Writing From Factor X

July 22, 2011

Open Thread Friday

Filed under: Open Thread — Sciatrix @ 2:06 pm

Not doing a linkspam this week–personal issues cropped up, and I seriously don’t have the energy. I’ll resume that next week.

For the open thread: What would your mutant superpower be?

I’ve always liked the idea of being a shapeshifter, myself.

July 18, 2011

Asexuality Was My Sex Ed

So this week I stumbled across this post calling for more asexuality awareness in sex ed. It’s a good post, if very basic and focusing on asexuality 101 more than anything, and I certainly agree that more awareness of the fact that asexuals are present in sex education classes would be nice.

The thing is, I initially got the bulk of my sex ed from the asexual community, with a splash from media fandom. I was one of those children unfortunate enough to grow up with “abstinence-only” sex education, which in my case meant that the sum total of my school sex education came to a list of STDs and a basic grasp of genital anatomy. (Well. Reproductive genital anatomy, anyway–as I recall, the clitoris was entirely absent from the little worksheets.) I didn’t so much as see a condom in person until my freshman year of college.

I should mention here that I happened to be absurdly lucky–I found asexual communities at fourteen, and I essentially grew up knowing that asexuality was a valid option for me. I was also able to access these communities without too much risk of discovery by my parents, especially when I got a little older. So I knew, more or less, what I was when I was very young, and I had reassurance about it. Most aces aren’t anything like that lucky.

So asexual communities became more or less my primary source of sex education. After all, I wasn’t getting it from school, and I found that people on AVEN would discuss more or less anything sexual matter-of-factly, if you asked politely. I learned more or less everything I wanted and needed to know for myself there, plus a lot that I didn’t need at the time but thought was interesting.

Last fall, I took a Human Sexuality course, partly because I wanted to see what “mainstream” conceptions of sexuality were like, partly because I’ve always had a largely academic interest in sexuality itself and partly because I thought the course looked interesting. Besides, I liked the professor.

I definitely learned useful things from that course, don’t get me wrong. Or–well, more accurately, I mostly learned interesting things that weren’t personally relevant to me but would be relevant for most people, because I happen to be more or less celibate without much interest in changing that. (And then there were some things I picked up that were personally useful, like the tidbits about menstruation.)

The portions of the course relating to sexual orientation, though? And relating to fantasies and masturbation? For those, I generally had tools that were as good or better for understanding those things than the tools the class provided me with, tools I picked up in asexual spaces. Often, in fact, I ended up sitting in my chair and thinking incredulously “You think this is complicated?”

In particular, I will never forget the second day of that class when the professor was giving us examples of “tricky” cases of classification of orientation. She broke out her “most confusing” example with the air of someone laying out a trump card, a person whose sexuality was impossible to define: the case of a personal friend of hers, a woman who she described as being almost entirely sexually attracted to women but who only formed romantic relationships with men and who was currently partnered with a man. A person who, in short, someone familiar with asexual conceptions of romantic and sexual orientation would have immediately classified as a heteroromantic homosexual woman.

Asexual discourses have, I feel, a lot to bring to discussions of sexual orientation, particularly in the context of sex education. Here’s the thing: mainstream understandings of sexual orientation, in which everyone can be classified into gay, straight, and bisexual and everyone has the one orientation, do not fit everyone. The people who most need terms like “romantic orientation” and “asexual” are the ones who are seeking education in the first place, the ones who haven’t found communities to explain to them what they are yet.

Here’s another thing about that Human Sexuality course: not only did I find many of its definitions far more simplistic than I was used to, I found many aspects of it actively erasing. I was often forced to lie in order to complete classroom assignments, especially in-class assignments, because there was no answer provided that I could honestly choose. In particular, my professor chose to encourage class participation through the use of a clicker system; she’d post a clicker question in class along the lines of a demographic question, and we’d answer it anonymously. The computer system recorded what clickers had answered the question but not what they answered, and by answering the question in class we gained course credit.

