Thoughtfully Advocating for Inclusion

This post is for the Carnival of Aces. This month’s theme: Cross Community Connections.


Whenever an asexual person reaches out to engage with another community and advocate for an approach inclusive of asexuality, it’s always risky.

Reactions can range from eager acceptance, to confused tolerance, to a civil refusal to engage because it would constitute “mission creep,” to indignant outrage that anyone would dare suggest that even a small fraction of the community’s time could be spent on asexuality, to even—sometimes—outright abuse.

I’ve seen all of these and more over the past ten years. Lately, I’ve seen more success than failure.

Frequently, communities have no unified front. Different members have different reactions, and whether or not you make any headway largely depends on which people are in charge. If you get a bad response, it can sometimes be worth it to try again after the leadership changes. People do learn from their experiences, and although you can’t count on it, it’s possible that once a leader has seen membership drop due to intersectional frictions that were never addressed, they may become more willing to consider dealing with such issues.

Tenacity is important for making progress, but must be tempered with sensitivity. If leaders see you as someone who busts in like the Kool-Aid Man or pesters like a Sea Lion—someone with a pet issue trying to force the rest of the community to accept you as a member without regard for others’ boundaries—they may get defensive and become less likely to consider your points.

Sometimes their perceptions are unfair. Sometimes they want to exclude. Sometimes there are good reasons for them to do so. We should respect that decision even if we don’t understand or agree.

A thoughtful approach can make all the difference. To determine the best approach, I ask myself these five questions:

1. What are the community’s stated goals?

This can take the form of a mission statement, but some communities don’t have anything that clearly defined. Sometimes community leaders have inherited a mission statement, but want to take a different direction. Sometimes leaders have no clear goals, or don’t agree with each other. If you’re not sure about what a leader’s vision for their community is, ask them to tell you more about it. Try to find out whether their focus is broad or narrow—for example, is it just for lesbians, or is it meant to be for any “queer” person? Consider whether they are more interested in political change, providing support, or whether they just want to make friends. A support group may need to be very narrow in order for the members to feel safe enough to talk about their issues—try to find out what kind of support they provide, and what might be unwelcome. A political group may be focused on only one or two issues, and unwilling to address other issues for fear of narrowing their base.

2. Is the community inclusive?

What does the membership look like? Is it mostly white men, or is the group mixed along racial and gender lines? Does it reflect the demographic distribution of your area? This can tell you a lot about the group’s focus and outreach efforts.

Read the rest of this post at The Asexual Agenda.

And consider this my official announcement that I am now a contributor there! This should allow me to have a bit more room to separate my more personal posts from activism posts, so expect the scope of this blog to expand a bit.

Fun fact: This particular post was dreamed up like four years ago as a follow-up to my post linked above, but I never actually got around to posting it. I have a backlog of around 40 drafts of random things that I never finished and posted, so it’s often really hard for me to remember what I’ve said before and what I ultimately decided not to post.

Disingenuous, Shallow “Support”

[Warning: contains discussion of sexual and domestic violence, gaslighting, and disingenuous infiltration of communities by abusers (macktivists) co-opting the language of consent; mention of intra-community violence.]

Last week, two articles caught my eye.

First, let’s talk about this:

No More, the NFL’s Domestic Violence Partner, Is a Sham – Diana Moskovitz examines how several brands have decided that the reason why domestic and sexual violence persists is because these issues “don’t have a strong enough brand. So, to help get America talking about these issues, the brands created a brand, and partnered with other brands to promote this brand.” Upon asking their marketing director, Virginia Witt, to estimate how much money No More had raised for non-profits, the answer she received was… well, you can read it yourself at the link, but I think her assessment below says it all:

“Read generously, this is just marketing jargon (“brands … an asset … consumer engagement”) wrapped around an admission that no one has any idea whether or not No More actually does anything tangible for groups fighting domestic violence and sexual assault. Taken at face value, as it probably should be, it suggests that the measure of success for No More isn’t whether it actually directs new funding to, say, hotlines, shelters, and lawyers, but whether those who are already fighting domestic violence use No More branding in their own fundraising operations.

I took the No More pledge on their website. Since then, the only thing I’ve received from them is an email from Randel asking me to please share their advertisement on Facebook.”

