darkemeralds: An old book whose spine reads Signsls and Cyphers, with the text DarkEmeralds (Cyphers)
[personal profile] darkemeralds
I've just finished listening to the audiobook version of Julie Sondra Decker's The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality (narrated by Reay Kaplan).

I book-reviewed it on Audible, but I wanted to make a few notes about my more personal reaction to it.

When I first encountered the idea of asexuality, I thought, "That could be me, but I'm not sure it fits," and I spent some time on AVEN forums, trying to figure out if I "qualified" to claim the label. I didn't feel especially at home in those forums, being about three times the age of the average user and having very little in common with most of them. I had some serious problems trying to fit my sexual history into a model that is still being defined and that didn't exist until I was already 50 years old.

So I wandered off, and have intermittently (and in safe spaces) identified as "ace" or "on the spectrum" without being out about it. Out-ness feels either unimportant or dangerous to me for various reasons having to do with my age and my family. In the meantime, I explored a lot of my other atypicalities: lefthandedness, attachment "disorder", introversion (atypical mostly only by American standards), permanent singlehood, an attention deficit; some of which feel akin to my asexuality for reasons I can't quite articulate.

Then, the other evening, I stumbled on a documentary called (A)Sexual on Netflix, and that led me to Julie Decker's new book, where, at last, I found specific acknowledgment that people my age, without a term or concept to describe themselves, might have a sexual history very much like mine and might feel just as I feel about it, and yes, do therefore claim the asexual descriptor.

For instance, I've been in sexual relationships. Sex was not horrible: I enjoyed some of it. I find some people aesthetically attractive, but I never had a way to understand the difference between that and sexual attraction. For most of my adult life, I thought they were synonymous, and I've found plenty of men visually pleasing. I have a libido--admittedly, not a huge one--and OMG I've written sexually explicit stories! That disqualifies me, right?

And then there's the fact that I have had some kind-of traumatic experiences around men and sex, and I've been diagnosed and treated for depression, AND I'm getting pretty old--so maybe "that's all it is": just PTSD, just mental illness, just age. Does all this mean I can't really claim the asexual label? The Invisible Orientation cleared that up: many asexual people have the same experiences. Asexuality is a description for people who aren't sexually attracted to others. It's mine to use if I want to.

I've come away from the book feeling much more sure (and positive) about calling myself asexual: somewhere in the nuanced and complex set of terms for self-concepts outside the "allosexual" (that is, non-asexual) range is one that fits me. Did it fit me every single day of my life? No. It's not a perfect match for my whole history. But I'm now willing to consider that the preponderance of evidence supports my decision to identity as ace.

It's pretty liberating.

Date: 2014-10-09 07:04 am (UTC)
azurelunatic: A glittery black pin badge with a blue holographic star in the middle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] azurelunatic
It is delightful to hear about you finding your truths.

Date: 2014-10-09 03:34 pm (UTC)
cookiemom6067: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cookiemom6067
It's interesting to me that I'm hearing from younger people that, " I just don't like labels." Raven Symone, pretty conspicuously this week, plus a niece of mine in the same age range a couple of days ago, while some of us look to label ourselves. I'm not sure it's necessarily a generational thing, or if it's a good, bad, or indifferent thing. It's just a thing I just noticed.

Date: 2014-10-09 05:33 pm (UTC)
pinesandmaples: Half a brown coconut. (theme: half shell)
From: [personal profile] pinesandmaples
Does the book also talk about things like demi/gray-A sexuality?

Date: 2014-10-10 01:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swankivy.livejournal.com
Hey! I don't usually reply to reviews because, you know, professionalism, and people are supposed to be able to have their say without the author butting in, but I saw in your Audible review that you posed a question to me in case I am reading, and I'd love to answer it!

Oddly enough, I didn't have any involvement with the audio book so I didn't know the narrator was going to make an attempt at reading the resources section, and one of my issues with the audio format was that when she read the quote boxes from other asexual people, you didn't know it was designed to be an aside until she read out the attribution, and then you didn't know where the contributed text started! I wish she'd said "begin quote" or something. Those were little shaded gray boxes in the print version. She mispronounced quite a few of the blog names and handles, too, but it's forgivable; I just wish I could have guided that somewhat.

Anyway, you asked about resources! My website has some. It's not designed in the same order as the book's resources, but everything I mentioned in that chapter is probably in here somewhere:


I hope this helps! Thanks for reading/listening.

Date: 2014-10-16 08:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swankivy.livejournal.com
It's not me who had that complaint--two people among my friends who chose the audio book asked me directly "who were you talking about when you said X?" or "why did you imply that you experience racism as a woman of color," etc. Because they thought the "I" in those quotations was me, the author, speaking.

I haven't heard the entire book on audio yet, but overall I do like her expressiveness and most of the choices she made.

Date: 2014-10-10 03:31 am (UTC)
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
From: [personal profile] firecat
At 52 I can relate to a lot of what you say about not feeling at home among the majority age demographic of people exploring these labels. The book sounds very good.

