Writing From Factor X

January 29, 2012

Paneling Versus Coming Out: Thoughts On Presentation

Filed under: Carnival of Aces,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 11:19 pm
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This post was originally written for the Carnival of Aces. This month’s theme is “Re/presentation.” 

As it happens, one of the things I’ve been doing while I’ve been on posting hiatus recently is doing Q&A panels with my local LGBTQA campus group. (I have posted recaps of some of them in other places.) Recently, I’ve been thinking about the differences in the way that I present myself when I’m speaking on a panel as a representative of aces and the way I present myself when I’m just coming out to someone I think needs to know I, specifically, am ace.

For one thing, I’m pretty guarded when I’m coming out. About a year ago I wrote about a concept I called the “unassailable asexual,” in which I argued that there was pressure (especially internalized pressure) on aces doing visibility work to present themselves in a way that opened as few avenues to attack on their sexuality as possible.

I still think that that internal pressure is a bad thing that discourages some people from doing visibility work, but it’s not something that I spend that much time personally resisting, either. Particularly when I out myself, I often take care to omit anything that might be construed as an invitation to doubt my orientation. I’m actually a lot more willing to talk about some of the ways in which I fit the ways that people usually attempt to invalidate asexuals  in panels than I am when I come out.

I think this may be because I’m typically much more relaxed when I’m paneling  than I am when I’m coming out to someone. There are several reasons for this. First, when I’m paneling I’m sitting as an invited authority next to two to three other representatives of other groups from my LGBTQA organization. Often I’m paneling for a class of some sort, in which case the instructor has often warned their students to be polite beforehand (and in one case, had apparently briefed their class roughly on asexuality before I ever walked into the room!). In contrast, when I have to come out, I don’t have any more psychological authority than the other person does, which means that people are less likely to acknowledge that I know what I’m talking about, even when it comes to my own sexuality.

I also feel more comfortable when I’m giving panels because it’s understood, when I panel, that I’m speaking as an individual representative for a larger group of people who share an identity, not just for myself. The very fact that I’m sitting on a panel states that I’m not speaking and answering questions purely for myself but for a larger category of people whom I belong to. It’s easier to avoid invalidation when the discussion becomes not a question of whether you personally are deluded/lying/ill but a question of whether a large group of people could all be correct about themselves. 

Panels are easier for me, too, because (paradoxically) the point is to be as open and forthright about everything as possible. I often find that I have a hard time figuring out where the social line between “silent and vaguely uncomfortable on all aspects of discussion of sexuality” and “cheerfully breaking out odd facts about animal reproduction as well as interesting aspects of human sexuality” lies. The fact that I have no personal experience with romantic relationships or romantic and sexual attraction usually doesn’t help. Panels are squarely in the “TMI” category, which makes it much easier for me to deal with the limits of what counts as socially acceptable and what doesn’t. 

There are also certain questions, like the masturbation question, that I am actually personally completely unbothered by answering. However, outside of a panel situation where I have offered ahead of time and signed up to be asked all manner of personal questions, I don’t believe in encouraging people to ask random aces that question or allowing people to demand aces to bare every detail of their personal lives as the price of coming out. I believe that (outside of a situation in which I’ve agreed ahead of time to share), if one person is sharing in a conversation, everyone should expect to have to share the same level of personal information in the conversation. I also find that many people asking aces the masturbation question become extremely uncomfortable if you ask them to share their own personal sexual habits. Given those beliefs, it can be a little difficult for me to handle questions like that in a personal setting. Panels let me answer them and then add a post script on the basic right of privacy for everyone outside of a specialized situation in which people are offering to answer questions. 

There are other differences in the way I behave when I panel and the way I behave when I come out. I am often much friendlier about the whole topic when I’m paneling than I am when I out myself. Part of this comes back to the point I made earlier about feeling safer and more comfortable when I’m paneling, and part of it comes back to the fact that I have found that the more brusque and confident I am when I out myself, the less likely people are to take this as an invitation to attempt to invalidate me. 

I also sometimes out myself in situations when I’m not mentally prepared or particularly willing to answer many questions, and I have found that being not particularly friendly and welcoming about coming out lessens the chance that I will suddenly be expected to give a tour of Planet Asexual without warning. This usually happens when I’m suddenly asked a direct question about my sexual orientation or about my romantic status and I want to clear up the problem, but I don’t have the emotional energy to discuss much further or entertain the inevitable personal questions. 

