Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, November 02, 2008
t-square = love
Originally uploaded by mynameis shoe
Oof, too much traveling and midterms have gotten me way behind on posts! So much has happened recently. Kristin Scherrer of the University of Michigan has published a paper: Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire. Badass that she is, she's also breaking academic turf on asexual relationships by looking at asexual polyamory, where things get mighty interesting. "This research illuminates the complications of categorizing relationships as monogamous or polyamorous indicating that new language is needed to appropriately describe the wide array of relationships humans form outside of this binary." No shit. I'm kinda shocked that it doesn't exist already. Kristin: if you read this blog can I see that paper?
In other academic news, Brotto's study is about to be published. I got a sneak preview and there's some fantastic stuff in there, lots of useful information about the community that I didn't know and lots of stuff that will lay a foundation for studying asexuality in the future. She's following up with another study on physiology that's going to lay even better groundwork, all super exciting.
I also want to give a shout-out to pretzelboy's excellent research on the history of asexual identity.
Right, so where was I?
Last time I talked about how to describe relationships without relying on categories like friendship and romance. Personally, I describe relationships in terms of time (how much time you spend in the relationship and what you spend it doing), touch (how you feel about the relationship and how you express those feelings) and talk or trust (what you expect from the relationship and how you arrive at those expectations.) I personally find this system incredibly useful. Not only do they get me out of the romantic binary, they provide a pretty versatile and useful system for understanding the important things going on in my relationships.
Take my relationship with R. "Friend" could describe the relationship, but with a brush so broad it's almost useless. If I think of R as just a friend I can't describe a lot of power and potential that our relationship has. R and I hang out once or twice a week, we do political things together, have esoteric discussions and spend a lot of time happily working or thinking together in silence. We hug hello and goodbye, and almost always express feelings about the things that we do together. We also get slow, awkward, deeply sweet conversations every few months about how we feel about one another. At the end of those discussions we usually wind up making commitments to one another, and we usually wind up keeping them.
Understanding these three things about the relationship gives me a much clearer picture of what's going on than the word "friend" does. "Friend" tells me that this is someone who I value. The Three T's tell me that this is someone who I value because we create a quite, reflective space in oneanother's lives. They tell me that the way I should express that value is through well-spaced discussions on hikes in the woods, and they tell me that the way to feel secure in that value is to treat the little commitments that we've made to one another as sacred. Good stuff to know.
The Three T's also give me a way to explain the relationship to other people without relying too heavily on the romance/friendship binary.
I could say that R is my "friend" or my "close friend," but neither would give an accurate a picture (neither would "partner"). Instead I can say that R and I "are close" and drop a few tidbits from the paragraph above. The essential details can get packed into a single sentence. ("R and I spend a lot of time philosophizing, we're not too affectionate but there's a strong bond there.") This provides a quick, accurate way to describe relationships that are in that murky area between romance and friendship without needing to delve into binary-busting theory or use awkward terms like "lady friend."
Describing relationships this way also sets a standard for talking about relationships with more precise language, one that many people pick up on and copy instinctively. Say I describe my relationship with R to Z. I not only give Z an accurate picture of an important relationship in my life, I lay some important groundwork. Let's say that as Z and I hang out and talk about our love lives, I develop a little bit of a crush. I start thinking that it might be interesting if this relationship headed into that gray area between romance and friendship for someasexy good times. Normally there would run into a huge language problem here, I would struggle to express to Z that I was interested in cuddling and intimacy but not sex and Z would get confused. Not anymore. In talking about our love lives, Z and I have already gotten some practice in talking about relationships outside of the binary. Maybe I'll drop a few other examples of relationships closer to what my lecherous asexual brain has in mind: "K and I get together to dance really, really cheesily and support one another in our life's ambitions. We're super physically affectionate, say that we love on one another and have a plan for where our relationship is going over the next two years." I'll be able to subtly communicate that I'm interested while using context to give Z a rough idea of what I'm interested in. Right now Z and I talk about our love lives, play soccer and spend a lot of time laughing. Maybe from Z's perspective adding some cuddling and verbal affection to the mix might not seem like such a bad idea.
In my experience Z doesn't have to be asexual for this to work. Once we've got our soccer, laughing, cuddling and possibly low-level commitments going on there's absolutely no reason for Z to suddenly need sex to keep the relationship going. If anything, sexual people in Z's position tend to be titillated at the possibility of getting so much intimacy WITHOUT being railroaded into sexuality. Even die-hard sexuals need a little asexiness now and then.
