Interactions with Queer

Queer is such a complicated word. Its history is murky and its meaning has been redefined and turned on its head more than once. As a lurker in the ace community I saw several battles about whether aces counted as queer or not. I’ve discussed with a professor who identifies as queer my asexuality and gotten a thank you for the reminder that sometimes in the midst of fighting for the right be sexually attracted to anyone, people underestimate how hard it is to fight for the right to not be sexually attracted to anyone. Then he apologized. I didn’t really feel like he needed to apologize, but he did. Since starting this blog and paying more attention to tumblr specifically, I’ve have seen just how charged it is as a word to identify safe spaces. But to be honest, queer isn’t a word I have thought too much about. It is a word that perhaps I should be thinking more about.
I think part of it is that I spent the vast majority of my life thinking of myself as the default straight, just broken somehow, with a some day, I’ll figure this out, but for now, let’s just assume base normality. That turned out not to be the case, but even as I slowly realized that I didn’t really care about the sex or gender of my romantic partners, queer felt like an alien word to me. I’m a white, upper middle class, cisgendered woman with a college education. I was too privileged to need that identification, that community. Queer was a word that people who wanted to make a point used, who were willing to campaign for what they needed, who didn’t fit in anywhere else. Queer was edgy, dangerous, and I’m really not.  I am not much of an activist. I don’t rock the boat, not by myself. If a good friend or someone I trust says, this boat needs rocking, will you help? and they convince me it is worth it, I will use what skills I have to help. In the end though, the active face of a movement is not me. I fit in lots of places. I hadn’t even dated anyone besides one guy and I was a very happily identified woman. Queer was a word that wasn’t me or could only be if I could get a straight answer about whether or not being ace counted.

To be queer was to be complicated, actively, thoughtfully complicated. A complexity I lacked, perhaps more for lack of thought than anything else. It didn’t help that everyone I asked or every source I found gave me a slightly different definition of who belonged there. I wasn’t even trying to figure out if I fit there, but to better understand my friends who identified as queer. I still don’t really feel like I understand queer as a category, as an identification. I understand the words that people use to describe it, but feel like I am missing the aha moment where I put the pieces together and can say I understand.

As I figured myself out more, internalized that I was asexual and, eventually, that I was interested in romantic relationships when I could talk to my partners and be like…not sexually attracted to you, but cuddle me lots?, queer was never really a word that occurred to me as a label. I lurked on ace blogs and AVEN, saw the discussion happening about where aces fit, and didn’t the spoons at the time to really digest that discussion.

I know a good chunk of the ace community fights to be under the queer label. I even get why. There is a degree to which queer can be a catch-all for non-traditional genders and orientations that most people don’t understand and/or accept. I agree that a lot of what aces go through has parallels to the queer community. I have difficulty really understanding at a gut level why people might be violently against heteromantic aces in queer spaces because their experience is just as complicated. Yes, they come with a degree of straight privilege, but everyone has some flavor of privilege. I also get intellectually why someone might not truly feel safe in a queer space with heteromantic aces in it. You don’t want the danger of that privilege in your safe space. (And this is why I am a bad activist…I usually think everyone has something right in what they are saying and we should have a nice sit-down and not assign blame on anyone) But somewhere, I just want to yell, “Be nice. Listen to other people. Don’t assume their experience is yours. Don’t hate without knowing their face. Can’t we just all play together?” And so conversations like that, I just stay out of, partially because I think that my privilege means I can’t talk about it, I have no agency here and partially just because I get frustrated and feel like both sides aren’t listening. Especially when I don’t really understand the key bit of terminology as well as I could. So, maybe the queer community is something I don’t feel part of because I feel like it is linked to activism in a way I will never be.

By most of my understandings of queer, I could identify that way if I wanted. I am a pandemiromantic ace…which means clearly I think I’m complicated and not straight. I don’t care about the gender or sex of my partners and am presently dating a poly woman…so I guess I have some reason to feel like I fit. But, I don’t know that it is an identity I will ever claim. I’ve got enough privilege going on and some days the pretend mask of straightness for the outside world is strong enough, I would feel like a pretender. On the other hand, what biases might be behind my reluctance? Maybe there aren’t any, but I haven’t looked.

