Friday, September 3, 2010

Courage.... and Other Things I Don't Have

Yes, I owe this blog fun and exciting Euro-Adventures. I will get to that, promise. It’s just that this thing has been sitting on my dashboard for a while, and I wanted it out there, because it’s something that bothers me, and also something that I’d like feedback on, and something that I think other people should know too. So, FIRST, awkward and frustrated discussion. Then, Euro-Adventures!

I am, as previously mentioned, a person with a disability.
I am also, as previously mentioned, an asexual person, with a disability.
Those two things? Are not related. And I hate having to say that, because it reminds me of how my mother has to tell people her daughter is smart right after she tells them her daughter is disabled. Because I know I have to say that, because to a large portion of the population, one thing cannot be true, if the other is. I also know that even when I say that, people will disbelieve me. So I will say again:

That I am a person with a disability who identifies as asexual is not a forgone conclusion. That I belong to both groups is incidental, and that both groups have been mistakenly thought, by people who are not part of that group, to denote a lack of maturation or inability to understand one’s social or physical development, does not mean I am, in fact, immature, or that I do not know my own body. The fact that I am asexual is not proof about the presence, or lack of a sexual desire in a person with a disability, or zir understanding of zir sexuality, or zir ability to express that desire, if indeed it does exist. The fact that I have a disability is, similarly, not proof that all, or even most, people who identify as asexual suffer from some kind of physical, mental, or chemical deficiency. My sexuality has as much and no more to do with my body chemistry and brain function as the average heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or pansexual individual. It is a part of me, as is my disability. It, like my disability, has a huge affect on my social interactions, and the average perception of me. They are not the same thing, nor are they part of one another.

I am oversimplifying again. The truth is, we don’t know what causes human sexuality to develop as it does, and there are a lot of factors. For years, we have been confirming and solidifying that the cause of homosexuality is largely genetic, and not a lifestyle choice. And now, there are studies that prove that identical twins can have different sexual orientations. It’s possible the specific place my brain has been damaged is directly related to sexual development. And it offers a very neat explanation. However, it’s also entirely possible I’m asexual because I was born asexual, like the other 600,000 or so people that we’re aware of who are also asexual, many, and I would wager most, of whom do not have brain damage to blame. And I dislike even giving credence to the notion that this could be anything other than simply, “I was born this way.”  In the same way my mother knew that my intelligence could only ever be relative to the perception of where my intelligence should have been, I know that my sexuality will then seem less genuine, less the real thing.

Detour with me for a sec. As previously mentioned, Hannah is an old story. Hannah is a story I wrote one summer when I was fourteen, that I just can't let go of. It's interesting to see the ways my writing style has changed, but also, it's interesting to see that my topic of interest hasn't, really, just the way I confront it. Hannah doesn't have a disability. I've explained why Hannah doesn't have a disability; I didn't want her to. I didn't want her recognized as the self-indulgence that she was, and is.  But there was a character who had a disability. Hannah's only childhood friend has a learning disability. In the earlier versions, she doesn't really get much of a mention. She's in one chapter, early on in Hannah, as a sort of juxtaposition between where Hannah is, and where she ought to be, so I wasn't explicit on the whole learning disability thing. She shows up in the second book, once or twice, when Hannah gets a boyfriend. (Hold on to that.) She's not very interesting. I feel guilty, now, at the lack of attention I paid her. Because in this version, she's very important. She's kind of integral, actually, and I'm enjoying Hannah's mucking around in her imperfect brain. I'm enjoying her there as a kind of proof that Hannah is just a kid, and I'm enjoying her for her own characterization. It's amazing to me, how easily I made the connection that she had the learning disability, another one of those things that's been there all along, but also, that I can use it to say all the things that Hannah, so desperate to be taken seriously, won't say. It is such a change, to be so fearless, now, and come right out and say it. Hey. We are everywhere. Sometimes, it's not our story. Sometimes, we have a place in your world too. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but it makes me feel better about so many things. Mostly, it makes it easier that I can't do that nearly as much as I'd like to.

I know why I made her so vapid and boring before. Firstly, I don't have a learning disability. Some things haven't changed. I didn't want to get it wrong, so I was afraid to do anything with it. But I know many people with learning disabilities, am friends with many people with learning disabilities, so I feel confident in a way I didn't when I was young, in my ability to treat this character like she is as real as someone I know, and not disappear her disability entirely. In the second book, she's not as quirky, she becomes sort of vapid and shallow and boring and kind of the media version of teenage girl, the one we’re supposed to understand is an accurate and general representation of ‘average.’ I know why that was too. It's not because I went all sexist, though there might be some sexism in there. It's because I started the second Hannah in high school. To give you an idea of what high school was like for me, I began the second book at sixteen. By sixteen I was vocally out, had to be just to dodge all the questions and comments thrown my way. I said to my very best friend, "I'm going to write another Hannah book, only this time she's our age. And she has a boyfriend." Her response was, "Good. She needs one." I said, "What? The last time we see her she's eight." So the next words out of my friend's mouth were, "Well, you need one. So it's good you're writing about that stuff." There were, of course, vapid shallow people of all sexes making these demands/accusations, but I could at least understand the boys' complaints, (mainly, ‘why can’t you be flattered, so I can get what I want?”) But with the girls, I just thought they were really that stupid.

