Shutting Up: On writing, audience, and representation

Every writer has a pile of drafts that have never been published. Some of it just doesn’t deserve to see the light of day, but other drafts? Some of them are held back because we as writers just aren’t ready for the sort of attention that it would inevitably bring. Some of them are about topics we aren’t quite able to focus on long enough to bring to completion, because they are topics that sap so much mental and emotional energy that they would leave little room for the rest of… well, life, and especially enjoyment of it. Sometimes it’s a topic that has to be thought through very carefully in order to reach any sort of clarity about it, and that thinking-through period can last months or even years, well before the actual process of writing things down begins. Some writers like to go on about how nothing except the part where you actually sit down and do the writing counts as writing, but I disagree. I think the part where you do research and careful critical thinking about the subject you’re planning to write about is just that—critical to the process of writing. Writing without the benefit of reflection results in very shallow words that don’t offer anything truly insightful. Writing without being (or while trying not to be) vulnerable results in similar shallowness, and when your writing is very personal, you can end up with layers of dishonesty—unintentional, probably, but nevertheless real.

I’m going through a weird transitional phase right now as a writer. I’m not a student anymore, but I’m also not quite at the stage of publishing anything that will give me any sort of royalties, although I’m certainly working on it. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out how to support myself while working on it, which projects to work on, and how to find the support and self-care methods I will need to get through it.

This post is partly for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces (this month’s theme was the Unassailable Asexual), and partly something I would have eventually written anyway.

[Content Note: The rest of this post discusses sexual violence, minimization and victim-blaming, and vulnerability to abusers, as well as exploitation and privileging of certain narratives over others for the purpose of pushing compulsory sexuality. All links in this post also come with a huge warning. Please be mindful of your triggers and practice self-care. Please let me know if you think anything else needs to be included here.]

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“False” Memories, “False” Reports

[Trigger warning for sexual assault, discussion of false memory syndrome, victims being fined/jailed for “false” reporting that later is proven to be true.]

Well, it’s still Sexual Assault Awareness Month for the rest of today, and I’ve been meaning to post something about this since March, so I’ve decided to just make myself write it today. This post contains SPOILERS for Star Trek Voyager, season four episode seventeen, “Retrospect.”

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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.


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!

Do you want to?

[Trigger warning for discussion of rape and violence, including a non-explicit excerpt from a survivor’s story. Please note that any hateful or otherwise inappropriate comments will not make it through moderation.]

Via Sciatrix’s Monday Linkspam, I’ve come across a couple of good posts on asexuality and oppression, which I highly recommend: first one from Kaz refuting the infuriating claim that asexuals “aren’t really oppressed.” Then this one on victim-blaming, which references something which apparently happened on the AVEN forums. I think it’s good to read them both together. Kaz writes:

But what I really want to address is the bit about violence.

“Asexuals don’t experience violent oppression!”

I would like it if people stopped saying this.

First of all, I honestly don’t think we KNOW. I know of no wide-scale surveys or other information-gathering measures on this front. It is possible there genuinely isn’t much in the way of violence against asexual people. But it’s possible that we don’t see it because we aren’t looking, because we’re just assuming there is no such thing as anti-asexual violence or specifically hate crimes.

Or—I must interject—is it because we don’t WANT to know? And actually, I created an information-gathering measure about that, but more on that later. Continuing (more behind the cut): Continue reading

National Coming Out Day

“It’s like Valentine’s Day for queer people,” C joked. In that the people who are already out shout about it from the rooftops, and the people who aren’t already out usually feel kinda bad about it and wish they were.

This post doesn’t have much more of a point than to make that joke, really. But I guess to give it some more substance, I’ll say this: sometimes, people have really horrible, awful, terrible reactions when you come out. Yes, as asexual, too. It’s really, really NOT just “annoying at best” as so many would like to think that it is. I never talk about what my father said when I came out to him as asexual. You know why?

Because he said, “You’ll change your mind the first time you get raped.” Direct quote.

Isn’t that delightful?

Anyway, I guess the point of this post is, while I suppose it’s nice to have a day for coming out and spreading awareness and all, let’s just try not to pressure the people who aren’t totally out, all right? Because some people have a very good reason not to bother, and we ought to remember it’s perfectly understandable to make that choice, too. Just like there’s nothing wrong with being single on Valentine’s Day, there’s nothing wrong with being closeted on Coming Out Day, either. It’s totally awesome if you choose to come out today, and I hope things go well! But if not, don’t feel bad about it or pressured to do it anyway. Do it on your own terms, but only if you want to.

And because I realize this is kind of a depressing and cynical post, here. Watch sneaky kitty!

The internet, as it turns out, isn’t actually for porn. It’s for posting cats.

(By the way, I suppose I should say that I’m way over this reaction by now. I think it’s been five years, or something like that. I mostly don’t talk about it because other people are shocked and find it depressing. It’s a mood killer, nobody wants to hear it, and because of that I suppose it’s somewhat taboo. But to me, it’s just a fact of life.)

Seduction and Its Nasty Implications

[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When I posted How to Seduce an Asexual, I left out a lot of things about seduction that I have a problem with. Namely… well, the entire system of ideology that’s behind it.