Ah, yes. Facebook Activism. Because sharing something on Facebook for others to automatically click “like” without even reading is clearly the most effective way to promote real engagement with anti-violence work, and genuine support to survivors.

The idea that a brand is all that’s needed to get others to care, rather than something that is just there for others to adopt in order to look like they care, is so incredibly vile to me.

There are four lights

A Cardassian torturer famously tried to gaslight Captain Picard. His direct approach didn’t work. Successful campaigns are usually more subtle, and sustained for longer.

Why? Because it’s exactly the sort of thing that makes it easier for abusers to gaslight their victims.

Gaslighting is a tactic of presenting false information with the intent to confuse a person, and convince them that their accurate observations are wrong. Persistent, long-term gaslighting campaigns can really make someone feel like they’re going crazy, and severely cripple their ability to trust their own discernment.

No More’s logo requires absolutely no commitment to actually fighting domestic and sexual violence. Sporting it can make you look more saintly, and probably would make you feel good since it gives you the impression that you’re doing something, but it pretty much means nothing. But looking good—and silencing critics—is all the NFL cares about. This is an intentional marketing strategy meant to keep people just satisfied enough that they won’t dig too deep.

Can we really expect perpetrators—especially those who like football—to just ignore this potential tool for silencing their victims? I think not. I think some will use it to perpetuate. I think they’ll use it to project an image of caring about domestic violence and then turn around and say that what they’re doing can’t be real violence, because a person who “cares” about stopping such violence can’t be a perpetrator of it.

Which brings me to article #2.

This one is titled, What Happens When a Prominent Male Feminist is Accused of Rape? It relates the story of a group of feminists coming together to expose self-proclaimed “male feminist” Hart Noecker. It describes how he co-opted feminist discussion of consent, and used it to gaslight his victims: Continue reading

Review: The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker

Asexual Bingo card

Asexual Bingo card created by the author. Click for a flier with information about her book!

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time.

Years before it was written, I remember reading a conversation on LJ in which the author, Julie Sondra Decker (also known as swankivy), talked about potentially writing a book like this. Then, when it finally came out, my copy got lost in the mail! It took months for me to get the situation sorted out and actually receive a copy, although part of that was that I was out of town and without internet access for a significant part of last fall.

But it’s finally here, and now that I’ve read it twice, I can say with complete confidence: it’s excellent!

Before we continue, please note: Although I’ve been part of the ace community for a long time, and spent a bit of that time talking to the author several years ago, I was not in any way involved with the creation of this book. I didn’t provide any quotes, nor did I do any beta-reading. Because I took a long hiatus from the community starting in 2012, I didn’t even know that it was finally being written until after a release date had been announced!

So when I read this, I came into it with, perhaps, fewer expectations for exactly what was going to make it into the book than those who contributed to it… and also more criticisms, because one can generally expect most of the contributors’ criticisms to have been addressed before release.

What/Who is this book for?

As stated in the introduction, the book “should function as a starting point for people interested in asexuality.” It’s “for the layperson, written in everyday language” because “everyone will benefit from knowing that asexuality exists, that it isn’t a disorder, and that asexual people can be trusted to describe their own feelings.”

Fair enough! So I’m judging this based on those stated goals. This isn’t supposed to be the be-all and end-all of any writing on asexuality—it’s just a beginning.

And does it succeed at being a good beginning? Yes!

This is the Asexuality 101 book. It’s for laypersons, but I think it should also be required reading for professionals looking to better serve their asexual clients. It’s a starting point for real understanding, and one that outsiders looking in just can’t provide.

Books are prone to becoming quickly outdated as societal understanding deepens, and even less than a year after its release, there are already some passages beginning to show their age. But that’s more about how fast our high-level community discourse moves! On that level, it makes sense to forgive the subtle nuances rooted in older discussions. Here, we find the community’s foundation, preserved by someone who has been part of it much longer than most of us.

On such solid ground, we can now take steps toward further progress.

What Works

First, let’s talk about the best parts.

