Being Involved in Fandom without Experiencing Sexual Attraction

This is a (late! Sorry.) post for the May 2014 Carnival of Aces, which had the theme “Obstacles in Being Asexual”.

One of the prompt questions they provided to help get us thinking about how this topic they’d chosen for this month was:

Have you ever had problems relating to others because you’re asexual?

And I thought… hmm. Maybe. That’s kind of a hard question to answer, in some ways. But I began to think of it in terms of “Can I as a fangirl/shipper relate to other shipper fans even without experiencing sexual attraction?”

Sexual attraction often plays a key component in storylines on TV shows and movies, as well as in “shipping”, and as a vidder and fanfiction writer/reader, I am seeped in the concept of shipping up to my ears, and I myself am also a passionate shipper as well.

Lately, I’ve been wondering, as an asexual and even possibly aromantic (still identifying as WTFromantic, btw) person, if maybe I’m missing something important when I watch my many TV shows and/or when I participate in the fun fandom event that is “shipping”.

I have been a shipper for about 8 years – since I was 16-years-old, since long before I’d ever really considered doubting the idea that I was just heterosexual but completely inexperienced, since long before I’d even heard of asexuality as a concept. (I first heard of asexuality around age 20, I had my first kiss less than 2 years ago at age 22… etc.) I’ve always loved love stories on TV shows. But I don’t exactly wait for the characters to consumate their relationships with sex. I don’t fantasize about them ripping each other’s clothes off. I only care if they finally “kiss” in certain cases, even. What it means for me to “ship” two characters is pretty different than what it means for other people to. I have come to really analyze all of my thoughts and feelings regarding romance and sex, including my shipper thoughts and feelings.

Obviously, we can’t all relate to every character on a TV show, and we’re not expected to. When a character is going through something that the writers know not everyone is familiar with going through, the writers can still find a way to make the character’s feelings accessible, understandable, relateable. I don’t need to be a doctor to get how it might feel to kill a patient – or to stressfully try my damnedest to save their life, unsure of if I’ll succeed. Saving Hope, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, House, Scrubs, and Emily Owens, M.D. were all shows that conveyed how this feels quite well to me (I’m a big medical show junkie lol). I also don’t need to have a terminal illness to get how it feels to go through it, when the show pulls off that kind of storyline right. I don’t need to be a football player (or even a football fan at all!) in a small town in Texas or a basketball player in a small town in North Carolina to understand that culture and what is involved in playing sports at the level where your goal is to “go pro”. I don’t have to be an alien from Krypton who has superpowers to “understand” what Clark Kent goes through, and I don’t need to have experienced transitioning into a werewolf or a vampire in my own life in order to feel connected to the character who is doing that on the show.

But when everyone in the world is expected to understand what sexual attraction and even romantic attraction feels like, sexual desire and various things like that which I do not feel, sometimes I wonder if I am missing a key underlying aspect to a story.

When someone is compelled to cheat on a partner, or to continue a romantic relationship with a teacher even though they’re just a high school student… I’m not sure if I understand the feelings the characters are supposed to be feeling on the correct level. I just watched all of season 1 of The Fosters on Netflix, and as a wtfromantic person, I’m having trouble understanding why Brandon and Callie can’t love each other as adoptive siblings and get their sexual needs taken care of with their other partners (Talya and Wyatt, respectively), because is there really so much of a difference between romantic love and platonic* love anyway?

I also sort of don’t “get” jealousy, I think. It might be that I’m more aromantic at heart than I realize and jealousy is something that only makes sense for romantic people to feel. But as a wtfromantic, I’m not sure that’s the explanation.

Many TV shows centering around teenagers or even co-workers who are mainly not related to one-another are able to have them date each other and then over the course of the show, become close friends as exes. They don’t always take the route of “he’s still pining over her but she still wants to be friends” – sometimes it’s mutually “I’m happy with someone new and you and I are just friends”, and I wonder, am I missing some lingering sexual attraction subtext? When the show doesn’t explicitly have the camera pan from one character’s eyes to the other’s sexual body parts (lips, boobs, butts, whatever), am I expected to be constantly thinking about it anyway, because I know these two characters have had those feelings in the past?

Shippers are less afraid to beat around the bush about sex than a TV show itself often is (especially if it is one rated TV-14 or lower). Slash shippers tend to enjoy lovely platonic friendships – or even enemies – becoming all about “the romance”, which always ends up including “the sex”.

