When I was watching the recent HHA anniversary livestream earlier this month, the presenters highlighted an old quote from one of David Jay’s posts from the very early days of modern ace communities that really resonated with me. The quote occurred in response to an email thread about questions on how to create a universal definition for asexuality, a debate which continues to this day:
It seems like a common definition is sort of problematic. Because, in the end, we only sort of have a common identity. Asexuality means very different things to each of us, and finding a definition which is all-inclusive and still meaningful may be impossible. The reason that we’re forming a group isn’t because we have a neat, common identity but because we face a common set of issues. It seems like if we form a group it should be around those issues, not around some difficult-to-draw identity line.
– David Jay
It reminded me of a similar concept in my own local ace 101 outreach work for a while now:the idea that asexuality is not a single, unified experience, but rather a similar but varying set of experiences that have just enough in common that it makes sense for us to join in a single community – a coalition of multitudes of varied experiences.
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.
This is a call for submissions for the Carnival of Aces, a monthly asexuality themed blog carnival. You can find the roundup of last month’s submissions for the theme “Carnival of Aces” here.
Anyone can write a post – to be featured in the carnival, just post a link to your article here in the comments or shoot me an email at email@example.com. No worries if you don’t have a blog – we can host posts for you here as well.
Submissions are due by December 31, but if you think you might take a little longer you can just shoot me a message to let me know and I can hold a spot for you :)
This Month’s carnival theme is “Burnout”.
We’re now a few weeks out from Asexual Awareness Week – one of the most active weeks of the year for ace activists, bloggers, and other ace community members. But as amazing as it is, the frenzied pace of activities that week can also be a major source of stress that can put ace activists at risk of experiencing burnout – the state that results when the continued stress of an activity becomes overwhelming, to the point where individuals may find themselves less and less able to continue with it.
Burnout can manifest itself in many ways. Sometimes it’s like an exhaustion that just leaves you too tired to get anything done. Sometimes it’s a paralysis of indecision that causes you to freeze up for fear of making the wrong choice. Sometimes it’s clouding of judgement that leads you to do or say things you wouldn’t do otherwise – which can even lead to lashing out at the people you were originally trying to help.
There are ways to try and manage burnout (by taking breaks, or venting to outside support groups, or being more selective about the projects you take on, etc.) but sometimes it’s unavoidable – and all you can do is figure out how to recognize it and move on from there.
For this month’s carnival of aces, I want to talk about the experience of burnout in ace communities – whether it’s burnout from big activist activities like hosting events or running blogs, or from the daily grind of microaggressions, not-so-micro aggressions and the constant cycle of coming out (or being unable to come out).
Some possible topics include:
What are some of the common signs of burnout?
Have you ever experienced burnout before, in ace activities or otherwise?
Are there any strategies that you find helpful in avoiding or delaying in burnout? Or, on the other hand, are there certain situations that you find make you burn out even faster?
One strategy for avoiding burnout is to give yourself breaks and less stressful distractions. Are there any activities that you like to use as a break from ace community stressors?
Another strategy for avoiding burnout is to have safe places to vent, away from the communities that are the center of the stress. Do you have anyone who you feel you can vent to like this?
Have you ever been able to overcome burnout and return to something you once had to drop? Or, are there any activities that you’ve had to just give up because of the risk of burnout?
Since I don’t actually have time to do any deeper analysis anytime soon, here’s a brief peek at my initial graphic representations of data from the NCHA over the last several years, both before and after adding “asexual” as an option for sexual orientation.
As I’ve written before, the NCHA is a neat dataset because it’s a decently large, randomized, recurring survey that (as of the last several years) has collected data on asexual identity. The fact that it’s a biannual survey that switched from having only a few sexuality options to having both asexuality and several other emerging identities also gives some potential insight into how changing question wording changes responses – because while trends in sexual identification change over time, the ~6 month period between surveys is brief enough that you can at least make a reasonable guess that a large part of any discrepancies between the before-and-after results is likely at least in large part due to the change in survey structure.
For the chart below, I’ve broken out how the approximate percents for each sexual orientation category have changed over the years. Surveys from before the addition of asexuality are marked in red, and surveys from after the addition of asexuality are marked in blue. When reviewing the chart, however, please keep in mind that results here are affected by many factors, including sampling pools that differ somewhat year to year, survey structure, change in identity trends over time, and simple random chance; this preview does not include any analysis that could determine which changes are significant enough to be simply a result of chance so you have to take any seeming trends with a grain of salt.
*Please also note that I’ve taken a few liberties in grouping similar categories from the pre-2015 and post-2015 in order to save on space – these groups are not necessarily directly comparable due to differences in survey wording (especially in the case of “unsure” and “another identity”), but they are thematically similar enough that I find it interesting to group them adjacent to each other. I’ve also lumped together “Gay” and “Lesbian” in the post-2015 data for convenience when comparing to the pre-2015 group “Gay/Lesbian”.
**I also haven’t double checked for typos (hence the axis with decimal instead of percent units) so if you want to do any serious analysis, I suggest you start with the raw NCHA data here.
If you find this kind of data interesting, definitely check out the original NCHA reports page. I’m also happy to share the excel files used here upon request.
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.