To give an example of suddenly be expected to educate without warning, I was once hanging out with a group of friends. I had been there for a few hours and was dozing, half asleep and completely relaxed, on my friend’s couch. Suddenly one of my friends, who I was out to, mentioned asexuality to a friend I was not out to as part of some other conversation. The second person was understandably interested and wanted to know more, whereupon the first said “Well, it’s [Sciatrix], you should ask her!” There went my lazy afternoon! Now I was expected to drop everything and play question-and-answer with a person whom I hadn’t actually had any plans to talk to about asexuality in the future, let alone in that particular instant. 

Paneling, by contrast, has a specific schedule and a time limit, and I know exactly when and for how long I’m agreeing to answer questions. Moreover, I’ve agreed to do that ahead of time, so I can’t be surprised by the sudden need to educate, and I can have as much time as I want to prepare for any questions that might come up. The questions are even pretty standard both ways, so I can prepare answers ahead of time if I want. 

I don’t think any of these reactions are particularly ace-specific, but I do find it interesting that I am far, far more comfortable paneling than I am coming out to new people. I hear a lot of people tell me “Oh, I could never do that!” when I mention paneling in ace spaces, but I find that at least for me?

The paneling is way less scary. 

November 5, 2011

Fuck Yes, I Have Pride

Filed under: Anger,Fitting Sideways,Reacting To Assumptions — Sciatrix @ 10:36 pm
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I feel the need to tell a story about pride. (This is bouncing off a post Ily recently wrote, which, again, is fantastic and which you should read.)

One day, I was having lunch with a friend. And at this particular lunch, the topic of some personal insecurities of mine came up. It had been a pretty bad day, and I was in the middle of one of my figuring-out-how-my-affectional-orientation-works-and-freaking out phases, and the topic of autism had come up in a most faily way earlier, and I was tired.

So I complained about how badly, some days, I wish I could just fit in; how much I sometimes wish I could be normal, just so I didn’t have to deal with certain kinds of shit. Being different: it’s exhausting. Microaggressions are exhausting! Existing in a world that is adamantly not set up for you is exhausting! Always being the only one in the room is exhausting! And some days, the prospect of getting to stop being exhausted is a really tempting one.

And she was completely flabbergasted. “How can you ever want to be normal?! You always seem to take such pride in being different!”

I paused for a moment, looked at her and answered: “Of course I take pride in being different. It’s that or hate myself.”

I’ve never forgotten this exchange, because it illustrates something that’s pretty fundamental to the way I work.

Every time I say “I’m proud of who I am,” I’m also saying: “Fuck you, world, for telling me I should ever think differently.” Every time I say “being ace is awesome” I’m also saying “and fuck anyone who says otherwise.” Every time I say “I wouldn’t change my autistic status for the world” I also say “and fuck all of you who would rather seen a child dead than see it born autistic.”

My pride is a reaction to an entire lifetime of being told to be ashamed of who and what I am. To being told that I should hide away, should pretend to be something different, so that other people can be more comfortable. Or less bored. Or something, anything, but forced to consider that I exist.

I have encountered a lot of people, over the years, who see my existence as something to grieve over; whose first response to hearing about people like me is unthinking pity or scorn. I have encountered a lot of people whose first reaction to me telling them about an essential part of myself is to ask me if I’ve looked into curing it, if I’ve sought treatment, if I’ve tried to make that part of myself go away. I have encountered people who are completely baffled by the idea that I would find attempts to make sure no children like me are ever born again offensive.

I’m also a naturally contrary, angry person. And there has been nothing in my life as freeing as the realization I had a while ago, that I can say “fuck them.” That for every person I come across saying my asexuality is something pitable, for every fucking Autism Speaks bumper sticker I come across, I can stand up and say “I’m fucking awesome, just the way I fucking am.” And I can say: “I’m proud of who I am, who I am is great, and if you think otherwise you can go screw yourself.”

I don’t know that I would be as proud of what I am, of who I am, if so many people hadn’t attempted to make me feel otherwise. But I do know that if it’s a choice between being proud and taking joy in who and what I am and listening to the people who tell me I should be ashamed and hate myself?

I’ll take the pride every time.

August 13, 2011

Building A Path

Filed under: Asexual Community — Sciatrix @ 9:54 pm
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A little while ago, I got my internet back after moving. I checked Queer Secrets, as you do, and I stumbled across this. It hit me pretty hard at the time, which I mentioned in a couple of spaces. I didn’t take the time to elaborate then on why it hit me, though, and I’d like to do that now. So the explanation goes like this:

I am often gut-wrenchingly terrified when I think about the future.

