Tag Archives: Carnival of Aces

What is it to live, with few regrets?

This entry is for the April 2016 Carnival of Aces: “Be yourself (but stretch)”

note: Title is tentative, I’m finishing this right now, just needed to make sure it was still published before midnight. There’s also some talk of sexual peer pressure.

One of the things that frustrates me when I explained asexuality to some people is they thought asexuals were “missing out” on what is considered part of human nature. As if they thought desiring sex made someone human, and having sex as an indicator of a person’s worth and sense of humanity.

Some asexuals aren’t ever open to sex, while others may be willing to have it under some circumstances. There are a lot of different viewpoints in between, but even those who are open to sex, it can still be made to feel like they’re “not good enough” for not intrinsically desiring it, or not enjoying it the way other people are expected to.

If someone isn’t asexual, but doesn’t enjoy or want sex, they can also be made to feel like they’re “broken” and need to be “fixed”. They’re may be told that they’re repressed, and that the solution is to have sex and force themselves to enjoy it, instead of accepting the idea that can be happy to never have sex.

What helped me quickly resist the idea that I’m “missing out” on what are supposedly essential parts of human nature are two related things:
1. I think about what it means to truly live, and how trying to “fix oneself” can just end up making oneself feel  broken, or even more broken. It negatively impacts our self-image, our ability to be true to ourselves, and negatively impacts our relationships with others in general.
2. Not wanting to look back on my life with years full of regret and agony over forcing myself to change something that didn’t need to change, and it saddens me that others have gone through that.

We all do things we regret at some point in our lives, but who wants to look back on a sexual and/or romantic relationship that lasted much longer than it should have, or never should’ve started in the first place after realizing it was preventable? Who wants to look back on all the pain it caused, and how exhausting it was to try and hide it, and how much of your life was spent suffering through it?

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One-sided relationships: in relationship limbo?

This entry is for the January 2016 Carnival of Aces: Relationship Stages.

(content note: brief mention of sexual harassment)

If there are any errors with proofreading or clunky sentences or anything I forgot to add in, it’s because I was in a hurry to post this before midnight.

This is a topic I almost didn’t write about, but decided to at the last minute. I used to think that committed relationships, romantic ones in particular, had a straightforward progression. Either a friendship built up and both people had romantic feelings for each other that progressed over time, or it was love at first sight.

I’m still not very sure whether I even experience romantic attraction at all, but I can say at least that I’m not a very romantic person, aromantic or not. This led me into a situation that doesn’t fit the expected relationship progression: One-sided relationships.

I’ve seen some people say one-sided relationships aren’t a problem if everyone involved agrees to it being one-sided, like if an aromantic person and alloromantic person are together and accept that the romantic attraction won’t be reciprocated.

However, back in college, I was in a romantic relationship I didn’t necessarily agree to. Whether it was romantic or not feels dubious, and whether it even counted as a committed relationship still feels dubious to me. Years ago, I knew I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, and felt repulsed by the idea with anyone, but one of my friends kept insisting that we were a couple, and his friends and family insisted it too. I cared for him as a person, but just didn’t feel that way towards anyone.

Other people I told about this told me it didn’t count because it was one-sided, but I couldn’t agree with that either. I understand why they said that, but it felt like they were ignoring what I had been going through, and I struggled with this feeling of being in “relationship limbo”. I couldn’t get a consensus from anyone, and I felt like I couldn’t trust my intuition.

He and I were never on the same wavelength about this “relationship”, through no fault of our own, but this issue led to a lot of arguments between us. I remember him saying that us becoming a couple happened gradually, when to me it felt so abrupt, since he one day declared I was his partner, when we hadn’t done anything noticeably different before, so I didn’t see any progression from a friendship to a romantic relationship, but he might have. Isn’t there supposed to be a clear transition from a friendship to a romantic relationship?

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Identifying asexuality in hindsight

This entry is for the November 2015 Carnival of Aces: “Reasons I should’ve known I was asexual”

(I was in a rush to get this published, so there may be proofreading errors)

Looking back, there can be many ways for an individual could’ve realized their asexuality, but didn’t. It may not have been obvious at the time, and only becomes obvious in hindsight. I’ve had my share of those experiences.

In middle school and my earlier years of high school, I was largely oblivious towards sexuality and romance, and was lucky that I didn’t have either pushed on me seriously during that time (though I did deal with teasing from immediate family who kept insisting I must be “in love” with one of my male friends). It was in the later years of high school that I started to feel negatively towards sex and romance as I became more aware of the suffering caused by both, which for me coincided with me becoming aware of my asexuality and that it likely wasn’t going to change. In my earlier years, I thought I’d grow out of it, but by my junior year of high school, I didn’t, and I didn’t want to.

