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.
My contribution for the Carnival of Aces September edition, Asexuality before Aven. I may do another one if I can make heads or tails from my research…
Keyword not found, then
a black screen stares back at my face
stitched together with wishing
we weren’t pioneers
Among a handful
celibate, spinster, virgin
I find few like minds
Questing for treasure
aerates the ground we stand on
Let’s plant our pride flags
The blank page awaits
Pen crowned with its cap, unsheathed
for ace history
Two idle trains of thought collided in my head. One was that I usually refer to myself as demisexual with “insiders” (the asexual community and close family) and asexual with “outsiders” (everybody else). The other, well, my language studies included a lot of crossdisciplinary training. We wallowed around in anthropology long enough to internalise several core concepts, such as etic and emic. Etic labels are imposed on a community by an outside observer. Emic categories are what a community develops internally.
Awsum Can Haz Werdzª
It’s no secret that the asexual community spent a lot of its early years generating words. These primarily helped people identify themselves and talk about themselves amongst each other. Here’s a glossary on the Asexuality Archive and the “Everything Asexual and Aromantic” series if you prefer to watch a video.
With the versatility of the English language, these words quickly became versatile, gaining colloquial versions, used as adjectives (ace person) as well as nouns (all the aces)… Several have become mainstream enough that they have been put into or expanded upon in dictionaries, such as the OED last month.
Ace or Queer Sociolect
All this leads me to consider… Is our language distinctive enough to consider ourselves, as a subculture, a speech community? Do we have enough a unique enough vocabulary and set of syntactic oddities to be a sociolect?
Another possibility came up when I did a little bit of digging. Apparently there was a queer sociolect in the sixties and seventies, called Polari. One paragraph this blog article caught my eye:
“Even though a secondary language was needed to support it, if well informed, a person could communicate heavily in Polari. However, its use in more modern times is questionable. Why? The language code would work in binaries (male/female, homosexual/heterosexual, masculine/feminine) and didn’t allow for description of non-binary classifications. For example, words to explain gender fluidity, bisexuality, asexuality etc., just didn’t exist.”
So another possibility is that now, four decades later, we filled a so-far-empty niche in a broader queer sociolect, and contributed a couple words to mainstream English in the process.
I am not at all qualified enough to offer any conclusions on this subject. As language geek and demi/ace person I did want to put the question out there, however. It creates a space to describe how I identify myself.
I, Ace or Demi person
Let’s say the asexual community is a speech community, or part of one. Let’s say the vocabulary we’ve generated has become an ace sociolect or part of a queer sociolect. In that context I am able to express two distinct levels on which I speak of my identity.
Namely, as an informed insider trying to decribe myself towards outside observers, I say I am asexual. This fits in a larger (etic) set of labels, known as sexual orientation, that is familiar to most English speakers. I only need to define the single new word in order for them to fit me into their world view, and then get accepted or rejected.
Among insiders, the asexual community and its allies, such as my close family, I choose a different label. I say that my asexual identity is primarily demisexual. I can add a gender identity and romantic orientation to further specify what I think I am. Thus making use of a far more nuanced set of labels we created to talk amongst ourselves.
Thus some old theory I learned in college and my thoughts on ace identity intersected. I thought in sharing it might be of some use. And, well, it just tickles my fancy how much we’ve been able to affect language, over the years.
ªprovided by the Lolcat Translator
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.
Round-up post coming soon, but I’ll be wanting to read everything as I link to it, I just know it. And plus, then I can immediately include anything posted on May 1st (but mostly I’m just too eager to read what feels like extra special contributions because I hosted this month).
So, immediate recommendations for more writerly fun.
- Host for the May parade of the Carnival of Aces will be Elizabeth over on Prismatic Entanglements, so keep an eye on that blog for the next call of submissions (link added).
- Head over to the Carnival of Aces Masterpost to host a month yourself! We’re set for two months, but it’d be great to have more folks involved. The work is:
- Think of a theme. I recommend an indulgent drink to go with it. Ask fellow bloggers the thing you’ve been wondering about (and yes, themes re-occur).
- Write a post at the start and end of the month with theme and submissions respectively.
- Write your own submission.
- That’s it! And I can tell you it’s quite a good amount of fun for not much effort.
- Write or draw or compose about asexuality and representation for the next volume of “The Asexual” and get published! The submission deadline for their next journal is June 18th (so you’ve got about six weeks), more information is over here on their website.
- Get a place in the spotlight and tell a little about yourself in an interview over on asexualartists.com. Here’s their call for interviewees.
