Writing From Factor X

November 26, 2011

A Set of Affections Difficult to Characterize

This post was originally written for the Carnival of Aces. This month’s theme is “attraction.”

I find attraction pretty hard to conceptualize, most of the time. I do experience aesthetic attraction, when I find certain people very pretty and other people less so, and I am pretty certain that I do not experience sexual attraction, since I have very little interest in having sex with any specific person. I’d really love for people who experience sexual attraction to talk about what that means to them, which is a conversation I don’t get to see often, but I think I understand it well enough to know it doesn’t apply to me.

And then you get on to romantic attraction. This is about the point where I start to get confused. I’ve written a lot before about how frustrating I find the concept of romantic attraction.  It seems to me to be poorly defined, a lot of the time, and people have a hard time articulating the difference to me, and I’ve largely given up attempting to understand it. I’ve also largely given up trying to shoehorn myself into traditional categories of romantic orientation and have begun identifying as “wtfromantic.”

So let me talk about how my affectional patterns actually seem to work.  I tend to have rather few friends at any given time, but these friendships are usually quite close. It is important for me to note that for me, there’s a definite gender skew here; I tend to gravitate towards forming close relationships with other women or people whose gender identity shades toward female. I can think of only one or two close relationships I have had with guys, and I am often much slower to warm up to strange men than I am to strange women. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like guys or that I think men are terrible or anything like that, just that I tend to form more relationships with other women and that my relationships to female or female-shading people tend to be closer than that of relationships with people of other gender identities.

I have a definite tendency to be all-or-nothing about people; either they are very important to me or they are only loosely important to me. And it’s this tendency—either a wealth of strong attachment and affection for a person or a comparative indifference in them—that I think is the most confusing thing for me about the difference between friendship and romantic relationships. All of my friends are very important to me; that’s why they’re my friends, and if they stop being that important I tend to walk away.

I don’t get jealous of the people I care strongly about unless my emotional needs stop being met. I think I’ve discussed this a couple of times, but as long as I feel like the relationship between me and a particular friend is strong and that I’m cared about back, I don’t particularly care who else someone I’m close friends with spends time with or whether they’re dating someone. Exclusivity and monogamy are things I do not understand very well in a gut sense, and I don’t really want either of them in any relationship for myself. That said—I recently walked away from a friendship with a person I cared very much about (and continue to care a lot about) because my emotional needs were not being met, largely because she didn’t seem to think my company was worth seeking out. I do need to feel like a relationship has a similar level of affection on both ends to feel comfortable.

I have no interest in sleeping (in the literal sense) with anyone on a regular basis. I also have no interest in ever sharing a room with anyone, even the people I am emotionally the most attached to. I would prefer not to live alone in the long term; my ideal situation involves essentially permanent roommates. With almost all of my close female friendships, I have gone through at least some phase of wanting to live together or close by. At the moment, I am trying to see if I can use my career as an excuse to move much nearer to two of my closest friends with an eye to eventually living with at least one of them. Both of them are asexual and have more or less the same romantic orientation I do, which is reassuring.

My relationship to touch is another thing again—I like being touched in certain circumstances, although I tend to be weird about it. I am told I’m very standoffish about touching people and being touched until suddenly I’m not, and then I tend to curl up on people if they’ll let me. (One close friend of mine has remarked that I cuddle with her more often than her boyfriend does.) I do react very badly to certain kinds of touch—in particular, I always react badly to being touched unexpectedly from behind, sometimes violently, and this goes regardless of my feelings about the person doing it.  

I suspect that this pattern could be characterized as either homoromantic or aromantic, depending on how you perceive things. Or, I suppose, as secondary romantic attraction, or any number of other things. I tend to see the kinds of emotions I have as combining traits from both friendship and romantic models, which is why I usually use “queerplatonic relationship” and related terminology. I have listened to people describe relationships with similar levels of feeling to mine as either friendships or romantic relationships, and I really have a hard time figuring out where the distinction is. I also have a hard time figuring out where attraction comes into it, because for me it’s a matter of strength of feeling, not type of feeling.

I would like to know, though—for those of you who are comfortable with and understand the distinction between romantic attraction/romantic relationships and friendships, how do you conceptualize that distinction?

