The very awesome thing about knowledge is that it makes things simpler and more complicated at the same time. The more I understand about things, how they work, why they behave the way they do, the less scary and overwhelming things around me become. At the same time, learning something new always makes me feel as though I wish I could tear my attention and consciousness into a dozen different pieces so that I could follow the dozen different trains of thought that have just entered my mind and are thundering past the back of my eyes to a dozen different destinations.

Today, I recognize this almost indescribable sensation as a symptom of racing thoughts, and it’s usually considered a Bad Thing by most psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. I used to call this experience “lightning thinking” because of the way lightning bolts diverge in what looks like an inverted tree structure.

(As a side note and something the linked description of racing thoughts does not make clear, racing thoughts are not indicative of an ability to multitask, and it took me an unfortunately long period of time to discern the distinctions between successful multitasking and wasteful multitasking.)

In the time period between my first experience of racing thoughts and my understanding of the phenomenon, I was completely unaware of the process. This is part of how my brain worked, a part of how I experienced the world and myself, and, well, didn’t everybody? Turns out, no, not everyone knows what racing thoughts feel like. Worse, not everyone is even aware that some people living right now don’t think the way that they do. It’s not just a matter of not thinking about things the way that they do, it’s far more fundamental than that. I literally don’t go about the experience of thinking the same way that other people do.

This might come as a surprise to a lot of people. I mean, it seems so innate, so universal an ability, just to think, to process stimuli that comes from the world we share—the same world. How different can the experience really get? And what’s more, I (usually) act just like you, with no obvious outward indication that my thoughts don’t happen the same way as other people’s do.

Well, that was almost my reaction when I learned about asexuality, which is a sexual orientation that describes people who do not experience sexual attraction. Only I had the benefit of an awareness of diverse sexual experiences (as you might) so the existence of asexuality as a recognized sexual orientation did not come as a huge shock, but rather an intriguing opportunity to learn more about human sexual behavior. “Um, it’s about not feeling sexual attraction,” you might be saying, “how is that supposed to help you understand sexual behavior?” By shining a metaphorical spotlight on distinctions, I’ll respond, by showing differences and providing a basis, if complex, for comparison.

It’s like this: all things that can be understood as something can also be understood as not being something else. A car is not a telephone, and a man is not a woman, right? Right. Only, like colors in a rainbow, there’s more than just two. A car is a motor vehicle, as is a truck and a motorcycle and a van and a motorized scooter and even the “Pope-mobile”. There are gradations of size, fuel efficiency, passenger capacity, weight, and air conditioning options that are probably all at least somewhat different on all the different members of the set of motor vehicles I’ve just described. So, too, must our understanding of other things, like gender and sexual orientation, be.

Why do people continue to insist on rigid and static frameworks that offer, typically, only two ways for a thing to be? The world is too big and too intricate to be described solely by using a single bit for each class of thing.

By and large, pornographers see consumers as either straight or gay men (what about one of those other huge market opportunities, like, I don’t know, women?!), anti-abortion activists see only murder or salvation (making no room for difficult ethical complications like the case of rape), and mental health professionals see only proper or improper functioning (as though that motorized vehicle example applies with a 1-to-1 mapping to the workings of the human mind; it doesn’t).

We need to break away from the obviously inaccurate and hurtful beliefs that restrict our understanding of the world around us. Such beliefs are simply lacking the full intellectual knowledge required to guarantee their truth, and thinking otherwise has proven dangerously arrogant.

In that vein, learning about asexuality brings to light for me an interesting new source of insight on my own sex drive, why it works the way it does, how I might understand and utilize it better, and possibly even other things I have yet to become aware of. I started with this interesting post by Ily from over at asexy beast that reads, in part:

But isn’t being sexual part of being human?

Not necessarily. Sex drive is a bell curve. Just as there are people who are very desiring of sex, there are also people who do not desire it at all. Asexuals are a natural part of the spectrum of sexuality.

Following some links, I found this post by ‘shescreamed’ called I’m not crazy, just asexual in the Asexuality Community on LiveJournal which reads:

Does anyone else have this problem?

Today my therapist asked me about my lack of romantic history.
I told her that this is because I have never been attracted to anyone in my entire life, and it’s not my fault, I was born this way.

She said no, you suppress any sexual desire you have and have low self esteem so you feel too insecure to be in a relationship.

I told her I would love to have sexual desire, I just don’t, and it’s not because I’m trying to repress anything.

Does anyone else have the same problem with therapists etc. insisting you have psychological issues and not being able to believe you are the way you are and nothing is wrong with me?

If you replace “lack of romantic history” and its associated references with something from your own life, does this not sound exactly like it could have come directly from you? Maybe you were told that being a sadist was sick, or that being a lesbian just means you haven’t found the right dick yet, or, in my case, that being diagnosed with bipolar disorder meant that my brain was “missing something that medications could give it.”

Obviously, categorically rejecting these possibilities is not in anyone’s best interest but neither is imposing these explanations onto other people. Maybe medications can really help, maybe it’s okay for women not to have any interest in cock, and maybe getting a sexual thrill out of causing another consenting adult some pain is actually a win-win for the sadist and his or her partner. The point is that answers about an individual’s sense of self need to come from that individual; you can’t morally legislate, delegate, or enforce the answers you would prefer people (your brother, your daughter, your friend, your employee…) give you.

Groups of people that share common or similar characteristics are often lumped together into those super-tidy compartments that make it real easy for people who are not accurately described by such characteristics to identify them. As a Jew, I learned a lot about the civil rights movement when I was in school because the oppression of African Americans was an oft-cited example that teachers of my Judaic studies liked to use. Similarly, Ily is finding similarities between asexuals and (of all the kinds!) kinky people:

I’m discovering that asexuals and D/Sers (as the book [Different Loving] calls them) have more in common than I ever thought possible. Even though Aces avoid sex while D/Sers dream up new ways of having it, we’ve both been pegged as vaguely non-human. Aces and D/Sers see straight, purely reproductive sex as nothing to get excited about, and so the more haterific in our midst label both groups “sexual deviants”. Funny, isn’t it?

Both groups suffer from a lack of research and education, and young members often feel freaky and alone. Different Loving also makes a good case for the idea that we all suffer from sexual mores still mired in Victorian-era theories.

Indeed, you really won’t know the extent of the differences people can have until you become aware of the fact that some people really don’t think like you do, which means you don’t think like other people. And, despite what absolutists and fear-mongering conservatives would have you believe, and as our favorite homemaker would say about this kind of diversity, “It’s a Good Thing.”

See also: