Writing From Factor X

January 29, 2012

Paneling Versus Coming Out: Thoughts On Presentation

Filed under: Carnival of Aces,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 11:19 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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

As it happens, one of the things I’ve been doing while I’ve been on posting hiatus recently is doing Q&A panels with my local LGBTQA campus group. (I have posted recaps of some of them in other places.) Recently, I’ve been thinking about the differences in the way that I present myself when I’m speaking on a panel as a representative of aces and the way I present myself when I’m just coming out to someone I think needs to know I, specifically, am ace.

For one thing, I’m pretty guarded when I’m coming out. About a year ago I wrote about a concept I called the “unassailable asexual,” in which I argued that there was pressure (especially internalized pressure) on aces doing visibility work to present themselves in a way that opened as few avenues to attack on their sexuality as possible.

I still think that that internal pressure is a bad thing that discourages some people from doing visibility work, but it’s not something that I spend that much time personally resisting, either. Particularly when I out myself, I often take care to omit anything that might be construed as an invitation to doubt my orientation. I’m actually a lot more willing to talk about some of the ways in which I fit the ways that people usually attempt to invalidate asexuals  in panels than I am when I come out.

I think this may be because I’m typically much more relaxed when I’m paneling  than I am when I’m coming out to someone. There are several reasons for this. First, when I’m paneling I’m sitting as an invited authority next to two to three other representatives of other groups from my LGBTQA organization. Often I’m paneling for a class of some sort, in which case the instructor has often warned their students to be polite beforehand (and in one case, had apparently briefed their class roughly on asexuality before I ever walked into the room!). In contrast, when I have to come out, I don’t have any more psychological authority than the other person does, which means that people are less likely to acknowledge that I know what I’m talking about, even when it comes to my own sexuality.

I also feel more comfortable when I’m giving panels because it’s understood, when I panel, that I’m speaking as an individual representative for a larger group of people who share an identity, not just for myself. The very fact that I’m sitting on a panel states that I’m not speaking and answering questions purely for myself but for a larger category of people whom I belong to. It’s easier to avoid invalidation when the discussion becomes not a question of whether you personally are deluded/lying/ill but a question of whether a large group of people could all be correct about themselves. 

Panels are easier for me, too, because (paradoxically) the point is to be as open and forthright about everything as possible. I often find that I have a hard time figuring out where the social line between “silent and vaguely uncomfortable on all aspects of discussion of sexuality” and “cheerfully breaking out odd facts about animal reproduction as well as interesting aspects of human sexuality” lies. The fact that I have no personal experience with romantic relationships or romantic and sexual attraction usually doesn’t help. Panels are squarely in the “TMI” category, which makes it much easier for me to deal with the limits of what counts as socially acceptable and what doesn’t. 

There are also certain questions, like the masturbation question, that I am actually personally completely unbothered by answering. However, outside of a panel situation where I have offered ahead of time and signed up to be asked all manner of personal questions, I don’t believe in encouraging people to ask random aces that question or allowing people to demand aces to bare every detail of their personal lives as the price of coming out. I believe that (outside of a situation in which I’ve agreed ahead of time to share), if one person is sharing in a conversation, everyone should expect to have to share the same level of personal information in the conversation. I also find that many people asking aces the masturbation question become extremely uncomfortable if you ask them to share their own personal sexual habits. Given those beliefs, it can be a little difficult for me to handle questions like that in a personal setting. Panels let me answer them and then add a post script on the basic right of privacy for everyone outside of a specialized situation in which people are offering to answer questions. 

There are other differences in the way I behave when I panel and the way I behave when I come out. I am often much friendlier about the whole topic when I’m paneling than I am when I out myself. Part of this comes back to the point I made earlier about feeling safer and more comfortable when I’m paneling, and part of it comes back to the fact that I have found that the more brusque and confident I am when I out myself, the less likely people are to take this as an invitation to attempt to invalidate me. 

I also sometimes out myself in situations when I’m not mentally prepared or particularly willing to answer many questions, and I have found that being not particularly friendly and welcoming about coming out lessens the chance that I will suddenly be expected to give a tour of Planet Asexual without warning. This usually happens when I’m suddenly asked a direct question about my sexual orientation or about my romantic status and I want to clear up the problem, but I don’t have the emotional energy to discuss much further or entertain the inevitable personal questions. 