Last but not least, I've found the Three T's very helpful when thinking about growing my relationships. I've found that they tend to build over time and work in a cycle. Touch follows time, talk follows touch, and time follows talk. Let's take my imaginary relationship with Z. I've got this crush on my soccer buddy, what do I do about it? I can't just say "I like you, let's be grey-area relationshippy friend/lovers" and reach for a cuddle, dumping that much talk and that much touch on the relationship would be incredibly awkward. If I use the Three T's I can push the relationship to grow more organically.
Touch follows time. If I want to be more affectionate in the relationship I should wait until we've done something that we both have feelings about and then express those feelings. I'll start small, maybe making a point of always saying what I feel about the soccer we play together. Once that becomes accepted I'll start expressing feelings about Z as a person ("I can't get over you're jokes, you're too much!") and eventually start in on my feelings about the relationship itself ("Z, I just want to say that I'm really glad that we're spending time together. It means a lot to me.") The more emotionally expressive the relationship is, the more organic it is to express affection through touch and body language. Maybe we'll start out hugging hello and goodbye, will move to comfortably leaning on one another during during jokes and will be full-fledged cuddlers by the time we're talking about our relationship. That's not to say that this is a formula to insert touch anywhere you please. As you build touch gradually, you'll have ample opportunity to see whether or not the other person reciprocates. Listen to how they express affection so that you can get a sense of what they want and how they emotionally communicate. If they're not interested in a lot of cuddling they'll let you know by not reciprocating affection beyond their comfort level.
So we've got love and cuddles in our life, what about dependability? In a world where friends are often thoughtlessly discarded for lovers, trust can be a big challenge. How do you ask someone to commit to you without coming across as needy? (Warning: some awkwardness completely unavoidable.) In my experience, talk follows touch. Remember how in my relationship with R we would always make commitments to one another after those awkward conversations about our feelings? That's not a coincidence. Once everyone's expressed their feelings it's natural to make commitments based on those feelings. When my relationship with Z starts out these commitments are small, possibly just arranging the next time that you get together. As the relationship grows we can start committing to seeing one another on a regular basis, then talking explicitly about how we want to be a part of one another's lives.
Of course, as I make more and more commitments with Z we'll spend more and more time together. Time follows talk. At first that time will just be soccer, jokes and gossip, but as we express more emotion and learn more about one another we can start exploring all sorts of other things to do. The more we do, the more feelings we'll have to express about it and the more commitments we'll make based on those feelings. If you think about it this time>touch>talk cycle shows up naturally in conversation. It's common to end an afternoon (time) by saying "this was fun! (touch) Let's do it again! (talk)." How about "I love you! (touch) Let's get married (talk) and spend the rest of our lives together (time)." Is it me, or does "Let's spend the rest of our lives together (time) and get married (talk). I love you! (touch)" seem a lot more awkward?
That's it for now. I hope that this system makes sense. I've found it's a powerful tool for taking relationships to their full potential. The next question is: should you? The fact that you can delve into the murky depths of nonsexual intimacy in any relationship in your life doesn't make it a good idea. All of that nonsexual intimacy takes time, and you're an asexual with shit to DO. If you've only got a few hours in your week which relationships should you spend them on? How can you spend those hours building relationships that will make you and those you are close to balanced and happy? Next post I'll take a shot at those questions by talking about the magical world of community organizing. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Originally uploaded by doozzle
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wow, has it really been a month since my last post?
I just had a cool discussion with a researcher from down the bay, and we go into an interesting discussion about what asexual people, as a community, are out to accomplish. I broke it down into four categories, though I'd love people's thoughts on the issue.
Probably the biggest thing asexual people are looking for is a place to figure ourselves out and be supported in our identity. This is why most people bother to show up to the community, and is probably one of the things that we do best. It means offering an open, accepting environment that makes people feel safe and encourages them to explore themselves in whatever terms fit best. Even the way we that we talk about asexuality (it's just a word that you use to describe yourself) is geared to create a supportive atmosphere.
How we do it: AVEN discussion forums, other online communities, admod team, advisory team, meetup groups.
Most asexual people are peeved at how little asexuality gets talked about in our culture. More visibility is the first step to broader social acceptance, and many of us are tired of giving a 20 minute lecture every time we come out. Most importantly, visibility let's us make the great support systems that we've built available to people who might need them. All of us have knows how much it sucks to not have a community, and we know that there are tons of people out there going through the same struggle. Visibility lets us reach out to them.
How we do it: Media trainings, AVEN Media Guidebook, assisting reporters in finding interviewees for their stories, lectures, informational pamphlets.
