Writing From Factor X

April 17, 2011

Dealing With Pain

A warning: this post discusses suicide and asexuality.

Recently there have been a couple of posts about violence against asexuals. They both went on linkspam, but if you read nothing else I put on linkspam you should read these because they are important. And in the comments on Kaz’ post, Siggy made a point about looking hard at suicide rates for asexuals.

And I started thinking. I run linkspams–well, what that means is that I go looking in a whole bunch of places for keywords that clue me in that someone’s discussing asexuality. “Asexual,” “asexuality,” that sort of thing. I look on Twitter, Tumblr, and two different blog searches, and I see a whole lot of stuff. Some of it is very cool, and I pass that on to you guys. After all, that’s why I spend the time to do this in the first place.

A lot of it isn’t so cool. I see so many sentences like “HATE EVERYONE, BE ASEXUAL” and “How do I break from this awful phase of asexuality? I really want to want to love again.” I see so many things that equate “asexual” with “unfuckable” and “ugly” and “unlovable.”  I see sexual people react to asexual people sharing their issues with instant wrath, and I see sexual people accuse asexual people of trying to entrap other sexuals into romantic relationships. Occasionally I get to see huge, vicious, clusterfucks where sexual people feel free to deride asexual people as liars, attention seekers, whiners, and worse. One of those happened last week. Stumbling across it was fun.

(And yes, I’m not linking to any of these for a reason. I am not inclined to hurt myself more by going out looking for them a second time and I don’t want to increase their traffic. If you want to see them for yourselves, feel free to make friends with Google.)

I also see very personal and painful posts about not wanting to be asexual, about thinking that asexual people are doomed to die alone, about wanting very badly to find a cure for asexuality. I see posts from people who are trying to come to terms with asexuality and people who are bone-deep terrified about identifying as asexual, because that means that they’ll never be normal. I don’t link to those either, because that’s private and I don’t link to outpourings of personal pain unless there’s some indication that the post is meant for public consumption.

I see a lot of painful things about asexuality, is my point. I link to a tiny proportion of what I run across, and it’s not because I’m sitting on a hidden treasure trove of awesome.

Let’s just say that I would not be surprised if asexual people do have a higher rate of suicide than average. We’re by nature cut off from a huge, culturally-sanctioned source of support, either by being aromantic and not seeking romantic relationships or through being romantic and having drastically reduced access to these kinds of relationships. We can’t even seek psychiatric treatment without being told that our asexuality itself is the problem, that we have a mental disorder for being asexual, and that the way that the outside world treats us for being asexual is entirely right and just.

Our community is almost entirely online–well, we can reach a lot of people that way, yeah, but people also feel more emboldened to say hateful things. We are isolated, and many of us are invisible to ourselves. We are surrounded with cultural imagery that tells us that it is impossible to be as we are.

And when asexuality does come up, it is often attached to very painful things. I write about pain here a lot, and I’m sorry for that; sometimes that feels like the most salient part of my identity.

I would like to be a beacon of hope, someone who’s figured out to do it right, someone who can say “it gets better, and this is how.” I’m not that person, and I don’t know who is; we’re too young a movement to have many people who can say “this is how you be an asexual without lying to yourself or hiding; this is how I survived.” We have so few role models, particularly if we don’t fit into the monogamously romantic paradigm. And we’re so very different that any role models who do exist don’t apply to everyone.

Combining pain with isolation is not a recipe for good mental health, is what I am saying. And given that isolation is such a big thing–well, I don’t think it’s surprising that we hear so few well-publicized stories of asexual suicides. After all, we hear so few well-publicized reports of asexual anything. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.


  1. FYI, a few weeks ago I started a poll on AVEN asking about suicide. Let’s just say that the numbers are so bad, that I prefer to believe there is some systematic bias influencing the poll results.

    Comment by Siggy — April 17, 2011 @ 4:47 pm | Reply

    • Oh my god. I have no words, except that I really hope that you’re right about that bias. The alternative is horrifying.

      Comment by Sciatrix — April 17, 2011 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

    • …DDDD:

      I seriously hope there’s bias in there somewhere but EVEN SO oh my GOD.

