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.

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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”.

Not stoic as in “Stiff Upper Lip”, but Stoic as in…I’m Working On it.

[This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for December 2018 hosted this month by Sennkestra on Next Step: Cake under the topic “Burn out”]

The topic of “Burn Out” is very appropriate because I’m in the middle of a burn out right now actually. I’m trying to finish school, but I ended up failing a class I needed twice so it’s obviously time to take a break. Every day while at work I’m constantly thinking, “I should not be this tired. This is not normal.” and when I talk about it to other people they’re like, “Tired and stressed? Welcome to adulthood,” or they break out into a story about how their grandmother survived as a single mother of five kids in 1934 during the Great Depression; Inspiring, yes. Helpful, no, but I’ll totally see the movie when it comes out.

I’ve burned out worse before several years ago to the point of more serious physical symptoms and thankfully I’m not to that point yet…I’m just tired. Very, very tired.

To deal with this I’ve been studying Stoicism through some free classes and by supporting the patreon accounts of my favorite Stoics. I’m currently doing a four week course called SMRT (Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training) where each week you’re putting a Stoic practice to use using the niffty audio recordings provided. I’ve been pairing that with the parteon articles and some youtube videos from the Stoi-con last October (and yes, there’s a Stoic Convention and someday I will attend). 

Oh! For folks who don’t know Stoicism is an ancient Hellenistic Philosophy that originated in Greece, but gained some major traction in Rome. Our three main sources of Stoic teachings come from “The Manual” and discourses from Epictetus who was a slave and later a teacher; Letters and essays by Lucius Seneca (usually as just called “Seneca” or “Seneca the younger”) who was a Roman Senator and adviser to Emperor Nero; and lastly Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s person diary which is today known as the “Meditations”. Each of these sources has their own flavor, but my personal favorite right now is Epictetus because it was actually his student who wrote everything down. A lot of ancient Philosophers were apparently allergic to writing because Socrates and Confucius also didn’t. write. that. shit. down. and it was their students who were like “….we should probably be taking notes.” seriously.

Epictetus is easier for me to understand because it’s geared more towards beginners. The modern Stoic guy I support on patreon is a college professor and he says he doesn’t always like or agree with what Epictetus is saying, but he sympathizes the frustration of keeping young minds engaged in less-than-exciting material. Seneca’s stuff is very formal, very knowledgeable, and obviously proof read (unlike this post) while Marcus Aurelius’s lack of punctuation makes me want to bang my head against the wall. To be fair the Meditations is his personal diary that he specifically asked TO BE BURNED after his death and now it’s never been out of print. So, if you want something done right…

Anywho, so how is adopting Stoicism helping my sanity? Well, for the first week of the resilience training we’re supposed to track our negative emotional episodes because as it turns out people don’t usually feel things willy-nilly, something usually triggers it. Like last week at work we’re busy as hell, I’m behind so I ask my coworker to do literally ONE THING for me, so we can catch up. He flat out refused and said, “That’s not my job.” Which, first of all, uh, yeah it is your job and secondly it would have taken five minutes that you would have spent goofing off anyway. Naturally I was pissed off so I wrote that down as a negative emotion incident. The goal is to become more aware of early warning signs, i.e. I’ll eventually be able (hopefully) to predict that “hey, it’s really busy today and that tends to stress me out so I should mentally prepare for that and plan for a timout if I need it.” The goal is to approach difficult situations as rationally as possible and anger doesn’t help rationality.

