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Books are prone to becoming quickly outdated as societal understanding deepens, and even less than a year after its release, there are already some passages beginning to show their age.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

Project Update: The Sexual Assault Survey 11.4

Last April, I was assigned a free choice project for my creative writing class, which was a form and technique class on the lyric essay. For those of you unfamiliar with the form, this is a sort of experimental fusion of poetry and prose, typically non-fiction, where the writer is given a much freer reign with regard to form and content than is allowed in a regular essay. It’s difficult to describe/define if you haven’t seen any examples, so for the curious, just google it.

Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I decided to make my work related to that. My idea was to create a piece where there were two interwoven voices: one a sort of collective of experience, focusing on the sensations, impressions, and resulting feelings of people who have experienced rape, something in the “gray area” of non-consent, or another form of sexual assault; the other my own individual voice, presenting a critique of societal attitudes towards rape. In order to collect material to create the collective voice, I created a survey asking survivors to describe their experiences in their own words, from which I will take anonymous excerpts. I expected to get maybe ten or twenty respondents, but instead I’ve had over a hundred… 130 so far, to be precise. I quickly realized that this would end up being a much, much bigger project than I had originally intended. To everyone who has responded or linked this, thank you!!

So instead of closing the survey, I’ve decided to leave it up, and continue to collect responses as I conduct further research. As April rolls around again, I am asking for more responses. My goal with this project is to represent many different kinds of experiences, and looking at the data, I’ve noticed that there are certain demographics that I missed the first time around. I hope to expand to include those voices, as well as those of anyone else who wishes to participate.

I am looking for more responses from:

  • Gender-variant and intersex people. I have had two responses from FTM-spectrum trans people, nine from people identifying themselves as genderqueer (some of whom did not indicate their physical sex; the ones who did were all female-born), and zero from both MTF-spectrum trans people and intersex people. Any and all contributions from people in these groups would be welcome!
  • People who have been married to their abusers. So far I have received zero responses from this demographic, which is a curious absence to me considering that I have specifically talked about this here on the blog before. I think this is a very important dynamic to represent, so I’d greatly appreciate any responses. I’m not sure where exactly to look for them, so if anyone has any suggestions, do let me know.
  • Male survivors. So far, I’ve had eight responses from men. I’m grateful that I’ve had any at all, but given how underrepresented they tend to be, I’d love to have a larger response from them.
  • People whose perpetrators were female. So far I have had eight people who have had female perpetrators answer the survey. From these people, I’d like to hear if this fact has caused any particular difficulties regarding receiving support from others, accepting that it was really sexual assault, etc.
  • Anyone who has experienced sexual assault motivated by or with particular complications due to demographic factors or other special circumstances. This is something that I didn’t ask about originally, because I didn’t think I’d have enough respondents that it’d be likely to come up. However, I’ve had respondents who felt their asexuality was related to or caused their assault, people with disabilities that they felt made them more vulnerable, people who were raped while visiting a foreign country, etc. I think these are important factors to consider, so I added a question to the end of the demographics page asking if there was anything like that involved. I didn’t add any questions about racial background originally either, so this is a way for people to note that as well, if they feel it is relevant. For those people who have already taken the survey, if you would like to add any explanation of these factors, you can fill out the first part of the survey again (link below). You don’t have to fill out anything other than the demographics page, since it is at the bottom of the first page, unless you want to.

Although I’ve listed people I would especially encourage to participate, everyone who feels their story is relevant is welcome to complete the survey. Even if you’re not really sure how to classify what happened, or you’re not sure if it was intended to be an assault, if it felt non-consensual to you, please feel welcome to take the survey. There’s no reason to worry that you’ll be messing up the results. You won’t be. In fact, that kind of uncertainty is of particular interest to me, and I intend to explore it in the essay.

