Warning: Spoilers ahead for The L-Word's final season, if you're like me and wait for things to come out on DVD...
So, I was watching some episodes of The L-Word's final season. My favorite character on the show, Max, is a female-to-male transsexual who recently found out he was 4 months pregnant (yeah...the show has gotten extremely soapy). When he goes to meet his friends at their usual hangout, Jenny says that he should be proud to be a mother and that he looks beautiful. Max storms away crying. If this had come from anyone besides Jenny, who seems to only be concerned with herself lately, this would be a classic example of good intentions gone awry. We know our friend is upset about his accidental pregnancy, so we try to make him feel better...and end up only making him feel worse. In other episodes, people keep referring to Max with female pronouns or even reduce him to an inanimate object. I thought that some sort of list was definitely needed, like "cool and uncool things to say to transpeople" (they would not be very different from cool and uncool things to say to anyone else). This got me thinking...we talk a lot about the uncool things people have said about our asexuality, but what are some cool things that they could be replaced with?
Once I started on this train of thought, I realized that a large proportion of the unwanted things people say when we come out are actually attempts to make us feel better. Maybe this is obvious, but since I tend to assume everyone knows the same things I know, it took me awhile to figure out. Being told "You're just a late bloomer" is supposed to give us hope, as is "You just haven't found the right person yet." If the other person can convince us that asexuality doesn't exist, we're supposed to find that a huge relief. Uh...no. Someone with little understanding of asexuality might think it's a negative thing, and assume that we want to be talked down off the edge of identifying as such.
What to say to asexuals is nothing that's going to "make us feel better". I think the perfect response to someone who comes out is "Okay, thanks for telling me". We don't want to be complimented, unless it's on our moxie for telling you. When I was told emphatically "But! Straight men would want to date you!", I was exasperated. But it was the same as Jenny telling Max that he was a beautiful mother. The person was trying to make me feel desirable, but it didn't work. By the time most people come out, they're pretty positive that they're asexual. And any protest to the contrary just hits the wall of our identities, new as they may be.
Back in January, Rainbow Amoeba wrote a post about her experiences coming out as asexual, and she also found that the people she told in her first go-round were attempting to make her feel better. However, this didn't achieve its intended effect. In a comment, I wrote: "What you said about your mom trying to console you by saying asexuality didn’t exist is perceptive and well-said. I, of course, wanted people to tell me it DOES exist, but I know now that the world isn’t ready (although there have been a few exceptions)." I know it's weird to quote yourself, but I think what happened to me and Rainbow Amoeba happens to a lot of us. What people thought I wanted was totally different from what I actually wanted. It makes me feel better to know that people might mean well, even if they don't express it in a way that's actually helpful. These sorts of effective communication skills are something most of us are never taught.
Recently, I went to a work-related training on "Building Partnerships and Collaborations". There was a long section on active listening that was actually pretty interesting. Apparently, we're constantly trying to make everything all about us. It's natural, and there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but we need to realize that it takes effort to really listen to another person without bringing the conversation back to you. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, although I'm going to try to be more aware of it now. When you come out to someone and they try to swoop in like the savior of modern sexuality, they're making it about them. They're so caught up in being the one to "solve" your "problem" that they don't actually listen to what you're saying. The cool thing to say to anyone coming out, in my opinion, is actually very little.