I am a person who takes solace from tradition, at least when that tradition isn’t harming anyone. I like to know that other people have walked the same paths before me and I like to know that they came out fine in the end. I like to know that happy endings exist, that what I’m trying to do has precedent, that it has worked in the past. I draw strength from my ancestors, from my elders, from those who came before me.

No one seems to have come before, here. Oh, I don’t mean that no one like me has ever existed–I don’t think asexuality is a new thing even if the identity itself is only about ten years old. But I mean that we have no role models, really. We don’t have older asexuals saying “this is what it was like for me, and I turned out fine.” The last time I talked about this, a friend of mine mentioned that she had considered naming me as an asexual role model. I love the compliment, but I’m twenty years old and I haven’t managed to figure out anything yet and I think I might have my relationships figured out a little bit but I have to figure out how to move to another continent before I’ll really believe it and–well, I don’t view myself as someone who’s really figured out how to make this work in the long term quite yet.

And there’s another fear. If our relationships–no matter what they eventually come to look like–fail to pan out, what then? If we manage to construct something that works, knowing what the odds are, what if it doesn’t work? What if they end–or actually, more realistically, when they inevitably end (as they will for some people) how do we negotiate that?

(I’m just coming off an end to a relationship that I don’t quite have words to describe, except ouch. I’m not even sure how to talk about it, not sure how to explain the depth of my feeling or what those feelings are or what words to use. It’s hard enough to talk about relationships that blur the lines when they’re going well–talking about them when they fail is infinitely worse, I think. And overlaying all that confusion and hurt and upset is the fact that I am pretty sure that discussing the whole thing in public spaces would result in being dismissed and told that my feelings were nothing, because this relationship was a friendship, not romantic.)

To me, it feels like this: straight people have got this road well travelled to walk their lives down. It’s a wide road, well paved and well maintained, and it’s mostly flat and easy to walk down. Many people have walked down it, many people have used it, and mostly people have a good idea as to where that road ends up. (Or the places it can end up, really.)

And other queer people have got a different road for their lives. It’s not as wide, and it’s got dirt instead of pavement and a lot more hills and rocky places, but people have gone over it enough now that it’s easy to see from a distance. And people who use that road change it as they walk down it; there are people trying to fix the rocky places and keeping plants from growing in it. With every person who walks down the path, it becomes more solid, more strongly defined, easier to see.

We have a goat track up the side of a mountain. A very few people have gone up it, but not enough to widen it much. Branches are growing across the trail and sometimes sharp rocks stick out of the ground and sometimes the trail vanishes altogether and we have to try to guess where it goes.

I desperately want–I want it to be twenty years in the future, really. I want to know where I’m going. I want to know the path I’m trying to walk doesn’t fall off a cliff somewhere. I want a lot of things, but most of them boil down to a degree of certainty, and I’ll never have that.

So I’m scared of being alone,  too. I’m scared of a lot of things about being asexual.

The thing is–and, o anonymous writer, thank you–I’m still asexual, too. I have occasionally been tempted to recant–to try to pass for something I’m not my whole life, to pretend just hard enough to take the safer road, the one that’s proven to work. Most of the time it works, anyway, for most of the people.

Except trying to do that wouldn’t change who–and what–I am. Standing up, then, and saying “I’m scared, but I’m not stopping”–that’s a powerful image for me. “I’m scared, but I’m doing this anyway.” “I’m scared, but I believe in this.”

And I do believe in what I’m doing.

So I stand up and I talk and I come out over and over again and I say what I am, I talk to my community and I wail about my fears and my anger and above all I speak. I try to take the first halting steps down a path I can live with, try to clear away the debris as best I can and leave it a little wider for the next traveller.

One day, I hope our roads will be wider and easier to walk down. If not for us, than for the children who will follow.

March 17, 2011

Try This At Home

Filed under: Asexual Community,Reacting To Assumptions — Sciatrix @ 12:51 am
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Last week when compiling my linkspam I ran across this. I wanted to respond to it, frankly because it both hurt me (as someone who asks for these conversations fairly frequently) and because it made me rather angry. I haven’t done it before now because I’ve been exhausted and my life exploded, to be honest, and I simply haven’t had the energy to discuss it before. But I want to talk about it now.

When I ask to see discussion or post about something, I’m trying to have that conversation right there, in the initial post. Anything I write about, I hope will spark conversations. I hope people will respond in comments, or on their own blogs, or on forums. When I say “I want to talk about this,” what I want to see is people saying in response “well, have you considered this?” and then we’ll be off. I think that any post about a given subject, in fact, is trying to start a conversation about that topic–that’s what comments are for.

