Carnival of Ace April 2019: The Languages of Luv

[This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for April 2019 hosted this month by luvthehaven.wordpress.com on the topic of “The Five Love Languages”]

I’ll admit the title is me being just tad facetious because this topic physically pains me. As an aromantic I get major hebee jebees when people start tossing around words with romantic connotations particularly when the required reading for this topic is based on a book called “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” (Thank you Wikipeda), but I’m going to suppress my baser instincts that are screaming at me to run for the hills and try to form a rational, and hopefully relatable, opinion on the “Languages of Honest Affection” (there, I fixed the title in my brain so I can stop freaking out over the L* word, *shudders*).

It’s important to note that not all asexuals are allergic to tru luv like I am. One thing I’ve had to internalize for my own mental health is that attraction is a physiological response, meaning it’s not something we can control; like ever, no way, no how. It’s a knee-jerk reaction it just happens and ya have to just deal with the aftermath. It’s like when you brush your hand on a hot stove, your body just reacts and you move away from that hot stove as fast as humanly possible. What you do after that supercharged flinch is what’s actually in your control. Do you kick the stove for having the audacity for being hot or do you run to the sink to cool off your scalding flesh? Knowing that attraction is a weird thing the body just does because, I don’t blame people for feeling attraction and I don’t blame myself (anymore) for not feeling attraction.

Now that all that is out of the way, are these languages of honest affection applicable to me in my non-romantic reality? I’m going to go with “no, not really.” I actually don’t think this model would work in any reality because it’s way too simplistic. It’s like any other personality quiz or your daily horoscope. Sure, it might be true in a very broad, general sense if you only look at positive supporting anecdotal data and ignore quantifiable negative refuting data, but I’m totally bias against horoscopes and I want to keep an open, rational mind on this specific topic.

Physical Touch: It’s actually pretty complicated.
I’m going to tackle each point in reverse order and physical touch as a form of affection is actually hella complicated and I know this because I have a B.A. in Communication studies and one thing they stressed is physical touch is hella complicated and varies depending on the cultural group or subgroup. In the US polite social distance is about 4 feet or an arm’s length away so we tend to get wigged out when we travel to other places and a stranger gets up right in our face to talk to us. Guys walking down the street holding hands will get some looks where I’m from, but is totally acceptable if not expected in other places. French cheek kisses? Hispanic hugs? Where do you draw the line between what’s intimate and culturally expected? Where do you draw the line between what is friendship and romantic? Is it based on what is expected by the individual or what the in-group understands as the social norm? To say physical touch is a “language of love” without addressing all the nuances and meaning that come with physical touch makes this, in my opinion, an ineffective model already.

Acts of Service:
My first thought on this topic is, “I love my country, but I hate my job,” and I think that’s just me be facetious again. I spent two years working as a “professional volunteer” (which was literally my job description) for community service projects so I could receive and education award that would pay off my B.A. I currently work full-time in food service so that I can continue my education. For me personally “service” has too much of a “tit-for-tat” connotation. Everyday I serve people, often times very angry and mean spirited people, because I get paid to do it. When I take that extra step to help out my coworker it’s because that fosters a beneficial relationship that encourages them to help me out later on. If that mentality is applied to a relationship, any kind of relationship, I think that has the potential to negatively impact the relationship. I’ll use the example from the wikipedia article of the one spouse showing affection by doing the laundry and the other spouse is like, “Wtf? That’s not affection. It’s a chore that needed to be done so it doesn’t matter who does it.” In this hypothetical relationship both people are able to do the chore and it was a chore that needed to be done so does it really matter and is it really a sign of affection that one person does it over the other?

I have a much better example; A lesbian couple that I follow and adore on YouTube. One of the ladies is disabled and the other works in the medical field unrelated to the disability, but is more familiar with how the system works than your regular citizen. When they first started dating the abled lady noticed that her new girlfriend wasn’t doing so hot and she knew that things could be better so she used her knowledge of how the medical system worked so that her girlfriend could see all the specialists she needed and sat in with her during all the appoints and asked all the relevant questions so that she could have the happiest, healthiest life possible with the limitations of her disability. The two of them are happily married now and it’s not a matter of whose chore is what because they don’t have a tit-for-tat system and they credit that as one of the reasons they have such a loving and healthy relationship (along with open and honest communication of course). I usually point to them when I want to point out what an “ideal” relationship would look like and I seriously want to know what the secret sauce to their relationship is because compared to them all the straight couples I know look like they’re trapped in Hetero-Hell because social norms instead of Tru Luv.

