March 2015 Carnival of Aces – Call for Submissions

Hi everyone! I’m excited to host the Carnival of Aces this month and have chosen the theme Writing About Asexuality (which of course includes the entire ace spectrum). Possible topic ideas include:

  • How can well-meaning non-ace writers do a better job portraying our orientation in their articles/books?
  • What should fiction authors avoid when writing asexual characters? What are some ways to do it right?
  • What particular concerns or difficulties exist when writing about asexuality for a non-ace audience?
  • If you’ve ever written about asexuality, what’s your experience been like? What lessons have you learned, what kind of responses have you received, what do you wish you’d done differently, what are some of your triumphs?
  • What do you feel is lacking when it comes to writing about asexuality, in ace spaces or in wider discourse?
  • How are online ace communities shaping the way asexuality is talked about and conceived of through our writing? What shifts have been positive, and which have been negative? What should we do differently in the future?
  • What are some examples you’ve seen of badly-done writing about asexuality, and why did they fail? What are some good examples and why were they successful?
  • What advice, criticism, or positive feedback do you have for anyone writing about asexuality—ace bloggers, article writers, authors of educational material, fiction authors, etc.?
  • Anything else you can think of related to this subject!

Anyone can submit to the carnival and in any form—writing of any kind, videos, artwork, etc. You can submit by commenting on this post with the link to your submission or by emailing it to me at cinderaceblogs(at)gmail(dot)com. At the end of the month I’ll collect all the links in a post. I look forward to reading your contributions!


Is it unreasonable to expect sexual content warnings in ace spaces?

I’m sex-repulsed—not only when it comes to the idea of engaging in sex myself, but also as far as seeing sexual content in films, reading about sex, or hearing sexual references. While encountering these things doesn’t make me physically ill, and my level of tolerance does depend on the context and purpose and how explicit the material is, in general I have a strong aversion to all sexual content.

Because of that, when I’m watching or reading something I like to know beforehand if it contains any sexual material. Film ratings are great for this; I can see before I start a movie that it’s rated R for sex, and factor that into my decision of whether to watch it or not. If I do watch it, I’ll know what I’m in for and can be prepared to fast forward the sex scene(s) or look away. Even when I can’t avoid the content or choose not to, just having that mental preparation makes a big difference.

In my time in the ace blogosphere and Tumblr, though, I’ve come across sexual images posted on ace blogs with no warning beforehand. I’ve seen recommendations of ace-friendly or -relevant media that I’ve happily sought out, only to be startled to find that it contained sexual content. And… I’m kind of tired of that. While, in my experience, blog post-type writing by aces does tend to carry sufficient warnings about mentions of sex or anatomy (and I really appreciate that), I don’t feel that ace spaces are entirely safe for sex-repulsed people.

I write this wondering if I’m asking for an unreasonable accommodation—is this just an individual quirk that I should deal with on my own? You can’t have content warnings for everything anyone could possibly dislike or be bothered by. But in ace spaces—spaces for people who don’t experience sexual attraction, many of whom are sex-averse or -repulsed—I am surprised that warning for sexually explicit content isn’t more of a thing.

And, I think it should be. Sexual content is everywhere in western society, and apart from movie ratings, it’s not warned for at all. There’s nothing I can do about that but deal with it, but after having to deal with it so often, one reason I turn to ace spaces is that I expect them to be a refuge from sex-saturated mainstream culture. So it’s really disappointing when they just repeat the same patterns.

I’m not asking that all sexual content be removed from ace spaces; I’d just like to see a note mentioning it before graphic images, or in parentheses after a recommendation, or on the homepage of a website. Putting up warnings has so little cost; it just requires a little extra time and doesn’t take anything away from those who are interested in or like sexual content. It would be such a small effort to make to help ace spaces become more friendly to repulsed and averse aces. I feel like anyone who’s ace themselves should be fully on board with that goal.

I strive to make this blog a safe place for sex-repulsed and -averse aces, so I always mention if there’s any sexual content in the media I recommend and will put content warnings before posts containing sexual material (if I ever write any). But if you ever feel that I haven’t adequately labelled something—which applies to trigger warnings, too—just let me know and I’ll fix it.

Final notes on appearance (for now)

Finally wrapping up the series that’s been going since I started blogging! I’ve enjoyed writing about appearance from multiple different angles, but after ten posts on the subject (eleven if you count the linkspam), I’m ready to move on to other topics. First, though, here’s a quick recap of the series and a few more stories of my recent experiences with my appearance.

In the first post, I noted that I don’t prioritize my appearance very highly, and wondered why other people do. I explored this idea in several of the following posts in the series, discussing the relationships between my appearance and my gender and my appearance and my asexuality, and pondering the connection between people’s appearances and the level of worth we ascribe to them as human beings. I also wrote about how mirrors inform our interactions with others; discussed the policing of appearance based on gender; talked about what that looks like for women specifically, both in general and within Christianity; and critiqued the notion found within some strains of feminism that everyone should love their bodies.