Part of this update was a major overhaul of the entry for “Asexual“, which has been greatly expanded from the original 1989 definition by the addition of several different “senses”, or possible meanings of the word. Each sense was also given additional dated historical use sample citations from various primary sources. [A/N The entry for “asexuality” and was similarly updated. I have not transcribed it here since it follows similar lines, but I could add it in a separate post if there is interest.]
The actual OED definitions are behind a paywall, but if you have a library card there is a good chance your library already subscribes, so you can login with just your library card number. If not, you can look below the read more to view the relevant excerpts with links to full PDF snapshots.
Overall, as an ace and an amateur linguistics enthusiast, I have to say I’m pretty well satisfied by this update – at least as far as “asexual” and “asexuality” goes. Now we just need to coax them into adding ace, aromantic, and all the other community lingo…
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.
So, as of a couple days ago, the Nathan For You asexuality episode has aired! Here’s some initial comments after my first watchthrough.
(warning: will contain spoilers for this episode but nothing else in the season, afaik)
The asexual computer repair shop gig makes up the first half of a split episode, at about 9.5 minutes total. You can find the full episode here if you have cable (content warnings for a couple very pixelated implied dick pics, brief discussions of masturbation, and some inaccurate definitions of asexuality. I have not watched the second half so I don’t know if there’s anything warn-worthy): http://www.cc.com/episodes/1xvf7u/nathan-for-you-computer-repair—psychic-season-4-ep-405 There’s also a very very brief clip at the end during the credits.
The basic premise starts with Nathan (the title character, who thinks up various absurd business proposals for all sorts of businesses as a consultant) is working with a computer repair shop owner, Herman, who has a dilemma: no one believes him when he says he won’t look at his client’s nude photos (he asserts that he can resist because he already saturates all his sexual desires by watching porn at home) – because they still mistrust him as a “sexual being”
Nathan’s proposed solution? “Put the customers at ease by offering the world’s first asexual computer repair service.” Hire some asexual people with no sexual desires and you can assure the customers that their nude pics will be safe!
After interviewing several asexuals and hiring two who don’t react to “stimulating” (but actually pretty SFW) stock photos with spikes in heart rate tests, they get to work in a very silly “desexualized zone” complete with electronic keypad locks and sirens that announce any possible penetration (sorry, I couldn’t resist) by sexual people, and a sealed observation booth for Herman to direct from since he’s the only one actually trained in fixing computers. After a harrowing incident where Herman has to make a dash through the “desexualized zone” to get to the bathroom, with “sexual intruder alert” sirens blaring and an emergency “lockdown protocol” in effect, the repairs are finally completed and both the customer and Herman are satisfied with the new service.
As far as accurate representation of asexuality, it was mixed. On the one hand, they got a lot of basics right – like the 1% figure, and characters literally posting AVEN’s vis/ed forum, but they do deliberately skew the definition a first to better fit with the gag, by initially introducing it as “the 1% of americans who identify as asexual, meaning they have no sexual desires whatsoever”, which we know is not really an accurate definition.
They do later have an asexual character re-define it as “…a lack of sexual attraction, and need for sex is all that asexuality truly is. And there’s a spectrum”, so it sounds like they actually did their research decently well, but just chose to ignore some of it for the sake of plot. Which is….better but also worse?
It did find a way to incorporate asexuality into a comedy show in a non-mean spirited way, which I appreciated. They also didn’t go for the obvious “lying ‘asexual’ actually is weak to porn” gag that a less respectful show might have gone for, and I though they presented the asexual characters fairly respectfully and believably, even when they went into the nerdy ace trope; if anything it spent most of it’s time being rude to the sexual characters.
The asexual cast was definitely very white, but seemed like maybe not exclusively so? (At least to my bad-at-ethnic-boundaries eyes), which is a start I guess, but there’s a long way to go. Four is a lot of faces for one 10 minute skit, though, so that’s a something! But then they do also fall into the “the one token girl(?*) has to be white because you can only be one minority at once” thing, and it’s still nowhere near as much diversity as they could have had in terms of age and other factors (and it totally excludes mentions of aces with libidos for obvious reason).
(*I’m not sure if that particular character was actually a woman or nonbinary or what since I wasn’t able to catch any pronouns)
ETA: so allegedly they recruit real semi-unsuspecting people for this show (which is billed as a “docu-reality show”) but considering the camerawork and the dialogue appears to incredibly scripted (and that the location of the supposed featured business has clearly been changed) I’m a little dubious. I suppose we won’t know unless any of the features aces/actors happen to not be on NDAs and ever decide to blog about it.
As far as the overall humor, I have to admit I did laugh at all the silly antics around the “desexualized” zone, especially the asexuals only sign. All the scenes where Nathan and Herman tried to pitch it to customers, on the other hand, felt pretty strained, although that was largely second hand embarrassment for Herman over the way they presented the “disclaimer: there is a sexual person here” and “so….asexuality” thins.
Overall, once I get past being peeved about the misleading “no arousal” comments, I actually like the rest of how they handled the ace-ness of the ace characters. I’m perhaps also a little more forgiving of the “haha hire aces with no arousal who won’t look at porn” and it’s basis in stereotypes than I would be usually because they manage to make it feel more like the kind of stereotyped jokes that we aces already like to make about ourselves sometimes.
Now, have some screenshots. If I ever figure out how to make proper gifs I’ll post those in a follow up post (and if anyone has gif-making tool recommendations, I’m all ears).
Anyway, you can also find other reviews/reactions here – and share your own in the comments!