Writing From Factor X

May 26, 2012

Tongue-Tied

Filed under: Fitting Sideways — Sciatrix @ 9:01 pm
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A few days ago, Siggy bemoaned the death of the asexual blogosphere as a direct result of Tumblr. I agree with everything he said, as it happens. I could whine about Tumblr being a more easy formula–longer posts are much more time-consuming and intimidating to write–but frankly, I’d rather read a longer, well-thought out post, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So I thought I’d try to help revive the blogs a little by updating my own.

Lately, I’ve noticed an issue I’ve had in conversations with people I’m trying to get to know better. The subject of dating will come up, or people will start bonding by discussing attractive people, and I’ll freeze, confused about what to say. It’s not a matter of hiding my asexuality, either; this happens with people who know I’m asexual, too. It’s more a matter of not knowing how to react and feeling that responses along the lines of “good for you!” are perhaps more condescending than I want to be.

I’m not a particularly socially adept person outside of my comfort zone, and I’m not always good at reacting to new things on the fly. When it feels like people are asking me to reciprocate in some way, because the experience of dating/having crushes on other people/admiring attractive people is totally universal, I’m often at a loss to respond. It’s particularly awkward for me because I started identifying as asexual at fourteen, never felt particularly pressured to experiment with dating, and consequently have zero anecdotes or experience with dating to use to keep conversation going. I have experience with relationships in general, sure, but bringing those up in the context of dating feels strange to me.

I usually end up just remaining silent and feeling awkward, especially if everyone else is sharing personal experiences. I’m not exactly sure what to do about that, except… continue to occasionally feel awkward when someone is trying to connect with me. Honestly, this isn’t an issue anyone is at fault for or that I think I can or should expect anyone else to change for. It’s not like my experience is a particularly common one, after all, and bonding over dating experiences and cute people is a terribly common, generic topic of conversation. I even do enjoy those conversations when it’s clear what I can contribute to them, as for instance cheering on a friend’s enthusiasm over a new crush or offering advice on a specific interpersonal situation.

I do find it interesting that spending more time with people who aren’t particularly familiar with asexuality and discussing their expriences makes me feel more unusual and more in need of a word like “asexual” to describe how I experience things differently than spending more time around other people who identify similarly to me. I know Siggy has mentioned a similar experience in the past, too. I’m particularly interested in this effect because I wonder if it might partially underlie the tendency of some people to declare labels like “asexual” are unimportant, or even whether it might play into the strength with which someone feels a particular identity. After all, if everyone around you shares similar experiences to yours, or your experience is easily understood by everyone you come across, does your particular label for that experience even matter? It’s only when differences become more salient that it becomes necessary to find words for your experiences and discuss them.

February 14, 2012

Valentine’s Apathy

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s Valentine’s Day today.

Honestly, this is the first year in a long time that I haven’t managed to completely forget Valentine’s was a thing, and that’s more a testament to the fact that seemingly everyone around me has insisted on making a huge fuss about it than any particular interest of mine in the holiday. It usually doesn’t make me feel particularly bad, or particularly good, or anything more than vaguely apathetic. As a holiday, my feeling is that it’s not for me or about me, and it usually passes me by before I bother to pay much attention to it.

This year the generalized feeling of not existing has been a bit worse than usual, precisely because people have made more fuss about it than I’m used to. When people try to discuss Valentine’s with me, I often find them surprised that I am so completely apathetic about the holiday–it seems to me that the vast majority people expect others to be either happy to be spending the day with a partner or bitter and upset about not having one. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for honest apathy in the range of allowable emotions for the holiday.

Oddly enough, that reaction is what has made me irritable today, not the fact of the holiday itself. I’m not bothered that people in romantic relationships are taking the day to make a big fuss about it, and I’m mostly not even bothered by the massive commercialism that always comes along with the holiday. But I am bothered that people expect me to care about it.

One of my classes felt the need to play this TED talk today, which didn’t particularly improve my mood. I don’t like fluff in class–I’d rather be absorbing useful information–and the talk felt to me less like an interesting set of scientific work and more like an excuse to recite anthropological poetry about romantic love and talk about how important and universal a feeling it is. It also did a lot of universalizing about the feeling of romantic attraction, which was occasionally interesting but mostly just annoying.

However, I’m attempting to drag myself out of a grouchy funk at the moment, so I’ll talk about the one thing I did find interesting about the talk. Dr. Fisher describes romantic attraction in an interesting way in that she relies heavily on describing the feeling in terms of obsession.

