#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.

#1891

I close my eyes and imagine a room. The whitewashed walls are open on three sides, the high ceiling supported by curving columns decorated in painted carvings of plants and leaping animals. Thin linen curtains blow in a breeze scented by lotus blossoms; as they move, the sunny courtyard with its pools and gardens beyond flashes in and out of sight. The floor is cool marble covered in thick, brightly colored carpets. A graceful bed shaped from dark wood takes up the one wall, and near it stands a matching table inlaid with mother of pearl. On the table sits a collection of delicate bottles, some glass, some stone, and some carved from pure crystal. The perfumes inside send their subtle scents into the air; myrrh, frankincense, jasmine, rose, lavender. Only one sound disturbs the peaceful silence. Like myself, others pass through this place, seeking its comfort for a momentary respite or for as long as pain needs to ease. Cat spirits sleep curled up on the bed and carpets, and stretched out on the stones outside in the hot sun. Their purring fuses into a lazy drone that rumbles through the very walls and floor, a sound more felt than heard. It is a wordless prayer of thanks and love; a call to rest and heal away from the hurts of the corporeal world.

And She is here as well, sometimes, in my daydreams: the Mother Cat, whom I am blessed to call Mother as well. This is Her room, Her quiet place of retreat to comfort, to mourn, to regain strength. I imagine She holds Her arms out to me and I sink into them like a young child (here we are all young, for we will forever be Her kittens). She holds me close as I cry for all the terrible injustices in the world. For Her children who suffer at the hands of my species; who live and die in factory farms, who are killed for sport and profit, who are discarded like inanimate objects. For the earth we continue to ruin in our greed, leaving behind a wasteland in which nothing beautiful can live. I know Bast cannot make these things go away – no deity, no matter how powerful or determined, can undo the whole extent of man’s wrongs. But Her comfort and shared sorrow feed the little flame of Hers in my chest and give me enough strength to go back out into the world and fight. When I imagine how many of Her children are suffering right this moment, hurting and dying without ever knowing the kindness of a human bond, the truth crushes me. But She helps me instead to remember those of Her children whom I have touched, each little ember that grew into a flame and has a chance, now, for a life of love. She reminds me of what I have given, what I still have to give, and of how many are in need. In this room, She lends me the strength to face another day, to make whatever difference in this world I can.

#1890

“Ah, the ice prince returneth,”

Daren doesn’t reply as he turns to lock the door behind himself. He can feel the weight of Tanim’s gaze as the man watches his every movement, calculating each second in which he neither speaks nor raises his eyes. “Silence,” Tanim’s voice feigns lightness to veil bitterness, but doesn’t succeed. “Of course.” Daren hears the soft ring of crystal on polished stone as Tanim sets down his drink. When he speaks again, his voice is much closer; Daren can smell the alcohol on his breath. “Do you want me at all? In any way? Do you even love me, in whatever fucked up way you can?”

“Stop before you make a fool of yourself,” Daren cautions wearily, moving sideways to put Tanim in his periphery. Undaunted, Tanim mirrors the movement so they face one another. “No,” he replies, half refusal, half entreaty. “No. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of hoping you’ll throw me a scrap of what passes for affection from you.” His voice rises, edged with desperation and fueled by drink. “I’m tired of wondering what keeps you here, and whether the next time you leave will be the last time I ever see you. You give me nothing to hold onto, nothing to make me think I even exist to you most of the time, but then you…” he gestures helplessly, “you flip and suddenly I’m worth something, or at least there’s something I can offer that you actually want. But I can’t predict it and I can’t rely on it, and in between I ache for what I can’t ask for from you, even though there are nights when you give it freely.”

“Tanim, don’t–” Daren’s words are cut off as Tanim interrupts, closing the distance between them, “I don’t forget, you know. I can’t just divorce the person you are every other second of the day from the person you are for just a moment when you admit you want me. Don’t you want me? I’m not crazy. I didn’t make those moments up.” He takes hold of Daren’s wrist with both hands, not painfully but with an intensity he wouldn’t normally dare. His eyes are at once too dull and too bright. “Some part of you wants me. I know it. You know it. Why do you deny it? Why do you deny me?”