I don’t think there’s any reality where someone can say, “Look, I did the laundry today as an act of love,” and not sound like an asshole. I don’t think the lady in my example would even classify taking her new girlfriend to every single doctor’s appoint as an act of love more so than as someone in the medical field doing everything they can to make someone’s life better even if they don’t get anything out of it besides making someone’s life better. I just have a really hard time wrapping my head around this language because if you’re doing something for someone for the appreciation then you’re disappointed when it’s not, then it’s not really an act of love if you were hoping to get something out of it in the end.

Words of Affirmation: Now we’re talking.
This is probably the one point where I will agree that this a love language. I’m all for open and honest communication, but something that seems to be overlooked is the listening part. I feel like nobody knows how powerful and appreciated listening to another person without judgment is. Do you know how hard it is to listen to another person without judgment? I practice everyday and I’m still not good at it, but I can tell when somebody does it to me and it feels amazing. Having somebody just listen to you and not judge you feels amazing. When we listen to people our first instinct is to either contradict them, voice our own opinion, or offer advice, but if you can manage to turn that off you have the ability to do so much good for other people. I’m terrible at this because my instinct is to try and fix the “problem” when really the best thing I can do is just shut up and listen. Like I said, I practice everyday and it’s still a work in progress so I want to shout out to people who have this superpower.

Quality time:
Actually no disagreement here. Spending quality time with someone you love is awesome so keep doing that. It’s probably going to look different depending on the person’s involved, I literally can’t think of a downside to this if you can make it happen.

Receiving and Giving Gifts:
Well, we’re back to the age old question of your grandmother gave you a shit gift, what do you do? No, seriously. My Grandmother gave me a Mini Mouse watch that probably had been sitting in her closet for years for my birthday. I hate it and it’s just going to end up sitting in the back of my closet because I don’t even want to look at it, much less wear it. Giftcards are a godsend. It takes all the guess work out of figuring out what to buy and people can finally get things they need or want. The last time I got someone a gift that wasn’t obligatory I got the standard, “Oh, you didn’t have to do that!” Yeah, I know I didn’t have to do that, but I did anyway and you know what? It hurt my feeling when they said that because and that was the last time I gave a non-obligatory gift. So, when my grandmother gave me a gift and I hated it I made sure I said “Thank you, it’s amazing!” Gift giving/receiving sucks. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have the best experience, but it’s not my favorite and I have a really hard time seeing it as a language of love since there are weird social norms about it like saying, “Oh, didn’t have to do that!” when it’s not an obligatory gift. Ugh.

Conclusion:
The languages of love seem like any other personality quiz. It’s cute, it’s fun (probably), but I don’t recommend taking it as relationship gospel. If you take the quiz again after lunch you’re probably going to get a different result than the one you took earlier because the results are too generalized to actually be useful. Relationships are complicated because it’s not just 1 + 1 = 2; Humans are infinitely complex and in a relationship you’re taking one complexity with its own wants and needs and trying to match it up with another complexity and you basically end up creating unpredictable mathematical chaos. It’s perfectly human of us to try to fit big, scary chaotic topics like love and relationships into five neat little boxes, but that’s like trying to stuff and elephant into a shoe-box. If being asexual has taught me anything it’s that neat little boxes don’t exist for things like love and relationships and that’s why I don’t think this model actually works for anybody.

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Carnival of Aros March 2019: It’s Great to be Aro!

This is my submission for the Carnival of Aros for March 2019 hosted this month by Aromanticism on the topic of “It’s Great to be Aro!” For more information about the Carnival of Aros or to volunteer to become a future host please check out https://carnivalofaros.wordpress.com/

I probably can’t stress this enough, but I actually love, love being aromantic. The first time I took myself to a movie was after my dad and brother went seen The Martian (2015) without me even after I had told them repeatedly that I wanted to see it too. I decided to go by myself to the movie theater two blocks down from where I worked. I was still in my work uniform and it felt awkward saying “one ticket” at the counter, but I got through it and had the brilliant insight to buy a cup of coffee instead of popcorn and soda. With a warm cup of coffee in my hand and an entire row to myself I had the best movie experience of my life. Now if I want to see a movie I’ll pick a day in the middle of the week when it’s not busy and buy a cup of coffee instead of movie snacks.

