Edge of Everywhere

Hello, blogosphere. Long time no see. I can’t believe it’s been more than 5 years (about 5.5 now) since I first realized I was asexual and started this blog in the fall of 2008. I have come a long way, especially in the past year, in terms of fully owning my asexuality letting go of the fears I have around it and around being out (particularly the fear of not being considered as a potential partner by anyone if I come out to them). I’m out to my best friends, members of a support group I’m in (unrelated to sexuality), and a few other people. I want to be out to more people, but I tend not to bring it up, out of a combination of not knowing how to and not knowing how the conversation will go/not wanting to deal with uncomfortable and prying questions.

Something I’ve become more comfortable with lately is identifying as queer but not specifying where exactly I fall on the spectrum. Before I knew about asexuality, my strongest sense was that I was just not heterosexual, and the hardest thing for me about not being out is being assumed to be heterosexual, because it makes me feel misunderstood and like an impostor who’s going to be revealed as not knowing the secret hetero handshake (which is how it felt when I briefly tried to date heterosexual guys).

So with some people in my life, I’ve done what I see as coming half-out – as queer or not-heterosexual but not specifically as asexual. In a creative group I’m a part of, I was recently poked fun at for my lack of knowledge about an aspect of heterosexual sex. I got embarrassed and frustrated and sarcastically blurted out “Sorry,” adding “I’m not even into guys!” That was the end of the conversation, and now I assume those friends think I’m gay. And I’m okay with that for today. I could see myself being in a relationship with a woman, and if I were, people would assume I was gay, just like they assumed I was heterosexual when I had a male partner. I have no control over what people assume without having more information. But I immediately felt better when I knew they didn’t assume I was heterosexual anymore. And someday, when I feel comfortable, I want to tell them I’m asexual because they’re important to me and so is my identity. But I know there’s no point in pressuring myself–the idea of making my lack of sexual interest a topic of conversation, especially in a group setting, is still incredibly uncomfortable to me, and that’s okay.

In a conversation with a mentor recently, I mentioned not being out to the aforementioned group of friends, and I felt an immediate switch in how she talked to me–in a good way. She likes to talk about guys, but after that, instead of assuming I was like her and would relate to her experience, she explained what her experience of a particular situation was like as a heterosexual woman. And it felt really good to be acknowledged as having a different experience and not being expected to know what hers was like. It’s not super important to me how much she knows about my sexuality; the experience just confirmed that I am definitely more comfortable at this point aligning myself with queerness, whether or not it feels comfortable or relevant to bring up asexuality specifically.

Hey everyone – it’s been ages since I last wrote a post, but I want to thank everyone who has subscribed, commented, or encouraged me to keep writing.

I stumbled upon the recent New York Times story New Love: A Short Shelf Life and found it interesting to read from an asexual perspective. The article concerns a study that found that “newlyweds enjoy a big happiness boost that lasts, on average, for just two years.” Why only two years?

“When love is new, we have the rare capacity to experience great happiness while being stuck in traffic or getting our teeth cleaned. We are in the throes of what researchers call passionate love, a state of intense longing, desire and attraction. In time, this love generally morphs into companionate love, a less impassioned blend of deep affection and connection.”

Although this may be a new study, it states in academic terms what our culture tells us over and over–that couples eventually lose the “spark” of passion that united them and eventually morph into sexless old people together, or otherwise end up cheating on each other or breaking up in the search to find that spark with someone else.

But what about those of us who never experience that spark in the first place, who only seek companionate love? Are we better off for not expecting that first brief phase and having to undergo the transition to the second?

Also, I always find it a bit baffling to hear it acknowledged that most relationships eventually (and according to this study, surprisingly quickly) end up being closer to the type we seek, and yet know that many people can’t get their head around the idea of asexuality. What’s so weird about wanting the deep affection and connection that characterize all long-term relationships, regardless of orientation, just without the intense longing, desire and attraction that fade quickly anyway?