To give an example of suddenly be expected to educate without warning, I was once hanging out with a group of friends. I had been there for a few hours and was dozing, half asleep and completely relaxed, on my friend’s couch. Suddenly one of my friends, who I was out to, mentioned asexuality to a friend I was not out to as part of some other conversation. The second person was understandably interested and wanted to know more, whereupon the first said “Well, it’s [Sciatrix], you should ask her!” There went my lazy afternoon! Now I was expected to drop everything and play question-and-answer with a person whom I hadn’t actually had any plans to talk to about asexuality in the future, let alone in that particular instant. 

Paneling, by contrast, has a specific schedule and a time limit, and I know exactly when and for how long I’m agreeing to answer questions. Moreover, I’ve agreed to do that ahead of time, so I can’t be surprised by the sudden need to educate, and I can have as much time as I want to prepare for any questions that might come up. The questions are even pretty standard both ways, so I can prepare answers ahead of time if I want. 

I don’t think any of these reactions are particularly ace-specific, but I do find it interesting that I am far, far more comfortable paneling than I am coming out to new people. I hear a lot of people tell me “Oh, I could never do that!” when I mention paneling in ace spaces, but I find that at least for me?

The paneling is way less scary. 

January 28, 2012

A More General Linkspam

Filed under: Signal Boost — Sciatrix @ 9:44 am

Aaaand this is that more general linkspam I promised a few days ago!

There was a Carnival of Aces round-up at Confessions of an Ist recently! The current carnival is at quode inane vocamus on asexual representation.

From Kris Lignan: My Sheppard is Asexual, and That’s Okay

 In games, of course, there’s not just the expectation that love and sex are interchangeable, but the assumption that sex a la carte is somehow expected. We can attribute some of this to the straight male point of view behind the design of a lot of these games, but really, it’s an attitude endemic of most of contemporary Western culture.

From asexy beast: Coming out to those “situational friends” …or not.

Situational friends can be the hardest people to come out to. The level of emotional investment is fairly low, and yet you still have to spend a lot of time with them, making things difficult if their reaction is negative.

From Jezebel: I Am Asexual (and It’s Awesome!)

There’s a devaluation that happens with relationships that are intimate, but not necessarily sexual in nature, and I hear that devaluation every time I get asked if I have “someone special” in my life. The answer to that question, of course, is “YES!” I have several special people in my life. People whom I love deeply and am very intimate with, rely upon for support, support in turn, and consider very close partners. They are not romantic or sexual partners, but that doesn’t make our relationships less valid or less strong.

From jeyradan: Let’s talk about asexuality, the BBC’s Sherlock, and today’s interview with Steven Moffat.

Asexuality is not an invention.  It’s not lesser.  It’s not uninteresting.  It just is, and right now, Sherlock Holmes is the strongest representative we have.

Let’s not allow that to be erased, taken down or dismissed.

From aceofholmes: A response to the contention that asexual characters are inherently boring

The number of implicitly asexual characters in all of fiction could probably be counted on two hands; explicitly asexual ones are even rarer. So while a handful of overused sexual plotlines aren’t relevant to them, a shitload of others become available that have never been used before everAny writer who tackled an asexual plotline would automatically be a pioneer. How is this boring?

From eccecorinna: Asexual/Aromantic Show and Tell: Who’s Interested?

As I’ve read through the posts on my dash, I’ve noticed a lot of people alluding to aro/ace characters in their original works. This makes me both excited and curious.

Why? Because I want to hear more about your original characters who are asexual and/or aromantic!

From Asexual News: Web Series Seeks Actors to Play Asexual Roles

Producer Billy Reil issued a casting call forThe Coffee Pit, a new web series. Reil seeks Asexual actors to star in the new series.

From Charlie the Unicorn: This is where a title goes.

Actually, that is my solution. We all turn on Steven Moffat, because apparently he doesn’t care for interpreting Sherlock as asexual or as gay. And that’s the real problem –  a character who very well could be either, for whom there is canonical evidence for being very decidedly not straight, he has taken time, more than one, to re-assert as unreservedly heterosexual.

