My First Attempt to Discuss Asexuality in Mandarin

This is for the February 2013 Carnival of Aces.

A few months ago, I discussed why I hadn’t tried to talk about asexuality in Mandarin. Since this month’s carnival theme is ‘language’, and especially after reading Queenie’s post Talking about Asexuality in Japanese, I decided it was actually time to try talking about asexuality in Mandarin.

First, I had the figure out how to say ‘asexual’ in Mandarin. This dictionary says ‘asexual’ is ‘無性的’ (wúxìngde), but that clearly refers to lacking biological sex (just as amoebae don’t have biological sex).

I was surprised to find that this dictionary says ‘asexuality’ is ‘性慾缺乏’ (xìngyù quēfá) which roughly means ‘lack of lust/sexual desire’.

I then discovered that AVEN has a Chinese group. I don’t know why I didn’t find it before. They say ‘asexual’ is ‘無性戀’ (wúxìngliàn), which does feel quite right to me because … couldn’t that mean someone attracted to agender people? But then again, I only started studying Mandarin in my 20s. However, it’s clearly derived from words like 同性戀 (tóngxìngliàn), which means ‘homosexual’.

And then there’s the word ‘sexual attraction’, which in Chinese is apparently 性吸引 (xìngxīyǐn). When I first saw that word, I thought ‘doesn’t that mean sexual attractiveness?’ but again, I’m not a native-speaker.

Well, now that I had some vocabulary to work with, I wrote about asexuality at Lang-8. You can read the entry here (it includes an English translation of my original post, though the comments are not translated).

First of all, nobody who corrected or commented on it had known about asexuality before. At first at least one commenter thought that ‘xìngxīyǐn’ was being used improperly (ze thought it meant ‘sexual attractiveness’) – then ze read up on asexuality at the Chinese AVEN group, and found that I had used ‘xìngxīyǐn’ the same way they did. However, ze said that most Chinese speakers would not understand that word that way. Apparently, Mandarin currently lacks a good term for ‘sexual attraction’ the way ace-spectrum people mean it.

Then there was the question I asked – does 性慾 (xìngyù/lust) refer to ‘xìngxīyǐn’ (sexual attraction) or to 性驅力 (xìngqūlì/sex drive)? I wanted to know whether ‘xìngyù quēfá’ (asexuality according to the dictionary) refers to a lack of sexual attraction, or a lack of sex drive. All of the commenters said ‘xìngxīyǐn’ (sexual attraction, as used in the Chinese AVEN page), ‘xìngyù’ (lust), and ‘xìngqūlì’ (sex drive) are almost the same! Apparently, Chinese speakers (or at least the Chinese speakers who commented, but I’m going to assume the are representative) don’t make a distinction between sexual attraction and sex drive, so no matter what vocabulary I use, they wouldn’t understand what I mean without a heap of Asex 101.

I am not up to doing Asex 101 in Mandarin, at least not now.


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The Benefits of Speaking Up

Unlike many active ace-spectrum bloggers, I am currently not a formal student or affiliated with any institution of higher learning, but I too was once a college student.

One of the last courses I took was ‘Intro to Gerontology’. Sexuality is part of the lives of old people, and there was an entire lesson dedicated to this. Furthermore, the professor himself was gay and also taught some human sexuality classes.

Now, in the United States, it’s assumed that old people, particularly old women, don’t have sex lives or sexual feelings, so I understand why much of the lesson was about countering this myth. However, I did mind one of the phrases put in big letters in the presentation – ‘All old people are sexual beings’. I minded this so much that I raised my hand, and voiced my objection out loud. I said something like this:

“Excuse me, I’m asexual, so if you say all old people are sexual beings, aren’t you saying that I’m going to become sexual if I grow old?”

This, by the way, is the only time I have outed myself as asexual to a group of strangers offline.

This sparked a bit of discussion among my classmates, though I don’t remember most of the comments clearly. The professor’s response was ‘I need to think about this,’ which I think was the best response he could have made – since he was in the middle of teaching a class, I wouldn’t expect him to change his worldview immediately.

After class, I went to him, and he thanked me for my comment, and I pointed out some asexuality blogs where he could learn more. At the next class, he thanked me publicly, saying that I had given him something to think about.

Most of my classmates said nothing about this, but the ones who did say something mostly had a positive attitude about this. In fact, based on what I heard, my comment about asexuality was one of the most memorable moments of that lesson.

I don’t know if the professor ever changed his lesson on sexuality-of-older-people to reflect asexuality, and I don’t know if this has influenced the way he teaches his human sexuality classes. However, at the very least, all of the 40 or so students in the classroom knew that they had encountered someone who identified as ace, and hopefully, if they ever encounter asexuality again, they will consider to be real thing associated with real people.

It’s often intimidating to speak up, and the cost-benefit analysis can favor remaining silent sometimes. But I think I tend to underestimate the benefit of speaking up, on asexuality and other issues. When I have mustered the courage to speak up in public about an issue I care about in the fact of somebody who takes a different position, I’ve usually been surprised as how many people, publicly or privately, thank me for it.


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Compulsory Sexuality Hurt My Mother

I read this section of Women, Passion, and Celibacy | Chapter One: “Genital Messages”

I wasn’t alive during the 60s and most aces (hell, most people) I know were not either. I’m going to take Cline’s word for it on this one. I don’t have a hard time believing that certain truths about the sexual revolution in the 1960s have been lost on people now, in favor of glorifying that time as a purely good movement in the interest of sex positivity.

… and immediately thought about my mother.

