carnival of aces

Asex Ed? – Carnival of Aces Submission June 2017

[This post as a part of the Carnival of Aces, a monthly blog carnival centring around topics relating to asexuality. This month’s  carnival is hosted by Writing Ace on the topic of Asexual Education.]

For this topic, I am focusing on one of the specific suggested prompts: “How should asexuality be taught to children? Where and when should asexuality be taught to children?”

I have a lot of thoughts about the ways in which we teach (or don’t teach, as the case often is) children about sexuality. Sexuality really can be much simpler than we make it most of the time, if we manage to look past the strange moral filters and anxieties so many of us carry around these topics.

For instance, lots of parents have a dread of the day their children first ask where babies come from, because that means they need to tell their kid about the s-e-x word now. Except it doesn’t mean that at all, as it turns out!

My favourite book about baby-making for children is  Cory Silverberg’s What Makes a Baby? In the book, you learn that babies are made when you put together sperm with an ovum (some bodies make sperm, and some don’t; some bodies make ova and some don’t), and give the blastocyst this creates somewhere to live (a uterus! Some bodies have ’em, and some don’t!)

Ta-da! Simple as that, and sex doesn’t enter the conversation. I mean, for the record, it’s not that I think we need to avoid taking to kids about sex, it’s just that not all babies are made from people having sex anymore, and honestly, when children innocently ask about where babies come from, they don’t really want to know about what a man and woman do when they fall in love. In some cases, they’re probably more worried about whether their body might start growing a baby inside of it than anything else. It’s ok.

So, when do we talk to kids about sex? This is something we do need to talk to children about implicitly from a very young age – as young as possible really, simply because of the shockingly high rate of childhood sexual abuse. We need to teach children about their bodies and the ways it is and isn’t ok for other people to touch them. But the explicit conversation is less important, really.

And, if it were up to me, that standard birds-and-bees talk would be massively different as well. And yes, it would include asexuality, at least implicitly!

Something along the lines of this:

Sometimes grownups like to touch each other in special ways! [Talk about touching genitals, what genital arousal and orgrasm (generally) look like, various kinds of intercourse etc.]  We usually refer too all of these things as “having sex”. Sometimes people just touch themselves in ways that feel this way, too – we usually call that masturbation, but it’s a part of our sexuality too!

Having sex is normal, and can be really great if all the people involved want to do it, but this kind of touching can also carry some risks [talk about stis, pregnancy, and what acts do and don’t carry those risks. Note that pregnancy is only a risk for certain combinations of genitals etc].

Most people like to have sex because it feels really good to them (and some people have sex for other reasons, like if they want to get pregnant, or to make someone else feel good), but just like not everyone loves chocolate, not everyone likes sex either, and that’s ok! And some people only like certain kinds of sex, and not others, or only like to masturbate, and that’s all ok too.

Sometimes having sex can also make people feel more emotionally close to each other. In fact, lots of people have strong emotional reactions to having sex in different, but some don’t. Sometimes being in love with someone is what makes a person want to have sex with another person, but sometimes people have sex with each other just because they like how each other looks, or because they enjoy spending time together!

Not everyone falls in love or wants to have romantic relationships, but they can still have sex if they want to and if someone else wants to have it with them! And not everyone likes to have sex with anyone ever! All of these things are ok, and only you can decide how or when or who you want to have sex with, or if you even want to have sex ever at all!

If you really wanted to, you could mention that some people only ever want to have sex with people who are of a specific gender (some women only want to have sex with women, and some women only want to have sex with men, while others might want to have sex with people of different genders), but I think that if you manage to talk about sex in a gender-inclusive way and if children actually internalize the idea that it’s ok to want to have sex with people of whatever gender, no matter what gender you happen to be, then it kind of doesn’t matter if they are only attracted to one gender or another?

Anyway, yes, that’s my ideal way of framing what sex is, (with the existence of asexuality built right into the discussion!) not just to kids, but to literally anyone!

Casual physical intimacy, and “cuddle dialogue”! May 2017 Carnival of Aces submission

[This post is a part of the Carnival of Aces. This month’s carnival is hosted by From Fandom to Family on the topic of “Kissing, Hand Holding, Bed Sharing, etc.”]

