Is Sexual Frustration Like Being Cooped Up on a Rainy Day?

I don’t know the answer to that question, because the lack of sex in my life has never frustrated me.

But right now, it’s pouring rain.

And I am thinking that sucks.

Mainly because it interferes with my exercise routine.

I NEED exercise. Unless I’m so physically ill that my body can’t move, I feel a burning desire to get exercise every day. When I see articles which recommend 20-30 minutes of exercise a day … I don’t get it. If I get only an hour of exercise a day, it feels barely adequate (actually, it doesn’t feel adequate, it’s just enough to make things bearable).

And I do most of my exercise outside. I don’t do gyms. Maybe it will clear up this afternoon, or maybe I’ll be under-exercised today.

This is one reason I hope I never will need to take a 8-4 or 9-5 office/desk job. A job which involves so much sitting seems unbearable to me. I’d rather have my odd job, thanks.

Maybe I should take up more indoor-exercise, like dancing or martial arts, which I can do in my apartment even on a rainy day. I remember dancing my way through my first typhoon.

Anyway … is this how people with powerful sex drives feel when they haven’t had sex in a while? I don’t know if it’s possibly to actually answer that question, but if the answer is yes, that would help explain their behavior to me. Their genitals yearn for sex, while my gluts yearn to be stretched and contracted.

But it’s weird. Popular culture assumes that people want sex so badly that it’s hard to restrain them, while it also assumes that people hate exercise so much that they have to force themselves into it, like giving them a homework assignment. For me, it’s the other way around.

Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (Part 8): Conclusion

This is for the November 2012 Carnival of Aces. Here is the introduction.

I had been thinking of writing these series of posts for a while – I’ve just finally actually acted on my thoughts because of the blog carnival.

But now that these thoughts are no longer just in my brain, but are out there, in the internet … I feel very vulnerable.

Well, tough luck, that’s what blogging is. But most of my blogging does not make me feel this exposed.

I think this is partially because this combines two topics which are personally very important to me – wuxia (particularly this novel), and asexuality. And part of me is afraid that someone out there will find a way to hurt my feelings with this.

I don’t expect to be hurt by anyone inside the asexual community. Even though I’m sure there are people in the asexual community who don’t like wuxia, this story, or my blog, I trust them to be respectful nonetheless.

I expect the pain to come from the direction of people with a stake in wuxia.

Though I have presented the interpretation which feels the most true to me, I do not think it was necessarily what Jin Yong intended. Which I think is okay, and I think even Jin Yong would think it’s okay – I recall him saying that he wants readers to draw their own conclusions about his novels.

But I know that I am going against the way that the vast majority of the readers of this novel read it … including hardcore fans … and, statistically, some of those fans are probably ace-phobic to various degrees. And now I have found asexuality in their precious object of fannish affections.

Hopefully, my fears won’t come to pass, and I will not get ace-phobic flack over this. If someone disagrees with my interpretation, that’s fine, as long as they do so in a respectful manner.

And the fact that I can interpret a novel I love this much in such an asexual way? And that it just happens to be one of the most popular novels of the entire 20th century? I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

It’s funny that we people care so much about whether our existence is recognized by others. But we care. And it is so, so very nice to find ourselves in others.

Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (Part 7): Fullness and Passion

This is for the November 2012 Carnival of Aces. Here is the introduction.

One reaction some people have to asexuality is that, if we don’t experience sexual attraction, then our lives must lack passion and meaning. I like Elizabeth’s post about this.

Yet another reason I like asexual!Yang Guo is that the novel makes it clear that he doesn’t need sexual feelings to have a full life.

Obviously, there is that whole passionate romance with Xiaolongnü, but aside from that, Yang Guo would have a full and passionate life (even though he claims that wouldn’t want to live anymore if Xiaolongnü died).

First, his relationship with Xiaolongnü is not purely romantic. There is also the shifu/tuer relationship – Xiaolongnü was Yang Guo’s guardian for years. And even after the romance starts, the shifu/tuer relationship continues, at least in my reckoning.

Putting aside Xiaolongnü, Yang Guo still has a set of complicated and potent relationships with other people. There is Ouyang Feng, Hong Qigong, and Huang Yaoshi. Even though these are all older men who taught Yang Guo some martial arts, each relationship is different – Ouyang Feng accepts Yang Guo as an adopted son, in spite of the age difference Huang Yaoshi accepts him as an equal and close friend, and Hong Qigong … well, I don’t know how to describe it briefly, but all three of these relationships are very important to Yang Guo.

There is Yang Guo’s relationship with Huang Rong, and its evolution over the years, tied up with Huang Rong’s history with Yang Guo’s father.

And there is Guo Jing. This is actually the most intriguing relationship to me. It’s so complex, contradictory, frustrating … just like most intense relationships. Though Guo Jing is Yang Guo’s ‘uncle’ … I don’t think there is really a word in the English language which describes this relationship.

