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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Allyship: The Little Things Count a Lot

This is my very last minute response to the January 2020 Carnival of Aros, on the subject of “New“, in celebration of my shiny new aro/ace/queer pride swag from the holidays this year.

When it comes to allyship, there’s a lot of talk about the big asks that absolutely vital to being a good ally, like talking time to educate yourself about what it means to be aromantic (or ace, or queer, etc.), trusting people with their own evaluation of their identities and experiences, respecting their labels and chosen relationships, not being cruel or mocking their experiences, not kicking them out, defending them from people who do get hostile, etc.

But once that bare minimum is met, I think one of the things that can make a big ongoing difference is the little, fun, positive things that you can do that show that you haven’t forgotten what my identity means to me, and that you are willing to put in some work to actively support me rather than just agreeing to live and let live in whatever way requires very little work.

To that end, I want to share a few brief anecdotes about some the little above-and-beyond things that friends and family have done for me as allies, that went a long way in making me really feel supported and accepted, in the hope that they might serve as inspiration for anyone who wants to be a better ally to their own friends and family:

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Guess “everyone” doesn’t include me

The scene: a monthly happy hour at a bar after work with a few other coworkers, including one who has just joined the company a couple weeks ago, and all of whom were hired after me (and who thus may never have seen all the “asexual” bits all over my resume).

After around twenty minutes of chit-chat, we hit a lull in the conversation. Then one of my coworkers has a great idea:

“I know, let’s trade bad date stories! Everyone has one of those!”

…Except for me, apparently. So when the conversation worked it’s way back around the table to me a few bad date stories later, I got to be the buzzkill who just sort of had to mumble, “Actually, I don’t date…” and get completely frozen out of that chance for social connection-building.

While extremes like this are fortunately a rare occurrence (as most of my coworkers are also nerds who can usually be swayed into other, safer, topics), it’s things like these that can kind of serve as a jarring reminder that yeah, sexual-/amato-normativity still goes strong and that I will continue to be the odd one out. And it’s been a painful reminder that while lack of dating and sexual experience as a college student isn’t particularly noteworthy, that becomes less and less true for me every year that I grow older.

It’s also a reminder of the awkwardness of the perpetual coming out cycle. When I first got hired, I was sort of out by default since my volunteer work with asexual groups was one of the few work experiences I could list on my resume, which was passed around to everyone currently in my department at the time, so I never had to worry about coming out. But over the course of several years and new hires, there’s a lot of people who may not have figured it out yet, and I’m never sure how ready I am to bring it up for the first time.

On the one hand, I don’t mind being open about it to strangers all the time, and it’s not even like I expect a very bad reaction – one of the other things that happened at that happy hour was another person being loudly out as polyamorous and everyone seemed to take it totally in stride, so I don’t think being ace would necessarily phase them that much either.

But at the same time, I’ve had enough experiences with dropping the ace-bomb and completely derailing otherwise lighthearted conversations or social connections that I’ve become wary of coming out in any setting that seems too sensitive, especially ones linked to the workplace. (So, thanks be for communicating via social media and the internet, and their nice safe layers of time delays and geographic distance to water down the awkwardness). But that means that when I get blindsided by things like this, I still freeze up like a deer in headlights and just mumble whatever evasive answer pops into mind first. Even if I know that it’s just going to prolong the do-they-or-don’t-they-know agony.

(Also, From another angle, I feel like it’s also just further contributed to my overall wariness of all-women spaces – these things rarely seem to happen to me in mixed company. Possibly because the presence of other genders preserves a level of social restraint and prevents the kind of “female bonding” intimacy that inevitably lead to expectations of shared experiences that I just can’t fulfill, whether it’s because of the aro-ace thing or the genderfeels are complicated thing.)

 

Running out of Mile Markers

When I was a younger ace, I often treated things like “would you like to have a queerplatonic partner”, “would you consider legally marrying a partner?” or “do you want to have kids?” as abstract yes-or-no propositions – and the answers seemed like an easy “yes”, “yes” and “yes” at the time.

Now that I’ve reached the ripe old age of my mid-twenties, it’s started to sink in that these questions aren’t quite that simple. Part of that realization stems from the fact that I am having to confront those possibilities head on for the first time, as actual current possibilities rather than abstract considerations for a future me.

As a student, it was easy to think of these decisions as simple, binary, and abstract, because I knew I had no plans to act on them anytime soon – I didn’t even want to think about settling down with a partner or having a kid until I finished my education and had a job.

