Writing From Factor X

March 13, 2012

It’s Been a While

Filed under: Visibility — Sciatrix @ 5:43 pm
Tags: ,

A lot has happened since I stopped posting every week last year. I’ve applied to and been accepted to graduate school, sorted out a problem in the way I was reacting to some of my relationships, and done a lot of thinking.

I’ve started doing panels through my campus LGBTQA group, which has been a cool experience. One of the ways in which panels have shifted my thinking about asexuality is to make me a little more thoughtful about the contexts in which I use jargon, because I try very hard to keep my explanations of my experiences as simple as possible in panels. That is, I’ve gotten a lot more conscious of trying to avoid jargon unless I’m talking to another ace person who’s already familiar with the terminology I’m using. Since at the moment I’m doing most of my speaking about asexuality to audiences who may or may not even be familiar with the basic definition of asexuality, I’ve become very conscious about both the specific terms I use and also how I present and define those terms to the people I talk to.

In particular, being asked about my relationships and whether I desire close emotional intimacy with other people is always a tricky question. I’m in queerplatonic relationships with two other people right now, and it’s important for me to be able to answer that question as honestly as possible without completely derailing the discussion. I’m usually part of a 3-4 person group with each person representing at least one different identity, and we almost never have enough time to finish asking everyone’s questions by the end, so brevity (never my strong suit!) is an important quality. Usually I handle that question by mentioning romantic aces but emphasizing that my own relationships are a little more complicated, but that I’m very happy with where they are right now.

Also difficult to answer are questions specifically about romantic aces, because I have no earthly clue about how romance works and spending a couple of years questioning what defines a romantic relationship or romantic feelings have left me even more confused and more convinced that the traditionally defined romantic framework for relationships doesn’t work very well for me. I usually leave it at “some asexual people get crushes and fall in love and say they want to date people, but I find the whole thing pretty confusing,” which is a little oversimplified–but when you’re doing a panel or really any kind of teaching, oversimplification to get the concepts across quickly is part of the job.

I’ve got a big aces-only panel coming up in April, which will hopefully have me and three other aces speaking on it. I’m pretty excited about it!

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 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.

August 21, 2011

Starved For Recognition

Filed under: Asexual Community,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 10:46 pm
Tags: , ,

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

Last week, as I was checking my Tumblr feeds, this showed up in the asexuality tag. I was very excited at first–not even because I expected a story about an asexual character, but because of the way the creator described the project he was working on.

I was excited, you see, because the way this interview framed asexuality as an actual sexual orientation. I don’t get to see that very often. And so you’ll forgive me if I was fairly upset to note, after checking the source and doing a little bit of Googling, that the entire thing was a hoax. (I do not have enough fuck you in the world for the original poster.)

Most asexual characters seem to have been created by accident. The creators were looking for that extra special touch of inhumanity, or playing up stereotypes of the socially awkward genius or sociopathic serial killer. And when the asexual community, which is starved for representation and for acknowledgement, makes itself known–well. Their reactions tend to not be very pleasant. Even when, in my experience, all asexual people are doing is expressing slavish gratefulness for the crumbs they throw us.

Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock, responded to an asexual fan thanking him for the work he’s done for the asexual community by saying “How? He doesn’t get out much.” Cumberbatch has also suggested that Sherlock’s sexuality is the result of being “burned by a woman.”

Steven Moffat, who writes both Sherlock and Doctor Who, both of which contain asexual icons, has said

“On the subject of the Time Lord’s perceived asexuality, Moffat has this to say: “I think that his asexual nature was perhaps read into the series by its more asexual fans. If you look at the old show, it’s not true. At some stage the Doctor had a wife and a family, because he’s got a grand- daughter. He likes everything: he drinks, he eats, why wouldn’t he date?”

Chuck Lorre, who works on The Big Bang Theory and is the creator of Sheldon Cooper, had this to say:

Lorre says it’s unlikely questions surrounding Sheldon’s sexuality will ever be answered. “Why would we have to [brand him ever] if the character is so thoroughly focused on his work?” he argues. “If touching other human beings of any gender is irrelevant to him, why label the thing? Why can’t there be a third gender — male, female and Sheldon?”