This week we’re supposed to be tracking how long we dwell on negative incidents. Normally, I’m not one to hold a grudge, but Oh. My. Gods. this lady yesterday. We’re in the middle of a lunch rush and my coworker (different one from above) is stuck on a big order and is quartering six whole grilled chickens which is taking up the whole cutting board. I’m dancing around him trying to get the single plate orders out of the way. This lady orders a half-chicken plate and easy-breezy I just reach in the display case with my metal tongs and with a simple twist snap a grilled chicken in half and toss it on the plate as is because my coworker still has six chickens on the cutting board. But then the lady says, “Oh, no, no, I wanted the fresh chicken.” I’m staring at her stupefied like, what the fuck lady??? I look over at the grills because I think that’s where she’s pointing and the chickens on the grill are obviously still raw. Then she points to where my coworker is cutting up the chickens for the big order and she says, “Like what he has.” ????? My coworker seeing that I’m having problems reaches into the display-case with his tongs and picks up THE OTHER HALF OF THE SAME GODDAMNED CHICKEN and says, “Will this one work?” and she says “Yes, that one.” The way my coworker tells it he’s cackling on the inside like a Disney-villain-reject because he knows it’s the same chicken meanwhile I’m off to the side having a miniature aneurysm. I was off-and-on dwelling on this incident for 29 hours minus the awesome 8 hour sleep I got after my two hours of self-care. I bought special soap and everything.

Alright, let’s break it down Stoically:

  1. Idiots exists. Therefore if I am adequately mentally prepared, encountering one during lunch rush or be scheduled to work with one should not surprise me.
  2. Whether or my customer or coworker is an idiot should not impact my ability to serve people lunch to the best of my knowledge and ability. 
  3. I can’t control whether someone is an idiot or not, but I can take the time to educate myself and take responsibility for my own pool of knowledge because if circumstances had been different, that idiot could easily have been me

This model of thinking also applies to trying to educate people about asexuality. Seriously, giving asexuality 101 is one of my least favorite things, but I have to understand that the majority people grew up being told every single day of their lives that there are only two genders, that boy meets girl and they live happily ever after. If circumstances were different, if I had been born into a different family or my biology had presented differently, I totally have could turned out to be that same ignorant asshole that makes me want to beat my head against the wall. I know for a fact that someday I will walk into a fast-food place that I’ve never been to before and drive some poor food service person crazy because I misinterpreted reality.  Some days you’re the woke asexual advocate on a mission to save humanity from itself, some days you’re the idiot that can’t order fast-food correctly, that’s life.

At its core Stoicism is a very empathetic philosophy. Wisdom is the ultimate virtue, ignorance is the ultimate vice, but we are born ignorant and must be taught to be wise. Nobody wakes up one morning and knows everything about the universe, or asexuality, or grilled chickens, so we have to either be taught or learn by experience. When you are trying to convince somebody that a core belief that they have is wrong you have to understand that you cannot convince them using logic, arguments or data; they have to be the ones to convince themselves. Nobody actually believes in something they do not think is true. Even when somebody is intentionally lying about it, they still believe the truth. The example Epictetus gives is he tells his students to try and convince themselves that day is night. Not gonna happen. Nobody wants to be flat out wrong and they will spend a lot of time and energy defending their beliefs. Check out this segment of the Q&A where the speaker’s talking about his friend from Tennessee. It’s totally worth fighting the good fight against ignorance, but jeepers it’s exhausting

Right now I’m laying down in my bed thinking to myself, “I should not be this tired,” but I am. I’m sitting on a dozen story ideas for novels I want to write before I’m sixty. I have two other blog posts sitting in my draft box from months back that I still haven’t finished. My finals are this week and I haven’t studied. Plus there’s a million other little projects I want to do, but it’s not going to happen. “The spirit is willing…” and all that. The hardest thing I’m going to have to do the next couple of months is give myself a break, cut myself some slack, and just keep learning lots. A fun fact a day, an educational youtube video on my lunch, a quick audio book chapter on my drive to class, little things that keep me growing as a person.