At that point, I was still progressing at a standard pace through all the typical life milestones – Graduate high school. Get into college. Pass the next midterm. Pass the next final. Get a degree. Then, time to find any job that will pay. Then, as my old roommate left for grad school in another city, it was time to find a new apartment and new roommates. Then time to find a long-term job that could be more of a career. When I was focused on all these immediate goals, it was easy not to think that much about all the other questions about kids and partners and houses and such that I had tabled for an abstract “future me”.

Within the last couple years, though, as the new grad chaos has settled, I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine – I have a good apartment, a job I like, stable roommates and active social groups. And when it comes to next steps, things are….much less clear. I’ve already reached all the easily achievable milestones, and now I’ve found myself in uncharted territory.

That means seriously thinking about not just “if” I would like kids or partners or a house or a marriage – it means thinking about things like “when” and “how much” and “at what cost”. And as I’m taking into account things like the realities of how much I’d have to change my lifestyle to find and form a partnership, or how far I’d have to relocate to own instead of rent, or how much of an economic hit it would be to have dependents, things that seemed like easy “yes”es have become a lot more uncertain. It’s come with the reality that even if I like the idea of something, I’m not sure I want it enough to put in the labor and make all the sacrifices that might be required to achieve it.

At the same time, it’s also the first time I’ve really experienced a long period of life with no immediate milestones ahead to strive for, and I’m still not completely sure what to do with myself.

And this isn’t just an ace thing, necessarily – I think this is the kind of existential crisis that a lot of young adults go through. But I think that being ace – and perhaps more importantly, being aro – adds another level of complexity to the situation. So while things like “Would I be willing to move just to be able to afford to buy instead of rent” are common problems regardless of sexuality, other issues like “how do you go about finding and evaluating potential life partners/co-parents if you have zero interest in casual dating or romance, but also are nowhere near ready to settle down just yet?” are not so common, and just make things all the more complex.

 

Milestones and Priorities

This is a down-to-the-wire submission to the April Carnival of Aces, “All the birds but us…”.

For a long time – including the period when I started and was most active on this blog – I mostly thought about big life choices like having kids or a committed relationship as an abstract yes-no-maybe proposition. As a young person, the get good grades > get into college > pass your finals > get an apartment > get a job pipeline was clearly defined and kept me busy enough pursuing the next stop on the line that I never spent much time looking at anything further down.

But then, eventually I got my degree. And I got a job. And I got an apartment. And then  I found myself out of easy milemarkers to aim for next.

In the stereotypical american success story, the next big steps to aim for might look like this:

> Find a romantic partner

> Get married

> Buy a house

> Have a kid (or two, or three)

But now I’ve found myself stuck: As an aro ace, I don’t particular want a partner. Housemates are definitely nice, but I already have those, and the idea of something like a queerplatonic partnership is not unappealing, but it’s also not something I’m really motivated to seek out. And without a partner, the question of whether or not to get married is moot.

A house, on the other hand, is a milestone I’d very much like to reach. But I also live in the bay area, with no plans to relocate any time in the foreseeable future, and my income is about 3x too low to even start thinking about purchasing a house here. Which means that this milestone is effectively postponed for at least a decade or two.

So, then, that leaves kids. And that’s where it gets tricky. See, in theory, I do want kids. But my desire for children is a very conditional one: I don’t want to be a single parent by choice – I’d only want to make the choice to bring kids into my life if I had a dependable partner with which to raise them. Except, if you remember two paragraphs ago, I’m not really looking for a partner. So there’s a bit of a conundrum.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve found myself at a point where, instead of thinking about how to achieve new milestones – or even whether I want to achieve them – I need to start thinking in terms how much I’m willing to prioritize them above other things in my life, and how much work I’m willing to put into pursuing them:

Instead of asking myself, “Do you want to own a house” (yes), I need to ask myself, “Am I willing to change cities and possibly careers for the chance to own a house (A: short term, no, but I would be willing to reevaluate that in a few years if my social group starts to settle down and spread out).

Instead of asking “Do I want a relationship” (yes), I need to ask myself, “To what  extent am I willing to put deliberate effort into seeking out social spaces and proto-relationships that could lead to the type of relationship I prefer?” (A: not very much, especially not for anything past housemates. I’ve realized that while I like the concept of queerplatonic relationships as an abstract, it’s also just not something high on my agenda. Examples of items higher on my agenda at the moment include fairly trivial things like “make a postage stamp quilt” and “eat some cornbread with honeybutter”.)

