Carnival of Aces: Tales (and How Not to Tell Them)

This post is for the October 2016 Carnival of Aces on Joining the Asexual Community.

[CN: brief mention of arousal and sexual attraction (non-descriptively); brief mention of abuse]

I don’t know if it’s a thing with other queer identities, but with asexuality, ‘how did you realise you were asexual’ is a question that seems to come up a lot. I wrote about it on Tumblr at some point long ago, it’s always the first question asked at irl ace meet-ups, and sometimes just folks I know at uni will ask about it. Unfortunately I still don’t have a response to that question that satisfies me; nowadays, I either lie* (not my favourite thing to do) or just dance around the question (also not my favourite thing to do).

However, today, for one night only, I’m going to try and write out my story of joining the asexual community (and why I usually don’t).

The first time I saw anything about asexuality it was (surprise, surprise) on Tumblr. It was just one of those ubiquitous pride posts and I don’t think I really thought anything of it — it was just another word to add to my vocabulary.

A little later, however, I started wondering. I’d somehow got into a conversation with this guy about celebrity crushes and it had slowly started occurring to me that he had a slightly different way of looking at attractiveness that just didn’t click with me. I still thought I found people sexually attractive, but I thought that maybe I only became attracted to people (or in the case of the conversation, celebrities [who apparently don’t count as people to my brain?]) after I got to know them a little bit better. I found myself on a wiki page for demisexuality, and I thought that maybe it fit me, but it still didn’t feel quite right. Still, I decided to just leave it alone for a while (because of course figuring I was straight was much easier anyways).

A few months later, I realised I was having some weird feelings around a friend which I’d never had before. I thought it might be sexual attraction — which meant that I’d never felt sexual attraction before. So I must be on the asexual spectrum!

I don’t count this as the point that I ‘realised’ that I was asexual, though, because that feeling (which I still don’t know how to word but now prefer to call ‘arousal’ rather than ‘attraction’) really freaked me out. It was weird, and scary, and towards someone of the same assigned gender as me. I couldn’t think of it at all, so I barely dared think about asexuality.

The point at which I really ‘realised’ was the point at which I talked to my friend about sexuality and realised that we were both in similar boats. I helped them to think about their sexuality and in turn they gave me the courage to look around AVEN. After about five minutes of looking, I signed up and started identifying as grey-asexual.

(Of course I then decided that the ‘grey’ part wasn’t as important to me so started IDing as plain asexual, and then decided that what I’d felt wasn’t attraction anyway, and then decided that my sexuality was really complicated but asexuality was useful to describe certain parts of it so it’s still a useful label to have even if it may not be relevant to my current situation of in-a-sexual-relationship, but this post is getting long enough already.)

So, that’s my tale of when I was a baby ace. Perhaps it’s partially clear from that why I don’t like telling the story, but I’ll spell it out just in case.

The basic point is that that story is so ridiculously convoluted. I feel like people who ask me that question (especially folks who aren’t ace themselves) want an answer that would fit on a postcard: ‘I always knew I was different’; ‘I just heard about asexuality and realised I didn’t feel sexual attraction’; I’m demi and I realised once I did feel sexual attraction’; and so on. No one expects a five-hundred-odd-words tale about thinking you might be, then ignoring it, then feeling sexual attraction but maybe not and ignoring it and then finally jumping in with both feet. If I could tell it in a funny way, then it perhaps might be accepted as a reasonable-length tale, but it’s such a personal and un-funny thing that it often feels egotistical or dry or irrelevant to others if you go on about it for too long.

Another reason that I hesitate to tell the tale is that it mentions sexual attraction/arousal. When I described it as sexual attraction, I didn’t have as much of a problem with telling it, but now that I personally describe it as arousal (even if I don’t say it that way in the tale), I feel like it’s too personal to mention. I don’t know if that makes me prudish or just normal, but I always feel really awkward and embarrassed telling people.

The third and final reason is that it simply isn’t a good memory for me. I think we rarely talk about these kinds of realising-I’m-ace narratives being possibly negative experiences (which is probably why I don’t just answer with ‘I don’t really want to say’). It’s weird because I think most, aces who re-tell these tales tend to have had some sort of angst around realising that they’re ace, so you’d expect us to understand that maybe not all these stories are all rainbows and ponies, but apparently not? Perhaps it’s just the circles I run in, but the only negative stories of ace realisations tend to be from people asking advice blogs what to do or asking for positivity. Those folks that ask those questions rarely seem to talk about their narratives in a format that might be shared (unsurprisingly; you don’t participate in a community that you don’t really want to be in, I guess), and those of us that do (I feel) have a tendency to look back at our baby-ace days with very rose-tinted glasses.

