Monday, March 30, 2009

We're just two people that like warm roles.

As you may know, I have the honor of being the leader of San Francisco's chapter of AVEN. For quite some time, I wasn't sure how a "chapter", in our case, was any different from what we were already doing. But then, about two weeks ago, I went to a program called "Social Action Bootcamp". It was a little strange, but I did come away with at least one interesting conclusion-- the difference between a chapter and a group of people.

I think the difference is roles. In a chapter, people need roles, titles, and some description of what they do. I'm learning the same thing in my "day job" as a volunteer coordinator. Apparently, if you can't put the job on a business card, no one wants it. And I certainly can't blame people for that. In a large group, there would be a few "officers" and many regular members. But in a group as small as ours, it would be ideal for most active members to have some sort of defined role. It doesn't have to be something major-- any defined role (such as "the E-mail Czar sends reminder e-mails to people about meetups a week before they happen") would be a good start. Here, I'll brainstorm some roles that AVEN chapters might be able to use. I'll start with myself:
  • Head of Local Chapter: This is the hardest role to define, probably because I've already technically been doing it. I feel like this person should organize the rest of the "officers", plan official meetings, and figure out the direction of the group (with input from others, of course). What else?
These roles are what I see as the "Big 3":
  • Public Relations: Dealing with the media-- writing press releases, keeping up press contacts, writing articles, making sure we do stuff that people would be interested in writing about.
  • Community Outreach: Dealing with other community groups and finding ways to reach more potential members.
  • Fundraising and Special Events: Pretty self-explanatory.
If you want to add something fancy like "Emperor" or "Guru" to these titles, I think that would be great. This is all supposed to be somewhat fun and enjoyable, after all. Don't forget that, now!

Of course there would be other roles, too, of varying levels. The possibilities are really endless. They're only limited right now by my imagination and impending carpal tunnel syndrome.

I know that some of us, myself included, have wished that AVEN could be our full-time job. Maybe that will happen someday, but we can't be a more official organization unless people have roles. That seems to be the beginning and end of it. So, at the risk of over-using a word, if you could have any role, in AVEN internationally or in a local chapter, what would it be? Let your imagination run wilder than mine seems to be capable of at the moment.

(Also, you get a virtual brownie if you know what the title of this post is a reference to.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hey, Great Shoes & Smile

Earlier this week, I randomly pulled a notebook off my shelf and started looking through it. Inside, I found an exercise where I'd written what had attracted me to various people over the years (this was, in a roundabout way, part of the cognitive-behavioral therapy I was doing at the time). Each point related to a specific person, most of them friends. It might sound weird to say you're "attracted" to friends, but you are attracted, in some way, to anyone you enjoy spending time with. Some people seem to think that asexuals are from another planet (or they just find us "an alien concept", har har), but really, everyone experiences non-sexual attraction. Aces just don't experience much else on top of that.

Here's my list:

What attracts me to people?

  1. Courage without even knowing it. A non-judgemental and inclusive attitude.
  2. Knew we could be stronger if we banded together.
  3. Exuded an aura of cool.
  4. Great shoes and smile.
  5. A fellow neuroqueer, she's upfront about her difficulties and respected by almost all.
  6. She doesn't always have to be right. She's willing to look stupid, and willing to admit her mistakes.
  7. [A fairly long story about someone I had a crush on once. If he read this, he could easily identify himself, and that would be way too awkward!]
  8. Her organization, independence, and amazingly good luck.
  9. Mutual appreciation, maturity.
  10. Has a way with words, affectionate.
  11. Doesn't hide her confusion. Always down for having fun. Open to suggestions.

At the time when I made this list, I was kind of distressed about being asexual, and doing this exercise helped to make me feel better. I'm trying to think of why exactly this was, but I don't remember. I also enjoyed reading it again and seeing what I value most about people--it hasn't changed much throughout my lifetime. So, what characteristics would make your list?

(If it's not obvious, I'm a big fan of lists. If you're ever down on yourself or having a really bad day, make a list of 10 good things about yourself. It sounds corny, and you may not believe it works, but it will make you feel a lot better-- I promise!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BBC Program(me) Features Asexuals

Ahh, some pop culture to write about. On March 19th, a group of asexuals (most or all of them AVEN members, I believe) were featured on a BBC 3 show called Natalie Cassidy's Real Britain. Apparently, the theme of the show was "sexual taboos" (in our case, not having it) and also featured (in a separate storyline) a man with Down's Syndrome seeking a romantic partner (what is taboo about this, I don't know). An AVENite was nice enough to post the ace-related segments on Youtube for us folks outside the UK. Here's part one of the program, part two, and part three.

