Thursday, November 25, 2010

I have been told many things since I started coming out as asexual. I have been told not to label myself. I have been told not to restrict myself. I have been told that I don't know who I am. I have been told that I try too hard to figure myself out. I have been told that I will change my mind, and I have been told that I am wrong. I have been told that it is oppressive for me to call myself anything other than queer. It is this idea I want to address, that using a word other than queer to define yourself as a queer person is both too limiting and somehow problematic.

I am aware that the words homosexual and heterosexual are medical terms which basically serve the purpose of delineating normal bodies from abnormal bodies. I am also aware that there are many queers (among them some of my friends), who believe that words other than queer--words like lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc--are oppressive to queer people because they reinforce difference and heteronormativity. Some people think that even using the word queer is playing the heteronormativity game.

When you tell a queer person that they are being oppressive by defining themselves, you are participating in a patriarchal practice as old as patriarchy itself. You are dominating and controlling a person by silencing them, taking their voice away. The worst part is that if you are queer and you tell other queers that their identities are wrong, you are oppressing your own allies who are already oppressed all the time.

Who is winning? When you tell a lesbian that her label is old-fashioned or that it is too narrow (too narrow for whom?), who benefits from this? When you tell a heterosexual queer person that they can never be queer if they continue to call themselves heterosexual, and that they can only be an ally, who benefits? When you tell an asexual person that they are limiting themselves, that they are confused, or repressed, who benefits from this?

To use the words of Audre Lorde, "if I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive." We need our words to understand ourselves, to find each other, to figure out our boundaries and our needs. If you don't need words that is your business, but it is hurtful to tell others to abandon their chosen identities when they may need them for their own survival.

On the flipside, I would like to extend my gratitude to my friends and allies who have nurtured me and taken the time to explore new possibilities for sexualities. I am thankful for your continued support and your enthusiasm, which never ceases to uplift my spirit. I only hope that I can be as nurturing to you as you have been to me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sensual Celibacy

Has anyone read Sensual Celibacy by Donna Marie Williams? I would like to hear some opinions of this book from asexuals and gray-asexuals. I am considering reading it, although I'm certain that her book is directed toward non-asexuals. Also I don't know that I am personally interested in choosing celibacy, although not engaging in sex (due to asexuality) has been my lifestyle for a long time now. However, I have to wonder if there are things in this book that could be relevant to asexuals or that would validate not engaging in sex while being sex-positive. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Talk It Out.

Something I express strong opinions about is setting up and negotiating boundaries within your relationships, especially if they have romantic and/or sexual components, in order to avoid dysfunction, pain, cheating, etc. This boundary setting can happen with friends, family, romantic partners, your friend's romantic partners, your romantic partner's other partners, your study buddies, etc. Stating how you feel about a relationship and checking in regularly is a good way to maintain your own health as well as the health of your relationships.

However, I have to admit that this doesn't always play out well in my own life. Today I had a conversation with a friend on the subject of communicating about the direction or shape a relationship takes while within it. Personally, I tend not to communicate beyond "I want to be your friend," "I enjoy your company," and "let's hang out." I do not usually bring up behaviors that I expect to be reciprocal and tend to let my friendships develop as they do. I don't enjoy setting up boundaries or giving names to my relationships. If I express discontent or try to set up boundaries and expectations, it's usually because I have been hiding my feelings.

This has posed a huge problem when it comes to romantic relationships for me, and I wonder if this is similar for other asexuals who have difficulty forming romantic relationships. I have very little practice at making my intentions clear and asking for what I want, and so what happens is that I either treat the situation as if it were a typical friendship, or I end up putting a lot of emotional pressure on the person I'm interested in without fully explaining what's happening for me and what I want. I need to work on this more seriously and hope that this post will help motivate me.

In my ideal world, however, communicating about relationships would happen all the time. I feel almost silly bringing up this topic because I think most people would agree that communication is important. Yet, so many of us (asexual or not) are desperate for love and/or cynical about it, not knowing how to obtain it or how to share it. I also think that this trouble is related to difficulty with communication. I don't mean to suggest that one has to communicate their feelings face-to-face all the time--I tend to express myself best in writing and know that many people have a similar communication style. What really matters, in my mind, is taking the time to express yourself and being willing to step back and listen with an open mind. How long this takes would vary each time that it happens and with each person. Like all good things, healthy communication takes patience.