These questions included things like “What age did you first experience sexual attraction?” with instructions to input our answer in the form of a number. (No option was given for “I have never experienced sexual attraction.”) Or “Is the person you are most attracted to the same race/level of education as you?” (The provided answers were “yes,” “no,” and “I don’t know.”)

You can imagine how fun these were to answer as someone who simply doesn’t experience sexual–or even romantic–attraction of any kind. Some I lied on; some I tried desperately to think of something that vaguely counted; some I simply gave up and pressed a random button on. It was very clear to me that the course was not designed with the existence of a person like me in mind.

Our textbook was the third edition of Jannell L. Carroll’s Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity, which while in other ways not a bad book, has this to say about my sexual orientation:

“A final type of gender category is asexuality. On occasion, usually because of a mother’s hormone use during pregnancy, a child is born without sexual organs of any kind. This means that the child has no ovaries, uterus, or vagina; has no penis or testicles; and usually has only a bladder and urethra ending in an aperture for the elimination of urine. Although such a child has a genetic gender (that is, has XX or XY chromosomes), the child has no biological gender. Most are assigned a gender in childhood, are given hormones, and live as male or female.

In 2001, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) was founded to facilitate the growth of the online asexual community and help build acceptance and discussion of these issues. Over the last few years, a growing movement in support of asexuality has been building, helping to develop programs for asexuals and foster research (Prause & Graham, 2007). Today AVEN is the world’s largest asexual community.”

You will forgive me if I am unimpressed by the quality of information provided here, or if I felt largely contemptuous of Dr. Carroll’s research credentials upon encountering this passage. If she could be this wrong about a sexual orientation despite clearly being aware of AVEN and its purpose, what other misleading and inaccurate information lies between the pages of this book?

This class also included a number of in-class activities, one of which was to write down two lists of characteristics: one for a person you’d want to marry, and one for a person you’d like to have sex with. Given that I have very little interest in either activity, filling these lists out would have been a challenge in and of itself–except that we were then supposed to break into small groups of students and discuss our respective answers. I am a very poor liar. I ended up outing myself and running Asexual 101 rather than participate in the activity the way it was designed, because it was not designed in such a way that I could honestly take part in it.

I could, quite frankly, list examples of asexual erasure in this class and other classes I’ve taken that focused on gender and sexuality for quite a while longer. Frankly, from my perspective, sex education outside of asexual spaces is both largely irrelevant to me and has often made it clear to me that my experiences are, from the perspective of the persons constructing the course, so alien as to be inconceivable. This is not the best feeling to get when one is trying to learn valuable information.

I’m glad, then, that the asexual community has been there for me. Where else would I have found acceptance along with the knowledge I was looking for?

July 15, 2011

Open Thread Friday

Filed under: Open Thread — Sciatrix @ 3:00 pm

It’s Open Thread Friday again, so feel free to discuss anything in the comments!

To kick this week off, since I went to the final Harry Potter movie last night, a question:

What Hogwarts House would you have been sorted into?

Me, I’ve always been most fond of Hufflepuff. Aside from my definite workaholic tendencies–it’s an entire house full of hardworking, closely knit, intensely loyal people who view inclusiveness as a core value. What’s not to like?

July 13, 2011

Wednesday Linkspam

Filed under: Signal Boost — Sciatrix @ 9:14 pm

So it’s Wednesday Linkspam again! Please feel free to use this space to self-promote, link cool things, or ask me questions.

From logopraxis: Zucchini recipes?

Is there anyone out there who actually has a zucchini, or a queerplatonic life partner, or a Boston marriage, or anything even remotely resembling any of the above? If so, I would really love to hear as much as you are comfortable telling about how exactly this wondrous thing came about. Alternatively! Have you ever made a concrete effort to acquire such a relationship? How did it go? Any advice on how to approach the whole business?

From outlawroad: The Difference Between Romantic and Platonic Love: Why It Shouldn’t Matter

And see, my problem with this is that on the one hand, I do think there can be a difference between a nonsexual romantic relationship and a friendship but I absolutely do not agree with the way so many other asexuals characterize that difference!

