A/N: Prompt: “Which is the most urgent demand we need as asexuals to be protected?” The Carnival of Aces submissions post can be found here. CW: discussion of compulsory sexuality and a bad divorce.
The summons froze Cassie in her seat. Ms! She didn’t say out loud. It’s Ms! The old, dead title from her old, dead life slipped like slime down her neck and spine and felt like it dripped into her shoes and left her feet cold, wet, sweaty. The old, hated name from her old, dead life made that old, hateful laugh of that wish-he-was-dead man resound in the back of her mind. When would the corpse of her past no longer be dragging along behind her? She had tried so many times, so many ways to cut the rope around her neck.
When she turned, Olga’s cornrows hung over the shoulder of the young man who’d called her. The relief of not having to correct anyone herself this time flooded her system, flushed out the ice clogging her veins. She trudged over to accept the intake paperwork. New specialist, same form.
She paused over the block asking for her marital status. She wavered between “single” and “divorced.” It felt wrong to be so defined by her past on a piece of paperwork. Ticking “single” was almost as bad. It felt like a lie, when she woke up to Peter’s smile and cuddles and stupidly tasty breakfast on the weekends, when she went mini-golfing with Minnie’s arms around her every other Friday. She swallowed, gave in, ticked the least-bad box.
Near the end of her visit, she sighed when that question came up. She knew testing for STDs was helpful for most people, but she hated where the question led. Every time. “No, I am not having sex.” Now, or ever again.
The psychiatrist frowned up at her over his glasses “It’s been quite some time since your divorce…?” The inquiry trailed off, more delicate than most about suggesting she needed to jump into bed with someone for her own health, or revenge, or proof of sexual freedom. “If you wish, I could give you a prescription?”
“It’s not…” She swallowed. Started again, going for something less defensive. “I’m asexual, it’s an orientation. There’s nothing wrong with my libido.” Hoped it was enough. Her sort were included in awareness training these days, weren’t they? They must be.
Oh no, not the pitying look. “I read in your file that the grounds for divorce were related-“
He stopped when she slammed both hands on his desk. Would she ever be free from that man? He could have gone for a no-fault divorce, but oh no, not mister ‘I put up with you so fulfill your conjugal duties.’ “Doctor Singh, would you tell a gay man to fuck women?” she asked, officially done with being polite.
He blanched. “Of course not, ma’am-“
“Then don’t tell me to fuck. Capiche?”
He apologised, asked her a few questions, and then he asked her for some resources, which was more than the last guy had done. She decided not to try for another specialist quite yet. Arguing with her insurance had been difficult enough to change to this one. Because it couldn’t be discrimination. There was no A in LGBT.
He shook her hand. “I’m so sorry,” he said again, “I can relate, even if not precisely. I’ll do some studying and be a little more prepared next time, hm? I’d never heard of it before.” He waved at himself, five feet of handsome Indian-American man, and at her tall, pale chubby self, while he talked.
She blinked in confusion, for a moment. Then, oh, right, racism. She felt very ashamed and very, very white, stuttered out a flustered and probably over-the-top thanks and sprinted out of the office. Had to hover awkwardly in the waiting room for her after-visit paperwork. Olga, with her pride-flag pin, handed it over with a wide smile and a wink. “I’ll talk to him and get him hooked up, alright? He’s a good egg.”
In the summary, her orientation read “Other*” with “Asexual” in the space for notes at the end of the section. Her eyes felt warm and her mouth as sweet as if she’d taken a big bite of red velvet cake. Her body floated out of the office, light and free, that man and her bad memories firmly in the past, where they belonged.
She started typing a new message to Minnie as she walked out of the hospital, into the Spring sunshine.
This was (belatedly) written for the February 2021 Carnival of Aces: “Comparing Ace Spaces” by Ace Film Reviews.
Asexuality meant liberation for me. First, from compulsory sexuality in the shape of an ever-felt male gaze. My body felt so much more my own after that. Second, from needing to be heterosexual. I could go find out how my sexuality actually worked, and all that we associate with that in the broadest terms, how we touch each other, how we love each other, how we are intimate with each other.
Asexuality has also meant loneliness for me. No library held any books or articles about me. The internet held a handful of interviews in Dutch and Belgian women’s magazines. The women’s history centre in Amsterdam, Atria, was the only one I ever found some physical copies of articles. In its absence from Dutch, I was quietly taught to experience my asexuality in English. In its sole, marginal presence being in queer and feminist spaces, it taught me I needed to seek like-minded people there, only to be dismissed as a lesbian still half in denial. I find limited welcome in queer spaces.
Asexuality has also meant silence for me. When I discovered we were empowering ourselves by making up words for our experiences as we go along, I glommed onto that. If English words exist and are accepted, they are easily enough borrowed by Dutch. Queer, gender and nonbinair are now Dutch words, after all. There is not yet a good space for me in my language.
Asexuality has meant erasure for me. Several times have I come out to people who then forgot that I did, even after good, deep and long conversations. It’s like a word needs to be powered by belief, needs to be accepted enough, before it – and what it means – sticks in people’s mind. This is how I have known erasure, such effective wiping of queerness from mainstream society that people reflexively forget such an alien thing. Not maliciously. Not ignorantly. Just… I am too alien to comprehend. Too queer to contain, to retain, in the regular mind. I have a hard time making space for myself in my social circle, sometimes.
Asexuality has been almost solely online for me. Forums at first, but mostly I have ventured in and out of the English-language asexual blogosphere. Here, I’ve had most of my education. Here I’ve found some representation. My asexual space is online, in my second language, when I need it there.
I’m grateful what it has given me, but I would wish for more. I have recently started looking into expressing my ace self more, again, now I’ve also figured out more about my gender and romantic orientation, and am more at peace. I’m ready to try again to create space, where I find welcome. It’s just sometimes I’m sad that it needs to be created as I go along. It’s tiring and lonely work, sometimes, to be one of the first, in any space.
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 email@example.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)
My real-life contribution to ace awareness week… talk to my therapist.
“So… there’s this book going to come out for people who work with aces.”
“Okay. And you want me to…?”
“Read it? Professional literature?”
“Yes, oh yes, anything you have, anytime.”
So… this has been mentioned in various blogs you may read. The Asexual Awareness Project is writing a book. They need people answering questions to make it good. Having worked through a couple questionaires, I’m thinking they’ve got plans to follow this up with other literature for things like sexual education or material you might bring to your local LGBT centre.
I wish to encourage you to do this. You’re free to do it anonymously, under a pseudonym (like me), you can do it without giving the approval for direct citation and, what I like best, at every turn they invite you to only answer those questions you’re comfortable providing information on.
But they do need people, so, if you’d like to say anything at all on the subject.
There are ace-friendly therapists and councilors and psychologists and chaplains and what-have-you out there who would benefit from a decent book aimed at them.
I’d really like to hand this one to mine.