I don’t really have the energy to make the word a better place right now, but I can definitely the time to make myself a better, wiser, person and Stoicism is helping me do that. Here’s a fun fact; there are no sages in Stoicism. We all just strive to do our best with the ability we have with as much wisdom as possible. I’m going to finish off the post with an excerpt from the SMRT morning meditation exercise:

As Epictetus tells his Stoic students, imagine that you’re entering a festival each day, and preparing yourself to endure the rough and tumble, and appreciate the spectacle, while accepting that soon it must all come to an end, and that you must take nothing for granted…
Take time to plan your day ahead, calmly and with reason and wisdom. Think of the day ahead, the tasks you face, and what you would prefer to achieve, fate permitting…Prepare yourself to meet adversity with as much practical wisdom as you can muster, with justice or fairness to others, and with self-discipline when it comes to any unruly emotions and desires… Epictetus says you should ask yourself what inner resources nature has armed you with to deal with external events… How can you excel in your character, and make the best use of whatever befalls you?

Rest well, everyone!

Carnival of Aces August 2018: Coming Out

[This is my post for the Carnival of Aces for August 2018 hosted this month by demiandproud under the topic of “Coming out“]

The topic for this month is Coming Out as an emotional journey based on Vivienne Cass’s identity model:

  1. Identity confusion – first (uncomfortable) inklings of being different somehow.
  2. Identity comparison – seeking out information and thinking about being different, perhaps.
  3. Identity tolerance – finding similar people and engaging with rising doubts as identity slowly shifts.
  4. Identity acceptance – making peace with a shift in (a)sexual orientation, tentatively opening up to others and processing the emotions that come with the change.
  5. Identity pride – a sense of freedom, a wish to advertise the change in identity.
  6. Identity synthesis – braiding together the new identity with the rest of oneself to make a whole.

Based on this model I would say that I’m in phase six: Identity synthesis.

I’ve accepted my asexual identity, I’ve bought a bunch of pride merch and like to accessorize using pride colors. I’ve explained my asexuality to a few people I was comfortable telling (mostly coworkers). But all that only applies to asexuality. When it comes to aromanticism and being agender I’m still in the process of emotionally coming out. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be completely out as aro and agender because these are less known identities. I’ve found it much more difficult to explain aromanticism and agender to the uninitiated than asexuality because most people have at least heard of asexuality while that is definitely not the case for aro or agender. Even my gay coworkers are like, “aromantic? wtf?”

The tipping point that allowed me to finally accept my asexual identity was I started reading about philosophy, specifically Stoicism. Stoicism is a branch of Hellenistic Philosophy; Hellenistic Philosophy is the umbrella term for several rival schools of philosophy that existed in Greece and Rome from after the death of Alexander the Great until they were eventually banned from Rome after the rise of Christianity.

I turned to philosophy because I had questions and the LGBT+ community wasn’t giving me a satisfactory answer. In order to accept myself as an asexual I needed more than Lady Gaga telling me “I was born this way” and folks on Tumblr reblogging “haters gonna hate”. The Tumblr affirmation posts were super sweet and all, buuuut they didn’t really do much for me. I needed to know “why me?” first of all and I needed to know why I had to be the “bigger person” than all the haters before I could fully come to terms with being asexual. Seriously, one of my biggest questions in life is “why does everybody else get to be an asshole and I can’t?”

If you catch an intro to Modern Stoicism video/lecture or pick up a book on Stoicism they are probably going to tell you “if you only remember only one thing from this lecture/book/whatever, remember this:

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.

-which is the first paragraph from Enchiridion.

Enchiridion (No, not that one.)

This one>>24615

The big take away for me was that Epictetus included “body” and “reputation” on the “beyond our control” list. It wasn’t until that sank in that I was able to accept my asexuality.

I actually came out to my parents a couple years ago shortly after I realized I was asexual.

It did not go well.

Which is kinda weird because my parents are liberals and very vocally for transgender and gay rights, but when it comes to me it’s “Asexual? Oh, you just haven’t met the right one yet.” *head-desk*

Basically since attraction (or lack there of) is just something the body does (as a fascinating yet delicate biological cocktail) it’s completely out of my control, meaning it’s not my fault that I’m asexual. The universe rolled a big-bang’s worth of D20’s (because Quantum Physics) and, whoops, here we are. I know that’s kinda of obvious now, but it wasn’t until I read Epictetus that it finally sunk in that I literally can’t change my biological make-up regardless of what the social norms are this hot minute.

