My thoughts continue to rattle on… Because possibilities! Ideas! Let’s see what we have, shall we?
- Several books published on asexuality, available online and offline
- Many, many articles written over the past decades, on paper, by magazines and newspapers, on people’s websites, in blogs, in events…
- A very active AVEN world watch forum where links and/or posts are published several times a day.
- Video and audio media in goodly amounts, as well as multimedia projects.
- Dedicated archives for media and zines.
- Several people dedicated to writing quality reviews and offering information.
- Media starting to appear in several languages that would be good to offer, and possibly offer translations or sub/dub versions…
- Probably a whole lot more.
Collecting either references or the media themselves in one place might help visibility immensely. So I figure, let’s think about this as a group, shall we? Hypothetically or realistically, what would be desirable to have?
- An online catalogue or database of existing media, with the emphasis on searchability and possibly reviews. Parallel: a library catalogue, for on- and offline media.
- An online archive with copies or reviews (depending) of existing media, with the emphasis on preservation and offering a wide collection of literature to those interested in a variety of topics concerning asexuality. Parallel: World Watch, but then a website.
- An online library with both existing media and new, where people can post, tag and review anything of interest, with an emphasis on offering a long-term place of publication and inclusive archive that worked to preserve as much of the media available on asexuality as possible, in several languages. Parallel: AO3/OTW, but way smaller.
Please tell me what would have your preference and advice you might have.
The third option is my personal preference, but it’d be the most ambitious project.
P.S. please do tell me if something similar is already in the works and I’m trying to reinvent the wheel.
P.P.S. I’m not trying to replace the World Watch forum, I think they’re a great help in signal-boosting newsworthy content, and I don’t believe in competition. I do believe that there’s room for a more flexible platform than a forum that would add to the pool of knowledge. I’m trying to see if that’s actually something other people want too. Keep in mind this’d be a long-term project that would take time to set up and grow, which’d fit in with the general growth of the asexual community, especially internationally.
(Crossposted to my wordpress and tumblr blogs and the AVEN Visibility forum. Please respond on your preferred platform.)
Today, the first half of a two-parter on a special piece of modern pop-culture, the Gay Pride, that staple of LGBTQIA community that’s between activism and a victory march. Or canal parade, in Amsterdam.
The first part will focus more on how my personal identity developed during that week, the second more on how I feel more comfortable as a demisexual in public. Both increased my comfort level with encountering sex and the idea of eventually having it – as well as exploring the idea of not having it. I’ll explain that too.
A good text needs the proper words and I don’t find my vocabulary adequate so far, so here’s the key words I wish to use.
- Sex-positive and sex-repulsed are the usual words for a positive or negative attitude towards sex, I want to split them into:
- Appreciation, indifference and aversion for one’s comfort with sex in several incarnations, not prefixed with sex because you can like or dislike a variety of things, not limited to your own sex drive and feelings of attraction, others’ flirting, nudity, PDA, explicit language, sensual acts, sexual acts, solo acts and acts with a partner.
- Approval or disapproval for one’s morality, in this post mostly towards sex, but also sexualities, expressions thereof, etc. I believe this should not be confused with your appetite.
- LGBT is the “queer” community as viewed by the majority of people, namely, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, which I will use to refer to the old model still present in most people’s minds.
- LGBTQIA refers to the current and global umbrella of non-hetero communities and sexuality-centred subcultures, including the asexual community.
- Demisexuality is my sexual identity and specific orientation.
- Asexuality or asexual spectrum to include anyone who never or seldom feels sexual attraction and needs or wants sex significantly less than the general population.
- Hetero-normativity, gender-normativity and sex-normativity are the ideas that heterosexuality, binary gender roles and wishing to have sex are such normal things that alternatives are forgotten and people disadvantaged.
Are you straight? Are you queer?
I dove into AVEN’s English forums for the first time. It was a good introduction, as well as a time-sucker. I started in Identities: The Gray Area1. One question popped up again and again, who has what label: “Are you queer?” “Are you straight?” “Are ____ straight or queer?” “Do you consider _____ asexual?” “Does _____ make me straight?” “Can I be _____ and asexual at the same time?” and so on and so forth.
