Friday, August 27, 2010


(You can listen to the MGMT song while you read this post, if you're not totally tired of it by now. Dun dun dun dun dun da-dun dun dun...)

I've written before about my views on having children. But since raising kids is something that is so important to many people's lives, I think it's worth at least two posts. Anyway, the point of this post is to challenge familiar phrases yet again. We all know the question, "Do you want to have children?" Obviously, it's a question people really want to ask. So I'd like to keep its general spirit but raise its inclusiveness level with this alternative: "What sort of influence, if any, do you want to have on the next generation?" Sure, it sounds cornier and oddly formal (maybe one of you can help me out with that). But rather than a yes/no answer where biological children are the default, it opens up conversation about all kinds of other possibilities. Who knows! Maybe all sorts of people would find it interesting.

An oft-mentioned book here, The New Single Woman, claims that a connection to the next generation is an important element in the happy lives of older single women, whether or not they're parents. (Although the book is about women, I don't see why this idea wouldn't also apply to men.) As the question currently stands, people who don't want kids "the traditional way" are automatically put on the defensive. I remember being interrogated about my intentions when I responded to the current question with "I might adopt someday". I'd like to think my alternative question could put people on more equal footing in these kinds of conversations. Sure, it's a dream, but it could be worth trying out.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Asexual Community Report Card

This post is an attempt to tie these recent posts together with an evaluation of asexual community (or lack thereof). First of all, is there an asexual community? Ask different asexuals and you're bound to get different answers. I would say, "yes and no". We have an online community that is growing, even though so many people are still unaware of asexuality. The online community allows asexuals from around the world to easily communicate, which should not be underestimated. Is an online community a "real" community? I think so-- while communities need a "meeting place", it doesn't necessarily have to be a meatspace one.

But while we're using terms broadly, we also have to think about communities providing "diverse places for diverse people". And I don't think a community that exists solely online can accomplish that. It's too easy for people to lose interest in online communities after they've found answers to their personal questions, or when "real life" gets in the way. And the anonymity of the web can make it hard for people to feel really invested in each other. What I think would be ideal is a thriving internet community as well as a thriving offline community that are intertwined.

What would an offline asexual community even look like? It would vary regionally, but here's one idea: At a meetup, one person told me that she wished a group of asexuals would meet every Friday night in a local pub, and she could stop by if she wanted. I think a setup like that would provide a lot more asexual community than our area currently has. And I can see it actually happening someday. At different times when I've met asexuals in person, I've had those really exhilarating conversations that to me, exemplify the feeling of community. On some level, I think we can throw bulleted lists out the window and say we know community when we feel it. I've felt it in the company of asexuals, no doubt. But as brief, isolated incidents. Maybe that's the nature of those sorts of incidents, but I wonder if we couldn't increase them, and make them available to more people. No matter how a community is structured, I think it's something as amorphous as a feeling that might keep people coming back.

While bridging from an online community to an online/meatspace hybrid won't be easy, hanging out with asexuals online has shown me that our group possesses qualities that will serve us well in community-building. If you don't mind a return to the bulleted list, I think that not all of us, but enough of us, have shared purposes as asexuals. The gay and lesbian communities have proved that hanging out with other folks of your orientation can be personally fulfilling, and I don't know why the asexual community would be any different in that regard. So far, it looks like asexuals are doing pretty well at not enforcing conformity. I really hope this doesn't change. And I've found asexuals, both on AVEN and at meetups, to be a relatively welcoming bunch.

So those are some things we've got going for us. (I guess this is a report card from a hippie school.) Now for the obstacles. I think for the most part, they're exactly the same as the obstacles to any other community. But I want to advance a theory that community, on some level, is a numbers game. You need a concentrated population, which is proof that Death and Life of Great American Cities has thoroughly infected my brain (in a good way). Especially when you're talking about a group that could be 1% of the population at the least. Say you want 10 asexuals to meet in that pub every Friday. You can't just find 10 asexuals and call it a night, since in all likelihood, 9 of them won't be interested. I've noticed the same thing when it comes to having "regulars" who come to most meetups. For every regular, there are at least 10 people who will show up once, and never again. Not to mention all the people who might think about going to the meetups, but never go at all. In most places, we just don't have the asexual population density yet. To achieve that, we'd need to get to a point where more people in a given area are aware of their asexuality. And getting there is going to take a lot of patience and visibility work. I know that's fairly obvious, but hopefully it wasn't painfully so.

