What is Resilience?

This post is for the June 2015 Carnival of Aces on Mental Health. It is cross-posted to the Resources for Ace Survivors blog.

[tw: invalidation, gaslighting, vague mentions of abuse and compulsory sexuality]

If you spend much time around survivor spaces, you’ll see a lot of talk about resilience. What does it really mean, though?

Basically: resilience is the ability to recover quickly from really tough, painful situations. But there’s so much more depth to it than that. This isn’t the kind of thing that you either have or you don’t. If you’re dealing with PTSD, you may be tempted to blame yourself (as I did) for not being resilient enough, for not recovering on the timeline that others think you should, or for even having PTSD at all. But don’t. Or at least, try not to. Because it’s not your fault. And you are resilient. If you didn’t have resilience, you wouldn’t even be here at all.

Everyone has some degree of resilience. And it’s something you can always improve. It’s like how in World of Warcraft, you have a base percentage of the Resilience stat, and then you can add onto it. Unlike in WoW, however, it’s not as simple as putting on a different set of clothes.

Resilience is a complex abstract idea that doesn’t mean much until you break it down into the factors that make it up, and concrete practical applications of them. There are several components that are thought to contribute to overall resilience. Each of these is a skill that can be developed, or a practice that’s built up based on skills that can be developed.

In one of my first sessions with my current therapist, she gave me a little notebook, and had me write down these components of resilience:

  • adaptability
  • creativity
  • ability to manage affect
  • support network
  • tenacity
  • discernment
  • ability to develop a positive framework for life’s issues

Continue reading

Resources for Ace Survivors Blog now live!

And it only took all of forever! :P

Check out our announcement post.

You can follow our RSS feed on Feedly or any other RSS reader you like. (Here’s a handy guide to RSS readers with startup packages of great ace blogs to follow!) Or, you can follow the Resources for Ace Survivors Tumblr, which will still be running alongside this new blog.

We will be integrating the new blog with the Tumblr in some fashion, and I’d like to make sure it’s comfortable for everyone, so please weigh in on what you think the best option would be. I’ll also be making a list of tags and trigger warnings for everyone to refer to when writing posts. If there’s one you want included (especially if it’s not typically included), please let me know!

We’re also still looking for moderators and writers to join our team. We’re still very short-staffed on the forum. Check out the post for more details!

Reminder: this month’s Carnival of Aces is on asexuality and mental health, and we will be integrating links to the submissions into a page on the RFAS site (unless you’d like us not to) to give these issues more visibility. We can host an anonymous submission for you on the site if you’d like.

We have a lot more pages we’re working on writing, and we have some great submissions to share soon.

Thanks so much to everyone who worked so hard to help me pull this thing together! :) You all are amazing. Be well!

Seven years

It’s been seven years now since I started this blog. And also that long since I cut off contact with my abusive ex.* (Not really getting into it in this post, though.)

These facts are not unrelated.

I threw this together pretty hastily, just as a place for me to rant where no one else would have to listen—or be able to connect the dots about who I even am. At the time, I felt like I was sifting through a dense gray fog, trying to catch barely-tethered thoughts before they completely disappeared into the wind. (This song is a very good approximation of that feeling.)

When I started this blog, I felt somewhat alienated from the ace community. I was frequently subjected to gatekeeping (which still happens today, but less). My experiences didn’t really fit anywhere. I didn’t expect them to resonate with anyone.

But, oddly enough, right from the very start I already had at least four readers. And that number steadily grew. I found a source of community-based intimacy. That was incredibly important for my recovery. And still is. So thank you, everyone, for reading and standing by me. It really makes a huge difference. Continue reading

On friendships, part 2: Ace culture and ideals of friendship

When I think of asexual culture, I think of a community that has come together in true joy and relief, of many isolated individuals finally discovering that they are not alone in their experiences—that we are not broken, not disordered, and not delusional. That we are normal.

Last week, I shared an exchange I had with my partner on twitter:

The context of this conversation is a little fuzzy and half-remembered by now, but it’s perhaps not quite what you’d think. Her meaning, when she said that, was along the lines of “yeah, asexual people do get depressed and struggle with friends… just like everyone else.” That we try to hold ourselves to superhuman standards in order to be accepted, because so many people unfairly assume that asexuality must be a defect caused by [insert BS here] and must be cured.

We have named that phenomenon: Unassailable Asexual.

When I think of the asexual community and the culture we’ve developed, I think of a group of people who share common struggles, and try to come together to help one another. I think of a group of people who, before we even know each other, often already have a sense of kinship or intimacy with each other, although not on an individual level—and also have names for that sort of feeling (community-based intimacy), because we are that interested in delineating different kinds of connections human beings can have with each other. Continue reading

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.

