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Month: August, 2012

Out of the gender blender

Just a short post this evening, since it’s late.  I’ve finally sorted out what gender I am, and it’s all thanks to this mini-rant from a singing friend on FB:

An idiot on Youtube commenting baroque opera: “women in castrati roles couldn’t make it fantastic! […] I can’t imagine that a woman would fall in love with other women who were her son and fiance:-)” —> IDIOT: exactly the point of baroque is the asexuality of high-pitched voices on stage! Women and men are totally exchangeable in soprano and alto roles! HELLO – YOU HAVE A DISTORTED VIEW ON BAROQUE GENDER!

I knew all this.  I’m a huge baroque fan.  Yet somehow it had never clicked before.

That’s it.  Sorted.  My gender is… baroque. 🙂

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Turning up an ace

You know… it really shouldn’t matter what anyone’s sexuality, or lack of it, is, unless and until they start looking for a partner.  It shouldn’t, but for some reason it does.  People do like neat categories, which is rather unfortunate when you start trying to apply that to either sexuality or gender, because the world doesn’t always work like that.  And this is why I’m “out and proud” about my asexuality, not because it should make the slightest bit of difference from anyone else’s point of view, but because it does in practice.  And wherever something does make a difference in practice, anyone who has difficulty classifying hirself can run into problems… and it’s pretty common for asexuals to have difficulty classifying themselves.  If there’s one thing I hear again and again from people who have recently realised they are asexuals, it’s that they didn’t quite know what they were until they realised.

So the whole idea of being generally up front about my own asexuality is to help other people who may be asexual and not yet realise it… and, yesterday, that actually happened.  And it was awesome.

Cut back to New Year for a moment.  I’d gone down to London to hear a friend sing in a concert, and almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, from the travel arrangements going awry to the friend turning out to have a nasty head cold and therefore have to be replaced by a substitute at the last minute.  (The substitute was OK, but knocked off no socks.  My friend is a stunningly good singer.  Fortunately it didn’t take him too long to shake off the cold afterwards.)  There was only one really good thing about this ill-fated trip to London, and that was the fact that I met J for the first time.  I liked J as soon as I met him; he’s very much a people person and a tremendous mine of information of all sorts, and he made up for a lot of the angst.

J and I kept in touch afterwards on Facebook, and I must admit that once I realised I was asexual myself, it soon crossed my mind that J might be likewise.  He’d been talking quite freely about his life, which has been an interesting one, but never once mentioned any romantic relationships; family and friends, yes, but no partners.  This hadn’t particularly struck me at the time, because I never grew up considering that in any way unusual.  (I am convinced there is asexuality in my family, which ties in with some scientific evidence that apparently exists, but that is a whole separate topic.)  It was only when I looked back that it occurred to me.

So yesterday I posted a link on FB to a recent Guardian article on asexuality which covered the subject rather better than most (with the usual “don’t read the comments” proviso – seriously, I do wish people would stop being so dismissive of stuff they don’t understand and just listen to other people’s experience for a change), and J was really interested.  He said he thought he identified with the article, and did I think he was asexual?  I replied that that was for him to work out, and pointed him to the excellent FAQ on the AVEN website (www.asexuality.org, for anyone else who is curious).  I think he must have read through the whole lot, and after that he popped up again on chat and said, yes, he reckoned he was asexual.

It was just lovely to see him going through exactly the same experience as I did and having everything fall into place for him.  Because of the differences in our upbringing, it was an even better realisation for him than it had been for me, since I’d tended to the theory that the rest of the world was a bit weird, whereas he’d always thought he was the one who was weird (despite also having relatives who had been happily single all their lives).  He also said he’d often been labelled gay due to his lack of interest in women – not that he thought there was anything wrong with being gay, but he knew it didn’t describe him.  So next time anyone tries that, he’ll be able to tell them what he really is.

It’s great.  He’s delighted, and I feel like some kind of Ace Auntie. 😀

Good little neutrois?

Time for some more gender reflections, I think.

The other day I said something about gender being both a social construct and a personal one.  Society decides basic gender roles and gendered behaviour, but within those specified roles there is usually at least some flexibility (I nearly said “wiggle room”, but that could have caused a few mental images of the sort that were more mental than others), which means that you get to define, at least to some extent, how you’re going to interpret being whichever gender society throws at you.  Now sometimes you just can’t.  Sometimes the gender you get thrown at you is such a poor fit, and the opposite gender such a good fit, that you simply can’t deal with it, and that makes you transgender.  But once you realise you’re transgender, you then get to define how you interpret being the gender you’re more comfortable with.  Whether it’s the one you were expected to be or the opposite one, there is always a certain amount of personal interpretation – or, as I called it the other day, customisation – going on, unless you live in a society with extremely restrictive gender norms.  Such societies are usually particularly hard on people who are biologically female and therefore expected to be female-gendered, but it’s also worth pointing out that societies which force women into heavily restrictive gender norms also tend to be intolerant towards anyone who deviates from any gender norm in any way.

