May 2018 Carnival of Aces Call for Submissions: Nuance & Complexity

Hello everyone! Welcome to the May 2018 Carnival of Aces!

What is the Carnival of Aces?

This is a monthly blogging carnival, a long-running event organized by The Asexual Agenda to spur discussion among asexual and ace-spectrum people. Each month, a volunteer host sets out a topic for discussion, collects responses, and posts links to all of the responses at the end of the month. Anyone can participate, and I’ll have further details about how to participate below. If you’d like to volunteer to host a future month, please check out the Carnival of Aces Masterpost for instructions.

Last month, the Carnival was hosted at Demisexual and Proud, and the topic was inspired by a very old Flemish-Dutch saying, “All the birds have begun nests except me and you, what are we still waiting for?” Please check out the responses at the round-up post!

This month’s theme is…

Nuance & Complexity

Asexuality is a complex topic, and often difficult for people to understand. Because of this, we sometimes have a tendency to elide nuances about our experiences in an effort to explain simply enough that others can understand. This month, I want us to focus on those things that we tend to avoid talking about, for fear of being misunderstood, or anything that we may have felt we can’t quite (openly) articulate.

Sometimes, people accuse aces of overthinking things or “making everything too complicated,” without having any understanding of why we talk about things the way that we do. I think that from the beginning, the ace blogging community has had a lot of focus on exploring complexity and nuance, and a lot of previous topics for the Carnival of Aces also apply here. But instead of focusing on complexity/nuance of just one topic, like identity or labels/models (which have been chosen multiple times), this gives people the freedom to choose whatever kind of complexities they’re interested in discussing, or zoom way out and analyze the ace community itself. So it’s kind of a meta topic.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • When it comes to being on the ace spectrum, what complicates things for you? Trace some of the nuances of your experience of asexuality.
  • What are some models that you have used to explain or understand asexuality or the ace spectrum? In what ways do you feel that these models exclude you or oversimplify your experiences?
  • Are you Gray-A or demisexual? Or perhaps greyromantic? What are some experiences related to grayness that you typically minimize or don’t know how to explain?
  • Do you have any thoughts about words typically used as synonyms that the ace community has differentiated? (For example, “sex averse” vs. “sex repulsed.”) Do you differentiate certain words used within the ace community in a way that most people unfamiliar with the ace community don’t recognize or understand?
  • Are there stereotypes that you’re sometimes assumed to fit that you don’t really? How do you defy them? How do these stereotypes flatten you and erase the realities of your experience?
  • What other aspects about you intersect with your asexuality? How do these things inflect and inform your experiences, viewpoints, and approach to the ace community?
  • If you sometimes find the ace community inaccessible or too exhausting to engage with, what are the reasons for that? What would make it easier for you?
  • Are there certain words or labels that you have found in the ace or aro communities that are meant to describe something close to your experience, but still don’t quite fit or feel comfortable enough for you to adopt?
  • Are there any words or labels associated with another community that you’re a part of that you feel uncomfortable with because of your asexuality or aromanticism?
  • If you are multilingual, what is it like to describe your experiences related to asexuality in one language compared to another? Do certain connotations exist in one language that aren’t there or aren’t the same in another?
  • What topic do you feel is still taboo in the ace community, that makes it difficult to discuss your experiences? What do you wish you could talk about?
  • What assumptions do others in the ace community sometimes make about you that you feel are unwarranted? Do you feel that others tend to think of you in terms of a model or framework that doesn’t really apply?
  • What is something related to asexuality that you don’t totally understand about yourself? Something that, perhaps, you haven’t really mapped yet but you’re actively working to discover? What is this process like for you?
  • What do you feel is the best way that you know of to illustrate the complexity and diversity of the ace community as a whole? How does it compare to any other ways you have tried to do so with less success?
  • How do you feel about the idea of “overthinking” or “over-complicating” things?
  • What are the benefits of closely examining and analyzing aspects of your own asexual experience? What are the drawbacks? Do you feel comfortable with the ace blogging community’s culture of exploring nuance and creating new language to describe things, or do you feel frustrated or conflicted about it?

Please feel free to submit anything else you can think of that addresses nuance or complexity and asexuality.

