Overthinking It

This post is for the Carnival of Aces, Round 4.

This is going to be a thinking-out-loud sort of post, so please bear with me.

This prompt has had me stumped about what to write about for a while now. Relationships aren’t something I spend a whole lot of time thinking about anymore, I gotta say. Not in the traditionally asexual way, at least. I mean, everybody thinks about their relationships to some extent, and I’m no exception, but I’m not sitting here thinking about relationships themselves, in this meta sort of way. I’m not thinking about group relationships (largely because I don’t really have them), or questioning what counts as romantic and what doesn’t, or trying to figure out how to define romantic attraction, and so on and so forth. Largely because… I just don’t think it matters that much.

All this focus on trying to pin down exactly what “romantic attraction”—a fairly recently coined term—means seems like overthinking it to me. From my perspective, it’s straightforward: it’s a shortcut to expressing some idea that everybody has different ideas about.

If somebody tells me that they’re “romantically attracted” to someone, I don’t know whether that means they experience a myriad of other kinds of attraction to them that they’re smushing into one term, I don’t know whether it includes limerence or not, I don’t know what level of infatuation is involved, and I don’t know whether it includes an actual desire to be in a “romantic relationship” (whatever that means to them) with them or not. Different people use it to refer to any or all of these things. I only have a vague idea that something like that is involved. Most of the time, clarifications don’t make a difference, because it’s not need-to-know information. Unless they’re asking my advice on something, I won’t ask.

Likewise, if someone tells me they’re aromantic, I don’t know whether that means they just don’t experience the “in love” feeling (aka limerence), or whether they choose not to get involved with romantic relationships—and if it means the latter, I don’t know what relationships they don’t want beyond the most conventional romantic relationship imaginable. They might want a Boston Marriage-type thing, which I would usually consider romantic, but not everybody does. I’d have to ask for more information to know what specifically they mean by aromantic. I have a vague idea, and I’ll usually assume it probably means both the lack of limerence and lack of desire for romantic relationships, while keeping in mind that I don’t really know exactly; it’s enough to get by on, and unless I’m presented with more information I won’t usually ask.

I understand, in a way, why the first question people in the asexual community ask one another is often about romantic orientation. It gives some key information about how to treat people, allowing you to avoid making the wrong assumptions (at least to some degree) about what people want out of life, and what type of people they want it from. But at times, it becomes too much of a focus. It becomes something that divides us into different camps, something that others use to tell us that some of us are allowed to join their club, but others aren’t. And the people who don’t know where they fall are just sort of left out of the discussion going, “Romantic? Aromantic? Demiromantic? Buh?” So it becomes this persistent, nagging thing, because they don’t know what they are, because they don’t know how the terms are being defined, so they try really really hard to (get other people to) define them. It’s understandably really frustrating.

But to me, it just seems straightforward that there are at least three or four different major definitions of what “romantic attraction” refers to that are used by different people in different situations. And… that’s okay. All of the definitions can exist at the same time. There is no clear line between friendship and romance, and everybody draws the line in a different place. All of this stuff is just interpretation of biochemical events called emotions and ways to structure expectations and agreements with other people. The interpretations are naturally going to vary. Even among fairly conventional people, cultural constructions only go so far to produce conformity of interpretations.

I would like to see less emphasis on categorizing people according to their “romantic orientation” in the asexual community (and MUCH less emphasis on doing so outside of the community). It’s a useful concept insofar as it provides a non-sexual alternative to gender-based inclinations toward attraction, but beyond that, its usefulness rapidly deteriorates. Communication gets really sticky when people are using different definitions for the same word, and using the term “romantic orientation” in particular leads to a lot of trouble, because it references the concept of romance, which is not really one concept but many bundled up into one word. I prefer to avoid it, and use the term “affectional orientation” instead. But, since this is not a commonly used term, I sometimes just go with the more well-known term for simplicity’s sake. More and more lately, I’ve stopped even calling myself panromantic or biromantic (which again, I use when people aren’t likely to be familiar with pansexuality). I can’t even remember the last time I called myself that. In most cases, I don’t need to; I need only make reference to my girlfriend, and people know as much as they need to know about my affectional orientation. I have yet to run into a case where more clarification is necessary. If I do, I don’t plan to use those labels.

And if I’m interested in someone romantically, I’ll just say I’m interested in them romantically. I see no reason to try to use a “shortcut” phrase like “romantically attracted,” which actually would probably just derail the discussion with explanations about what exactly that means. I… honestly don’t believe in the concept of “romantic attraction” at all anymore. There’s romantic interest, sure. And there’s infatuation, there’s limerence, and there are other kinds of attraction. Why do we need to muddy these separate ideas up by using a term that rolls them all together? I suppose there’s something to be said for vagueness in cases where people aren’t sure how to classify their feelings for someone, but we already have vague phrases. Why not just say something like, “I like [x] in this sort of way where…” and then describe it a little?

Rather than spending so much time trying to come up with a strict, clear, universal definition for something that’s not universally definable, I think it’s more useful to think about the particulars of a relationship. Semiel from Intimacy Cartography made a wonderful list about this a while back, and if you’re interested in this sort of thing you should totally check it out. It can be applied in a lot of different ways, and provides a lot more insight than I’ve ever seen from posts about whatever “romantic attraction” is supposed to mean.

