Friday, December 30, 2016

Interview With Anthracite_Impreza: Objectum-Asexual/Mecha-Bromantic

My first actual interview. Here, I'm interviewing Anthracite_Impreza about their identity as objectum-asexual.

What do you identify as?

I am aromantic, objectum-asexual and platonically, sensually and aesthetically attracted to certain machines (I use the term mecha-bromantic).

What does objectum-asexual mean to you?

It means to be orientated in some way towards objects, but feeling no sexual desires toward them.

Does objectum-asexual have any synonyms or overlapping terms? What umbrella terms include objectum-asexual?

Not many I know of, though I've heard of objectophilia. I reject that as 'philia' typically means a fetish or "abnormal" desire, which has negative connotations, and is incorrect.

Why do you identify as objectum-asexual rather than as a synonym or umbrella term?

See above.

Are you out as objectum-asexual? How did you come out, and what response have you gotten?

I am on AVEN and to a couple of very close friends. On AVEN I made a big "coming out" thread because I was sick of hiding this part of myself, and to my friends I just told them one at a time, gradually over months. I've received generally supportive responses on AVEN and as I knew, my friends will always support me as I do them. I have also come out to a couple of therapists.

I have never dared come out to any of my family, I don't want to deal with the fallout. I know they'll think I'm mental and try to deny it, and I really can't be arsed with that.

Do you think of objects as having distinct personalities? What features of the object's appearance, use or history suggest personality traits to you?

I do, yes. It's hard to explain, but it's just a gut feeling or a sense, like how you can tell there's tension in a room. The physical appearance/use/history don't have anything to do with personality, it's internal and different for all.

What would your ideal relationship look like?

I'm not after a romantic relationship, nor am I searching for anything else; if things happen they happen. I have mechanical family already and they suit me fine. I love snuggles, kisses and spending time together; quite often I fall asleep or rest my head on them. We go out on drives together and I take ridiculous amounts of photos of them.

Have you ever had sexual, romantic or queerplatonic relationships, and how did being objectum-asexual affect them?

None, with neither objects nor humans.

Do you experience romantic attraction? What does romantic attraction mean to you?

Nope. I think of romance as in the scientific theory, namely addictive behaviour towards a certain object of desire and seeking out an exclusive relationship with them.

Do you experience sexual attraction? What does sexual attraction mean to you?

Also nope. Sexual attraction is being aroused sexually toward an object of desire.

What is your response to people who wonder how you can be attracted to an object?

I wonder how people can be attracted to people tbh, so I'd have to just say it's something deeply ingrained you can't fundamentally understand unless you experience it. Of course it doesn't make sense from an evolutionary perspective, but nature likes to try out new things and it's just one of those.

Are you on the autism spectrum, or suspect you might be? Do you think there might be a link between being objectum-asexual and being on the autism spectrum? A lot of symptom lists for autism include "unusual attachment to objects" as a symptom of autism.

I do have ASD, and there are a lot of OS people with it (though not all), so there could be a link. Being attached to an object isn't the same as OS though, though we may be more likely to explore such feelings. Autistic folks are also more sensitive, which I think is the main reason that we can sense things that neurotypical people usually can't.
Would you be open to question from the readers about being objectum-asexual? How should they contact you?

I would, but I only have my email and I don't want to post that directly on the internet. If they're interested they could contact you and I'll give you my email then.

So if you have any questions for Anthracite_Impreza, send them to me and I'll relay them.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Interview With Myself: Cupioromantic

This is the first part of my new series of interviews about lesser-known labels for gender, sexual and romantic minorities. I've decided to interview myself, to provide an example of the format I'm planning to use for these interviews and to highlight why I identify as cupioromantic.

What do you identify as?

I identify as cisgender female, sex-repulsed nonlibinist asexual and aromantic/cupioromantic.

What does cupioromantic mean to you?

Cupioromantic means I feel a strong desire for a romantic relationship, despite not actually experiencing romantic attraction. In my case, it's a mix of wanting someone I can cuddle, not wanting to be alone once my parents die and my brother (probably) finds a partner, and wanting to be someone's first priority in life.

Does cupioromantic have any synonyms or overlapping terms? What umbrella terms include cupioromantic?