November 16, 2011

Let’s Not Generalize, Please

So right now, Tumblr is my primary ace community. I haven’t been too active in the blogosphere recently, mostly because of work. And I want to talk a little bit about some things I’ve been noticing–mostly in this community, but this is something I think is relevant to all ace communities. It’s not like I didn’t see similar dynamics during my time at AVEN, for one thing.

I keep seeing things in the ace tag like people saying “aces don’t get sex jokes!” or “aces don’t think about sex so they’re surprised when other people bring it up!” And “all aces are totally grossed out by sex all the time!” And people making jokes about “asexuals love cake so much it’s like they’re sexually attracted to cake!”

And I was thinking about community norms, and the kinds of people who tend to speak up in the ace community. And in particular, lately I’ve been wondering exactly where our sexually active aces are, and thinking about the ways in which people might feel more or less comfortable about speaking up in our community. I had a conversation recently with a close asexual friend of mine who has sex, who enjoys sex, and who often feels uncomfortable discussing their experiences in ace spaces, and that worries me. That tells me that there is a problem that we should be working on.

Look. When you say “you know you’re ace when someone makes an innuendo and you think of something completely unrelated to sex?” That erases the experience of a lot of aces. Mine, for one–I usually see the innuendo. Or not being able to comprehend “sexy”–oh, come on, I can tell when someone is gorgeous and I’ve never had any trouble understanding what “sexy” means, if only from the way others use it. Hey, we keep talking about the fact that there are asexuals who have sex and asexuals who enjoy it! Let’s remember that when we’re talking about what an asexual experience is. Even in jest–jokes do a lot to set the tone and culture of a particular space.

Can we please try, when we discuss ace experiences and in particular asexual experiences, to remember that asexuality comes alongside with a host of very different experiences? Generalizing one’s own experiences and tendencies onto an entire sexual orientation, particularly one with the level of diversity we have, is a bad idea. People are going to feel erased. They are going to feel uncomfortable, and they are going to feel less likely to want to speak up. Communities should be safe for everyone, and part of that is not constantly joking that a particular subset of ace experiences are the only or even the main ace experiences.

And admittedly, walking that line between catering too far to one subgroup of aces in a community space is hard to do. But I think it can be done. There has to be a line between saying “repulsed asexuals are really all mentally ill, not actually asexual” (which I have seen), and “asexuals who have sex are not asexual, they are at best grey-A” (which I have also seen). There has to be a place in  the middle ground where all experiences of being asexual and grey-A can be affirmed in at least some space, even if it takes multiple spaces to do that. And I do think that multiple spaces might be what is required here.

Tumblr happens to be terrible for creating clearly defined spaces for discussion, which is one of the things I miss about forum formats. Elizabeth wrote a really important post about defining the purpose of spaces for discussion a while back, and I think that post is very applicable for ace spaces, too. Face it: ace spaces must serve conflicting community needs. Some aces, particularly asexuals who feel pressured to have sex they don’t want, need a place to blow off steam and bond about their lack of interest in sex. I’ve written about detoxing and why it’s important to have spaces where that can happen. On the flip side, though, we need spaces for people who are dealing with the issues that being a sexually active asexual can bring–issues like negotiating compromise, affirming asexual identities, and discussing personal experiences with sex.  And some of these spaces need to have warnings: detoxing can feel very hurtful to sexually active aces and *sexuals, for example, and repulsed aces should have the option to avoid graphic material they may or may not be comfortable with.

What can we do to solve this? For myself, I think that the best thing to do is try to make clear decisions about the kinds of discussion a given space is set up for. Let people know ahead of time whether a space is going to be a place for detoxing or whether it’s a safe space for emotional support or whether it’s a place to discuss issues of personal sexuality or what. I think the blogs actually do a better job at this than any other space I’m part of–I know, for example, that when I go to Verbs, Not Nouns I’m going to see discussion of kink from an asexual perspective. And for general spaces–treat them like general spaces that are set up to welcome and address all ace perspectives.

If we’re claiming to be talking about all asexuals? Let’s remember that the only thing tying us together as a community is that lack of sexual attraction thing. Everything else is open for debate.

November 5, 2011

Fuck Yes, I Have Pride

Filed under: Anger,Fitting Sideways,Reacting To Assumptions — Sciatrix @ 10:36 pm
Tags: , , ,

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.

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