Maybe the Real Most Precious Thing was the Friends we Made Along the Way

This is my submission for the June 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Most Precious“.

As an aromantic person who has never really been interested in dating or anything like it, I have never had – and may never have – anything that could be commonly be described as an “intimate partner”. Even though the concept of a queerplatonic relationship – or some other form of “platonic life partner” type arrangement – is appealing on a theoretical level, it’s also not something I’ve been very motivated to pursue at this stage of my life. As such, I’ve had to look elsewhere to fill what is often considered part of the role of a “partner”, whether it’s serious matters like finding an emergency contact or someone to help get me soup and medicine if I get sick, or lighter dilemmas like finding a plus one to a party.

For many years (and to some extent to this day), I’ve turned to family for many of these roles – my parents are still my main emergency contact in many places, my sister is one of my main targets for spontaneous gift-exchanging, and I’m fortunate in that we are all close enough (and similar enough in political views and social standards) that I’ve been able to get a lot of social support from them – not to mention financial support as well, especially when I was younger and still a student. (And indeed, that financial support – as well as the benefits of a well-paying white-collar job since – have also gone a long way in smoothing over the difficulties of being a person with unconventional relationships.

However, while having a supportive family is wonderful, it only goes so far – as my parents get older, they may eventually start needing my support, not to mention the fact that we live over 300 miles apart at the moment; and as my sister is currently pursuing a professional degree on the opposite side of the country, that physical distance limits our involvement when it comes to many practical things. And while money always makes everything easier, a $20 bill alone can’t open a can of soup and heat it up on the stove when you really need it.

Instead, this is where I turn to friendships.

What Friends are For

In general, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve been able to get nearly all of my social, physical and emotional needs met through the various networks of friendships I’ve cultivated over the years, including:

  • Roommates/cohabitation with a couple of my old friends from my college student orgs, which makes for much more affordable living
  • Food and cookie deliveries from another old college friend who’s always down to make the drive to Costco or Safeway or a local clinic or pharmacy (esp. when I have no car)
  • Emotional support and sounding boards from friends online – both old friends who are now miles away, and new friends I may not even have met in person yet
  • Peer support from local ace/aro/queer folks when it comes to sexuality and gender discontentment
  • Well-off foodie friends who are happy to spot the check if I realize I forgot cash or card, or if finances were to ever get tight.
  • and more!

Over time, I’ve been fortunate enough to build up a very robust social and support circle – part of which I can attribute to deliberate strategies, like joining and getting heavily involved with various hobby/social organizations, but part of which also comes down to sheer luck (in happening to find people I can mesh with; in having the free time to spend on forging such social connections; in not having my life majorly disrupted by moves or health issues or drama that could also disrupt such friendships). Because of this, having a strong, active social and support network is something I’m incredibly aware of and always grateful for – definitely one of my “most precious” possessions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2011 AAW Committee’s Open Letter to Researchers

In 2011, the Asexual Awareness Week organizing committee released the following document, an open letter to researchers encouraging them to keep in mind several unique complications of asexual research when designing their own research project.

It was originally hosted on asexualitystudies.org, but that site went down in 2013, so the original can now only be accessed through web archives.

However, I think much of the advice remains relevent, so I wanted to re-share the letter here now, with the addition of a few small annotations based on more recent information.

Open Letter to Researchers:

We believe that researchers have an invaluable role to play in promoting understanding of asexuality, and that a better understanding of asexuality will promote a richer understanding of human sexuality more generally. Prior to the creation of online asexual communities in the early 2000s, the study of asexuality was largely limited to isolated case reports with no means of doing more systematic research. Thanks to the growth of online communities—and increasingly offline communities as well—the possibilities for researching asexuality have grown enormously, and an increasing number of people in a variety of disciplines are studying it. As members and allies of the asexual community, we are committed to promoting research on asexuality and working with researchers in a variety of fields. Based on our experience in the asexual community, we have a number of observations and recommendations:

1) People studying asexuality often face a tension between wanting to using existing instruments and developing new ones. Often, the former have already been validated (on very different populations) and using existing instruments allows for comparison with previous research. However, the possible answers to closed questions are limited to the range of variability that was expected/taken into account when creating the survey. Because the existence of asexuals was not taken seriously in the creation of many existing instruments, results from asexuals taking such surveys may be very misleading. [1]

Therefore, if existing instruments are used, the fact that they have been validated on other populations should not be taken to indicate they are valid for asexuals. Crunch the numbers, but also keep in mind that measures of internal consistency (e.g., Cronbach alpha) assess psychometric reliability and neither determine construct validity nor content validity. Verifying an instrument’s construct (or content) validity is a lengthy process that cannot rely strictly on statistical means (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955). It is crucial that researchers consult with asexual people (e.g., in focus groups) in order to determine whether an instrument assesses relevant or sufficient aspects of the construct of interest.

2) The above described problems are especially applicable for many surveys on sexual function/dysfunction, which may make assumptions that are not true for many asexuals, with the result that asexuals are often confused by some of the questions, uncertain how to answer, and feel that they are being forced to misrepresent themselves. This is regularly seen in discussion in threads where calls for participants are posted. Such confusion rises because of assumptions about previous sexual experience and problematic assumptions about sexual desire.

Therefore, the possibility for feedback should be given. In traditional experimental contexts, this is often done in exit interviews. For online research, textboxes may be used. This is necessary for understanding if people’s responses accurately reflect how they feel or if the responses are an artifact of confusing questions for which none of the responses seems accurate. Participant feedback should be taken seriously when interpreting the results. This feedback should also be used not only to help interpret the results, but also to assess the instrument’s validity. Our experience has been that for many existing instruments, many asexuals feel that they must either discontinue participation or repeatedly misrepresent themselves questions about sensitive subjects (e.g. sexuality), which can cause distress. If this is likely to occur, it should be discussed in the consent form.

More generally, it is important for researchers–nonasexual researchers in particular–to try to understand asexual participants in ways that makes sense from asexual perspectives. This is analogous to how heterosexual researchers studying lesbian, gay, bisexual or otherwise non-heterosexual participants should avoid imposing their own heterosexual perspectives and heteronormative assumptions upon participants. Researchers studying asexuality should make every reasonable attempt to become familiar with asexuality and the asexual community beyond the narrow confines of their research. This can be done by consulting directly with asexual people and by reading products of asexual self-expression (e.g., diverse blog posts, zine articles, etc.) [2]. Because of the role that the internet has played in enabling the creation of asexual communities, a great deal of asexual-produced materials about asexuality are online, and navigating these online spaces can be daunting for researchers, especially ones not overly familiar with new media technologies. Talking to people familiar with asexual online spaces may be helpful for researchers wanting to familiarize themselves with asexual discourse.

3) In asexual discourse, it is common to distinguish between sexual attraction and sexual desire. Many asexuals masturbate, and one way of explaining this is with a concept of “undirected sex drive,” where the idea is that desire for sexual release exists, but it is not directed at anyone. Because of this, many asexuals are confused by questions about “sexual desire,” unsure about whether this means desire for sexual release and desire for partnered sexual behavior.

Therefore, the meanings of potentially confusing terms (e.g. “sexual desire”) should be made clear to participants.

4) Another major problem with sexual function/dysfunction questionnaires is that they assume everyone fits neatly into a strict gender binary. However, existing data (Asexual Visibility and Education Network [AVEN], 2009; Asexual Awareness Week, 2011; Brotto et al., 2009) suggests that between 5-20% of people active in online asexual communities do not. [3] Systematically excluding these people is ethically questionable and methodologically very problematic.

Therefore, gender diversity in the asexual community should be taken seriously in research designs. If you do rely on instruments that require people to choose either a male-version or a female-version, this should be made clear when explaining eligibility for the study. In order to prevent negative attitudes towards the researchers, explaining the reason for this decision is advisable.

