Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How My Relationships Have Changed

 Today's prompt is:
Write about the relationships in your life before you learned about the aromantic spectrum or before you began identifying on the spectrum. Have you noticed a big change in how you view the people you care about? About how you used to interact with people? Write about your experiences before you discovered the aromantic spectrum.
Tomorrow's prompt is:
Write about the relationships in your life after you learned about the aromantic spectrum and began identifying on the spectrum. What kinds of relationships do you appreciate more now, if any? What’s different for you identifying as aromantic? What’s different in viewing the people around you?
Honestly, I don't think that I can write two separate blog entries about this, especially since I've only identified as aro for a few months. (Sort of. It's complicated, read my post about it.) So I'll write one post for both prompts, and figure out something else to write tomorrow.

So, about my relationships. Well, firstly, I don't have any heartbroken exes who I couldn't fall in love with, like many aros I know. I have never been in a serious romantic relationship.

The closest I came was before I identified as ace, when a black boy started chatting me up while I was waiting outside a library (not open yet) when I was fifteen. I realized that he was flirting with me (I'm shocked that I even realized it) and thought "hey, maybe I could try and see if this could develop into something". He invited me to watch some TV at his house nearby, and foolishly, I agreed. I watched part of I Am Sam, and chatted with him, sharing a lot of personal details since I have no sense of privacy. Then I decided to leave, and he blocked my way and told me I had to kiss him before he'd let me leave. I threatened to call the cops on him, and he backed down.

My non-romantic relationships are another matter. My brother and I have always been extremely close, and I tend to get very close to my friends. Unfortunately my only friend right now lives in another town, and I can't really do long distance relationships very well. Last time I saw her, I felt numb, and I fear that even if I moved back closer to her, I might never regain our closeness. The time when we were going to university together was the happiest time in my life, and I fear that I'll never be that happy again.

(I just got interrupted by a call from my Mom. She asked how I was and I answered honestly, and ended up crying into the phone at her. So this is really hurting me.)

Probably one of the more hopeful changes recently is that I explicitly told my brother that he's the most important person in my life and I want to always have him in my life. I also have realized that he is 18 and has never had a girlfriend or even a serious crush (even though he's clearly heterosexual) and realizing that it's possible to be heterosexual aromantic has made me wonder about him. But he thinks he'll meet someone eventually, so we'll see. I've been kind of dreading his eventual marriage, worrying that it might change things between us, but he assures me that he'll always want me in his life, no matter what. It's more solidifying what we already had, but it's still good.

I don't know what the future holds. I want more connection in my life, but I don't know if I'll ever find it. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Importance of Non-Romantic Bonds

So, today's prompt for the aromantic spectrum awareness week is:
Write about the things you love about your identity. If you’re struggling to love your identity, what are the things about the aromantic spectrum that resonate with you? How has finding the community helped figure out who you are? Feel free to post as many positive aromantic self-love posts as you see fit.
I'm feeling depressed today, so this will be a bit tough for me. But here goes.

I think one of the biggest positive things to come from being aromantic is that I really value and take seriously non-romantic relationships.

It used to be that our society expected close non-romantic bonds, even among alloromantic people (especially guys). If you look at history and older fiction, male-male friendships (like Gilgamesh and Enkidu) feature quite often. Even in JRR Tolkien's prime, it seemed quite normal for Frodo's closest bond to be with a male friend, Samwise - and Sam and Frodo are every bit as close as any romantic pairing.

But now, many alloromantic people expect to abandon their non-romantic relationships, or relegate them to a secondary position,  just because they've got a romantic partner. This is despite "keeps you from seeing your friends and family" being one of the commonly listed signs of abuse. And this makes you vulnerable. Especially since most people,  when a relationship becomes 'romantic', are not nearly as close to each other as people who call themselves 'best friends'.

For me, one of my closest bonds is with my brother. And I feel sad when I hear people talk about 'normal' sibling relationships, with frequent rivalry and only hidden affection. I don't know if being aromantic has brought me closer to my brother, but if so, that's definitely a big plus.

Lastly, there's my sneaking suspicion that given my autism, my abuse history, my sex-repulsed asexuality and the general quality of guys who've come on to me, if I was alloromantic, it's quite possible that I'd have had very bad luck with relationships.

Monday, February 20, 2017

We Have Got to Stop Apologizing

I've seen this over and over.

Ace/aro-spec spectrum person says "this is who I am".

Aphobe replies: "stop claiming you're oppressed!"

Ace/aro-spec person replies: "I'm not claiming I'm oppressed!"

