Monthly Archives: August 2014

Other ways of being an assailable asexual

I finally got to reading the asexual zine F-ace-ing Silence, an ongoing zine about asexuals who feel silenced in asexual spaces. I was excited to see the publication of the first issue announced, would’ve read it right away, if not for the issues I was experiencing with my computer.

This zine is very relevant to the topic of the “Unassailable Asexual”, that is currently being discussed in a lot of asexual blogs, for this month’s Carnival of Aces. As soon as I saw this zine announced on AVEN, and calling for submissions, I wanted to write one, but just didn’t have the time or energy to try and write about my experiences. I still wonder if I should try again with that, if I’m already in the process of writing on this blog about the things that made me struggle in asexual spaces.

When the Unassailable Asexual concept is talked about, the traits for alleged unassailability are the following: Neurotypical/allistic, no mental health issues, no physical health issues, is cisgender, indifferent towards having sex, is sex-positive, between the ages of 20 and 40, is nonlibidoist, doesn’t have sexual problems, and has no history of abuse. However, there are other traits an asexual could get their asexuality assailed for that aren’t mentioned.

Some of the submissions talked about these other traits. One of them, by an anonymous submitter on pages 14-17 detailed invalidation and silencing for being religious, conservative, and having a fear of sex. When I think about it, I don’t recall anything that addresses how those traits don’t invalidate someone’s asexuality, maybe except that some asexuals who grew up in very conservative households, still realized they were asexual, because they didn’t have the struggle to abstain from sex that most of their peers did. But what about those who didn’t realize their asexuality so easily in comparison?

From accounts I’ve read of people who defected from Christian fundamentalism, and the Purity Culture teachings heavily associated with it*, there are some people who for all intents and purposes shut down their own sexuality in order to cope, becoming functionally asexual. They were raised to believe that even sexual fantasies before marriage are a sin (specifically, they’re considered adultery), and that all sex, and sexual thoughts before marriage are morally disgusting (and can ruin girls and women forever!), and sinful, yet that sex becomes the best thing ever upon marriage, and is the wife’s greatest duty to her husband**, which she’s supposed to always be available for. The various harms of these teachings should be obvious.

What does it mean when someone who defected from this culture thought they were asexual as a result of this coping method, only to realize over time that they’re not? This has happened to some people. What can we do and say to be considerate of these people and all the struggles they’ve been through, while also trying to prevent “You only think you’re asexual because of your upbringing” from becoming another tactic to invalidate those who’ve been through a Purity Culture upbringing, but are asexual? How can we support people who’ve been through those experiences, whether they’re asexual, or not, or are questioning? Same goes for sex-repulsion or aversion; what if someone’s repulsion or aversion towards sex was conditioned as a result of their upbringing? I’ve hardly seen this talked about, so I’d really like some input.

What about asexuals who didn’t defect from a conservative upbringing, and stayed? The anonymous person who submitted that entry for F-ace-ing Silence said she feels silenced in both conservative and asexual spaces; conservative spaces for being a sexual minority of any kind, and asexual spaces for being conservative and religious.

I don’t recall seeing anything, maybe except for a tumblr post or two some time ago, about supporting asexuals and/or repulsed people who are afraid of sex, and their fear isn’t something that they need to get rid of. In many 101-level materials, it’s noted that asexuality isn’t sex-repulsion, a fear of sex, a phase, etc. While that’s true, these materials usually don’t make it clear enough that those things aren’t inherently bad (okay, maybe except for when asexuality gets conflated with sex-shaming), and not something an asexual person should be ashamed of.

I understand very well why someone would want to explain that they’re “actually asexual (and/or sex-repulsed or voluntarily celibate), and not afraid of sex”. I’ve had to do that, to defend myself from friends who thought that I rejected sex only because I’m afraid of it. I’m not, but so what if I were? So what if someone who is repulsed by sex, has a sense of repulsion rooted in fear? There are a lot of other activities that people can be afraid of doing, and have no desire to change that. Their fear of that activity isn’t causing them distress. Why does sex have to be treated differently in this regard?

*Purity Culture beliefs are mainly associated with Christian fundamentalism, but aren’t exclusive to it, and it’s possible to internalize all of its viewpoints on purity, defilement, and the concept of being “damaged goods” without having a religion, nor mentioning sinfulness.

