The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Jul 03, 2013
By Thom Nickels
It’s been quite a week on the American political stage. There was the repeal of DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, which leaves the door wide open for marriage equality, but two weeks before that a heretofore ‘hidden’ group came out of the closet: the asexuals.
An asexual person, according to The Asexual Visibility & Education Network, is a person who does not experience sexual attraction. Researchers are now calling asexuality a sexual orientation alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. Asexuals, these same researchers say, constitute at least one percent of the population.
An asexual will have no interest in dating, marriage (unless for companionship purposes only), having children, or what some people call "falling in love". Because asexuals never "fall in love" in the traditional libido-driven sense, they cannot know the depths and heights of passion but rather they’d be stuck on an evenly balanced Zen-like plane where all feelings and emotions would not be too low or too high.
To be fair, it may be safer to live life this way. If you never fall in love, you can never be hurt; never feel the pain of love but on the other hand, you will never feel the oh-so-very-fleeting transcendent highs. (What if novelist D.H. Lawrence had been an asexual? One thing’s for sure, he would have never written Women in Love. Would an asexual person make a good novelist? I somehow I doubt it.)
I met my first asexual years ago in Boston. Zachary, who lived in my apartment building, was a studious guy whose idea of a wild Saturday night was to watch old Hollywood movies on TV, drink tea and eat popcorn. His "old man’s life" was an anomaly for someone not yet twenty-three years old. Compared to the buzzed beer-drinking grad students and free-love-advocating hippies of that era, he was like a museum specimen, a freak.
"Something’s seriously wrong with this guy," I remember one girl declaring. "He’s not gay, he never talks about girls. All he does is eat popcorn and watch movies. Weird!"
The word ‘asexual’ was not in vogue in the hippie era, especially in those early days of the Sexual Revolution, when America was being liberated from the Draconian laws and repressions of the 1950s. Most people, in fact, assumed that Zachary had something going on in his private life but had just decided to keep his "love connection" a secret. Most of us at that time, had we put forced to define an asexual, would probably have placed them in the same category as someone with anemia or leukemia. We would have called asexuality a disorder with a traceable cause such as a fear of getting close to people, or someone who has "intimacy issues".
In my own family there have been aunts and uncles who have never married, and who seemed to live a life apart from a formal primary relationship with another human being. Not long ago, the general assumption regarding people like this was that they were heterosexual but just couldn’t find anybody. The women were called ‘spinsters’ (as if sex, which usually complicates things, could solve all their problems) while the men were assumed to be covert playboy bachelors unable to commit to a relationship. As the times changed, these same unmarried aunts and uncles were thought to be secretly gay. Rarely, if ever, were they thought to be people who had zero interest in a romantic dalliance.
One of my elderly great-aunts—a fiercely independent woman who traveled alone on a cross-country train trip in 1929—was often referred to by some of my uncles as "the Virgin Queen" because she never married. It was also hinted that perhaps "Aunt Beatrice" was "a bit like Gertrude Stein." Both "charges", I might add, were absolutely false. Yet there’s no question that not marrying at that time had negative consequences. The single state left you open to rumor and innuendo. On the other hand, getting married and losing your spouse to death also had consequences. Elderly widows were perceived as "used up" women who had to learn to live—and sleep—alone, becoming, by default, asexual, while widowers were more than likely expected to remarry ("men being men"). Old people in general, whether widows, widowers or single people, are to this day seen as people who have transcended the world of the passions to take up residence in the No-Zone world of…asexuality.
So, could it be that we all become asexual in the end?
While the end of DOMA and the move towards marriage equality is a good thing, I hope that naïve over-eager young gay people will not rush in to tie the knot with the wrong partner. The wrong partner, of course, means many things, but mainly this: someone who is not right for you but someone who may have seemed right in the beginning because of the allure of sexual passion. Sexual passion has a fifteen-minute life span; maybe twenty-five minutes if you’re lucky. (If it lasts twenty years, smile and thank God for the miracle.) The fact is, there are more ex-husband and ex-wife complaints among people these days than there are cracks in the sidewalks.
I guess this explains why so many straights are now telling gays: "You’ve gained the right to be as miserable as we are," which is a really cynical comment when you think about it, but which seems to emphasize the fact that love is hard, hard work, and that the fanciful honeymoon at the beginning of a relationship can often morph into a long utilitarian yawn, the passion fading like grandmother’s old wallpaper.
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