Cool art alert: Moved by the negative reactions to her and other women’s decisions not to have children, Miriam Schaer embroidered real quotes onto white baby dresses with red thread, creating a shocking visual representation of the societal prejudice against childless women.

The artist writes:

“Selfish… Neurotic… Irresponsible… Immature… Unfeminine… Unfulfilling… Materialistic… Uptight… Deviant” — all words I have heard to characterize my decision to not have children, a decision transforming me into a target of one of society’s remaining and widely held prejudices.

Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance.

***

As a women who has never had any interest in having children, this work struck a chord with me. The quote most similar to the reactions I’ve received is “You still have time; maybe you’ll change your mind. You can adopt.” Many of the others Scher uses are shockingly negative, like “Childless women lack an essential humanity” (shown above) and “Your not having children was the biggest disappointment of our life.”

I have a lot of trouble understanding why anyone would be angry about a woman choosing not to have children. I can understand the idea of parents being disappointed about not having grandchildren, to a certain point (though not the point reached in the last quote above), but I can’t get my head around the idea of anger toward and disdain for a woman whose life plans do not include raising children. Raising children is a very difficult and lifelong job. We should be glad when a woman who does not desire to undertake this job chooses not to; unfortunately, many women who do raise children do not have the desire or ability to perform the job well, which is a horrible situation for any child to be in.

Cheers to Miriam Schaer for bringing a little-discussed form of discrimination into the public eye in a clever and powerful way.

I got an email from WordPress the other day with my 2010 summary, letting me know that even though I barely wrote on this blog over the past year, a surprisingly large number of people visited it, which was nice to hear. I hope that my past writings will continue to be of use as a representation of one of the ever-growing number of asexual voices online.

The other recent occurrence that reminded me of this blog’s existence and prompted me to start writing again was the Jezebel article “Deep-Pocketed Woman Will Pay For Platonic Love.” The woman in question made a long Craigslist post expressing her disinterest in sexual relationships and offering compensation for a platonic companion, with many details about the type of relationship she seeks. The writer finds the subject “oddly riveting” and tries to dissect her motives, but doesn’t seem to know about asexuality. Luckily, many commenters chimed in and expressed their hope that the platonic relationship-seeker (and Jezebel’s readers) would visit AVEN to learn about asexuality and discover that platonic companionship is a completely normal thing to want–and doesn’t have to cost anything.

I don’t talk much about asexuality in real life, but things like this article make me feel like it’s my responsibility to help spread the word that asexuality exists as an orientation and a valid framework for different kinds of relationships. That way, maybe people like the woman in the article would be more likely to find validation for who they are and what they want, and ultimately feel less alone.

I still think about asexuality all the time, even though I rarely find the time to write about it. Something I think about a lot is how to express my asexual identity, especially among people I’m not out to. I sometimes do this by making clear my disinterest in all things sex-related whenever possible. The problem with this strategy, though, is that it just seems to end up reinforcing the same stereotypes that followed me when I was younger: the innocent, sheltered little girl, and the prude. I know I am neither of those things, but in certain conversations, I feel like I have two options: say the thing that makes me blend in, which feels like lying, or say the thing that shows I am different. All I want is to be seen as neutral in regard to sex, but most people only seem to see two sides: “normal” and “not normal,” with the latter needing to be explained by immaturity and/or some other kind of “issues.” What I’m trying to figure out is, how do I express myself as neutral when neutral isn’t something that most people think exists when it comes to sex?

I know it’s been forever since I’ve written anything. I’ve had no shortage of ideas for posts, though, and I’m going to try to find time to write them down.

I’m going to be in a hip-hop dance show, and one of the dances is a “sexy” dance. It’s fast-paced, but there’s a lot of gratuitous hip-thrusting, and I know we’re all expected to channel our inner sexy pop diva. Therefore, I’ve been thinking about what it means for an asexual to act sexy.