If you’ve got more recommendations, feel free to add them in the comments.
Reading now! (Edit: read, round-up post coming soon)
Hail, brave content creators, welcome to the April edition of the Carnival of Aces. With the spring equinox behind us, Passover and Easter upon us and April Fool’s day tomorrow and everything around us blooming and reproducing… Well, no time like the present to feel melancholy. Or cheerful. One of the two.
This month’s theme’s inspired by a medieval Flemish-Dutch sentence:
Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu[,] wat unbidan we nu[?]
All the birds have begun nests except me and you, what are we still waiting for?
Penned in the 1100 by a monk, probably to test his quill, it’s the oldest sample of my native language. It’s always struck a chord.
Rarely does a shift in orientation work out in a person’s life according to expectations. We wander into such wildly unexpected and unknown futures.
I think we need those stories.
So the question for this month:
How did your (a)sexual and (a)romantic orientations impact your (expected or imagined) future?
Prompts to help the creative juices flow (feel free to deviate):
- All the (other) birds:
- Was there a clear or typical path in life that you decided to diverge from, when others didn’t?
- My nest:
- What life have you begun to build since your (a)sexual and (a)romantic orientations changed?
- Except me and you:
- If you had to sketch a potential life or partner or relationship or family, what are some of the ingredients that make it a good, safe, peaceful and/or joyful prospect?
- You’ve decided you do not wish for a partner and may find fulfilment in your life through alternative means, please share!
- Still waiting
- What expectations for your life are you uncertain about or struggling with after having discovered your (a)sexual and/or (a)romantic orientations?
- Leave a link to your contribution, be it post or vlog or art piece, in the comments.
- Send your contribution to my email: email@example.com so I can host it on my blog.
- Leave your thoughts on one of the prompts in the comments.
Please do let me know if you’ve contributed somehow, I do wish to honour all the awesomeness. If you have specific preferences for pronouns and/or descriptions for your submission, let me know those as well, please. Late submissions added throughout May.
Associated posts, links to be added as they appear:
- Parade of posts for April (on this blog)
- The March parade (luvtheheaven’s blog)
- The Call for submissions for May (hosted by Prismatic Entanglements)
- All of the Carnival of Aces parades! (Asexual agenda)
Another multiparter for a Carnival of Aces, this one for the September edition, about living asexuality and experience… so I wanted to share a little of my current experiences as a demisexual, and in the next two posts, about how my Christian faith and avid reading have affected my experience of my sexuality.
I identify comfortably as demisexual, as belonging to the “rarely to never sexually attracted to another person” part of the population. I have constructed a foundation. On it, I can build an understanding of my interest and behaviour towards potential significant others. I can see the consequences of my deviating desires on a personal, social, moral, intellectual and spiritual level.
Building that understanding will continue during my lifetime and beyond, since it happens within a community and orientation only now defining its vocabulary and parameters. Nevertheless, it’s boon to my mind, which demands to know itself, and to my soul, which is relieved to love itself a little more. Most though to my conscience and curiosity, pleased to understand the human condition a little better and thus improved its capacity to act and explore and dream.
I have spoken of my demisexuality to my closest family. I have spoken of asexuality to some open-minded strangers. Living life as demisexual has affected me, even in the span of a few months. I want to look at the changes it’s wrought.
Atypical – I’ve always conceived of myself as part of a formless crowd, where sexuality is concerned. The post-modern open-minded heterosexual, or something. I’m really not, now. I feel I’ve wandered out into a far field, overgrown and only crossed by a few. It’s made my exploration of my sexuality relevant beyond personal discovery, which helps to keep me writing. It’s also scary, to be other, even in a small way, which keeps me quiet for now, but also researching.
Shameless – I’ve shed the need to feel anything when presented with a sexual cue. I may or may not feel something and that’s okay. It means I feel free to act in a sexualised context as I do in any other, which will probably make me a bit weird but mostly makes me more comfortable. It also means I’m leaning more towards indifference about sex than I thought I was. At the same time, it’s allowing me to discover what I actually do like.
Aware – I haven’t felt the need to educate myself as acutely in years. Here were aspects of identity and experience essential to people’s sense of self, and I had no idea. I’m still learning and I’m loving it. All of the new words, all of the new concepts!
Lonely – The largest and most recent discovery, or more an articulation of a formerly indistinct and un-articulated desire: I want. Not sex, but I have a longing for connection and company and intimacy usually associated with sex and relationships with a sexual component. I’m still discovering how I want to fill that gap exactly.