There is Lu Wushuang and Cheng Ying, who Yang Guo eventually accepts as his sisters.

There is Yang Guo’s father. Even though he died before Yang Guo was born – no, because he died before Yang Guo was born – Yang Guo is deeply attached to him, or how he imagines him, and his evolving ‘relationship’ with his father is an important part of how Yang Guo matures.

There is the giant eagle, who becomes Yang Guo’s best friend and spends more time with him than any other character (including Xiaolongnü). Notice that the title is The Giant Eagle and its Companion/Divine Eagle, Gallant Companion. That’s right – it is this relationship, not the romance, which is put into the title.

Heck, most novels which aren’t romances don’t grant their main characters so many rich and intense non-romantic relationships.

And there is martial arts. Yang Guo spends years and years honing his martial arts full-time – by ‘full-time’ I mean ‘at least 10 hours a day’. He spends 7 years by the ocean, having cut off most contact with other people, to practice sword-fighting. That is dedication. Eventually, he becomes the greatest sword-fighter in China. With that his life, he doesn’t need sexual feelings.

Go to the conclusion.

Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (Part 6): What About Xiaolongnü?

This is for the November 2012 Carnival of Aces. Here is the introduction.

So I have been talking a lot about Yang Guo … what about the other main character, Xiaolongnü?

Well, at a very young age she was trained to kill her feelings. Now, it turns out that she didn’t actually kill them, she merely repressed them very deeply. Nonetheless, the process went so far that, when she’s introduced, she doesn’t care about her own death – it makes no difference to her whether she dies old or dies young.

Usually, I dismiss the ‘asexuals aren’t really asexual, just repressed’ trope. But Xiaolongnü’s feelings in general are so repressed that I have to seriously consider the possibility her sexual feelings might be included.

This, by the way, is the opposite of Yang Guo. Yang Guo wears his heart on his sleeve so much (except when he’s consciously trying to deceive someone) that the absence of sexual feelings is … noteworthy.

What evidence is there for Xiaolongnü?

In the novel, Xiaolongnü generally does think more about sex than Yang Guo … but thinking about sex is not the same thing as experiencing sexual attraction. When she mistakenly thinks that Yang Guo is pursuing sex with her, she’s happy – but it’s not clear to me that she’s happy because she’s sexually attracted or because it’s a sign that he likes her (actually, it could be both).

That’s not a lot of evidence for sexual attraction … but in the context of Xiaolongnü being repressed in general and the fact that she still manages to display more interest in sex than Yang Guo, I can’t really make a case for her being asexual.

But you know what? It’s also hard to make a case for her being heterosexual.

Okay, I know we live in a hetero-normative society. Without evidence to the contrary, everybody is heterosexual. I get that.

But let’s remove the heterosexual assumption for a minute.

I can’t find any evidence that Xiaolongnü is heterosexual either.

Sure, there are very, very light hints, but without the heterosexual assumption, I wouldn’t build a house of cards on that. And I don’t necessarily want the heterosexual assumption in my foundation either.

So my conclusion is that, I don’t know what Xiaolongnü’s sexual orientation is. And that’s okay, I don’t have to know.

I also think that you don’t know either.

Go to part 7.

Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (Part 5): A Frighteningly Familiar Scene

Rather than discussing asexuality specifically in this post, I am going a look at a scene which, in my opinion, reflects on GSM relationships in general.

TRIGGER WARNING: Receiving death threats due to non-normative bonding

Note: This has been abridged for brevity (and this translation is merely mediocre)

Guo Jing’s tone became warmer as he said “Guo’er, everybody has gone too far at some time. People can know and fix their mistakes. Not respecting seniority … that would be a big mistake, so think a little bit.”

Yang Guo said “If I’ve done anything wrong, of course I’ll make up for it. But my relationship with gūgu is completely pure. I respect and love her, is that a mistake?

Guo Jing’s words could not counter Yang Guo’s, what could he say? But his heart knew that Yang Guo was making a great error, and didn’t know how to make him understand. He just said “This … this … you’re wrong…”

Huang Rong said “You want a clear answer? She is your shifu, and your senior. Romance and carnal activity between seniors and juniors is absolutely forbidden.”

Neither Yang Guo nor Xiaolongnü knew about this rule. And he couldn’t accept it. Just because gūgu had taught him martial arts, she couldn’t be his wife? Why couldn’t even Uncle Guo Jing believe that they had done nothing illicit? This made his chest burst with anger. He was a fiery and forthright person, and now that he had been falsely blamed, he could control himself even less. He shouted “What have I done to hinder you? Who have I hurt? Gūgu taught me martial arts, but I want her to be my wife. Even if you cut me with a thousand knives, ten thousand knives, I would still want to marry her.”

