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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.

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.

Destructive Words For “Not Having Sex”

Trigger warning: explicit discussion of Christian prejudice around sex.

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

Let’s Talk About “Not Having Sex”

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.

Tea, please

Warm tea, when cradled

Thaws my raw palms, while the fire

You stoke makes me flinch

Get some questions, get a book

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.”

“Right.”

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.

So.

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.

Please.

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.

Ambivert?

I try to write constructive posts, on this blog. Honest about my struggles but also, in the self-reflecting, seeing what is good and what might work and what gives me hope and a plan and motivation. That’s deliberate. Dutchies make a habit of complaining and it’s a good way for me to find excuses to give up and get sad.

I’m telling you this to give you some context to for the following: I’ve been telling my therapist for a year that I feel lonely. I feel that loneliness is tied to my asexuality, in part because it made me limit myself in relationships and in part because moving and joining a more conservative church served to give rise to my internalised orientation-related-phobia (Acephobia? Homophobia? Queerphobia? We need a new word here).

I’ve been telling my therapist I’m lonely… not just in the kinda-wanting-company sense. But often physically craving company and getting an itchy skin because I wasn’t getting my dose of affectionate touch that week and having a broken record in my head mournfully crooning about wanting a good conversation.

Even though I do have company and I do have a supportive family and I do have friends… It wasn’t enough, by a long stretch.

We’ve tried different things. Finally screwing up the courage to go out and try dating. Seeing if I needed to do volunteer work or get a hobby and just have a low-key way to meet people. Journaling to dig up the details about how my brain works, especially given my orientation, and my prejudices and self-image.

It’s lead to some great stuff. I’ve gotten to know myself a lot better and figured more about how I do relate to people and what I would want out of a relationship, friendship, familial or romantic.

We didn’t get to the core problem, it seemed. It kept cropping up.

Finally, one session, after I was done laying out what I wished to dig into that time, she regarded me very seriously and asked, “Are you sure you’re an introvert?”

“Yes?” I said, because she has a habit of prodding at my beliefs until I have to re-examine them myself. “I mean… I crave time alone after a day around people and I’m good at entertaining myself.” And it made it easier to deal with not having many friends and a good excuse for sitting somewhere with a book by myself.

“But you keep telling me you need to be around people more and… well… you light up every time you tell me about a gathering or a meeting you went to that you liked. It charges you up even remembering the event.”

“Well….yeah. They are fun. But also hard.”

“Mostly when you’re not comfortable, right?”

“Right.”

“And when you are at ease…?”

“Best feeling in the world.”

“Hm-hm.”

I need people. As an instinctive, emotional social creature I need people. Far more than I was actually granting myself.

Having practiced with just being around people more in places I’m comfortable for low-key activities with few expectations doing things I find interesting… I have to say, this craving was far broader and far less discriminating than I thought. Yes, I’d like to date, but I don’t need to. Yes, I’d love to have good friends, but a mellow chat with someone I’ve just met is also great.

I was starving for company. Just because I was kinda quiet and socially awkward and also, yes, needed a measure of reflection, I thought I was a hell of an introvert. I’m really not.

I’m not sure whether I’m an ambivert or just a very quiet extrovert…

Just, I want to encourage you, if you’re asexual and you’ve been feeling lonely and you think it’s because you don’t have a ‘love life’… I encourage you to try other things too, you may be surprised by how many things can be satisfying and stimulating.

List of stuff I tried to start:

  • Do some work in a local cafe a couple of times a week, instead of at home.
  • A few free or low-cost events (lectures, plays, workshops) on topics I liked.
  • Take a little more initiative in meeting up with friends.
  • Take the bike more and say hello to every single person I make eye contact with (and get either responses or hilarious faces).

Featured image from:

https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-introvert-and-extrovert.html

 

 

 

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