The thing is, I think my major problem with wanting to see discussion is this: it’s hard to have a discussion by yourself. I can post about something, certainly. I even get more comments on a regular basis than I think any other asexuality blog–certainly I regularly get more comments than any other blog dedicated solely to asexuality that I know of. This is not a difficult competition. On an average post of mine, maybe five or ten people might comment. And then a few days pass, and the comments stop coming, and then the conversation dies because no one is keeping it afloat. I can’t post over and over again about the same thing to keep the conversation going without feeling really, really repetitive.

Here’s the thing: long-term conversations need meatier posts than that to keep going. They need more people to think about the topic and say, “well, I’m not sure you’ve considered this,” either in a comment or in their own space. They need people to go away and think for a while and then post again when they’ve chewed over the topic. And they need different perspectives to really be able to fully discuss the topic. For instance, it’s very unlikely that I am going to end up in a traditionally romantic sexual/asexual relationship because of the way my romantic orientation works (or doesn’t, or mystifies me). I’m seriously uncomfortable with trying to have a discussion about the challenges of traditional romantic sexual/asexual relationships without soliciting the opinions of the people who are most likely to actually be involved in that particular type of relationship. And the same goes for a whole host of other topics–there are a whole ton of ways to be asexual, and they all bear on specific topics of conversation.

In short, what long-term conversations need is community. I’m not convinced that a community of people who are interested in a) discussing asexuality in b) the context of social justice exists as of yet. If it does, it is small. Small groups of people don’t make for nearly the level of good conversation as large ones do. This is one thing AVEN has in its favor: it is very, very large and has a ton of people on it, which means that there is a ton of discussion that goes on there. There are lots of big conversations on AVEN because there’s lots of people to have them there.

The trouble is that AVEN isn’t, in my experience, very used to thinking about asexuality in terms of other social justice discussions. And more, its moderators don’t always make the space safe for everyone. I spent two years trying to discuss asexuality in the context of social justice there and feeling that the tone of the site was really not suited to having the conversations I wanted to have, because I’d say things like “so could we maybe discuss why this discussion is problematic?” and then get derailed all to hell. So one of the things I want to do with this site is to create a community at least large enough to actually have discussions of these things without being bogged down by derailings and general fuckery.

Blogs might not be the best medium for this, I don’t know. The yadaforum is wonderfully acefriendly but no good for actually starting up long-running serious conversations about asexuality, and Knights of the Shaded Triangle is fairly good for conversations but has too few people for very much that is truly interesting to crop up. Anyway, half the posts there are by me and I already have a blog. I can’t generate content for a forum on top of that. So I write my blog, and I run linkspams. (More linkspams in a few days. I’m currently on vacation and would rather make the most of the city I’m visiting just at the moment.)

I’ve thought about trying to construct a group blog that updates more often than once a week; maybe that would be better for community-building. ‘Course, then you’ve got the same problem: you’ve got to have people to write the blogs and people to write the comments.

But the bottom line for me is this: I want a community of asexuals who are influenced by general social justice discourse. Well, okay, the best I can do is talk a lot and see if anyone wants to join in. And people have, and this is fantastic, I get to talk about things I think are important with people who think they’re important too. I’ve seen a whole bunch of new blogs springing up like grass lately and I try very hard to link to everything new I stumble across, because I want to see lots of different voices getting heard. I’ve been pretty bad at commenting elsewhere lately, largely because I’ve had a lot of non-blog work to do in the last month, but I can at least try to make sure that everyone knows what interesting things other people are saying.

There’s this song by a fellow named Frank Turner that I’ve been listening to while writing this post. It’s about not being intimidated out of doing something you want to and remembering that singers are human, and it ends like this:

So tear down the stars now and take up your guitars, and come on folks and try this at home.

And that’s what I’d love. If you think the asexosphere isn’t writing about the things you want it to write about, or you think that aces aren’t following up on the conversations we ask to have, take up your pen–or your keyboard–and start your own conversations. Actually, even if you think that the current writers in the asexosphere are doing perfectly, think about starting your own blog anyway or even writing a couple of stand-alone posts about things you care about. Because what we need as a nascent community isn’t a few people speaking well about asexuality.

What we need is voices. Lots of them. Disagreeing vociferously and agreeing and seeking clarification and adding the different life experiences of all of us to the pot. Voices to reflect the diversity that is so strong among asexuals, and voices to speak up about all kinds of subjects. We need a whole lot of people to speak about what is important to them. So please, if you’ve ever thought about starting up a blog of your own, think a little harder about giving it a shot.