5) Some–but not all–people identifying as asexual feel that they are “not sexual.” Another way of understanding “asexual” is on analogy with hetero- homo- and bisexual, where asexuals are people who do not experience sexual attraction. Asexuals vary in terms of their understanding of asexuality. Since early in the asexual community, many have been uncomfortable with the term “asexual,” but people have been unable to find a term that is widely preferred. Moreover, the term has gained considerable currency over the past decade, and some use it for lack of a better term.

Therefore, it should not be assumed that everyone identifying as “asexual” feels that they are “not sexual.” This is a matter that must be investigated, not accepted a priori.

6) Many studies on asexuality have recruited participants online. The largest online asexual community is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), and many researchers have recruited there. In March 2011, AVEN created a set of policies for researchers wanting to recruit from AVEN. Interested parties are encouraged to read these policies (AVEN, 2011). [4]

We believe that taking these into consideration can help to facilitate research on the asexuality and to help researchers avoid mistakes that are easy to fall into.

Sincerely,
Asexual Awareness Week 2011 Committee

References:
Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (2009). AVEN Survey 2008 – Results. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.asexuality.org/home/2008_stats.html

Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (2011). Rules for research requests: New policy. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?/topic/59868-rules-for-research-requests/

Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: A mixed methods approach. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39 (3), 599-618.

Asexual Awareness Week. (2011). Results of the asexual community census 2011. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.facebook.com/notes/asexual-awareness-week/results-of-the-asexual-community-census-2011/208581089214485

Cronbach, L. J., & Meehl, P. E. (1955). Construct validity in psychological test. Psychological
Bulletin , 52 (4), 281-302.

Annotations by me:

[1] Consider, for example, this case example in which phrasing in the “Coldness” section of the Inventory of Interpersonal Relationships may cause issues with some asexual or aromantic people.

[2] If you want suggestions for how to start finding ace community content, I recommend  starting with the Ace Zine Archive, the Carnival of Aces, the AZE journal, the Asexual Agenda’s biweekly linkspams, and the AVENues magazine. For bonus aromantic content, try the Carnival of Aros.

[3] More recent surveys from the Ace Community Survey Project suggest that that number may be even higher with more like 20-30% of respondents indicating a gender other than male or female.

[4] AVEN has since updated their researcher policies; you can find the latest version here.

Why I Wear an Ace Ring

This is my submission to the June 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “pride.”

This post was originally inspired by this post from the Ace Theist. I may or may not have taken 7+ years to get around to writing it, but better late than never I guess?


Several years ago, The Ace Theist wrote a post about why they wear an ace ring, and why it’s more for themselves than for recognition, that really resonated with me, especially this passage in the conclusion:

When I first bought that black ring off Amazon, I wasn’t expecting anyone recognize it for what it was.  That’s not what it’s for.  From the beginning, that ring wasn’t meant for anyone else but me.  I had just comes to terms with the fact that I’m not heterosexual, that the existence of my orientation is something that most people don’t even know about, and I wanted to wear an ace ring as a way remind myself that I’m not the only one.

Safety in Subtlety

As a matter of fact, when I first started wearing an ace ring, it was precisely because I did not expect anyone to recognize it for what it was – it was something subtle, and safe, and with a level of plausible deniability that I could easily invoke if anyone asked me about. After all, I already wore rings and other jewelry on a semi-regular basis, so it wouldn’t be that out of place. If anyone asked, I could just say that I found it at a shop and thought it looked cool.

That made it the perfect token of self-recognition and quiet pride for me, as a teenager just tentatively starting to identify with asexuality, but sure as hell not ready to start coming out about it to anyone offline. I wasn’t ready talk about it out loud yet, or to name it in words, but the ring was still a physical, tangible way to silently shout out to the unsuspecting world that hey, I’m asexual, I’m not just confused, and I’m not alone.

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In Praise of Pins

This is my submission for the May 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “DIY“.

A year or so ago, I was sitting at a transit stop, waiting for a train, when I caught a snippet of a quiet conversation behind me:

“Is that an…Oddish?”

“Yeah, you’re right, that’s Oddish!”