Out of curiosity, people who say romantic attraction is clear to them, is that an accurate way to frame the emotion? I’m finding it interesting because it’s totally alien to my experiences; for me, initial interest in new people I’d be interested in forming a relationship with is very much “out of sight, out of mind.” Once I am good friends with a person, it’s a little different, but even people I’m terribly fond of don’t get anywhere near the level of fixation I’d call “obsession.” So the idea of obsessing over a person, particularly a person you don’t know well, is fairly alien to me. Thoughts?

November 5, 2011

Fuck Yes, I Have Pride

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

September 24, 2011

Pulling Out the Brain Worms

Filed under: Fitting Sideways,Growing Up Asexual — Sciatrix @ 7:09 pm
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A while ago I was tossing around post ideas on my tumblr and mentioned dealing with the nasty brainworms that growing up as asexual has left me with. So. This is that post. This one is going to be very sensitive for me.

One of the biggest things I have been trying to convince myself of lately is that I have a shot at a meaningful personal life. Because the thing is, growing up I have had no meaningful models in my life of adults with strong emotional relationships besides their spouses. My parents move every four or five years; they keep in touch with a few old friends through email, but they see each other perhaps once in ten years at reunions.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I’ve also seen adult role models in my life rely on extended family! Except the whole thing where I don’t fit very well into my family at all rather puts a crimp into that. (Besides the whole sexual orientation thing, I also manage to be the political black sheep of a very politically active extended family on my paternal side. They’re strong Republicans. There are also some interpersonal dynamics that make relying on extended family rather uncomfortable for me.)

So I internalized the idea that I couldn’t really have much in the way of emotional connection. After all, every adult I was intimately familiar with growing up relied heavily on their spouses for emotional support. And I don’t think I ever met adult close friends more than once or twice across the span of my entire childhood, and I’m counting my teenage years. Everyone I met who interacted with the adults in my life was either related to them or married to them. Occasionally I met boyfriends and girlfriends.

I figured that at some point you got too old for real friendships. Oh, you might have long-distance correspondences, but you don’t get to have people drop by and say hello, you don’t get to go eat dinner with them or celebrate birthdays or really spend any off time in their company. You don’t get to have friends who actually stick around in your life as an adult, is my point.

(This is where I just completely boggle at people who react to the idea of queerplatonic relationships as more or less already what people mean when they talk about friends. Because I never so much as met an adult with personal friends they regularly hung out with, as a child. I’m sure that adult friendships that are closer than that exist, but when we’re talking the things I saw growing up, the things I internalized and incorporated into my vague sense of How the World Works? Yeah, there was nothing.)

Add to this the fact that I am naturally a bit of a workaholic and a perfectionist. This isn’t all that unusual; my parents are both similar types and so is at least one of my siblings. I like to work on things I’m good at, and I like the things I make to be as good as I can make them.

I decided that the solution was to make my professional life take the place of my personal life.

Specifically, I decided that if I could find a career I thought was interesting enough and high-powered enough, I could spend more or less my entire life in it. I figured I could spend however much time I needed to at work to forget that I didn’t actually have anything to go home to. If I started feeling lonely or noticing that I had no personal life to speak of, I could always work harder until there was no energy left for noticing what my emotions were doing!

This is some seriously fucked-up shit, guys.

I should add something here that illustrates the environment I grew up in and the attitudes my family has to friendships. My mother in particular has always seemed a little baffled by the level of closeness I have with my friends and generally reacts in a horrified fashion if I mention actually sharing some insecurity with them. So a few months ago, when I was discussing my asexuality with her, I mentioned this–I mentioned that I was afraid for the future, I mentioned that I was scared of being alone and that I thought it was probably how things were going to turn out. I was hoping a little that she’d tell me I was wrong and reassure me.

What she actually did was nod matter-of-factly and told me I’d need to keep in close contact with my sisters, because no one else would ever be there for me. And the thing was, I believed her. Part of me still does. (And another part of me is pretty sure that my sisters won’t necessarily be there for me, either.)

I look around me at people who have their personal lives all planned out and I laugh, because I never thought I’d have a personal life to plan out. I thought I’d have to bury it in a career so I wouldn’t ever have to remember I was alone. I more or less planned to have nothing, because I never expected to have a shot at anything else.