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.

Community, Intimacy, and Responsibility

This post is for the Carnival of Aces, Round 3.

I am not a particularly community-oriented person. While I’m certainly not asocial, and I can get intimacy from multiple people simultaneously, I can never seem to get much intimacy out of communities themselves. The larger the community, the more I fall back away from it. At its extreme, a community can become just a sea of names and faces I don’t know, moving so fast I can’t keep up. When that happens, I will usually leave. Unless there is a very compelling reason for me to stay, I see no point in being in what essentially amounts to a crowded room. My voice is easily overlooked, so unless the format of the place is such that I’m like… a panelist up on a stage with a mic, or unless we’ve been split into small discussion groups, I feel like I won’t be contributing much, if anything. If there’s already that many people offering support, then it’s not that big a deal if I leave. It’s better, then, to go find a place where I can contribute.

Which is why blogs work for me, but forums don’t. A blog isolates and elevates a single writer above the sea of faces, so that I can focus on them, and it encourages a sense of introspection which I think engenders a much more intimate experience for the reader. I feel like I know the people whose blogs I follow much better than I ever knew anyone on AVEN, even back when I joined it in (I think?) late 2004 (which was back when it was relatively small, as you can see here if you scroll down to the graph). There’s a sense of continuity, since their words aren’t mixed in with discussions that die and get buried at the back of the page, never to be dug up again, but collected over time, in a format that’s easily accessible once the moment of the post passes. On a blog network, my issues with finding intimacy within communities are to some degree resolved. The problem is, it’s only the writers that I can get to know. I only vaguely know my own readers. Most people don’t comment, and of those who do, few comment more than once, maybe twice. I have a sense of what you all like, based on what gets linked around. I have a sense of what people, including people outside of the community who don’t follow me but just happened to stumble across my blog, are interested in. I would like to hear what others have to say, which is why I allow guest posts here, and why I just recently set up a formspring where people can ask me questions completely anonymously. If you’re interested in guest posting here, please do get in contact with me!

A little while back I posted about how I think Rachel Maddow was wrong to say that people have a responsibility to come out, and there were a few people who disagreed with that post (in the comments and here), so I thought I’d clarify what responsibilities I think people do have to their communities, because it seems like people are disagreeing with what they think I said, but not with what I actually meant.

Do people have a responsibility to participate in any one specific community, at a very basic level? No. I think that if for any reason a community makes you uncomfortable (or worse), or even if you just have no interest in it, it’s perfectly fair and reasonable to stay away from it. Just because you’re asexual doesn’t mean you need to torture yourself trying to keep up with AVEN, for example. I personally only go there if I get linked to a specific thread; otherwise, I avoid it. If AVEN were absolutely the ONLY option for asexual communities, I (theoretically at least) just wouldn’t participate in any asexual community. I would be part of other, non-specifically-asexual communities, sure. If I had no problems specific to asexuality, I might never have a reason to join a community devoted to asexual issues. But since I have had some very serious issues both directly and indirectly caused by my asexuality, in reality, if I found that the only community that existed to discuss asexual issues was AVEN, I would start a new community. Not everyone has the time or resources to do that, so I wouldn’t say people have a responsibility to start a new community, either.

The thing is, people don’t NEED to feel a responsibility to join a community. They will do it because they WANT to be part of a community. Humans are a social species, and generally speaking, we naturally want to be part of communities… the only question is, which ones? Once they are actually part of the community, people may feel a responsibility to maintain it, sure. And that’s a good thing. But initially, prior to actually joining a community, how many people join it just because they feel obligated to do so? To clarify, I’m talking about PURELY SOCIAL communities, not charities or political groups. Those are different and the degree to which a group is oriented towards either one will increase the sense of obligation that people feel about participating. I’ll get to those in a minute. But to put this more succinctly, perhaps it would be best to use an example. So, what I’m saying is: would people, for example, join a community about discussing, say, Sherlock Holmes… because they feel obligated to do so?

People join communities because they are interested in them, or to be more precise, because they are interested in doing what that community offers. There are cases where people join communities not because they are interested in them directly, but because they are interested in something else related to them. For example, maybe an asexual person wants to find other asexuals in their area, but it’s a small area, so there are no groups for that. So, they go to their local queer/GLBT group, to see if maybe any other asexuals have had the same idea, or at least to hopefully get some support from the group itself. Or, say a person is interested in a certain political goal, like getting same-sex marriage legalized. In order to achieve that goal, they join a community, even though they may have no interest in actually being in that community otherwise. Or, perhaps the least direct, say a person wants other people to have a good opinion of them. So, they want to uphold an image of being a moral person. They know that joining a charity group would be a good way to do that, so they feel obligated to do so. Most likely, they’d join whatever group other people, especially people in high regard by their community (like a pastor), say they should join.

