Random Thoughts About Intimacy Cloaked in a Review of the Movie (A)sexual

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This morning I saw (A)sexual, a documentary about people who are asexual, featuring David Jay, directed by Angela Tucker. I’ve been struggling with this term for thirteen years or so, since a girlfriend suggested I was asexual, or gay. The thing about that girlfriend is she would tie me up. She was the first girl to pierce me. She would place her hand gently over my face and I wouldn’t breath for a moment. She made her living as a dominatrix and she specialized in adult babies. She looked great in latex. And I thought, If I have all this desire, how can I be asexual?

For a while I was dating three women. I would do S&M with one of them, cuddle at night with the other, hang out like an intimate friend with the third. The problem with those kind of relationships is they tend to fade away. But I was really happy during that period. I felt complete. I wasn’t having sex with any of them.

photo by Tommy Cuellar

photo by Tommy Cuellar

It’s hard to put it together, if you desire someone so much you want to inhale them, and if sex is self-defining, or if what I mean by sex is not what you mean by sex… But for now I’m going to throw that out the window. Right now, we both mean the same thing by sex. For the sake of clarity I’ll default to the common definition.

I was in this heavy S&M relationship. It started in 2002. We broke up all the time. We were on and off for six or seven years, mostly off. I saw her naked maybe three times.

We think we want intimacy and to be loved for who we are. I came up with theories of love that explained this for me. I thought you start with passion, it’s sexual, it’s the booster rocket that gets you into the atmosphere where a different kind of love occurs, a love that is not sexual, that floats along on its own power. I joked about being post-passion. I was continually having relationships with women where we would share the bed and cuddle without going any further. There was no bondage or nudity, just intimacy. Those relationships are place holders; they don’t last. There was one woman I liked so much I seriously wanted to marry her though I had no sexual desire for her at all. She thought I was joking.

I kept trying to reconfigure. I thought my romantic relationships and my S&M relationships should be separate. Almost everyone who engages in S&M also wants intercourse. Intercourse isn’t necessarily part of S&M, people “playing” might not have intercourse together, but they’re probably having intercourse somewhere.

The other desires are the same. Or maybe they’re stronger. The desire for physical intimacy, for connection. I remember taking this beautiful girl back to the room where I was staying in New York. We were kissing and I got her shirt off and there was nowhere for me to go. I had reached the end of my ambition. We laid around a little bit.

At one point David Jay, the protagonist of Angela’s movie, explains to a room how he can be intimate with a large group of people without being sexual with any of them. Two years later he is almost in tears, explaining how that didn’t work out, and how he would have to be sexual in order to have that stronger bond.

I dated this one woman for a while. She would cut me all the time. I was thinking about that, the attraction to needles. And I would say, this is sex for me. I would never have an orgasm when she was around. I would wait until she left, back to her husband, and everything was a haze. There was all this drywall and soft wood and it was liquid. It was a large room with bay windows on a sunken street. And the table would still be in the middle of the room, rope pooled around the table legs. I would sit in that chair like a zombie. I had so much desire for her that I felt normal. I didn’t want sex specifically, I wanted everything.

I read something about a man whose mouth opened so wide it was as if he was trying to swallow the entire world. Or maybe I wrote that myself. I stole this line from Tarin Towers: “I got a pulse, I got a problem.” There was this moment in New Hampshire at the end of 2003. John Kerry was giving a speech and I was on the phone and it felt like being dragged across the floor.

Let’s say you arrive, sit down for a little while and talk. You follow her up the stairs carrying your things in a towel. She is a thing of beauty. Like a painting in a museum, in one way. What can you do with a painting? Afterward you’re at a bar nearby. It’s like winter in the summer in San Francisco. She wants to know and you try to explain. You both talk about other things.

This woman I was in love with, I think. I’ll say love, like gender, like sexuality, is self-defining, and by my definition I loved her. Two years after the storm was over she comes home with me. By this point I was only allowed to touch 95% of her body’s surface. And we’re on my roof and it’s night and she says, Why me? She was fishing for a compliment. Everyone wants to believe they’re the specialest one. Hence Love at first sight, etc. I didn’t want to go into it. It was all such a lie and I was tired of that lie. I didn’t love her anymore, I just wanted to hide underneath her. What I meant was, It’s not just you, there’s one other person just as impossible as you are. Just as absurdly beautiful, capable of saying “maybe” as if the word itself was spun from silk. By that I mean, Completely unavailable, in love with someone else. And even when she wasn’t in love with someone else she was unavailable because I wasn’t available and that’s why I could love her.

Last night I was at a party and there was this younger girl. Not that young, say late twenties. She was tall and kind of very pretty. She pointed to a friend of mine and asked if he was available. Girls like him, I said. She seemed disappointed to be attracted to the same boy as everyone else. She talked about finding bliss in small towns, laying in the middle of a road having a conversation, the noise of the city. Here was a narrative she’d laid out for herself and along the edges of that story everything made sense and you could go to the edge of your story and push beyond it and it was an easy exploration, as long as the land was safely visible behind you. What if you can’t see the light along the edge of your narrative and plunge lost into the forest? You have to take risks with your heart, she said. That’s interesting, I told her. And that was that.

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This “review” was originally sent as a Daily Rumpus email.


Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including the memoir The Adderall Diaries and the novel Happy Baby. He is the founding editor of The Rumpus. His feature film debut, About Cherry, was distributed by IFC. His second movie, based on his novel Happy Baby, is forthcoming. More from this author →