Thursday, December 30, 2010

Married to Work: BBC's Sherlock

And who is more asocial than the man himself, Sherlock Holmes? Yes, I finally stumbled out of my cave and watched the BBC's Sherlock. (Lia wants me to say that I watched it with her, a Sherlock Holmes purist.) I'm still working my way through the three episodes (come on, they're very action-packed), and enjoying them so far, but we came here to talk about asexuality, didn't we?

I know that a lot of aces find Sherlock's asexuality to be personally or culturally relevant. I can understand and respect that, but I don't feel the same way. I've met a lot of asexuals, and we all seem to share some similar concerns about living in a sexual world, concerns that don't seem to cross Sherlock's mind. To me, he's not relatable on an asexual level, and he's not the kind of character I'd want to be friends with. I don't know if many people would want to be Sherlock, but still, he seems to have what everyone wants. And it's not "the girl" (or "the guy"), which might be somewhat unique. It's to be recognized for doing what you love and what you do best (and wearing a snazzy coat). While BBC's Sherlock describes himself as a "high-functioning sociopath", he seems more like an autistic savant to me. (How else could he memorize the traffic pattern of every London street?) Sherlock thrives in his own story, but if he were dropped into the real world, I wouldn't count on his success.

Conan Doyle probably never intended this reading, but it does speak to me as a workaholic with no work. I find watching Sherlock oddly poignant for this reason. My mind turns to the fact that our society doesn't tend to do well at utilizing people's special, perhaps Sherlock-like abilities. I start thinking of this quote I'd read a while ago: "I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." So when I look at Sherlock, I don't see his asexuality first, but his "marriage to his work". And that's a hard thing to hold onto these days. I can finally admit that I don't want "the guy", at least not in a Hollywood way. But I still want the work, elusive as it may be.

And forgive my towering expectations, but I would like it if actors playing asexuals would make some kind of educational statement about asexuality. Straight actors playing gay characters do it all the time. On the other hand, Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of Sherlock, "suggests that Holmes is asexual, perhaps the result of being burned in the past by women..."and that's it, as far as I can find. I don't expect actors to take up our cause, but just mentioning the "correct" definition of asexuality would be a small thing for him and a big deal to some of us.

(Also, is it terrible that whenever a show has rapid-fire wordplay, I'm always going, "Ugh, why is this so Gilmore Girls?")

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sympathy for the Hermits (Asexuality & "Being Asocial")

In my last post, I talked about this ad, which referred to "asexual, a-social, a-everything girls". The quote may have been from a Jack Kerouac book, but even so, it's a real stereotype that might gain prominence as asexuality gets better-known. Me, I would say that for an introvert, I'm quite social. Some asexuals really are asocial, and many are not. But to play both the devil's advocate and the asexual's advocate, it can be hard sometimes to maintain a thriving social life as an asexual, depending on your own personality and circumstances. Some stereotypes begin with a grain of truth. And I think this could be one of them, as small as the grain might be.

What do lots of people do for fun? Go to parties or bars. And what's the point? To have fun with friends, yeah, but also to meet potential sexual partners. After I realized I was asexual, I saw no point to drinking, which many view as an "enabler" of sexual activity. And drinking is a big part of social life in many places. Although I enjoy a beer or two, many asexuals are avid teetotalers. What is a major topic of conversation for lots of people? Sex, people that are "hot", crushes, dating, etc. I know some asexuals enjoy these conversations, but for others, it's awkward and hard to contribute. Especially if you're not comfortable telling others that you're asexual. Even if you are, maybe people make fun of you, or you get belittled for being "repressed". Depending on your age and social circle, you may be the only single person among your friends, stuck as a third wheel while people's interests have shifted from group activities to partnered ones. No, I'm not a hermit, but if you wanted to be one, I could understand.

So one reason for the stereotype is that a lot of people's social lives involve sexuality in some sense. That might be a "duh" to you, but it's something I'd never really thought about in these specific terms. I remember being told that it was normal to spend four or five nights a week with your romantic partner-- I was like, "lolwhut?" Even an ace-friendly columnist wondered why we'd seek out other asexuals to socialize with in meatspace. If you're not having sex, why bother leaving the house? (Well, eventually you'll run out of hummus, or ingredients to make hummus.)

In the end, what I find most offensive about the "asocial" stereotype is that it views an asexual mode of relating as inferior or unworthy of mention. It discounts the ingenuity that asexuals sometimes display in order to be social in a sexual world. It discounts the hard work that some of us exert to maintain relationships when our preferred modes of intimacy are little understood. It implies that if we are asocial, it's because we're asexual, not because we live in a culture where it's increasingly difficult to make meaningful personal connections. Or maybe we feel alienated from being constantly bombarded by messages about the importance of sex (and romance). And if we are asocial for a reason that has nothing to do with asexuality, the stereotype implies that such a thing can't be the case. It's insulting from every angle.


So what's the solution? To impress on people how fun we are, the lives of the party? To extol the great relationships we have, and how we're capable of dating and marriage? Since all of these sentences end with question marks, the answer is that I'm not so sure. No doubt, asexuals are no less fun than any other group. Our social lives can thrive as much as anyone's. But I don't want to be in denial about the fact that there can be real barriers to asexuals being social. It's good to show that anything is possible-- of course we can date, marry, have kids, have close friends, and be social butterflies. But we shouldn't ignore the factors that can make all those things hard to accomplish for many who want them.

[The painting above is by Roger Brown, originally seen at the Cantor museum at Stanford.]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Offended? Cool by me.

If you hang out in the asexosphere, you've probably seen this ad, which is selling an emergency contraceptive called Plan B:


There are also video ads. I watched one, which didn't insult asexuals, but did make women look like complete idiots. (Apparently, another video ad does talk about "asexuals", but I had already lost enough brain cells.) Note that the colors of the ad are gray and purple. This is not a common color combination, but it is two of the colors on the asexual flag:


Coincidence? You be the judge, but in my opinion, it probably isn't one. Companies spend so much time and money on marketing-- I can't imagine that no one took 5 seconds to Google the word "asexual", which is a little-used word outside of biology texts and, well, asexuals. If they didn't know that "asexual" really applied to people, they would have put a dash in the word, like they did with "a-social".

In the past few days, I've read many comments from asexuals about the ads. Some people are offended, and some aren't. Some think it was an innocent mistake, and some people think that it wasn't so innocent. Some wrote letters to the company or left comments on Youtube, others didn't. Reading Sciatrix's post on getting angry and then seeing the overwhelmingly polite responses was very timely.

This is an interesting case because to my knowledge, this is the first corporate asexohater. And I don't like corporations for the most part, and I don't like advertisements. Sure, there are pockets of the corporate and advertising worlds that may not be morally bankrupt, but I doubt they are very large pockets. I don't think an ad campaign can "mean well", unless it's something like "Get an HIV test" or "Stop domestic violence". Every day, a new ad comes out that is sexist. If companies can offend feminists with impunity, why would they care about offending asexuals? If someone thought an ad saying, "Don't be like those tea-drinking tweed-wearers who don't experience sexual attraction" would make money, it would run tomorrow.

In this post, I used this quote:

"Brands can't be all things to all people. Effective marketing is the art of sacrifice..."
(Positioning Puts Branding in its Place, Hiebing)


Asexuals will be "sacrificed", if necessary. Do remember that this is emergency contraception, not Doctor Who memorabilia. We're not their target market, so the sacrifice is especially easy to make. (Yes, I know asexuals do have sex, but I doubt Teva knows or cares.)

In the 60's and 70's, people protested the government. In the current era, people need to protest corporations. Many corporations have bigger budgets than small countries. But they can live and die on the power of their brands. Maybe the ads will backfire, and Plan B will come to be associated with exceptionally air-headed people who don't know how babies are made (which is what the ads portray). Who knows?

So go ahead, be offended. They certainly don't care about offending you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spectral Amoebas: Blog Carnival is Go!