      Comment by Kaz — April 18, 2011 @ 5:00 am | Reply

    • Well, I’d answer and it would be yes, but you can’t really see the reasons in that poll. In my case it had nothing at all to do with my sexuality.

      Comment by Norah — April 18, 2011 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

      • Suicidality that is unrelated to asexuality should not bias the results because we’re comparing to the rate for straight people.

        The systematic bias I had in mind was that it had something to do with the kind of people who become active on AVEN, or maybe that a thread titled “suicide” might be more likely to attract the attention of people with experience in that realm. Or maybe something I haven’t thought of. I would like to see some more serious investigation into the matter, and if confirmed, some serious action.

        Comment by Siggy — April 18, 2011 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

        • it occurs to me that instead of having a suicidality rate, only asexuals please! thread, having a poll for have you been suicidal plus your sexual orientation might at least get rid of some of the confounds, although it’d probably be hard finding enough straight people on AVEN to get the sample size reasonably high… (For instance, one of the big possible confounds I can think of is that people who HAVEN’T been suicidal might be more likely to click past a thread like that and not vote because it doesn’t feel as relevant to them, and that ought to be the same regardless of orientation.)

          Re: suicidality unrelated to asexuality… I can easily imagine that asexual people might be more prone to becoming suicidal and it not being noticeably related to the asexuality at all – things like how an asexual person might be less likely to have a support network because of the romantic relationship issue or have underlying feelings of alienation/brokenness/difference that exacerbate the issues that the person fingers as causing the suicidality. So occurrence rate comparison is really the only way you can figure it out.

          Comment by Kaz — April 19, 2011 @ 4:49 pm | Reply

          • Sampling issues are always such a problem to deal with. I wonder, would hosting a broader survey off of AVEN and looking for all kinds of respondents help?

            Thank you for explaining the suicidality unrelated to asexuality thing, because it was essentially exactly what I was thinking of as an explanation for the numbers. And also, at least for me, depression doesn’t work in terms of “I am depressed because of THIS THING.” It’s much more likely that other factors work to create an underlying bad mental state, and then small things in my life seem very very big because I’m coming from that state.

            Comment by Sciatrix — April 20, 2011 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

            • “We are isolated, and many of us are invisible to ourselves.” i.e. there are lots of people outside the online asexual community who don’t self-identify as asexual/aren’t familiar with the term/etc., but who probably fall into the category of asexuality? I’m guessing these people are going to be relatively higher in mental health than the online community does (more people with mental health issues might use the Internet as a way to connect with others, etc.), and so the people who a) are on AVEN and b) vote in the poll are a rather skewed sample. The only way you can get anything close to a representative sample of asexuals is if people understand and can articulate whether they’re asexual or not and this does not seem to be the case offline.

              Comment by anonymous — April 20, 2011 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

              • I agree that AVEN is a skewed sample, though I think it would still be good to know if AVENites have a high suicidality rate.

                I think it would also be good to know whether the majority of cases are asexuality-related or not. If they are, this suggests that we should work on fighting erasure. If they’re not, this suggests we should work on building general support networks that are friendly to asexuals.

                Comment by Siggy — April 21, 2011 @ 12:28 am | Reply

              • Sure you can get a representative sample. You write up a big survey with a ton of questions, distribute it to a lot of people, and include a question like “have you ever experienced sexual attraction?” on it. The people who answer “no”–and people do, even outside the online community–are your representative sample of asexuals, even if they don’t know the term. A survey of that nature is how we got the 1% term in the first place.

                The trouble is that distributing surveys at that level–nationally or internationally, making sure to try to hit as broad a cross-section of people as possible–is expensive and difficult. I don’t think a community-based grassroots survey could do it, for example. You’d need funding and probably someone who has experience getting surveys written to do it.

                There are a lot of sampling issues inherent in an AVEN poll, which is why no one’s saying those numbers are inherently accurate, only that they’re troubling and that more research ought to be done.