If you’re new, it makes sense you want to know what’s what. I bet it’s a common question on advice blogs, too. But… people sure of their words and their sexualities also participated, because they’re not sure who is what either. And there’s a larger subtext, namely, who has a right to which label.
One that hit close to home was: “Heteroromantic asexuals: are they straight?” and in the subsequent discussion, “are they queer?” Many posted what they considered themselves, or what goes into what category… and for me, this was the most important realisation: no, I’m not straight, anymore. No, I’m not queer either.
I do not behave as most heterosexuals do. I call myself hetero, after demisexual, because the handful of familiar people I’ve been casually sexually attracted to over the last two years are men.
- How I become attracted
- How often I become attracted
- To whom I become attracted
- On what levels I feel the attraction the most
- How deeply I become attracted and if it lasts
- How willing I am to act on attraction
- The likely gender of who attracts me on a sexual level.
Yeah. Same with the queer identity, except I don’t even have that last thing in common. I feel connected to them because we fall under the LGBTQIA umbrella.
Straight spaces, LGBT spaces
Only when an entire city colours pink does hetero-normativity and gender-normativity make sense. When a girl is as likely to grab a girl’s hand as a guy’s hand, when posters show all sorts of couples, when dudes are lookin’ mighty fine in their dresses. When singles, couples and families come from all over the country to experience a few days’ vacation from an invisible crowd’s gazes.
I learned that straight spaces encompass “the entire world, unless otherwise specified” and that even in a liberal country, what is “fine” isn’t “normal”. That… that’s enough to make you “the other”, which is in turn enough to make you hesitant to behave as you would were you a regular member of the crowd.
I also learned that I feel the same in straight and LGBT spaces. Accepted, unnoticed and a stranger. I am welcome, but not a member.
The difference between straight and LGBT spaces? The latter is morphing into LGBTQIA spaces. Asexuality was not at all represented at the Pride, anywhere, but enough of an association clings to it, even for outsiders, that it earned a mention in the summary of the canal parade in a public broadcast on TV that night, which earned a small cheer on the Dutch AVEN forum. There’s been occasional articles, a character on a TV program, questions in random forums.
So, though I feel invisible, times are a-changing. I hesitate on the threshold of speaking up not because I do not dare, but to savour this pre-dawn glow of hope when everything still has the soft shape of possibility. In the future, the asexual community might well be welcomed, recognised. Visible.
Hello, I am Other
When you go from “well, I guess I’m straight” to “oh, I’m on the asexual spectrum” there’s a longer road to travel than from the other two sexual orientations, homosexual and bisexual. I am still learning the vocabulary and unlearning unconscious gender-normativity and sex-normativity.
The exploratory phase, being asexual in private, anonymously, is alright. It is rarely known so it’s interesting to read up on and a revelation to find words and people that match what you feel. The next one is harder, and not one I’ve committed yet. Why? For demisexuality, the first thing I learned while googling it the first time was “oh, this is me” and the second was “yeah, there’s doubt that’s a real thing”.
Asexuality has less discrimination, more erasure. You’re more likely to feel like a walking dictionary than a walking bulls-eye when you come out. You’re more likely to find out later in life due to ignorance than live in denial because of a phobia. But… but… It makes me stand out from a crowd, perhaps even more so than by having a familiar non-default sexuality. Or, conversely, to make me invisible because I don’t belong to any group.
That in itself is enough to make you stick to acknowledging rather than exploring your sexuality. It means there’s still much to discover about how it works during dating, during marriage, during having children. How to define it independent of other sexualities. It means I need to leave my comfort zone and take unknown risks to reap unknown benefits… scarier when done for the first time during my late twenties rather than my teens.
During the Pride, a lot of material on how to have dates, sex, kissed, counseling, etc. was all lying around. At the same time, I got blocked on my next “I Want Sex Like…” post because, honestly… the last two weren’t really about sex. In media, the asexual that appreciates sex is advertised. What’s forgotten are those who are indifferent or even averse.