I look at a concept I’ve encountered in the asexual community, and try to understand it, from this post onward with a new plan of action:
- tackle just one concept,
- find an accessible resource that explains the concept,
- try to see if I can now define the concept in my own words
- and find some more interesting sources on the concept if time allows.
With that said, on to intersectionality.
See how two aspects of identity influence each other and may cause unique communities, experiences or problems. The implications are less than clear to me, though I understand it to be a popular and useful concept to others.
Resource: video on intersectional feminism
What I’ve learned…
What I especially appreciated was the section comparing regular feminism to intersectional feminism. The latter paints issues such as the wage gap more starkly because it takes into account how women from different backgrounds may have to deal with a different wage gap.
And though I know I have privileges, sometimes I scarcely realise what impact they have.
On an interrelated note, they mention asexual women!
After diving into a few more resources, I realise intersectionality’s also a concept created to tackle not just normativities and prejudices as singular concepts, but also to study the impact certain attitudes and discourses have as the big interwoven Gordian knots that they are. Intersectionality crosses e.g. class, gender, race and sees what happen when they, well, intersect.
Bit of a disclaimer: in this post I discuss two different uses of the pronouns. The re-introduction of “they” as gender-neutral pronoun for general use and the use of different pronouns by people with non-binary gender identities. These are NOT the same, but I hope to show that the former can serve as a stepping stone for understanding the latter for cisgender people who’ve never thought about pronouns before. Later in this post, I reject “zie/hir” as viable gender-neutral pronoun for general use. It is my personal opinion that “they” fits this role better. On the other hand, it and other lesser-used pronouns can be very useful tools for expressing that you gender identity does not match that of other people, I think. I do not want to dive too much into that side however, because I know too little. That said, enjoy (hopefully)!
Imagine a bridge, silhouetted against the sun. From either end, two indistinct shadows approach. That they raise their arms and embrace in the middle, you can just about make out. After a few moments, they walk on. One turns back, raises their arm again and waves. The other never notices, their head bowed and deep in thought.
Later you’ll recount this story to a friend, how happy and fleeting a moment it seemed. Since you never saw the figures’ features due to how the light fell and the distance, you use “their” as a gender-neutral possessive pronoun. You scarcely give it a thought, seeing how often it’s used these days. It’s simply useful that you don’t have to guess whether to call them “he” or “she”.
Even less on your mind is how crucial pronouns are for people not strictly male or female, or how, when you read Shakespeare in high-school, you never stumbled over the gender-neutral pronoun either. It’s so normal. Grammar’s just boring facts. Right?
When I first registered on the asexual and demisexual forums I was puzzled by the need to specify a preferred pronoun. Other languages have two second person singular pronouns, formal and informal. Dutch has “u”, German has “Sie”, French has “vous”… In addressing “you” in English politely, I have to bust out the modal verbs and the honorifics. I filled out what I’d say in my own language when asked what my preferred pronoun is. “Zeg maar jij.” You’re allowed to use my first name and address me informally. In one latinate word, to tutoyate, use “tu” and “toi”.
In English it’s about gender identity, probably the most quantifiable characteristic of it to show up in the asexual community. Your preferred third person singular pronoun. He, she, they, or something else. “They” in particular interests me, because it’s making a come-back as a gender-neutral pronoun in general.
The reader, they…
Gender’s pervasiveness can be a bother when I’m speaking or writing. I may want to address a reader neutrally. It’s easier, in a Germanic language such as English, but I can’t avoid pronouns forever.
These days, business letters often leave off honorifics. Readers are as likely to be men as women, and both are to be respected equally. In speaking or speculating about a hypothetical person it’s good to be able to leave gender open to the imagination…
I’ve seen “zie” and “hir” proposed for use in these contexts, but they feel a little like Esperanto. Good in theory, not viable in practice. Traditionally, “he” is used when a person’s gender is unclear, and “she” in a feminist response to that, to even the playing field.
I’m glad I’m now able to speak of “them” instead being forced to pick “he” or “she” when addressing an unfamiliar person in the third person. A few years ago, it still felt ungrammatical, but now it’s almost natural.
So even in a cisgender world, a gender-neutral pronoun is a wonderful thing. Let’s hope the Powers Who Guard The English Language will allow it to dwell once again within their hallowed halls and grammar books in the future.
See, the use of “they” is a revival of sixteenth-century practice according to the Oxford Dictionary’s website that debates the use of “they” as third person singular. It got changed to “he” in cases where people spoke of a person with an unclear gender around 1850.