It’s weird; in my earlier years I thought asexuality was the norm in a sense, but also thought I’d probably outgrow it to accept my future roles in life. I understood that many others wanted sex, but not that they had an intrinsic desire for it, so when I did overhear sex-obsessed peers or see them on TV, I thought they were exaggerating at first!

Maybe it was the aversion to sex and romance that I thought I’d outgrow specifically. With my awareness of asexuality, I became aware that the suffering related to sex and dating is much more common than I thought, if nearly everyone desires them.

Probably the biggest thing that should’ve made me realize I was asexual was my attitude towards sex and relationships, specifically that I couldn’t understand why others hyped up sex so much, and claimed to desire it so much that a relationship without it wasn’t seen as real. I also couldn’t understand why others were frustrated over not having sex, or not having it for weeks or months.

Those things on their own don’t instantly point to being asexual, but it is a common experience among other asexuals that could’ve warranted me looking into the community to see if the label fit, but I didn’t originally think to seek out the asexual community, or why I felt the way I did about sex. To me, it felt like commonsense. Isn’t it commonsense to outgrow an obsession with sex after realizing it’s not the life-changing magical experience that it’s hyped up to be, or hear from others that it’s not? At other times, I dismissed my feelings as me being cynical and overly analytical, and just didn’t think about it further until I was out of high school.

I thought logically, how is sex love when people have it all the time without meaning? No one says that one-night stands are an act of love, after all. I also didn’t understand how sex, or the lack of, can get in the way of, or ruin relationships that are otherwise perfect.

Being averse to sex doesn’t always mean being asexual either, but can be linked, and someone can become aware of their asexuality because of it. That I found the idea of sex to be repulsive, and the way that affected me, could’ve clued me in to the possibility of being asexual. Because I don’t have any desire for sex, I can’t imagine it ever having any appeal; it just seems like something that would take a lot of effort on my part for little or no gain for me, with all of the risks to sex. What some people say feels like the greatest form of closeness just feels invasive. All the risks and none of the benefits. The only way to go through with it would be to repress those feelings, but I’d have to force myself to do it, to override those feelings of repulsion, but with no guarantee it’d actually work.

One of the earliest things that could’ve clued me in was that in middle school, and my earlier years of high school, I frequently read teen magazines, and the sections that interested me the most were the fashion tips, and the articles about unusual life experiences, though I still did read the sections about relationships. There were often articles about guys, and written by them, often with pictures prominently on the pages, I thought they looked good, but didn’t think that I was supposed to swoon over them, and didn’t realize some readers would be more interested in the pictures than the text!

Another thing that should’ve clued me is that while there wasn’t much of an emphasis on abstinence until marriage where I grew up, I was aware that many others were told that they needed to abstain until marriage. I thought “Ha! I could abstain for life, because I want to!”, and couldn’t comprehend that sexual abstinence can be a struggle for others. That is a way some asexuals realized their asexuality.

I don’t know if this counts, but when I read Nineteen Eighty-Four in my sophomore year of high school, I didn’t understand at first why the Junior Anti-Sex League was seen as a problem, since I couldn’t relate to the concept of sexual desire, nor what it’s like to have nearly all outlets for that desire denied. I understood the part about only procreation being permissible as a duty to The Party, because sex didn’t appeal to me, that it being work, a sacrifice or duty to another person made sense to me. I didn’t agree with it, but it made sense.

Perhaps one of the most clear giveaways to me being asexual is implicitly being told that everyone is either straight or gay (or maybe straight, gay or bi), and I felt like none of those applied to me. In this situation, some asexuals thought they were straight just because they knew they weren’t sexually attracted to the same gender, others thought they were gay or bi for not conforming to heteronormative expectations. Some thought they were gay because they knew they weren’t attracted to the other binary gender. I didn’t really think about it much, and for some time, I didn’t use a label for my orientation. I didn’t think there was one until later in high school when I thought if there are people attracted to the “opposite gender” (I didn’t know of non-binary genders until years later), the same gender or both, that there should also be people who aren’t attracted to anyone.

How can signs like these be missed? The topic of sex and sexuality didn’t come up much in middle school or high school, aside from sex ed. I didn’t think about it that much in middle school nor my earlier years of high school, but I sort of thought I would outgrow my aversion and lack of interest for sex or romance. I thought I’d go through the dating-obsessed phase that was expected, which would also make me open to sex and tolerate it (for the other person and their pleasure at least, if not for my own), if not actively want and enjoy it, but I didn’t, and I didn’t notice since most of the friends I had didn’t talk about sex nor romance that much. They didn’t seem to care, and I didn’t either, so my lack of interest didn’t stand out to them, so I didn’t think I was the odd one out, and I even thought those who were wanting sex were the odd ones out for a while! Years later, I found out one of those friends was asexual and aromantic!