Instead of asking “Do I want children?” (yes), I need to ask myself, “Do I want children enough to seek out and dedicated myself to a partner(s) solely to raise a child? Or enough to raise a child solo”? And although it hurts a little to admit, the answer here is again….I’m not sure I do. And that’s also something I’ve had to come to terms with.

It can be a little sad, sometimes, to realize that the numbers game and the difficulty of building alternative relationships just makes it that much more unlikely that I’ll ever meet some of these milestones, even though I’d like to. But at the same time, I think that the complexity of being ace and losing that default guide to life plans has helped in some ways, by leading me to actually sit down and hash out what my priorities are, not just what goals I’ve been taught should come next.

And while my current situation and priorities does mean that some of my original life goals have been set back or set aside, there’s still lots of room to build new ones. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, I’ve taken the opportunity to start pursuing new goals – things like finally taking a trip abroad that I’ve been wanting to try for years, or deciding to learn a new craft, or deciding to incorporate an organization.

 

Wanting to be *[with] someone

Figuring out what “attraction” really meant was a bit of a puzzle for me, especially when I first questioned whether I was ace. I definitely knew early on that I must not be feeling quite the same thing everyone else was – I’d never really looked at someone and thoughts, “oh, wow, I really want to touch / talk to / be with / do something else with that person“. I was pretty that I’d never had a crush, or an infatuation, or lusted after someone – or at least, not that I could recognize as such. But what if I was misinterpreting my own feelings?

At the very least, I could still tell the difference between someone who would be popularly considered attractive, and someone who would not be. I could appreciate a nice symmetric face, or great hair, or sleek muscle tone, or many other of the aesthetic traits that make some what I would call good-looking.

And then, sometimes, there was also something else. Sometimes I’d see someone who would make me do a sort of double take and go “hmm“.  No physical draw to them, really, not even a desire to chat or interact in any other way. Just a “hmm” and a second glance. Was this the attraction everyone else talked about? If so, they were hyping it up way too much. Or was I just bad at introspection?

I was never really sure if I was misreading myself, until I finally realized where that extra “hmm” was coming from: it wasn’t because I wanted to be with them, it was because I wanted to be them.

Eventually, as I got more involved in conversations about attraction with both ace and non-ace folks, I would quickly realize that in fact, when most people are evaluating how attractive someone is (especially of another sex), their first thought isn’t necessarily “would I want to look like that?”. So in retrospect it seems like it should have been more obvious what was going on. But for some reason it took me a while.

In the end, the thing that I think really helped clear things up even more was listening to trans and nonbinary people discussing similar experiences they had, where they realized that, woops, a lot of that attraction to people X gender was maybe more just wanting to be X gender themselves. Knowing that other people had gone through the same “Do I want to be with them, or just be them?” confusion really resonated, and I think also reiterated one of the reasons it took me a while to realize what exactly made me do that double take – after all, if I was going “hmm” at both cute girls and cute guys, surely it wasn’t a personal look thing – after all, I was just a girl, so I should only be inspired by girls’ appearances, right?*.


*In the end it turns out that my genderfeels are complicated and my brain has no problem wanting to look like whatever handsome 6′ anime dude recently caught my eye, even if my 5’4″ skeleton would disagree with that idea.

 

 

 

Coming Out Stories

A/N: I posted this to another private community as part of a National Coming Out day prompt about sharing your coming out stories, but I thought I’d post it here too for everyone else. To anyone who is planning to come out today, I wish you the best of luck! and to everyone else, whether you’re out for years and tired of the game or new to things and not ready to tell everyone just yet, I hope you all have a great day too!

I’ve had a lot of “coming out” moments over the years, but there’s two that I think of as my main real “coming out” stories.

I was a little slow in questioning my sexuality – for years I had been blatantly “not interested” in guys (or girls, as I had discovered in moments of introspection) but I had never thought that deeply about it, or the fact that that wasn’t exactly “normal” – after all, I was a nerd, I was supposed to only be interested in anime and studying, right? It wasn’t til around my high school graduation that I started actively questioning my sexuality.

Even then, I mostly just explored it silently and online, mostly under a pseudonym on AVEN. I talked to a lot of people then, but since I was still trained to believe that everyone on the internet was a potential axe-murderer, I never shared many personal details, so I wouldn’t really call any of those conversations a “coming out” moment.