In the comments to this post, a few of us talked about the possibility of doing an asexuality/ autistic spectrum blog carnival. Not to talk about "does autism cause asexuality?" -type stuff, mind you, but to just talk about our experiences when those two identities intersect. Anyway, Kaz, Sciatrix and myself got together and decided to organize the carnival. Here's our blurb:

A blog carnival is an event where various people write posts around a single topic and link them together at the end. The topic of this carnival is the intersection of asexuality and the autism spectrum. The scope of this project is general. Any topic that deals with the intersection of asexuality and autism fits within the aegis of the carnival. If you’re not sure, submit it anyway and we’ll figure it out.

We are asexual bloggers on the autistic spectrum who want to explore the intersection between autistic and asexual identities. The basis of this project is to have a conversation about our unique experiences being autistic and asexual without looking for a “cause”. We want to create a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about the issues that affect us. If you identify as asexual (or demisexual, or gray-a) and as on the autistic spectrum (diagnosed or not, AS, autism, PDD-NOS, NLD), you are invited to write a blog post for this project. If you are not asexual and autistic you are welcome to contribute provided you focus on the issues experienced by this particular intersection. The scope of the project is general, and open to any experiences of being autistic and asexual.

If you want to write a post but don’t have a blog, please contact me at sanfranciscoemily[at]gmail[dot]com or Sciatrix at sciatrix[at]gmail[dot]com about doing a guest post. Please have your post written by 31st January and comment on this post or send an e-mail to me or Sciatrix about your post by then. Note that the hosts reserve the right to reject posts by anyone if they feel they do not follow the guidelines of or are not in the spirit of the carnival. The posts will be compiled on Writing From Factor X for posterity. A post with the compilation will go up there in the beginning of February. Be a part of this exciting project!

–Sciatrix, Kaz, and Ily

Edit: Possible topics for exploration? As we said, you can write about anything, but here are some ideas:

  • Coming out as asexual and as autistic
  • Relationships
  • Gender expression
  • Childhood/young adult experiences
  • Treatment by medical professionals/therapists
  • Perceptions of the autistic asexual by others
Feel free to share other ideas in the comments!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Genius Loci: "Highly Resonant Connections"

On a different topic (or is it, really?), I remember writing in my journal once: "If love was a pie, romantic love would be one piece". Now I want to add: "If relationships were a pie, relationships with other people would be one piece". Granted, a large piece. But there are others, and I don't think I've written about them nearly enough. If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, here are some examples: Relationships with the self, with ideas, with higher powers (if you believe in them), with the natural world, with animals, and with place. Relationships with place are my special interest. I've always had a sensitivity towards place, which made me feel weird and somewhat alone. But maybe I'm not. Craig Chalquist writes in the (fantastic) compilation Ecotherapy:

When I began to study places in California, I dreamed about them, not just as scenery, but as imaginal figures: personifications actively greeting me, cautioning me, or telling me of things I had missed while visiting. Our surroundings are part of the psychological ground of our experience...Aboriginal peoples have always sensed this, hence the frequent mention of sacred sites and nature spirits in the ancient myths. In recent work a new vocabulary has begun to evolve to express these deep, symbolically rich, and highly resonant connections psychologically. "I think, therefore I am" might be true for computers, but as embodied humans deeply situated, we are because we are somewhere, a somewhere not dead or inert but addressing and informing us continually. (pg 80)

The Romans had a term, "genius loci", which roughly means "the spirit of a place". When I first heard that term, it meant a lot to me. Sort of like discovering the word "asexuality" but on a smaller scale. I had never known how to explain my extreme love and hate for places, which were things that most people seemed to move through without comment. My usual format of non-blog writing is poetry, and what I consider my best poems all come from "the spirit of a place". It's very inspiring to me. There are allusions to genius loci in our culture from time to time, but it seems like a thing that is rarely addressed head-on.

Relationships with places are similar to relationships with people, in that no place is the same for any two people. It speaks to how differently we all interpret the world, since it's not like a place can act differently in the presence of some people. Love for place happens on a very deep level surpassing logic, similar to, I would imagine, romantic love. For example, even though I've never lived in New York, I have a great love for that city. I think the fact that me, my parents, and my grandparents were all born there has something to do with it. And reading the newsletter from my college study abroad program, I learned that there seems to be a pattern of people having strong, life-long loves for the places where they studied abroad. Would we love those places in the same way if we'd gone there on a business trip or vacation?

It can be edifying to have a relationship with something that may still be there long after you're gone. And what we love about places can give us information about our most deeply-held values. But relationships with places can be difficult for many reasons. How many people's favorite place has been altered or destroyed due to greed or indifference? In Ecotherapy, there was an anecdote about a therapy client who was beside herself with grief when a forest that she loved was clear-cut. In fact, there are several similar anecdotes in the book. Nature often gives a place its meaning; I can't imagine many people are passionate about parking lots (although they can have a surreal beauty). I'd like to think that if there was more acknowledgment in our culture of genius loci, it would have positive ecological consequences.

So, what places do you love? And if you know, why?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kumbaya

This post, and the posts linked within it (from Dreki and Sciatrix), got me thinking about a community-wide discussion I wish we could have: Associations between the asexual and autistic communities. But it would be hard to have this discussion because there's no real place to have it. It requires that people have a decent knowledge of both asexuality and the autistic spectrum. On AVEN, there are too many people who are ignorant about autism, and on autistic forums, there are too many people who are ignorant about asexuality. As others have mentioned, people's ignorance can derail a conversation while we try to educate them and explain things.

The posts I referenced mentioned that ableism sometimes appears on AVEN. (In this respect, AVEN is no different from the rest of the world.) Unlike some other -isms, I find that ableist statements tend to come from a place of fear and ignorance, rather than malice. On AVEN, the disabilities that tend to be the most discussed are mood disorders and autistic spectrum disorders. "Invisible disabilities" such as these have their own unique stigma. I think it speaks well of AVEN that we can mention these experiences there, even though they may not be unanimously welcomed. In meatspace, it can be very difficult to talk about mood disorders or autism, since "sane privilege" and "neurotypical privilege" can be difficult for those who can pass as "normal" to voluntarily give up.

Anyway...back to "the conversation I want to have". It can't be had if people are thinking of autism as a dread disease, or autistic people as impossible to relate to. It can't be had if neurotypicals are under the assumption that they can't--or don't currently-- associate with autistic people. Ableism relates to the idea that people with disabilities "make us look bad". This might be remedied by a critical exploration of how our society marginalizes people with disabilities. However, if people are still unsure what disabled people "have to do with me", then it's hard to get past square one. And of course, these derails, while important, are still derails.

On AVEN, there have been numerous threads about Asperger's Syndrome (AS), which is what I would call a "labeled point" on the autistic spectrum. In those threads, there seems to be this common inference: "Autism is bad/weird/out-there, and I want asexuality to be well-received. Therefore, there is no relation between asexuality and autism." And maybe that's the case for the neurotypical asexual. But it sets up a strange dichotomy for the autistic asexual, of which there are many. Considering this, the inference seems like a denial of many people's reality.

I forget where I read it, but I once read an anecdote about a white man who joined a fraternity with mostly black members. The white man said something about how meaningful it was for black men to call him "brother". Now, I hope this is not too kumbaya for you, but the asexual community is like that fraternity, or at least, it could be. Except instead of it being one white man and a bunch of black men, it's people of all races, nationalities, ages, genders, and abilities. Within the asexual community, I think we have an opportunity to gain new "brothers", as it were. Neurotypical people could, presumably, feel honored to gain autistic "brothers" through the asexual community. They could see the prevalence of autistics in the asexual movement as a unique opportunity to learn about how other people's minds work. I'd like to think that some already do. But this can never happen unless we value knowledge and human connections above image. Yes, it's idealistic, but that's how we should be at the beginning of a movement. There's plenty of time to be jaded later.

Now give me the vegan marshmallows and my ukulele.


(I'll post about NaNo later, if I can think of anything coherent to say...I just wanted to write this post while the posts I linked to were still fairly recent.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Too Many People to Play Uno!"

Indeed we did! We had 15 people at the meetup, which was our largest non-Pride meetup ever. Go us! Highlights included telephone pictionary, which is probably the funniest game I've ever played. Go figure that a lot of our stories involved cats. My horrible memory for conversations persists, but I remember talking about:
  • China (it's big)
  • How to define gray-asexuality or demisexuality
  • The fact that the Gay and Lesbian Taskforce didn't want to have a workshop on asexuality at their conference. Sad. A petition will be forthcoming?
  • Weird "positive" responses to asexuality, like "You must have so much free time" or "I wish I was asexual".
  • Good experiences with non-asexual allies
So...yeah. See you in December!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Next Bay Area Meetup--Sunday!