  • The writing is clear, concise, and casual. It’s easy to follow for a layperson, so it definitely achieves the right level of accessibility for its intended audience—and, crucially, it does so without feeling like it’s talking down to anyone.
  • It has a great hook for anyone starting the book right from the beginning. The author’s personal experiences and history of involvement with the community (pre-dating the establishment of AVEN) contextualize the book, and quickly dispel any notions that asexuality is “what the kids on Tumblr are making up these days” without having to directly address that charge. I particularly appreciate the acknowledgment that she’s been fairly lucky in terms of having “supportive family, unshakable confidence, no serious problems or issues in [her] life, and a thick skin,” because it’s important for readers to know that others haven’t been so lucky.
  • The structure of the book is very well thought out. It is divided into five parts: 1) Asexuality 101, 2) Asexual Experiences, 3) The Many Myths of Asexuality, 4) If You’re Asexual (Or Think You Might Be), and 5) If Someone You Know is Asexual (Or Might Be). This allows a person searching for specific information to pick up the book and flip to the most relevant section. The author also makes very good use of headers, sub-headers, lists, and bold text so that skimming readers will still pick up on the most important points.
  • I love the quotes from other community members highlighted in gray boxes throughout the book. They tie in others’ experiences, clarify concepts, provide illustrations of things described in the main text, visually break things up so that the reader will tend to feel less overwhelmed by walls of text, and serve as extra hooks to draw readers (back) in.
  • My personal favorite highlighted quote is at the top of page 38: It’s an anonymous person’s illustration of their experience with grayness through the metaphor of soda vs. water vs. water-with-a-bit-of-soda-in-it. I think that’s a brilliant analogy to explain experiences of graysexuality not defined by rarity, and I think it will be clarifying for a lot of people. It resists the most common way of explaining grayness, and I think that’s exactly the sort of thing that’s needed in visibility efforts to allow others to really understand these concepts.
  • Many points are supported by footnotes leading to more information, with a great bibliography in the back so that readers can look up the relevant studies for themselves. There is also a large list of other resources in the back—although books can’t keep up with the constant change of the internet, so a few of them have already disappeared.

If you’re a writer, all of the above are great lessons.

Cover of The Invisible Orientation

Cover of The Invisible Orientation

I also appreciate the minimalist cover, because it really mirrors how minimized and, indeed, invisible asexuality tends to be. Technically, that’s not part of the writing, and probably not something the author could control. Many people will tell you “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I think that people also tend to greatly underestimate how important packaging really is in whether or not a book will sell. And considering that this is supposed to intrigue people enough to introduce them to asexuality for the first time and legitimize the orientation in their minds, in this case a professional look is especially important.

What Doesn’t Work

Now, I was all set to rate this five stars… but upon rereading the first half of the book and counting up the places where there are serious issues, I have to take it down to four. These are issues that (mostly) seemed very minor to me… until I really started thinking about the implications of them. I summarized these in my Goodreads review, but here I will fully explain them.

If these points seem to take up too much space, that’s only because they are such subtle points that I have to use a lot more space to explain! I’m citing specific examples with page numbers so that everyone can see what I’m talking about for themselves and come to their own conclusions. I think we can apply the lessons we learn from these examples to other visibility efforts. Continue reading

Trigger warnings: when to use them and why they help

The following is a comment I posted here about trigger warnings—proceed with caution, the link includes some pointed barbs and many commenters who really miss the point.  The post was specifically about whether or not authors should use trigger/content warnings for books.

Here are my thoughts:

As a person with PTSD, I think that generally, people really, really don’t understand why trigger warnings are important, and in what situations they are helpful.

A trigger warning is there for those of us with such psychological disabilities (and yes, it is that severe that many of us have to go get declared as having a disability in order to participate in things like university classes—especially when sometimes, being enrolled at a university is the only way to get access to treatment). It’s there because CONTROLLED EXPOSURE to triggering material is important in mitigating the impact that PTSD has on one’s life. That’s not to say that we don’t ever read triggering materials. We do, and sometimes it’s actually *helpful* to read them. Engaging with triggering materials can sometimes be GOOD—but only when we’re in the frame of mind to be able to do that. Only when it’s NOT likely to completely take over and make it so that we can’t complete the other tasks that we are supposed to do. If I had adequate warnings, I wouldn’t engage with triggering materials right before I have some sort of deadline, for example.

