Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Place of Whiteness

You're looking at the front page of AVEN. Here, an issue of AVENues is displayed, bearing a photo from one of our San Francisco meetups. Everyone in the picture is white. Maybe this is accurate to the demographic of some areas (Ely, Minnesota perhaps), but not in the Bay Area, where stats on Wikipedia claim that white people are 58.1% of the population. Siggy's post made a similar observation. While making her documentary on asexuality, Angela asked me something along the lines of, "where are the asexuals of color?" Granted, our meetups are rarely 100% white. However, they are probably 80-90% white, which doesn't match up with the actual demographic of the Bay Area.

I was/am worried that this round of the blog carnival wouldn't contain many posts by asexuals of color. But if you consider the fact that only a tiny proportion of the ace community will participate in this blog carnival...and then think about the fact that most of the people who are currently active in the asexual community are white...that result becomes highly likely. I wasn't sure how to get around this. It's a conundrum, because while I would like to see the asexual movement become less white (by the addition of POCs, not by kicking out white people), I am coming from a place of whiteness, as are most of the people who are visible in our community. I don't want to tokenize people or try to speak to experiences that I can't understand. If certain asexuals of color don't feel comfortable with aspects of the ace community, or like it isn't speaking to them, I would probably not be the one to discern those aspects.

Maybe we need some kind of "asexual diversity task force", but of course it would be ridiculous if the group was full of white people. I strongly believe in "nothing about us, without us", a slogan from the disability rights movement. So I don't want to talk about people without them, which I feel like I'm already approaching too closely here. But, I think it's important to make this community a place where everyone can feel included and where intersectionality is widely understood. Can the asexual community more accurately reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the actual world?

One possible issue is that our reliance on the internet medium probably leads to the increased invisibility of POCs in our community. Since whiteness is seen as the "default" race (this is a crucial aspect of hegemony), people online are probably assumed to be white until stated otherwise. This is a problem since out asexuals of color are a small enough group as it is. Also, look at the characters and celebrities that are described as asexual. They're all white, aren't they? (Although an exception might be on the horizon-- some people are saying that Patterson Joseph, a black actor, might be playing the next incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who.) And last, but importantly, asexuals of color in media appearances are few, if they appear at all.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Guest Post: Some Musings on the State of the German Ace Community

This post was written by Carmilla DeWinter for round two of the Carnival of Aces. Carmilla is German. 29 years old. Part time pharmacist, part time unpublished novelist, full time geek. Also Asexual.

When I first started researching asexuality more deeply this winter, I was surprised that there weren’t any active German blogs on the matter.

I shouldn’t have been.

Actually, the German AVEN forum is comparatively big given the amount of people who know German versus those who know English: 7,000 plus members, that is, nearly a quarter of the US site. Most of them never bother to introduce themselves and vanish directly into the meet-up section: no surprise there.

However, we seem not yet to have reached the critical mass when there are enough individuals who are tired of the forum’s 101 as well as zealous enough to write about asexuality in a wider context. (As for myself, I’m currently gathering momentum, and I’m not sure I’ll end up writing a blog, exactly.)

The queer discourse, mentions of Asexual Pride or the term ‘zucchini’ haven’t made it over the pond quite yet.

Publicity-wise, I believe we’ve turned into old news while never having really been new news. Despite the low media coverage and the fact that we’re being ignored even where it might be important to someone’s mental health – our biggest complimentary health magazine had a piece about low desire being an issue in relationships and never mentioned asexuality – we get a regular influx of newcomers.

Thus, to most it might look like things are going alright.

The relief expressed in most introductory posts show that they aren’t.

Most of the German asexuals would prefer more visibility, I’m certain. I don’t know if the meager visibility participation is, again, a result of our numbers, or of the particular relationship Germans as a whole have with authorities – we tend to believe them too much, and are very hesitant about clamoring for attention. We are not like the French or the Greek, who go into strike over everything they don’t like.

Sometimes I believe we are waiting for an authority to tell us that we do, in fact, exist, and need to be acknowledged. That we needn’t be ashamed, and that we’re not rare beasts instead of persons. However, without more visibility work, this is not going to happen.

Catch 22.

In the meantime, we’ll go complain to others on the forum and preach to the choir. (Hear me roar?)