These shocking words startled all present. To hear such defiance of the ways of the Song Chinese hurt the ears. Guo Jing had respected the title of shifu all his life, and just hearing this made him boil with anger. He stepped forward and grabbed Yang Guo’s chest.

He yelled “you monster, you dare utter something so outrageous?”

Yang Guo under his grasp lost all of his physical strength, but his heart was still steadfast, and said with a full voice “Gūgu loves me with all her heart, and I the same towards her. Uncle Guo Jing, if you want to kill me, then strike. I will never change my mind.”

Guo Jing said “To me, you are just like my own son. I cannot let you do something so wrong.”

Resolutely, Yang Guo replied “I have done no wrong. I have done no evil. I have hurt no one.”

This chilled everybody. They felt that these heartfelt words had reason. If these two had said nothing, and went to a far corner of the world, or settled in a remote village as husband and wife, without anybody the wiser, then this would have harmed nobody. But to so publicly commit such an outrageous act, it was against human decency.

Guo Jing raised his hand, and furiously said “Guo’er, I cherish you, care for you, love you, do you understand? I would rather have you die, than let you do such evil, you understand?” He was already choking down his tears.

Hearing this, Yang Guo knew that he could not take back his words, and that Uncle Guo Jing was going to kill him. Though he was often so clever, at this moment he did not yield, and clearly said “I know that I have done no wrong. If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and kill me.”

Guo Jing’s left hand was raised high, ready to crash down on Yang Guo’s pressure points. Everybody’s breath was stopped, and hundreds of eyes were fixed on that hand.

Now, in the Jin Yong universe (which is where this novel takes place), sexual or romantic relationships between shifu (teachers/masters) and tuer (students/apprentices) are even more strongly taboo than homosexual/romantic relationships. If Yang Guo had said that he wanted to marry a man, Guo Jing would have been upset, but probably not so much that he would have threatened to kill him. In this context, Yang Guo saying that he wants to marry his shifu is about as taboo as saying that he wants to marry his aunt, in fact, gūgu DOES mean ‘paternal aunt’ (in the context of Chinese culture, sexual relations with paternal relatives are considered more incestuous than those with maternal relatives).

That said, most Chinese-speakers nowadays would say that Yang Guo and Xiaolongnü’s relationship is okay. This specific novel influenced many people’s opinions about this issue, and probably encouraged them to rethink certain traditional Chinese values.

Now, while US culture does not approve of sexual/romantic relationships between teachers and students, they are not targeted with anything near the same level of hate as, say, lesbian relationships. I have a hard time imagining somebody receiving a death threat specifically because they want to marry their teacher. Unfortunately, I have no trouble imagining somebody receiving a death threat because they want to marry someone of the same gender.

When I first read this scene, I immediately thought that this scene could play out almost exactly the same for many other kinds of non-normative relationships. Threatening somebody with death just because they want to marry their teacher or someone of the same gender is both ridiculous and wrong, for reasons that I think Yang Guo explains pretty well. And the fact that Yang Guo’s arguments could work just as well for same-gender couples, or genderqueer people, or a whole array of non-normative relationships, demonstrates part of the value of intersectionality.

Go to part 6.

Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (Part 4): The Asexy Bad Boy

This is for the November 2012 Carnival of Aces. Here is the introduction.

‘Bad boys’ come in flavors, including these two:

Flavor 1: Rough, violent, rude, nasty, physically dangerous
Flavor 2: Rebellious, free, passionate, maverick, mischievous

Yang Guo falls neatly into Flavor 2. Most of the time he’s considerate, even generous. Though he can be violent, he almost never initiates the violence.

From now on, when I say ‘bad boy’ I mean Flavor 2.

Bay boys are appealing partially because they are sincere and open. They have the courage to embrace their feelings. If society tells him to repress himself, he tells society to shove off. This makes him ‘bad’.

Many of the feelings ‘classic’ bay boys openly express are sexual. They might ignore taboos and have sex with any consenting partner they please. Even if they don’t take that route, they are not inclined to submit to social norms which deny the truth about their sexual feelings.

I love how Yang Guo tweaks this dynamic!

There are multiple instances in the novel of various characters assuming that he is having/has had sex … when in fact, he is/has not. When they make these assumptions, that makes him ‘bad’ in their eyes … but the revelation that is is/has not doesn’t change his ‘bad’ status. Maybe he does so many other ‘bad’ things that he doesn’t need sex to maintain his ‘bad boy’ credentials … but I wonder if that fact that he is repeatedly *not* having sex also factors in his ‘badness’.

Yang Guo is socially marginalized. Not by choice – he seems by nature to be a very social. Yet he seems on a different page from his peers, and generally they eventually reject them, or he rejects him. There is more than one cause. As a child, Yang Guo bears the stigma of being fatherless. Then he gets ostracized because of his relationship with Xiaolongnü. And then he loses able-bodied privilege. But I think asexuality might be in play too.