From Childfree Ace: Sex still isn’t necessary for romance

Apparently people have been referred to an older post on this blog from an asexual denialist post on another blog. Among the usual false claims and absurdities, a commenter there repeated yet another misconception that is only partially related to asexuality: that romantic attraction and sexual attraction are inextricably linked.

From polisci-prelaw: To my dear asexual community

It’s days like this that remind me how much I love you all. If nothing else, we are hella good at sticking together.

From coolmoniker: My Community is my Rainbow Family

I want to take the time to talk about my queer community. The community that I belong to and the community I consider home. I’ll be finishing up school this fall and since my community is a school club, I will soon lose it when I move back home. And that breaks my heart.

From aceadmiral: A response to egregiously

SO. It looks like the OP took this down and apologized, which is fine or whatever, but let me answer all these arguments, which I have addressed individually in the past, in one place for anyone else who says stuff like this in the future.

From Charlie the Unicorn, Ace Detective: More thoughts regarding being queer

And there are so many misunderstandings that I scarcely know where to start, so I’ll go to what may well be the central issue – not all asexuals want to or do identify as queer, but some do.

From shaunsense: On the notion that asexuality is slut-shaming in identity form

I couldn’t be a sex-positive feminist if I wasn’t comfortable in my asexual identity.

From Black Dog Musings: Sex and Relationships and Me

Having read this post, I got thinking. And then I decided that I should state my position on sex and relationships, as it stands now.

From Charles again: Tell me the people who are ace in your headcanon!

I put an exclamation mark to show that I am VERY ENTHUSIASTIC about hearing who you think is ace.

From An Asexual Space: Writing Experience

I suppose it’s easier to demonstrate to an audience that a character is asexual than it is to demonstrate you’re asexual in real life. Even with third-person narrators, you can peek into a character’s thoughts. Not so possible in real life, unless, as I’ve always feared, everybody’s developed telepathy without telling me.

From lizziegoneastray: More about coming out and “keeping an open mind” about asexuality

First of all, must every single goddamn person I come out to tell me that I should keep an open mind?  They’re not telling me anything I haven’t already heard and/or thought of on my own!  Besides, I should be allowed to state my sexual orientation without a disclaimer.

From Swankivy: How to Be an Asexual Ally (Part 1)

Unless this article is your first introduction to asexuality, you thought something. Maybe you said something. Maybe you wondered later whether what you said sounded ignorant. Or maybe you stayed silent and regretted it. Maybe you’re wondering if it would have been okay to ask questions. Maybe you’re wondering how you can be supportive of the asexual community even if you’re not one of its members. Maybe you want to know how to be an asexual ally.

From Captain Heartless: Asexuality/Hypermobility and the reoccurring themes of my life

So I think I’ve mentioned this before but I have a strange genetic condition (for which I will use the term “hypermobility”, although I should note it’s more than just me being flexible). My hypermobility makes me extremely flexible, gives me stretchy skin, and a variety of other problems and/or oddities. Now, something that has always amused me is how many similarities my experiences with asexuality have with my experiences with my hypermobility.

From Hypomnemata: The Back Pew: Asexuality & Christianity (and Part 2)

Now that I’ve laid out the back story, I’m going to state up front that in my experience of Christianity, there is in fact little encouragement or acceptance of asexuality.  Celibacy, yes.  Asexuality, no.

July 11, 2011

My Thoughts on the Word “Zucchini”

So I lurk around discussions a lot, and lately I’ve been seeing a bunch of people discuss “zucchini” used in a queerplatonic context. Which is really really awesome. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome I find that. But one of the things I also see a lot is people looking at the word “zucchini” in particular and going “that’s just silly!”

Okay. The thing about “zucchini” is that it’s meant to be a little silly. Here’s a situation between two people that the English language has absolutely no words to describe it. There aren’t even good roots to use to make a short, unwieldy, easy-to-say alternative (although “queerplatonic” is a good try). So we use a random vegetable, because why not?