From romanticscientist: In which Jen rants about the importance of Queerplatonic

When every other post on tumblr is some form of “they’re so obviously gay for each other” I think it’s very valid for aces to feel constantly on the defensive about it and to pick at other people’s wording carefully and ask them to check their privilege.

From Q: Asexual activist David Jay on Q

Jian talks to asexual activist and the founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network David Jay about his personal and political struggle, and what asexuality can reveal about human intimacy.

From BBC UK: What is it like to be asexual?

Twenty-one-year-old Jenni Goodchild does not experience sexual attraction, but in an increasingly sexualised society what is it like to be asexual?

From Lashings of Ginger Beer: Comments on Consent (Based on the BBC2 Article on Asexuality)

As some of you may know, I recently appeared both in a TV program on BBC3 and in a linked article on their news website. Most of the response I’ve had has either been positive, or curious, but here I’m going to discuss the negatives.

Not technically about asexuality but interesting

From Psych Central: Part 2: Social Scientists Do Not Hear What Singles Are Telling Them

There is a great big elephant in the room and the authors seem unaware of it. If they took their hands away from their eyes and their fingers out of their ears, they might notice the elephant saying this: Single people have social support.

January 25, 2012

House Linkspam

Filed under: Signal Boost — Sciatrix @ 7:18 am
Tags: , ,

I figure that having a collection of links in one place might be a useful resource, given the discussion I see happening all over several communities. Please feel free to drop links about Monday’s House episode in the comments if you think I’ve missed something that should be included; I expect this to be a frequently-updating linkspam for at least a few days.

(I have a more general, if not terribly up to date, linkspam going in a couple of days, but I wanted to get this up, too.)

Initial hopes for the episode at the asexuality LJ community

Initial hopes for the episode at the asexuality DW community

The AVEN thread of reactions to the new episode.

The asexuality LJ comm post of reactions to the new episode. 

The Asexual Awareness Week Facebook discussion thread on the episode.

From sentientmachine: I’m upset about House

I’m upset because I got thrown under the bus so some asshole character who has been suffering the worst kind of character derailment for the past 5 years can look clever.

From sir-kit: Asexuality, Anger, and Media Representation

I just … there are some things that I shouldn’t have to live by “expect nothing and you’ll never be too disappointed” for. And seeing someone of my sexual orientation who’s not an alien, a serial killer, suffering from a brain tumor, or somehow not human is one of them. And I know good representations of asexuality exist, I just … can’t think of any off the top of my head.

From annwylcariad: Hey, FOX.

Thanks so much for all the harmful and offensive stereotypes about asexual people perpetuated by last night’s episode of House. As a community with low visibility and virtually no portrayals in mainstream media, we really appreciate your association of us with life-threatening medical conditions and relationships based on lies. We also want to thank you for all the conversations we’re now going to have to have with well-meaning friends who no longer believe that our sexual orientation is valid. That’s just what we wanted! 😀

From confessionsofllesk: I hate House. 

Because of that idiotic episode of House my mom said it “got her thinking” and now she wants to have my glands and other things checked.

From mallamun: That House episode.

But to seriously take a demographic that already struggles with invisibility issues, and to make your big fucking punchline, “Oh, just kidding, they’re not real!” Not even, “Hey, we’re going to insult you”, but “Hey, you don’t exist.

From kallian: So I’m a little behind on the tumblr explosion…

But, in the last scene of this subplot, House says “You saved a man’s life, and of course corrected two people’s wildly screwed up world views”.  This was unnecessary.  What was even more unnecessary was Wilson’s passive acceptance of this.  And this is where I call bullshit on Fox’s “House needed to solve a mystery” excuse.

and Also…

The House episode is being talked about, not because we want to let everyone know how oppressed we are, but because it is promoting problematic views of asexuals, and as a community, we need to figure out how to address and deal with them.  The first step of that is figuring out what the problems we want addressed actually are.

