In Part 1 I introduced the play and its protagonist, and in Part 2 I focused on Evie’s relationship with her new boyfriend Raul. Here, I get to the heart of why I think this play sends a harmful message to people who are sex-averse or otherwise prefer not having sex. In other words, I think this play supports compulsory sexuality.
The playwright discusses the play in this video. I recommend watching the whole video, but if you can’t/don’t want to, here are the quotes which I wish to discuss (emphasis is mine):
But the irony of that is that she is so terrified of intimacy that she has never been in a real relationship herself…
… And she’s happy in her own little bubble until she meets this guy, who comes to her first as a client, but then she falls in love with him, and he really challenges her to get out of her shell and get her from her Warcraft world, and to be with him, and to be intimate, you know, go past those boundaries that she set on herself…
…I want them to come away with the feeling that whoever they are, and whatever they feel, whatever their own desires are, um, whatever they want for themselves, in terms of relationships, in terms of sex, in terms of, I guess, life, is that it’s okay to want that, and that it’s also okay, and I also want them to understand that sometimes the ideas we have about ourselves are often not based on what we want or what we feel, but are based on fear, fear of trying something out, fear of being different, fear of trying to push back against the boundaries that you’ve set for yourself. So I hope that they have a good time, and that they are kinder to themselves when they leave.
Somehow, when the playwright is talking about people having to get over their fear of trying something different and pushing against their boundaries, I don’t think she is talking about Raul challenging himself by entering a sexless romantic relationship.
Having seen the play, I can tell you that ‘intimacy’ is just a euphemism for ‘sex’. Evie seems perfectly fine with every kind of non-sexual intimacy (for example, cuddling) which is addressed in the play.
The playwright talks about how “sometimes the ideas we have about ourselves are often not based on what we want or what we feel, but are based on fear.” First of all, fear is a feeling, so I don’t get how something which is based on fear is not based on a feeling. Second of all – and this is a point which I hammer again and again in this post – is that the playwright implies here that Evie actually wants sex and feels a sexual impulse, and that she is mistakenly basing her idea about herself on “fear” rather than her feelings (which somehow don’t include fear) … YET the playwright never bothers to actually depict Evie wanting or feeling inclined toward sex (until the very last minute of the play – I’ll get to that later). For 99.9% of the play, Evie’s feelings about sex seemed to be entirely fear, repulsion, or, just maybe, indifference.
In the version of the play I saw, Evie does not have a single reason to have sex which is not based on fear. The only reasons, as far as I could tell, for Evie to have sex are a) because of peer pressure (embodied by Kitty), b) because she’s scared of losing the new boyfriend she likes and c) because she considers herself broken for not wanting sex. Do any of these seem like a good reason to have sex?
Again, I would interpret this very differently if Evie were shown as having any reason to have sex which is not based on fear – such as experiencing sexual desire, or seeking thrills, or curiosity, or wanting to make a baby or … something positive.
I am sure the playwright could have written a very entertaining scene where Evie has a supremely unrealistic sex-fantasy, and then her attempts to make that fantasy a reality with Raul are sabotaged by her insecurities and lack of experience. Such a scene would have indicated that Evie feels sexual desire.
Given that the play offers no other reason for Evie to want sex, I must conclude that the playwright thinks either that a) everybody automatically wants sex (and thus asexuals like myself, and many of the sex-averse people who read this blog, aren’t real people), so there is no point in showing why Evie would want sex (aside from peer pressure and self-esteem issues) or b) peer pressure and a sense of being broken are excellent reasons to ‘push against’ sexual boundaries one has put up for oneself. Both of those thoughts are toxic. If anyone who has seen/read the play can think of a non-toxic explanation, please comment.
Yet another real life example of a sex-averse geeky young woman who has had boyfriends is Queenie, and she’s written about how the assumption that everybody is going to have sex has created trouble for her romantic pursuits. A passage from that post:
What made everything more confusing is that, when I was a teenager, my mum gave me a lot of those oh-no-you’re-hitting-puberty-and-you’re-getting-all-these-weird-feelings-and-growing-hair-in-awkward-places books, which would inevitably say, “Don’t have sex if you don’t want to. Just say no.” The thing is, the scenarios the books would present were:
A. a skeezy guy walks up to you at a party and says, “Hey, girl, let’s have sex in a suitably grubby place and probably without any protection,” and you say no
B. your boyfriend (always your boyfriend, because apparently none of your Weird New Feelings could be directed toward ladies) is pressuring you to have sex and you ask him to wait until you feel ready. Do you see the issue here? You are asking him to wait until you feel ready. The implication is that there will be a time that you feel ready and that then you will have sex, because this is what people do in romantic relationships. Saying “please wait” is not saying “no”; it is saying “maybe later.”
And this is a Problem.
To be fair, there is one scene in the play which possibly could have been construed as Evie acting on sexual desire … in a different production. In the production I saw, the acting showed that Evie was acting sexually because she was afraid of losing Raul – it did not seem like she enjoyed or wanted it at all. If the playwright did not want it to be performed that way, she should have been more explicit about Evie experiencing sexual desire so that it would not be misinterpreted.
If Evie wanted sex for a positive reason, I would accept the playwright’s talk about how people should “push their boundaries.” However, given Evie’s intense sex-aversion and lack of any reason to want sex for her own good, I interpret the playwrights comments about ‘boundaries’ as “If you have boundaries such as ‘I do not have sex’, you should push those boundaries, and capitulate to social pressure to have sex.”