Which brings me back to my original point. Someday, when I can get it all out, I am going to sit down and explain to you all about the many and varied forms of asexual discrimination. We're going to talk about all the courses on peer pressure they teach you in grade 6 and up, and how it feels to role-play a 'situation' and have your friends roll their eyes at you, and teachers ask you to, "really, try to be honest." while you stammered your way through it, confused, trying to figure out what was so damn funny about all this, and what these people wanted from you, and why those decisions were supposed to be so hard. when everything inside you says that is a clear not going to happen situation. We're going to discuss, at length, how often I hear the word 'unnatural' in reference to me, and how many asexuals through history have been branded pedophiles and secret perverts, and how it feels to have friends who won't touch you, not because they think you're gay or anything, just because they know everyone else does, and okay, you know, not having a boyfriend is fine for YOU, but OTHER PEOPLE would like to have the cute boy know they're available, okay? We'll talk about how it feels to love someone who believes you incapable of love, how it feels when everything you do or say is proof that you are not who you say you are, because we don't have words for love, devotion, desire, attraction, and passion that do not translate to sex to everyone but me. We'll talk about what happens when I go to the doctor's office, and how I have bisexual and gay friends who tell me I don't understand what it's like, to have people think those things about them, all the time. Not that I'm dismissing the trials of the other people on the sexuality spectrum. But we are more than just natural allies. We are fighting the same battle, and one day, I will have the words and courage to explain that in such a way that someone might even understand.

For now, the only thing I can say is this: I don't write asexual characters. It has taken me roughly twenty-three years to write characters with disabilities, and I know why that is. I know that is because I was always so afraid to be recognized, so afraid I didn't matter enough to be allowed to talk about this, that I wasn't disabled enough for my views to count, that I was 'too negative'. That is not why I don't write asexual characters. I can acknowledge the same fear, of course, I know part of it is that sometimes, the label doesn't quite fit me, though it's closer than any others, and I certainly don't want my asexual experience speaking for anyone else's. And there's the problem. I don't write asexual characters because to the wider world, we still don't exist. We are temporary asexuals if we're victims of rape (we are damaged), we are asexual if we have secret fetishes and can't have sex any other way (we are sick), or if our sexuality is so abnormal we need to hurt people to get what we want, so we bury it until it erupts and we claim another victim (we are evil). Does this line of thinking not seem familiar? Nobody speaks for us, not yet. We have no place in popular culture. In an oversexed world, we hold no interest. In every TV show or movie or book, if a character has no interest in romance, the audience is on the edge of their seat, waiting for the change. I don't write asexuals because I know, if I did, no one would believe it. I know that, because I know the number of people who still don't believe me. I know an even greater number of people who know exactly how I feel about sex and love, and still believe I am the only asexual person in the world. Being asexual isn't about doing nothing, where everyone else is doing something. I admit, I have some problems with sex. All the problems I have with sex stem from the pressure I received to be anything other than what I am. People are bored with me. I had someone say to me once, "Obviously, you're going to have someone someday. You talk all the time about not having one." I don't write asexuals because I know exactly how little people want to hear from us. I know exactly how hard it is to read and understand, and what a disappointment it is that that doesn't change. I know, because I am that disappointment. And I do feel lonely sometimes, but if I ever said that, people would start waiting for the change, all over again.

Think about this: I am a het asexual. Lots of asexuals are at varying points on the Kinsey scale, but I'm pretty comfortable with the knowledge I am more het than most. How do I know this? Because everyone I've ever been attracted to has been male. How does an asexual describe attraction, though? When I say attraction, I mean, the people I see who are pretty are both male and female, but there is something particular about pretty men. There is something internal that says ‘wow’ in a different way than when I see a beautiful woman. It is not a sexual desire kind of 'wow.' It is more a 'let me stand next to you, look at you, and commit you to memory." Or sometimes, "please be my friend and find me interesting, because I am fascinated by the fact that I find you interesting, that is special and rare."

I don't know how to explain it. I know it's different from sexuals, because of the blank looks I get, but that's all I know. When I was in college, there was a boy I liked. We had lunch together once, and he asked me out in a very sweet and vague way, and I never took him up on the offer, even though I very much liked him. It wasn't fear that made the decision. I just liked him too much to want a relationship. I liked being his friend, and his smiling at me and liking my writing and seeing me a certain way, I didn't want that way to change. When I told a friend this, she said, "but he likes you back!" and I said, "I know. But if he pursues me, I might have to do something about it. I might have to go out with him, and do the whole girlfriend thing, and then there's the whole explaining the 'no-touching', and even if he understood that, there's still the fact that we would be different.'" And she said, "that's the point." And that's when I knew I lost her, so I just said, "Not to me."

