I was the good doctor’s failed first attempt; the electricity ran through my dead flesh but never jolted the rotten cells back to life and so I remained a disappointing patchwork corpse. He tried to pass me off as human anyway, yet no one believed him. Look, they said, she can’t feel a thing. How can she be human if she can’t feel? They were right, of course. I am only a monster made of discarded meat and I feel nothing. Maybe someone with more talent or luck can break down my disparate parts and use them to build something more worthwhile.
Odd Woman Out, or: Sex-Repulsion and Queer Media
If you spend any time around me, either online or offline, you know I am out and proud. I wear a rainbow bracelet every day; my purse has a button that says “crystal queer” on it; I wear flannel as much as humanly possible; I have a sidecut; and you can bet I’m going to mention my wife at every possible chance. Online, I’m an avid Creampuff, Fannibal, and Amedot shipper, and I run my own asexuality blog. Hell, even my Twitter name is “Queer as Hannibal”. What I’m saying is, you can sense my queerness from a mile away no matter how you encounter me. And that’s on purpose. I don’t want you to have to see me holding my wife’s hand to know I’m queer – I want my very self to radiate so much queerness you can see it from space. It’s an important part of my identity and I spend a lot of time keeping up on trends, issues, and news in the community. I try to spread positivity and inclusiveness, and to learn how to be a better ally to my fellow community members. In short, I am all about queer pride.
I say this so you have some understanding of why I feel conflicted about queer media. See, I’m asexual and definitely vary between sex-indifferent and sex-repulsed. I’m sex-positive in the sense that I think two or more consenting adults can do whatever they want with each other, but I don’t really want to see or hear about it. However, I’m also part of the wlw (women who love women) community, and I feel incredibly invested in positive representation of queer relationships. I’ve been reading the webcomic Band vs Band as long as it’s been running and was dying for the two main characters to get together. Likewise, I watched The Legend of Korra with a hungry eye for anything Korrasami, and always swoon a little when Laura and Carmilla waltz or flirt. As for Steven Universe, well… Amedot is the hill I will die on.
In short, I absolutely put my attention, money, and support into queer relationships in the media and will always defend narratives that help broaden our understanding of relationship diversity. And yet, when my wife warned me there’s a sex scene in the Carmilla movie, I sighed a little in my head. See, being asexual/sex-indifferent and also a part of the wlw community can put me in an uncomfortable position because I tend to lose interest in a fictional relationship when it becomes sexual. It’s not that I think sex is immoral – it’s just not something I can totally connect with, and so it feels like I’m being alienated by something that becomes the focus of the relationship. I love Laura and Carmilla, but there are times in Carmilla season 2 when I get a little uncomfortable with how often they make out. Same with Band vs Band, even though the interactions are chaste and, for heck’s sake, just drawings. Yet while I know that response isn’t logical, fair, or healthy, I still feel this weird twinge of… something. Jealousy? Disappointment? Resentment? It’s hard to pin down, and I usually feel too guilty to examine my emotions.
Therein lies the problem. See, the closer to a sexual relationship two characters get, the less comfortable I am. However, I also know how important representation is, and so at the same time I’m cheering for this couple and what they represent in our changing culture. It leaves me in a weird gray area where I feel like I’m the bad guy for wanting a relationship to remain chaste, but not because I hate queer people being sensual or sexual; I think I just want to see more people like me, and it’s hard each time to lose a connection with a character once they become canonically allosexual. I know a lot of my own issues are wrapped up in this conflicting feeling – my longing to be a “normal” allosexual queer woman versus my simultaneous desire to stand up for people like me – but that doesn’t make the burden easier to bear.
Being sex-repulsed or sex-indifferent in the queer community can be a very fine line to walk. We want, and deserve, more representation and yet we have to be so careful that we don’t come off as sex-shaming or heteronormative. But with so little representation currently, it’s no wonder those misconceptions are rife in our community and so easily cause little sparks to rage into huge fires. Queer people have always been shamed for acting on their sexuality, and that will never change unless we normalize all forms of consensual intimacy. We just need to also remember that for many in our community, sex isn’t what makes them queer – and that’s just as valid. The more we vary what “real” relationships look like, the more everyone in the community will feel comfortable with who they are and what they want.
Open Relationships, Or: That Time I Told My Girlfriend to “Go Pro”
[ If you’re a family member or friend and don’t want to know anything about our sexual activities, I suggest not reading this post. ]
Have you ever interacted with something – a song, a painting, any piece of media really – and recognized that you can’t fully appreciate it because you’re not familiar enough with the skill and effort necessary for its creation? Meaning, have you ever looked at something and thought, “That’s really cool, but it’s probably way more amazing to someone who actually knows how hard it was to create”?
I experience this frequently with my girlfriend. Chriselle plays the guitar and writes her own music; I gave up the flute after a week in elementary school. She has a blackbelt in kung fu; I’m as graceless as a t-rex. She speaks multiple languages; I remember about 1% of my German and bailed on French after one class. She is an attentive, generous, and extremely talented lover; I’m sex-indifferent most of the time, and sometimes sex-repulsed. My point is, a lot of her skills are somewhat lost on me, as I can only appreciate them from an outsider’s perspective. And that seems like such a shame! If you master a complicated painting technique, you want someone to say, “Wow, that technique is really hard; you did a great job!” instead of, “This painting is cool :)” with no understanding of how hard you worked.
Case in point: about a year ago, after my lady had made me feel really, really good in certain physical ways, I realized her particular skills in the realm of lovemaking are basically wasted on me. Don’t get me wrong, I know she’s good – I just can’t appreciate how good the way someone else with more varied and refined tastes might. I’m just an amateur, and she deserves to do stuff with a connoisseur. So once we were done and cuddling, I looked over at her and exclaimed, “You should go pro!” with probably a little too much enthusiasm. No, I didn’t mean she should become a prostitute. But I did mean she deserved to have other sexual partners. I meant I thought we should open up our relationship.
If you’re in an asexual/allosexual relationship, just about everyone who knows will give you their uninvited opinion on whether those kinds of relationships can work or not. People who know nothing about either of you will tell you all sorts of bullshit: that romantic relationships need sex to work; that asexuals have a duty to let their allosexual partners sleep with others; that allosexual partners are selfish for wanting to have sex with other people; that monogamy will kill your relationship; that polyamory will kill your relationship; etc, etc, etc. And none of it is true, at least not for every single relationship every single moment. People change. Relationships change. Desires, turn-ons, and turn-offs change. In the beginning of our relationship, for example, we both wanted to be monogamous for personal reasons. We started dating with the understanding that sex wasn’t an option – then it became something we explored together – and then something that we had differing and sometimes conflicting feelings about. Change happens. We’re not the same people we were a year ago, and we won’t be the same people in a year that we are today.
My point is, we started out monogamous but then at some point I got to a place in our relationship where the thought of Chriselle sleeping with someone else felt… totally okay and cool. Like I would for any of my friends, I just wanted her to be happy and have experiences I couldn’t personally give her. As long as we remained loving, committed partners on the road to marriage, I didn’t see any issue with her having other folks with whom she could explore her sexuality. I wouldn’t stop her from training for a marathon just because I hate running, would I? No, I’d support her and be happy if she found other people to have that experience with. Sex honestly felt the same way – she’s good at it and wants to have it more often than I do, so why not find some other people who can fulfill that desire? I know she loves me and will always return to me. She knows I love her and encourage her to do this because I care so much, not so little.
