Growing up ace and Christian

This post is for the February 2015 Carnival of Aces, which is on Cross Community Connections. I’d been wanting to write about this subject already, and this Carnival seems like perfect timing.

I was homeschooled, so I never went through a sex-ed class. But I did get sexual purity Sunday school classes, where we discussed books like Every Young Man/Woman’s Battle­—the battle being with sexual temptation. And the whole time, my thought was, “Um, it’s not my battle!” But neither the book nor the youth leaders ever mentioned that as a possibility. I mean, the book titles say it all—every person’s battle (well, as long as you’re a man or a woman).

I assume the authors of those books and the teachers of the class had never heard of asexuality. At the very end of the girls’ book there was a short chapter on “What if I’m not attracted to guys?”, but that just meant, “What if I am attracted to girls?” At the beginning of the book the authors stated, “Everyone is a sexual being. Even when you’re not doing anything sexual, you remain a sexual person.” And I didn’t like being told that about myself, because it didn’t seem right, but I didn’t have the language or the framework to object to it.

I’d hear Christians say that sex is a gift from God, and I cringed away from that sentiment, because it wasn’t a gift that I wanted. I always knew I was different from everyone around me, and I think part of the reason I did (as opposed to assuming everyone else was like me, like some aces did growing up), was my Christian environment. Once, one of my peers took a vocation-discernment test and received “celibacy” as a possible result, and she reported that to the rest of the class with laughter—and everyone else laughed too. My asexuality didn’t go unexamined because of Christianity’s emphasis on abstinence; rather, I was surrounded by married people, and told that my peers and I would also get married someday. And I always knew what marriage meant. Sunday school didn’t teach “Don’t have sex”; it taught, “Don’t have sex until you’re married.”

My church and Christian culture in general told me sex was powerful, that it was hard for people to control their sexual urges, that it was normal to masturbate and fantasize and want to sleep with the person you were dating—but those desires had to be contained until you were married, when suddenly all your sexual needs would be fulfilled by your spouse. That meant I did not want to get married, because marriage equaled sex. It meant I thought I could never have a romantic relationship, because romantic relationships became marriages. It mean I thought I was destined to be alone forever, because the only long-term, committed relationship you could have was a romantic one.

It didn’t get any better after I discovered asexuality; when I Googled around at one point, trying to find a Christian view of it, I only came up with articles like this horror, which calls asexuality “sub-Christian”  (content warning in the “sexuality” section at least for heterosexism,  cissexism, binarism, and sex-normativity/compulsory sexuality). I also concluded, from a little more Googling and verses like 1 Corinthians 7:4-5—“The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again”—that it would be wrong to be in a sexless relationship with an allosexual. And nothing I had ever been taught contradicted that conclusion; the idea of a sexless marriage was never mentioned.

Christianity helped me realize I was asexual, even if I didn’t know that word at the time, because of its emphasis on sex and sexual desire/temptation. Christian culture is sex-normative, and it made me feel isolated and completely alone. It gave me a messed-up view of men as having voracious, barely-controlled sexual appetites, insisted that I was sexual even though that didn’t ring true for me, and told me that if I wanted a romantic relationship, I would have to have sex.

Hearing asexuality mentioned as a possibility alongside the talk of temptation would have been so validating; it would have been such a relief to have my feelings acknowledged and presented as okay. Instead, I had to wait till I was 20 to find out that asexuality was a thing, after suffering through years of compulsory sexuality from my (now former) religion. So what could Christians do better? It’s not hard: Know about asexuality. Be okay with asexuality. Don’t glorify marriage above singleness, and don’t glorify marital sex. And when you teach about sexual purity, mention that being ace is a thing—and that there’s nothing wrong with it.

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“No love interest = not straight”

The Asexual Agenda’s latest question of the week is about contrived romance in movies, and it got me thinking again about something related that I’ve pondered on and off before. As many people have already pointed out, the majority of mainstream movies have a romantic storyline or subplot, which means that it’s downright strange to see a film’s main character reach the end without having had a romance or love interest. And it’s always great to see films like that, as they challenge amatonormativity and lend credence to asexuals and aromantics. But a lot of people explain these characters’ lack of love lives by saying that they’re queer, which can actually lead right back into supporting amatonormativity.

