Further Thoughts on Drinking and (A)Sexuality (Part 1)

Note: This post contains a brief discussion of sexual assault and rape culture.

I recently read Part 1 and Part 2 of (A)Sex and the City’s piece comparing the pressure to drink to the pressure to engage with sex. I have written about this before, and luvtheheaven has too, and (A)Sex and the City’s posts are a reminder that there is more to be said on the subject.

First of all, based on my interactions with Australians in Asia … I am totally unsurprised that that Australia has a major drinking culture. In my experience, Australians and Europeans are more inclined to pressure people who have chosen to abstain from alcohol into drinking than North Americans. My experience in the San Francisco Bay Area has generally been that, when I say I don’t want alcohol at some event where alcohol is offered, I only need to say it once, and it’s not a big deal (to be specific, ‘no, not now’ is generally taken well – ‘no, never’ can elicit a different reaction). In my social circles, having designated drivers is taken seriously, and considering how dependent California society is on cars, that means all social gatherings are going to have some people who aren’t drinking alcohol.

Heck, I was at a bar last night, and nobody remarked on the fact that I wasn’t drinking a single drop of alcohol.

Second, the (A)Sex and the City posts bring up the idea that people ‘should’ drink alcohol to ‘relax’ and ‘loosen up’. I’ve never become fully drunk, but I have become tipsy, and I can tell you this:

Alcohol does not ‘loosen me up’.
Alcohol does not relax me.
Alcohol does not make me more outgoing, sociable, etc. than I am when I am sober.

If anything, I become more distrustful of people when I’ve been drinking, though I don’t know whether it’s the alcohol itself, or merely the thought that people are more likely to take advantage me when I’m under the influence, a thought I would have even if I had drunk a placebo. Drinking alcohol only helps me with social bonding to the extent that I am not ‘left out’, and on the whole, I think it makes me more antisocial, not social.

As any regular reader of this blog would expect, alcohol also doesn’t make be any more sexual (in terms of behavior or feelings) than when I am sober. If anything, I think I think even less about sex when I am under the influence.

I had wanted to bring it up in my posts about Husband Factor but ultimately didn’t because those posts were already really long, so I’ll say it here: there is a common notion that alcohol will make people more sexually available. In my case, this is totally not true, at least with regards to consensual sex. Alcohol was one of the many tools used to turn the protagonist from someone who was going her own path into someone who was conforming with what her society told her she should be doing. To be more specific, alcohol was a tool to ‘loosen her up’ so that she would behave in a more sexual way AND end up in sexual situations she did not intend to be in.

When someone (always male, for some reason) is refusing to accept my ‘no’ to alcohol, I wonder if they intend to sexually assault me. There is that aspect of rape culture which equates drinking alcohol to consenting to any sexual things people might do to you while you’re under the influence.

While reading the posts by (A)Sex and the City, I thought of one possible reason why peers put so much pressure on the ‘one’ person who isn’t drinking alcohol. Alcohol makes people more vulnerable in multiple ways (for example, making them more inclined to embarrass themselves), and people are comfortable doing this because everyone is doing this. But what if not everybody is doing this? What if somebody is not taking the plunge with everyone else? They can take advantage of all of the vulnerable people without becoming vulnerable themselves.

In my social circles, people don’t expect every single person present to drink alcohol, so if they take the plunge, it’s with the understanding that some people are not going to go down with them. But perhaps, in some circumstances, there is the expectation that everyone is taking the plunge together. Hence the hostility to the ‘coward’ who doesn’t have ‘team spirit’.

In Part 2, I am going to take this discussion in a very different direction.

White Men Tell White Women That They Won’t Find Attractive Taiwanese Men

While I was living in Taiwan, multiple white men told me about the ‘problems’ white women had with dating Taiwanese guys. They never were specific, though they all implied that a white woman like me would have trouble finding an appealing Taiwanese boyfriend. For an online example of this, there is Michael Turton’s website – “The dating situation in Taiwan is excellent for males. Neither sex will lack for attention, although most Western females will not like most Taiwanese males.”

Now in my case, it was true that I didn’t meet any sexually/romantically attractive Taiwanese men. It’s also true that I find Taiwanese men just as attractive as white men. That’s because I am an aromantic asexual. However, as far as I can tell, if I had wanted a boyfriend, Taiwanese men would have done just as well as white men.

But you know who didn’t ‘warn’ me that I wouldn’t find Taiwanese guys attractive? White women in Taiwan.

Some of these white women were dating and/or married to Taiwanese men. And the ones who weren’t made it clear that they would consider dating Taiwanese men if they weren’t already in a monogamous relationship / once they were more settled into Taiwan, etc.