And this concludes my little series on community. You survived! Did I leave anything important out?

Monday, August 16, 2010

New, Asexier Template

Argyle isn't exactly tweed, but I would say that they might be spiritual brothers. Also, you may have noticed that there are now doodads at the bottom of my posts that allow you to e-mail them to people, post them on Facebook, etc.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Obstacles to Community

Ooh, I've been looking forward to writing this post! Not because it's a happy topic, but because there's just a ton of depth to it. I think there are two main obstacles to community (that encompass a lot) and then further ones that are easier to surmount, but still problematic. I won't go over every one of the "further" obstacles (you probably wouldn't want me to, anyway), but I chose two that I have personal experience with. Want elaboration on anything? Comment on, commenters.

Big Obstacle #1: Current cultural ideas/values.

When I talk about culture, I can only really speak for American culture. However, American cultural ideas haven't stayed here but have been exported all over the world. One idea that I've written about a lot is that marriage-type relationships are portrayed as an ultimate source of fulfillment, the goal for everyone, and the solution to all our problems. There's also the idea that rather than citizens, we are "consumers" and that the other solution to our problems is to buy more stuff. Related to consumerism is what I call "the cult of busyness". It's almost seen as "cool" to be too busy to function. Katherine Gibson writes, "We've become time warriors. With '24/7' as our battle cry and armed with e-everything, we thrust and parry on a time-stressed, overworked battlefield". I think that's a pretty accurate description. Americans are chronically overworked and we experience the toxic stress to go with it. So who has time for community? These values create the second major obstacle:

Big Obstacle #2: Knowledge, Ability, and Interest.

Some people will never be interested in community, no matter what. But I think there are a far greater number who might be very interested indeed, they are just unaware of the benefits of community, what it is, what it could be, or all of those. It's like some sport or food or fashion statement that I haven't heard of yet: If it's outside my realm of knowledge, how do I even know to be curious? There's also the idea that building community is too hard, takes too much time, involves skills you don't have, or that it should just be done by someone else. Or maybe there's the notion that community is some relic of a bygone time. I think these assumptions, fears, and points of ignorance are the places where the biggest changes can be made. Talking about community-related issues, like I try to do on this blog, may not seem like much. But I'd like to think it helps to break down this particular obstacle. And when enough people get over this obstacle, I think that some of our harmful cultural ideas will start to crumble as well.

Now, for one of those secondary obstacles: Rampant Relocation. I chose this because it relates to my personal experience-- I've lived in 8 different towns by the age of 25. And I don't think this is unusual. Relocation has advantages along with disadvantages. While it can be hard to build community when people are missing their old homes or dreaming of the next one, sometimes transplants to an area are the most amenable to new forms of community. That new-person advantage was my experience in San Francisco. However, I didn't even make the 3-year mark there. Financial, employment, and personal issues forced me to leave the city. And even though I only moved an hour away, I found it pretty much impossible to maintain the community that I was just starting to find there. Relocation is far from a lone issue-- it touches on the shortage of affordable housing in cities, and the volatility of the job market, among other things.

Bad Urban/Town Planning can be overcome, but it's damn annoying. While it's always been a pet peeve, it's on my mind even more lately, since I'm reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which is all about urban planning failures. As an example, take a neighborhood I lived in during my high school years. I lived in a townhouse complex. And this is what bordered it:
  • More townhouses, behind high walls
  • A busy road that might have had one crosswalk on a half-mile long stretch
  • A huge, abandoned industrial park
  • Other houses, again, behind a wall
  • Gas stations and car dealerships
Are we having fun yet? There was nothing in the area that might compel people to leave their houses on foot, meaning that local human interactions were extremely minimal. Nothing about our surroundings suggested the possibility of community. And this is not a unique neighborhood. Included in this category is sprawl, bad or non-existent public transportation, and the spread of chain businesses that are not invested in their local areas. Like I said, this can all be overcome, but people will need to work a lot harder to create local communities in badly-planned areas. Oh, and guess what's going to be built in that old industrial park? More townhouses. Let me guess, they're probably going to be behind high walls. Potential community theme song?

