Tag: Not-An-Essay

Once upon a time… A Look at Labels in My Work

Posted February 11, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

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Asexuality Has Been Around Longer Than You Think: A Peek at the History of a Concept and a Word

Posted February 4, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

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Counting Books: Finding Dyscalculia Representation in Fiction

Posted January 28, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

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A Rose by Any Other Name… On Using Identity Labels vs Using Descriptions

Posted January 21, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week’s off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It’s time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

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Let’s Read! Chapter 1 of Asexuality and Sexual Normativity

Posted January 9, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! Welcome to the very first official post of Let’s Read Asexual Academia, a series in which I read, react to and critically discuss academic papers about asexuality. You are cordially invited to join in reading about asexuality.

Currently, the let’s read is focused on Asexuality and Sexual Normativity: An Anthology. Published in 2014, this book collects a special edition of the journal Psychology & Sexuality in 2013. (I messed up the dates in the post announcing the let’s read. My apologies for that.) This post will cover some of the introduction, though its main focus is on the first essay in the anthology.

This first post is available to everyone, to give you all an idea of what to expect, but the remaining 9 papers (or chapters) of the book will only be available to patrons. I aim to have a discussion of a paper up once a week, which means we’ll finish this book around mid-March.

Without further ado, let me offer you the essay! (Note: It’s around 3,300 words long.)

A Discussion of “Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys” through the Eyes of an Asexual from the Future

One of the things you see a lot of in online discussions of asexuality (and to a lesser extent aromanticism) is a reference to a study conducted by Anthony Bogaert that concluded that about 1% of the population is asexual and, therefore, asexuality is a valid and real sexual orientation that should be acknowledged. That’s… usually also pretty much it for citing and discussing research into asexuality. At best, the assumption exists that people are aware of the study that Bogaert did: what he was looking for, how he came to those conclusions and what that means.

There is, however, more to it than that. Bogaert’s study is from 2004. I didn’t discover asexuality until around 2011 and was still exploring what that all meant for me by the time this book was published in 2013. By that time, almost a decade had passed since Bogaert first published his findings. I had no idea that there was more out there to be found, that Bogaert hadn’t conducted his own survey but analysed data from a much larger study, that other people were doing academic research based on other surveys, that they were all leading to similar conclusions insofar as the survey allowed them to draw those. I didn’t know, because no one ever mentions that these surveys and their findings exist.

I didn’t know that what is now known as the split model attraction to, at the very least, non-academic aromantics and some asexuals wasn’t just a known factor in academic research regarding asexuality, but an important part on the discussions of the limitations of the research done to date.

I didn’t know that research, repeatedly, suggests that asexuality is not, in fact, a sexual disorder that needs treatment and that researchers into asexuality may actively discourage health professionals from deciding it’s an issue. Mostly because a lot of asexual and aromantic people seeking help for something unrelated end up discovering their lack of sexual and/or romantic attraction being blamed for their issues and assumed to be causing them distress.

To date, I know of only three academic books that were published on the matter of asexuality. There are some more popscience publications, but that’s about it. You’re more likely to find individual papers. Asexuality and Sexual Normativity (edited by mark Carrigan, Kristina Gupta and Todd G. Morrison) is one of those books. It’s an anthology that collects a set of papers from a special edition of a psychology journal.

And I’ll admit that everything I’ve experienced and heard about psychology and asexuality made me step into this book wary, expecting to find myself invalidated and discussed in ways that made me tear my hair out. The introduction itself managed to make me not just interested in the chapters on asexuality and HSDD (Hypoactive sexual desire disorder) but excited to read them which isn’t a thing I’d ever say. I was dreading those and what they might say, how they might invalidate core parts of my identity. But the introduction itself already went “These are two different things”, so… I’m hopeful.

Then for this week’s discussion I read the first paper in the anthology. That’s Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys by Catherine R.H. Aicken, Catherine H. Mercer and Jackie A. Cassell. This paper is, in effect, a collation and summary of the qualitative research that had been done to date, so up to 2013. You shouldn’t go into it expecting an incredibly deep look at the numbers because this is an overview that only really highlights the main findings overall, where the surveys fail and the importance of more research.