I didn’t like the idea of having sex just to please another person, but that being the only way I could envision sex also could’ve been a clear sign of asexuality, but one I still overlooked, perhaps because the idea of sex as a duty they have to endure if they can’t enjoy it, is so normalized! Of course, I found that idea repulsive, which contributed to my later ideological reasons for rejecting sex, because I believed no one should have to suffer through that.

If my lack of interest did stand out among my friends, I likely would’ve it noticed sooner because it would’ve had a more significant impact on my life back then, but I also likely would’ve gone through a phase of feeling broken too, a phase I’ve been lucky I didn’t go through.

A mystery that is the a-romantic community history

This overdue entry was going to be for the October 2015 Carnival of Aces: Aromanticism and the Aromantic spectrum.

Aromanticism as a concept was identified early on in the asexual community’s history, but not always under that name. Looking back at the early parts of the asexual community’s history, romantic attraction or the lack of, is described as one of the dimensions of the ABCD Types model, but the lack of romantic attraction wasn’t always named.

Many terms have also come and gone in popularity. Before aromanticism was named, asexuals who experienced romantic attracted identified as either straight/gay/bi asexual, or hetero/homo/bi-asexual. This AVEN poll from 2003 about romantic orientation, refers to the romantic orientations by these older terms that have now fallen out of favor, and aromantics were called “asexual asexuals”.

Some AVEN threads from 2004 are the first I’ve seen mention aromanticism under that name, and define it as the lack of romantic attraction. This thread from November 2004 described “romantic orientation” (“affectional orientation” was also used early on), and mentioning that asexuals whom don’t experience romantic attraction should be called “aromantic”.

The National Coalition for Aromantic Visibility (NCAV) states:

“Before the NCAV, the only information on aromanticism widely available was provided by AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Eduction Network, and as such, applied to only a portion of the world’s aromantics.

We threw this place together in hopes of providing a previously unavailable resource to everyone on the aro spectrum…” (NCAV home page)

This points to the possibility that aromanticism was first identified as a concept in the asexual community, but I feel like I can’t say for 100% certain. With as many parallels that the asexual and aromantic communities have, I’ve wondered if there are aromantic sites that are at least as old as AVEN, even though they might not have used the term aromantic? Surely there must have been at least some sites about and for people who felt alone in a world where romance was expected of everyone? I tried to find any, but I wasn’t successful. I don’t know if there just aren’t any aromantic sites that old, or if I just wasn’t searching for them the right way.

It seemed for a long time that aromanticism was something limited to asexuals. If there’s a turning point for when the aromantic community started to be recognized as its own, and start to branch off from the asexual community, it was in 2010 with NCAV’s launch, which was created to support aromantic asexuals and non-asexuals.

Interest in an aromantic sub-board on AVEN was sparked in 2011, shortly after the approval of a gray-asexual and demisexual sub-board. One of the reasons for interest in it was to find aromantic non-asexuals, since they are under-represented. Another popular reason was of aromantics feeling marginalized on AVEN, or in asexual spaces in general, since it seemed like there was too much emphasis on asexuals wanting to seek out relationships that aromantics felt erased.

There were several threads about an aromantic sub-board in 2012, making it a popular idea, but ultimately it was rejected, and its rejection was controversial. This controversy also spilled into tumblr, and it was one of the first things I found out about the asexual and aromantic communities. There was talk about there being an unwritten rule in most asexual spaces that a “good asexual” desires romance. These were primarily aromantic asexuals frustrated over feeling marginalized. I thought it was a problem that anyone is feeling marginalized within asexual spaces, but I didn’t partake in that discussion, because I didn’t know if I experienced romantic attraction or not, and didn’t strongly identify with any romantic orientation so I felt like it wouldn’t have been my place to unless I was sure that I didn’t.

It’s not like aromantics were never allowed in asexual spaces, but there is still a continuing problem, described as “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction” where desiring romantic relationships is seen as a way to “normalize” or humanize asexuals, but the implications make aromantics feel dehumanized. Though much less common than it used to be, are aromantic non-asexuals being stereotyped as only caring about sex, and I find it troubling to see one group that lacks one type of attraction perpetuate stereotypes about another group that lacks a different kind of attraction, and that isn’t even getting into the fact that not all non-asexuals even want sex.