Many asexuals attest that feel different from everybody else in a significant way, and that this difference makes them feel invisible, or at least makes it feel like there is a gulf between them and their sexual peers. Now, Yang Guo never identifies as asexual – but some asexuals take decades to come to the conclusion that they are asexual, so even without identifying as one he might experience life as one. And I think asexuality might be yet another wedge which pushes him into abandoning social norms and being ‘bad’.

I’ve read comments about this story in which people say it’s unrealistic that Yang Guo would ignore various sexual opportunities that, according to these commentators, very few heterosexual men would ignore. Assuming that these commentators understand heterosexual men from the Chinese-speaking world better than I do, to me this a) is even more evidence Yang Guo may not be heterosexual and b) he might feel, perhaps not consciously, society marginalizing his (a)sexuality, and that it contributes to his ultimate rejection of society.

Go to part 5.

Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (Part 3): Jin Yong is Not Being a Prude

This is for the November Carnival of Aces. Here is the introduction.

So, in the last post, I said that Yang Guo’s lack of sexual feelings is evidence that he is asexual. But what if Jin Yong just doesn’t feel comfortable writing about the protagonist’s sexuality?

Since this novel is the second part of a trilogy, I think it is fair to look at Guo Jing (the protagonist of the first part) and Zhang Wuji (the protagonist of the third part) to see if Jin Yong is willing to show them express sexual feelings.

Of the three protagonists, Yang Guo is the ‘bad boy’ who is willing to say how feels, even when it offends other people. Guo Jing, on the other hand, is a goody-two-shoes who clings to social conventions as hard as he can. Let’s see what he gets up to…

A ray of light came from the window, and lit up her cheeks, which were as beautiful as a sunrise. Guo Jing spontaneously felt that her hand was extremely soft and warm, and his chest slightly rippled. He hurriedly tried to restrain himself, but his face was already turning red.

Since the two of them had been together, Guo Jing never had these thoughts about her, and he silently was both surprised and blamed himself. Huang Rong suddenly saw that his face and ears were red. Puzzled, she asked “Brother Jing, how are you doing?”

Guo Jing lowered his head and said “I really am bad, I suddenly thought … thought…”

Huang Rong asked “Thought what?”

Guo Jing replied “From now on I won’t think about it.”

Huang Rong said “But before just now what were you thinking?”

Guo Jing had no way to avoid the question, so he just said “I wanted to embrace you, kiss you.”

Huang Rong’s heart melted, and her cheeks also turned red, and looked beautifully bashful, and even lovelier.

Guo Jing saw that she drooped without a word, and asked “Rong’r, are you angry? Thinking this way, I seem to be just as bad as Ouyang Feng” [Ouyang Feng is a promiscuous and creepy character who really wants to have sex with Huang Rong].

Huang Rong giggled, and softly said “I’m not mad. I was thinking, soon you will always be able to embrace and kiss me, I’m going to be your wife!”

Guo Jing’s heart was really happy, and he stammered without being able to say anything. Huang Rong added “You really want to kiss me that badly?”

Again, apologies for the mediocre translation.

Just based on this quote alone, this might not be sexual attraction, but while in the room, Guo Jing also experiences a powerful urge to have sex with Huang Rong, and supposedly one of the reasons he got such a great urge what that he was right next to the girl he loves (i.e. he’s attracted to her).

You know, this never occurred to me before, but Guo Jing just might be demi-sexual. But I don’t want to go off on a tangent.

Okay, that seems like sexual attraction (and arousal) to me (especially considering some of the things Guo Jing says to Huang Rong in other parts of the novel). So Jin Yong doesn’t mind depicting his goody-two-shoes feeling sexually attracted to his sweetheart.

Zhang Wuji is somewhere in between Yang Guo and Guo Jing – he’s not a goody-two-shoes, but he’s also not a ‘bad’ boy. Now is he allowed any sexual feelings…

I don’t have time to translate quotes, so let’s just say that he puts a lot of effort into resisting the urge to indulge in activities that might get his female companion pregnant (instead, they have non-penetrative sex). In fact, he feels this way about more than one of the female characters, though he does not indulge in as much sexual activity with the others. Clearly, he experiences sexual attraction.

So Jin Yong has no problem depicting the protagonists of this trilogy expressing sexual feelings. And, when it comes to the protagonists’ personalities, Yang Guo is the one who is least likely to ‘repress’ his feelings. When he’s not consciously trying to deceive somebody, he pretty much wears his heart on his sleeve. So the fact that Yang Guo the one who expresses the least in the way of sexual feelings? To me, that means that the sexual feelings probably aren’t there.

In part 4 I discuss the intersection of being asexual and being a ‘bad’ boy.