Monday, November 14, 2011

Attraction is like wine

This essay was written for this month's Carnival of Aces.

I don't drink wine because wine gives me worse Asian glow than any other form of alcohol.  But of course I've seen wine.  They often have these colorful descriptions on the back.  For example...
A firm, full textured almost focused Cabernet. Spews bing-cherry, unripe apple and lingering tomato.

Wholly obtuse and yellowed Dessert wine. A mouthful of smoked ham, sassy french onion soup and a modicum of Baby Ruth bar.
Actually, I took these from a Silly Tasting Note Generator, and I'm sure that if you actually drink wine, they look awfully silly.  Not that I can tell.  Wikipedia helpfully offers a dictionary of wine tasting descriptors, but I think wine tasting is one of those rare things that you can't learn from the internet.

The asexual community is a bit like a wine tasting community, except that they taste different kinds of attraction.  While the dictionary of attraction is not as large as the one for wines, I could come up with a dozen just off the top of my head.*  And people still struggle to find words to describe their experiences, often resorting to long stories to do so.

*Ahem.  Sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sex drive, sexual fantasies, sexual desire, primary attraction, secondary attraction, aesthetic attraction, sensual attraction, limerence, platonic attraction, platonic crushes, and that's not even half of it.

I'm not sure why asexuals are such connoisseurs, but it at least makes sense.  Imagine you're in a society that drinks wine, but doesn't care about, and hardly seems to recognize the existence of different kinds of wine.  And then you have this group of people who can't stand white wine, but some of them enjoy red wine.  Since we know there's at least a distinction between red and white wine, maybe there are distinctions between different types of red wine.  Wow, let's go investigate!

And then the red-wine-drinkers tell the rest of society, "Look at all these different flavors of red wine we found.  I bet there are lots of flavors of white wine too!"  The rest of society shrugs unenthusiastically.  Sure, wine is complicated, but do we really need to create so many words to describe it?  Wine is wine!

I feel sympathy for both sides, the connoisseurs and the "wine is wine" folks.  I don't see why they can't coexist peacefully.

Different flavors of attraction are pretty important to me.  Aesthetic attraction and limerence are particularly important to me, because that's what I'm most notably missing.  Basically, I don't have a sense of "hotness", or "cuteness", or what have you.  And I don't get crushes.  Thus it seems obvious to me that we must separate out aesthetic attraction and limerence.

But on the other hand, I can't really tell the difference between sexual and romantic attraction.  And I don't really know what platonic attraction is.  From the perspective of the asexual community, this is a big blind spot!  It's like being unable to distinguish between red and white wine, or not knowing what tannin is.*

*I do not know what tannin is.

Why can't I understand the distinction between romantic and sexual attraction?  Maybe I just haven't experienced enough, or I haven't done enough introspection.  Maybe I have a genetic insensitivity to a particular flavor.  Or maybe the words are poorly defined.  Maybe they don't describe single flavors but collections of flavors.  Or maybe I'm having trouble connecting the words to their meanings.  Nobody can hand me a glass-full and tell me that this is what romantic attraction tastes like.  Or maybe everyone else is having the same problem connecting words to meanings, so that the words to really mean different things to different people.

Some people complain to me that asexuals make everything too complicated.  All I can do is shrug.  Some of those concepts are really important to me, because they hit on a key aspect of my experience.  Some words are just meaningless to me, and I only keep track of them as words that are meaningful to other people.  Surely, if sexuality is complicated, people are allowed to discuss what exactly is complicated about it for them.


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

" "Look at all these different flavors of red wine we found. I bet there are lots of flavors of white wine too!" The rest of society shrugs unenthusiastically. "

^This. I mean, the whole post, but this bit in particular.

I've always worried about being called pretentious, 'special snowflake', because of all the distinctions I draw or conspicuously don't draw in my sexuality. I don't think I'm special, though. I think EVERYONE is roughly as complex.

The problem is, I think there's a language horizon, at which point you just can't communicate these things any more specifically. I think we might be starting to push up against that.

Isaac said...

I like you comparison with wine.