To my knowledge, there are no synonyms for cupioromantic, except possibly romance-favourable aromantic. Personally, I feel that cupioromantic is a type of aromantic identity.

Why do you identify as cupioromantic rather than as a synonym or umbrella term?

Aromantic people are pretty varied in their willingness to have a romantic relationship, just as asexuals vary in their willingness to have sex. I know aromantic people who are strongly romance-repulsed and wouldn't be able to handle a romantic relationship even if they tried to make it work (as some have). There are also aromantic people who would be OK with a romance, but aren't really bothered by not having one.

Even though I don't feel romantic attraction, my desire for a romance is very real and significant to me. In addition, I like having a term that describes my overall attitude towards romance rather than only one particular aspect of it. This is the same reason I describe myself as sex-repulsed and nonlibinist, to locate myself precisely among the wide variations in how asexuals feel about sex.

I don't describe myself as romance-favourable aromantic for two reasons. First, it's more of a mouthful, and second, I don't feel it properly captures the fact that I long for a romantic relationship rather than just feeling like I'd probably enjoy one.

Are you out as cupioromantic? How did you come out, and what response have you gotten?

Only to my family and online. Most people I know don't separate romantic and sexual orientations, so I just call myself asexual.

My parents and I are extremely close, and they've basically known what's going on through every step of my questioning, for both asexuality and cupioromanticism. They're very supportive, although they had some trouble understanding the difference between romance without sex and friendship. (Then again, so did I.) I'm not sure they entirely get what I want from a relationship. My brother gets it more, because he watches a lot of anime and I told him I basically want a nakama.

What would your ideal relationship look like?

It would look like being #1 in someone's eyes, and having them live with me and cuddle me and spend a lot of time with me. If I had to move, it would look like them visiting as often as they can while making plans so we can live together again. This person would be an equal partner in raising my child or children and would be considered their parent. We would not kiss or have sex, though, and probably wouldn't sleep together, though I might want to sleep in the same room with them. I could see this person being male, female, or nonbinary, though I'd prefer a female. We might marry, because of the legal benefits and because I like the idea of us publicly declaring our commitment to each other. But it wouldn't be a typical marriage.

Have you ever had sexual, romantic or queerplatonic relationships, and how did being cupioromantic affect them?

I haven't, no. The closest I've come is having creepy pushy guys come on to me, and me running away as fast as I can. I feel that being sex-repulsed asexual has impacted those interactions more than being cupioromantic, because they were pretty clearly interested in me sexually and didn't believe that I could be asexual when I told them.

As for QPRs, the closest I've had would probably be the strong bond between me and my brother. We're extremely close and he's definitely my best friend and has been for most of my life, even though he's 8 years younger than me. If he doesn't decide to marry anyone, I could see us living together and co-parenting. Obviously I'd never marry him, but I'd be willing to do everything else I described in my 'ideal relationship' above with my brother.

Do you experience any romantic attraction? What does romantic attraction mean to you?

I define romantic attraction as limerence, and no, I don't experience it personally.

I do experience something that may or may not be some form of platonic attraction. Basically, when I'm with someone I care about, I'll suddenly feel intensely drawn to them and overwhelmed by how wonderful they are and how amazing it is that something so wonderful could actually exist. I have physical reaction to this feeling, too - it makes me feel shaky and weak in the knees, and sometimes my chest will ache. I feel like there's a line connecting my heart to theirs. When I feel this way, I want to hug and squeeze them and never let go. This feeling comes over me abruptly, and fades in around 5 seconds or so, though I might feel it again later.

The first time I remember feeling this way was towards my brother, when he was 2 and I was 10. I've also felt this way towards my cats, children I've played with or volunteered with, and my closest friends. Usually we've already formed a bit of a bond first and I feel like I know who they are as an individual.

What do you think about The Thinking Asexual's claim that cupioromantic individuals are aromantic people suffering from internalized amatonormativity?

That doesn't apply at all to me. In fact, I've long assumed that being asexual means I'll never have a partner, and I'm pretty sure I can live with that if I don't meet the right person. I really don't think my desire for romance is created by some desire to be 'normal', and in fact a big part of me would prefer if I had no desire for any kind of romantic relationship, because I'd feel less lonely.