But most of the time, you don’t get any sort of warning. And saying “oh, well you have a responsibility to research it beforehand” isn’t really helpful, because while I do try to do that, it’s not always something that’s actually possible. For example, say I watch a TV show regularly, and in general I’ve found it to be completely fine, with no triggers. But suddenly, there’s a plot twist which now DOES involve a triggering subject. This is the first time the episode has aired, so I wouldn’t be able to rely on other people to tell me before that comes up. So the plot twist happens and now I’m already triggered, but I have a choice: keep watching, or stop? If this is a show I’m watching as it airs, then I’m pretty invested in the show, so most likely I’ll keep going unless it’s really, really bad. But I’ll start to get more wary of the show, and treat it with greater caution in the future.

And there are of course triggers which are personal, and it’s totally unreasonable for me to expect anyone to know about, or warn me of. I would suggest that the only triggers we should reasonably expect others to care about enough to warn people about are the ones that are very common—especially various types of violence and abuse.

But all of those unexpected triggers ADD UP. And they’re pretty frequent, even if they’re minor. It’s a death-by-a-thousand-cuts type of scenario.

So while you’re not *required* to use trigger warnings, you really should be advertising what sort of content your book includes in SOME way (good blurbs don’t require trigger warnings, because they’re descriptive enough that it becomes redundant information). If you don’t, I’m gonna think you’re either bad at blurbs or kind of a dick (being too scared of “spoiling” your work to adequately advertise what kind of content it contains is kind of narcissistic, in a way—it assumes that everyone reads books for the same reasons, or the same reasons every time), or possibly both. (And btw, I should note that I’m using a general “you,” not talking about you specifically—the blurb for Atlanta Burns was fine as far as I could tell without reading it.)

The situation is different when it comes to blogging and assigning books in a classroom setting.

People blog because they are having discussions within their communities. Not using trigger warnings–or making fun of them–is a passive-aggressive way to marginalize people with PTSD, and edge them out of their own communities. It reduces trust, and makes talking about trauma with the community harder.

Teachers at universities have a responsibility to keep in mind the needs of disabled students, including those with PTSD (who again, may only be still enrolled because they need to stay there in order to get treated at all). That means being flexible enough to have alternative assignments available, allowing students with issues like PTSD to turn in assignments late, having ground rules about content warnings in creative writing workshops, and yes, providing warnings when the assigned material is especially likely to be triggering to students with histories of trauma. I’ve had many teachers not only fail at accommodation in that way, but also create a hostile environment by perpetuating rape myths and making other very inappropriate comments (these not just from literature teachers but also from things like Human Sexuality 101 teachers, who should *really* know better). Being in a hostile environment that you really can’t escape like that REALLY marginalizes people who have ALREADY been victimized. Many bright students just have to drop out because of this.

So… yeah. Trigger warnings are most appropriate for discussion settings like blogs, and especially important for classroom settings. Smart writers can certainly get by without resorting to using them if they’re good enough at blurbs, but the content SHOULD be advertised in some way—or else you’ll just marginalize readers who shouldn’t have been your target audience anyway, and probably get some bad reviews.

Some further thoughts:

  • Trigger warnings have nothing to do with censorship, and they shouldn’t be used to censor.
  • They aren’t about things that people merely find uncomfortable. They are about showing care and concern for those with serious mental illnesses—trauma, eating disorders, things like that. It’s about actively including instead of marginalizing those readers/community members.
  • And it’s SUCH bullshit to call someone “weak” for having any mental illness, and make fun of them for wanting to manage it better, and have the support of their communities in doing so. Also bullshit: centering an author’s goal to “challenge” readers at the expense of those who would re-experience their trauma by reading the material. Challenging material is not automatically better than other material. That’s just elitism. Personally, I like to have a variety of material available.
  • Again, this is especially important in communities and discussion settings, like blogs and panels. And we’re aware that you may not know all of our personal triggers—we don’t expect you to. But there are some things that are pretty widely known to be triggering, and that’s what we want others to try their best to warn us about.
  • It is worth being more specific than just whether or not sexual violence is discussed. That is a broad topic, and can contain many different triggers of varying degrees. Is it just a discussion, or is there actually a rape scene? It can be hard to tell.
  • It’s worth mentioning things that could be triggering to some readers in book reviews—or if you are the author, making spoiler-tagged statements about what sort of triggering material readers might come across.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any specific trigger warnings that would be helpful, but you find often go unmentioned? I’d like to compile a list of trigger warnings for others to consult before publishing blog posts, to make it easier for those with no experience with trauma or other mental illnesses to actively include and show support for us.