Yes, when people complain about using “they” for a gender-neutral pronoun, you can legitimately say “but Shakespeare could do it. Why can’t you?” and be speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you Shakespeare. So did Jane Austen, Louis Carroll, Walt Whitman and the King James Bible.
The boxes they cannot tick…
I cannot imagine how crucial the choice of pronouns is when your gender isn’t simply masculine or feminine… Then it’s less the polite “Stranger, I respect I do not know your gender” and more the humane “I recognise this basic fact about your identity.” I get that much, but I think that scarcely covers how much of an impact it has.
Language, naming what we are and where we’ve been, is powerful. Being able to name what I am has helped me immensely in my sexuality. If gender identity, how it really works, not just male-or-female, can be expressed more accurately in language, in pronouns, it goes a small way towards being accepted.
It’s already a smaller mental step, I think, to go from “use they for strangers” to “use they for people who prefer it” than from “third person singular is he or she” to “we need to add a new pronoun (e.g. zie/hir)”.
Conceptions of gender trickle down to institutions, such as in countries with forms with more than two options for gender, “male” and “female”. Or like social media sites who have more than two radio buttons (sometimes after a big kick in the butt). Or like Amsterdam, who’s done away with the need for gender registration at a local level altogether as of last week. Thus declaring gender less of a clear-cut and crucial fact of identity, and allowing for a shades-of-grey type situation that’s closer to reality, much like a gender-neutral pronoun does.
I was at first confused, and still strangely tickled by the question “what’s your preferred pronoun?” (and yes, I’m keeping “Zeg maar jij” because I hope someday someone will ask and we get to be dorky about language together). Now, I like the concept’s logic, how it fits in with a bigger change in language, the revival of the gender-neutral pronoun “they”. I like how a little bit of useful pre-Victorian grammar is returning in our Internet-era English. I also like how it offers some openness in the language, a measure of politeness, when gender identity matters. That even in English, I can offer respect by way of pronoun choice, even if it’s in third person instead of second.
So, what’s your preferred pronoun?
- The use of “they” as third person singular, according to Wikipedia
- They versus he or she, according to Oxford Doctionary website, and the debate about its use
- The common use of “they” before 1850 by famous authors, on the Telegraph (UK newspaper) blog
- A good blog about several different pronouns that were proposed as an attempt to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun.
- Documents existed that described how to use zie and hir and zir.
- Good guide for content creators about asking about gender in forms in a good way.
- On pronouns in social media such as Google+ (article)
- Facebook, of all websites, has enough options for its users, says the Daily Mail
- Some countries recognise more than two gender identities but the US government won’t, for now, a petition and its official answer
- Amsterdam’s solution sounds cool, doing away with registering gender altogether (Dutch)
Rainbow flags waved along boulevards and bridges all over the city centre. For ten days, including two weekends, museums had special tours, cafes had special offers and cinemas had special films. There were walks and talks and concerts. Friday was the parade’s eve, with a march to the Gay Monument and the Drag Queen Olympics. Saturday was the finale, with eighty decorated boats in the official parade and many more moored three to five boats thick to the side on some stretches, filled with spectators and students and beer. Locals and visitors and families and tourists mix and bunch together whenever there’s a bridge, one in three wearing a pink shirt.
The LGBT community is part of Amsterdam’s identity and city marketing much like it is for San Francisco. For the average Joe, that means it’s comfortable to live there as member of the LGBT community, the locals won’t stare as much and the tourists come especially to stare. During the Pride, it means the city is proud, the cultural sector colours pink, corporations sponsor a boat in the canal parade. Awareness is raised for the HIV-positive and LGBT minorities abroad but mostly people come to enjoy and relax.
What made it interesting as an event was more intangible, however, which is what I hope to make sense of in this two-parter about the Amsterdam Gay Pride of 2015. This part is more about how it influenced my public identity, the other more about what demisexuality has come to mean to me in private, during.1
What’s with all the heteros?
A strange question, perhaps, but I wondered what all the heteros who came to Amsterdam got out of the event. To see the parade or enjoy a concert, yes, but… if you walked the streets, they were the ones in the rainbow hats and the pink shirts. People who were gay or bi came to be themselves, albeit with beer and music, so they didn’t dress up… unless they had an additional reason. But no, it was a girl convincing her boyfriend that they both ought to wear a headband with miniature penises waggling on metal coils, and the Korean tourists counting out euros to buy a “Gay For a Day” shirt.