I won’t deny that humans are social creatures by nature, but some of my best moments when I feel the most like myself are when I’m alone doing my own thing. When I’m hanging out with other people the need to fit-in and avoid social faux-pas kind of sucks the fun out of it. It’s much easier to dance like no one is watching when you know for a fact that nobody is actually watching. I feel like I’m constantly flirting the line between being my best self and a crazy loner and some days are easier keep that healthy balance than others. I definitely felt some minor angst when I first realized I was aromantic years ago and realized that wouldn’t get that classic Hollywood ending promised in almost every movie ever, but I did eventually learn to accepted it as my normal and I’ve been focusing on celebrating my singularity rather than worrying about my nonexistent relationships.

It’s kind of like…well, for example, a lot, and I mean a LOT, of folks at my work play Magic the Gathering. One of my coworkers even offered to give me $50 to build a starter deck, but Magic is seriously not my thing. Sure, I feel left out when they talk about planning game days and I see a bunch of them leave together with chips and soda under each arm. It’s frustrating to hear all the talk about trading cards or meeting up to open new packs and I can’t join in, but Magic just isn’t my thing. It’s an expensive hobby that I have zero interest in. You can pitch it to me anyway you like, but I don’t do trading card games. I will play Liverpool rummy any day of the week. Hearts? I’m down. Spades? Sure thing. BS, Slap Jack, Black Jack? You bet ‘cha. Hell, I’ll even play Crazy 8’s in a pinch, but Magic the gathering is just. not. my. thing. and I’m not going to force myself to play a game that I know I don’t like just so I can fit in. My view on romance is like that almost verbatim. Most folks love to gush about mushy stuff and I’m like, “….uhhhh what about all these other awesome stuff that isn’t, ya know, romantic?”

I don’t get crushes on people. I get “let’s-quit-this-dead-end-job-and-run-away-to-become-space-pirates”es on people which is sooo much cooler in my opinion. I haven’t quite figured out how to explain to people that I don’t want to “date” them so much as just slay a few dragons at the ol’ 9-5 together before they go home to the wife and I go home to my cat. I want to belong to something magical, epic, heroic, that doesn’t have the executive meddlers saying “Hmmm, this needs an unnecessary love triangle and more romantic tension to boost ratings.” As an aromantic I have all these wonderful, unique and different feelings that nobody talks about that I think are worth exploring and celebrating in media and in everyday conversations.

Aromanticism is the most dominant of my identity labels. Most of the time I don’t even think about being asexual or agender, but hoo boy, my aromanticism is cranked up to 100 all day everyday. That might have something to do with how pervasive romance is in western culture, but that doesn’t change that my aromanticness has the most impact on my way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. I’ve literally never dated. I’ve never pursued any possible romantic ties and I’m uncomfortable when people try to ask me out. I’m also get very defensive when people even joke about me dating. One of my coworkers was poking fun at me because someone had asked me out and they were like, “I’m going tell him you changed your mind. You would look so cute together.” and I got super defensive and reminded him that it takes something like six weeks for knee caps to heal. The reason I was so defensive is because I felt like my identity was being targeted. It’s like telling a gay guy, “Oh, you should totally go out with this girl, you’d make a cute couple.” and that’s super not okay and very hurtful, but for some inexplicable reason it’s soooo hard for people to understand that.

Jerk-ass coworkers aside, I really do love being aro because I wouldn’t be myself if I wasn’t. I’ve worked really hard to become comfortable with who I am and what it means to be “me”. I think Liverpool rummy is more fun than Magic the Gathering. My ideal “date” is when I take myself to coffee and a movie. I think there are other feelings and relationships besides romantic relationships that are worth celebrating and talking about. I treasure the journey of growth and self discovery it took to get me to this point in my life where I can appreciate and celebrate being a single person. So, I didn’t get to slay any dragons with anybody today and people still don’t understand that a life without romance is just as fulfilling and rewarding, if not even more so, as one where romance is the central focus, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating being aro.

Thinking About Being Aro and Ace while being “older”

This was actually supposed to be my CoA post for last month, but I didn’t manage to finish it on time or do any additional writing because I sorta went into a funk and haven’t done anything productive since Valentine’s Day. Coincidence? probably not. And I missed out on Aro Awarenes week too. Anywho, I’m still going to post what I wrote since it’s still very relevant to my blog.

