A-Spec: Equality For Lack of a Romantic Orientation (and Gender)

)My Carnival of Aces and Carnival of Aros contribution for the February edition hosted by TAAAP.

Despite the fact that I have spent the last year in knots over starting to identify as panromantic and as queer as consequence of that, because loaded term, I cheerfully announced I considered aromanticism to fall under the asexuality umbrella two posts ago. By the same token, non-cis identities are in my mind closely related to the asexual community because that’s where I met multiple people speaking about it, even if only in the blogosphere.

So here’s me reflecting on my own language because that’s very, very healthy and also, I hope it will make me a more polite individual. Let’s take this in steps, shall we?

Concerning both aromantic and non-binary identities I am an ally, not a community member. I meet them in the ace community but I should really pay more attention to the fact that that’s not all they’re part of… identities are layered.

I have seen the term a-spectrum floating around as umbrella term, and if I may quote the a-positive tumblr FAQ*:  “The a-spec refers to anyone who feels they are absent of a usual part of the identity. It includes Agender people, who feel they lack/are absent of gender, Aromantic people who don’t feel romantic attraction, and Asexual people, who don’t feel sexual attraction. It also includes Demisexuals and Demiromantics, who feel that they partially or fully lack romantic and/or sexual attraction until they have formed a bond with an individual.” (I’d like to add grey- labels here, at the very least.)

My use of asexuality as umbrella term comes in large part from first changing my sexual orientation and only recently adopting a solid romantic orientation, meaning it still feels small and strange. I shouldn’t let that feeling translate into failing to recognise aromantic as equal to asexual.

We are progressing in our understanding of a-spectrum identities. All the more reason for me to pay attention and move with the times, rather than get stuck on how I spoke and thought when I entered the community.

I feel the distinction between sexual and romantic orientation is most important when you are a-spec on any level. I tend to talk about “orientation” or “nature” (geaardheid) if I talk about the two in general to outsiders. But now that I’m settling into the panromantic orientation I feel it’s as much a part of me as being demisexual. It even matters more in terms of why I feel queer and why I have issues with my church.

So I’m glad people are shedding a spotlight on the importance of romantic attraction and whether they feel it. I need some educating as well and that’s talking as member of the ace community.

* To be clear: I haven’t read the blog so I don’t know if I can recommend them but I liked their definition.

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January’s Carnival of Aces Round-up

The theme was “Asexuality as a blessing”.

Varian writes about love in “Platonic “I Love Yous”, and Other Blessings.”

Perfect Number talks about how glad she was to be asexual and married to a non-Christian in “My Husband Is Not The Entire Focus Of My Sex Life.”

Kaikiky appreciates being ace, aro and sex-repulsed in their Carnival of Aces contribution.

Lib wonders whether asexuality is a “Blessing or Indifferent?

Blue-Ice Tea reflects on the difference between asexuality and demisexuality and the difficulties occasional sexual attraction can cause in “Asexuality: A Blessing I Wish I Had.”

luvtheheaven reflects on asexuality being a fundamental part of their experience, even if it’s not necessarily a blessing and points to a lot of good resources over the course of “Feeling Fortunate For My Circumstances.”

As well as Danielle’s wonderfully titled post (oh God, the plot bunny just bit): “The Blessings of Being an Alien.”

And finally my own late contribution, in which I rather fail to see asexuality as a blessing but reflect on what the last year’s brought instead, “I’m queer and I love Jesus, but not my church”.

And that’s it! Thanks for all the contributions. For the February edition, please head over to the Call for Submissions on The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project site.

There’s also a new sister festival for Aros which you can find here, which will go its own way after the collaboration in February. Go follow the blog!

And if I missed any, please let me know!

I’m queer and I love Jesus, but not my church

I am incredibly late to the January edition of the Carnival (this being the second Friday in February) and it’s pretty much to do with this post. I wanted to close the book on my struggling with the church and move on with my life, and do it by seeing what good came out of asexuality and celebrate that… but it’s too close and I’ve followed that stupid, stupid cliche where you start writing something only to trash it, until you’ve a whole pile and your thoughts are all tangled.

Still it wouldn’t leave me alone. So here are, in random order, what good has come out of my internalised religious queerphobia in a more depressing post than I’d been intending to write. Please pay attention to what it says on the tin: discussion of prejudice. If you’re new to this blog: I use ace as umbrella for all shades of asexuality and aromanticism, transgender as umbrella for anyone not cisgender and queer as umbrella for anything not cisgender and heterosexual.

1. “Love the queer person, hate the sin” is lampshading.