One dictionary definition of sexy is “arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire or interest.” I obviously have no motivation to present myself in this way–in fact, the idea makes me very uncomfortable, especially since my family and friends will be watching me.

However, I also know that when women talk about feeling sexy, it isn’t always in terms of sexual attractiveness to others–it can also mean strong, sassy, and confident. I may not have a sexy side to tap into, but I can channel all of those things, so that’s what I try do when I dance.

I have conflicted feelings about my ability and tendency to pass as heterosexual. On the one hand, it allows me to connect with people by highlighting only the commonalities in the way we experience attraction and relationships. On the other, it allows people to assume things about me that are not true, which makes me uncomfortable, and it keeps them from fully understanding me.

I’ve recently made a few new female friends, and for most of them, “boy talk” is an important way of bonding. I never mind listening to their experiences and offering advice if they ask, and I am able to drop small bits of information that mark me as like them, even though it’s evident that I am less interested in boys and dating than they are.

However, as I get to be closer friends with people, I find myself wanting to be able to be myself with them and speak honestly about my relationships, including the parts they won’t be able to relate to. But the longer I go without mentioning my asexuality, and the longer I let them believe that I am heterosexual, the harder it seems to find the right time to bring it up, and the weirder it feels to be like, “Hey, it’s true that I like guys, but I don’t want to have sex with them.” I still haven’t figured out if and how I’m going to tell them, besides waiting for a relevant conversation to provide the perfect segue (which has happened to me before, but isn’t something I can count on).

As a follow-up to my last post about meeting friends through Craigslist, here’s a little more about what I’ve gotten out of the experience and what I’ve found challenging.

Benefits:

-Ability to connect with people I probably never would have met otherwise

-Ability to seek out people in my area and/or who share specific interests

-Ability to expand my social circle by not only meeting new people, but also meeting their friends

Challenges:

-Friendships initiated online lack the context of ones formed at school, through work, through other friends, etc. This means it takes more effort on the part of both people to grow and maintain the friendship, because we won’t see each other unless we plan to get together. In a few cases, I’ve met people with whom I’ve felt somewhat compatible, but we haven’t kept up with each other because neither of us found an immediate motivation to prioritize getting together over all of the other things we could be doing on any given day, and we have no other connection that will happen to bring us together.

-I have occasionally met people (guys) who seemed cool at first but later made me uncomfortable (once, this involved inappropriate comments of a sexual nature) and with whom I decided I did not want to be friends. So I had to platonically “dump” them, basically by ignoring them until they went away. But overall, I’ve had far more positive experiences than negative ones.

I’ll leave you with a few more tips:

-If you meet someone  you “click” with as friends, try to establish something you might like to do together in the future before the meeting is over. If you don’t hear from them in a few days, be sure to email them to let them know you enjoyed meeting them, and try to make a plan to meet again. If you both get lazy and wait too long to make contact again, you might just forget about each other and miss out on a potentially great friendship.

-Once you’ve begun to establish a new friendship, invite the person along to things you’re doing with your other friends, and be open to doing things with them and their friends. If you can integrate into each other’s social circles, it will strengthen the friendship as well as enhance both of your social lives.

-Remember that technology, which brought you together in the first place, can also be a huge help in staying in touch and growing your friendship. Once I’ve met someone (this actually goes for real-life meetings as well as ones initiated online), I’ve found that if we add each other on Facebook and start to keep up with and comment on each other’s posts, we will feel like we know each other better and have more to talk about by the next time we see each other. I’ve found keeping in touch via text message to be useful with certain people as well. For example, if we’ve  discussed a certain topic or established a common interest, and then something happens to me or I learn some new information regarding that topic, I can immediately tell the person about it, thus enforcing the initial connection.

I generally find that people my age (post-college 20-somethings) meet new people in one of three ways: at work, through other friends, and through dating. The third often involves the internet. Thanks to Craigslist, asexuals have access our own version of online dating (other than the great-in-theory but not widely used asexual dating sites): the Strictly Platonic personals section. I have met a lot of people this way, and a couple of them (as well as other people I’ve met through them) are now among my closest friends.