How to Submit

  1. Write about the topic in a blog post—or record a vlog or podcast, or draw a comic or other illustration instead if you’d rather do that—and post it to your own space. Usually this means your own blog, but of course if you made a video or something, you would host it on YouTube or wherever (please see #4 for more on that).
  2. What if I don’t have my own blog? That’s okay too! I will be happy to host a guest post for you here on my blog. Please email me your submission at prismatic.entanglements at gmail.com and I will post it here. Remember to let me know what name you want me to use, as well as what pronouns I should use to refer to you. If you want to be anonymous, that’s okay too.
  3. Once you have published your submission, post a link to it in the comments of this post. Or email it to me at the address above. I will usually see pingbacks too, but they do require moderation so they may not appear right away. I may have some days this month where I’m not able to approve comments, just so you know, and don’t worry about it if you happen to submit on one of those days.
  4. For alternate media posts: In the interest of making this as accessible as possible… Preferably, if you can, please also make a blog post with the media embedded along with a transcript of your submission, so that those who cannot watch/listen will still be able to participate in the conversation. Images should have descriptions for those who cannot see them as well. If you cannot host a transcript yourself, I can make a post here to host it. Please email me to let me know you’d like me to do that, with the transcript included. (I probably won’t have time to make a transcript myself, sorry!) If you can’t make a transcript, let me know and I can ask for a volunteer to help out with that. I know this is extra work and it’s understandable if it takes time to make a transcript, so it’s okay to submit without one and try to make one later. I just want to try to do what I can to make it easier for everyone to participate.

That’s it! Let me know if you have any questions.

Remember, the deadline for submissions is May 31st, 2018. The round-up post will be scheduled to go up on June 1st at 10 a.m. EST. Late posts will still be accepted in June, and edited into the post as they come in.

I look forward to seeing what people have to say!

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Identity vs. Labels, Culture, & Change

This post is for the January 2018 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “Identity.”

This is going to be completely off-the-cuff rambling, so bear with me if you will. There’s some stuff that I’m trying to get at that is very difficult to describe, so I’m doing it in a roundabout way. I’m also barely editing this post before I publish it, because I tried writing about this before and then scrapped the entire draft last minute because I didn’t like how it was going. Instead, I’m just going to do a “thinking out loud” style post.


I don’t really like writing about (my own) identity.

There. I said it.

Maybe that’s surprising to you, I don’t know. Maybe not. It seems like it might be surprising to some, considering that the entire reason I started this blog was to discuss a particular identity, asexuality—and more specifically, gray-asexuality, which I no longer identify with. There, I suppose, is part of the reason I don’t like talking about identity. When you’ve come to be known for having a particular identity, and then that changes? Well… Continue reading

Permission

I’ve wanted to make a post on this topic for a while now. I think I even started writing it before, but never ended up finishing it. Even before my hiatus, ever since I set up my Formspring ask page, I’ve had a lot of people come to me, describe themselves, and then basically ask,

“Hey, do you think I could be asexual?”

Since my blog burnout and subsequent hiatus, I’ve missed so many emails just like this. I regret that I couldn’t answer all of them directly. But my answer would be the same in each case, so I’m going to try to answer them here.

Now, I do think that saying, “If you identify as asexual, then you are asexual” is problematic. For one thing, it’s reductive. Identity is a very complex process, and I think that it can, in fact, be mistaken. In my particular case, I think I was mistaken in the past when I identified as bisexual. At the time, I did not understand sexuality well enough to realize that there was a big difference between being equally attracted to either gender (or all of them), and being equally not attracted to anyone. As my understanding of both what people generally meant by “bisexual” and my understanding of myself grew, my identity changed.

And that’s fine. The thing about identity is that it’s not static. It’s a process. Often, it’s a process of fine-tuning until you find the words that seem to fit you just right (and in some cases, inventing new terms if there are none available that do), and even then, as you grow and change, there will be times when you will grow away from a particular label, and find that what once fit doesn’t anymore. I’ve done this publicly, right here on this blog. I used to identify as gray-ace, and now I don’t anymore.

To all of you coming to me to ask if you might be asexual, I get it. I totally understand your concerns, and I empathize.

There’s a lot of fear, I think, in choosing a label, especially one as misunderstood, maligned, and outright denied as asexual. There are people out there who will actually tell you that it’s harmful to identify as asexual, because of all the ~opportunities you’ll miss~ to explore your sexuality. They’ll say “maybe you’re just repressed, or maybe you have a sexual dysfunction.” For all the progress we’ve made, this is absolutely NOT a thing of the past. I’ve read some articles taking down people saying things like this recently, although I read them on my iPad and now I can’t remember where they were from (if someone could supply links, I’ll happily add them inEdit: Thank you! I was indeed thinking of the posts responding to Matty Silver, starting here).