I was vegging out with my nesting partner recently, cuddling on the couch and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for umpteenth time, when my brain coined the phrase “cuddle dialogue” as I was trying to articulate something about our compatibility as cuddlers. Because the thing is, for me at least, the best cuddling very much is a non-verbal dialogue of sorts: it’s active, and responsive to each other. And this partner and I have got it down, to be honest. Our bodies comfortably communicate very well with each other, without needing to cerebralize it. And it’s a beautiful thing!

It’s also a significant thing, because when it comes to romantic relationships, casual physical intimacy is honestly one of the most important things in the world to me!

This can seem a little strange, because I am not a particularly touchy-feely person in general. Although this has softened somewhat as I’ve become (marginally) less socially awkward in transitioning from young adulthood to regular adulthood, I am still reticent to initiate physical contact with people in general.

Once I’ve established a level of physical intimacy with someone though, all bets are off (within the boundaries of what the other person is comfortable with, of course!) Basically, if a romantic partner is within reach of me, I’m going to want to be touching them, even if it’s just putting my hand on their arm while passing by them at home.

This all seems clearly related to my demisexuality, since I basically work on an all-or-nothing basis in terms of how I feel about physical intimacy with people – cuddle-attraction definitely goes hand-in-hand with sexual attraction for me. Which is to say, such desire doesn’t exist at all for me with most people, most of the time, until suddenly it does – and then, boy howdy does it!

However, this doesn’t mean that sensual and sexual touching are the same for me! Cuddling, in and of itself, is incredibly important to me, and in particular it is absolutely necessary for me to experience non-sexual physical intimacy in my romantic relationships. Touch that isn’t fraught by my partner’s desire to have sex with me is a must-have.

The paradox with that, though, is that this kind of unfraught touch will inevitably lead to me wanting more sexualized touch as well. Or at least, it does provide a necessary framework of safety and comfort for me to be open to that kind of desire.

My relationship with physical intimacy seems very simple in some ways – my internal experience of my bodily and emotional responses are largely unambiguous (though I still sometimes struggle to trust them), but becomes a complicated mess when I try to put words on it. So this post has been a struggle for me to write, and hasn’t wound up looking like what I thought it would, but here I am at the end of the month and I want to get something out, so yes. Those are some thoughts I had in response to this month’s prompt!

The best parts of ace communities, or: how my connection to ace communities converted me into a Hufflepuff

[This post is part of the January 2017 Carnival of Aces, hosted by Ace Advice on the theme of “Many ways to be ace“.]

Cross-stitch by me! Photo by John D. Botelho

Cross-stitch by me! Photo by John D. Botelho

I’m really happy about this month’s prompt, because it helped me realize that a bunch of thoughts I’ve been having lately are worth writing down. As I mentioned in a past Carnival post, I have a strange sense of identity with respect to asexual community/ies, in that even though I am comfortable with my a-spec, demisexual identity, I feel like my role with respect to asexuality is more akin to allyship than anything else.

To a great extent, this comes from my allosexual-passing privilege, but it also relates to the fact that I am always extremely cognizant of how non-typical my flavour of asexuality is. But then, the more deeply I delve into ace communities, the clearer it is becoming to me that there isn’t really a ‘typical’ when it comes to ace-ness. Better yet, ace communities – possibly more than any other marginal-identity-oriented communities I’ve witnessed or participated in – often actively embrace and even centre the true breadth of diversity of ace experiences across multiple spectra.

The way that ace communities – at least in my experience – go well beyond acceptance and often outright celebrate our diversity is just so utterly squee-worthy. I just love it, and it’s the reason ace-focused spaces are some the safest and most pleasant spaces I’ve ever encountered.

And one of the sillier and more unexpected consequences of all of these experiences is that I’ve rethought my Hogwarts House! I have always been a pretty clear Ravenclaw by all accounts (I am a librarian, after all…), including Pottermore’s Sorting Hat. But, that is no longer where my allegiance lies! I am, in fact, quite certain I’m a Hufflepuff.