Awesome. So we have “no they’re not asexual” over and over again, we have conflations of asexuality with being burned on relationships, and we have the conflation of asexuality with gender and workaholism.

I thought–for a second when I saw that Tumblr post, I thought we had a writer who realized that asexual people exist. I thought a writer realized that we are people, and that he was kind enough to stand up and say “yes, this character is.”

I was so excited to see a creator commenting on an asexual character while acknowledging that asexuality is a sexual orientation. Seriously, that tiny thing alone had such an impact on me. It’s so, so rare to see asexuality treated like a sexual orientation anyone can have in non-asexual spaces. If it is mentioned, it’s always in the context of an individual character’s individual quirks, something that can be explained away as part of the weirdness of that character. (And the characters are always framed as weird.)

You see this in-story, but if anything it’s more pronounced when creators are asked about the asexuality of the characters they work on. Often, creators react with contempt and derision when made aware of fans who have asexual identities. It is so often clear that I am not included in the audience.

It saddens me to realize the things that so excited me about the original post are the same things that should have clued me in that it was a hoax.

Can’t we have creators who acknowledge asexual fans, too?

June 20, 2011

My Feelings on Ace Gear

Filed under: Visibility — Sciatrix @ 9:59 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve rather distracted this week, what with learning to knit (most fun hobby ever) and certain terrifying incidents that have come up at work and, well, other things catching my attention. So this post is going to be pretty light, really, because I haven’t had time to properly chew over the few topics rotating in the back of my mind.

I’ve been trying to wear more visible signifiers of asexuality lately. Being mistaken for something I’m not has become increasingly stifling, and it’s not like I can be read as ace in public without being really, really obvious about it. I already wear the black ring and have for almost a year now, but that’s very subtle–you have to be quite close to me to see it, and it’s very easy to miss. And I did a mug up in the colors of the asexuality flag, but you more or less have to be visiting my apartment to see that, too, and at that point chances are I’m probably out to you.

One of my goals for my knitting is to eventually make a scarf for myself in the colors of the ace flag. (I’m quite fond of our emo flag, in fact.) I’m working on a blue practice scarf first, but I already have the yarn for the ace scarf purchased and sitting in my old purple tote bag, just waiting for my one set of needles to be free and my first project to finish up.

And then there’s my favorite shirt. It’s more of a stealth pride shirt than anything, to be honest, as emblazoned across the front of it is “On a scale of 0 to 6, I’M AN X.” I am ridiculously fond of this line but can’t claim credit for it myself–I stole the idea from a post neekabe made on the asexuality LJ community last year. I’ve been looking at other T-shirt slogans lately, with rather mixed results. I quite like one that I found that says “My Kinsey number is imaginary” (why yes, I do like Kinsey scale references) and this other one that says “asexuals don’t.” On the other hand, I’ve come across a lot of stuff that is seriously unimpressive or even actively confusing.

So what about you? Are you interested in ace swag? Any slogans you think would be cool to see on a shirt?

June 12, 2011

What I’d Like To See

Filed under: Visibility — Sciatrix @ 8:50 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Last week, the Ace Eccentric asked me on Tumblr what I’d like to see in media in terms of representations of aromantic people. And I got to thinking. (For the purposes of this post I am more or less categorizing my wtfromantic identity under a larger “aromantic” umbrella–I’d count any character who isn’t sure they fit well with the concept of romantic orientation here.) Here’s my list.

0. I want to actually see some aromantic characters to begin with.

I am pathetically grateful to see aromantic characters at all. I very rarely see aromantic characters written from the perspective of someone who is paying attention about asexuality, and I don’t believe I have ever seen a work written respectfully about an aromantic sexual person.

From an asexual perspective, when it comes to writing about asexuality (particularly in fandom, which is currently my main source of writing about asexuals because the writing doesn’t really exist in published fiction), I see a lot of emphasis on writing romantics, which in the absence of writing aromantics can feel erasing. For instance, there’s this project called queer_fest which involves writing about the experiences of queer characters and which this year explicitly welcomed asexuality. When I was watching the prompts go up for it, I noticed that a lot of them used the phrasing “asexual but not aromantic” character over and over and over again–but I never saw anywhere near the emphasis on naming aromantic  asexuals in other prompts.