Now a few random stories… Having short hair (at an awkward growing-out stage, before I buzzed it all off) got me misgendered once, and while I know that can be an upsetting experience, I actually enjoyed it. I was at a busy market wearing gender-neutral clothing, and as someone moved past me from behind, they said, “Excuse me, sir.” Having come to the realization that I don’t feel very feminine, I was excited to have that mistake made, even though I hadn’t been intentionally going for a male presentation. Messing with the gender binary a little, and not looking obviously feminine, just made me happy.

…But, apparently, even wearing jeans and a unisex hoodie and with a hat on my obviously-nearly-hairless head, I’m still feminine-looking enough to be referred to as a “cute girl” by a random old guy. *sigh*

Soon after buzzing off my hair I saw multiple branches of my extended family, and had to explain over and over again why I did it. While I got that same question after going from long hair to a stylish short haircut, it wasn’t to the same extent or in the same slightly baffled way. One reaction I got when I pulled off my hat was, “You did that willingly?” This article describes very well the reasons why women might not feel free to cut their hair (I didn’t really see it as an option for a long time), and the author’s experience of having her desire to go from long hair to a pixie cut be met with surprise and disapproval, as well as the reactions I received to my buzz cut, emphasize how women’s appearances are commodified, their capacity for being attractive valued above all else.

That article also articulates one reason why short hair is actually perfect for me: “[L]ong hair has always been perceived as the pinnacle of a woman’s femininity and sex appeal. A woman who cuts her hair is cutting herself off of her own femininity and from being seen as sexual.” Kind of exactly what I want.

That’s it! Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts and stories with me during this series, and comments on old posts are always welcome if anyone wants to discuss any of the specific topics further. :) There are also many areas I could have covered but didn’t, so I also welcome any further appearance-related thoughts or links on other topics.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is sexist and misogynistic

Content/trigger warning: Discussion of sexism, misogyny, and sexual violence (including mentions of rape)

I’m currently reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 for the first time, and the other day I put it down in the middle of a chapter to try to find out if anyone else has been as bothered by its sexism as I have. 20 minutes on Google turned up multiple blog posts that tack on a mention of the novel’s misogyny at the end, finishing with, “otherwise it’s a great book”, and even one post defending the book against accusations of misogyny. Only one result, this review, came close to expressing my feelings. This is an aspect of this book that needs to be acknowledged, so that’s what this post is going to do. Continue reading

Sex-aversion and purity culture

Inspired by “Asexual, because reasons” by Siggy and this post by Coyote. Also kind of a follow-up to my last post.

Before I knew the word “asexual”, I didn’t think about why I was the way I was; I just accepted it as something about me. But since discovering the term, I’ve wondered many times if I’m ace or sex-averse (I use that term somewhat interchangeably with sex-repulsed, because it’s broader but still encompasses sex-repulsion) because of something in my upbringing—especially the purity culture that I was immersed in through my church.

I knew that I didn’t want to have sex before I was old enough for Sunday school classes on purity, so I know those didn’t cause my asexuality or my personal sex-aversion—I was already not just uninterested in sex, but actively did not want to ever do it. But I do think purity culture contributed somewhat to my overall sex-aversion—I’m not just repulsed by the idea of engaging in sex myself, but don’t like to see it on film, read about it, hear people talk about it, or think about other people doing it. And it’s not just that I feel squicked by those things; rather, sex—any sex—has a wrongness about it to me. I don’t actually think that sex is inherently bad or wrong, but, hard to admit as it is, that’s my instinctual, unconscious reaction.

And I really wonder if I feel that way about sex because of hearing over and over how harmful sex is [outside of marriage], how it’s a sin [outside of marriage], how it will leave you scarred, broken, damaged [outside of marriage]. I’ve read stories of people who grew up in purity culture having issues having sex with their spouses; while that “outside of marriage” is always tacked on, and at least in certain churches/circles there’s plenty of talk about the goodness of marital sex, being told about the badness of premarital sex over and over still makes an impact. So thinking that I, who was already predisposed to not be excited about sex, internalized these messages isn’t very far-fetched.

Why does this matter? Because purity culture is messed up and is hurting people—those who wait till marriage and those who don’t (cw for mentions of rape at the link). If you do wait, you might end up in tears on your wedding night. If you don’t, you’re considered “damaged goods” and shamed, either by other people or just by yourself, because you’ve been told again and again that you’re not worth as much if you sleep with someone before getting married to them.

But more important to me right now is, it matters because it’s okay to be sex-averse. It’s okay to not want to hear about sex, it’s okay to be uncomfortable with it, and it’s okay to not want to do it—and that holds true even if you got that way from unhealthy attitudes, or through some form of trauma.