**The Christian fundamentalist movements in the US aren’t actually that cohesive, so I shouldn’t be asserting these claims about the Christian fundamentalist brand of Purity Culture as being absolutes. Some do see sex as a gift to be enjoyed within marriage (and see premarital sex as ruining the sacredness inherent to sex and sexuality), while others believe it’s seen as a necessary evil that should be contained within marriage.

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Signal boost: Maintaining the bibliography of academic work about asexuality

Because of the rapid pace new asexuality research is being published, Asexual Explorations is looking for volunteers to help maintain their bibliography page, to help with the following tasks and ideas:

  • Keeping it up-to-date, cataloguing new publications.
  • Help, and ideas for developing a better method of keeping it up-to-date.
  • Ideas and methods for how to handle the issue of quality control.

Possible formats that have been suggested including crowdsourcing the bibliography through the AVEN wiki, via Google Spreadsheet, or via bibtex (if there are other people who are interested, and knowledgeable in working with Latex files).

Publications on asexuality research vary vastly in quality, but the current bibliography treats all articles as equal, which could be detrimental to people looking for information on asexuality research. There are two possible approaches I see, in regards to quality control:

The first is to review all of the publications, and rate them by their intellectual merits, originality, and the quality of their research, perhaps rating them with a 1-5 star rating. The best publications overall can be put as the recommended readings. This is one way for externally-imposed quality control to happen, with lower-rated publications showing severely flawed research methods, or even a lack of original research. These could serve as examples for how to avoid those problems for future researchers, or for current researchers preventing themselves from making the same mistakes.

The second would to be review the publications, rating them in the same way as above, but on a pass/fail basis, and only including those that pass.

I feel like the first approach is more honest, but the second one might be more practical.

Call for volunteers on AVEN: http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/106057-maintaining-the-bibliography-of-academic-work-about-asexuality/

The balancing act hasn’t been solved

(alternate title: current challenges with asexuality 101)

Wow! I didn’t know that my latest post would inspire this one! That means a lot to me!

Not only am I involved in the asexual community, I’m also involved in a particular subset of the celibate community (if it counts as ‘celibate’, and if there is a cohesive celibacy community in the first place, that is), and am the admin of a forum related to it. I’ve felt overwhelmed figuring out what to do with so little input, but so many issues to balance, and I’m also leading work on static content, and am looking for help refining it. In the first thread, I said that I’m envious of the fact that the asexual community is largely cohesive, and has had years of trial-and-error figuring out a balance. I assumed that the balancing act that’d have to be done for this would be similar to what the asexual community has done.

However, I wrote the first two posts of that thread under the mistaken assumption that the balancing act that the asexual community is currently struggling with, has been resolved! As can be seen from recent and ongoing discussions about the treatment of sex-repulsed/averse and ‘sex-favorable’* asexuals, which Sciatrix summarizes here, this is clearly not the case. When I was writing that, I was thinking of the most blatant examples of the asexual community being unbalanced in the past. (*’sex-favorable’ in quotes, because that group as being a separate category from indifferent/other not-repulsed asexuals, and that specific term, are disputed.)

This ‘balancing act’ issue is still there. It’s not as blatant as it used to be, but it’s still leaving the asexual community in a bind where asexuals who can enjoy sex are frequently erased, and asexuals who are repulsed by or averse to sex feel silenced, despite making up such a large portion of the asexual community. Those who enjoy sex, because of their erasure, might feel like they have no right to be part of the community, and those who are repulsed or averse question if they feel welcome. In most cases, I don’t think the exclusion is intentional or malicious, but it nonetheless has major consequences.

Beranyth makes an excellent point that we should reconsider how we are doing our visibility efforts, which overwhelmingly seem to be geared towards allosexuals, with a pressure to make asexuality as ‘presentable’ as possible to them. Yes, we do need some resources introducing asexuality to allosexual people, but it needs to be done in a way that’s respectful to all asexual sub-groups.

While the existence of ‘sex-favorable’ asexuals is important in showing that it’s possible for someone to want sex itself, and still be asexual (also showing that sexual attraction and personal attitude towards sex are indeed separate things), we need to consider that they’re only a small part of the asexual community. They are just as important as any other sub-group, but from the looks of a lot of discussions about asexuality and sex, it’s easy to overestimate the percentage of asexuals who aren’t repulsed (whether indifferent or ‘favorable’), and to underestimate the percentage who are repulsed or averse.