Because of where I live my participation in the Aro and Ace communities is primarily online and the majority of my participation is now dedicated to the WordPress blogs. Previously I did participate in chat groups for both aros and aces, but I ran into a slight problem; my age. The majority of the chat groups I could find were dominated by younger folks who were still in the “I’m still figuring out what I am”, “My parents don’t understand”, “My friends don’t understand” phase of settling into their orientation and that’s not what I needed emotionally from my “community”. There also wasn’t much I could contribute to a younger audience either because the truth is…age matters.

Being an adult doesn’t solve all your problems, but it certainly gives you more options on how you deal with problems and there’s a sense of liberation that comes with that. If I’m having a bad day I can be like “Screw it, I’m treating myself and going to Panera!” or use up my emergency giftcard stash and treat myself. I spent two hours browsing in a used bookstore yesterday just because I could. As long as the rent’s on time, I show up to work on time, and text my mom back- I can pretty much do what I want without worrying about being judged for it. How am I supposed to explain to a teenager, who actually does need to worry about what their friends and family think about them for survival reasons, that it really does get better, but it takes a little while to get there?

My parents still don’t understand that I’m aro-ace, but I’m 30 years old so I care far, far less about my parents’ approval and I’m much more concerned about making the rent each month. It’s tax-return season baby! I need to pay off some bills! Instead of the chocolate milk and cookies I ate as a kid, today I ate coffee-milk and cookies on my break like the functioning adult that I am and I had zero regrets, so I would say mastering adulthood is mostly about figuring out priorities.

Speaking of the priorities, I’ve lost touch with literally all of my high school friends because my core values are different now compared to what they were when I was 18, 21, heck even 25. I feel like I’ve gone through more transformations in the last five years than I did all through high school. When I was 25 I literally thought, “Oh, great. This is it. This is who I am.” and I was wrong. I still had room to learn and grow. Figuring out I was asexual and aromantic was just a step in that process, not the process itself. I struggled with connecting with folks in the chat groups because I needed insight into that next step after accepting that being aromantic and asexual was my normal. I feel like following the WordPress community gave me the “support” I needed because the bloggers here were like me, a little older, a little more settled and figuring out the next steps in growing up that nobody wants to talk about because there’s the misconception that there’s no life after 30.

The feeling of isolation I felt in the chats unfortunate does carry over into the real world because for some reason being single is considered weird. When meeting somebody new at work or in a social setting one of the very first questions I get asked is about my “other half”, am I seeing anyone, talking to anyone, crushing one anyone, and so on because apparently being single is like being “between jobs at the moment”. One time my supervisor said in frustration that you can’t get anywhere in life unless you’re married. If that’s true, it definitely shouldn’t be and that’s something worth advocating because that type social standard is preventing me from being able to just “hang out” with people without being weird about it because apparently “hang out” has romantic connotations now, ugh.

Would coming out as aromantic-asexual help? The short answer is “no” because people still ask me out despite knowing I’m asexual because they either don’t know what that entails exactly or they have this other asexual friend who “uses dating apps all the time”. I dread giving asexuality 101 with every fiber of my being, but I absolutely will not give aromanticism 101 because for some inexplicable reason, ain’t nobody can wrap their head around the fact that I. don’t. date. Romance is not my thing.

Another thing that was very isolating in the ace and aro group chats was all the talk about relationships and dating. This happened in both the ace and aro chats. One particularly memorable example was a lithromantic was talking about their girlfriend and I remember thinking, “I’m in an aro chat. Why are we talking about girlfriends and wanting relationships?” One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome emotionally is facing the reality that there isn’t “someone” and there very likely will never be “someone out there for me”. It doesn’t matter how many cutesy QPP stories I read, the truth is that I struggle with forming and maintaining relationships. All the optimism in the world isn’t going to fix that, but cracking down and dealing with that reality has been hugely beneficial.

So, what would it actually mean for me to be a life-long single person? Actually, once I put it into words it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be. It’s not a case that I’ll be “forever alone” or “unloved”. It’s a case of what does it mean to be single? Well, for starters, I’m not the only one. There’s actually a lot of people in the world who are single. Are they happy? Well, that depends.

