Writing From Factor X

July 2, 2012

Simplifying The Outing Process

Filed under: Coming Out — Sciatrix @ 8:48 pm
Tags: ,

I’m currently preparing to move to another city quite far away from the one in which I currently live. I don’t know anyone in my new city yet, and I’m leaving behind a supportive, awesome friends circle where I’m already out to people and the asexuality isn’t an issue. Ideally, I would like to create a new supportive, awesome friends circle in my new city, so I am already planning how best to go about doing that.

This has gotten me thinking about coming out. Obviously I’m going to be doing a lot of outing myself in the near future as I get myself out and about meeting people, so I may as well think about how to do it as easily and stress-free as possible. I tend to be someone who worries a lot, so coming up with plans for handling future awkward situations is something I find comforting. Alas, coming out isn’t something you can do once and never have to bother with ever again—Siggy has an excellent piece on this you should probably check out—so it pays to think about efficient ways to get it over with.

Occasionally I am jealous of gay people who can sometimes come out relatively tactfully just by mentioning the gender of an ex or a current partner. So I started channeling that feeling productively by thinking about low-key, easy ways to come out while not having to direct the conversation immediately into Asexuality 101 unless I really want it to go there. I often like doing Asexuality 101, but not necessarily when I am trying to socialize and get to know someone better.

I have a history of outing myself really, really unsubtly by hauling the conversation over to where I want it to be and announcing my asexuality with all the finesse of a wolverine with a toothache. This was fine when I was more anxious about the whole thing than I am now, but not really what I want to be doing in the future.

Recently I had an awkward outing that went hilariously well—in part, I think, because I assumed that the friend I was outing myself to already knew I was ace. (In my defense, we have at least one mutual friend who did know and they had made several jokes/asked me several questions that made more sense if I assumed they knew. Also, there was the whole thing where I mentioned not getting crushes on anyone some time previously.) I wore a shirt with a Kinsey Scale joke on a mutual trip and this friend asked about it, having mistaken the “X” on my shirt for a chromosome in mitosis. In the process of explaining the joke I revealed my actual identity, causing the friend to go “ohhh, so THAT’S what you identify as.” And then we proceeded to talking about how awesome science was and getting on with our trip.

I’m still considering whether to frame that success as “act as if people already know you’re ace” or “don’t bother with it until the subject comes up organically.” In the case I just mentioned, my friend is a coworker I see almost entirely in the context of work, and I’m not necessarily always comfortable mentioning my sexual orientation in a work context for a variety of reasons. This friend was also aware of asexuality before I outed myself to them (which is part of why I thought I had been out—most people don’t discuss it unless they know full well I’m ace!), and that pre-knowledge made the whole thing much easier in a way I’m not necessarily used to experiencing.

Well? Any thoughts from those of you who are used to finding tactful, low-key ways to let people know? This is a big enough part of me that any friends I make will have to find out sooner or later. I’d rather make the telling as easy as possible.

May 26, 2012


Filed under: Fitting Sideways — Sciatrix @ 9:01 pm
Tags: ,

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.

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!

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?

February 4, 2012

Saturday Linkspam

Filed under: Signal Boost — Sciatrix @ 7:17 pm
Tags: ,

The Carnival of Aces just finished its monthly round-up! This month’s topic was “Re/presentation.” The next month will be held at Shades of Gray on the topic “Sexual Exploration.” If you’re interested in hosting the carnival, we’re currently a little short for hosts, so please think about leaving a comment on the masterpost!

From Love from the Asexual Underground: Asexy Politics: Report-Out From Creating Change

Well this year, thanks to the help of Asexual Awareness Week and the (A)sexual documentary we got [a workshop], and it landed better than we could have hoped. Here’s a blow-by-blow for anyone interested in the state of ace politics.

From Asexual Explorations: National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) 2012 Call For Papers About Asexuality

Papers on any topic at the intersection of women’s and gender studies and asexuality will be considered.

From Aromantic Aardvark: Valentine’s Day, Single’s Awareness Day, and What They Mean for Aromantics

The idea of celebrating romantic relationships isn’t one that’s inherently bad, but what is is the idea that romantic love deserves a day more than any other type of love. That romantic love is so fundamental, so important, that we need to have a day just for it. I realize Friendship Day and things like it do exist, but I have never seen them celebrated with the fervor that Valentine’s Day is.