As for the idea of having a queerplatonic partner or very close friend instead, sure. My ideal relationship can be called pretty much anything - if it meets the criteria I described above, I'll be happy. To me, I think if you want a QPR and you're not romance repulsed, you'll probably enjoy a romantic relationship just as much. I don't see how it's so crucial to separate those out as separate things, unless you're romance-repulsed.

I also don't get what's wrong with the idea of being an aromantic person who'd like a relationship with someone who's romantically attracted to them. As long as the other person understands that my feelings are different but no less real, and feels that I can meet their emotional needs regardless, and is willing to respect my boundaries, I don't see a problem with an allo/aro mixed relationship. I don't think mixed relationships are inherently exploitative or problematic, although they certainly can be if the lines of communication aren't kept open.

I'd also like to note that saying I'm cupioromantic in no way implies that I think I'm any better than other aromantic people. I don't think my worth as a person is in any way affected by my attitude towards romance.

Would you be open to questions about cupioromanticism?

I would. You can post any questions as comments on this blog, or else message me on one of the forums I'm active on. (I'm Ettina on almost every forum I have an account on.) Be aware that I might take a long time to answer, depending on when I see your message and whatever else is going on in my life.

If you're interested in learning more about cupioromantic identity, you can also check out Cupiosexual-Cupioromantic on Tumblr.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Highlighting Rare Identities

This post is to announce a project I'd like to do to increase awareness of some of the rarer types of gender, sexual and romantic minorities.

I'd like to interview people who identify with rare, lesser-understood labels for their gender, sexuality and/or romantic orientation. I'm thinking the kinds of labels that:

  • A Google search finds mostly or only glossary entries with single-sentence definitions for that label, with few or no accounts by people who actually identify with that label
  • Many people wonder why that label is needed or important, or point to that label as a sign that you're a 'special snowflake'
  • Most of the time, 'coming out' requires that you engage in a lengthy explanation of what that label even means, or else leave people confused and wondering 'WTF is that?'
If that sounds like your experience around a label you identify as, I'd like to feature you on this blog.

If you participate in this project, I'll ask you a series of interview questions by email or some other mutually accessible format, and then post your answers in a blog explaining one or more labels you identify with. If possible I'll also put in what my research managed to turn up. If I ask a question you're not comfortable answering publically, feel free to decline to answer that question.

The interview questions will vary by the specific label, but in general, I'll ask you to explain that label and how it describes you in your own words, whether that term has synonyms and why you chose that label over synonymous or overlapping labels, how you first came to identify as that label, what umbrella terms you feel that label falls under (eg grey-asexual, greyromantic, multisexual, genderfluid, nonbinary, etc), and why you personally choose to seek out that specific term rather than simply identify as an umbrella term, and whether and how you've come out and what response you've received. I'll also ask if you're comfortable getting questions from readers of this interview, and if so, how they can get in touch with you.

For romantic and sexual orientations, I'll ask you what your ideal relationship status would be, whether you've had romantic, queerplatonic and/or sexual relationships before and how your orientation impacted those relationships, and what your experience of attraction is.

For genders, I'll ask what your pronouns are, what gender you were assigned at birth, whether you experience gender dysphoria/euphoria, and how you generally conceptualize of gender. However, be aware that as a cisgender person, I don't have as much personal experience to draw upon to understand this area as I do with sexual and romantic minorities.

If applicable, I might ask about a controversy specific to that label (such as "how can autism be a gender?" for autigender or "is it just internalized amatonormativity?" for cupioromantic). I'll also add in things I'm personally curious about. I might also ask you to clarify your answers if I'm confused by anything.

If I wind up with a backlog of submissions (I can always hope!), I'll prioritize the labels that have less information available online, since those labels have the most need for this treatment.

If you have multiple lesser-known labels, we can either do separate interviews for each label or one interview for all of them, whichever will work better. Of course, you can also decide to be interviewed about only one of your labels. If your labels interact in a significant way, then I'll probably want to do a combined interview so I can discuss this interaction.

My goal in doing this is to provide information to help two groups of people. First, the people who are questioning their own identity. I know firsthand how hard it can be to read a single-sentence blurb and ask yourself "is that me?" It's a lot easier if you can read a more detailed and personal account.