Even in more tolerant societies, there is still quite a lot of social pressure to be a good little boy or a good little girl, because boys and girls are what we’re used to.  Even though a lot of parents consciously try to counter the pressure and allow their children a free choice of toys (and sometimes clothes, though perhaps to a slightly lesser extent), that pressure is still pretty ubiquitous.  You’ve only got to walk into any toy shop or children’s clothes section to see that, and in fact children’s stuff is considerably more gendered now than it was when I was a little girl, not less.  I don’t think I even had anything pink after babyhood, except for one jumper which was definitely not sugar pink or Barbie pink, but full-on film-fogging fuchsia (a shade I still really like).  I was never very bothered about dolls, although I did like my Action Girl, who got to wear practical stuff and have various adventures rescuing the cuddly gonks when they had wandered into difficulties; most of the things I liked were pretty non-gendered, thinking about it.  Well, if you don’t count the racing cars, but since those were a nuisance to grown-ups (the track took up most of the hall) I wasn’t allowed to play with those very often anyway, and it was a real treat when I was.  I did enjoy my little cars.

But neutrois is… interesting.  Neutrois is the one gender that you get to define completely the way you want it, because there is nobody around trying to tell you how to be a good little neutrois.  You obviously don’t get colour-coded from the word go, largely because nobody expects you to be neutrois at the word go; you get gendered according to your biological sex, or, if you’re hermaphrodite or intersex, you get gendered according to whatever seems most suitable (which may mean “most convenient”).  And it’s not an unreasonable default assumption.  When you’re born, you can’t gender yourself; most people are cisgender, and most people are going to end up having a use for a gender once they hit puberty.  So if you’re going to subscribe to the view that everyone needs a gender from birth, it’s reasonable to gender infants in that way.

What is not so reasonable is to assume that your initial default assumption is automatically going to hold true once the person is capable of gendering hirself.

I’m actually starting to question the idea that everyone needs to be gendered from birth in the first place.  I don’t see that society would collapse if we all started using neutral pronouns for kids until they made up their own minds.  It’s true that you would then get some kids who decided that they were a girl today, a boy tomorrow, maybe a boy for the next week, then a girl again for three or four days, then “I think I’m going to be both”, then just a girl, then neither, then… well, you know what I’m saying.  Of course that would get confusing for the adults around them.  Fine.  We’re adults.  We should be able to handle a bit of confusion by now.  I actually suspect that if we did this, most kids would decide fairly early that their gender lined up with their biological sex and things wouldn’t be greatly different, except that there would be much less force-feeding of gender roles going on.  If everyone is clear that it’s the child who gets to decide hir gender, and to do so exactly when ze is ready and not before, then all of a sudden the adult who tries to push a rigid gender role on the child is the one who is obviously out of line, not the adult who is trying to allow experimentation and choice.

This is an interesting byway and one that I think is worth following, but it doesn’t address the specific issue I’m working on at the moment, which is this.  Do I:

  • continue to consider myself as basically female, given the fact that I have enough freedom to interpret “female” in a way that reasonably reflects who I am;
  • consider myself neutrois and construct a gender identity which exactly reflects who I am, but which then needs a lot of explaining to other people;
  • do both, and define myself as genderqueer on the scale between female and neutrois;
  • or vacillate, and be female in some situations and neutrois in others?  (And, if I adopt this one, what would it even mean to vacillate in this way?)

This quadrilemma, to coin a word, brings up another head of the genderhydra: how far, exactly, can/does a person choose hir gender?  If you are strongly transgender or strongly cisgender, especially if it’s the former, you probably feel that you have no choice at all; there is one gender with which you identify, and that is your gender whether you like it or not.  I’d be interested to gather the thoughts of a few genderqueer people here.  Do you wake up on a particular morning and just feel that you’re a certain gender today (or more of one gender than another), but it changes over time?  Or do you identify with more than one gender and feel that you can, to a greater or lesser extent, choose which one suits you today, as you can with your gender presentation?

As for me, I don’t know.  There are still more questions than answers.  All I know is that I’m having a really interesting time asking the questions.

A free pass out of all that

One thing I possibly haven’t emphasised quite enough here yet is how utterly delighted I was when I finally worked out I was asexual.  I’m still delighted.  I honestly think it’s the most amazing thing ever.  Because, you see, it’s a free pass out of all that.

It’s a free pass out of being expected to be either in a relationship or looking for one.  (Unless you’re a Facebook advertiser, but if you are, just be aware that I settled your hash a long time ago by downloading AdBlock Plus, so you can no longer tell me about all the hot single men in my area or the spurious romantic messages I am supposed to have received via your dodgy app.)  That doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to do relationships, but it does mean I no longer get looked at oddly for treating them as an option rather than a necessity and not being afraid of “ending up single” (as though, you know, everyone had some kind of sell-by date, especially women; hang around me long enough and you’ll no doubt get to hear about my great-uncle, who was, I think, around 90 when he married for the first time, and his bride was in her late 80s).

It’s a free pass out of being on the receiving end of unwarranted jealousy.  (Usually.  There’s one long-running saga currently going on where that is happening, but the more I think about it, the less I think it’s really about sex.)  If you’re asexual, you’re safe for someone to let her husband or boyfriend geek out with.  Hint to jealous types: this is, in fact, normally still true for sexuals, although if you have definite evidence that your partner likes to play around, then certainly you need to be a bit more careful.

It’s a free pass out of being expected to be OK with, or indeed actively enjoy, sex scenes.  In the past I always made it quite clear that sex scenes were not my cup of tea, but I got a mixture of rather negative reactions to this, ranging from a sense that people thought something was wrong with me to obvious disbelief.  These days, people are so much more accepting: “oh, she’s asexual, obviously she’s not going to be interested in this”.  And it is a huge relief.  (Obligatory rider: being asexual does not automatically mean you don’t like this kind of stuff.  Some asexuals do.  Some do very much.  But it seems to be the norm among asexuals to be at least uninterested, sometimes actively repulsed.)