Let me just say that, as a dyscalculic not-mathsy-person, I actually really enjoyed reading this paper. If I had to offer a single point of criticism on it, it’s that the paper, like the surveys it analyses, erases the spectrum of asexuality, as evidenced by its opening paragraph. The very first paragraph of the paper gives the reader the definition of asexuality used in it. That definition is “absence of sexual attraction to others”, and the researchers continue with a statement that they “recognise that this definition is contested.” I should note that the discussions about the academic definition of asexuality are somewhat broader than the discussions I’ve seen in asexual communities but both cover roughly the same gist.

Surprisingly, the paper (like the introduction) acknowledges the split attraction model in all but name and makes a distinction between ‘romantic asexuals’, ‘aromantic asexuals’ and ‘sexuals’. (I’ll be using ‘alloromantic’ or ‘allosexual’ to discuss general identity groups unless I’m referring directly to what the paper is saying.) To my knowledge the terminology here is at least somewhat outdated, but it can be explained by the concept that the split attraction model was only starting to be formed and the idea of (a)sexuality as a spectrum wasn’t as well known. The paper itself makes it clear that they’re using asexual/sexual as a binary definition, effectively if potentially unknowningly erasing the experiences of grayasexuals and demisexuals who would, according to the survey data available to the researchers, be found under ‘sexuals’ even if and even though an analysis of anecdotal experiences would make it clear that these are distinct aspects of asexuality. The use of ‘allosexual’ in favour of ‘sexual’ allows discussions of sexuality and sexual attraction to be more nuanced than they were at the time this paper was written.

The use of ‘sexual’ was, to me and my 2018 lens of asexuality and aromantic studies, very jarring and it sent me down a tangential thought of the way language, culture and how we understand the world all come about. A frequent, ah, complaint made against asexuality by ace-exclusionists is that the term ‘asexual’ is simply too new and too modern. No one was asexual before the word was coined, therefore asexuals are special snowflakes[1]. To my surprise and delight, the introduction at least acknowledges the possibility of how the language we use shape our understanding of the world around us[2]. This isn’t a concept that’s new to queer studies. Looks at the past, especially those through a queer lens, are rife with warnings that we cannot simply apply modern labels to people who didn’t have the same concepts or definitions of sexuality that we did. We know that the past didn’t view sexuality quite the same way we do nowadays and we do our best to account for that.

For all that, though, discussions about asexuality seem to be the only discussions where people try to use the absence of a modern understanding of sexuality as a reason to say this modern understanding of sexuality is therefore clearly and categorically something ‘made up’ by people who ‘want to be oppressed’. The reasoning there is something like “Because there was no concept of asexuality the way we understand it today in the past, asexuality isn’t a valid orientation”. But that type of reasoning ignores that we allow most every other queer identity the benefit of the doubt. Despite the pitfalls of assigning modern concepts to historical people, there are no shortcomings of people arguing for the fact that Sappho was a lesbian or that Jeanne d’Arc was transgender; it’s just they didn’t have words. And, listen, I’m not contesting those assertions (for one I’m not a historian; for another the arguments are pretty convincing). I’m just pointing out that the absence of modern definitions of the words we ascribe queer identities is not an issue with recognising these identities as real and valid (and historically present, linguistic issues aside) while it is an issue when it concerns asexuality. I doubt this anthology of papers will offer me a look into that, but boy do I ever want one and I hope someone’s already done or is doing research in that area. Also I would like to note that Western people-whom-we-might-now-describe-as-asexual actually did have a word they could use to describe their experiences. That word is ‘celibate’ and its existence is kind of a bane to a lot of asexual people who just repeatedly have to explain the difference and how the word does not, in fact, apply to them. Fun fact: according to the paper about a third of asexuals has or has had sex and is in a relationship, possibly with children, but then I’m getting ahead of myself.

The paper goes on to say

In the analysis, it was assumed that asexuals would respond ‘something else’, instead of heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual (Poston & Baumle, 2010). However, in order to pick responses that best fit their experience, asexuals may in fact categorise romantic relationships in which they do not necessarily feel sexual attraction, as hetero-, homo-, or bisexual, and not ‘something else’ (Brotto et al., 2010) (Aicken et al., 2013)

which, if I’m honest, annoys me spectacularly. There’s nothing wrong with this assertion, as such. It’s a statement of fact about the way that romantic asexuals may muddle the survey data. The idea here is, of course, that romantic attraction will get mistaken for sexual attraction and that a non-insignificant portion of alloromantic asexuals will answer the question of who they’re sexually attracted to by stating who they’re romantically attracted to. Since the surveys make no distinction between romantic or sexual attraction either, that means there’s a potentially significant portion of asexuals who are getting excluded from these surveys.