That said, here’s my wishlist for the characters once I have them.

1. No more aromantic sociopaths. Or inhuman characters. 

Please, please, please. This is an offensive stereotype. Aromantic people are not necessarily emotionless. We are not robots, serial killers, sociopaths, emotionally stunted–we’re just people who don’t grok the romance thing. I would like more aromantic characters who buck this stereotype.

Experiencing romantic attraction does not necessarily make you a good person. It does not necessarily make you emotionally open or a warm person, either. So why do people seem to assume that taking romantic attraction away makes you evil or inhuman or emotionless?

Treating aromantic characters as otherwise normal people who don’t happen to experience this one kind of attraction would be nice. So would making more of them unquestionably human. I’m done with robots and aliens, thanks.

2. I’d like to see more aromantic characters who are not men.

Seriously, what is with this one? I don’t know if it’s a combination of the sociopaths thing with tropes about women being more in tune with emotions or what, but the aromantic characters I’ve seen have been heavily male.

Actually, since women are more likely to be shoehorned into works primarily as romantic interests for male leads, combined with stereotypes about women being more focused on avoiding being single, I think it might just be that fewer women are portrayed as single at all, let alone anything that could be construed as terminally single. It would be nice to see more works that buck that stereotype altogether.

(I’d also just like to see more nonbinary characters in fiction period. Hence phrasing this as “more not-men” rather than “more women.”)

3. I want to see characters that actually read to me as aromantics, not romantics who just so happen to be single at the moment.

I mean. As a person who doesn’t do the whole romance thing? I do not think like a romantic person who just so happens to be single at the moment, okay. My orientation informs how I think and how I plan for the future and how my interpersonal relationships work, as well as a whole other things about my personality.

I’ve noticed this trend where characters, if they’re labeled as asexual, never have the narrative spend much time on what that actually means to them. And this seems to be somewhat worse for aromantics than romantics, in my limited experience. I think a lot of people assume that since aromantics aren’t dating anyone that they have no particular special problems and can be more or less written like a perpetually single romantic character, especially if they’re also asexual. The thing is, it doesn’t actually work that way.

Think about what being aromantic means. You’re generally going to have the same need for emotional intimacy and support, but you’re not going to be able to get it from the same source that society has “set aside” for that purpose. Some people draw their support from communities, either large ones or small ones. Some people draw it from groups of friends of varying sizes or from their families. Either way, I’d like to see aromantic characters being shown finding support from alternate, nonromantic channels.

4. I want to see the long-term effects that being aromantic has on a person.

I actually don’t know any aromantic or wtfromantic people who are all that enthusiastic about the future of their personal lives. I’ve written before about how I plan to be alone, and that hasn’t changed–I’m sufficiently pessimistic about my chances at getting to have friendships that last, particularly in meatlife, that I assume it’s not going to happen. (I have gotten very slightly more optimistic in the past month, but not much.) And okay, maybe I just hang around with pessimistic people, but that planning to be alone is something that every aromantic or WTFromantic person I know does to a greater or lesser degree.

I also want to see characters who worry about losing friendships or having friendships with unequal emphasis on the importance of the relationship. If you’re trying to rely on friendships for emotional support and your friends all happen to be romantic and subscribe to a model of friendship that says “friends are back-ups for when your romantic relationship isn’t working,” there’s going to be an imbalance between your view of what the friendship is “for” and theirs. That can be painful, and I’ve written about that to a limited degree before, too.

I want to see what the effect of being told that you’re basically inhuman for not experiencing the whole romantic attraction thing is. Because I’ve seen that over and over again, including people telling me that to my face when I explained what my orientation actually is. And it’s actually, as far as I can tell, worse for aromantic sexuals in this respect. That kind of thing takes its toll, and everyone reacts differently to it.

5. I want to see the aromantic character’s extant relationships acknowledged as important.

This doesn’t mean a queerplatonic relationship, necessarily (although I’d love any author who gave me one for ever). But it does mean that I want to see the relationships the character has acknowledged as important. I hate the “we’re ‘just’ friends” phrase in all situations, but I would be especially upset to see an author frame friendships or other platonic relationships as unimportant with an aromantic character. I don’t care how the aromantic character derives their emotional intimacy, be it a queerplatonic relationship or several friendships or larger communities or something totally new, but I want to see their relationships treated with respect.

