This is a repost of an article I published in 2015 on The Asexual Agenda. It was originally written for a blogging carnival on the theme of “living asexuality”, thus the title.
Recently, there was a very short documentary entitled “I’m Graysexual” (no longer available), featuring a man about my age, and using the same identity as I do: gay and greysexual. He does nothing more than briefly explain his personal experience, which is somewhat different from my own, and as I said, it’s very short.
What was particularly significant to me was not what was said, but what was unsaid. Specifically, the documentarian chose a stream of clips that imply close interaction with urban gay culture. He walks around what appears to be West Hollywood (the gay neighborhood in Los Angeles). He hangs out at gay nightclubs, watching go-go boys. He looks quizzically at packaged dildos, racks of porn videos, Grindr. This is all incredibly familiar to me.
I often feel like I’m the only ace who interacts with that kind of gay male culture. This is not surprising: this is only one of many gay cultures, the ace community is dominated by women, and not all ace men are homoromantic, gay, or bi. But even among those in the right demographics, I often hear that ace men simply aren’t willing to put up with it.
That, too, is not surprising, and can be explained in one word: S-E-X. I don’t need to explain the stereotype, you already know it.
Gay culture… is not really what I would have created if I were dictator. But because of my disposition, I find it tolerable. I even find benefits to it, since a space where people openly talk about sex gives an opening to talk about asexuality.
And to be honest, I’d take it over straight culture any day. Straight people are space aliens. They think that the only way to proceed in life is to get married and have children. They think men should have initiative, and women should just be receptive. I don’t understand it, and I feel sorry for all the people who have to live in it, particularly the non-straight people. Other people have lamented a lack of older single role models, so I should mention I’ve known plenty of older gay bachelors. I’m in a stable relationship so I’m not going in that direction personally, but it wouldn’t feel odd to me if I did.
So here I am, choosing to deal with a very sexual culture, rather than dealing with that other heteronormative one. I’ve been to gay nightclubs packed full of sweaty men. I’ve had awkward encounters with rice queens, and then befriended them because what else are you going to do? I’ve wandered the Castro many times, where inexplicably the best place to get beer is the wine bar. And I’ve sat through a million conversations about Grindr (a popular hookup app), and seen a million more online articles about it, from the many online gay websites that are basically like teen girl magazines, except for older gay men. People argue back and forth about Grindr the same way that they argue back and forth about looking at smartphones during social outings. It’s the same argument, really, because what else do you use a smartphone for, amirite?
I spend a lot of space talking about Grindr, because that represents the amount of attention it gets in reality. Eh, it’s more amusing than talking about sportsball, another aspect of space alien culture I don’t miss.
In gay culture, I blend in fairly well. Acquaintances assume I’m gay until otherwise noted. It eventually becomes otherwise noted, as I haphazardly come out to people as ace. At that point I become an oddity, that one asexual guy that people know. They’re puzzled how that works, why I’m bothering to be here, and what I do with my boyfriend, but they rarely ask such questions directly. I wonder if this is how bisexual men feel.
If there’s one advantage of heteronormative straight culture vs hypersexual gay culture, it’s that heternormativity can be opposed. Sexual culture cannot be opposed, because at least superficially, it has some decent justifications. There is an ongoing discussion about the level of sexuality in gay culture, but it’s not a discussion that aces play any role in. The discussion is about Grindr, about hookup culture, and about assimilationism vs liberationism.
I don’t give a shit about assimilating, but I would like it if there were more public concern about sexual assault, or even the social capital placed on sexual desirability and ability. Sadly, such concerns are more typical among feminists, who are typically women. I will be waiting for a long time for the gay male feminist revolution.
So that’s the social life I have, and it’s okay. There are some problems, but nobody is pressuring me to follow a fixed life trajectory. Dropping heteronormativity is great, I recommend it.
2019 post script: This is a bit of a throwback for me, because I haven’t spent as much time in gay social spaces lately. My husband and just I don’t have as much time these days, and some of our friends have scattered.
I’ve found this urban gay social culture to be anything but welcoming myself. Then again, I’m not really the sort to settle into a social space at all – I feel very awkward around strangers, and find it baffling how anyone can be comfortable talking to people they don’t know well without some formal agenda to make things all right. About the only social circle I have ever felt comfortable in is my friends from school – only one of whom is gay like I am.
But I have very few friends (five at most, one of whom is my brother, another is the aforementioned best friend I have been in love with for nearly two decades, but who shuns me now), so I am constantly lonely. When I was finally able to admit to myself that I was gay I thought I could leverage that into fitting in to a social space and thereby mitigating the loneliness. Sadly it just made me more lonely, because I felt ostracised, ignored and overlooked at every turn.
There is the sense that everyone is out for sex. I’ve felt that (or, perhaps, imagined it – since I almost never talk to anyone I am left trying to fathom intent from watching what they do). I’ve somewhat internalised, I think, the idea that sex is the way people here show affection and appreciation for you. Being propositioned for sex is how you know you are wanted and valued among these people. Which is what makes the culture so abrasive to my already low self-esteem – nobody has ever shown the slightest interest in me in that way.
I sometimes wonder whether it is entirely healthy to have taken on board this culture’s approach to sex and attractiveness as a validating principle. Particularly since it only makes me feel less validated – I’m a rubbish gay in pretty much every respect. Then again, I only started investing myself in this schema because the previous validating principle I was working on – boyfriend, lifelong relationship, deep and meaningful love and companionship with my best friend – caused me more pain in remaining unfulfilled. In truth I don’t think I’ve really got over that one – I’m still trying to use the shallow, sex-obsessed culture of urban gay men to substitute for the traditional loving monogamy model of the heteronormative world I grew up in. And if I’m being really honest I’m only using that to substitute for what I really want out of life – to be with my twin brother like we were when we were children, and put all thoughts of sexuality aside. But since he’s got married and doesn’t want to lead the kind of life I had planned for us, I’ve had to look elsewhere. It has not gone well.
Recently I’ve started taking medication which has, as a side-effect, reduced both my libido and sexual function significantly. Making me even less viable in the gay world according to its principles. I can’t even hope to measure up and be accepted according to its principles now. It has started to feel a very odd place indeed. Though I still put myself through it, not having any better options. It passes the time, at least.
Yeah, I hear you. I think since 2015, after having gained more distance, I have moved more in the direction of “These gay spaces are awful, how did I put up with all that?” But all the same, I still put up with it when I have the opportunity, because a social space is a social space.