So apparently Tim Gunn, style guru and fabulous fashionista, hasn’t had sex for 29 years. And he isn’t afraid to say it. On his new show, “The Revolution,” Gunn said he was going to say it aloud and not be ashamed that he is asexual.
Do I feel like less of a person for it? No… I’m a perfectly happy and fulfilled individual.”
When a friend posted this on my Facebook wall, one of those really uncomfortable conversations began where I ended up sounding like your conservative grandmother about gay people: maybe it’s just a phase, that’s wrong, people really should leave that as their own private shame.
I hate myself for having this response because if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that human sexuality is messy and not easily locked down into neat little boxes to be checked off on a survey. Why can’t some people be happily asexual? Why can’t some couples be happily asexual?
Apparently 15-20 percent of people are in no-sex or low-sex relationships. And some research shows that about 1 percent of the population in the United Kingdom and slightly lower in the United States are asexual. In the United States, more men than women fall into the asexual category, that is, having no sexual attraction to men, women, or anything else for that matter.
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network Web site, an asexual is “a person who does not experience sexual attraction,” but the identity category seems to extend to those who do have sexual feelings but do not act on them with another person. Also according the AVEN Web site, asexuality is an identity, like gay or straight, not a choice, like celibacy.
This notion of asexuality as an identity relies on some of the most dominant beliefs about homosexuality: that one is born that way and that it is not the result of a life history, but of some innate genetic predisposition possibly located in the hypothalamus. The search for “asexual essentialism,” like the search for “the gay gene,” has led one scientist to suggest that we
gather a group of willing, self-identified asexuals and, systematically and under controlled conditions, expose them to an array of erotic stimuli while measuring their physical arousal (penile erection or vaginal lubrication).
I will leave it to the scientists to search for the supposed genetic basis of asexuality as well as tie themselves into knots to explain it all in terms of evolutionary biology. Instead, I will propose a different approach à la Foucault: When was the asexual born as a species and what historical, economic, cultural, and political forces swirl around this new sexual species?
I am going to date the asexual as a sexual identity to the past 10 years, to the widespread use of the Internet and online communities, and the intensification of biologistic explanations for everything we want or do, from eating a chocolate-chip cookie to being gay. I am also going to posit that the asexual as an identity probably has a particular racial and class formation (although gender seems less important than I might have guessed, since the embrace by white middle-class women of asexuality would have signaled an earlier “lady-like” asexuality that signified racial purity). I am also guessing that the asexual identity—perhaps like the homosexual identity during the heady days of gay liberation—signals resistance to the dominant culture. In other words, asexuality is an “alternative lifestyle” for those who can afford both a lifestyle and an alternative one at that.
There are a million reasons why a thinking person might want to resist the hyper-sexualization of everyday life in the United States and why this resistance can sink down into our very bones so that it becomes “natural” and “unchangeable.” After all, the sedimentation of homosexuality and heterosexuality are similar. One is not born a particular sexuality; one becomes one. Regardless of what the essentialists want to believe, sexuality requires culture, and culture changes over time. Our culture now offers us a plethora of sexual-identity positions, from hetero to homo to poly to a.
And Timm Gunn is now the proud spokesman of asexuals. Perhaps this godfather of fashion understands that he is riding the wave of the newest sexual species to arrive on the American scene. But probably he is just expressing his inner truth, a truth that is not a biological fact, but rather a historical one.