“Tanim, stop,” Daren tries to pull his arm away but Tanim’s grip only tightens. Then his hands are locked around both of Daren’s arms, and as he pulls his lover closer his words rush out with a fervor bordering on hysteria. “Some part of you isn’t dead or frozen, I know it, and I know I can reach it if you’d just let me, if you’d just let me in I can–”

Daren doesn’t need to say anything this time; the knife says it for him, pressed point first into the center of Tanim’s chest. He uses its thin, honed edge to force the man back, a wet red stain blossoming through the cloth of Tanim’s shirt. Tanim’s arms fall away as he looks down to the tiny blade buried an inch into his flesh, his expression moving with inebriated delay through confusion, surprise, and understanding. Either the pain or the shock, or perhaps both, serve to clear his head a bit and when he looks back up, his eyes are focused and filled with fear. “Darling,” he lifts one hand as if to touch Daren, a gesture of guilt and regret, but lets it fall just as quickly, “I didn’t- you know I would never-”

“Get out,” Daren’s voice holds none of the trembling emotion of Tanim’s; his words are as cold and precise as the blade in his hand. “Don’t come back until you’re sober.” For a moment Tanim seems to consider arguing, or perhaps pleading for forgiveness, but the dark wall of Daren’s eyes warns him to obey. So instead he takes a step back, leaving the knife between them as if hanging in space, blood dripping from its point to stain the white carpet, and leaves without another word.

Only once the door is closed and Tanim’s footsteps have receded does Daren lower his arm.

#1889

“Tell me where he is!”

“No,”

The fist breaks Daren’s nose this time and smashes the back of his head against the pavement once more. Through the blood streaming down his lips, he smiles up at his interrogator. The man swears impatiently and pulls a hunting knife from his belt.

“Tell me where he is or I’ll gut you,”

“No,”

Daren clenches his teeth as the knife plunges into his stomach, but his smile remains.

“Daren! Daren, wake up… Jonathan, hurry!”

He is still alive when Tanim finds him, but barely. Tanim’s voice rouses him from near-unconsciousness and he offers a paler, much more pained smile to his lover.

“Good, you made it,”

“Only thanks to you. Daren, I told you not to do that! You promised, you said–”

“I lied. What did you expect?”

Daren laughs, not unkindly, at the expression of sorrow and horror on Tanim’s face; the laugh turns into a wet cough, blood bubbling at the corners of his mouth. Tanim has one hand pressed to the knife wound, but even he knows it’s futile. Tanim bows his head.

“I won’t forgive you for this,”

“I didn’t apologize for it,”

By the time Jonathan arrives with the medical supplies, it is too late to do any good.

#1888

Holy Shit My Girlfriend is Awesome: An Essay

It’s February, which means Valentine’s Day, which means an overwhelming amount of heteronormativity being shoved in our collective queer faces. What better time, then, to write about the woman I am fiercely, ecstatically in love with? This is the classic story of awkward-asexual-girl-who-has-never-dated meets awkward-bisexual-girl-who-has-dated-too-many-bad-eggs. On Craigslist.

Our story doesn’t actually start in May of 2014, when Chriselle and I first started communicating via email. It starts years before – in early childhood for Chriselle, and early high school for myself. Being the budding queers we were, we found ourselves unknowingly following the same path to self-discovery. She habitually wrote letters to a mysterious figure she called her Stranger; I wrote longingly about an undefined girl I called Shakespeare’s Sister, after Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Years before Chriselle and I ever met, we both imagined this perfect person whom we wished would come into our lives.

Fast forward to 2014. After years of internal sapphic angst, I woke up one morning and thought fuck it, I’m going to post something on the Craigslist w/w forum. So I did. It was super vague and focused more on my search for a writing buddy than a romantic tryst. Chriselle answered and we hit it off immediately. We flirted, bonded, and eventually I asked her out – with about a thousand butterflies whirling in my stomach. From there, the story follows the lesbian U-Haul cliche embarrassingly close. We bought matching rings on our second date, were talking about marriage by the second month, and had rented an apartment together by the ninth. 44 months later, we’re engaged and planning an October wedding. Gross, huh?