The fact is, not everything about my narrative is happy; I spent a lot of time thinking that no one would love me for who I was (this was pre-arospec realisation [and also, of course, pre-boyfriend]), even as I got involved with the community (and mainly the puns) on Tumblr and AVEN. The even more negative aspect, however, is that my story is so entwined with that one friend, who I ended up in a sort-of relationship with that was abusive, that now any possible happy memories I could have of finding out I was ace (and finding a world of new puns) is shadowed by that relationship. The greatest irony and pain of it is that, when I first wrote my baby-ace story on Tumblr (when I was still a baby-ace) I talked about how I was glad that I’d realised when I did, or not knowing could have caused me to do things I didn’t want to do if I was in a relationship (well done past-Mara). It’s so difficult to fit those kinds of feelings into a narrative that, again, people are hoping will fit onto a postcard, that I just don’t bother trying.

So that’s why I don’t tell this story that I have still somehow ended up telling.

*I realised part way through writing this that I never said what lie I tell and I couldn’t manage to reword things to fit it in there, so here it is: ‘I just kinda woke up one day and realised that I didn’t feel the same way that other people feel when they talk about sexual attraction’. It’s the most boring and slightly odd answer ever and even from other aces I tend to get a slightly ‘what? you just woke up one day and realised? weird.’ face.


Genderqueer Challenge: Round-Up

I just realised that having the numbers as the titles for all my GQC posts is not very conducive to being able to actually go back and find topics so I can elaborate on them or just look back at stuff. So I’m doing a little round-up pretty much entirely for my own benefit.

  1. Do you use other terms to define or explain your gender?
    In this post, I admit that I don’t actually use ‘genderqueer’ and explain my use of the terms nonbinary and quoigender.
  2. How did you grow up with your gender?
    With a caveat about how bad my memory is, I describe my gender stuff up to the age of 17.
  3. What’s your favourite ways of upsetting gender roles/genderbending/genderfucking?
    Mainly my answer is ‘I don’t’ but more long-winded.
  4. Name some queer heroes, influences, or crushes.
    Does what it says on the tin.
  5. Dysphoria and how you manage it.
    I explain how I currently deal with social dysphoria.
  6. When did you realise you were genderqueer?
    A follow-on from question 2 about how I started questioning my gender and where it’s led me to up to this point.
  7. What are your favourite physical features of yourself?
    Does what it says on the tin (I don’t really have any, that was possibly the shortest post I ever wrote).
  8. An unpopular or unsure opinion about the GSM community.
    I talk about over-sexualised queer communities.
  9. What have you done or plan to do to socially transition?
    A quick rundown of who and how I’ve come out to, with very few concrete plans to do anything else.
  10. Are you taking any steps to physically transition?
    Basically, no.
  11. Your first experience with a GSM organisation or event.
    I talk about Leeds Pride.
  12. Discuss your relationship with the term transgender.
    It’s weirdly similar to my relationship with religion. Make of that what you will.
  13. How has your family taken it or might take it?
    I was wrong earlier, this is the shortest blog post ever. They’d probably be alright with it.
  14. Are you part of the GSM community?
    I’m in lots of different communities.
  15. How do you deal with gendered things?
    I hate forms, don’t really care about bathrooms, like men’s shirts and dislike some NB ‘inclusive’ feminist spaces.
  16. Name some media you connect with queerly.
    All of it? But mainly fandom.
  17. How do you, or would you, deal with being misgendered?
    I’m awkward and anxious so I don’t and it sucks.
  18. How does your gender factor into your future plans?
    I talk about career paths, activism (which I am now slightly doing!) and marriage.
  19. What terms in the community are problematic?
    I rant about my favourite thing to rant about, gender-based attraction and its enforcement of cissexism/exorsexism.
  20. Have you faced any problems or gone through any changes regarding religion?
    Basically, no.
  21. How has your relationship with yourself been affected since you realised you were genderqueer?
    Too much stuff has happened in the last few years for me to know.
  22. What are your sexual and romantic orientations? Are they affected by your gender?
    I talk about how I used to think maybe my gender was affected by my asexuality.
  23. Do you feel comfortable answering questions about your gender to people?
    I talk about all the different ways I talk about (or avoid talking about) gender with people.
  24. How has your relationship with the cisgender people in your life changed?
    Another short post — basically, they haven’t.
  25. Your first queer crush or relationship.
    I talk about my maths teacher, an ex, and my boyfriend.
  26. Discuss how your clothes do or don’t reflect your gender.
    Ramblings about how they sort of do but also sort of don’t, with a side of ‘what clothes do I even wear anyway’.
  27. Write a poem about being genderqueer.
    I manage to write seemingly the least gender-related poem ever.
  28. Who are some people in your life who make it better?
    I have really great friends, a cute boyfriend and a hilarious grandma.
  29. Some positive genderqueer experiences.
    My very existence is apparently positive and whimsical.
  30. What does genderqueer mean to you?
    I side-step and talk about being nonbinary and what it means.