Date: 2014-10-10 06:27 am (UTC)
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
From: [personal profile] firecat
Yay! Likewise!

Date: 2014-10-10 06:31 am (UTC)
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
From: [personal profile] firecat
Yes, I'm SO glad that the ACE community is bringing options other than "late bloomer," "prude," etc. to the table.

Date: 2014-10-10 07:54 am (UTC)
greghatcher: (Default)
From: [personal profile] greghatcher
I don't have a lot to say about the main content, but the aside about labels being tremendously important really hit me HARD because we are more or less in the same age bracket and I am having the hell of a time at school keeping up with the ones my students use. Now that I teach high school as well, I have learned the hard way that there's a whole new set of labels the kids use with a degree of ease and comfort with one another that there was just NO WAY the high schoolers in my repressed whitebread suburban school would have EVER used.

There's still a lot of social Darwinism, high school is just as cruel as it ever was, but it's not really about gender identity so much any more. There was a time when spreading the rumor a kid was 'gay' was like using the nuclear option. Now it's just a shrug and "oh? I kinda wondered about him," or "Hey, good on her for being out."

It's on my mind a lot tonight because one of my Young Authors came out to me as trans today-- we were doing the "About the Author" bios, third person but they write their own, and she wanted to use 'they' and 'their.' I said it should be 'she' and 'her' for the sake of tense agreement and she said, "But I'm trans."

What I said was, "Okay, but the trouble is there's no gender-neutral pronoun for a single person, and you're not writing about a crowd. The only people who've tried it are science fiction writers and the best they've managed is 'S/he' and 'hir,' which I frankly think looks like a typo. So let's try it this way-- '(Name) is fifteen,' instead of 'she,' and instead of 'their hobbies are,' make it 'hobbies include...' and that way you can dodge the whole issue. Eventually they'll hit on the right pronoun but we're not there yet, so we'll cheat our way out of it."

But in my head it was OH MY GOD HOW DID I NOT PICK UP ON THIS SHE'S ASIAN HER PARENTS ARE SUPER CONSERVATIVE THEY CAN'T KNOW THIS IS A HUGE THING FOR HER TO TRUST YOU WITH DON'T FREAK OUT IT'S NOT LESBIAN I KNOW THAT BUT I HAVE TO LOOK IT UP LATER DON'T FREAK OUT CALM FACE CALM FACE DON'T LET HER SEE SHE THREW YOU SO HARD SHE TRUSTS YOU BE SUPPORTIVE DON'T FREAK OUT. I pulled it off but it was a little unnerving. I dread the eventual call from her father, and there is certain to be one at some point between now and June. He usually calls me just to get assurances I'll be keeping a close eye on the kids when we table at a show.

Anyway. So THAT's part of my school day now. If it had happened when we were kids it would have been the hell of a lot bigger deal and if it had happened when my mother was teaching the poor kid would probably have been sent off to a shrink or boarding school or something, and mom would have been the first to file commitment papers. So I guess it's progress. But I know a huge part of it is that these labels EXIST now, and kids take great comfort in not being alone.
Edited Date: 2014-10-10 07:57 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-10-12 08:05 am (UTC)
spacehawk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] spacehawk

We don't know each other -- I found this post through Swankivy's Tumblr account. I'm asexual and of non-binary gender, and also a teacher.

It is indeed hugely important for people of all ages to be able to find their labels, words, and identities. I am so glad to see that so many people today, young and old, are discovering (or better understanding) themselves through these new words.

I do not know how many Asian, assigned-female at birth students there are in your Young Authors class, but I am concerned that your post may unintentionally out your student, since you appear to have your real life picture and name associated with this account, and this is a public post. I know it would never be your intention to out your student, but I feel it is important that I raise this issue, for your student's safety and privacy.

With this said, I congratulate your student's bravery in coming out about their gender. I would never have had the courage to do such a thing at that age -- when I was in high school, transgender seemed only to mean transsexual, and that people can be non-binary gendered, or agender/neutrois, was never a "possibility." If I had been taught that it was OK for people not to have a gender, or to opt out of gender entirely, I think I would have leapt at it with both feet! From puberty onward, I never felt comfortable with the gender ascribed to me, but there was no way out. (Neither was asexuality acknowledged as an orientation back then.)

"Transgender" is today often used as an umbrella term, encompassing everyone who does not feel that the gender assigned to them at birth fully describes them, and includes both binary identified trans people as well as those who are non-binary or genderqueer. Some transgender people take hormones or modify their bodies surgically to bring their bodies more into alignment with their true genders, but some do not.

If you are interested in knowing more about people of non-binary gender, here are some links you may find helpful:

Wikipedia's page on genderqueer.

Wikipedia's page on neutrois, also sometimes known as agender. (Not to be confused with asexuality, which is a sexual orientation, not a gender identity.)