Clarifications:

Now, before I post the link, I want to address some confusion that people had regarding a certain portion of the survey which asks open-ended questions like “What did you see?” and “Where did you/your mind go?” etc. A lot of people seemed frustrated by these questions, and not sure how to answer them because of their vagueness. The reason that I ask is because I want to keep a strong connection to lyricism, and ground the collective voice in concrete sensory details, so that a reader who has not experienced anything similar might be more enlightened about what survivors’ experiences are actually like. It is often the little details which tend to really capture a reader’s attention and empathy, rather than just the bare facts, so I ask these questions as an attempt to incorporate them, although you don’t have to go into details if you don’t want to. I don’t ask where or when you saw or heard what you describe because I want it to be anything that stands out to you connected to the event. It doesn’t have to be a memory of what happened, it could be something like, “I feel the sharp sensation of the pencil against my skin,” describing what you feel/see/hear/think during attempts to cope or come to terms with what happened. It could be parts of dreams you’ve had related to the incident. It could be something metaphorical that represents where you were or where you are now. Think about moments of triumph as well as the pain. It can be about whatever you feel is relevant, anything at all. Give weird answers, if you want. Feel free to reflect. There is no one way to interpret the questions, so feel free to elaborate on whatever you want. Express whatever you’re thinking about, as much or as little as you want to. If this (or any other question) makes you feel too uncomfortable, there is no pressure to answer any of the questions in this section. I hope this helps to clarify.

One question in this section in particular seems to have been interpreted in only one way, with several people answering something to the effect of, “I don’t like to think like that.” I want to clarify that there’s more than one way to interpret that question. When I ask, “What might have been?” I designed the question specifically not to include any particular if-then scenario, which is why it’s phrased a little strangely. Nearly everyone seems to be interpreting this question as if it includes “if that never happened to you” at the end (I’m curious to know why so many people make that assumption). It’s fine if you want to answer the question like that, of course, but I’d like people to think of this in a different way as well. Think about it like this: what has helped you get through this, to the extent that without it you’re not sure if you would have been able to? Music, supportive friends, hobbies/activities, any particular mindset? If you hadn’t had that, how do you think you would have dealt with it instead? What negative things have you been able to stop yourself from doing? How have you reacted differently than you thought you might have before anything like this occurred? What could have been different about your situation that would have significantly impacted (either positively or negatively) your ability to cope? These are just some of the possibilities. Answer the question in whatever way feels most appropriate to you.

On Anonymity and Excerpts:

I will be taking some direct excerpts from the open-ended responses I receive, and some will be used indirectly. If you are uncomfortable with being directly quoted, please let me know. I can also just use your response for my own informational purposes without sharing it in the essay either directly or indirectly, if that is what you would prefer. In the survey, I ask if there is any particular name you would prefer to be used in the survey; you can choose to provide a pseudonym (which I recommend) or your real name if you are comfortable with that. If you do not provide any specific name, I will choose a random pseudonym to use with your response. You can choose to be listed as “anonymous” instead, or you can specify a name that you do NOT want me to use, and I will pick a different pseudonym. I also plan to specify your age if you are directly quoted, partially because some people have chosen the same pseudonym, and partially to give readers an idea of the range of respondents’ ages. If you are uncomfortable with your age being specified, I won’t list it. Please let me know of any other privacy concerns you might have. You can always change your mind later about whether you want to be quoted, etc. Please contact me to let me know, and I can identify your response based on the pseudonym you provided, IP address, or something else, and make a note of your changed preferences.

I also plan to publish this piece under a pseudonym myself (this blog is also published under a partial pseudonym), so if any of you are worried that you might be identified because you know me, please rest assured that I will take every precaution to avoid that.

Survey Links:

If you would like to complete the survey, and you have not done so before, please use this link. If you happen to start taking the survey and then remember that you have filled it out before, please note that so that your second response can be deleted, and then follow the link below instead, if you want to fill it out again.

Since I have redesigned and clarified several of the questions, and since it has been a year since I first asked for responses and people have had more time to reflect, I have decided to create a separate copy of the survey in case anyone would like to take it again, so that the demographics will not be distorted. If you didn’t finish the first time around and feel you can write more this time, if you weren’t satisfied with your original responses, or if you just want to see how far you’ve come, by all means use this link if you have already completed the first page of this survey once before. It’s not necessary for you to fill out the entire survey unless you want to; for any questions you don’t want to answer, just put an asterisk in the comment box to indicate that you feel satisfied enough with your original answer. It may be an interesting exercise to see if and how your retelling of your story has changed, however, so do feel free to answer again even if you were satisfied with what you wrote before. That may lead to some insightful points for the piece.

