Writing From Factor X

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.

April 10, 2011

Newsflash: There Are More Than Two Rules

So I’ve been seeing this list around lately that claims to explain the root of all unpleasantness around sexuality in mainstream culture with two simple rules:

  1. It is simultaneously inconceivable and intolerable for a woman to have sexual desire.
  2. It is simultaneously inconceivable and intolerable for a man to be sexually desired.

And you know, I see a lot of excitement around it! I keep seeing people exclaim that it totally explains everything! So it’s a pity that I think it’s horseshit.

I’m not going to go into much detail on the second point, the one about men, because I’m not male and don’t have much personal experience there. I will point out that all those super-masculine images of the Stud, who has All The Girls, is presumed to be sexy and handsome and at least attractive enough not to have to actually pay women to have sex with him. Seriously, you think women aren’t supposed to find Manly Men attractive? Really?

But you know, it’s the second contention–women aren’t allowed to express desire–that really amuses me. Because I’m a woman, and I don’t experience sexual attraction and therefore don’t exactly go around saying “mmm, you hot thing, I would totally like to sleep with you!” You’d think that society would be all over me as the Perfect Woman from that list!

And you’d be wrong.

Even before I was out as asexual, I was generally pretty open about not being interested in anyone. I didn’t go around proclaiming my asexuality, but when people asked me direct questions I answered truthfully. So I’d be asked whether I found specific boys attractive and I would say “no.” And instead of going “well done then!” and getting social brownie points as this little set of rules assumes would happen, I get suspicion. I am told that I am broken either in my body or my mind. I am told I must be lying. In short, the reactions I get for not expressing sexual desire for anyone are a far cry from accepting, let alone praising.

It’s funny how according to this, mainstream society finds it inconceivable for a woman to be different from me.

It is not okay within mainstream society for a woman to never express sexual desire. It is certainly not okay to be openly, loudly asexual, and it is damn well not the ideal for women to be asexual. Where do you think the term “frigid” comes from? Did you think it was a compliment?

I have a problem with the kinds of discussion I often see in sex-positive spaces, and things like this are an excellent example of why. I find that sex-positive spaces often set themselves in opposition to a presumed sex-negative mainstream, as if the nasty dynamics surrounding sexuality in mainstream were as simple as black and white. They’re really, really not.

For instance: women are supposed to have sexualities. Sexualities directed, I might add, specifically at men. They’re just not supposed to take charge of them or express them openly. Which is probably a large part of the reason that asexual women–I repeat, women who don’t express sexual desire for others because they don’t experience sexual attraction–come in for so much crap, because women who identify as asexual are already stepping out of the narrowly constricted boundaries for female sexual expression and owning their own sexualities.

The thing is, it would be one thing if all that came out of this depressing tendency to oversimplify the fucked-up attitudes that culture has to sex was that asexual people get to trip over works assuming that we’re what the mainstream wants and laugh until we choke. That would be obnoxious, but manageable and at least entertaining. But that’s not actually the worst of it.

See, if we’re being held up as “what the mainstream wants,” if people are hanging out in circles that espouse this kind of thinking, they’re likely to think of us as part of the problem. If the problem is that mainstream culture doesn’t like sex, then clearly people who also are not particularly interested in sex must be collaborators in oppression!

And that’s where I think most of the terrifying anger you see at asexuals in feminist and queer spaces–those most likely to identify as sex-positive–comes from. After all, if you’re dealing with a ton of crap about your sexuality and you’re being told it’s the fault of all those people who (gasp!) don’t like sex, of course you’re going to get angry when people stand up and claim to not experience sexual attraction and furthermore explain that this is not actually an enviable state of affairs.

It’s a pity that so much anger comes out of such a fundamental oversimplication of what Western culture really thinks people “should” do about sexuality.

March 13, 2011

On Romance in the Media

This week, I’m going on a road trip. I actually finished it yesterday and am on vacation now, but preparing for the road trip reminded me of an incident that happened on a similar trip I made some years ago. I was driving down south at the time with a couple of friends and one of them joked “If this was a spring break summer flick, who would be the hero?” And I thought immediately, “Not me. There couldn’t be a romantic subplot.”