A quick note for local folks, visitors, or the merely curious-- we've got a meetup this Sunday (11/21) in Berkeley. It's at 1pm at a cafe called PIQ. It's at 91 Shattuck Square, which is very close to the downtown BART station. Maybe at the meetup, we'll find out how to pronounce the name of the place. [Insert deranged, novel-based laughter]

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A few random observations brought to you by the movie "Singles"

  • It's amazing how dated some visuals can get. And somewhat embarrassing to watch. Check out the short/sock/footwear situation on Matt Dillon here, for one:
  • Related to that, what is more '90s (1992, to be exact) than people talking directly to the camera about their dating issues?
  • I think that when you've been in The Wire, you will always be identified by your character from that show. (Prez! And attempting to watch Boardwalk Empire: Omar!)
  • Grunge--> Oh yeah, I was supposed to get involved in an electrifying new musical movement...forgot about that. Or, maybe I didn't.
  • "This is gonna be my night!" Extreme use of the "magic night" trope.
  • Oh God, I'm planning a scene for my NaNoWriMo novel that uses the "magic night" trope. I finally think I understand why people keep using such cliche meet cutes. It's really hard to get two specific strangers to meet each other in fiction.
  • People in movies don't really have abortions (at least, legal ones), so their pregnancies end in strange ways, like in car crashes.
  • I realized that traditional romantic comedies, at least decent ones, all contain strong friendships, families, and/or communities. People have interesting jobs, live in nice places, and know who their neighbors are. The wish-fulfillment isn't just the romance, but the whole world of the story.
Now, back to my regularly scheduled noveling...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

November NaNo Hiatus

Asexual characters in fiction. I've pondered them at length, but now it's time for me to try my hand at creating one (or two). Tomorrow, I'm starting National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to its friends. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, so I think it might be wise for me to cut down on my other writing. (I'm hoping to post a few short things anyway, but novel-based insanity might make this impossible. Aiee!) So...overt statement about my character's asexuality, or implication? I'm excited to figure it out. I also haven't written any fiction in at least 4 years, and the last work of fiction I wrote took me 2 years to finish and was 55 pages (ie, definitely not 50,000 words). So, this will be an interesting task. It's Halloween tonight, but for me, the really scary stuff is starting tomorrow!

(If you're doing NaNo too, and want to be my "writing buddy" on the site, go ahead and add me! My name over there is "ukulele hero".)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Giving Up, Letting Go

A post that's way too short for its complicated topic:

"Giving up" on marriage or romantic relationships is often seen as the most pathetic, rock-bottom thing that someone could do in our culture. Depending on the circles in which you socialize, it could be much worse than giving up on your education, career, religion, the pursuit you are most talented at, or pretty much anything else. Isn't that odd? But although it might sound even odder, I think my problem is that I haven't given up enough. Let me explain. I don't think there's anything wrong with giving up on marriage etc., as long as you can feel like this was your choice. But I think it can cause a lot of psychological turmoil when you try to move on, but have nothing to move on to. I learned this very clearly when my term at a certain job ended. I had lofty ideas about "moving on" and going on to better things, but since I actually had no idea what those things were, I ended up extremely frustrated. Actually, the whole concept seems to be a theme in my life. And it's the same thing with marriage etc. When there's no clear alternative to it, it can be hard to give up completely. So you're left in this weird mental netherworld.

As we've seen, I haven't exactly been adept at creating, or even defining, the "alternative relationships" I talk about. But does the alternative need to be a relationship at all? Marriage etc is such a huge pressure that a shadowy, inarticulate goal can't go up against it. I think this is true, but I don't know how to visualize it. At least I know there are others muddling through the same thing with me. I'll muse some more on this, and see if I can come up with anything more useful.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Web of Mystery: Platonic Attraction

Sometimes asexuals will say, "We talk too much about what we don't do and what we don't experience. What about what we do experience?" I agree, and you could consider this a response.

But first, check out this diagram, which has been spotted in the asexosphere:

It's supposed to describe attraction, and it makes my head hurt. But something on it really gave me pause, and that is "platonic attraction". I experience no sexual attraction, very little romantic attraction, and I rarely go, "Wow, s/he is cute!" (which I think some people consider "aesthetic attraction".) But I realized that what the web of mystery calls "platonic attraction" is a whole 'nother story. In the web, my platonic attraction would probably be rated somewhere around "high" whereas everything else would be low or nonexistent. I have a high "friendship drive", if such a thing even exists. I know that after sex drives and romance drives, another long drive seems excessive. But this is the thing I do experience, and I venture the same is true for many other aces. There also must be non-asexual people who experience more platonic attraction than either romantic or sexual attraction.

(And let's pause for a minute to acknowledge that "attraction" is so tied up with something sexual that it sounds vaguely creepy to be attracted to friends in any way, even if it's entirely nonsexual. But moving on...)

For me, I was in my mid-20's before I realized that no, I could not be everyone's best buddy if I only put in enough effort and was flawless in all my social interactions. I actually didn't know that some people will always be casual friends or acquaintances, and will never become your best friends, for whatever reason. I can attribute part of this to a lack of social knowledge. But maybe the other part comes from a desire that things would be otherwise. I don't just desire human companionship, but very close friendships. I would be happy to have a "partner"-type relationship that was with a friend, for instance.

Especially in the years before I learned I was asexual, I always wanted a boyfriend. However, I did zero work to make this happen. On the other hand, I was very committed to friendship, and had no problem putting in the hours it took. Surely, that means something. While I wanted a boyfriend, I could live without him. But I knew I'd be miserable without friends.

The issues one may face experiencing high platonic attraction in our society are various. But the main one is that I often feel I can't tell my friends how important they are to me, because they might consider it weird or out of place. Maybe I just suck at expressing my feelings, but I'm pretty sure that can't be all of it. Often I shy away from even writing about friendship here, because I know some of my friends read this blog. I don't want them to think, "Well, she says friendship is important to her, but that's not clear from her actions!" Maybe my feelings and actions aren't always aligned very well. But anyway, this is getting slightly embarrassing, so I'll be moving on again...

Anyway, I'm realizing that platonic attraction is one more reason why I don't like the romantic/aromantic binary. For aromantic and barely-romantic people who still want friends, wouldn't a more accurate name be "platonic asexuals"?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I'm Queer-- More Thoughts

All your fabulous comments on my last post got me thinking: Why is it important to me to identify as queer? As some of you mentioned, of course, we can identify as whatever we want, no matter what other people say about it. But it's something I wanted to explore further.

I know some people identify as queer before identifying as asexual. However, I wasn't one of them. I identified as asexual first, and I don't even remember where I first heard the term "queer", or when I started thinking of myself this way. Maybe it was when I started reading about other peoples' queer experiences, and saw the parallels to my own. The "queer" label is something that hasn't been forced on me. As someone that tends to pass for straight whether I like it or not, I haven't had to reclaim "queer" after it was used on me as an insult. If I really wanted to, I could easily pass for straight for the rest of my life. I have many chances to opt out of being queer. Maybe that's why some people say I shouldn't be able to identify myself in this way. Maybe they think it has to be something forced upon you. Obviously, I disagree.

One reason I disagree is because I see "queer" as being a very political identity, and while we might not be able to escape our sexual orientations, our political identities are our choice. To be queer means that we're not going to be silent in order to make other people more comfortable. It means that we're actively going to work, in some way, to break down the rules and barriers that I mentioned in the last post. For me, the main political aspect of being queer is being anti-assimilation. My political beliefs are such that I don't believe we all need to be integrated into mainstream society. In fact, I think the ideals of "mainstream society" have been damaging to too many people. I believe that acceptance should not hinge on conformity. Rather than trying to be like everyone else, my version of "queer" is the project of finding ways to radically be ourselves. (Of course, I acknowledge that other people may define "queer" in very different ways than I do.)