From Hollywood Jane: Asexuality on House: You’re Doing It Wrong

What I didn’t expect was how much the reality of it – not just the idea of it, but the episode’s actual existence – upset me. Like, tears-in-my-eyes-right-now upset. I’m not the only one, and I think that’s why it’s so hard. Yes, it’s a dumb TV show. Yes, I saw it coming. But I hoped. Despite knowing better, I hoped that for once there would be someone, something I could point to, to show others, some clear, concise portrayal of how I feel that wouldn’t be debunked like a Southwestern cryptid.

From me: This Is Not My “Better Half”

If Ms. Lingenfelter needed a medical mystery to solve for House, I understand that. What I do not understand is why this mystery had to be directly related to the asexuality of the couple featured on the show. I’m an asexual woman, myself. I’ve been sick plenty of times. Aces are not mysteriously resistant to all unusual diseases except those pertaining to asexuality. Why, if she genuinely wanted to be an ally to the asexual community, did she make the choice to portray her characters’ asexuality as a disease and a lie? Was there some sort of reason that her asexual characters couldn’t have a completely unrelated disorder?

From Ace Eccentric: Stereotypical

People who are asexual, gray-a, and demi, but have not connected with ace communities, also had a huge road block placed between them and the opportunity to Google and find other people like them. Why would you want to look up asexuality after being told in no uncertain terms that half the people are sick and half of them are faking?

From Shades of Gray: On “Better Half” – Gregory House Is Not Infallible

Here’s the thing: while I understand that writing workshops are tough sometimes, and especially in a group writing situation where you’re not in charge you can be easily overruled, intent still isn’t magic. And this episode is not just offensive, it actually does tremendous damage to the asexual community.

From Asexual Fandom: House “Better Half”

Is it ironic that the only place that hasn’t got a post about “that” House episode is this community?

From Queereka: Asexuality on House, M.D. 

The main character, Greg House (played by Hugh Laurie), is known for being a complete and total asshole. He often says ridiculous and offensive things, leaving no person or group out of his misanthropy. His best friend, Dr. James Wilson (played by Robert Sean Leonard), is the voice of reason. […] House’s diagnostic team (played by various people, it’s changed over the seasons), also often speak up against his assholery.

But not on last night’s episode.

From the Asexual Sexologist: My Initial Reaction to tonight’s (er, last night’s) episode of #House… #spoilers

Certainly I’m disappointed that 2 asexual-identifying characters on a major television show ultimately are supposedly “proven” to not be asexual but that is by far not my biggest complaint (though I’ll address it later in this post). My biggest concern is not the terrible publicity this causes for the asexual community because of more misinformation being spread but rather the negative impact it will have on aces seeking (or not seeking) medical  attention when there are things that are actually wrong with them.

and What will @retlefnegiL write for the next @HOUSEonFOX episode?

It’s about a gay couple trying to adopt when suddenly one of them has a terrible cold! Of course poor sweet tolerant Wilson wants to believe they are actually happily homosexual men but House won’t let him wear his Rose colored glasses for long!

From Swankivy: Add “been checked for a tumor?” to the bingo card

Suppose homosexuality was relatively unknown. Then a gay guy showed up on House. House, because of lack of exposure to the idea, decided all guys like vagina, so therefore, the gay guy must be mistaken. Investigation commences; gay guy is exposed as secretly straight and/or suffering from a hormone problem that made him gay; gay guy is treated and becomes straight; House nods sagely and communicates to his audience the following message: “See, I was right; all guys need vagina.” Problem? I think so.

Asexual Awareness Week is organizing a petition.

From Greg at the Dapper Ace: Week 49; Fuck you, House!

Why do we care about House? Well, they did an episode on asexuality. And I know! Before you get out of your seats and jump for joy, I gotta warn you–the fifty-two seconds of awesome-tasticness they gave for their trailer? Yeaaaaah, it… was a false positive. Because they basically did forty minutes of fail. And by forty minutes of fail, I mean that they took two perfectly valid asexual characters, tore them apart, spit them out, and then put them back into their comfy little sexual shoes.

From Aiffe at the LJ community: About Last Monday

As House and Wilson smoked their cigars, the threatening specter of asexuality defeated for good, I still wasn’t angry. But I was baffled. Whoever had written this, I felt, really couldn’t comprehend the idea of not wanting sex, and thought you’d have to be broken to be that way.