That said, I would at least like to understand more, still not really for me, but for the people in my life who identify as queer and because I think it is important to understand the categories and labels people choose for themselves. I also want to keep examining why I feel I do/don’t fit and deconstruct any misconceptions I might have picked up.

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Things Aces Can Learn From Kink: Part Two

This post is a continuation of Things Aces Can Learn From Kink: Part One, as part of the March Carnival of Aces on Asexuality and Kink.

Consent is not something you give once in your relationship and never again. By saying, yes, I’ll date you, you haven’t consented to all the things ever. Consent is something you can take back. You always hold the right to say, no, I don’t want to do this right now. You can give consent before and during an activity. Most of the time consent is a mix between pre-negotiated acts, in the moment negotiations, and double-checking for consent in the moment consent. It is good to establish with your partner that this column of things can be done without explicit consent once we are consensually cuddling/sexing/whatever, this column is always ask first, and this column is NO.

The NO column is what is called a hard limit in kink. A hard limit is something that should always be avoided, never ever done by surprise, and depending on the limit itself might require some thought on your partner’s part to avoid. You are always allowed to revise your hard limits if you become more or less comfortable with something or if your health changes. Some hard limits are health related, like if you have a bleeding disorder and need partners to be careful about how hard they bite or hit you. Others are about discomfort, like many aces who have the hard limit of no genitalia touching.

Another kind of limit that is very applicable to aces is a soft limit. A soft limit is an act that you are a bit hesitant about and/or have conditions about how, when, where that act can happen. It might be something that you are interested in, but scared of, and/or that your partner needs be very careful in doing. It is a limit that is not set in stone. A soft limit should always be negotiated and if the negotiation happened before the activity, then a check-in is generally a good idea as that soft limit is about to happen in the activity. For some aces, penetration or genital touch is a soft limit. Soft limits can be just about anything, just like hard limits can be. Furthermore, a limit doesn’t have to be a physical thing or a limit specifically for your intimate moments. A limit can be, “Never call me any form of degrading slur, even in jest.” You don’t even necessarily need to give validating reasons for them. If you are comfortable enough with your partner, go ahead. If you aren’t or you are negotiating with someone for something that is planned to be short-lived, it is your choice and right to say, this is a limit for me. Period. The end.

Limits are really good example of if you don’t ask, how do you know? I have a hard limit which is incredibly triggering for me, but not common or even terribly logical…so if I don’t talk with my partner or only talk about the things I like…*boom* *Atalia in meltdown place*. My partner would feel bad for upsetting me, I would be upset, just badness all around.

Negotiation is a work in progress and boy, can it be hard. It is totally okay if the first time you sit down with your partner to have a talk what comes out is, “I’d like you to do more of that thing with your thing.” As I have noted before, it takes practice and time and is sometimes really uncomfortable. If you are like me, (a long standing prude) and asking for things that are traditionally sexual, but aren’t necessarily for you is totally blushworthy, that is just fine. Mumbling, looking at the ground, or using euphemisms, that is okay too. Whatever it is about opening up that makes it hard, that is just fine. The point is that you are working on communicating what works for you, what doesn’t and what you actually want to happen in your relationship.

As Cliff of Pervocracy has argued, Consent can be sexy (Warning: NSFW and sexual). Consent can be asexy for that matter. Knowing what your partner is interested in doing with you, hearing yes in the moment to confirm that that is what they want, that feels really nice. She is welcoming this expression of my affection. Telling my partner yes, I want you to x, I am saying to her, I like how you make me feel, please continue. Admittedly, I am coming at this from a romantic point of view, but this could also be true of an aromantic relationship or a whole variety of relationships that are different from my own.