And among the people I’ve talked to (anecdotal sample, I know) it seems the white men in romantic relationships with Taiwanese women had more romantic troubles than the white women in romantic relationships with Taiwanese men.

It seems pretty clear to me that these white men in Taiwan didn’t get the idea that ‘white women can’t find sexually/romantically appealing Taiwanese men’ by talking to white women living in Taiwan (unless they were talking to a completely different set of white women than I was, which I suppose is technically possible). So where do they get this idea?

My guess is that they get this idea from a cocktail of subconscious sexism and subconscious racism. This sexist/racist cocktail claims that white men are the most attractive kind of men, and that white women, being the highest-status kind of woman, wouldn’t want to be with the lesser Asian men.

One white man said that it was a generational thing, and that while younger generations of Taiwanese men may be OK for white women, it wouldn’t work with older generations of men. I have met a number of old Taiwanese men, and while I made no attempt to engage with them in a romantic manner … well, let’s just say that that I am skeptical of this thesis. Sure, Taiwanese attitudes about male-female relationships have changed over the decades, but that’s also true of practically every society with a large number of white people.

Of course, in Chinese-language media (Taiwanese or not), white women (who tend to be European princesses) totally love Chinese/Taiwanese men, far more than they like any white men. Go figure.

Whose Ears Ring?

For as long as I can remember, I have had occasional, spontaneous ringing in the ears (not connected to hearing any loud noise or any other source outside my body). The ringing has never been a problem for me. I assumed that it was just a fact of life, and that every hearing person experiences it sometimes, even in the absence of any loud external noise.

In high school, I learned the medical term for this is tinnitus, and that only about 1 in 5 Americans experience it without it being connected to hearing a particularly loud noise. I said something about it to my father – who has been experiencing ear issues since before I was born – and he was surprised that I was experiencing it at such a young age (tinnitus is more common among older people).

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, like my father and grandfather, I have Ear Issues (and it is almost certainly not a coincidence that all three of us have ear issues, though so far my father’s ear issues are not as severe as my grandfather’s were at the same age). Though the tinnitus itself is too mild to be an Ear Issue, it is most likely caused by an Ear Issue.

It occurred to my just today (when I’m writing this post, which is days before the day this post is being published) that discovering something which you thought almost everybody experienced is, in fact, a minority experience, is like assuming that everyone experiences a similar level of sexual attraction as yourself, only to find that most people don’t.

Both ringing in the ears and experiencing sexual attraction (or sexual desire, for that matter) are exclusively personal experiences that only the person experiencing them (or not) can really know whether they are happening (or not).

The Impact of Who Shares Your Residence

This is for the September 2015 Carnival of Aces: ‘Living Asexuality’

I think one of the biggest factors which determines how being on the ace and/or aro spectrum affects one’s life is who one lives with. The people we live with are often the people we spend the most time with, and they are even more often the people who get to see the more of our private lives than anyone else.

I have been fortunate that, aside from brief periods, I have only lived with people who are totally okay with me not pursuing sex or romance, and who don’t try to change my lack of romantic or sexual activity (specifically, after the age of 12, I have only lived with my parents and my mother’s friends for longer than four months). Getting my mother to accept my asexuality has been more complicated, but ultimately it wasn’t a hardship.

Suffice to say, if I were living with family who had more negative views towards a lack of sexual/romantic activity, my life an an aromantic asexual would be a lot tougher.

Unless one has the agency/opportunity to build a chosen family, who is in your family is a matter of chance, and the possibilities are all over the map.

Excluding family (which, as I said, can be all over the map), I generally think that communal living environments are worse for aces and aros than a) solitary living and b) living with a few people who you had at least a limited choice over who they would be in advance.

The only time I have ever lived in a school dorm was at a summer school when I was 15 years old. I found that my romantic life (or lack thereof) was under far more scrutiny than it ever was at my high school. This is in spite of the fact that I was with some of the same people for almost four years in high school, yet I was at that summer school for a mere four weeks. It might have partially been a difference in the culture between the two schools, but I think it was more than that. I think a large part of it was the fact that I had two dormmates, and that my classmates didn’t just see me in class – they got to see what I was doing 24/7. I think the fact that we were living together encouraged more discussion of dating, who we had a crush on, who do we want sex with, etc. than we ever had at my high school.

And of course, with greater scrutiny of my romance/sex life, it became more obvious and more widely known that I was different. And that inspired people, in particular my roommate, to ‘help’ me. Thankfully, due to the time limitation, it didn’t get too far.