Added February 06

From Skeptic’s Play: House Did Not Do the Research

Yeah, there’s really no way for me to see this story in a positive light.  It’s not just Dr. House being the person he is, but the factual events in the show not reflecting the reality of asexuality.  Instead, the factual events played into a few common myths about asexuality, meaning that the writers failed to understand just how insensitive the narratives were.  Lastly, while different characters offered different perspectives on the asexual couple, the “positive” perspective from Dr. Wilson was patronizing, and effectively a strawman.

From Salon: “House” gets asexuality wrong

Last week’s episode of “House” marked the first time a major TV network featured self-identified asexual characters. But the asexuality community isn’t exactly celebrating this breakthrough; in fact, many are petitioning Fox executives in outrage.

That’s because the episode ends — spoiler alert! — with the revelation that the characters aren’t asexual after all.

From yamx: I do believe in Yamxes, I do! 

They managed to reaffirm BOTH of the most damaging stereotypes about asexuals in one fell swoop. This is *worse* than invisibility. It’s a step back.

From foolishfiish: Asexuality on House

Asexuality, in the show’s take on it (which wasn’t even the right definition to begin with), disrupted the norm. Therefore there was a quest to correct that disruption and slide it back in place within the norm. No amount of validation would have helped to prevent that. Asexuality could have been validated 30x times in the show, but it was a disruption to the general norm and therefore needed to be fixed.

January 24, 2012

This Is Not My “Better Half”

So. That House episode, huh?

I admit, I’m not a regular watcher of House. I don’t watch much TV, honestly. So for those people who haven’t been paying attention, yesterday the television show House aired an episode called “Better Half,” written by Kath Lingenfelter, in which (among other things) in which an asexual couple is heavily featured. A lot of people went into this episode feeling really enthusiastic on the strength of a promotional clip that appeared to treat asexuality positively.

What they actually got was an episode in which two doctors (House and Wilson) make a bet as to whether one can find a medical reason for an asexual patient’s sexuality. In the end one part of the asexual couple is shown to be suffering from a brain tumor and the other is revealed to be faking it to be with him. In the reveal, in fact, Wilson explicitly compares asexuality to homosexuality when deciding whether to attempt to cure the man with the tumor–and House reiterates that they are, in fact, dealing with a brain tumor, not a valid sexual orientation. The narrative supports House, not the first doctor. When the man is presented with the knowledge of his brain tumor, his wife essentially pressures him into receiving treatment despite his discomfort and reveals that she was not only actually ace but that all along she had been craving sex that he couldn’t give her. The storyline concludes with House collecting his money and remarking on the extra win of “correcting two people’s wildly screwed-up world views. Not bad for a day’s work!” I think that more or less sums up the episode’s perspective on asexuality.

I wasn’t surprised by the episode, though (or Moffat’s recent quote on Sherlock’s asexuality, the other current piece of media discussion going on). I have to admit, I expected something like this to happen. Admittedly, I didn’t expect it to be quite this bad, but I was frankly expecting it to be insulting at best and… well, as it was at worst.

I would like to say that I expect more. I would like to say that the one page of positive asexual perspective in Guardian of the Dead didn’t reduce me almost to tears when I read it and nearly made me cry again when that asexual character’s orientation was respected for the length of the third of the story that he appeared in. I would like to say that my favorite ace character, one of the most respectful portrayals of my sexuality I’ve ever seen, isn’t one who is also explicitly portrayed as having that orientation because of a gang rape and a clerical vow. I would like to say that when Poppy on Huge came out as ace two years ago, my heart didn’t leap for joy–and drop just as quickly when the show was cancelled a few episodes later, having never mentioned her sexuality again.

You know, I’d like to say these things. I’d like to say that I treat asexual characters being respectfully portrayed as humdrum, because shouldn’t respectful portrayals of asexuality be the default? Shouldn’t I get to expect basic human respect on the (incredibly rare) occasions when my sexuality turns up in media?

