#2003

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.

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#1949

It’s been ten years. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-two days. In that time, three years of college; three of Americorps; three with a ‘real’ job. Two degrees and one diploma. Four years with the woman I love, who you will never meet. Forty-two foster kittens. Some hundred thousand miles on my car. One car accident, zero broken bones. Two trips to Washington DC, one to Yosemite, one to Switzerland. One new Jurassic Park movie, which you’ll never watch with me, and too many Tremors sequels. Three tattoos, going on four. One wedding to plan and one to attend. Three times a bridesmaid and once a bride. Zero fathers to walk me down the aisle. Zero dads to dance with. Zero you but countless dreams and too many things I’ll never get to share with you.

#1927

I’m a member of the Dead Dads Club. It’s a shitty club and you don’t get to choose to become a member; one day it just happens, congratulations, you’re a member for life now. At first I didn’t dream about him at all, or if I did he was always in the periphery, silent, watchful. Then it was dreams where I didn’t know I was dreaming and he was back – he had never died, he had been resurrected, he just walked through the door one day and didn’t know years had passed. Then it was dreams where I didn’t know I was dreaming and we were just hanging out together – riding in his truck, baking chocolate chip cookies, me telling him about Assassin’s Creed. Then it was dreams where I knew it was a dream and he didn’t understand why I’d hold him hard and sob into his chest. Now it’s dreams where I know it’s a dream but I still tell him over and over and over again how much I want him to come to my wedding. I cry, hard and ugly, and the dream never lasts long enough. In the dream it feels unbearable, the thought that he’ll miss this, too, just like he missed so much else. When you’re in the Dead Dads Club, the list of things they miss just gets longer and longer, and yet you’re continually blindsided when something new comes up.

#1912

I don’t try to get published. I know it would be useless – we aren’t publishable. No one would pay for the scripture of dead gods, or the hymns of phantoms, or the gospel of the insane. No one would read the poetry of a madwoman, would it cost them even a nickel. You have too few beginnings for biography and too many endings for non-fiction. I dedicate too many words to the sound of blood in your lungs for either horror or erotica; they will say it makes readers uncomfortable. We’re just not presentable and I can’t make us so, not when it’s blasphemy to edit or omit. I could not tell lies for money. I could not cut chunks of flesh from my side to earn their weight in coin. If they never believed Cassandra, why should they believe me? Publishers aren’t interested in crazy unless it’s marketable.

#1904

I feel like I’m going crazy. Literally.

Over the last two years, I’ve frequently felt like my own brain is gaslighting me. At work, I miss red flags that I specifically looked for; I calculate budget numbers but then can’t figure out how I came to those totals the next day; I forget tasks or duties I’ve never had trouble remembering before; I swear I started a project but then find no evidence in my files; my completed documents are riddled with obvious mistakes I thought I checked or corrected; emails I have a vivid memory of reading were never sent to me. I’ve even run two red lights – not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I could have sworn that the light was green. Every day, I feel tripped up by false or missing memories, by basic math that makes no sense, by this frustrating “Past Elyssa” who keeps fucking everything up for the present me. Sometimes I find her mistakes the next day, when I can fix them before my boss notices, but other times I don’t find her mistakes until months later, when a tiny issue becomes a monster. I find myself apologizing over and over and over again, promising I’m a hard worker, dedicated, detail-oriented, that I’m not who Past Elyssa makes me out to be. But what if I am?

For two years now, I’ve felt like I can’t trust my own mind. This paranoia leads me to second-guessing everything I do. I double and triple-check information I’ve long had memorized; I have shadow systems for everything I might possibly need to track or remember; I leave myself sticky notes for the most obvious of tasks. I read and reread emails and documents before I send them, and I check my math however I can. But it’s not enough. Things still slip through at an alarming rate. And it scares me. It scares me because this isn’t who I am. I am detail-oriented. I am good at remembering deadlines and tasks. I am able to complete complex tasks. Yes, I’m bad at math, but I’m not usually this bad. I’m not usually inept.

When the brain weirdness first started, it had a definite cause. I had just gone on Topamax, a medication well known for reducing the user’s cognitive functions. And boy, did it slow down my brain. I was like a different person at work: forgetful, prone to missing obvious mistakes, and overall just slower at grasping even simple tasks. When I forgot to take another important medication for an entire week, I finally went off the Topamax. I assumed the side-effects would linger for a while, which they did… and did… and did… and do. I still feel like I’m on the Topamax, though I was only on it for a couple months and I’ve now been off it for over a year. At this point, whatever I’m experiencing simply can’t be caused by the medication. My doctor has suggested my migraines (for which I was taking the Topamax, ironically) might be causing my forgetfulness and decreased cognitive function. This is a good theory, but I don’t buy it 100%. This stuff just seems to happen too often to be the result of a migraine.