“What’s that one?”

“I think that one’s an ace flag”

“And what’s that one?”

“Hm, I don’t know that that one is”

Upon turning around, turns out that there was a dad and his kid (who couldn’t have been more than like, 10) who had been looking at the decorative pins that I currently have on my usual weekend bag:

AroPinsBody1

The dad mentioned something about liking my pins, I mentioned that the third pin (that they were having trouble identifying) was an aromantic flag, got a thanks and a smile, and then our train came and we went our separate ways.

It was a relatively small interaction, but a heartwarming one – both to see that bit of awareness in the wild, to see some great parenthood, to be able to work in such tiny snippets of education in an unexpected location.

This also isn’t the first time that that same set of aro and ace pins has been a conversation starter – I’ve also gotten quick “hey, I like your pins!” with knowing looks and a few “oh hey, I am too!”s and some other “hey, is that pin what I think it is?” –  in the audience at LGBT student conferences, in the elevator at anime conventions, from the next table over at a restaurant.

The exact pins have occasionally changed since I first added them on – the aro flag was a later addition after it started gaining more popularity, and the current sparkly one was a recent replacement for my old DIY standard one; the oddish one has been changed out a couple times when I found a new one or lost an old one.

And over the years, I’ve acquired more pins, and more bags, and then more pins to the point I now have an entire drawer of various fandom and sexuality and all sorts of other pins to the point I’m starting to look into different ways to display them (a corkboard or tapestry to hand on a wall maybe?)

While many of my original pins were sourced, surprisingly enough, from anime conventions of all places (turns out lots of artist alley fan artists also sell pride swag and make a point of including lesser known identities!), some of the others have come from a newer source: my own handy dandy button maker!

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Starting Meetup Groups: Quarantine Edition

Or, “How to Start a Meetup Group when nobody can actually meet up anywhere because of COVID-19”

This is my submission for the May 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “Quarantine“.

When I started writing this draft back in early March, it was originally intended to be a challenge for Aces and Aros to find, attend, or start a new local meetup group in time to be in position to hold a local event for the next Ace Week or Aro Spec Week…however, as we all know now, COVID-19 has derailed a lot of offline event plans, and that original challenge is no longer advisable.

However, shelter-in-place requirements don’t have to mean that all local organizing grinds to a halt – it just means that that kind of activities we engage in as local organizers need to shift. Redbeardace has already written about how the silver lining of local groups scrambling to move activities online also means chances to open up those groups to other local constituents who might not otherwise be able to join in.

In this post, I want to extend that conversation to area that don’t even have organized groups yet – but that might have some individuals who are interested in starting one. And so, for you brave pioneers out there who think you might want to start a local meetup, here’s some suggestions for things you can do right now, without even leaving your house!

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What’s the deal with this “Ace Day” Thing?

This document is a work in progress, and changes will be made as additional information is discovered. If you have any suggestions, corrections, requests for clarifications, or archived copies of missing links that you would be willing to share, leave a comment or drop me a line at sennkestra@gmail.com

As some of you may (or may not) know, many aces were taken by surprise on May 8th, 2020 by a flurry of “#aceday” and “#acevisibilityday” tweets that eventually went trending, as well as some complaints generated about things like date choices and vague references to 2015 that probably make no sense to anyone who is newer to the ace community. In the wake of the event, there’s also been a lot of confusion and misinformation going around about what ace day is, when it is, who’s involved, and what its history is.

In light of that, wanted to compile some notes and links to relevant bits of history that I remember from the original ace day campaigns and controversy, which date back to 2015 when it was created by theasexualityblog, as well as a bit about what I have found about what lead to #acevisibilityday suddenly showing up as a trending tag this year (after the event nearly disappearing into obscurity in the intervening years, as well as being previously celebrated for several years on a completely different date).

This is not meant to be a complete narrative of that history; but I hope that the sources included here may be helpful for anyone who would be interested in attempting such a history. Unfortunately, because many of the blogs involved have since changed their names or been deleted, many of the original posts are gone. I’ve tried to provide archived versions or reblogged versions wherever possible.

