Tim Gunn: Celibate or asexual?
Tim Gunn made waves on Tuesday when he announced on TV that he hasn’t had sex in almost 30 years. But does this mean he’s celibate or asexual? And does he have a choice?
Does this mean there should be an “A” added to GLBT? Asexuals are the less-famous 1 percent of the human population. But they just might be getting their moment in the spotlight.
Tim Gunn, the Parsons professor who shot into celebrity as an onscreen contestant mentor on “Project Runway,” is commonly thought to be a gay public figure. But there’s one slight difference that many fans didn’t know until this week – which is that Gunn actually self-identifies as asexual.
On the Jan. 24 episode of ABC’s “The Revolution,” an advice talk show, Tim Gunn brought up his 29-year stretch of celibacy. The conversation between Gunn and his co-hosts had to do with a figure presented that 15 to 20 percent of people are in no- or low-sex relationships. (According to The Journal of Sex Research, asexuality is found in approximately 1 percent of the population.) On the show, Gunn’s remarks are met with an observation by co-host Dr. Tiffanie David Henry, that it seems like Gunn should have “suitors lined up around the corner.” True to fashion, Gunn graciously accepted what was meant to be a compliment. However, he probably should have taken the opportunity to state that people are not asexual because of lack of better options.
Then again, maybe that's news to him, too. Gunn went on to state that he doesn’t feel like less of a person for his lack of having sex: “I’m a perfectly happy and fulfilled individual, and I have feelings.” (Dr. Tiffanie, as she's known on the show, ignorantly replied, “Of course you do!”)
But wait, isn’t Tim Gunn asexual?
Currently, asexuality is characterized among the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders in the DSM-IV, the industry-approved manual of prescriptive psychology. Known as “hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” it’s characterized as an absence of sexual fantasies or desire for sexual activity. It does not necessarily disqualify candidates from the physical ability to have sex.
It should be noted that the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, a leading online forum about asexuality, does allow for asexuals to become aroused, crave sex and even masturbate. The site claims that asexuals simply don't want a partner. The AVEN is petitioning to have HSDD redefined in the updated DSM-V, following suit of revisions to the
DSM-II, which stopped listing homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973.
As it stands, if Tim Gunn has sexual “urges” that he’s electing to ignore, he would not be classically diagnosed as an asexual. While someone might choose to refrain from sex, he or she doesn’t choose to have no sexual desire. By conflating celibacy and asexuality, Gunn might be doing more harm than good when it comes to presenting clear, accurate information about the spectrum of human sexuality.
He admits on “The Revolution” that, “For me, it’s largely psychological.” He states that he was in a long-term, intense relationship that his boyfriend ended because he was “impatient with my sexual performance.” These comments have led to widespread speculation that it was Gunn’s destructive relationship in the ‘80s that caused him to retreat into decades of celibacy. But did Gunn always have a diminished sex drive, which led to the end of his relationship — or did his bad experience lead him to retreat from sex?
Gunn expounded more upon his sexuality and sexual history in his recent book, “Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work,” which came out in fall 2011. In the book, he discusses two noteworthy relationships that he experienced. One was the boyfriend he mentions in Tuesday night’s interview, and another was a brief, failed relationship with a male flight attendant (with whom, we can derive, he did not copulate). Since then, he says, “It’s been years since I was interested in anyone. And if you don’t need it, you don’t need it.” But need and want are pertinently different angles to the sexuality discourse.
Gunn claims in the book that from a young age, “I knew what I wasn’t: I wasn’t interested in boys, and I really wasn’t interested in girls.” Later on he affirms, “For many years, I described myself as asexual, and I still think that’s closest to the truth.”
By and large, admitting to the existence of his sexual feelings and linking a bad relationship to his current situation, Gunn seems to be more of a celibate than an asexual. Though every person has a right to change the terms of his or her self-identity, this distinction is one that many confused or proud asexuals might find useful, and one that might further the conversation about HSDD.
Gunn's latest remarks aired the same week Cynthia Nixon claimed in a New York Times interview that she chose to be a lesbian, and that being gay is a choice. This type of casualty – “something bad happened and that is why my sexuality is as such” – can be taken as yet another hit to the GLBT community, which by and large claims that sexuality is not an elective or reactive predilection.
However, Gunn has presented abstinence and celibacy as a valid option for a sexually mature and professionally respectable adult, which still brings sex education and liberation to a new and important forefront.