Some of this could have been addressed by a simple note reminding people of the existence of aromantics. It would, at the very least, have aided in acknowledging that romantic and sexual orientations are not the same thing. While academic research in 2013 evidently didn’t acknowledge the split attraction model by name, it is obviously using that model to discuss findings regarding (a)sexuality. So despite ace-exclusionists being all “Ew, that’s homophobic” about it, this is a model that academic research finds valuable enough to include in its discussions and if their beef with asexual and aromantic studies is “that’s not authentic enough”, here you go: peer-reviewed academic research is using it too and was doing so as early as 2013.

The authors then get into more detail regarding how the surveys were performed, which sent me on a tangent reading survey questions, but let’s start at the beginning. The first (well-known) research into asexuality stems from Anthony F. Bogaert’s Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample from 2004, which led to the book Understanding Asexuality, published in 2012.

Bogaert analysed the responses of the Natsal-1, which is where the oft-cited idea that 1% of the population is asexual comes from. It does not, as I’ve seen people claim, come from a survey specifically created to identify asexuality and it does not, as I’ve seen people claim, come from a sample size too small to draw any reasonable conclusions. (In any case, other independent research and further analysis of Natsal surveys largely support the original claim.) Natsal stands for “National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles” and is a survey conducted by NatCen Social Research, the largest independent social research institute in the UK. Natsal-1 refers to the first survey of this type, conducted in 1990-1991. Natsal-2 refers to the second survey of this type, conducted in 2000-2001. At the time this paper was written, Natsal-3 (2010-2011) does not appear to have been available for inclusion in the paper’s analysis.

If you’d like to know more about the Natsal-3, you can go directly to the survey’s website or you can read more about it on the NatCen website. Since the Natsal-3 offers a transcript of its revised questionnaire, I’d like to point out that the question most relevant to this analysis, that of whether someone has experienced sexual attraction, does not appear to be changed. I’d also like to note that while the Natsal-3 is pretty good at repeatedly reminding respondents how the survey interprets certain terms ‘sexual attraction’ is not part of the terms they define. The paper will point out that some asexuals may mistake romantic attraction for sexual attraction or otherwise not know how to interpret ‘sexual attraction’, so if there is to be a fourth Natsal in 2020-2021, I would urge the researchers in charge of that to offer a definition of how they define ‘sexual attraction’ in the interest of gathering more accurate data. (While I’m at it, more awareness that nonbinary people exist would be welcome to.)

At this point, the paper gets into a table of results that I just… genuinely cannot parse effectively on my own. I’m sorry. I plead dyscalculia. What I can parse, though, reveals some interested pieces of data. You’ll have to get the research and tables yourself if you want to verify what I’m about to say, but honestly the book is worth getting for this essay alone and if you’re interested in research regarding asexuality you want this essay.

Among the interesting pieces of data it reveals is that between the Natsal-1 and Natsal-2 the prevalence of ‘people who identify as never experiencing sexual attraction’ has gone down rather than up. It would be incredibly interesting to see how the Natsal-3 compares to them because of the dates of the surveys. Natsal-2 was conducted right in the year that asexuality started to gain some visibility, so you might expect the number of people identifying as ‘not interested in sex’ to go up as awareness increases. Yet Natsal-2’s numbers are down from the first survey and we’ve no idea what Natsal-3 is like in that regard. Did they go up? Did they drop further? Were they roughly the same as Natsal-2? Is asexuality less prevalent than we first assumed? How does the increased understanding of asexuality (and sexuality as a whole) as a spectrum affect these surveys? We don’t know!

What we do know is that these survey numbers are going to be inaccurate representations of asexuality so long as they maintain the binary divide between asexual/sexual that the researchers are using and the paper never really touches on that. I bring this up largely because, as a demisexual, my experiences have an incredibly and not insignificant amount of overlap with those of asexuals. Yet, if I were to participate in a Natsal survey, my experiences would also lump me in the ‘sexual’ category even though a more detailed look at those experiences places me, quite firmly, in the ‘asexual’ category. The survey just isn’t designed to handle the inclusion of certain experiences with sexual desire, leading to miscategorisation and erasure of these experiences. The paper will acknowledge this eventually once in almost a throw-away sentence later on; I just think it needed to be a larger part of their criticism.