Aphobe replies: [the exact same freaking thing as before]

Also this:

Ace/aro-spec spectrum person says "this is who I am".

Aphobe replies: "you're just trying to be special!"

Ace/aro-spec person replies: "I'm not trying to be special"

Aphobe replies: [the exact same freaking thing as before]

And this:

Ace/aro-spec spectrum person says "this is who I am".

Aphobe replies: "stop claiming you're better than us!"

Ace/aro-spec person replies: "I'm not claiming I'm better than anyone!"

Aphobe replies: [the exact same freaking thing as before]

And of course this:

Ace/aro-spec person says: "the difference between ace/aro people and [insert term for people who are not on the ace/aro spectrum] is..."

Aphobe replies: "You're oppressing me by applying a label to this characteristic I have!"

Ace/aro-spec person asks: "OK, what term would you prefer?

Aphobe replies: "Just shut up, you privileged cishet!" [Note: it literally doesn't matter if the aro/ace person has any het identity, or even if they have an LGBT identity, we're all targets]

This has to stop. We have to stop apologizing to aphobes for our voices and our existence. Transphobes don't get to ban the term cisgender, or police what gender identities are worthy of discussion, much as they'd like to.

The list of terms for non-asexual people out there is truly ridiculous, and it's because aphobes couldn't accept us using any word at all for that concept. Terms like lithsexual get attacked for being appropriative, because apparently if you invent a concept you get to own it forevermore. Even the freaking moon is apparently owned by aphobes already!

We are oppressed. Everyone who attacks us for claiming oppression only proves our point. So stop apologizing to our oppressors. They will never let up. Fight back, and we can win our place in society. It won't be easy, but it's a lot easier than lying down.

[Note: I wrote this because it was burning in my mind, before checking today's prompt for aro-spec awareness week. But it fits:

Write about some of the complications you’ve come across as identifiying or existing on the aromantic spectrum. You can include ways you’ve worked out problems that occur, or things you might still be struggling- it’s all up to you. Feel free to give advice to other people participating if you have any, as long as it’s okay with that tumblr user!]

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How I Discovered I'm Aromantic

This post is for Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, which takes place the week after Valentine's Day. I will try to post something aromantic-related every day during this week. (No promises, my executive dysfunction means I very well might fail.)

For this purpose, I'll be using this list of prompts, unless I have another idea for one of the days. The prompt for today is:

Write about what your aromantic / aro spec identity means to you. This can include your experience finding the identity that feels the most right to you, and can absolutely involve disclosing what your identity is (though, of course, that is not required).
OK, so I'm comfortable disclosing my identity. I identify as cupioromantic and aromantic. How I came to describing myself that way is a complicated story.

When I first identified as asexual, I didn't see a distinction between sexual and romantic orientation. In fact, one of my first posts on this blog about romantic attraction was speculating if romantic asexuals were confusing touch hunger for a desire for romance.

One of the comments on that post, by Seth Nicholson, actually gave me the first clear hints that romantic attraction is more than just 'wanting to be very, very close to someone and also have sex with them'. He (if I got the pronoun wrong, I apologize) pointed me to the concept of limerence. At the time, I read it, thought it sounded strange and unlikely, and set it aside. I continued to treat asexuality and aromanticism as equivalent, though I stopped openly casting doubt on romantic orientations.

Around the same time, I heard the "if you don't get what romantic attraction is, you probably don't feel it" claim, often said to people who are trying to figure out what romantic attraction is, and quite frankly, it really annoyed me. Firstly, how do you know I'm not feeling romantic attraction if I don't know what it is? (I know a lesbian who, as a teenager, apparently mistook non-sexual/non-romantic feelings for guys as being sexual & romantic, and made the opposite mistake about her feelings towards other girls. So allos can very much be confused about whether or not they're feeling attraction, too.) And secondly, that still does nothing to answer what romantic attraction is, or if it even exists.

But shortly after that, a moderator on an LGBT forum accused me of "trying to push asexuality on others" because I'd suggested it to a couple people who were questioning their orientation and seemed to meet the definition. He told me asexuality wasn't ''scientifically validated" and refused to even read the several peer-reviewed studies I found on asexuality. He was my first encounter with an acephobic LGBT person (as best I recall, he was a cis gay man), and his actions, as well as the fact that he was a moderator and none of the other moderators seemed to see any problem with him harassing me, led me to abandon that forum and essentially the entire LGBT+ community. I was so burned by this that even hearing mentions of LGBT people upset me - for example, I couldn't read one of my favourite series of books because they had a bisexual vampire and a gay wizard as major characters. So I shelved the whole question for a long time.

