In case you missed it: FTBcon 3 Ace panel

In case you missed it, here is the ace spectrum atheists panel that I was on during FTBcon 3.

Before you watch it though, please be warned that we talked about some pretty heavy stuff, including sexual violence. If you have triggers related to that, and you find the panel setting them off in a way that you’re having trouble dealing with, you can go to Resources for Ace Survivors. Queenie has a list of ace survivors who are willing to talk to other ace-spectrum/questioning people dealing with sexual violence.

A couple of comments:

  1. In my introduction, I mentioned writing a more detailed blog post about my history with religion. If you’re interested, you can find that post here.
  2. This panel was somewhat unusual representation-wise (you’ll see what I mean). A little more diversity would have been nice, but we didn’t really have the time to arrange it. The whole conference was moved back several months, and when some of our previously scheduled panelists dropped, we had to switch things up with barely more than two weeks to go, too. I think it went very well despite the lack of certain perspectives, though.
  3. Even though we were able to exceed our allotted time because we were the last panel of the night, I still managed to forget several things I had wanted to say! And there were some things we just didn’t get to touch on, or only spoke of very generally, because the topic is so huge. If anyone still has questions, feel free to ask them here. Just mind the comment policy.

Anyway…

Apparently there were some trolls who kindly provided evidence to support all the points we made. If you look at it on Youtube, you’ll notice the number of dislikes on the video is much higher than the number of likes—most of them didn’t even watch, they just showed up to tell everyone that they don’t accept our existence, and then left. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that the people continuing to press the thumbs-down button are probably also not watching.

Thanks, trolls. Your belligerent commitment to ignorance has been duly noted.

I do find it funny that the jerk who instigated this sad fanboy drive-by attack just assumed we’re from Tumblr, considering that this panel is one where the majority of us do not use Tumblr (as far as I’m aware), and all of us were around well before it became a big thing. At least half of us dislike the format, and I personally am just a straight-up crotchety old WordPress supremacist.

Despite the trolls, though, the panel had enough interest to run long, and had a good response from the people actually involved in FTBcon. I wasn’t paying attention to the chat channel during the panel, but from what I could tell, the response seemed mostly positive/supportive. Big thanks to Jason Thibeault for facilitating, so that I could safely ignore both the harassment and all the wonderful supportive comments we were getting!

I want to briefly mention one thing that Jason brought up in the hangout chat, which I had wanted to respond to but then forgot about: the desire to help, but also let asexual people speak for ourselves—to not talk over us or ‘splain. That’s a sentiment that I do appreciate, especially because we tend to get a lot of people going, “No, I’m the psychic expert on your subjective internal life experiences, not you.” But I also wanted to point out that there will be situations where we’re either not comfortable speaking up, or just too worn down to do so. So creating an environment where we feel safe to speak—and ideally don’t have to do the very basic education work that precludes making finer points ourselves—is very important. And I think this conference managed it.

I had fun chatting with everyone, and I’d like to see more panels like this in the future, on many more ace-related topics. One day, I think the asexual community could successfully create our own whole conference using the same model as this one. I’m not sure how far we are from being able to make that happen—I suspect it would depend on how many people (including allies) would want to get involved. But I think it would be a very good thing for us, scattered as we are throughout the world, to be able to come together (in our pajamas) from our various spheres of ace-fluence to have discussions on topics we normally wouldn’t be able to talk to each other about, because we exist in such separated domains.

So if anybody wants to make that happen, I’m down.

Why I Identify as Sex-Postitive, Despite Seeing Sex as Neutral

Author’s note, August 2015: This is an old blog post that no longer reflects my current views. I no longer find it useful to identify as sex-positive, especially in asexual spaces, although many of my political views still align with the goals of sex-positive feminism.


I regularly see asexuals saying that they don’t identify as sex-positive because they don’t see sex as an inherently positive thing. They often feel alienated and attacked by people who identify as sex-positive, because sex is good and people who aren’t interested in having sex therefore must have something wrong with them. But while I know that people who say this do exist, I think they’re wrong about what being sex positive actually means.

Sex is not inherently positive. It CAN be positive. It CAN be a fantastic, mutually enjoyable experience. It can even be something that inspires feelings of transcendence in people. But it isn’t always. A lot of sex is painful, coerced, deeply terrifying and traumatic. And sometimes sex that feels good at the time can bring all kinds of awful consequences.