Before I wrap this post up, I just want to say that there is no rule that if you adopt a form of negotiation that you have to do everything I have commented on or that you should find a kink site that tells you how to do negotiation and do it just that way. Take what your relationship(s) needs, what you are comfortable with. If safe words sound uncomfortable to you and you aren’t doing anything where no wouldn’t necessarily mean stop, don’t use them. Do consider ways to share with your partner, I don’t know that I want to stop, but I am getting a bit uncomfortable here. My partner knows that when I say, “…okay,” in a certain tone of voice that is also my equivalent of yellow. No matter what you take away from this post however, I hope that the core of it, the communication and the importance of consent, is something that is useful to you in some way, shape, or form.

I know that this post was about how negotiation and consent are a good example of what aces can take away from kink, but I also want to emphasize that this is good practice for any relationship. Furthermore, that negotiation and consent is for the comfort and enjoyment of all partners, not just the ace(s) in the relationship. Finally, consent and negotiation are not a discussion that happens once. Sometimes they will be big sit-downs, other times a casual lying in bed after cuddles asking each other what you liked or didn’t like, or a sudden realization on Skype that you’d really like to try this thing. Consent and negotiation are an ongoing part of a relationship so that everyone’s needs, emotional, romantic, physical, and/or sexual (if that is on the table) are met.

Note: If I have made any terminology or implication mistakes regarding kink in this post, feel free to drop me a line. I happily hover around the edges of the community and could totally have missed a thing or had a different understanding than is common.

This post was cross-posted on my Tumblr.

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Things Aces Can Learn From Kink: Part One

This post is for the March Carnival of Aces about Asexuality and Kink. Once it goes up, make sure to go over to Asexual Agenda to take a look at all the other wonderful entries. I’d also like to thank Asexual Agenda for the shout-out last week. It means a lot to have just started this blogging adventure and see that other people read what you write and think it may have some worth.

When kink shows up in the media, it is oversexualized, forbidden, tantalizing, and a sign of social deviancy and/or something broken. What a lot of people don’t really understand is that kink is a word that covers a massive range of activities and people. A kinky scene can be anything from the media image of black leather and whips or two people just pigging out on cupcakes and happily drawing in coloring books. A kink is basically something you like doing, that’s all. It is good to keep in mind that many kinks are things that society might think are odd for grown adults or anyone to be doing. It doesn’t have to be sexual. Part of what binds this community together is that they share a concept of “safe, sane, and consensual” or something similar. This goes hand in hand with a painful, but oh so necessary, process called negotiation. This is what aces can borrow from kink and to a large degree already are.

Even before I sat on the edge of the kink community in my area, as I do entirely by chance at present, I had some friends who were kinky and I had a very basic idea of what kink was. I still blushed at it’s mention or kicked myself for doing things like asking a friend why some handcuffs were sitting next her bed. (Seriously…I thought she’d been a cop for Halloween or something…I blushed through her answer, self-application is not where my brain goes when I see hand-cuffs…) Then, I started reading more ace blogs. A good chunk of ace narrative about how to interact in terms of intimacy borrows directly from the kink community. Some of the blogs acknowledge that debt or are written by bloggers who are also part of the kink community, while other bloggers have likely run into it in other situations and gone, oh, that, that could be useful. I learned a good chunk of what I know about consent and negotiation from other ace blogs. One example that totally acknowledges that debt is Shades of Gray which sadly appears to be no longer updating. If you read her post How to Have Sex with an Asexual Person and have already hung out in the kink community much, the framework of the post will be familiar. That post was written partially to scare off people who just wanted to have sex with an ace for fun or to convince them they were sexual etc, but it is actually full of good advice. It is definitely worth a read and she has put a lot of work into making that post fairly comprehensive.

At the very base of negotiation is the radical concept that every person is different. If you don’t talk about what each person is interested in, you have no way to know. In kink this refers back to the point I made above, that kink is a massive category that the media has kinda narrowed down to whips, black leather, and bondage. (Not that any of those things are inherently less/bad/*insertnegativewordhere* for those of you who prefer it, just making the point that the media has a very specific view of kink that it has passed out to all of us peons.) For aces, this is incredibly useful because we come in so many flavors of comfort with touch and for a good chunk of us, the heteronormative script that starts with kissing and ends in penetration just isn’t right. Even if that script works for an ace that has sex, their partner (whether ace or allosexual) won’t know that unless they are told. If the script works for you and you are happy with it, I am in no way telling you it is a bad thing either, just that it doesn’t work for a lot of people.