Did you see that scene where Sylar and Peter on Heroes were having “eye-sex”?

Morgan and Reid on Criminal Minds don’t love each other merely like a big brother loves a little brother, like two cop partners care about one another… Nah, that has to be more.

Kalinda, who mainly likes sex with women more than with men, is clearly “in love with” Alicia on The Good Wife, and that must be why she was so upset.

Why would Derek on Teen Wolf be violently pushing Stiles up against the wall unless he wanted to be touching him? Getting his face extra close to his so that they maybe could even kiss?

I think sometimes shippers over-sexualize things, but then other times I wonder if my feelings are only because of my asexuality. I want to be a part of the shipper community. I am a part of it, a huge part of it. I have thousands of people subscribed to me on YouTube. I am on the “author alert” list of 52 members of fanfiction.net, meaning 52 people see whenever I post any new fanfiction story or chapter at all. I love being a fangirl and being obsessed with fandom. I named my blog “From Fandom to Family” for a reason, and I hope to write more on various completely non-asexuality related topics soon, including various meta things on fandoms.

But I also wish that sometimes I could better relate to the other people involved in my fandoms. I wish when having a healthy and reasonable discussion about why I don’t like a certain ship, my mind didn’t jump to “well maybe if I wasn’t sex-averse, I’d like this hyper-sexual couple who never has any meaningful scenes ever since they became ‘more than friends’ and now they only have sex” or “maybe my asexuality is making me miss the ‘obvious sexual tension’ between these two friends, sorry”. The weird thing is, there are ships where I fully believe that they feel sexual attraction for each other and that helps me to ship them.

I just… I feel like I never can know if my lack of being able to relate is hurting me, because unlike when a writer is well aware that not all viewers of a show are people who were on death row but then got kidnapped into a secret underground assassin training program and yet they want you to still relate to the characters, when it comes to characters experiencing sexual feelings, maybe it is all assumed to be obvious how/why/what the characters are thinking and feeling.


*Sorry. I think I’m gonna keep using the word, for now, to describe that vague, wishy-washy place between friendship and family love or where the two overlap, but I respect people not wanting to use it. Sometimes I might say “non-romantic” love but for now I feel like continuing to use “platonic”.

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9 thoughts on “Being Involved in Fandom without Experiencing Sexual Attraction

  1. Hm. Actually, the one time I did fill an ace prompt, I was extremely surprised at the people who commented, and referred to themself as ace. Including one who wrote actual porn, not just the occasional lemon I manage.
    Anyhow. As aro or borderline so, I don’t get adultery, and I don’t get possessiveness or jealousy. I don’t understand why some people can’t keep it in their pants. Though I believe that, by now, I’m managing to pretend quite well.
    So, let’s say, I sometimes do have to suspend my disbelief in places that other people might think perfectly logical. While my readers might headscratch over my aro characters for not making any sense, when they, in fact, make as much sense to me as the ships.

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    1. Fascinating. Thank you so much for commenting. I did find out recently that two vidders who I’d talked to a lot over the past couple of years and who were very into some forms of slash in fanvideo form, which is very different and quite a bit less sexual, especially given the source footage they were working with (Glee, mainly, and sometimes canonically gay, sometimes canonically not-queer characters, although also OUaT, Heroes (The Petrelli Brothers!) etc.)… I’d found out that one of these vidders was demisexual – and the other one asexual. I have no idea how sexual their fanfiction might be, though. I don’t know of any self-identified ace-spectrum writers whose fics I’ve read – other than knowing that the few ace fics I specifically sought out and read quite recently were written by ace people themselves.

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  2. I find it really interesting what you have written. The metaphors are really great and kind of make perfect sense in what you are referring to. There are definitely some aspects of what you have written that I can identify with. When it comes to shipping characters in general… usually I need some kind of substance (like a friendship or build-up) before actually beginning to ship two characters together. This might come from the show itself but mainly it’s usually from fanvideos. I think fanvideos help highlight things that I may not notice myself watching a show.

    I think the only time I can say for sure I shipped two characters together pretty much within watching the first episode and without outside influences was Chuck/Sarah from the show Chuck. And I am pretty sure it was because Chuck was able to make Sarah laugh during their ‘date’ which if only momentarily broke the ‘act’ and showed the real character behind the facade.

