Category Archives: Asexuality and Christianity
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.
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.
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.
If you’ve a contribution to the Carnival of Aces, please post a link in the comments or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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)
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.
Trigger warning: explicit discussion of Christian prejudice around sex.
I have come to find these words so poisoned by their current usage that I believe I need to give them up if I talk about not having sex.
Purity/Chastity (in English among Christians) – While these used to mean “being good and whole” and “choosing to act righteously” they are now both used foremost mean “not having sex except with your spouse”. Purity (culture) has come to describe the collective of conservative individuals and institutions that enforce this norm at the cost of personal freedom, human rights and individual welfare. I hate this perversion of two useful words, for a state of goodness and courteous behaviour. Now they’re just a verbal and mental chastity belt for the unmarried. I hate the moral stance and community associated with this word. I believe they act in direct contradiction to how Jesus would act.
Abstinence (among Christians) – If I translate it to Dutch (onthouding) and back to English I get “keeping away”. Its general use I don’t mind. In fact, I agree that it’s easier to keep away from (food, gaming, alcohol, sex) completely than to limit it, if something is harmful to you. In a religious context, I’d equate this to fasting, to abstain from something to improve your life or facilitate meditation.
I dislike abstinence when it refers to not having extramarital sex. The enforcement is always external. Parents, employers, schools, law makers and even health insurance companies are told to make younger people abstinent. They can choose their religion but not their relationships, it implies. They are helpless victims in the face of their own sex drive (boys) or predators (girls). That anything sexual is considered sinful unless “sanctified” by marriage doesn’t help with the fear-mongering.
Virginity – Virgin (maagd) meant only maiden or damsel-in-distress in old-fashioned Dutch when I grew up. When we spoke about morally correct behaviour, both in church and in school, we used the terms “sexually faithful” (to describe the ideal the church was striving for) and “sexually active” to describe someone who is having sex and a denial to describe the opposite. Emphasising it’s behaviour, not magic transformation, for good or ill.
I have found this emphasis on sex as activity and choice to be very empowering. Discussing sex as physical intimacu and what that means is a positive and constructive way to discuss biblical ideas without judging people. It’s also closer to the source material, the emphasis on well-considered and respectful behaviour in a relationship. Not an obsession with the preamble or the legal institution. It also allows for the discussion of how other people may make other choices because they follow other principles without condemning them out of hand.
A second reason I dislike the concept of virginity is because I believe it leads to superstition and false teaching.
Superstition: ‘virginity’ is an abstract, near-magical thing you can lose, akin to holiness, which elevates you above the rest of humanity. If you have it, it makes you an object to be protected or sacrificed or violated.
False teaching: correct sexual behaviour is more important than any other choice you make. It may condemn you to hell regardless of anything else you do in life. It supersedes even your choice to become a Christian. So long as you only have heterosexual intramarital sex God will love you best.
If being an asexual Christian has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not a better person for not wishing to have sex. I’m an equal mess of good and bad to any other human, with my own unique failings.
For December’s Carnival of Aces, I wanted to consider the question: have I ever experienced burn-out in ace activities? And, well, there’s three false claims I’ve been beating my head against over and over again: having sex is wrong, queer people are evil and everyone wants to have sex.
It’s exhausting and self-defeating.
The most succesful strategies I have are:
a) to have a strong and clear conviction on the topic so I don’t feel overwhelmed in the face of others’ opinions and prejudice.
b) to express my views in a way others understand while still respecting their opinion, because both of those are important to me.
I need to define my position on this topic in four contexts. As family or friend, I have conversations about love, loneliness and longing. As a panromantic demisexual, I blog about my personal reflections in the online asexual community. These both feel safe and supportive.
I also live in more public domains. As a partially closeted queer Christian, I have a love-hate relationship with my congregation and the worldwide church. As an asexual-spectrum person I engage with a society where not having sex is a deeply strange. These are the two contexts where I want to choose my words with care to say exactly what I mean.
So let’s talk about good and bad words for “not having sex.” In separate posts, I will list the top 3 words that frustrate me and the top 3 words I find most helpful. Why “not having sex”? Because that’s basically the topic of any conversation I have in the public domain about asexuality.
After that, I want to be done running in circles of worry on this topic and at the very, very least move reflection and writing and discussion in a more constructive direction.