Ah, well. At least no one worthy of note is using our orientation as an insult yet.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guest Post: Children, Marriage and Family Expectations

This post was written by KJ for round two of the Carnival of Aces. KJ says: "I am a 25, asexual, grad school student who studies art and psychology. My hobbies are reading too much, running, cooking and tilting at windmills."

I come from a white, southern, Christian culture. Obviously, being white has afforded me multiple privileges. Being southern comes with the baggage of a terrible history of race relations and some spectacularly racist family members and family friends. Growing up Christian, I had privilege because I was a member of the dominant religious group. However, at age 16, I stopped believing and left the church, but my knowledge of that culture gives me help in ‘passing’ since religion is not a usually a visible aspect of identity.

Coming from this culture, I received some explicit and covert messages about sexuality. First, there was an assumption of heterosexuality. Second, there was an assumption that, as a woman, I would want to get married. Third, there was the assumption that I would have children. And there was the message that getting married and having children is the most important thing I could do.

The way things worked at my church was an example of all this. The youth group was set up as a place for ‘fellowship.’ It was a place that was explicitly Christian that encouraged us to spend time only with fellow Christians. A large number of the activities were set up to encourage the formation of relationships, from discussions about what God would want us to look for in a spouse, to relay races that involved holding toothpicks in your mouth and passing a lifesaver from person to person (the line was always set up boy-girl-boy-girl.) It was implied that marrying and marrying a fellow Christian was what we should do. It goes without saying that it was implied that we were all heterosexual.

When I announced, in high school, that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have children, my family ignored my statements. However, since I am now approaching my quarter-century mark, I’ve had explicit things said about my single/childless state. For instance when I was discussing the fact that I didn’t want to get married or have biological children, my brother made the comment that “well, people like you should really have children.” People like me means white girls from the suburbs with college degrees. There is a great deal of paranoia among the racists in the south that people of color are having more children than white people. Hence, as a white girl who displays no interest in reproducing, I am letting ‘the white race’ down.

Many friends of the family have made similar statements. I think they are especially puzzled because I am such a ‘good’ girl. I don’t wear mini-skirts or sleep around. I am smart, well-spoken and obviously able to take care of myself. But, by their standards, I have failed at an essential task: marriage and children (in that order, of course). Staying with family friends this summer, I was asked if I was thinking about getting married (I hadn’t seen these people since I was 16). A family friend, on my first trip home from college, asked if I was dating. When I told her I was too busy, she looked pained. I was a freshman in college, double-majoring. Even if I was sexual, who has time?

While I have a great deal of privilege, my asexuality sets me pretty far outside the bounds of acceptable white, southern, Christian female behavior. Though I’m not Christian, it is assumed I will follow those values. Being asexual and a virgin means I appear to have internalized the cultural value of purity. But I am not choosing to be celibate; I am asexual. I also feel silenced because asexuality is not talked about. I doubt any of my family would have heard the term. I did come out to my Mom this summer; of the family, she is the most liberal and easy-going of the family and has no investment in my producing a brood of children. She took it well and eventually, I might tell my brother. But cultural barriers make it harder to do this; being asexual is not just a personal quirk to my family and my culture, but an act of betrayal of the ‘natural order’ of life. I am a freak, not just because I am an atheist, liberal artist, but because I am asexual and refusing (as they see it) to order my life in a conventional way.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Arts & Crafts Minute with Ily

As you may know, some folks have adopted a black ring, worn on the middle finger of the right hand, as an asexual symbol. As far as visibility goes, it's pretty ineffectual. But, I think it could be powerful to look down and remember that you're part of an asexual community, especially when so many of us rarely interact with other aces in meatspace. The black ring was one of those things that I would wear if I already had it, but I didn't feel like running out and buying one, since I already have a bunch of rings I rarely wear. So I managed to come up with a solution that was free, took under five minutes to make, and avoids some of the issues with metal rings (like getting the perfect size). I present the t-shirt ring tutorial.

First, find a scrap of black t-shirt material. If you don't have some lying around, you can cut the sleeves off a black tee from your closet or a thrift store. (I suggest the sleeves because then you'll still have a wearable shirt.) Figure out what side of the material you want to be the outward-facing side. T-shirt material rolls up, and if you put the rolls on the outside, your ring will have a nice 3-D effect. Remember to sew on the "wrong" side of your fabric, because you will be turning the ring inside-out later.