They were, in that little bubble of space-time, outsiders. They needed to wear something special to participate. What love and sexuality was exhibited here was queer, not theirs. For a very short time, it was normal to grab a hand or a kiss from someone with the same gender, not the opposite one. It was, for that matter, normal to mess with gender altogether. So the cisgender heteros felt the need for a souvenir or a costume, the way you do at a Renaissance fair or a carnival, to fit in with a different sort of normal.
Art’s main job isn’t decoration or beauty or avant garde, here. In Dutch, the highest praise an art piece can get is that it vervreemds, estranges or makes something other. To break its audience out of the familiarity that blinds them, to refresh and transform their reality. To open minds to what is strange and yes, queer.
During the Gay Pride in Amsterdam, it was love and gender and sexuality that were vervreemd, the more unusual expressions made normal and the norm, heterosexuality, just one of several options. That wasn’t just theoretical, but a lived reality in the streets. You literally weren’t to know what the person in front of you, behind you, beside you, thought of themselves or preferred in their partners. Everyone was just people.
Only those who thought that was strange felt the need to dress up.
And it was to this vervreemding that I could connect. Demisexuality means you might find some people you know attractive, but mostly everyone is just people. Not sexual, not attractive, not beautiful. Just people. And within the asexual community, this is what we’re struggling to label: to us everyone is just people. We choose to act on it in different ways, but at the core of it is the same conflict: people are just folks to meet, when to others they may stand out on a sexual level.
The streets at Gay Pride? They’re the crowd I’d be comfortable in, seeking a partner, no expectations, anyone can be any label. Anyone can desire any relationship on any level, or not.
LGBT(QI), not LGBTQIA
I distinguish between LGBT and LGBTQIA because I think as subculture or umbrella it’s evolving to be more inclusive, and accept asexuality as part of that umbrella. In some places it is already, in some it’s not. Largely because of the creation of communities and activism of local asexual-spectrum individuals… a work in progress. In Holland, we’re not there yet. Though I believe most would welcome us, we are as yet unknown. Literature is scarce, our meeting places still in the process of being created, awareness a dim glow on the horizon of the most open-minded.
So while I felt some kinship, I did feel like a spectator. Because I represent a type of sexuality that isn’t known, let alone accepted. I both was and was not ready to show it.
Private performance in public
I decided on a discrete display that fit my budget: buy some eyeliner pencils and draw a demisexual flag on my hand and wear it out in public. It was quite an adventure simply to draw and photograph it in the privacy of my room. Nerve-wracking to step out onto the streets a few days later, flag on my hand. The first few minutes, I hid my hand against my thigh, until I almost fell over in the tram on my way to the canal parade.
No one noticed.
By the end of the day, neither did I.
When I came home, I finally looked at my hand and decided I was okay with this, to wear it as I do any part of myself, invisible to most and relevant to those who care.
Permanence and peace
Two days later, even the thickest black line had nearly washed off my hand. I traced it, knowing it would disappear and missing it. I wanted a souvenir, not of something I am not, like the heteros at Gay Pride, but of something that I discovered I am and was now settling into being a comfortable fact of my life, a cog wheel that smoothed out a big stutter in my self-knowledge.
I bought a silver ring, with a black line in the middle. Not quite an asexual ring, but halfway there, for demisexuality, enough to feel like promise, a private symbol that could sit around the middle finger of my right hand. I had grown comfortable with who I am, in this week, and it was good to wear that openly.
So what’s it taught me about the sex I might like?
I liked the freedom in this crowd, how utterly heteronormativity was gone, any sexual orientation was welcome. This is the type of gathering I feel comfortable in, meeting people, swapping stories about sexualities and being okay to communicate about love and gender and sex because there’s less assumptions than in your average crowd.
At the same time, I was a stranger, asexuality wasn’t here, to the point where I could walk around unrecognized unless I’d literally painted a sign and I’m in no way there yet, may never be. Asexuality got a mention in the summary on TV later, which was already pretty cool, but that’s what I was really missing, peers and a mention somewhere in the material.
Next year’s the big-ass EuroPride in Amsterdam, a two full weeks and probably a festival with activities on an even bigger scale than this year. I’d hope we can get a group together for that and visit.
Until then, I’m back to finding spaces with open-minded people and figuring out what I like as demisexual and how to express that in a heterosexual-normative world. I’ve won another measure of self-acceptance and that, that’s the true treasure I’m taking away from that week.
- The first part, “I am neither straight nor queer” can be found through the link. More posts in the series can be found via the “demisexual satisfaction” category or the “sex-like” tag.
Images: mine 🙂