I had an extended conversation with C about it after I made that post, and the conclusion we both came to is that ultimately, seduction comes down to placing blame. Or credit, as the case may be—boys patting themselves on the back for having “scored” with so-and-so, bragging about it to other boys.

Historically, it has probably been more about blame than credit. Here are the definitions of the verb “seduce” given by the OED:

1. trans. To persuade (a vassal, servant, soldier, etc.) to desert his allegiance or service.

2. In wider sense: To lead (a person) astray in conduct or belief; to draw away from the right or intended course of action to or into a wrong one; to tempt, entice, or beguile to do something wrong, foolish, or unintended.

3. trans. To induce (a woman) to surrender her chastity. Now said only of the man with whom the act of unchastity is committed (not, e.g., of a pander). Cf. DEBAUCH v.

4. To decoy (from or to a place), to lead astray (into). Obs. exc. with notion of sense

5. To win by charm or attractiveness. Obs. rare

Inherent in most, if not absolutely all, of these is a value judgment: sex is bad, it is the wrong course. For the seduced, having sex is foolish or at the very least unintended. According to C’s way of thinking, you cannot be seduced if you set out originally to have sex with whomever you happened to have sex with. You might say that you were seduced, but I think most people would agree that if you intended to do it from the outset, you weren’t actually seduced. So that means that at least in some sense, having sex would be something negative. Maybe that means you have “chastity”—some kind of innocence or purity which can be given away. A virginity, whatever the heck that means, that you are protecting by not having sex. You’re trying to hold to these principles, and you wouldn’t normally do it, but someone came along who was just so amazingly tempting that you had to give in. He seduced you. Notice who is both the subject and the agent of that sentence. It’s not you, it’s him.

Or maybe you’re not a virgin. Maybe you’re married. If you’re committed to a monogamous relationship, then it’s wrong to have sex outside of that relationship. You do it anyway, and when your partner finds out, you say, “She seduced me.” Whether or not that’s true, if you can get your partner to believe it, it may shift some of the blame onto the “seductress.” While you may not be absolved of blame in the public eye, the focus shifts. Google Michelle McGee, for instance, and you’re likely to find blog posts about her where people have had to use a disclaimer: “Of course Jesse James is also in the wrong, but…”

Seduction is inherently about manipulation, even if the result is framed as something which is liberating. It is about strategizing, cajoling, overcoming resistance—even if that resistance comes from “unfounded fears” or negative ideas about sex, and results in a welcome removal of such fears. It is a choice made under pressure deliberately calculated by the seducer, if it does constitute a choice at all. It’s not really even framed as a choice; it’s framed as something that was done to someone.

And it’s scary, because a person in “seduction mode” will likely not recognize very obvious signs of non-consent and back off. M laughed at me once for pulling his hand out of my underwear, and then put it back. He thought of my actions as if they were a move in a game, apparently, when really I wanted him to stop, and it would be hedging to say I was merely “uncomfortable” with what he was doing. I was scared. I could tell he would be able to overpower me, and most likely nobody would take my side. He didn’t respect me or the knowledge I had about my sexual orientation—not that he even listened to me when I tried to explain and make my boundaries clear. I thought that if I could just communicate to him what asexuality really means, he would stop violating them, and start to take me seriously. That never happened. He was convinced that I was “not really asexual” and apparently thought that he was sweeping me off my feet, getting rid of my “unfounded” fears, and so on.

Why is it that consent is allowed to be implicit—indicated by anything from the clothes a victim is wearing to his/her previous history and character—but there is no room for implicit non-consent? Why does a lack of a no apparently mean yes? Why does Cathy Young say that requiring initiators to seek explicit consent for sexual activity:

“infantilizes women (while the policies may be gender-neutral on their face, they generally presume men to be the initiators in heterosexual encounters). Are women so weak that they can’t even say ”no,” or otherwise indicate their lack of consent, unless the man takes the initiative of asking?”

Hey, I tried to indicate my lack of consent. It didn’t work. And having heard from 90 people so far (and still counting) about their experiences with rape and sexual assault, I realize that it is a common phenomenon to have one’s boundaries treated like they are a joke, even in cases where the victim very explicitly said no.

Actually, up to 88% of those who have been sexually assaulted experience some degree of involuntary temporary paralysis during the assault. It doesn’t make them weak or infantilize anyone, male or female; that’s just the way that most people (and other animals) instinctively respond to such a threat. In fact, it is probably adaptive and helpful, since resistance may only make an attacker more violent, and do more damage.

Treating sex like it is a game to be played out, especially a game wherein one party is expected to be the gatekeeper, and show resistance that is supposed to be overcome… well, I think it’s awful. Especially so for those who are assumed to be consenting when they are not. And even when the sex IS consensual, framing it as seduction removes the implication of free choice from the “seduced” and places the blame/credit on the “seducer.” And I wonder why, if you really made a fully informed and free choice to have sex, you wouldn’t want to give yourself credit for making that choice.

I just wish that we could get away from a manipulative model of how sex works and put everything out in the open. There is nothing wrong with having sex if you want to, and there is nothing wrong with not wanting to, either. I mean seriously, what is with all this sneaking around? Why is it such a huge problem to just outright ask if someone wants to do it or not, and then honor their wishes?