In which I wrestle with prejudice.
The biggest problem I have in live conversations with people “explaining away” homosexuality, in lovely parallel to what they may use to “excuse” asexuality… I have no counter argument. I have no good reason ready why people are the way they are. I have no queer apologetics the way I’ve learned Christian apologetics (yes, there’s an academic field that’s Christians explaining their faith). I stand, as we Dutch put it, with my mouth full of teeth. Silent.
I found myself choking at one particular thread, having made the mistake of googling asexuality and Christianity. In a thread debating whether and why asexuality was sinful by some very, very conservative Christians, one mentioned why asexuality could not be accepted, according to them, though it might not itself be sinful.
See, if asexuality is a valid orientation that people can simply be, then the same will have to be accepted, by extension, of homosexuality and bisexuality. We cannot be normal, because that would make others normal. More widely accepted.
What makes it so hard for me to argue? Why was that person so scared of any non-hetero orientation being acceptable?
Here’s my pet theory: when an identity stops being controversial, it starts being taken for granted. When society accepts us, we don’t need to explain ourselves. When we accept ourselves, too, the truth of what we are, what we may feel and think and live, simply is. Our being resounds like a gong with the rightness of it. Not much ‘but why?’ to it, unless you’re a bit of a philosopher or scientist. Unless you’re still questioning, integrating this new component of yourself.
One of my better memories, when it comes to acceptance of queer folks, was the moment I realised being gay/lesbian was utterly accepted at work. I had a set of gossiping biddies for colleagues and we shared a room. There were a few side offices. The subject of the day were two men who’d been holed up in one of the offices for a longer-than-normal time. While they speculated on what two people could get up to in a closed room for that long, I realised with something like happiness that the two people’s genders had become irrelevant in pairing them off in office gossip.
When the discussion continued, the reason for the acceptance was revealed. They were compared to an gay couple in a mainstream soap opera. Having seen it occur on TV, the ladies were as happy to go slashy in their real-world shipping as any fanfic author. Representation was that powerful. Go figure.
It’s a thread I also see in Aut of Spoons’s post that no, trying to use autism to explain away gender noncomformity is not okay. I learn the word for it, etiology, trying to ‘diagnose’ sexual orientation or gender identity and yeah, doesn’t that put a lovely slant on those conversations I’ve been having? It prodded and poked at me while I try to write the round-up post two weeks ago.
I remember the easy conversations I’ve had with the few folks who’ve accepted me for who I am. I remember how I felt I couldn’t explain a large part of myself to people I haven’t come out to… telling them I’m a certain thing (mostly single, wishing for kids but leaning towards adoption, inexperienced in dating) and then… waffling.
I remember how utterly at ease I felt with myself a few years ago and now do not. How the periodic exclusion of other queer identities has made me wrestle with doubts (opgerakeld, in Dutch, churning things up to muddy the water that before was clear).
I find myself wishing I was represented in a soap opera and gossiped about at work, though I hate soap operas and I hate gossip, if only to have the evidence of being accepted by mainstream society. I wish I did not have be so inexplicable I’m ignored after I’ve come out to somebody, entrusted an important bit of who I am to a person.
I wonder to myself why this hate and these people have such power over me. Why not being accepted is such a big deal. Why I could simply be myself before, but now, being doubted, I doubt myself.
Maybe God has the right idea, with that name of his. I am here. I was, am and will be. I am who I am. I am.
In other words, JHWH is a great big bell the size of all creation resounding with BEING. The way each human resonates with rightness when they learn the truth about themselves in some way. C’thia, if you will.
No words, no explanations. I am.
Normally I’d leave a post like yesterday‘s alone, to be interpreted as you will, but it came out of a lot of feels and thoughts combining and sitting in a great big knot in my head this month (well, last month) and the poem was the overflow of the untangling… and I did wish to share that. You’re welcome to skip it and simply enjoy the post as-is, though.
As far as stages of coming out is concerned, I feel I’ve sat at synthesis for a long time. I wrestled anew with what it meant to be demisexual after I moved, what it meant for my faith (especially the expression thereof in commmunity) and what it meant for my writing. I lacked a sense of acceptance in my new environment, but that collided with a growing dissatisfaction of my own. Being demisexual has made me a different person, has put me on a different path and that has made me less sympathetic to those people that would only tolerate me out of privileged ignorance, rather than truly accept me.