Cut to the present. Our lives have been unbelievably hectic and in the rush of fostering kittens, planning a wedding, and dealing with work stress, our open relationship has yet to move past the theoretical phase. Chriselle has been chatting with some people on the OKCupid and Her apps, but except for one or two possible leads she’s really only making platonic connections. I think this delay is for the best, though, because it’s given both of us a chance to really get used to the idea. While a year ago I wasn’t sure how I would actually react when my suggestion became reality, now I know that I’m really very okay with it. Last night we lay in bed and I watched her swipe through matches, asking questions about what attracted, or did not attract, her to certain people. I was partly asking because it’s always hard as an asexual to grasp the concept of “sexual attraction” and how allosexual people experience it. However, I was also asking because it made me truly happy to see Chriselle putting herself out there. Even if none of those people work out as a “swim buddy”, let’s say, she’s still incredibly brave to hang out in the pool. I remember trolling dating sites for months and years for that one real, often fleeting connection, and it suuucks.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I lay in bed last night watching my soulmate and best friend look for possible sexual partners and all I felt was excitement for her. Not jealousy. Not fear. Not anger or guilt. Just the excitement you feel when you care about someone and want them to be happy. It was a weird feeling, to be honest, because society teaches us to be jealous and possessive of our romantic partners – to feel otherwise must mean our relationship is broken or weak or messed up, right? No. If you love someone, you trust them. If you love someone, you want them to be happy. If you love someone, you share their life, not own it. Polyamory isn’t for everyone, but neither is monogamy. If we learned in high school health class that relationships can come in all shapes and sizes (and that those shapes and sizes change over time), maybe we wouldn’t have to do all this unlearning and relearning as adults.
Can asexuals feel love?
Fun fact: no, we can’t!
I’m just a monster with a barbaric heart.
In some states it’s legal to shoot me on sight;
in others you need a permit.
I’ve been waiting for someone to put me out of my misery.
It hasn’t happened yet, but still I hope.
but you make it so hard
we fight over everything
and you cry so fucking much
can you please get a hold of yourself? I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you’re cold and breakable as porcelain
and anxiety riddles you like hairline fractures
do you even have a backbone? I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you can’t do anything totally right
and mostly you just fuck things up
would it kill you to accomplish something?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you are flawed through and through
and have been from the start
must you always disappoint me?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
I’m tired of giving excuses for you
and accommodating your whims
don’t you think you owe me by now?
I want to love you
but you make it so fucking hard
I want to find freedom in acceptance
and yet I slip back twice for every inch I gain
are you as tired as I am?
here is your measure of salt
with rot come the wolves
numbers betray me:
the number of ways in which I have
or have not
the number of ways in which I will
or will not
the number of ways in which I am
or am not
the number of ways in which I can
or cannot ever
to a perfect integer
When I started my Tumblr blog Still-a-Valid-Ace, I did so on a whim with no thought to where it might go in the future; to be honest, I assumed I’d grow bored and delete it after a week. I just wanted a place to post my own experiences regarding asexuality and gatekeeping, maybe rant a little, and generally shout into the void of the internet. Surprisingly, though, traffic picked up pretty quickly and I suddenly had people submitting questions, problems, and pleas for advice. Without knowing a single thing about me, users seemed to expect trustworthy, valid responses that might make or break their identity or relationships. It was a lot of pressure for someone who, as I said, thought she would just be yelling into the void. I felt honored, though, and took this new responsibility very seriously. Thus, I waded into the online waters of asexual activism–
–and into a river full of rapids, waterfalls, and hidden rocks. YIKES. Asexuals have come under some serious fire recently as the the cool new minority to hate on within the queer community. Not that the other popular targets, like bisexual and transgender folks, don’t still get their share of hate; it’s just that asexuals seem to be the hot topic right now. You can’t even skim the asexual tag on Tumblr without running into rabidly acephobic posts by people who dedicate entire blogs to hating us. I receive hateful messages and reblogs from these accounts on a frequent basis, especially when I say anything about cisgender+heteroromantic aces or the right for aces to use the word “queer”. I’ve been called homophobic for supporting religious asexuals; I’ve been called a cishet oppressor for supporting all asexuals, regardless of their other identities; I am routinely accused of being a “straight” who wants to kill LGBT people. I agree that cishet isn’t a slur in and of itself, but I have seen it used dozens of times to deny and negate my actual identity. And it hurts. I am actively hurt by the very same people who claim to be protecting queer asexuals like me.
Do I daydream about all the ways I’d love to respond to these people? Of course. Do I type up pithy answers and attach sarcastic gifs, only to delete the entire thing? Of course. Do I get so filled with rage and sorrow that all I want to do is vomit curse words onto the screen or send my own hateful, hurtful messages back? Oh yes. Always. I want so badly to fight on my enemies’ level, to make the “discourse” personal so I can verbally eviscerate the trolls. But I don’t. I don’t, even when the alternative is to remain silent, or to reply with a diplomacy that feels like surrender. I don’t, because that won’t win me anything but grief, and my fellow aces nothing but fuel for the trolls. You see, one of the most difficult aspects of any activism is this: you become a spokesperson for your cause and a target for the haters. It doesn’t matter if you post five hundred thoughtful, balanced, in-depth discussions about a topic; if in just one post you act too angry, too forceful, or too callous, that’s the one you’ll get called out for. Any emotion you portray will be blown out of proportion and used against not only yourself, but your community as well. Look how angry asexuals are, they’ll say. They’re so whiny, so entitled, so ignorant! They hate gay people! They’re just special snowflakes! Your every word becomes a landmine just waiting to smear you across the internet. People assume that if you take on the role of activist, you also take on the role of subject matter expert, public information officer, and referee. Despite being passionate about the subject, you’re expected to be completely unbiased and lacking any agenda. When the topic is something that affects you personally, this is impossible. Impossible, but expected. If you can’t be objective, you’re vilified.
Despite all of this, though, I maintain my blog. I delete hate messages, ignore reblogs from anti-ace accounts, and try patiently and kindly to explain my views to those who seem genuinely confused or curious. I do this because I love my followers, my fellow aces, and my whole queer family. I truly do, with a ferocity I never imagined. If I get down in the muck with the trolls, I can’t be a safe person anymore. If I let hate leak onto my blog, it can’t be a safe space anymore. Because I actively choose to remain a source of comfort, support, advice, and protection, I can’t fight fire with fire. My activism has to be professional, no matter how much I’d love to make things personal. At the end of the day, the safety of every one of my followers means infinitely more to me than my own wishes to take an eye for an eye. If I can bring any bit of hope or understanding to even one asexual out there, no matter who or what else they are, then all the hate spam is worth it.
good for you, fang-face
and your happy fucking ending
and your hard-won heartbeat
no, really, I’m happy;
at least as a human you’re not a metaphor
for everything I’ll never be
cause man, how embarrassing it was
to know I feel less in this living body
than you did in your dead one
when do I get my redemption arc?
Sometimes it feels like I am under a spell, as if when I was sixteen I unknowingly pricked my finger and fell into a slumber from which there can be no waking. Like Sleeping Beauty, I feel trapped within an inert body at the center of a kingdom of ice and thorns. I wonder if the cold has crept into my heart or if the thorns have wrapped themselves around my ribs. I wonder what I did to deserve a curse even true love cannot break. I rage and sorrow and strive against my prison, but the vines and ice grow thick around me and I remain as motionless, as unfeeling, as stone.