6. I’d like to see happy endings in there somewhere.

This isn’t so much a realism point as a personal wish list. Going back to that fourth point about a lot of the aromantic and wtfromantic people I know being pretty pessimistic about their long-term chances… well. This is contradictory to a point with the rather gloomy things I’ve discussed there, but it would be nice to see works that tell aromantic people that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that good things are possible.

Besides, in my experience happy endings in fiction tend to go right along with finding a romantic partner to settle down with, possibly with children involved. It’s a type of ending that is almost perfectly geared to leave aromantics out in the dark.

That’s my wish list. Anyone have more points to add?

June 6, 2011

Taking Up Space

Filed under: Fitting Sideways,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 8:44 pm
Tags: , , ,

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.

February 14, 2011

They Still Don’t Care About Us

Filed under: Anger,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 9:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

So reviewing the Dan Savage commentary from his admittedly fucked-up recent post about fat marriage in the general social justice blogosphere has been illuminating. Namely, people are talking about it. Big-name people. Small people. My Google reader exploded! People care about the fact that fat people maybe don’t deserve to be vilified for the fact of their bodies. Awesome, fantastic, this is a topic that needs to be talked about!

His equally fucked-up commentary about “minimally sexual” and asexual people in the same week, on the other hand? Absolutely zilch. Except coming from asexual people ourselves, of course. It’s been a slap in the face, actually. It’s a remainder that no one gives a damn about asexuals but ourselves. Savage can say whatever the hell he likes about asexuals, and who we should and shouldn’t inflict ourselves on, and no one will speak up for us but ourselves. Other people have allies who leverage privilege in their behalf. We have nothing.

In fact, I bet some of the asexuals reading this are thinking “we should expect other people to speak up for us?” and looking gobsmacked, because the belief that we can trust others to know and care nothing about asexuals is that ingrained. And it’s not an irrational belief, either; it’s not like experience teaches us otherwise. I suppose I’m the irrational one, in fact, for believing that people ought to care about asexuals.

Actually, you know what? At this point, I don’t even care whether you do care about us. I’m just tired of seeing people throw asexuality in as an aside without ever actually backing up the word with a breath of actual conversation about asexuals.

Shakesville, in particular, if you want to call yourselves asexual-friendly? You want to call yourselves allies?

Don’t just slap a cutesy “the cultural narratives surrounding romantic relationships assume you’re sexual” on your post and never mention the existence of asexuality again on a post, please. In fact, at this point? Either find someone to say something tangible about asexuality from a social justice perspective, or stop putting us in your so-inclusive lists and go back to pretending asexuals aren’t important. That we’re not worth talking about. Everyone else is doing it, you won’t even have to feel bad about it, but it would be a damn sight better than this bait-and-switch thing you’re doing.

I am sick and tired of seeing asexuality listed in groups of marginalizations–if I’m even that lucky–and never seeing people even stop to educate themselves once.  I am tired of never seeing issues that relate to people like me come up, ever. I am particularly sick of seeing lists that pat themselves on the back for being inclusive and never follow up that promise of inclusivity with action.

I am sick and tired of people putting asexuals on those lists, and then never actually so much as trying analyze a single issue from an asexual perspective. Because actually, the existence of asexuality could enrich discussions of consent, medicalization, ignoring boundaries, rape culture, concern trolling about one’s health, anything–even an aside that makes it clear that one is actually considering how a given issue might affect asexual people.

I am sick and tired of flinching when I come into social justice spaces when my own damn orientation comes up because I am waiting for the flurry of insults, concern trolling, and general demands to prove my existence in spaces that are ostensibly supposed to be safe for queer people. In fact? I flinch worse in queer spaces.

The omission is getting obvious. And you know, I’m greedy, and I do expect more. I’m tired of handing out cookies. Either be actual fucking allies and say things of substance when tangible issues of asexual oppression crop up, or stop putting on the pretense. But right now? I’m feeling pretty fucking slapped.