The Carnival of Aces2 history month posts showed me that this stems from past conflict and community formation… #21AceStories and its backlash3 are a good current example of why that ain’t a good thing. A substantial part of the asexual community does not want nor will ever have sex. A substantial part has neither sex drive nor will ever feel attraction to act on. A substantial part wishes to be free to live a life free of their own sex, but also other people’s, to not see it on TV, in ads, in public spaces. The least I can do is combat my own assumptions on the topic.
Acknowledging my demisexuality has another effect: I feel less inclined to be either appreciative or embarrassed by sexual behaviour. Having a different identity means I do not feel the need to find men’s bodies as attractive, so I do so less. And less insecurity means less shame. I can quantify what I do and don’t find attractive and that means I embarrass less easily. So, while my appreciation is dropping down to indifference, my lack of embarrassment over undress and PDA in public is rising to match my actual approval of sex in private. It’s nice to feel less like a blushing virgin.
I feel… a little more free to feel what attraction I naturally would feel.
How Does that Relate to What Sex I Want to Have?
Let’s start with the easy one, shall we? Adopting my demisexuality and entering the public domain as such, I feel free from sex-normativity. A change in identity is changing how I feel because I no longer associate with certain expectations. What I do feel is more genuine, I believe. Going forward, I wish to continue exploring what actually attracts me.
I’ve realised I’m held back from acknowledging my identity in public by the fear of being other, stranger. The only minority I’ve belonged to up until now is the Christian one and the female one, both groups that have many members and positions and a good amount of visibility. I have no idea what would happen if I end up as “the demisexual” or “the asexual”. I think I need to go ahead and figure out what I tell to who, though, or I will forever procrastinate dating, meeting people, acknowledging who I am and finding community and relationships.
Asexuality is as yet a big unknown, but has a good chance of being welcome in the future, which is great. It makes it a lot easier to risk stepping out and meeting up, speaking up and forming relationships with either other asexuals or allosexuals.
I feel neither straight, nor queer. I have no wish to be either, but want to define who I am and what I feel independent of either of those categories, not as subsets. I do believe asexuality will always be part of a complex identity for anyone, most people identify by their partner preference as well as their place on the asexual spectrum, for example, but for me… I am demisexual, and the rest of the picture I’ll figure out as I go along.
A Statement of Intent
I am demisexual. I do not identify as either straight or queer. I do not wish to have sex as a standard “straight” person. My sexual desires and the processes behind my sexuality differ from other sexualities. In fact, my desires have changed simply because I am no longer influenced by the pressure of other identities. I feel scared of entering the spaces of other sexualities, but I really don’t have a choice if I wish to move forward. There’s a good indication that, as part of the asexual community, we’ll be increasingly welcome in LGBTQIA spaces… until then, I will continue to explore what my sexuality means for me, incorporating the discoveries I’ve made this week.
- AVEN’s Forums – the Gray Area
- The Call for Submissions for July’s Carnival of Aces at Next Step: Cake
- The Asexual Agenda’s thoughts on good media representation after #21AceStories and the reactions that followed
Images: mine 🙂
I’ve been browsing for some published works on asexuality. Demisexuality usually leads to “0 results”. The sparse information disappoints, but I’ve found a few treasures I’ll be reading.
One find I wished to share with you in time for the Carnival of Aces on History. I was overjoyed to see asexuality in the glossary of The Routledge History of Sex and the Body: 1500 to the Present. Granted, it led to the “Afterword”, but Lisa Downing used it to share a few good thoughts about asexuality from an academic and historical perspective.
“Bisexuality and asexuality are particularly significant modalities of identity that have arisen in counter- or reverse-discursive forms in recent years, as mode of resistance to dominant narratives of both sexual orientation organized on the principles of binary sexed and gendered attraction and to compulsory sexuality.
“Histories of sexuality have been rather silent on the subject of asexuality, understood in the current sense of an identity or ‘orientation’, rather than historically as a projection onto certain groups and classes of an ‘innate nature’ (such as women in the eighteenth century, following discourses of domesticity, as Kathryn Na[?]burg shows).