Please also note that this still doesn’t include the vast majority of commentary – for either event –  just because there was so much activity that it would get overwhelming. Instead, I’ve tried to include a sampling of some of the main points I remember seeing as someone active in ace communities around that time. I’ve also deliberately focused on discussions that were occurring within the ace community, rather than reactions from outside the community.

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Differentiating Attraction/Orientations (Or, the “Split Attraction Model” by any other name is so much sweeter.)

This is my entry for the April 2020 Carnival of Aces on “Names,” hosted by Jam.

Many of you may be familiar with the term “Split Attraction Model” (SAM), which is often used to refer to the idea in ace communities that there are multiple types of attraction – especially sexual vs. romantic attraction – and that some people may therefore use two (or more) different labels to refer to their romantic and sexual orientations.

However, as you may or may not also know, these terms have also been the subject of some criticism – especially regarding the fact that it’s not actually a good proxy for describing the ways many aces use romantic, sexual, and other attraction/orientation concepts, and that it was in part coined and popularized by anti-ace trolls, I’m not going to provide an in-depth discussion of the many reasons some people don’t like using “SAM” in the post, but I do recommend checking out the links above.

Instead, I want to focus on advocating for the kind of phrasing I do like to use: specifically, the concepts of differentiating attraction and differentiated orientations.

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A cautionary tale (with a hopeful message): Our shared pains may not be exclusively ours.

This post is for the February 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “Variation vs. Unity”

One of the things that communities of shared experience and identity often bond over is commiserating over our shared struggles, pains and frustrations. Whether we are looking for advice from someone has been throughout it, support in fighting to overcoming it together, or even just someone who understands that we can vent everything out to, shared pain is one of the big things that bring us together.

Another thing that drives us towards each other is the inability of many of those outside our group to understand or take seriously the problems we face, if they are not targeted by those same issues.

However, when dealing with our pain, we still have to be careful – because the fact that many people outside our group cannot relate to our problems, does not mean that all people outside our group are free from these problems – the forces of convention and normativity rarely restrict their pressures to one single group.

Therefore, we need to be careful when stating that “people who aren’t us can never understand this problem” or that “if a person claims this experience, they must be one of us – or its appropriation”. Because often, that’s not the case.

A Cautionary Tale: Is “Marriage Equality” really a uniquely gay issue?

As a common example of this fallacy, I want to refer to a sort of case example from a tumblr post I saw a few years ago (although unfortunately I no longer have a link to it). The post in question was responding to to a common statement from a lesbian or gay person that went something like this:

“Straight people will never understand what it’s like to be legally denied the right to marry the person you love”

At face value, this doesn’t seem that incorrect – after all, up until about 5 years ago, many same-sex lesbian, gay, and bi couples in the united states had no legal right to marry – and many couples abroad still do not have that right. And even now, it remains uncertain how strong this right is, and while the law now allows, the law often declines to protect people from being fired, harassed, evicted, denied service, or worse just because of that marriage.

And it’s true that straight people, as a general class, have not recently been denied that right solely for being straight.

However, as responses to the post in question pointed out, where this assumption falls apart is when you realize that straight vs. gay is not, in fact, the only axis of advantage and disadvantage along which society is divided, and that many straight people also have other identities that affect their experience, which may heavily affect how they have been treated with regards to the legal institution of marriage. For example”

  • First, and perhaps most immediate, is gender identity: many straight trans people (and many of their straight partners)were just as affected and just as involved in the struggle for marriage equality as cisgendered lesbian, gay, and bi people were, due to the way that judgements of who was “male and female” enough to marry were often based on cissexist assumptions and misgendering.
  • There is also the consideration of race: Many interracial couples weren’t allowed the right to marry in many US states until 1967 – and many of these couples (and especially their children) are still alive today. When my own grandparents got married, their relationship was still illegal in much of the country! And looking back a little further, there were centuries in the US where black slaves where not allowed access to any kind of legal marriage or relationship recognition, and would regularly be torn apart with no choice in the matter; a legacy that has left an impact on all their descendants.
  • While perhaps a less widespread, some states still disallow or even criminalize certain cousin marriages, no matter what the circumstances – some others require both participants to prove that they are sterile first.

