Coming out to acquaintances – A different kind of challenge

It’s one thing to openly identify as queer*, another entirely to specify that it’s asexuality.

I recently had the pleasure of writing the foreword for A.K. Andrews’ anthology of asexual essays ‘Ace & Proud’, a collection of written works from asexual spectrum people about their discovery of asexuality, its impact in their relationships, and the role of the people around them in their acceptance.

Fuck yes.
#author

In posting a photo of the segment bearing my name on Facebook, I have found myself coming out to a group of people who were previously unaware of my orientation, and who I had not thought necessary to enlighten, namely co-workers, co-volunteers, and ex-teachers. In doing so, I’ve noted a marked difference in how easily I can talk about my experiences when the person is someone who I interact with on a semi-regular basis, as opposed to how I normally operate (that is, exclusively either my closest friends and family, or complete strangers).

The irony that I am at once perfectly comfortable talking about the most intimate details of my sexual history on national radio, yet hesitate to mention the word ‘asexual’ in front of someone I work with is not lost on me. It’s one thing to openly identify as queer*, another entirely to specify that it’s asexuality.

Posting the above photo was unusually ‘loud and proud’ for me (on Facebook at least; on Twitter and YouTube I am much more open in my orientation), and it generated more interest than I had originally expected. I received comments and private messages asking for my full text and, slightly warily, I obliged. While hyperaware that this wasn’t something that I would ever be able to take back, and concerned that I would be perceived differently by people whom I hoped to continue fostering relationships with in future, I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions.

There were no invasive interrogations like I often get when giving interviews, there was genuine interest that went beyond the “Asexual? Oh, that’s weird” variety, and an ex-teacher of mine even stated that she would bring up asexuality in her topical LGBT* rights class that week. A far cry from some of the horror stories that I’ve heard over the years in the asexual community,  I am fortunate that interested members in my social circle were perfectly lovely to chat to about asexuality.

Being sufficiently emotionally invested in the relationship you have with acquaintances while not knowing them well enough to predict how they will react to your coming out makes the coming out process all the more fraught with uncertainty: Will they understand what I mean when I say asexual? Will they believe me? Will they be queerphobic? Will they treat me differently? Will they see my orientation as a problem, and my coming out as a cry for help? Will this person attempt to inadvertently harm me through corrective rape? Without having broached the topic beforehand, there is not much one can really do to ‘test the waters’ before coming out to an acquaintance, and it can be a nasty shock to find the person you are in the process of befriending holds queer-or-ace-phobic views, particularly if you only find out in the process of coming out itself.

While this particular experience has been nothing but positive, I still hesitate to indiscriminately come out to my larger social circle, such as with a ‘coming out’ Facebook post. I am too proud to ever hide my orientation, but neither will I make it anyone else’s business unless they so choose.

There will inevitably come a day when my visibility work narrows the gap between what my larger social circle assumes my orientation to be and what my orientation actually is, to the point where I can no longer feasibly separate the two. Until that time comes, I will continue as I have always done: wearing my ace flag armwarmers and black ring for the benefit of those ‘in the know’, jumping into interviews and projects with no regard for who might potentially recognise me, contributing far too much whenever a conversation turns to asexuality, coming out to my closest friends, family, and to those acquaintances who are interested. And talking about whether I’ve masturbated or not to thousands of strangers, that too.


Robin’s comment

As opposed to Mycroft, I am very secretive about my orientation. I do not see it as a part of myself that everyone needs to know. I try to keep my identity in the asexual community separate from my real life. Until now, I have only come out to a handful of people, mostly close friends and acquaintances. I never had the courage to come out to my parents, since they don’t seem to accept anything outside of homosexuality, and even that is a stretch.

Because of this, I am not the best person to talk about the reactions of coming out. However, I do applaud those who have the courage to be out, and help those near them understand more about asexuality and other orientations.

Continue reading Coming out to acquaintances – A different kind of challenge

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Different types of labels

Due to the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community, there are countless identity labels floating around, some in mainstream use and some only used by one or two people. I used to be a label maniac myself, but over time, I started to question the purpose of having overly specific labels.

Here is how I think labels should be categorized

Orientations

This is the most prominent label category. It determines which sex/gender one is prone to be attracted to, like hetero, bi, ace, or andro.

Modifiers

This describes the manner in which people experience the attraction. Examples includes gray, demi, fray (opposite of demi), and lith (not requiring, or not wanting, people to reciprocate the attraction) fray.

General sexuality

These labels describe one’s sex life, or attitudes on sex. For example, celibacy is refraining from sexual activity, sex-positive people agree that people should be able to engage (or not engage) in sexual activity freely, and sex-repulsed people are repulsed by sexual activity.

Secondary labels

These labels slap two separate identities, or even other concepts not related to orientation, into one label. Labels under this category can be easily described using a combination of other labels, or with regular language. For example, vapubsexual can be written as “genitalia-repulsed asexual”, and apothisexual is simply “sex-repulsed asexual”.