    I shipped Brittana (obviously) since I began watching the show… but without fanvideos I probably wouldn’t have… I actually think I prefer them via fanfiction and fanvideos then on the actual show…

    I have always felt like I personally ship couples a lot less compared to other people in the vidding community. I think I am actually more of a “friend-shipper” then a “romance-shipper” in general. I think there have definitely been instances where I have overcompensated in the shipping department in an effort I guess to feel more part of a fandom group.

    In certain circumstances I think ships are definitely ‘over-sexualized’ especially in the non-canon fanworld. I am actually not a big fan of sex in shows/films/fanfiction unless there is some kind of build-up or reason for it. Especially fanfiction. If I am reading a story and there is sex … I will probably read it… especially if it’s used to move the story along… but if it’s basically feels like filler… or is super graphic and just keeps going… i will usually just skip it… not because it’s explicit or anything more for the fact I kind of just find it a tad boring. Whereas a lot of shippers I know read fanfics specifically for the smut. I think a lot of my ships stem from the friendship and romantic side more than the sex side of things (maybe because that’s how i relate via personal experiences?).

    As a ‘romantic’ (is that the right word to use?) I definitely understand and have experienced jealously and possessiveness in real life and understood it in shows and why certain characters would act certain ways. It actually never occurred to me before reading your post that those types of feelings may not be experienced everyone. In regards to cheating… I don’t want to say I understand or condone those actions… but in some circumstances I can see why a character makes that choice and in others I just get mad and don’t understand at all… maybe my feelings for certain characters make me a bit biased and more forgiving of their actions compared to characters I don’t really like!?

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    1. I think I may have been misleading in some ways with what I wrote, because of course I do understand jealousy – you and I have privately messaged and I think I may have mentioned the concept of how my “best friend” may hypothetically have a different person she considers to be her “best friend”, and that kind of makes sense for me to feel some feelings of jealousy about. I’ve experienced jealousy in my life – I’ve been jealous of my brother when I was younger in a few cases, for instance. I can understand, intellectually, the narrative in a TV show that “sexual desire/attraction” is often a main motivation for cheating and a “desire to be the single monogomous object of this other person’s affections” can be a main motivation for feeling/acting jealous, but one of the things that has been bothering me lately in love triangle storylines on TV shows is the way jealousy often exists when I think it’s superfluous and just… it doesn’t make a character sympathetic to me, when they’re jealous, most of the time. Sometimes jealousy is played well – perhaps the jealousy is played intensely but by a character who is defined by his or her intensity (like Santana being jealous of Brittany/Artie on Glee worked because of who her character was, and also that she didn’t actually do mean things to Artie or really even go that far with the jealousy, in some ways. Sometimes the jealousy is played sympathetically, where the character is sad but still happy that the other two characters are happy, still acknowledging that these other two characters can be happy together and that the world isn’t really over just because the object of the first character’s attraction is busy with someone else.

      But lately, I feel like jealousy and in genera many love triangle plots could be solved with polyamory or an acknowledgement of non-sexual love as legitimate. When all 3 people in a triangle love each other, like when it’s 2 friends fighting over 1 girl or 1 boy (even 2 siblings fighting over the other), they often EVENTUALLY, after years of drama, get to a point where the insane jealousy dies down and what takes over is the general resignation of “oh yeah, I still am still allowed to care about you, and you about me, even when we’re not having sex, and OTHER PERSON IN THE TRIANGLE whoops, I’m sorry, I don’t need to hate you anymore but rather I can love you in a platonic way.”

      I feel like the main way that I don’t get cheating is when it “just happens” and then the cheater regrets it. I feel like, from my asexual perspective, being that blinded by your sexual motivations that you don’t realize “hmm, maybe I should consider the fact that I’m currently in a monogomous relationship first” makes pretty much zero sense. I get it if the cheating is done on purpose. I totally get it if someone is like “Hmm I don’t want to ask for a divorce because it’d complicate my kids’ lives and I can’t ask for an open marriage either because my spouse will just ask for a divorce himself/herself then and again, complicate my kids’ lives, so… I’m justified in doing this whole cheating thing right now.” But many cheating storylines involve alcohol (again an area where I can’t relate at all lol!) combined with sexual attraction and I just don’t get why you can’t just break up first or something.