You can be queer as a newbie. You can be queer if you’re celibate. You can be queer if you’re not like those other queers. This is the narrative that has sprung up in the church with the rising visibility of homosexuality and transgender folks. Its purpose is bridging the paradox between “All people may follow God” and “Queer people are so wrong they can’t enter God’s Kingdom”. The result being, a church may say they are inclusive even when they aren’t. They will truly believe that they accept all people and don’t understand when they’re called on their prejudice.
Lesson learned: ask what the church’s stance is not on queer orientations but on relationships. Another good check is asking what charities they support. (E.g. my previous church supported good sex ed in the fight against AIDS in Africa)

2. Love (and sex) are essential.

How people relate to each other and God are so important we literally say God is love. Not loving, but love. Not eros (romantic love), but agape, the more general love you may feel for anyone, portrayed as a choice, as active. If they accepted us, they’d make a wonderful ally against amato-normativity. So saying you love differently feels like you’re questioning the very heart of faith. Unfortunately, that’s seen as a threat rather than an opportunity for a good conversation. This also leads to sex, seen as an expression of affection, being part of that big conversation.
Lesson learned: ask what a Christian considers right and wrong on the subject of God and love and sex and you have a good conversation. Mention sexual orientation and it becomes a fight or a spiel.

3. “Sexual sin” is not (just) about sex, when done right.

The church’s talk about sexual sin is about love and relationships, not just sex. At their best, they are much-needed reflections on how humans can relate to each other in healthy ways. How to be a good partner, good family and a good friend. At worst they’re a top-down demand to conform to pre-marital abstinence and post-marital heterosexual intercourse. The latter is more relevant to aces specifically, who may want to marry without having to have sex. One assumption is always made: all people want to have sex.
Lesson learned: the church, conservative and liberal, subscribes to compulsory sexuality and will need educating. Outsiders also underestimate exactly how wide this discourse goes. The asexual community also encounters unique stumbling blocks, here, which should be taken into account when counseling Christian aces.

4. Queerphobia is mostly unspoken, unwritten, felt.

I had expectations, when my struggle with queer prejudice in my church started. Namely, that I’d either be the silent martyr that patiently suffered their misconceptions or the outspoken activist that corrected people. Neither happened. When rejection of queer people came up, it was often in passing or in a group setting. Not a place to speak out. The rest of it was the weight of the knowledge, flowing from these occasional remarks, that I’d be rejected if I came out as ace, as queer, in public. Neither did I want to upset people who confided their thoughts on homosexuality to me in private conversations. Even when I disagreed, gently, I wish to respect their privacy. What they told me is not fodder.
Lesson learned: Real life is not a story and struggling with prejudice is mostly a silent, one-sided mental fight. Invisible to the people who hurt me. The main victory is securing my own beliefs and then gathering up the courage to live as I believe is right.

5. Prejudice poisons the sanctuary.

I knew a good chunk of my church’s members disapproved of homosexuality. I discovered when my church preached acceptance of queer people, they meant they wouldn’t tell them to leave the room. They would tell them how to live their lives. I could at any moment hear a sneer, even while I passed as normal. This made me feel unsafe. I discovered that safe space, sanctuary, was essential to have a place to meet God. I cannot worship well when I am constantly bracing for incoming strikes.
Lesson learned: it wasn’t specific people but the general atmosphere that had the largest effect on me. Church is supposed to be a safe space and it wasn’t. It was a mindflip, accepting that I wasn’t a person gone wrong in the same place. That I was the same person, in a place that’d been spoiled for me.

6. Community makes it hard to leave.

Why don’t I just leave? I was asked, I asked myself. Church is a gathering place of people that can be tight-knit. It can be the only support network and social environment you have. Especially when, say, you’ve just moved to a new town, like I did. That can also mean there’s no one else to talk to, no other place to go and relax. It can make it really hard to look beyond that group and just… stall out. Even now, I feel affection for several people there that keeps me coming back.
Lesson learned: don’t leave a place that still feels like home. Instead, first grow a social circle and a support network beyond it. Find people that do accept me to break out of the mental prison first, even if I’m not ready to go.

7. I serve Jesus, not Christendom.

Going to other places, both Christian and not, as well as a good deal of reflection helped me to see I was scared of what people thought, not God. I grew up and first discovered my sexuality in a place where it was all considered fine. It’s only these last few years that far-off prejudice was echoed in my daily life by my community. I was in denial about the power that fear of rejection had over me. I didn’t want to see how bad I had started to feel about it. Mentally dividing my faith from my church on the subject of my queerness took some time. It took even more time to gather the courage to dare call myself right and my community wrong (it’s very undemocratic of me). Nevertheless, when I pray I feel loved. When I go to church I feel tense. I had to choose.
Lesson learned: in accepting myself as queer, I also needed to grow to accept that a queer person may follow Christ. I needed to accept the church, however many mouths shout however loud, can be wrong. I needed to be okay being a member of a religion where others may reject me.