GQ Challenge: Day 30

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

30. What does genderqueer mean to you?

It seems odd to have this as the last question — maybe it should have been at the start! Since I don’t really use genderqueer to describe myself, it seems disingenuous to say what it means to me, so I think I’ll answer this question for ‘nonbinary’ instead.

Nonbinary, to me, means ‘not part of the gender binary; neither wholly male or wholly female, and not necessarily in between the two’. I’ve seen a lot of people use the ‘neither wholly male or wholly female’ description, but I like to add ‘not necessarily in between the two’ because I think a lot of binary folk often miss that bit. Not on purpose, of course, or even knowingly; I think that, because we have so little language that is outside of the binary, it is difficult for a lot of people to get their heads round anything that isn’t either male, female, or in between. It’s less of an imaginative leap to get that there are people who feel like they are in between male and female, because we already have words for people who are a mix of binary gender traits, eg ‘tomboy’. It’s easy to see a continuum, but less easy to see something totally separate from that binary — even as someone who’s outside the binary myself, it can be difficult. So I like to make it clear so that it gets into people’s minds a bit.

From a more wishy-washy PoV, however, because I feel like the question implies a bit of whimsy, nonbinary means seeing the world from a slight angle. It means confusion (for yourself and the people around you), distance from your own lived experience, words that don’t click right, innovation of concepts and terms and ways of living, differences seeming clearer than similarities, community and, most importantly, queerness.

GQ Challenge: Day 29

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

Well, it looks like I fell at the last two hurdles! In my defense, I’d simultaneously forgotten how far I’d scheduled to (apparently one day short of the end of a residential on a farm in the middle of nowhere [where I came out to a couple of friends as nonbinary in the most scary and also besides-the-point way ever]), and then had my friends be well-organised enough to plan an event literally just after living on a farm for three days with each other. Plus it was my birthday a few days after that, so I figure I can be at least slightly forgiven for disappearing, although it might not forgive how rusty I am at blogging now. But anyway, on with the post:

29. Some positive genderqueer experiences.

I suppose it depends what is meant by ‘positive genderqueer experiences’? I’ve had positive experiences with coming out (such as my friends last week barely batting an eyelid and also letting me rant a little about my pet subject, gender-based attraction), but I feel like ‘genderqueer experiences’ implies experiences of being genderqueer, rather than experiences related to being genderqueer, if that makes sense?

I think the most positive experience of being genderqueer or nonbinary I’ve had is simply having people respect my gender. I think gender euphoria is probably the best form of positive nonbinary experience. The first time someone uses the right pronouns for you, or refers to you as a ‘person’ instead of a girl or woman or guy or whatever, is so awesome.

Another experience that is positive, I think, is just existing as a nonbinary person at all. Obviously sometimes it really sucks, but every now and again, relating to the world as a nonbinary person feels… special, I guess? I don’t mean that in a ‘special snowflake’ type way so much as that it feels really good to me able to connect to myself fully while I’m also connecting to the world. So, rather than feeling like there’s a gap between who I am and the way I act in the world and so on, everything feels like it matches up and it gives me a real sense of calm. Usually this happens when there’s nobody else around, or when I read fanfiction that (believably, because sometimes it’s very wish-fulfilment-y) has queer characters, especially nonbinary characters, acting in the world as themselves. It always makes me feel really happy to feel this way, because I’m so used to having a very compartmentalised sense of self (ver 1.0: shy person, ver 1.1: shy poet, ver 2.0: angry activist, ver 2.1: queer person, and so on), so it’s nice to feel as if the version of myself that I hide from the most people (ver 2.1) is getting some air time.

GQ Challenge: Day 28

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

28. Who are some people in your life, on or offline, who make your life better? Your relationship doesn’t have to be related to queerness.

I think the short answer to this is just my friends. I have quite a few different little pockets of people (so for example, there’s my college friends who I can laugh about university with and hopefully get along with well enough to live with from mid September(!!!), then there’s my school friends who I talk fandoms with, ace friends who I talk ace stuff with, lefty friends who I do lefty things with, writing friends who I write and philosophise and joke with, and so on), which I’m really lucky with because it means that no matter what I need or what I want to do, I can always find a friend or friends who can help me out. I honestly can’t say how much I love and respect all my friends — they’re all such amazing people, and somehow, despite being such diverse groups of people, they all manage to have the same or a similar sense of humour to me, which is great.