Better yet, it’s totally out of my control what people think or say about me. I can definitely try to educate people about asexuality, keep some pamphlets on me, break out the powerpoints or whatever, but I can’t control what other people think or say once they’ve made up their mind. So, whether my parents accept my status as asexual is not in my control.

So, what can I control? According to the Stoics I’m only responsible for my own virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, temperance) and “living within accordance with nature”. This is where Stoicism gets a little more interesting because Stoicism defines humans as “rational, social animals”. By “rational” they mean capable of complex reasoning. People might not always utilize this ability, but the capability is still there. Stoics also accept that being social is necessary. We can’t all throw on some white robes and hide in a cave. Dealing with phobic assholes is pretty much inevitable, but why do I have to turn the other cheek, take the high road, be the bigger person…etc…etc…?

When your happiness is based on things outside of your control (relationships, a well paying job, your body/health) it’s like you’re playing craps (gambling with dice) for your happiness. It might or might not happen. But if your happiness is based on things within your control (your virtues and “living according to nature”) then your happiness will also be within your control. Not being an asshole is literally one of the few things I can actually control so that’s why I have to be the “better” person when other people act like jerks. I have to make the most of what little agency I got.

I really like the imagery of “braiding together the new identity with the rest of oneself to make a whole” because I do treat asexuality, aromanticism, and agender as separate pieces that make up my whole self. It just so happens that I also needed a “Stoic” thread to help tie it all together.

 

 

[Curious about Stoicism? Here’s a 20 minute video intro by Dr. Donald Robertson.]

 

Carnival of Aces July 2018: Then and Now

[This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for July 2018 hosted this month by trisockatops under the topic of “Then and Now”]

I realized I was asexual when I was 25, which in my opinion is seriously late in life when I was comparing my discovery with the general chatter online. I felt weird reading over the tumblr blogs because most of the folks were significantly younger than me and were still having to deal with teenager stuff (parents, high school, and being unable to legally do anything about it) on top if being asexual. I think dealing with asexuality as an adult is much easier. My college classmates don’t ask nor care about my sexuality or social standing unless it’s going to appear on a test. I stopped needing my parents’ validation a long time ago. I have bills and rent and tuition to stress me out more than other people’s opinions. Actually, between work, school, and taking care of my dog I rarely have time to sit down and think “oh, wait. I’m asexual.”

Honestly, after my initial “holy shit, I’m queer” moment, my asexual journey has been pretty uneventful. I’m more comfortable with myself and where my life is going than I’ve ever been before and a lot of that is just learning how to master the “adult” thing. Right now that that means awarding myself personal kudos if I can find a pair of matching socks before going to work.

The more interesting contrast isn’t between when I found out about asexuality and now, but rather right before I found out about asexuality. A couple years ago I was working for the CNCS (Corperation for National and Community Service). They offer incentive programs that provide college loan forgiveness (which I sorely needed at the time). The diversity training I always mention, the diversity training that neglected to cover asexuality and agender as options, was through them. I was not a hard sell the sign up. Food, laundry, housing, transportation included and I could have my university loans paid off in two years.

The program also promised life-long friendships with your coworkers because you lived and worked together basically 24/7 “like family”. There where several couples who met their significant others in the program every year. All around the job sounded like a sweet deal for my early 20-something to “go out and find myself”. It would be my first time living away from home and out of state. It was a chance for all my favorite tropes to come true.

Weeeell, I did manage to pay off my school loans at least and 99% of the work was picking up trash and pulling weeds, so it was still a pretty sweet deal, but there were no fire-forged friendships and no romance subplots (for me anyway). I was really hoping to get some long-time friends and meet a potential romantic partner in the program and that just didn’t happen. That just shows how well I didn’t know myself back then and I certainly didn’t “find myself ” by picking up trash and pulling weeds full-time for two years.