Second, these interviews will also be for the skeptics. The people who look at a lesser-known label and wonder "why is this a thing?" "do we really need a label for that?" "why would anyone call themselves that?" I know some people will never listen, but some are willing to learn if they can find the resources to teach them. I've been skeptical about some unusual orientations in the past. I used to question, for example, whether romantic attraction even existed, or whether it was just touch hunger. It's OK to be confused or skeptical about an experience that's out of your frame of reference. It's OK to have questions, as long as you're interested in hearing the answers.

I'll kick this off by interviewing myself about my newest and most unusual label - cupioromantic. Expect to see that interview sometime soon.

[Edit: List of completed interviews:
Cupioromantic - Myself
Anthracite_Impreza - Objectum Asexual/Mecha-Bromantic
Untamed Heart - Lithromantic
I'll add each interview here as it goes public.]

Friday, December 16, 2016

You Could Just Adopt

This is a common response to anyone considering assisted reproduction technology (ART). “You could just adopt.” I used to believe it myself, and sort of badgered myself into only thinking about adoption as an option for having children - even though it wasn't really what I wanted.

It's not that I'd love an adopted child any less. My instinctive wish to kidnap random cute children I'm interacting with has convinced me that I'd love an adopted child just as much as a biological child.

But adoption isn't the easiest option.

Firstly, healthy white babies have the biggest demand, but are only a small percentage of the adoptable children out there. They are usually adopted out via private adoption, which costs money and requires a birth mother to pick your profile over others. The sheer emotional insecurity of hoping some woman I've never met decides I'm worthy of having her child, over all the more conventional NT heterosexual couples who are also looking, sounds pretty unpleasant to me.

I'd have an easier chance with a non-white baby, and I am open to that option. But many white would-be adoptive parents aren't. Some, I'm sure, are racist. But many more are probably turned off by the extra challenges of raising a child of a different race. Worrying about your son's interactions with police. Trying to give your child a cultural background you don't have. Dealing with judgment from people who think white people are stealing their babies. (Many Native people keenly remember the ‘snatch’ generation, when Native children were removed from their homes in large numbers for frivolous reasons. Nowadays, most adoptable Native children were removed for much better reasons, but the hurt still lingers.) Even just being an obviously adoptive family, getting stares whenever you're out in public, is enough to worry some people. (As a single mom, I don't have to worry about it as much because people will just assume the child takes after his or her father. Plus, I'd probably stand out anyway.)

And then there's disabilities. You can often adopt young babies with disabilities, and personally I'd be open to anything that doesn't cause a high mortality rate or severe behavioral issues (Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, for example). But I'm also not entirely certain I'll be able to live independently. I will most likely outlive my parents - my child will be even more likely to. If I have a child that needs perpetual care, the logistics will get pretty tricky. Whereas if my child can live independently, if worst comes to worst, they wouldn't be the first child to wind up looking after a disabled parent in adulthood.

Plus, I'd like an autistic child. In particular, my ideal child would be twice exceptional (gifted & autistic) and high functioning. Given my genetics, there's a pretty high chance of my biological child having that profile - especially if I pick an autistic or 2e sperm donor. But 2e HFA kids aren't generally identified at birth, so my chances of adopting a baby like that are extremely low.

Which brings me to older adoption. There are a lot of children 12 months and older who are adoptable, and few parents looking to adopt. This is especially true if you use the cheapest means of adoption - foster-to-adopt - where you foster a child while getting first dibs for adopting them.

The problem is, my parents did older adoption, after becoming kinship foster carers, and you can see from my sidebar how that turned out. They have many horror stories, both about my cousins themselves and how the system responded to their needs as foster and adoptive parents. Granted, most adoptable older kids aren't severely abusive teenagers, and I'm planning to refuse to adopt over a certain age, but even a child adopted at 18 months can have severe attachment issues. And I have very little trust in the foster care system, and a general dislike for bureaucracy.

And that brings me to my biggest reservation about adoption - the home study. I know why home studies are important, and in principle, I support them. But I don't think they have the right standards set. Really, given how many children need adoptive homes and don't get them, any home that would be an improvement on continued foster care should be approved - and that's a low bar to set. Basically, if they wouldn't pull a biological child out of that home, that's the standard they should set. But they don't. They want a good home, not just a good-enough home.