As a further example of what I mean, I want to talk about the term "neuroqueer". This is a little-used term to refer to people whose brains function outside of "normal" ways, most commonly people on the autistic spectrum. I've heard some politically correct folks refer to such people as "neurodiverse". To me, this term implies a passive acceptance. Sure, it's better than something derogatory. But I much prefer "neuroqueer" because it's active and political. It implies to me that we're going to come together as a group to change something about our situation and about society. It implies that not only can we be okay without magically becoming "normal", but that we're going to make sure you know it.

There are various theories about what causes the learning disability that I have. Maybe I don't have enough white matter in my brain. I can't control that, and I can't control the fact that in many situations, I think differently from how a "normal" person might. What I can control is how I view my experience of being different, and how I might use it for the better. That's why I choose to identify as both neuroqueer and "regular" queer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who's Queer?

Recently, there was an extremely hostile brouhaha on a feminism-related Livejournal community about whether asexuals were "allowed" to identify as queer. I briefly skimmed the arguments for about three minutes, before my eyes wanted to bleed with all the ignorance and, oddly, hatred. One of the more benign comments was "Only queers should be able to decide who is queer". Wow...circular logic, much? Two main arguments seemed to be that only homosexuals can be queer, and that only people who have been violently discriminated against can be queer. While some people were willing to magnanimously grant that maybe homo-, bi-, or panromantic asexuals could identify as queer, others seemed absolutely irate that heteroromantic or aromantic asexuals might identify as such. A lot of people on that thread also seemed to view asexuality as just one more annoying internet meme, which is sad.

I'm just left thinking that such ardent policing of whatever people consider their one true definition of "queer" defeats the purpose of the identification. I thought being queer was about breaking rules and boundaries when it comes to sexuality, not adhering to rigid definitions. And if asexuals didn't break rules and boundaries, people wouldn't react to us in such defensive ways.

I prefer a more...charitable definition of "queer". I think that deciding to identify this way is completely up to the individual. I know that in response to this, someone is going to think, "But Ily! What if a straight, totally "vanilla" person wanted to call themselves queer?" Well, first of all, I hate to break it to you, but straight people are not exactly lining up to identify as queer, which makes some peoples' extreme defense of the word a little absurd. What realistic threat are they defending it against? And second, if a few straight people did identify as queer, it wouldn't be the end of the world. If you insisted on seeing it as "a price to pay" at all, it would be a small one, for greater inclusiveness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Little Coming-Out Brainstorm

So, have I talked about coming out enough yet? I know Coming Out Day might be almost over (or over, depending on your time zone), but I have just one more thought about coming out...at least in the near future. I've already tried to establish that most people don't have a clue how to react when an asexual comes out to them. That's one reason folks can get so rude and hostile. So why don't we tell people how we want them to react, when we come out? Is this crazy enough to work? I mean something like, "I'm asexual. And by the way, the appropriate response is 'Thanks for telling me'". Maybe it's slightly passive-aggressive and even annoying. But it's better than getting into a conflict about asexuality. Depending on the person, they could be quite relieved.

To me, the main reason coming out as asexual is so scary is because you have no idea how anyone will react. Liberal, conservative, radical, straight, queer, confused...you can never know how anyone stands. So I'm all about reducing the element of chance as much as possible. When you come out, you're already educating them about your sexuality. Educating them a little further about how to be come out to won't hurt them...much.

Such a tactic might also lend itself well to the written word. In the AVEN thread about Coming Out Day, a large number of people mentioned coming out on Facebook. You pretty much have a captive audience, and you can say whatever you want. So if you're already doing it, why not mention the response you want?

But related to that...The problem with coming out on Facebook is that you have no idea who actually read and/or understood the message. I already need a spreadsheet to keep track of the people I'm out to. So, to mention it there or not? Sadly, I'm just sitting here, trying to figure that out.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"Hung"

I keep forgetting this blog is supposed to be about pop culture...my bad. So am I the only person in the world who watched Hung (crappy title for a few reasons) on HBO or what? The second season ended recently. In an art class once, I painted a beautiful watercolor of a kangaroo, and my professor called it a "bizarre choice of subject matter". I guess the same could be said of Hung. It's about a divorced father, teacher, and baseball coach in Detroit, basically a regular guy facing financial problems. His house burns down and he loses custody of his kids. So to get some extra income, he turns to prostitution.

Bizarre show for an asexual to enjoy? Eh, I don't think so. I really liked the first season for the humor and the great acting of the two main characters: Ray, the prostitute, and Tanya, a poet by day, his pimp by night. They're very likable. Most of the characters on the show experience some kind of growth, and not just the major characters. The second season, while it had good moments, became increasingly odd and disjointed. Considering that, I'm actually kind of surprised that it got picked up for a third season.

As you might imagine, Hung contained a fair amount of sex. But it was usually depicted in a humorous way that didn't bother me. What tends to bother me about depictions of sex is a total irrelevance to the plot, and that definitely can't be said of Hung. Also, as someone who doesn't connect love and sex, casual sex (as long as it isn't abusive) is no more distasteful to me than sex in a relationship. Since Ray has veto power over his clients, there isn't really any coercion involved. But like Sex and the City, the main focus of the show isn't actually sex. It's more about the non-sexual tribulations of setting up this business, and its ramifications on the rest of Ray's life.

Two interesting things from the second season: Ray had a client who saw him because sex was always boring to her. And in the end...she was still bored. So, hey. Also, at the end of the second season (s p o i l e r !), when Ray and his ex-wife, Jessica, are realizing they still love each other, Jessica says that rather than just going from man to man, she wants to take some time for herself to figure out her own needs. I thought that was cool, and an extremely rare outcome for film/TV. I also like how Ray's daughter is shown as being into the Fat Acceptance movement, although it's randomly thrown in and not explored. Maybe next season?

If you like any other comedies from HBO, you'll probably like Hung as well...the first season is out on DVD, if anyone wants to check it out.

Monday, September 27, 2010

How To Be Alone: Reviews!

In the comments to my last post, someone posted a link to the video "How to Be Alone". One thing I liked about the video was that it talked about doing things alone as a skill anyone can build using small steps (the video suggests starting in the bathroom-- we've all peed alone, haven't we?). I agree that the ability to do things alone is an important one, and not just for single people. I'm not always great at it myself, but I'm hoping that with time, I'll improve. So I wanted to open up a discussion of ridin' solo with my personal reviews of some standard "alone" activities, most of which were mentioned in the video. I'm using two ratings: Enjoyability, where a 10 would be enlightenment or "I'M GOING TO DISNEYLAND!" and a 1 would be watching Youtube videos buffer. And awkwardness/anxiety, where a 1 would be gazing at a sleeping kitten, and a 10 would be nearing a panic attack. So, onward!

Reading a book in the park.

Enjoyability: 8
A/A: 2
I have a pretty bad memory for books, which might be one of the reasons I feel compelled to write about them. But parks are another story. Being alone is no big deal here, since I find both reading and being outside can make me feel content. Sometimes low-stress activities are the best. Just be sure to pick an engrossing book and a good park for your first time.

Movies.
Enjoyability: 6
A/A: 4
Going to movies alone was what convinced me I was the only person in America who saw "Hustle and Flow". It's not as scary as it may seem, because it's dark and you can get absorbed in the movie. The downside is that you don't have anyone to discuss the movie with. If you haven't yet done this, try seeing an early showing of an independent film. The theater will be pretty empty, and there will be other people there by themselves (probably because their friends, like yours, didn't want to see yet another plotless wonder).

Restaurant.
Enjoyability: 5
A/A: 5
The final frontier to some isn't that frightening once you've done it a few times. I mostly just find eating alone to be boring, and it's something I would do out of necessity (ie, I'm out alone and hungry) than for fun. First time? Some restaurants are more amenable to people eating alone than others. Try a somewhat casual place that isn't very crowded. If you were in San Francisco, I would suggest Ananda Fuara at dinner, where I would always see quite a few people eating alone.

Concert, aka "Show".

Enjoyability: 7, but depends on how good the show is.
A/A: 6
Awkwardness and boredom during set breaks is the issue here, as well as lack of post-show discussion. But it would be a shame to miss a good show just because no one else is feeling it. Once I went to a show with a friend, and we were standing near a woman who was by herself. During the set breaks, she would take out a small flashlight and read a book about music. I still remember that because whenever I see someone alone and rolling it with, I always think that person's pretty badass. If you're alone and feel awkward, you never know, maybe people are wishing they had your courage.