In case you missed it: FTBcon 3 Ace panel

In case you missed it, here is the ace spectrum atheists panel that I was on during FTBcon 3.

Before you watch it though, please be warned that we talked about some pretty heavy stuff, including sexual violence. If you have triggers related to that, and you find the panel setting them off in a way that you’re having trouble dealing with, you can go to Resources for Ace Survivors. Queenie has a list of ace survivors who are willing to talk to other ace-spectrum/questioning people dealing with sexual violence.

A couple of comments:

  1. In my introduction, I mentioned writing a more detailed blog post about my history with religion. If you’re interested, you can find that post here.
  2. This panel was somewhat unusual representation-wise (you’ll see what I mean). A little more diversity would have been nice, but we didn’t really have the time to arrange it. The whole conference was moved back several months, and when some of our previously scheduled panelists dropped, we had to switch things up with barely more than two weeks to go, too. I think it went very well despite the lack of certain perspectives, though.
  3. Even though we were able to exceed our allotted time because we were the last panel of the night, I still managed to forget several things I had wanted to say! And there were some things we just didn’t get to touch on, or only spoke of very generally, because the topic is so huge. If anyone still has questions, feel free to ask them here. Just mind the comment policy.

Anyway…

Apparently there were some trolls who kindly provided evidence to support all the points we made. If you look at it on Youtube, you’ll notice the number of dislikes on the video is much higher than the number of likes—most of them didn’t even watch, they just showed up to tell everyone that they don’t accept our existence, and then left. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that the people continuing to press the thumbs-down button are probably also not watching.

Thanks, trolls. Your belligerent commitment to ignorance has been duly noted.

I do find it funny that the jerk who instigated this sad fanboy drive-by attack just assumed we’re from Tumblr, considering that this panel is one where the majority of us do not use Tumblr (as far as I’m aware), and all of us were around well before it became a big thing. At least half of us dislike the format, and I personally am just a straight-up crotchety old WordPress supremacist.

Despite the trolls, though, the panel had enough interest to run long, and had a good response from the people actually involved in FTBcon. I wasn’t paying attention to the chat channel during the panel, but from what I could tell, the response seemed mostly positive/supportive. Big thanks to Jason Thibeault for facilitating, so that I could safely ignore both the harassment and all the wonderful supportive comments we were getting!

I want to briefly mention one thing that Jason brought up in the hangout chat, which I had wanted to respond to but then forgot about: the desire to help, but also let asexual people speak for ourselves—to not talk over us or ‘splain. That’s a sentiment that I do appreciate, especially because we tend to get a lot of people going, “No, I’m the psychic expert on your subjective internal life experiences, not you.” But I also wanted to point out that there will be situations where we’re either not comfortable speaking up, or just too worn down to do so. So creating an environment where we feel safe to speak—and ideally don’t have to do the very basic education work that precludes making finer points ourselves—is very important. And I think this conference managed it.

I had fun chatting with everyone, and I’d like to see more panels like this in the future, on many more ace-related topics. One day, I think the asexual community could successfully create our own whole conference using the same model as this one. I’m not sure how far we are from being able to make that happen—I suspect it would depend on how many people (including allies) would want to get involved. But I think it would be a very good thing for us, scattered as we are throughout the world, to be able to come together (in our pajamas) from our various spheres of ace-fluence to have discussions on topics we normally wouldn’t be able to talk to each other about, because we exist in such separated domains.

So if anybody wants to make that happen, I’m down.

Trying to Make Religion Work

So tomorrow night (Friday the 23rd), I will be appearing at FTBconscience 3, a free online video conference hosted by the FreeThought Blogs network. I’m on the Asexual Spectrum Atheists panel along with Siggy, Cerberus, and Sciatrix. The panel will be at 9 p.m. Central. There are a lot of other really cool panels, so check out the schedule!

