Writing From Factor X

September 24, 2011

Pulling Out the Brain Worms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is some seriously fucked-up shit, guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it also means I might have something to gain.

July 11, 2011

My Thoughts on the Word “Zucchini”

So I lurk around discussions a lot, and lately I’ve been seeing a bunch of people discuss “zucchini” used in a queerplatonic context. Which is really really awesome. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome I find that. But one of the things I also see a lot is people looking at the word “zucchini” in particular and going “that’s just silly!”

Okay. The thing about “zucchini” is that it’s meant to be a little silly. Here’s a situation between two people that the English language has absolutely no words to describe it. There aren’t even good roots to use to make a short, unwieldy, easy-to-say alternative (although “queerplatonic” is a good try). So we use a random vegetable, because why not?

Actually, let’s give out a short history of the word “zucchini” in this context, because it seems to me that a lot of people don’t know where it comes from. Last December, Kaz wrote a post discussing zer confusing, blurring-the-lines romantic orientation. In the comments, ze and meloukhia (who also goes by s.e. smith elsewhere on the internet) got to discussing the total lack of words available for talking about relationships that blur the lines between what is traditionally considered friendship and what is traditionally considered romantic relationships. Meloukhia made a joke (“Ok, I am now referring to these kinds of relationships as zucchini. This is official, and so shall it be.”) and the word took off.

Let me repeat that: the word “zucchini” used in a relationship context started as a joke.

Half the fun of “zucchini” as terminology (and “squash,” and other puns) is that it’s totally silly. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s slangy and fun and absurd and colloquial. It makes no sense when you think about it. And that works, because there actually aren’t words in the English language that do make sense when you think about them for the kinds of relationships we’re discussing–everything either gets subsumed under the devaluation that gets attached to words like “friend” or has been taken to refer to romantic relationships. “Zucchini” isn’t entirely meant to take itself seriously in the first place.

And yet on a different, deadly serious level I am ridiculously attached to the word “zucchini.” Seriously, any time I see it criticized as a silly, unnecessary word I wilt a little and get defensive–including, for crying out loud, when Elizabeth described an entirely hypothetical person who thought it sounded stupid in her recent communities post.

So let me talk about why that is here.

I have spent an absurd amount of time questioning and re-questioning what my romantic orientation is in the past three years. I have sat up nights wondering if I’m lying to myself about my romantic feelings, if I’m repressing romantic attraction and the way I feel about my friends is just that bleeding through. I have spent hours and hours trying to figure out what I am, who I am, because the kinds of relationships I want don’t seem romantic and trying to shove them into the boxes my culture assigns to “romantic relationships” seems unpleasant and strange–but they don’t into fit into the boxes it assigns to “friendship,” either.

I have never wanted to be uncategorizable. I know that some people enjoy the opportunity to cast off labels, but I have always preferred to find a succinct descriptor of myself. Labels mean that I can find other people like me to share my experiences with–being so unique that I can’t be labeled is a nice idea, but it also means being isolated and alone. I hate feeling alone.

The discussions that have been happening in the past six months about queerplatonic relationships and zucchinis and squashes have been the first steps that have helped me to figure out what I actually am. Even better, they’ve shown me that I’m not alone–that I’m not the only person who wants relationships like this. My most heartfelt fantasy is in essence a Boston marriage, and the discussions I’ve been having recently have shown me that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks like that.

And even better, words like “zucchini” and “squash” have given me vocabulary to talk about my dreams and my hopes and my current relationships so much more effectively than I could otherwise. I mentioned a few weeks ago that there’s a relationship in my life that is not going well–well, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been going on with this relationship for three years now, and developing terms like these is what has given me the tools to understand what’s happening. (They’ve also given me the perspective to walk away, because in many ways this relationship is badly unbalanced and I keep getting hurt on it. Without understanding why those balance problems persist, I would probably keep emotionally hurting myself over and over as I have been doing for, as mentioned, years.)

That’s another thing: words shape our thoughts. If no word exists in a language to describe a thing, it’s almost impossible to discuss that concept, at least not without convoluted circumlocutions. Lack of words becomes a way to silence minority viewpoints.

Right now, “zucchini” is the only word I can use to describe these kinds of relationships, except possibly the unwieldy “person I am in a queerplatonic relationship with.” I’m attached to “zucchini” because these discussions are very, very important for me to have. It’s a silly word on the surface–but under that surface, I’m deadly serious when I use it.

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