Another thing that these surveys uncovered is that “[a]bsence of sexual attraction was more commonly reported among respondents of Indian and Pakistani ethnic origin, who made up 12.2% men and 23.2% of women without sexual attraction (in contrast to 2.7% and 2.8% of those who experienced sexual attraction).” (Aicken et al., 2013) Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Despite the overwhelming whiteness of asexual communities, especially online, according to surveys white people do not, in fact, make up the largest group of people reporting no sexual attraction. This is where my inability to read the tables effectively was really strong because this is something that the paper will say explicitly a bit later, but what it doesn’t do (because it assumes you can read the tables effectively) is give you the numbers or a sense of the size of the difference.

I’ve already touched on the paper’s finding that asexuals can and do get into relationships and may have kids. The analysis doesn’t really go into how or why asexuals choose to this, but they do acknowledge that there are a variety of reasons and not all of them will be captures by a survey like this. In fact, when it comes to having children, “[o]ne in three men and one in five women with an absence of sexual attraction had children, in contrast to almost half of men and almost two-thirds of women with sexual attraction”.

I bring this up largely because these findings so directly contradict the stereotype of (aromantic) asexuals as robotic or dead or emotionless or, basically, in any way divorced from society. Research, actual academic research, indicates that these stereotypes are nonsense. Okay, fine, research suggests that the majority of asexuals lives their life not according to the social ideal, but my point is that this majority is a lot smaller than the stereotype would have you believe. (And even then it’s still a stereotype that isn’t really bourne out by the surveys, as we’ll see in a little bit.)

Lastly, the research indicates that “more than half of women without sexual attraction agreed or agreed strongly to the statement [that sex is the most important part of any marriage or relationship]”. The survey takes a while to point out that there appears to be no link between this number and sexual coercion, which I think is a bit of an oversight, to put it mildly. Part of that stems from having seen the ways ace-exclusionists deal with the very concept of asexuality and coercion. (It’s basically “You weren’t coerced. Okay, maybe you were, but it wasn’t because you’re asexual. No, not even if the person doing the coercing explicitly says so. It can’t have been because you’re asexual because asexuals can’t be coerced.”) It’s extremely dismissive of people’s experiences, for a start. But, more than that, the paper makes no reference to the way that society exerts pressure on individuals or how deeply entrenched rape culture is in (Western) society and it doesn’t allow the possibility that people are saying they weren’t coerced because certain methods of coercion are so prevalent in society that they don’t register that way. Better sex education, as the paper points out, would go a very long way, especially considering the fact that a lot of this societal-level coercion gets dismissed or assumed as normal and that any change to the status quo means the people challenging it are obsessed with sexuality. Which is how we get bigots telling queer people that their very existence is X-rated (yes, asexuals, even the sex-repulsed and sex-negative ones, get that too) and that including queer characters in children’s media is ‘sexualising children’. (It’s not.) The paper, though, doesn’t really acknowledge that which is one of the larger failings because it’s an area that absolutely requires more research and societal awareness, especially if we want queer (of any letter in the acronym) kids to grow up safe and happy.

After that the paper goes onto discuss some of the (potential) ramifications of research on asexuality and on asexuality research, which it would have been nice to see expanded a little bit. Aicken et al. discuss, very briefly, the way asexuality is ignored in certain areas such as law, but it spends most of its time discussing the relationship between asexuality and disorders. While it doesn’t go into detail, the paper explicitly states that asexuality was medicalised, possibly due to the its relation to disability[3], as well as noting that all the surveys to date agree that asexuality is not inherently problematic for people reporting no sexual attraction. In fact, the surveys all agree that most asexuals seem satisfied with their sex life, although some would like to have more sex. The paper further states that asexuals whose partner is pushing them to get help for their lack of sexual attraction be referred to relationship counselling rather than, say, a sexual health specialist or otherwise seeks help ‘fixing’ their sexual attraction. The paper ends by explicitly telling health professionals not to assume that a lack of sexual attraction is “problematic for the individuals who experience it” because research indicates that this assumption is wrong, and that, likewise, health professionals should not assume that someone who does not experience sexual attraction is not sexually active or incapable of pursuing romantic relationships. It would have been nice to see another note about aromanticism, because it’s very erasive of aromanticism at this point, but honestly this level of detail and nuance is miles above what I was expecting from research before 2016.

 

References

Aicken, Catherine R.H., Catherine H. Mercer and Jackie A. Cassell. “Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys.” Carrigan, Mark, Kristina Gupta and Todd G. Morrison. Asexuality and Sexual Normativity: An Anthology. Routledge, 2014. Ebook.