It’s a free pass out of those utterly mystifying (to me, anyway) conversations about hot celebrities.  These never used to go well when I was involved, because sooner or later I would end up asking, “But how on earth can you know whether he’s attractive or not?  You don’t know him!  All right, you’ve read some positive things in the media about him and that’s great – he does sound like a nice person – but I don’t see how you can decide he’s attractive based on that.”  And then they’d blink at me and go, “But he’s hot.”  And I’d be thinking “ERROR ERROR DOES NOT COMPUTE”, more or less.  These days, no problem.  Nobody tries to involve me in conversations like that, and we’re all happy.

All of this, dear reader, is why, when I contemplate my asexuality, I get this happy little glow inside and reflect that I have done absolutely nothing to deserve this but it is truly awesome.  And if you are sexual and equally happy with that, then good on you. 🙂

“Write it, dammit!”

I write.  Not as much as I used to, because I’ve been doing all kinds of other creative things as well, but I do write.  When I don’t write, the problem is not writer’s block; I don’t remember ever having had that in my life.  The problem is more like having too many ideas in my head and they’re all fighting.  “Write me!  And me!  And me!  And you really need me too!  And…”  After a while of that, the obvious temptation is to bash them all hard on the head and go and embroider something till they stop squabbling.

This isn’t really the best way to deal with squabbling ideas, but I didn’t know a better one until I recently discovered the 750 Words website.  The idea is simple enough: you do a 750-word brain dump every day, or at any rate every day you can.  It’s private, so you don’t have to worry about twiddling with settings as you would if you were doing something similar on LiveJournal or whatever.  I had been thinking about doing this for a few days, and this morning I finally thought, right, I am getting into Squabbling Ideas mode again, so I will sign up on 750 Words, dump my brain and see if it helps.

It did.  The first thing that came out was one strong basic story idea which is now the obvious thing to write next.  This was followed by various random musings on my accidental invention this morning of the word “effoffable” (meaning “causing others to have a good reason to tell you to eff off”; I was woken up by some neighbours having a screaming row outside and doing precisely that, which was how it came about, because I was musing about whether or not the person being told to eff off had done anything genuinely effoffable), followed by some thoughts on SF which I’m going to develop further here.  I hadn’t planned to use 750 Words to get an idea for a post for this blog.  It just happened that way.

If you’ve been reading regularly up to this point, you will have noticed a huge love for science fiction coming out all over this blog.  Would it astonish you to learn that I very rarely read any these days?

Well, I hope so, because it astonished me once I started thinking about it.  My favourite author was always Asimov, but I read Heinlein (whose politics creeped me out a bit, but who could tell a good story), Clarke (great plots, not so sure about his characters), Bradbury, Dick, Zelazny, Bester, the works.  I pretty much read my way through the entire SF section in the local library during my teens.  I watched not only Star Trek, but also Dr Who and Blake’s 7 (Avon deserves a whole post of his own as the greatest tragic character since Shakespeare’s time, but possibly not on this blog) and Space 1999 and Sapphire and Steel and anything else like that I could get away with.  (I was lucky, because my mother liked that kind of thing too.)  I could not get enough of the stuff.

And then, somehow, I pretty much stopped.

Not entirely.  I still read the odd SF book, turned out the odd bit of Blake’s 7 fanfic, and got into the more SF-orientated types of comic books for a while.  (Ah, comic books.  Another whole post on its own somewhere else.)  But, somewhere in my late teens to early twenties, my consumption of SF went from insatiable to occasional, and it did so quite suddenly.

It’s not that I somehow went off SF.  I didn’t.  I still love all the basic SF tropes.  There was, of course, the fact that at university I discovered Terry Pratchett (who was quite a new thing at the time), and with him the whole genre of comic fantasy; I think that made some kind of difference.  But it’s taken me till now to put my finger on what the problem really was.

I remember very clearly when I stopped reading Asimov, or at any rate his SF.  (I’d read pretty much all the SF he ever wrote by that point, anyway, so it was not exactly an unnatural end.)  I’d been avidly reading all his stories about robots and alien psychology and properly thought out planets and so forth, and then I finally picked up – you know, I honestly can’t remember what the title was, but it was one of his later works.  And he had clearly decided that the fact that he was no good at handling romance in his stories was a Bad Thing and something he needed to eliminate.  So he’d put a romance in this one.  Complete with sex.

Now, as I say, it’s not that I hate romance in books.  I thoroughly enjoy reading Jane Austen, whose novels are all centred round some kind of romance and are certainly none the worse for it.  I do hate graphic sex scenes and will skip over them, but Asimov’s weren’t anything like graphic; if I recall correctly, they were done pretty tastefully.  No; what really threw me was the fact that it was Asimov doing it.  Asimov, the man who cheerfully said he couldn’t write romance, and to whom I therefore turned with enthusiasm when I knew I didn’t feel like reading about it.  Of course, by this point I had also read Heinlein, and he wrote sex all over the place, but that was Heinlein and he was different.  I kind of tuned it out, to some extent.

It’s taken me till now to understand just how much that threw me.  Really, it was the literary equivalent of walking in on the Pope and finding him smooching a nun (no disrespect intended to any past or present pope here – this is a hypothetical papal figure I have in mind).  It wasn’t a case of “oh noes, here be sex”.  It was “oh noes, here be totally unexpected sex in a book I thought was a safe space”.  And it’s not possible to understand that fully until you can understand why you need a book to be a safe space from sex.  For the longest time, I didn’t, so I couldn’t clearly articulate my thoughts.