I watched a video presentation by a researcher who was looking at levels of happiness at the different stages of relationships. Long story short, there definitely was a “honeymoon period” where happiness levels spiked in a relationship, but then the reported happiness leveled out to what they were while the individuals were single. The only major change was for people who later broke up; their happiness levels dropped after the honeymoon period to below their reported levels from when the persons were single. Once the honeymoon period wore off they were actually worse off than when they were single, yikes! So, being in a relationship doesn’t actually make you any happier on average than being single does and there are obvious pros and cons to both, but most of it’s worth remembering that a relationship is not a magic fix-it-all.

Knowing that being in a relationship wouldn’t actually make me happier helps, because in all honesty if being in a relationship was important to me I would have found a way by now. I’ve literally never dated so it obviously was never a priority or I would have found some way, any way to make dates happen. If I can justify dunking cookies in coffee-milk in public and still loudly claim to be an adult to my supervisor’s face during such activity, I’m fully capable asking somebody out to an awkward party of two in public, but that second one isn’t going to happen. I’m pretty convinced that attempting any sort of non-platonic relationship would just be a miserable experience for me and be disappointing to my potential partner.

That last bit only sounds depressing because relationships are considered the gold standard of normal. Dunking sugar cookies in coffee-flavored milk might not be “normal”, but it’s seriously the best thing to ever happen to me. So, if both the aro and ace communities could not only celebrate relationships in all their many forms, but shine a little light on how great and normal it is to not be in a relationship too, that would be pretty awesome too. There’s a long healthy single life for this aro-ace after 30 and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Soooo, can we make Single’s Awareness Day an actual thing where we celebrate how healthy and normal it is to be single instead of just a thing people say on Valentine’s day when they don’t have a date? Please? Pretty please? It could be on Feb 15th that way we can chow down on all the left over chocolates.

Sooo, about being Agender

This post has literally been sitting in my drafts since last June. For months I’ve been trying to think about how to explain what it’s like to be agender. I understand that not feeling romantic or sexual attraction is a tough concept for people to wrap their heads around and I understand that genders outside the binary are basically a totally alien idea to most people, but not having a gender at all? This obviously took some thinking.

I first realized I might not be connecting all the dots when I had to take a diversity training for work. The topic of two-spirit genders came up and I was very confused because the phrasing they used suggested that two-spirit wasn’t an assigned gender. Wait, what? Up until that point I assumed that all genders were assigned. I assumed gender was a cultural construct and so logically different cultures had different gender roles and gender types. I was very confused and kept thinking, “….wait… how do you feel two-spirited???” I was a “girl” because people in my Western culture told me I was, so I couldn’t understand how people “just knew” they were two-spirit. I didn’t want to embarrass myself any more than I already had and ask the seminar presenters more questions when the odds of it being relevant for my job were very slim, so I just let the matter go unanswered for about three years.

It wasn’t until I was able to talk to transgender aces in online chats that I was able to figure out that I didn’t have a gender. I’m not fully comfortable using “transgender” as a label and prefer “Nonbinary” when I’m not being specific. I also prefer to use “PFaB” (presumed female at birth) instead of AFaB (assumed/assigned female at birth).

So… what’s it like not having a gender? I’m not sure actuality since it’s not like I actually have a gender to compare it to. My gender dysphoria is (thankfully) fairly minor and I only get an occasional “WTF?”-out-of-body-experience feeling when I look in the mirror or my skin crawls when people call me a “girl” or “lady”. I’ve actually had dysphoria since I was a teenager, but I thought it was “normal” to have body dysphoria during puberty and I just ignored it until I realized I never “grew out of it” like I thought I would. It gets worse if I’m suffering from fatigue so it was easy for me to write it off for a long time. It wasn’t until I started reading about gender dysphoria and my reaction was, “oooooh, that’s what that is.”

My dysphoria basically feels like there’s a delay in my brain; when I look in the mirror it takes my brain longer to process that it’s my reflection that it’s looking at, which is trippy as hell and why I thought it was just a symptom of fatigue for a long time. Wearing my hair in my favorite hair style, making funny faces to distort the image, or wearing particular clothing styles or my unisex work uniform helps my brain to click faster that it’s “me” I’m looking at. 

I really don’t feel comfortable being called a “girl” anymore, but that might actually have more to do with me being 29 years old than my gender experience. My body type doesn’t really allow for me to look androgynous and looking more masculine wouldn’t really make me feel any better. 