There’s something wrong with storytelling when you can’t tell a story without your main character falling in love. Movies are hands down the worst genre about this, but it’s pervasive in all media: it seems like a story isn’t deemed complete if there’s no Designated Love Interest for the main character.

Especially if you’re not male. Women are often tokenized and thrown into these stories specifically so that the (invariably male) main character has someone to fall in love with. So if you’re ace and male, you might be able to find a hero who isn’t displaying interest within the story–but women in fiction? Almost always the love interest for somebody, even when they’re meant to be the hero in their own right, and often as not there will be only one. (If you’re nonbinary, you’re shit out of luck; generally media is pretty sure you don’t exist.)

This state of affairs actually sucks for a whole lot of people. It sucks for queer people because this focus on romance is usually intensely heteronormative, meaning that same-gender relationships are generally conspicuously absent while romance is lionized. It sucks for women because it reinforces the message that dating and theoretically marrying someone is the highest possible goal for a woman, one that every woman must aspire to. It sucks for romantic asexuals because romantic relationships are usually constructed in these narratives as specifically sexual. It sucks for anyone who is currently single because it constructs anyone who is single for any reason as essentially incomplete. The whole thing sucks for polyamorous people, it sucks for kinky people, and frankly there are a whole lot of reasons why the mass media focus on one specific type of opposite-gender relationship leaves a whole lot of different people out in the cold.

But it really sucks to be sitting here and thinking “awesome. No story without a romance is important, and I don’t do romances.” What does that say about my stories? About how important I am as a person? Can someone like me ever be a hero in my own right?

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that every confirmed asexual main character so far is romantic. Romantic relationships are constructed as a way to humanize characters–or rather, their absence is constructed as dehumanizing, because romantic is the default. Characters who don’t experience romantic relationships in fiction are almost uniformly portrayed as sociopaths, and in some cases even have their sociopathy mitigated by falling in love with the right person. There are some nasty tropes here, guys.

The desexualizing and arguably deromanticizing influence applied to several minority groups in fiction–other types of queer people, people of color, disabled people–reinforces this tendency to equate lack of romantic relationships with dehumanization, because in the shorthand conventions of fiction you can’t be a fully realized center of a story without a significant other. Unfortunately, while going “fully realize characters like us by giving us more screen time of them dating!” is a pretty natural response to that, it’s also pretty upsetting when you don’t fit into that paradigm of discussing who matters. If I never run across another person talking about poor media representation of minority characters by decrying the “asexual” nature of these characters, it will be too soon.

Even characters we can initially read as aromantic get significant others as they get a bit more authorial limelight. As soon as the narrative cares about you, the burgeoning love interest lurks in the background. The Big Bang Theory in particular has been a shining example of this: as the Sheldon character gets more and more focus within the narrative, the show introduced a “girlfriend” for him. It’s not enough to exist on your own; you have to have a “significant” other to complete you properly.

So what do we do about it? Frankly, I have no idea. I’m not a writer of fiction. I try to support works that don’t do this by buying them, but I’m a college kid and my wallet is generally pretty lean.

I just want to talk about it, because remembering that knee-jerk reaction hurt. And I’d like a world in which other aces’ response to that question–“we’re in a movie? Who’s the hero?” wasn’t immediately “Not me.”

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 8, 2011

Planning For The Long Term

One of the things that always keeps me up at night is thinking about the long term. Thinking about family, about my relationships, about whether people will take their relationships with me as seriously as I take them. Or whether, instead, my friends with gradually pair off and develop “more important” relationships and leave me permanently alone. It hasn’t happened yet, but then I’m a college student. I’m only twenty years old, and I know that I won’t be living close to most of my meatspace friends two years from now; we’re all ambitious enough to jettison our lives here for the shot at a career studying the things we collectively love, and I might end up in a program near one of theirs but I’m not betting on it. Which sucks.

I plan to be single, in fact. No, actually, it’s more complex than that–I plan to be without zucchini as well. I’m a cynic and I plan for the worst case and for me, that is the worst case, but… I suspect it to also be the most likely.