And of course, my comments:

All in all, I liked this program. I was surprised at the complexity of some of the topics it discussed, such as asexuals with different levels of libido. Most media spots don't go too far beyond "they (might) exist", and I was glad that this one seemed to go a bit further. One really interesting thing about this piece was its use of haters. "Haters" might be too strong a word for the disbelieving people that appeared. They were all people that the asexuals knew in real life, such as friends and co-workers. We'd see the asexual in question convincing these people that yes, they were content without sex. I liked this, because while we got the disbelievers that we apparently need to show, they weren't speaking from any "expertise", and it was a realistic portrayal of what an out asexual sometimes deals with. Another good thing was that they showed aces being happy and having fun. That really doesn't happen enough, and it can only happen when we're away from "DO YOU MASTURBATE?!?!?!" -style interrogations. (Those were mecifully absent here.)
I didn't like two things the narrator said. Why not split a few hairs? First of all, "They all believe they're asexual" is not a good way to put it; we don't "believe" we're gay or straight. It also didn't fit into the tone of the piece, where asexuality as a reality didn't seem to be questioned by the filmmakers. I also didn't like "For most of us, asexuality is an alien concept". I just said to myself, "Well...if you put it that way..."

Of course, I have to applaud the four aces involved. Always, whether a piece is good or bad, any asexuals being filmed work it as best they can. This one was no exception, and the people involved were eloquent and informative. Way to go, folks.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Insignificant Others

Maybe it was only natural that Wednesday's post would lead to anarchy. Last weekend, I went to San Francisco's annual Anarchist Bookfair for the first time. I didn't think I was an anarchist. However, according to one piece of literature, most of us already are:

"You may already be an anarchist. It's true. If your idea of healthy human relationships is a dinner with friends, where everyone enjoys everyone else's company, responsibilities are divided up voluntarily and informally, and no one gives orders or sells anything, then you are an anarchist, plain and simple."

I also picked up a pamphlet called "Who Are Your Insignificant Others?" that seemed very relevant to this blog. It was published by a group called LAGAI- Queer Insurrection. Here's some of what it said:

Marriage elevates one type [of] relationship above all others, giving it the state's seal of approval. We anti-assimilationist queers, with a long history of opposing discrimination against some and special privileges for others, reaffirm our stand against state recognition of marriage, at the same time as we oppose the right-wing's attempt to restrict it to heterosexuals.

People relate to one another in an unlimited amount of imaginative ways. Placing one-on-one romantic relationships above all others diminishes the relationships between friends and and implies that polyamorous persons are not "committed" or haven't found "the real thing". Single people cannot just be unmarried in the shadow of marriage; they have "issues" or are "pairing impaired". If you aren't someone's "significant other", are you therefore insignificant?

Well, I'm convinced. (Okay, they're speaking to something I already thought. In our culture today, is marriage really a solution to the social issues we face, or is it just a big distraction? Marinate on that one...) I don't mean to offend any of my married or engaged readers; some days I think I'd like to be married myself. What I do mean to offend is the idea of our government telling us that marriage is the best way to relate to people. Look at the divorce rate-- marriage probably isn't the right choice for most sexual folk, let alone the A-team. Love and marriage do not go together like a horse and carriage. It's better to have loved and lost, but when that loss is a drawn-out divorce...was getting legally married worth it?

One interesting thing I learned about anarchy was that it values community-building highly, and needs people working together on a local level in order to function. Sometimes these radical groups can seem overwhelmingly sexual to me, because they're trying to be everything that would frighten the conservatives or whatever. Even so, I wonder if the anarchists would find asexuality cool because we're trying to figure out different ways to form relationships. It seems like on that front, anarchists are doing a similar thing. But in the asexual world, we can still wear colors other than black.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Suffer for Passion

You've probably heard of the book Nickle and Dimed. If you haven't read it, it's as good as everyone says it is. In fact, just writing this is making me want to re-read it. Recently, I read another book by the same author called Bait and Switch, which is based on a very similar premise, but about corporate workers rather than blue-collar ones. The acclaim for this book wasn't as universal as for Nickle and Dimed, but I loved it because it completely confirmed my own experiences as a college-educated, privileged, intelligent, painfully unsuccessful job-seeker. Here's a short description of the book, because I'm feeling lazy:

Bait and Switch highlights the people who have done everything right—gotten college degrees, developed marketable skills, and built up impressive résumés—yet have become repeatedly vulnerable to financial disaster. There are few social supports for these newly disposable workers, Ehrenreich discovers, and little security even for those who have jobs. Worst of all, there is no honest reckoning with the inevitable consequences of the harsh new economy; rather, the jobless are persuaded that they have only themselves to blame.