People need to realize this, for their own sake and for the sake of aces, because some Christians who rage against purity culture use “asexual” to mean “broken”, and emphasize sexual enjoyment as an essential component of marriage and a hallmark of a healthy life (not linking because these articles were upsetting, but let me know if you want them). But these people shouldn’t view being able to have fun, guilt-free sex as the ultimate goal; rather, the goal should be acceptance of and support for people who don’t like sex, who can’t make themselves go through with it, people for whom it always feels wrong. Nobody should have to teach themselves to like sex in order to feel healthy or healed.

No matter where they come from, asexuality and sex-aversion are legitimate, and aren’t things that need to be changed or corrected. Whether you were born sex-averse, or picked it up somewhere, or had it forced on you, it’s still you, and while you certainly aren’t obligated to like it, it’s not inherently bad.

I’m saying this to everyone who’s been hurt by purity culture—including myself.

Growing up ace and Christian

This post is for the February 2015 Carnival of Aces, which is on Cross Community Connections. I’d been wanting to write about this subject already, and this Carnival seems like perfect timing.

I was homeschooled, so I never went through a sex-ed class. But I did get sexual purity Sunday school classes, where we discussed books like Every Young Man/Woman’s Battle­—the battle being with sexual temptation. And the whole time, my thought was, “Um, it’s not my battle!” But neither the book nor the youth leaders ever mentioned that as a possibility. I mean, the book titles say it all—every person’s battle (well, as long as you’re a man or a woman).

I assume the authors of those books and the teachers of the class had never heard of asexuality. At the very end of the girls’ book there was a short chapter on “What if I’m not attracted to guys?”, but that just meant, “What if I am attracted to girls?” At the beginning of the book the authors stated, “Everyone is a sexual being. Even when you’re not doing anything sexual, you remain a sexual person.” And I didn’t like being told that about myself, because it didn’t seem right, but I didn’t have the language or the framework to object to it.

I’d hear Christians say that sex is a gift from God, and I cringed away from that sentiment, because it wasn’t a gift that I wanted. I always knew I was different from everyone around me, and I think part of the reason I did (as opposed to assuming everyone else was like me, like some aces did growing up), was my Christian environment. Once, one of my peers took a vocation-discernment test and received “celibacy” as a possible result, and she reported that to the rest of the class with laughter—and everyone else laughed too. My asexuality didn’t go unexamined because of Christianity’s emphasis on abstinence; rather, I was surrounded by married people, and told that my peers and I would also get married someday. And I always knew what marriage meant. Sunday school didn’t teach “Don’t have sex”; it taught, “Don’t have sex until you’re married.”

My church and Christian culture in general told me sex was powerful, that it was hard for people to control their sexual urges, that it was normal to masturbate and fantasize and want to sleep with the person you were dating—but those desires had to be contained until you were married, when suddenly all your sexual needs would be fulfilled by your spouse. That meant I did not want to get married, because marriage equaled sex. It meant I thought I could never have a romantic relationship, because romantic relationships became marriages. It mean I thought I was destined to be alone forever, because the only long-term, committed relationship you could have was a romantic one.

It didn’t get any better after I discovered asexuality; when I Googled around at one point, trying to find a Christian view of it, I only came up with articles like this horror, which calls asexuality “sub-Christian”  (content warning in the “sexuality” section at least for heterosexism,  cissexism, binarism, and sex-normativity/compulsory sexuality). I also concluded, from a little more Googling and verses like 1 Corinthians 7:4-5—“The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again”—that it would be wrong to be in a sexless relationship with an allosexual. And nothing I had ever been taught contradicted that conclusion; the idea of a sexless marriage was never mentioned.

Christianity helped me realize I was asexual, even if I didn’t know that word at the time, because of its emphasis on sex and sexual desire/temptation. Christian culture is sex-normative, and it made me feel isolated and completely alone. It gave me a messed-up view of men as having voracious, barely-controlled sexual appetites, insisted that I was sexual even though that didn’t ring true for me, and told me that if I wanted a romantic relationship, I would have to have sex.

Hearing asexuality mentioned as a possibility alongside the talk of temptation would have been so validating; it would have been such a relief to have my feelings acknowledged and presented as okay. Instead, I had to wait till I was 20 to find out that asexuality was a thing, after suffering through years of compulsory sexuality from my (now former) religion. So what could Christians do better? It’s not hard: Know about asexuality. Be okay with asexuality. Don’t glorify marriage above singleness, and don’t glorify marital sex. And when you teach about sexual purity, mention that being ace is a thing—and that there’s nothing wrong with it.

Appearance linkspam

Since starting my appearance series, I’ve come upon a lot of writing on the intersection of appearance with gender, (a)sexuality, and/or sexism (mostly, but not all, from the archives of various ace blogs), and I wanted to share in case anyone is interested. My previous posts also include many links to articles that I’ve found interesting and insightful. Continue reading