I think I would love Chriselle no matter what, because of fate and soulmates and stuff, but she also happens to be someone who deserves to be loved for a thousand different reasons. She is passionate, altruistic, and unfailingly honest. She is intelligent, literary, and refreshingly open-minded. She is sarcastic, unapologetically queer, and one of the biggest geeks I have ever met. She is a dedicated daughter, a loving sister, and an extremely patient aunt. She is a beautiful, curvy, brown-skinned immigrant who is tough as nails and won’t back down from a fight (physical, emotional, or moral) she believes in. She works a job where she watches animals die every single day, and yet she always goes back because she can’t stand to not do something for them. She is more confident than she knows, and more capable. She is, above all, a truly good person.

But there’s more. Those are some of the big, overarching reasons why I love this girl so much, but some of the smaller, more specific reasons are just as important. I love the way she cackles when she kills someone in Assassins Creed. I love how irrationally angry she gets when I mention Paul Revere. I love how she can quote the Harry Potter movies by heart. I love how she calls her beanies “bonnets”. I love how she supports my various weirdnesses. I love that we can have long, in-depth discussions about anything from morality to Lord of the Rings. I love how she gets super loopy whenever she is sick or has taken pain killers. I love that she puts like a million sugars in her tea. I love that sometimes she forgets the English word for something, and only remembers the Tagalog one. I love that she drinks soda instead of hard liquor when she’s had a bad day. I love that she cries if you give her a gift for her dog. I love her freckles and her wavy hair and her callouses. I love her tattoos and her piercings and the little scar on her eyebrow.

I’m not naive, and our relationship isn’t perfect; we have our share of struggles just like everyone else. At the end of the day, though, a lot of those struggles come from us loving each other too much, instead of not enough. And no matter how neurotic or disappointing or frustrating I can be, I know nothing will drive Chriselle from my side. We may be planning to say “for better or worse” in front of our family and friends next fall, but we already made those promises to each other three and a half years ago. We spent so many years searching for our Stranger, for our Shakespeare’s Sister, that we won’t let anything come between us now.

#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.

#1886

Tanim wonders, chasing the fleeting shadow down the long hallway, if Daren even knows where he’s going. The asylum is a multi-floored compound of brightly lit hallways that to the unfamiliar eye all look the same. Can Daren have any idea where the front doors are, when patients are kept shut away so deep within the maze? And even if he does still remember the way out, how will he get past the locked doors on each level and the employees who guard them? Surely he knows escape is impossible. Mad Daren might be, but he isn’t stupid.

Rounding a corner just as Daren flies through an unlocked door and into the stairwell beyond, Tanim stumbles to a stop and stands gasping for breath. He never imagined Daren could run so fast; though then again, he’s never had cause to chase after him, at least not literally. He gives himself a few seconds to catch his breath and check for security guards – none are following as of yet – then resumes the chase. Up two flights of stairs, back into an identical hallway, through countless turns and turnarounds he follows Daren, who remains always a dark figure vanishing around a far corner.

Finally, Tanim turns and finds himself facing a dead-end hallway just as one of its doors slams shut. Straining to calm his racing heart and aching lungs, he begins checking the handles of each door. Most are locked; given the burned out fluorescent bulb in the ceiling, this particular section of the asylum seems to be rarely in use. The doors on the right side of the hall are all locked. On the left side, Tanim meets locked door after locked door until he is almost to the end. The second-to-last handle moves under his hand and he hesitates, certain Daren is inside but uncertain of what the man might do when cornered.

Tanim pulls the door open slowly, expecting perhaps for Daren to rush him and continue his unpredictable flight, but nothing happens. The smell of blood hits him instead, and he pushes the door open wider to let in the hallway’s feeble light. It falls over Daren where he kneels in the shadows, glistening as it strikes the blood coating the man’s face and trickling in a steady waterfall down his neck, shoulder, and chest. In his hands he grips an open pair of scissors, their blades covered in blood; it is these, it seems, which he has used to make the oozing lacerations which crisscross his shaved head.

“I was trying to fix it,” Daren explains, his voice and eyes eerily calm. Tanim tries to speak but finds he has no words. Instead, he kneels down and gently lays his hands over Daren’s bloody fingers to extricate the scissors.