The first time I actually said the words “I’m asexual (and aromantic)” out loud to someone other than myself in the mirror was in college, after I joined the campus queer straight alliance. I had sort of managed to coast by on never really mentioning whether I was there as a queer kid or a questioning kid or an ally. I decided to finally take the plunge when the group brought in David Jay, certified Famous Asexual, to give a short talk; when we were in small groups during the workshop I managed to work up the nerve to finally mention a casual “so, by the way, I’m actually asexual myself”….only to find out that one of the other group members across from me was also ace, and also in the same major! (seriously, what’s up with linguistics and queer/ace kids?) So that was a pretty good start, and the first time I had ever met other not one, but two other aces in the flesh. (Several other people I had known previously would, of course, come out yeas later, but that’s another story).

As for coming out to everyone else in my life….I sort of decided to come out to everyone else at the same time. It was about a month after my previous “omg meeting other aces” moment, national coming out day was rolling around, and I wanted to finally start talking about this with other people. So i figured, hey, this is a good opportunity, why waste it?

I had sort tested the waters a bit by mentioning “LGBTQIA” events on campus, haha, did you know there’s so many new letters? to some people, but other than that, I’d never talked about my asexuality or my questioning to anyone at all outside of that campus QSA. I was maybe a bit premature in deciding to spring it on literally everyone I knew at once, but at this point I just wanted it over with, and I was also luckily enough to have family and peers who I knew wouldn’t react too negatively, even if I didn’t know if they would react positively.

So, in a moment of brilliance, I decided that the second time I ever came out should be by announcing it to all and sundry over facebook.

In some ways that worked well – It was over the internet, so I didn’t have to deal with people’s awkward stunned faces in person, I could reach a lot of other people at once, and I could drop a bunch of education links at the same time. The big downside, though, that I hadn’t quite thought about, was the waiting game. I knew some people had seen it – there were likes, and comments, and a few curious questions over chat. And I knew other people would see it, eventually, including the most important ones like my sibling and parents. But it was sort of…anticlimactic not doing it person; I never knew exactly who had seen or how they had reacted and we never really sat down and talked about it directly. I knew they knew, and they knew I knew they knew, but we just…never did the traditional “sit down and talk about what this means” thing. (Although, my sister did point out later that it’s not like it was really a surprise, considering my blatant lack of crushes or dates or anything throughout my high school career)

Six years later, we talk about it all the time now – especially as ace community social events and volunteering have become a major part of my life. My mom calls me excitedly when she hears someone on NPR mention asexuality; my sister sends me ace memes she runs across on the internet. Everything went well, it’s just sort of weird not having a clear transition from people not knowing to people knowing. On the other hand, when it comes to other people – like older, less tech savvy relatives, or distant friends who I rarely interact with – It’s left me in sort of a weird state of not knowing if I’m actually our or not?

I don’t think I’d necessarily change anything if I decided to do the big reveal all over again, but the weird limbo of “did I actually come out to them or not” is definitely a strange place to be in.

TMI Time: Let’s talk about sex toys!

Content warning for explicit discussion of sexuality and sexual behavior, masturbation, and sex toys. May contain external; links which should be assumed nsfw and visit-at-your-own-risk.

So, over on tumblr redbeardace made a very valid point that while ace communities have a lot of theoretical discussions about things like sex drive and masturbation, there’s often very little discussion about the specific topic of sex toys, which for many people are a big part of solo sexual play.

So, let’s change that! This is an open thread for anything you’d like to say or ask about masturbation, sex toys, or anything on those lines that you may not have felt comfortable saying anywhere else!

Some food for thought:

  • Do you use sex toys? Why or why not?
  • What kinds of sex toys do you particular like or dislike?
  • Are you comfortable talking about things like sex toys and masturbation? If not, why is that and what could make it more comfortable for you?
  • Do you think being ace affects your opinion of or use of sex toys, or your willingness to talk about using them?
  • Do you have any reccommendations for or against specific toys?
  • Any questions about certain kinds of toys that you’ve always wanted to ask?

 

Anonymous comments should be enabled, so feel free to use a pseudonym if you’d rather not be linked to this kind of conversation. However, please keep the conversation respectful and remember that everyone has different likes and dislikes, and that’s not a bad thing.

Joy

At some point around when I was in elementary school,  I made the mostly disastrously decision to play softball, which is, as it turns out, an incredibly boring sport which involves spending 90% of your time standing around kicking holes in the dust waiting for something to happen.