February 12, 2011

It’s Not About You

So Dan Savage has been showing his ass in public again. Apparently we’re not supposed to “inflict ourselves on normal people” or something. And the thing is, this isn’t the first time Savage has been hateful towards asexuals and it won’t be the last. But I wanted to comment on it anyway, because I think it showcases a reaction that’s all too common when the discussion of asexuals dating comes up.

Every time I have seen asexuality discussed in a space that is not heavily frequented by asexuals, someone pops up and feels the need to say that they could never date an asexual, even when the original context has nothing to do with asexuals dating. (That’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that same person then going on to discuss how asexuals who date nonasexuals must be horrible people who are deliberately entrapping nonasexual people in manipulative, painfully sexless relationships against said nonasexuals’ will. Apparently the concept of breaking up never occurs to these people.)

Every damn time. I don’t know why these people think this is a useful and valid insight. I don’t know what they think they’re contributing to the conversation. I don’t know if they seriously think they’re saying anything new or useful. I don’t know if the people doing it know just how hurtful it is to always see that. And I’m not sure they care if they do. Because the impact of seeing that over and over and over again hurts.

I don’t even want to date anyone! My relationships are strange and painful, all the more so for being rather outside the monogamous romance situation. And I still get upset at seeing this, because it’s a tangible remainder that the most important relationships in my culture are set up to exclude asexuals. I can’t imagine what a romantic asexual must feel at seeing these responses every time asexual discussion comes up.

After all, it’s not like other romantic asexuals are easy to find. Say you’re a heteroromantic asexual woman and you want to date only other asexuals. Assume that the often-cited figure claiming asexuals make up 1% of the population is correct. Pretend that half of these are men*–well, that leaves you with 0.5% of the population who might possibly be in your dating pool. Now take out all the ones who are aromantic or homoromantic–according to the 2008 AVEN census, about 17.5% of the asexual population identifies as aromantic and 6.5% identify as homoromantic, so that’s 24% of the community which is off limits because of romantic orientation, meaning that 76% are theoretically available**.

So that’s 1% of the population at large x 50 % of these being an acceptable gender x 76% having a compatible romantic attraction, which comes to a whole 0.38% of the population you might be compatible with on the basis of romantic and sexual attraction alone. Forget the vagaries of personality and whether you can even get along with any of these people–that’s what you have to work with. Oh, and just to make the picture a little more bleak, the invisibility of asexuality means that it’s likely that a large chunk of your possible dating pool have no idea what asexuality is or what they are, making them impossible to find. As an extra-special bonus, the fact that so much of the asexual community is online means that if you do manage to meet someone you’re compatible with and have enough in common with him to fall in love with him, it’s likely that he’ll live nowhere near you.

That’s if you’re heteroromantic–the pool gets even smaller if you’re homoromantic asexual, for instance. Or if you’re transgender and have to deal with cissexism from potential partners. Or if you’re non-binary identified in terms of gender. Or disabled, or anything else that often counts as a “dealbreaker” in the dating pool–my point is, the asexual romantic dating pool is tiny and, as everything dealing with asexuals tends to be, isolated. (Invisibility rears its see-through head again!)

So it is not unprecedented that asexual people might try to date nonasexual people now and again. Of course, this brings its own nasty problems along for the ride–to “compromise” on sex or not? Is compromising enough for the sexual partner? Is the asexual partner okay with the sex even long term? Can compromising be a free choice at all, given the odds on finding another asexual partner and the pressure not to end up alone? Is a choice between having so few dating options and having sex you don’t want still an entirely uncoerced, free choice?

And the options for asexuals are further constricted by the way that intimacy and long-term commitment are assumed to be a feature of romantic relationships only, nothing else. What this means is that if an asexual person decides that romantic relationships are unworkable, either through not experiencing romantic attraction or through not being able or interested in “compromising” on sex and not being able to find an asexual partner, you’re almost-but-not-quite Shit Out Of Luck. One of the things this does is place much more pressure on asexuals to try to make romantic relationships that do work, because this is one of the only societally-approved ways to find long-term emotional intimacy.

