I’m asexual. It’s a topic that’s been bothering me and others for a while, and that’s the sexualisation of transition.

I spoke to the wife of an old friend a couple of weeks ago, for the first time since I outed myself to her husband as transitioning (so it’s been 18 months since she and I last spoke). She was trying hard to say the right things, in spite of her being from a more “traditional” central European culture (although as an artist, she is more free-flowing than many of her compatriots, she’s still got some of her cultural habits running at full tilt). What really jolted me, though, was when she said “I bet you can’t wait to get out there and enjoy your new equipment!” I was too taken aback to respond to this, so I just left it hanging.

I and a number of my trans friends and acquaintances, and trans people written about in the press, are way too often on the receiving end of the assumption that our purpose in transitioning anatomically – whether through hormones or surgery – in some way has sex or sexuality as its primary motivation.

It’s hardly surprising, given how sex-obsessed the western world is. It sometimes seems as though pretty much anything at all that anyone does will be presumed by at least someone to be for “sexual gain”.

Sexuality and gender identity are discrete entities, which are intertwined with each other only in the same way that everything about each of us is intertwined with everything else about each of us.

I’m not putting myself through a 7-hour operation later this year in order to have penetrative sex… or any kind of sex at all. I acknowledge that though currently seeing myself as asexual, I have no idea what shape my sexuality will take, post-anatomical-transition, and I may well find myself interested in being sexual in company again one day. But none of my reasons for wanting to change my sexual anatomy are to do with sex. I felt completely at a loss to know how to convey that to my friend, over the phone like that.

I simply know what body I’m supposed to be in. I’m not in that body, and never will be, in this lifetime. But, like someone who’s lost a limb and wears a prosthesis, I want to look and function as much like I’m meant to as I can, because I want to be as much myself as I can, and I’ll take what I can get. That’s why I’ve gone through these 2 years of hovering in the void between anatomical genders – so that I can eventually arrive properly in my body, at last.

I suppose that even the language employed around gender and transition, that of primary and secondary sexual characteristics (meaning genitalia and breasts/chest, when discussing anatomical characteristics in typically binary terms), and that stupid word transsexual really don’t help with all this. And we’re stuck with that stupid word because someone earlier along the line assumed that gender dysphoria was a sexual aberration of some kind, which is how we ended up in the Psychiatric Disorders pigeonhole for so long.

And I feel nothing but encouragement for trans folk who are excitedly looking forward to going out there and trying out their new equipment in the sexual arena. Enjoy yourselves! I just wish I lived in a world where sex wasn’t assumed to be the bedrock of everything.

[written at 3 am, feeling insomaniacal and ranty…]

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Romanception

fractalBy the gods… Romans everywhere! Legions within legions… We are doomed!!

Um, no, seriously, this isn’t about Romans.

[Trigger alert: this blog-thing will be about sexual abuse, amongst other things]

Hello. It’s been a little while, as I’ve been busy sorting some things out. So… no Romans, I’m afraid, though that would have been fun, in a bronzy, leathery sort of way. No, this is about romance. Specifically, it’s about (cutting to the chase) me trying to work out why I seem to be in love with being in love (hence the memeish title… for which pandering to modernity I deeply apologise…)

Yes, this is going to be pretty personal, but I’m really onto something here, and it helps to write these things out, and well, here we are. What is it that makes me think I’m in love with being in love? Well, a comprehensive list of the people I’ve been properly in love with over the last, erm, lots of years, comes to 80. To be fair, only about half a dozen of those were the true, full-on, this is going to make me die! kind of being in love. But the rest weren’t just “people I fancied”, they were pretty full-on experiences in their own right.

And most of these were unrequited, too, of course. In fact, only 8 of them have been requited, and they were all women (iiiinterestingggg…). Oh, did I mention that the figures come down pretty much even between women and men? They do. And there was actually one perhaps-requited on the men side of the list, since I think we were both too scared to tell each other. And of course, there are a number of people on both sides of the list whom I never told, so maybe it was requited after all, since they never told me anything either. And only one of those Death-Or-Glory Half-Dozen was ever requited.

I’m aware, by the way, of using very gender-binary language here. There are more recent people on this list who are only nominally on one side or the other – or are in fact neither. And I have no actual idea what a lot of these people’s gender identities were in my more distant past. Hence I think of myself these days as polyromantic, as well as polysensual.