I want our vocabulary about relationships to increase, not be subsumed under a broader term that encompasses more than one concept. I don’t want it to increase because it’s being filled with lots of new words that all just come from a vague term like that. I want to see more specific words, words that refer to more clearly defined concepts. Words that refer to different relationship models, words that describe how relationships work. I hope some of the people who have been very frustrated by trying to figure out what people mean by romantic attraction might feel a little bit of relief from that frustration by realizing that there’s more than one definition, and you’re never going to get everyone to agree on the same one. Although I love dealing with theories, I’m a pragmatist about this. Realistically, I think this is one abstraction that’s just too abstract.

Link Management

So I’ve been bad, guys. I haven’t updated my links list in roughly FOREVER. Back when this blog started, there were only a handful of asexuality-related blogs out there, and now it’s to the point where I can’t keep track. New ones are cropping up all the time, which is quite exciting! I’m starting to go through the process of updating this list, but it’s quite tedious and it’s become difficult enough to find good (relatively) new asexuality-related blogs that I’m going to ask for help.

So, do you run an asexuality-related blog? Do you know of a good one that’s not on my list yet? If so, please link them in the comments! I want to keep it to blogs that are about asexuality for the most part, not just personal blogs where the authors write about asexuality once or twice. It doesn’t need to be strictly about asexuality, however. I also try to post links to other blogs I read in the non-asexual section, but it’s hard to keep track of those, too. When it comes to asexual bloggers who only write about other things, I’m totally unsure how I should categorize them, so I’ll throw that question out to the readers: What do you think? Should they go in the Asexy Blogs section or not?

I haven’t decided what I’ll do about blogs/sites that haven’t updated in more than a year or so. I may go through my list and prune them. I’ll probably leave the dead ones that have a lot of posts that are really good, but prune the dead ones that have a small amount of posts. If you see any links that don’t work anymore, please let me know here, too!

The drugs, they do nothing.

So I was a little perturbed to see someone link this post of mine with the description “Asexual prescribed drugs to cure it.” If you actually read the post, you’d notice that asexuality had absolutely nothing to do with the reason that I was prescribed Bupropion—in fact, the psych had and still has no idea that I am asexual. There’s no reason to mention it.

Anyway, I promised an update so here it is: as I hypothesized several months ago, the drug has had no effect on my level of sexual interest, attraction, arousal, ease/enjoyment of orgasm, or anything else related to sex. For that matter, I’m not totally sure it’s doing anything to help with anxiety (the real reason I’m taking it) either. It’s hard to tell the difference between that and the thyroid meds I started a few months later (anxiety is a symptom of thyroid problems), which have considerably more noticeable effects. My once ridiculously frequent migraines are finally GONE! I haven’t had a single one since I started, only light headaches, and my sleeping schedule (always a huge problem from as far back as I can remember) is really starting to normalize as well. Now, if only I hadn’t just sprained my ankle…

Poll: Do you “get” sexiness?

So, piggybacking off my last post, where Tim Gunn, who described himself as asexual numerous times, said, “there are women to whom I’m attracted. It’s not like I want to go to bed with them—but I can appreciate when someone’s radiating sexiness.” I’m curious. How many other asexuals (who read this blog, obviously) feel the same way?

Please only answer if you identify as asexual or gray-asexual!

Not Dead Yet: Call for Guest Posts

Yeah, so as it turns out, I’m actually not dead. But, on the other hand, I’m not doing too well either.

These past few months, I really just haven’t had the mental resources to keep up with blogging. It’s been difficult for me to even check my email, let alone write anything here. Besides which, the subject that has been occupying my thoughts most often lately is not one I can write about publicly, at least not yet. At some point, I would like to do so, but now is certainly not the time.

Until such time as I can get things together, expect me to post very sporadically. I’m not apologizing and promising to post more, as that usually leads to trouble. I’d rather avoid setting some sort of arbitrary posting quota for myself, because I can almost guarantee I’d set the bar too high. I’ll do it when I can manage, however.

I would like to set up some guest posts to keep conversation going in the meantime, if anyone is interested in contributing them. Obviously, a topic of particular interest around here is gray-asexuality, as well as how to deal with being sexually active as an asexual person. I’d like to keep it at least somewhat asexuality related, but you don’t have to be asexual to contribute. I think there may be some interesting perspectives about asexuality coming from non-asexuals that we tend not to hear from very often. Or perhaps you are from a community that has a similar interest as or significant overlap with the asexual community, and you’d like to elaborate on that, or just explain more about your community and how we can work together. If you disagree with me about some issue, that’s perfectly fine. If you already have a blog, that’s fine as well, as long as it’s not a blog that primarily deals with asexuality, since the goal here is to hear from people we don’t usually hear from.

Please provide a name and short bio to be included with the post. I may come back and post some more in-depth guidelines later on, but let’s leave it at that, for now. My contact info is listed on the sidebar, so if you’re interested, hit me up!

What’s In a Name?

