You’re either unhappy or broken

This post is for the Carnival of Aces, this month hosted by a glittering gold maybe on the topic of ‘over emphasis placed on romantic/sexual relationships’

Given I worked a wedding last night and have another one to work tonight (it’s a public holiday too) and can’t think of an event that puts more emphasis on romantic/sexual relationships than a wedding, it’s pretty much an event that turns signing a piece of paper into putting the relationship on a pedestal. Honestly I’ve reached the point where I’m retreating out the back during speeches in the hope of finding something to do due to the romantic clinches in pretty much every one. But enough ranting and onto the actual post.

The emphasis that is put on romantic/sexual relationships is every where and often extremely subtle, to the extent that in many cases it amazes people when something doesn’t take a romantic twist. There is also a lot of pressure for people to get into these relationships and a common trend is that people not in these relationships are unhappy. One article I saw around the start of the year described singles as the unhappiest people during the recent holiday season, I’d try to find a link to this article but Valentines Day is only a few weeks away and the articles for that are already starting so you should be able to find more of these types of articles very soon.

The problem with how pervasive this message is, is how easy it is to internalise this message. I’ve always found that when I’m at my most depressed it is often when I’m in need of companionship (usually hugs/cuddles) but I can start pondering whether I should be getting into a romantic style relationship or finding my thoughts drifting there, despite a lack of interest. Before I discovered asexuality I was very much feeling that common broken feeling, not for the lack of sexual attraction, but for the belief that I should be in a romantic/sexual relationship (I didn’t really distinguish between which one, but put more emphasis on the sexual part). This feeling is shrinking now but it has taken alot of effort to overcome this mindset, and doubt still creeps in every so often. There are times where I could be considered romantically (and sometimes sex) negative as I can come across a bit hostile, but this is more an extreme response to the subtle unquestioning presentation of these relationships.

Setting up people into these types of relationships can considered be considered a favour and something that can be boasted about. It is also an area people love to pry into or speculate about. I had a smirk on my face when I was texting at a friend’s the other day, she asked me if I was texting a girl, technically she was correct; it was my mum asking about dinner and going nowhere and getting silly. It’s been a long time that I’ve ever shown any sort of interest in anyone with these friends but they still pry. I could probably mention many more things just within this group that show just how subtle the emphasis on these romantic/sexual relationships is, often you may not even notice people are looking at things from that perspective. 

I show very little interest in these things and deliberately don’t talk about things or leave them vague to stop friends from making, implying or trying to find a romantic/sexual element to whatever has happened. It also can make it hard for me to meet new people as the way I behave can make it seem like I may have that sort of interest so I tend to back off to avoid giving that impression which probably means I miss opportunities for friendships.

Over coming these thins is possible though, I have a couple of friends that I spend time with in what could be considered romantic, one of which if you looked from outside it would usually be considered romantic (in fact one friend thought that may have caused friction with another friend) however with this friend I have a strong platonic friendship where it isn’t an issue to share a bowl of pasta with only a single fork between us. 

The emphasis put onto romantic/sexual relationships is very difficult to ignore due to its subtle unquestioned nature and the expectation that you should want a relationship. Internalising these messages made me feel broken and whilst I’m slowly getting over this internalisation the periods I feel broken are getting less and the close friendships I’m forming are becoming far more valuable and closer to a form I would like. I’m still cautious though as I have to make assumptions about what the other people are thinking and often this is going to assume they place an emphasis on the romantic/sexual relationships, whether correct or not.

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Changing with Self-Acceptance

This post is for the December Carnival of Aces with the subject of Change.

For me change is closely linked with self-acceptance and identity as I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am asexual (and probably more so, especially recently, my aromantism) and how I view everything around me.

I’ve been identifying as asexual for almost 18 months now, before this time though I was very much trying to fit into a stereotype that I was uncomfortable with but incapable of realising. Since  coming to identify and accepting that I was asexual, which took around 6 months, I have started to look on things far more critically. The reductionist model that the asexual community tends to follow is one I can very much relate to. I am consistently breaking down how I experience things and where at first I spent a lot of time trying to work out my identity in all encompassing terms, I now look at individual aspects in small detail and try to relate them to each other. This breakthrough probably is the reason I realised I was aromantic, about 12 months ago, and has grown more refined since.

I have however found that I’ve also become more critical of social norms in regards to sex and romance. I have to be careful not to let my frustration show through and reflect it onto people in social situations, which I’m particularly bad with around my friend’s that I’ve come out too. This is probably made worse by the fact that I’m still working things out which I tend to do by jumping between extremes until I find an equilibrium. 