Although I loved SF for its own sake, because I always loved science and it sprang out of that, the fact that on the whole it was pretty much free from both romance and sex for a long time did add a lot to its appeal for me.  (Sadly, this was often because it was also free from women, and that was a major flaw with a lot of writers; not all of them, thankfully.)  There were always authors like Heinlein who did deal with it, but they were in the minority.  Generally speaking, SF was a safe place, and Asimov was the safest of all… until that happened.

I think there was a little bit of my brain that broke at that point.  If it did, it obviously wasn’t logical; there was still all the stuff I had already been reading and enjoying, and I could still have taken refuge in that when I wanted to.  But brain breakages aren’t always logical.  Out of the brain break came the thought: “I still enjoy this genre, but it is not my safe zone any more.  I need to find a new one.”  It also didn’t help that the Doctor (as in Dr Who) started showing the first signs of becoming a sex symbol around this time.  The Doctor had never been a sex symbol.  The Doctor was asexual, though I didn’t have the word available to me at the time.  When my female friends started gushing over the latest Doctor, that just felt… wrong.  Let them gush over pop stars or whoever, but not the Doctor.  He lives in the safe zone, right? …oh, wrong now. 😦

Back to this morning and 750 Words.  I found myself spontaneously writing the following:

“I have not had SF ‘taken away’ from me in some way, not even at a subconscious level, due to my asexuality; if I want asexual-friendly SF, then I need to do what I would do if I want asexual-friendly anything else and it doesn’t exist so much these days.  Write it, dammit.”

Sometimes I give myself surprisingly good advice.  Whichever bit of my brain decided to pop up and type that little gem is right on the money.  So… I’m going to write it, dammit!

Gendersilly

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one of the things that was not really an issue for me when I was a child was gender inferiority.  I saw it and took note of it, but never (thank heaven) really internalised it; it wasn’t as if I didn’t have plenty of other issues, after all.  I was also pretty good at giving it the full-on logic treatment when anyone tried to make me take it on board, which, to be fair, was not often, given the slightly unusual circumstances in which I grew up.  For instance, there’s this story, which happened when I was, I think, six years old.  The background was a maths textbook which was supposed to be teaching us about bar charts.  You had to go round and ask all the boys in the class whether they wanted to be a fireman, a policeman or (I think) a doctor when they grew up, and all the girls if they wanted to be a nurse, a teacher or a shopkeeper.  (I know, right?!)  Then you had to make two bar charts.  For the boys, there was a bar you could fill in if they “wanted to be something else”.  For the girls, there was not.

So I got all my classmates in turn coming up to me with this page and asking me if I wanted to be a nurse, a teacher or a shopkeeper.  “No,” I replied.  “I want to be a scientist.”

“You can’t want to be a scientist.  You have to want to be a nurse, a teacher or a shopkeeper.”

“I don’t care,” I replied.  “I want to be a scientist and I’m not going to say I want to be something else when I don’t.”

So they went and complained to the teacher that I was being awkward, and the teacher, who was remarkably sensible, told them they had to put an extra bar on the “girl” bar chart for me, the same as there was on the “boy” one.  Victory for common sense.

Fast forward to the point where I’m somewhere in my early twenties, I’m in one of the major political parties, and I get delegated to the constituency women’s section because I have an interest in feminist issues.  This causes friction.  I am not the droids they were looking for.  I’m neither a lesbian nor interested in casual sex (in fact I’m known for being chaste, surprise, surprise), and although I’m not really into the whole make-up-and-heels thing, nonetheless my gender presentation is pretty feminine compared with what is going down over there.  Now this doesn’t bother me, because as far as I’m concerned we’re all supposed to be working together for the same ends, and I do not care who they go to bed with or how often, or how they dress, or how they cut their hair, just as long as they don’t expect me to do it.

It does bother them.  I have to deal.  I am quite used to dealing because I don’t fit in.  Anyway, while this is happening I move house, and I have to fit a new stair carpet because I can’t afford a fitter, and I have to plumb in the washing machine, and it so happens that this is the day of one of these women’s section meetings and all the faffing around with the wretched stair carpet makes me a bit late.

I walk into the room.  They all glare at me.

“Sorry I’m late,” I say.  “I got held up.  I had to plumb in a washing machine and fit a stair carpet.”

There is absolute silence in which I can hear a roomful of mental cogs going sproing.  I sit down, and when all the cogs get back into line apparently I am now a sister.  Fair enough, but I have not changed who I sleep with or how I dress.  The only thing that has changed at all is how they perceive me.  It’s in people’s heads, folks.

So, gentlebeings, today I’d like to talk about gender.  The more I think about this subject, the weirder it gets, even though it’s easy enough to summarise: biological sex is about how your body is constructed.  Gender is a personal and social construct (I dare say it has been endlessly argued how much of each, but I suspect it varies according to the individual), and it may or may not line up with your biological sex.  If it does, you’re cis; if it really seriously doesn’t, you’re trans; and if it’s somewhere in between, you probably define yourself as genderqueer or genderfluid or something of that order.

As far as I’ve been concerned, I have always been 100% cis female, with no particular reason to question that.  It’s true that I’ve interpreted that somewhat… robustly, shall we say; I was once accused of doing something “rather unfeminine” (can’t recall precisely what it was), and my reaction was to grin at the person concerned and explain, “I’m a woman.  Therefore, by definition, if I am doing it, it must be feminine.  QED!”  They couldn’t answer that.  But since realising I was asexual, I found myself wondering why I actually needed a gender at all.