While this hasn’t been a very cheerful post, I do count all these things as blessings. I have far more clarity on how to deal with queerphobia within the church. I have reconciled my faith and my asexuality again, this time including my romantic orienation and the queer label. I feel more free to believe that I do without reference to what others think. In seeking new places to belong I have met some wonderful people and I am now a lot happier. It’s a work in progress, but I’m glad it is indeed progressing.

Simple Pleasures

While I’m trying to write my own contribution to the Carnival (as host I feel I really should), I realise perhaps the best thing to come out of last year’s internalising the panromantic label. I love the little moments of thinking “hey, I can do this with potentially anyone, that’s part of who I am,” when I see a cosy cafe or a concert of a band I like or a bouquet of flowers. People are beautiful minds and gorgeous voices and I will just love them as I am granted the chance to do so. As much turmoil as I’ve felt getting to this place of acceptance, I like being here. It is a happy thought, imagining I know myself enough that I will recognise love – friendship, crush, romantic, otherwise for what it is and be able to let it grow.

Nashville Statement in the Netherlands

TW: religion and queerphobia and this is honestly a rant.

I’ve been avoiding the news… and never feeling quite so stupid over it as right now. Reason being I can’t decide if my Carnival post was accidentally relevant or really stupid and hurtful considering what’s been going on. I’ve seriously thought about withdrawing it because, goddamn it, I am so, so ashamed and angry and frustrated.

So… I want to keep this as general as possible. A group of conservative Christians, give them what title you will in the context that makes sense to you, summarised their stance against anything queer, including but not limited to: homosexuality, transgender folks, extramarital sex and Attacks on the Institutions of Holy Matrimony. This manifesto is called the Nashville Statement. Please don’t read it if you want to have a good day.

The relevant fact here is that it was translated into Dutch and then signed by several hundred pastors and other orthodox-protestant men (that’s what we’re calling them in Dutch, apparently) after they got approached about it. Including Christian politicians, scholars and pastors (from my own denomination as well). This created a lot of backlash and debate and the media ate it up.

I was living under a rock.

Someone pointed it out to me.

I came out from under my rock.

I realised I’d been living in fantasy land, again. Namely, that Dutch Christians are different, despite running across casual homophobia in my own church. Namely, that in my mind people from my denomination, the majority of people in my country couldn’t be like that. Surely. That I’d drawn a line that really wasn’t there.

No, asexuality isn’t explicitly mentioned, I don’t care. It made me sick anyway and it hit home because I am bloody well a Dutch queer Christian and this is bullshit.

The worst part? The part where one side of the public debate’s wondering how any sane person can be a believer (rather than an atheist) and the other side’s proclaiming nobody who doesn’t subscribe to this shit isn’t a real Christian.

Fucking well respect my religion and my orientation, I want to shout (at nobody). At home I’m either preaching to the choir or to people who don’t consider ace people queer (so they can reject the latter without rejecting me, in their mind). I just. I don’t know where to go with this grief and hate and these fucking, fucking tears and fists and screams jamming my throat.

I feel stupid, too. Why did I mentally separate the Christians in my own country from the rest of the church?

I feel like I should apologise, too, for being Christian, for writing about Christianity a lot on my blog. I feel like it’s offensive, right now, the mere mention.

To be honest, I feel dirty, so very, very soiled. And I don’t know what to properly do with that feeling either.

Carnival of Aces Call: Asexuality as a Blessing

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you’re able to fulfill your resolutions in a more timely fashion than I am posting this January call for submissions for the Carnival of Aces.

TW for queerphobia.

I’m snatching the hosting job for the Carnival of Aces again a few short months after the last time. I have had a theme jumping up and down in my head that I wanted to put in front of you. And, well… I’ve regained a good deal of my health which is great but it also means I’ll have more of a life, with stuff in it.

If you’re just here for the prompt, skip to the big, bold, centred sentence near the bottom of the post.

Bear with me as I explain where I’m coming from… that our orientation shouldn’t just be tolerated, but celebrated. Especially in the face of prejudice and dismissal.
Unerased and Celibacy

I have spent a year very conflicted about the acephobia and queerphobia in my religion. Especially because of my romantic orientation (pan, not hetero), which made me feel more queer. I have found some peace listening to the podcast “Unerased: Smid” from Radiolab, which summarised the formation of homophobia in its current incarnation among American Christians. I highly recommend it. It helped me make sense of the prejudice and also gave me some pointers as to how to counter it and move beyond it.

I also switched tacks in reading up about living without sex as a Christian, which I do as part of my research for writing about being an asexual Christian. Literature about Catholic clergy encouraging each other to live healthy celibate lives has proven a lot more constructive than reading about Protestants commanding their children to be abstinent. It also helped me distinguish between disregarding sexual attraction as choice and not feeling sexual attraction by nature, even when at first glance it may lead to a similar lifestyle.