The point of sex positivity is acknowledging that sex isn’t inherently negative. It’s not saying that ALL sex is positive. It’s saying that it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how Carol Queen, one of the leaders of the movement*, defines it:

It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent.

Emphasis in original. This quote is from wikipedia, as access to the original interview is restricted.

There are cultural forces out there that are strongly anti-sex. To people who buy into them, sex is seen as inherently bad, dirty, and shameful. It is only acceptable within a very narrow set of circumstances. That set of circumstances is seen as being narrower or wider according to different people, but it’s all relatively narrow. Primarily, the people who see it this way are religious. It makes sense, right? They want to make you feel guilty for sex you will still be having anyway**, so that then you’ll feel the need to keep coming back to confess your sins to them.

Sex positivity is a response to that. It’s a philosophy that says that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with having sex before marriage, or sex with someone of the same sex, or a million other kinds of sex, as long as that’s what you both want. Consent is key. And so is the idea that everyone is different, and it’s totally okay for different people to want different things.

If you don’t want to have sex, then don’t have sex, because having sex that you don’t want is bad for you. That is what a sex-positive person should be saying.

“Yeah, I’m totally ace-positive … You’re aromantic, ew that’s unnatural.” From here.

So those nominally sex-positive people who say that everyone should want sex, because sex is good? They’re doing sex positivity wrong, because they’re forgetting about both consent, and the tenet of individual preference.

I see these people as a breed of Disingenuous Liberal, essentially. These are people who have thought about sex positivity just enough to start labeling themselves as such, but not enough to have actually thought through their positions and arrived at a reasonable, logically consistent conclusion. These are people who are still having knee-jerk reactions against religious conservatives saying that sex is inherently negative, and as such, their reactions lack nuance. They are basically saying, “NUH UH, SEX IS GREAT!” without considering how it isn’t always the best thing for everyone. They have challenged whatever sex-negative attitudes they previously held enough to start identifying as sex-positive, but not enough to actually stop telling other people how they should feel about sex.

These are the people who tend to assume that asexuality is the same as being anti-sex. These are the people who are likely to equate asexuality with a “purer than thou” religious attitude towards sex, and attack it on that basis. They are still fighting their own battle with sex-negative conditioning, so they assume we are saying that we’re somehow “better than” them, for not feeling sexual attraction.

These are the people who are most likely to say we’re “just repressed” and push concern-trolling ideas like how we should go get our hormones checked.

But, as Natalie Reed said yesterday, people who see themselves as liberated and enlightened can easily fall into the trap of thinking that they are much more so than they actually are, and stop actually examining their words and actions, because of course they are so enlightened that nothing they say can actually still be enforcing sex-negativity. They have fallen for the Dunning-Kruger effect, and they genuinely think they know our feelings about sex better than we do.

But sex positivity is about cultivating positive sexual experiences, and reducing harmful ones. Pushing asexual people to have sex that they don’t want is pushing them to have harmful, deeply negative sexual experiences. Telling us that we’re “just repressed” is an aggressive attempt to frame any conversation about asexuality through a lens in which we don’t actually exist. It’s an attempt to marginalize us based on our different sexual preferences. It is not an act that is in any way sex positive.

Then there are other disingenuous liberals, like this recent commenter, who insist that they think that asexuality exists, but that our definition of asexuality is wrong, because it’s “too broad.” This is still an attempt to marginalize. It’s still a direct attack on someone’s identity, despite her attempt to cloak it in the abstractions of semantics. When you’re the signified, discussing how the signifier is wrong to include you is still pretty personal. And, unsurprisingly, she replied once and then after that didn’t bother to come back to see what else I said. This isn’t someone who is actually interested in interrogating her own biases. This is someone who is only interested in telling me how I’m wrong.

Like I said to her, it doesn’t matter whether you see a need for someone to identify as asexual or not. What matters is that THEY see that need. And asexuality is not only entirely compatible with sex positivity, but sometimes understanding yourself as asexual is what it takes to be able to have positive sexual experiences.