Okay then, that’s the embarrassing part of the disclosure out of the way (really 80? really 80). What I’ve been asking myself is: Why do I keep falling for people in this way, and why is it so rarely requited? Well, the thing is…

I think that as a consequence of being sexual abused by my parents, I’ve spent my life very carefully falling for people who are not available, or not mutually attracted. Because it’s safest that way. The few times I’ve ended up in sexual relationships (because that’s what I thought I was looking for), it’s been terrible, because I get scared and angry when I’m sexual.

That explains some of it, but there’s more going on. While I’ve been trying to figure all this out, my teens have been very much on my mind. I spent almost my entire teenage years without having physical contact with anyone, and I think I did that on purpose, because it didn’t feel safe. Then when I was 17, my life changed as a result of meeting someone who’s now my oldest friend, and through him. a crowd of local hippy types that I fell in with – and all of a sudden I had a social life, and friends, and was (within that particular subculture, at least) for the first time in my life, somehow cool.

And then the bomb dropped. My friend’s sister gave me a hug, and I immediately fell in love with her, and I added to the hardship in her life for several months (she was busy dealing with anorexia) until I let go of the infatuation part, and we managed to become proper, loving friends. She was the first person I ever really loved, and she died in a fire, aged 17, three years after we met.

I think I keep on looking for that safe love. And it’s possible, now that I’ve realised I’m essentially asexual, that I’ll eventually find it with somebody similarly asexual – because that’s what it would take.

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still unsure about posting it; but it feels significant to me, for other people living with the consequences of abuse, to tell this story.

Since I’ve come to terms with my asexuality, and more recently since I’ve begun making more sense of this romantic compulsion I seem to have, I’ve been able to sit more lightly to it. It’s not like the habit of a lifetime is going to stop all of a sudden. It happened to me only yesterday, and that after I’d been joking that it was one of the things I’d have to watch out for yesterday… I spent the afternoon doing improvisational harmony singing with some other women in a house in the country, and I fell for one of them. Gorgeous, Canadian, musical, lesbian, happily committed to someone already. So it goes.

I know that singing makes me very open emotionally, so I was prepared for the possibility of falling for someone (it’s happened this way before – I met my friend-belovèd at a singing workshop, and fell for her in exactly the same way, though way worse… and now we’re great friends). So I’m feeling the sadness of this, but at the same time I’m able to feel a gentle smiling compassion for this part of me that just wants safe intimacy with someone, and has been too scared to ask for it in the past, and has ended up with unsafe intimacy (or none) instead.

The one thing that gives me more satisfaction than almost anything, lately, is the knowledge that I’m now someone who knows what she wants, and is able to say it out loud, and even to ask for it. I don’t always get what I want, but it’s very satisfying nevertheless to ask. And often, I do get what I want. Or I get what I need. Often enough. Everything the collective that is me has done in this life has been worth it, just to get to this point.

Oh, what the fuck, we all deserve this to end with…

rory-roman

Sub-untitled

Alfred-KubinI was trying to explain to someone the other day about my theory of sensual-vs-sexual, in the context of asexuality. An image came to mind that I wanted to expand on, and this seemed as good a place as any…

Looking back over my life at my sexual/loving encounters, it now seems to me like watching a film that was in the Language of Love, but where the sub-titles were in Sexualese, and the sound was turned off.

I’ve just learned how to turn the sound up, so now I can hear the original language, and therefore find out what was and is really going on, at last – even though the old habits (and old sub-titles) are still there.

It makes me feel very sad, looking back this way, to see how much love I lost by having love sexualised for me, and so being afraid of it. Other people got hurt along the way because of this – but it wasn’t me that turned the sound off, it was my abusers.

I just came across a poem I wrote when I was around 17, and was in love with two people – a boy, and a girl (I still dream about them). The poem is kind of about both of them, and it’s so obvious to me now that it’s about longing for love, connexion, touch, without sex.

Rorschach

 given half a chance
(and fifteen times the courage)
I’ll be lying there,
mind gently on the ripple and so,
     feel warm skin of one who trusts me drowsy smiling,
         eyes closed but
     us linked like unseen
horseshoes

My loveliest experiences have been being naked with some loved one, snoozing together, cuddling, talking, laughing, but not as foreplay or aftplay (I may have just invented this word, and I like it… nope, others have beaten me to it, but I don’t begrudge them, I’m a co-operative beast). This is what I want from a… well, a lover, but an asexual lover. Isn’t language bendy? Lover nowadays pretty fundamentally means “someone you have sex with.” But I want “someone I have love with.” (This is not an advertisement.)