However, the person that makes my life better more than any of my awesome friends is my boyfriend. (This is going to get soppy by the way). Despite having known pretty much nothing about asexuality, aromanticism or nonbinary genders when we met, he has still managed to be one of the most understanding, accepting, and lovely people ever. He always supports me, not just in words but with small actions that mean the world to me (queer-related examples are when he did his own research on asexuality to understand me better without me asking him to, and saying he’d help me do some NB awareness stuff at college if that was something I wanted to do).

Non-queer related (but maybe slightly queer-adjacent?) is that he makes my life better by making my mental health better. He often knows what to do to help me even when I don’t, which is good because one of the main problems I have is that I don’t know what would help. I honestly have never met anyone as kind and selfless and understanding as he is.

Also, he’s good at cuddles. That makes my life a lot better.

Oh, and, just as an addendum because I missed somebody: my grandma makes my life better. While she might not be great on trans issues (thankfully it hasn’t really come up as of yet), she is the kindest member of my family and also really funny. Often the thing that’s funny is at her own expense, but she’s happy to laugh about it all the same and I really admire that about her.

GQ Challenge: Day 27

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

27. Write a poem about being genderqueer.

I’ve actually already written a few poems about being nonbinary, but I’m not posting them here because they’re actually pretty good and one day I might actually have the guts to try and get them published somewhere (and a lot of places count personal blogs as ‘previously published’ nowadays, which they don’t like). So instead, I’ll write a new one especially for this challenge! (It’s going to be unedited so please don’t be harsh on me! Edit: As I’m writing it, actually, it’s starting to seem like it’s got nothing to do with gender at all, but I promise you that it does and I might explain it afterwards. Oh also — I am terrible at titles so it’s untitled, as pretty much all my poems are.)

Continue reading

GQ Challenge: Day 26

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

26. Discuss how your clothes do or don’t reflect your gender.

I think I touched on this earlier? But basically they kind of do and kind of don’t.

My clothes don’t reflect my gender because, really,how on earth could they? I don’t even know what my gender is! Besides which, I don’t particularly have a consistent type of clothing that I wear; my jeans and t-shirt outfits have a very different gender connotation (and personal gender feeling for myself) than shorts and t-shirt outfits do ( on the rare occasion that it’s warm enough for shorts), and there’s an even bigger difference between those two and my dresses and skirts. Looking at it from a gender presentation sense, my clothes range from androgynous (although obviously not androgynous enough for people to be confused about my gender or for me to pass as a guy) to rather feminine, which doesn’t really feel like it represents or reflects my gender.

However, all the same… there’s something about pretty dresses and flowing skirts that feels like it reflects my gender. Even though they’re clearly tied (in society) to womanhood and femininity, wearing skirts and dresses still somehow makes me feel validated in my gender. My first thought when trying to word it was that wearing them makes my gender ‘sing’, as weird a thought as that might be. I feel like ‘pretty things’ seem to fit under the purview of my gender, if that makes any sense whatsoever, and so it makes me really happy to be able to wear things that help to describe my gender.

However, as I think I mentioned before, sometimes the connotations that come with dresses (ie that you must be of a certain binary gender to wear them (and if you don’t look like that gender usually looks, you are trying and failing to be that gender, but that’s irrelevant in this case)) really grate on me. That’s when the unisex t-shirts and dungarees come out, it seems.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why I wear jeans and t-shirts, since they clearly don’t bring me any gender-related happiness. The reason I wear them is partially because of my original long-standing dislike of dresses, which receded slowly enough that I still don’t have a lot of dresses but have a lot of t-shirts (that are getting too small and being replaced with the slightly oversized coloured tops that seem to be trendy right now). I also have a lot of jeans because my emo days caused me to believe that you must always have at least one good pair of black skinny jeans, whilst my mother has bought me coloured skinny jeans to try and combat the remaining emo clothes.

Mainly, however, I wear jeans and t-shirts or tops because it’s just easier; there’s no shaving required with jeans, and there’s also no (or at least, rarely) a need for thermal tights with jeans, whilst there most definitely is with dresses in a British winter. So, basically, whilst my more day-to-day clothes are simply practical, my fancier/more occasionally-worn clothes reflect my gender.