Another vital concept that is essential to negotiation is consent, clear-as-a-bell, explicitly stated consent. Not guilt-tripped consent or didn’t-say-no consent or half-hearted-you-really-want-this-go-ahead-I-guess consent, but a clear, definitive yes, with the right to safeword in the middle of things if you realize you don’t want this or can’t handle it. Consent is talked about, negotiated and visible. Is this always practiced perfectly in the kink community? No, it isn’t, but it is the idea. Safeword, by the way, is a word you can say to pause or stop whatever is happening. The traffic light is a pretty common setup, with green meaning go ahead, all is well, yellow meaning pause/go carefully, red meaning stop all activities, hands off. People also come up with their own safewords, generally words that don’t sound like anything one says during enjoyable activities.

For aces who aren’t kinky, but are interested in intimacy (whether it is cuddles while watching tv, cuddles in a bed, or sex, or anything else you define as intimacy) this definition and practice of consent and negotiation could be so useful because it lets the ace talk about what s/he wants, what s/he is comfortable with and what s/he is not comfortable with. S/he hears the same from the partner, figures out where the two of them match up, decides how they want to do safe words and much less hurt, startlement, and boundary crossing takes place. I know that I am lucky my partner was already familiar with negotiation and consent because it made it easier to find the balance of what both of us were comfortable with.

If there are any activities that fall into the category of, “this is a thing you like and I am not that interested in but am comfortable with it if you ask me first,” then instead of partner B just doing this thing and partner A being upset/startled/hurt, partner B gets to do the thing s/he enjoys when partner A is willing. Not everyone has this category and it is okay to say, if I don’t actively like a thing, I don’t want to do it. This goes for both partners, not just the ace.

This post ended up really long, so I broke it up into two parts, which you can find here. Read on for a continued discussion on consent, negotiation, and limits. A third part is in the works that is on the theme, but a bit different.

Note: If I have made any terminology or implication mistakes regarding kink in this post, feel free to drop me a line. I happily hover around the edges of the community and could totally have missed a thing or had a different understanding than is common.

Cross-posted on my Tumblr

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An Asexual Talks About Intimacy: Sensexual Cuddles

I have a confession. I identify as grey-a or ace depending on the day and I am sexually attracted to my girlfriend. Not terribly and I would rank it pretty low on the ways I am attracted to her, but it is there. Still, most of what we do together in the realms of physical is all about sensations and not about sexual satisfaction. It is a funny, tricky line where enjoying a sensation becomes this is a sexual act for me. It sometimes feels like it is related to the cycles of the moon or what side of bed I got out of this morning because it is really random. But there is also the aspect that a lot of aces feel where there is a difference between my body is feeling this thing and I am feeling this thing. Sometimes my body is doing this thing and I think to it, “that’s very nice dear, but I am way more interested in this texture that will likely make you stop feeling this way, sorry.” There are a bunch of things that are generally sexual for other people that for me are just fun sensations that never have to go anywhere and aren’t sexual. So what do I call what my girlfriend and I do together? I don’t really want to call it sex because that isn’t really where we are going. If someone walked in us, that might be the word they used for what they saw, but from the inside it often really isn’t at all.

We like our own term, sensexual cuddles. Sensual + Sexual=sensexual.  Sensexual cuddles means that we are focusing on sensations and how we make each other feel. If it gets sexual, that is just fine. My partner is sexual and I have no problem with that. I am romantically, sensually, aesthetically, and sexually attracted to her, in that order. Primarily, we are enjoying sensations and each other’s reactions. I love textures and sensations and losing myself in how she makes me feel and how I make her feel makes me really happy.

One of the biggest differences between sensexual cuddles and sex is that there is no end goal. Depending on our mood and what we are doing we might have a discussion about what we each want that time, then we enjoy playing with each other and when one/both of us is tired or done or it is time for dinner, we stop. Unlike sex which has this drive to the climax of the story and values the climax more than the play that got the participants to that point, sensexual cuddles is about just enjoying whatever sensations are on the table that day. If one or both of us is feeling sexual that day and such feelings are had, it’s nice, enjoyable, but no more enjoyable than if we hadn’t had those feelings.