Actually, let’s give out a short history of the word “zucchini” in this context, because it seems to me that a lot of people don’t know where it comes from. Last December, Kaz wrote a post discussing zer confusing, blurring-the-lines romantic orientation. In the comments, ze and meloukhia (who also goes by s.e. smith elsewhere on the internet) got to discussing the total lack of words available for talking about relationships that blur the lines between what is traditionally considered friendship and what is traditionally considered romantic relationships. Meloukhia made a joke (“Ok, I am now referring to these kinds of relationships as zucchini. This is official, and so shall it be.”) and the word took off.

Let me repeat that: the word “zucchini” used in a relationship context started as a joke.

Half the fun of “zucchini” as terminology (and “squash,” and other puns) is that it’s totally silly. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s slangy and fun and absurd and colloquial. It makes no sense when you think about it. And that works, because there actually aren’t words in the English language that do make sense when you think about them for the kinds of relationships we’re discussing–everything either gets subsumed under the devaluation that gets attached to words like “friend” or has been taken to refer to romantic relationships. “Zucchini” isn’t entirely meant to take itself seriously in the first place.

And yet on a different, deadly serious level I am ridiculously attached to the word “zucchini.” Seriously, any time I see it criticized as a silly, unnecessary word I wilt a little and get defensive–including, for crying out loud, when Elizabeth described an entirely hypothetical person who thought it sounded stupid in her recent communities post.

So let me talk about why that is here.

I have spent an absurd amount of time questioning and re-questioning what my romantic orientation is in the past three years. I have sat up nights wondering if I’m lying to myself about my romantic feelings, if I’m repressing romantic attraction and the way I feel about my friends is just that bleeding through. I have spent hours and hours trying to figure out what I am, who I am, because the kinds of relationships I want don’t seem romantic and trying to shove them into the boxes my culture assigns to “romantic relationships” seems unpleasant and strange–but they don’t into fit into the boxes it assigns to “friendship,” either.

I have never wanted to be uncategorizable. I know that some people enjoy the opportunity to cast off labels, but I have always preferred to find a succinct descriptor of myself. Labels mean that I can find other people like me to share my experiences with–being so unique that I can’t be labeled is a nice idea, but it also means being isolated and alone. I hate feeling alone.

The discussions that have been happening in the past six months about queerplatonic relationships and zucchinis and squashes have been the first steps that have helped me to figure out what I actually am. Even better, they’ve shown me that I’m not alone–that I’m not the only person who wants relationships like this. My most heartfelt fantasy is in essence a Boston marriage, and the discussions I’ve been having recently have shown me that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks like that.

And even better, words like “zucchini” and “squash” have given me vocabulary to talk about my dreams and my hopes and my current relationships so much more effectively than I could otherwise. I mentioned a few weeks ago that there’s a relationship in my life that is not going well–well, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been going on with this relationship for three years now, and developing terms like these is what has given me the tools to understand what’s happening. (They’ve also given me the perspective to walk away, because in many ways this relationship is badly unbalanced and I keep getting hurt on it. Without understanding why those balance problems persist, I would probably keep emotionally hurting myself over and over as I have been doing for, as mentioned, years.)

That’s another thing: words shape our thoughts. If no word exists in a language to describe a thing, it’s almost impossible to discuss that concept, at least not without convoluted circumlocutions. Lack of words becomes a way to silence minority viewpoints.

Right now, “zucchini” is the only word I can use to describe these kinds of relationships, except possibly the unwieldy “person I am in a queerplatonic relationship with.” I’m attached to “zucchini” because these discussions are very, very important for me to have. It’s a silly word on the surface–but under that surface, I’m deadly serious when I use it.

July 8, 2011

Open Thread Friday

Filed under: Open Thread — Sciatrix @ 7:28 am

It’s Open Thread Friday again, so feel free to discuss anything in the comments!

What’s your favorite dessert?

Myself, I’m most fond of brownies. Cake is nice, but there’s something about a nice fudgy brownie that’s impossible to beat.