Steps shown in the picture:
  1. Cut out a small strip of fabric that is slightly longer than the circumference of your finger. This is as scientific as we're getting here.
  2. Wrap the fabric around your finger and when you get a good fit, pin the two ends together.
  3. Take out the pin and sew over the area, either by hand or with a machine. It doesn't need to be perfect. I sewed mine crookedly with white thread and the finished product still looked fine!
  4. Cut off the ends and turn the ring inside-out. You could iron the ends flat, but as I wore the ring, the ends got pressed down flat anyway.
Here's the finished product:

The only problem with a fabric ring is that it'll get soggy if you wash your hands with it on. But the stretchy material will help accommodate finger size fluctuations (don't tell me I'm the only person who has that), and if it gets lost, who cares? From one t-shirt sleeve you could make at least 20 more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2 links about shaving

I know, this is some Tumblr-type action, but here are some links related to my last post about body hair:
  1. Who Decided Women Should Shave Their Legs and Underarms? Some of the history behind womens' hair removal. It's interesting!
  2. A Rant on Shaving and the Power of Advertising covers personal and environmental perspectives, as well as how Gilette got us to buy more razors, and why those damn cartridges are so expensive.

What a heck of a way to start your day...

  1. Asexual participation in the San Francisco pride parade is a go! It'll be on Sunday, June 26th. Although I'm not the lead on it this year, if you have any questions I can probably answer them.
  2. At our most recent meetup, Sara Beth told us all about Asexual Awareness Week, which will be taking place in October. It's going to be a big deal, and you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter until they get their website up.
  3. Don't forget to submit to the blog carnival if you are so moved. Never fear, I only have about two more weeks to bug you about it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Other Hobbit

And now for something a little different...

On the "References" page of K's blog, there are a few posts about feminism and body hair. It seems like a relevant thing to post about now, since it's the season of shorts, swim suits, and increased hair removal (at least in my hemisphere). If you search for "Body hair and feminism" on the internet, you come up with even more interesting posts. So while I may not be the first feminist to discuss body hair, I think it's a pretty fascinating issue, one that is under-discussed for all the time we spend trying to get rid of the hair in question.

First, let's get one thing straight-- Although seeing it on other people doesn't bother me, I've long had angst towards my own body hair. Even the words themselves give me the creeps. As a child, I was extremely upset about going through puberty. Yes, it's true that I'm not a big fan of major changes that I have no control over. But looking back, I think part of my fear had to do with being a young asexual. We're always told that puberty is our first step towards becoming full-fledged sexual beings. Being told "You're a woman now" can be frightening for the pubescent asexual, since in most people's minds, adulthood is linked with sexual rites of passage. And I was definitely pissed off that suddenly, I had to shave my legs and armpits. It was time-consuming, I often cut myself, and I was always self-conscious that I had missed spots (which in fact, I usually did). However, if I hadn't shaved, I would have been horribly ridiculed.

While my views on body hair have relaxed a lot since then (missed a spot? Who cares?), I have mixed feelings about putting down the razor. My fear isn't looking like a "natural, adult woman", but like a Hobbit. In truth, I only consistently shave when the parts in question will be visible-- and in usually-chilly Northern California where "layering" rules, that's not often. However, this proves the oft-made point that shaving isn't really my choice. I do it so people won't look at me funny, not because it makes me feel "cleaner" or "sexier". It's something I do not for myself, but for the public gaze. Obviously I don't feel pleased with this. Maybe I can put myself on a gradual plan...becoming more comfortable with stubble, perhaps, before I embark on a full quest to Middle Earth.

Here is an article about how harrowing life can be as a hairy female, complete with $10,000 electrolysis, risky medications, and bacterial infections from waxing. The conclusion of the article is basically: "Tough shit. If you don't want to be ridiculed and live a life of shame, torture yourself through hair removal". (Lest you think this is a woman-only issue, even men, who were long able to be hairy in peace, are facing increasing pressure to remove their body hair.) In the article, interviewees express hurt, shame, and fatigue. But working to change the social standards that led them there was never mentioned as a possible solution. To me, it looks like the only one that will actually empower people, rather than making them feel continually worse.