There’s a lot of support for transitioning in the non-binary and transgender online communities as the best treatment for dysphoria, but what do I transition to? I hate that androgyny has such a skinny stereotype because I’m not going to be able to lose any weight anytime soon and my genetics really doesn’t allow for skinny. As my mom likes to put it, “We’re famine ready” Actually, the idea of being skinny freaks me out more than having a feminine body. I look at pictures of myself as a kid and my brain goes, “Jeepers, that kid needs a cheeseburger.”

So, if transitioning isn’t an effective treatment, what’s my next best option? For me it’s accepting that, yes, I’m going to feel uncomfortable about my body because of my perceived gender. People are still going to presume I’m a woman even though that’s definitely not the case. What’s really cool though is seeing how every so slowly people around me are becoming more and more aware of gender nuances and it’s totally possible that one day I’ll be able to put “nonbinary” or even “agender” on my DL and medical forms. Someday my coworkers will be comfortable calling me “Mx. Lib” instead of “Miss Lib.” Thinking about a hopeful future like that is what helps me get through the rough parts of looking in the mirror and knowing something just isn’t quite right. Basically, I’ve accepted that my dysphoria has very little to actually do with me and it’s mostly western culture’s fault for presuming I was a “girl” in the first place. 

Escaping Reality, Expensive but Worth it?

So, I’ve been playing two mobile games non-stop (and boy does my paycheck know it). The games are Choices by Pixelberry and The Arcana by NixHydra. You can play for free, but it costs money to unlock extra scenes that reveal more of the story. But it’s not like I have any other major expenses or hobbies right now so I’m willing to accept this as my one vice.

I’m going to start with Choices. The stories I enjoyed the most were “Perfect Match” and “Most Eligible”. I’m willing to accept this as my guilty pleasure as an aromantic because actual dating squicks me out, but playing a totally censored PG13 game is absolutely fine. “Most Eligible” was probably the most fun because the storyline is your character is put on a trashy Reality TV show (based off Big Brother I think?) and the point of the game is to basically hook up with everyone. The bonus scenes are romantic dates and extra info to help your character win the challenges. At the end you have the option of buying an extra scene that you need to win, but if you lose you still win the audience vote if you stay in character during the interviews and get the consolation prize.

“Perfect Match” is the cheesiest scifi plot that I have no excuse for liking. Your character signs up for a dating service and surprise! Your perfect match is actually a super realistic android and the corporation that makes them is evil and you have to stop the evil corporation from taking over the world. Seriously uninspired villains. If that were a TV series synopsis I wouldn’t watch it, but the game turned out to be super fun because you get to choose how your character responds. I loved the ending I got and because it’s scifi, polyamorous relationships are perfectly fine (which thank goodness because I didn’t want to choose between the private detective and the android) and everyone is bi/pan/wtf-sexual. This one is fun to play even without the bonus scenes.

The Arcana is absolutely gorgeous. Rather than unlocking the bonus scenes it’s better to go ahead and just buy the individual chapters because it unlocks all the content and means you don’t need a key to replay the chapters. The individual chapters cost about ten dollars, but you’d be spending more than that if you kept refilling keys and paid to unlock all the bonus scenes individually (and the bonus scenes are basically just romantic fluff anyway soooo you don’t re~ally need it unless that’s your thing).

Not all of the chapters are out yet so it’s going to be a while until we see how the whole story ends. There are several story line choices and each story line has a different suitor and the plot is slightly different in each one too. There’s also a super cute mini-game that I enjoy playing daily. Best feature? You get to chose between she/her, he/him, and they/their pronouns. Asra, one of the characters, is also nonbinary according to the creators. I also happen to really like the story too. If this were a series I would totally watch it, but it’s definitely a perk of the format to have that reader-insert feeling.

The nice thing about both of these mobile games is it gives me a break from reality. The ban on transpersons in the military is definitely a low-point this past month, but on top of that my grandmother, my last living grandparent, is having some serious health problems lately so my mom is going to have to fly up somehow despite the government shutdown and all that mess. Having something fun, easy, and low-stress to do on my downtime is very beneficial to my mental health right now, so while my paycheck is definitely weeping, a little escapism right now is definitely worth it.

Carnival of Aces January 2019: Blessing or Indifferent?