Romantic relationships are always more important than friendships; friendships get devalued and are almost inherently defined as “less-than.” And of course the weird relationships I do want–the friendship that is understood not to end as soon as something more important comes along, the person-I-love-who-becomes-family, the blurred lines–I don’t even have real words for those, they’re so invisible that there’s nothing in the whole language to describe them at all.

I suspect that much of the value that gets placed on specifically romantic relationships rather than friendships is that romantic relationships are assumed to be a prelude to developing a family. The ways in which different kinds of relationships get devalued seems to relate to the “realness” of the families which might result from them–monogamous queer relationships get devalued because of not being able to produce biological children, for example, and friendships and non-monogamous relationships get devalued because of not being nuclear and easily defined. The definition between family and not-family is supposedly absolute, easily understood, with no crossing-over; relationships which do not have the possibility of becoming family are assumed to be inherently lesser at best, and entirely temporary at worst. Or both.

And for me, this is nonsense. There’s more kinds of families than the two-adults-and-children sort. What happened to extended families, for example? Why is this one, constricting model so annoyingly pervasive?

I want a friendship that is taken just as seriously as this culture takes romantic relationships. Or multiple friendships, which would be even better. I want a family of my own, without having to lie to myself or a partner to do it. I want consistency in my life. Ideally, I’d want to live in the same house as someone I cared about; I’ve been living alone for the past six months and it is not my ideal situation. I want someone to share my life with and someone to care about and who cares about me, who is understood to be sticking around and not going to drop me for a real relationship as soon as that comes along. I don’t particularly care about exclusivity, but I care about committedness.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find that kind of a relationship, because so few people are looking for one. Which means that it will be far more difficult for me to form the kind of family I’m looking for. There’s another traditional route to starting a family, though: there’s always children. (Assuming I want or consider myself to be a fit parent, which is an entirely different conversation to have.)

One of the big reasons I personally get worked up about better maternity policies and more parent-friendly workplaces, in fact, is that without such policies it’s nigh impossible for me to have children, because I plan to be single in the long term. The fact that I cynically think that the hell I don’t believe in will freeze over before America institutes enough social policies to make such a situation truly workable means that when I plan for my future, I don’t include children–while not even taking into the consideration the broader question of whether I want to have them. (The answer is a resounding maybe, anyway.) And so romantic relationships, in this culture, are almost necessary to having a family in that respect as well.

I’d like a family, eventually. I don’t plan for one, because like I said, I’m cynical. But I hope anyway.

December 24, 2010

It’s Easy To Pass When You’re Invisible

One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen from the queer community regarding asexuals identifying as queer, particularly aromantic and heteroromantic asexuals, is that we have this awesome “passing privilege” thing. The theory goes that apparently, because we are not in same-sex relationships, we pass for straight. Of course biromantic, panromantic, and homoromantic aces “count,” because it’s like they’re bi/pan/homo-sexual! And heteroromantic is the same as heterosexual! And aromantics–well, uh, uh, they don’t do the same-sex dating thing so THEY MUST BE STRAIGHT.

(And of course asexual people for whom the romantic orientation concept doesn’t work very well are made twice invisible. Awesome.)

In particular, I find that it’s not uncommon for queer people to say things like “the mainstream wants you to be asexual.” This latter is usually a good indication that the person in question has never talked to an actual asexual person in their life, but I digress.

And I have a lot of problems with this. For one thing, not everyone actually passes consistently for heterosexual. I don’t. Before I started coming out on a regular basis, people assumed I was a closeted lesbian. I can be out honestly, or I can have people try to help me out. This is my experience.

Besides, not everyone wants to pass in the first place. Passing is soul-killing. Passing means lying to others, it means hiding yourself, it means pretending to be something you aren’t. It means pretending to be straight, because in this heteronormative world, you’ve got to be heterosexual to get by. Not asexual, because asexuality does not confer privilege. Let me point out that that is not the same thing as being heteroromantic. It’s not enough to not be interested in same-sex partners. You have to be interested in opposite-sex partners as well, and you’d better display sexual interest in them while you’re about it. Passing means displaying that interest, even if it isn’t there.

It means… closeting yourself, in fact. (Wait. Hang on–you mean that asexual people might have closets, too? Perish the thought.)