See, when you think about it, I don’t.  Neither do bisexuals, pansexuals and all the other types of sexuals who aren’t 100% straight or 100% gay.  Having a gender only really makes sense if you are out to attract another person with a definite gender.  If you either don’t mind or aren’t out to attract anyone, then, honestly, what’s it for?

The answer, in my case, turns out to be that I feel comfortable with it, though I don’t as yet know how far that is because a) I have been socialised into it from birth and b) I have had quite a lot of power and agency to customise it to suit who I am.  Genders are actually quite customisable if you’re lucky, and they are getting more so as time passes (obviously this is more true in some countries than in others).  However, this is far from being a settled matter.  There are certainly moments when I wonder if it might be more reasonable to define myself as “neutrois” (neutral third gender) rather than female.  Only time will tell whether these moments will eventually disappear, carry on happening occasionally, or crystallise to the extent where I take a deep breath and announce on Facebook that I’d like everyone to start referring to me as “ze” in future, please.  But it’s really interesting that I didn’t even think to question my gender until I realised I didn’t have a sexuality to hang one on.

This, apparently, is pretty common among asexuals.  Go on the AVEN forum and you’ll find a much higher than average number of people who identify as neutrois, partially neutrois, genderqueer, genderwhatever; and they will often tell you that they had the same experience as I did, and didn’t start questioning their gender until they realised they were asexual.  There is, of course, an extent to which suddenly realising you’re asexual makes you question everything, but gender is a particularly common thing to question.

In the meantime, since my gender has suddenly found itself reclassed from “integral part of who I am” to “entirely optional construct, quite well customised and therefore suiting me pretty well at the moment”, the result has been that I’m playing around and experimenting a bit with my gender presentation (not the same thing as gender).  Next year I get to direct an opera and will have to appear on stage at the end to take a bow, so I’m going to rock a dinner jacket, wing-collared shirt and bow tie, because I don’t have to look like a woman all the time.  Next time I move into a new social or work setting, I’m considering asking people to address me by a gender-neutral contraction of my surname.  I’m already fine with being referred to as either “she” or “ze”, whichever you’re comfortable with (but not “he”, please; whatever I am, I’m not a man, fun though it is to present as one from time to time).

This is exactly what Eve Jacques, owner of the wonderful Monster Talk website, refers to as “gendersilly”.  I think this is an excellent and useful word, so I’m borrowing it.  It’s especially good because the world can be a bit… you know… serious about gender at times, and it’s really rather refreshing to discover you don’t have to be.

I’m a work in progress.  Watch this space!

Grokking Spock

Before I do anything else, and I do mean anything, could I please introduce you to the amazing Captain Awkward (whom I keep wanting to call Captain Awesome, for reasons which will become obvious when you read her)?  She’s got an advice column over there, and although we don’t totally agree on all points (largely connected with me not totally getting sexuality and her not totally getting asexuality), she is cool and wise and sometimes hilarious and flawed-but-not-hung-up-on-it and completely non-judgmental.  Well, except for people who absolutely insist on behaving anti-socially and won’t stop when other people ask them to.  Then she gets ranty, because by the time someone has gone that far along the no-clue scale, it isn’t being judgemental anyway, it’s Consequences, Baby.

Today I want to talk about Mr Spock, who has a very special place in my roll-call of fictional heroes and role models.  This is not just because Mr Spock is almost entirely asexual himself, apart from the one time in seven years (why is it *always* seven years, folks?) when he must Reproduce Or Die, which I always thought was clumsy and embarrassing, and if I could rewrite one thing about that series I would have it so that Vulcans developed the whole asexuality thing after they worked out how to produce test-tube babies.  Of course I’m not going to deny that the asexuality helped, but it’s also true that I’m not going to relate to any character, however asexual, who is either a pain in the backside or completely alien.  Mr Spock was neither.

In so many ways, Mr Spock is me.

One of the things which has struck me while I’ve been typing the entries in this blog is the number of times I find myself saying “I’m really confused by [insert X here] because I just can’t see the logic in it”.  This isn’t me being judgemental; this is how I work.  And the more I think about it, the more I realise that this is how I have always worked for as long as I can remember.  I am not good with stuff that doesn’t hang together logically.  That doesn’t mean I can’t do fantasy – I’ve also always had a rich imagination – but the fantasies had to hang together logically too.  I was never the sort of child who could just imagine that there was a witch who lived in a gingerbread cottage in the middle of a forest and ate children.  I wanted to know why the witch wanted to eat children and how come the gingerbread cottage didn’t fall down when it rained.

The thing is, I also wanted to know things like why other children were bullies so often, and why something that was right for one child to do wasn’t right for me to do (I got hung up on this one so often that I eventually defaulted to Whatever It Is, It’s Not Allowed, So Don’t Bother Asking), and why it was that men were usually in charge of things when it was perfectly obvious that Boys Were Stupid.  From the evidence I had at the time, it wasn’t too surprising that I came to this conclusion, because it happened to be the case that the four or five most able pupils in my class at primary school were all girls, and all but one of the four or five least able were boys.  Of course, I knew plenty of men who were far from stupid, my dad being one of them, but in the absence of any other obvious explanation I assumed something must happen to them around their late teens to turn them into intelligent, reasonable human beings.

It’s safe to say that, whatever other issues I had as a child, gender inferiority wasn’t one of them.