What I’m far more new and hesitant to is the panromantic label, I feel I’m at about ‘acceptance’, certainly not at ‘pride’. Especially since it feels like it’s dragging the queer label in by the hand. That label is a loaded one, in my head. The publically known one I’ve placed al lot of the baggage on that I feel I dodged by being ‘only’ a type of ace… yeah. Add to that that living amongst more conservative folks, mostly in church but also the occasional colleague or friend I speak to during the week, most of whom I’ve had conversations with at one point or another when I mention I’m from a (politically) more socio-liberal church that raised the issue of blessing same-sex marriage* for member discussion and vote while I attended. All the ins and outs of religion-fueled homophobia have become much more well-known to me, suffice to say, and hit far harder because I’m not, myself, straight anymore and starting to maybe, tentatively consider identifying in private as queer. So I feel squeamish and conflicted. It’s not pretty.
Some of the biggest shifts in my progression from feeling included to excluded by the Christians I interact with are not about being queer, but the idea that everyone feels lust. For example, each sermon on the topic of reigning in sexual sin leaves me feeling more skeptical. Not just for the assumption that everyone has lust bleeding from their ears and eyeballs, but the assumption that one becomes more virtuous for having less sex. I certainly don’t feel more virtuous. The lack of peer pressure to have sex within the Christian community, which I liked so much initially, no longer makes up for the assumption I’ll have a ‘healthy’ sex life after marrying or forego a relationship altogether. I want a to have romantic-platonic or queer-platonic relationship, dammit**.
It also really doesn’t help when I have mental will-they, won’t-they-reject-me games with myself when I imagine bringing a woman rather than a man to church, when I have a moment to myself during coffee after service… Feeling out the roots I’d pull up since some of the folks have become good friends and I like several of the activities I’ve gotten involved in.
I also made the mistake of googling asexuality and Christianity together and read a lot of things that deserve warnings and zero screen time. Time and distance from my hetero-by-default frame of mind have made it a lot harder to step back into it, to sympathise with a point of view where I was part of the unthinking majority. I still stumble so much even when I encounter other minority identities, in speaking to and about them respectfully, inclusively, but at least I have a taste of how much work it is to bridge the gap when someone doesn’t really accept you, how hurtful being excluded can be, even in passing, impersonally, indirectly. I’ve sat in church so, so angry at a guest preacher rejecting ‘those unnatural homosexuals’ and how they ‘chose wrong’ and wanted to jump up and punch and yell and run out and instead wandered about the rest of the day with an unvoiced question in my head: I wonder what you’d make of me, then, sir. Until my poor unsuspecting mother casually asked me how I’m doing and it took me an hour to pour her ear full of all the worries now hanging off that initial question like it’s a set of monkey bars.
Also tied into the knot of thoughts, I would very strongly prefer to have a relationship that did not include anything more than kissing, call it asexual or platonic, regardless of the orientation(s) of my partner. Though I cherish each contact with a person for what it is, just as I have acquaintances as well as good friends, I’d ultimately want for one of them to flourish into a sharing-the-rest-of-our-lives, whatever that looks like. One contention in the QPR post really set me off**, namely, that the relationships – involving neither a formalisation nor sex and, in the case of the post, not the hallmarks of romantic relationship – could be dismissed as an especially deep friendship. Just as same-sex relationships used to be, still can be. Just as the type of relationship I desire, with romantic elements or not, may be.
This stings, because in Holland people are marrying way less because it’s not considered what makes a relationship ‘real’, like living together does or bringing your significant other along to meet friends and family. I feel it could be easily argued, by extension, that having sex or bringing flowers or the initial surge of territorial, sentimental obsession we call romantic love isn’t what makes a relationship ‘real’ either. The sexual drive, romantic drive and attachment drive*** are three separate instincts, after all, and I think we as a community could make a good case for them functioning perfectly well independent of each other. In short, you can have no sex, no romance, no marriage ceremony, (even no monogamy) and yet have a relationship that deep, that significant, that lasting, that it could arguably be equivalent to marriage.