My favorite part of the book occurred during the conclusion, where Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the rise of "passion" as a prerequisite for corporate work. Not only was it scarily relevant to my own experience, but it seemed applicable to this blog. Here are some quotes:

"Likability and enthusiasm are no longer enough to make one's personality attractive; just in the past few months, I've noticed more and more demands for passion." (230)

"Energy and commitment are so 1995; in the twenty-first century one is required to feel, or at least evince, an emotional drive as consuming as romantic love." (231, emphasis mine)

"The new insistence on 'passion' marks a further expansion of the corporate empire into the time and spirit of its minions. Once, white-collar people were expected to have hobbies...Today's 'passionate' employees, however, are not expected to have the time or energy for such pursuits...It is the insecurity of white-collar employment that makes the demand for passion so cruel and perverse." (232)

Sadly, I've found all of this completely true. And I was actually fairly lucky, because most of the jobs I applied for during my last search were with nonprofits. It's easier to be passionate about an organization that's doing good things for the community. However, supporting the cause was often not enough-- I was expected to display a passion for the details of the everyday work, even if it was something like data entry or mass mailings. The world of work sometimes seems insurmountable to me because I'm just too honest. I could lie about my experience or about my skills (sure, I'm great at multi-tasking!), but faking just seems too cruel. And the idea that everyone else may be doing it just makes it worse. We try to find jobs we love, but we can't expect those jobs to love us back. It's a very rare employer that cares about your job's impacts on the rest of your life.

What I wonder is how this pressure to fake corporate passion impacts our other passions: Sexual, romantic, platonic, artistic, political, or what have you. Can you "evince" passion by day and suddenly switch to real passion by night? I've been told or encouraged to fake various personality traits on the job before. But how, after being fake for 8 hours, are any of us supposed to go home and be genuine to a friend, partner, or family member? People tell me that because I'm trained in acting, I should be great at faking my way through a job interview, for example. But acting is totally different in that it has clear boundaries. Once you start acting off-stage in the rest of your life, how do you know where it ends?

Our relationships with our jobs are so dysfunctional. We've been lied to, cheated, humiliated, disrespected, and abused at jobs we were supposed to be passionate about. (If I mention this, I'm likely to be told the economic equivalent of "boys will be boys".) And yet we still think that after the workday is over, love can solve all our problems. As people living in this era, we're always trying to "process" our relationships and figure them out. But we don't have any established ways to process the pain that our jobs (or lack thereof) may have caused us...until we make some up. As always, the comment box is yours.

(And all this can only lead to anarchy! More about that next time.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weird Terrain

I want to make sure everyone knows about Weird Terrain, a new asexually-themed zine with essays, poetry, and fiction. For the uninitiated, zines are sort of like independent, do-it-yourself magazines that really have no rules in terms of content or form. I got my copy of Weird Terrain last week and it's very, very cool. I've seen quite a few zines in my time, and this was one of the most professional-looking ones I've read. (And I'm not just saying this because one of my pieces was included.) The next issue comes out in May, and submissions (this means you!) are due April 25th. In her editor's note, Anne writes, "...I want something tangible to hold in my hands. I don't want our history and our dialogue to just be recorded in a bunch of 0's and 1's on a computer." And even though I chose a blog as my main avenue of asexy information dissemination, I couldn't agree more.

Click here to find out more about Weird Terrain, how to submit, and how to order copies.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Aggressively Passive

"Falling in love"

"Getting kissed"

"Losing your virginity"

We all know I love to talk about words and their "hidden meanings". But I've never really talked about them as a group before. This post is all about words and phrases related to sexual and romantic comings-of-age, and the fact that they use such passive language. Here's a few things that this sort of language implies to me:
  • Inevitablility. I don't know where or when, but it's pretty much certain that I will lose my favorite lip gloss. Apparently, your virginity is just as easy to misplace.
  • On that note, effortlessness. None of the above concepts imply any work on our part. But if getting kissed is what you're after, sitting around with closed eyes and pursed lips won't do much for you.

  • Lack of power. When love comes at you, you may be powerless to stop it. But when the same ideas apply to sex...we have a problem.

Maybe this all seems a little far-fetched. But welcome to my world of words. I've definitely seen these concepts of passivity operating in my own life. When I was younger, I wanted to have a boyfriend. Maybe I could have if I tried, but I never did. I expended no effort on that front whatsoever, sure that it only required being in the right place at the right time. Maybe my lack of attraction to people was a factor. But the idea that romantic relationships were something that you had to pursue never even occured to me. (Even as I knew full well that I needed to pursue friendships.) Until I identified as asexual and started thinking critically about this stuff, I had no empowerment when it came to sex and relationships. Like their language implies, I thought they were things that just happened, far from my control. I'm not saying that you have to question your sexuality in order to be empowered. But if asexuality had never forced me to think differently, I'd probably have the same ideas of sex and romance that I did as a teen.