                Comment by Sciatrix — April 21, 2011 @ 7:53 am | Reply

        • Part of me suddenly wants to go into a more psychology-oriented field specifically to get numbers like this. We have some basic demographic information, but I’d really like to know more about the prevalence of a number of things in the asexual community.

          I’m not even sure what serious action could be taken, beyond trying to set up support systems, and aren’t we mostly trying to do that now?

          Comment by Sciatrix — April 20, 2011 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  2. There are some failtastic comments on Feministe near the end of a comment thread on an otherwise also slightly faily post (and apologised-for), but the post itself is unrelated to asexuality, though it’s about diminished libido and asexuality is mentioned.
    All kinds of cliches about asexuality were dragged up (like, can’t get any, cruel to partners, etc) by people who were loudly saying they really wanted to be educated but of course couldn’t be arsed to google.
    It seemed reallty relevant to this post. I don’t think I want to link to it, but the post name is “I’m tired of having sex” if anyone wants to look it up. It’s not new but pretty recent.

    I try to stay out of the comments there but the end was so much utter crap that I just made a heat-of-the-moment response which you might want to just skip because I tend to really, really not be nice and write in a way to only make sure it will still be published and not moderated away (I know, I have a short fuse and I should work on not writing until I calmed down so the comments and posts make more sense). I also responded because there were one or two asexual people posting there and they were all alone, even though the mods and some others were backing them up a bit.

    Comment by Norah — April 18, 2011 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for letting me know about this–I hadn’t noticed until you commented and sent me over there. (For what it’s worth, the apology on the original post’s fail is kind of laugh-worthy on its own, I thought.) Man.

      Comment by Sciatrix — April 20, 2011 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  3. I find it kind of amazing that you can compile the linkspams at all, I know I could never go through as much asexuality-related posts and sites as you do.

    I would wonder whether there would also be elevated rates of self-harm. Not getting into too much detail, but I have been having issues with self-harm and thoughts of it for a while now. I wouldn’t blame it entirely on my sexuality (or gender, which possibly has even less information out there than asexuality), but the isolation did not help. I have, though, felt less isolated since I started blogging, which has been nice.

    Comment by ace eccentric — April 18, 2011 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

    • (Er, I’m sorry it’s been taking so long for me to respond to comments on this post; I’ve been feeling pretty noncommunicative lately.)

      It helps that I read very quickly, and to be fair I do try to skip over anything that looks like it’s going to be nasty.

      I wouldn’t be surprised at elevated rates of self-harm, either. And I’m really sorry about your personal issues with that–and glad that blogging has helped you feel less isolated. I think that feelings of isolation are probably really likely to make bad situations worse, even if they don’t cause bad situations in and of themselves.

      Comment by Sciatrix — April 20, 2011 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  4. Yep, a lot of the stuff out there is very depressing. I feel sometimes people are most active online when they are still trying to figure things out (aka, depressed and desolate) and once they leave that stage they also abandon their online presence.

    That’s one reason I started blogging – to show people that it’s possible to live a healthy, fulfilled, happy life while being queer / asexual / agender / etc. My message is not just “it gets better” but also “you MAKE it better.”

    Comment by maddox — April 19, 2011 @ 2:40 am | Reply

    • You might have a point there about people moving on when they’re feeling better about life, particularly moving on from communities that are explicitly set up for support, not for other purposes. And hey, “you MAKE it better” is probably a much more helpful way to view life through to begin with!

      Comment by Sciatrix — April 20, 2011 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

      • I did leave AVEN once I more or less figured out my thoughts about asexuality and specifically my own, but that was also because I feel uncomfortable there. Same with a large part of the autistic community (definitely very uncomfortable). But it’s not easy for me to maintain presence anywhere really. I mostly drift in and out of various communities and am only a permanent resident in one place so far, well two (one online and one offline).
        In general I actually became more socially active when I felt better about myself (after the peak of a 10-or-so year depression), and my social activity both online (on blogs, forums, andmy own blog) and in meatspace increases when I feel better. When I feel crappy I have a tendency to withdraw from everything which actually only makes everything worse so I’m trying to learn to control that more now.

        Comment by Norah — April 20, 2011 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

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