We need your voice.

February 14, 2011

They Still Don’t Care About Us

Filed under: Anger,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 9:30 pm
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So reviewing the Dan Savage commentary from his admittedly fucked-up recent post about fat marriage in the general social justice blogosphere has been illuminating. Namely, people are talking about it. Big-name people. Small people. My Google reader exploded! People care about the fact that fat people maybe don’t deserve to be vilified for the fact of their bodies. Awesome, fantastic, this is a topic that needs to be talked about!

His equally fucked-up commentary about “minimally sexual” and asexual people in the same week, on the other hand? Absolutely zilch. Except coming from asexual people ourselves, of course. It’s been a slap in the face, actually. It’s a remainder that no one gives a damn about asexuals but ourselves. Savage can say whatever the hell he likes about asexuals, and who we should and shouldn’t inflict ourselves on, and no one will speak up for us but ourselves. Other people have allies who leverage privilege in their behalf. We have nothing.

In fact, I bet some of the asexuals reading this are thinking “we should expect other people to speak up for us?” and looking gobsmacked, because the belief that we can trust others to know and care nothing about asexuals is that ingrained. And it’s not an irrational belief, either; it’s not like experience teaches us otherwise. I suppose I’m the irrational one, in fact, for believing that people ought to care about asexuals.

Actually, you know what? At this point, I don’t even care whether you do care about us. I’m just tired of seeing people throw asexuality in as an aside without ever actually backing up the word with a breath of actual conversation about asexuals.

Shakesville, in particular, if you want to call yourselves asexual-friendly? You want to call yourselves allies?

Don’t just slap a cutesy “the cultural narratives surrounding romantic relationships assume you’re sexual” on your post and never mention the existence of asexuality again on a post, please. In fact, at this point? Either find someone to say something tangible about asexuality from a social justice perspective, or stop putting us in your so-inclusive lists and go back to pretending asexuals aren’t important. That we’re not worth talking about. Everyone else is doing it, you won’t even have to feel bad about it, but it would be a damn sight better than this bait-and-switch thing you’re doing.

I am sick and tired of seeing asexuality listed in groups of marginalizations–if I’m even that lucky–and never seeing people even stop to educate themselves once.  I am tired of never seeing issues that relate to people like me come up, ever. I am particularly sick of seeing lists that pat themselves on the back for being inclusive and never follow up that promise of inclusivity with action.

I am sick and tired of people putting asexuals on those lists, and then never actually so much as trying analyze a single issue from an asexual perspective. Because actually, the existence of asexuality could enrich discussions of consent, medicalization, ignoring boundaries, rape culture, concern trolling about one’s health, anything–even an aside that makes it clear that one is actually considering how a given issue might affect asexual people.

I am sick and tired of flinching when I come into social justice spaces when my own damn orientation comes up because I am waiting for the flurry of insults, concern trolling, and general demands to prove my existence in spaces that are ostensibly supposed to be safe for queer people. In fact? I flinch worse in queer spaces.

The omission is getting obvious. And you know, I’m greedy, and I do expect more. I’m tired of handing out cookies. Either be actual fucking allies and say things of substance when tangible issues of asexual oppression crop up, or stop putting on the pretense. But right now? I’m feeling pretty fucking slapped.

December 18, 2010

FAIL, Teva.

So this morning I finally heard about this awesome new ad campaign that Teva Pharmeceuticals is running for Plan B. There are a ton of things to criticize about this campaign, and I’ve done my bit by writing a letter explaining them to the representative listed in very small words. (Among other things: if you seriously think asexuality implies asociality, I’m going to have to question whether you sleep with everyone you’re friendly with, right down to family members.) There is a lot of fail, lots of people are talking about the fail, awesome. There’s more than enough fail to go round.

The thing is, the campaign actually plays into existing use of the word “asexual” as a pejorative. See, one of the things I do as a blogger is keep tabs on what people are saying about asexuality. I use a couple of blog tracking sites to find out what people are saying, and I read just about everything that’s not clearly about bacteria and also isn’t in Spanish.

And I have noticed a growing number of people using the word “asexual” to mean “ugly.” “Unfuckable.” “Unattractive.” “So ugly I think of them as genderless” is a particularly frustrating minority usage. I’ve had that one used on others around me, by people I considered actual friends and whom I was out to. I was not pleased then, and I’m damn well not pleased now.