Plus, I'm autistic and not independent. I've already had people tell me that my disability should preclude me becoming a parent, and they were more accepting than most. I've heard other people make claims that an autistic parent is inherently incapable of sensitively parenting a non-autistic child. I've heard people debate whether autism should be considered a reason to give custody to the NT parent in the case of a divorce. I've even heard people blaming autism for violence. If all I knew of autism was the bad press it got, I wouldn't give a child to an autistic person any more than I'd give a child to a psychopath or a pedophile. And I have no guarantee that my social worker will understand that those claims aren't accurate. I know I'd be a good parent - but will they?

ART doesn't pose those concerns for me. I've heard it described as a ‘Wild West’, without enough regulation, and while this is understandably considered a bad thing by many people, as an anxious hopeful parent, that's very appealing to me. And I'm sure to many others, too.

So that's why I don't just adopt.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Social Experiment

I've noticed that whenever parents talk about raising children in an LGTB-friendly environment, they are accused of doing a 'social experiment' on their children.

So what, exactly, is a 'social experiment'?

An experiment, in scientific research, is when you randomly assign subjects to experience one or more experimental conditions or a control condition, and assess how that affects an outcome variable. For example, if you have a bunch of depressed rats, and you feed half of them Prozac-laced water and the other half get ordinary sugar water, and then assess how hard they are willing to fight to escape a water trap, that's an experiment. Or if you get a bunch of cancer patients, and half of them get the currently accepted standard treatment, and the other half get standard treatment along with an additional experimental chemo drug, and then you look at the rates of remission and death in both groups, that's another experiment.

By that definition, parents who decide to keep their baby's gender a secret until she can tell others herself are certainly not doing any sort of experiment. They're not randomly assigning some kids to be raised genderless and others to be raised with assumed gender based on their genitalia. They're trying this with only one child, and the choice of the child is far from random.

But research studies sometimes do a similar thing. These aren't experiments, technically, but rather case reports in which they tried something new. Sometimes, these studies lead to experiments.

But is it a bad thing to experiment, or to do an untested treatment, on children?

Not necessarily. A researcher typically submits their design for ethical approval, and the ethics review board carefully considers whether the benefits of gaining the information, and the potential benefits to the participants, outweigh the potential harm. In addition, if there is potential harm, they have to provide a good argument for why they can't study the same question with a less risky procedure.

Some experiments wouldn't pass that test - Little Albert, the baby that Watson trained to fear white furry animals would be harmed if the experiment worked (which it did), and that harm was greater than the benefit of a study showing phobias can be trained. Plus, they could have trained him to fear something that is actually dangerous instead, or possibly even trained a different emotional response. They could also have trained an animal instead of a child. (Unfortunately for animal rights activists, the rules of avoiding harm are much less stringent on animal subjects.)

Others have. One of the most dramatic examples I know of, a study with a profound lasting effect on children's lives, passed this test. The Bucharest Early Intervention Project randomly assigned a bunch of children in a Romanian orphanage to care as usual or foster care. Years later, these children show profound differences due to the differing care they received.

How did an experiment comparing institutional care (widely accepted to be extremely harmful to children) to foster care pass ethical approval? It did so for one simple reason - for these children, the institutional care was what they'd have gotten if the researchers weren't involved. The care as usual group weren't harmed by the researchers, they were just not helped as much as the foster care group was. (In fact, they did derive some benefit from the study, because the research data led the Romanian government to found their own foster care system, which most of the care as usual group ended up living in.)

Let's bring this back to parents. Parents don't have to pass ethics reviews while raising their children. If they do a truly terrible job, they might get reported to child protective services, but the standards are and should be much less stringent for apprehending a child than for disallowing an experiment. As long as the harm the parent is doing is less than the harm that apprehending them would do, CPS shouldn't apprehend the child. (They usually follow this rule, though they do make mistakes sometimes.)

But most caring parents consider their options carefully and search their heart before choosing a certain parenting strategy, especially an unconventional one.

