Writing From Factor X

November 29, 2010

A Response to SlightlyMetaphysical

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sciatrix @ 8:58 am

Okay, first, SlightlyMetaphysical has an interesting commentary on a post Dreki made a while ago up on his blog. Go read that first, because this is something that should be a comment on that post. However, Blogger is not allowing me to post that comment on his blog for some reason, so I’m posting it here so that he can actually see it.

This actually was linked on AVEN some months ago, and I discussed it then, though as I recall my conclusions revolved more around Dreki’s points about catering to sexual members on an asexual forum and defining a safe space than on the worry that an asexual safe space might encourage true antisexuality. (Among other things: AVEN likes its tone arguments.) I could probably link you to that if you wanted to read it.

On your worries that an asexual safe space might disintegrate sharply into antisexuality, which in turn oppresses nonasexuals: yes and no. Yes, in that unchecked and unwatched, those tendencies can get pretty nasty. (See here: some of the things I’ve seen in asexuals who haven’t had any kind of community at all and have to muddle along on their own. People come to some pretty strange conclusions about the nature of sexuality!)

But I’ve watched a lot of people come to terms with asexuality, and I’ve seen a lot of people go through this phase I think of as detoxing. That is, they’re coming out of a culture that expects everyone to want sex, anyone in a romantic relationship to have it, and they find this space that’s validating their disinterest in sex or their outright repulsion at the activity. And they’re excited, they’re relieved, they’re integrating this new identity, and they sometimes get pretty enthusiastic about how terrible sex is and how much they hate it, because they’ve never had anywhere to say that before and have people nod their heads and say “yeah, I get it, I don’t experience that desire to have sex with people either.”

What needs to happen in asexual communities is a validation of personal feelings about sex for oneself (that is, if you are repulsed by sex that is okay, and if you love sex to bits that is also okay), while not allowing that detoxing stage to spill over into criticizing other people’s choices. (That is, no saying “sex is inherently bad, no one should be having sex, sex should be banned.”)

And until recently I was a regular poster on AVEN, and this treatment of detoxing newbies was not what I was seeing. Rather, I was actually seeing people beginning to detox and people would tell them sharply not to be antisexual–even if they were talking purely about sex for themselves. I remember one post in particular where someone had been pressured repeatedly to have sex she didn’t want, and she was venting about how horrible she found sex as an experience for her, and people told her to stop being antisexual. It is reasonable for these people to have this frustration!

And if there’s no safe place to vent it, if not even the asexual community can be a receiving place for that kind of anger and upset, then people ARE going to shift into actual antisexual views. Because if you have a lot of (largely justified!) frustration with sexual culture, and the sex-positive asexuals over there are telling you that frustration is not okay and you’d better can it while the antisexuals over here are telling you “I KNOW, it’s TERRIBLE, there should be a LAW” a lot of people are going to go where the acceptance is.

On Dreki’s last charge, the one about policing our community image: well, I am no longer posting on AVEN as of a month ago. And the reason I am no longer posting on AVEN stems partly from an incident in which an otherwise highly privileged poster felt totally free to ask AVEN’s transgender, neuro-atypical, and mentally ill posters to shut up about their trans and disabled experiences because he felt that they were giving the site a bad impression to nonasexuals and he didn’t want to be associated with them.

(No, this is actually what he said. This was not subtle hinting or implication or innuendo.) And he was agreed with by several other people.

And then the leadership of the site did absolutely nothing of any kind, and refused to enforce its brand shiny new anti-discrimination clause in its ToS for several blatant examples of ageism and ableism unrelated to that (as well as that incident, in which several posters expressed ableist and transphobic viewpoints). That’s why I’m not posting on AVEN right now.

All of this, by the way, was several months after that blog post of Dreki’s. I’m depressed that they were able to foresee that, honestly.

November 27, 2010

On the Importance of Lyrics

So I’m going to talk about music now. Which is funny, because usually I would rather pull teeth than talk music. I often suspect that I’m one of the very few people out there who really does not do the music-as-tribal-identity thing. More, when people around me start talking music, I quickly tune out of the conversation. Ordinarily, there are few things I like less than talking about the bands I like.

And it’s not because I don’t like music, or that I don’t think it’s important, or anything like that. Admittedly, I’m crap at doing it myself, but I enjoy listening to music just fine. I have firm opinions on what I do and don’t like and specific genre tastes, so it’s also not like I’m not interested in what I’m listening to.

This actually rather unusual for me, because my standard approach to anything I enjoy even peripherally is to run out and find out as much as I can about it. For better or for worse, I am a notoriously enthusiastic person; there are very few things that I find irredeemably boring, and most of the time I simply ignore those altogether.