As of the past year or two, an aromantic/aromantic spectrum community has grown a lot on tumblr. I expect a lot of discussion about aromanticism to still be in asexual spaces, because of the overlap, in people who are both asexual and aromantic, and the overlap in experiences between the two groups. That is important, but it’s also important that the aromantic community also has its own spaces to discuss aromanticism specifically, how it intersects with their sexual orientation, to discuss the issues they face as aromantics, in order to reach out to asexual and non-asexual aromantics alike.

I think it is to be expected that the aromantic community uses many of the same concepts that the asexual community does (In English at least; aromanticism may be identified differently and use different concepts in different languages, although I don’t yet know of any aromantic communities that aren’t in English); they’re useful concepts, but the aromantic community should also become a more distinct entity in its own right.

I don’t know if the aromantic community will ever have its own counterpart to AVEN, a very large, long-lasting forum with a lot of static content, although about aromanticism specifically. That might not be possible; AVEN was one of the earliest asexual sites that happened to outlive all of its few competitors to become the largest part of the asexual community. In contrast, the aromantic community started to separate itself rather late, and is still be in the process of branching out.

Looking forward, what direction would you want to see the aromantic community take? I think it’d be nice if the existing forums about aromanticism were more active, and if there were also blogs outside of tumblr about aromanticism. Tumblr’s format is effective at reaching out to others; it’s effective for advice blogs, but makes it very difficult to have any organized discussions.

An online archaeology expedition: Keeping up with documenting the asexual community’s history

This entry is for the July 2015 Carnival of Aces: Asexual History

One of the asexuality-related topics I’ve blogged about is the history of the online asexual community. I find it so interesting being a community with a social movement surrounding it that have changed so much in a relatively short amount of time, but also because it’s important to write about it so that the newer generations don’t forget.

I’ve only been involved in the asexual community since late 2012, so there are still a lot of gaps in my knowledge, but I’ll be happy to get input from long-time members in the community who could fill in the gaps.

The asexual community as we know it, originated online, and is still predominantly organized online, because of how geographically scattered many asexuals are from each other. Other groups, such as the LGBT community, and the groups within it, have been large enough and visible enough to have their own communities, and their own spaces in-person.

The internet has allowed for people to find others like them. The online asexual community started with a handful of individuals who wrote about their experiences, which made others realize that they felt the same way. Its origins in English can be traced back to an article written in 1997 called “My Life as an Amoeba”. In its comment section, many commenters also came forward about feeling the same way. Some may have known of their asexuality, but didn’t have any name for it, while others just realized it from reading that article, and the other comments.

History for a community that is predominantly organized online, moves very quickly. It’s easy for so much to be lost. Sites have come and gone,and archaeologists have the challenge of documenting history before it disappears. So few people are left from the early days of the online asexual community, so few people are left to give first-hand accounts of the earlier eras of its history. Those accounts are highly scattered, many may be in long-buried, very difficult-to-find threads in different places on AVEN, and some may be from asexual sites that are long gone.

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Asexuality and Codependency: Vicious Cycle

This entry is for the June 2015 Carnival of Aces: Mental Health.

(warning: talk of emotional abuse, sexual coercion)
I’m very lucky that I’ve had positive experiences with therapy. None of my therapists knew of asexuality until I told them about it, but they were willing to understand. I was nervous about mentioning it to each therapist I came out to, and the first one was the most difficult for me, because of why I was there.

3 years ago, I saw a therapist in order to get help for my codependency, so I had to explain the dysfunctional relationship I was in, and the dynamics of it. My therapists didn’t show any sign of being judgmental, but fear did hold me back from coming out for some time, because of my bad experiences with the friends that I first came out to.

These “friends” frequently policed my identity, with my sexual identity being the part that they were the most insistent on policing, because they didn’t think I was capable of knowing what mine was for myself. This issue wasn’t exclusively about asexuality, because they also knew that I’m repulsed by sex, and have an ideological rejection of it.

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Useful vs. Practical part 1: It’s about priorities

This is part 1 of my entry for the May 2015 Carnival of Aces: Identity, Labels, and Models.

The key reason for using the labels we do, is that we find them useful.

A label that is personally useful:

    • Closely defines a person’s experiences: This is self-explanatory.
    • Helps them make sense of what they are: one of the greatest examples is when someone may knew what they were, but felt lost without a label for it. For example, some asexuals knew that they were asexual before knowing of asexuality as the label for it, but before knowing of the asexual label, they thought they were the only ones who felt the way about sex that they do. They may have thought they were broken, and alone, and were the ones who had to change.
    • Or they find the label first, its definition, and see that their experiences fit under that label all along: Before then, they had a less accurate idea of themselves, and may have also felt broken and alone because of it. Some asexuals, before knowing of asexuality, thought they were simply straight, gay or bi people “doing it wrong”.

