Writing From Factor X

December 31, 2010

What Are You Writing For?

Filed under: Asexual Community,Fitting Sideways,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 11:18 am
Tags: , ,

I’ve been writing here for about three months now. What started as an experiment to see whether I could sustain commentary about asexuality for an extended period of time seems to have lasted. And it’s the New Year. I have time to navel-gaze.

Anyway, I want to talk about why I write.

One day, I would like to see academic discussion of asexual identities. Almost every paper I see right now is attempting to answer the question of whether we exist at all and whether our experiences are valid, and frankly I’m not actually all that interested in proving my own reality. I want to talk about what that reality is like.

I see so many people come into asexual communities and ask for places they can get information about asexuality besides the bare-bones Asexuality 101 FAQs. I see them asking for things like asexual history, asexuality literary criticism, asexuals in stories, or even just a whole book about what it’s like to be ace. Right now, there’s nothing there. Those books don’t exist. Oh, you might have a book on celibacy here or a paper on Boston Marriages there, but asexuality? No.

I’d like, one day, for Asexual Studies to exist. And the best way I can see to build up those kinds of discussions is to have the larger ones here on the blogs and on the communities and on the forums. I hope that in twenty years asexual_fandom might have started a tradition, that something like Asexual Feminism might be bound up in hard copy and still running. I hope Andrew’s resource pages will have grown tremendously.

I hope that the questions I ask here might eventually play some small part in shaping such discussion.

Because I think that this–talking about alienation, about identities, about representation–I think that this is a form of activism just as important as Visibility and Education. Visibility is important, but it can’t be everything we have. We need to have deeper discussions. If visibility is all we have to share, then our identities must be pretty small to begin with. I do not believe that this is the case.

And more, I want to see asexuality discussion decentralized. I want to see communities with the level of discussion that AVEN has. I want to see more people coming into asexuality who aren’t immediately influenced by AVEN culture, because the culture of one board should not be the culture of an entire sexual orientation. I want to see diversity in activism, and I want to see more asexual activists who have learned from other social justice movements. I want to see different voices heard.

I want to see asexuals thinking of themselves as a real orientation which demands real respect. I want to see less justifications for why asexuality isn’t “really” an oppressed sexuality. I want to see less internalization of asexuality as a model minority for queerness. I want to see us taking ourselves seriously.

Mostly, though, I write because I want to see more asexuality discussion. And the only way to get that is to start speaking up yourself.

December 24, 2010

It’s Easy To Pass When You’re Invisible

One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen from the queer community regarding asexuals identifying as queer, particularly aromantic and heteroromantic asexuals, is that we have this awesome “passing privilege” thing. The theory goes that apparently, because we are not in same-sex relationships, we pass for straight. Of course biromantic, panromantic, and homoromantic aces “count,” because it’s like they’re bi/pan/homo-sexual! And heteroromantic is the same as heterosexual! And aromantics–well, uh, uh, they don’t do the same-sex dating thing so THEY MUST BE STRAIGHT.

(And of course asexual people for whom the romantic orientation concept doesn’t work very well are made twice invisible. Awesome.)

In particular, I find that it’s not uncommon for queer people to say things like “the mainstream wants you to be asexual.” This latter is usually a good indication that the person in question has never talked to an actual asexual person in their life, but I digress.

And I have a lot of problems with this. For one thing, not everyone actually passes consistently for heterosexual. I don’t. Before I started coming out on a regular basis, people assumed I was a closeted lesbian. I can be out honestly, or I can have people try to help me out. This is my experience.

Besides, not everyone wants to pass in the first place. Passing is soul-killing. Passing means lying to others, it means hiding yourself, it means pretending to be something you aren’t. It means pretending to be straight, because in this heteronormative world, you’ve got to be heterosexual to get by. Not asexual, because asexuality does not confer privilege. Let me point out that that is not the same thing as being heteroromantic. It’s not enough to not be interested in same-sex partners. You have to be interested in opposite-sex partners as well, and you’d better display sexual interest in them while you’re about it. Passing means displaying that interest, even if it isn’t there.