For comments, all I ask is that people don't criticize the appearance of others. I've seen it happen way too much in discussions on similar topics. (For instance: "Body hair is okay, as long as it's not dark! EWWW!" Uh...what? If we're accepting body hair, let's do away with arbitrary, Eurocentric beauty standards at the same time, shall we?) This blog is supposed to be a safe space, and body-related issues can be sensitive. Let's make it easier on each other, yes?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

And one more thing...

If you might know any interested writers or artists, please pass on the information about the blog carnival. Seeing as this is a race/ethnicity/culture/nationality topic, it would of course be ideal to have a diversity of people represented. And if you have ideas for ways to promote the carnival, please feel free to let me know. This isn't my personal project, after all, but anyone and everyone's.

Love, Captain Obvious

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Carnival of Aces Round 2: Call for Participation

Welcome to the second edition of A Carnival of Aces! The theme for this month’s post is The intersection between race, ethnicity, culture, or nationality and the asexual identity. I'm sorry for the length of that sentence, but I wanted to make it broad while avoiding confusion. I chose this topic because it has been under-discussed and out of all the topics I was considering, this is the one I've seen the least amount of writing on. Although you may or may not find this topic relevant to you personally, it is open to everyone. All I ask is that if race/ethnicity/culture/nationality is a place where you have privilege, to please be aware of that while writing.

Posts may be submitted for this second round of the carnival until June 1st, at which point the carnival will travel to a new blog and I will create a round-up post full of all the submissions for this month.

Any post dealing with both asexuality and the theme of the carnival is welcome. Alternate forms of media (images, video, poetry, fiction, etc) are also welcome as long as they deal with the theme. If you’re not sure whether your piece is on-topic, submit it anyway and we’ll figure it out. Submissions should be posted as comments here or emailed to me at sanfranciscoemily [at]gmail[dot]com. You can also send me things on Tumblr if you're more comfortable with that; my name there is the-pineapple. If you don’t have a blog but you want to submit a post, I’m glad to host guest posts here; again, please contact me if you want to do that. You can make a guest post anonymously if you would like.

Some background information about this project:

For those who are unfamiliar with them, a blog carnival is an event in which many people write blog posts around a single theme. These posts are then collected at the end of the carnival and linked together by the carnival’s host.

This particular blog carnival is an effort to encourage a variety of different voices to speak about asexuality from their own perspectives. Anyone can participate, but the responses should deal with asexuality or the asexual spectrum (grey-As, demisexuals) in some way. They should also relate in some way to the theme of each round of the carnival, which will change from month to month and will be chosen by the person hosting the carnival for that month.

Thank you all very much!

For much of the text of this post, the credit goes to Sciatrix.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Carnival Of Aces: It's baaack (almost)!

So, my blog will be hosting the second installment of Carnival of Aces. But with great power (uh...sort of) comes great responsibility. Of course, I have procrastinated terribly when it comes to picking out a theme for this month's carnival (submissions will be due on June 1st, and a post with all the details is to follow). Before deciding the theme, I wanted to see if any of you fine readers had theme ideas that you wanted to share, especially people without their own blogs (because you would not have the opportunity to host the carnival yourself). Beware: I may pick your theme, and I may pick no one's. If you want to comment on this, please do so in the next day or two, because I will be putting up an introduction post ASAP after that time. Here were some of my own ideas, which you are also welcome to argue for or against:
  1. Childhood experiences. Of course, this will not be based on the idea that our childhood experiences made us asexual. But for instance, kids start to "like" each other some time in elementary school. How did we navigate all this, before we had detailed knowledge of sexuality?
  2. Secrets. A while ago, Hot Pieces of Ace did a "secrets" prompt, and I thought those were very interesting and especially touching videos. Of course, you could be anonymous and I have a few strategies for making that happen.
  3. Dealing with pressure (ie, "peer pressure", which is still an issue in adulthood although people don't tend to use that term anymore). Reading parts of Flux brought home the fact that sexual pressure is a big deal for everyone-- not just asexuals. The books quotes a National Opinion Research Center poll which found that 25% of American women did not want to have sex the first time that they did.
  4. Asexuality and the intersection of race, ethnicity, or culture.
Anyway, I promise that the theme will be announced very soon, so you won't have to remain in painful suspense much longer.