We also need resources that are geared towards asexuals, and those who are questioning. Ace Theist’s post here shows that our current visibility efforts still have other major shortcomings, such as how it handles the topic of asexuality and abuse.

On another note, I apologize for my reply in their related post, which “This Week, in Discussion Disasters” was a follow-up to. I assumed that the person involved in this conflict, the tumblr user who made that inappropriate response was out to invalidate nonsexual relationships. That’s what it looked like, I didn’t know that they were a survivor of abuse who doesn’t think they have the right to identify as asexual until the follow-up post. If what I said was out of line, in light of the follow-up post, I’m sorry for that, and I feel terrible about it.

I’ve been spending more time on tumblr, taking note of posts related to asexual visibility efforts and how to avoid pitfalls, and try to reblog them when I see them. One of the first I’ve seen is anagnori’s list of the common pitfalls in 101-level presentations. Taking note of all this has also made me rethink what’s the best way to reach out to sex-averse, repulsed, or other people who are, or want to be celibate, but I’ll also have to think of what pitfalls would be unique to that community.

Anyone else feel broken and alone…

…Within the asexual community? I’ve been dealing with these feelings on and off since I first found it about 2 years ago, but it’s been in the past year that they’ve been especially bad. Over the past few weeks, I haven’t felt bothered at all, and actually, I felt encouraged by recent posts on the Asexual Agenda. They motivated me to create this blog! Some people liked the interview that I did (it was back in February, but I was happy to see it mentioned in some recent posts), and said they learned a lot from it, and I felt honored! I felt like the strange path that I took before finding the asexual community paid off, and that as difficult as it was to try and explain, it was worth the difficulty.

However, there are times when I regret it, and hate that I didn’t find the asexual community first, and why, because that affected what I’ve become.

Those feelings of isolation, anger, and regret came back up last night, and the night before. They hit me hard, while I was in the process of writing a follow-up to my Unassailable Asexual post, one to explain why I ended up taking the path that I did, the path that made both my Asexual Agenda interview, and attempts at voluntary celibacy resources possible. Thinking about it, I’m angry at myself for succumbing to my friends’ identity policing, because it made me feel like I have no right to seek out or identify with the asexual community.

I end up feeling like I shouldn’t talk about my experiences, not that ones that stand out too much. Maybe I shouldn’t. They make me look like a bad example of the asexual community, only remind me of how unrepresentative I am of it (being a current member of AVEN’s Project Team, this issue is especially bad!) and I should shut myself off, being only there to serve others as a mercenary in an impartial manner at all times. Because of the extreme obscurity of my experiences, knowing all too well that I’m an outlier in the asexual community, talking about my experiences feels like a nightmare to even attempt. I’m up against a brick wall… but it’s one of the fortress that I walled myself into, while everyone else is outside.

I feel like I’m not broken for who I am, but for what I became, and why, and it makes me wish that I found the asexual community first, because I’d be more ‘normal’ then.

Yesterday on tumblr, I made this post, desperate to find others who feel broken or alone, for not fitting the standard asexual narratives. Anyone feel like there’s something about their experiences that makes them a total odd-one-out in the community, and have felt that it’s incredibly difficult to talk about it?

The Unassailable Asexual: The only winning move is not to play?

My entry for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces theme: The Unassailable Asexual.

The Unassailable Asexual is the concept that the ideal asexual, especially when it comes to activism, is one who doesn’t have any traits that could be used against them to invalidate their asexuality, nothing that could be used to claim that they’re not really asexual, because of x trait.

How has this concept impacted me, from personal experience? It impacted me so badly, by friends who were identity-policing me, that I stayed away from the asexual community for 2 years.

**tw: ableism, emotional abuse, talk of sexual coercion**

Continue reading

Does voluntary celibacy have its gray areas when it comes to asexuality?

On AVEN a year ago, I had discussions with some members over what ‘voluntary celibacy’ was. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use that term in this post as a catch-all for anyone (whether they identify as celibate or not… more about that later) who by choice, isn’t sexually active, as opposed to involuntary celibacy. It started when I created the “voluntary celibacy support thread”, and asked some questions to get some conversations started.