When I was sixteen, I did an internship class which involved spending a lot of time sitting around and thinking about my future career choices. One of the things they wanted us to do in this class was detail where we wanted to be five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years from that point in terms of our careers and also in terms of our personal lives. I had spent most of my life up until then carefully not thinking about the future of my personal life, and I’ve spent most of the intervening years continuing to carefully not think about that, but I had an assignment to complete and I had to write something.

I have never forgotten looking down at that piece of paper and having absolutely nothing more personal to write about my hopes for the future than a desire to have a couple of dogs. Seriously, I had to fill in the section on where I planned to write about my expectations–no, my hopes–for my personal life, for things that should have been filled with dreams about family, I had to fill that in with ramblings about dogs. Because I figured having a couple of dogs, that was actually attainable. You can have dogs, as an adult. I didn’t think you could have any kind of family if you were like me.

I am still endlessly grateful that we received no commentary on that assignment. Because I can’t imagine any commentary from my teacher that wouldn’t have been salt in my wounds.

So I wrote this to mention that I’m trying to get rid of that conditioning. And it’s slow, and it’s painful, and incidentally it’s very much tied up with all the conversations I’ve been having in various spaces about queerplatonic relationships and other people who are more or less like me, who have similar wishes for the future. I still plan to have nothing, but hope is beginning to creep in around the edges. Part of me finds this absolutely terrifying–because hope means I might have something to lose.

But it also means I might have something to gain.

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.

June 6, 2011

Taking Up Space

Filed under: Fitting Sideways,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 8:44 pm
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So one of the things I see a lot is this weird contention that homophobes/society at large wants gay people to be asexual. I see it when I’m gathering posts for linkspam, I see it when sexuals decide to get it into their little heads to debate our relative queerness, and I see it when people are discussing the way that queer people in media (as well as other groups) get desexualized. Sometimes the gay person in question (and for some reason in my experience, it’s almost always gay, very rarely bi or pan) doesn’t seem to know what asexuality is, exactly, and sometimes they do.

This is another one of those things I run across a lot that makes me laugh a bit bitterly. Because, you know, being asexual I have kind of noticed that heteronormative society at large and heterosexist people in particular are not exactly a fan of my identity, either.

Here’s the thing: the heteronormative world we live in is set up for straight people. By that, I mean heteroromantic and heterosexual. (It’s also set up for people who are majority on a number of other axes, as Anghraine helpfully points out here, including cisgender people and monogamous people.) If you’re not straight, you’re going to stick out, and the more things you stick out on, the more noticeable you’re going to be. And if you’re noticeable, that’s going to draw the attention of the people who are most happy when enforcing heteronormativity and the equivalents for these other axes of sexuality, not just passively partaking in a heternormative worldview. That is: heterosexists.

These people want everyone to at least pretend to be straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re not set up that way–and in fact, I generally get the impression that they don’t care, necessarily, as long as you’re pretending well enough to pass. (I note that passing privilege is actually something that all queer people can achieve if they put their minds to it; the only difference is how much of your soul you have to carve out of yourself to do it. The gayest gay man in all of Gaytonia could pass if he was willing to live in the closet and marry a woman and spend his life lying to himself and everyone around him. It’s just that passing as straight if you’re not requires you to carve pieces out of your identity and silently pretend the wounds aren’t there to everyone who asks.)

So because they want everyone to at least pretend to be straight (and cis, and monogamous, and the rest of it), heterosexists are really not thrilled when people are open and honest about what they actually want. These people want queer people of all stripes to be as quiet and ashamed of themselves for daring to be different as possible, preferably to the point of being deeply closeted. If you’re gay and you’re not strong enough to act properly straight, they think, at least you should have the decency to shut up about it, to take up as little mental space as possible, to pretend as best you can to be not-different.

The thing is, being celibate and silent about all the ways in which your sexuality isn’t heterosexuality and being quietly ashamed? That’s not what being asexual is. It’s not my asexuality, anyway. The fact that I spend my free time writing about what my orientation means to me, about the things my community experience? That alone should be enough to cue you in: heterosexists aren’t any happier about me, either. Because I’m taking that space up. I’m refusing to be quiet and ashamed, and I’m certainly refusing to pretend.

