I got wrangled into a conversation with a stranger. It happens when you’re friends with Dallas. Everyone knows him, and everyone wants to talk to him, and Dallas is all about connecting people, so you get connected.
Next thing I know, I’m caught up in a conversation about politics, religion, and sexuality. (It happens more than you’d think.)
In classic too-curious Brandon fashion, I ask inappropriate questions, especially for a first-time meet. “So how’s being asexual? I’d imagine it’s quite lonely with how society worships romantic relationships.”
Ace (another term for asexual) man blushes a little, sips his coffee and looks up at me. “You’ve thought about this a bit, haven’t you?”
“I have a few celibate gay friends, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Plus, I tried to shove down my sexuality for a quarter of a century. Makes for being really lonely, especially because it seems like society is set up for coupling and making nucleus families. All movies, even action ones, have a love plot. Family members are always asking who you’re dating. Little kids are told that if you’re being picked on, it’s because the person likes you. Then, nearly all the sitcoms are built around families or building one. We’re obsessed with it, especially the church. It’s like we inflated the Bible with Disney, while Paul says, ‘If you’re horny, get married.’ Marriage and nucleus families are the only formula and an idol.
“But I’ll get off my soapbox. All that to say, I can imagine in a culture that idolizes romantic relationships, nucleus families, and disappearing into the child void, being asexual could be really hard.”
“You’re not wrong,” ace man says. “I want to date. But it’s a hard sell to say, ‘I wanna be life friends with you but have no interest in any of the other stuff.’ So I often find myself alone often. However, there’s some good stuff about being asexual.”
“What’s that?” says the person who loves sex and romance, but is also incredibly cynical of sex and romance.
“I have a lot more time on my hands. Relationships take a lot of time and energy.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Dating is the worst! So many hours wasted on horrible dates.”
“Right? And even when you finally get someone, you have to give so much of your time and energy to them. I get to do whatever I want. It’s great. But beyond that, the bigger benefit for me is that I have more meaningful connections with people.”
“What do you mean? You don’t think sex and romance are meaningful?”
“That’s not what I mean. Those things are lovely and good. What I mean is that a connection can just be a connection, a conversation can just be a good conversation, a lovely human can just be a lovely human. In my experience, those who are not ace often view humans as a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They’re a means to the end of their loneliness, a means to the end of their horniness, a means to the end of their boredom. The result is that people’s motives are brought into question. For example, if I were to sit here and have a lovely conversation with a woman, it’s very common for them to guess my motives, especially if they were raised in the church. But I don’t have any ulterior motives. I don’t want to go on a date. I don’t want to get in your pants. I just want to connect. Connections, conversations, humans become ends in themselves, not means to ends, and I really like that.”
Dallas smiles as he watches me think. He knows the guy struck something in me, and he’s just content that he could orchestrate the conversation.
Here’s the thing, stranger-asexual man honestly has a good point.
When I pull out my phone to go on a dating app or hookup app, it’s not about the person; it’s about my current needs. My loneliness. My boredom. My horniness. And I’m simply trying to reprieve or satisfy that desire. In doing, humans become means to ends, objects rather than subjects. And it feels quite visceral in virtual spaces like Tinder and Grindr.
“Bored; entertain me.” “Looking for a hole to use.”
All real profiles I’ve seen.
Then the more tame ones.
“Wanting to find a FWB.” “Where’s my boyfriend?”
While these profile headers might not sound terrible, the search is ultimately self-centered, and the humans we engage with are ultimately a means to an end, an end of our cravings, our “needs.”
“Burt I have needs!”
Subtext: “It’s your job to satisfy them.”
It’s no wonder that when we leave encounters like this, we feel like crap, feel like an object, feel like we were used or used. Because we did. We were.
And no slut shaming. If you want to get out there and life your best ho life, have at it. As long as both parties are consenting adults, have fun.
But I write this because my encounter with this man has slowed me down; it’s caused me think, to look inward, to check my motives, and to analyze how I see other humans.
Are they a human, worthy of dignity, respect, honor, and love? Or are they an object I use to fulfill my needs? Are they a means to my end? Or an end in themselves? How do we see our fellow humans?
And this transcends sex and dating.
The politician who can’t authentically engage with constituents because we’re not humans… we’re votes. The entrepreneur who can’t have meaningful friendships because we’re not friends… we’re a potential investor. The parent who can’t let their kids become grown ups because we’re not autonomous adults… we’re the supplier of identity and purpose trapped inside the identity of child.
Employee. Child. Boyfriend.
As long as we have a title, a role, we’ve become objects rather than subjects, living to fill that role for someone else, and what could our world look like if we simply saw subjects, saw people as this ace man saw people, as ends in themselves? What could our world look like?
Maybe more healthy. Maybe more whole. Maybe more colorful and bright.
Maybe. But we also love our roles. They feel safe when we fill a need. Means we have purpose. Means we can’t be replaced so easily. Means we can hide instead of being seen and known.
But you’ll never fit completely in any role because you’re so much more, and all of us deserve to seen and loved for all the pieces and colors that are beholden within us.
But it also means we need to start seeing people how we want to be seen. It means humans can no longer be means to our ends.
It starts with us. And I think I want to start seeing people as not means to an end, because Lord knows I don’t want to feel that way. I want to be seen. I want to be known. For me. All of me.
Purity culture trauma aside, maybe we could all use a little more ace in our lives. Maybe we’d all start to feel a little bit more whole.
Image by Gabe Pierce.