July 6, 2011

Wednesday Linkspam

Filed under: Signal Boost — Sciatrix @ 9:11 am

As always, feel free to self-promote, link to cool stuff, or ask me questions in the comments!

The third round of the Carnival of Aces finished up today! The round-up is here at Skeptic’s Play. The next round is being hosted at Neutrois Nonsense and should be up soon–I’ll update this post when its call for submissions go up. Submissions for the carnival are always welcome!

Update: The new call for submissions is here, and this month’s topic is relationships.

From Asexual Experiences: About this blog

This blog is an attempt to collect the experiences of asexuals (I do hope there isn’t already another blog who does this, if there is one, feel free to point it out). The asexual community is very multifaceted, and I’d like this to be represented here.

From Ace Admiral: Asexy Fic I Know About

So there was a fanfic flamingo a couple of weeks ago about asexy fic, and a lot of people in the comments were like, “What? Where!?!?!” So, here is a list of the fic I personally know about including asexuality, demi/grey-asexuality, or asexy themes (as of 6/31/11).

From Fuck Yeah Asexuality: TV Tropes: Asexuality

What you don’t seem to see are many characters who are of an age or situation to get sexually attracted – but aren’t. You don’t see many characters who aren’t particularly interested in having sex or involving themselves in a relationship with anyone.

From Meowing at the Moon: Yes, Asexuals Can Love Captain Jack Too!

For those who don’t know, the video at the end of this post is the moment where Captain Jack finds out why he is immortal. It also explains why I love Captain Jack even though I’m asexual and he’s pansexual.

Trigger warning: Discussions about consent and entitlement to sex


You know whose right it is to allow or disallow you permission to touch them in any way?

The person whose body you want to touch.

From outlawroad: When People Tell Asexuals That We’ll Change Our Minds About Our Identity When We “Meet the Right Person”

I think that’s funny as hell, actually. There are so many false premises in that attitude.

From ace-azaelia: You know what I love? 

I love when someone thinks they can be all smart and define asexuality as a lack of sexuality because they know what the morpheme a- means and what the word sexuality means (that word is, I believe, three morphemes: sex; -ual; -ty).

From sir-kit: You know one of those things I shouldn’t have to do? 

Justify referring to my sexuality as a sexual orientation. Or wanting to see it recognized and included in a list of orientations.

From polisci-prelaw:  Things That Frustrate Me

When in the process of trying to debunk a stereotype, people erase my experiences and my life and my identity.

From Childfree Ace: Sexual fluidity is not a threat to asexuality

The solution, according to some, is to state repeatedly that sexual fluidity is not real — even though that’s not true. I think the root of the problem is in telling others their self-identification of sexual orientation is false with absolutely no evidence to back up your point.

From swankivy: Asexual bingo cards

I decided to make a second bingo card to catch some of the common overflow comments. The original Asexual Bingo card was made by AVEN member jmerry. I’m going to show you both jmerry’s card and the card I just made under the cut.

From epochryphal: “Ace” vs “Asexual” as umbrella terms

I believe “ace” can function similarly. Rather than using “ace” as (quite lovely and catchy) slang for “asexual,” my intent will be a broader, more wildcard, fill-in-the-particulars meaning.

From Your Left Sock: On being aromantic & sexual

 Being aromantic and sexual are not two things that are incompatible, and I’d like if people in the future (whether they’re interested in me or otherwise) take my aromanticism into account the same way I would them being romantic. And the same with any other aromantic people you meet – we’re pretty invisible.

From Skeptic’s Play: Asexuality at SF Pride 2011

Last weekend, I went to a pride parade for the first time.  I marched in SF pride 2011 as part of the asexual contingent.

From nethdugan: World Pride 2012! 

If there were an asexual contingent at World Pride 2012, held on July 7th in London, how many people would come?

From Ace of Hearts: The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge

I feel like we deserve to have one of our own, so I decided to write one up. 🙂

July 3, 2011

Wherein I Babble About My Romantic Orientation

I’ve been thinking about my romantic orientation lately. I’ve mentioned it a lot in a bunch of different spaces, but I’ve never written a post specifically about what I actually am and why I identify the way I do, and I think now might be a good time to do that.