The thing about Hufflepuff you see, is that it’s the house for everyone, or at least anyone. Hufflepuff sometimes gets a bad rap or simply goes unnoticed, because it’s hard to apply a clear strength or trait to it (like Gryffindors courage or Slytherin’s ambition), not because Hufflepuffs are inherently unremarkable, but because Helga Hufflepuff believed that everyone had value and was happy to have anyone in her house.

Hufflepuff is the kind of club I want to be in, is what I’m saying. And, given Helga’s attitude about it, I’m quite certain that wanting to be in Hufflepuff is more than sufficient qualification to get sorted into Hufflepuff (we know the Sorting Hat takes that sort of thing into consideration, even!).

And I’d like to think that many of the lovely aces of all kinds would be right there with me :)

Am I a private person? I can’t even tell anymore

[This post is for the December 2016 Carnival of Aces, hosted by the A³ blog, on the topic of “Asexuality and Privacy“]

I have a… very strange and contradictory relationship to my personal privacy. On the one hand, I have been blogging pretty regularly, for almost four years now(!), about all kinds of extremely ‘private’ thoughts and feelings, around my gender, sexuality, and all kinds of other things.

I have also been systematically pulling my blogging persona and my general IRL persona closer together as the years have passed. When I started Valprehension, ‘Kasey’ was a pseudonym, but now it’s my legal name. I post links to my professional writing here sometimes, so y’all pretty much know where I work now. I haven’t explicitly linked anything in my professional persona back to here, but anyone who cared enough to do some digging would find this blog pretty easily.

On the other hand, I have always been weird about discussing my personal life with anyone but my closest friends. I’m queer, and non-monogamous; I am non-binary and have a non-binary partner; I am on the asexual spectrum. I don’t hide any of these things, but I also often just avoid topics directly or indirectly related to them because I just don’t feel like getting into these things. Back at my old retail job, even after I’d been there for over a year – and at the time I wore a wedding ring every day, for the record – people were still regularly surprised when they realized I was married. I just never really mentioned my spouse, because… um, it didn’t come up?

I think that in general, I want people  to know these things about me, but I don’t want to deal with their immediate reactions to them. This is why I find it easier to be open in online contexts than in-person ones, regardless of whether the people I am interacting with know me in real life.

…Or, maybe not ‘regardless’. I am always a little bit reluctant to connect with work colleagues on facebook, for instance, though I’d be hard-pressed to really articulate why. I think I just fear the moment-of-truth transition where people go from not knowing to knowing this sort of potentially relationship-complicating stuff about me, even though I’m happier once it’s over with, generally.

My ace-spectrum status in particular is one that most people are unlikely to ever know about me. Basically unless you read this blog, it’s not likely something that’s going to come up. In part this is because my relationship status pretty heavily obscures and misdirects people from even the possibility that I am ace (largely because of misconceptions about asexuality), and makes it even more unlikely that it will come up.

I can see it coming up if someone were curious about my dating habits as a non-monogamous human (since, as I’ve written about here, here, and here, my demisexuality is highly relevant in that context), but at the same time I prefer to do my coming-out about things implicitly, rather than by explicitly stating my identities: my queerness can be outed by the pronouns (and other gender-marked words) I use for partners (at least, when I’m dating people whose pronouns aren’t the ones that make people assume I’m straight); people may realize I’m non-monogamous if, for instance, they notice that I sometimes refer to a spouse, and sometimes to a boyfriend, or if they realize over time that the things I say about “my partner” at various times can’t possibly always be referring to the same person, etc.

I don’t think there’s any instances where me just talking about my day-to-day life would tip my hand about being demisexual, though, so ultimately this aspect of my identity is more private than many others, even though that’s not by design.

I’m not really sure what my conclusion here is, to be honest. But I do wonder whether some of this will resonate with other people, and I look forward to seeing the other submissions to this month’s carnival!

 

Relationship anarchy and me: November 2016 Carnival of Aces Submission

[This post is in response to the November 2016 Carnival of Aces, hosted by It’s An Ace Thing on the topic of Relationship Anarchy]

Oh boy, do I have thoughts about this month’s theme! I suspect this post will be a bit of a rambly mess, but at least some of y’all seem to enjoy my rambly messes, so I guess this one’s for you!