Just recently, I went to my town's first-ever Pride parade, and had a wonderful time. This sparked off a renewed interest in sexuality, which led me back to asexuality and aromanticism.

I was watching Ashley's Mardell's wonderful video series The ABCs of LGBT, specifically her episode Everything Asexual and Aromantic, when I thought "am I greyromantic? Is greyromantic a thing?" So I went to look into romantic orientations some more.

I think part of me knew I wasn't greyromantic, because that requires feeling at least some vaguely romanticish feelings, and nothing about romantic attraction sounded like me. (The Ace of Hearts series, featuring a homoromantic asexual, helped clarify that - while Allister's sudden crush on Rhys is adorable,  it's also an experience I find completely foreign.) And yet, when I read many aromantic people describing their attitudes towards romance, I didn't relate to that either, mainly because I'm not romance-repulsed. I knew I could probably be happy being in a romance, as long as we never, ever have sex.

When I came across cupioromantic, I thought "maybe that's me". But the first thing I found when searching for it was The Thinking Asexual's critique (which is now marked private, for some reason, but you can find further thoughts on the same topic by them here). And while I didn't agree with their critique, it still put me off the term a bit. So I gave the whole thing careful thought, including asking people on Arocalypse about it (the thread is here), and those wonderful people were the ones who convinced me that I really could be comfortable calling myself cupioromantic. And of course, cupioromantic implies I'm also aromantic, though I still wasn't completely comfortable calling myself aromantic because I'm romance-favourable.

Ironically, what made my finally, firmly claim the aromantic identity was reading arophobic and acephobic comments by a commenter on this blog, and deciding to claim "cis aroace" as a descriptor for myself mainly out of sheer defiance. Like Alyssa Hillary, I'm a bit of an imp when it comes to stigmatized identities that apply to me. And if someone tries to bully me into not acting a certain way, my first instinct is to do it even more. Especially if I have absolutely no respect for them as an individual.

Since then, I've also figured out that aromanticism affects my life more than asexuality does, and I have thrown myself wholeheartedly into advocacy around aromantic and asexual issues. Including doing this aromantic spectrum awareness week thing!

And now, my brother really wants to play Age of Empires with me, so I'm signing off.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Grey Area Rape

Content warning, obviously.

Some people talk about the concept of 'grey area' rape. Other people insist there is no grey area, rape is always rape.

To make things more complicated, the standards for what counts as grey area vary. In this Reddit thread, for example, a woman describes her own experience as follows:
As a woman who has been on the rape-end of the 'grey area' I'd say that I'm unclear as to whether that area actually exists. It seems like this should be determined by the victim.
My experience was with a guy who was, by then, my ex-boyfriend (though we still communicated a bit.) His role in the relationship was manipulative by nature. The evening of the event, his friend called me at 1am asking me to pick up my ex who was too drunk and 'emotional' to walk home safely. I obliged. I took him home and we sat talking in his garage for a while while he sobbed vehemently begging me to be with him, saying he just wanted to feel "like someone loved him." He started coming on to me physically and I remember telling him repeatedly that I didn't want to, that I wanted him to stop, that I wanted to go home. But physically, I let him do it. I laid there and let him finish because I wanted it to be over, I felt numb, and only knew that I didn't want to be there.
But I could never fully admit to myself that it was rape because I didn't stand up for myself as strongly as I should have. I didn't 'fight'. I didn't get angry in the moment. I just turned off, went numb, and waited for it to be over. Six years later I'm still struggling to feel like a whole human being; to convince myself that I am strong enough, rather than torture myself for not being strong enough in that moment.
That event changed my life and who I am as a person. But I've never known if I could call it 'rape'. I never reported it and have only told a select few very close people, mostly because I was afraid of their reactions; that they'd judge me for not standing up for myself, that my experience wasn't as traumatic as I made it out to be, that he would invariably defend himself and lie about my 'consent.'

Clearly, that's not a grey area rape. She said no. What's more, she said it repeatedly and in multiple ways. The fact that she didn't physically fight back indicates absolutely nothing about her level of consent.

People like this woman are probably the main reason that supporters of rape victims want to deny the existence of grey rape, because they know many victims will inaccurately classify clear-cut rapes as grey area rapes, and that this misclassification involves self-directed victim blaming. In addition, others use genuinely grey area rapes as an excuse to blame the victim for not communicating clearly enough.

However, none of that means that grey area rape doesn't exist. It does, and it should be recognized.

