Connecting With Words

I don’t know if there’s a word for the feeling you get when you hear a word for the first time and for some reason it feels like home. Something that you connect with instantly. I’ve experienced this feeling a handful of times but often initially rejected the word that speaks to me.

The first time I was probably about 8, sat in the school hall for assembly. The headteacher (or whoever was talking) was reading a poem or story or something and mentioned the mythical Griffin. The description that followed captured my heart and to this day if someone asks me for my favourite mythical creature my instant reply is that of the half-eagle half-lion. I can still picture the initial mental image that I had of the beast flying, and the joy that it gave me. It’s a strange example, but its the first time that a word really resonated with me and claimed a place in my heart.

Another time was coming across the word ‘asexual’ on tumblr. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, only that I became aware of the concept and immediately started reading more and questioning whether this was me. I rejected the label for a good few months because it just didn’t feel like I was feeling anything different to anyone else. I find it easy to talk yourself out of asexuality, easy to dismiss yourself.

The same denial process happened when I came across the word ‘transmasculine’. It was a similar situation, coming across the term along with the definition and how transmasculine is different to transman. Instantly I was intrigued. I felt like this was something I wanted to know more about, so I did some reading before deciding it wasn’t me. The concept stayed with me though for almost a year as I started to become more and more uncomfortable with my assigned gender, until I revisited it and it felt like a warm hug.Looking back its strange to me that I didn’t take the label right away, but its a process and I think the fact that my labels spoke to me long before I incorporated them into my identity says a lot.

I feel like there’s probably a word out there, maybe not in English but in some other language for the concept of connecting with a word instantly. And thats why labels are important.

Joining the Ace Community

Written for the October 2016 Carnival of Aces

As I mentioned in my previous post for the carnival, it took me a long time to start identifying with the label of Asexual after the first time I came across the term. Seeing as I mostly covered my journey to identification in that post, I think I’ll cover my thoughts and experiences with the community in this one.

It’s getting pretty close to 3 years since I took the label as my own, wow time flies. My first experiences were on tumblr, probably around Ace Awareness Week looking back on it. I just remember a whole lot of validation posts being reblogged by the people I was following. This in turn led me to do further research until I gradually ended up following several ace people and feeling a connection to them when they made comments, either on posts or in the tags, about being ace- although I never spoke to them. Reblogging ace-positive content was my way of being a part of the community even though I didn’t know anybody.

When the Ace Penpal Project was started I watched from the sidelines, being too nervous talking to people (and having an incredible inability to hold a conversation). I think it took a good few months before I actually put my name down and was matched with a fellow ace person. She was lovely, we chatted, but like all of my online conversations it tailed off after a month or so which was a shame. But I mean, we didn’t have a lot in common so it makes sense. I think that’s the problem with being matched with someone at random, but it was a nice experience.

Shortly after (for unrelated reasons) I mostly stopped using tumblr and started spending more time on WordPress where I came across other members of the community, those who were writing about their experiences which felt extremely validating to me- more so than short posts on tumblr telling me I was valid- and was part of the reason I started this blog in order to do the same for other people.

Until recently I hadn’t met any openly ace people in person, until my aunt came out to me a while ago and one of my friends recently updated their tumblr profile (something that I’d had a feeling about for a while based on the way that they seemed very uncomfortable when sex was mentioned like I did).

I don’t think I really feel like I am part of the community, I just identify the same way as other people who are. To me, being a part of the ace community is about self-validation and pride. About finding a group of people who have similar experiences to me and knowing that if I ever need to vent there’ll be someone there who gets it (because as much as my non-ace friends can offer words of comfort its not the same). And even though I feel like I’m right on the edge of the community, its where I want to be.

Naming It

Written for the August 2016 Carnival of Aces.

This month’s topic is based around names and terms used within the ace community to describe our experiences. I can’t remember the first time I came across the word ‘Asexual’, partly because it took me so darn long to actually start identifying with it. Until then, I hadn’t even considered the fact that what I was feeling was different to most peoples’ experiences. But now it’s like a warm blanket, or a shield. Something that comforts and protects me (even if I don’t tell people. It’s a kind of internal reassurance I guess).

When it did finally click that maybe the word asexual actually fitted my experiences it was a weird moment. It took several months between my first exposure to the community on tumblr and me deciding that yes, this was me. In the process of deliberation, I ended up delving deep into the terminology used by other asexuals- learning that romantic attraction is not inherently the same as sexual attraction for instance, or that asexuality is a spectrum with so many identities under the umbrella (some of which I’m still discovering now- whether that’s because they’ve just been named or I’ve only just been exposed to it is something I’m unsure about).

