Body Baggage: Chronic Pain, Trauma, Aging, and Asexuality

This post is for the March 2018 Carnival of Aces on the topic of “Physical Health and/or Our Bodies.”

I don’t talk about my body much. I tend to think that people don’t want to hear it, and that the world needs more body positivity rather than contagious insecurity, especially coming from someone of average weight and relative privilege. But not talking about these things doesn’t make them go away, so for this one little post, since it’s on-topic, I’m going to try to stop ignoring my discomfort and examine it for a little while.

Fair warning: it’s mostly trauma and aging-related stuff, with some mention of racism. I’m not getting into weight or diets or anything like that, though.

Feel free to tune out now, but listen in if you want. Maybe a few people will find this relatable. Continue reading

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

Components of Resilience: Creativity and Adaptability

This is part four of a series of posts dedicated to breaking down components of resilience. The series is an elaboration on a post I made in 2015, continued now as part of the June 2016 Carnival of Aces on Resiliency. In part one of this series, I covered tenacity. In part two, I covered affect management and positive frameworks. In part three, I covered support network and discernment.

In this final post, I will cover creativity and adaptability. Compared to most of the other items, these two are fairly self-explanatory. Since I don’t have to focus on giving an overview, I’ll be focusing more on my own experiences this time. Warning: I will discuss parental abuse, including some major privacy violations, and invalidation/gaslighting. I allude to but do not mention other kinds of abuse, but mostly it’s just general trauma/recovery talk. Continue reading

The #1 thing I want people to do this week to support ace survivors

[mild tw: survivor-exclusive ace 101]

If you’re giving an Asexual Awareness Week presentation or doing any kind of 101 panel this week, here is the number one thing I want you to do to include and support ace survivors:

Tell people how incredibly inappropriate it is to ask others about their sexual abuse history because they came out to you as asexual. Tell people how damaging/hurtful it is for anyone who is actually a survivor to have to deal with that. Encourage people to have some empathy instead, or at least stop being assholes.

Don’t accept the terms that people are trying to set for you when they suggest that people cannot be “real” asexuals if it’s possible that trauma might have caused it. Don’t let them frame the discussion without challenge, and then say things like, Continue reading

On friendships, part 1: feeling I am not entitled to friendship, and I am a burden

[tw: allusions to sexual violence, domestic violence, religious abuse; descriptions of bullying and abusive friends, invalidation of asexuality. Heavy warning for abandonment trauma.]

On some level, I know other people don’t feel that way about me. That these are just my own insecurities, formed from so much abuse, so many attacks from a lack of understanding both asexuality and trauma, and how they can coexist—how my asexuality is used against me by my abusers, and my trauma is used to invalidate my asexuality.

On some level, I know there are people who really like and respect me, and really do want to be my friend. And yet. Continue reading

Trigger warnings: when to use them and why they help

The following is a comment I posted here about trigger warnings—proceed with caution, the link includes some pointed barbs and many commenters who really miss the point.  The post was specifically about whether or not authors should use trigger/content warnings for books.

Here are my thoughts:

As a person with PTSD, I think that generally, people really, really don’t understand why trigger warnings are important, and in what situations they are helpful.

A trigger warning is there for those of us with such psychological disabilities (and yes, it is that severe that many of us have to go get declared as having a disability in order to participate in things like university classes—especially when sometimes, being enrolled at a university is the only way to get access to treatment). It’s there because CONTROLLED EXPOSURE to triggering material is important in mitigating the impact that PTSD has on one’s life. That’s not to say that we don’t ever read triggering materials. We do, and sometimes it’s actually *helpful* to read them. Engaging with triggering materials can sometimes be GOOD—but only when we’re in the frame of mind to be able to do that. Only when it’s NOT likely to completely take over and make it so that we can’t complete the other tasks that we are supposed to do. If I had adequate warnings, I wouldn’t engage with triggering materials right before I have some sort of deadline, for example.

But most of the time, you don’t get any sort of warning. And saying “oh, well you have a responsibility to research it beforehand” isn’t really helpful, because while I do try to do that, it’s not always something that’s actually possible. For example, say I watch a TV show regularly, and in general I’ve found it to be completely fine, with no triggers. But suddenly, there’s a plot twist which now DOES involve a triggering subject. This is the first time the episode has aired, so I wouldn’t be able to rely on other people to tell me before that comes up. So the plot twist happens and now I’m already triggered, but I have a choice: keep watching, or stop? If this is a show I’m watching as it airs, then I’m pretty invested in the show, so most likely I’ll keep going unless it’s really, really bad. But I’ll start to get more wary of the show, and treat it with greater caution in the future.

And there are of course triggers which are personal, and it’s totally unreasonable for me to expect anyone to know about, or warn me of. I would suggest that the only triggers we should reasonably expect others to care about enough to warn people about are the ones that are very common—especially various types of violence and abuse.

But all of those unexpected triggers ADD UP. And they’re pretty frequent, even if they’re minor. It’s a death-by-a-thousand-cuts type of scenario.

So while you’re not *required* to use trigger warnings, you really should be advertising what sort of content your book includes in SOME way (good blurbs don’t require trigger warnings, because they’re descriptive enough that it becomes redundant information). If you don’t, I’m gonna think you’re either bad at blurbs or kind of a dick (being too scared of “spoiling” your work to adequately advertise what kind of content it contains is kind of narcissistic, in a way—it assumes that everyone reads books for the same reasons, or the same reasons every time), or possibly both. (And btw, I should note that I’m using a general “you,” not talking about you specifically—the blurb for Atlanta Burns was fine as far as I could tell without reading it.)