But hey, I’ll buy that gender-conforming asexuals often do pass fairly well when they’re not being open about their identities. When you’re single and not dating someone, you must be straight, right? So heteronormativity goes. And it’s not like there’s acedar to match gaydar in mainstream culture, right? Well, there’s a reason for that.

Mainstream people don’t tend to pick up on cues that a person might be asexual because asexuals are invisible to the mainstream. Invisibility is not passing. There’s a choice involved in passing: you can choose whether or not to lie about who and what you are, even if it’s only a lie of omission. There is no choice involved whatsoever in being invisible. Invisibility exists to make it impossible or difficult to speak up about who and what you are.

Invisibility is trying to be honest about who you are and being told that you don’t exist, that you’re lying, that you’re deluded. It’s trying actively not to pass for straight, because you’re not straight, and being told that you’re wrong about your own feelings.

Invisibility is growing up never knowing that you could exist. It’s trying to find communities of people like you and failing, because no one else is ever like you. It’s listening to a thousand different ways to plan a life, and not fitting into any of them.

Invisibility is not having words to describe what you are. It’s making words up or pretending you’re something different than you are. It’s endless questioning because none of the available options fit. It’s finally finding a word that fits and seeing that word used mostly in ways that hurt. It’s trying to answer a form about your sexual orientation honestly and having to lie, because no ticky-box exists for you.

Invisibility is forced silence because speaking up about asexuality has consequences, even if it’s only to say “we exist.” It’s never having a place in discussions of sexuality. It’s feeling painfully grateful to see just the word “asexual” in a list of queer or variant sexual orientations. Not a discussion of that word, or any explanation of what it means, but only the word itself.

So you’ll forgive me if I’m not all agog at the idea that as an aromantic asexual, I’m “privileged” in this sense. Invisibility is not a fucking privilege. Stop trying to make it into one.

November 27, 2010

On the Importance of Lyrics

So I’m going to talk about music now. Which is funny, because usually I would rather pull teeth than talk music. I often suspect that I’m one of the very few people out there who really does not do the music-as-tribal-identity thing. More, when people around me start talking music, I quickly tune out of the conversation. Ordinarily, there are few things I like less than talking about the bands I like.

And it’s not because I don’t like music, or that I don’t think it’s important, or anything like that. Admittedly, I’m crap at doing it myself, but I enjoy listening to music just fine. I have firm opinions on what I do and don’t like and specific genre tastes, so it’s also not like I’m not interested in what I’m listening to.

This actually rather unusual for me, because my standard approach to anything I enjoy even peripherally is to run out and find out as much as I can about it. For better or for worse, I am a notoriously enthusiastic person; there are very few things that I find irredeemably boring, and most of the time I simply ignore those altogether.

I wonder sometimes if that’s simply because I’ve never engaged with music on a deeper level. There is a lot of music about sex and romance out there. And lyrics are important to me when I listen to music; I want to know what the song is about, and because I’m often not good at actually parsing lyrics on a first go-round, I tend to listen very closely to what my music is saying. And you notice when 90% of what you’re hearing is either about romantic love in some form or about the actual act of fucking.

It wears on you. And it’s not exactly welcoming to the wide world of lyrical music, either, not when it’s being made so clear that the stories these songs tell aren’t meant for you, aren’t meant as something you can nod along with.

In fact, the first really angry “really, world?” rage I had, growing up, was about music. Because there was so much about sex and romance, and there was so very little about friendship or anything that I could see myself in, and music is ever-present in my culture. It felt very much as if there was no escaping.

I thought, then, about the songs I actually do seek out to listen to. So I brought up my iTunes “most played” list and I sorted through the songs therein. I eventually came up with only about 25 % of the songs I listen to being about either sex or romance at all, and of those the romances tended to end badly. There’s a lot of tragedies there.

Apparently this influences my taste in music much more than I thought it did.

So. I have a question, meant particularly for other aromantics but also for people in general: is this a me thing, or do others experience it, too?

