Sunday, April 27, 2008

We See 3,000 Ads a Day

Quite a while ago, I was directed to a video of a lecture by Jean Kilbourne. It was an update of her findings since her groundbreaking documentary Killing Us Softly aired in 1979. Kilbourne has apparently made a career out of analyzing the havoc that advertising wreaks on the self-images of women and girls. I know that advertising is annoying and invasive, but I'll be the first to admit that I've never really thought about its effects on how I see myself. Everyone thinks they're impervious to advertising, but is that really the case? The video, which you can see here, is engaging, funny, and highly recommended. That ads are damaging to our body image is well-known by now. What I hadn't realized was advertising's rigorous pushing of all things heteronormative. Kilbourne says:

Advertising does sell products of course, but it also sells a great deal more than products. It sells values, it sells images, it sells concepts of love and sexuality, of romance, of sucess, and perhaps most importantly, of normalcy.

Here's a shocking ad for you to look at while you ponder all this:

"She was asking for it! Shop at JCPenney!" I found the above image at a very interesting site called Gender Ads, which teaches you how to analyze the layers of meaning found in advertisements. It's worth checking out. In her lecture, Kilbourne shows us an ad with the headline, "You have the right to remain sexy!" She says:

You have the right to remain sexy. Which, according to this ad, really means "the right to be a sex object". The right to be passive, the right to have our sexuality defined in a rigid, shallow, extremely limiting and cliched way.

Selling images of sex to asexuals won't make us buy a product, but selling us images of sex as universal will make us buy into standards we can't meet. If I can, I'll try not to let ads just wash over me, but to really look and understand them. Just like we can choose what kind of oversized energy drink to buy, we can also choose what parts of society's "guidelines" we buy into. We're told, in some part by advertising, that we can't. That's why so many asexuals, and myriad other sorts of people, think there's something wrong with them. But here's what JCPenney doesn't want you to know: We can. At least, I'd like to think so...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Relax, I'm With the Panel

Tomorrow morning, at an ungodly hour, I'm speaking on a panel for San Francisco Sex Information. I did it last year, and had a hard time figuring out what exactly to talk about, but hey, they wanted me to come back anyway! My fellow panelists and I will be representing different "relationship styles" for the benefit of a group of sex educators in training. While my status is single and my orientation is A, I have no idea what my relationship style is. While some people I've talked to think my relationship style is "asexual", I'm not sure that's accurate. Every asexual person I know seems to be in a vastly different relationship situation, and is looking for very different things. Maybe I'm like the ODB of asexuality, since there is apparently no father to my style. Huh...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Facing the Giant

I knew that at some point, I'd have to take my meetup publicity to the streets. For whatever reason, there's never been enough people on AVEN that are interested in San Francisco meetups. So I did the eventual today-- posted on Craigslist. Here's what I wrote, and if you're setting up meetups elsewhere, feel free to steal it:

Asexual People, Unite!

Asexuality is an orientation in which people don't experience sexual attraction to anyone. In our culture, being A can sometimes be an isolating experience. This is why it's so important that we form a local community of fellow asexuals to support each other. I'm the organizer of local meetups. Originally, these started as an offshoot of AVEN, whose online presence is at However, I know there are other A folks who aren't on AVEN that would like to meet up, and this is my attempt to find some of you. Our next meetup is taking place on Saturday, May 3rd at 2pm in San Francisco. If you want to attend, please e-mail me with a little about yourself, and I'll let you in on the location. This is just my attempt to keep the meetups a safe space for all involved. Allies and questioning asexuals are always welcome. If you have questions about the basics of asexuality, please visit AVEN online. Thanks for reading!

If we can get one or two new people from this, that would be fabulous!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Glittering Prizes For Me

I gave 2 weeks' notice at my job today. You might see more of me around here. I'll no doubt be spending more time writing, trying to get more people to read my writing, and working on my ukulele cover of "The Glittering Prizes". Oh yeah, and looking for a better job, too. It was after I quit that I realized how much my job really was like a relationship. Just change the pronouns:

"But he loves me!"
"But he's so nice!" Corollary: "He's so nice to me, I don't deserve him."
"We've been together for such a long time."
"I should have tried harder to make it work."
"Anything's better than being alone."
"What if he's the best I can do?" Corollary: "What if I never find anyone else?"

All those doubts and excuses, when the truth is: It was exciting at first, but now the thrill is gone. I'm not in love, and I want to be. Some people do love their jobs, and I wish we could all be included in this number.