The situation is different when it comes to blogging and assigning books in a classroom setting.

People blog because they are having discussions within their communities. Not using trigger warnings–or making fun of them–is a passive-aggressive way to marginalize people with PTSD, and edge them out of their own communities. It reduces trust, and makes talking about trauma with the community harder.

Teachers at universities have a responsibility to keep in mind the needs of disabled students, including those with PTSD (who again, may only be still enrolled because they need to stay there in order to get treated at all). That means being flexible enough to have alternative assignments available, allowing students with issues like PTSD to turn in assignments late, having ground rules about content warnings in creative writing workshops, and yes, providing warnings when the assigned material is especially likely to be triggering to students with histories of trauma. I’ve had many teachers not only fail at accommodation in that way, but also create a hostile environment by perpetuating rape myths and making other very inappropriate comments (these not just from literature teachers but also from things like Human Sexuality 101 teachers, who should *really* know better). Being in a hostile environment that you really can’t escape like that REALLY marginalizes people who have ALREADY been victimized. Many bright students just have to drop out because of this.

So… yeah. Trigger warnings are most appropriate for discussion settings like blogs, and especially important for classroom settings. Smart writers can certainly get by without resorting to using them if they’re good enough at blurbs, but the content SHOULD be advertised in some way—or else you’ll just marginalize readers who shouldn’t have been your target audience anyway, and probably get some bad reviews.

Some further thoughts:

  • Trigger warnings have nothing to do with censorship, and they shouldn’t be used to censor.
  • They aren’t about things that people merely find uncomfortable. They are about showing care and concern for those with serious mental illnesses—trauma, eating disorders, things like that. It’s about actively including instead of marginalizing those readers/community members.
  • And it’s SUCH bullshit to call someone “weak” for having any mental illness, and make fun of them for wanting to manage it better, and have the support of their communities in doing so. Also bullshit: centering an author’s goal to “challenge” readers at the expense of those who would re-experience their trauma by reading the material. Challenging material is not automatically better than other material. That’s just elitism. Personally, I like to have a variety of material available.
  • Again, this is especially important in communities and discussion settings, like blogs and panels. And we’re aware that you may not know all of our personal triggers—we don’t expect you to. But there are some things that are pretty widely known to be triggering, and that’s what we want others to try their best to warn us about.
  • It is worth being more specific than just whether or not sexual violence is discussed. That is a broad topic, and can contain many different triggers of varying degrees. Is it just a discussion, or is there actually a rape scene? It can be hard to tell.
  • It’s worth mentioning things that could be triggering to some readers in book reviews—or if you are the author, making spoiler-tagged statements about what sort of triggering material readers might come across.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any specific trigger warnings that would be helpful, but you find often go unmentioned? I’d like to compile a list of trigger warnings for others to consult before publishing blog posts, to make it easier for those with no experience with trauma or other mental illnesses to actively include and show support for us.

Giving it a Wide Berth: The Three A’s

As Ily observed in her blog a while ago, asexuals like teetotaling. Although not all of us are teetotalers, many of us are, or have been at one point in our lives, including me. My attitude towards alcohol has changed a lot over the years, from, “That stuff is nasty and horrible!” to “Whatever, just stay away from me when you’re drunk,” to “Okay, so you want vodka and what?”

To understand my changing perspective, it is necessary to understand my background as a survivor of domestic abuse. I won’t go into exhaustive detail, but suffice it to say that my father is an alcoholic, so naturally, for a long time I had a very strong knee-jerk reaction to alcohol of any kind. I could see only its negative effects, just a bunch of people running around stupidly heedless of the damage they were causing. I’m sure it didn’t help that I have such a serious and introverted personality that parties were never my idea of fun to begin with, but of course my terrible experiences of being forced to deal with violent inebriates exacerbated that tendency a thousandfold, to the point that I never wanted to have anything to do with most of my peers, at the age that they all were starting to go out and party. I’m sure there will be some people who would say that these traumatic experiences and the subsequent disidentification with my peers are what “caused” my asexuality, or whatever, but I don’t think the two are related (or rather, not causally related). After all, my sister went through the same experiences, and she’s about as sexual as she can get. Had I felt any sexual attraction, I’m sure I would have felt more of an impetus to get over my disgust in order to act on it. But as it was, the connection between alcohol and sexuality actually turned me farther away from any vague inkling I might have otherwise had to try it.

If abuse laid the foundation of my youthful hatred for alcohol, it was asexuality that poured the cement. I mentioned earlier that in my early teens, I considered myself celibate until further notice. At the time, I did not understand that I was different from my peers in a fundamental way, because I had not yet recognized that they were all developing a kind of interest in others that I didn’t have. I had absolutely no understanding of sexuality, although I did know that sex was something I was supposed to take an interest in at some point. I just thought that point would be far, far in the future (which it was), and I made the decision to focus on other things until I was sure I was mature enough to handle it. I knew because I had no interest that I hadn’t reached that point yet. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps some of my peers were ready for it; I simply thought they were getting themselves into big trouble. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Continue reading

Causality

I always wonder why it seems to matter so much (to other people) what asexuality is “caused by.”

Of course, there are a lot of people out there who would say that asexuality doesn’t really exist, and that it’s just repressed sexuality caused by trauma, or “latent” sexuality caused by a lack of appropriate hormones or whatever pseudo-scientific bullshit theory is being spouted these days without any evidence to support it whatsoever.

But my question is not whether or not asexuality is, or can be caused by either of those things (because of course, sexuality in humans is highly complicated and possibly a little bit like HTML—in that if there is even one component missing, it might not work; so there are probably many different potential causes for asexuality), but whether it matters.
Continue reading