Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Eat the Cats First

I'm sorry to return to you with a sad topic. But you can see this as a sequel to "Things about the asexual community that we shouldn't be ashamed of, but that we should intelligently address amongst ourselves". Amongst ourselves, we shouldn't have to put on a happy, well-adjusted face if that isn't how we're really feeling. The topic of today is depression. Dun dun dun...

Depression can be thorny because the language we use to describe it is inadequate. The way we feel when Cafe Kaleo isn't serving pecan brownies is also the same word we use to describe a mental illness that kills people every year. Depression as an illness, not just a momentary state of sadness, is a very serious thing. Most studies seem to agree that about 8-10% of the US population suffers from it. But according to an unsientific survey on AVEN, 23% of AVENites are currently depressed. And when you're talking about a mental illness, 23% is a very large number (hell, even 10% is too large). But, this isn't surprising. Rates of depression are heightened in every queer group (The statistics on transgender depression and suicide are especially harrowing). While asexuality doesn't cause depression, feeling alone and misunderstood can, if not cause it, certainly worsen a pre-existing predilection towards it. Add to this the fact that many asexuals are also part of other marginalized groups, such as autistic and trans folks, and the asexual depression rates make sense.

As usual, our cultural views are extremely decisive on some topics and unsure on others. Under-30 dot-com millionaire? You're happy, live with it. But on the topic of asexuals, our culture can't seem to decide whether we're very sad or incredibly happy. There seem to be two basic views of asexuals. Here's the first:

Having missed out on love (of course, love and sex can't be separated), our poor asexual becomes a bitter misanthrope. They are constantly frustrated by their lot in life, and die alone. Their body is eaten by cats.

As I understand it, the depressed brain becomes wired to relate to worst-case scenarios, and it's no surprise that this story can seem prophetic to a depressed ace. But it also seems true that in humanity as a whole, tragedy seems to stick out in our minds above a lot of other stuff. It's striking. (For an example of this, see the fact that many people think planes are more dangerous than cars. Even though more people die in car crashes, plane crashes are more tragic/dramatic/reported.) And so this first trope is what we tend to remember. However, there is another, just as stereotyped, but also prevalent:

The asexual leads an innocent life filled with a childlike wonder. Their life is easier without the complexities of sexual relationships. Unswayed by the sex-sells dictums of advertising, the asexual leads a simple life that is in tune with nature. They are valued for being a loyal friend and family member, and they are likely to be talented in science, mathematics, the arts, or education. Without the distractions of sex, they have more time to spend on these pursuits, and their sucess makes them a role model for others.

Our lives will take unique paths. But most people seem to think of life in some sort ofnarrative that is usually socially condoned. If you have to choose one about asexuals, choose the latter one. But when you're depressed, that can be impossible. Believing the worst that is said about you is a symptom of depression. And when you're asexual, those statements can be bizarre and disturbing. Being depressed is nothing to be ashamed of. But it deserves to be talked about in a senstive and productive way.

If we had enough people that wanted to be involved, I'd want to create some sort of asexual mental health taskforce. That would be rad...

10 comments:

pretzelboy said...

Often people are skeptical of individual's claims about being asexual--either the asexual claimant must by lying or there must be something wrong with them. This causes a lot of asexuals to insist how physically and mentally healthy they are, how they weren't abused as children etc. But the fact is that there are asexuals who have been abused. There are asexuals who are not at the peak of physical health. It puts us in a difficult position--to respond to attempts to delegitimate asexual identity, there is an effort to distance asexuality from these things, potentially alienating people in the intersection of asexuality and (fill in the blank.)

One thing that bothers me about a lot of media presentations of asexuality is that people will insist on how happy they are. Or people emphasize how happy they are and wish people would stop telling them how unhappy they need to be because they aren't having sex, etc. My life isn't totally awesome all the time. I have problems. But I don't think that getting someone I'm not attracted to in bed with me is going to solve any of them. I understand the use of letting the public know that it is perfectly possible to be happy without sex, but still...

Anyway, this is an important issue that does need to be addressed.

Ily said...