Going Out Dancing.
Enjoyability: ???
A/A: 9
This one was in the video, but I've never actually done it. And I can't say I want to. Dance events being a common place to get hit on is just one reason I'd be uncomfortable with this. Sure, if you're dancing in a crowd, no one will know you're alone. But I can't get over a few things that to me, just seem totally unfun alone. Going to a bar also falls into this category.

Travel.
Enjoyability: 6-10
A/A: 3-7
I know this is a tricky one for a lot of people. Traveling alone has its advantages, but it can also get tedious and there can be safety issues. It will encompass many different situations that you will have to do alone, about which your comfort level will vary. While I've never traveled totally alone for more than 2 days, I've spent some time on trips by myself. My main concern is what to do after dark. During the day, there are always museums and outdoor stuff, which often I enjoy solo. But at night, there's all the stuff I don't like to do alone: Restaurants, bars, dancing, etc. What might help with this is to do advance research for nightlife I wouldn't mind doing, like special movies or museums that are open late (I love me some museums!). There's also the possibility of meeting up with other people in the place you travel to. I've met AVENites in New York and Portland, and I have college friends in some random places. If you're not asexual, there's always Couchsurfers, who according to the website, can act as tour guides even if you don't want to crash on random couches. Also, maybe a friend of a friend could offer to show you around. However...then you wouldn't really be alone anymore.

So what are your reviews? Any awesome alone activities we should try? Or any difficult ones that you want to work up to?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ily and the Add-Ons

It's not a new girl group, although it would be pretty awesome if it were. National Coming Out Day is approaching (October 11th) and so I've been thinking more about the whole concept lately. It's something I like to revisit periodically, since I find my views on coming out-- what I want to say, and what responses I want to get-- change over time. But one thing that still baffles me is what exactly to "do" with people who we've come out to, but who gave negative responses. Do we just pretend it didn't happen and go on? Do we distance ourselves from that person, even though they may not understand why? Do we try to win them over? There are a lot of possible scenarios, and they're all pretty awkward. I guess that at its worst, coming out may be a way to find out "who your true friends are". But is that a good thing in the long term, or is is better to just not know? I really have no answer to that.

(Me and my rhetorical questions...damn, homie.)

Occasionally I realize things in the shower, and today in the shower I realized what it was about negative coming-out responses that really bother me. And it's not the lack of understanding about asexuality. That, actually, I can kind of get. When I was first learning about asexuality, I wasn't sure that it was quite for real, either. Once it seemed weird and foreign to me, too. It also seems true that if someone didn't buy asexuality-- and that was it-- it wouldn't be a problem because they'd keep it to themselves. The bigger problem, to me, is what I'm going to call the "add-ons". And I'm starting to think that the ignorance and the add-ons should be addressed separately. I'm talking about when people don't just disregard our asexual reality, but add on rudeness, a patronizing or invasive attitude, or hostility. I feel like often, this will be the first time that we've gotten such rudeness or intrusiveness from this particular person. It can be extremely surprising and we can wonder how well we really know that person after all. While ignorant people can learn, what can be done with the the things people add on?

Like I've said before, it's common for people to have no clue how to deal with someone coming out, especially someone coming out as asexual. So I think we're completely within our rights to tell them how it should be done. We might gain a better idea how to deal with the negative responders if we comment on the add-on, not the ignorance on asexuality. Here's an example.

Bob: I'm asexual.
Jane: So were you abused as a child?
Bob: That's a pretty invasive question, don't you think?
Jane: Oh, sorry about that.
Bob: I'll e-mail you some information about asexuality, so you can check it out at your leisure. [I guess for this to work, you'd have to be the kind of person who says "at your leisure". Also, credit: Part of this idea comes from a book about coming out for vegetarians, Living Among Meat Eaters. Anyway...]
Jane: Okay, thanks.

Jane realized her gaffe and apologized, so I think it would be reasonable to forgive and move on. On the other hand, this might be what happens when you address the ignorance and ignore the add-on:

Bob: I'm asexual.
Jane: So were you abused as a child?
Bob? No, I wasn't.
Jane: Your hormones are out of whack, then?
Bob: Well--
Jane: Haven't found the right girl yet?
Bob: That's not--

...And on, and on, forever. I'm realizing that coming out can be a pretty heated moment for both people, and those can be the worst kinds of moments to educate someone. Once they know you're asexual, you have plenty of time to explain further. So I no longer think it's necessary to tell them everything about asexuality right then. My new tactic might be to drop the a-bomb, shut down any add-ons, and then e-mail them some further information, so they can interrogate their computer instead of me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

San Jose Actually Worked.

No offense to San Jose, but I was pleasantly surprised when we got a big turnout--11 people-- for our meetup there today. I thought it was fun, and there was a good mix of Apples to Apples-playing and more serious asexuality discussion. For part of the time, the large group broke into smaller groups fairly organically, which I thought worked well. For past meetups, I tried to get down a list of funny things people talked about, but this is apparently something I'm not good at doing, so I gave up. All I can remember now is that "spam" and "Detroit" are always trump cards...good to know.

If you've been reading this blog for a long time (thank you), you might recall posts where I wondered if we would ever get 10 people at a meetup. Now, for the past few meetups, we've been exceeding that number. I tend to be overly hard on myself, but I shouldn't underestimate that. It's something everyone who's participated is entitled to feel proud of. At the meetup, a few people asked why the Bay Area has so many asexuals (or some variation on that question). I tried to explain that the reason we get this many people at meetups is only because we've been having them for so long. At the first meetups I organized, it was common to only get one or two other people. I think that any area having regular meetups for (oh my gosh...) 4 years would meet or easily exceed this number. I say this just so everyone knows, it can be done.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tim Gunn is Asexual?!

News!

Thanks to Karli for pointing out this video, in which Tim Gunn (the dude from "Project Runway" who says "make it work!" a lot) discusses his "suicidal past". It seems like this was one reason why he felt so badly during his teen years:

"For a long time, I didn't know what I was. I knew what I wasn't. I wasn't interested in boys. But I really wasn't interested in girls." He says (in a People magazine article) "I've always been kind of asexual" and "I really am happy alone", claiming that he hasn't had sex since 1982.

Well I'll be! I'm jazzed that Tim Gunn is "kind of" one of us. Obviously I don't know him, but his television persona is just so benevolent (well, except towards Gretchen). Although I'm pretty sick of Project Runway at this point, when I think about it...On "What Not to Wear", Clinton and Stacy (the hosts/fashionistas) were always talking about how "sexy" various clothing items were. Has Tim Gunn ever gushed about the sexiness of a garment? Not that I can recall. Hmm.

We're here for ya, Tim...how about some invisible fashion-industry cake?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pissing in the Wind

I didn't die! Was just having internet access issues (comment moderation may be slow for the next few days). And why is August always so boring, while so much goes on in September? I don't get it. Anyway, recently Elizabeth posted about a new study of asexuality which states:

Asexuality may also be defined as an absence of sexual desire, regardless of sexual behavior. Indeed, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (“AVEN”) (Jay 2005) holds that an independence from sexual desire is the key feature of asexuality, claiming that “an asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction".

Also:

Whether the primary component of asexuality is behavioral (a lack of sexual behavior), desire-based (a lack of sexual desire), or identity-based (labeling oneself as “asexual”) is debatable.

Uhh, how about "none of the above"?

And one more:

Bogaert’s (2004) nationally representative study of asexuality examined the prevalence of asexual desire in Great Britain. Drawing on a survey of 18,876 respondents in England, Wales, and Scotland, he found that approximately 1.1% of the sample indicated that they “have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all” (Bogaert 2004: 281).

You'll see that Bogaert's reference to "sexual attraction" morphs into "desire" with no explanation. As you probably know, AVEN makes no mention of sexual desire in its definition of asexuality. I share Elizabeth's frustration that the researchers would conflate "an independence from sexual desire" and "someone who does not experience sexual attraction". The researchers refer to asexuality as a lack of sexual desire many more times throughout their study. If this was one isolated incident, it might not warrant further comment. However, whether it's academia or the media, people just can't seem to stop calling asexuality a "lack of sexual desire". But why do people keep calling it this, and why does it even matter? It's more than just asexuals splitting hairs. Elizabeth got some good discussion about the study itself, so hopefully I'll be able to speak to something slightly different...