 

There is nothing wrong with having multiple labels for your identity. Agender gray-romantic sex-neutral celibate asexual is a much better identity than, say, Robinsexual. Some places *coughtumblrcough* are especially prone to creating weird orientation/gender labels and immediately expects everyone to magically know all of the definitions or else be offended. Identities that can be described with other labels create unnecessarily complicated vocabularies that confuse both inside and outside the community, and may cause the mainstream culture to take the queer community less seriously. There is no point in inventing the word “apear” if it can be expressed equally well as “apples and pears”.

Besides, there is simply no end to creating these combi-labels. If we just take the concept of attitudes about sex (sex-positive/neutral/negative), personal feelings about sex (sex-favorable/neutral/repulsed), sexual orientation, and romantic orientation (let’s use the five most common), then there will be 3*3*5*5=225 labels, and that’s not even counting gender or patterns of attraction.

Labels are meant to provide clarity, not to add complexity. Everyone is different. Labels are by nature a simplified version of one’s own insanely complex sexuality and gender, not an attempt to describe every single minuscule aspect of it. If we invent too many specific labels, they lose their function of being a simple and effective way of giving others an overview of one’s identity.


Mycroft’s Comment:

As time goes on, I generally find the labels to be more and more suffocating. I personally believe that this is due to myself becoming more comfortable in my own identity, and secure in the knowledge that matching a label is not the be-all and end-all of my existence. Labels played a vital role in my getting to that stage, it’s true, and so I cannot deny people the feeling of comfort that comes when you realise other people experience life in a similar way to you. Particularly in the ace community, when we’re so small that finding us is quite often reliant on luck.

That said, the amount of labels floating around and sticking themselves to peoples’ foreheads is bemusing. What’s the advantage to reducing yourself to a bunch of attitudes that mask the actual complexities of the human, variable you underneath?

The ace community will still accept you for who you are, your intricacies, your exceptions, and the wider population certainly won’t take you any less seriously because you don’t have a vaguely Latin-sounding word for ‘will have sex in order to have children’. They could probably even accept a lack of flag!

Start asking yourself whether those labels are really going to be necessary in a year or two’s time for you to accept and love your bad self, and if they are, get yourself to a psych. That shit’s fucked up.

Labeling historic people

This post is part of the July Carnival of Aces. The topic is Asexual History.

XYZ was asexual because they didn’t marry/have children.

Robin

A problem with history is that it rarely records (or correctly records) the motivation of an action. It only records the result. We can only speculate why someone declared war on someone, and we can only speculate why someone is single/celibate. There are a lot of reasons that a person may have an “asexual” expression, like politics, religion, closeted homosexuality, lack of time, or simply that they don’t want to. There is no reason it necessarily has to be asexuality.

Sometimes the smallest traces may be blown out of proportion, like calling someone bisexual because they had a best friend of the same sex. You know how the media sometimes say “X must be gay because he was with Y!”. I’m sure you don’t appreciate that, right? Same for historical people. Furthermore, unlike living people, there is absolutely no way for the person to correct us.

AVEN is always big on this “only label yourself” thing, and that includes historical people, too. A lot of reasons people can have an “asexual” expression are also reasons people use to excuse asexuality. Retroactively labelling people as asexual does not help with that.


Mycroft

On the other hand, finding people in history to have displayed characteristics that can be imagined as indicative of asexuality can be a comforting experience and/or a fun topic for debate.

Asexuality is precious rare enough as it is, and having famous historical figures as role models or headcannons can be a nice reminder that asexuality isn’t a new orientation- it’s always been there, even if it hasn’t always been talked about.

In addition, when coming out, it can potentially be useful to have an example or two of famous figures that either openly identify as asexual (such as Tim Gunn from Project Runway), or are known to display ace-ish characteristics (such as Isaac Newton), in order to show that it’s not something you’ve invented on a whim.

In the end, they’re not around any more, there’s no way we’ll ever know for sure, and as long as a debate about Emily Brönte’s sexual orientation doesn’t get out of hand, no-one’s getting hurt from daydreaming about their favourite historical figure sharing their sexual orientation.

Attraction and desire

Asexuality is usually defined as the lack of sexual attraction, but another common definition is the lack of sexual desire. Some think that the sexual attraction and desire are the same, while others see it as different, and whether the two are related to asexuality is also disputed.

Personally I see sexual attraction and desire as different. Sexual attraction is finding someone to be a candidate for sexual intercourse, desire is wanting to have partnered sex, and libido (another concept that is also ambiguous) is wanting to experience sexual pleasure in some way. Using a food analogy, libido is hunger, sexual desire is appetite, and sexual attraction is wanting to eat that piece of cake that is on the table.

I personally define asexuality as the lack of at least one of the two, because they both result in a lack of interest in sex, which is the main concept of asexuality. Arguably, lack of interest in sex is also an accurate definition of asexuality. However, lack of libido would fall under the grey-A category, since it has less to do with sexual orientation.


Mycroft’s comment

Robin’s definitions are pretty good at separating the various main components of sexuality as I understand it. Even if the food analogy has all but been worn out, it still remains one of the more relatable ones out there. I would venture though, that most asexual people in fact lack both of the above, as I understand desire to be more of an extension of sexual attraction than a separate set of feelings.

