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


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.)