It means… closeting yourself, in fact. (Wait. Hang on–you mean that asexual people might have closets, too? Perish the thought.)

But hey, I’ll buy that gender-conforming asexuals often do pass fairly well when they’re not being open about their identities. When you’re single and not dating someone, you must be straight, right? So heteronormativity goes. And it’s not like there’s acedar to match gaydar in mainstream culture, right? Well, there’s a reason for that.

Mainstream people don’t tend to pick up on cues that a person might be asexual because asexuals are invisible to the mainstream. Invisibility is not passing. There’s a choice involved in passing: you can choose whether or not to lie about who and what you are, even if it’s only a lie of omission. There is no choice involved whatsoever in being invisible. Invisibility exists to make it impossible or difficult to speak up about who and what you are.

Invisibility is trying to be honest about who you are and being told that you don’t exist, that you’re lying, that you’re deluded. It’s trying actively not to pass for straight, because you’re not straight, and being told that you’re wrong about your own feelings.

Invisibility is growing up never knowing that you could exist. It’s trying to find communities of people like you and failing, because no one else is ever like you. It’s listening to a thousand different ways to plan a life, and not fitting into any of them.

Invisibility is not having words to describe what you are. It’s making words up or pretending you’re something different than you are. It’s endless questioning because none of the available options fit. It’s finally finding a word that fits and seeing that word used mostly in ways that hurt. It’s trying to answer a form about your sexual orientation honestly and having to lie, because no ticky-box exists for you.

Invisibility is forced silence because speaking up about asexuality has consequences, even if it’s only to say “we exist.” It’s never having a place in discussions of sexuality. It’s feeling painfully grateful to see just the word “asexual” in a list of queer or variant sexual orientations. Not a discussion of that word, or any explanation of what it means, but only the word itself.

So you’ll forgive me if I’m not all agog at the idea that as an aromantic asexual, I’m “privileged” in this sense. Invisibility is not a fucking privilege. Stop trying to make it into one.

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.

December 11, 2010

Call For Participation: Spectral Amoebas – A Blog Carnival about Asexuality and the Autism Spectrum

So there has been some discussion lately about asexuality and the autism spectrum in the blogosphere. And I think this is a fantastic development, and clearly I am not alone in this.

To that end, Kaz, Ily and I are organizing a blog carnival about asexuality and the autism spectrum.

A blog carnival is an event where various people write posts around a single topic and link them together at the end. The topic of this carnival is the intersection of asexuality and the autism spectrum.  The scope of this project is general. Any topic that deals with the intersection of asexuality and autism fits within the aegis of the carnival. If you’re not sure, submit it anyway and we’ll figure it out.

We are asexual bloggers on the autistic spectrum who want to explore the intersection between autistic and asexual identities.  The basis of this project is to have a conversation about our unique experiences being autistic and asexual without looking for a “cause”.  We want to create a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about the issues that affect us.  If you identify as asexual (or demisexual, or gray-a) and as on the autistic spectrum (diagnosed or not, AS, autism, PDD-NOS, NLD), you are invited to write a blog post for this project. If you are not asexual and autistic you are welcome to contribute provided you focus on the issues experienced by this particular intersection. The scope of the project is general, and open to any experiences of being autistic and asexual.

However, please keep in mind that asexuality here is to be discussed as a sexual orientation in its own right, not as discussion of the desexualization imposed on autistic people by mainstream culture.

If you want to write a post but don’t have a blog, please contact Ily at sanfranciscoemily@gmail.com or me at sciatrix@gmail.com about doing a guest post.  Please have your post written by 31st January and comment on this post or send an e-mail to me or Ily about your post by then. Note that the hosts reserve the right to reject posts by anyone if they feel they do not follow the guidelines of or are not in the spirit of the carnival. The posts will be compiled on Writing From Factor X for posterity. A post with the compilation will go up here in the beginning of February.  Be a part of this exciting project!
–Sciatrix, Kaz, and Ily

An edit: Possible topics include but are not restricted to coming out experiences (both asexual and autistic), relationships, gender expression, young adult experiences, treatment by medical professionals, integrating identities, or dealing with stereotypes. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, only general ideas.