What might bother me most about calling asexuality a "lack of sexual desire" is that the definition used by most asexuals, "a person who experiences (little or) no sexual attraction" is so easy to find once you start looking into asexuality. Type "asexuality" into a search engine and you'll get AVEN first thing, where the standard definition used by asexuals is on the first page. So I'm led to believe that most people looking into asexuality know our definition, but just choose to ignore it. In the study above, our definition was acknowledged, but then subsumed into a different definition. Now, don't get me wrong, I can totally understand why someone, especially a researcher, wouldn't want to just swallow the AVEN definition. But without AVEN, it's unlikely that there would be even the minor interest in asexuality that we're currently seeing. And when people outside the asexual community make up their own definitions of asexuality, they seem to provide further vagueness rather than increased clarity. What's really confusing is that the study mentioned by Elizabeth claims to take a social constructionist approach, which to me, would suggest the opposite of basically ignoring the words a group of people uses to define themselves.

Sometimes, trying to spread the word that asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction feels like, well, pissing in the wind. Why do people keep using-- and independently coming up with-- what asexuals themselves consider a "wrong" definition? I have one theory, and apologies if it's wildly obvious. But there's a lot of ground between embracing asexuals as totally normal and thinking that we're just making it all up for attention ('cause we get such awesome attention, right?). I'm guessing that a lot of people, including some asexuals, fall somewhere in this middle area. When people use "sexual desire" as a definition, I think that they're substituting a vaguer word for a more exact one. They may be open to the idea of asexuality, but they're not yet ready to give it approval as a legit orientation. Because at least to my own ears, "sexual attraction" frames asexuality as an orientation, whereas "sexual desire" is more amorphous. So I don't think people will stop using this "sexual desire" definition until asexuality is a lot more accepted. However, understanding often leads to acceptance, and having lots of different definitions floating around doesn't help with that.

(Yet another reason it's problematic is because sexual disorders are often called "sexual desire disorders", not "sexual attraction disorders". If you don't think asexuality is a disorder, then help out the cause by not calling it a "lack of sexual desire". Again, this issue might get lost on media folks, but shouldn't be lost on researchers.)

In support of sexual desire, it seems logical that asexuals would be said not to feel it. Most people, even those well-versed in sexuality, tend to lump all sexual and romantic feelings together, using terms interchangeably. And it will take a metric fuckton (or perhaps you prefer a metric shitload) of education to change that, much more, I think, than just telling people about asexuality. But asexuals aren't totally innocent when it comes to clarity, either. On AVEN, I often see people separating "attraction" and "desire" and then using "desire" to mean sex drive or libido. People tend to have a "well, duh" attitude about this, but I don't think it's at all clear without further explanation. It might be technically correct, but it's confusing. If "sex drive" is what we mean, why not cut out the middleman and just say that? Another problem is that when we use "sexual desire" to mean sex drive, we can say "asexuals may experience sexual desire" which sounds a lot more contradictory, at least to me, than "asexuals may have a sex drive...it's just not directed at anyone".

So I'm thinking that "sexual desire" should probably be scrapped in situations where a detailed understanding of sexuality is important. While "desire" and "attraction" might be different things, all you need to do is say "Jane feels sexual desire for Bob" to have them be basically the same, at least in popular usage. If someone is using "sexual desire", I want to know why they chose to use that term in particular. I know that my wish for people to define all their terms is a bit repetitive, but it's important. It's exciting to talk about new concepts, but if we're using the same words for different things, real communication becomes extremely difficult.

Wow, this looked a lot shorter when I was writing it. I'll come with something slightly less pedantic next time...or at least, will try my darndest. And oh, meetup on September 19th! Check out the "San Francisco Meetup" thread in AVEN's Meetup Mart for details. You don't have to be an AVEN member to access the information.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Real L Word

In which I see it so you don't have to!

A few weeks ago, I had a cold (yeah, I know you're all dying to know what my sinuses are up to), which meant that I watched a lot more TV than usual. This included quite a few different shows that I probably wouldn't have otherwise seen. The most relevant one to this blog was probably The Real L-Word, on Showtime, which I believe is from the same people who brought us The Fictional L-Word. To my considerable shame, I kept watching the show after my cold got better. (Even though one of the characters was so annoying to me that I fast-forwarded through all her scenes...) I kept hoping that the show would display some potential, but the overall product was trashy and exploitative*, often very boring, and rarely insightful. I found these recaps much more amusing than the actual show. So I wouldn't be surprised if a second season never materialized.

If you haven't figured it out by now, the premise of The Real L-Word is that The L-Word is re-created...but this time, with real people. And it's sort of amazing how closely they've gotten the reality show to adhere to the fictional show. But I ask...what's the point of that? Even The Real World gets to go to a different city every season, but it looks like lesbians are stuck in West Hollywood for the time being. (However, whenever I watch shows set in LA, I always have an urge to dress better, which I suppose is not an awful thing.)


(Let me tell you that in Northern California, we don't get our own anatomically correct palm trees. Dude, I'm outta here.)

Was there anything positive about the show? Well, I can identify one thing. I find that in the media, there is usually a stereotype that lesbian and gay people are not accepted by their families, especially those who aren't white or from American cultural backgrounds. So it was good to see that most of the characters' families did accept them, and were welcoming to their romantic partners.

*(Doin' an asterisk to say that the "scandalous" thing about the show was that people have sex in it, and they are "real people". However, it was pretty PG in comparison to the fictional L-Word. I think there was only one visible sex scene in the whole season, so anyone watching the show for the sex would have been very disappointed. But what was sketchy about it was that the women who did have sex were totally drunk. I don't know how consent on reality shows would work, but I just felt bad for them, like once they sobered up they would have really regretted keeping the lights on. Reading the comments of some non-asexual viewers, I found this idea being echoed.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Kids

(You can listen to the MGMT song while you read this post, if you're not totally tired of it by now. Dun dun dun dun dun da-dun dun dun...)

I've written before about my views on having children. But since raising kids is something that is so important to many people's lives, I think it's worth at least two posts. Anyway, the point of this post is to challenge familiar phrases yet again. We all know the question, "Do you want to have children?" Obviously, it's a question people really want to ask. So I'd like to keep its general spirit but raise its inclusiveness level with this alternative: "What sort of influence, if any, do you want to have on the next generation?" Sure, it sounds cornier and oddly formal (maybe one of you can help me out with that). But rather than a yes/no answer where biological children are the default, it opens up conversation about all kinds of other possibilities. Who knows! Maybe all sorts of people would find it interesting.

An oft-mentioned book here, The New Single Woman, claims that a connection to the next generation is an important element in the happy lives of older single women, whether or not they're parents. (Although the book is about women, I don't see why this idea wouldn't also apply to men.) As the question currently stands, people who don't want kids "the traditional way" are automatically put on the defensive. I remember being interrogated about my intentions when I responded to the current question with "I might adopt someday". I'd like to think my alternative question could put people on more equal footing in these kinds of conversations. Sure, it's a dream, but it could be worth trying out.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Asexual Community Report Card

This post is an attempt to tie these recent posts together with an evaluation of asexual community (or lack thereof). First of all, is there an asexual community? Ask different asexuals and you're bound to get different answers. I would say, "yes and no". We have an online community that is growing, even though so many people are still unaware of asexuality. The online community allows asexuals from around the world to easily communicate, which should not be underestimated. Is an online community a "real" community? I think so-- while communities need a "meeting place", it doesn't necessarily have to be a meatspace one.

But while we're using terms broadly, we also have to think about communities providing "diverse places for diverse people". And I don't think a community that exists solely online can accomplish that. It's too easy for people to lose interest in online communities after they've found answers to their personal questions, or when "real life" gets in the way. And the anonymity of the web can make it hard for people to feel really invested in each other. What I think would be ideal is a thriving internet community as well as a thriving offline community that are intertwined.