Asexuality isn’t about trying to take up as little space as possible. It’s not about trying to buy into heteronormative frameworks to hide in corners so we don’t draw heterosexists’ ire. It’s certainly not about pretending to be straight and buying into a normalized view of how we “should” perform sexuality and how we “should” organize into relationships and how we “should” treat consent issues. It’s not even about not having a sexuality, since kinky asexuals and romantic asexuals and libidoist asexuals all point out that “sexuality” is a more complex thing than patterns of sexual attraction.

I don’t see heterosexists talking about how wonderful asexual discussions of alternate relationship models are, for example, and I certainly don’t see them going on about how awesome the way asexuals often spend a ton of time discussing sexual orientation and dissecting how it might or might not work is. What I actually see is people going “oh, that’s boring, don’t talk about that” or “that doesn’t exist, everyone is sexual for something” and generally trying to silence asexuals in more or less the same place. Stephanie Silberstein just posted about her experiences with being told to be quiet more or less every time she speaks out about asexuality, and I confess I’ve often experienced something similar.

And that’s the thing–owning your sexual orientation and speaking up about it is universally unpopular with people who believe that everyone should be at least pretending to be straight. It doesn’t actually matter what that orientation is, only that it’s different.

May 22, 2011

Writhing in the Throes of Unrequited Like

I’ve been thinking a lot in terms of my romantic orientation lately. I keep seeing things that invite me to discuss them based on whether I identify as romantic or aromantic, for one thing.

The trouble is, I’m not always entirely sure what my romantic orientation is, or even how to define romantic attraction to begin with. I have asked a lot of people to explain how the difference in feeling is so I can tell, and I haven’t really gotten anywhere. I don’t actually expect to any more at this point, to be honest. I usually put myself in the category “aromantic” under the theory that if I was experiencing something that felt like romantic attraction which was qualitatively different from desire for friendship that I definitely experience I would almost certainly notice. Maybe.

It would probably help if I subscribed to a binary understanding of friendship/romance, wherein you have a bunch of friends who you’re rather fond of and like to hang out with sometimes and, basically, like, and then you have your romantic partners who get to cuddle with you and matter more than everyone else and whom you love. Except I don’t, because that trivializes friendships and also would mean that I am dating about ten people by now, some of whom are in monogamous romantic relationships with other people. And I don’t think I am anyone’s secret hidden love affair.

So okay, I tend to identify as aromantic when I’m feeling easily categorizable and wtfromantic when I’m feeling frustrated and cranky. (I don’t actually like greyromantic because it’s not a matter of experiencing romantic attraction rarely or only in certain situations or whatever, it’s a matter of not being sure I even know what romantic attraction or, for that matter, a romantic relationship even is. I can only rely on what other people tell me and a lot of it is contradictory or feels very, very weird.) I can live with that, even if it’s a little unusual. Besides, I know several other people who feel pretty similarly to me, and talking to them helps a lot. (Hi, guys!)

Except I keep running into things where people say they wish they were aromantic and asexual because that seems like it would be so much emotionally easier, and it must be really nice not to have to ever deal with unrequited love, and aromantic people are so lucky to be able to avoid that! And then I have to laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and then sometimes go hit something.

For those people who are allergic to tales of personal woe, you may wish to turn back now.

Background information: the kind of relationship I actually want involves a bunch of things, but it boils down to having a friend who is close enough to me that I get to see them all the time and either live very close to them indeed or live in the same home. I don’t really want to share a room or a bed, just live in close proximity and do things like cook dinner and bicker over terrible television and shove books at one another and, you know. Share my life with someone. In short, I would like to have a zucchini one day. I really don’t care if said zucchini dates anyone else or gets married or anything like that, as long as they don’t either leave or make me leave. Most of what I want can be found under the TV Trope Nakama, which makes it really awesome that the trope description includes this sentence:

This sort of group dynamic appeals to younger audiences who are unfamiliar with romance, and appeals to older audiences who live in a world of complex relationships and convenience masqueraded as false friendship, who are feeling nostalgic about the times when friendship meant a lifelong bond.

Yeah, either I’m an immature child who doesn’t know what real romance is yet or else I’m… nostalgic for oversimplified, easy relationships from a time in my life I haven’t actually experienced. Ever. It really gets you coming and going–either you love this trope because you’re too naive to understand it’s not real, or you love it because you’re too cynical and embittered to like romance the way it is! Wow, I love reading that sentence, it makes me feel invisible and insulted all over again every time I see it. That’s quality erasure right there.