I’ve also had changing attitudes towards activism. Once I got involved in the local meetup group and looking at more of the online material, consuming as much as I could, I felt I should do something. Lately I’ve been more content to let it go a bit and just enjoy myself and work on my personal issues. (This is also partly being too busy to give time to the ideas I was working on and that I missed the deadlines to do them correctly as it will require a lot of network building too. However at the moment I’m content with coordinating the local meetup group)

So overall the biggest change I’ve found is that I’m better able to work out my own identity as I can further break it down but at the same time am more critical of the pressure that I had subconsciously felt from social norms and expectations. Which has given me more confidence to be myself. Oh, and it’s also been aided by finding a fantastic group of new friends.

What is attractive?

This post is one I’ve been thinking of doing almost since I started this blog but never got around to writing. In many ways it builds on what on Ace Theist’s Attraction posts, that I would also encourage you to read as it focuses more of differentiating types of attraction, which I’m going to refer to but not go into any depth on. Rather I will be looking at what we consider to be attractive and the language that is used to describe it.

Everybody in the world recognises what is beautiful,
and deems it to be “beautiful”
and then there is “ugliness”

Tao te Ching

Beauty and ugliness —
how different are they really?

Tao te Ching

These two quotes are extracts from verses of the Tao te Ching (translations will vary) written before 300 BC. The first thing to be considered when looking at these quotes is that language was very much being analysed and the way in which it could be used.

The first quote looks at the fact that initially we actually have no concept of what is beautiful until it has been taught to us by somebody else, and that it in turn creates it’s opposite ugliness (effectively the have not). The second quote looks at how beauty and ugliness are social conventions that are learned (this verse focuses on “learning”) and how they they can change over time, often switching places.

In many ways these concepts haven’t changed at all we still have changing concepts of what is beautiful and ugly and these are still taught to us by society, often through media at a subconscious level and we still have changes in what is deemed beautiful and of course the concept of beauty and ugliness can be the exact opposite or completely unrelated in different cultures or even social groups.

Of course what is beautiful is often considered attractive and ugly the opposite, unattractive. In many cases we will be shown what is attractive by the media as it is more appealing to watch, whilst the other can be considered radical at best. Though it doesn’t take long to see how these concepts have changed and the radical can become attractive whilst the attractive becomes unattractive.

I’m going to keep this post focused on aesthetic attraction as it is probably the easiest to examine within this context, but remember that this can apply to any sort of attraction from sexual to financial attraction. The easiest thing to look at is the way the human body is portrayed, particularly the female body. We constantly see bodies in media and are informed of what is attractive. Of course this means we are constantly assessing people on how attractive they are. This article Surprise: Men focus on women’s bodies, not faces, is not really surprising, as it says in the article most women could probably already tell you this. However the part I found most interesting was how women have the same pattern when looking at other women. Whilst the article thinks it is for social reasons, I would argue it is part of the social construct around what is attractive and what we have been taught to think about what that means about someone, and that men have been taught to put more emphasis on the aesthetic appearance of women when assessing them such that it is almost expected. The distinction of sexual and aesthetic attraction isn’t even made here but merely assumed, however I would argue that primarily both sexes are assessing the aesthetic beauty as they have learned to do and the sexual attractiveness is a secondary inclusion, mostly for men who have learnt what they should find attractive in this way. (Of course personal preference will also be a factor in this but I’m going for a more general overview here to same time.)

Of course language is also a problem here as we know have words such as “hot” and “sexy” being used to describe almost everything. Sexy being a fantastic example of how a word can lose its meaning. Sexy is now becoming a synonym for attractive due to its overuse, often in an attempt to be cool and in line with modern culture. This restricts our ability to recognise what is attractive, as some things are not sexually attractive (to most people at least) but are attractive for different reason. But the wrong words make it harder to communicate what is attractive and using the wrong words give more weight to specific types of attraction. This only makes it harder for us to differentiate and identifying what is attractive and why is it.

To close I’m going to leave the following clip from Gruen Planet (an Australian show about advertising) from there segment The Pitch. In this clip an advertising company had to make an ad trying to create a new bodily insecurity in men. The main question to ask yourself when watching it is: why is that voice attractive?

Upcoming posts

Well I haven’t been blogging much lately. Mostly due to laziness but also due to moving house, exams and not having anything to add to the Carnival of Aces topics. So this post is more about putting together a list of topics together (some of which I’ve been sitting on since I started this blog) and trying to motivate myself to actually write them.

If there are any of these topics or another topic that you would like me to write about let me know in the comment and I’ll try to make it a priority, which should help motivate me.