GQ Challenge: Day 25

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

[CN: internalised homophobia]

25. Your first queer crush or relationship.

This is another one that’s kind of difficult (I swear these questions didn’t look this hard when I skim read them before deciding to do the challenge) for two reasons. First, I’m nonbinary, so any crush or relationship I have is kinda gonna be queer by default, and second, I’m greyromantic and asexual, so I have absolutely no clue what feelings I’ve had count as crushes and which don’t.

For the first, since I’m trying not to ascribe gender to little me anyways, I guess I’ll go with what felt queer at the time, and for the second, I’ll just have to use my best guess.

So, my first queer crush was probably on my maths teacher. She was my teacher from when I was 12 to when I was 15, and she was just really awesome. She was kind, and funny, and made maths really fun (I always found it fun, but she made it even more fun). She was also very pretty, which always helps even if you’re ace.

I remember kinda half-knowing at the time that I maybe-sort-of liked her in a not-so-platonic kinda-gay way, but internalised homophobia pushed that down pretty far. I always knew I hero-worshipped her, though, and I was really sad when she stopped being my teacher and then moved schools. She came back for prom and it was probably my favourite thing about going to prom; I still have a picture of her, me, and my best friend at the time all smiling away in really bad resolution because it was dark and the photo was taken on a shitty camera phone.

My first queer relationship (and first relationship, full stop) doesn’t give me half as many sentimental feelings, unfortunately. In fact, it caused me to have real difficulty to look into my gender; gender became a trigger for me for a while, and trying to feel what my gender was like staring into a dark abyss and knowing you’re going to fall into it (ie, very anxiety-inducing). Not just that, but, I recently discovered, it seems to have caused me to have a bit of a sense of foreboding when  women I know are in relationships with other women, as if I’m worried that they’re gonna have a similarly shitty time, even though, by the end of my shitty relationship, neither of the people in it actually identified as women.

On a happier note, my second queer (queer because I’m in it and it feels queer to me) relationship (and second relationship, full stop) is a much happier affair. It’s weird (for both of us, I think) trying to navigate romance, and sexual things, and my gender on top of all that, but I think we make it work.

GQ Challenge: Day 24

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

24. How has your relationship with the cisgender people in your life changed?

Since I’m not out to most of them, I don’t think it really has — and the cis people that I am out to have known for a long proportion of the time that they’ve known me, so it’s difficult to say how our relationships have changed since often, I hadn’t known them for long enough before they knew to really have a relationship.

(Some of these posts are ridiculously short, I’ve realised, so sorry to anyone who clicked on them expecting ~500 words and getting less than 100; for some of these questions I just simply don’t have an answer that can be stretched into a proper post-size thing.)

GQ Challenge: Day 23

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

23. Do you feel comfortable answering questions about your gender to friends? Acquaintances? Strangers?

If you’ve been reading every one of these (well done!), you probably already know the answer to this. Basically, it’s complicated.

I don’t get many questions about my gender in the first place, but I think I can pretty reliably work out what I would do in each situation.

If it’s in person, no matter who it is, I’m probably going to be at least mildly anxious. With friends, if I’m already out to them I might be a little bit nervous. For acquaintances and strangers (unless I specifically knew they were queer friendly) and friends I’m not out to, I would be bordering on an anxiety attack, most likely. It’s not that I specifically mind the questions — I have no shame really and I’ll answer anything, even the most gross cliche kinda thing — but gender is a very personal thing and something that could get me transphobic abuse, so it makes sense to be a little nervous. The rest of the anxiety, where I get to bordering on an anxiety attack even though most people I know are pretty accepting and at best would just be really awkward about it, is just my anxiety, I guess. My anxiety is weird in that there’s too forms: the I’m-stressed-to-bursting-why-is-this-happening sort, which has built up over the last few years through a mix of sublimation and perfectionism, and doesn’t really feel like it counts; and the I’m-going-to-faint-everything-is-shaking kind, which, while it feels more like what people typically portray anxiety as, it’s the one that feels most ridiculous, since it only developed during this year and only occurs during talking about gender as described above, certain times when I’ve been triggered (often when in public), and public speaking at college (and only, it seems, at college). So that’s weird, whilst kind of irrelevant to what I was just saying.

Anyway, another way I talk about gender is through Tumblr, Twitter, and this blog. In those situations, I’m completely fine talking about gender to anyone who asks and I’ll happily answer whatever questions I’m given.

With internet messaging services, my comfort level is similar to that when talking in real life, except to a slightly lesser degree — I’m totally fine with talking to people I’m out to, but, as I recently found out, when talking to other people about gender, I’m still bordering on an anxiety attack; the only positive is that I find it much easier to string words together on a computer than speaking when I’m anxious, so at least I don’t make a fool of myself that way.