Next up: How this all relates to the emergence of an asexual community. No, I didn't forget this was a blog about asexuality...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

General Blogging Question

So, say someone has a blogroll...well, in this case, "homies". Would you rather see every asexual blog that has ever been created, or just blogs that are currently active? Maybe there should be a page where we can round up links to the blogs that aren't currently active, because they still have good material, even if they're not being updated. Hmm...

Real post later today or tomorrow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

More Involved, More Determined

A little over a year ago, I did a series on historical BFFs (best friends forever!). One pair that I wrote about were Paul Cezanne (painter) and Emile Zola (writer). I had no reason to think I'd ever mention them again...this is a blog about asexuality, after all. But I recently went to an Impressionist painting exhibit where I saw this quote on the wall, and just knew I had to blog about it (Thanks to my mom for risking a stern talking-to in order to take a picture of it for me):

In 1869...Manet invited me to join him every evening in a cafe [Cafe Guerbois] in the Batignolles quarter, where he and his friends would gather and talk after leaving their ateliers. There I met Fantin-Latour, Cezanne, and Degas...the art critic Duranty, Emile Zola, who was then embarking on his literary career, as well as some others. I myself brought along Sisley, Bazille, and Renoir. Nothing was more interesting than our discussions, with their perpetual clash of opinions. They sharpened one's wits, encouraged frank and impartial inquiry, and provided enthusiasm that kept us going for weeks and weeks until our ideas took final shape. One always came away feeling more involved, more determined, and thinking more clearly and distinctly. (Claude Monet)

It sort of reminded me of this, the "Epicurean" living arrangement. But even more so, it reminded me of this-- my own dream of a personal "utopia" involving a community of creative types. Oddly enough, what impressed me even more than the assembled names was the fact that they all met daily in the same cafe. It sounds like a simple thing, maybe, but it seems so elusive to our 2010 world. Even if you exchanged "Batignolles quarter" with "Duluth" and the famous artists for amateurs, something about their meetings and the way they felt about them would have still touched me.

Their gatherings met many of my "pillars of community": A shared purpose, individual fulfillment (at least in Monet's view), commitment, a meeting place and exceedingly regular contact. And from the quote, it all seemed enjoyable. That exhilaration described by Monet is something that I've come to associate with community. I think a lot of people have gotten the idea that you can only feel that kind of excitement through romantic love, but I find that to be an overly narrow view, and an undersell of community.

We all know that attraction tends to happen spontaneously, whichever sorts of attraction you experience. But if you wanted to, say, get married, you'd have some idea of a strategy for that-- dating online or in meatspace, getting friends to set you up with their friends, going to places where your preferred gender congregates. But if you want community, there's not a lot of common wisdom on how to go about that. There are no rules. I don't think I'm capable of writing them, and I'm not even sure there should be any. But in this series that I'm sneaking on you folks, this nuts and bolts discussion of community, I want to at least talk strategy.

And because pop culture only gets you so far, here's my favorite painting from the exhibit:

"The Bridge at Maincy" by Cezanne. I wish I could walk into that painting and stand on the bridge for awhile. I feel similarly about this one, "Snow at Louveciennes" by Sisley:

I love those random little alleyways that you can find in some places. Sadly there aren't a lot of them in the suburbs.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pillars of Community

This morning, I was reading something David Jay had written about his concept of Community-Based Intimacy. I've read and commented about CBI before, and written about community more generally so many times myself. But for some reason, it was today that I realized: When I say "community", I have no idea if other people are on the same page, a different page, or another book altogether. (This is a similar theme to the "Sexual Fluidity" post, I guess.)

There is no one definition of community, and I think that's great, actually. But a lot of things get called "communities" that may not really be all that communal, such as towns and neighborhoods (Most places I've lived, it seems like the predominant attitude among my neighbors is to pretend that none of the rest of us really exist). And some people may have never experienced a feeling of community at all, which would make it hard to identify. Community is as much a feeling as a concrete entity. And a community can be a thing that lasts only for a day. Communities don't have to be really strong and tight-knit for us to get something out of them. But if you did want to create a strong, long-lasting and positive community, it might look something like this:

A group that works towards a shared purpose while also providing fulfillment for individuals.