What would an offline asexual community even look like? It would vary regionally, but here's one idea: At a meetup, one person told me that she wished a group of asexuals would meet every Friday night in a local pub, and she could stop by if she wanted. I think a setup like that would provide a lot more asexual community than our area currently has. And I can see it actually happening someday. At different times when I've met asexuals in person, I've had those really exhilarating conversations that to me, exemplify the feeling of community. On some level, I think we can throw bulleted lists out the window and say we know community when we feel it. I've felt it in the company of asexuals, no doubt. But as brief, isolated incidents. Maybe that's the nature of those sorts of incidents, but I wonder if we couldn't increase them, and make them available to more people. No matter how a community is structured, I think it's something as amorphous as a feeling that might keep people coming back.

While bridging from an online community to an online/meatspace hybrid won't be easy, hanging out with asexuals online has shown me that our group possesses qualities that will serve us well in community-building. If you don't mind a return to the bulleted list, I think that not all of us, but enough of us, have shared purposes as asexuals. The gay and lesbian communities have proved that hanging out with other folks of your orientation can be personally fulfilling, and I don't know why the asexual community would be any different in that regard. So far, it looks like asexuals are doing pretty well at not enforcing conformity. I really hope this doesn't change. And I've found asexuals, both on AVEN and at meetups, to be a relatively welcoming bunch.

So those are some things we've got going for us. (I guess this is a report card from a hippie school.) Now for the obstacles. I think for the most part, they're exactly the same as the obstacles to any other community. But I want to advance a theory that community, on some level, is a numbers game. You need a concentrated population, which is proof that Death and Life of Great American Cities has thoroughly infected my brain (in a good way). Especially when you're talking about a group that could be 1% of the population at the least. Say you want 10 asexuals to meet in that pub every Friday. You can't just find 10 asexuals and call it a night, since in all likelihood, 9 of them won't be interested. I've noticed the same thing when it comes to having "regulars" who come to most meetups. For every regular, there are at least 10 people who will show up once, and never again. Not to mention all the people who might think about going to the meetups, but never go at all. In most places, we just don't have the asexual population density yet. To achieve that, we'd need to get to a point where more people in a given area are aware of their asexuality. And getting there is going to take a lot of patience and visibility work. I know that's fairly obvious, but hopefully it wasn't painfully so.

And this concludes my little series on community. You survived! Did I leave anything important out?

Monday, August 16, 2010

New, Asexier Template

Argyle isn't exactly tweed, but I would say that they might be spiritual brothers. Also, you may have noticed that there are now doodads at the bottom of my posts that allow you to e-mail them to people, post them on Facebook, etc.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Obstacles to Community

Ooh, I've been looking forward to writing this post! Not because it's a happy topic, but because there's just a ton of depth to it. I think there are two main obstacles to community (that encompass a lot) and then further ones that are easier to surmount, but still problematic. I won't go over every one of the "further" obstacles (you probably wouldn't want me to, anyway), but I chose two that I have personal experience with. Want elaboration on anything? Comment on, commenters.

Big Obstacle #1: Current cultural ideas/values.

When I talk about culture, I can only really speak for American culture. However, American cultural ideas haven't stayed here but have been exported all over the world. One idea that I've written about a lot is that marriage-type relationships are portrayed as an ultimate source of fulfillment, the goal for everyone, and the solution to all our problems. There's also the idea that rather than citizens, we are "consumers" and that the other solution to our problems is to buy more stuff. Related to consumerism is what I call "the cult of busyness". It's almost seen as "cool" to be too busy to function. Katherine Gibson writes, "We've become time warriors. With '24/7' as our battle cry and armed with e-everything, we thrust and parry on a time-stressed, overworked battlefield". I think that's a pretty accurate description. Americans are chronically overworked and we experience the toxic stress to go with it. So who has time for community? These values create the second major obstacle:

Big Obstacle #2: Knowledge, Ability, and Interest.

Some people will never be interested in community, no matter what. But I think there are a far greater number who might be very interested indeed, they are just unaware of the benefits of community, what it is, what it could be, or all of those. It's like some sport or food or fashion statement that I haven't heard of yet: If it's outside my realm of knowledge, how do I even know to be curious? There's also the idea that building community is too hard, takes too much time, involves skills you don't have, or that it should just be done by someone else. Or maybe there's the notion that community is some relic of a bygone time. I think these assumptions, fears, and points of ignorance are the places where the biggest changes can be made. Talking about community-related issues, like I try to do on this blog, may not seem like much. But I'd like to think it helps to break down this particular obstacle. And when enough people get over this obstacle, I think that some of our harmful cultural ideas will start to crumble as well.

Now, for one of those secondary obstacles: Rampant Relocation. I chose this because it relates to my personal experience-- I've lived in 8 different towns by the age of 25. And I don't think this is unusual. Relocation has advantages along with disadvantages. While it can be hard to build community when people are missing their old homes or dreaming of the next one, sometimes transplants to an area are the most amenable to new forms of community. That new-person advantage was my experience in San Francisco. However, I didn't even make the 3-year mark there. Financial, employment, and personal issues forced me to leave the city. And even though I only moved an hour away, I found it pretty much impossible to maintain the community that I was just starting to find there. Relocation is far from a lone issue-- it touches on the shortage of affordable housing in cities, and the volatility of the job market, among other things.

Bad Urban/Town Planning can be overcome, but it's damn annoying. While it's always been a pet peeve, it's on my mind even more lately, since I'm reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which is all about urban planning failures. As an example, take a neighborhood I lived in during my high school years. I lived in a townhouse complex. And this is what bordered it:
  • More townhouses, behind high walls
  • A busy road that might have had one crosswalk on a half-mile long stretch
  • A huge, abandoned industrial park
  • Other houses, again, behind a wall
  • Gas stations and car dealerships
Are we having fun yet? There was nothing in the area that might compel people to leave their houses on foot, meaning that local human interactions were extremely minimal. Nothing about our surroundings suggested the possibility of community. And this is not a unique neighborhood. Included in this category is sprawl, bad or non-existent public transportation, and the spread of chain businesses that are not invested in their local areas. Like I said, this can all be overcome, but people will need to work a lot harder to create local communities in badly-planned areas. Oh, and guess what's going to be built in that old industrial park? More townhouses. Let me guess, they're probably going to be behind high walls. Potential community theme song?

Next up: How this all relates to the emergence of an asexual community. No, I didn't forget this was a blog about asexuality...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

General Blogging Question

So, say someone has a blogroll...well, in this case, "homies". Would you rather see every asexual blog that has ever been created, or just blogs that are currently active? Maybe there should be a page where we can round up links to the blogs that aren't currently active, because they still have good material, even if they're not being updated. Hmm...

Real post later today or tomorrow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

More Involved, More Determined

A little over a year ago, I did a series on historical BFFs (best friends forever!). One pair that I wrote about were Paul Cezanne (painter) and Emile Zola (writer). I had no reason to think I'd ever mention them again...this is a blog about asexuality, after all. But I recently went to an Impressionist painting exhibit where I saw this quote on the wall, and just knew I had to blog about it (Thanks to my mom for risking a stern talking-to in order to take a picture of it for me):

In 1869...Manet invited me to join him every evening in a cafe [Cafe Guerbois] in the Batignolles quarter, where he and his friends would gather and talk after leaving their ateliers. There I met Fantin-Latour, Cezanne, and Degas...the art critic Duranty, Emile Zola, who was then embarking on his literary career, as well as some others. I myself brought along Sisley, Bazille, and Renoir. Nothing was more interesting than our discussions, with their perpetual clash of opinions. They sharpened one's wits, encouraged frank and impartial inquiry, and provided enthusiasm that kept us going for weeks and weeks until our ideas took final shape. One always came away feeling more involved, more determined, and thinking more clearly and distinctly. (Claude Monet)

It sort of reminded me of this, the "Epicurean" living arrangement. But even more so, it reminded me of this-- my own dream of a personal "utopia" involving a community of creative types. Oddly enough, what impressed me even more than the assembled names was the fact that they all met daily in the same cafe. It sounds like a simple thing, maybe, but it seems so elusive to our 2010 world. Even if you exchanged "Batignolles quarter" with "Duluth" and the famous artists for amateurs, something about their meetings and the way they felt about them would have still touched me.