Bogaert, A.F. “Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample.” Journal of Sex Research 41 (2004): 279–287.

Deutscher, Guy. Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages. 2010. Ebook.

National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. 2015. Website. 3 January 2019. <http://www.natsal.ac.uk/natsal-3.aspx>.

 

[1] Another common tactic to discredit the word is to bring up negative associations with the person who coined it. They say “The person who coined ‘asexual’ is a homophobe, therefore the entire concept is homophobic and invalid”. Apparently, according to them, only the most pure and virtuous and totally unproblematic people are allowed to coin words. Or something.

[2] If you find it interesting too, Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages is a pretty nice introduction to the concept of how language and culture shape one another.

[3] And we can see this in the backlash disabled asexuals may face when trying to discuss their experiences as asexuals given the way disability has been desexualised and the way disabled people have fought hard to reclaim a sexual identity in recent years. Whether there is overlap between the ways in which allosexual disabled people lash out against asexual disabled people speaking about their experiences and the ways in which allosexual queer people lash out against asexuals is out of scope of the article and my discussion of it, but I feel it may be something worth exploring.

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Asexuality vs Diagnostic Criteria

Posted January 7, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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Hi, everyone! Welcome to the new year! I hope it’s off to a great start for you and yours. Today, I’m introducing a new feature (ish). Or at least an attempt at one: weekly, short personal essays about, well, whatever people would like me to talk about or a random topic I came up with on my own. Comments currently remain disabled on the blog, yes, but you can hop on over to Patreon for now.

These weekly posts are immediately available to everyone and hover somewhere below 2,500 words. I try to keep them under 2,000 words, but sometimes you end up with more anyway. This one is 2,100 words! The next one will have a shiny new standardised intro and such loveliness.

This week’s rambly essay is called “Asexuality vs Diagnostic Criteria”. Also known as “But what the heck do the DSM and ICD actually say about asexuality?” Because the answer to that is slightly complicated and the question comes up… more often than you’d think.

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Books with Asexual Characters Available RIGHT NOW

Posted November 25, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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So… earlier this month, I did a Twitter thread about books with asexual characters that are out RIGHT NOW. Also I read the vast majority of them and can vouch for the rep being at least decent in my opinion as someone who a) is acespec, b) has read around 100 of them, c) devotes at least some of her time to analysing how ace rep is handled in books in general, d) writes acespec characters herself. You can take as many grains of salt as you like, but I figured why not go all out with the credentials. If nothing else, it gives you context to see where I’m coming from, after all.

Anyway! It was fairly long thread. It’s not the first I’ve made and it won’t be the last. But I did want to collect it all in one place so I have at least one list that’s easily linkable if I need it (or if anyone else wants it).

Below, then, is the original list as I posted it to Twitter. The only thing I didn’t do was embed the image to show you what my tabs were like partway through. Everything else is exactly as-is.

Have fun exploring books! 😀

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Whose Words Matter Anyway? On using identity labels in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

Posted October 19, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion Coming November 6th. "Aromantic, we call it. You know that, my sweet. Aromantic and asexual, in fact. If you're going to tell it, tell it loud. Tell it proud. That's why I agreed to do this. I want to hear no more of people like yourself who needed words they never learned because no one believed they were needed." Preorder now: https://www.books2read.com/thrushbeard
Oh, look! It’s time for another sporadic not-a-guest-post personal essay about The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion. This time about some of the less nice influenced on the story. You can read the Patreon version (and leave comments) here!

Whose Words Matter Anyway? On using identity labels in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

A few years ago, I started reading romance novels with demisexual characters in them. Either they’re protagonists or they’re love interests. That sounds great, right? Asexuality, as a spectrum, is gaining visibility and there’s enough visibility now that ‘demisexual romance’ is a term you can actually successfully look for. I’ve got a whole list of them!

Sadly, the ones I’ve read largely stick to presenting demisexuality in the same, erroneous way. They feel more interested in using demisexuality as a shield against criticism than anything else and the way they portray demisexuality generally goes something like this:

The demisexual character has never heard of asexuality or demisexuality and is told this by an allosexual close to them (either their love interest or a close friend). The demisexual character loudly complains about there being too many labels or “why does it need a label anyway?” and demisexuality never comes up again. Meanwhile, the demisexual character is, predominantly, homoromantic and closeted and spend the rest of the story learning to embrace their identity as a queer person.

