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.

 

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 22

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

22. What are your sexual and romantic orientations? Are they affected by your gender?

I’m asexual and greyromantic. My gender makes me glad that my orientations allow me freedom from attempting to name my gender-based attractions, but other than that I don’t think they’re affected.

I used to wonder if maybe it was the other way around, and my asexuality influenced my gender — I wondered if not wanting or needing sexual organs had meant that I didn’t feel connected to whatever connects women together — but ultimately that a) sounds kinda TERF-y and b) is not how I feel my gender works anymore. My gender doesn’t feel grounded in my body at all, but rather feels like it floats above my head somewhere. So it definitely doesn’t have anything to do with having sex or not.

 

GQ Challenge: Day 14

The Genderqueer Challenge is here.

14. Are you part of the Gender and Sexuality Minority community?

I’m going to say no on this one, just because people really don’t seem to use that term anymore. When it was used more often, I did use GSRM to describe the community I was part of. Nowadays, I would say that I’m part of the asexual community, part of the nonbinary community, part of the queer community and (kinda warily and whilst being unsure whether there’s any point anymore) part of the LGBTQ community. The ‘discourse’ on Tumblr has, unsurprisingly, worn me out to the point where I don’t much care about being a part of the LGBTQ community or not, but I still use the term because that’s the one that most places in the UK seem to use.

Of course, talking about these communities as if they’re really just one entity is a bit simplistic, as shown by the fact that a large proportion of LGBT societies and associations in UK unis support aces whilst a certain proportion of the online Tumblr community really doesn’t like us. Really, what I’m actually in is the WordPress and Tumblr ace communities, as well as to some extent the real-life UK ace community; the UK Twitter nonbinary community; the Tumblr queer community and kinda vague, collective idea of a queer community; and my local LGBT community in the form of friends and the uni LGBT+ association.

Gender, or Why I’m Glad I’m Aro/Ace

This post has been cross-posted to Tumblr here. It was written for the March 2015 Carnival of Aces on Gender norms and asexuality.

Hold on tight because I got rambly (again). I’ve tried to shorten my sentences and paragraphs (and have possibly made my point less clear in doing so), but if the post is still inaccessible, or has lost all meaning, please throw me a message and I’ll try and edit it.

Before I came to university, I was already struggling with the concept of attraction — how we name it, why we name it, whether attraction is the important part of a relationship or identity — but coming to uni and getting a boyfriend have made that concept all the more difficult to grasp. All three main issues I have with the attraction model have become more relevant, but for this post I’ll just talk about the first one: how do we name our attraction?


Gendered attraction, as a nonbinary person, is… difficult to swallow. Hence why I’m glad I’m aro-spectrum and ace — the attraction is so nonexistent that I don’t have to quantify it as towards guys, girls, nb people, multiple genders, etc. Which is great, because I’d have no idea of where to start.

The first, and most important, issue I would meet as someone attracted to other people (and the one that causes me the most distress personally), is how do I quantify their genders to fit the orientation names given to me? If I’m attracted to people of all genders or many, I probably don’t have to try, but if there’s just one gender, what do I mean by gender?

I’ve seen the odd bit and bob of this in the few corners of the nonbinary community that I peek in to (not for lack of trying to get involved, mind), and there’s seemingly no general consensus on how you name your attraction.

If you’re attracted to girls, you might be basing this on presentation, which is wrong because not everyone who ‘looks’ like a girl is one and that’s just plain rude to assume. If you’re going off their own personal identity, well, you’re probably already attracted to them before you get close enough to know that. If you’re going off genitals, again you’re not going to know beforehand and are being pretty darn transphobic. If you go for ‘feminine presenting’, well, what counts as feminine? What if that person doesn’t see it as feminine? There’s also the issue that ‘feminine’ looks different on different people — trans women have their femininity policed, as do people of different races, and so ‘femininity’ is likely always going to be seen through a racist and transmisogynistic lens.

Basically, saying ‘I like girls’ is a lot more complicated – and impossible to talk about – than it might seem, and it’s my major reason for hating our current model of attraction-based-on-gender.

The second reason, while less important overall, is more imperative from a personal perspective.