The reason I’m thinking about the program again is because they are trying to organize a reunion this fall. A camping reunion to reclaim some of the “magic” of back then. Uh, well, I’m all for camping if I get paid to do it, but just thinking about buying all the equipment, the plane ticket, and the rental car makes me want to call up my doctor for a Xanax prescription. Not an exaggeration, by the way; I really am that freaked out about.

I pay for my current college classes out of pocket (since financial aid thinks if you have a degree already you don’t need any more assistance money) and I’m pretty much dirt broke. This thing would probably worse than a high school reunion. I do not have my life together and some irrational part of my primate brain wants to make a good impression on people I literally haven’t talked to in years and I have this deep seated fear that they all have “big-people jobs”, spouses, their own apartments and all that TvLand crap. Meanwhile I still live with my parents (actually I pay them rent, but they’re my parents so they charge me super cheap). I’m getting another (two or three actually) associate degrees in a totally different field instead of a master’s degree in communications (because surprise, surprise, 18 year old me didn’t actually know what they want actually do in life). I feel like a tortoise trying to impress a bunch of hares.

Behold my imaginary conversations that are freaking me out:
“Hey guys! So, this wasn’t on the nifty power point we had to see 4 years ago, but I’m asexual.”
“Oh, and I don’t date. Like ever. And romantic stuff wigs me out so I know a couple of paired off and the Instagram pics of your engagement rings are super cute and all, but…can you not ooze your romantic bliss everywhere? Thanks.”
“Uh, yeah. I’m going back to school. For math so I can sit in a tiny cubical all day and ignore the environmental issues I see that you’re still passionate about.”
“No, I don’t want to work out.”
“I came by bus actually. It sucked but I have a bunch of audiobooks.”
“…I work in a grocery-store. Discounts on food is definitely a perk I need right now.”
“I’ll be in my tent working on homework if y’all need me.”

So, instead of a weekend of camping I think I’m going to stay home, read up on philosophy, practice some writing, and enjoy all the pleasure of being single. Right now I’m reading up all the studies on the health an psychological benefits of being single. I think that’s a post for another day, but it’s definitely not something I would have even considered back then. Totally worth it now.

Carnival of Aces May 2018: “Filling In the Blanks”

This is my Carnival of Aces submission for May 2018 hosted this month by Prismatic Entanglements under the topic of “Nuance and Complexity“. For more in formation about the CoA, to see past topics, or to volunteer to be a future host see the master post on The Asexual Agenda

“figuring out you’re asexual is like trying to find a nonexistent needle in a very large haystack except people keep trying to convince you that you’re just not looking hard enough or you’ll find the right needle eventually but the needle just isn’t there and yet everyone else’s is and then you wonder whether or not you actually have a needle and then you spot something that might be a needle but nope it’s just another hay strand and everything is confusing and now the haystack is on fire”
Source: simplydaisys

One thing I don’t like about identifying as asexual (and aromantic and agender) is I feel like my identity is defined by blank space. Other identities can say things like, “I like girls and I’m mostly a girl, so I’m lesbian” or “I’m pan, I like who I like regardless of gender.” My explanations feel like a fill-in-the-blank question on a test you didn’t study for. I am who I am based on attractions that aren’t there and more often than not that’s met with skepticism or lack of comprehension.

Continue reading “Carnival of Aces May 2018: “Filling In the Blanks””

Carnival of Aces: April 2018 “My Unexpected Future”

[This is my Carnival of Aces submission for April 2018 under the topic of “How did your (a)sexual and (a)romantic orientations impact your (expected or imagined) future?” Hosted this month by demiandproud. For more information about the Carnival of Aces, to view past topics, or to volunteer to be a future host see the master post on The Asexual Agenda blog.]

As soon as I finished paying off my first go at college I set three goals for myself for the following five years:
1) be financially stable, 2) get started on my career, and 3) be in a “meaningful” (meaning “romantic”) relationship.

As the saying goes, “If you want the gods to laugh, tell them your plans.

Five years later I’m “financially stable” in the sense that I’m flat broke, I’m going back to school to change careers, and surprise! I’m an aromantic asexual.