  • What is attractive? – this is building on what the Ace Theist posted some months back but is an article I’d planned for months just didn’t have access to a book for a quote I wanted.
  • Differentiating attraction, will it help others? – expansion of a conversation I walked away from at a wedding recently, More general LGBT focus but also brings up generational issues.
  • How I use labels – looking at how I externally and internally use labels, this might end up being a more about how I identify as well and some of the areas of doubt. Possibly break into a couple of posts.
  • Guide to organising/attending meetups – not sure on whether I’ll do this one yet but will be based on my experiences attending and organising my meetup group over the last year.
  • Relationship musings – basically what it says
  • Stress responses and aversion – looking at sex-aversion/repulsion and some responses. Mostly based on my (confusing) responses at a strip club.
  • Working out my boundaries – focus on physical boundaries and trying to work out where they are and how my idea of these boundaries has changed over time
  • Being male and asexual – question that was asked of me at the first meetup I went to but never actually answered.

That should be enough for the moment but there may be more added later.

Fluidity: A terrifying idea

This post is for the September Carnival of Aces on the subject of fluidity hosted by Demi Graydient.

“The idea of fluidity terrifies me,” is not an exact quote of what one of the aces at my last meetup said, but close enough, when discussing this month’s topic. And I have to agree. It is the proverbial double edged sword, both comforting and terrifying.

When I first discovered asexuality, it didn’t take me long to also discover gray-a. It took me a while before I decided that asexual suited better and that has felt more certain as time has passed. However the initial decision was aided by the fact that it could shift and at the time the fluidity concept made that easier to accept as if it did shift it isn’t unnatural or wrong, and I haven’t been lying to myself the whole time.

I have also come to be reasonably secure and more confident in my identity since identifying as asexual, ands the idea of that shifting and having to go through that search for identity is a terrifying idea. This was the concern of the person who I’ve quoted. For me, it could be carried further as it would also make me feel that I no longer would fit or had lied to the local meetup group which has rapidly become a group of friends I greatly value. 

From a broader perspective it also supports doubt, to use Sciatrix’s analogy, from a couple of months ago, it encourages you to keep searching “for a wi-fi network that [may] never appear.” It can also encourage the scepticism in others when you come out, particularly for teenagers who get the it’s only a phase response, queenieoface’s post for last months carnival (teenagers) covers many of these issues which are directly linked to the fluidity concept (and how the asexual community tends to use it) including the pros and cons much better than I can and in more depth than I wish to in this post.

Fluidity is a terrifying concept to consider in that it acknowledges that you could change and then send you back into period of identity confusion, it also encourages you to keep doubting by constantly checking that nothing has changed. However it is comforting to know that if it did change that you were correct at the time and it is perfectly acceptable (assuming you don’t question if you were wrong all along).

What does the A stand for?

The A (or whether there should be one) in LGBT stands for seems to be a regular debate that can be seen on Tumblr. This has been an issue on which I normally just shrug and go “who cares?” though I do consider it to be an issue I think it also highlights an issue with the terms that are being used, and whether LGBT has become a hindrance with more and more letters being tagged on. Though this has the issue of a what alternative is there and is it any better?

LGBT (or in the Australian context, not uncommonly LGBTI in media) has the advantage that it it is well known and it’s letters aid in education. Most people could tell you what each one stands for and give you a brief description of what each terms even if not well understood. This has the advantage of it is well known and it educates people by it’s own existence. However it does have the downside that it doesn’t cover everything, one way around this is to try to put more things under a single label within the acronym. An example being from BeyondBlue who disclose that they use Trans* as an umbrella term for various gender and sex expressions. This has the advantage of avoiding any more additions to the acronym.

But how does LGBT address the addition of those who don’t fit under an existing letter? This has two answers:

1. Don’t add them

2. Add a new letter

The problem is how do you measure or justify if a new letter should be added? The first option risks erasing that group and preventing a strong and simple method of visibility and education. Whilst the second option then requires what letter to use and could see it become too cumbersome and nobody adopting the new additions. Also what else is included under that letter. The fact that letters keep being added in many cases to the point that some people refer to the term as alphabet soup shows that there is an issue. The term can be too inclusive and end up unintentionally erasing people through its intention to be including to everybody and any additions are considered irrelevant and the term is shortened anyway.

So what are the alternatives?

The most common term is GSRM (Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Minorities) though sometimes the R is dropped or letters rearranged. This term has its advantages in that it is reasonably clear (though still open) in its interpretation and gives a reasonable indication of who it aims to include under it. This prevents the need to add more letters to it, as each letter cover almost everything as an umbrella term, however it is so broad that it would require breaking down to into letters and then sub-categories under them. To many people it will be seen as a bunch of letters for a special group (for lack of a better term at the moment), this loses the biggest advantage of LGBT in that the same ease of self-educating isn’t there and it is easier to dismiss as the terms aren’t indirectly learnt.

So is one better?