Depending on which parts of one’s identity that they prioritize, they may find more specific labels more useful for the parts of their identities that they more strongly prioritize.

For me, most basic part of my sexual identity is identifying as asexual. I don’t experience sexual attraction nor have any intrinsic desire for partnered sex. I can relate to many of the common experiences that other asexuals describe, on the basis of their asexuality.

For my romantic orientation, I’ve taken to identifying as quoiromantic, though I feel that gray-romantic would still work well enough. I find it very useful to have a label that’s more specific, and speaks to the particular experiences I’ve had, being uncertain whether I experience romantic attraction or not, but since I don’t prioritize my romantic orientation as high as my sexual orientation, I don’t mind sometimes using an umbrella term.

For some time though, I didn’t bother to label my romantic orientation, because I didn’t find it useful, although I tried to. The reason why I tried to focus on my romantic orientation, and prioritize it, was because this was back in 2012, when the debates over asexual inclusivity within LGBT spaces were still extremely heated (or more so than they are now). That put a lot of pressure on me to be certain what my romantic orientation is, and identify with it at least as strongly as my asexuality.

I didn’t know whether I actually experienced romantic attraction, nor towards which gender(s), and I didn’t know that there was a term for it, nor did I know that was valid. So I switched from one romantic orientation label to another, but I doubted whether any fit, so I thought none of the romantic orientation labels fit me. I felt isolated within asexual spaces because of this.

Of the four groups listed in “Prioritizing Identities”, I most closely fit under group 4 (with a bit of group 2), but I wasn’t fully aware until that post was published, that was actually a valid viewpoint to have, and that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way! When I made my comment on that post, I still wasn’t fully aware that having an uncertain romantic orientation was valid either! I felt affirmed when I saw others post that they too, are in this kind of situation.

In 2012, I didn’t outright say what I label my romantic orientation, and felt like I couldn’t until I found the gray-romantic label the next year. I thought it was close enough, and find it useful, because it doesn’t specify which gender(s) I’m attracted to (if any), but specifies that I may experience romantic attraction to a limited degree. To me, that’s what matters.

There are some labels I could use, but don’t feel much of a need to. I could identify as nonlibidoist, but to me, whether I have a libido or not isn’t a significant part of my sexual identity. It’s a useful enough label for fitting my experiences, but since whether I have a libido or not doesn’t feel like a significant part of my sexual identity, I don’t feel as much of a need to use a label for it. Few people in the English-language asexual community think it matters anymore outside of discussions about the subject, since the ABCD Types model fell out of favor several years ago.

I’ve seen others specify their aesthetic, sensual, and platonic orientations. I don’t specify mine, because I haven’t felt any need to. Others may find labels for those concepts useful, because they prioritize those concepts as being a significant part of their sexual identity.

In roughly the past year, many more sexuality labels have emerged, including some to describe specific points in the asexual spectrum. Many of these gained popularity on tumblr first, but have also spread to some other asexual spaces.

I’ve seen some people on AVEN identify as cupiosexual instead of asexual on their profiles. They may find that more specific label more useful than identifying as asexual, but I’ve also seen those who could be considered cupiosexual still identify as asexual instead, either because they didn’t feel the need to adopt a newer label, or they didn’t feel the need for a more specific label.

When using a label, someone wants one that’s personally useful, and generally one that’s also practical. However, a label can be useful without necessarily being practical!

What does it mean for a label to be practical? A label that is practical:

    • Is understandable to others in the community, or related communities, without excessive explanation: This criterion may not be perfect, because in general, coming out as asexual still requires explaining it to other people, but if someone says they’re asexual in asexual spaces, it’s understood what they mean right away.
    • Some would also say that a practical label is understandable at face-value to people outside the community: This might not always apply, because some people do only use certain labels within the community that they’re a part of.
    • Isn’t a loaded term, or is relatively neutral in connotation: Loaded terms are easy to take the wrong way, so anyone knowingly using a loaded term, needs be prepared to explain what they mean, and why.
    • Is easy for others, whom might not use the label, understand how someone else can find that label personally useful, compared to other alternatives.

When someone uses a label that’s impractical, conflict can arise between someone who finds that impractical label to be useful, and those who just see it as impractical. This is an issue I’ve dealt with first-hand.