I think it’s actually possible that Teva Pharmaceuticals didn’t know about asexuality as an orientation before they orchestrated their ad campaign. (Although Ily has some compelling arguments that they might have, most notably the grey-and-purple color scheme, and you ought to go check that out. Certainly I’m not inclined to take not knowing as an excuse.) I think they’re using “asexual” in terms of the popular pejorative meaning I’m beginning to see. To wit: they’re using it as an insult. An insult which is meant to make women yelp “Oh, I’m not like that!” and use their product. Which is really, now I think of it, a slightly more subtle insult to women.

We’re not totally invisible anymore, folks. Our orientation is now a bona fide insult. Fuck visibility, we’re out there now, we’re home free–! Oh, wait, now we’re having to deal with other kinds of oppression. Funny how visibility isn’t turning out to be the all-consuming panacea that we’ve all been told about.

December 16, 2010

Let’s Get Mad

So the asexual community has a problem. Well, several problems, really.

We need to stop catering exclusively to sexuals. And by that, I mean that asexuality discussion cannot keep being limited by the need to do 101 constantly, or to drop everything and rush to educate if someone asks a question.

I am not a visibility robot. If I educate someone, that’s a service I’m doing, that’s something I choose to do. And I choose to do it a lot. But it’s not an obligation I have, and I should also have the right to say “No, I am not going to drop everything to tell you about my sexuality, make friends with Google” if I am for whatever reason not interested in playing teacher that day. There are a lot of reasons and a lot of education opportunities; if I took all of them, I would be perpetually exhausted and also bored silly.

And if someone tells me something offensive, that is not a “golden education opportunity”, because I have plenty of those to begin with. That’s a cue for me to say “hey, that is offensive” and make it clear that that behavior is not acceptable. Arguably that reaction is a form of education on its own, since certainly the person is learning something new and unpleasant, but it’s certainly not the polite and friendly of form education that I see prioritized in the community. And damn straight am I not going to be grateful for the opportunity to educate that has suddenly come up with that offensive comment, either. I’ve heard that one before from other asexuals, and I do not have words for the levels of fuck that I feel in response. People saying offensive things about asexuality ruins my day, okay, it’s not something I should ever have to feel grateful for. Or feel any other positive emotion about, for that matter. If you can find the silver lining in the pile of shit, awesome for you. It’s still a pile of shit to me.

Why the fuck are asexual communities centered around educating sexual people anyway? By this I mean watering down our dialogue, our main community for years and years focusing primarily on education and not, say, issues of what we face, issues by which people try to silence us and continue to make us invisible. We do this, and we send the message: we are only important insofar as we relate to nonasexuals. We make ourselves smaller than we are, we minimize our issues and the ways in which we redefine relationships and community and sexuality; we dumb ourselves down to make ourselves more understandable.

And on tone: There is a place both for polite and reasoned requests to take asexuality seriously and for angry, sharp-tongued demands to take asexuality seriously. There is a place for both friendly approachability and for angry implacability in activism.

Except our ratio is way skewed over to the polite and friendly side. Our communities are full of appeasers, but there are almost no nukers at all. And that is a problem. That is not a cue to say the asexual community is awesome because it’s so nice and polite, guys. Nice and polite doesn’t get things done. Nice and polite is easy to ignore, okay? One of the biggest problems I have with AVEN and which I have had is that it wholeheartedly buys into the tone argument. AVEN’s culture is very firmly on the side that to get any activism for asexuality done, we must be polite. We must be friendly, we must be approachable, we must be willing to educate at the drop of a hat. And we must smile while doing it. Or else nonasexuals will write us off as sick and diseased, or they won’t ally with us, or they won’t welcome us into their exclusive clubs. Or something.

This is bullshit. The tone argument is a fallacy. It has a long history of being used to silence activism. And it does this because it lets majority people, particularly those who are not actually interested in being allies to begin with, tell minority people that their arguments aren’t worth listening to. Not because of any actual content within those arguments, mind you. No, the tone argument argues that if the minority could only be nicer, easier for the majority to interact with, then and only then will they exert themselves, just a little, to help you out. They promise that if you’re nice enough, they’ll let you play.

But the bar for “nice enough” gets lowered. And lowered. And pretty soon, you’re trying to be so goddamn nice and polite that no one has to listen at all if they don’t already want to. Where’s the activism in that, again?

We’ve bought into it. Wholesale.

