It's only within the past year or so that I finally understood why I started disliking Halloween celebrations starting around the time of puberty. I think a lot of it has to do with being asexual and transgender (among other things).

Halloween, for those in the United States who are teenagers through adults, is a very sexualized holiday. It's also a holiday during which it's encouraged for people to dress up and to pretend to be something or someone they are not. For an asexual trans* person, pretending to be, or being assumed to be, something or someone you're not is often something that happens every other day of the year as well. For an asexual person, it's pretending to be a sexual person, and for a trans* person, it's pretending to be the gender they were assigned at birth.

When I try to represent myself as the person I really am, I'm often assumed to be pretending to be someone I'm not, or something that doesn't exist. I can't remember the number of times I've had someone call me "sir" and then decide it's a mistake, and then get mad at me as if I was trying to confuse or deceive them in order to cause them embarrassment. Or the bizarre time when I got lectured on needing to be more assertive when I tried to assure someone that I didn't care, never mind that I really was trying to assert my right not to have a preference for miss/ma'am/sir/hey you. Or the more frequent occurrence of being told I need to be more self confident when I try to assert that I am not seeking a romantic partner. I find myself in the seemingly paradoxical situation of sometimes trying to hide how I am different, and being invisible when I try to show it openly.

Most people have sets of cues stored in their minds that let them know how to categorize people. It's how we recognize what someone is dressed as when they are in costume. It's how we recognize when someone plays that role in real life. Sometimes those cues are helpful, and sometimes they're harmful. They're often part of stereotypes. There's a part of me that wishes that I lived in a world where it would be easy to cue people into the fact that I'm asexual and non-binary trans*, but I realize that in the kind of world in which I live, this could put me in serious danger, and I sure as hell don't want asexual and trans* identities to be exploited for entertainment the way that many racial and ethnic groups get distorted into "costumes."
This post is for the first Carnival of Aces (http://writingfromfactorx.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/a-carnival-of-aces-call-for-participation/) on the topic, "Coming Out." I tried to stay on topic but I think I stretched it a bit.

I wish I had a memorable or eloquent description of different coming out scenarios I've had, but I can only think of one, from the one time I broke my personal "no religion, politics, or other sensitive topics at work" rule while talking with a co-worker, and even that wasn't particularly spectacular. I'm not sure how the conversation got to the topic of sexual orientation as he's one of those whirlwind conversationalists who can babble on for hours, zooming from topic to topic, but I ended up blurting out that I'm asexual. "But don't you get lonely?" he asked. I admitted that I do, but desiring company is not the same as desiring sex. And that was that.

I'm "out" to all of the friends with whom I interact in meatspace, and to most of the people I know only online whom I'd consider friends. I don't have any specific memories of telling people about it. I guess when the majority of your social circle are varying degrees of oddball, being asexual is not a particularly interesting detail. I'm grateful for that.

The important people in my life who don't know are my blood relatives. I have no idea how or when to tell them. I don't want to disrupt family gatherings by making an announcement, and if I tell people separately I worry about who to tell first and what the circumstances of the disclosure ought to be. I fortunately don't get much familial pressure or questioning about romantic relationships and I think my mother has mentioned grandchildren all of twice in the past 10 years. But if it comes up again, I may say something. I dunno. My family is complicated in ways I'd rather not explain in detail.

Some of the things that can make coming out difficult are invisibility and awkward vocabulary. I'd like for there to be more synonyms for asexual/asexuality that don't have the word sex in them. I think that those words can alienate people who might otherwise be more accepting or more willing to engage in discussions about the topic. Think about it: how many people do you know who use the word homosexual to describe themselves on regular basis? How many say gay/lesbian instead? How many civil rights organizations use each set of terminology? Oddly enough, I think there are more anti-homosexual people and groups who use the word homosexual than there are actual GLBT people and groups who do. I also wonder if the word bisexual, and the lack of synonyms for it (other than bi, which is problematic because it's also a prefix for a ton of totally unrelated words) might be a contributing factor to the invisibility and marginalization of bisexual people.

It would be a help to me, and I think other people as well, if there was a snappy, easily recognized word for asexual. I know that "ace" is commonly used among us asexuals, but how long will it take for that to go mainstream, and do we really want it to? I think it's too easily misinterpreted as the "asexuals think they're better than sexual people" misconception that crops up so often. Amoebas is fun, but I don't want people to think of us as a joke.

Words can change a lot in meaning an connotation. Think of how words like gay (used to mean happy, light-hearted), faggot (kindling), queer (strange), lesbian (person native to the Greek island Lesbos) have changed. How do we, as asexual people, take control of the words used to describe us? Are there negative words we should reclaim as our own (as some GLBT people have reclaimed "queer")? Can we influence people from the very moment we come out and get them to use the words we want, in the way we want them to be used?

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teafeather

July 2012

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