The next step after visibility is getting other organizations to recognize us and incorporate us into what they do. To me that's meant getting LGBT and sex ed groups to start including asexuality in their materials, getting scientists to include us in discussions of sexuality and getting doctors to stop pathologizing us half the time. There are two powerful social institutions that we're courting (or at least I'm courting).
The first is the LGBT/sex positive movement (the two movements are pretty integrated at this point.) They make up a huge grassroots network that does education around sexuality and gender and advocates for legal rights. Making friends with them means that that huge grassroots network talking will add asexuality to the list of things that they talk about, which is huge. They tend to be interested in us as a social movement like they are. We gain their respect by talking about our personal stories, our political views, they way that we have emerged as a movement and the amount of people/resources that we are capable of mobilizing. We also have a little hiccup in dealing with this community. Because their politics are all about celebrating sexuality, it sometimes takes them a second to get how they share the same agenda with asexual people. I've been trying to smooth the transition by getting leaders in the sex positive movement, like Carol Queen, to go on record as saying that asexual people are cool.
How we do it: Show up/give talks at conferences, network with educators and organizers, participate in LGBT and sex positive communities, publicly affiliate with LGBT/sex positive leaders.
The second is the academic/medical world. They control not only classroom sex ed, but also the medical institutions which treat asexual people when we have problems. Getting them to see us as legitimate and healthy will mean inclusion in a bunch of classrooms and will make it much much easier for asexual people to go to the therapist (and for people who do might identify as asexual but don't to go to the therapist.) This community is a tougher nut to crack than the LGBT world, they care primarily about academic research and very little has been done on us. Current medical definitions of things like Hyposexual Desire Disorder and Sexual Aversion Disorder kind of graze the question of asexual pathology. An out-and-proud asexual probably wouldn't be considered pathological, but someone struggling to come to terms with their asexual identity probably would. The strategy here has been to encourage academic discourse. Get academics talkign about asexuality, make it known that we want them to research us and help them in any way that we can if they decide to do research. The more research gets done, the easier it will be for us to change the way that the academic and medcial world talks about us.
How we do it: Show up at conferences (we usually don't have the credentials to give talks), give talks on college campuses, assist anyone doing research on asexuality, network researchers together so that they can assist one another and begin to buil a professional community, AVEN DSM Task Force.
Once people get past the need for support, one of the biggest looming questions is around forming intimate relationships. We face some a pretty serious challenge here as a community one that I've spent so much time thinking about that I referr to it as just "The Asexual Problem":
Many asexual people want to form intimate relationships, and in our culture sex is what separates primary intimate relationships (dating and marriage) from secondary ones (friendships). That means that no matter how close I get to someone, that relationship is considered "just a friendship" in the eyes of our culture unless it involves sex. This creates big problems for us, since many of us want to be more than just friends with someone at some point in our lives. There isn't really a perfect solution to this problem, a lot of asexual people that I know are still struggling with it, but there are a few imperfect ones:
1) Just form friendships- This tends to be a matter of personal preference, but a lot of asexual people, mostly those who identify as aromantic are happy this way.
2) Date other asexual people- This can work really well. It's easy for two asexual people to get together, decide to form a primary intimate relationship and announce it to the world. A couple of happily married couples have already come out of AVEN this way. The problem is number. Even major metro area have, at best, a few dozen people actively identifying as asexual, which means that the likelihood of finding a good match is pretty low. For this reason most asexual-asexual couples meet online and eventually move long distances to be together. Since many people aren't interested in long distance online dating, this will probably only become a solution once local meetup groups have grown significantly.
3) Date sexual people- Though there are several examples out there of healthy sexual/asexual relationships, this remains a problematic option. Sexual and asexual people are fundamentally incompatible in something that our culture claims to be vital to an intimate relationship's emotional health. Making a sexual/asexual relationship work requires extensive communication. To make matters more complicated, most people see sexual compatibility as a precurser to an intimate relationship. That means that in order to start dating a sexual person an asexual person usually has to stay closeted, making the extensive communication that needs to take place evren trickier.
