Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Things Asexuals Like: Dandyism

I'm in the mood for a not-so-serious post, and maybe this one is cheating. After all, dandyism seems like a subset of androgyny, which I've already covered. But, do I care? These have always been my favorite posts, and it's high time for more. It's hard to define what exactly a dandy is, whether it's a way of life or only a dress sense. It has a long history in various cultures and I can't possibly do it justice in one post. Just think of Oscar Wilde, though, and I think we'll be on a similar page. Modern dandyism seems to have something to do with aestheticism, gentility, and elegance. People who want to be known for their good taste, manners, wit, and general panache. While in real life, I'm often in jeans and a t-shirt, in my mind I'm like this:

[Image: Woman in a fedora, bright-blue jacket, tie, vest, and yellow loafers. Image from here.]

Or perhaps this:

[Image: Black-and-white vintage images of dandy-esque women in menswear ensembles. From here.]

Although it in no way relates to my daily presentation, at heart I am a dandrogyne, a term which was coined here on the TransYada forums. Dandies would probably prefer to hang out in Victorian-style conservatories, parks, libraries, tea shops, speakeasies, vintage clothing stores, and quaint or unique urban or rural areas not yet beset by Wal-Marts and Starbucks. They would probably not prefer sports bars, 7-11s, rodeos, subdivisions, or shopping malls. There seems to be something very Victorian-era about dandies; I must admit to loving a lot of their aesthetics but hating a lot of their attitudes (see my crush on certain Merchant-Ivory films for evidence of this). Also, there is something very romantic about it, in a Romantic-poets sense, rather than an attraction sense.

Now, I don't think dandyism is relevant to all asexuals, but I feel like there is a strong dandy current in our community. It would not be out of place. In this post, I wrote about some ways in which my personal style could be considered an asexual presentation. On some style blogs that I read, people fear the word "costumey" as a description for their outfits. But I have long been drawn to costumey styles, perhaps because the emphasis is on the wearer's clothing rather than their sexualized body, and because those styles break or mock the norms of gender presentation. I like looking at dandies, but I wouldn't consider them sexy at all. I'm just impressed by the way they put an outfit together--their use of clothing as an art form. Although to dandies, what isn't an art form?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This one won't end in a wedding.

(This post is for the "media" installment of Carnival of Aces).

I'm having some serious writer's block right now. Not just on this blog (maybe it's some kind of 4-year curse), but on the godforsaken NaNoWriMo novel that I'm editing (or more accurately, completely rewriting). I wanted to talk about how attempting to write a novel taught me more about the media than reading hundreds of novels, but I feel like my head is full of pudding. Anyway, I thought I would push on anyway, with the warning that I may not be able to fully explore all my thoughts. Oww, my pudding.

Back in November, when I was doing NaNo, I promised that I'd tell you all how it went, and I don't think I ever did. Well, I won, which means that I wrote a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in a month. I always liked some things about chick lit, but thought it was missing something, like a story that I could really relate to from a personal level. So I decided to write a chick lit novel about an asexual. She would not have an awesome job, she would not live in the hippest neighborhood, and she would not have stereotyped friends. But it would be a coming-of-age story focused on a young urban woman where everything basically works out in the end. No one dies or anything.

So here I am, working on Draft 2, trying to do an "alternative" take on a very clich├ęd genre. And sometimes I feel like by attempting that, I've set myself up for failure. I finally know why writers are always doing "meet cutes" in books and movies: Because it's extremely difficult to get two specific people who don't know each other to connect in the real world. For instance, I want my protagonist, Annie, to meet another person who can help her in her quest. So far, in various iterations, they're met at a bar, a wedding, and after Annie reads about him in the newspaper and looks up his e-mail. All of these scenarios have felt forced to me.

I also learned why movies end with weddings and why romance is inserted into plots that don't need it. I was once told by a wise playwriting professor that in my play, something awful needed to happen to my protagonist before the final redemption. In an analysis of Confessions of a Shopaholic (okay, that sounds funny), there are two awful events in the book. The first one is that Becky, the protagonist, is asked by her love interest to help him pick out a suitcase, but she later discovers that the suitcase is for his girlfriend. In a vacuum, this event might seem awkward or embarrassing. We're supposed to read it as awful because it dashes her romantic hopes (for the moment). When you have a crush on someone (and I'm reaching here, because I last had a crush in 2004), little things can seem significant, which can lead to emotional ups and downs. Without these ups and downs, there is no plot.

I feel like plotting my novel is just about finding news ways to make things harder for Annie, which she will struggle to overcome. Again, it feels forced because real life isn't necessarily laid out like a story. Sometimes you need to create drama where there might otherwise be none, and marriage is one thing that can do this. The TV show Once and Again, which I've been watching recently (thanks Owen!) is a prime example of this. It's a big event that marks time in people's lives. Everyone can agree that your wedding day is important, so readers/viewers can be on the same page (hurr, hurr) plotwise. Even if we're not marriage-oriented people, we've known them. But in the case of Annie, I feel like I'm starting from scratch when I try to show readers what's important to her and why. Once I leave the usual chick lit script, I have to work much harder to make the crucial events in Annie's life seem crucial to a reader.