And that’s another thing. Exposure.

I think that part of the reason it took me so long to start identifying as Asexual was because it seemed like some kind of made up thing. Something that seemed so obscure, and surely it was just aimed at the people like me who’d never been in a relationship, right? The awkward kids, giving us an excuse to not have a partner.

The other day I was with my aunt, both of us scrolling through social media. She reached a post of different flags and pointed out the asexual one, saying that that was her. Then she misread aromantic as aromatic and was confused, what was this? So after I’d explained that within the community there’s often a distinction made between sexual and romantic attraction- you don’t need to feel neither- and that this has a name, she looked stunned. That’s the power of names. They can work in one of two ways: you come across one that doesn’t fit your experience and are enlightened as to how your experiences differ from other peoples; or you come across a name, term or definition that you click with.

Names have the power to easily convey to others the way you feel, to differentiate between similar but different experiences, to find other people who also connect with this word. If nothing else, names give you something to type into google when you think this word might be you but you’re not quite sure yet. And I think that’s pretty cool.

“Just a Phase”

Today I went into town with my friends to run some errands and we stopped to get a coffee. I’m not entirely sure how we got onto the subject of phases, all I remember of the conversation prior to this was us talking about what we’ve actually got from our degrees.

My friend who was sat opposite me started talking about how phases shouldn’t be disregarded and are just as much a part of a person as a constant trait. That yes, sexuality or gender may be a phase but its real at that time and whether it is a phase lasting 6 weeks or 60 years its still a valid part of someone’s life. Putting the word ‘just’ in front of it belittles it and makes it into something trivial. Using the word ‘phase’ suggests its temporary and therefore unimportant. We came to the conclusion that people are scared of change and want everything to stay constant which is why it the idea of people being fluid is hard to accept- it makes it harder to put people into a neatly defined box. That this is probably why so many people dismiss others’ experiences as “just a phase”.

“It’s not a phase, it’s who I am” has become something of an internet meme, usually said in a sarcastic tone to joke about a controversial appearance or choice [example: I used it when my hair was an absolute mess the other day and my friend commented on it]. But I feel that phases should be taken more seriously, nobody is the same person now as they were in the past.

I was a child once, now I’m an adult. Nobody tells me I was lying then, or that I’m lying now. Everyone just accepts that it was a part of my history and I’ve changed. It would be ridiculous of them to assume that me being an adult is only temporary and I’ll actually turn out to be a child all along. So why do it with other aspects of peoples’ identities?

Phases define who people are. A passing interest may be outgrown, or may be pursued. Trials with different labels may help people find the one that truly fits them. They may go back to their original. And that’s OK. Experimentation and fluidity of identities should be accepted because people grow. People change. And they’re allowed to change back.

Being Validated While Revising

In the process of reading scientific papers for my Human Behavioural Ecology module this term, I came across an absolute gem by G.A. Schuiling*. Its a personal view so is written in a much less formal style than most papers and is a collection of the existing research interspersed with Schuiling’s comments and opinions. One of my favourite sections of the paper is the paragraph:

Almost every aspect of human culture and indeed of man’s daily life emphasizes the fact that, for humans, reproduction is the raison d’etre; we are thoroughly sexual beings. Literature from ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ to pulp novels and soap operas; art, both in the Vatican and in avant garde galleries; advertisement; music (from operas like Orfeo & Euridice and Le Nozze di Figaro to most pop songs): literally everything is pervaded with sexual images.

Asexual people often make the comment that sex is everywhere, and its nice to have it pointed out from a scientific point of view, even in passing- it feels validating, in a way.

(Sorry for the short post and not posting in a while, life is hectic at the moment with dissertation and exam revision. I have a load of ideas for when I have time to write again though!)

* G.A. Schuiling (2003) The benefit and the doubt: why monogamy? Journal of Psychosomatic Obsetrics & Gynecology, 24:1, 55-61

I’m Hidden But That’s Fine With Me

Written for the April 2016 Carnival of Aces.

This month’s topic is “Be yourself (but stretch)” which is really interesting and it’s made me think about how I see and change my behaviour in everyday life in relation to my asexuality which..isn’t much to be honest.