But the fact is, I don’t expect that. What I expect instead is for anyone tangentially mentioning asexuality in the mainstream media to immediately attempt to delegitimize it. I expect to be told that really I must be sick, or repressed, or broken in some way. Characters in media are treated the same way–characters can’t be ace for the sake of it, but they must be inhuman, or ill, or traumatized. And frankly,  given the quality of reactions I expect to hear from people around me when encountering asexuality for the first time, I expect media portrayal to get worse before it gets better. As asexuality becomes more well known, I expect more people to bring it up in media–and I expect more of those people to handle it in an offensive way for cheap jokes, as happened in “Better Half” while the characters got around to showing that really, people who identify as asexual are “either sick, lying, or dead.” (This is a direct quote. Hey, the only one we didn’t get to see in the episode was the dead ace! Maybe next time.)

The writer of the episode, Kath Lingenfelter, has this to say about the very critical reaction aces have had to her work:

I am trying to communicate with several of the people of the asexual community who were displeased, so forgive me if I repeat myself. I did a lot of research on asexuality for the episode. My original intent was to introduce it and legitimize it, because I was struck by the response most of you experience, which is similar to the prejudice the homosexual community has received. People hear you’re asexual and they immediately think, “What’s wrong with you, how do I fix you?” I wanted to write against that. Unfortunately, we are a medical mystery show. Time & again, my notes came back that House needed to solve a mystery and not be wrong. So in THIS CASE, with THESE patients, it was a tumor near the pituitary. But I hoped I could (now it seems unsuccessfully) introduce asexuality to the general public and get them asking questions. All they need to do is one google search and they can see for themselves it’s a real community of great people. Originally, part of my dialog included thoughts about whether as a species we’ve grown past sex. Any time we tackle a subject, we risk the possibility of not doing it justice. I apologize that you feel I did you a disservice. It was not my intent.


Asexuality is a new topic for me and definitely one I find fascinating. It is a subject I would like to continue to explore here or ..on future shows I write for. I think it speaks to where humans are now and where we are going. I will do my best in the future to do it justice. Thank you for feedback and please share any and all thoughts.

Speaking for myself, the idea of Ms. Lingenfelter tackling asexuality in her work again after this initial showing is something I find appalling. Particularly given the quality of this particular apology, which suggests that Ms. Lingenfelter is “sorry that [asexuals] feel [she] did a disservice.” There is no feeling here. She undeniably did a huge disservice to my community. Instead of writing against the pathologization of asexuals, she used her large and well-connected platform to reinforce and entrench that pathologization.

If Ms. Lingenfelter needed a medical mystery to solve for House, I understand that. What I do not understand is why this mystery had to be directly related to the asexuality of the couple featured on the show. I’m an asexual woman, myself. I’ve been sick plenty of times. Aces are not mysteriously resistant to all unusual diseases except those pertaining to asexuality. Why, if she genuinely wanted to be an ally to the asexual community, did she make the choice to portray her characters’ asexuality as a disease and a lie? Was there some sort of reason that her asexual characters couldn’t have a completely unrelated disorder?

I’m not a writer, but it took me about thirty seconds to come up with a plotline that simultaneously included a respectful portrayal of an asexual character and a medical mystery for House to solve: An asexual character presents with assorted symptoms. House assumes the asexuality is a symptom and comes up with a list of disorders based on that as his primary symptom. Turns out it’s none of those, and instead is a completely different disorder unrelated to the character’s sexuality. Whoops, they wasted all that time on trying to diagnose a character’s sexuality when really the actual problem was something totally different! It’s not only respectful, it’s an accurate portrayal of the issues that asexual people going to the doctor for anything experience. She could have made social commentary on asexual pathologization a central part of the storyline. Instead, she chose to make the storyline pathologize asexuals explicitly.

You know, maybe I’m a bit sensitive about this because the last time I was told that I should have my asexuality checked out by a doctor was three weeks ago. By my mother, no less, to whom I’ve been out for years, and who knew this was an offensive thing to say to me when she said it. It’s not the first time I’ve been told to have my sexual orientation investigated by a physician, and it won’t be the last. In fact, after this I’m more or less expecting to have pathologizing responses increase in frequency, which means I (and other aces like me) will be saddled with the thankless task of undoing the misconceptions this episode spreads so gleefully.

I’m disappointed that a popular television show has chosen to encourage people to pathologize asexuals and treat our community with such disrespect. Ms. Lingenfelter?

If this is the best justice you can do asexuality, please stay the fuck away next time.

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