In terms of identity, I prioritize my asexuality over my romantic orientation, over libidoism or nonlibidoism. However, above asexuality, I prioritize the rejection of sex, which might or might not be celibacy, depending on whose standards you’re using. Because this is what I prioritize first, I want to be as specific as I can. Specifically, I rejected sex for life, and for non-religious reasons, so I find it important to have a term for this.

However, this is what has put me at odds at being understood even in the asexual community, and I learned the hard way that this isn’t a familiar concept even to the asexual community, and that the one label I’ve known for the rejection of sex I was specifically trying to describe is largely impractical, and feel conflicted because I still find it useful. More about that in part 2: “Practicality is also relative”.

The flip-side to being the “perfect representative”

This post could be considered part 2 to my Carnival of Aces entry for this month. I’m writing it, because Luvtheheaven’s entry reminded me of something.

When I’ve written about the pressure for everyone in the asexual community to be the “perfect representative”, by making themselves, and the asexual community as a whole “presentable” to mainstream society, I was referencing the pressures brought about by “Unassailable Asexual” concept.

The Unassailable Asexual concept is a series of observations showing that asexuals so often get their asexuality invalidated because certain other parts of their identity are used against them to invalidate it. I’ve been subject to this myself.

By being “presentable”, it implicitly means hiding away the traits that can be assailed, lest someone be accused of reinforcing the stereotypes or misconceptions. In other words, it’s the “We’re just like everyone else (heteronormative society), minus this one thing” assimilationist rhetoric at play, and it permeates our community due to internal and external pressures.

Assimilationism only gives visibility to those who conform the most, and/or stay silent about their other differences. Some asexuals don’t mind having sex, and may have it to please a partner in a romantic relationship. Some who prefer to date other asexuals want a traditional romantic relationship, and some also want children, but it’s a problem when these subsets of the asexual population are the only ones getting visibility, because it presents a narrative that doesn’t challenge societal views about sexuality, gender or relationships in a significant way, reassuring heteronormative society that asexuals and our experiences are different in just one way.

They (heteronormative society) want a narrative that in their eyes, doesn’t “complicate” things. Aromanticism and nonamory aren’t mentioned in the Unassailable Asexual test, but aromantic and or nonamorous asexuals have reported feeling marginalized within the asexual community. Assimilationist rhetoric erases them.

I said that it’s a battle that we’ll always be fighting against, but the most effective option is to encourage diversity, to support those who are under-represented in our own community.

There’s another, contradicting idea of the what the “perfect representative” is, that can occur within the community. Luvtheheaven noted it in the asexual spaces she’s been in, noting that there was a culture of being expected to be childfree, to never have sex, and to never date. She also notes that negativity towards relationships, sex, and parenthood were also expected in this culture:

It feels like the most acceptable narrative for an ace, the culture we’ve come up with, is one that fully rejects all conventional and traditionally sanctioned ideals. Asexual-spectrum folks are expected to be tolerant and understanding and embracing differences, but the default has been moved to “none” – no sex, no romance, no desire to ever have kids, etc. To not want romance, sex, or kids is to break the norms of society at large, but in the new subculture asexuals have created, the new norm is to reject all of it, as far as what I feel.

I responded here, feeling a sense of culture clash. There are two points I want to make. First is that her response was spot-on: it’s true that I don’t fit in with the asexual community culture. That I identify with the rejection of sex first, and don’t think it has to do with my asexuality, is not a familiar narrative to the asexual community, nor originates from it. It’s because I didn’t find the asexual community first. I know I’ve clashed with others in the asexual community over terminology, but that issue just hides the fact that I’m using an unfamiliar narrative to them in the first place. I don’t know if they’ll understand, regardless of what term I use or don’t use.

I don’t think I’ve seen for myself what she described in the asexual community, or subset she’s been involved with, but I have a guess where that dynamic she observed came from.

Keep in mind this is just speculation, but it seems like the most acceptable asexual narrative to mainstream society, is being “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction”. Sometimes this is considered the most acceptable narrative even within the asexual community due to external pressures, which is very frustrating to those of us who don’t fit that narrative. I say this as someone who doesn’t fit it, but it doesn’t surprise me that the culture in some asexual spaces is one that moved the defaults to no sex, no marriage or romantic relationships, and no children.

I think trying to establish that as a narrative is a way of fighting against societal expectations, showing that by rejecting sex, marriage, romance, and childbearing, that they haven’t internalized society’s expectations to be in a sexual-romantic relationship and bear children are the most “valid” way to live. After all, if an asexual person says they’re open to sex, how do we know that they really are, or feel pressured to be? Keep in mind these questions are legitimate concerns, and talking about consent in regards to asexuality is often a challenging topic.