So where are asexual communities in all this?

You’ll notice I didn’t say “the asexual community,” because there isn’t just one community that everybody belongs to just by virtue of being asexual, just like there isn’t really a “the queer community” either. An asexual person who doesn’t like asexual communities could very well just drop out of them entirely. I could easily imagine a person who finds a lot of the discussion that goes on in asexual communities very annoying, perplexing, and counterproductive to their personal goals. We tend to assume that all of us want asexuals to become more visible, but does that mean that all visibility is good visibility? What if a person thinks that asexuals spend far too much time trying to answer questions they know nothing about, doesn’t find the idea of “what constitutes sexual attraction?” particularly mysterious, and think that words like “zucchini” give outsiders ammunition to claim that asexuality is ridiculous? What if a person thinks that their own coming out would be detrimental to other asexuals, because for whatever reason they think it will go so badly that whoever they come out to will just say something like, “Asexuals, ugh. I met a person who thought they were asexual once. Completely ridiculous.”

Do you think that person would feel that they have a responsibility to come out? I don’t. I think they would be more likely to think they have a responsibility not to come out. They’d probably avoid using the word asexual to describe themselves to others, even assuming that they continue to personally identify with it. The idea that coming out is generally beneficial rests on the assumption that coming out for asexuals would be like coming out for atheists: that is, that it would increase acceptance of asexuality, and decrease anti-asexual prejudice, by virtue of just spreading awareness. I hope that does turn out to be the case. But so far, that’s still an unproven hypothesis, and it’s good to keep in mind that not everybody believes it.

The problem with making a statement like, “Asexuals have a responsibility to come out,” even if it is qualified by adding “if and when their personal circumstances allow it” is that it doesn’t take into account that people have different values, goals, and circumstances. And different ideas about how to achieve those goals. You can certainly make the case that it’s best to come out, and explain why you personally feel like it’s your own responsibility to do so, but that won’t necessarily resonate with everyone. There are circumstances where coming out could have a very negative impact, and I think it’s best to keep those in mind, because I think saying that everyone should do it can be harmful.

And here, finally, we come to what I think is the strongest, most basic responsibility people have not only to their communities, but to all other people: Do no harm. This is very broadly applicable. It’s not just about not going around calling yourself an ex-asexual and saying that asexuality is bullshit. It’s a simple rule that applies to all sorts of things, which you’d arrive at by considering what goals have the most value, and what things are counterproductive to those goals. These counterproductive things can include being passive as something negative happens, and can also include participating in a community where something negative is going on, without criticizing it or after criticizing it to no effect. Leaving a community that is engaging in, for example, a lot of racism and misogyny, can be a good thing. In most cases it is probably better to speak up with criticisms of what is going on if you can, but if changing other people’s behavior via criticism is hopeless, then you can stop participating in that community, and by doing so, you would be fulfilling your responsibility to do no harm.

I think that supporting one another is just another extension of “do no harm.” We know that asexuals have a tendency to be isolated, depressed, suicidal, etc. as a result of social backlash against being asexual, including being erased. Doing nothing to help will just increase those tendencies, and thus it will be in effect, doing harm. So, we should each try to support each other in some way, if we can do so without causing great harm to ourselves.

So by saying that we all, as asexuals, do not have a blanket responsibility to come out, am I saying that we don’t have any responsibilities? By saying that we don’t have a blanket responsibility even to participate in a community, am I saying that we have no responsibilities to each other at all? No. I’m saying that’s surface-level, that’s based on a very particular mindset, a particular set of circumstances, values, and goals. I think we should, by all means, support one another, to whatever degree we can reasonably do that. I think part of that also includes being mindful of others’ circumstances, and not pushing them to do something that would be detrimental to them by making blanket statements about what we have a responsibility to do. I think supporting one another includes criticizing statements and actions that are hurting some sub-section of the community. It includes getting out of places that are not supportive, but destructive. I am not saying we shouldn’t try to create communities, that we shouldn’t stand up for each other. On the contrary, I’m saying we should. I just think that we don’t need to make up a list of surface-level responsibilities. Rather, I think in situations where we are advocating something like coming out, we should, instead of just saying we have a responsibility to do it if we can, we should say that we have a responsibility to support one another and not harm each other, and explain how coming out can be a way to fulfill that goal… while keeping in mind that in some cases, it may not be.