Anyway, I am unfortunately no more logical and in control of my emotions than any romantic person is, and I have been fixating on a friend of mine and wanting her to be my zucchini for a depressingly long time. (Because I like puns and neither “crush” or “squish” seem to work–I don’t want to date her and we’re already friends–I think of this as an unrequited squash.) This is almost certainly not going to happen, which does not prevent my friend from giving me the mother of all mixed signals every time we have a discussion about our relationship. It is very painful.

In a lot of ways, I actually would rather that I had an unrequited crush on my friend, because then (assuming I could get the courage up), I could say “I have a crush on you, and I need you to know this so that I can take some time to avoid you for a little while until I get over it.” And then I could flee until the waves of embarrassment subsided and eventually we might have been able to be friends again properly. At the very least, in that situation I could say that sentence and the mixed signals would probably go away.

In the situation I have now, before I could say that sentence I would need to have a protracted and extremely painful discussion of romantic orientation in general, mine in particular, several months’ worth of conversation with other like minds, my own personal dreams for the future and depressing certainty that they are unlikely to come to pass, and also my complicated and apparently one-sided feelings for her. And then I would need to gamble that she a) understood and b) believed me and also c) did not take this as an opportunity to send me even more mixed signals and then not actually follow up on them.

Things are not exactly going well. So, you know, if I hear one more romantic person say they want to be in my shoes because my emotional life must be so much easier than theirs I might have to scream. After all, from where I’m standing at least romantic people can expect everyone to understand what they’re talking about when they complain about their personal problems.

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.

February 5, 2011

And Now, A Ray of Sunshine

Filed under: Fitting Sideways,Growing Up Asexual — Sciatrix @ 8:44 pm
Tags: ,

So writing this blog has gotten just a little bit depressing lately, what with the focusing on how much being asexual can really suck. I think it’s important to focus on that, given the constant refrain of  “Asexuals aren’t really oppressed, but…” but it’s nice to have a bit of contrast, too.

With that in mind, I wanted to write a list of why actually, being asexual is awesome. No, seriously!

I get to be free of the “bogeyman of sexual attractiveness.” (All credit to that phrasing goes to the awesome Charles.) What I mean by that is that I don’t experience any pressure to dress up or otherwise act in any particular way in order to attract someone else. Everything in the way I dress and the way I present is done purely for me, with no considerations for how anyone else might think of it, and I love that. I might have to alter my dress a bit for the workforce when I finally leave college, but at least I feel no pressure to dress or act for anyone other than me in my personal life.

The community is really neat. I mean, where else are you going to find people who will painstakingly dissect assumptions about what love is and how to categorize different types of love? I find this stuff really interesting, and it’s been a lot of fun getting to discuss it seriously with people over the past several weeks. Also, I have met a ton of awesome people through asexuality spaces on top of that.

Best informal slang term ever. I have heard some people get uncomfortable about “ace” because of its extremely positive connotations in other contexts, but that’s actually precisely why I love it. Decks of cards used as ace in-jokes! Getting to snigger gleefully when characters are referred to as “ace detectives” or “ace pilots!” Extremely bad puns! It’s wonderful.

I am not constricted by heteronormativity. That means that no one is going to try to squish me into a heteronormative expectation of what a woman “should” be, because my essential not-straightness puts me outside of the bounds of heteronormativity to begin with. There are a ton of negatives to that, but there are positives, too. Heteronormative expectations of gender roles can be very stifling and I for one don’t fit them at all. In the same way that being a queer woman of any kind allows one to escape from the expectations on what “normal” women are like, my being an asexual woman gives me an excuse to jettison the normative gender roles that heteronormativity prescribes.

I don’t have to plan my life around other people. This is the positive side of assuming I am going to live and die alone: I have everything I need to plan my life and make decisions. I don’t need to rely on anyone but myself to meet my own life goals. And more–assuming I can rely only on myself in the long term means that I can’t be disappointed if no one else ends up in my life. Assuming I’ll be functionally alone means that anyone who does stay in my life can be viewed as a bonus. The assumption that I see many nonasexual people hold–that someone had better come along to be in a romantic relationship with them, or their life is meaningless–tends to result in disappointment for no reason that they can control. After all, no one can be dating someone else constantly!

So what about you? What things do you really like about being ace?

January 31, 2011

On Being Incapable of Love

This post was originally written for the Spectral Amoebas blog carnival.