November 22, 2010

On Pedestals, And Why I Fear Them

I am a young asexual woman. I am not sexually active now and never have been, and I’m not especially interested in ever becoming so. The reaction that some people have been known to have to my sexuality is amusing and infuriating all at once. I have been called “pure,” “chaste,” asked to divulge my magical secret of being able to resist the desires I must surely have.

Which erases the fact of my sexuality, by presuming that I must be resisting anything. It cheapens what I am to assume that it is derives from some sort of act of will; it erases my realness by presuming that no one could ever just be uninterested. But it is the presumption that my asexuality is a sign of some great purity of my soul that angers me most.

I am not pure, particularly not in the sense of transcending human failings. I am as flawed as anyone else. Allow me to make that clear, because purity implies that I am somehow above humanity, not part of it. And that’s a dangerous implication to make, because for better or worse, we cherish those we see as human in ways we do not cherish those we see as otherwise. It is not a coincidence that we anthropomorphize things that we wish to understand, nor that we dehumanize things we wish to destroy.

In the philosophy cherished by such people, asexuals are placed on pedestals, elevated loftily above the impure, filthy masses. We are angels, we are holy, we are good and sweet and light. We aren’t people, though, not people who have a tendency to say ‘fuck’ a lot and a filthy sense of humor and their own opinions on the system of morality we’re being shoehorned into.

Which is wrong in so many ways, really. Sex is not inherently bad. And people oughtn’t be judged on their goodness based entirely on the kinds of sex they like to have or don’t.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about pedestals, it’s that they’re constricting. You have to stand in one place; you can’t actually move about or do anything without falling off. And you will fall off, eventually, even if it only comes down to someone who dislikes you giving you a good shove. The taller the pedestal is, the harder you fall. Fuck that, I say. I’d rather stand honestly on the ground.

Asexual people aren’t devalued in the same way as gay and bi people are by people who hold such sex-negative views. Indeed, we’re prone to receive compliments, or the odd nonasexual person who enters asexual communities asking how they, too, can become asexual. With increasing visibility, I doubt we’ll be declared a sin, nor that we’ll see such hostile anti-asexuality emanating from the socially conservative.

But that doesn’t mean that asexuals will be accepted for what we are. My suspicion is that asexuality is likely to continue to be treated with something akin to benevolent heterosexism as visibility increases. That we’ll be held up as model minorities, the “right” kind of queerness, as long as we stay nicely nonthreatening and quietly out of the way. We’ll be free of explicit pushback if we hold our place on the lovely nice pedestal they’ve built for us; we’ll be lauded, even, for being specially free of such temptation.

Who could be displeased with that?

November 15, 2010

Reflections

Growing up, this book was one of the most important things in the world to me. And it’s not because it was a perfect representation of asexuality or anything, because holy shit is it ever not. Among other things, most actual asexual people have neither been gang-raped or sworn a holy vow of celibacy. (And yet Tarma was the only asexual model I had growing up, particularly in that strange twilight between which I started getting an inkling that I was not like all the other girls and when I found the words “aromantic asexual” to describe myself.)

When I wrote about asexuality as portrayed in media, I was focusing on the works themselves. Now I would like to focus on the way we react to those works.

I think communities like asexual_fandom and, more broadly, lgbtfest do a great service to the rest of us, that way. I think transformative works have a lot of potential to help us tell our own stories in our own way, because the cost of entry for derivative works is so very low. It’s so much harder to get an actual publisher to take up one’s work than it is to merely publish it on the Internet, for one thing.

I wonder, sometimes, how to strike that balance between wanting to see more asexual characters and wanting to see more asexual characters who aren’t embodying an offensive stereotype. (And perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to it, being autistic and having serious issues with the similar conflation of autism and sociopathy.) Because there are so damn few of us out there, and almost none of them are actually written by asexual people. In fact, most of them don’t even seem to have been written by people who made a half-assed attempt to connect with actual asexual people.

It makes me angry that I have to make that trade-off. It reminds me of my reaction to reading Guardian of the Dead, in fact, which has a semi-minor asexual character and did it right. I’d gotten the book, read it, and cycled through elation and excitement and then grateful. Really grateful. And then, being myself, into anger, not at Ms. Healey but at the whole world. Because what kind of world is it where I feel grateful for reading a single book? What kind of world is it, where seeing a character with the same orientation as me is an occasion for great joy, where the sudden cessation of invisibility is a moment for wonder?