And there’s another problem with the prioritization of friendly, approachable teaching over other forms of activism within the community. Some people are naturally suited to different activism styles. I, for one, am not an appeaser. I find it much easier to teach people that certain attitudes are not acceptable around me by displaying visible anger when they come up than I do to be friendly and approachable, especially if I am limited on spoons. I like to argue for the observer, not the opponent. I’m sarcastic and I swear a lot and I’m way more concerned with the feelings of people who are dealing with oppressive frameworks than the feelings of the person stepping in it.

That’s me. It might not be you. And that’s okay. Everyone’s style is a bit different. But we need a variety of styles to make this work. We need to start being more concerned with getting angry at people who push us back. We need to stop listening to people who demand that we be nice to them before they accept us.

And that means focusing on ourselves as worthy of real activism. Not “we don’t have it so bad because we’re invisible.” (Because I’ve seen asexuals threatened with rape, my own self, for breaking that invisibility.) Not “we only want to be mentioned.” (Because I’ve seen us mentioned in the same breath as calling us sexless and genitalless.) We are a real minority sexual orientation. It’s time we believed in that enough to demand respect.

November 15, 2010

Reflections

Growing up, this book was one of the most important things in the world to me. And it’s not because it was a perfect representation of asexuality or anything, because holy shit is it ever not. Among other things, most actual asexual people have neither been gang-raped or sworn a holy vow of celibacy. (And yet Tarma was the only asexual model I had growing up, particularly in that strange twilight between which I started getting an inkling that I was not like all the other girls and when I found the words “aromantic asexual” to describe myself.)

When I wrote about asexuality as portrayed in media, I was focusing on the works themselves. Now I would like to focus on the way we react to those works.

I think communities like asexual_fandom and, more broadly, lgbtfest do a great service to the rest of us, that way. I think transformative works have a lot of potential to help us tell our own stories in our own way, because the cost of entry for derivative works is so very low. It’s so much harder to get an actual publisher to take up one’s work than it is to merely publish it on the Internet, for one thing.

I wonder, sometimes, how to strike that balance between wanting to see more asexual characters and wanting to see more asexual characters who aren’t embodying an offensive stereotype. (And perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to it, being autistic and having serious issues with the similar conflation of autism and sociopathy.) Because there are so damn few of us out there, and almost none of them are actually written by asexual people. In fact, most of them don’t even seem to have been written by people who made a half-assed attempt to connect with actual asexual people.

It makes me angry that I have to make that trade-off. It reminds me of my reaction to reading Guardian of the Dead, in fact, which has a semi-minor asexual character and did it right. I’d gotten the book, read it, and cycled through elation and excitement and then grateful. Really grateful. And then, being myself, into anger, not at Ms. Healey but at the whole world. Because what kind of world is it where I feel grateful for reading a single book? What kind of world is it, where seeing a character with the same orientation as me is an occasion for great joy, where the sudden cessation of invisibility is a moment for wonder?

In the absence of a better world, I make trade-offs.

I watch The Big Bang Theory, even though I find it problematic as hell. (And growing more so, I think, with the “but they’re REALLY dating” dancing about it has been doing with the Amy/Sheldon arc.) And there are bits of it I like, but there are so many that make me cringe, and cringe, and cringe, but I put up with them anyway because where am I going to find another aromantic character whose orientation is actually sort of slightly respected by the writers and discussed? (Certainly it’s not respected by the fandom.) And I reread Oathbound even though the old hackneyed trope of gang-rape changing a person’s sexuality makes me cringe.

I’d like a world where The Oathbound is a cringe-worthy portrayal of asexuality rather than one of the better ones, please. I think I might be satisfied then.

October 18, 2010

A Work In Progress

Filed under: Asexual Community,Signal Boost — Sciatrix @ 7:36 am
Tags: , ,

Short and frankly rather disjointed update this week, because I’m up to my ears in writer’s block and some of that pesky non-ace classwork besides.

I’m also trying to write a “How to Respond Politely If Someone Comes Out As Asexual” post, but that’s likely to be a work in progress until I figure out how to be all engaging and 101-like. (Which, speaking of, please give me suggestions!) Not so much something I can throw together in a couple of hours.

And the other project I’m working on that is eating my time right now is working on a transcript of an excellent podcast that swankivy and David Jay did about a month ago on the subject of asexuality. It should be done by the end of the week–it’s an hour long podcast and I’ve been working on the transcript for a long time now–but if you haven’t heard about it, you can find the recording here or here. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff in it.

EDITED: It’s finished now. If you’re like me and have issues processing auditory media, you should be able to view the transcript as a Google document here. Be warned–it is a good 18 pages long in Word and will probably take some time to read.