Before I dive in, though, a quick(ish) definition: relationship anarchy is best described as the attitude that the only rules governing the function and form of your relationships with others are the rules set by the people in those relationships. In practice, this means consciously relinquishing (though not necessarily going against the tide of) societal rules and definitions for what relationships (of whatever kind) should look like, what they should mean, and how they should be valued.

The relationships a relationship anarchist participates in could look like anything: they may make monogamous sexual and/or romantic commitments, or they may not; they may prioritize biological family, or romantic partnerships over other relationships, or they may not. The point in relationship anarchy is not to fit  or to defy any particular relationship models, but simply to try to build relationships without any regard for those models in the first place.

Hopefully that makes sense?

Now, me!

I have long felt a great deal of affinity with relationship anarchy – because a lot of societal norms around relationships don’t work for me anyway (I’m not straight; I am demi*; I’m … um, just don’t ever tell me bio-family relationships are inherently valuable, mmkay?), I’ve naturally gravitated toward trying to finding my own path through the wilderness of human relationships.

I’ve also been thinking about this stuff a lot, because I’ve been dealing with a lot of disruption in my romantic/sexual (the two very much go hand-in-hand for me – at this point, I feel it safe to say that I don’t experience sexual attraction unless I am falling in love with – or already in love with – someone) entanglements over the last 1-2 years, and I’ve been actively trying to figure out what sorts of relationship structures I want to have in my life.

I haven’t had an exclusive sexual or romantic commitment in more than a decade, but at the same time I don’t take ‘polyamorous’ as one of my identities, particularly. Polyamory is something I’ve been practicing for some time, but it’s not fundamental for me; it’s the way my relationships have been built over the last while, for a complicated bunch of reasons, none of which are as cut-and-dried as they once were. For the first time in a long while, basically, it’s something that’s at least open to negotiation for me.

Weirdly, I started writing this post thinking I was going to get around to the reasons that I don’t really identify with relationship anarchy when it gets right down to it, but I actually think it’s a perfect fit for at least the way I try to approach all my relationships. While I’ve definitely internalized some of the messages I’ve been raised with about what various kinds relationships ‘should’ look like, and that impacts my own approach and desires within relationships, but ultimately my relationships are reasonably collaborative efforts, and I’m not bothered when they don’t look like the norm.

I also kind of suspect that this is true for most people when you get right down to it. Even those that feel the pressure of norms very often flout them when it is convenient; some people are more likely to hide the non-normative aspects of their relationships than others, I guess, but I’m not sure that’s a relevant distinction here.

What this says to me is that relationship anarchy is more important as a concept than an identity (at least for me). I think it is important to actively talk about how it’s ok and probably even important to let your relationships deviate from norms, because trying to use a one-size-fits-all model is a recipe for disaster in most cases. Relationship anarchy is a great model because it centres mutual consent and active communication rather than assumptions around relationship questions like sexual and romantic exclusivity, what does and does not constitute a breaking of any such commitments (since there is often a great deal of disagreement about this), and many other things.

I also think that the principles of relationship anarchy is particularly important and potentially useful for ace and aro people, simply because it is a model that inherently creates space for whatever kinds of intimate/interdependent relationships people want to build. The idea of making a lifelong commitment to someone that doesn’t involve sex and/or romance is still strangely revolutionary/unthinkable to many people, for instance, despite that fact that it may very be an ideal for many ace and/or aro people.

So, I guess I’m very happy to have this as a topic for the Carnival, and I look forward to reading everyone else’s submissions!


*er, ok, some kinds of relationship norms actually fit better with demisexuality than allosexuality (wait before having sex! Don’t do it with lots of people! or whatever), but nevertheless, within the (largely non-religious) dating eco-system where I find myself, it’s more of a problem than not.

Joining the Asexual Community: October 2016 Carnival of Aces submission

[This post is a part of the October 2016 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “Joining the Asexual Community“]

I very much feel like I fell into contact with asexual communities by accident. I can’t remember when I first learned about asexuality – probably it came up in connection to the LGBTQIA+ acronym at some point (though asexuals sometimes get erased in order to include allies in the alphabet soup (*eyerolls forever*), I’m sure I saw it done right in my teenage years some of the time.