My mother was a part of the 60s ‘sexual revolution’. I don’t know the whole story, and there are parts which I do know but won’t make public, so this is very incomplete.

My mother never had sex before she was 22 years old – and she was fine with celibacy. Her ‘friend’ was not fine with her celibacy, and kept on pestering her about it ‘when are you finally going to do it’, ‘you want to be a virgin until you are how old? 25? 30?’ and so forth. Eventually, my mother gave into this peer pressure, and had sex. While it was consensual in a narrow sense, my mother would have preferred staying celibate longer. She told me that, even though her friend was physically absent and it was a man who put his penis inside her, she actually had sex with her ‘friend’, not with that man.

She continued to have sex with men, but based on what I’ve heard, it was pretty unsatisfying. She was doing it because she felt socially obligated, not because she really, truly, sincerely wanted to have sex … and the result was that she experienced quite a bit of pain and social insecurity. In other words, she was hurt by compulsory sexuality.

My mother is allosexual, and she says that, years later, sex became a genuinely pleasureful and satisfying activity for her. But she regards the pain of those first years as unnecessary, and she thinks that it would have been much better if she had been allowed to explore sex at her own pace instead of the pace that her peers imposed on her.

Though my mother’s first reaction to me coming out as asexual was to deny it, she has always, always been supportive of my celibacy. She encouraged me to stay celibate as long as possible, because she said the older I am, the more life experience I will have, which will make me more capable of starting a sex life in a good way. She never wants me to make the mistake she made, of having sex to please others instead of to please myself.

I wonder why I don’t hear more stories like this. I suspect my mother’s situation is quite common. Then again, I don’t think she has ever spoken with this about anyone besides myself and maybe a couple other people. Perhaps keeping allosexuals quiet about their suffering is itself an effect of compulsory sexuality.


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Why I’m Not Out to my Father

Currently, I am not out as an ace to my father.

Why not?

I don’t think he would react badly, in fact I suspect he would react to it better than my mother did. But that’s part of why I felt that I had to come out to my mother. My father has generally regarded my romance/sex life as my business, whereas my mother has felt some personal investment in it. Given that, I felt that it was best for our relationship for her to know that I am asexual.

However, since my father’s position is that my romance/sex life is my business, coming out to him would feel even *more* awkward that it was with my mother. I cannot think of an appropriate way to open the conversation with my father. Okay, maybe when I was still living with him, he would give me an opening once a year for that kind of conversation – but I don’t live with him now, and the last time I had a real-time conversation with him was almost four months ago, and that was also the only time I’ve had a real-time conversation with him since I started this blog. And, surprise surprise, we had so much to talk about that the issue of relationships with my peers didn’t even come close to being a topic.

And that raises a question – why *should* I come out to somebody who generally has not shown an interest in my romance/sex life (or lack thereof)?

I don’t buy the argument that I should come out to him just because he’s my father. He’s my father, so what?

In addition to being my biological father, he has been one of the most important people in my life. But I feel that even that is not a reason to come out.

There is pressure in the GSM community to come out to all of the important people in your life, unless there is a risk of harmful rejection. I don’t think there is any risk of my father rejecting me just because I’m an ace … but I also don’t get why I *have* to come out to him.

I think this is just another way in which romanticism/sexuality is privileged. Society says sex and romance are SO IMPORTANT that one’s orientations should be announced to everyone important in your life unless there is a powerful reason not to. I, however, do not put so much weight on sexuality and romance, and I only want to come out when I have a reason to come out, not just because I lack a reason to not come out. I know coming out is a powerful tool for visibility purposes, and that’s why I won’t hide my orientation without a compelling reason, but not hiding it is not the same as shouting ‘HEY EVERYBODY, I’M AN ACE!’.


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I am Not a Keeper of Sex

So, some days ago, I read the thought-provoking “Why men are the sexual hunters and women are considered ‘keepers of sex’ – and what can be done to address this imbalance”. It’s not thought-provoking because it has new ideas – most of the ideas presented aren’t new to me – but it lays it all out in a very comprehensible way which makes it easier to reflect on these ideas.

And I think I can finally put a finger on one particular way being asexual-aromantic makes me feel like an outsider to society at large: I am not a keeper of sex.

Of course, I have been raised in the global culture which considers women “keepers of sex” and been through part of the socialization. But, since I am not pursuing romance/sex, I haven’t needed to complete that socialization. I have no reason to make myself sexually or romantically appealing, so I have not learned how to manage that stuff (or to the extent I have learned, it has been incidental or for academic purposes). I am very comfortable on the “prude” side of the prude/slut dichotomy, so I’m not walking that tightrope. In other words, I don’t have to learn to “tame the beast” because I’m steering clear of it.

I don’t think this is unique to asexual/aromantic women. I have read accounts of heteroromantic/sexual women claiming they don’t care if men are attracted to them, and they want to make their lives about something other than sex.

Since older women are regarded as having lost their sexual appeal, they cease to be perceived as keepers of sex, and I know some who have used this as an opportunity to make their life about something else. That said, older women do face the problem that some *do* want to maintain a sex life, yet society sets up obstacles, and that furthermore, society often treats women who are no longer keeping sex as having lost their value. I can still pass as a keeper of sex, which means I am in some ways more esteemed by society than older women who no longer pass as keepers of sex. That, by the way, is totally messed up.

Alas, the expectation is that “beauty and attractiveness is what a woman does, point blank”, and I can’t change society by myself. But beauty and attractiveness is *not* what I do, and if other people see me that way, that is their own point of view, not mine.
I am not keeping any sex here. Sexual hunters need to go hunting somewhere else.


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