I'd like to know how these words came to be the way they are. I know that "falling in love", for one, is a "largely Western concept". Are we so wound-up from our Protestant work ethic that we feel the need to hang back and not work so hard on our love lives? Or maybe if we used less euphemistic language, people would think we actually wanted sex-- and our culture still doesn't seem to be quite sure if this is a good idea for young people or not. Maybe these are holdouts from the Victorian era, like fuzzy toilet seat covers. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which I adore, the phrase "falling in love" originates from 1423. However, whether or not the meaning has been the same (the meaning of "making love" has changed, for example) is not mentioned. Maybe the idea of "falling in love" makes it harder to achieve-- and therefore more likely for us to buy products that will make us more desireable. As usual, there are many options, but no answers, at least on my side.

Another interesting thing about these phrases is that they're gender-neutral. I would expect in our double-standard-happy culture for women, delicate flowers that we are, to lose our virginity, while men ruggedly get to have sex for the first time. Apparently, we are all delicate flowers when it comes to this stuff. But in my opinion, we shouldn't have to be.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Juicy Questions

"I swear I'll never kiss anyone who doesn't burn me like the sun."
--Jens Lekman

I'm lucky enough to have a few issues of Seventeen magazine at my disposal. Although every issue is pretty much the same (use bright eyeshadow! look at some clothes for your body type!), I do enjoy seeing what sorts of flirty text messages they suggest girls send. Apparently, "Hey, leave some chips for the rest of us!" is a winner. (I have to admit, the idea of sending flirty texts had never occured to me.) Anyway, one issue had a short interview with David Archuleta, an 18-year-old singer from American Idol. The page is pictured below. The interview goes like:

Seventeen: Last year you told Seventeen you hadn't had your first kiss yet. Any updates?
DA: No! I'm still waiting for the right moment. I think so many people want to rush things-- they want to rush hanging out, they want to rush making out-- and then it's like they don't even know the person they're with.
Seventeen: You're such a romantic!

It's funny how they make such a big deal out of it-- I can practically hear a girly, gossipy, over-excited voice saying those lines. However, in next month's issue, a 14-year-old reader had this to say in a letter to the editor:

"David Archuleta is my new idol! His answers in February's "Juicy Questions for..." column helped me realize that there are guys who really want to know someone before making out with her. I was embarrassed not to have had my first kiss yet (he hasn't either), but now I'm proud to be myself!"

Well if that's the case, then she would love me! But in all seriousness, how powerful is that-- some dude saying he's never been kissed is enough to give this girl the pride to be herself. That's the sort of thing I'd like to think asexuals can be on the forefront of. As a teen, I thought my lack of romantic and sexual experience was a dirty secret. But now, I try to be open about it (of course, if it's relevant). If Seventeen's definition of a romantic holds, then I, along with Mr. Archuleta, am a big one. In college, I avoided casual hookups by claiming that I wanted to wait until I was in love to have sex. And in general, that is still true. (However, I would not have sex with someone just because I was in love with them. It would have to be something I decided to do for my own desires or purposes.) Likewise, I have no desire to kiss anyone that I don't at least like a lot. Will I ever "be in love" and able to test this theory out? Much like the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, "the world may never know".

Relatedly, I made this statement back in November: "The passive language with which most sexual/romantic rites of passage are discussed merit further exploration. " And in the next post, that's exactly what I'll do.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pride is Go!

I just finished registering for the SF Pride Parade. (Okay, I didn't finish registering, as there is a "checklist" of forms and things I have to complete...but I paid a fee, and that's what matters, right?) So here you have it: History will officially be made. The only question now is, will you be there when it happens? I met with DJ yesterday and we estimated how many fine folks might be joining us in the parade. I was glad to discover that it's realistic to say we'll have 50 people, if a number of asexuals bring a few allies. Have I emphasized that we'll have lots of allies marching with us? So if you're worried about being outed, don't be...there will be enough friends of asexuals in the group to keep our individual orientations somewhat mysterious. And you don't need to go through a special training or anything to be an ally. If you're down with the A-Team, that's all you need. I'd like to think most of us know at least one person who might fit that description.

It's happening! I'm excited! Anyone want to get on that corporate sponsorship with The Purple Store? (They have a bumper sticker that says, "Anything purple is mine. Everything else can be dyed or painted." Whoa.) Just kidding...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cold Pie, Warm Heart

It wasn't cake, but it was close: We enjoyed much pie at our March 1st meetup at Mission Pie. Six intrepid souls braved the rain. The venue was a good one: Close to BART, cozy, and with a big enough table for us to comfortably share. We talked Pride Parade themes (there will be purple) and found out what the CIA does with their extra pens. See you all in May-- which will be planned much further in advance, if I get my way. Can't wait until May? Impromptu "unofficial" meetups are always welcome.