Their gatherings met many of my "pillars of community": A shared purpose, individual fulfillment (at least in Monet's view), commitment, a meeting place and exceedingly regular contact. And from the quote, it all seemed enjoyable. That exhilaration described by Monet is something that I've come to associate with community. I think a lot of people have gotten the idea that you can only feel that kind of excitement through romantic love, but I find that to be an overly narrow view, and an undersell of community.

We all know that attraction tends to happen spontaneously, whichever sorts of attraction you experience. But if you wanted to, say, get married, you'd have some idea of a strategy for that-- dating online or in meatspace, getting friends to set you up with their friends, going to places where your preferred gender congregates. But if you want community, there's not a lot of common wisdom on how to go about that. There are no rules. I don't think I'm capable of writing them, and I'm not even sure there should be any. But in this series that I'm sneaking on you folks, this nuts and bolts discussion of community, I want to at least talk strategy.

And because pop culture only gets you so far, here's my favorite painting from the exhibit:

"The Bridge at Maincy" by Cezanne. I wish I could walk into that painting and stand on the bridge for awhile. I feel similarly about this one, "Snow at Louveciennes" by Sisley:

I love those random little alleyways that you can find in some places. Sadly there aren't a lot of them in the suburbs.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pillars of Community

This morning, I was reading something David Jay had written about his concept of Community-Based Intimacy. I've read and commented about CBI before, and written about community more generally so many times myself. But for some reason, it was today that I realized: When I say "community", I have no idea if other people are on the same page, a different page, or another book altogether. (This is a similar theme to the "Sexual Fluidity" post, I guess.)

There is no one definition of community, and I think that's great, actually. But a lot of things get called "communities" that may not really be all that communal, such as towns and neighborhoods (Most places I've lived, it seems like the predominant attitude among my neighbors is to pretend that none of the rest of us really exist). And some people may have never experienced a feeling of community at all, which would make it hard to identify. Community is as much a feeling as a concrete entity. And a community can be a thing that lasts only for a day. Communities don't have to be really strong and tight-knit for us to get something out of them. But if you did want to create a strong, long-lasting and positive community, it might look something like this:

A group that works towards a shared purpose while also providing fulfillment for individuals.

Like I said, this isn't a definition-- nothing in this post will be. It's my own personal idea of what community means, taken from life experience. Bear in mind that you and I could be in the exact same group of people, and while you may consider it a community, I may consider it something else entirely. At the end of the day, whether or not you feel that warm and fuzzy community spirit is really an individual thing. Now I'm going to hopefully not intimidate you much with a list of what I've found to be important aspects of community. Because how can I try to build it when I haven't given thought to what it actually entails?
  1. Shared purpose (mentioned above) is really, really broad. It can be as basic as a group of friends who want to have fun together. What people want to gain from the community will vary, but if everyone has a vastly different purpose, I don't see the group lasting. (In previous time periods, the shared purpose might have been "survival".)
  2. That a community needs to fulfill individuals was also mentioned above. If you give and give to a community but get nothing in return, you won't want to be a part of it.
  3. Investment. Not everyone needs to be equally invested, but a community is not one person's project. "Commitment" is another way to put it.
  4. In communities I've been a part of, what really made them seem communal and not like a random group of people was a welcoming attitude from the people who were already there. That's probably why my college sorority felt like a community rather than a secret society. It was also my experience with my Girl Scout group in high school. Even though I was from a different school than everyone else and no one knew me, they welcomed me. I'd dealt with a lot of mean girls, so that was one thing that made me really value that community.
  5. I have never been part of a community that didn't have its own meeting place. Sometimes, the community can even be created by the place. When I lived in San Francisco, I met friends every week at this bar that served free pizza. The fact that we always met at the same place at the same time started to give me community-oriented feelings about this little group. The "meeting place" concept was taken to the extreme in my sorority, where we all lived together in our own section of the dorm.
  6. I also have a hard time considering something a community if there is no regular contact. I feel like once a week is the minimum that I need to really start feeling like I'm in a community. It doesn't need to be a formal meeting, or a gathering of everyone in the whole community. There should be some flexibility for people who want to be in contact more often, and people who want to be in contact less. But in my opinion, for a community to really prosper, some members need to be at the meeting place (see #5) at least once a week.
  7. A community should have no forced conformity. And people should be there only if they want to be. If your leaving is met with death threats, you're probably in a gang or a cult (which are some of the negative sides of people's desire for community).
  8. Related to #7, larger or more "public" communities should provide different places for diverse people. An example of this is my high school's Organic Gardening Club, which was an important community for me during that time in my life. In high school, my social skills weren't yet good enough to really befriend any of the other people in the club. But just chatting with one or two other people while gardening made me feel a lot less alienated at school. If you want to make lasting friends, I think communities are ideal places to do that. But if you just want to maintain the garden and not talk to anyone, I think your contributions should be valued as well.
  9. And related to #8, larger or more political communities should provide involvement at different levels as well as changing methods of involvement. There should be easy ways to jump in, as well as ways to increase your involvement. There should not be closed upper echelons. Also, people's involvement needs to be able to adapt to the rest of their lives. This is one problem with activist communities where the people involved face a lot of burnout.
  10. I don't think communities necessarily contain "constantly changing relationships", as David puts it. But I do think it's inevitable that any community will contain a variety of relationships. Again, my sorority was the best example of this. Although we were all "sisters", there were a few people in the group, maybe 4 or 5, that were among my closest friends. There were others that I considered friends, although we were less close. And there were still others that I either didn't know very well, or didn't especially get along with.
  11. Size doesn't matter. The Organic Gardening Club I mentioned had only two other active members that I can recall. But it was still an important community to me. Years later, the garden is still there.
  12. More than just being personally fulfilling, being in a community needs to be enjoyable. It's hard to over-emphasize this. If it's not enjoyable, you might as well be at home reading some book that you want to read. Seriously, life is too short for communities that feel like grim tasks.
This might be a long list, but it's still partial. Growing up, I was always in very "formal" communities that were either related to some activity or part of a larger organization. At this time in my life, my challenge is to find other kinds of community that may not be as familiar to me, or look like communities I've known in the past. However, I also have to focus on my own development, and I'm not sure how exactly community fits into that. There are a lot of obstacles to community (so many that at times, it may not seem worth the effort) which I'd like to write about in some future post. I'd also like to write about the qualities of AVEN that bode well for a "real-world" asexual community in the future-- and what we might have to work on to get there. So stay tuned!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sexual Fluidity

Let's talk about sexual fluidity! If you're asexual, and maybe if you're not, you've probably heard the phrase "sexuality is fluid". I'll be open about the fact that I don't really understand it in a lot of ways-- that's actually the point of this post. "Fluidity" can imply many different things, but no one ever really goes into what exactly they mean when they use the term. If someone asked me how sexuality is fluid, I'd probably say something like, "Well, I guess it's common to not be 100% asexual, 100% heterosexual, and so on for any other orientation." There are, as we hopefully all know by now, many gray areas.

However, I'm not sure that's what most people using the term mean by it. The idea of someone's sexuality changing a lot over a lifetime isn't something I can personally relate to, at least not yet. My feelings towards sex, romance, and whatever else that comprises a sexuality (or lack thereof) have always been about the same. Only my ability to understand and explain it has changed. And from my brief time on Earth, I can't say that I've noticed human beings to be especially fluid. Most of us seem pretty stubborn and set in our ways. Even people who are constantly seeking the new can be stuck in their own rut, where they have trouble changing enough to stick with one thing.

Another issue I have with the term is that it seems like it's mostly queer people who ever mention it. Maybe queer people are just next-level when it comes to this stuff, but if sexuality in general is fluid, then heterosexuals are just as fluid as everyone else. There's this idea among asexuals that in the future, there's some chance of us becoming sexual. However, no one ever says that one day, sexuals could become asexual. It seems like kind of a double-standard, sometimes.

And last, "sexuality is fluid" is a very absolute statement. If asexuals have taught us anything, we should know that there probably isn't anything that sexuality is for everybody.

So that's my confusion; let me show you it.

If you comment about sexual fluidity (and I hope you do), please include in your comment what the concept means (or doesn't mean) to you. Thanks in advance!