What We Are Not

A lot of acephobia seems to stem from a single preconceived notion in Christendom. One that’s probably shared among a lot of religions and cultures. It is: all healthy, adult humans feel sexual attraction. God (or divine power of your choice) created them thus and therefore it should be so. Or evolution demands it. We call that “compulsory sexuality”.

The emergence of other sexual orientations questioned whether we should only have partners from the opposite sex. Our existence begs the question whether humans ought to have sexual desire (or romantic love) at all to live a full and happy life. It boggles the minds of people who can’t imagine what it’s like to not feel sexual attraction. Something must be wrong, or missing.

I have found the opposite to be true. Exploring sexuality (and gender) often helps in growing up and getting to know yourself. Being honest about desires leads to self-acceptance and healthier relationships. Living a life true to yourself is a big blessing, even if it is hard.

What we are is good (not just fine)

So I want to start the New Year with this theme. Not only is asexuality fine, shrug and move on… Asexuality can be good, very good. Trying to imagine my life with and without the concept, the identity, I would have been all the poorer for it.

I’m very curious if that’s true for you too. So here’s the proposed theme for the month:

Asexuality can be a blessing and here’s how…

I don’t mean blessing as coming from God, though you can take it that way if you like. I mean blessing as in a source of bliss, good change, a happier or more meaningful life.

I invite you to be critical of the idea, too.

I also challenge you to write about your own (a)sexual and (a)romantic orientation when taking this on.

Posting

If you’ve a contribution to the Carnival of Aces, please post a link in the comments or send me a message at demiandproud@gmail.com. Feel free to send your response directly if you’d like me to host it as guest post.

Further reading and listening

“UnErased: Smid” a podcast from Radiolab

The political provocations of asexuality (short article)
How Mainstream Media Has Left the Asexual Members of the LGBTQIA+ Community Behind (long article)

 

Leavings

“Crumbs are cake too.” Her

Fingers pressed them together

“Often left.” She ate.

Relieved

Done with his duties

He left his life, relieved

A stranger to joy

Healthy Variety

With tomato cheeks, I ask

Leave the lettuce in the bag

Keep all cucumbers cool, now

Zucchini’s the desired base

Of our salad, if it’s okay

Constructive Words For “Not Having Sex”?

Continued from “Let’s Talk About ‘Not Having Sex'” and “Destructive Words For “Not Having Sex”

The words I’m considering helpful in coming out and discussing not having sex in various contexts.

Asexuality – a natural or biological inclination to rarely or never feel sexual attraction. In short, the label for people who Mother Nature or God or evolution designed to be inclined not to have sex. Not an essentialistic description of entire races or genders or other groups. Not “lacking in functional genitals” or “lacking in libido” or “unattractive”. It is instead a useful term to say “I do not actively feel lust or arousal towards a person of any gender” with several labels available to give that more nuance, such as “rarely” or “in these very specific circumstances”.

Its primary use is describing “not (being inclined to) having sex” as a state of being, an orientation.

Celibacy – the choice to temporarily or permanently disengage from sexual activity. In short, the label for people who for personal, religious or other reasons decide not to have sex. This word lacks the implication “purity” has that one is better. It describes behaviour or a decision of an individual where “chastity” is more likely to be used in a judgment call. It lacks the deterministic implication that it precedes marriage.

Its primary use is in being the best candidate for a term to describe “not having sex” as choice and conscious behaviour.

Repression (when discussing sexual behaviour) – being barred from either wishing to engage in sexual behaviour or acting upon a desire to be sexually active. Can occur for an individual or in a community. Mental conditions or subconcious choices may lead to it, such as high stress or internalised queerphobia. Social limitations may include peer pressure or a criminalisation of sexual behaviour. May have neutral but, more often, a negative connotation.

Its primary use would be in describing a state of “not having sex” that is not by choice and feels more as stemming from experience/the mind/circumstances than natural/biological.

I find this third word to be more problematic… Because for others I think it may be as toxic as abstinence is to me. Plus there’s the conflation of asexuality and sexual repression that’s used to deny asexuality as a legitimate label.

The Asexual Agenda

Furthering upper-level discussions of asexuality

A Carnival of Aros

An Aromantic / Aro-Spec Blogging Carnival

Queering Closeness

Thoughts on the intersection of aromantic and polyamorous experiences

The Dancing Trans

A nonbinary dancer navigating the complexities of dance and society

A Space For Me

Sometimes, I have a lot to say

God Be With Us, Asexuals

Through the bible in 3 years as queer.

The Realm of Asexual Possibility

Ace reviews of five seasons of The X-Files