This would depend on the context of the debate and how broad you want the term to be. If you want to improve visibility the advantage is with LGBT but it lack the same degree of flexibility and has the potential to create erasure through lack of inclusion. GSRM is more inclusive however lacks the ability for people to learn the terms as easily thus being easier to dismiss the term or have groups within it overlooked. Ultimately I think the advantage lies with LGBT, though a rethink of how letters are used on it needs to be done in the online communities to prevent it becoming too cumbersome. Within the mainstream however letter additions are going to be determined by major organisations and the media, which will depend on the people that campaign for the inclusion of the new letters.

And the answer to the title?

The debate on tumblr usually is a debate of whether the A stands for asexual or allies. I honestly cannot see why allies needs to be included, yes there is a need to acknowledge them but it doesn’t serve the purpose of the acronym to have them in there and in fact can undermine it’s power. If an A is added it should stand for asexual and likely will also include many of the grey-spectrum areas.

However until the debate settles and there is less additions to the term I’m still going to be thinking “Who cares, the term is having its strength removed, at least with GSRM we wouldn’t be having this ridiculous debate”

Carnival of Aces: Teenagers and Asexuality

This post is for the August 2013 Carnival of Aces.

When I first saw the topic for this month I wasn’t sure what to write as I’ve been out of high school for almost 5 years now and didn’t discover asexuality until last year. Interestingly this month my school has been asking alumni if anyone could give a speech on their early high school years and my first thought was that anything I could say would be viewed through my new views of which my teenage years contain a lot of ace and aro moments. As such I’ve decided that this post will be a bit of reminiscing (a post I’ve been wanting to do anyway) and advice for people still in their teens and particularly high school.

Feel free to ignore the rambling if you wish and skip to the last paragraph, I won’t be offended, as the key points are at the end.

Much of my teenage years can be looked at as both having to comply with a set of expectations of teenagers and being completely oblivious. I went into high school with the expectation that I should be crushing on people, most of the the time. This lead to what I could call (and at the time did) “crushes.” These tended to be on people I admired or had some sort of respect for, my first girlfriend came from one of these situations (thankfully I was rejected the only other time I asked a girl out). That lead to an awkward date (mostly me not picking up on cues when I look back) and only lasted 3 weeks, I also had no issue afterwards which apparently wasn’t normal.

This obliviousness got more exaggerated once things started becoming more sexual. This took two forms, my own belief in how I reacted to my “crushes” (which will be referred to as squishes from now on), and in my ability to understand and interact with friends and peers. On a personal level it was confusing especially in how I felt about my squishes and thinking I needed to feel sexual attraction for them and mentally forcing arousal to convince myself I felt what I thought I should. This was further complicated by my inability to understand how some of my friends and peers were acting and not getting the jokes and some of the cruder discussion that went on. This could be particularly awkward when judging how my other friends were reacting.

I was fortunate though that during this time I feel into the group that could arguably be referred to as the misfits, so there was less pressure to conform to the general expectations. However it is worth mentioning that I’ve always had a tendency to be able to ignore peer pressure, I was one of the few people that would keep their shirt tucked in right through primary school and preferred to do so during high school. This meant that despite not knowing how I was different I was usually acting how I wanted to act and pursing what I wanted. I’d ignore friends when I carried my sports uniform in a bag that embarrassed them, did drama (for a short time anyway) and was one of the few males (ie. two) that performed in one of the dance performances that the school entered into. So while I missed queues from friends, squishes and peers, at times didn’t understand or gave the wrong impression. Ultimately I’d learnt a while ago not to care (though a severe case of bullying had probably helped). The advantages though were that I could walk out of a number of situations that could have resulted in a lot of drama (and people expected to) as I didn’t have the feelings to worry about and didn’t want the drama to develop.

I will admit though that there were time I felt lonely or out of place however these didn’t effect me too much and I mostly was able to move on.These moments probably came from questions that I didn’t even know I needed answers to and a feeling like I should be chasing stuff that in reality I wasn’t interested in. I’ve only kept one friend from my teens that is within my school group, but that is more due to not having common interests beyond school.

TL:DR:

So what advice would I have from my experiences during my teens with the benefit of hindsight and knowledge of asexuality. Ultimately I don’t even know if knowing I was asexual (I doubt I would even have been able to determine my aromanticism at the time) would have helped. Mostly I found that I got through my teens by being true to myself and acting on my feelings, how I could interpret them at the time, this may have been confused by my impressions from outside influences on how and what I should be feelings but it did provide some learning experiences, and lessons in how others think. Ultimately my teens were a chance for me to discover a lot about myself but also about others and how they think. I would recommend any teens out there questioning remain true to their feelings and if they feel that adopting a label would suit them then do so, if not then there is no need to. It is a time when you are going to be learning a lot about yourself and the people around you (though really this process never stops, you just have more to compare to) and many things may change but how you identify is up to you and that is regardless of outside influence, other opinions, peer pressure and your age.