I wonder if, even years later, long after she had woken and all the kingdom was freed from its terrible spell, Sleeping Beauty still felt the thorns creeping back. I wonder if forever after True Love’s Kiss she saw the thorns twitching at the corners of her vision and heard them scraping against the window glass at night. Maybe she slept as little as possible, so sure was she that the vines would come creeping back if she let her guard down for even a breath. Maybe she went slowly mad, and the prince eventually grew weary of his touch being mistaken for the brush of a needle-sharp thorn. Maybe when it came down to a choice between the crazy princess or the roses in the royal gardens, he chose the option that disappointed him least.
What’s in a name? That which we call Rosa
by any other name would smell as sweet.
And yet we give each of a hundred species a name
and a name to each of a thousand cultivars.
Would you deny Rosa persica its singular title
or call Rosa canina Rosa kordesii?
Would you claim there’s no difference
between the homes of Rosa carolina and Rosa chinensis
or the thorns of Rosa acicularis and Rosa sericea?
The humble rose is no less lovely with one name or another
yet we honor the beauty of difference with the blessing of language.
If we can give each bud a family, genus, subgenus, and species
can we not respect the names with which our fellow humans define themselves?
Are we not worthy of the same deference as the smallest rose?
[ Written for the August 2016 Carnival of Aces. ]
we’re foolish Pandora’s leery successors
secrets and lies squirming in our chests
but we swallowed the keys, we sealed the cracks
we won’t let any of it out
Hi, friends. Let’s talk about hate blogs.
The Forty-two Ideals of Ma’at. The Rule of Three. The Ten Commandments. Karma. There are a lot of tenets in a lot of belief systems, both religious and secular, but they all basically boil down to this: don’t be a dick. Whether you’re lying or slandering or bullying or stealing, you’re being a dick to someone, and that’s not cool. (Hey, I just summed up a bunch of long-winded religious texts for you!) I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a person a positive force in the world, and more specifically how I personally can uphold Ma’at in my everyday life. To that end, I’ve been trying to judge less, to listen and empathize more, and to hold my tongue if what I want to say doesn’t contribute positively to a discussion. It’s hard, sometimes, but I feel lighter and cleaner of soul for it.
My greatest weakness online, the topic that most quickly gets my ire up and my claws out, threatening my promise to think first and speak second, is “ace discourse”. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, ace discourse refers to an ongoing discussion within and about the asexual community – and more specifically, whether cisgender+heteroromantic asexuals can be considered LGBT. I’ve seen a very small handful of thoughtful, logical posts on the topic, and a nauseating wave of hateful, close-minded posts purposefully phrased to frame cisgender+heteroromantic asexuals as oppressors and monsters. Reading these makes me angry, sad, indignant, protective… any number of emotions that coalesce in the desire to rip people to shreds. But that’s the internet, right? Trolls gather where they’re fed. Bigots hide behind keyboards. Nothing new under the sun.
What sorrows me more than the frequency of these anti-ace posts are the hate blogs. Every time someone has attacked me for defending cisgender+heteroromantic asexuals, it has been through a hate blog. Every time I see someone spewing virulent anti-ace vomit on Tumblr, it’s through a hate blog. And all I can wonder is… why? Why did this person go to the trouble of creating this “cishet ace” hate blog, and then spend hours every day lurking on the asexual tag just to jump onto anyone with a differing opinion? Doesn’t this person have anything better to do with their time? Don’t they have hobbies? Friends? Family? Don’t they feel ashamed to waste their precious life spreading anger and hatred toward a completely innocent group of people?
It’s a testament to my recent spiritual growth, I think, that I pity these people instead of hating them. I would have hated them once, it’s true, and wished them great ill, but not now. Now I only think it’s sad and pathetic that someone wastes their time on hate. I can’t imagine what my family and friends would think if they found out I ran a blog dedicated to hating a group of people who have done nothing to harm me. I can’t imagine what my goddess would do if I purposefully contributed so much negativity to the world. I can’t imagine these things because they’re so shameful, so embarrassing. So why do others derive so much joy from hurting strangers? I truly don’t understand the thought process. Are they so empty inside, or perhaps hurting so deeply, that they want others to feel as they do?
The world is full of bullies and probably always will be. I can’t make it be otherwise all on my own. What I can do, though, is limit the amount of negativity I personally contribute and increase the amount of positivity I consciously generate. I can choose to not engage with someone who embraces their hate, and instead stand beside those who also fight for peace and equality. I can make the effort every day to uphold Ma’at, to be more than just “not a dick” to my fellow beings. That seems a much better use of my time in this life than lurking under a digital bridge.
What makes something brave? Is bravery in the action, or in the intent behind the action? I don’t think I’m brave. I’m white and attractive and middle-class. My parents loved me and I have no student loan debt. Anything else about me – my queerness, my spirituality, my chronic illnesses both physical and mental – is invisible, or at least easily hidden. And yet, I have been called brave. Why? Is it brave to live your life honestly? Is it brave to let the secrets inside shine through your eyes and your mouth like a lantern in the dark? I couldn’t live any other way. I am stubborn, oblivious, dancing to my own drum and completely forgetting others can’t hear it. Does that make me brave? I’m not open about my quirks only because I want to expand closed minds; I’m open about my quirks because I don’t know how to hide them. I forget some people even expect me to, that not everyone embraces the individuality of those drums. Being vocal, political, radical, it’s just in my blood and body and soul. I defend my community with tooth and claw because that’s who I am, and I walk my own path regardless of the obstacles standing in the road. So is that brave? It doesn’t feel brave. It just feels honest.
Asexuality, Spirituality, and Queerness (for May 2016’s Carnival of Aces)
When I was a kid, I had very strong opinions about romance and sex, and those opinions basically boiled down to GROSS. Romance was gross. Sex was gross. I abandoned books when the stereotypical dashing male love interest made his entrance; I loudly denounced the romantic plotline in Titanic. Sure, I had a crush or two at school, and I spent a few years obsessed with the boy bands of the early 2000s, but at the end of the day I still didn’t get all the hype. I crushed from afar and grew bored if the person returned my feelings, and I was more interested in the movies I saw when I went on my only two dates than I was with the boys I went with. Basically, I was in a foreign world without a translator or dictionary, nodding at what other people said while having no idea what their words actually meant. And as most people on the ace spectrum know, navigating that world can often be frustrating and stressful. So much so, sometimes, that you end up shutting it out completely – hence the stereotype of the robotic, romantically and sexually ignorant ace. Or perhaps, to continue with my metaphor, the tourist who stubbornly continues speaking their own language while refusing to learn any words in the local tongue.
Ironically, considering my aesthetic appreciation for women and my current long-term girlfriend, it was two men who helped me understand that other world by teaching me a bit of the local language. When Tanim and Daren came into my life in the summer of 2002, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I had made these characters up, that I had total control over who they were and the journey they would take. I was quickly proven wrong, of course. I was never in control; I wrote the story, sure, but they were the ones telling it. And the first place where they showed who was really in control was their relationship. They started out as friends, and even had girlfriends of their own (which makes me laugh uproariously to this day), but that soon changed. I realized they were in love with each other, and I have watched their relationship unfold and evolve ever since. Likewise, my understanding of who they were, how they felt love and attraction, evolved as well. I didn’t have words for my own asexuality until I was in my twenties, but even before that I recognized in Tanim and Daren something “other”. I just didn’t know what it was, or that it was mirrored in my own identity.