This is a narrative that explicitly presents demisexuality, and by extension the asexual spectrum as a whole, as dismissable and disposable. It explicitly and deliberately devalues asexual identities because “why does it need a label anyway?” and is, frankly, one of the most hurtful and harmful narratives about asexuality that I’ve encountered in fiction.

But, truthfully, this narrative doesn’t exist only in fiction. It’s a very common tactic among anti-ace rhetoric to cast the asexual spectrum as a ‘degree’ of allosexuality rather than an identity in its own right and to discredit asexuality in general because “it doesn’t exist as a separate thing” or whatever the argument of the month is. This fictitious demisexual narrative feeds directly into the idea that demisexuals are ‘special snowflakes’ who are just making terms up.

You may be wondering why I’m focusing on demisexual romances when I’m here to discuss a book featuring a queerplatonic relationship at its heart, and that’s because the way those romances end up presenting demisexuality and, by extension, the asexual spectrum as a whole had a major impact on how The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion approaches the fact that Marian only learns about asexuality when she’s about seventeen.

When I wrote about Marian discovering asexuality, I wanted to engage with that narrative to at least some extent. Due to the structure of the novel, the discovery is represented at a remove and Marian has since settled into what she’s comfortable with, but it was important to show that a homoromantic asexual character could learn about asexuality and not dismiss it as unimportant. The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion is, I hasten to add, not the first story to ever do that[1], but it was something that I actively wanted to address.

What I wanted to do in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion was, firstly, to show that it is possible for someone to use both labels, true, but more than that I wanted to explore that for some people, like Marian, if push comes to shove it’s the label asexual that matters to her most because, in her view, it is being asexual that has shaped her life and experiences the most.

In that way, it offered me the opportunity to explore some of the ways in which anti-ace rhetoric, which I spent the last two years wading through around Pride Month, has affected and hurt me. It was important to me that Marian and Edel use asexual and aromantic terminology to describe their experiences because, so often, we end up getting told that our vocabulary is useless nonsense (or worse), that it is oh so difficult to learn new terms, that the words we’ve created to describe our experiences because the words didn’t exist until we made them aren’t valid, that our experiences aren’t valid.

I don’t think I covered all of the words that I’d wanted to and I expect that some readers will find that I was too heavy on using them. (If that’s you, I hear you! I often feel similar! And I explicitly included a discussion between Marian and Edel covering exactly that!) When I wrote The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion and figured out what kind of characters Marian and Edel were, I knew that I would end up covering aspects of asexual representation and the way asexuality gets dismissed as ‘made up’ by segments of (Western) society today, in the year 2018, and I couldn’t do that without attempting to partially invert ideas and narrative approaches that are being used, right now, to invalidate aces and aros.

So, to answer the question in the title, whose words matter anyway? Our words matter. Language is finicky and dependent, at least in part, on our understanding of the world around us. We create new words for existing things all the time, just as we create new words for new things all the time. Our words matter. The terms we come up with, the way we use them to self-identify, the way we use them to deny or acknowledge our existence matter.

And, honestly, I hope that readers will be able to see that, along with everything else that verse novel is to me, The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion is also a celebration of language, a feast of identity-affirming words, an ode to the complexity and variety of (human) identity…

This is a book that I wrote for asexual and aromantic readers, for people who wanted to see their words, the words that matter to them, honoured and revelled in. Everyone else, I hope you’ll come along for the ride and pick up a thing or two about why these words matter so!

[1] Another example would be Calista Lynne’s We Awaken which is an asexual f/f romance where the main character also learns about asexuality and how it relates to them through the course of the story. Asexuality is never dismissed in favour of an allosexual identity in that book either.

The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion releases November 6th, 2018! Preorder this queerplatonic, sapphic retelling of King Thrushbeard today! Get your gleefully and proudly asexual and aromantic verse novel with an f/f pairing while it’s still available at a preorder price of $1.99 or equivalent!

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This post previously appeared on Patreon and is sponsored by generous patrons. Thank you so much for your support! It means the world to me! <3 I love you all!

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13 Dos and Don’ts for Ace and Aro Panels and Talks

Posted October 10, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments

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13 Dos and Don'ts for Ace and Aro Panels and Talks

~1,600 words

This month, I’ve got another free short essay for everyone. Based on my experience discussing asexuality and aromanticism and with encountering ace and aro panels online in various ways (which frequently, to be honest, does not inspire me to want to attend any since they often all seem to replicate the same basic issues), I’ve compiled a general lits of Dos and Don’ts. You can probably apply them to more topics than asexuality and aromanticism and more types of content than talks or panels.