Feel free to link this around, by all means. My only request is that you ONLY LINK TO THIS BLOG POST, instead of the survey itself, so that my statistical information won’t get messed up from people who have already taken the survey taking it again.

And finally, a great big THANK YOU to everyone who takes this or links it around!

Asexual Zines

I wanted to give a quick shout-out to a few asexy zines that I’m aware of. So far, I haven’t been able to contribute myself yet—it’s a little weird, to be honest, because the things I have written that might be appropriate are all quite personal and I haven’t decided how I should handle publishing them yet. One particular essay also involves lots of pictures, which I’m not sure I have the appropriate permissions for. Perhaps it would be better to just try to compile these into my own collection… But in any case, I wanted to make sure others know about them, so that you can contribute if you want to!

First, Mage is working on two zines, one about asexuality and feminism, and a second one that is more personal called Asexy. She is looking for contributors for the second issue of Asexual Feminism, which will be about the medicalization of asexuality. You can download the first issue as a .PDF file and put it together yourself; the instructions and download link are posted here.

The other zine I’m aware of, but haven’t heard anything about in quite a while is Weird Terrain, which I’d highly recommend. Do you know of any others that aren’t listed here, or thinking about starting one yourself? Let me know in the comments!

Policing the Definition: Is There a Gold Standard?

I am loathe to write about this, really I am. But I’ve been surprised several times over the past two or three months by certain high-profile members of the community referring to asexuality using a definition that I was under the impression that we had a fairly common consensus going that asexuality is not. I’m not talking about new people who don’t yet understand what we mean when we talk about asexuality, here. It is to be expected that we would always have that kind of conversation going on at AVEN’s forums, as new people come in and rehash old conversations that they haven’t participated in yet. But I generally don’t go on AVEN because I had those discussions six years ago, and at this point I don’t usually find anything new and interesting on the forums. That’s not what I’m talking about.

No, I’m talking about stuff like a casual remark that if a person is asexual, that means that they don’t like sex. Around here, I would think that kind of assumption would be considered quite silly. Is it not? I mean that as a serious, earnest question: is it not? Even among asexuals who have been around the block a time or two, is that question really, seriously up for debate?

A while ago, during a privately conducted debate, I had a disagreement with Pretzelboy on the issue of how asexuality is defined. I had taken it for granted that we were debating with the definition “an asexual is a person who lacks sexual attraction” specifically in mind (I’m taking it for granted also that the “lack” is relative rather than absolute, and whether it is distinct enough to warrant the asexual label can only be determined by the person experiencing it), but apparently that was only my own assumption. He raised the idea that some asexuals actually define themselves as “not sexual” which, not to put too fine a point on it, to me seems just as much a so-vague-it-becomes-nonsensical definition as it would be to claim a definition of sexuality so broad as to make it possible to claim that all humans are sexual (in a non-scientific context).

I dropped the argument at that point, because I couldn’t see how we could get past that point to discuss what we had really been trying to talk about, if we cannot even agree on a standard definition. But it’s been niggling at me for a while since then, and I have started thinking about the topic again recently after reading the discussion about masturbation going on in the asexosphere as of late, as well as this post from Asexual Curiosities. I’d like to highlight one comment that stood out to me, made by Siggy on Ily’s first post:

Well, no one says that asexual means utterly lacking in anything sexual whatsoever.