I’m flat broke. But that’s because I’m paying for classes out of pocket, so it’s okay?
I’m almost 30 and I still live at home. But I pay rent, so it’s okay?
I haven’t started “my career”. But I like my current job for now, so it’s okay?
I’ve never had a “meaningful relationship”. But being queer means I basically have life-time membership to an awesome club of people as weird as I am, sooo it’s…okay? I think I’m okay.

“All the birds have begun nests except me and you, what are we still waiting for?”

Well, if you know anything about birds, it might have taken a looong way to get there. Several bird species are known to migrate.

One thing about growing up in a small town that I thought was super weird was people who went to the same elementary school, same middle school, and eventually the same high school would hook up and marry young. Like, ew? There’s a major city with a population of 1.5 million just 35 minutes down the road. Seriously, ya’ll could have shopped around a little. My elementary school only had 300 students when I went there.

Both of my parents “migrated”, so to speak. They met in Denver. My mom had always dreamed of living in Denver, so she packed up herself, her few processions, and her dog into a car and drove there from Indiana. My dad moved to Denver almost by accident as he and his cousin were passing through with the intention of looking for work in Montana, but he found a job in Denver instead that hired him on the spot. It always seemed odd to me when people don’t have a “migration” aspect to their love story like “met while away at college” or “Met at comic-con” or something.

I attempted my own migration of sorts. I lived out of state for two years and traveled all up and down the West coast and the Pacific Northwest coast. Noth’n, natta. It wasn’t until a few months after I came back to Texas that I found out asexuality was even a thing. You’d think it would have come up sooner in my travels at least.

I’m not really sure what I’m going to do. I can’t exactly date other people because whenever somebody asks I get super twitchy and uncomfortable. I don’t want aro-ace to be a deal breaker, but having to explain ace/aro/agender to people before I’m ready definitely is.

The last time somebody asked me out it turned into a mess and I was very uncomfortable. It pissed me off that he just assumed I was straight and I didn’t know him well enough to come out as ace because he didn’t give me enough time to build up any trust. I don’t understand the whole “dating to get to know them” concept. I would need somebody to know before hand that I’m asexual, aromantic, and agender before I would be comfortable enough to even try to be emotionally close to another person. That’s what I’m missing in my life right now; somebody willing to understand and accept all three. Not even my family can do that.

I’ve tried using ace apps and websites to meet more aces, but there somehow always seems to be a snag. “But, you’re biologically female right?” was a memorable one from Acebook. Ugh, *shivers*.

So, I wouldn’t say I’m “waiting” for anything, but rather I’m still in the “migration” phase of my life. I guess some people (like my former kinder classmates) are like blue grouses and their nesting spot is right next door while others, like me perhaps, are more like Arctic terns.

arctic terns in a migration flight

We gotta looooooong way to go yet.

Carnival of Aces March 2018: Sleep Hygiene

[This is my Carnival of Aces Submission for March 2018 under the topic of “Physical Health and/or Our Bodies” hosted this month by luvtheheaven. For more information about the Carnival of Aces, to see past topics, or to volunteer to become a future host please see the master post on the Asexuality Agenda blog]

It’s no coincidence that I’m dead tired as I’m writing this. Currently my sleep hygiene is terrible and I should know better!!! It wasn’t always this bad. I never pulled all-nighters to finished projects or study for test. Instead I would go to bed and wake up just a little bit earlier to finish what I needed then. Since I abstained from all-nighters I would do better on tests than the majority of my peers, I would FEEL better than the crammers and I could retain and recall the information better. In fact, I barely studied at all in school crediting a good night’s sleep for the cause of my good grades.

Now that I’m finishing up school and working more hours to prepare for a new career I’m finding that my stress and current lifestyle isn’t very good for sleep.

First things first, for anyone who doesn’t know:

sleep hy·giene noun
  1. habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.