“A genealogy of asexuality might show that its discursive progressors are celibacy, a disciplinary practice of clerics, and the medicalized diagnoses of frigidity and impotence. Such a genealogy would offer a unique insight into the ways in which identity formation can issue from the silences, stigmas and stereotypes and would demonstrate an unusual temporal drag.” (‘drag’ as in lapse in time and ‘drag’ as in performance of gender or sex, coined by Elizabeth Freeman, an in-text footnote explains.)
“In parallel cases (e.g. homosexuality and fetish/BDSM), the historical gap between pathologization and the establishment of subcultures is much shorter, making asexuality a unique test case. [… I]t will be important for future scholarship to incorporate these emergent voices, identities and practices into an account of the past and contemporary landscapes of sexuality. It is also instructive to note how those subjects embodying less discursively well-established identity positions can find themselves marginalized even within putatively non-normative spaces such as queer and feminist communities.”
- “Afterword” by Lisa Downing. The Routledge History of Sex and the Body: 1500 to the Present. Ed. Sarah Toulalan and Kate Fisher. Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, 2014. p. 530.
So after reading Hanna White sigh over how demisexuality isn’t noble1, I feel I should add that nope, demisexuals are not just destined for epic romance. Here’s a short list of potential relationships I can see myself having as demisexual, keeping in mind that I am primarily emotionally attracted to people, rarely sexually and need a long acquaintance.
Relationships that at some point involve sexual acts. Note these can be between two or more partners, people from the same or different genders and open or exclusive relationships.
Long-term relationship, including marriage – let’s start with the traditional one, shall we? You date long term, you fall in love, you find yourself sexually attracted to your partner, you move in, you may become engaged, marry, procreate. Congratulations.
Friends with benefits – a pool of potential sexual partners is your circle of friends. If, at some point, one becomes sexually attractive, then yes, you can totally have a fling or a casual sexual relationship with a good friend.
Inter-office romance – a second pool of potential partners are the people you see the whole day, every day. Though you like and trust colleagues on a different level, it may form a connection strong enough to spark some sexual attraction as well.
Because demisexual is on the asexual spectrum, and non-sexual relationships are totally a viable option. Note these can be between two or more partners, people from the same or different genders, open or exclusive relationships.
Short-term dating – relationships that don’t last, for whatever reason, likely won’t become sexual.
Long-term romantic relationship, including marriage – because while you may become sexually attracted to your partner in the long term, you may not, and you may choose never to have sex, though it is a relationship on every other level, that may even include a permanent commitment.
Queer-platonic relationship, because you may have a significant other with whom you do not have a sexual or romantic relationship, but share a deep emotional, intellectual, sensual, companionable bond with…
So I hope I gave you something to think about. Mulling it over has certainly given me some breathing space. Look at all the possibilities! Though your orientation and preference for polyamory or monogamy will likely point you in a certain direction. If you’ve suggestions or questions, leave them in the comments!
I don’t feel discriminated against… I do feel a little invisible. That seems to be the trend where asexuality, in all its varieties, is concerned. For me the result was ignorance: realising there was such a thing as demisexuality in my midtwenties… in a country where variations in sexual orientation are actually part of secondary school sex ed curriculum. And reading other ace people’s stories has made me realise that’s actually not all that late to discover your ace identity. Two posts I’ve read this week show the other side of invisibility: erasure. What you encounter after you’ve discovered your sexuality, and other people remain ignorant, sometimes wilfully so.
On the Asexual Artists blog1, Emily Griggs replies to the question, “Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?” that, “A little over a year ago, I attended a panel on queer comics at a major comic event. One of the panelists began their answer to a question with the phrase that was something like “the queer experience is about the moment of sexual attraction.” The other panelists and the audience nodded along, and I was far too shy to raise my hand to disagree. I’ve never experienced overt aggression or belittlement for being ace, but that passive erasure was deeply painful.I was just starting to get back into comics, I was trying to write a script for one myself, and here a room of people who should have been my greatest allies were telling me that I didn’t belong without even noticing what they were doing. And it’s a kind of microaggression that’s happened again and again to me in all areas of life: this passive assumption that sexual attraction is universal.”