Be suspicious of everything those people say, because what they are implying is seriously fucked up. Most of them don’t even realize it, and think they are acting in your best interest, but they aren’t.

If you’re not interested in sex, you shouldn’t have to explore it. You DON’T have to explore it. Don’t ever have sex because you’ve been made to feel that you need to explore it for some reason. Really, don’t. You should only do it if you are actually interested in doing that sort of thing!

And realize this: these people who say this sort of thing are failing to understand that you can perfectly well explore your sexuality, including sex itself, while still identifying as asexual. If you want proof of that, read my other posts. There is nothing barring you from it, and in fact exploring your lack of interest should bloody well count as exploring your sexuality! Asexuality is a sexual orientation, and coming to understand yourself as asexual can potentially give you the opportunity to approach sex in a way that is healthy for you. IF you want that sort of thing.

Even when moving past all of that, there is still so much anxiety about choosing an identity. You ask yourself, “What if I’m wrong? What if I misrepresent the community? What if one day I decide I’m something else and then people think that asexuality is just a phase?”

Well, you know what? If people think that way, then they are mistaken. It is not going to be your fault that they are mistaken, not unless you actually go out and tell them that asexuality is not real. (Which some people have done, but if you’re worried about other people thinking that way, I’m pretty confident that you won’t!) And even if one day you realize that you aren’t asexual after all, you can still correct them, and help spread awareness about asexuality! In fact, I think it’s valuable to the community to have people who once identified as asexual and now identify as gay (as the most frequent example) or sexual in some other way, because you can help show the world that we are not in any way telling people to stop exploring their sexuality. We very much encourage continual exploration and growth.

And really, I don’t think there’s an ace person alive who hasn’t thought “What if I’m wrong? What if I am sexual after all?

Self-doubt is very heavily conditioned. There is no escaping it. And even if it weren’t so heavily conditioned, most of us would probably have it anyway, because occasional self-doubt is actually healthy.

My partner said this to me yesterday:

“Do you know what [my therapist] used to tell me? She said that if you don’t have doubt and anxiety at all, that’s what’s really unhealthy, because it means you’re not understanding how big of a deal things are.”

And it is. It’s a huge deal, to start to identify and label yourself as asexual. Even to continually do it, when you’ve been doing it for years, it’s still a big deal.

And being wrong? That’s probably the scariest thing of all.

But you know what?

It’s okay to be wrong. Everyone is wrong sometimes.

If you’re to the point of actually questioning whether or not you could be asexual, then you probably already know the definition. In case there’s anyone reading along who doesn’t, though, it’s a person who lacks* sexual attraction. If you’re not really sure what sexual attraction even means, then chances are, you haven’t personally felt it. I would define it as “a visceral desire to have sex with someone based generally on their looks, voice, mannerisms, or personality traits.”

Does that fit you? I don’t know, and there’s no way that I can possibly know. We are talking about internal experiences here, and there is no reliable way to measure that from the outside. It is totally up to you to decide.

And I hereby grant you permission to do it, even if you might be wrong.


* [Added note in December, 2015:] “Lack” here does not refer to a total, absolute-zero lack. I’ve realized since originally writing this that phrasing it as just “a lack” leads people to interpret it that way, but I meant this to be read as little or no sexual attraction rather than a total lack.

It is also worth noting that this is not the only definition of asexuality, and never has been. It’s only the most dominant definition in the English-language community. And there is plenty of room for more ambiguous, vaguer definitions.

 

Identity Maintenance

Time passes me by lately like water does a fish—I am always in it, it is always flowing around me, but each moment is just something I live in without really thinking about it. I pay attention only to the strong currents and my eventual destination, letting the usual ebb and tide just make its lazy circles about the unconscious.

Of course, I’m still able to focus on time and its various aspects, bring it out of the background and into the forefront as I am doing now. But that kind of focus might as well be a flash of lighting. For the most part, it passes, and I make neither an effort to live in the moment nor hold fast to hope or memory. Things happen, mostly boring and not worth reporting—or so it was for a while. Unfortunately, no news does not necessarily mean good news, even though I am significantly less likely to update without the motivation of conflict. This past summer, I’ve been beset by a number of injuries and illnesses, including a brief visit to the hospital (which fortunately turned out to mean nothing except that I should take better care not to exhaust myself). Those injuries and illnesses have continued since I started school, which means that I have missed a lot of class and my ability to keep up with assignments has suffered. My relationship with my partner suffered a lot as well—partially, indeed, as a result of my being sick so often—and now we have broken up, albeit somewhat tentatively and while keeping the possibility in mind that we may be able to resolve our differences and work back up to a romantic relationship.

