Comments on survey design

Because this survey (on “sexual and asexual relationship dynamics” from Ball State University) did not have any option to leave comments on the design of the survey and what the questions were supposed to mean at the end, I’m going to just leave my comments here. I started copying and pasting questions into Notepad somewhere in the middle of the survey, so these are only some of the issues I had with this survey. I surely have forgotten others. At the end, I will mention the way the survey handled consent, but I’m mostly not focusing on that.

I want to preface this by saying that I am really annoyed by MOST surveys, I just don’t typically have the time to comment on them like this, and when there is an option to share comments about the survey within the survey itself, there is usually no need to share those comments publicly. This survey is not even remotely exceptional or surprising. More discussion of asexuals’ responses to academic surveys can be found in a fairly recent Asexual Agenda question of the week. I hope that people who research asexuality consider these problems when designing surveys in the future. Honestly, these are mostly problems that testing with a focus group could have helped iron out. It is very frustrating that these issues don’t ever seem to be corrected before the surveys are sent out.

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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

New Adventures in Polyamory

Yesterday, I got to meet my fiancée’s new girlfriend.

Since we’ve been together, C has dated several different people, but up until now she’s only done long-distance relationships with people other than me. Those relationships never made me jealous, but because they were LD, I never thought that would be an issue. I always kind of wondered whether or not I’d start to feel jealous if she managed to find someone who was local, but so far, I’m pleased to report that it hasn’t been an issue at all. It’s been about 3 weeks now, so it could certainly still come up, but I don’t think that it will.

In fact, it’s kind of interesting. There are a lot of similarities between my first dates with C and her first dates with her new girlfriend, including (in part) the location. This is another girl that she can spend hours talking to without wanting to go home. She also seems to have a lot of similar interests as me.

But what’s really interesting is how we’re different. For all that I used to wonder whether I really counted as asexual or not, in comparison to her, it’s pretty clear that I don’t experience sexual attraction. C, for her part, says it’s really weird because she’s not used to dating sexual people, and forgot what they were like. Now she’s in the position of trying to decide what she’s ready for. Despite saying that before she met me, she didn’t know if she could date an asexual person, she’s been telling me lately that she’s glad that I’m asexual!

So all in all, being polyamorous has been working out just fine for us. I have actually gotten more enjoyment and amusement from hearing stories about her other partners than jealousy.

One of my absolute favorite things about being poly, though, is that I get to read all the really bad OKCupid messages that C gets. Seriously, they’re fantastic. She’s been compiling a list of the particularly bad ones. Here’s an example:

hi
Oct. 20, 2010 – 8:49pm
How was your day? One of our medics used me as an example demonstrating the efficiency of 14 gauge needles, it looks like a juice box straw if you do not know, it was crazy the blood flow. Got to go talk to you later.

That was sent to her by a complete stranger, whom she had never talked to before. Another person she had never talked to before asked her this:

Hey
Apr. 25, 2010 – 12:42am
Hey how are you? How many times a day you like sex?

Or how about this one?

YOU
Nov. 15, 2010 – 11:38am
Hi… I am Marc… [Name of City we live in]… Interested?

Or this:

hi
Aug. 15, 2010 – 2:30pm
Hi Im dave a 38 yr old married 6’2 240 i saw ur pic and thought u were very attractive ;) msg me if u want to chat ;)

I don’t know what’s with describing his appearance, but this other guy felt the need to do it too:

hey
May 13, 2010 – 9:08pm
hi it roger 29 5’9 140 brown hair hair and eyes very outgoing down to earth very fun guy to be with i have 7 brother and 2 sister well i love to travel i love to party well i have a good job well i own my house in [misspelled place name] well i love my job on Base well i am a very open person well want to know anything just ask

Roger

And perhaps the most pointless message of them all:

Hey
Aug. 22, 2010 – 3:25pm
I haven’t heard of any of those bands. Maybe I should check them out.

Guest Post: Why Date An Asexual? An Interview with C

Since I started hosting guest posts, I’ve been bugging C (aka Cat Pajamas), my partner of roughly 3.5 years (and now gayancée), to write one for me. She couldn’t come up with any ideas for the longest time, and so to help her out and make it more comfortable for her, I sent her a bunch of interview questions to answer. If the questions don’t seem to flow from one to another very well, that’s because they were asked in no particular order, just as I thought of them, over email and rearranged later. She’s really worked hard to get her thoughts down and then organize and clarify them better. I’m afraid she found my questions rather frustrating, because they were hard to answer without writing book-length responses. I love that her tendency is to go into great detail about these things… and scribble huge diagrams on my white board about them, too! <3

We don’t often hear much from sexual partners of asexual people, so my hope here is to do a little bit to fill that void. C has another post that she’s working on about sexual attraction as well. If anyone has questions for her that aren’t answered here, feel free to ask in the comments!