I got quite a few responses, from asexual and non-asexual respondents, and the two questions that had the most intriguing responses were:

“Motivations for giving up all sex, and what factors in your life do you feel influenced this decision? (i.e: religious reasons or not? Are you sex-repulsed, had bad experiences, sex was just never on your priorities, no incentive to pursue it?…)” and “Have you always felt that way, and at what age did you make this decision?”

The main motivation for many of the asexual respondents was tied to not having any incentive to pursue sex, because of not having any desire for it due to their asexuality. Not all of the respondents who answered like this are sex-repulsed. Most didn’t pinpoint a time that they decided to never have sex. While they still chose to not have sex (hence the voluntary celibacy), it wasn’t a conscious or deliberate decision that needed to be made. Some respondents said that they never really thought about it, therefore they never felt any need to reject sex. I’ve seen similar responses in related threads. They’re not involuntarily celibate, but is it accurate to say that they’re voluntarily celibate?

To those who chose not to be sexually active primarily due to their asexuality, what do you think? Is ‘celibacy’ (with or without the ‘voluntary’ qualifier) a meaningful label to you?

I was surprised by those responses at first. I had thought that voluntary celibacy was always clear-cut, that it always entailed some conscious rejection of sex, even among asexuals. That happened to be the case for me personally, and it was the responses to my questions that made me realize that to consciously reject sex is unusual for an asexual person, making me some sort of outlier!

My understanding may have also been skewed, because most of the ‘voluntary celibate’ people I knew prior to getting involved in the asexual community were people who rejected sex for life, because they knew they didn’t want it, and are totally sure of that decision (though they identify as antisexual, and don’t see themselves as celibate… this further raises the questions of what is the celibate community, who is part of it, and if it even exists?), and my experiences were more like theirs; those who are ‘voluntary celibate’ in all but name! One of the non-asexual respondents was just like this, and another one pretty close.

How did I reconcile this with the more ambiguous answers I’ve gotten from some of the asexual respondents on AVEN? I tried to come up with a model, showing that there are degrees to which a voluntarily celibate person is confident that they can and will stay voluntarily celibate for the rest of their lives.

This is what I originally came up with, but it could use some re-working:
    •    Highest degree of confidence: Actively rejected sex, and completely ruled it out as a future possibility.
    •    High degree: Most likely actively rejected sex, considers their decision unlikely to change.
    •    Medium degree: Prefers never having sex, might have actively made that decision or sex just didn’t cross their mind, but doesn’t completely rule it out in the future.
    •    Low degree: Is fine with never having sex, but probably didn’t actively make that decision, and may expect that to change in the future (i.e: if they enter a relationship, might be willing to do it to please their partner)
    •    Lowest degree: Is ‘celibate’, but doesn’t want to be

Some respondents found it helpful, but I realize now I was conflating degree of confidence, with whether someone considers their celibacy voluntary or involuntary, which is a separate dimension. I’m more familiar with the high and highest degrees of confidence, so that’s why they seem the most accurate. The question of how freely-given of a choice the decision to not have sex is also a separate question.

Another thing I found interesting because of that proposed model, is that some of the asexual respondents said that while their voluntary celibacy is largely tied to their asexuality, and assumed that they might not be voluntarily celibate if they weren’t asexual, but still rated themselves as having a high degree of confidence.

Why I’m branching out

Another thing that motivated me to restart blogging, getting involved in the asexual blog community, and try to get back into the tumblr community was the recent realization that by spending all of my asexual community involvement on AVEN, I’ve forgotten about some less-represented viewpoints and experiences, including those that I fall under. I created, with the help of some other AVEN members, the mixed relationships pamphlet that was handed out at the asexual events at the 2014 World Pride. I wasn’t able to make it to World Pride, but I was glad I was able to contribute something to the asexuality events. From what I was told, it was pretty well-received overall, but still had its problems.

One criticism is that it prioritized able, indifferent or favorable, alloromantic asexuals over the more marginalized, which I didn’t intend. When I saw these criticisms, I regretted not asking the tumblr asexual community for input, because from having perspectives different from AVEN’s as a whole, they would’ve caught details that were overlooked, and helped my group avoid mixed messages, and unintended implications. My first response on tumblr was to give clarification to some points in the pamphlet, while asking for clarification on what others said.