With all this going on, I hadn’t really been thinking about asexuality.  Over the summer, there were still plenty of moments, from time to time, when I would see my girlfriend looking at porn and, upon hearing my comments, she would groan at me and says, “You’re so asexual.” But for the most part, it went unnoticed, and barely mattered.

I have been trying to decide what is different about the part that sex played in our relationship as compared to the part that it plays in a pairing of two sexuals, but I can’t come up with much. It’s not as if it isn’t generally enjoyable, and I can’t say that it isn’t intimate. There were periods when we go without for quite a while before either one of us would crease her brow and say, “Hm. When was the last time, anyway?” That is probably the most obvious sign of my asexuality combined with her relative lack of sexual attraction to me. The thing is, our relationship actually did seem to suffer more during the dry spells than when we were doing it relatively frequently, despite my conviction that sex should not be a necessary part of a relationship.

Continue reading

Doesn’t vs. Hasn’t

I was reading a thread on Apositive a while ago about “romantic”/affectional orientation, and it reminded me why I don’t like defining asexuality as “a person who DOESN’T experience sexual attraction.”

I’ve gone through a lot of different identities, with regard to my affectional orientation. I started out assuming I was bisexual, because at the time I thought that most people are actually bi but due to societal pressure never realize it. Later I changed the label to pansexual/omnisexual to reflect my interest in androgynous, and possibly differently-gendered people. Eventually I realized I was equally uninterested in everyone, and began calling myself asexual, pan-romantic.

A little further down the road, as I finally became interested in pursuing romantic relationships, I noticed a definite tendency to be attracted to women more often than men. For a while, I thought I was just pickier about men, or that there simply weren’t enough pretty specimens in my area. But after the pattern persisted for a couple years, I started seriously questioning whether I would ever be comfortable being with a cisgendered man, due to the power imbalance and lack of understanding of queer issues that I perceived such men to have. I wondered if I shouldn’t just start calling myself a functional lesbian.

Then M fell into my lap, and I realized that I was right the first time, I am just pickier about men. Still wondering if that imbalance and the lack of understanding are surmountable obstacles, though.

So, defining orientation based on not having a certain kind of attraction can be really tricky, as the only time it can be fully determined that one doesn’t experience that attraction or whether one simply hasn’t yet, is on one’s deathbed. It’s understandable, then, though still annoying, when people spout that tired old “right person” rhetoric when we tell them we’re asexual.

And then there are asexuals like me, who aren’t sure whether they’ve ever experienced it because they don’t know how to define it, or know that they have but only ever feel it once or twice in so many years, or even if they feel it, still haven’t felt any desire to act on it, ever, and don’t value sexuality enough that they think it probable that they will in the future. I think determining asexuality is a little more complicated than just “Sexual attraction: ON/OFF.” It’s about the interplay of frequency and level of attraction/desire, value placed on sexual activity, societal influence/politics, identification/disidentification, and probably other factors that I’m not thinking of right now (feel free to throw out suggestions, guys). Lack of sexual attraction is widely touted as the single factor uniting all asexuals, but that’s not really true. The real factor that unites asexuals is identification, which is the result of all these other factors working together.

But I have problems with that idea, too, because it implies that if you don’t identify as asexual at any point in you’re life, then you’re not asexual at that point. I’ve always been asexual. We have to keep in mind that these are terms used to describe ourselves, not terms that necessarily define ourselves. I’ve always known I wasn’t interested in sex, but at different points in my life, my interpretation of that lack of interest has changed. In my youth, I didn’t consider it a significant factor in determining my orientation, but as I got older it became more and more a point of difference between myself and my peers, and as my mindset “solidified,” less and less likely that I would suddenly become interested.

Now, actually, I am interested, but not because I feel any desire to get jiggy with it myself. I just like finding out what it means to other people, because I’m fascinated by personal differences, and want to learn to relate to other people in a way that can include sex. I know I can do it, and I know I can even enjoy it. I want to find out where my limits are, and push my boundaries a little. I want to figure out ways that I can comfortably compromise, and explore different forms of intimacy.

Ultimately, I think it’s all about mindset. That’s not to say that all asexuals have the same mindset, because of course it varies wildly, but there are a lot of similarities with the ultimate result that we all identify as asexual. I could possibly identify as either asexual or hyposexual, but I make the choice to identify as asexual. There are also a lot of potentially asexual people who don’t realize that they have that option, probably because they haven’t heard of it or thought about it much.