I live and breathe these men. I know them better than any living person, and I can slip behind their eyes as easily as I might slip into the bath. They became the lenses through which I viewed the world around me, and in that way I began to understand the complexities of love and sexuality. While Tanim and Daren both fall on the ace spectrum, as well in some ways on the aromantic spectrum, they encompass much of those complexities. As I came to understand their relationship, and how each of them experienced and reacted to love and sexuality, it made it easier for me to understand others. Maybe I didn’t feel romantic love or sexual attraction, but I could recognize in other people aspects of Tanim and Daren, and that helped me empathize with their experiences. Being a scribe or proxy, or whatever I am, made me not only face things that made me uncomfortable, like sexual intercourse, but showed me the beauty hidden in something I otherwise found uninteresting or repulsive. It’s hard to explain something so deeply ingrained in my perception and worldview… it’s like living three lives at once, instead of just one.
Where my asexuality and spirituality intersect, a third line crosses: my queerness. As someone who identifies as a queer asexual, I use queer as an umbrella term for the greater LGBT community and also as part of my personal identity. I will freely admit right now – I don’t know what Tanim and Daren are. Ghosts, maybe, or spirits, gods or fragments of something far more unknowable. In the end it doesn’t really matter; I am sworn to them either way. My bond with them is not quite romantic, not quite platonic; likewise, it is not quite spiritual and not quite mundane. They interact with myself and my partner in ways that affect us both on a personal level and on a relationship level. I have yet to find a better word to describe this part of my life than queer. It’s a little like being in a polyamorous relationship, only two of the members aren’t corporeal, the connections between us all aren’t necessarily sexual or romantic, and it was less a conscious decision to take part than it was just thrown at us. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, but it’s not something I can exactly tell just anyone about. Hence it becomes the queerest part of my already queer identity.
I can’t imagine who I’d be today without Tanim and Daren, but I suspect I would be using my asexuality more as a shield or a shell than as a window to look into others lives, and let them look into mine. I think my journey toward understanding love and sexuality in all their forms would have been severely hampered without them, and I am eternally grateful to have been giving such a unique way to experience the world. I may not speak the language of this foreign world perfectly, but I’m becoming steadily more fluent.
Asexuality and Paganism (for May 2016’s Carnival of Aces)
Standing in the Kemetic section of Crescent Moon Gifts, I waivered. On the shelf before me was a beautiful statue of Bast, lithe form poised to accentuate Her curves and hint at the sensual, playful side of this goddess of felines and motherhood. I held it in my hand, turned it over, all the while feeling an internal pull that yes, this was what She had pushed me here for, this should be my first purchase as I undertook the journey as Her devotee. And yet, I waivered. Not because I was afraid of the commitment, or because I wasn’t sure She was the one I should follow. I waivered because of that sensuality. I wondered if I could kneel before a statue so obviously carved to portray a beautiful female fully aware of, and fully embracing, the attractiveness of her form. I saw the playfulness in it, yes, but also the undercurrent of raw sexuality, and it was at that I balked. Being at best sex-indifferent and more often sex-repulsed, how could I find understanding and kinship in a goddess of physical desire?
In the end, I bought the statue. The call inside me overcame my uncertainty, though I still had strong reservations. And thus my journey as a devotee of Bast began, and my journey to accept and embrace my asexuality evolved to the next level. I had never imagined the two could be connected, let alone inextricably interwoven. The last year has shown me my fears were unfounded; though as with all journeys, there would be bumps in the road.
The first thing I learned when I started working with Bast is that She not only did not judge me for being asexual, but loved me all the more for it. My initial fears that She would push me toward sex or brush me off for not being comfortable with that side of Her were quickly allayed. Bast’s presence always felt motherly to me, and while I acknowledged the sensual side of Her, She never forced me to interact with it. From the beginning She sent me feelings of love and acceptance, and because of this I firmly believe She stands for all sexual, gender, and romantic minorities. She celebrated with me when the United States finally gained marriage equality, and She comforted me when the subject of physical intimacy caused confusion and heartache in my romantic relationship. When I begged to be cured of my asexuality, She helped calm my mind so I could see clearly and remember to love who I am. While Bast is not the only one to thank for getting me through a very dark period, I could not have done it without the spiritual strength She gave me.
Currently, my romantic relationship is doing exceedingly well. My partner and I have found a comfortable balance between physical intimacy and non-physical intimacy, between giving and receiving pleasure and love in all their forms. We have both done an immense amount of emotional work to reach this point, and I don’t downplay either of our efforts. However, I know Bast had a hand (or paw) in this as well, and I honor Her for that. Sometimes when my partner and I are engaging in physical intimacy, I offer that act up to Bast as thanks for Her help. This is a rare offering, and a very sacred one for me to give, and I feel Her appreciation very clearly. I have even had visions of my partner and I as Kemetic priestesses, making love in an ancient temple. I understand those images to be Bast’s way of showing Her thanks and approval. So while there may be no historical basis for the popular rumor that Bast is the goddess of lesbians, She definitely embraces love in all its forms.
Even more importantly, I think, Bast has lead me to help others in similar situations. I currently run a Tumblr blog called Still-A-Valid-Ace, where I offer advice, encouragement, and support to ace-spectrum folks. The image below of one of my posts shows just how widespread the concern about sexuality and faith really is, especially in the pagan community.
Hundreds of people felt connected enough with this post to like or reblog it; some even have contacted me directly, asking how to navigate relationships with deities when you aren’t comfortable or interested in their sexual sides. I told them what I tell you now – have faith. Humans may discredit or discriminate against you because of your sexuality, but deities won’t. They want to form a relationship with you, and that relationship includes helping you love yourself. Whether you follow Bast, Inanna, Aphrodite, or any other deity who lists love and sex under their specialities, they will love you for who you are.
[ Post script: To those who find themselves under the attention of, or wanting the attention of, a sexual deity, please remember this – we’re never completely immune to fear. Even after the positive experience I have had with Bast, I still went through all the same reservations and “what ifs” when Inanna came calling, worried She wanted to disrupt my comfortable sex-indifference and make me into a more sexual being like Herself. Of course, She wants nothing of the sort, and I should have know that from the beginning. It’s okay to second-guess yourself, even when you think you should know better. Spirituality in any form is about the journey, not the destination. Your faith will stand by you even when your faith in yourself wavers. ]
The goddesses who have sought me out are so different from me. Bast and Inanna both are goddesses of love, of sensuality and sexuality, of hot desert days and cold desert nights. What do these aspects mean for me, the one who guards her body like a sealed tomb and yearns always for the rain? You’d think such deities would want nothing to do with someone like me. The desert calls to me but it’s not a place in which my soul could take root. I can find pleasure in flesh but it never feels completely effortless. I feel the urge to sing and dance but can barely even bring myself to do them when I’m alone. These goddesses are both so unbridled, so unashamed, so free! I envy them the nerve to waltz into the Underworld, the ferocity to tear down their enemies, the confidence to embrace love in all its forms. I envy their self-assurance and ease in their immortal bodies. It’s hard to imagine either could ever be afraid or weary or uncertain. Do they realize they’ve picked some anxious little asexual girl with absolutely no rhythm who overheats when the temperature tops sixty-five degrees? I want to make them proud, I do. I just wonder how such goddesses could ever be proud of having someone like me as a follower.