Part of the problem was using the word ‘compromise’. When I first found the asexual community through tumblr, I learned that it can be a loaded term, especially for asexuals who felt pressured to push themselves into sex in a mixed relationship. This issue was going on right around the time I found the asexual community, which was 2 years ago, right around this time, but some time after joining AVEN, I forgot all about that issue. Nextstepcake’s response alludes to that major conflict between AVEN and tumblr that was happening at the time.

On the other hand, on AVEN, talking about ‘compromise’ (using that wording) in mixed relationships doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal, because there are plenty of asexual members in mixed relationships who’ve talked about it with their partners, and allosexual members in mixed relationships asking for advice on how it can work with their partners. These are mostly people who unlearned, and challenged the societal assumption that relationships are sexual and romantic by default.

The pamphlet was handed out mainly to people who are new to asexuality and mixed relationships, and these are people who may not have yet unlearned the assumptions about relationships that can pressure asexuals and/or repulsed people into sex, while their partner compromising by not having sex, isn’t seen as a possible or thought-about option. Because of that pressure, an asexual compromising by having sex, and an allosexual compromising by not having sex, aren’t equivalent. That’s something I overlooked, because from the discussions I’ve seen on AVEN, they look to be equivalent.

I understand that giving up sex as a compromise can be difficult for some allosexuals, because of what significance sex has to them, but societal expectations about relationships put more pressure on the asexual partner to compromise by having sex, and the possibility of the allosexual partner not having sex doesn’t cross a lot of peoples’ minds.

The points that were made on the pamphlet only implied that relationships shouldn’t be seen as sexual and romantic by default, but that’s not good enough. I should’ve said it outright, in order to more effectively challenge assumptions. Unlearning the societal assumptions about relationships should be the first step in navigating a mixed relationship, or any kind of relationship for that matter!

My second response on tumblr is admitting how terrible I feel about messing up the way I did. I’m sex-repulsed, voluntarily celibate, and an abuse survivor, and not a very romantic person (not aromantic, but close to it), and I’ve been in an unhealthy mixed relationship. From personal experience, I should know how difficult the topic of ‘compromise’ can be for many people in the asexual community!

How did I disregard that? I didn’t realize until it was too late that the voices of the more marginalized asexuals are still under-represented on AVEN. I thought AVEN as of 2013 and 2014 is more balanced than it was in 2012 (while in 2012, things seemed to be strongly skewed towards sexually active, sex-indifferent and favorable asexuals). Even if it is, there’s still ways to go. The more marginalized groups’ voices are still under-represented, even the sex-repulsed/averse, who make up about 55% of the asexual community!

Don’t get me wrong, I still like AVEN. I like answering questions and meeting people there. I won’t be leaving, but I realize now that I can’t have it be my only source of information on asexual community politics, because so much of it tends to be left out. I didn’t realize until recently that I had shut myself off from a large part of the asexual community. I shut myself off from a lot of under-represented viewpoints, and issues that I only thought were resolved. I shut myself off from a large portion of the under-represented groups, including those that I’m part of. No wonder why I’ve had a hard time talking about some of my experiences. I just thought I’d been feeling isolated because I consciously rejected sex (I saw it as a deliberate decision, and this is actually unusual for an asexual person), and am not originally from the asexual community.

I think that AVEN, and the asexual tumblr+blog community both have their own niches and goals, and it was a mistake for me to see my time spent on AVEN as a replacement for the time I used to spend in tumblr+blog community.

A challenger appears!

(This is what I meant to have as my first post…)

Hello! I’ve recently regained interest in the idea of taking part in the asexual blogosphere, motivated by recent posts on The Asexual Agenda! I can’t believe that I missed out on the blogging community, and how interesting their topics are to me, for so long!

The particular niche I have in mind is about both asexuality, and ‘voluntary celibacy’. Part of this is because of my personal experiences, as someone who identifies with the rejection of sex first, and as an asexual second. Another part is wanting to figure out the common ground between these two groups, how much overlap there is between them, but also the differences, to work towards a more accurate understanding of both. I’d also like to reach out to more people of either or both groups, including people who want to live the rest of their lives without sex, but don’t know that’s an option.

I first attempted to get involved through the asexual community on tumblr, with the same niche and goal in mind for a blog, but it didn’t get very far. I had too difficult of a time articulating my experiences, some of the points I wanted to make, and I fumbled over terminology, but now I think I’m ready, and have a lot more I can write about!