So what is it, then? None of my other medications cause such side-effects, and they’re all meds I’ve taken for years without issue. My diet and general health are good, so it’s not my body trying to run at half-capacity. The issues happen no matter what my mood, so it’s not anxiety or depression related. I don’t fit any of the other symptoms of adult onset ADD. I don’t love my job, but I’m dedicated and focused, so it’s not just that my brain is checked out. Plus, that doesn’t explain the times I’ve run red lights.

I feel crazy. That isn’t me co-opting an often misused word – I truly feel like I can’t always fully trust my mind or my perception of reality. These things have happened too often for me to just laugh off. Now every time I find a weird mistake or have a memory that apparently didn’t happen, I feel myself unravel a little more. It’s a creepy, frustrating, scary feeling. I don’t like being a bad employee. I don’t like being unreliable. I don’t like putting myself in danger by accident, or questioning even bland, innocuous memories. I already deal with anxiety, depression, and invasive thoughts; I really need my brain to otherwise work okay. If something’s wrong, I want to know so I can treat it with therapy or medication or whatever will work. It’s the not knowing, the not being able to act on a problem, that’s eating away at me.
[ I feel like this sounds really dramatic, and maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m going to make myself post it. Blurhg, brain bad. ]

#1892

February 2017 Carnival of Aces: Resistance, Activism, & Self-Care

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.

#1887

Why I’m An “Apologetic Vegetarian”

This month marks the one year anniversary of my decision to become a vegetarian. Neat! Instead of reflecting on that choice and my journey over the last year, though, I instead want to talk about why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. To understand where I’m coming from, you need a little backstory. First, I have had chronic stomach issues since I was a baby. Lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety induced stomach aches… my stomach basically hurts at least once a day. If I’m not painfully constipated, then I have what I fondly refer to as the “fire poops”. I can’t safely ingest fatty food, greasy food, fried food, highly processed food, red meat, coffee, milk,  artificial sweeteners, black tea, chocolate, soda, or anything else good tasting. Half the time even my safe foods make my stomach upset. It sucks major lollipops.

Second, I have chronic anxiety and OCD. Many of my issues in this department revolve, understandably, around food. I am constantly paranoid about eating or drinking something that will make my stomach hurt, make me constipated, or otherwise isn’t “healthy” enough – based on my own neurotic standards. I can send myself into a panic attack at a restaurant if nothing on the menu seems safe enough to me. It’s bad. On top of this, I also obsess over my weight. Several years ago I was restricting my caloric intake to such a degree that I had dropped from my normal weight of 135 to 111. My period stopped for nearly a year (which was pretty sweet but also apparently not good). My doctor put a stop to that, and a couple years of therapy helped, but it’s still very easy for me to start fixating on my health and weight to a dangerous degree. 

Okay, so now you know. Dietary restrictions and obsessive compulsive personality. Awesome mix. I am such a functioning adult.

When I decided to become a vegetarian, I did so because I could no longer take part in an industry that causes pain to billions of animals every year. Therefore, it made sense to become a vegan – the production of milk and eggs in factory farms is just as horrendous and destructive as the actual meat industry, after all. To say you won’t eat a cow but you’re fine with letting one be traumatized its entire life so you can eat cheese is somewhat hypocritical. However, I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t convert to full veganism. Taking any meat-containing meals off the menu would already limit me more than my stomach issues already do. To further limit myself to IBS-safe vegan meals would most likely cause me issues everywhere I went. If I could give myself a panic attack because the only salad a restaurant offered was made with iceberg lettuce, I’d be totally doomed if on top of everything else, I had to question whether the bread housing my veggie sandwich had eggs or milk in it. It just wasn’t going to happen.

When I became a vegetarian, I promised myself one thing: if I was on the verge of a panic attack or wobbly with hunger and a ham sandwich, for example, was my only IBS-safe option, I had to choose my immediate mental or physical health over my morals. Knowing how obsessive and anxious I can become when faced with a dietary lose-lose situation, I had to give myself an out. I felt like a hypocrite and a coward for even doing something like that in a theoretical future situation, but I didn’t have much choice. I’m glad to say this issue hasn’t come up yet, and my first year as a vegetarian went by pretty smoothly. However, I still feel supremely guilty when I consume something I know (or suspect) has eggs or milk in it. I try to avoid such things when I can, but without an ingredients list you can never know for sure. And, unfortunately, OCD thrives on the things you can “never know for sure.”

So that’s why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. I wish, truly, that I was at a place in my life where I could take on a challenging and rewarding lifestyle like veganism – but I’m not. I hope I will be one day, and I’m definitely trying to move in that direction. Until then, all I can do is minimize the harm I cause to my fellow animals, and help as many of them as I can.