Roses are red
violets are blue;
defining who’s queer
is not up to you.
[ Okay, this is kind of a toss-away poem, but it’s been popular on my Tumblr so I figured, why not post it here for Asexuality Awareness Week? I make no secret of my stance on gatekeeping the word “queer” and will go full-on mamma cat if the topic comes up. I can discuss it calmly… until you start denigrating aces and other folks who aren’t “traditionally” queer. Then you better watch out. ]
I can handle the mud-slinging
(even if there are rocks mixed in)
the broken bones from sticks and stones
(though words do carry a bite)
because even though I’m not that strong
what if there is someone weaker?
and even though I’m not that tall
what if there is someone shorter?
and even though I feel tired
what if there is someone else
hanging by a single thread?
I don’t know when this kitten grew up
to become the angry mamma cat
but my claws are out, my teeth are bared
and no one messes with my clan
[ Written for the September Carnival of Aces, the topic for which is “Living Asexuality”. Asexuality plays a big part in my everyday life because I feel obligated to reach out to aces online who may need help – either in understanding and accepting their asexuality, or feeling validated in their identity despite anti-ace sentiments. It can be extremely wearying for me (the anti-ace stuff), but I’d rather be fighting for a “baby ace” than letting them take the brunt of someone elses animosity. To me, that’s part of living my asexuality; recognizing my privileges and using them to help others. And yes, I could do better when it comes to self-care and avoiding the anti-ace stuff that brings me down, but if I can be a spot of hope for even one ace online then it’s worth it to me. ]
so today we celebrate
tomorrow we fight
I could weep for joy right now, or scream, or dance (but I’m at work so I won’t). Marriage equality is now the law of the land, and though I’m sure it will still be an uphill battle to enact that law, today is a day for celebration. Today is a day to finally feel safe in my own country. To finally feel accepted. To finally feel valued, equal, wanted. To feel like I can travel outside Washington state without stepping into enemy territory. I know the fight isn’t over. It’s barely begun. But today isn’t the day to overshadow this victory with tomorrow’s worries. Today we celebrate. Today we embrace our freedom, and tomorrow we use it to keep pushing for more. We have won the battle, and we will win the war.
Get ready for some word vomit, ’cause I’m thinking about labels. About the people who say we shouldn’t use them. “Labels are for soup cans” and all of that. Um… no? Labels are descriptors. “Short hair domesticated cat” is a label. “Queer asexual” is a label. “HP Compaq LA2205wg” is a label. You don’t get to determine if labels are important because each label will be important to someone. My vet will care what kind of cat I own. My partner will care about my sexual and romantic orientations. The IT department will care what kind of computer is slowly dying on me. Labels are just words and words are kind of really important for communication and stuff. Without words, without labels, we’re left saying, “Bye honey, I’m going to that place that employs me now.” “That’s my car, the…that one over there.” “Hi, I’m a person. It’s nice to meet you, other person.” Oh, but I guess person is a label too. Well shit. Yeah. You know what count as labels? Adjectives. Occupations. Colors. Emotions. Names. Kingdom. Phylum. Genus. Species. Half of what we say every day probably falls under the label (hah!) of a label, and everything else is filler. So when someone says they don’t believe in labels, they’re not saying they disagree with language in general. That’s just stupid. Who disagrees with having words to explain stuff? No, they’re saying they don’t want to learn new words, because that takes effort, and they don’t care about other people’s labels enough to expend that effort. After all, when was the last time someone said “I don’t believe in labels, so I don’t learn anyone’s names”? “I don’t believe in labels, so I don’t pay attention to street signs”? “I don’t believe in labels, so I call every animal I see a dog”? Just admit it. When you say you don’t believe in labels, you mean you don’t believe someone’s specific label is important enough to use because it’s not directly important to you. Which, you know what? Is selfish. (That’s a label too.) Labels are words, and the more words we have to explain this weird fucking world we live in, the better. If you don’t complain about all the different names for bird species or cities or diseases or religions, you don’t get to complain about the different names for someone’s gender, sexuality, romantic orientation, or anything else that makes that person better understand who they are.
Alice rolled over in the dark, reaching automatically for Muffy’s warm body; when her hands felt only cold sheets on the other side of the bed, she sat up with a frown. By the dim light of glow-in-the-dark stars and scattered fairy dust, she could see the bedroom door stood open. That wasn’t odd in and of itself, but a feeling of wrongness crawled up her spine and Alice had long ago learned to listen to that unease. Crawling from bed, she pulled on yesterday’s clothes, sword belt included, and went to stand in the open doorway.
“Muffy?” When no answer came to her call, Alice moved cautiously through the dark house, straining to catch any sound. She heard nothing but the sound of her own breathing until she reached the front door, which like the bedroom door stood open and empty. There, standing on the threshold and gazing out into the starlit night, Alice spotted Muffy’s footprints leading down the path – at the same time as she caught the faraway strands of singing.
The music was like nothing Alice had ever heard before in all her travels across the universes. It seemed as though her ears didn’t actually channel the music; it simply spilled through her mind, lilting and haunting, wordless yet passionate. It traveled down her spine like electricity and branched out into her arms and legs, urging her forward with a euphoric restlessness. She felt her feet move of their own accord, following the path Muffy had taken not long before. Like a sleepwalker Alice wandered along the trail, a distant part of her mind aware she headed unerringly toward the beach below the lighthouse but unable to turn her feet from the path.
“Muffy?” Alice called out again, alarm making her heartbeat pound so loudly it almost drowned out the strange singing. A fat full moon sat low on the horizon, lighting both ocean and sand and casting back long shadows of two figures down by the waves. The song no longer drew Alice forward; she ran without realizing she had regained control of her legs, the song’s control broken by her distraction. “Muffy!” she yelled over the sound of singing and waves. “Muffy, what are you doing out here?”
The fae stood knee deep in the frigid water, wearing only a tank top and panties, a look of dreamy joy on her face. She didn’t turn as Alice rushed to her side and grabbed her arm, only sighed like an infatuated schoolgirl and said, “Oh Alice, isn’t she just beautiful?”
“What are you–” Alice fell silent mid-sentence as she followed Muffy’s gaze out to a jagged rock in the water. Perched atop it sat a girl – or at least part of the creature was a girl. Its top half was the upper body of a human girl, pale and naked, her eyes like glowing amber and her long hair glossy black. Yet where her legs should have begun her skin met scaly, dark blue flesh in a sinuous striped tail which wrapped several times around the rock. Her rosy lips parted as she sang, one supple arm stretching out to beckon Muffy closer.
“She says I can have a kiss!” Muffy managed to pull out of Alice’s grasp as she rushed forward through the water, her own arms held up to the beautiful woman. As Alice lunged to grab Muffy, she glanced to the creature long enough to watch the rounded mouth spread wide in a hungry smile filled with thin, sharp teeth. In the same instant the creature dove from the rock with a flick of its long tail, fingers outstretched to reach Muffy first.