4) Create new models for intimate relationships- This is my personal favorite. If friendships don't work and traditional dating doesn't work, why not invent new words to describe the relationships that we want? I've had a lot of success with this method. It lets me form relationships with sexual people that are intimate, emotionally expressive and committed but that don't require sexual exclusivity. That means that I avoid the emotional ceiling of just forming friendships, the numbers problem of only dating asexual people and the incompatability problem of being monogomous with sexual people. I get to form close relationships with anyone I want, and there's no limit to how close those relationships can get. The only problems are around communication and jealousy. I have to be cool with my partner forming sexually and emotionally intimate relationships with others (which has never been an issue for me personally). I also have to communicate whatever hairbrained relationship model I've thought up to the other person clearly enough that they understand it, accept it, and get emotionally turned on by it. This is a lot easier in places that have are already accepting of sexual diversity, and could pose a real challenge in places where traditional dating is all that anyone has ever thought about.
How we do it: Discussions on AVEN, meetups, asexual dating sites, blogs discussing relationship issues.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
So I got an email from someone today who had some awesome comments about this blog and podcast. She was talking about the episode on having a crush and raised an interesting point:
"because the word crush is so sexualized I prefer using 'to be enthusiastic' about someone."
This is a completely legit way to approach things. For a lot of people keeping the line between sexuality and nonsexuality nice and clear is an important part of being A, and I can think of a lot of reasons why it would be a good idea.
I'd like to make a case for the opposite. I love my sexualized language. When I have connect with someone nonsexually, even if we don't touch, I'll sometimes talk about "hooking up" with them. I'll say that I need to get laid (want to cuddle with someone) I'll flirt and tease and can get downright raunchy on the dancefloor.
To me, the line between sexual stuff and nonsexual stuff is ultimately a line that holds us aces back. If my friends all get to "hook up" with people and all I get to do is hold stimulating conversations, then the things I have to gossip about will never seem quite as interesting as the things that they have to gossip about. That's a big deal. The phrase "hook up," while being fabulously ambiguous, bears a lot of social weight. It's an exclamation point. It says "pay attention to what's going on here, because what's happening here matters" and as asexual people one of our big challenges is to demonstrate that our relationships matter.
I like to think of it as sexual drag. Drag is all about blurring lines, messing with preconceived notions of what's male and what's female, which is why it's so fun. Sexual drag works the same way. Once someone knows I'm asexual, they expect me to exist purely in the social space that they have set aside for nonsexuality. I form only friendships, I experience no fiery passions, I have little or no relationship with my own body, yada yada. By breaking that expectation I can force people to reassess their expectations of me (which is handy) and also reassess what they think about sex. Is there a nonsexual reason to make flirty eye contact from across the room? Sure- if I know how to turn that flirtyness into a compelling nonsexual relationship (which ain't that hard.)
In a society where the word "desire" has a sexual connotation, it's tough to get people to realize that we have any. I know from experience that a huge part of forming close, healthy relationships is clearly articulating the things I want, which is tricky when the language for a lot of my nonsexual desires doesn't really exist. Talking about the things that I want in sexual terms makes those desires matter. It makes people say "wait, you're asexual, what do you mean 'hook up?'" and that gives me the opportunity that I need.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Asexualest. Robot. Ever.
Even though Wall-E's hopelessly romantic and I'm hopelessly not, I was way way into the relationships in this movie. So cute! And falling for the girl with the laser cannon and tireless directive to save the world? Story of my life.
On the HSDD front, some promising news. It looks like there's a timeline of "a couple of months" (how many I'm finding out), and I've tracked down the recently-released list of working group members. A cool AVENite also updated the definition of HSDD on Wikipedia.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Sunday, June 08, 2008
At my housemate's insistance I rolled out to Sexicon, which was this kink art show at a leather store in SOMA (South of Market, an SF neighborhood.) There was all manner of sexually themed art on the walls, people in their cute little dominatrix clothes spanking one another and cages and erotica readings and whatever.
I was all set to have a ball, when I realized that ALL of my friends were event staff working the bar or the door or the coat check in their little corsets and wrestling outfits and the whatnot. Generally when I have no one to talk to I'm pretty adept at making friends, but here I felt a bit too disconnected.
This used to happen to me all the time. I'd show up somewhere that was drenched in sexuality and feel completely out of place. Sexuality is scary when everyone else is fixated on it and you don't have an internal reference point to understand what the frak is going on. What's a boy to do?
After pacing around the room for a minute my head started to hurt. Trying to make sense of all of this sexuality felt like high-order calculus, so I grabbed a pen and a cocktail napkin, found a corner and got to work.
Once both sides of the napkin had been filled with nerdy little notes a snap went off in my brain and I could get up and enjoy the party. The piont wasn't that this was an erotic party, the point was that it was a celebration. For the most part people weren't actively getting off, the event wasn't about sexual pleasure it was about sexual empowerment. It was a room full of people who had all had significant struggles in their lives to become sexually empowered getting together to celebrate and reinact that empowerment, it's the sexual equivalent of cake. And I may not be into the eroticism thing, but I can definitely relate to a good celebration.