But there was one good thing that came of it.

I was on my way to practice, or coming back, I don’t remember which – but the important thing was that I was still in my uniform: black shirt, those staticky white pants, a baseball cap over my short-so-I-barely-have-to-brush-it hair. My unisex uniform. We had stopped at a garage sale to look around, and I was picking up this pink and brown fleece vest (which, in retrospect, sounds like a horrible color combination but young me wasn’t exactly known for good taste in fashion) when I heard a voice from behind me:

“Oh, I think that one’s actually meant for girls”

Someone else at the sale quickly jumped in to correct them – “that is a girl!” But I was still stuck on the first comment – someone actually thought I wasn’t a girl! I  had always been a tomboy, sure, and I’d never have anyone pull out the old gender roles and tell me I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t a boy. But at the same time, I’d never had anyone believe that I could actually be a boy.

At the time, I didn’t really think much of what that meant, that that single comment had left me with such a lingering warm and fuzzy feeling, to the extent that I remember such specific details even to this day. But I think it was the first time that the question of gender first started to crack for me, even if it’s didn’t really start hatching open til years later.

When it comes to talking about gender and all that, the thing that has always shaped my experience the most has never been the negative things – sure, there have been the body issues with breasts and menstruation; there has been odd discomfort with being in a room full of women and being told that you belong because you share something special, yet still feeling out of place. But those never stuck with me in the same way.

What first comes to my mind when I think of how to feel about gender is joy – that feeling of joy I felt the first time I had someone assume I was anything other than female. The thrill I wish for but haven’t quite managed to find since.

I can use drugs to make the bleeding stop. I can bind my chest on the days where that’s what I need. And that helps, it really does. But it doesn’t bring that same kind of deep-seated satisfaction that I had that time.

It’s not that I’ve ever been that invested in passing. I don’t even have anything that I really want to pass as. I’m just painfully aware, that no matter what I wear or how I wear it, I get read as a girl. A girl with with an androgynous look, or a girl in really great drag – but still a girl. Maybe dfab instead, if people are a little more enlightened. Sure, people are great about asking for pronouns just in case, and all that. They do exactly what they are supposed to – but it’s not the same. And it’s not like I hate it – I still identify as mostly just a cis-girl, at least nominally. But there are some days where I just wish for something else.

I’ve always had a bit of a baby face, and smallish frame. I’m not particularly feminine, but not particularly androgynous either. I’ve always had hips that are a little too wide, shoulders a little too small, face a little too delicate. And I don’t really plan on changing that, or really need to. But I also wonder – what it would be like, if there were ways to change ourselves without painful surgery that yields limited results. If I could drag the sliders on a character design too for the real world instead of just fantasizing in my head. I wonder if I might be calling myself something else, in another world or another life.

Unfortunately, we live in a reality where that isn’t available. And my identity is shaped but that reality. But sometimes, I wonder.

*   *   *

The closest I get to that feeling again is something like 15 years later, when I’m walking down the street downtown, past the rows of resident panhandlers. Most of them are quite polite, but sometimes they get a little aggressive. This one is muttering  an insult about my hair and my clothes under his breath as I pass by:

“…can’t even tell if you’re supposed to be a dude or a lady…”

It’s supposed to be an insult, but all I can feel is joy.

“Good-Looking” vs. “Hot”

Sometimes, when looking back at my life,  I find all sorts of ways that my asexuality has affected me that I just never noticed because at the time because I thought everyone was that way.

For example, at some point when I was in high school, I remember my sister teasing me about the fact that I only ever describe people as “good-looking” – never “hot”, never “sexy”, never “cute”. At the time I sort of just attributed it to being a word nerd with some odd speech conventions.

But looking back, I think it probably ties into my asexuality (although I was only just starting to realize it at the time). Because of how they are typically used, words like “sexy”, “cute”, “hot” tend to imply some sort of interest – that the target is appealing aesthetically and/or sexually to the target. They imply both a visual quality (aesthetically pleasing) of the subject and to some extent also an emotional quality of the subject (and therefore I want/am attracted to them).

And because I didn’t feel any personally reaction, even if they had qualities I found visually appealing, it didn’t feel right to call them “hot” or “cute”. “Good-looking”, on the other hand, is very specific about the visual appeal, but also uncommon enough that it hasn’t gathered those same connotations of attraction. It was effectively a more neutral option that didn’t carry the sexual baggage that always seemed so dissonant to me.