The trouble for me is that… well, as far as I can tell I just love people, full stop. The quantity might differ, but I don’t seem to experience qualitatively different forms of affection for people.

(I have considered this to be amazingly ironic in light of the stereotypes about aromantics being sociopathic. Actually, my problem is not that I love no one, but that I don’t distinguish between different types of love.)

So the main issue I have about my romantic orientation is that I can’t really tell what romantic attraction is supposed to feel like. If romantic orientation is an orientation like sexual orientation is, romantic attraction ought to be a thing, right? But it’s very difficult to define it in a way that makes sense, and saying “wants to be in a romantic relationship with this person” is also difficult for me, because I’m not quite sure what makes a relationship specifically romantic, except for the acknowledgement by both parties that the relationship is romantic.

(I’ve also seen romantic orientation defined as “I would at least theoretically like to be in a romantic relationship with people of $gender,” which strikes me as odd–shouldn’t orientations be defined as patterns of attraction to specific people? I tend to be highly critical of this type of definition of romantic orientation.)

The thing that really made me start thinking about all this was one relationship I had with a friend about three years ago, which made me endlessly question my romantic orientation because I wanted… lots of things that were not happening. I wanted to hang out with her on a regular basis–more than I already did–and I wanted to be acknowledged as important and secretly I really wanted to be roommates, although I knew that wasn’t ever going to happen.

I was very confused by this and for about two years spent a fairly large chunk of my free time trying to figure out if I had a crush on her. The thing was, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to date her, and every time I imagined actually dating her I felt vaguely weird and discomfited. And every time I envisioned moving in with her, it was as roommates–that’s it. When she got a boyfriend, I was initially pleased that she was happy. And yet I was still feeling generally needy and wanting to spend more time with her and dealing with the insecurities and… well, the focus on what my friend was doing. It didn’t feel like friendships were theoretically supposed to, either.

As I’ve had more discussions about romantic orientation and queerplatonic relationships and the rest of it, I’ve realized that this isn’t just something I’ve done towards only this one person. It wasn’t even the first time I had those feelings–I can identify at least two friendships going back to age eleven that had similar components. It’s just that this was the first time I was experiencing these feelings and felt like there was a massive imbalance in the friendship, and so I spent a lot more time thinking about it.

The thing is, I don’t think this… infatuation thing, where I’d like the other person to be close friends and see me on a daily basis and maybe eat meals together regularly and possibly be roommates–I don’t think this thing is romantic in nature? Because aside from the living together thing, which is hard to coordinate among too many people anyway, most of it is can just be boiled down to wanting to connect with someone. Maybe wanting family out of it, in the friends-becoming-family sort of way.

Besides, I tend to make only a few friends at a time, but I also tend to try to make very close friendships. And the thing is, I’ve felt this wanting-to-see-daily feeling and even the wanting-to-move-in feeling at some point over a lot of my close friendships, including almost all the ones with other women. Sometimes after a while it goes away and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s actually a pretty common feeling for me.

(There is a gender differential here–I tend to not move into the “want to live with you stage” in my friendships with men and I tend to relate to men in slightly different ways. The jury’s still out on how that applies to nonbinary people–both because I am still trying to root out internalized binarism and because my sample sizes are not big enough.)

It’s always possible that I am just intensely poly and romantic, of course, and I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop questioning that. For the moment, I’m satisfied with identifying alternately as aromantic (because I don’t think I’m experiencing romantic attraction) or wtfromantic (because I find the question intensely confusing).

July 1, 2011

Open Thread Friday

Filed under: Open Thread — Sciatrix @ 9:00 am

Well, last week’s open thread was pretty awesome! So it looks like this is going to become a weekly thing.

Feel free to discuss anything in the comments here!

So to kick off today’s thread, what’s the best ace joke you’ve ever seen? My personal favorite is probably this joke about Lex Luthor’s epic coming out.

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