I found out about autism when I was twelve years old–young enough to be impressionable, old enough for my life to change. Old enough to go out and do my own research. I promptly started reading everything about autism and more specifically Asperger’s Syndrome that I could. Not that there was much, particularly much that dealt with teenagers instead of children or autistic girls of any age, but I went through everything I could find anyway. In retrospect, that was a recipe for disaster.

See, I kept running into NT stereotypes that claimed that autistic people had a hard time loving others, or caring about them, or expressing love if it was there at all. I even ran into a bunch of people who appeared to be conflating autism with sociopathy and who variously claimed autistic people couldn’t connect to otthers, or didn’t want to, or simply didn’t have “higher emotions” to begin with.

This struck me as a bit strange, because I am not a person who has any difficulty feeling strong emotion. On the contrary: I sometimes have difficulty because of my strength of feeling. I can’t bear to see someone embarrassed or two people arguing. I used to have to flee the room because I couldn’t handle the fear or anxiety I was getting off the characters on a movie screen, and I was supposed to be incapable of strong emotions? Does not compute.

And of course I kept seeing the comparisons to robots, to hyper-logical characters, the stereotypes of being really good at analysis but incapable of feeling anything emotional. Guys, I’m good at analysis and I’m not necessarily great at emotional processing, I usually need either help or a ton of time to analyze emotions when they confuse me–but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

But to continue the story, I kept reading. I started interacting with specifically autistic communities. I got an account at WrongPlanet and started posting on the forums. And I began to absorb the idea that to be autistic, I had to be hyperrational and low on feeling. Besides, I liked the idea that I could be cold and rational all the time. I was getting bullied in some pretty unpleasant ways at the time, and it felt pretty good to pretend that the insults I was getting didn’t bug me, that I couldn’t feel hurt at all.

I turned fourteen. Somewhere in there, I found out about asexuality and about being aromantic, and started sort-of identifying myself as both. Not that I, you know, told anyone about it or spent much time in asexual spaces–I basically ignored that aspect of my identity for a long time, unless someone asked me directly about it. I was focusing on other things, and it didn’t seem important then; after all, I was fourteen and none of my friends were dating anyway.

When I was fifteen I moved. I took some time away from WrongPlanet and I spent most of the rest of high school focusing on other things. I was pretty isolated throughout high school, so I spent a lot of time online or reading books. And all the introspection started making me question the “triumph” of logic over emotion. I certainly started questioning the idea that I was necessarily all that logical. It’s hard to think of yourself as a hyperrational data junkie when you’re freaking out because your routine got destroyed, for instance. With that came disbelief in the “emotionless” paradigm. I was isolated, as I said; well, as I got older I started realizing that not having any close meatspace friends really sucks for me. I need people to care about.

I developed a violent distaste for being told I was cold, robotic, emotionless, or any combination of those things. I started getting particularly upset about the idea that I didn’t care about people, because I do. I care strongly about people, as a matter of fact. And I started getting angry about seeing all those stereotypes applied to me. I’m not a goddamn robot.

Then I went to college and started interacting with people again. I got reminded of why I had an identity to begin with, because I was surrounded by people who weren’t like me at all, and interacting with them made me feel isolated again. Suddenly being on the spectrum mattered, but asexuality really mattered now. I was so different from my friends that I started craving the company of other asexuals just to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t a freak, I wasn’t the only one out there. (I was one of the unbelievably lucky ones; I knew there was a community and I even knew where to find it.) So I came back to AVEN and started talking about being asexual again. And I started talking about being aromantic.

Imagine my frustration when I started hitting stereotypes on AVEN about aromantics being–you guessed it!–emotionless, cold, and devoid of strong emotions for others. I remember threads where posters asked shamelessly whether or not aromantics loved others, whether aromantics were heartless. Aromantic sexuals, where they came up, were almost always discussed as completely feelingless people who knowingly used and manipulated people for sex.

I started to get angry.

I looked at the media and noted that where portrayals of aromantic asexuals existed, they tended to be coded inhuman, alien, and most of all emotionless. Where portrayals of asexuals who cared about other people popped up, they tended invariably to be romantics. I won’t even begin to discuss autistic media portrayals here; they tended if anything to be worse.

I got angrier. And I am still angry.

I am not emotionless. I am not cold. I am not robotic. I am human, I feel things, I care about people. And I am so, so tired of other people trying to take that away from me.

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