Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sexuality and the Bible, Part 5: Grayromantics and Asexuality

Last week we talked about celibacy and the gifting that calls people to an ever-single lifestyle. I want to talk about how we treat those who are called to celibacy. Ironically, much as the church pushes for gays and lesbians to remain celibate, our culture offers little to no support to those who were born to the lifestyle.

As Jesus pointed out, there are different types of celibates, including some that are born that way. Like

Grayromantics experience little to no attraction to others. All their parts work, but they don't have the drive to enter a relationship or be romantic, and they don't desire intimacy with someone. It's just not there.

Now, ace is still a spectrum.* Just because you land on the gray scale doesn't mean you're going to choose celibacy. Nevertheless, many grayromantics do not find or seek for a mate, and live very contented bachelor/ette lives.

I've known a lot of grayromantics. Across the board, they experience condescension, disbelief, and judgement from others. Their way of life is very much looked down on by the rest of us. Romance and relationships are built into our culture so tightly that someone who isn't interested is seen as unnatural and pitiable. "You must have hormone imbalances. Were you abused? It's okay, you don't have to be afraid; even if you get hurt, love is worth it."

But they're not afraid, abused, or imbalanced. They aren't loners, either, any more than other people. They have friends, and besties, and coworkers, and family. They have intimate nonromantic relationships. Just not romantic ones.

Just as the church, and secular culture too, can be often unsupportive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, the same is true of grayromantics. We emphasize weddings and play the matchmaker. We have special events for married couples. Younger singles have college groups and young adult groups (sometimes), but older singles are in a sea of married people whose lives revolve around their kids. Think about it: are your conversations about something a grayromantic could relate to?

The broader culture erases grayromantics too. When was the last time you saw a demisexual or ace character in a movie or book? Major characters always seem to end up with a significant other, or else have a very good reason to be alone (their spouse died, etc).

That makes sense, in the main. Art is concerned with the human experience, and a majority of us experience romantic attractions towards other people. But some of us don't, and their existence is often ignored in art and mediums of entertainment.

Phrases like "when you're married" or "when you have a special someone" are hurtful to grayromantics. Their future may not hold any special someone and they are content with that. Saying "when" ignores their desires and who they are as a person, while also putting pressure on them to live up to heteronormative standards of behavior.

Having a significant other is also closely tied to gender identity. We may joke about how having a girl- or boyfriend makes a boy a man or a girl a woman, but the cultural narrative sees relationships as an essential part of being an adult. I had one male friend who struggled with his gender identity for awhile before coming out as a grayromantic, because he'd been told for so long that being a man involved wanting women, and he didn't feel any desire.

For most of us, me included, it's hard to imagine life without sexual and romantic attractions and feelings. But it's also hard for me as a white person to understand the experiences of racial minorities in America. That doesn't mean I shouldn't endeavor to understand, to accommodate other experiences into my worldview, and to seek not to be offensive in how I phrase things. I have to recognize my privilege and recognize that my story isn't the only one. That's as true for non-grays as it is for white folks.

The first step to making our homes, churches, and other social spaces more welcoming to grayromantics is simply to be aware of what we're saying. When everyone's talking about their romantic lives, don't ask the quiet person "when will you find someone?" and instead ask, "do you have someone?" or even "do you want someone?" If someone is appreciating being single, don't stop them with words of, "Oh, but dating/marriage is so awesome!" When your kid hits That Age and you start setting boundaries, change your "for when you're dating" to "if you date."

There is room for all types. Our cultural narrative can handle it.

And maybe, while you're at it, read a book with asexual characters. Like Pavilion of Women, a literary/women's fic novel set in China about a high-class asexual woman. Or even The Hobbit. Bilbo remained a confirmed bachelor his whole life and we never read of him having any relationship with another hobbit.

Grayromantics aren't weird. They aren't broken and they don't need our pity. They just want friendship, and to not be pressured to date. Life can be complete without a spouse.

Word count: 847.

* Some don't desire sex but do desire a romantic relationship (asexual or demisexual). Others experience sexual urges but don't desire an intimate relationship (aromantic). Others have no desire for any of it (ace everything).