I’ve spoken to other aces who have had relationships with people who are sexual who say that this is what is the issue sometimes. The sexual person doesn’t really count their cuddles/interactions/whatever as really successful unless the end goal is met. The ace sits back and thinks, oooh that felt nice. Then there is dissatisfaction on the sexual person’s part, often without even telling the ace until it becomes a problem. I am lucky to have such a dependable line of communication with my partner. We talked from the very beginning of our relationship about was okay for me and what was okay for her. We came up with a way we interact that both of us enjoy.

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Talking to Your Partner About Touch

Culture has a script for how romantic interactions work. Part of this script is not really talking about what you are doing, before and during, and maybe not after either. This is completely baffling to me, because I don’t expect my partner to read my mind. That would imply I can read her mind! What an absolutely terrifying prospect. Yes, I can read her body fairly well, but I can’t read her mind. We’ve also talked extensively about our likes, dislikes and limits. As a grey-a, this was really important to me, and really the only way I would engage in sensexual cuddles. (But everyone should talk about those things for reasons I will discuss below)

I’ve done the not talking to my partner thing, and well…it resulted in him following the cultural script of kissing me on the mouth as step 1. He was a gentleman who didn’t want to push my boundaries, so he took the romantic/sexual action that was considered the least invasive.Now, to be clear, I love that he didn’t push my boundaries. I hadn’t come out as ace yet, but he knew I was inexperienced and not comfortable with sexual things. However, I hate that like the idiot teenagers we were, we never talked about what we were doing, so I couldn’t tell him that I thought kissing him on the mouth was kinda gross (all that saliva exchange) and wouldn’t he like to try kissing my neck instead? He was supposed to read my mind, and I was supposed to read his. So we didn’t say anything. I thought I couldn’t fault him for doing what he was “supposed’ to do and I didn’t want to insult him by telling him kissing him was not really fun at all. So what was the message here? The script says that everyone in a relationship enjoys kissing and it is first base. For absolutely everyone kissing is considered a fairly low-level sexual activity. Talking before or during is not sexy.

Now, let’s contrast it with a recent discussion I had with my partner. I am going to be paraphrasing because I don’t actually feel like sharing our private things with you all, but the point, I hope, will still be obvious. My partner shared with me that she wanted to explore sensations on a body part we had thought in the past might be too tickly for her. I agreed that sounded like fun, and asked her if there were any sensations she was particularly interested in or ways of touch she would like to try. She told me what she had already tried and said she hadn’t really thought about it yet. I proposed a few things, which she enthusiastically approved. We then had a short discussion on the topic, covering what else we might be interested in for textures and touch and context. The end result is that both of us are a)excited to try something new together b) knowledgeable about what each of us is interested in, and c)had a chance to share anything about the situation that might make us uncomfortable. Furthermore, insomuch as I find things sexy, talking comfortably about what my partner would like to do with me is pretty sexy and definitely romantic. It reaffirms for me that my partner is comfortable with me, interested romantically in me, and interested in making me happy.

So, I am a little bit confused as to why people wouldn’t want to talk with their partners about romantic, sexual or whatever they call their physical interactions with their partners. I get why it is scary and why it might not happen, but I think that if we got more messages that it was a useful tool for a relationship, then people would be more willing to do the work to make it possible. As you can see above, I clearly thought it was scary. It can still be scary to be that open to someone, but it is totally worth it. Sometimes it feels a bit embarrassing (okay, okay, a lot) to talk frankly about what you want, but it makes for a much closer relationship.