I wonder sometimes if that’s simply because I’ve never engaged with music on a deeper level. There is a lot of music about sex and romance out there. And lyrics are important to me when I listen to music; I want to know what the song is about, and because I’m often not good at actually parsing lyrics on a first go-round, I tend to listen very closely to what my music is saying. And you notice when 90% of what you’re hearing is either about romantic love in some form or about the actual act of fucking.

It wears on you. And it’s not exactly welcoming to the wide world of lyrical music, either, not when it’s being made so clear that the stories these songs tell aren’t meant for you, aren’t meant as something you can nod along with.

In fact, the first really angry “really, world?” rage I had, growing up, was about music. Because there was so much about sex and romance, and there was so very little about friendship or anything that I could see myself in, and music is ever-present in my culture. It felt very much as if there was no escaping.

I thought, then, about the songs I actually do seek out to listen to. So I brought up my iTunes “most played” list and I sorted through the songs therein. I eventually came up with only about 25 % of the songs I listen to being about either sex or romance at all, and of those the romances tended to end badly. There’s a lot of tragedies there.

Apparently this influences my taste in music much more than I thought it did.

So. I have a question, meant particularly for other aromantics but also for people in general: is this a me thing, or do others experience it, too?

November 22, 2010

On Pedestals, And Why I Fear Them

I am a young asexual woman. I am not sexually active now and never have been, and I’m not especially interested in ever becoming so. The reaction that some people have been known to have to my sexuality is amusing and infuriating all at once. I have been called “pure,” “chaste,” asked to divulge my magical secret of being able to resist the desires I must surely have.

Which erases the fact of my sexuality, by presuming that I must be resisting anything. It cheapens what I am to assume that it is derives from some sort of act of will; it erases my realness by presuming that no one could ever just be uninterested. But it is the presumption that my asexuality is a sign of some great purity of my soul that angers me most.

I am not pure, particularly not in the sense of transcending human failings. I am as flawed as anyone else. Allow me to make that clear, because purity implies that I am somehow above humanity, not part of it. And that’s a dangerous implication to make, because for better or worse, we cherish those we see as human in ways we do not cherish those we see as otherwise. It is not a coincidence that we anthropomorphize things that we wish to understand, nor that we dehumanize things we wish to destroy.

In the philosophy cherished by such people, asexuals are placed on pedestals, elevated loftily above the impure, filthy masses. We are angels, we are holy, we are good and sweet and light. We aren’t people, though, not people who have a tendency to say ‘fuck’ a lot and a filthy sense of humor and their own opinions on the system of morality we’re being shoehorned into.

Which is wrong in so many ways, really. Sex is not inherently bad. And people oughtn’t be judged on their goodness based entirely on the kinds of sex they like to have or don’t.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about pedestals, it’s that they’re constricting. You have to stand in one place; you can’t actually move about or do anything without falling off. And you will fall off, eventually, even if it only comes down to someone who dislikes you giving you a good shove. The taller the pedestal is, the harder you fall. Fuck that, I say. I’d rather stand honestly on the ground.

Asexual people aren’t devalued in the same way as gay and bi people are by people who hold such sex-negative views. Indeed, we’re prone to receive compliments, or the odd nonasexual person who enters asexual communities asking how they, too, can become asexual. With increasing visibility, I doubt we’ll be declared a sin, nor that we’ll see such hostile anti-asexuality emanating from the socially conservative.

But that doesn’t mean that asexuals will be accepted for what we are. My suspicion is that asexuality is likely to continue to be treated with something akin to benevolent heterosexism as visibility increases. That we’ll be held up as model minorities, the “right” kind of queerness, as long as we stay nicely nonthreatening and quietly out of the way. We’ll be free of explicit pushback if we hold our place on the lovely nice pedestal they’ve built for us; we’ll be lauded, even, for being specially free of such temptation.

Who could be displeased with that?

November 19, 2010

Labels Are For Soup Cans (And People, Too)

I see a lot of people disclaiming the usefulness of labels. (Especially, for some reason, people who have a perfectly good label for themselves complaining about other people making up new words to describe their experiences.)

So I want to talk about why labels are important to me.

My experience growing up as asexual was, I feel, an incredibly lucky one. I found out that asexuality existed and that an asexual community existed absurdly young. I was fourteen when I found the label, and so I essentially went through adolescence knowing that there was a place for people like me, that there was a name for people like me, and that it was okay if I didn’t have any interest in anyone else that way. Note the bit about having the name. It’ll be important later.

I didn’t necessarily take advantage of the community at the time. From about ages 15 to 18, I essentially abandoned the asexual community, such as it was. I was more interested in focusing on my autistic identity then, and was actively posting on WrongPlanet rather than AVEN at the time. Community itself simply wasn’t an issue for me, at least not about my sexuality. After all, I first had a group of friends who didn’t seem to care either, and then I had isolated myself in large part from my peers, and there was no reason for the whole tangled web of sexuality to really enter my life if I didn’t want it to.

