March 2015 Carnival of Aces Roundup

Thanks to everyone who submitted to the carnival this month (which was on the topic of Writing About Asexuality); I’ve enjoyed reading/watching, and I hope the pieces can continue to spark discussion. This month’s submissions pretty much fell into three different categories, so that’s how I’ve organized them below. If I missed anything, or if you have a late submission, just let me know and I’ll add it. :)

Personal experiences of writing nonfiction:

Tips for writing nonfiction:

Advice and musings on writing asexual characters and portraying asexuality in fiction:

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Notes from my experience of writing an asexual character

This is my post for the March 2015 Carnival of Aces, which I’m hosting on the topic of Writing About Asexuality.

So I wrote a first draft of a novel with an ace protagonist and have been revising it recently. As I’ve worked on it I’ve had various thoughts/worries/concerns about writing an ace character, and I thought it might be useful to share them (even the ones that are kind of extreme or probably unfounded). Any thoughts or advice you may have is definitely welcome!

  • [trigger warning for sexual assault mention in this bullet point] My protagonist’s straight boyfriend doesn’t really get her asexuality, but he doesn’t try to force or convince her to have sex with him. But I’ve wondered if I should make him worse—I don’t want to unrealistically portray the experience of being ace as “Everyone will respect you and be decent about it (even if they don’t understand)!” The idea of “there should be more sexual assault in this novel” seems kind of horrible and makes me decidedly uncomfortable, and of course there are plenty of mixed relationships where that doesn’t happen, but I wouldn’t want to gloss over the danger that some people face from partners who don’t respect their boundaries.
  • My protagonist eventually comes out to her family, and it’s a big moment and a big choice for her (although it’s not the final resolution of the story and isn’t as satisfying as she’d hoped/expected). But I’ve second-guessed whether I actually want to make it that big a deal. Does doing so imply that coming out is an essential part of the ace narrative? Am I overemphasizing its importance? Queenie wrote in this post about YA novels where the gay main character’s eventual coming out to his parents is portrayed as an important step for his personal growth, and how that could influence GSRM kids/teens into thinking they have to come out to their parents. Even though my novel isn’t YA, in writing the coming out part as such a major thing, am I enforcing that idea? (And/or is the big coming out scene kind of boring/overdone/predictable at this point, and not something people will want to read again?)
  • My character has a lot of internalized sex-normativity to unlearn, so in her darker moments she gets down on herself about her orientation. This eventually gets better, but I feel like it might not be read as positive representation by aces who want to see stories of people who are fine with their asexuality and not agonizing over it. While it is realistic, because a lot of aces do go through that, I feel like it might make the story unappealing to some aces.
  • As Aqua said in her carnival submission, if you’re writing an asexual character, you also have to take on the job of educating. So I have to explain what asexuality is in my novel, and I also have to give my character an accurate, nuanced understanding of it, so that she doesn’t say things like, “I’m asexual, which means not interested in sex.” But what if it’s not realistic for her to completely understand the complexities of the definition? What if she would naturally equate her sex-repulsion with her asexuality? Well, even if that is the case, realism can’t win out here. Education has to trump the story, because I definitely don’t want to write a book that propagates harmful, erasing definitions of asexuality. But avoiding that might cause the story to suffer a bit. This is another example of why, with asexuality so little known, it’s hard to write about in fiction. Too little explanation and you end up equating asexuality with aromanticism; too much and you’re hurting the story with awkward info-dumping (Siggy discussed his solution for the latter in this post).
  • I’ve worried about my character playing into stereotypes in any way—like if she’s a little nerdy, is that bad? In the post I just linked to, Siggy also mentioned the idea of having two ace characters so that one person doesn’t have to be the representation of asexuality. But at this point, inserting another ace into my novel just for the sake of having more than one would be artificial and forced, and even if it would make the representation better, that’s a little farther than I’m willing to go.