But, back to Mr Spock.  Obviously, being this super-logical child who tried to work things out all the time, I asked a lot of questions.  This generally didn’t go down too well.  I’d get some of them answered, but the thing with adults is that they have a tendency to be busy doing important adult things, and children who are trying to fit the world together from scratch are not really a priority.  (Heaven preserve me from ever inflicting this attitude on a child, but it was very common when I was growing up.  It was a very important thing to ensure that children understood how unimportant they were, otherwise, oh, I don’t know, the sky would fall in or something.  Do not read this as a beef against my parents, whom I love and get on fine with; it was general.)  After experiencing this from almost every adult in sight for a number of years, it’s easy to feel kind of invalidated.

And then along came Star Trek.  I’d always been fascinated by space anyway – I wanted to be an astronaut for years, until I discovered that you really needed to be very physically fit, and I’ve never been the sporty type at all – so the idea of a series set in space was pretty awesome to start with.  I soon decided I didn’t much like Captain Kirk, because he fell for almost every woman in sight and that was yaaaaaaaawn, but Mr Spock… oh, Mr Spock.  I would have given anything to have him for my Vulcan uncle.  Because he was a highly intelligent adult and a very much respected member of the crew, but he saw the world exactly as I did.  He applied logic to every situation, and if it failed to work, he got puzzled.  I was bright enough to spot immediately that the bit about not having emotions was hokum; certainly he had good control over his emotions, but emotions he had, and that was why it was possible to warm to him as well as admiring him.  He really cared about his fellow crew members, including, of course, the spiky, outspoken and equally wonderful Dr McCoy.  I loved how their running battle was actually built on a foundation of huge mutual liking and respect, though both of them would have been pretty much shot sooner than admit it.

Mr Spock gave me validation.  I couldn’t have put it into so many words at the time; in fact I couldn’t even have worked out that the character was doing anything for me at all other than being generally awesome.  Nonetheless, that was what he did.  If it was OK for the Enterprise‘s ultra-cool first officer to try to logic the heck out of the Universe as we know it, then it was OK for me.  No argument.  Even though both he and I knew that it didn’t always work, and both he and I were invariably puzzled when it didn’t, it was still a good initial approach, and it saved me from a number of mistakes I might otherwise have made.

So, fine, you may be saying, we all love Mr Spock, but why are you talking about him at length on an ace blog?  To which I reply: thanks for bearing with me so far.  I’m just coming to that.

You remember how I drew a parallel earlier between asexuality and autism?  And how I talked about using one’s intelligence in both cases to handle things that most other people could understand intuitively?

This is Mr Spock.  This is what he does all the time.  He’s clearly not autistic, because he demonstrates a great deal of skill at picking up on other people’s feelings, whether it’s a question of knowing when Captain Kirk is feeling pressured and needs a bit of extra support or simply what’s the best thing to say to needle Dr McCoy at this precise moment.  He is (99% of the time) asexual.  He does grok feelings, no matter how much he claims not to; what he genuinely doesn’t grok is why people sometimes act on them when it’s contrary to logic.  He does not grok sex.  I honestly can’t remember if anyone ever tried hitting on him in the series, and, if they did, whether he was portrayed as being blithely oblivious or noticing very quickly and gently dissuading them.  (Either would work, though I tend to see more of the former reaction among younger asexual people and more of the latter among older ones; it’s an individual thing, though.)

Now then.  Here’s the big, and so far unanswered, question.  Is it the case that asexual people, because we have trouble making sense of something that is such a big deal to the overwhelming majority of the population, have a higher than average tendency in general to fall back on logic as the default way of trying to understand the world around them?  (Note that this question doesn’t mean “are asexuals more logical than everyone else?”.  Being heavily reliant on logic does not automatically mean that your logic is very good, just as relying heavily on your intelligence doesn’t have to mean you’re particularly bright.)  I have no answers to that, but I would be really interested to hear about other people’s experiences.

And I cannot leave this subject without letting Inner Child have a chat with Mr Spock about the bullies.  Because she and I are still struggling to work those out.

Inner Child: Mr Spock, I’m getting bullied a lot at school.  All the grown-ups tell me I should ignore them.

Spock: The bullies are illogical.  So are the adults.  You do not yet have the internal resources to deal with the bullies.  You require external help.

Inner Child: Yes!  I keep trying to tell them that!  Can you help?

Spock: Naturally.  Please show me where the bullies are.

Inner Child: Are you going to do the Vulcan death grip?  Because that might cause trouble…

Spock: That will not be necessary.

Inner Child: These are the bullies.

Spock: Greetings.  Please explain why you have been mistreating this child.

Bullies: [various mumblings before one finally says something coherent] She talks funny.

Spock: [raising one eyebrow in classic style] Her speech is not identical to yours?

Bullies: Er, yes.

Spock: Fascinating.  I note that my speech is similarly not identical to yours.

Bullies: …

Spock: I see that you are not attempting to mistreat me.

Bullies: Er, no…

Spock: Then your original behaviour was illogical.  Please apologise and we will say no more of it.

Inner Child: Thanks, Mr Spock!

Evil in tent [may contain some triggers]

If there is one thing I have learnt from the Internet – apart from how to understand the finer nuances of American English as opposed to British English – it is the sheer horrifying prevalence of what I think I’m going to call “rapescale behaviour”.  In other words, all forms of unacceptable or “creepy” behaviour on the continuum ranging from off-colour remarks, through such things as stalking or inappropriate touching, right through to outright rape.  And it quite clearly is a continuum – let there be no doubt about that.  By this I don’t mean to imply that everyone who makes the odd derogatory joke about women is, or will at some point in the future be, a rapist.  It may be more helpful for some people to think of it as not so much a continuum but as the Pyramid of Creepy Stuff.  In other words, there’s an awful lot of very low-grade creepy behaviour at the base, a bit less at the next level, a bit less at the next, and so on, until you have stuff at the very top of the pyramid that even the people lower down the pyramid wouldn’t want to imagine happening.  And neither do I, so I’m not going to think too hard about what it might be.