However, it isn’t liberating to impose another default. It implies that anyone who doesn’t fit it is the “other”, who have to justify their decision to be in asexual spaces.

Luvtheheaven’s observations raises some questions, which I’m looking for input on: is it implied that those who are open to any of the things deemed “normative”, is a sell-out who internalized societal expectations? Is it implied that they’re going against the ideology of the asexual community?

When there is this culture of adhering to the defaults, or feeling like a sell-out for not doing so, there can still be self-doubt among those who adhere to the new defaults. Someone may have to continuously “prove” to others how much they hate sex, how much they hate romance, and how glad they are to be childfree, to show that their viewpoints haven’t wavered, therefore no change of having internalized societal expectations. This pressure could lead to feeling like a sell-out if they express any ambivalence, or if their viewpoints waver in any way.

The culture of the asexual community shouldn’t be having any defaults. Asexuality itself doesn’t have an ideology or specific lifestyle tied to it. It’s a sexual orientation. Contrast this with the celibate communities, including the one I the most adhere to, which may have their own defaults for a reason (some are more open to variation than others though); some aren’t simply about not having sex, but also have specific ideologies tied to them, and in some cases, also certain lifestyles that are central to the identity of those communities.

I’ve been through the same pressure to want to be the “perfect representative”, though it was before I found the asexual community. It was actually a result the frequent invalidation I faced. I felt like I had to show how much I hated sex and romance to try and prove to my unsupportive friends, and myself that I’m asexual (under the assumption that not hating all forms of intimacy must mean experiencing sexual attraction), and prove to myself that I haven’t succumbed to societal expectations. I doubted myself, because I was in a relationship even though I didn’t want to be, and felt like a sell-out.

Defining an asexual culture

This entry is for the April 2015 Carnival of Aces: An Asexual Culture.

This month’s Carnival of Aces poses a question that I find very interesting: Is there an asexual culture, or how would we define it?

By “culture”, I mean more broadly the common characteristics of a group of people used to define themselves, and as a group, such as shared beliefs, values, symbolism, and rules. Another aspect of a culture is a shared framework that’s used to conceptualize the most important concepts to them, along with a shared set of symbols used to communicate concepts amongst themselves, and with outsiders.

Other sexual minorities have their own cultures. One of the hallmarks surrounding them is setting themselves apart from heteronormative society. It is partly because heteronormative society marginalizes those who don’t fit its model of cisgender heterosexuality, and distances itself from them.

Gay neighborhoods and bars are two of the most visible markers of LGBTQ culture, and they originated in a context of survival. Many youth who were disowned by their families moved to these neighborhoods, as those may have been one of their only opportunities left for housing and employment. Gay and lesbian bars served as way to meet others, but they weren’t safe spaces, as they had operated under the constant fear of crackdowns by the police.

The other side to the existence of LGBTQ and asexual cultures*, and why they set themselves apart from heteronormative society, is because of choosing to resist it and its norms; resisting the idea that being heterosexual and cisgender are the normative, or “proper” ways to be, while everything else is an aberration to be “fixed”.

Asexuals don’t have as high of risks of being disowned, or facing violence for their sexuality, but the existence of an asexual culture and community still has many parallels. The asexual culture didn’t originate in a context of survival like the LGBTQ cultures have, but like the LGBTQ cultures, it originated out of a need for solidarity.

Many LGBTQ and asexual people have spent a large part of their lives trying to live as something that they’re not, to fit the heteronormative mold. The existence of these cultures values liberation, being accepted as who one is, instead of trying to assimilate themselves at the cost of not being true to themselves.

Being forcibly outed when trying to assimilate for their survival is an act of violence. Some people are out and visible by choice (though some people still aren’t out, because it isn’t safe for them) as a way of showing that they aren’t ashamed of who they are, in a society that tells them they should be.

It’s why the the different labels under the LGBTQ and asexual umbrellas developed their own symbols: for solidarity within their own groups, and to choose to make themselves visible. The asexual culture has its own symbols, and its values that developed in a context of both countering compulsory sexuality and heterosexism.

Among the key values of the asexual culture overall are acceptance, and inclusion, which are done by validating asexuals’ experiences. It’s crucial to counter the misconceptions that lead to invalidation, to show that asexuality is a sexual orientation in its own right. However, Ace Theist notes that there are conflicting values within the asexual community and its discourse, and describes it as a culture in tension.

They noted that the way that rhetoric used to validate asexuality itself as something that’s “normal”, and absolutely isn’t caused by, or influenced by any other factors for anyone, can unintentionally invalidate other aspects of an asexual person’s identity that already tend to be assailed. This can lead to tension between those who can’t separate their asexuality from other experiences of theirs, and those who feel their asexuality is completely separate. How can we validate both groups?