Thanks for the comment, Pretzel, you make a good point. I think that the discussion of asexuality needs to have a "public" and a "private" side. I think that in the public side, it might be better to say that some aces are happy and some are unhappy, even if it risks more skepticism. I know it's really tempting to portray asexuals as always happy and perfectly normal. But that risks alienating people who are unhappy/"abnormal", and they may never reach the "private side" where we discuss these things in greater detail. I know that having the best publicity that we can is important. But if people can't handle the fact that asexuals encompass a diversity of experience, is their skepticism worth listening to? Would that hurt us? I don't know.

adiaphora said...

i always find your posts to be inspiring and entertaining. while this may be a more 'depressing' post, i think it is very relevant. last weekend i put together a meet up of asexual in my area, but when i told my parents about it they freaked out telling me that i'm not leadership material and where did i come out of nowhere with the notion i should lead a group of 'sexual deviants.' apparently i'm not supposed to be proud of the fact that i'm asexual since it deviates from the norm and would thus classify me as a weirdo, thus complicating MY life and causing those connected with me (namely my parents) to feel somewhat ashamed of the fact they have a deviant, not-so-normal son. personally i'm alright with being classified as different, but when it comes to my mother being ashamed of the fact i'm different and not wanting her friends or those who know us as a family to know about it or associate with those she knows are different, then i come to a stand still. i feel for my parents, even if their argument is a bit off center, but i don't want to sacrifice myself either. i don't necessarily know where to go next, but this 'unique path' i'm on is causing me a great depression mostly when i'm around my parents and since i currently live with them it's hard to avoid most days. my friends and significant other have been ridiculously supportive and i have no intention of giving up putting together the meet-ups, but it saddens me that i have to go into hiding with my parents.

i don't know.. maybe i'm just rambling now. but the main point i wanted to make is that it's good to have support and i find that among your posts. as weird as it may sound to you, i even have a few quotes from your posts that i've transcribed into my journal.

thanks!
:hug:

Ily said...

My parents read this, and I don't want to offend anyone, but: I think the safest course of action is usually to assume that parents won't understand anything, and then if they do, it's like a nice bonus. (I guess that's the Will Smith theory.) I'm sorry they've been so unsupportive. It seems pretty rare to find acceptance totally across the board, but it's awesome that you have cool friends. For what it's worth, I think that it's ridiculous to tell someone they're not "leadership material". Even if you're not the most charismatic person on earth (I'm sure not), leadership is a learned skill. Even though the meetups frustrate me at times, I'm glad to do them because I learn so much from them (as I exhaustively catalogue here, ha ha). I'm so glad that this blog has been inspiring to you. I love nothing more than to hear that someone is getting some use out of my writing, so thank you! *hug*

edgeofeverywhere said...

This is definitely an important discussion to have. It's so frustrating that we have to prove to society that asexuals can be happy and not at all messed up, and that we can also be depressed and have mental health issues like everyone else, and that we should be able to be honest about these issues without people assuming they justify the stereotypes about us.

Fellmama said...

I see this problem discussed all the time in the fat acceptance blogs--if I eat right, I exercise a ton, and I'm still fat, then I'm a "good" fattie, and I'm contributing to the movement. If I don't exercise or eat right or have health problems of any sort, my fat is "bad."
Don't know where I'm going with this, really, except that I again encourage you to check out Kate Harding if you haven't already--perhaps you'll find some useful insight there.

Ily said...

Yeah, EoE, totally. Hopefully, we'll get enough publicity that we can keep discussing the issue. And Mary, thanks for making that connection! (We liberal arts folks just love a connection :-) I've read Kate Harding a bit, and some other fat acceptance blogs, and it's really exciting to see people trying to accept their bodies (finally!), but I can definitely see the conflict there, too. The latest post on Kate's blog (about why feminism is relevant to fat men) seems pretty relevant to stuff I talk about a lot here, like: "...the language and concepts of one social justice movement can be enlightening and liberating even for those who are facing a different challenge."

Kim said...

I would totally be on that task-force idea. Depression is hard to deal with, but it's almost impossible to do it alone.

Superquail said...

Re: fellmama

So, in the fat acceptance community the idea is that a person is a good person if they are fighting against being fat, but not if they accept it? And what about a person who never exercises and doesn't eat right but happens to be hyper-skinny for reasons no one can understand (like, say, a certain Xores)? Are they "good" or "bad"? Are they fat in spirit? This very interesting to me.

Similarly with asexuality, if you are comfortable with it and with who you are, then are you a "good" asexual, while if you find yourself depressed than you are a "bad" one?

Overall, I must say that I have never found good and bad to be useful labels in dealing with anything except fruit.

Tom Feeney said...

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