I participated in a small sleep study a little while back. The study asked participants to change up to three habits to see if their sleep improved. All across the board, no matter what habits people picked up or changed, just being aware of their sleep hygiene and making small changes to their bed-time routine improved their sleep.

Here were the suggested habit changes:

  • Avoid caffeine after noon
  • Exercise for at least ten minutes each day
  • Avoid naps, especially naps longer than 15 minutes
  • Set a consistent bedtime
  • Avoid screen time (phone, computer, or TV) within 30 minutes of going to bed
  • Spend ten minutes engaged in meditation or mindfulness practices within two hours of going to bed

I’m going to be honest, I do none of those things. I did when I was participating in the study, but that was also before I decided to pick up a second major that I need to finish before the fall. I logically know that doing these things will help improve my mental and physical well being, but putting it into practice is hard. I could write six paragraphs of why I’m not doing these things, but I don’t think that would help anybody.

I use a program called f.lux for my computer to block blue light at night and that really helps me fall asleep faster after I use it. I recommend it if you’re tend to use the computer late at night. There are also equivalent apps for phones if you like to spend time on your phone at night and kindle fire has a similar program built in.

I also recommend investing in a comfy chair. I was looking at websites with sleep improvement tips nearly all of them recommend using your bed for sleep only (well, sleep and sex, but…) So, don’t read in bed…like I do…every night… these tips are hard. Another tip that I actually can vouch for is if you’re lying in bed and can’t sleep because your mind is racing; get up and sit in a chair. A really comfy reading/relaxing/thinking chair will give you a place other than your bed to do non-sleeping activities.

I was hoping to do more research for my post with facts and sources and all that good stuff, but I’m going to end it here. If this post at the very least gets you to start thinking about your sleep hygiene then that’s good enough for now.

In the meantime here are some TedTalks to fill in the gaps https://www.ted.com/playlists/223/talks_to_inspire_you_to_go_to

Pretty much all the experts say that a good night’s sleep is key to good mental, physical, and social health. Sweet dreams everyone!

 

Carnival of Aces February 2018: Mental Health First Aid

[This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for February 2018 hosted this month by Sophia on the topic of “Mental Health“. You can find out more about the Carnival of Aces, read previous topics, or sign up to become a host by visiting the Carnival of Aces master post: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/a-carnival-of-aces-masterpost/ ]

I’ve actually been really lucky when it comes to my mental health. I was struggling to come up with a topic that was ace-related, so I’ll just talk about this really cool certification you can get.

Lots of people have taken a first aid class so you probably know what to do if someone has a broken arm or if someone is choking and you might even know CPR, but do you know what to do if someone is having a panic-attack? A PTSD flashback? What if someone you know is showing signs of depression or one of your friends has an eating disorder? Do you know what to do then?

I had to be certified in Mental Health First aid for one of my previous jobs and I felt it was a valuable experience. Just reading this post isn’t a substitute for the certification so if you’re interested please check out their website and find an instructor near you.

ALGEE.png

I’ll be going over the 5-step action plan. The course uses the acronym A.L.G.E.E. to help students remember the steps. Unlike with regular First Aid courses these steps don’t have to happen in order, the ALGEE acronym is used primarily as a memory tool

Step A: Assess for risk of suicide or harm.
This step is very important. If you think someone is going to hurt themself or someone else, drop everything and dial 911 (or your country’s emergency number). You only proceed to the next steps if you don’t think there is an immediate threat to life or safety and you can always come back to this step if you need to.

Step L: Listen nonjudgmentally.
This is the hardest step so I’m going to go into more depth. Whenever someone has a problem we have this knee-jerk reaction to a) want to help and b) give advice. There is a time and a place for that, but you might actually do the most good just being an attentive listener. Sometimes people just need to vent and they need someone to understand.

Say, for example, your friend just randomly says, “ugh, I feel fat.” Your first instinct is to be like “No! You’re not fat!” and “You’re prefect the way you are!” because they are your friend and they are wonderful, but by doing that you just completely discounted/dismissed their feelings and shut down any hope of a conversation.