This is my Carnival of Aces submission for January 2019 hosted this month by Demiandproud on the topic of Asexuality as a blessing

Actually this prompt is a real challenge for me (and not just because I’m kinda super tired right now). In my family we don’t really count our blessings anymore. My mom was raised Irish Catholic, but she stopped being religious many years ago. I remember when I was younger that my parents gave Church a valiant try because they know that strong community ties are important (and I agree) and are one of the many keys to a long healthy life, but my parents don’t tolerate ignorance well. A memorable example, according to them, was a minister was talking about Islam (and this was years and years ago) and he said that Muslims believed that the Earth rides on the backs of four elephants. Cue a double facepalm from both my parents. That was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back because we stopped going to church after that. Then one summer my parents took the time to teach us about ALL the world religions from Amish to Zoroastrianism and said “Pick one”. We have parental permission to believe whatever we want, but only if we get the facts right. The elephant thing is first of all from Hinduism and considering all the engineering professors at the local University are from India they might have something to say about painting all Hindus with the same back-woods-simple-folks brush.

My family’s mental health isn’t all that great. My mom probably could use therapy, but she refuses to acknowledge her problems. My dad is an alcoholic and all of my siblings have been treated for depression. I don’t think going to Church would have fixed that, but clearly they’re missing a healthy support system. Somehow, I’m actually doing okay. I’m not sure what secret sauce I got that helps me not go down the dark rabbit hole, but asexuality probably plays a role in that.

Firstly, belonging to the asexual community gives me an extra rung in my support system that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It makes shopping for therapists a little tricky (especially since I’m also nonbinary), but I lean more towards self-help anyway since I don’t have a good track record with counselors (ugh). When I was just starting college (and didn’t know asexuality was a thing) I was part of a writing club and that was my healthy outlet because when I was writing anything was possible. My favorite character creation was an alien species where not having a gender or sex was normal and this character ended being one of the group’s favorites. Even if I didn’t know my gender or sexuality at the time I still found a way to safely express my doubts and feelings. My siblings didn’t have that because they’re “normal”.

Relationships are stressful. For every couple I see being cutesy and loving in public I feel like I see five couples arguing about dumb stuff. My brother and his girlfriend were arguing about dick tattoos while I was trapped in the car with them today, so…I’m actually really glad I don’t have that. My parents fight every day because they are literally an old married couple and it really takes the shine out of the long term relationship thing. Two of my coworkers just recently ended relationships that were at least borderline if not full on abusive. Does it make me sound cynical if I’d rather take myself to dinner and a movie than deal with another person. For every person who says I just “haven’t met the right one” I feel like my response should be, “Well, have you?”

I can’t say with absolute certainty that asexuality has actually had any positive impact on my life, but I can’t say for certain that it’s had any truly negative effects either. In Stoic philosophy there’s a term that isn’t easy to wrap your head around the first time you hear it; for me being asexual is an “indifferent”. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care that I’m asexual because it’s definitely a good thing to know. An indifferent is something that doesn’t affect your moral character. Being asexual doesn’t automatically make me a better person and it doesn’t make me a bad person. In Stoic philosophy things that matter are things that make you wiser, give you better self-control, ensure social justice, or help you overcome difficult circumstances. Since asexuality doesn’t meet that criteria, it’s not something I think about all the time (as seen by my infrequent posting habits).

I’m less concerned with my own asexuality and more concerned that all gender and sexuality minorities should be talked about, understood and celebrated. I’m less concerned about my lack of dating history and more concerned that all consenting adult relationships are celebrated and not just the boy-meets-girl ones. I’m concerned with people knowing what consent and power dynamics mean and that everyone gets the help they need when these things are ignored or abused.

Asexuality didn’t make me a better person, but it did give me a lens to see the world’s injustices from a specific point of view. Being asexual means connecting with so many amazing people and organizations that are trying to change the world for the better that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise if I was straight. Maybe that’s worth calling a “blessing”.

Is Stoicism Working?

Last month I did the Stoicism Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) created by the folks at Modern Stoicism, a multidisciplinary group of dedicated people committed to providing accurate and informative information about Stoic Philosophy. This is the second course I’ve done by them (I did Stoic Week back in October). So, did this four week guided practice actually do anything? Sort of.