December 6, 2010

Ace On the Spectrum

Ily recently posted a call for discussion between the autistic and asexual communities. I am all in favor of this–actually, I can’t express how much in favor of this I am. I wonder if doing a blog carnival on the topic might be feasible, even a very small blog carnival. There are a lot of us who are both out there. And if anyone wants to write about it but doesn’t have a blog, I would love to host guest posts on this subject.

I am on the spectrum. Specifically, I am diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome; I was diagnosed when I was twelve, and I consider that one of the most unbelievably lucky things that ever happened to me. (One day I will write about what finding out about the spectrum was like. In many ways, it was far more important, more worldshattering an event to me than discovering the word “asexual” ever was.)

My experience being on the spectrum in the ace community is, to be honest, tainted with the constant and innocently asked question “Is there a connection between being autistic and being asexual?”

No. And yes.

The way the question is usually meant implies something about causation, that autism might cause asexuality in some way, that my asexuality might be attributable to the fact that I am autistic. And that question fills me with rage and frustration. Of course, the way AVEN–for years the most active asexuality community I was part of–is set up, the relatively high rate of turnover means that that question gets asked a lot. It took me a while to understand why it bothered me so much.

See, what that innocent question implies is that without my autism I’d be some shape of sexual. It implies that my orientation might be less real because it derives from autism, so I find it offensive from the perspective of an asexual person. (No one ever asks straight autistics if they’re straight because they’re autistic.) And I find it offensive from the point of being on the spectrum, because the question also implies that my sexual orientation has an inherently different cause from that of neurotypical people. (No one ever questions whether neurotypical people have their orientations because they’re neurotypical.) So I find that question deeply offensive and unpleasant, because in my experience being in asexual communities it is always tainted with causation.

However, there’s a dimension of “yes” to the question, too. My experiences being autistic have certainly shaped my experience of being asexual, just as they have shaped everything else about me. It is well-nigh impossible for me to separate out either aspect of myself because both are integral to me; a neurotypical or nonasexual version of myself would not be me.

For instance: I don’t get flirting very well. It flies over my head when it happens to and around me, and I really don’t understand what constitutes flirting and what constitutes being friendly. If I hadn’t had the concept explained to me and it wasn’t such a cultural touchstone, I would never have come up with the idea on my own.

Does that stem from being autistic and not getting implied social cues, or from being asexual and not understanding flirting because I don’t catch sexual/romantic overtones unless I’m paying attention? Or from both?

It’s impossible to tell, because both autism and asexuality are part of me. They aren’t discrete modules of identity that can be separated from my experience of being myself. I’ve never not been autistic, and arguably I’ve never not been asexual. (Or aromantic.) I have no experience of being otherwise to contrast myself with.

Being autistic has impacted my experience of being asexual. For instance, my gender presentation shapes others’ perceptions of my sexual orientation. Part of that presentation is down to sensory issues. Having short hair means that I don’t have to shower immediately when I wake up because the feeling of greasy hair on the back of my neck is impossible to tolerate. I also have short hair because I like short hair. But being able to laze about in the morning without showering a little longer before sensory issues kick in is nice, and it plays a factor.

As for being asexual–well, aromantic asexual, because I can no more separate my experience of my romantic orientation from my sexual orientation than I can separate out my gender–has impacted my experience of being autistic. For one thing, it’s sensitized me to heteronormativity in autistic spaces and in works discussing autism. In particular, the cheerful “but your children can grow up to have a normal life and maybe even get married!” sentiment present in a lot of the books about autism sets my teeth on edge.

So yes, in that sense my neuro-atypicality and my asexuality are connected through me, just as every other pervasive aspect of myself connect to one another. It would be nice to discuss that intersection without my hackles rising at the constant causation question.

Who else wants to join the conversation?

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