This essay on Patreon. Enjoy!

13 Dos and Don’ts for Ace and Aro Panels and Talks

For the science fiction and fantasy community, summer tends to be award season, and award season means high-profile conventions. While I rarely have the opportunity to attend any, I do always enjoy seeing what gets discussed by looking at the programming. For the past few years, I’ve noticed an uptick on panels discussing asexuality (and through conflation aromanticism) and, I’ll be honest, have only rarely been impressed by what I’ve seen or heard about them.

This year, I ran into a couple that were just actively painful to read through or hear about, so I wanted to compile a brief post on some dos and don’ts to help anyone planning a panel on asexuality and aromanticism present, well, a better panel that will achieve what you set out to do.

So how do you set up a panel about asexuality and aromanticism? What are some of the things to keep in mind when working on creating an inclusive, welcoming panel? Here are some of the dos and don’ts of discussing ace and aro representation.

DO host an Asexuality and Aromanticism 101 panel if that’s what you feel the convention needs. You’ll get complains from aces and aros who are having more advanced discussions, but the truth is that a lot of people still need that 101 discussion and panels at conventions are a great way to introduce asexuality and aromanticism to people. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to present a 101 conversation about asexuality and aromanticism. Just be aware that if you’re going for this kind of conversation, you need to make sure you’re covering the basics properly. If you pay attention to the others dos and don’ts, you’ll end up with a fantastic and informative panel that will allow people who need the introduction to start figuring out more.

DON’T conflate aromanticism and asexuality. Though there’s overlap, these are two different communities and, more importantly, two different orientation spectrums. Asexuality is a sexual orientation; aromanticism is a romantic orientation. These two identities are not interchangeable and if you want to host a panel on asexuality that conflates it with aromanticism, you end up erasing and hurting about half of the people you’re trying to reach. This conflation is extremely common, especially in 101 discussions, and simply making sure you and panellists acknowledge the difference will go a very long way towards creating an inclusive, welcoming panel.

DO include aromanticism in your panel’s title if you want to discuss both asexuality and aromanticism. Relatedly, if a convention uses a system that lets them tag programme items with keywords, please ask them to include aromanticism as a tag. It may seem like a small thing, but simply acknowledging aromanticism as a separate identity this way will put a lot of wary people at ease.

DON’T sandwich aromanticism in between different identities on the asexual spectrum. (Or, vice versa.) These are two different orientations and identities, so please do not present them in such a conflated manner. By presenting the identities this way, even though you’re probably simply listing them in the order you think of them, you’re perpetuating the idea that these terms are interchangeable.

DO organise topics at your comfort level. I started this by saying it’s okay to host introductory panels. It is likewise okay to host ones that are more advanced. And just like there are a lot of people who want to go to the 101 panels to begin learning about asexuality and aromanticism, there are plenty of people who’ll want to see something more advanced. It’s your panel, so if you’ve got a topic you want to discuss, go for it!

DON’T misspell orientations. Yes, that’s happened. Spelling can be a little bit dicey because different communities have different preferences. It isn’t just regional spelling differences (such as ‘grey’ vs ‘gray’), but there are also personal spelling preferences to take into account. If you’re not sure how to spell something, go with the global consensus. For example: it’s spelled “demisexual”, same as every other orientation ending in -sexual, not “demi-sexual” with a hyphen. The latter is still used as a way to discredit demisexuality as an orientation and serves as a red flag to people to suggest that your panel is unsafe for them.

DO let people know if your panel has aces and/or aros on it, if your panellists are comfortable with people knowing this. That last part is crucial. Don’t out your (fellow) panellists, so only do this if you have their permission to mention it. This will really help aces and aros who’ve been hurt by attending panels in the past feel safe attending. Having a panel about asexuality and/or aromanticism with no visible aces or aros on it is… kind of like having a discussion on the state of SFF in Europe filled with panellists from America. Those panellists mean well and they may know a great deal of really interesting information, but you end up silencing the voices you’re trying to uplift.

DON’T erase part of the spectrums in your descriptions. By that I don’t mean “make sure you mention every orientation specifically”, but “acknowledge that asexuality and aromanticism are spectrums”. Both ‘asexual’ and ‘aromantic’ are used as a specific identity on these spectrums and as an umbrella term for that spectrum, so make sure people can tell when you’re using it as an umbrella term! Some orientations (such as greysexuals) get virtually no representation in fiction since the bulk of the representation goes to asexuals and demisexuals. It’s okay if that means your panel leans towards covering more frequently encountered aspects of asexuality or aromanticism. It’s just a matter of acknowledging that the spectrums are wider and larger than your topic covers and making people feel welcome because you acknowledged they exist.