Grey area rape is when one party genuinely believes the sex is consensual, meanwhile the other party isn't actually consenting or is only consenting under duress.

For example, many asexuals, especially asexual women, are grey raped before they realize they're asexual. They know they don't really want to have sex, but they don't know why. They're afraid of hurting their partner's feelings or driving their partner away if they keep refusing, or they believe that if they just make themselves do it, they'll find out that they like it. As a result, they indicate consent to sex they really don't want, which is emotionally damaging.

Sometimes grey rape comes from a faulty model of consent - using the 'no means no' model instead of the 'yes means yes' model. Under the 'no means no' model, in order to avoid nonconsensual sex, all you need to do is stop if they say 'no'. Usually this model also says that someone who is clearly incapable of saying no should be assumed to be nonconsenting. But it doesn't acknowledge how hard it can be to actually tell if someone can say no.

For example, take a child sexual abuse survivor, who has learnt from many experiences that saying no is ineffective and dangerous. They may not realize, when a partner asks for sex, that they're operating under completely different rules from the abusers. They don't realize their partner will actually listen to a 'no', and so they don't give one.

Or what about someone who experience a seizure while having sex? Not all seizures are obvious. The person might simply go on with what they were doing in an automatic fashion, or else just get pause and become unresponsive. In the post-ictal state, they might not be fully conscious, or they may be temporarily mute. They can't say no, and their partner may not realize they can't.

Or what about the freeze reaction? This is part of the fight-or-flight reaction, where the individual freezes with fear, and is unable to move. They may also be unable to speak. Many clear-cut rapes elicit a freeze response (the woman quoted above described one when she 'turned off'), but grey area rapes can also result from a freeze response, especially if it happens during consensual sex. For example, a survivor of sexual violence may be enjoying sex until suddenly they are reminded of their trauma and freeze. If their partner fails to check in, that consensual activity could turn into a grey area rape.

This is why it's so important that consent education go beyond 'no means no' and 'unable to speak means no'. Consent should involve checking in regularly during sex, and looking for enthusiastic consent rather than passive assent.

But certainly many sexual encounters fail to follow these practices without becoming nonconsensual, just like many people ride in cars without seatbelts and don't get thrown from the car. If a parent didn't make sure their child was wearing a seatbelt, and the child got thrown from the car and killed, we wouldn't call that parent a murderer. The child is just as dead, but the parent's wrong is clearly less severe. Similarly, if a sexual partner fails to check in and winds up doing something their partner didn't want but couldn't say no to, we shouldn't call them a rapist. But their partner is just as much a victim.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Activism as Self-Care

This is going to be submitted for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces, hosted at Asexual Agenda. The topic is Resistance, Activism and Self-Care, motivated by the US Election. However, they explicitly made it open for non-US participants as well.

For me, I've been needing more self-care than usual, too. And it has nothing to do with the US election (though the results were a disappointment for me), or with any political events in Canada (Justin Trudeau wasn't my choice, but he's turning out pretty good). No, I'm needing self-care for a much more personal reason. And it doesn't even have anything to do with my orientation.

I just got kicked out of counseling.

In the intake assessment, many months ago, I mentioned that one of the things I wanted to work on was yelling. I've been discussing times that I yelled all along. And yet it never seemed to occur to anyone to warn me what would happen if I yelled at my counselor. Which is exactly what I did, a couple weeks ago. I got upset, I yelled, and then I calmed down and we scheduled our next session.

And then, a couple days later, I got a call telling me that I'm kicked out of counseling. No warning, no second chances, no consideration that 'hey, this is actually one of the reasons this person was in counseling to begin with'. The director has even claimed that she 'doesn't work with psychiatric conditions', even though that's exactly what the definition of her job is!

So, yes, I'm upset. I've been having suicidal thoughts, and everything has kind of fallen to pieces for me. And I'm angry. The idea of kicking someone out of counseling for showing symptoms of the very thing they need counseling for is just ridiculous and terrible and wrong on so many levels.

But I'm reading a lot about asexuality and aromanticism, and LGBT+ issues in general. And I'm planning to go to Positive Space Network training, and maybe be a camp counselor for trans kids later this year.

And this is a deliberate strategy. I need connection with my people. I need to think about an issue that doesn't trigger me, and an aspect of my identity that I'm actually proud of.

I'm doing other self-care things, too. I'm setting aside things that are too much for me, and avoiding places and activities that trigger me until the pain eases a bit. I'm getting plenty of cuddles and spending time doing things I find comforting and calming, and completing daily tasks on my list so I feel like I'm accomplishing stuff.