Like everyone else, I want more asexual characters. That's why I put one (and maybe one more) in my novel. But it's been extremely difficult to place her in a compelling plot, even though there are some interesting and unique things about Annie and her circumstances. Yeah, plot has never been my strong point, but maybe there's a reason why there has never been an asexual chick lit heroine: It's very confusing to do. Sometimes I think about screenwriters wrangling their twisty plots and wondering if I could ever do the same. I don't know if their reluctance to explore lesser-known sexualities means they're truly disinterested in those sexualities, or if they just don't want to spend the time constructing a new world where everyone can agree that asexuals fit. As I wrote in my review of Animythical Tales, a story compilation by an asexual writer, "I'd had no idea how much, as a reader, I'd relied upon, and expected, sex and sexualized romance to move a story along."

So I don't want to rely on it as a writer either, but I can understand why people are tempted to.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pies of Love: They're Back!

From the book All About Love, again by bell hooks (thanks Autumn!):

When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same. There is no special love exclusively reserved for romantic partners. Genuine love is the foundation of our engagement with ourselves, with family, with friends, with partners, with everyone we choose to love. While we will necessarily behave differently depending on the nature of the relationship, or have varying degrees of commitment, the values that inform our behavior, when rooted in a love ethic, are always the same for any interaction. (pg. 136)

Reading this passage was jarring to me. I had long seen love as a "pie" which had different "pieces": Platonic love, romantic love, sexual love, etc. This was comforting to me because I felt that if I couldn't have the sexual and romantic pieces, there were still others. However, bell hooks seems to view love as one pie with different toppings: Love topped with romance, topped with sex, topped with a parent's nurturing. When I thought about it, hooks' conception started to make more sense to me than my own had done. And, anyone can have the whole pie. So, do you agree with any of these pies, or are you eating a different baked good altogether?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Giants of Indiepop: "Pristine Christine"

Because it wouldn't be this blog without my valiant attempts to somehow relate random songs I like to asexuality. Will this one, released in 1987 by the Sea Urchins, ever get old? I doubt it. This probably speaks to the conservative nature of today's popular music, at least in the genres I'm familiar with. (For a long time, I felt this impotent regret over the fact that I was never present at the birth of a new musical movement...and if I think about it, it's still pretty sad. I wonder if it'll ever happen, especially to someone who might be in their 30's or 40's by the time it does.)

At any rate, those little surf-rock flourishes get me every time.

"But you don't react like me--oh!"

Could Christine just be a misunderstood asexual?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Self-Love for the Overly Literal

The self-lovestravaganza continues! <3

We're often told to "love yourself" (usually, after we have changed everything "wrong" about us, but that's beyond the scope of this post). Even when people are saying to "love yourself" with the best of intentions, it's always been unclear to me what is actually meant by this. Slightly more specific is "be your own best friend", but I feel like even this needs to be broken down further.

I've known about the concept "be your own best friend" for years now, and I've intermittently resolved to put it into practice. It sounds so appealing, but I can't say it's made any headway in changing my everyday life. What actual behaviors would fall under "being your own best friend" anyway? I take it to mean that, when you're feeling down, you'd think about what you might do for a friend in the same circumstances. For instance, you would probably not berate the person further. You'd probably listen to their concerns. Maybe you'd try to cheer them up by baking them cookies, taking them dancing, having them pet a llama, etc. If your best friend was bored or lonely, you'd probably try to make them laugh or tell them that you were there for them.

But for me, what's rewarding about many activities is the fact that I'm doing them with another person. When I'm with a friend, I'm often able to forget about my troubles for a while, because I'm focusing on interacting with the other person rather than on my own worries. Of course, "being your own best friend" isn't a substitute for having a best friend who's another person, but I can find myself comparing solitary activities to social ones. While I can enjoy some things done alone, I would usually enjoy them even more with good company.

It can be especially hard to be your own best friend in personal crisis situations, or times when you're stuck in repetitive behaviors. Your other-person friend, because they're not going through the same thing at the same time, may be better able to take decisive action or give objective feedback than you are. There's also the fact that not everyone has had the experience of a loving friend. A lot of people are socially isolated or are in dysfunctional relationships. Some people have few social needs, making it unclear how a "best friend" metaphor would even benefit them.

At least in my own experience, "being your own best friend" isn't just something that happens one day and then maintains itself over a lifetime. Instead, it seems to be a constant battle between my inner friend and my inner critic. Sometimes my friend wins and sometimes she doesn't. But if I criticize myself for being a bad self-friend, then that's a step even further back.

And the truth is, sometimes I don't know how to help a troubled friend, even as I feel empathy for them and deeply want to help. I want to be the kind of person who quickly jumps into action to help someone, be it myself or someone else. But too often, I find myself mired in analysis of the situation. How can my "inner friend" truly help me when she shares all of my limitations?

As usual, I'm ending on a question (meep!). I'd be interested to know what you all think about the "be your own best friend" concept. Has it been useful to you? Is there another way of conceptualizing it that I'm just missing?