Except that they do. Because isn’t that exactly what so many sexual people tend to think when they first hear the word asexual? They think asexual = not sexual = lacking anything sexual whatsoever. Because to them, sexuality is a broad term which encompasses EVERYTHING sexual. And to a lot of people, that even includes the physical reality that human beings are a species that is sexed, and reproduces via sexual intercourse. And yes, that definition of what it is to be “sexual” does make sense in at least one context, although I think it is kind of silly to use it just to state the obvious well-known fact that humans reproduce sexually.* And Siggy is right (I hope?) that asexuals have not asserted anything of the sort, but that’s the key misunderstanding, isn’t it? They really think that’s what we’re saying. That is, they think that we are saying that we are utterly lacking in anything sexual whatsoever, something that would necessarily make us not human. They really, honestly think that’s what we’re saying!

* In many cases, I think they are using this statement to infer something else (that it is impossible for a person not to experience sexual attraction given the way that humans reproduce sexually), but that assertion does not logically follow from what they are saying. After all, just because people may experience some aspects of what would be called “sexuality” it doesn’t mean that they must experience all of them (in fact it’d be pretty hard to find someone who does, if you consider how many kinks there are out there). Since it is not a valid assertion and that has been covered extensively elsewhere, I am not talking about it here. I am only talking about the ones who assert that we are not asexual because we experience any one thing that could be considered an aspect of sexuality (including but not limited to the fact that we exist because of sexual reproduction).

Part of the problem, of course, is that the only other exposure people have to the word “asexual” comes from biology class, so in that context it becomes understandable when the idea of hermaphroditic self-fertilizing species or amoebas comes into play. But even when it is understood that we are using a different definition which does not include some new form of human reproduction, people will still tend to think of the word’s meaning in terms of what its root components mean: not sexual. What does that mean? It’s still confusing, because “sexual” is an adjective that is applied to a very broad range of situations and activities, including things (like kissing and dancing) that fall in some sort of gray area where there is no consensus that it should be applied. So, people will tend to understand the word “asexual” each in their own individual way, depending on what they consider sexual. Even if their definition of “sexual” is not so broad as to include the basic physical fact that humans are a sexed species, the vast majority of people will consider acts which physically engage and stimulate the genitals to be sexual even if they do not fit whatever criteria that person thinks of as qualifying as sex. Therefore, to most people it would make sense to consider the masturbating asexual (or the sexually active asexual, for that matter) to be a paradox, and thus conclude they are not really asexual at all.

So how could it possibly be useful for any one of us to define asexuality as simply “not sexual” if that is the conclusion that the majority of people are going to draw from it? Even if people do realize that “asexual” is meant to refer to one specific aspect of sexuality, there is nothing in that definition to indicate which aspect that would be. Why wouldn’t people assume it refers to behavior?

Maybe masturbation is something that may or may not be considered a form of sex, depending on what you think “sex” means. And maybe it’s something that may or may not be considered “sexual” depending on what “sexual” means. But that’s a moot point. It doesn’t matter, because the definition of asexual that we are using isn’t really “not sexual,” it’s “lacking sexual attraction” specifically. Even if we contend that masturbation does not have to be considered sexual, what criteria are we using to determine that? From what I can gather from that discussion, it’s the lack of sexual attraction or interest/enjoyment which leads to that conclusion. You can certainly masturbate without experiencing sexual attraction—at least I sure hope so, because otherwise how could we explain the masturbatory practices of children? I doubt there are many who would contend that a child’s masturbating experience contains sexual attraction to anyone, but people still call it a sexual experience. So we must ask ourselves: are we using the same criteria that most people are using to determine what is or is not “sexual?” Probably not. Most likely, they will stick with their own definition because it makes the most sense to them. If a person defines physical stimulation of the genitals (for purposes of arousal and especially orgasm) as sexual, it is not very convincing to say that it is not sexual just because the component of attraction is missing. Attraction is more of a side point to the physical act, under this definition. I have met sexual people who don’t specifically think of any attractive people while masturbating, but they still consider masturbation to be sexual in general.

Likewise if we say that masturbation isn’t sexual in some cases because the people who are doing it don’t enjoy it, and are doing it only to “scratch an itch” or feel obligated to keep it up for health-related reasons. Let’s replace “masturbation” with “sex” then. Sometimes sex isn’t enjoyable. Sometimes people feel obligated to have sex because they want to maintain the health of their relationships. But does that mean that sex is no longer a sexual experience?

