Asexuality and Me

For as long as I can remember I have felt different to others in many ways and that includes my sexuality. As a child of ten I was asked in the playground ‘are you a lesbian‘ to which I was uncertain what the meant and on asking my mum that night I was told ‘never mention that word in this house ever again’. It was only as I became a teenager I discovered its meaning and why her religious beliefs had led to the comment she had made, which all these years later have never changed.

In my teens amongst the many things the girls of my year chose to bully me over was my music choice as one they could not understand as I love all sorts of music and not just what was in the charts. I remember the day one asked me ‘which member of Take That do you fancy‘, like it was some great important thing to know, to which I answered ‘none of them‘. This was true I didn’t fancy any of them nor did I fancy any other male celebrity such as Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. They also asked if I was a virgin, which I was but the idea of sex was never something that I thought of and furthermore any signs of male genitalia had me running from biology classrooms to the thought of anything (even a tampon) made me frightened from memories my head did not want to remember. This led to me questioning my sexuality every time the subject was brought up.

By the time I reached university in Aberdeen and saw magazines aimed at teenagers with ‘position of the fortnight‘ in them I still had zero interest in it, if anything it made me want to retreat even more at what might be expected of me. I only ever had a fleeting interest in one guy as we spent so much time studying together and even then never thought of kissing him or more. By the time the year 2000 came round and just before my twenty second birthday arrived I finally kissed someone but he wanted more and tried to rape me twice and then stalked me for three months. The only other experience of note was a blind date a few months later, which when my friend text me just before it with ‘don’t kill me after you’ve met him‘ didn’t exactly fill me with confidence! The date itself was awful as he took me to a pub that he was uncertain even if had a woman’s toilet and had zero mutual interests to talk about!

Five years on and I was about to embark on my PhD in England when I invited a friend to visit for the day and he turned the visit into the start of a long distance relationship. On hindsight there were many warning signs: his visits being restricted to monthly (ironic given his initials were PMS), contact was on his terms through MSN (he destroyed his mobile phone sim card so I wouldn’t text him) to sexual things as forced me to have sex with him and perform oral sex, which I still had zero interest in but wanted to make him happy. This led to other issues of a physical kind in terms of pain due to vulvodynia and discovery of spasms from vaginismus as well as blacking out at times too. He was zero support when trying to explain this to a gynaecologist and when we finally split up nine months later I probably had only ever seen him five times. It was a welcome relief as spent every hour he visited in fear at what he wanted and even at night time I could not sleep for the two days he visited for. Although I was in therapy for other issues with my mental health he certainly added to the issues I had there too. The only other person to show any interest in me over the time I lived in England was a guy I knew online and lets just say I could spot his lies a mile off to the negative energy he gave off told me to run for the hills!

Since then I have returned to live where I grew up in Edinburgh, but it was only when going to Aberdeen to see a friend in concert and stay with a second friend that I had my first kiss with a woman, the friend I was staying with. She identified as bisexual and someone (her or a barman) spiked my drink so my memories of the time are hazy and cannot say that kiss was any better or worse than my previous experiences with men. It no more confirmed for me that I am straight, gay or bi as cannot tell from looking at someone if I find them attractive or not as genuinely is their personality that if I am ever to have any level of attraction it will be from. It was only after this experience I learnt of asexuality and realising that is probably what I identify as – a Grey-A.

Over the nine years since that kiss I have grown to accept, appreciate and love me for who I am. I am now 40 years old and beginning to wonder what the whole relationship thing is really about. I have zero interest in apps or online dating and would rather be introduced to someone through a friend. The kiss in Aberdeen showed me that I cannot classify the gender of a person I would be interested in. My experiences in England have shown me the kind of personality I do not want in a partner and those I do want if I did have one. I still have zero sexual attraction or interest in sex with the idea of looking for to having a partner scares the bejeezus out of me and beginning to wonder as I have often felt that it is something just not meant for me…and perhaps just need to accept that.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Free Will and Technology

Anyone with even a passing interest in philosophy will have thought about and/or discussed the notion of ‘free will’, i.e. the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion. This was explored recently in the Black Mirror film Bandersnatch on Netflix, which is presented to the viewer as an interactive ‘choose your own adventure‘ but really shows like the main character Stefan has no free will to make his decisions as we choose them for him that we actually have little choice in how the story will end from the numerous choices we have made. Much like another character’s speech, Colin, whilst on LSD says about PAC-man meaning “program and control”. This in many ways shows Stefan himself is being led about a maze by us, which we ourselves are doing in making our decisions on how he leads his life.