It's important to note that the conventional parenting strategy isn't necessarily ideal. Individuals who identify as transgender have a significantly elevated risk of suicide, in addition to elevated rates of depression and anxiety. In contrast, transgender children who have socially transitioned have nearly normal rates of depression and anxiety. This suggests that for children who turn out to be transgender, treating them as the gender assigned at birth poses a risk of serious harm.

Even for cisgender children, gender stereotyping causes subtler harms. Girls are less likely to aspire to STEM fields, especially in high schools that have sex-segregated extracurricular activities. Girls with eating disorders are more likely to strongly adhere to the feminine gender role, suggesting that trying to be feminine can contribute to the development of this psychiatric condition.

For men, strong adherence to the male gender role increases risk of depression while decreasing willingness to seek help for depression, and increases risk of successful suicide. Men also have shorter lifespans on average, not because of biological differences but because they take poorer care of their own health. For example, men are less likely to use sunscreen than women are, increasing risk of melanoma.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. Gender role socialization has been linked to harm for both cisgender and transgender individuals. This research strongly suggests that attempts to limit the extent to which your child is subjected to gender role socialization is likely to improve outcomes, regardless of your child's gender and biological sex.

Of course, nothing is without risk. Which raises the question - what are the risks of gender-neutral parenting? Note that there are three distinct kinds of gender-neutral parenting: parents who initially show gendered parenting but respond to a gender nonconforming or transgender child's needs by relaxing gender roles substantially; parents who openly assign an assumed gender based on biological sex but refuse to let that gender limit their child's options; and parents who go even further and keep their child's biological sex private while using gender-neutral pronouns and a gender-neutral name.

A very common criticism is the concern that gender-neutral parenting, of either variety, could confuse the child and alter their gender identity, making them more likely to be transgender. This is based on a theory of gender that was popular in the 1960s, suggesting that gender is determined by socialization. Based on this theory, David Reimer, who suffered an accident while being circumcised as an infant, was surgically reassigned to female at 22 months and raised as female.

As many of you probably already know, that experiment was a callosal failure. David Reimer eventually transitioned back to male, as well as experiencing suicidal depression. He died of suicide at the age of 38.

It's important to note that David and his twin brother were also victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of the psychologist who recommended David's gender reassignment, and both no doubt had trauma symptoms as a result. But since there is no real evidence to link sexual abuse with gender identity, the most likely explanation for David identifying as male is that the experiment was unsuccessful. Instead of successfully socializing him into a female gender identity, the experiment led to David Reimer experiencing an upbringing inconsistent with his gender identity, which as described above has been linked to a significantly elevated risk of psychiatric problems.

And David's case isn't the only piece of evidence that gender identity isn't determined by gender socialization. Intersex individuals' gender identity isn't strongly predicted by the sex they were raised by and is more closely linked to their androgen profile during critical periods in development. Like David Reimer, the majority of individuals with a typical male androgen profile but with atypical genital appearance identify as male, regardless of sex of rearing. Individuals with intermediate androgen levels have a great deal of variety in gender identity, and XY individuals with complete androgen insensitivity almost always identify as female. In addition, there is no clear evidence to link transgender identity with parenting style, and many transgender people come from families which actively discouraged cross-gender behavior.

If surgically altering a boy to appear female and raising him in a female gender role generally fails to make him identify as female, it's not very plausible to expect that allowing him to choose activities regardless of gender, or even referring to him by gender neutral pronouns, would have any impact on his gender identity.

A second criticism is the concern that the child may be bullied. This is a more realistic concern, as children with gender nonconforming behavior are significantly more likely to be bullied - especially if they are perceived as male. No studies have assessed the likelihood of bullying for a child who is living in a gender-neutral role, with unknown biological sex, but it's reasonable to suppose that bullying could occur in those cases as well.

It's important to note, firstly, that proponents of gender-neutral parenting frequently put a great deal of effort into preventing gender role bullying. Storm and their older siblings are being homeschooled. Parents of gender nonconforming children often reach out to teachers and classmates to help them understand and be respectful of their children. And parents also frequently seek out schools and communities that support their values.

But more importantly, bullying is fundamentally a problem with the bullies, not the victims. It's unjust to bully a child for gender nonconforming behavior, just as it's unjust to bully a child for their culture and religious affiliation. I don't believe that a Muslim parent should feel obligated to avoid passing her beliefs on to her children, simply because being Muslim could make them a target of bullying.