If anyone reading this thinks that I am bringing up an academic point – I am not. As an active participant of both an online and a “real life” asexual community, I can tell you that it is very common for people to become hurt and unhappy because they and the people around them said that it was wrong for them to avoid sex, and once they realize that it is OK to not want sex and to live without having sex, they become much happier. I would have included some real life examples but, unsurprisingly, people who have had particularly difficult personal experiences are reluctant to write about it online, and even if they are online, I would not want to bring such personal experiences into this discussion without their permission. If you want to find out about these kinds of personal experiences, leave a comment, and I’ll see what I can do.
If Evie is meant to be a person who actually wants sex for a positive reason, you know what would have been a great plot device to show that? Let Evie go to an asexual meeting, like the ones organized by Ace Los Angeles (to be fair, I don’t know whether or not Ace Los Angeles itself was active when the play was written, but I am pretty sure there was some asexual group based in Los Angeles which was active at the time – the play is less than five years old). If Evie met with the asexuals, she would have a) found out that she is not broken (!!!), and b) either found out that she does not want sex (and is possibly sex-averse and/or asexual), OR that unlike many people who go to ace meetings, she does want sex. Just as the playwright contrasted Evie with the Christian bride, the playwright could have contrasted Evie with the people who show up at asexual meetings.
Yet another reason putting an asexual meeting in the play would have been good is that it would help asexuals in the audience. First of all, if they did not already know that asexual communities exist, it would have told them that, and then they could look up their local asexual groups, or look for online groups. Second, even if they already knew about asexual communities, seeing ourselves acknowledged in media feels good, especially since good portrayals are rare (portrayals of asexual groups are even rarer – here is a discussion of asexual groups represented in media). Third, even if Evie ended up being totally into having sex, the asexual meeting would demonstrate that people who don’t want and don’t have sex are still totally OK.
Ah, I haven’t spoiled the ending of the play yet, have I? Well, at the very end of the play, Raul says he wants to continue the relationship even if there is no sex, and Evie says that she just might want to rip off his clothes and have sex with him. The End.
Again, the play gave no reason which I understand for Evie’s change of heart. Why, when she was so sex-averse throughout the entire play, and never had any reason to have sex which was not based on fear, would she suddenly have a change of heart. If she avoided sex only because of her fears, what dispelled her fears, or how did she over come them? I don’t get it.
Also, assuming that Raul is not pretending to be okay with a sexless relationship like he had earlier in the play … what changed his mind? My best guess is that he missed Evie so much while she disappeared that he decided that he is willing to have a sexless relationship with her if that’s what it takes to stay together. If that’s the case, I wish he had said so.
Anyway, back to Evie. Maybe Evie is a sex-averse demisexual who does in fact want sex with the rare person she is sexually attracted too, and it took a while for her to become sexually attracted to Raul, or maybe Evie is actually arcflux, or maybe … I could keep going, but considering the lack of context which supports such explanations, I consider them improbable.
The only probable explanation which I can think of is, once again, compulsory sexuality. Evie must finally want sex, because everyone wants sex eventually (except those of us who don’t, but oh well, I guess acknowledgement of our existence is too much to ask for).
The theme of the play is that we should get out of our imaginary world and face the real world.
The irony here is that, for many of us, the ‘imaginary world’ is the world where we are all late bloomers who are waiting for the “right person” to sweep us off our feet and turn on our sexual natures. A long time ago, I myself believe this about myself. For us, living in the ‘real world’ has been about realizing that we are different, that we aren’t going to be sexual like other people, and coming to terms with that reality.
That said … this play came very close to depicting this kind of situation well. Even if Evie’s last line had been changed – if instead of talking about how she might want to rip off Raul’s clothes, she is totally floored by Raul’s willingness to have a sexless relationship that she composes an awesome oral love letter to him on the spot (after all, he became interested in her in the first place because of how she writes love letters, so it would have been an appropriate ending), my perspective would be different. I would have still preferred having asexuality at least mentioned in the play, but I would not be saying that this play supports compulsory sexuality. I also thing this kind of ending would have better affirmed the idea it’s okay for people to be who they are and want what they want.
Irritating as I find compulsory sexuality, I am not particularly concerned about people like me who are already well versed in asexuality. I am concerned that some 20-something-year olds who have never had sex, feel very averse to having sex, and feel broken because of that, have been in the audience of this play. They may have seen themselves in Evie … only to see that, in the end, instead of Evie reaching out to other people like herself and realizing that it okay to be the way she is, or at least discovering that she can be happy and get what she wants as a sex-averse person, it is strongly implied that she was just a sexual butterfly who ‘needed’ to come out of her cocoon. And I am afraid that some of those audience members may continue to feel broken because, after having seen this play with a character who seemed so much like themselves, they still feel isolated, and they still feel like failures because they haven’t acheived Evie’s metamorphosis. It for people like them that I have written by far the longest post ever on this blog to date.
If anyone wants a good fictional example of couple consisting of a geeky young woman who does not want sex getting into a ‘relationship’ with a nice young man who is interested in pursuing sex, I suggest the novel Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson.
EDIT: If you are a theatre company who is planning to produce this play, I have some advice: reach out to sex-averse and/or asexual people. One of the top suggestions I have for how this play could have better presented people-not-wanting-sex is to mention asexuality – you can do this without changing the script! Include in your program information about local asexual groups (if any), as well as links to online asexual resources. You can invite a local ace group, if there is one in your area, for post-show discussions. Heck, if you offer them a group discount, I suspect a lot of them would be willing to buy tickets. Get your cast (especially whoever is playing Evie) to talk to real 21+ year old sex-averse people who have never had sex so they can better understand the experience. This play has ambiguity with regards to how it presents sex-averse people and their relationships, so there is some leeway in how a theatre company presents it. I think it possible for the producers of this play to significantly reduce the negative impact it could have on audience members who see themselves in Evie.