In conclusion, a big part of the problem is that with every choice I make, I have to worry about whether I’m somehow misrepresenting asexuality. Because there are so few books with ace characters, and even fewer where the ace is the protagonist, when writing a novel about an ace it’s hard to escape the pressure of needing to do it just right, in a way that won’t somehow portray asexuality negatively or inaccurately, or leave aces disappointed or unhappy.

But, of course it’s impossible to write a perfect ace character who’s going to the one ultimate representation of our orientation… which is exactly why we need more ace characters!

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!

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

Genderless and asexual: two interconnected identities

This post is for the January 2015 Carnival of Aces, which is on Nonbinary People and Asexuality. Yesterday I wrote a sort of disclaimer about whether or not I actually “count” as non-binary, which can be read here if you’re interested. It explains why I call myself a genderless woman, a term I use below.

If I wasn’t asexual, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t currently be identifying as genderless. For one thing, I would never have come across the word if it wasn’t for my involvement in online ace communities. After growing up in a conservative Christian environment, reading ace blogs has exposed me to so many new concepts and ways of looking at the world and made me realize just how limiting and inaccurate the pre-fabricated boxes that society attempts to place everyone into are. While I realized on my own that I didn’t strongly connect to the feminine gender, I had never heard of people being neutrois/genderless/genderqueer until I started hanging around ace communities. So I would never have found a word to describe the way I feel about my gender—maybe even never have thought about it much more—if it hadn’t been for reading about the experiences of other, ace community-connected people.

But I also wonder if I would still feel like I was genderless if I experienced sexual attraction. Of course it’s pointless to speculate about what might have been, but I do think it’s interesting and useful to investigate the connection between my asexuality and my non-binary gender, or lack of gender (if you’re interested, here’s a post that discusses more generally the possible relation between being ace and being transgender).

I’ve written before about not wanting to be viewed as feminine, because being feminine can mean being seen as an object of sexual attraction/desire. Allosexual* women (and men) often do want to be seen that way, as least by certain people and under certain circumstances. But, being a sex-repulsed ace, I never do. Were I a feminine-identifying (sex-repulsed) ace, I would struggle with how to express my femininity without feeling like I was being sexualized by other people and society.

Being genderless, then, is a way for me to opt out of sexuality, and the expectations that come with it. Feminine women are often assumed to be heterosexual, and masculine women are often assumed to be lesbians (assumptions that erase femme lesbians and bi/pan women as well as aces). But as a genderless woman, I’m free, at least to some extent, of those assumptions. I express my genderlessness by dressing in as gender-neutral a way as possible. While people will look at me and most likely still see a woman, it’ll be a woman who doesn’t quite fit into society’s molds for female people. A woman who, hopefully, is human first, female second, and whose sexual orientation can’t be inferred from her appearance (although, if anyone did look at me and assume I was ace, I definitely wouldn’t mind as long as the person was ace-friendly).

So for me, being ace and genderless go hand in hand; I can’t really separate the two. I can’t imagine myself as a feminine or masculine ace, because in our sex-normative culture both of the binary genders have become so entwined with sexuality—society tells us that to be a woman is to be sexy, and that to be a man is to have a voracious sexual appetite. As an ace, I don’t fit into either of those paradigms.** On the other hand, I think that if I did experience sexual attraction I would be fine with other people seeing me as either masculine or feminine, because I would want other people thinking I was sexually attractive—and, at least in mainstream culture, sexual attraction is often connected to (stereo)typical aspects of the two binary genders (e.g. muscles on men, smooth legs on women).

Basically, I look at the gender binary and all the cultural assumptions and associations that have become wrapped up in it, and say, “That’s not me.” And a big part of that is because I’m ace.


*I’ve been following the latest Tumblr debate about this word to some extent, and my usage of it here doesn’t mean I support either side; I’m just going to continue to use it as long as it’s still the generally accepted term.