In addition, it's not clear if the increased risk of bullying even outweighs the benefits of being free from gender role restrictions. Most gender nonconforming children aren't being bullied, after all. Clearly, it doesn't outweigh the benefits to transgender children, since transgender children fare much better when they are living as their gender identity, regardless of whether their peers are aware that they are transgender. But what about cisgender children?

Firstly, cisgender children receiving the 'openly gendered but not restricted' style of gender-neutral parenting can easily choose to conform to gender roles in certain situations while acting more nonconforming in other settings. It's not an ideal solution, certainly, but it works for some children. And these children can still benefit from knowing there are alternatives to the roles they adopt in certain contexts.

Secondly, many people who have been bullied overcome the effects once they leave school, especially if they have social support. Not all bullied children are friendless. Gender nonconforming children in particular often are bullied by their own gender while having plenty of opposite-gender friends. This is a very different situation than the child who is completely ostracized and friendless. And even in that situation, parental support makes a tremendous difference.

Overall, while bullying is a concern and something that should be addressed, it shouldn't stop parents from raising children in the manner that they feel is in the child's best interests.

The last criticism is levelled specifically at families in the news, and argues that the children may suffer negative consequences of being the center of media attention. But this is not something that applies to most gender-neutral parenting. Very few parents find themselves the center of media attention, even if their parenting style is unconventional. Even in the approach of keeping a child's biological gender private is something that other parents have done without the media attention that Storm's family has received.

So, is gender-neutral parenting a social experiment on children? Well, sort of. But that doesn't make it wrong.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Privacy, Sexuality And Shame

I've decided recently to make a concerted effort to participate in more blog carnivals. I used to regularly participate in the disability blog carnival, but then they stopped using the widget I used to track that carnival, and I don't really know if that carnival is even still going on.

However, I just recently came across A Carnival of Aces. I didn't post anything for November because the topic was relationship anarchy, a concept that really doesn't make any sense to me. The December topic is privacy, which I can certainly write about.

Do you think privacy or the right to privacy is more important to you than it would be for another sexuality or for someone who identifies as straight?

I don't think my unusual approach to privacy has much to do with my orientation. It has far more to do with my neurology and my trauma history, and the complex way they interact. With that said, I do think that my approach to privacy as an asexual CSA (child sexual abuse) survivor is different from how I'd react if I was an allosexual abuse survivor. But I'll get into that more in a bit.

I've heard privacy used to refer to three domains that I personally have very different reactions to. Firstly, many people talk about privacy in the context of whether people see you naked - a disabled child I knew who would run out of the change room naked was described as "having no sense of privacy", some people aren't comfortable changing in front of the same sex while others are, and families have different standards for whether family members see each other naked and where in the home you can be naked. Standards around nakedness differ across cultures, too - by our standards, the normal !Kung style of dress would be considered nakedness. (Full disclosure: most of what I know about !Kung people comes from The Gods Must Be Crazy.)

By that meaning of privacy, I'm probably fairly typical. I am OK with being naked with other women in very clearly demarcated settings, such as in changing rooms. I'm also OK with being naked in front of prepubertal boys, or boys or men with significant developmental disabilities who need assistance dressing themselves, in similar circumstances. I'm not OK with being naked in front of men who don't have significant developmental disabilities. (I've only once shared a change room with a trans person, and he wasn't comfortable changing in front of me, so I haven't figured out my own comfort level in that area.) I'm fine with going topless in areas not designated as naked areas when I'm alone, but not when others can see me. I've also done the laundry while naked, usually as a prelude to having a bath, but I'm not comfortable with people seeing me like that.

I've known people who are more comfortable with nakedness than me (such as people who go to nude beaches, or would be willing to) as well as people who are less comfortable (such as my brother, who I've been told hides behind a towel or goes into a bathroom stall instead of changing in front of other men in the change room). About the only situation where nakedness is normally accepted, but I wouldn't accept it, is with a sexual partner - and that's more because I never, ever want to have sex than because of the nakedness itself.