Here’s a comparison of my before and after survey results:
-Satisfaction with Life:
Before: 21 “Slightly satisfied”
After: 19 “Slightly Dissatisfied”

-Scale of Positive and Negative Experience where -24 is least positive feelings and 24 is most positive feelings:
Before: -3
After: 13

-Flourishing Scale (score is obtained by adding up the scores for the all eight items giving a range from 8 to 56)
Before: 43
After: 46

After doing the SMRT course the most obvious improvement is the Positive vs. Negative emotions which makes sense since that was a major component of the course and the thing I was focusing on the most. The scoring system for that is actually very easy so I’ll probably track my progress on that as I go along.

Now to the main question: Has Stoicism actually been beneficial to me?

Hmmm, overall I would say “yes” because the biggest positive impact Stoicism has had on me is self acceptance. I mentioned in a previous post that reading Epictetus’s quote about power was actually very helpful because he specifically mentions that our bodies are not within out control. That helped me accept my asexuality and I finally clicked that it wasn’t “my fault” that I hadn’t done anything “wrong”. Obviously Epictetus didn’t have any knowledge of DNA or environmental triggers, but I needed it spelled out.

Another thing I gained was Stoic compassion. It’s a lot easier to…not accept, per say, but be more mindful of idiots. Stoicism likes to point out that it’s only by chance that I was born into a nice, moderate family that values education. Both my parents were the first in their families to go to college. My dad literally told me growing up that our family mission was to fight against ignorance. That had a major impact on me and how I interact with the world, but it all comes down to chance. I could have been born into a family that didn’t value formal education, that was afraid of immigrants, and watches Fox & Friends. Now instead of dismissing people as “just idiots” I ask them, “Why do you think that?” My end goal changed from trying to convince people they were wrong (which, let’s be honest never works anyway) to asking them through polite questioning to think critically about their beliefs.

I think that being able to accept my asexuality and have constructive interactions with people I disagree with are worth taking the time to study Stoicism and I’ve become better at my customer service job and have been able to just deal better with people in general overall.

There is one thing Stoicism isn’t though. It’s not a magic wand that magically fixes all my problems and, oh boy, do I have problems. This past week if I had taken the survey again my results would have tanked. This has, for all intents and purposes, been a shitty week. The biggest problem is I’m not getting enough sleep.

Last Friday (my day off) my manager calls me an hour before my alarm goes off to ask if I can pick up a shift. Saturday my brother wakes me up an hour before my alarm goes off to give me some bullshit excuse of why there’s no gas in the car. Sunday/Monday are the first morning shifts I’ve worked in months so I’m waking up at 5am instead of my usual 9am. I make it to Tuesday thinking it’ll be okay because I get an easy closing shift with time and a half because of the holiday, but then my dad wakes me up two hours before my alarm goes off so we can take the dogs to the park. I keep telling myself, “It’ll be fine, I’m off on Wednesday.” Except Wednesday rolls around and bright and early my mom is yelling at us to high hell because we’re missing three car keys and it’s 200 dollars to make new spares.

Frankly, I’m just exhausted and there’s no Philosophy in the world that’s going to fix that. What I can credit Stoicism with is instead of thinking, “I’m so damn tired, I just want to die,” my thought process was actually very rational. My actual thought was, “I’m so damn tired I’m either going to a) use my work provided mental health benefits to see a counselor and kick them out of their office for an hour and take a god-damned nap; b) tell my family to ‘fuck-off’ and cash my holiday pay check to check into a motel six for two nights so I can finally sleep undisturbed; or I could c) pass out from exhaustion at work so I get workers comp, an overnight stay in a hospital, and a week’s worth of sleeping meds and a doctor’s note telling my family to ‘fuck-off and let me sleep.” Basically, I have options. I still have some control. Option b is looking very sexy right now. There’s like three hotels within walking distance to my choice movie theater. Dinner, movie, hotel, it’s like a date only it’s just me and Mr. Sandman. I could totally talk one of my coworkers into dropping me off or I could walk from work. Totally do-able. Oh, or I can just ask to crash at a coworker’s place for a few hours. See? Options.

Carefully examining what is within my power is an amazing tool. I haven’t perfected it yet, but I see it as a worthy practice. So, overall, I would say Stoicism is working out for me. I’m less miserable than I would be without it and it’s given me clarity over my real priorities, which it’s safe to say includes a well deserved nap.