Like I said, this isn't a definition-- nothing in this post will be. It's my own personal idea of what community means, taken from life experience. Bear in mind that you and I could be in the exact same group of people, and while you may consider it a community, I may consider it something else entirely. At the end of the day, whether or not you feel that warm and fuzzy community spirit is really an individual thing. Now I'm going to hopefully not intimidate you much with a list of what I've found to be important aspects of community. Because how can I try to build it when I haven't given thought to what it actually entails?
  1. Shared purpose (mentioned above) is really, really broad. It can be as basic as a group of friends who want to have fun together. What people want to gain from the community will vary, but if everyone has a vastly different purpose, I don't see the group lasting. (In previous time periods, the shared purpose might have been "survival".)
  2. That a community needs to fulfill individuals was also mentioned above. If you give and give to a community but get nothing in return, you won't want to be a part of it.
  3. Investment. Not everyone needs to be equally invested, but a community is not one person's project. "Commitment" is another way to put it.
  4. In communities I've been a part of, what really made them seem communal and not like a random group of people was a welcoming attitude from the people who were already there. That's probably why my college sorority felt like a community rather than a secret society. It was also my experience with my Girl Scout group in high school. Even though I was from a different school than everyone else and no one knew me, they welcomed me. I'd dealt with a lot of mean girls, so that was one thing that made me really value that community.
  5. I have never been part of a community that didn't have its own meeting place. Sometimes, the community can even be created by the place. When I lived in San Francisco, I met friends every week at this bar that served free pizza. The fact that we always met at the same place at the same time started to give me community-oriented feelings about this little group. The "meeting place" concept was taken to the extreme in my sorority, where we all lived together in our own section of the dorm.
  6. I also have a hard time considering something a community if there is no regular contact. I feel like once a week is the minimum that I need to really start feeling like I'm in a community. It doesn't need to be a formal meeting, or a gathering of everyone in the whole community. There should be some flexibility for people who want to be in contact more often, and people who want to be in contact less. But in my opinion, for a community to really prosper, some members need to be at the meeting place (see #5) at least once a week.
  7. A community should have no forced conformity. And people should be there only if they want to be. If your leaving is met with death threats, you're probably in a gang or a cult (which are some of the negative sides of people's desire for community).
  8. Related to #7, larger or more "public" communities should provide different places for diverse people. An example of this is my high school's Organic Gardening Club, which was an important community for me during that time in my life. In high school, my social skills weren't yet good enough to really befriend any of the other people in the club. But just chatting with one or two other people while gardening made me feel a lot less alienated at school. If you want to make lasting friends, I think communities are ideal places to do that. But if you just want to maintain the garden and not talk to anyone, I think your contributions should be valued as well.
  9. And related to #8, larger or more political communities should provide involvement at different levels as well as changing methods of involvement. There should be easy ways to jump in, as well as ways to increase your involvement. There should not be closed upper echelons. Also, people's involvement needs to be able to adapt to the rest of their lives. This is one problem with activist communities where the people involved face a lot of burnout.
  10. I don't think communities necessarily contain "constantly changing relationships", as David puts it. But I do think it's inevitable that any community will contain a variety of relationships. Again, my sorority was the best example of this. Although we were all "sisters", there were a few people in the group, maybe 4 or 5, that were among my closest friends. There were others that I considered friends, although we were less close. And there were still others that I either didn't know very well, or didn't especially get along with.
  11. Size doesn't matter. The Organic Gardening Club I mentioned had only two other active members that I can recall. But it was still an important community to me. Years later, the garden is still there.
  12. More than just being personally fulfilling, being in a community needs to be enjoyable. It's hard to over-emphasize this. If it's not enjoyable, you might as well be at home reading some book that you want to read. Seriously, life is too short for communities that feel like grim tasks.
This might be a long list, but it's still partial. Growing up, I was always in very "formal" communities that were either related to some activity or part of a larger organization. At this time in my life, my challenge is to find other kinds of community that may not be as familiar to me, or look like communities I've known in the past. However, I also have to focus on my own development, and I'm not sure how exactly community fits into that. There are a lot of obstacles to community (so many that at times, it may not seem worth the effort) which I'd like to write about in some future post. I'd also like to write about the qualities of AVEN that bode well for a "real-world" asexual community in the future-- and what we might have to work on to get there. So stay tuned!