In other news, I finished Gender Trouble. What prize do I get? My favorite quote was at the very end:

The loss of "the normal", however, can be its own occasion for laughter, especially when "the normal", "the original" is revealed to be a copy, and an inevitably failed one, an ideal that no one can embody. In this sense, laughter emerges in the realization that all along the original was derived. (pg. 176)

I don't know about you, but rarefied ideals of "normal" have plagued me for much too long. It's only recently that I've begun to separate "normal" from "common". Being asexual is not abnormal; it only might seem that way because it is uncommon. "Normal" will always be a value judgment and an exalted state. "Normal" is always relative, and changes with the whims of our culture. If I could remove one word from the English language, I'd do away with "normal". And we'd live. There's barely anything that rhymes with it, anyway.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Work Song Trilogy

"Success was survival, and kid, it still is."
--The New Pornographers

Sometimes I can really relate to Harvey Firestein's character in Torch Song Trilogy. (I know, frightening, but I've done worse.) Especially the part when his mother says something like, "Why does everything you do have to be so GAY?" It seems like when you're part of some misunderstood minority group, your identity as such becomes an entry into every equation. When Woody Allen in Annie Hall thought someone asked him, "Jew eat?", we were witnessing the same phenomenon. It's just a theory, and it might seem silly, but people seem to have an urge to know what makes them different. Especially in the case of orientation, since no one knows what the heck really causes it, and probably never will.

To probe this idea a little further, I'll put myself onto the couch for a bit. Like:
Pretty much all I've been thinking about lately is my job situation. Millions of people seem to be fine with boring, ho-hum jobs, but I desperately want a job I can have a religious zeal for, and I'm miserable considering anything else. What makes me unable to tolerate entry-level job hell? Here's a few ideas:
1. I have a short attention span/am lazy/am a total wuss and can only handle something that doesn't feel like "real work". (Not likely, by the way)
2. Everyone's as frustrated as I am, I just complain more. (Probably true)
3. I have a major independent streak and zero tolerance for "the man", which pretty much precludes me from all traditional business. (Probably sadly true. This Xerox machine kills fascists!)
4. Because I'm asexual, I'm making my job into a surrogate "significant other". If I can't love someone romantically, I'll just channel any "romantic" notions I have into the work sphere. The energy that other people invest in dating has to go somewhere, doesn't it? (No clue. It's convenient to blame asexuality for everything, as it can't defend itself. But how valid is this?)

See what I mean?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Popping In, Briefly

Oh goodness, it's been much too long. This is because I'm looking for a new job, and I'm more stressed out than I've ever been in my life. I may be getting an ulcer, a hernia, or both from my near-constant worrying. But anyway.
I realized that meetups can be broken up into 3 simple steps:
1. Choose a location.
2. Choose a time.
3. Tell people.

For some reason, and I have no idea why this is, choosing a time overwhelms the crap out of me. But if I don't do it, we'll never have a meetup again. So, I'm going to bite the bullet and arbitrarily pick a time:

May 3rd! 2pm! (Groups seem to like to meet at 2pm.) The cafe in the LGBT Center! With the good brownies! Now, time to go tell people...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Can't Marry You

Last night, I was in the mood to see a depressing, boring documentary. I chose "I Can't Marry You", which is about gay marriage (yes, still working through the entirety of queer cinema!). Clocking in at a mere 57 minutes, it's too short to be boring, and a little too cheesy to be depressing. One segment stood out to me more than the rest, and was totally relevant to things I've been talking about here:
It was an older man who'd been with his partner (who was lying beside him in a hospital bed) for years and years. He said something like, "I never had any gay role models, and I never saw a gay person in the movies. I looked up the word 'homosexual' in the dictionary, and this was the first time I knew I wasn't alone. If there was a word, there must be others."

It never ceases to amaze me how little is standing between people and their understanding of asexuality. I know I've said this before, but like I said, it never ceases. All people have to do is type "asexual" into Google, but if you don't know to do that, the obstacle is insurmountable. If asexuals are indeed 1% of the population, that makes 60 million of us worldwide. And we can only get 2 people at the average San Francisco meetup? Most asexuals have never even heard the word; I consider myself lucky that I at least had the choice to identify this way. Most of my brethren are still taking it for England and wondering why they relate to Sherlock Holmes so much.

While I sleep, I would like my astral persona to hover over people at their computers in other time zones, whispering, "Type...'asexual'...into...Google..."

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Pamphlets arrived at my house yesterday! I was amused by the fact that the box had "Asexuality: Not Everyone is Interested in Sex" marked all over it. Hopefully it educated all the UPS people on its way here. That's what visibility is all about, right?
Anyway, remember in the TV show "Ducktales" (I'm dating myself here) where Scrooge would jump into that huge pool full of gold coins? Well, that's what I wanted to do with the pamphlets, so happy was I to finally receive them. I'll do no such thing, because that lovely solid purple on the front looks prone to smearage.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Once and Never Again

It's finally happy songtime again! Here's a song that I'm not quite sure what to make of. On one hand, the concept of this older person coming on to this younger, very distressed girl is really sketchy. However, I love the idea that "You're only 19 for God's sake-- you don't need a boyfriend". There's plenty of songs about leaving boyfriends, but I've never heard a song about not needing one in the first place. Be the judge and jury; here are the lyrics. And as always, find listening links at the bottom:

"Once and Never Again"
by The Long Blondes (2006! Something semi-recent at last!)

19. you're only 19 for God's sake,
Oh, you don't need a boyfriend.
19. you're only 19 for God's sake,
Oh, you don't need a boyfriend.

Look what he's made you do to your arm again,
He said he'd come round but he's gone out with his friends,
And I know how it feels to be your age
and feel the world is caving in.