I didn’t realize that asexuality was relevant to me until my mid-20s though, when I (again mysteriously; I have no idea what lead me to this, really) discovered demisexuality. I took some time between learning that demisexuality exists and actively identifying myself as demisexual (and I wrote about that process at various points along the way).

During this time, I also started noticing the significant overlap between trans communities and asexual communities, and particularly the fairly common co-existence asexual and non-binary identities. That is, I noticed a lot of non-binary people are also on the asexual spectrum, and vice versa.

This lead me to my first go-round of hosting the Carnival of Aces earlier this year, on the topic of gender norms and asexuality.

I still don’t know how strongly I feel like a part of asexual community, weirdly, although ace-oriented spaces have always felt very welcoming and comfortable to me – there are many things about ace communities that inspire me to be a better version of myself, and I am glad to participate in things like the carnival. There are many things about my life, and the way demisexuality works for me, that make me pass pretty easily as allosexual, and to some extent this means that I feel my role around asexuality and asexual issues to be more that of an ally than a part of the community.

I love reading about all of your lives, is basically what I’m saying, and though I have been making a conscious effort to contribute to conversation in various ways, I still see myself in a weird position that is both within and outside of ace community at large (if that even makes any sense). I have come to be familiar with ace communities mostly by accident, and the process by which I have built up my participation seems in retrospect like the metaphorical frog in the pot of boiling water – so slow that I didn’t realize it was happening until I already found myself there.

“Naming it”: August 2016 Carnival of Aces Round-up

This is the round-up of posts for the August 2016 Carnival of Aces, hosted by yours truly, on the topic of “Naming it”. Posts are listed in order of submission. Thank you so much to all the contributors; I’ve really enjoyed reading all of your posts!

Naming it – How identifying as asexual changed my life | Ace Advice

Does what it says on the tin: the author of ace advice talks about the importance of discovering and coming to identify with asexuality.

Carnival of Aces August 2016: “Naming It” | A3

The author of A3 describes the process by which they discovered asexuality, and the moment they first saw the phrase “straight by default”.

Names Acknowledge Existence | the notes which do not fit

A personal reflection on the importance of naming things in order to acknowledge and validate their existence, especially with respect to asexual identities and realities.

The importance of labels in the asexual community (if you want to use them), and my story | Spacey Acey

Emilia tells the story of her discovery of asexuality and her first forays into asexual online communities, complete with all the new words and concepts she had never encountered before, and her thoughts and feeling about those experiences.

#1805 | Only Fragments

The fabulous poet of Only Fragments has written a lovely meditation on names and diversity.

Naming It | quizzicalsloth

Jay writes about the comfort he finds in having a name for his experiences of asexuality, and further explores some thoughts about the variety of words and identities that there are to be found within asexual communities.

Putting Words to feelings: August 2016 Carnival of Aces Submission | Valprehension

I wrote about the concepts of primary and secondary attraction, the split attraction model (and particularly aesthetic attraction), and squishes!

[CN: rape] How Words Can Heal: Why I Needed Asexuality Awareness | yoonede
Yoonede writes about going through more than three decades without knowing that asexuality is a thing, and all of the feelings of confusion and brokenness, and the almost inevitable trauma, that came with that.

Naming feelings | (Purr)ple (L)ace
Laura talks about the general importance of finding words for her feelings, and describes a relationship for which words continue to fail her.

When Someone Learns a Word, But It Will Take a Lot for Them to Grasp the Concept it Describes | From Fandom to Family

This post explores both the power of finding a name for something you already experience (such as asexuality), and the ways in which simply being able to name something is not enough.

Naming and discovering new categories | mundo heterogéneo

Isaac explains some of his varied reactions to new words and concepts from asexual communities, the reasons why he more easily recognized himself withint he definition of aromanticism than asexuality, and discusses some of difficulty in bringing these ideas back into his native language of Spanish.

Why “Romantic Orientation Does Not Apply” Does Not Cut It (For Me) | From Fandom to Family
luvtheheaven sneaks in a technically late addition (:P), exploring the grey spaces where she is still struggling to find words for herself.