I hope I am mostly preaching to the choir here, but if there really are asexuals out there who say that asexual means “not sexual” in any sense except to explain its component morphemes, I’d like them to consider this: if we use a definition that is so incredibly vague, how can we make important distinctions like the difference between asexuality and celibacy? And how do we avoid non-inclusive, elitist statements like “you’re not really asexual if you have sex/masturbate/like sex” if we use a definition that is so open to interpretation about what is and is not sexual?

On AVEN, that attitude is very much discouraged. Nobody likes it when somebody starts saying “you are not asexual because you do x” and the admod team is quick to warn people who do. That is why I had thought that there was indeed basically a consensus among at least the more weathered members of the community that we are going by the “lack of attraction” definition; if we use the other one, then honestly? We have no business telling anybody to stop telling other people that they aren’t asexual because they do things that those people think of as sexual. By defining an asexual person as simply “not sexual” with no other qualifications, we would be encouraging other people to fill in the blanks with their own ideas. Which may or (more likely) may not match the meaning we intend to get across.

I find it really weird, then, to discover that we have this kind of contradictory state of affairs within the community with regard to our standard definition. Truthfully, it made me wonder whether my perspective is really welcomed by the community or not. If people do accept this definition, then am I not asexual enough? Pondering this question has left me somewhat unwilling to make any blog posts lately.

I think this is where the idea of policing each other comes into play. Nobody likes it (except those who are doing the policing) when people police others’ “rights” to call themselves asexual based on their own definition of what is or is not sexual. I think maybe this desire to be inclusive is so strong that many of us don’t want to say, “No, your definition is wrong.” (Yet clearly we do engage in some sort of policing, and attempt to keep people who make such statements out of the community.) So we shoot ourselves in the foot by being so open to whatever way that people want to define themselves that it hurts efforts at making a consistent, coherent, and cohesive education effort. We cannot expect other people to understand what we are talking about if we do not apply a critical standard to our own definitions/discourse as rigorous as the standard that outsiders will most certainly be holding us to.

Honestly, I think that “asexual” is a misleading term, and the only reason why it makes sense at all is in the context of other words that refer to an individual’s sexual orientation, like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. If we had a different cultural context which did not include those concepts, most likely none of us would have come to identify as asexual in the first place. Actually, all four of those words sound quite silly if you don’t have any knowledge of their context. I mean, really? Bisexual? What could that mean, that you’re double-sexual? But if you know that “sexual” in this context refers to an individual’s sense of sexual attraction, and if you know that the prefixes all refer to the gendered direction of that attraction, then you begin to be able to decode the word. (Although even once you’ve got that down, you have to also understand why “homo-” and “hetero-” are used instead of “andro-/gyno-” which would make more sense in a non-homophobic culture.) Only then does it become intuitive to invent the word “asexual” to describe a lack of sexual attraction!

The problem, of course, is that other people tend not to understand this context at first, and think we are saying literally what the root components of the word mean. But that doesn’t make sense. We can’t (and don’t) argue that we do not experience anything that could ever be considered sexual whatsoever, so why do any of us even continue to engage in debates over what is and is not sexual, when it comes to explaining to outsiders why asexuality is possible? Why do some of us accept “not sexual” as an appropriate definition, if it is so vague that it could mean anything? Especially, why accept it while still clearly being influenced the pervasive norms of the asexual community, and apparently still using an operative definition that equates “not sexual” with “not having sexual attraction?”

Is our disidentification with sexuality so strong that we are reluctant to admit that any part of our experiences might be considered sexual at all, ever? Is it a reluctance to admit that they might have a point, if we were actually saying that? Are we just being drawn into a straw man debate?