Sex positivity – why the issue?

When someone says they identify as sex-positive, they can be referring to several things. Specifically, here are the three most common interpretations that I have seen in and around the asexual community:

  1. “I feel that sex is great, I feel positively about it.”
  2. “I feel that sex is a good thing, that has benefits for all.”
  3. “I feel positively about people expressing their sexuality in ways that are safe and consensual.”

These three (admittedly simplified) interpretations define what is commonly referred to ‘sex-positivity’. The problem arises though, when we realise that these definitions aren’t always mutually inclusive of one another.

Person A is happy about people expressing their sexuality in ways that are safe and consensual, though feels both negative and repulsed about the act itself if it were to include them. Person B approaches and wishes to discuss positive aspects of the sex act with Person A, as they have recently read an article about these benefits. Person A is not interested in discussing as they feel uncomfortable with the specifics of the act, yet Person B presses on, pointing out that some of these benefits could apply to anyone who participates in the act of sex, regardless of orientation. Person B goes on to suggest that Person A is simply sex-negative, and the resulting bloodbath is short and savage.

Now, aside from the obvious breach of boundaries by Person B, the fact is that both people identify as sex-positive. And they are both right. The way to achieve productive discourse in this case and, I believe, many cases, lies in acceptance of other people’s feelings, opinions, and boundaries as equally valid and real as your own. Once there is that acceptance, then there can be effective communication. If we take the example from above and injected a healthy respect of boundaries and other opinions to the mix, the resulting discussion could be a lot more productive.

(cont’d) Person A is not interested in discussing as they feel uncomfortable with the specifics of the act, and communicates this to Person B. Person B stops trying to discuss this subject with Person A, and politely asks if they would elaborate on why they are not comfortable with the topic. Person A explains that they have no problem with other people expressing their sexuality in a way that doesn’t involve Person A, as they are repulsed by the idea of sex involving them. Person B thinks about this for a bit, and realises that while they don’t feel the same way as Person A, that doesn’t mean that Person A’s feelings are any less valid. Person B finds someone else to discuss their topic of interest with, and Persons A and B part ways as mutually respectful and tolerant people.

The End

Wasn’t that lovely?


Robin’s Comment: And never ever should “sex positivity” mean that everyone must have sex to be happy.

Definition of asexuality

Robin

An asexual person is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.

Now, I can hear the people complaining “But that is not how I define it!”. True, the asexual community has evolved to the point that there is no single definition for asexuality. Some definite it by lack of sexual attraction (per official AVEN definition), by lack of interest in sex, or by lack of sexual behaviour. These definitions may all be valid to an individual, but it causes some debate among the asexual community on which one is “the correct one”.

Whichever definition we choose to use, there is one aspect that unites us: that we all feel different enough from sexuals that we don’t identify as such, and I think that is reason enough to be supportive of all definitions of asexuality. To me, there is no one definition of asexuality. The one that appears on AVEN’s banner is simply a guideline so people would get an idea of what asexuality is, and not use it for things like HSDD or celibacy. This is also called the Collective Identity model.

In any case, I hope that we can all accept everyone’s personal definitions of asexuality.


Mycroft’s comment

One thing that I’ve noticed in the asexual community is that we define ourselves more based on a lack of sexual attraction than any sexual attraction or desire that we might have.

Example: two grey-a’s, with similar levels and cases of sexual attraction. One identifies as grey-a while the other doesn’t identify under the asexual umbrella at all, just feels as though sexual attraction or desire isn’t that common for them. Though technically they feel the same way, their identification is the differentiating factor. Or, someone asexual-identifying might have experienced sexual attraction at some stage, but feels that it was rare enough an event to not influence their identifying as asexual.

This is why, while I promote and agree with the ‘how you feel is what you are’ line of thinking, I also think the ‘choosing to identify’ holds more weight than is often given credit for in mainstream asexual discourse.

Do you have different thoughts on this subject? Post them in the comments section!

Welcome to the tea party

Hi there! Glad you made it here alive. We’re about to eat some cake, and talk about asexuality. But mostly eat cake.

This blog is a collaboration between Robin and Mycroft. We’re both asexual, and we both write, so we thought “why not”, and thus this blog was born. Hopefully this blog could go on for some time. Sometimes we may do a vlog video on our YouTube channel, which will all be reposted here.

There’s a lot to be said about asexuality, and we’ll be discussing a mixture of Asex101 (basic introduction to asexuality topics) and Asex201 (more complex issues that require a more nuanced understanding of the asexual community and vocabulary). If we say something you like, leave a comment! If we say something you hate, leave a comment (no abuse please, it will be staunchly ignored). If we say something and you have no idea what we’re talking about, leave a question or send a message!

We hope you enjoy the party, there’s plenty of cake to go around!

-Robin and Mycroft

P.S. If you are a troll, your comments will be copied, printed out, and burned in sacrificial flame before our shrine dedicated to David Jay, while we chant and wear long purple robes. You have been warned.