Friday, June 06, 2008
So I roll up to 1325 Mass Ave, which happens to house not only the National Center for Transgender Equality but also the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a shit-ton of other GLBT and sexuality related lobbying groups. (Mighty, mighty convenient.) I bumble my way past the building directory and into the elevator, and some compassionate guy there asks me where I'm going.
"The National Center for Transgender Equality." I proudly beam.
"Oh..." he says "are you David Jay?"
Holy shit. I am.
"I wrote a paper on you! You're awesome! Come on in!"
I wound up in a good 20 minute meeting with Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and all-around badass. I gave a quick overview of asexuality, and she raised some excellent points that I haven't seen talked about recently:
1) It's apparently not too uncommon for trans people, especially trans women, to use the term "asexual" to describe themselves during parts of transition. It seemed like this is considered a disempowering thing. While it's tough to say how much overlap there is with the ways that the term is getting used on AVEN, it seems like thinking about nonsexual empowerment coming out of our community could be useful in parts of the trans community where we're not currently doing active outreach. I know that there's already significant overlap between the asexual and trans communities, but crafting a specific "asexuality for trans people" education message could be interesting and very cool.
2) So I'm all listening attentively and Mara Keisling is all assertively putting her hand on the table and she's like:
"Are you all doing anything with the DSM?"
"I'd love to, but I don't think we have the capacity to target someone like the APA right now."
"You'd be surprised. There are several committees getting together now to discuss the DSM V. We've obviously been targeting the Gender Identity Panel, but there is another one which deals with fetishes and sexual disorders that would be in a position to amend the definition of Hyposexual Desire Disorder." (Not an exact quote, but you get the idea.)
Holy Shit!! Apparently the DSM panels HAVE to talk to outside advisers, including community advocates (thank you thank you thank you radical gay rights movement for paving the way here!). That means that if we put forward advisers who can discuss asexuality then it's their job, at least in theory, to listen. I'm getting more info from Mara, but we can send a fistful of grad school AVENites and friendly academics their way and pray for the best.
She also introduced me to folks from the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, who do sexual freedom lobbying and coalition building, and sold me about a group called the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States that does sex positive sex ed work and generally is connected in the Sex Ed world. All good people to keep in mind moving forward, we've got everything to gain from being on coalitions (if the votes are there on AVEN) and getting in with the sex ed infrastructure is Money.
To top it all off, I got introduced to policy and organizing staffpeople from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who do tons of grassroots organizing around gay rights around the country. They weren't really interested in us unless we could send people to their mobilizations, but if we can and it can get back up the chain it'll make us a serious player at the national gay rights table, which means that when we start having legislative things we want we'll be able to integrate them into the agendas of organizations with real money and muscle.
I am all a-twitter.
Hopefully AVEN chapters can get up and running and we'll get one in DC....
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
My work just flew me out to DC for a conference, so I am just atwitter with potential networking. I'm gonna try to pry my way into the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. That's right, they got their grubby paws on TheTaskForce.org, which pretty much makes them the Special Get Shit Done Commando Squad of Operation Gay. H.O.T. It also means that the they probably won't have time for the likes of my pissant sexual orientation, but oh wells. Here's the gameplan:
Step 1) Hang out with the awesome sounding interns at NCTE and get them to think I'm cool.
Step 2) Get them to introduce me to their Task Force friends, who apparently work one floor down, over lunch.
Step 3) See about hooking local AVEN groups into Task Force campaigns, which will give AVEN people an excuse to make friends, give them organizer training and get them hooked up with their local gaybourhood.
Step 4) Throw organizing love to the NCTE as a way to demonstrate solidarity between the communities and so that we have allies there, who will come in all sorts of handy over time.
Speaking of lobbying, Carol Queen thinks we're beyond awesome, which is a good thing. Carol is the founding director of the Center for Sex and Culture, and has the love, respect and admiration of the sex positive everybody near as I can tell. If someone were to be elected President of Sex there's a good chance she'd take the ticket, and during our interview she gave a long list of ways that the asexual and sex positive movement could have a constructive dialogue. HOPEFULLY this means that we can soon drop business cards on sex positive folks without getting the evil eye, which would be a nice change of pace. (To be fair, I only get it half the time now.) We just need to get an "endorsed by Carol Queen" seal for AVEN.
The above pic is a shot I took of the white house, which featured a mysterious woman in coral. Ooohhh.