I think I’m pretty much myself, I don’t change my behaviour a lot depending on who I’m with. Only my close friends know that I’m ace but it doesn’t really affect anything- its a pretty neutral friend group where sex isn’t all that essential to conversations. I mean, having my housemates commenting on characters being ‘hot’ and making lewd comments or talking about how they think of sex a lot and I’m like ‘really?’ can sometimes make me feel out of place, like I’m missing out on something.If I make any comment on how I don’t experience that kind of thing they tend to say things along the lines of ‘well of course you don’t’ which…I don’t know. On the one hand it’s reassuring, at least they get that I see things differently. On the other hand it feels kind of…like pity? Or them doing their best to accommodate me?

Not being out to my family can be tough at family gatherings, but I find that just shrugging off questions about having a partner and saying I’m not interested tends to work pretty well. I think having my sister there most of the time helps, the person asking then has somebody else to direct their question at. I’m not sure if I’ll come out at all, it doesn’t really have a major impact on my life because I’m not often in directly sexual/confrontational situations and I’d rather not invite interrogation.

If I need to reaffirm my ace identity, I tend to put on my ace beanie that my friend knitted for me, or wrap myself in my ace scarf. Social media is pretty good too, there are certain blogs and pages that are very comforting to visit if I’m not feeling great.

Overall, being invisible and being myself seem to roughly equate to the same thing so I don’t really need to stretch that much, but that may all change in the future when I’m no longer in education and I’m in the Real World.

 

Gender and Asexuality

Written for the March 2016 Carnival of Aces.  

Firstly, I just want to say how much I love this month’s topic! The link between gender norms and asexuality is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately so this ended up being a bit of a long post (sorry not sorry).

I think there’s a strong link between traditional ideas of gender and sexuality. I mean, if you assume that everybody is heterosexual its easiest to assume that everybody is also either a boy or a girl; like magnets you get one person from each box and pair them up. But the problem is, not everybody fits into these boxes. This wanting to place people into categories thing is interesting- it produces the idea that in order to be attractive to the people in the opposite camp you must fit the stereotypes of your designated group, just like magnets. All well and good for people who want to attract others, but what about people who don’t want to? I feel in this way asexuality is somewhat freeing.

I say somewhat because although I don’t feel any pressure to conform to femininity in order to be ‘attractive’, I still feel bound by the social pressures to be a certain way. I’ve never felt particularly feminine and would probably be more comfortable if everybody was androgynous, something I touched on in this post. Wrider’s comment on said post:

 If sex organs aren’t really an integral part to an asexual that doesn’t like sex and gender “generally lines up with your sex, and if you feel like it doesn’t then you’re transgender/agender etc” the whole thing seems to fall apart. We sort of don’t have a sex to line it up with

puts into words what I’m trying to get at here; that because such emphasis is put on everyone eventually finding a partner the logical assumption is that this search must have a massive impact on your identity. The ace community is, therefore, possibly less attached to the binary gender system (these are just my thoughts based on my experiences, and I don’t expect them to represent everybody).

I’m now at a place where I’m happy with my ace-ness, and it may be unrelated but at the same sort of time that I started to accept that I don’t have to be a certain way to please people I started to question my gender. So much of my identity had been based on my family’s expectations of me being a girl and therefore acting feminine and eventually finding a nice man to settle down with (no thank you, I’ll just collect cats and dogs if that’s alright). So when I started to think about what would make me happiest, the easy answer was complete and total androgyny. I can listen to the more masculine part of my identity. I don’t have to be feminine unless it’s what I want to do and right now, it’s not. Again, I’m not sure how much is linked to my asexuality but in my eyes not feeling the pressure to conform in order to be an acceptable partner is definitely a massive weight lifted that allows me to be a lot more free with my identity.

Gender doesn’t play a role in my platonic attraction as such, but I do feel a lot more comfortable around people who aren’t hyper masculine/feminine. I’ve always tended to be friends with ‘unpopular’ people for this reason- I find them a lot easier to get along with and that gender plays a smaller role in the friendship group, but that might just be my own personal experience. It plays a larger role in aesthetic attraction, I definitely spend more time admiring androgynous people than pretty girls/handsome men (although I do appreciate anybody who is dressed well). In my friendships gender norms tend to not play too large a role, with nobody in my friendship group going out of their way to be super feminine most of the time. I much prefer to make friends where gender doesn’t come into the equation and we can all just be people and spend time in each others company without having to draw lines around the genders, if that makes sense.

I don’t know how much is related to being ace but if gender norms could disappear and we could all just be people I would be a whole lot happier.