I’ve put together a little FAQ on online friend-dating:

Q: How does it work?
A: You either make a post detailing what you are looking for in potential friends, or browse and reply to other people’s posts. You can search posts according to keywords, by gender, and by age.

Q: What kinds of friendships are people on there generally looking for?
A: Posts very widely, from requests as specific as “Does someone want to see Avatar on Saturday?” to searches for people with certain interests or living in specific neighborhoods, to elaborate treatises from people looking for their next best friend forever.

Q: What are the similarities to and differences from regular online dating?
A: In both cases, people are casting out a net to find a person or people who meet a perceived need in their lives. They may be looking for something general or specific, one-time or long-term. The platonic section has an emphasis on interests and activities without the dating section’s emphasis on looks, and I think posters are generally more likely to write back to everyone who writes to them because they’re not as focused on judging people’s attractiveness.

Q: What else should I know about contacting and being contacted by people through the site?
A: Create an anonymous email address to use for your initial correspondences with people from the site. If you make a post, don’t feel obligated to write back to everyone who responds if you get a weird vibe from them or they don’t provide sufficient information about themselves to warrant a response (e.g., “wanna chat?” or “We have a lot in common. Let’s meet up”). In responding to other people’s posts, I suggest writing a concise yet informative introduction in relation to the content of the specific post you are responding to. Take the time to give them an idea of who you are and why you think you would be compatible as friends. You can include a photo or link to your Facebook page if you want to, but shouldn’t feel obligated to do so.

Q: What should I know about meeting up with people through the site?
A: Different people have different expectations about how much contact they will have before making plans to meet. If you find someone who seems cool and compatible with you, you might choose to make immediate plans. If you feel more comfortable exchanging emails until you get to know someone a little bit first, that’s fine, too. Even though this is the platonic section, as with dating, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting in a public place. Some people prefer sit-down, conversation-based meetings (over tea, drinks, etc.) and some prefer to share activities.

Next time, I will write more about the challenges and rewards of cultivating friendships initiated through the Internet.

In my last post, I theorized that relationships rely on one of two things: proximity and work (which could also be called effort, or commitment). So what happens when two people who became friends at school or work or through some other activity lose that proximity? In what situations do we work to maintain the relationship, and in which do we abandon it?

When relationships work/when we work at them:
1. We both find the relationship fulfilling (as DJ said in the comments on my last post) and feel a special connection that we feel has a meaningful place in our lives.
2. We each feel invested in the other person’s life and automatically feel compelled to keep in touch and support the other person through whatever they’re going through.
3. We feel that spending time together is worth prioritizing above at least some of the myriad ways we could each be spending our time.
4. We have activities that it’s important for us to do together as opposed to with other people or alone.

When relationships don’t work/when we don’t work at them:

1. Both people get lazy and don’t make time to contact the other person, even though we always enjoy the time we spend together.
2. Only one person makes the effort to stay in touch and make plans, until the lack of reciprocity leads them to give up.
3. There’s no specific motivation to contact each other or do a particular activity together, or to prioritize seeing each other above the myriad other ways we could each be spending our time.

Maintaining a strong relationship doesn’t feel like work. However, if I’m the only one putting in the effort, or neither of us is, it does feel like work. In these cases, I feel like the fate of the relationship is in my hands, and I need to remember and decide to contact people and try to make plans with them. My motivation here is different than in the examples up top; I am working to keep in touch because I feel that the relationship has potential and I should nurture it–and that if I do, I can help it grow into something meaningful and self-sustaining. This isn’t nearly as strong a motivator as the reasons above, and most of the time it does not actually motivate me to take action.

In my next post, I will discuss online friend-dating, which has produced most of the relationships of this variety–ones that did not develop naturally through a shared environment, activity, or group of friends, and that require a conscious effort on the part of both people in order to survive and progress.