Even in addition to de jure legal barriers, there are also many groups today who still face de facto barriers to marriage:

  • Many disabled people cannot marry without losing much of the limited financial support they already rely on just to stay alive – it doesn’t matter much whether you have the legal “right” to marriage if excercising it means immediately losing your ability to pay for the food and care and shelter you need to stay alive and enjoy it.
  • Widows or widowers  (often older) who are entirely reliant on social security spousal benefits (perhaps after years of being a stay-at-home parent to support their partners career) are similarly unable to access marriage without losing their sole source of income (although some of these laws are loosening), as are some low income people who rely on federal benefits that may be cut if they marry.
  • Also, because marriage in the US is restricted to binary couples, many poly people or others in relationships with 2 or more serious partners are denied the right to have their partners recognized and treated equally.

And that’s just in the United States, without going into the complications of international marriage situations – or in to the doubleor triple hurdles faced by people who face intersectional disadvantages and are affected by more than just one of these issues at once.

When people reduce the issue of marriage rights to “gay people face this struggle, straight people never have”, we erase all of these groups’s complex strugglies. And when we do that, we also lose the important chance to join forces is in coalition with them. Because that’s the flip side of all this – while acknowledging that the hurts that felt unique might be more common than you thought can be both difficult to work into your identity, and a bit depressing for our worldviews, the other side of it is that it also means there are many more potential allies out there who want to make the same changes we do.

Coalition Building: More people with shared pain means more allies in fighting to stop the pain.

The benefit of expanding our worldviews to recognize other groups that may face similar struggles, is recognizing that we can also connect with these groups in our fight to better our situations. Here again, the issue of marriage law has some relevant parallels:

Coalition building is important, because the more people you can find commonality with, the more allies you have who are deeply invested in your cause. And what several small groups fighting along may fail to achieve, a single unified coalition has a much better chance at.

What does this mean for Aromantic activists?

As aro people, when we are often surrounded by non-aros who do not seem to share our struggles, and when aro communities are the first places we find solace from those pressures, it’s easy to assume that we are the only ones in the world dealing with these problems – whether it’s the delegitimization or stigmatization  of relationships that don’t include the right amounts of romance, or pressure to engage in types of relationships that we don’t want, or people mocking us for having ‘unnatural’ desires/lacking the “proper” desires (or viewing us with pity and trying to “fix” us).

However, it’s important to realize that although it can seem like it we are alone in the world, we are not the only ones facing any of these problems – and we don’t need to be alone in fighting them.

Furthermore, while ace and aro allyship is one type of potential coalition building, we must not end there. We must also seek out parallels across all axes of identity, as the politics of love, sex, and romance and desire (and the lack thereof) are constantly affected by judgements based in sexism, cissexism, heterosexism/homophobia, racism, classism, and more. Just to get us started, here’s a few examples of areas where I see potential for reaching out to similarly affected groups:

  • Coalitions between aromantic people seeking to destigmatize non-romantic sexual relationships, and other sex-positive, queer, and feminist activists seeking to negate the stigma of sex outside of traditional romantic partnerships.
  • Coalitions between aros who like alternative living arrangements with non-married housemates, and other single, low income, queer, younger, and also senior housing advocates looking to promote alternative living styles, including better models and paths to co-ownership for non-married co-owners.
  • Coalitions between aro folks and POC in breaking down racist assumptions around desexualization, hypersexualization, being shut out of sex, dating or relationship consideration and more.
  • Coalitions between aros in nontraditional partnerships with poly folks looking for alternative ways to access legal rights and recognition for important people in your life even without traditional marriage.
  • Coalitions with poly and queer advocates to break up the assumption that everyone needs to be in a monogamous, romantic, sexual, long-term relationship, and that any other types of relationship is pointless and not worthy of legal recognition

And that’s just what I could come up with in the last 10 minutes.