From Bitch Magazine: Double Rainbow: Erasure and Asexuality

Until recently, were I asked to comment on the subject I might have written something like “Popular representations overwhelmingly present autistic people as asexual.” And I would have been incorrect. What popular culture tends to do is to deny that autistic people possess the agency and self-awareness to think about and establish sexual identities.

From Skeptic’s Play: Asexuals Are Not X-Men

I’m not really sure where people get this idea, that asexuality is the future.  It’s comparable to Creationism in how wrong it is on evolution.  It’s a magical worldview, where cultural saturation of sex will somehow spawn asexuals as a spiritual counterweight.  It’s a false equation between “evolution” and “progress”.  It’s a mythical view of the pure, superhuman asexual.  It just doesn’t make any sense no matter how I look at it.

From Flare’s Lair: One of Those Gosh-darn Ranting Asexuals

“I wish this TV show didn’t portray asexuality in a bad light” does not translate to “I have it worse than gays.” “It was hard to explain my asexuality to my family” does not translate to “I have it worse than gays.” “My asexuality puts a strain on my relationship and sometimes drives me to tears and self-hatred” doesn’t translate to “I have it worse than gays.” These are personal statements about personal experiences that have absolutely nothing to do with you.

From Musings of an Ist: Worrying

 I’m not particularly out here; San Francisco, this ain’t. And I’m concerned that, if certain people found out my orientation, I could be in… a significant amount of trouble.

From Ace Admiral: Outside my Bubble

As I’ve gotten to know my classmates here better, I’ve been more open about who I am and the people who are important to me. So far, no one’s really batted an eyelash when I say I prefer girls. It’s been really nice, being able to say it, because it wasn’t that long ago that I was in denial about it to myself. But, for some reason, I haven’t been able to tell them (with the exception of the group I mentioned coming out to during AAW) that I’m asexual, and I don’t know why.

From emerald-ace: I wrote a story about asexuality for my creative writing class today

I’m afraid that I shouldn’t be writing this story, because I’m going to ruin it. I think I’m too close to it to take criticism well, but these stories need to get out there, and after that House episode, I don’t really trust zedsexual people to do it well. And I feel that by writing this story and then being enthusiastic about it, I’ve basically painted “I’M ASEXUAL AND NEED OTHER PEOPLE TO VALIDATE ME” on my forehead.

From Kami Doodles: Question: Asexuality and Marriage

Now, I have a friend, who is intending to get married. Now, he and his future wife are asexual. They’re completely uninterested, and desire no children. However, his future wife is Muslim, and one tradition they’re supposed to follow is to consummate their marriage.

From No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?: Tim Gunn Hasn’t Had Sex in 29 Years, And It’s None of Our Fucking Business

The consensual, safe, and emotionally healthy actions I take with my own damn body are none of anyone else’s concern. The same thing is true of Tim Gunn. He might be a famous person, but he has not given up his right to not have people be assholes about him, and long-distance diagnosis of mental problems because of his happy, consensual, safe sexual choices is clearly asshole behavior.

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 25, 2012

House Linkspam

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

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

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

Initial hopes for the episode at the asexuality LJ community

Initial hopes for the episode at the asexuality DW community

The AVEN thread of reactions to the new episode.

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

The Asexual Awareness Week Facebook discussion thread on the episode.

From sentientmachine: I’m upset about House

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

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

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

From annwylcariad: Hey, FOX.

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

From confessionsofllesk: I hate House. 

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

From mallamun: That House episode.

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

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

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

and Also…

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

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

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

From me: This Is Not My “Better Half”

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

From Ace Eccentric: Stereotypical

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

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

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

From Asexual Fandom: House “Better Half”

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

From Queereka: Asexuality on House, M.D. 

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

But not on last night’s episode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asexual Awareness Week is organizing a petition.

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

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

From Aiffe at the LJ community: About Last Monday

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

Added February 06

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

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

From Salon: “House” gets asexuality wrong

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

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

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

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

From foolishfiish: Asexuality on House

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

January 24, 2012

This Is Not My “Better Half”

So. That House episode, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 26, 2011

A Set of Affections Difficult to Characterize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 16, 2011

Let’s Not Generalize, Please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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