The two movies that I’m specifically thinking of are both recent Disney/Pixar films. Merida in Brave shows no desire for romance. The internet says, “Merida is gay!”* Elsa in Frozen has no love interest. The internet says, “Elsa is gay!”** In ace/aro communities, people may headcanon Merida or Elsa as ace and/or aro. And I’m all for aces and aromantics, and queer people of all stripes, finding and appreciating characters who look like us, especially when there are so few in mainstream films. But my problem with assuming that any character who isn’t proven straight must be queer is that that idea says, “If you don’t have a romantic relationship at the moment and aren’t actively pursuing one or making it clear that you want one, you can’t be straight”—that everyone who is straight is going to be seeking romance all the time. It says that romance is the most important part of every straight person’s life story, that they can’t have periods of their life that don’t involve it but are still interesting.

Why can’t Elsa be straight, but too busy dealing with the anxiety and guilt she feels about her power to be thinking about finding a man? Why can’t Merida be straight but interested in a different trajectory for her life than a traditional marriage? I’m definitely not advocating for more heterosexual characters than there already are, or saying that we must read every character as straight unless it’s explicitly stated otherwise (for ace/aro people, it hasn’t yet been stated that any mainstream movie/TV character is like us, so our headcanons are all we’ve got!). I just want society to recognize that romance isn’t, and doesn’t have to be, the ultimate goal for anyone, of any sexual or romantic orientation—and the belief that the only explanation for a character not having a heterosexual romance or love interest during the course of a movie is that they’re not heterosexual isn’t helping.


*Merida is also a bit of a tomboy, which apparently also equals lesbian. That’s not a good assumption to make either.

**Although at least with Elsa they had other reasons too.

Making assumptions about different-gender interactions

I read a blog post in which a woman described meeting a man on a plane and getting a glimpse into his fascinating life. She also spoke well of his looks, not in an “I was attracted to him” way, but in a way you might talk about admiring anything beautiful. This was a very small part of the post, which was mainly concerned with her anxiety about talking to a stranger and her gratefulness that she overcame that anxiety and was able to briefly connect with him. But what was the first comment on the post? “Sounds like you found him attractive ;)”. The author had replied to that comment saying that was her husband’s response as well, but not at all what she had felt or meant. And it made me sad that this was both the commenter’s and the husband’s focus, and that they took the author’s words in an entirely different way than she intended them.

People tend to do this to each other a lot, at least in spaces where heteronormativity reigns unquestioned—if someone shows any sort of interest in a person who is perceived to be of the opposite gender, it’s assumed to be romantic interest and treated accordingly, because of course everyone is both straight and interested in romantic relationships, and that’s the only reason they would ever interact with anyone of a different gender than their own. This often means that the person showing the interest gets teased; my teenage sister mentions a male friend, and my whole family starts asking, “Ooh, do you like him?” and making jokes about the two of them as a couple. Reacting to kids especially this way sends the message that the only relationships there can be between people of different genders are romantic ones, which is severely limiting. It’s quite possible to be friends with, be intrigued by, have a good conversation with, or desire to get to know better someone of a different gender without any romantic attraction being present. But heteronormative circles don’t acknowledge this, and some perhaps don’t even believe it.

The typical nature of the responses—“Oooh, you like her”; “You must think he’s attractive”—makes people (again, probably kids in particular) feel like they need to defend these instances of non-romantic interest in those of a different gender, or else causes them to feel that they can’t talk about them to others at all—because other people won’t understand and will turn the occurrences into something they’re not. The FedEx guy who used to pick up my office’s packages every day was really nice, and my brief conversations with him were always pleasant. But I avoided talking about him to certain people, stopping myself from mentioning a fun place he’d recommended I go or a story he’d told, because I didn’t want to get asked, “Ooh, what’s his name? Is he hot?”. I didn’t want anyone insisting I felt something that I didn’t, and I didn’t want the point of my story—“This is a cool guy, and I enjoy talking to him”—to be completely missed.

Even worse, these typical reactions can cause the person expressing interest to be embarrassed, which could lead them to avoid non-romantic encounters with or interest in people of different genders in the future. Several times I have tried to minimize my interactions with a certain man after being teased about him, because the only way I saw to escape getting teased again was to not talk to the man I was being teased about. But how awful is that? At worst, the person I’m suddenly ignoring will be bothered by my apparent rudeness, and even if he doesn’t actually notice or care, I’m still missing out on interaction and possibly a relationship with a fun or interesting or good person, just because he happens to not share my gender.

I think making assumptions of romantic interest is especially harmful when it’s done to kids, because they don’t know to be heteronormative or amatornormative or assume that they can’t be friends with people of different genders until they’re taught to do so (which is done by popular culture as well as interpersonal interactions). Once they learn that they should only be having certain feelings and relating to other people in certain ways, anything that doesn’t fit into this mold becomes something to be ashamed of—something to then defend, or repress, or excise altogether.