People express their feelings of love in many different ways. Someone told me a couple months ago that they considered sex to be the highest expression of love. In some families, offering care is a way of expressing love. Sometimes giving gifts or doing favors is a way of expressing love. These are all expressions which are valuable, but in and of themselves none of these is love and none can take the place of communication. One can have sex without communicating and without loving; one can care for another without communicating and without loving; one can give a gift without communicating and without loving. Communication itself is not love either, but I believe it is the only method that is guaranteed to express your feelings about a person and about a relationship as accurately as possible.

Note: I was inspired to write this post after a community discussion on consent and intoxication that my friends and I put together. I believe that obtaining consent before engaging in any activity with someone, sexual or otherwise, is of utmost important. This post arose out of the realization that before we can even talk about obtaining consent, we have to acknowledge the importance of communication, period. If consent is an ongoing process, then so is communication. And if communication is blocked, difficult, or avoided, how can one even begin to practice consent?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What did we learn from our first gathering?

In the spirit of second-wave feminist consciousness raising stories, I'm going to share a couple stories with you today. If you don't like personal experience stories, go read about worm therapy or something. A few days ago I read "Poets Live The Questions: Jewell Gomez & Minnie Bruce Pratt" from This Is What A Lesbian Looks Like. My mind travelled off in remembrance when I read the question:

What did we learn about living from our first lesbian and gay gathering, event, dance, night at the bar?

I'm going to answer this by going into the first queer gathering I can remember, and then the first asexual gathering.

I must have been about 11 years old the first time I went to a queer gathering. I had no idea where I was going or who would be there, but one day my older brother C invited me to a party that his co-workers were having. C was working at booth that sold used books at the local street fair at the time, and he was roughly 16 years old. He rarely wanted to spend time with me, and had since my early childhood been verbally abusive to me. At that age I still wanted to be his friend and to have a good relationship with him, so although I was struck by the randomness of his invitation, I was grateful for the chance to spend time with him.

I didn't know anyone at the party other than my brother. If I had to guess I would put the average age of the attendees at 35, and most of them appeared to be woman-identified and were in lesbian relationships. I'm not just guessing that they were in lesbian relationships based on haircuts or clothes, rather they were paired off and sitting on each other's laps, holding hands, kissing each other, etc.

I remember sitting in a plastic lawn chair eating potato chips, watching my brother talk to people at the party, and shyly glancing at the other attendees out of the corner of my eye. I didn't stare at anybody because that would be rude. I was silent the whole time because I didn't know what to talk about and the attendees were absorbed in their own conversations. Why should they care about their teenage co-worker's kid sister? It wasn't an unpleasant or hostile environment, just kind of boring and awkward because I didn't know anybody, there were no other children present, and my brother was being social with other people. In retrospect, I think he only invited me because he felt that he needed a buffer, some kind of "feminine" presence to offset his hetero masculinity. I can only assume this based on what I know about my brother.

At the time this gathering was no big deal to me, even though to my knowledge I'd never seen a lesbian couple displaying affection before. I didn't know the word lesbian at the time, but it was obvious to me that they were couples similar to the way that I'd seen men and women together. It wasn't a big deal, but the memory has remained with me a decade after it happened although I was only at the party for perhaps a half an hour. Regardless of the short amount of time that I was there and my feelings about what I saw, I do believe that being present at this gathering impacted my feelings about homosexuality and queerness in general.

Shortly after the gathering I learned the words gay and lesbian, though I don't recall how. Probably through the internet. I do know that I was immediately accepting of homosexuality and that I recognized my own affectionate feelings towards both men and women (I came out in certain circles as bisexual at the age of 12). It is doubtful that I could have felt supportive of homosexuality at that age just out of the goodness of my heart, considering how heteronormative the culture I grew up in was. So in some respects I attribute my automatic positive feelings about homosexuality to my experience at that gathering, where people were just being themselves and having a good time. How could I have thought there was something wrong about that?