I’ve seen enough couples together long enough that even without any outward sign, at some point people around them got tired enough of referring to them as “my boyfriend’s brother” or “my aunt’s partner” that they shifted to using terminology you’d normally use after a formalisation… so “my brother-in-law” and “my uncle”, in these cases. In other words, without anyone coming out and saying it, these relationships (often only defined by people always being mentioned together, Tom-and-Jane, Dick-and-Cathy) had passed some mental benchmark that made them as-good-as-married, in people’s minds.
What I’m saying in a roundabout way is, I think, that we don’t really know what makes a significant relationship a true and deep attachment with our chosen partner. We have some characteristics by which to identify them, but just like you can’t really define a woman by having breasts, long hair or a skirt, you can’t really define a ‘real’ marriage/relationship/person-and-partner based on whether there’s been a ceremony or sheet sharing or dates. I think that all the different folks in the ace community illustrate that truth beautifully. I also think that kicks some people into a big-ole existential crisis, if their ideas are broken down like that.
I like the idea though, that we can’t really define relationships, limit them within an absolute definition, the same way we haven’t really define life, or sentience, or reality. Gives us something to keep on wondering about.
So there I was, picking my own conflicted feelings about my labels apart, and my ideas on relationships, keeping the question in mind: what do I want? What would it look like if I had one?
What if… what if… this question I prefer to wallow in. My favourite pastor once said that the devil got so little attention in the bible because he wasn’t worth it, was deliberately omitted. The focus was on how people ought to live, ought to be bettering the world. On the promise of a better future, in defiance of a broken world with imperfect people making mistakes left and right. That we – Christians – would be harshly rebuked for how much we focus on fear, infighting, judgment, division. When I come to church to celebrate my faith and get rejected by a human in the middle of worshipping God, I can’t help but feel the truth of that. I think of the families that I saw come to Pride, three years ago, just to show their kids first-hand gay, bisexual, trans people were people too. I think Jesus would have loved that, I think he would have loved to be there.
In honour of that, I tried to put some of my hopes down on paper. To make it as accessible as possible, I decided to omit labels that might not mean much to outsiders. And I wrote this way-too-long author’s note about all the thoughts I carried around that led to writing “Marriage Without Sex or Ceremony”.
*) in our country, blessing civil partnership as well as marriage, both of which are legalised at city hall before the (Christian) couple has a bigger (optional) ceremony in church, both levels open for any couples as of 2001. Our denomination dumped the decision to be open to blessing them on the individual congregations, to avoid offending anyone (thereby disobliging everyone).
**) While I’m a panromantic, I figure my partner may not be, and that’ll influence the shape of the relationship, especially considering it may grow either out of formal dating or informally out of an existing friendship. I got schooled on the topic by this post on QPR’s, which also left me poking at what exactly I’d name the relationship I want to have, and that inspired the title for the poemish freewriting on my relationship fantasy.
***) This TED talk influenced my ideas on relationships a lot, especially its claim that one has three instincts or drives that make us partner up, that could trigger in that order, out of order or independent of each other.
My orientation has been seeping into my writing, but the stream splits itself.
On one end, exposure to the ace community, and wider queer community more indirectly, coupled with emotional investment means that it feeds into the speculative fiction I’m already writing. It gets added to the repetoire of characteristics my characters can have, and what is their gender and sexuality? has become a more prominent and complex question when I’m working on profiles.
On the other end, I’m writing about being demisexual, about coming to terms with being panromantic (still new enough I want to attach a “maybe, likely, I think” to that label), about being part of the asexual community. This expresses itself mostly in nonfiction, but also bits of poetry and short fiction.
As amateur, so far, but working towards publication. I don’t know why, but I’d been assuming that whatever I’d eventually manage to sell, I’d do it under my real name. That’s being challenged as I figure out what steps I need to take to get to that point.
Thing is, names are brands. That’s not unique to writers.
Every idealist that champions a cause comes to represent it to some extent. Being self-employed means you do a lot of networking and promotion consciously to build up your company name as well as your name until it stands for something people want to buy. Not just the service you offer, but how and why you do so. For writers that’s magnified. The good ones sell books based on their name alone. The names seen on a shelf, searched for in Amazon, recognised when you do an event somewhere.
Here I am, at the start of all that, writing in two ways and wishing to give up neither. Should I be lucky enough to sell in an insanely oversaturated market, I will get painted into a corner, branded. To be honest, I want to reserve my real name for the writing I’ve been doing for years, the long stories I labour over in worlds I enjoy filled with people I’ve come to love.