There are some serious cultural barriers to open communication between partners about a lot of parts in a relationship, not just the physical bits. There is the myth that love is magical and your partner will just know what you want romantically and sexually and how to make you happy. Well, I think love can be magical, but it isn’t the kind of magic that rises up by itself, and it doesn’t come with mind-reading skills. There is the myth that talking during anything intimate is going to break the mood. However, we have already established that telepathy doesn’t come with being in a relationship. So, if you can’t read your partner’s mind, how are you going to do everything they really want you to do? How are you going to avoid touching them in a way or spot they might really not like? You can talk beforehand (as I campaign for above), but you still might need to ask about/for something while you are in the middle of things. Perfection shouldn’t be a requirement to be intimate with someone, and might be impossible, but the closest option available to perfection is going to involve a lot of communication before, during, and after successive times of intimacy. There is the fear that if you ask about something, and your partner says no, you won’t get to do it. Well…if you just did it without asking, and they were emotionally or physically hurt by that action, isn’t that worse? There is the perfectly understandable fear of sharing or just being uncomfortable with being that frank about the topic, and that is okay. But it is still worth at least working up to talking about some of the basics.

Now, I am biased because my relationship runs on open communication. We talk a lot about everything and it just makes sense for our sensexual cuddles to be something we talk about. However, I think that everyone really does need to talk to their partner, regardless of whether they are engaging in any physical contact at all. The social aspects are important too. Does your partner mind the use of pet names in front of other people or prefer you didn’t use them at all? How much do they still want to be seen as an individual as their social image or are they okay with people saying your names together like a unit? What is unacceptable PDA? How much time is too much time together? How much time is too little? So on and so forth. Some of this will fall into place naturally, but if you don’t feel like you can talk to your partner, how do you tell them to change something before it becomes a problem?

I think that for aces, whether in a relationship with another ace or a sexual person, communication about touch is really important. Aces come in a lot of flavors with all different levels of comfort of touch. (Just like sexual people, but I am going to focus on aces for the moment.) For example, I am grey-a and completely comfortable with platonic cuddles, really interested in different sensations, and happy to do some sexual things that fall within my realm of fun sensations and please my partner. We’ve talked about it and come up with our own term, sensexual cuddles, that acknowledges that there are sexual aspects to our cuddles, but also a heavy focus on the sensual, the textures and sensations of being with another person without any real goal of sexual release. This is a result of us talking about it. We know each other’s limits and likes and will sometimes talk in the middle of things about how something made us feel. If we hadn’t talked about it, she would have no way of knowing what I meant when I said, “I am okay with some sexual things….” “Okay, so what sexual things?” Other aces are not okay with anything sexual or prefer not to be touched. Even between aces (or really any two people), there could be a differing level of physical contact that they want/are comfortable with.

I spent a really long time thinking I couldn’t possibly date because I love physical contact, but I don’t really care about sexual contact. In my mind this meant I couldn’t date other aces because what I wanted might be too physical or borderline sexual-feeling for them, and I couldn’t date sexual people because I really had no idea how I would react to sexual contact. It took my partner (prepartnering) going, “…but why wouldn’t people date you? I think you’re awesome!” multiple times for me to really truly think it was an option. The way that our relationship works is communication. Talking about what works, what both of us want out of our relationship, emotionally, romantically, and physically. I can’t imagine my relationship working without these open and frank lines of communication. The heteronormative script, the sexual pleasure-focused script…they don’t work for us. So we wrote our own.

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Introductions and A Purpose

Good afternoon, ladies and gents! I am Atalia and I have been hovering around the edges of the asexual online community for awhile now. Like most aces, I first found the term on the internet and have met very few aces in real life. In my explorations of the community I have learned so much about orientations, relationships and the many flavors of asexuality. It was partially through reading the various posts of dedicated ace bloggers that I was able to really look at myself and see that I didn’t need boxes. I could create my own boxes or loose definitions or whatever and that was okay. It is partially in thanks to the community that I want to start blogging about asexuality and life and cake, but also to keep figuring myself out. People are constantly changing. Life isn’t static.

So, off I go into the dangerous, murky world of blogging!

P.S. This blog will really live on my tumblr of the same name, http://aceofliminalspace.tumblr.com/ but at least for the moment I am largely claiming the wordpress name for purposes of posting on wordpress sites. I will attempt to cross-post things when I remember. I am actually way more familiar with wordpress and chose tumblr for the home of this blog to make myself get comfy with tumblr.

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