As far as my first asexual gathering, that happened this year. I can't remember if it was in February or March, but it was a lecture at Portland State University given by the Portland Aces meetup group. Most of the information wasn't new to me because I'd already been doing my own research, but I wanted to hear what they had to say, and honestly I wanted to look at and be in the presence of people who identified as asexual. The number of people there filled a small classroom. I think there were roughly 30 people in attendance, with multiple genders and ages represented. The lecture was fine, accurate, but like I said it wasn't anything new. What was really cool was after the lecture, during the questions, about half of the attendees came out as asexual or questioning. Some of these people admitted that this was the first time they'd heard about asexuality, yet they felt it described them. I didn't come out, but I did put myself on the mailing list. I haven't heard from the meetup group since then, though.

The more I think about it, the more I think that this was totally awesome. A mass coming-out of sorts!  I've never witnessed anything like that, really. This affirms for me something that I've questioned as I've come out (again and again), which is that asexuality is probably more common than it would seem from statistics (1%, anyone?). People tell me that they relate to asexuality quite often now, whether they feel fully asexual or think they might be demi, or just experience sexual attraction in a way that isn't represented by the dominant paradigm. So I suppose what I learned from this gathering is that aces are everywhere, just waiting to pop up and surprise you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

You Have A Sexuality

Besides being confused about what the definition of asexual means, many people are also confused about it being a sexuality. I've read on AVEN and heard people describe to me in person that they feel that they "don't have a sexuality," and are therefore asexual. Moreover, this is often followed with "I'm nothing."

This is both inherently contradictory and a reflection of the way that sexuality is linked with personhood.

This should be straightforward. Asexuality = sexual orientation = sexuality. If you are asexual, your sexuality is defined by not being sexually attracted to anyone. It is a state of being. Your asexuality also shapes your interactions with other people as much as any sexuality does for anyone. You create relationships with people the way that you do because of your sexuality. You may do this differently than people with other kinds of sexualities, but your difference doesn't mean you don't have a sexuality.

Next, I should add that if you are asexual and describe yourself as "nothing," you're doing an injustice to yourself and are basically stating that you're not a person (whether this was your intention or not). A person is so much more than who they want to have sex with and how much sex they're having. Are people who aren't asexual "something," just because they feel sexual attraction? Perhaps you've been conditioned to believe that sexual attraction and being sexual are the most important parts of being human. Well, people who are not asexual are something, and you're something, too. You're an asexual, and you're many other things as well. You have hobbies, you have people in your life, you're talented at some things and not at others, you have likes and dislikes. I'm not trying to go on a "you're a special starfish" rant here, but basically everyone is "something" regardless of the kinds of relationships they want to form.

There may indeed be something inherently sexist about the assumption that all people are sexual, and therefore if you're not sexual you're not a person. Until a few decades a go it was accepted by Western medical practitioners (and in Western culture generally) that women could not have sex with each other, and that sex was something that only a man could have. It was also believed (again until recently, due to scientific inquiry) that women were not actually human, or if they were, they were subhuman men who didn't have enough heat in their bodies to create an external penis (the vagina was believed to be a penis that the body was too weak to push out, so to speak). Although in many cultures it is now accepted that women are human and can have sex without a penis, the notion that sex = male, only males = human and sex = human still has a lingering affect on how people are treated for being queer, not just asexual.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

DeviantArt...not so deviant.

This is off the ace theme, but I figure since many of us (myself included) do not fit into the gender binary that there should be some interest amongst my readers.

So in May DeviantArt changed their design so that users no longer have the option of declaring a gender outside of the binary.

Check out this blog post. It chronicles the complaints of one user and the bigotry and sexism of DevArt staff.

I stopped using DevArt a few years ago, but I was thinking recently about joining again because I need a place to stash my art online for free. Absolutely not happening now, though. I am sending in a complaint, and a friend of mine informed me that she sent in one and apparently they are logging all the complaints in order to make a decision.

Please spread the word!