From here on out, my questions and comments will be in purple text.

*************

Hi, I’m a 26 year old MTF.  I love to talk about sexuality and some other topics.  I believe I have a very in depth experience with both sexes because I’ve gotten to experience being gay/lesbian/bi in both genders, which is pretty cool and fun to talk about since I think it’s a perspective not many people get to fully experience.

So, if you read that the same way I did, that means I’m at least 200% gay.

Besides sexuality, I have a rather large interests in PC gaming and some outdoorsy hiking/camping stuff.

Can you briefly explain how we met, and how we sort of accidentally ended up in a romantic relationship?

We ‘met’ through a mix of an LGBT group at the university we both went to and me messaging you on OKcupid. Sadly I don’t remember why I messaged you initially, although I do know I was fairly curious about asexuality. We talked online for a time before we decided to go see a movie as friends. The movie wasn’t supposed to be romantic (kung fu panda) and my plan was to just take you back to your place afterwards, but you wanted to just sit around and talk. So we went to a uh, tea/sandwich place that’s kinda artsy and we just sat around and talked.

As it turns out, if you go to see a movie with someone and then talk to them for about 5 hours afterwards and you can’t say good bye, you’re probably doomed to start some sort of romance, whether you intended to do it or not.

Before you met me, if somebody had asked you, “Would you ever date an asexual?” how would you have responded?

I would probably respond with “I’m not sure.” At the time I wasn’t really aware of asexuality and without some information about it or the person, I would probably not do anything. Although I like people that are different from the norm.

If someone asked me that before I started transitioning, I probably would have said “no” since I was quite a bit more sexually active at the time (and ignorant). Once I started transitioning, it would have certainly been closer to a yes (still based on ignorance).

What did you think when you first encountered my profile on OKCupid, and in the early part of our relationship thereafter? Why did you contact me?

When I first encountered it? Who knows! At this point, I’m not sure if there was a reason I messaged you for reasons other than “I don’t know what asexuality is” and I think we had some music groups in common.

I’m pretty sure the reason I messaged you was mainly because of asexuality, since I wasn’t really aware of it and I wanted to know more. I don’t recall wanting to date you. ;)

How did you expect things to proceed? What things surprised you?

Well, ignoring the whole “What? We are dating?” thing… I fully expected the relationship to develop very slowly sexually, so I tried my best to go very slowly. Since usually my relationships have a very sexual nature to them.

What surprised me is how comfortable you were with certain kinds of play. Also how open you were/are to various sexual activities. Based on my (old) knowledge of asexuality, I would have imagined you to be a uh, prude. Thankfully that’s not the case.
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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.

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Don’t Throw That Bouquet At Me!

So Ily said she wanted to hear some asexuals talking about their views on marriage. So I guess I’ll talk about my views on marriage.

When I was still in Japanese class, I remember we were given some exercise, and I can’t remember exactly what it was about, but I think we were supposed to use the ~と思う construction to comment on what we thought our classmates would be good at, or would become in the future, or something like that. All, of course, in Japanese, so I can’t remember exactly what was said (nor could I decipher everything due to some of my classmates’ strong accents), but someone made the comment that they thought I would make a good mother, and thought I would get married and be happy someday.

I was… a little bit surprised, that someone who had known me for all of a week would think I would be a good mother, though I guess I shouldn’t have been because it’s a standard answer. I just figure you kind of have to know a person better than that to be a good judge of whether someone has kid-smarts (which I don’t), so unless I’ve heard a person specifically say something about motherhood, I wouldn’t even go there. Anyway, I said I didn’t want to get married, and everyone, especially the teachers, seemed shocked. I guess in Japanese culture it’s a huge thing to get married even more so than it is in western culture. They asked why, but I couldn’t really give a full answer because I didn’t want to sit there explaining my stance on marriage for ten minutes, especially since my ability with the language was not that great.

I can’t remember what I told them anymore. I’m not sure if I told them anything.

But really, I just don’t see marriage as being necessary, and given my circumstances, it’s not a worthwhile goal. Continue reading

Polyamory and Online Dating

Whenever a discussion about how to negotiate a relationship with a sexual person comes up, asexuals tend to toss out the idea of non-monogamy as a potential solution. This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years, since even before I came out as asexual. I’ve had a couple of different friends who were polyamorous, and seeing a little bit of how their relationships worked, I gradually opened up to the idea of getting involved in some sort of poly arrangement myself. Continue reading