A magician can learn to look for blind spots, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perceptions as can influence what people do without them realising it. Once they know how to push people’s buttons they can play them like a piano (look at any episode of Derren Brown’s to see this in action). This is what happens again and again as designers of products from music to iPhones to by playing our psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against us at race to grab our attention. They can do this as Western Culture is built around the free will I mentioned above as we fight to defend the right to our ‘free’ choices but we do not realise we are already being manipulated like Stefan was by selections we didn’t even make. Magicians do this by making us feel we have made the choice ourselves but have really directed us down the path they want us to follow.

Take reality television we see an edited version of a far more complex story given to us with the contestants merely puppets in a theatre show with many of them being scripted and pre-determined so any voting we make is giving us an illusion we can make a difference and choose the winner when producers have already determined this weeks to months before. We are made to feel we know these contestants, ordinary people that have risen to fame but only a fraction of what we are told is true as lead us to their desired outcomes. Or celebrities that are trying to improve their fame by redemption or seeing them in new ways so will invest in future projects they undertake. The real winners are never the contestants but the television companies that make money from them and us.

Ask Alexa or Siri ‘what is the best bar in Edinburgh’ and they will pull up results from sites that have given the highest ratings. We fall into the trap sometimes in think these truly must be the best and do not look around to see for ourselves what is around us as could miss the next big thing in music playing at a small bar that may not get the best ratings online or see a pop-up gallery that is having its opening night party for free so not on their system.

Technology creates a ‘fear of missing out’ as convince us we need to subscribe to newsletters, friend people we may not have seen in twenty years and happily never see again, and turn on notifications so know the instant something has happened. However, we will always ‘miss out’ on somethings as we might be asleep as is natural at say 3am on a Tuesday, never meet our dream partner on Tinder as did not swipe on and on, or miss a phone call that could change our lives forever. We also see people together in activities that we were not invited to and made to feel bad that they made a decision to exclude us. We are meant to live in the moment, not in the fear that we will miss that moment forever if not attached to technology or have the notifications turned on.

Social media and technology make us want to be accepted and approved with our ‘friends’. As soon as we update our new profile photo we hope x number of people like it and leave us a comment on how good or beautiful we are. Are we really truly accepting of ourselves if have wait for a certain proportion of our friends agree with how we have chosen to represent ourselves? Where is our choice in being who and what we are without caring what others think? This ‘social approval’ we all respond to but vulnerable people are more likely to be drawn into the web of lies it spins.

Then there is a social reciprocity that if someone comments on something we agree with we click like or if they say ‘thank you’ we feel we have to say ‘you’re welcome‘ and if someone follows us it is almost rude not to follow back. We have no choice but to follow up as the unwritten rules of social etiquette have said we must not leave it dangling in cyberspace. However, if we disagree and say we are offended this triggers a massive up surge for daring to be offended. There are certain things we should be offended such as rape or murder by but taking what is posted to the extent we are feel outraged over the smallest of things are we not going too far?

Are we blindingly following what the designers of technology, with these apps and websites making us to do what they want us to as though we were PAC-man in the maze or Stefan in Bandersnatch? Have we lost the ability to step away and say no I don’t need that app or notifications for every little thing as do not care if miss out? Asking Siri or Alexa to do something for us are we letting a robot make a decision that we no longer have to think for ourselves what to how to do something from first principles? If we continue to accept them are we entering a world beyond that of Black Mirror that we are so dependent on the technology that it is part of us and cannot live without being constantly plugged in?

© Fi S. J. Brown