I don't write asexuals because we don't have words to explain ourselves.Nobody really wants to know anyway, they want to get to the good part at the end where we get fixed. I don't write asexuals because I don't want to feel like I’m taking something away from the thousands of other people in the world who are all differently asexual and probably more comfortable with it than I was taught to be. I don't write asexuals because we're boring, we're not wanted, and nobody even believes we exist, and selfish as it sounds, I want people to read my writing, and like it.

So, I don't write asexuals. I want to. J. M. Barrie wrote asexuals, and they called him a pedophile. I don't have that courage. In his book, Little White Bird, when Peter Pan transforms from bird, to boy, he looks at his reflection, sees he doesn't have wings and says, "I suppose I can't fly?" And as soon as he says it, it's true. The moment he doubts, it's over, and he spends much of the book looking for a way back up. I feel like that, sometimes. Everything I've ever done that people said I shouldn't have been able to do, was easy for me, because I knew other people had done it. But I'm a fraud. This is different. I know there are asexual voices in literature, but they are rare. Somebody, someday, is going to have to give us more, make us real to people. And I may be one of the only people who could do that (working on the assumption that 10% or less of the population are asexual, and 10% or fewer of those are artists) and I don't, simply because I believe I can't. Because nobody has shown me how. I don't know if that will change. For now, to the asexuals, I'm sorry. I can't. To myself, I am doing the best I can. To everyone else, it's working. Are you happy?

Maybe in another 20 years, hm?


  1. I hope you don't mind the comment but I find it interesting that all my characters are naturally asexual. I have to try very hard to create a sexual character and its normally more they're verbally sexualised but aren't too fussed deep down. They normally pair up with the most asexual character. And by pair up its like they're in a relationship but they are just close mates. they can share beds with each other or other people, there's a distinct lack of jealousy and no expectations. The main thing is love and trust which is in all relationships romantic or not. My main characters are strangely aromantic too.

    I like them much more, and the story can explore feelings better when an action like sex isn't so important in the world I'm describing.

    if only life were like that.

    I'm looking forward to your next blogs. =]

  2. And i have characters who's gender or sex I'm unaware of (hey I just write the stories in my head I dont create them).
    Its always hard to use pronouns for genderless characters. I've learnt there are some for agender folk so I'm going to continue some stories now which will be nice =]

  3. The relationships I write are never clearly sexualized, but the characters themselves are sexuals, so it's weird, because I always feel like it's obvious I'm not really into that part, but I feel like it's hard to describe a meaningful connection WITHOUT sexualizing it, at least a bit, or else I worry the audience will lose interest. Having said that, The Damn Vampire Novel has a character who is without gender or sexualization (This is the personification of Death, so, yeah.) And I have to say, it's a lot of fun to play around with, zir different relationships and the other character reactions to not knowing WHAT to make of zir. Baby steps.

    Thanks for the input!

  4. -It is not a sexual desire kind of 'wow.' It is more a 'let me stand next to you, look at you, and commit you to memory." Or sometimes, "please be my friend and find me interesting, because I am fascinated by the fact that I find you interesting, that is special and rare."-

    I nod, cover my mouth, tear up.

    You have already written the asexual experience in a way that is moving, honest and real.

    If the block lies in the other 90+% not understanding- not accepting- waiting for the change- It saddens me that the population I belong to must be be denied something so important. Artistic validation is a powerful thing.

    Isn't it worth it to make a piece of art that moves the hearts of even just a fraction of the population? Don't be afraid. You have already moved mine.


    I would rather make, experience and share art that makes the word more honest and inspires in even one person a feeling of connection. Call me a pedophile. Proclaim me evil and corrupt. What matters is that I am not these things- and those that I am talking to know it.
    You can write. Not just that- you can write well. You are brave and strong. Don't let the tide of misunderstanding keep you from making something beautiful-- and if it's a question of whether or not you have the capacity to write it you most certainly do. This blog is solid proof of that. Our asexual experiences are surely different- but similar in the ways that count.

    It's only the words of a stranger- but don't doubt your wings away. I know they're there. I can see them.

    Best Wishes,

  5. Ditto to what Emily/Talking-Jive said back in September.

    Sometimes the best reason to write things that the majority of the population won't understand is simply to help give validation to the smaller number who DO understand. And relate to it. And can't find anything else written anywhere that comes even close to how they experience a particular dimension of reality.

    I realize, though, that in trying to write for that small population who will understand, you may still have to deal with the reactions of the many who don't. (Unless you find a way to deliver certain stories only to the people who will get it.) And that can extract its own psychic price. And only you can decide if the trade off is worth it for you at any particular moment.