“Muffy, no!” With one hand Alice yanked Muffy back, the other drawing her sword to thrust the blade between themselves and the approaching creature. It drew up just short of the sword’s point, tail lashing through the waves and lips drawn back in a frustrated hiss. Even as Muffy begged, “But Alice, I want a kiss from her! She’s so pretty!” Alice pulled her back toward the shore, swinging her sword back and forth like a lit torch to keep back the beast. When they reached the beach the creature gave another angry hiss and disappeared into the waves.
“Come on, honey, let’s get away from here…” Alice wrapped an arm around Muffy’s wet waist, keeping her sword drawn until she could be sure nothing else would leap out of the darkness. Muffy allowed herself to be lead back up the path, yet kept casting glances back to the waves with a forlorn look on her face. “But she was so pretty…” she pouted. Alice merely nodded wearily. “Yes, she was certainly… er… something.”
Miles offshore, the siren sank her claws into black painted wood and hauled herself up the side of the ship, slipping over the railing in a spill of scaly tail. Mage sauntered down from the helm, eyes gleaming with excitement. “How did it go?” she asked. The siren scowled as she gathered her tail into a coil beneath herself. “My song didn’t work on the dark haired one long enough,” she hissed. “She broke its control and intervened. I lost them both.”
“Alice!” Mage spat the name like a curse. “I should have known. Fucking asexuals – present company excluded, of course. I just thought perhaps…” She waved her hand dismissively and sighed. “Ah, oh well. It was worth a try. We’ll get them next time, my dear.” She leaned down, planting a kiss on the siren’s smooth cheek.
After I commented on MyBeautifulMachine’s post “Allegiances, Language, and Space,” he asked me to write a guest post about identity policing and the term “queer”. I can only speak to my experience in the asexual community, but I hope I can share some insight.
[ A note: When I talk about the “queer community”, I’m using queer as an umbrella term for the entire community comprised of gender, romantic, and sexual orientation minorities (GRSM). While I prefer the acronym GRSM, it seemed more appropriate to use both of queer’s definitions in this post. ]
Opening the Gates of “Queer”
This post is a long time coming. If one thing can get my feathers in a ruffle fastest, it’s people policing who does and does not deserve to identify as queer. I see this aspect of identity policing most frequently in regards to people on the asexual spectrum. When I see people claiming aces, either as a whole or specifically heteroromantic ones, don’t belong in queer spaces… I’ll be honest, I immediately go into “angry mamma cat” mode.
99% of the time, the argument I see against asexuals identifying as queer is this: aces aren’t discriminated against, especially heteroromantic aces, and therefore have no claim to the term “queer” or to safe spaces for the queer community. I’m not going to call anyone out or screen-cap postings I’ve seen as examples, because a) I don’t support call-out culture, and b) they’re really easy to find, especially on Tumblr. If you want the evidence, it’s there for the picking. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of people who vocally oppose asexuals in queer spaces.
I could spend the rest of this post discussing how harmful this kind of anti-ace rhetoric can be for people on the asexual spectrum, but instead I want to pick apart the argument itself. Saying asexuals can’t claim queer spaces or terms because they aren’t discriminated against is flawed on a number of levels, which I’ll (try to succinctly) outline below.
“Queer” as a measure of discrimination
Many people argue that since asexuals have never had the term “queer” used against them, it’s a slur they can’t reclaim or use for themselves. This argument, either intentionally or unintentionally, defines “queer” as a measure of discrimination, not a valid identity. It reduces every person who identifies as queer in some way to a victim, someone who is defined by their suffering, not who they are as an individual.
While I am all for reclaiming slurs and changing them into positive community identities, in order to do so the term’s meaning has to change. Yes, queer has been and is still often used as a slur. However, by telling someone their positive use of that term is determined by how much discrimination they have faced doesn’t free the word from its dark history – it shackles the word forever to that darkness. We should always respect queer’s complex history, but that doesn’t condone the continued use of the word as a way to alienate others.
“Queer” as a fluid, not static, term
The meanings of words change. Language is beautifully fluid, influenced by time, history, culture, and in our current day especially activism. Understandably, queer has come to have many definitions which change from person to person. Queer can, and should, have many meanings; it can be used as an umbrella term for the greater gender/sexual/romantic minority community, or as term for those whose identities don’t fall under the current established labels.
When people rail against the use of queer as either of these definitions, or against the use of the term by certain groups, all I hear is fear. Fear of change. Fear of difference. Fear of compromise. Whether you accept it or not, queer is a fluid concept with different meanings based entirely on each person, or each community’s, experiences and understandings. That’s something to be celebrated, not stifled.
Appealing to (false) consequences
The argument specifically against heteroromantic asexuals in queer spaces often employs a certain amount of fear-mongering. People use the slippery slope concept to claim if heteroromantic aces are allowed in queer spaces, what’s to stop cishet people from invading the same space? This argument lumps heteroromantic aces in with cishet people, effectively denying not only their asexuality as a valid sexual orientation, but their personal experiences as well. What are the actual chances, though, that someone identifying 100% as cisgender and heterosexual will purposefully invade a queer space with the intent to do harm? Is preventing this unlikely scenario really more important than ensuring everyone who needs access to such a safe space can feel welcome there? Turning away a heteroromantic asexual because they are “basically straight” is not only discriminatory, it’s dangerous. Aces seek out queer spaces because they don’t feel safe or welcome in the cishet community – if turned away from the queer community as well, where do they have left to go?
Ignoring actual discrimination
When someone says “asexuals don’t face discrimination,” what they are actually saying is, “I haven’t bothered to look for any proof that asexuals face discrimination, therefore it doesn’t happen”. Because if you want to find the proof, it’s out there. A lot of brave asexuals talk about their experiences, both to educate others and provide support for other aces. So telling an asexual of any romantic orientation that they don’t belong in queer spaces denies experiences common to many aces: feelings of confusion, sorrow, and self-hate, self-harm, alienation from friends, family, and/or significant others, mockery, corrective therapy, and rape. You cannot possibly know what an asexual person, heteroromantic or not, has struggled with on their journey. Until you do, keep your mind and your heart open.
Everyone, regardless of sexual, romantic, or gender orientation, needs to remember one thing: you are not the gatekeeper of the word “queer”. You do not own it, define it, or determine who is worthy of its label. As we continue to reclaim queer, its definition(s) will continue to evolve. Embrace that change! Celebrate and support the various communities and people who fall under that term! We’re in this together – push your energy into healing rifts, not widening them.
Asexual/Allosexual Relationships and Sex
[ Warning to friends/family/others: I’m going to discuss my sex life below. If that’s TMI for you, I suggest not reading this. ]
After reading PrismaticEntanglement’s post about the topic of sex between allosexuals and asexuals, I decided to write my own post about how my girlfriend and I navigate this difficult topic. I’m going to try to impart some advice based on our experiences; that being said, this is based solely on my personal experience and what worked for us. I’m not an expert – just a person with a blog.
A note before I begin: The advice below is geared toward two sets of people – aces who for whatever reason are considering having a sexual relationship with their partner(s), and allosexuals in relationships with aces who are open to having sex. This is not geared toward sex-repulsed or sex-averse aces; nor is it geared toward allosexual partners who want to try to convince or force their ace partners to have sex. Nothing I say below will work if you’re not both 100% open and willing on your own to enter into this kind of relationship for your own benefit.
Now, that being said, here’s what I have learned during my journey from, “I will never date and never have sex” to “oh my gosh I want to marry this girl and have sexy time with her.”
