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.
This is my contribution to August’s Carnival of Aces, about “deviant identities”, hosted by The Demi Deviant.
Queer In My Dress
I am queer in my purple dress
Pressed between postmodern sexuality
And the outdated marriage myth
I am, willfully not wanting sex,
Faultline in the fiction of virginity
I am queer in my blue dress
Am I lacking? people ask, perplexed
A woman divorced from intimacy,
Dating and the marriage myth?
Truth is, my desire is more complex
For company, beauty, sensuality
I am queer in my red dress
As the third wave wanes, I need to address
How asexuality clashes with
The outdated marriage myth
I want love with no regard for sex
A partner who sees I am not less
To be queer in my bridal dress
Let’s update the marriage myth
This started out exploring a deviant (queer) aspect of my asexuality and ended up trying to express how queer (weird, outlandish, new, upsetting, estranging) asexuality itself can be. Particularly an aspect I don’t often see explored: that asexuality upsets both traditional and modern ideas about sexuality, often at the same time.
In its simplest form, I think choosing to identify as (some shade of) asexual and daring to say “no, I do not feel sexual attraction like that” combines and subverts
a) the traditional ideal of lust or sex as a morally ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing
b) the modern ideal of everyone having a natural sexuality that is inherently human
c) the queer ideal of affirming your orientation through sexual acts
a) absence of lust is a neutral state of being rather than a purity or innocence that can be preserved or lost; sexual activity is optional at all times, rather than forbidden or required at any time.
b) our motivations and experiences are more complicated than (mutual) sexual attraction leading to consensual sexual activity, orgasms, falling in love and sexual-romantic relationships.
c) queerness can be complex and comprise a multifaceted orientation and gender identity that has very little, if anything, to do with sexual acts.
Even as I write this I am aware I am already simplifying by focusing on the above as flowing from an asexual identity above any other.
Yet still, here is my demisexual-panromantic-monoamorous* deviant little fantasy, to wish to find and legalise a longlasting partnership and celebrate that with my community, without having to submit to the strictures society still imposes on that institution.
Oh, and go full femme on the day.
Today, at least.
I might dream of wearing a three-piece steampunk period costume tomorrow. Who knows.
*Since both polyamory and the newly-coined nonamory** are common in the ace community and I came across the word ambiamory*** (someone who can go for either monogamous or polyamorous relationships), I figure we’d clean up the vocab and go for monoamory as the correct word for the majority option on that list/spectrum. Also, also, I think we need a word for the grey area (greyamory? demiamory? semiamory?) between disinterest in relationships (nonamory) and interest in relationships, whether one or multiple (alloamory?).
**Relative, it’s been around a few years, I didn’t know it until this year. I like the new terms cropping up in the a-spec community, especially the ones that are useful. Can you tell I like words? I really like good words.
A big thank you to everyone who contributed to the May edition of the blogging festival Carnival of Aces. The Pride month, er, June edition is being hosted by A³ with the theme Then, Now and Tomorrow. The call for submissions is here.
On the theme “Asexual (and Queer) Identities and (Gender) Performance and Play” the following:
- “Passing as Normal” by datingwhileace
But what does it mean to pass as a sexual person?
Also, it’s the default to assume that someone has sexual desires and to assume that young women want to get married and have kids. Since I actually do want to get married and have children, it seems like I am perceived to have sexual desires to the outside world.
- “Beyond the Binary” by A³
It took a long time (all the way until I was almost 26) and some serious research for me to understand that there’s a psychological component to gender and that your self assigned “gender identity” actually pretty much fully developed by the time you’re four years old. The reason I was so confused by this for the longest time was because every time I ping my brain for a gender identity I keep getting an error message back (usually in the form of dysphoria). So, just like I’m asexual I’m also agender.
Anyway, I owed a huge debt to the genderfuck folks for helping me find the confidence to express my gender in a way that challenges the norm and makes me feel the most comfortable; By doing absolutely nothing.