Back in October, the Carnival of Aces was about Religion or Atheism and Asexuality. I had meant to make a post for it, but unfortunately during that time my life got crazy complicated, including some significant time where I didn’t even have access to the Internet, and it didn’t really let up until the beginning of this year. Since I’ll be spending a lot of time talking about religion and asexuality on the panel though, I’m just going to be focusing on my background with religion and why it didn’t work for me in this post.

Please be warned: this post will discuss religious abuse, domestic violence, and minimizing/policing the way I talk about it. Very brief mentions of sexual violence. Serious criticisms of religion, especially Christianity, are below the cut. If you’re sensitive about that, don’t read on.


Continue reading

Linkspam

I don’t usually do this sort of post, because most of the time I’d rather write up my own post and insert links as relevant. But right now I’m drained. My last post took a lot out of me, and I don’t even know that I actually finished writing out all the points that I wanted to cover in it. Originally it was going to be a two-parter, but the first part took so long that by the time it was finished, the carnival was already over. There may be a second part to it later, but we’ll see.

In the meantime, here are some things I want to mention that I don’t have the energy right now to make a full post on:

Asexy Stuff

  • SwankIvy’s book, The Invisible Orientation, is out! I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Please try to request that your local library (and queer resource center, if you have one) get a copy!
  • The August Carnival of Aces (on the Unassailable Asexual) round-up is here. The September carnival will be hosted at Grace of Diamonds, and the topic is “Asexuals, Advocacy, & Allies.”
  • Siggy posted something at The Asexual Agenda about doing visibility work, specifically on representing sex aversion to sex-positive audiences. I’m in on this project with him, and we’re looking for some input about how best to go about it. I’d like for sex-averse people to go and read the post and recent comments to give us some feedback. (Please note: sex-positivity here refers to the political movement. It is not about personal feelings about sex, and definitely not being “more than willing to have sex” as I recently saw it mis-defined. This specific sex-positive audience is probably more likely to value consent but perhaps not always realize the ways in which some of the rhetoric of the sex-positive movement devalues it and plays into compulsory sexuality.)
  • Two links on countering bullshit evolution-based arguments against asexuality: a more comprehensive one from SwankIvy; and one from biologist PZ Myers (which was meant to counter arguments against homosexuality, so he doesn’t actually mention asexuality but it applies equally well). Quote:

    “If evolution is all about competition, how come reproduction in sexual species requires cooperation between two individuals to occur? Have you ever noticed that reproduction isn’t actually literally replication? You take your complement of 20,000 pairs of genes, and you throw half of them away, splice the remainder into different combinations, and then you merge those with the similarly mangled set of genes from another person, and you produce a unique individual. Not a clone of either of you — someone completely different.

    That should tell you right away that you aren’t the focal point of evolution. You are a test platform for a battery of genes, genes that are shared with other members of your community. Evolution sees the propagation of a pool of genes that tends to produce successful individuals; look up inclusive fitness sometime. You share genes and combinations of genes with your siblings, your cousins, and more distant relatives — there’s more than one way for your population to propagate itself than for every individual to maximize the number of offspring they produce.”

  • Pretty old links at this point, but this discussion of the problematic aspects of the term “sex-favorable” mirrors some of my own thoughts about it, so I thought it was worth mentioning here. Still trying to think of a way to get out of the tendency to frame/read it as indifferent/repulsed dichotomy. Too historically entrenched to come up with an easy solution.

Other Stuff

  • [TW] Debunking Some Skeptic Myths about Sexual Assault – “why was a conference notorious for having a sexual assault problem hosting ‘Who’s Lying, Who’s Self-Justifying? Origins of the He Said/She Said Gap in Sexual Allegations’?”
  • [TW] What if rape at university wasn’t impossible to prove? – in support of these two posts by Maria Marcello.
  • [TW] Why is it easier to invent an anti-rape nail polish than find a way to stop rapists? – “So long as it isn’t me isn’t an effective strategy to end rape.”
  • What It Means to Choose Recovery – “Imagine yourself walking on a tightrope; some days you will be perfectly balanced, some days you will lean towards healthy, and some days you wont. And thats okay. You will constantly be on the tightrope.”
  • Ferguson: Some Concrete Actions You Can Take – However, I’d like to note that this sort of oppression isn’t new just because white people are paying attention to it, when they (we) haven’t before. It’s important not to perpetuate further violence via erasure. See these two posts from Gradient Lair.
  • Universal Snuggle-Care, Motivated Loneliness, and the Benefit of the Doubt – On Nice Guys:

    “The attention of paramours is not a reward for good behavior, but something you get by convincing someone that they want to be around you and share more of themselves with you than they share with their friends. That’s its own task, with its own rules and its own challenges.  You might resent that fact for a long time before you understand it, before you figure out that being “a nicer guy than Henry” does not, in fact, mean you have already done everything you need to do to earn someone else’s most intimate trust.  But when you recognize that a whole slew of habits, quirks, and preoccupations are telling the objects of your desire that you would likely make them regret letting you into their worlds, no matter your virtues, you will get better.”

  • Excellent post on the gender gap in schools and sexual harassment: “The girls figured out I won’t report them if they hit boys who are sexually harassing them, I’ll only report the boys.  This led to an increase in how often girls got the last word and boys got smacked in my classes, and, also, to a DECREASE IN HOW OFTEN GIRLS GOT SEXUALLY HARASSED.”

That’s all I’ve got for now, although I’m pretty sure some of the links I had wanted to post slipped through the cracks. I am going to try to use Twitter to start sharing links more often, so feel free to follow me there.

One final note… I’m aware I’m very slow at responding to comments sometimes, especially those hosted elsewhere, where I generally don’t have the same reminders visible to me as I do here. I just get overwhelmed trying to do too much and follow too many conversations at once. Sorry!

Shutting Up: On writing, audience, and representation

Every writer has a pile of drafts that have never been published. Some of it just doesn’t deserve to see the light of day, but other drafts? Some of them are held back because we as writers just aren’t ready for the sort of attention that it would inevitably bring. Some of them are about topics we aren’t quite able to focus on long enough to bring to completion, because they are topics that sap so much mental and emotional energy that they would leave little room for the rest of… well, life, and especially enjoyment of it. Sometimes it’s a topic that has to be thought through very carefully in order to reach any sort of clarity about it, and that thinking-through period can last months or even years, well before the actual process of writing things down begins. Some writers like to go on about how nothing except the part where you actually sit down and do the writing counts as writing, but I disagree. I think the part where you do research and careful critical thinking about the subject you’re planning to write about is just that—critical to the process of writing. Writing without the benefit of reflection results in very shallow words that don’t offer anything truly insightful. Writing without being (or while trying not to be) vulnerable results in similar shallowness, and when your writing is very personal, you can end up with layers of dishonesty—unintentional, probably, but nevertheless real.

I’m going through a weird transitional phase right now as a writer. I’m not a student anymore, but I’m also not quite at the stage of publishing anything that will give me any sort of royalties, although I’m certainly working on it. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out how to support myself while working on it, which projects to work on, and how to find the support and self-care methods I will need to get through it.

This post is partly for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces (this month’s theme was the Unassailable Asexual), and partly something I would have eventually written anyway.

[Content Note: The rest of this post discusses sexual violence, minimization and victim-blaming, and vulnerability to abusers, as well as exploitation and privileging of certain narratives over others for the purpose of pushing compulsory sexuality. All links in this post also come with a huge warning. Please be mindful of your triggers and practice self-care. Please let me know if you think anything else needs to be included here.]

Continue reading

Book Review: My Life in Hetero: An Ace in the Closet by C. Kellam Scott

Cover: My Life in Hetero

Cover of My Life in Hetero: An Ace in the Closet

I’m generally glad to see a new book crop up about asexuality. A few weeks ago, I saw My Life in Hetero: An Ace in the Closet by C. Kellam Scott pop up in my Amazon recommendations. I noted that it was a self-published memoir, which automatically made it somewhat dubious, but I bought it anyway. Priced at only $3, it’s not a huge investment.