Before I realized I was asexual, I was celibate, and completely closed off to the idea of having sex until such time as I started spontaneously wanting to have sex (which has still never come even though I’m in my mid-twenties, because I’m not a “late bloomer”). Realizing that I’m just not attracted to people in that way has allowed me to think about whether or not I wanted to have sex anyway, and under what circumstances. When I had a partner who didn’t accept me as asexual, the sex was bad. Like, the stuff of nightmares bad. But when I met C, she actually listened to me and tried to understand what my experience was like. She didn’t pressure me. At times I still felt like our relationship was moving too fast, but we always negotiated what was and wasn’t okay sexually, and we’ve been able to have some very positive, mutually enjoyable sex.

Sex isn’t for everyone, though. Some people just don’t want it. And that’s okay.

Sex positivity is all about recognizing that different people have different preferences, and that’s okay. It’s about recognizing that sex isn’t always bad, but not all sex is good sex, either. Sex has to be entirely consensual, or it won’t be any good, and people also need to understand and have access to ways to prevent negative consequences of sex like STIs and pregnancy. Sex positivity is about recognizing that when those criteria are met, sex has the potential to be very positive. Living a sex-positive life means finding ways to have a positive relationship with sexuality in your personal life, even if that means saying, “Hey, it can be great for other people, but it’s not for me.”

——–

* Several years ago, DJ interviewed Carol Queen about asexuality and the sex positive movement. There are two installments, and it’s well worth a listen.

** Researchers have found that religious people have sex at the same rates as non-religious people. Abstinence-only sex education is ineffective. There are plenty of studies about this, but one particularly interesting one compares the sex lives of secular people with those of religious people.

Gray is the New White

As you can see, things look a little different around here. I finally got off my ass (only figuratively speaking, of course) and applied my knowledge of CSS to design a new layout for the blog. Since I tend to be verbose, I thought it would be better with a larger area for text. This also fixes the problem of how the comment threads were being displayed.

I realize the text may be a bit too small for some readers, but if this is a problem for you, you can adjust the text size from your browser, under the View menu.

Also: I am a font junky, so I like to collect tons of different fonts. Naturally, I made the layout with a specific font in mind, Baar Sophia, which you can download from here. To install: download, unzip if necessary, and put it in your fonts directory. You don’t have to have it, but I personally think it looks nicer this way. :)

I don’t have anything interesting to say right now, so how about a poll?

(Please note: I’m not saying that atheism is a religion, that would be silly. But if you’re going to have a poll about religion, you have to also include options for the non-religious!)

Dismantling Emotional Flatulence

A few days ago, I posted about Rabbi Schmuley Boteach’s bad definition of asexuality. Now, I want to address the main point of his article.

As Ily has observed, his argument makes no sense. It is inarticulate and illogical, and there are so many gaps where he has jumped from one assumption to the other that the article is quite difficult to follow without making great leaps of inferences.

Essentially, this is an emotional argument, and it must be dealt with as such. There is a sort of reasoning to it, but it’s not the same kind of reasoning as an argument based on logic. The Rabbi looks around him and sees that a good chunk of the population does not share his values, and so he fears that society is gradually becoming more and more immoral. This rant of his (for really, that’s what it is) is just the expression of that fear. It doesn’t amount to anything else, because he has not taken the trouble to check his facts; the entire rant is based solely on his own perceptions of the world around him.

Emotional arguments are very tricky, because unlike simple misinformation, they arise from some sort of emotional need, and serve as a defense mechanism which, when taken away, would leave a person vulnerable.  Franklin from Xero Mag wrote an essay which does a great job of explaining this. I don’t usually like to challenge emotional beliefs, because it tends to lead to a great amount of hostility, and it rarely accomplishes anything, since the person whose beliefs are being challenged will tend to just sit there and vehemently deny everything that I am saying. If a person is very invested in their emotional belief, it is extremely rare that anyone will be able to get through to them. This is why arguments between atheists and Christians (for example) are almost always futile. The only thing that they can usually accomplish is to change the opinion of someone who is sitting on, or very close to, the fence.

Still, I think it’s important to talk about stuff like this. There are a lot of people out there who might start to become aware of the emotional undercurrents in their own heads which are undermining their statements. I think it’s important for people to challenge their own emotional beliefs, and not let their emotional landscapes twist facts way out of proportion. This kind of thinking affects everyone, including the asexual community. Specifically, I see certain similarities between the Rabbi’s beliefs and their rationale, and those held by some asexuals. Continue reading

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