When I started this blog, I did so anonymously. I didn’t want my family members to find out about it, since I talk about a lot of things here that I’ve never told them and never plan to discuss. Now that I am dating a stealth trans woman, I have an even better reason to prize my anonymity. If someone who knows me in real life happens to find me out, it could have dire consequences for both of us, depending of course on who finds out and what they choose to do about it. So I chose not to use my name, and have continued to do so because it still makes sense not to be too revealing.

One of my personal ambitions is to eventually have some of my writings published. I have been carefully considering what name I would use for that. Whether or not I use a pseudonym, I would really prefer not to be connected to my maiden name at all, as it represents a connection that is bitterly twisted, a family history I would rather distance myself from to whatever degree I can. Why should I keep the name of a man who is abusive and spiteful, who cannot see beyond his own black-and-white conception of the world and condemns me for having no blind belief in his cruel god? Although most of the other members of my paternal family line are inoffensive enough (as far as I know them, anyway, which is not far), I am really quite annoyed that I have been represented by my father’s name in the first place. My mother’s maiden name is not much better in terms of its sound and rarity, but at least that would have been more true to my alliance with that side of the family. But truthfully, I don’t want to use either of my parents’ names. I want to have a surname that reflects my own identity and my chosen family, rather than what I was just born with.

When I first started this blog, I kept those things in mind as I thought about what to call myself here. I didn’t have my identity resolved, so I just relied on the moniker “The Gray Lady” to refer to myself, even though I thought it was a little hokey. Now I’m not so sure if that fits, since I have felt more settled into my identity as asexual, and less like I really count as “gray” (despite the fact that I am sexually active). So after debating it for a while, I’ve decided to change it. I’m going to go by my real name, Elizabeth, which is not the name I normally go by, but is what I’ve finally decided to use for publishing my writings. I like that name. It’s mine, I own it, have always owned it. I think it fits me and represents me well; not just one aspect of my identity, but me as whole. And I figure it’s a pretty common name anyway, so my family probably won’t figure out who I am even if they do somehow come across this blog.

I still haven’t figured out my last name yet, so I kind of consider that nonexistent for the time being. Some day, my name will change again, but at least for now… This way, I think I am a little less blank.

I’m still around, I promise!

So I realize I haven’t updated in quite a while. I’ve kind of dropped off the face of the internet again lately due to having to take care of my schoolwork, my girlfriend, and most recently, a friend’s cat. My own cat sadly had to be put down in a stunning display of I Hate My Family, too (long story short, they didn’t pay enough attention to her to realize she needed serious medical attention until it was too late), so my mind has been pretty far from asexuality lately.

Thanks everyone for your responses to my last post. I find it interesting to see the range of responses, with the consensus being uncertainty in how to categorize such a person. My own view is that self-identification is the most important thing when it comes to choosing a label for one’s sexuality–HOWEVER, this self-identification must be a result of clear-headed, honest introspection, rather than a desire to delude oneself. In this particular case, though, that identification can be difficult due to uncertainty about the meaning of “asexual” as applied to humans–do we interpret the definition given on AVEN (lack of sexual attraction) in a strict, narrow sense (with this lack of sexual attraction being the sole indicator of asexuality), or do we look for other cues in addition to that? Ultimately, I take a non-prescriptive view and place this decision on the individual in question, so that they can find a label that is comfortable for them. There are a fair few other asexuals who I venture would do the same (indeed, there is pressure from the community to let people decide for themselves their status as asexual or not), but not all of them. Still, I wonder what difference it makes, beyond vague annoyance about internet flame wars, what other people think. There aren’t really any drastic consequences associated with someone saying “you’re not asexual enough,” except perhaps for people with very thin skins.

I won’t go on, since I’ve got homework to get back to, but you all can expect another post soon. Perhaps not too soon, since this is my last week of classes and it’s crunch time, but soon enough!

Livejournals.

Seems a bunch of us have them. I’ve decided to start a new one, too, for a couple of reasons: 1) will make it easier to comment/keep up with asexy LJ blogs; 2) I am working on some (asexuality-related) poetry, which I would like to post somewhere that others can read it (after revising it of course), but not in a public forum, because I would like it to remain publishable if at some point I decide I want to publish it. LJ’s privacy features would allow me to do that; and 3) those same features would give me a place to write without worrying about protecting my privacy.

So, you can find my new LJ here. Of course it is friends only, so leave a comment if you want me to add you. Happy reading!

Cosmetic Changes

Well, I think I’m pretty much settled with this layout now. It’s not exactly what I had envisioned—the underlined links bug the hell out of me, and if I could have it my way I’d change the colors of the links as well, but oh well. I’m not going to shell out $15 for just that, so it’ll have to do.

I may still do a little tweaking with the sidebar, but for the most part, I think this is how it’ll stay.

Testing things out.

As you may have noticed, I’m playing around with the site’s look a little bit. What I really wanted to do was create my own theme for the blog, but apparently I can do that and preview my changes, but in order for the changes to take effect, I’d need to shell out some money. Which I really don’t have any to spare right now. So, for now I just have to go with ready-made themes.

I’ll probably be changing it around for a little while yet, until I settle on one I like best.