But the activism is a major piece of my self-care, too. I can dive into the topic that's an obsessive interest for me right now, I can try to find connection with others through it, and I can feel that maybe, possibly, I'm doing something good for someone else. I can find things to say about myself that are good, and make me feel good.

And I really need that right now.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Interview with Untamed Heart: Lithromantic

OK, so I really meant to get this published quicker, but my Mom is starting a family business and things have been very busy. But finally, here's my interview with Untamed Heart about her identity as lithromantic.

What do you identify as?

Lithromantic , greyromantic.

What does lithromantic mean to you?
I find it very difficult to maintain romantic feelings, especially when reciprocated, and there's never a tangible reason for that. I've felt weird about romance since I was about 15, and that's got stronger as I've got older. It's become something fairly important to me over the last few months, because until I found out, nobody could understand what I meant when I tried to explain how I felt about crushes/relationships, and I wondered why I only felt insane and even ill when I "liked" someone or was involved with them, but was totally fine being single. Finding out I wasn't alone - or insane - was a relief, it explained a lot of my past feelings, and hopefully I can now approach my future with more positivity and self understanding.

Does lithromantic have any synonyms or overlapping terms? What umbrella terms include lithromantic?
Frayromantic is similar in that feelings fade in what I'd consider a non-typical way when looking at romantic relationships in a broader sense - I don't think most people would expect you to lose feelings for someone as you got to know them better, on a consistent basis, nor would they expect you to lose feelings when they're reciprocated. Lithromantic has a few synonyms as it was considered appropriative of lesbian culture. One of the ones I really like is Akoiromantic, as it makes me think of koi carps (mostly because they're very colourful fish and you can even find them in colours that match the lithro/akoi flag). This can also be spelt akoineromantic.
I also consider it part of the grey romantic umbrella as there is initial attraction involved (which an aro person wouldn't experience), but it fades or becomes uncomfortable if reciprocated.

Why do you identify as lithromantic rather than as a synonym or umbrella term?
Because my symptoms seem quite specific and more or less consistent, and I found I can relate to what other lithromantics have experienced. I've noticed that I get strong crushes on people sometimes, but if I've got with them, I stop feeling so attracted and start wondering what I do feel and where those feelings went. I wonder if I really like the other person enough to be with them, after only a few days or even hours, even though nothing's actually changed in between being asked out and agreeing to date them.

Are you out as lithromantic? How did you come out, and what response have you gotten?
I'm out to a small group of people who matter to me and who knew about my last boyfriend - as they were surprised I'd let him go - and the response has been generally positive. I told them in privately, in person.

What would your ideal relationship look like?
I prefer to be single as I'm introverted and quite independent, but if I wanted a relationship in future, I think I'd like a 'more than friends but not quite lovers' type thing, or maybe me being the romantic partner with an aromantic person, if we had the right dynamics. Monogamy/exclusivity would be strongly preferred, and I need a fair amount of time/space to myself.

Have you ever had sexual, romantic or queerplatonic relationships, and how did being lithromantic affect them?
I've had a number of romantic relationships, with only my last one being also sexual. My very first relationship was actually the longest, and I've now put it down to us being more like passionate best friends, and long distance. We did meet once, and I'm sure if we'd been able to date in person it would have been different for me.
Other boyfriends since then seem to have noticed the weird disconnect between us, even though I tried to hide how I felt, thinking the whole "ugh-ness" would eventually lift, but I have experienced guys cutting contact without explaining why a few times.
I can sometimes feel like I'm saying things I don't truly mean, or performing 'fake' actions towards the other person, almost like carrying out instructions in a movie script. 
I was more honest about how I felt with my last boyfriend, though I still didn't understand why I felt so bad. Towards the end it got really difficult to even pack a bag to go to the art group we'd met at, and I had a few instances of romance repulsion out of the blue. I ended up feeling really distant, wishing I could just feel something like I had before. 

Do you experience any romantic attraction? What does romantic attraction mean to you?
I do, but rarely. The last two people I fancied before my ex were over 5 and 8 years ago! I enjoy it sometimes, but there's usually a limited window before I either feel uncomfortable or need to do something about it, if I know the person is attainable. If it looks like they're definitely off the table (gay, married, another girl is interested - because I really don't want to fight for them), that kind of helps for me. 
I think it's meant to be an indicator for potentially appropriate/compatible mates, but I'm an absolute crazy mess when it comes to romantic feelings in general so I wish I never felt it.

Would you be open to questions about being lithromantic?
If so, how should the readers contact you?
Not at this time, but thanks for asking.