Nom de Plume
The only way I’ve really learned what works, though, is experimentation, because a lot of people say a lot of things about writing. So I’ve been poking at the pseudonym I filled out for my dedicated gmail account once upon a time, “Hedwig Seafal”. I never used it, because a screenname works well for a blog and feels more honest so long as that’s where I’m at. I like being just “demiandproud”. But having a first-name last-name alter ego seems to make sense If I want to see if I can publish stuff. In Dutch you say you buy things “op de groei” if you buy ’em too big, to grow into them.
Here I am, at the start of all that, writing in two ways and wishing to give up neither. Should I be lucky enough to sell in an insanely oversaturated market, I will get painted into a corner, branded. To be honest, I want to reserve my real name for the writing I’ve been doing for years, the long stories I labour over in worlds I enjoy filled with people I’ve come to love.
The only way I’ve really learned what works is experimentation, because a lot of people say a lot of things about writing. So I’ve been poking at the pseudonym I filled out for my dedicated gmail account once upon a time, “Hedwig Seafal”. I never used it, because a screenname works well for a blog and feels more honest so long as that’s where I’m at. I like being just “demiandproud”. But having a first-name last-name alter ego seems to make sense If I want to see if I can publish stuff. In Dutch you say you buy things “op de groei” if you buy ’em too big, to grow into them.
The will-I-won’t-I frame of mind I write this post in comes down to authenticity and privacy.
I want to be honest and making up a name seems counterintuitive. I can’t really verbalise why, except my brain goes ‘ugh, really?’ every time I consider it. My newbie might be showing, there.
Yet, the idea of a pseudonym comforts me too. I’m not comfortable with the more conservative congregation members I connected with on LinkedIn and Facebook reading “X is published in the 2020 Anthology for LGBTQIA Poetry, congratulate her.” I want to keep these roles, me demisexual writer and me active christian somewhat separate.
I’m comfortable being a Christian in the ace community. I’m ambigious about being out among Christians, especially as public and blunt as I’d need to be to write and publish about it without losing my voice to vagueness.
And that’s hard when your name is a keyword by which the world finds your work. I can write an ace character without using labels in a science fiction story or fantasy novel, and then smile an author-intent-is-dead smile at anyone, no problem. I cannot write about my personal experiences and convictions in an essay or poem and not have it follow me home.
Where my asexuality flows into my writing splits and between the two streams lies the line I am not comfortable crossing in my own name. So, makes sense to have two, have cake and eat it too.
My contribution to June’s Carnival of Aces, hosted by dating while ace.
If you’ve ever heard a person talk about their faith in roughly the following format: “I had something going on, then God happened, then stuff changed for the better,” then you’ve run into a testimony. These word-of-mouth stories are the single most prolific and accessible method for Christians to talk about their lives and their beliefs.
I bring them up because the latest issue of the Asexual had me think about representation, even while I failed to write something clever on time. In my fantasy land, Christians happily bring up how their sexuality and their faith interacted and maybe took them through some hard times and maybe taught them something about themselves or the world and maybe meant their lives changed. For the better, because this is fantasy land.
In short, if I dream of representation, I dream of hearing testimonies from LGBTQIA folks, preferably asexual folks and, for the almond-whipped-cream-on-top-of-a-salted-caramel-cheesecake, demisexual or gray-ace folks.
All the more because these stories are meant as examples and as teaching tools. Testimonies are meant to tell others how to live. While I know, intellectually, there are plenty Christians with another sexuality out there, these are not stories easily found. They are not people likely to speak up, with how controversial a topic sexual orientation is, in the church around the world. Other voices dominate.
So I ache at the near-silence and I keep seeking it out, the person-like-me, both Christian and othered in their sexuality and yet managing to unite these two. I keep kneading my own faith into shapes that I think might be good and hoping someone else has a similar heap of dough already made into a nice cake.
That somewhere, someday, it might not be strange to suddenly hear a person talk about their sexuality and faith: “I discovered I was/struggled with being/came out as (not-cisgender-and-heterosexual (asexual (demisexual))) and then God happened, then my life got a bit better.”
Until it stops feeling like I’m yelling into a wishing well and only hearing my own voice coming back.