DO look up (and read!) some recent ace and aro representation titles before your panel. If you have the time, try to get a general feel of what ace and aro readers think of it as well. Yes, this is important even if you’re ace and/or aro yourself. Your feelings are not indicative of the community as a whole and understanding where people’s opinions differ from yours will help make your discussion of these books stronger.

DON’T rely on the visibility of a handful of well-known titles to discuss the state of asexual and aromantic representation in fiction. The bulk of ace and aro representation published today is published by small presses and indie authors, so be sure to take a look at those. (Claudie Arseneault’s AroAce Database is a very good starting point.) If you look at small presses and indie releases, you’ll be able to find a fair number of incredibly good books that could use the visibility boost. As a bonus, there is a very high chance that these are authors who are openly ace-spec or aro-spec themselves. Even if you don’t want to look at small presses or indie authors, look beyond the handful that everyone’s heard about. Give yourself half an hour to google titles and I’m sure you’ll find some lesser known mainstream titles to discuss or mention on your panel.

DO try to collect a list of the books you (and your fellow panellists) mention and make it available online. It’s okay if this doesn’t turn out to be an exact match to what was said, but the effort will be incredibly appreciated by readers looking for these books. Not everyone will be able to attend your panel and you can’t rely on having an audience member livetweeting your recommendations for others to find. If you compile a recommendations list yourself, though, and make sure it’s easily found online, you’ll increase the chances that your recommendations will do what you want them to: get people to explore those books.

DON’T go about recommending books that you don’t stand behind because they’re popular and it’s the done thing. People will be able to tell when your recommendations are insincere. If you genuinely hated the representation in a book where seemingly everyone else loved it, it’s okay not to recommend it at all. It’s (probably) also okay to add warnings to someone else’s recommendations so people can make informed choices.

DO trust people to know what will or won’t hurt them. If you’re asexual and/or aromantic and absolutely loved the representation in a book the majority seems to hate, you’re allowed to discuss or recommend it based on your experience. It’s not less valid because it’s different. Just, if you’re in this situation, try to give people all appropriate warnings and caveats, so they can make an informed choice. Don’t rely on others to do that for you.

These last two points really revolve around one key thing to keep in mind when you’re looking for books to discuss or recommend on your panel: Asexuality and aromanticism are not monoliths and what hurt you may be what someone else needs and what you desperately needed may do someone else a great deal of harm. Keep that difference in mind and make sure your audience has the tools to make educated decisions about the books you’re discussing or recommending. You don’t know what will or won’t hurt them. They do.

And that’s it! These 13 points should give you a pretty solid foundation for setting up a talk or a panel on asexuality and/or aromanticism. Keep these points in mind and you’ll be able to cover any topic whilst appealing to people at various levels of understanding of the issues faced by aces and aros. I hope you’ll have fun setting up your talk or panel and, who knows, hopefully one day I’ll get to attend it and congratulate you on an amazing panel!

Become a Patron on Patreon!

This post previously appeared on Patreon and is sponsored by generous patrons. Thank you so much for your support! It means the world to me! <3 I love you all!

If you’ve enjoyed this post and would like to support me in creating more free content, please consider subscribing or spreading the word to others. Visit my Patreon page to discover how to get early access to posts as well as various Patron-exclusive posts and goodies!

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Influences on The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

Posted October 5, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in My Work / 0 Comments

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The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion Coming November 6th. "Aromantic, we call it. You know that, my sweet. Aromantic and asexual, in fact. If you're going to tell it, tell it loud. Tell it proud. That's why I agreed to do this. I want to hear no more of people like yourself who needed words they never learned because no one believed they were needed." Preorder now: https://www.books2read.com/thrushbeard

It’s been a few days – feels like forever – but I’m back with another short not-a-guest-post essay on The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion! This time it’s about 800 words discussing some of what influenced the story and why it is the way it is.

This essay literally took me ALL DAY to write. I have no idea if it’s good or terrible, but it is done and I’m in too much period-caused pain to care about anything else. (Sorry?)

Here’s the post on Patreon too! (Look, I’m actually remembering to add a link to the specific post now!)

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