It’s a familiar story, for most of us who identify as asexual. Going through life with confusion, feeling like somehow we are broken or shouldn’t exist. Finally finding out what asexuality is, feeling that weight lifted as we see our own lives reflected in our new-found community.

It’s a story that needs to be told, and I’ve long held that it must be told in non-fiction before it will be widely accepted as fiction.

Unfortunately, like many other self-published endeavors, this book suffers from the sore lack of an editor.

Paragraphs in this book are generally long and somewhat hard to follow as the sentences themselves begin, meander, and end in odd places, with commas placed almost haphazardly—sometimes where they would be expected, but more often not. There are also several instances of choosing the wrong word when words sound the same, like using “bizarre” instead of “bazaar.” On the level of the individual line, the book needs to be combed through by an editor to catch such common mistakes.

But even more than that, there needs to be a deep editing, a drastic revision. There may be an interesting story there, but it gets so lost in extraneous anecdotes about the author’s day-to-day life that the most important parts don’t stand out. The entire book is written without entering a scene: translated from writer’s lingo, that means that it’s written as if it’s someone telling you something, but not showing you. Instead of recreating a setting from his life, describing it with sensory details, and showing you a dialog between himself and the people around him, Scott just tells you that he said this and so-and-so said that. This makes it very, very difficult for me to connect with his story. It makes the narrative fall flat, because everything sounds so much the same that it’s like a voice that goes on for so long you start tuning it out, skimming, and losing track of what’s going on. What’s saddest of all about this telling-not-showing approach is that the voice of Scott’s past self is not represented at all; we as readers only get to hear his present self telling us how things used to be, and so his anguish comes out muted, suppressed. It should be represented like the rage of the mosh pit (which he does describe well), but instead we only get to see this mediated by the calmer older self, instead of seeing it described directly.

The other major issue I had with it is that I really couldn’t keep track of the large supporting cast of friends, coworkers, and romantic non-interests. Most of them are mentioned by name first, and only later do they get introduced with a very brief description, though I’m fairly sure there are a few who must have slipped through the cracks. Because there are no scenes in the book through which to display any identifying characteristics, I know nothing of their personalities or quirks. It reads like someone’s report of their day on their livejournal with the names of friends sprinkled in without any explanation, except I’m not in the author’s circle of friends, so I don’t know who any of them are at all. What few descriptions there are get lost, and as years pass the cast is shuffled around without re-introduction, so that if I have any inkling where and when Scott met this person, how well they had known each other and kept in contact, or whether they had fallen out of touch and gotten in contact again, it is only the barest, vaguest guess. In the most extreme example of this confusion, I couldn’t tell dogs from people and it took me a while to figure out which “ladies” Scott had taken on a walk.

There is an issue here that I want to be sensitive about, and that is the author’s lack of education beyond a high school level. Within the book, he admits having a sense that he was allowed to graduate from high school only because the administrators of his high school “wanted to keep their numbers up.” Sadly, in light of that fact, he decided not to pursue higher education just to deny those administrators one more graduate who went on to receive a college education. This author is not stupid, but he was never encouraged to pursue his education in any way that felt genuine, so he has been left trying to educate himself with far fewer resources available to him. Of course he is not going to know the ins and outs of writing (and especially editing) a memoir, in that case. Few resources about it are free, and finding a serious writer’s workshop group that is actually open to works of non-fiction outside of meeting other writers at school is hard. Most likely, the only people available to critique Scott’s work would have been his friends and family.

What the book does have going for it is that it is very much genuine and raw, so if that is your thing, you may still enjoy it. But unfortunately, it was published prematurely in what I suspect was a rush to be the first asexual memoir on the market—probably not to make money, but rather to spread visibility—and because of this rush and the author’s lack of resources/knowledge about the process of editing and publishing, it ended up being ineffective.

If this is meant as some sort of healing journal, then it’s served its purpose and nothing more needs to be done. But if this is actually meant to reach an audience and do real visibility work, then it needs lots of editing. As it stands, I cannot recommend it, especially not to people who are not already familiar with asexuality. And for those who do already identify as asexual, it doesn’t add much that can’t already be found elsewhere for free.

The best I can hope for is that this author has learned a lot about both writing and himself through this process, and will continue to grow despite receiving criticism. I wish him luck!