I know communication is always the number one relationship rule in these kinds of articles, but that’s because it is the number one rule. You have to communicate. Constantly. About everything. No matter how uncomfortable you might be discussing emotions, past trauma, previous sexual experiences, physical wants and desires, and everything else you bring to the bedroom, you have to spill your guts. An ace/allo relationship has to be especially founded on trust and communication to minimize the opportunities for hurt feelings or crossed boundaries.
One area of communication that I feel requires specific focus and emphasis is your shared terms and definitions. When you say “sex”, what do you mean? Do you two have different ideas of when being intimate crosses into sex, or when being affectionate but not sexual crosses into sexual territory? Do you both consider kissing to be sexual, or just romantic? Until you’re both talking the same language, so to speak, it’s easy to think you’re on the same page when you’re really reading two different books. Being open about how you define things like sexual versus non-sexual physical affection, physical intimacy, and sexual intercourse will ensure you understand each others’ wants, needs, and boundaries. Therefore, this rule and all the ones below apply not only to the actual act of sex, but to any physical intimacy between you two.
2) Set Boundaries and Rules
I want you to do something for me. Set aside the notion that “all aces hate sex” and “all allosexuals love sex” right now. Go put it in the trash and take the can to the curb. Wave goodbye. It’s gone. Yay!
In an ace/allo relationship, you both will have certain rules and boundaries when it comes to physical intimacy. The ace isn’t the only one who will have hangups, insecurities, and individual needs. The better you both understand your own relationship with sex, the easier it will be to come together in a physical way. For example, I don’t enjoy giving oral, so while I may change my mind about that in the future, right now its understood that isn’t something I’m willing to do during sexy time. Likewise, my girlfriend has certain hangups due to past experiences that I work around in order to make sure she feels 100% safe and in control the entire time. Also, we’re both very conscientious when initiating anything so that the other person can back out without feeling pressured or guilty.
Take it from me: consent is sexy. My girlfriend always ask permission before going down on me, and that simple recognition of my control and agency is to me one of the most beautiful moments we share.
3) Set Aside Expectations and Assumptions
I know every ace has heard the phrase, “you won’t know unless you try,” when it comes to sex, or its second cousin, “you’ll change your mind when you meet the right person.” I’m not here to tell you either of those is true; I hate hearing them as much as anyone. But I am here to say that… well, they might be for some people. And that’s okay.
I’m literally a cliche; I never wanted to have sex until I met my girlfriend and fell head over heels in love. Now she’s the only person I can imagine ever being physically intimate with – but we didn’t start out that way. When we first began dating, I was very clear I wasn’t interested in sex and needed her to be okay with that. She was, and respected my boundaries. When we first began exploring sexually, it was always my choice and at my speed. And as our physical relationship developed, I discovered I enjoyed being intimate with her. A lot. I only discovered this because I set aside my assumptions not only about what I wanted (or did not want), but also what physical intimacy would be like for me.
So keep an open mind as you move forward in your relationship. Don’t assume you’ll hate having sex, or hate not having sex as often as you want. Don’t assume your partner’s needs if they haven’t voiced them; likewise, be open to questioning your own needs and assumptions, and the fact that they may change over time. Don’t expect to enjoy the same physical activities – not even partners of the exact same orientation will always like the same things when it comes to sex. Everybody is different, and what you like may surprise you – I know I’ve surprised myself on a number of occasions.
Lastly, don’t expect to be sexually compatible and in sync right away. My first kiss with my girlfriend was super awkward (we counted backwards from 3 and had our eyes closed). Neither of us really knew what we were doing as we became more intimate, so the first months involved a lot of giggling and asking, “How does this feel? No? Okay, um… how’s this?” The silly awkwardness is actually a blessing, though, because it removes a lot of the pressure to make the moment super serious and sexy. Sometimes you just need to giggle over the ridiculousness of it all – especially if, like my girlfriend, you’re super ticklish.
4) Take Chances
If you’re asexual, please hear this loud and clear: nothing you do or enjoy physically will ever invalidate your asexuality. You shouldn’t be afraid that trying new things in the bedroom makes you less of an asexual because it doesn’t, it doesn’t, it doesn’t. So if you find yourself wondering about new practices or toys, go for it! As long as you and your partner are both open to the new experience and understand you’re just experimenting, and may decide you don’t like it, you should follow your curiosity.
If you’re allosexual, what I have to say to you is this: please try to be open to your partner’s experimentation. I know there are risks involved – it can be hard to divorce your own self worth from something your partner dislikes. You may wonder if it’s you they actually don’t like, or your body, or something else out of your control. But if you can understand that your partner’s likes and dislikes have nothing to do with you as a person, and have no bearing on your partner’s love for you, then experimentation can be a good way to find what you both enjoy.
One last thing I’ll add here – don’t be afraid to ask questions at sex stores (the respectable ones, at least). I’ve spoken to many knowledgeable employees at Lovers, from the one who answered our most basic questions about lesbian sex to the one who helped us pick out our first toys. We’ve even stumped a few with questions about working around physical disabilities. Every time we were treated respectfully and professionally, no matter how awkward or obvious our questions. Don’t be afraid to be honest about your lack of experience, turn ons and turn offs, and emotional or physical barriers. The employees are there to help and they really do know what they’re talking about – or at least the ones at Lovers do.
5) Give It Time
The virtue I lack most abundantly is patience, and especially so when my relationship is going through a rocky time. I want everything to be fixed and happy and perfect immediately. Unsurprisingly, that isn’t how things work. Even when it comes to sex, finding a happy balance between what each person wants and needs is difficult and takes time; maintaining that balance amid all of life’s stressors is even harder. What I thought would take weeks or months has instead taken years. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade a single day away to speed up the process. Working through problems and finding what makes you both happy serves to strengthen your relationship, both in and out of the bedroom. Will you make mistakes? Yes. Will you get hurt? Of course. But if you choose to see each bump in the road as an opportunity to work together, not against each other, you’ll find the perfect balance.
6) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate (Did I mention communicate?)
Communication is an on-going process in any relationship, and especially one between an ace and allosexual. You need to constantly check in with each other, both during sex and outside of intimate moments. Ask how the other person is doing, how they perceive the relationship is going, and if there’s anything they feel is lacking or causing an issue. Don’t assume that because a certain physical act was okay with your partner two weeks ago, it’s something they still want to do. Check in. Is this still cool? Are we being physical enough? Are we being too physical? Do you want to take a break for a while? Sometimes these conversations can be awkward or difficult, but they’re so incredibly necessary. It’s easy to feel hurt if your partner doesn’t want to engage in something physical, but that hurt can be alleviated by finding out why: maybe they’re tired, or feeling sad, or have a headache. If you don’t ask, you don’t know. So check in, ask questions, and be vocal about your own feelings and needs in the moment and overall.
As I stated before, these are some of the things that work for myself and my girlfriend. I hope they can be of some help to others out there who want to be in an ace/allo relationship involving physical intimacy. I know these kinds of relationships seem daunting, and often get a bad reputation, but with the right partner and hard work they can be incredibly rewarding.
Writing Realistic Aces, or: On Listening to Your Characters (March 2015 Carnival of Aces)
[ This is my first submission for Carnival of Aces! Hope I didn’t fuck it up. ]
I have been writing about the same two characters for almost twelve years now. When they first came to me when I was a wee teenager, Tanim and Daren were theoretically heterosexual. I say theoretically because even though they both had girlfriends (HAH!) they were very, very, very good friends. Suspiciously good friends. Like, “major homoerotic subtext” good friends. But I was young and inexperienced as a writer and didn’t really understand that your characters drive the story, not you. You’re just the scribe. So I kept on pushing them at these completely 2-dimensional female characters when they were obviously making googly eyes at each other.