In the absence of a better world, I make trade-offs.

I watch The Big Bang Theory, even though I find it problematic as hell. (And growing more so, I think, with the “but they’re REALLY dating” dancing about it has been doing with the Amy/Sheldon arc.) And there are bits of it I like, but there are so many that make me cringe, and cringe, and cringe, but I put up with them anyway because where am I going to find another aromantic character whose orientation is actually sort of slightly respected by the writers and discussed? (Certainly it’s not respected by the fandom.) And I reread Oathbound even though the old hackneyed trope of gang-rape changing a person’s sexuality makes me cringe.

I’d like a world where The Oathbound is a cringe-worthy portrayal of asexuality rather than one of the better ones, please. I think I might be satisfied then.

November 7, 2010

What Fictional Asexuals Say About Us

Filed under: Visibility — Sciatrix @ 1:46 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The recent popularity of Sherlock in fandom and in the ace community as a whole is making me think: Why are so many asexual icons written as totally alien? This is particularly true of aromantic asexuals. We are sociopaths, or uninterested in connecting with others. Or we are aliens, or we are robots.

I’m not speaking only of the new Sherlock adaptation here. We have Sheldon Cooper, who is consistently described as an alien or as a robot in a human body. We have Rorschach, who is quite literally friendless. I remember when it was Dexter, who is not only a sociopath but a serial killer. Even the iconic Dr. Who is, when you get down to brass tacks, an alien.

(I have tried to figure out whether this is a specifically aromantic or asexual stereotype, with little success because romantic asexual characters are so rare and aromantic sexual characters are essentially nonexistent. SlightlyMetaphysical has pointed out that this may simply be because mainstream culture tends to promote an extremely fused view of sexuality, such that romantic asexuality is not immediately intuitive to people who are not intimately familiar with asexuality. Aromantic sexuality is even less so.)

The fact that many, many portrayals of asexual characters are found in speculative fiction is not, I feel, a coincidence.

Again, the message: You are, to us, unable to connect with us. You are without emotion, without love. You are, in short, inhuman. This is a stereotype. It reflects mainstream society’s belief that experiencing sexual and romantic attraction is central to emotional connection. More, it claims that because of who we are, we wouldn’t have any interest in connecting with other people anyway–and I think the discussions currently happening in the asexosphere put the lie to that.

Why is this important? After all, they’re only stories, and stories written by people who have almost certainly never heard of the asexual community at that. They’re not written for us, after all. They’re written for sexual people.

But they reflect ingrained attitudes about sex and about romance which can hurt us. They reflect and ingrain ideas about what it means to experience intimacy which imply that we do not experience these things. And those ideas written into the heart of mainstream culture can most certainly hurt us. Those ideas can make it harder for us to connect. They can create assumptions about who we are in the minds of those we come out to. Those assumptions can make it so much harder to be out in the first place, or to be out and find intimacy in whatever shape we most crave.

What’s more, these stories help to ingrain those ideas in the first place. We learn about what the world is like through stories. Oh, certainly, we might as adults demand hard statistics and numbers, but the most hopeless rhetorician knows that to really make any lesson or argument take hold, you tell a story to illustrate it. We humans are social creatures. Telling stories about people can humanize them, make them real in the minds of the listeners–and just as surely stories can dehumanize people, too, and make them less real in the minds of the powerful. For in this lens, asexual people–we are not the powerful.

If anyone has ever met an asexual who managed to scrabble to adulthood without hearing the stories of nonasexual people told over and over again, in infinite variety and detail, showcasing the diversity inherent in nonasexual lives–well, I’d love to meet that person, although I confess I would wonder whether they grew up in a windowless cell. By contrast, the number of nonasexual people who have heard the stories of asexual people at all number considerably fewer. You really have to seek us out to find anything at all, and we often live in subtext when we find analogues to ourselves at all. And if you’re part of the mainstream, why would you be seeking out subtext to begin with?

Stories are important. The stories which get told about us reflect the way the storytellers see us. And I for one am not necessarily pleased by the implications I see.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.