      The main problem I have as an asexual person with a lot of jealousy storylines is that they often involve disgust at the thought of the person you like kissing/sleeping with someone else, and I feel like… it basically feels possessive in a weird and creepy way to be that upset with a person you like being happy/getting physical pleasure. I mean it’s not like you’re betrayed because they’re cheating on you. You’re not with them, and you like them – don’t you want them to be happy? It’s like sex makes everything different, it’s like “Yeah I want you to be happy – but you can’t have sex with someone else, that’s gonna ruin my fantasies!!” and I’m like “what makes sex the thing people are allowed to feel so strongly about in this negative light?”.

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      1. yeah. i think i got the gist of what you where saying in regards to jealously etc… I actually cut out a few lines in the editing process due to the length of my previous comment that may have clarified myself better but you pretty much covered it in the reply…. out of curiosity I was wondering if you could give a fandom example of “love triangle plots could be solved with polyamory or an acknowledgement of non-sexual love as legitimate”.

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        1. I think in some ways Damon/Elena/Stefan (The Vampire Diaries) would be a great one for that solution. Elena admitted near the end of season 3 that she didn’t want to lose either brother from her life, or alienate one of them by choosing the other. She loves both of them and Stefan & Damon also love each other as brothers and do want the other one to be happy. Both seem to be able to be sexually satisfied by other people, as well, so honestly Elena could be having sex with only one of them, the other one would not be forced into a life of celibacy, and the other one also would not have to feel like he “lost” Elena – or she could have sex with both of them (at different times, of course) and instead of feeling like “Ew, gross, she’s done this with my brother just yesterday” they could just all be happy. Elena could get both guys, and both guys could get to be happy with her, and they could all live together as Damon & Stefan are BROTHERS who both have felt equally at home in the Salvatore mansion and have lived together in the past. That’d be a version of polyamory working amazingly well, I think. Damon has been sleeping with Elena after knowing she was previously dating and had slept with Stefan in the past, so to me it’s really not that much of a stretch.

          The same thing goes for Teen Wolf‘s Scott/Allison/Isaac, I think. Some people think Scott and Isaac could easily be made to be bisexual and all 3 of them could happily enjoy sex with the other 2. And actually this whole blog post is very relevant to this discussion: http://ladygeekgirl.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/sexualized-saturdays-polyamory-in-the-media/
          But even with both boys remaining straight and only interested in Allison, I think the same thing applies as what I said for Stefan/Elena/Damon.

          And Polyamory could maybe be a good solution for ANY time when a character is “Torn” between two loves of theirs – Brittany wants to be with both Santana and Artie? Let’s have a discussion about open relationships, about if maybe they could all be okay with this. Artie and Santana don’t even have to be friends, but if they both want to make Brittany happy and are able to find a way to not feel jealous, maybe polyamory could be a solution that makes all 3 of them happy. Etc.

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    2. And yes, you are a “romantic”, that is the perfect word to use. I also think I feel the same way about what kind of sex in fanfiction I like and what kinds I don’t. And I think a LOT of shippers really do like the friendship side more than it might seem, because even the obsessed with sex fanfiction writers often are pretty good at writing friendship in different fics of theirs, or pick which characters to be having an intense sex scene based on what characters have the strongest friendship already in canon, etc. 😛

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  3. I’m a fangirl too, and I always headcanon characters as asexual and my ships are asexual in nature. It also helps that I don’t actually read fanfiction, I just write it haha, so I’m not exposed to all the sex and sexualization (and OOC-ness) that goes on in fics. I’m able to live in my own fan-world where sex doesn’t exist and shipped relationships are based on their compatibility in areas like interests, hobbies, personalities, emotional needs, life philosophies, etc.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! 😉 Many people would interpret some non-asexual characters as not ever thinking about sex as it’s own OOC fanfiction lol… but to us, it’s what feels natural. Yes. I see you liked this post of mine, too: https://luvtheheaven.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/being-an-asexual-fangirl-part-2/ so I assume you’ve seen my update with parts 1 and 2 of “Being an Asexual Fangirl” a while after a wrote this. They’re much more detailed.

      And my thoughts on all of this are constantly evolving. It’s a fascinating subject. How do I feel when I see characters in TV shows experiencing lust? Am I frustrated now that I know I’m asexual and wish the characters were too? Am I fascinated because it’s something I’ll never truly fully relate to so I watch with an eagerness to understand? I don’t know.

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