Flying While Falling Down blogs that her sexual identity’s been evolving from her initial sexual orientation as a lesbian to her current position, of being asexual, and that part of that was not feeling accepted by an explicitly sexual community anymore…2
One thing that really resonated in Emily’s interview was her description of a common misconception she encountered: “the idea that asexual people don’t enjoy sex or have low/nonexistant libidos by definition. It’s hard to make people understand exactly what not experiencing sexual attraction feels like, and how it’s different from the above.” I do not feel sexually attracted to people, precisely, but I can see myself having sex and getting other things out of it… emotional satisfaction, physical closeness, and at some point down the road, maybe procreation.
In addition, I feel that sexual identity, from attraction to action, from fantasy to solo-exploration to something involving partners, is far, far more complicated than we give it credit for. It’s really, really not an on/off switch, or even an ace/gay/bi/hetero dial.
The real upside, though? Even when ‘erased’, or late to the party due to ignorance, knowing more about your sexuality means that you aren’t invisible to yourself any longer. “I have the language to explain my needs and preferences without lies or half-truths” says Emily, and it’s true, given a label, and given the words, means being able to know who you are, and verbalise who you are and what you want. So even though I feel a little bit uncomfortable sticking on a label that makes people go “What’s that?”, it’s with fizzy-drink fuzzies that I realise I can answer the question.
P.S. And when they react to your answer? Well, at least I know enough to answer the most common misconceptions.3 And AVEN’s done a survey, useful for some stats to back up your explanations.4
- Asexual Artists’ interview with Emily Briggs.
- Flying While Falling Down’s post “Changing Labels: Letting Go of Being a Lesbian”
- The Stranger’s article on Misconceptions about Asexuality
- AVEN’s census
Writing a good post about a subject that’s new to me in my second language, with specific words and sensitive matters I’m not clear on… it’s like a pot of gold. There’s a rainbow involved, I don’t know when it will appear, but I’m not going to stop chasing after it, even when I never seem to reach it. Because I can’t stop thinking, stop writing, stop wondering.
Several posts and articles I encountered recently made the importance of language very clear… Joss Whedon tries to propose “genderist” as a replacement for “feminist” in a speech that I decided not to link to in my previous post1. Five minutes’ research pointed out that a) it’s unnecessary2 and b) genderist already is a word, used to describe those who discriminate against transgender and genderfluid people3. Urban Dictionary is inconsistent on the subject4.
Since this happened a week after I’d read how Flibanserin might cause asexuality to be treated as a low sex drive that can be cured with a pill5, and BytheGoddess’s post on how asexual people can be recast as the romantic or celibate version of gay, bi or hetero6, I realised I’d run into a problem.
My lexicon is lacking. The words I have do not satisfy me, and they fail in conveying what I mean with the care it deserves. I want to use antonyms, colloquialisms and synonyms in order to avoid using the same word twenty times in the same post. I want words that rhyme for poetry and be able to vary the style of my posts… I don’t want to sound academic when writing what’s on my heart.
I’ve hit the point where I stop being comfortable writing whatever. The Flibanserin article in the New York Times points out the danger of not making the proper distinction between not being interested in sex and asexuality… the former might erase the latter. Cake at the Fortress paints an even starker portrait7 of how two words for the same lifestyle, celibate and antisexual, might divide a community because they indicate two different philosophies, or at least, two groups that disagree on several points.
I know I’ve used celibate and abstinent interchangably for choosing not to have sex, because those are the words I know, with little thought for what connotations they might have and who would feel included and excluded by the labels.
As far as wishing to have sex to some extent, I’ve run into a lack of words… How to describe, for example: 1. the state of engaging in sexual fantasy, but not actively masturbation or the act of sex. 2. a person who sees people as sexual, but will never act on that, because the act isn’t interesting. 3. being indifferent to sex in general but strongly interested in it for the sake of procreation.
I know I still switch too easily between romantic, sexual; loving a friend, loving a partner platonically and loving a partner sexually; wishing there were different verbs for all three… When writing about what I am, I confuse “demisexual” as my identity with “asexual” as my community.
Stuff can be described, but it feels… clunky. I guess I still have a ways to go.