Readers, do you have any other experiences of discovering shared points of struggle with other groups? Or do you have suggestions for additional coalition building?

 

“Identities are Tools” – and sometimes you need a whole toolbox

This is a submission for the February 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “Identity”.

There is a common saying in ace activism that “identities are tools”  – that rather than trying to figure out which box is the “right box”, an identity should be something that you should pick up if it will be useful, and feel free to set down if it isn’t.

I want to take that analogy a step further, and talk about how when it comes to identities – and tools – there’s no single all-applications solutions. Instead, we often need a whole toolbox, wherein each tool might be used a little differently.

Here’s just a few of the examples of the tasks you might need different identities/tools for:

  • Identity can be a tool used for personal/internal validation. Just knowing about an identity concept can help prove to you that you aren’t alone, that you aren’t just broken, that maybe the reason you weren’t fitting into any of the other existing boxes was because there was an even better box that you just didn’t know about. Identities can serve as a framework that help us understand and process our own internal feelings and experiences – even if we never say them out loud.
  • Identity can be a tool used to find relevant content. Once you have a new term/identity for a specific experience, it allows people to index content associated with that experience, and also to search for it. If you have an identity label, you now have something you can type into google or look for it as a tag to try to find writing, or resources, or communities, or research related to those experiences.
  • Identity can be a tool used to connect with like-minded communities. Just as you can use a term as a search term to find relevant content, you can also identity terms to find and connect with like-minded people – both by searching for communities associated that term, or by using that identity to broadcast about yourself, hey, I am x which means I experience x’! If you are also x, we might have something in common!
  • Identity can be a tool used to communicate something different about yourself to others. Just as identity can be used as a way to signal something about yourself to people who might feel the same, identity can also be a way to signal to others that something about your experiences might be different from theirs.

Identities are also like tools in that they vary in how often they are useful to you and how suited they are to the task at hand:

  • Some identities are general-purpose tools, like swiss-army knives – they’re easy enough and useful enough to carry around with you every day, and they are generalizable enough that they can be useful in almost all situations. They might be useful for all of the situations described above, and might often be the first thing you grab.
  • Some identities are more specialized, like a 1.5mm allen wrench – you probably don’t use it very often, so it sits at home in a closed box in the closet a lot, and when you do take it out it’s only for a few specific purposes, maybe just one or two out of all of the above – but when you need it, you’re glad you have it on hand.
  • Some identities aren’t the most appropriate solution, but they can get the job done – like using a hammer and a flathead screwdriver to try and chisel off a piece of rock. It’s not what they were designed to be used for, and it’s maybe not the tool you would prefer to use, but when it’s all you have access to in the moment, you know it’s available as a backup.
  • Some identities are more sentimental than useful (and that’s okay). Sometimes you have tools that once worked great, but now maybe they’re a little loose or a little rusty or no longer work for what you need them for – but they mean something to you on an emotional level, enough that you may want to keep them in your toolbox to have them close to you, even if they don’t get much use these days.

To try illustrate what I mean, and extend the metaphor even further, here’s a few examples of how this works out for me in practice:

  • Some identities – like “asexual” or “mixed race”  – are my workhorse multi-tools; they serve as a way for me to find community, groups, and resources, as a way to find people with similar experiences, and as a way to communicate with other people that no, I’m not interested in dating your friend, and no, I’m not hooking up with anyone anytime soon, etc; or that actually, my name isn’t pronounced like that because it’s not white, and that’s why some parts of my family look the way that they do.
  • Some of my identities are more specialized, like my allen wrenches – there’s a lot of them, but they’re small and they all mostly sit in a box gathering dust until I find a use for them. Examples of things like this include things like “quoiromantic”, or maybe “agender” which I find useful for finding content that appeals to me (and for validating the fact that no, I’m not crazy, other people feel the same way, but don’t find as useful for communicating something about myself to others.
  • Some identities are more like improvised tools – I often find myself falling back to using “bisexual” on limited forced choice surveys the same way I occasionally use a rock to bash in stakes when nobody remembered to bring a hammer. It’s not the most accurate, and it’s not the one I’d prefer to use, but when it’s all I have access to, it can still get the job done well enough – after all, 0 and 0 are pretty much the same, so technically I am equally attracted to all genders…..and that’s close enough for some jobs.
  • And some, like “libidoist asexual”, are frankly mostly sentimental – I only ever used them in a very very specific context (like early 2010s AVEN TMI threads”,and these days don’t really find it useful for anything, so I don’t share it – but I still hold a soft spot for it in my heart.
  • Other identities are like using power tools vs. manual tools – both will work, but one might be better for speed and efficiency (like just calling myself “mixed race”) and another might take longer but be better for getting something installed carefully when it matter to get everything just right (like clarifying that I’m specifically of mixed 3/4 white and 1/4 4th gen okinawan-american heritage).
  • Sometimes you have two or more identity tools (like “atheist” and “nonreligious”) that are maybe like slightly different colored handles on your two hammers but in general are useful for the exact things and a relatively interchangeable – it doesn’t hurt to have duplicates around to spare!

In the end, I have a wide range of tools in by toolbox – the more I gather, the more likely I am to have something on hand if I need it – or if I run across someone who looks like they could use it too.

Readers – what tools do you like to keep in your toolboxes? Are there any that you find yourself using in more unusual ways?

Diverse Community Spaces Are Not “Comfortable” Spaces – Nor Should They Be

This is my submission for the January 2020 Carnival of Aces, for the theme of “Conscious and Unconscious Difference“.

While we’re talking about difference, I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about what it means to be a part of a diverse community – like the ace or aro communities – that can contain a huge number of different experiences, with people of all different sexualities, genders, racial identities, ages, coming together to discuss the one or two shared aspects of their experiences that they do have in common. However, even within those shared experiences of asexuality or aromanticism, there can still be considerable variation.

For example, among asexuals, some come to the identity because they don’t feel sexual attraction; others don’t like sex itself, others prefer not to pursue sexual relationships (regardless of whatever other internal feelings they have, some just find it hard to figure out any answer to “what gender of people are you attracted to” other than just, “none?”. There’s also huge variation when it comes to whether people feel averse/indifferent/favorable or just confused when it comes to sexual acts, what kinds of relationships people prefer, and more.

The same goes for the aro community, which brings together both asexual and allosexual aros and also those who don’t quite fit into either end of that spectrum. It brings together some people who have never felt romantic attraction in their life, with others who don’t even know what romantic attraction is supposed to mean. Some choose to pursue sexual relationships, some pursue non-romantic, non-sexual platonic relationships, some prefer not to define their relationships in such terms.

Also within both spectrums are people who identify in the “grey areas” around the fuzzy edges of each group – maybe not quite close enough to feel comfortable using the label without amendment, but close enough to still find it’s concepts useful with a few modifiers.

In effect, it can be helpful to think of these groups as “coalitions” – comprised not of a single group of people with a single identifiable shared experience, but as constellations of related experiences that are just similar enough to find it useful to develop new shared concepts, terminology, and support spaces. (For comparison, consider LGBTQ or queer communities – despite covering a hugely diverse range of experiences, from gay cis-men to bisexual transwomen to queer-identified nonbinary people and more, these groups still find it useful at times to all come together at times under one umbrella and one shared identity.)

However, the thing about diverse, coalitional spaces is that they can also be uncomfortable – because meeting a diverse array of people includes meeting people who’s ways of thinking and expressing themselves might be fundamentally different from yours, and who might force you to reconsider some of your previous assumptions, which can be an inherently uncomfortable process. It can definitely be an uncomfortable feeling when you start encountering perspectives from other community members and find yourself struggling to understand or relate to them. However, I want to challenges the idea that this discomfort is always a bad thing to be avoided. Sometimes, a little discomfort is a healthy and necessary part of growing into a new community and an ever-changing world. 

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