*****

I want to explain the painting above. It’s by the German artist Alfred Kubin (I don’t know the title of the painting… oh, it turns out it’s called Mythical Creature – or at least that’s the English translation of the title). I’ve spent years fruitlessly searching for an image of this, and only just rediscovered it (all things gravitate to the Internet eventually). My first ever girlfriend (who was German) gave me a poster with this on, because I loved it so much – loved the atmosphere, loved the animal, wolf-cat, cat-wolf. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Looking at this, I found myself remembering the first time she and I had sex (the first time I had sex as an adult), and how scared I was, and how I couldn’t let on (even to myself) how scared I was. And how I got glandular fever in order to escape from my “sexual obligation” – and how ever since then, I’ve kept getting ill to escape honourably from having to be sexual. It all seems so transparent now, now that it’s safe to know it. As Samuel Delany put it, Things that made the obscure obvious by overturning, overturned.

Free from sex now, free from the sub-titles (read them and laugh at the appalling translation, why don’t we). And this song of love is loud and sinuous and sonorous, lyrical, hilarious, profound, warm, hot, cool, abundant, healing, heartening, amuses all the muses… and is never just for one person.

the bright star shining

[This glorious painting is by Catherine Hyde… and is called The Bright Star Shining]

In bone, marrow

bone marrow transplantThis is going to be about love.

I wrote a love poem, once, to someone I was in love with who was in love with me, and the first line of that poem was In bone, marrow – the poem was about how we might have a hard, safe shell, but without the soft, live core it’s there to protect, that produces the red, red blood, it’s just a dead skeleton.

I don’t have this poem, because I gave it to her without making a copy, and then we broke up, and then she threw it away.

Funny how these things keep coming back to mind. Funny how you can write something one day that is an aside to something else that seems very important, and then that aside moves to the centre. I wrote in my last blog-thing, For me, love without fear means love without sex (for the foreseeable future); for some reason, that’s ringing in my head now, and the semicolon feels important (because nothing’s written in stone – well, okay, but even things that are written in stone eventually weather away).

What I want to write about here is a connexion I’m making in my mind-heart between asexuality and love.

I’m still settling into this awareness that I am in some way asexual. By asexual, I mean that I don’t really like sex, and would prefer not to have any. I still (definitely) experience attraction, but though I want everything that surrounds sex – affection, intimacy, sensuality, touch – I don’t want the sex itself. This is definitely partly because I’m afraid of it (abuse has made sure of that) but it’s there in its own right too. We’re so bombarded by the Cultural Certainty that anyone who’s normal and healthy wants sex, it’s very hard to see around that. And since abuse led me to mistake being abused for being loved, my compulsion-fear has made seeing clearly pretty much out of the question until now.

But since I began realising that I don’t actually want sex, I’ve been feeling increasingly freed up and, I don’t know, somehow “able to move” in a way I’ve never felt before. And the space I’m able to move in has something very intimately to do with love.

I’ve always had this intuition that we all have soulmates – but that we all have many more than one, no matter what the Romantic Myth tries to sell us. There are a few people in my life with whom I’m very strongly, warmly, passionately connected, who are my loves, but not my lovers. And there’s something about stepping out into this thing I’m calling asexuality that makes me free to release love hidden away in myself (protected by way too much bone) and it’s spreading out in waves.

I don’t know what more to say about this than that it feels as though there’s a slow, quiet, gorgeous bomb going off in me, that’s shattering barriers to being able to love people more generally. As I write that, I can feel myself in danger of spiritualising the experience – but I think it’s a very ordinary extraordinary, to be freer to love.

Buddhism has a strong tradition of celibacy, but I’m not assuming that’s where I’m heading. It does, though, for the first time, seem something possible in a way that’s not an austerity or a fleeing from the fearsome, but a blossoming forth of something else.

This is another of those “ah well, this is how I’m feeling right now, no matter what comes next” celebrations.

*****

It’s interesting to me that many of the people I’ve talked about this with so far have come back at me with variations on “don’t worry, one day you’ll be able to enjoy sex”, as though being asexual were some kind of treatable condition. And it’s interesting (and wholly unsurprising) to me that I can feel the pull towards assuming This Is How It’s Going To Be, because certainty and labels are very comforting badges of office. So no, I don’t know where this is going. I just feel it’s something growing, rather than something being built.

maples-leaves

Escolhas, escolhas…

[…this is going to be quite personal…]

Since it’s just you and me here tonight, let me tell you a private joke.