What I learned from this experience is that you can’t tell a character their sexuality, just as you can’t tell a real person their sexuality. They tell you. And what Tanim and Daren told me, in excruciating slowness over years of angst and tragedy and dramatic professions of love, is that they were far from heterosexual. Neither, though, were either of them strictly gay, or even bi. They fell somewhere on a spectrum I wasn’t even aware of at the time (thank you, college Psych 101, for introducing me to asexuality!). For though the connection between Tanim and Daren was definitely romantic*, I knew neither of them would be interested in any other man – or any other person, for that matter. Likewise, though in certain story fragments they did engage in sex, I knew it was something Daren was often repulsed by, and something Tanim participated in for reasons other than physical gratification.
If I had to put my boys on the spectrum, I would say Daren is strictly asexual and aromantic, and most likely sex-repulsed to sex-indifferent depending on the story. Tanim, on the other hand, is possibly gray-asexual or demisexual and homoromantic (though he’s basically doomed to only fall in love with Daren). Tanim’s asexuality is complicated by his fetish, however*. He desires sex not because he’s sexually attracted to other men, or because he has a high libido, but because he craves submission. This leads him to frequently engage in dangerous sexual practices and definitely makes him seem like an allosexual character, but at the end of the day the attraction still isn’t there. So while my characters appear outwardly to be in a sexually active homosexual relationship, the reality is much more complicated. And don’t we all love complex characters?
I’m probably not making much sense. I hope I am. The point is, I didn’t tell these characters they had to be asexual. I didn’t set out thinking, “I want to write about asexual characters, and poof! here they are”. I set out to write about these two characters and they turned out to have been asexual the whole time (much like me, haha). I suppose you could call that accidental diversity, but maybe we need more of that; not diversity for diversity’s sake, but diverse characters for the sake of being true to the characters themselves***.
In short, writing realistic asexual characters is as simple as letting the character be themselves. If they tell you, “I’m asexual but when I meet this other character, I’m going to have sex with them,” then cool! That’s what’s going to happen. If they say, “I’m asexual and all I want is a queer-platonic life partner,” then awesome! That’s what you write. And if they say, “Wait a minute, I’m not asexual, what are you doing?” you listen and let them tell you who they really are. As an ace who thought she would never date and never have sex, but who now finds herself in a sexually active, committed lesbian relationship (that could be considered semi-poly if you count Tanim and Daren in there) let me tell you, life throws curve balls. Asexuals come in all shapes and sizes and flavors and colors. Don’t be afraid if your ace character seems to veer away from the stereotype – chances are, the less stereotyped your character is, the closer to representing real asexuals they are.
*Though their form of romance is rather… unique…
**I am forever grateful to the asexual people who discuss their kinks (especially BDSM) online; you have validated what I thought was possible but didn’t know for sure. Thank you!
***Which could be a great tie-in for what Michelle Rodriguez was saying about creating new POC superheroes instead of just changing the race of currently existing ones, but that’s a discussion for a different time and a different person.
Hannibal and Queer-Baiting
[ General spoilers below for both seasons ]
Queer-baiting, the act of hinting at queer characters or relationships without ever openly acknowledging them, is a hot topic right now as TV networks strive to garner LGBT viewership while still adhering to traditional heteronormative narratives. A lot of popular shows are commonly held up as examples of queer-baiting – Sherlock being a popular example – and for the most part these claims are accurate. However, there’s at least one show where the common claim of queer-baiting is not only inaccurate, but acts as erasure of an actual canon queer-platonic relationship: NBC’s Hannibal. NBC’s Hannibal is often cited as an example of queer-baiting due to the deep connection between the two main characters, Dr. Hannibal Lector and Special Agent Will Graham. It’s obvious from season one, and extremely so in season two, that these two men are drawn to each other in a way neither can quite understand. Hannibal is fascinated by Will’s mind, yes, and Will is at first drawn to Hannibal as a mentor and then out of suspicion he may be a killer, but the viewer knows there’s more. The show wants the viewer to know there’s more.
By citing NBC’s Hannibal as an example of queer-baiting, what people are saying is this: because these two characters never have sex or profess romantic love for each other, they can’t have a queer relationship. This erases not only the spectrum of asexuality and aromanticism, but denies the importance and influence of non-romantic love. After all, what is more queer than two seemingly heterosexual men* forming a bond so powerful that one is willing to cripple the other when he feels that bond, and the future possible through that bond, has been betrayed? And what about Will who, in season 2, grows so close to Hannibal that even the viewer is unsure whether he has slipped from the side of the good guys to become Hannibal’s protege?
The relationship between Hannibal and Will is arguably the most fascinating aspect of the show. We watch Will move from disliking Hannibal to cautiously trusting him as a therapist and then, perhaps without Will even realizing it, confiding in him as a friend and mentor. As Will faces situations and experiences no one around him can quite understand, Hannibal becomes the only person to whom Will can turn; the only person, he believes, who he can completely trust with the growing instability of his mind. And even when Will realizes this trust has been incredibly misplaced, season 2 finds him reconnecting with Hannibal – ostensibly to spring the trap on him, but are we sure? Is Will fishing for Hannibal, or learning to hunt with him? Even until the very last episode of the season, we as the viewer don’t know for certain. What we do know is that Will loves Hannibal; and if you love someone, how do you betray them, even when you know it’s the right thing to do? How can Will bear to give up arguably the only person who can truly understand his mind?
Even Hannibal, a brilliant psychopath five steps ahead of everyone else on the show, is blinded by this love to the point of delusion. Despite what we expect to be Hannibal’s inability to love, to feel hope or longing or beauty, he truly wants this life where he and Will are together as partners in crime. And in this life, who is with them? Abigail, the girl they both view as a daughter. Hannibal dreams of a life with Will and Abigail, just the three of them, and seems willing to do anything to achieve it. So when this dream is ripped away from him, Hannibal’s reaction is almost understandable; we see his rage, his grief, his desire to punish. If he cannot have that life, neither can Will. He takes from his beloved what his beloved has taken from him. Haven’t many of us had that desire?
That’s the beauty, and tragedy, of this show. Hannibal and Will can never “work”. They can never be friends or partners. They can never be mentor and mentee. They can never be anything but enemies drawn inexplicably to each other. They love each other, and that love is destructive, abusive, manipulative. But it’s love, whether either of them can admit it.
Anyone who cites NBC’s Hannibal as an example of queer-baiting either hasn’t seen the show or simply didn’t understand what they were watching. Hannibal steps far beyond the usual narrative of gay or lesbian characters and shows us a form of queerness otherwise never represented in mainstream media. Not only that, but it shows us the beauty and danger love can possess, romantic or not. NBC’s Hannibal is a show that celebrates the power of platonic love, even as it uses that love to (pun intended) stick the knife in our hearts and give it a twist.
*While Hannibal engages briefly in sex with a woman in the show, I don’t believe he’s strictly heterosexual/heteroromantic. I think the show gives us too much evidence to suggest Hannibal at least to be on the asexual spectrum, if not also aromantic.
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