**Not that all (or even most) men and women do fit them or want to, and I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a masculine or feminine ace—I’m just saying that identifying as either of the binary genders wouldn’t work for me. I know that masculine and feminine people of every sexual orientation struggle with sex-normative stereotypes of their gender, and then certain groups face the opposite problem of having the dominant narrative say they aren’t or shouldn’t be sexual. So to some extent everyone has to deal with being a certain way but not matching up to the stereotypes of that identity, and that definitely doesn’t mean their identity is wrong. For me, opting out of the gender binary altogether was the best way to deal with that, but I recognize that that wouldn’t work or be a good choice for everyone.

Am I non-binary? A disclaimer of sorts before my January 2015 Carnival of Aces post

This post is somewhat of a repeat of parts of this post; I kept the repetition because I like having a more succinct summary of my experience of gender (this post is 1,000 words shorter than that one!). This post is also somewhat of a follow-up/addition to that one.

When I saw the topic for the Carnival of Aces this month, which is Nonbinary People and Asexuality, my first thought was, “Do I count as non-binary?” I only recently came to the conclusion that I’m genderless—you can read all about my process of coming to identify with that term in the post linked above if you’re interested—and being so new at this, as well as being an atypical genderless person as far as I can tell (more on that below), I’m a little nervous about assuming that I qualify as non-binary. Of course there’s the idea of one’s self-identification being the most important and that other people don’t have the right to label-police you, but if a member of a privileged group started going around saying they identify as a member of a marginalized group, that would obviously be problematic and could be hurtful to actual members of the marginalized group, and I definitely don’t want to do that by claiming “I’m non-binary too!” when maybe I really shouldn’t.*

My reservation comes from the fact that, while I do identify as genderless, I still see myself as a woman, and at the moment don’t desire to change that. The reason is that who I am and my life up to this point has been significantly impacted by always having viewed myself, and always being viewed by other people, as female. I want to acknowledge that; I don’t want it to disappear. I don’t want to get rid of that part of my identity. Also, being a woman makes feminism personal to me in a way it can’t be to cis men. And so I’m currently identifying as a genderless woman.

It follows that, unlike most of the neutrois or other genderless people whose accounts I’ve read, I don’t desire to alter my body to make it gender (or sex) -neutral. Rather, my body and my internal sense of my gender are somewhat disconnected. While if I could magically have a sexless body I might consider it (and I know I would choose to do so if I lived in a different world, a world without compulsory sexuality and a patriarchy to fight against), for now it is important to me to continue to be seen as a woman. If I’m a woman, I can show the world that you can be female and have hairy legs. I can show society that being a woman doesn’t have to mean being girly, or going all the way to the other side and being masculine. I can feel solidarity with other women worldwide who face the oppression of the patriarchy, because I’ve felt it myself. Losing my femaleness would mean losing all of that.**

So while I’m maybe not non-binary in a typical way (although maybe there isn’t a typical way to be non-binary!), I think the descriptor does fit. For one thing, I’ve realized that calling myself non-binary is important to me (just as being a woman is), because the more self-identified non-binary people there are, the more the gender binary—which I believe is a false construct—will be called into question. And, when it comes down to my internal sense of my gender, I’m definitely not masculine or feminine. And that’s the definition of non-binary.


*Pegasus’s discussion of the term “cis” is relevant here—some people would say I’m cis, while others might say I fall under the trans* umbrella.

**For a similar-but-different perspective, read Rotten Zucchinis’s musings about specifically not wanting to change hir body to match hir gender and being torn between feminism and a non-binary identity in “Body Politics: With(out) Gender”, found on page 7 of the zine that can be downloaded here (it’s formatted for printing so you have to jump around to read it in order, but it’s worth it). In another piece in that zine (“Invisible Monster Hiding in Plain Sight”), ze writes, “Gender—the way people usually think about it—is just another dimension of the human experience that doesn’t apply to me. And that isn’t because of my body. I don’t have a problem with my body—I have a problem with what my body means to other people,” which is quite similar to how I feel (see this post and this one where I talk about my discomfort with being read as feminine).