In college, I never lived with my fellow students, which helped me completely sidestep the situation that Laura found herself in in college. Granted, I was statistically unlikely to end up with a roommate who would constantly have sex in the room, but I suspect even a year in a freshman dorm would have applied far more pressure on me to deal with romance and/or sex than I ever had experienced for an extended period of time.

My next experience of communal living was the hotel I lived at for a little while. I had a bit more privacy there than I did in the school dorm – at least I got my own (tiny) room – but once again, my lack of a sex/romance life made me feel different and vulnerable. One of the people living there assumed that I had a boyfriend who was living elsewhere, and I never corrected this assumption because I was concerned about what would happen if it was revealed that I had never engaged in sex or romance.

I’ve never lived with roommates who I could choose in advance (we did have boarders when I was a child, because housing in San Francisco is expensive and my mother appreciated the money she could get by renting out an extra bedroom in our home), but my impression is that people who room together for economic reasons and don’t share a school / workplace generally are better at minding their own business, and if they aren’t, it’s much easier to get them out of your life.

I also spent almost three years living in a studio apartment by myself. Being an aro ace was not at all a problem in that situation.

In summary, living in a communal residence where one has minimal control over who one lives with is usually more problematic for aces and aros than a residence situation where one has a high level of control over who one lives with (including living alone). It is possible to get lucky – for example, I happened to be born into a family which is okay with me not engaging with sex or romance. However, there are pervasive social expectations that everyone who is abled/healthy/etc. is going to engage in sex / romance. With the reduced privacy which comes with communal living, it becomes more obvious that somebody is not engaging in sex / romance, and social pressures get amplified.

The best solution, of course, is to eliminate the expectation that people will/should engage with sex and/or romance. That’s way easier said than done.

Culture COUNTERshock in Japan

I’ve heard and read a lot about “culture shock“, I am also familiar with “reverse culture shock” (when one must re-adjust to one’s native culture), but I have never found any description of what I call “culture countershock”. What do I mean by “culture countershock”? Allow me to illustrate…

Japan is one of the stereotypical countries where ‘Westerners’ experience culture shock. In Japan, I found these stereotypes sometimes annoying. For example, one time a Japanese woman refused to tell me where the nearest bathroom was because she said they are all “Japanese-style” toilets and that I couldn’t use them. Well excuse me, after living in Taiwan (where they have ‘Japanese-style’ toilets) for years, I was used to using them, and I NEEDED TO PEE!!! On the other hand, these stereotypes amused me – like people everywhere I’ve visited in East Asia (except Hong Kong), Japanese people found it surprising that I could use chopsticks (I’ve been using chopsticks since I was four years old – it’s as natural to me as using a spoon and fork).

But there were some things in Japan which caught me so much by surprise that it took me a while to get used to them…

– Japanese people drink water straight from the tap. When I was at my first hostel in Osaka, I asked where the drinking water was, and at first I didn’t believe them when they said I could get drinking water from the sink. There’s even a sign in the hostel which tells people “YOU CAN GET DRINKING WATER FROM THE SINK” for guests like me.
– Japanese people put used toilet paper in the toilet bowl, not in the wastebasket. It took me a while to get used to putting toilet paper in the toilet bowl, even with the help of signs in the hostel which said “DON’T PUT TOILET PAPER IN THE WASTEBASKET”.
– I was surprised by how many white people there were in Japan, particularly Kyoto. I hadn’t seen so many white people in one place for years.
– The ideograph writing system (kanji) was natural and relatively easy to understand. The writing system based on phonetics (kana), by contrast, is weird and difficult to understand – knowing how a word is pronounced isn’t nearly as useful as knowing what the word means.
– Japanese people kept on asking me about my chopsticks – not that I was using chopsticks, they were asking about the actual chopsticks. They asked me where I got them, and then suggested that I use a different set of chopsticks.

For those who haven’t figured out what the deal with the chopsticks is, the explanation is: I brought my Taiwanese chopsticks to Japan. Like many Taiwanese chopsticks, they are metal. Metal is cheap and durable. Japanese people, apparently, are not comfortable with metal chopsticks, so much so that even watching someone else use metal chopsticks is a problem.

You might notice that all of these things I found ‘weird’ about Japan have nothing to do with me being an American. They have everything to do with the fact that I had been in Taiwan for years. Japan clashed more with my Taiwanese habits than my American habits. Had I gone to Japan straight from the United States without ever going to Taiwan, I wouldn’t have experienced any of the above as ‘weird’. I wouldn’t have experienced the last thing at all.

In other words, “culture countershock” is culture shock which one experiences because it clashes with a nonnative culture one adjusted to, even though it doesn’t clash with one’s native culture.