There's also online privacy. Things like whether you use your real name, how comfortable you are with having things about you being tracked electronically, etc. I'm more private in that area than most people I know, mainly because of the influence of my father. Before I turned 18, I was forbidden from revealing my real name or precise location online, and just because I've hit the 'magic number' doesn't mean I've changed how I feel about those rules. In fact, my experiences with flaming and google-stalking have made me even less inclined to reveal my true identity online. I'm also pretty strict about location services and apps accessing data they don't have a clear need to know, because I don't want targeted advertising and I don't want companies learning how to better advertise to me. None of this relates to my asexuality at all. Mostly it's because I have a parent trained in computer security, although fear of both sexual predators and curebie threats also feature as strong incentives not to reveal myself.

But the last kind of privacy is where I really stand out. I am willing to tell complete strangers, without hesitation, the following about me:

  • that I'm autistic (or, before my diagnosis, that I suspected I might be autistic)
  • that I'm a sexual abuse survivor, and the relationship of my abusers to me
  • that I'm asexual
  • that I'm a virgin with no plans to ever have sex
  • that I'm intellectually gifted
  • that I was homeschooled, and precisely why school was terrible for me
  • that I'm an atheist
  • that I tried to masturbate and it didn't work
  • lots of other random details
The only people I know of who are willing to disclose that much in casual conversation are people I've read about in clinical studies of patients with orbitofrontal brain injuries, as well as one guy my Dad met who told my Dad about his schizophrenia during a brief conversation. I'm not entirely sure how much of the above 'most' people would disclose to a complete stranger, but I know I'm atypical.

I gather that most people would feel uncomfortable disclosing highly personal details to a total stranger, even if they don't feel ashamed of any of those things. But for me, the only reason I would hesitate to disclose any of the above is because I've learnt that it can make other people uncomfortable to hear those things about me, or if I have reason to fear a strongly problematic reaction (for example I've learnt that most flirtatious guys take a disclosure of sexual abuse or asexuality as meaning I'll probably cave to sexually coercive behavior, which has landed me in some scary situations).

And if it's something I'm ashamed of, like my history of bedwetting, I'm a lot more reticent mainly because I don't like to talk about it or think about it even with loved ones. Even in my diary, I remember writing that I wet the bed in much smaller letters than the rest of the diary entry.

So why is it that I don't feel the same urge that most people feel to keep certain kinds of personal information private? Well, given that patients with orbitofrontal damage and at least one guy with schizophrenia (which causes frontal lobe atrophy) share this trait with me, I'd say it's probably a sign that my frontal lobes don't function normally - just like my forgetfulness, poor time sense, difficulty with external motivation and general disorganization. My frontal lobe issues are probably mostly due to my autism.

But does my asexuality connect with any of this? (Apart from being one of the things I disclose?)

Well, for one thing, it's probably caused by the same underlying process. Autism and asexuality co-occur more often than by chance (one study found that 17% of autistic women are asexual, and another study found that autistics tended on average to have a lower libido). In addition, frontal lobe seizures can trigger compulsive sexual behavior and sexual arousal, and the frontal lobe shows increased activity during orgasm. As a nonlibidinist asexual, I personally feel that my asexuality was caused by the same neurological traits that made me autistic and made me have significant executive dysfunction. Which means my lack of privacy and my asexuality are both parts of the same thing, probably something that alters the function of my frontal lobes.

But there's a more direct influence of asexuality, combined with sexual abuse trauma, on my willingness to talk about sex. I suspect that if I were allosexual, sexual feelings would trigger intense shame and flashbacks. And I have research data to back this up - the only study I know of to look at asexual CSA survivors found that asexuals had lower rates of intrusive trauma-related thoughts, I'm guessing because asexuals are less likely to spontaneously think about sex. And I've heard from many allosexual CSA survivors that sex or sexual feelings can be very triggering.

As I described above, one of the only reasons I'll avoid discussing personal details that isn't due to thoughts of how the other person might react is shame. If I'm ashamed of something about myself, it's hard for me to say it aloud, even to my parents. So if I was allosexual, I'd probably struggle to discuss sex or sexual feelings, instead of happily discussing it with anyone who seems comfortable talking about it with me. Although I could see myself getting more comfortable after a lot of counseling and emotional growth, it would be a very difficult process. I'm glad I get to skip that part of healing from CSA.