As with everything that goes on in my mind, this connects past-present-future as well as this-that-those-these. Anyway…

Back around this time 12 years ago, I was on a solitary retreat in a caravan in North Wales, a few months after my mum died, and I had some kind of psycho-spiritual awakening. I’m not going to say more about it than that it didn’t last (the conditions to support it lasting were not there), but I thought for several months that it was with me forever – until I took a good look at myself, and laughed and let go, with some final relief.

During the holding-on time, though, I met up with the Portuguese surf god I’d used to live with at a Buddhist retreat centre (he was back over from Portugal for a visit), and he told me his partner was pregnant. In a rush of self-deluded grandeur, I said: hey, I’ll come over to Portugal and teach with you, help you out! (Spoiler: I got over this…)

Before I got over it, I went out and bought a Teach Yourself Portuguese book, and a Portuguese-English dictionary. I went to a café and got the books out to look at them, but got distracted by a beautiful Brazilian woman who’d noticed them, and offered to teach me Portuguese – I sadly declined (we lived in different cities), and after she’d sauntered away, I picked up the dictionary, and opened it for the first time, at random. And behold, the headwords at the top of the two pages seemed to say it all:

Masturbate … Meditate

My private joke with my Portuguese-speaking friends I’ve shown this to is escolhas, escolhas – choices, choices…

*****

There’s a reason, apart from the approaching full moon, why I’m thinking about this tonight, and telling it. For a couple of days now, it’s been on my mind to wonder about why I always seem to be oriented so strongly towards being in a sexual relationship? Because of late, I’ve been faced with the certainty that although I yearn for a relationship, I know I’m in no fit state to be in one  – because of my PTSD, because of my transitioning, but chiefly because…

The thing is, being sexually abused by my parents (among the other weird mind-messes they made) has left me with a pretty unhealthy relationship with sex. Many selves:

  • someone in me believes that the only way to get love is to be sexually available
  • someone in me believes that being sexual gets you rejected and abandoned
  • someone in me believes anyone who loves me wants me sexually
  • someone in me believes anyone who wants me sexually just wants to use me
  • someone in me believes anyone who doesn’t want me sexually doesn’t love me

…and so on. It’s not easy to stay beyond this, watch all this go on at once and not be sucked into one or the other someone, like a chromed ball on a wire, wandering randomly between magnets on a 70’s executive toy (dammit, this is too specific, and I can’t find a picture to explain this). What I mean is, when I’m sexual with someone, I flicker between these states of “certainty” about what’s happening far more than I stay beyond them, actually experiencing what’s actually happening.

What’s been on my mind the last couple of days is choice. I know I’m not asexual – I have desires towards people. But I think I don’t actually want to have the sex I seem to desire, because it scares me, and I’m tired of being scared. And it’s seemed as though on some level (because of the manifold someones above), I think I don’t have a choice about whether I’m sexual or not.

But I do.

What I want: I want everything that I love about being in a relationship – except the sex. I don’t know that I can get that from one person, and maybe I don’t need to get it just from one person. But I want intimacy, and affection, and continuity, and love, and laughs, and friendship, and depth of communication, and openness, and vulnerability… and giving, singing, and dancing!

(…oh, and I want kissing… kissing is way more fucking amazing than fucking is amazing…)

Well okay, what I’d really like is not to be frightened by sex, but I have no idea whether that’s ever going to be possible. (My experience of it is going to be “different” once I’ve had surgery, but I have no idea in what ways different and in what ways not-different.) And meanwhile, alongside of all that amazing list of possibilities with people, sex really doesn’t need to be a priority – I’ve just been conditioned (by my culture, and by my damaged parents) to see it as a priority, even though (as I’m finally admitting to myself) it’s more frightening than it’s enjoyable.

Over the last week, I’ve had some truly lovely interaction with people that’s reminded me of how rich and fruity friendship can be, in and of itself. I have no idea… I really, really, have no idea… whether I’ll feel like this a week from now, I have such strong conditioning towards the old story. But I wanted to tell this one while it’s in my mind.

I’m evoking a reality where the someones that are me get to give and get love, without sex (and therefore fear) being a price, because I don’t want there to be a price in love.

So if there ever comes a day where sex no longer costs me what it always has done, I may give and receive it with as much joy as I do love – but until then, I choose its absence.

[…moth dances in the dark…]