- Joss Whedon proposes Feminists should be called Genderists, youtube video
- A good article pointing out the various reactions to the above speech and problematising the coining of a new word
- Genderism explained succinctly
- Urban Dictionary thinks genderist comments are about women, while genderism is about discrimination of the transgender and genderfluid
- NYTimes writes about Flibanserin
- By the Goddess’s post “I’m only going to say this once”
- Cake at the Fortress’s post “A tale of two sites”
So, this month’s Carnival of Aces took some thought… I didn’t know if I’d have something to contribute. But one question got me thinking:
- What unanswered questions do you have about asexual history that you would like to see addressed?
Well, I’d like to know more about what’s happened in my own country, since I found out about asexuality and demisexuality in a very geeky corner of the internet.
It ties in with an awesome occasion, I think. The Dutch Pride is to be held in a month’s time in Amsterdam, and would make a great event to focus on to see how much visibility and attention we get and what ‘lives’ in Holland.
So I’ll be doing some stomping around and then hopefully making a contribution around that topic at the end of the month.
Aven’s Dutch-language forum’s the place I start. It’s been great connecting with people in my native tongue, the past few days there, after I finally dared to write my first post.
The first adjustment in my mental card catalogue on sexuality: demisexual is a shade of ace. It seems it’s treated that way in the wider discourse, and I think it’s good to adopt it. Since I’m starting a series on issues related to sexuality that’s not just applicable to my particular flavour, I’ve chosen to speak about “asexuality” rather than “demisexuality” for this series.
My religious and sexual identities conflict. Not because I risk discrimination, since a lesser or absent sex drive is not very likely to offend any parties other than whoever’s trying to have sex with you. But as discourses, the asexuality blog-o-sphere and Christian church express some very different beliefs, especially on the subject of sex. I feel I cannot participate in either openly and sincerely without reconciling what I believe to be true about my faith with what I believe to be true about my sexuality.
This won’t mean I can resolve centuries-old issues about sex and morality. It does mean I feel the two discourses can mesh, and I blog about one individual case in which they do, hopefully.
I will be entering into this discussion with a personal stake, but I believe that might be the only way to talk about a sensitive subject. I think few of us are unaffected by religion, member or not. To be fair, I do write as someone who was raised Christian and in a very liberal country and is comfortable with both these facts.
I wish to explore some of the core areas of contention by taking a closer look at what a few schools of thought or influential people have to say about sex, love and sexuality. I invite suggestions for topics in this series, and I’m always looking for other points of view, so if you’ve read or written about this subject, let me know. And feel free to leave your own questions or ideas for topics in a comment.
The posts planned in this series at this point:
- Asexuality and the Sanctification of Sexual Purity
- Asexuality and American Christians on Lust
- Asexuality and Apostle Paul about the Sense of Sex
- Asexuality and (Saint) Augustine on Chastity
- Asexuality and Space for Abstinence
- Asexuality and Denominational Variations
- Asexuality around the Christian World
12. Who do you turn to for support? Are there any ways they could more effectively support you? If they’re doing a good job, that’s excellent! What are some specific examples of things they’re doing right?
13. Are you a support person for someone else? What have you learned from being in that position? Do you have any advice for others?
My family, and they did an awesome job. See earlier post.
No… I’m not really in a supporting role for anyone other than professionally. That’s what this blog is for, to explore my sexuality and hopefully provide a starting point for others to find some information and comfort in theirs.
9. Have you ever felt subjected to gatekeeping in the asexual community because of your mental health? […] What can we do to combat that sort of feeling in our communities?
10. Have you ever found that your ability to participate in any kind of asexual community activity […] is limited by your mental health?
I… can’t say? I’m only now getting to know the asexual community. From what I’ve seen so far, people are ignorant rather than close-minded, so information might need to be repeated or researched and confirmed before it is accepted, especially considering how new, for example, the concept of demisexuality is.
Mental health issues made me hypersensitive to being accepted or not. Made me read far more into comments than was there. That ties back into the vulnerability I talked about earlier. It’s a common side-effect.
And, well, people are people. There’ll be cliques and trolls and blunt people everywhere. I think it’s very important that all parts of the asexual community, whether blog or forum or meeting place, ensures it facilitators and moderators work to ensure a good atmosphere and safe environment.