It’s also worth pointing out that not all Creepy Stuff is necessarily sexual, although it is specifically the rapescale Creepy Stuff that I will be talking about here.  Any behaviour that oversteps someone else’s boundaries, whether or not there is anything sexual in it, can legitimately be counted as creepy, and I think it helps to do so for a moment because it means that we can almost all recognise that at some point we’ve done that ourselves.  And most of us, I’m sure, aren’t proud of that.  So this gives us a means of looking at rapescale behaviour which doesn’t “other” anyone who engages in it, much as we dislike the behaviour itself and want it to stop happening right now kthx.

OK.  So now we’ve defined the Creepy Stuff we’re talking about, let me tell you something very odd.  I have personally suffered very little of it.

This is absolutely not intended to be some kind of boast, and still less the introduction to some kind of formula (“hey, this is what I did, you too can be free from sex pests if you do the same!”).  I really don’t believe it works like that.  It’s true that I don’t go to a lot of parties, except the ones my best friend has, which are atypical anyway (he’s even more introverted than I am, so he has introvert parties, which are a great deal more fun than you’d think).  It’s also true that I generally dress very modestly because that is how I feel comfortable, don’t normally walk around by myself late at night, don’t get drunk, and so on.

But it’s not relevant.  At all.  Statistics show time and again that the majority of rapists rape people they know.  Rapes by strangers are the ones which get the most prominence, but they’re not the most common.  I do not know the statistics for harassment and other kinds of rapescale behaviour, and it is hard to see how they could be measured, but it seems reasonable to take it as a first working assumption that at least the one-on-one forms of rapescale behaviour follow a similar pattern.  It would seem odd if a rapist adopted a gradually escalating pattern of creepy behaviour mainly towards strangers before eventually raping someone they knew.  There is nothing in the way I habitually behave which would be an obvious deterrent to rapescale behaviour from someone I knew to some extent.  Therefore, even if I were so foolish as to think the onus was on the victims of such behaviour to prevent it, I would not be in any position to give advice on doing so.

Let me tell you how things have been for me.  My first experience of objectionable sexual behaviour – the only one ever from someone I actually knew – happened when I was maybe about thirteen or fourteen, and came from a youth I knew slightly who was a few years older.  He was someone I occasionally bumped into in the street; I didn’t know him well enough to have a name for him.  He started talking dirty, and I think I must have looked at him as though he’d just grown another eye and a pair of purple antennae, because that was pretty much how I felt.  I can actually remember thinking the boy must have lost his wits.  Anyway, he soon gave up, and he never tried it again.

Then there was the time when I went to a disco at university (I did this occasionally, provided it wasn’t over-loud; I’ve never been a huge fan of pop music, but I liked to dance), and there was this chap who started dancing at me.  I backed off and started dancing elsewhere.  He followed.  I gave him the “what do you think you’re doing?” frown and backed off again.  He followed again, leering in a particularly creepy fashion.  I backed off a third time.  As soon as I saw him start to follow, that was it.  I was out of there and back to my flat.  The next morning, I was approached by another young man who wanted to know why I wouldn’t dance with his friend.  I just stared at him.  “Because he was acting like a creep,” I replied.  “Wasn’t that obvious?”

And the only other such incident I can remember was the character who came up behind me while I was in an open phone booth and put his hands round my waist while I was talking to my mother.  By the time I had turned round to give him an earful, he was gone.  But then I don’t imagine he’d have been picking up many signals from behind.

That’s it.  That’s it for 48 years on this earth.  I’ve been remarkably well unhassled, and I am starting to come to the conclusion that it is not by chance.  And I swear that if I knew exactly what it was that made the blighters generally back off, I would be sharing it with the whole world, totally free of charge.  As it is, I don’t, but I’m going to try and explore it a bit here.

Today, for the first time, it occurred to me that it might in some way be linked with my asexuality, especially given the fact that nobody who knew me well appeared to be remotely surprised when I finally realised and told them I was asexual.  I’m pretty sure I must give off some kind of vibe.  But now that I’ve just typed out the rare incidents of rapescale behaviour that I have had to deal with, I’ve noticed something they all had in common, and it is this.

In all three cases, I thought that man was weird.  And it would definitely have showed in my face.

I wonder if I may have hit it here.  You see, it’s a fairly unusual reaction when you start to think about it, especially given the fact that we all know rapescale behaviour is disturbingly common.  How do people usually react to it?  From what I’ve seen, there might be fear, discomfort, anger, a feeling of helplessness (if the offender is someone who has already established a position of control), all sorts of things.  I’m not saying that nobody else ever reacts by staring at the offender as though they’ve not only grown an extra head but are starting to dribble ignominously out of the corners of their second mouth, but I am saying it’s probably uncommon.  Especially, sadly, with people who have been on the receiving end of this sort of thing a lot.  They are not going to be thinking “this is totally weird”.  They’re going to be thinking “oh damn, here we go again”.