There’s such an emphasis on making asexuality visible, that these assertions are common. Pianycist notes how those assertions strip away the agency of trauma survivors, and the disabled by denying it to those whose experiences tie into their asexuality.

This issue of unintentionally invalidating some asexuals in the effort to validate their asexuality also ties directly into the “Unassailable Asexual” concept. As this round-up on the Unassailable Asexual topic shows, it’s an unwinnable system at its core, as even those whom have all of the “unassailable” traits still get invalidated for one reason or another, but as Tristifere noted here, disabled asexuals and those with a history of trauma are among those whom face the worst of the invalidation.

The Unassailable Asexual concept is another force that shapes the asexual community’s culture. It is one of, if not the key underlying factor as to why the asexual culture is one in tension. When fighting against the forces that say that someone’s asexuality is “invalid” because of reason X, we have to be careful not to reinforce them ourselves.

On a more positive note, another value of asexual culture is breaking down what “attraction” is, crafting models, and an elaborate a lexicon related to the different types of attraction, and their gray areas. These are crafted in opposition to the societal assumption that sexual, romantic, aesthetic attractions are one and the same with no gray areas. They’ve helped not just the asexual community with finding the ways to describe themselves that they couldn’t before, but also cross-orientation non-asexuals,

Another value that could be considered a tenet of asexual culture overall, is the emphasis on self-identification. This is influenced by the fact that sexuality isn’t black and white, and what “sexual attraction” and “sexual desire” are, can be ambiguous. As said on AVEN, members can’t say if someone is asexual or not, only point them to resources to help someone determine if the asexual label fits them. Another reason for this value is that some people who don’t desire sex, or don’t experience sexual attraction, might not want to identify with the asexual label, particularly if they’re part of a group of people who are frequently desexualized.**

I’ve mentioned before that the asexual community has its own framework, which is a collection of the terms, definitions, and concepts that they find useful, along with what aspects of sexuality do they prioritize. We communicate these concepts amongst ourselves, and in our outreach and education efforts. I’ve mentioned it in the context of explaining how I can’t fit my experiences into it, but I’ll explain what I actually meant by the framework used by the (English-language) asexual community.

  • In the English-language asexual community, one of the concepts that’s most prioritized is the asexual spectrum***, and where someone is on that spectrum.
    • On asexual blogs, and on AVEN, members usually specify if they’re asexual, gray-asexual or demisexual as either the most, or second most important part of their sexual identity, with the other most important part usually being their romantic orientation.
  • Many also specify their romantic orientation, seen as another of the most important concepts to prioritize.
  • In an earlier era of the asexual community history, whether someone was libidoist or nonlibidoist used to be prioritized. Now, few people specify it anymore except in threads or posts about it.

However, this framework isn’t used in all languages. It’s mainly associated with the English-speaking community. In defining an asexual culture, we do need to be careful to not erase differences in language, and how it shapes the asexual communities in other languages.

Another aspect of someone’s sexuality that’s widely discussed is their personal attitude towards having sex; the repulsed, indifferent, and favorable labels are usually used, although as of now, controversy is erupting over the “sex-favorable” label again.

The asexual community as a whole is predominantly internet-based, because of the smaller, and more scattered population of asexual people as a whole. Many people are also involved in organizing, and participating in offline meetups.

Asexuality has been written about before the creation of the online asexual communities, but it wasn’t until the widespread use of the internet that asexuals were able to connect with each other, unless they happened to know another person who was aware of their asexuality, which was very unlikely.

The culture of the asexual community is predominantly influenced by AVEN, but it could’ve turned out a lot differently, if The Official Asexual Society had overtaken AVEN in popularity and influence in its early years. Or it could’ve been different if tumblr had been around during that time. AVEN isn’t perfect, but it’s important that they value gray areas, and self-identification, as they allow more room for discussion and for the individual to question what label fits them best.

I have a lot to say about this topic, and may end up writing a part 2 to this.


Footnotes:

*When I write about the LGBTQ and asexual communities, I don’t mean that they’re mutually exclusive.

**By “desexualization”, I meant the forcible and systemic denying someone of an autonomous sexual identity, which can include either denying their asexuality (as that is an autonomous sexual identity), or forcing an asexual identity on them.

***In other languages, that there’s a gray area with asexuality may be acknowledged, but there might not be a term for it specifically. The existence of an asexual spectrum, as opposed to asexuality being on its own, and the gray area being considered part of the sexual spectrum instead, still has some controversy.