It all boils down to this: if we are to have a chance at being accepted within the wider community—the community of non-asexuals, or those who do experience sexual attraction—then we’ve got to recognize that the binary distinction asexual/sexual that we often use to refer to insiders vs. outsiders is not a literal reference to people who experience aspects of sexuality vs. people who don’t. We need to acknowledge how broad a category “sexuality” is, and make it clear to everyone that we are only referring to one aspect of that, the only one that it seems we really have all got in common: a relative lack of sexual attraction, distinctly low enough to warrant such a classification. If we can’t come to any sort of consensus about the basic definition of “asexual” within our own community (which is completely based around that term!), how can we expect others to begin to understand? How can we expect them NOT to dismiss us as a bunch of people who can’t possibly have a point because we are saying contradictory things?

A (Not So) New Cause

So, yesterday was a long and exciting day. Among other things, it was my first day at my new job and my first day doing a panel for my university’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Resource Center. What a panel is, for those of you who don’t know, is basically a group of people (in this case LGBTQIAlphabet soup-affiliated people) who sit down in front of a class and answer questions about their experiences. So, I got to come out to a lot of people I don’t know. So about 20 more people know about asexuality now, though I’m not sure how well we explained it. It was a University 101 class, so most of the people there didn’t care too much about it. The focus was mainly on homosexuality rather than asexuality, and to be honest, that’s where it needs to be. When someone comes out as asexual, although people are much less likely to have ever encountered the term before, the reactions that people get are by no means analogous to the extreme hostility that gay people are likely to experience. Although there is certainly a measure of denial and pathologization of asexuals, we are not generally considered to be evil or immoral (even if some people insist we are “rejecting God’s gift”); however invisible we are, we have the advantage of not being demonized, or even suffering from idiotic stereotypes.

Somehow, even in California, an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage passed. I’m disappointed, but I know there are already people who are taking up that fight. I’ll help out where I can, but it’s not my battle. I’m connected to it, I’m potentially affected by it, but my real concern is with another community that is often forgotten (or even intentionally excluded) by LGB people: the trans community. I have a lot of experience with this community, having had two transgendered significant others (my current is male-to-female), and a number of trans friends over the past six years. I’ve seen what intense anguish they go through, only further intensified by the casual hatred leveled at them on a day-to-day basis (the dehumanizing stares and whispers, the tactless comments, the refusal to even attempt to use the correct pronouns), the institutionalized rejection (most insurance policies won’t cover transsexuals, in many states they can’t get their genders changed on their birth certificates), all on top of the body issues they already have. It’s no wonder there’s such a high suicide rate–I’d be considering it, too, if I were in that position. How can my pithy little (lack of a) sexual orientation even come halfway close to comparing to something as heavy as that?

It’s difficult for me to write about, because I do have such a personal stake in this. But at the same time, I don’t have the experience of actually being transgendered, so I don’t feel I have the authority to speak about trans issues. Still, I really want to do something to help alleviate the pain my girlfriend, my ex, and all my friends (past and present) who are trans have had to deal with, and continue to deal with on a daily basis. I want to do some kind of activism, try to get more people to understand. I want to live to see a day when the newly-elected President will mention transsexuals in his (or her) acceptance speech. I want to see a day when people can show a little compassion.

If I were single, or at least not currently involved with a transgirl, I’d be more than willing to jump right in with the activism (though I admit that strongly wanting to protect her is a huge motivating factor). Since I’m not, there are a lot of real-life complications and logistical problems that I would have to deal with if I did that. I haven’t yet decided if and how and under what circumstances I will be doing any real-life trans activism, but I would like to start writing about what issues I, as a SOFFA (Significant Other/Friend/FAmily member), face due to my association with transgendered people here, at least. It will give me a place to talk about it other than with my girlfriend, and a sense that at least I am doing something to help, if only a little. I also know that there is quite a bit of overlap between the transgender and asexual communities, so perhaps this will be of interest to some of my readers. Next time I will (pick a narrower subject and) go into a little more detail, but for now… This is the kind of issue that’s currently going on in my (suddenly busy) life lately.

On a tangentally related note, I don’t know how I am going to manage this, what with how busy I’ve become lately, but I have been planning to give speech about asexuality to my local QSA, hopefully by next Wednesday. We’ve been having some inclusion issues in that group lately, which perhaps I will talk about later. I’ll report back on how that goes as soon as I can get the time!