And this attitude probably really is linked with my asexuality.  Let’s look at a parallel here.  Imagine you have two landowners.  One of the landowners has a lot of land which is suitable for camping and picnicking, and is happy to allow people onto their land to do these things as long as they keep to certain rules.  The other has land which isn’t particularly good for either of these things, but it’s great for, say, keeping sheep; however, very occasionally they will allow a close friend to camp on the land, knowing that they can be trusted not to frighten the sheep.  Both of those are legitimate and reasonable attitudes to take.  Now, suppose you’ve got a crook with a tent who wants to intimidate these landowners by damaging their land.  To the first landowner, the crook won’t look out of place at first – they are just another person with a tent.  But the second landowner is immediately going to be on the alert, because their criteria for camping are so much tighter.

And that’s exactly how it is with sex.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being sexual, and I am absolutely not one of those asexuals who wants to make out that there is.  After all, if nobody was sexual, we wouldn’t be here. 🙂  What I am saying is that the tighter the boundaries you’re born with, the easier it is to spot someone who is trying to breach them.  And I think spotting such behaviour early is an important part of dealing with it.  To continue the analogy, it’s much harder to challenge the rogue camper once you’ve allowed them to pitch their tent; in the same way, it’s harder to deal with rapescale behaviour if you’ve already established some kind of relationship with the perpetrator (not necessarily a sexual one) before realising what they were trying to do.

It would be totally unrealistic, not to mention unreasonable, to conclude from this that people need to change their boundaries in order to make it easier to spot rapescale behaviour early.  I’m not sure this is even possible, and, even where it is, nobody ought to have to adapt their own boundaries to cope with someone else’s bad behaviour.  However, there may possibly be one thing that sexual people can use here, and that is the fact that, from where I’m sitting, yes, rapescale behaviour is actually really weird.  You don’t have to be asexual to stare at the next person who makes an inappropriate remark to you as if they have totally lost it.  It’s not an expected reaction, and I think it is disconcerting.  Let’s face it, they’re looking to assert power over you, and it’s a lot harder to assert power over someone who’s clearly just concluded that you have lost your marbles.

I’m not guaranteeing this is going to work for everyone, because I have only my experience to back it up, and obviously – should go without saying – if you are in a dangerous or abusive situation, you’re going to need more than a what-the-heck stare.  This is an approach for nipping stuff in the bud, not dealing with severe established stuff.  If you’re dealing with that, please get some help, and understand that you are not on your own.  I simply offer it as a possible extra tactical weapon, the sort that will be needed until the strategic battle is won and everyone understands that We Don’t Do Rapescale.

One day, I’d like to think that this kind of behaviour will be as outright weird to everyone as it is to this particular asexual.

The academic asexual

I had a really odd experience earlier today.  I ended up helping a couple of heterosexual people understand a bit more about BDSM, of all things.

Now I have to say right here and now, before anyone starts getting either excited or appalled (depending on your point of view), that I personally find BDSM just as mystifying as any other kind of sexual practice.  I have never had the slightest attraction towards it.  However, one rather marvellous thing I’m starting to realise now that I can clearly identify as asexual is that people’s attitudes are changing.  When everyone (me included) thought I was just bog-standard heterosexual, I generally sensed that most people who had other sexual preferences were not quite comfortable about explaining them to me.  I think they thought I would judge them, because the assumption was that I had a different set of sexual preferences.  However, as soon as you make it clear that you think all sex is just a little bit weird, I’m finding that people are becoming much happier to explain.  Rather than treating you like a potential critic, they suddenly start treating you like an intelligent alien, which is pretty much the way I feel myself in such circumstances.

And I really like that.  Not that I generally like to talk about sex for the sake of it, but I do like to understand what makes other people tick, and sometimes that includes trying to make sense of their attitude towards sex.

So, anyway, some weeks ago I was in a conversation where someone mentioned BDSM, and I rather shyly mentioned that I really didn’t grok that.  In every other similar conversation I’ve had prior to telling my friends that I was asexual, this has automatically been taken as meaning “I am not comfortable with this subject” or even “I don’t approve of BDSM”, and the subject has rapidly shifted.  This time, for the first time ever, someone took my incomprehension at face value.  It was totally refreshing.  She got me into a private conversation and explained quite frankly that she had been investigating the subject academically and was interested in trying it herself, but her present boyfriend was not keen on the idea.  She then proceeded to share with me a couple of academic papers which she felt gave an excellent explanation of what was going on.

I was most grateful.  I read the papers, and discovered that BDSM is very common among otherwise “normal” people (whatever “normal” really means), so it is probably best viewed as part of the normal spectrum of sexuality rather than some kind of aberration.  I learnt that masochism is very much more common than sadism, and I learnt something of the mechanism which is normally behind it.  The typical masochist is someone who has power or authority in their everyday life, and seeks a form of depersonalisation in order to relieve the pressure of this.  I discovered why, although BDSM is so common, there isn’t a large activist community associated with it; much of the pressure-relieving effect of masochism is apparently enhanced by secrecy (in other words, if everyone knows you’re a masochist, there’s no point in being one – though, like most generalisations, this does not appear to be universally true).  I learnt that consent is an absolutely essential element in a BDSM relationship, and a great deal of trouble is taken to establish that.  I also found out that the idea is to cause a certain level of pain without actually causing injury, and injuries are generally seen as a no-no by both sides of the relationship.

I still don’t grok it at an emotional level, but, as you’ve just seen, I now have a reasonable intellectual understanding of the basics; and this, in turn, means that I can find myself in a situation where I’m explaining it to someone who’s been reading 50 Shades of Grey and is not clear whether what is going on is BDSM or just plain abuse.  And if I’d gone on thinking I was just another ordinary heterosexual, I’d never have been able to do that.

I reckon I like being an intelligent alien. 🙂