Let’s say I like girls*, and this statement actually passes muster by some miraculous act of fate. That’s great, but how do I use it to inform my identity? I’m nonbinary, so I’m not a girl; does that mean my attraction is heterosexual? Technically, yes, but that’s not my lived experience — going out with a girl as someone who is generally ‘read’ as a girl does not feel heterosexual; the way we are treated together is not the way a straight couple would be treated, plus I have enough internalised homophobia to last me a lifetime and affect me for just as long. So, I guess I call myself a lesbian or gay then — but then I’m erasing my own gender in a way I don’t feel comfortable with. **

Similarly, let’s say (slightly less hypothetically since I have a boyfriend) that I like boys. We’re certainly of different genders (in identity, expression and assigned gender at birth), so I can’t say I’m gay or lesbian (although I understand that some people do and I totally get that). But the idea of calling myself heterosexual grates, as it denies my gender and just isn’t something that I feel I experience; being ‘read’ as a straight couple when with my boyfriend is a real pain and erasure. It’s different to internalised homophobia and external homophobia but that doesn’t mean it’s not real or doesn’t matter, so I refuse to endorse that it.

And, since I don’t want to write a binary post, let’s finally look at me liking other nonbinary people. I could call myself gay, but there are two problems with that. First of all, it might not feel that way if we have different expressions, possibly different identities, and have different agab or are ‘read’ differently. Secondly, calling myself gay for liking nonbinary people reinforces the binary, because it gives an extra ‘outlier’ option and that’s it — we’re all seen as the same, rather than a multitude of people with a multitude of identities that are not all the same. This then leads to three options. First, using a multiple-attracted term if I’m attracted to multiple nonbinary genders. Second, using ‘heterosexual’ (with all the issues and caveats discussed in the two paragraphs above) if I like a person of a different nonbinary gender to me. Or third, using gay if I like a person of the same nonbinary gender as me (which would be difficult to know since I don’t know what my own gender is, and would also bring up the same issues as discussed in the two paragraphs above).

Tl;dr: the gender-based model of orientation terms really fall down when taking into account nonbinary genders and related gender theory/terminology (this hypothetical scenario didn’t even take genderfluidity and people who identify as more than one gender into account and it still broke the system). Therefore, I’m really happy that I’m on the aro and ace spectrums, because it means that I don’t have to make a choice in this lose-lose game.

*Quick disclaimer that this paragraph is speaking about my own previous personal experiences, although there were a lot of confounding variables at the time so I’ve kept it as simple as possible and primarily hypothetical.

**Note that I’m aware of the other options of not giving it a name or using something vague like ‘queer’, but obviously these fall outside the gender-based orientation model and that’s what I’m criticising so I’ll leave those out.

Labels, Labels, Labels

Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my views may have changed since this was first written.

This post is for the May 2015 Carnival of Aces.

I think I put across the impression that I like labels, but that’s not quite the case.

Don’t get me wrong – I love having tools to describe myself and my experiences. Beginning to identify with ‘asexual’ (which I did a year ago this month!) was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve met some great people, found a world that I finally understand… it’s been really awesome.

But sometimes I look at my labels and want to hit my head repeatedly against a wall. Calling myself ‘sex-averse/repulsed/indifferent/negative asexual, grey/wtf/demi/possibly lith/aromantic’… well, it’s a mouthful – and it’s a mouthful that tells me that a lot of the labels and models that I currently have access to aren’t quite working for me. As someone who needs an explanation for everything, I find it frustrating.

Of course, if this was my psychology class, someone would shout out that this whole labelling thing is clearly too reductionist to work – I should see myself as the confused creature I am and leave it at that – but there’s something very satisfying about being able to describe your experience in one word.

So what do I do? Do I pick one of these words out of a hat? Find the one that’s closest and hope it works for me? That’s sort of what I’ve been doing recently (if someone asked I’d probably just say ‘greyromantic asexual’), and it does work for the most part… but I’m an ace at heart, and the urge to find a model that works is consuming.

The problem is that I don’t have a clue how models even come about. Does one just throw it out there and see if people agree with your assessment of the situation? And where do you even get the ideas from?

I guess that the first step is to look at what isn’t working with what we’ve got currently.

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Dressing Asexily and Androgynously Femme

Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my views may have changed since this was first written.

I went clothes shopping with my Mum yesterday. I was super unsure about going since I’m having a fashion identity crisis, but we didn’t do too bad – clothes these days are mainly awful, but I decided to style myself after Kitty Winters (off Elementary) for a while since the only clothes I know I’ll wear are my skinny jeans and I’m just a little bit platonically in love with her.

But back to the point – I’m having a clothes-related identity crisis.

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What Does… Oh

Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my personal identification has changed since I wrote this post (check my about for more information).