I’m not criticizing the personal decisions made by anyone; far from it. In general, honesty is the best policy at all times, particularly when considering matters of relationships with other people. But in a conversation about the possibility of asexuals dating nonasexuals? My sympathy is not with the poor nonasexual person, who after all always has the choice of saying “I can’t handle this” and moving on. It’s with the asexual partner, who has so many fewer options.

I’m not even going to discuss the Othering of asexuals (how strange, how broken these people must be) that often occurs alongside these responses. I’m not going to discuss how hateful they are, how they presume maliciousness to asexual people, how they often assume that asexual people are trying to entrap or trick their partners. I’m not even going to bring up the fact that I often see assumptions that asexual people magically know they’re asexual from puberty or something, despite the fact that invisibility conspires to leave us without the words to describe ourselves and the bravery to speak them aloud.

I’m only going to say this: You, the nonasexual person, have many more options than asexual people do. Kindly do not rub that in the face of the people who are most acutely cognizant of that fact.

*Not that that “half” number is likely to be accurate, since for one thing there are a ton of people who don’t identify within the gender binary within the asexual community, but we’re being as broad and generous with our data as possible.

**In fact, that same census details several types of responses that are uncategorizable as heteroromantic, homoromantic, bi- or panromantic, or aromantic, so the numbers may actually be less comforting than this. In order to be as generous as possible, I assumed that answers like “unsure of romantic orientation” and “do not believe in a distinction between romantic and nonromantic attraction” might possibly count and so I excluded only “homoromantic” and “aromantic” answers from the original analysis.

January 17, 2011

Saying The Words

Filed under: Coming Out,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 1:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have noticed that it is easier to talk about asexuality if I avoid the word “asexuality” in my daily life. I’d like to consider why here. (And it’s even easier to try desperately to pass for a straight person who’s just mysteriously not interested in anyone that way, which is an extension of what I’m talking about here.) If I am quiet, and act vaguely ashamed or pretend not to have thought about it, pretend to simply have been too busy to have the time to notice anyone, things get a little easier.

That is, people seem to understand better–or at least be more polite–if I say “I’m really not interested in dating anyone” than they do if I say “I identify as asexual because X.” They’re also a lot less likely to be dismissive if I don’t take on the mantle of asexuality, if I pretend that my sexual orientation is an individual quirk and not a thing that other people have.

I don’t think that this is coincidental. I think it’s an extension of the way that people react when asexuals begin to talk about asexual issues in spaces that aren’t ace-designated, in fact–the first reaction, always, is to start dismissing.

Claiming an asexual identity is a shot across the bows: it means that I have just said that I don’t intend to be dismissed. And more, it means that I have just said that I don’t think that I am experiencing a phase, or a temporary aberration from the norm (for this is my norm) or some form of disability.

So let me talk about why I use the words “aromantic asexual” to describe myself, why I try to label myself where I can even though that makes my life more difficult than it would otherwise be. Let me explain the reason I cling to public labels as well as private ones.

When I own the word “asexual” to describe us, I tap into a community. I name myself, and in doing so I reify my orientation; I assert that I am not alone, and that people like me are common enough to justify a word all our own. I become that much more difficult to ignore.

I think some people find that threatening. Actually, scratch that, I know people find that threatening. Because it’s so much easier to be dismissive when it’s only a single person, floating by like a twig in the river of heteronormative, mainstream society. It’s harder to be dismissive about a whole clump of twigs creating a dam, which might eventually direct the river in a new direction. The dam has power in a way that the twig doesn’t.

This is, incidentally, a reason that I get really excited by coming-out scenes in media. (Yeah, I’ve only seen two of them so far. That doesn’t mean I don’t love that they exist.) Way more excited than I do about asexuals in the media who are just “known” to be asexual, whose sexuality is treated as a personal quirk. Because I can see the twigs building when people come out in a way that I can’t when the quirky ones pretend it’s a personal idiosyncrasy. I have seen some people talk about how they wouldn’t like to see characters getting up and shouting about their orientations, and I feel very differently.

I want to make it clear that all of this is an explanation for me, and for me alone–I won’t try to tell anyone else how to navigate the personal calculus of their own lives. But for me, I find power in publicly claiming an asexual identity. I think it does good things for the world. And I continue saying the words.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.