Wikihow.com's how to respect a trans person, including the importance of using the correct pronouns (in this case "they/them/their" for your student, rather than "she/her/hers" as in your post).

A page on non-binary 101, including a section on the particular challenges faced by non-binary people in finding their words in a culture that denies them these words.

You may also not be aware, but the use of "they" as a singular pronoun has a very long history in English, going back at least to the 14th century, and was even used by Shakespeare himself. The trend to prescription of the generic "he" to replace "they" for subjects of indeterminate gender seems to have begun in the 18th century and really taken hold in the 19th, when the grammatical flexibility of earlier eras was replaced with Victorian precision. But the "they singular" form has persisted, and perhaps even rebounded with force -- I teach students to write essays for standardized tests, and I am forever telling them to be careful not to use the singular "they," because the test graders must take off points! (What is considered prescriptively "correct" in English today, according to ETS and others, still follows the Victorian rules in this case.)

It is thus a natural extension of this already common usage pattern, in English, that some people who are themselves of indeterminate or non-binary gender (such as myself) prefer the forms "they/them/theirs" for their genders. Others use more recently invented pronouns that have not yet made it into the "mainstream" of the language, such as ze, xe, e, and others. (And there are some languages that do not have gendered pronouns at all.)

Whatever someone's pronouns may be, it is crucial for all people to be able to choose their pronouns, and to have their identities respected by those around them, both peers and role-models. This is especially vital for young people, most especially for those whose gender identities are not accepted at home, those for whom it is unsafe to come out at home, and/or those who may even face verbal or physical hostilities for coming out. Many trans youth live with that risk. Please keep in mind that by affirming your student's pronouns, you may be the only person in their life who does so. Many young trans people live with constant invalidation every single day (if not bullying, or worse).

Thus it hurt me deeply to read how you seem to have unwittingly taken that choice of words from your young student, and told them that their pronouns were "wrong" to use, after they had so bravely come out to you and explained to you why they need those words in their bio. I do not see in your story here a student who wanted to "dodge the issue," I see a student who wanted to come out in their bio, and be proud of who they are.

I know you did not mean your student any harm, and this is why I am coming forward and offering you some resources so you can learn more about this issue. I assume you have only the best intentions toward your young student, and therefore I want to caution you, lest you inadvertently harm them by silencing their choice of identity words. You have tremendous potential to be a valuable ally, as someone your student obviously trusts a great deal.

I'll close with a link to this wonderful website that lists hundreds of different terms that are used in the real world to talk about gender and sexuality (and a few other things). This is a user-generated list -- people kept writing in and adding more and more until eventually the site stopped updating. Language does continue to evolve, however, and many terms from other languages are not included here, and so this list is not comprehensive. With the ever-evolving nature of language, no list ever could be. (I learned a new term myself today, in fact, on the AVEN forums!)

Few folks, cis or trans, are likely to know all of these terms -- but we have the internet at our fingertips, and can Google them and learn and explore our knowledge of sex and gender. Whenever I give a presentation on transgender and non-binary identities, I offer this website as a resource.

Thanks for listening.
Edited Date: 2014-10-12 12:25 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-10-10 11:59 pm (UTC)
lyr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lyr
I'm glad it's been a liberating experience! I felt much the same way about finding the label demisexual. All my life before that, I had no word for it and so felt very singular and solitary about the way I experience sexuality. I like having the word, even if I still have to explain it to most people.

Date: 2014-10-11 06:26 am (UTC)
lyr: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lyr
No, for me it was immediate. I read the demi description and recognized myself with a sharp shock of surprised delight. I never expected to find such an apt account of how I experience these things written by anyone but me.

Did you get the hematite style of black ring?

Date: 2014-10-18 07:26 pm (UTC)
writerscramp: stranger than fiction (emma thompson, i luv u) (Default)
From: [personal profile] writerscramp
Thanks for sharing such a personal piece of your journey and your own reflections about this newly-acquired knowledge. It's not your job to educate me, obviously, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn a little bit about your experience and to expand my understanding.

Recognizing yourself in a description or a label, finding that sense of belonging, having that moment of "this is me!"...these are so important to validation of our identity. We all want to be known (as in being seen, understood, etc.), to have our identity and experiences validated. One of the problems of privilege is that it excludes those who don't fit in those privileged groups from being known. They miss out on that very valuable affirmation.

I'm glad that you've found something that speaks to this piece of your identity -- perhaps not completely, perhaps not quite in the "aha!" way that it might for others, but at least in some way that you recognize your reflection. Everyone deserves to see their reflection in the world around them.

Date: 2015-01-15 12:39 am (UTC)
tehomet: (Fat happy unicorn rainbow love)
From: [personal profile] tehomet
Thank you for this fascinating post. Good for you that you've found a descriptor that is a better fit and is empowering. Everyone deserves that and I hope it becomes a more frequent experience in our culture. Truth and beauty!

Most Popular Tags

Page generated Oct. 22nd, 2017 01:32 pm