This is a post for the February 2015 Carnival of Aces on Cross-Community Connections.

I’m an old hand at identity crises by this point, so you might assume that my recent adventures into the land of gender would be reasonably easy. You might also assume that, after asking the same question (‘what does ___ feel like’) twice already, and getting so annoyed by the vague answers that I actually created a survey to get more concrete answers*, I should be able to spot what I’m asking myself straight away, as the title of this post suggests.

Alas, your assumptions (which have also been mine, and will probably be mine again at some point in my life) are incorrect. I asked myself ‘what does gender identity feel like’, and, instead of quickly answering myself with the prerequisite ‘you know it if you feel it’, I wandered around the internet looking for an answer. Although a lot of people have been very sweet in sharing their own experiences with me (which I entirely appreciate), I still haven’t found an answer to satisfy me. Just as I haven’t found an answer for what sexual attraction feels like or what romantic attraction feels like. In fact, if anything, I’m more confused about gender identity.

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Which is Better? There’s Only One Way to Find Out…

Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my views may have changed since it was first written.

I’ve been thinking about this post quite a lot recently. In short, it’s about what part of your identity you see as the important bit – your sexual orientation or your romantic orientation.

I read this post when I thought I was alloromantic, and I vaguely remember deciding I was part of the group who saw their romantic orientation as more important. That’s a load of rubbish (or possibly just a load of internalised acephobia) – I prioritised my asexuality, because that was the bit that was going to affect my life. The fact that it’s taken me so long to even question my romantic orientation surely proves that all I ever thought about was my asexuality; I just liked to pretend that I was ‘normal’ because I’d managed to get lost in the ‘we may be asexual but we can still love so we’re not weird please love us’ rhetoric.

Now, however, I’m not sure which group I fit in. Or rather, I know which group I fit in, but it wasn’t the one I was expecting – I’m still in the sexuality over romanticism group. I still reblog more ace-related stuff, I still have an (admittedly lovely) ace icon,and if two different people shouted for an ace and an aro respectively, I’d almost certainly turn towards the person who wanted an ace. The only time I ever relate more with aromanticism is when I’m in an overly-romantic ace space (or when I talk to my friends about the ace characters they’re writing  and feel horridly certain that they’ll be romantic even though I haven’t asked).

I’ve been trying to work out why that is, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It could be (almost certainly is) arophobia, just like how I thought I would prioritise my romantic orientation because of acephobia. However, somehow that explanation just doesn’t sit quite right with me. It’s similarly possible that being a hopeless romantic for eighteen years of life has made it hard for me to relate to aros who’ve known they’re aro since the dawn of time. I think that’s likely a part of it, but not all of it. Although I still use greyromantic rather than greyaromantic, the more terrible love-story films I watch (such as the sickening Love Actually), the more distanced from romantic society I feel.

It could also be that I’m not ‘fully’ aromantic – or that I’m still not entirely sure what labels to even give my romantic orientation. It could be that there’s more of an asexual community on tumblr than an aro one, and my confidence in my orientation feeds off that community.

Talking of community, actually, has made me feel like I’ve hit the nail on the head, and can wrap all those theories into one. There have been a lot of people in the aromantic tags recently talking about how asexuality and aromanticism aren’t the same thing, and that allosexual aros exist, and the idea always makes me a little bit uncomfortable to think about because I’m sex averse and want to see the aro tags as a safe and sex-less place.I identify more with asexuality than aromanticism because I’m sex-averse but a hopeless romantic who’s not entirely aro, and so I feel more comfortable in a completely nonsexual community than a nonromantic one, therefore I feel more comfortable in the ace community than the aro one (because I can deal with romance a lot more than sex, at least for now). That leads me to feel more comfortable in my asexual identity than my aromantic one because I don’t spend as much time in the aro community because it doesn’t feel as safe, and that makes me identify more with asexuality, basically just creating a giant and unending loop of wanting to run away from sexual people but not being quite as scared of romantic people (or even hanging onto them like a child as a form of arophobia).

And if none of my rambling made sense to you – don’t worry, barely makes sense to me either.

Representation: Who Gives a Fuck?

Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my views may have changed since this was first written.

If you follow me (and maybe even if you don’t), you might have seen a bit of an argument ensuing yesterday about aro representation, among other things. I’ve also seen a lot of other stuff about representation recently, and I felt like talking about it. Under the cut because it got long and angry and a little bit sweary.

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