Like pretty much everyone in and out of the asexosphere, I’m still thinking about the LJ ontd_feminism wank. (Yes, it was a whole week ago now. That is forever in Internet terms. It’s still relevant!) And, well, I have a lot of things to say about it, but they’re mostly rehashes of things I’ve said in other areas discussing asexuality. Suffice it to say that among other things, I am still not a fan of Oppression Olympics.

asexual_fandom has an asexual manifesto project going on, in which people volunteer every week to write about why they view particular characters as asexual–even if they’re not canonically so. I’m pretty excited about seeing what people come up with once it gets launched.  (First manifesto is due next week!) We don’t see anywhere enough asexual characters, as far as I am concerned. If so little for us is going to get published, I for one am all for reading existing characters as ace and writing stories based off of that reading.

October 11, 2010

Invisibility Internalized

Here is my great problem when talking about asexuality: I find it much easier to talk about being asexual and what that means to be on the Internet, with people who do not know me in meatspace*.

I’m dealing with that for my project for National Coming Out Day. I am not actually coming out per se to anyone. Rather, what I will be doing is making a Facebook post inviting anyone who wants to talk to me about asexuality to do so at any time over the course of the week, and I will make a concerted effort to answer any questions they might have.

But I’m not talking about that here. Instead, what I want to talk about is why I find it so difficult to talk about asexuality outside of asexual spaces, especially off the Internet. My asexuality is a fairly important aspect of my identity. It colors how I perceive the world and it impacts the way I view my relationships with friends and family. And, as this blog evinces, I spend a lot of time thinking about asexuality and its place in the world. I care enough about this topic to write an essay on it every week. It’s a big part of me.

And yet I don’t talk about it much. Oh, I’m out, and I’m feeling more and more comfortable coming out as asexual fairly casually. I joke about it sometimes, or other people do.

I still don’t bring up issues related to asexuality much in conversation. My meatspace friends don’t know this blog exists, for instance. Not because it’s a secret, but because I don’t talk about it. They barely know AVEN exists, mostly because occasionally I will mention it if a discussion off AVEN is really upsetting me.

There was an exercise I did last week in my Human Sexuality class. We were asked to write three important parts of our self-identity on a piece of paper and go and talk to a total stranger without giving any hints to them about what we had written on our papers. And you know, the hardest part of the whole exercise was letting the person I was talking to know I was ace at the end of it. Dancing around my identity? Ignoring the entire question of sex, romance, of dating and of life plans? It was easy. I do it every day.

When the topic of sexuality comes up, I am often afraid to speak up because I feel that, for some reason, my opinion doesn’t “count.”

My orientation is something to joke about on occasion, and that’s pretty much it with some rare exceptions. It’s not something I discuss seriously. Because that would make it real.

And this… I think this is because I have internalized the broader culture of asexuality as being something which is not quite as real as other orientations. After all, it’s very rare to hear asexuality discussed in the context of anything outside of specifically asexual spaces. When I do see it outside of our discussions–even so much as a mention that asexual people exist, without any discussion of actual asexual experiences–I am taken aback. Shocked, really, at least for a second. Seeing asexuality so much as mentioned is an acknowledgement that our issues are important, even among people who are not themselves asexual.

I’m not the only asexual person I have talked to who does this, either. Even within the ace community I see many people arguing that, for instance, visibility efforts are a waste of time. Or coming out is, because no one needs to know about asexuality but asexual people. Or that we don’t really experience any hardships, so we ought to just be quiet and keep our asexuality to ourselves, and save the real discussion for people who have sexualities that are oppressed.

I think: invisibility is stifling. It is having one side of me focusing on one part of myself, and another side to show the people outside of my community. It is downplaying something which is important to me.

And yet breaking that invisibility is terrifying. Especially when I have seen, so often, attempts to raise dialog about asexuality in non-asexual spaces dissolve into concern trolling about health, or anger about appropriating the struggles of others, or being told that we’re upset about nothing. That this isn’t a problem. It isn’t simply a matter of irrational fear.

I think it’s worth doing, even if it is terrifying. I hope I have less to fear than I think.

*I consciously use the term “meatspace” rather than “real life” to refer to spaces off the Internet, because I don’t think Internet interactions are any less real than off-Net ones. Especially for people whose primary source of social contact is through the Internet–and I’ve been there and probably will be again–I think the term “real life” trivializes the important relationships that form and the conversations which happen using the Internet as a medium.

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