No, the important part was simply knowing that the label was there. That it was real, that I had validation to be this way, that there were other people using this label.

I am not entirely sure that I would have been one of the people who independently makes up the term “asexual” without access to a community first. I rather doubt it. My adolescence was a period during which many, many (straight) people seemed to think I was a young lesbian, and were quite invested in trying to draw me out of my closet. And I’m not actually that immune to suggestion. I certainly would have gone through a period of extremely confused questioning, which would have been wrought with anxiety, and I probably would have gone with the flow and come out as gay because at least it was an answer. As it was, I was too terrified to come out of my closet until I went away to college, but at least I knew my label described who I was well enough. Even if I wasn’t brave enough to actually share it with people, I could be pretty sure I knew what I was, and if I changed so be it.

I could not have had that certainty without the existence of a label and a group of people who used it. For me, it was the difference between relative calm and frustrated anxiety. And all for the sake of a single word.

And here’s the other thing that labels do: they give us a community of other people who use that label to connect with. They give us a language to speak to others about ourselves, language with which we can come close to describing our experiences. And they provide a means to connect with one another.

It’s hard for me to think which comes first: the labels or the communities, since discussions within communities invariably lead to ever more finely gradated labels and more complex identities as people seek shorthands for concepts which recur over and over again. That’s what these words are, in essence: useful shorthands to communicate. And if they’re not acceptably fine-tuned, well, that’s a good reason to make a new one.

November 15, 2010


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.

November 7, 2010

What Fictional Asexuals Say About Us

Filed under: Visibility — Sciatrix @ 1:46 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The recent popularity of Sherlock in fandom and in the ace community as a whole is making me think: Why are so many asexual icons written as totally alien? This is particularly true of aromantic asexuals. We are sociopaths, or uninterested in connecting with others. Or we are aliens, or we are robots.

I’m not speaking only of the new Sherlock adaptation here. We have Sheldon Cooper, who is consistently described as an alien or as a robot in a human body. We have Rorschach, who is quite literally friendless. I remember when it was Dexter, who is not only a sociopath but a serial killer. Even the iconic Dr. Who is, when you get down to brass tacks, an alien.

(I have tried to figure out whether this is a specifically aromantic or asexual stereotype, with little success because romantic asexual characters are so rare and aromantic sexual characters are essentially nonexistent. SlightlyMetaphysical has pointed out that this may simply be because mainstream culture tends to promote an extremely fused view of sexuality, such that romantic asexuality is not immediately intuitive to people who are not intimately familiar with asexuality. Aromantic sexuality is even less so.)

The fact that many, many portrayals of asexual characters are found in speculative fiction is not, I feel, a coincidence.

Again, the message: You are, to us, unable to connect with us. You are without emotion, without love. You are, in short, inhuman. This is a stereotype. It reflects mainstream society’s belief that experiencing sexual and romantic attraction is central to emotional connection. More, it claims that because of who we are, we wouldn’t have any interest in connecting with other people anyway–and I think the discussions currently happening in the asexosphere put the lie to that.

Why is this important? After all, they’re only stories, and stories written by people who have almost certainly never heard of the asexual community at that. They’re not written for us, after all. They’re written for sexual people.

But they reflect ingrained attitudes about sex and about romance which can hurt us. They reflect and ingrain ideas about what it means to experience intimacy which imply that we do not experience these things. And those ideas written into the heart of mainstream culture can most certainly hurt us. Those ideas can make it harder for us to connect. They can create assumptions about who we are in the minds of those we come out to. Those assumptions can make it so much harder to be out in the first place, or to be out and find intimacy in whatever shape we most crave.

What’s more, these stories help to ingrain those ideas in the first place. We learn about what the world is like through stories. Oh, certainly, we might as adults demand hard statistics and numbers, but the most hopeless rhetorician knows that to really make any lesson or argument take hold, you tell a story to illustrate it. We humans are social creatures. Telling stories about people can humanize them, make them real in the minds of the listeners–and just as surely stories can dehumanize people, too, and make them less real in the minds of the powerful. For in this lens, asexual people–we are not the powerful.

If anyone has ever met an asexual who managed to scrabble to adulthood without hearing the stories of nonasexual people told over and over again, in infinite variety and detail, showcasing the diversity inherent in nonasexual lives–well, I’d love to meet that person, although I confess I would wonder whether they grew up in a windowless cell. By contrast, the number of nonasexual people who have heard the stories of asexual people at all number considerably fewer. You really have to seek us out to find anything at all, and we often live in subtext when we find analogues to ourselves at all. And if you’re part of the mainstream, why would you be seeking out subtext to begin with?

Stories are important. The stories which get told about us reflect the way the storytellers see us. And I for one am not necessarily pleased by the implications I see.

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