- Intersectionality Part 1A: Gender Roles, an episode of the podcast Aceterpretations by Quartic, KK and luvtheheaven
The first is “gender identity”. I don’t have one. My relationship to gender is the same as my relationship to “romance”: I understand that it’s very important to some people, but I personally can’t imagine what it is, and I don’t think it makes sense for me to use this language for myself.
So, yeah, I’m not sure if my asexuality or (lack of) gender have influenced the way I dress. Perhaps not worrying about presenting in a normatively “feminine” fashion has just freed me to wear different kinds of clothes. I don’t exactly dress how I want – i.e. like the hero of a fantasy adventure game (you know: tunic, leggings, nice boots, leather pouch of infinite capacity)! But I try to make the best of the options available to me and have fun with them
What this sample will give you, though, is an idea of how I like to dress, and the kind of clothing I choose to wear when not constrained by weather or professional considerations.
(Followed by a really cool few examples)
It gave me words that were explicitly coded queer for the way I wished to look on any given day. “Female geek” also became “mildly butch” and “feminine” was replaced by “femme”. Old-fashioned surfing brought up two more words that tickled the imagination. “Lipstick” for “femme” and “chapstick” for “butch” which… yeah. I don’t always put them on but I’ve got chapstick stowed in all accessible places and lipstick only in my small make-up pouch I bring out for weddings and Christmas dinner.
- Danielle wrote “(A)sexuality, Gender, Acceptance and Stereotyping, Oh My!”
I took and Anthropology of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality class this semester (one of the best courses I’ve taken in my academic career, but more on that later) which culminated in a research project, my chosen topic being how archaic gender norms – namely that men are naturally promiscuous and women naturally chaste – affect how people identifying as asexual view themselves. I made use of AVEN and sought out not only those even remotely in the gender binary, but also people identifying as agender. It was incredibly fun and interesting to hear stories from fellow aces, and I hope to do more of this kind of thing in the future.
(The rest of the post is about the findings)
If I forgot any contributions, please drop me a note!
This is a belated call for submissions after I volunteered several days into the month for the Carnival of Aces. April’s round-up post was posted a few days ago by luvtheheaven. On that note, I urge you to volunteer to host future months, because right now there isn’t a line-up for the next few months, as there has been in the past. Go to the masterpost and sign up!
Asexuality and Gender At Play
I have been brooding over a topic that for me is intimately connected to my asexual and queer identities. That of gender performance and – having a greater awareness of my asexuality – how it has become a source of play, of joy, even as cisgender person. I am also starting to become aware how personal and unique experiences on this topic can be, a source of stress, doubt, but also self-discovery, defiance. I am also new to this so I while I love to hear stories on this topic, I don’t properly know how to ask you to share your experiences, if you want to, except to take the following words and ask how they connect for you:
Asexual (and Queer) Identities and (Gender) Perfomance and Play.
And offer up some possible directions to take it:
– Asexy and I Know It – attention to appearance, dress, make-up can be for one’s own pleasure, not to attract others.
– Beyond the Binary – stepping outside of the two set gender roles as an enriching or necessary step, in having given orientation(s) and/or gender identity.
– Expression and Experience – are (a)sexuality and gender when in play more about internal experience or outward expression?
– Gender and Sexualisation – does conveying a degree of masculinity or femininity necessarily sexualise one’s gender performance?
– Go Educate Yourself – here’s what should be common knowledge, or recommend some good resources.
– Identity Craft – which identity labels are active in performance, or need experimentation in how they play out and why?
– Passing and Privilege – how much of appearing or performing (a)sexuality or gender is a given, how much a choice? What good or bad consequences hang on it?
– Pride Coming Up! – preparing an outfit for Pride next month (or in August)?
– Time and Space – where and when do the performance of or playing around with (a)sexuality and gender happen? How and why those times and places? How safe is it?
Contributions can be:
- Linked in a comment on this post.
- Emailed to email@example.com, including (anonymous) guest contributions.
Please let me know if you have questions or I phrased something rudely or vaguely.
)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.
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 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.
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
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.