Another drama by the kitchen sink tonight,
You said you'd cut yourself whilst washing up the knives,
Another week off school won't do you any good,
And I know how it feels to be your age.

19. you're only 19 for God's sake,
Oh, you don't need a boyfriend.
19. you're only 19 for God's sake,
Oh, you don't need a boyfriend.

Come back with me, and find out what you really want,
Come home with me you'll only have to do it once,
'cause I know what it feels like to be your age,
You only have to do it once,
And never again.

Another drama by the kitchen sink tonight,
You said you'd cut yourself whilst washing up the knives,
Another week off school won't do you any good,
And I know how it feels to be your age.

You know I'm not so young,
I spend an hour getting ready every day,
And still I end up looking more or less the same,
But I could show you,
a thing or two.

Oh, I could show you the ropes,
Yes I could show you the ropes,
And I would cut my hair for you,
'Cause I know how it feels.

I know how it feels to be your age,
I know how it feels to be your age,
Oh, how I'd love to feel a girl your age,
Your age,
Once and never again

For once, there's actually a (professional!) video on Youtube, so you can see/hear it here.

(And thanks to the excellent Slumberland Records Podcast for putting me on to this particular song. You can also hear it there.)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Our Old Friends

As you may know, I've been frustrated about my AVEN-meetup organizing. Between finding a place, coordinating a time, getting people to come, and figuring out what to do once we're there, it all seems overwhelming. But, I've been to a few group meetings lately that have given me some inspiration and new hope for the SF-meetups project. I wasn't going to these meetings with AVEN in mind (I know! Shocking!), but came away with some insights anyhow. I would consider all of these groups successful. One was fairly new, but got a ton of people to come out, and most importantly, we all seemed to enjoy ourselves. One group met at the ungodly hour of 10am on a Saturday, but still drew people from as far as 60 miles away. The last group had steadily built up a loyal base from many years of operation. Here's what I'm going to try to incorporate:
  • Meeting at the same place every time. I'd known for awhile that I should probably do this, but the point's been driven home to me. People are more comfortable coming to "their place" and it's easier for everyone.
  • Monthly meetings seem to be what people are willing to handle. Of course, I would encourage impromptu stuff as well, but once-monthly for "official" meetings is reasonable, I think.
  • Have some kind of goal for the meetings. So my goal is to amass 10 people, but what are we going to do with the 2-3 that first show up? WoW Exchange has a mission statement and a yearly goal as well.
  • Plan the next meeting at the current meeting. When people have a role in deciding what happens, I think they'd be more likely to participate.
  • Actually talk about asexual issues. The AVEN meetups have been the only meetings I've ever been to where the thing that brings us together is so rarely discussed. I get tired of talking about asexuality sometimes, but I'm sure that many A-s rarely get the chance to do so, and may relish the opportunity. Which brings us to my next point:
  • Every group seems to have structured and unstructured portions. My AVEN meets have been entirely unstructured, and the "chapter" setup might be a little too structured for newbies. If I can find some way to mix a productive activity with socializing, I think we'll be golden.
As a life-long compulsive joiner, I think it's finally time to use all I've learned...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Back to Business, Literally

"It's like we weren't made for this world, though I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was."
--Of Montreal

It's due time for me to write, and I'd hoped to come at you with some fist-pumping positivity. But all I can think of is how absurd life seems sometimes. Maybe I've just read one too many August Strindberg plays, but still. As far as absurdity relates to my life in general, don't even get me started. But as far as it relates to being asexual, it's true indeed. Sometimes I feel like I've been dropped into some kind of "asexual like me" experiment, where I will one day wake up again with straight privilege and something great to write about. Sometimes I feel like I invest more than I can give in our movement, and the only way to get a break is to do something like go to law school, where, apparently, I wouldn't be able to have any other interests. All this sounds pretty glum, but I was able to find some comfort in a strange place. (And this is where I use the one thing that 4 years of liberal arts education gave me-- the ability to link together unrelated things.) I was studying for my midterm in publicity, and came across 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)

I find business principles comforting because they're so straightforward. Business has no ulterior motives; its only goal is to make money, and its success is easy to gauge. If we As try to win over the whole world, we may never be successful. But I think that the young, adventurous and disgruntled will always catch our drift. It can be really hard to sacrifice any particular group as a potential audience, but sometimes it must be done. Just like The Art of War and Meditations have been appropriated as business classics, I think Judith Butler's "Question everything" attitude is just as inspirational as Sun Tzu or Marcus Aurelius. She even gets down with branding:

"The power of language to work on bodies is both the cause of sexual oppression and the way beyond that oppression...Language assumes and alters its power to act upon the real through locutionary [click for definition] acts, which, repeated, become entrenched practices and ultimately, institutions." (Gender Trouble 148, emphasis mine)

And I said I wouldn't give you any fist-pumping content...Hee hee...

On a completely (seriously now) unrelated note, I'd like to share some good news with you:
The Sex and the City movie is coming out May 30th! THIS May 30th! I only found that out by reading Vanity Fair over someone's shoulder on the bus (I know, I know). But, could I possibly be any more excited about this? NO. Totally fangirlish squee time: Eeeeeeee!