A better response would be, “Why do you feel that way?” or “Why do you think that?” Asking open-ended questions continues the conversation and allows you to probe for warning signs. Maybe your friend ate two donuts for breakfast because traffic was hell and they were late to class. Maybe they have deep anxiety about their body image or an eating disorder. The only way you’ll know for sure is if you hold back on the advice for a minute and really actively listen.

I was watching a really good video on YouTube about Mental Health resources. It’s an hour long, but it covers some really good general information. One of the speakers was talking about “Remember to be human”. Ask probing questions like, “How are you doing?” “Are you getting enough sleep?” “Hey, do you need me to stop by with some breakfast tacos before your exam?” This is an easy way to check up on somebody’s mental health. Eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, body aches, headaches, heart palpitations, and feeling out of breath are all physical signs that could point to a mental health problem that people could miss or dismiss if they aren’t actively listening.

Step G- Give reassurance and information.
This is different from giving advice. You’re assuring the person that you care about them, that you support them, and that you’re there if they need it. Don’t give advice, give information like:
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
National Domestic Violence Hotline : 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/mental-health-resources/

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a really good website to check out for information and links to resources.

Sometimes it takes a long time before people are ready to seek out help. That’s okay. It’s not a race to get better. The important thing is to be there for them and be ready with information when they are ready to seek out professional help. Keep referring back to steps A and L.

Step E: Encourage appropriate professional help.
Step E: Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Whenever someone thinks “mental health” they automatically think “shrink”. Psychologists and psychiatrists are few and far between, very specialized, and can be very expensive. What a lot of people don’t know is they can go to their primary doctor for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. There are even some specialized nurses who can write prescriptions for medication.

What ends up happening is people wait weeks or even months to see a specialist when they could have gotten the same service faster from a primary care or family doctor. Social workers are another community resource that have special Mental Health related certifications. These folks will probably be your first point of contact and if you or your loved one needs a specialist they can help you find a good and affordable fit.

You can be proactive and look for resources in your community that might easily be overlooked. https://www.nami.org/Find-Your-Local-NAMI

Maybe now you’ll want convince your work or school to host a Mental Health First Aid course, but for the moment take some time to become better prepared to support someone else or your own mental health by checking out and exploring the NAMI website. Write down or save some of those important numbers for someone who might need them and check out these resource pages:
https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ
https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/mental-health-resources/

I’ve been super lucky when it comes to my mental health, but it’s still a load off my mind to know that there are some places I can go to or numbers I can call if something ever comes up.

Carnival of Aces January 2018: Identity and Control

[Hi folks! This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for January 2018 hosted this month by Ace Film Reviews with the topic of “Identity“]

Aromantic, Asexual, Agender, Wants Tea. “Describe yourself in five words” is probably my least favorite ice-breaker question. Five words isn’t enough to describe millions of years of genetic mutation and evolution. Five words doesn’t describe my culture, my beliefs, my experiences, or my habitual actions. Five words doesn’t tell you that my family has a history of depression, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure. Five words isn’t enough to describe how little control we actually have when it comes to our “identity”.

The question of identity is really three questions:

The first is, “Who am I?” Are we the sum of our experiences or are we defined by our actions? How much of “me” includes physical traits, beliefs, personality, attributes, culture, ability, and virtues?

The second question is “What defines personhood?” Are we a person the moment of conception? First breath? First coherent thought? Are we still considered a “person” after physical death? What about after brain death or ailments like dementia? Is there a crime or action so terrible that it invalidates what it means to be a person?

The third question is about continuity. If a wooden ship is slowly replaced piece by piece overtime until none of the original parts remain, is it the same ship? Well, yes, because the “old” ship and the “new” ship share a continuity. We’re not the same person we were ten years ago, but our past self and current self share a continuity. That continuity is also part of the identity.

So, how much of our identity is actually under our control? Well if neurologist Robert Sapolsky is to be believed, and I highly recommend listening the podcast, we don’t actually have agency. Our actions, our identity, is determined by context, both biological and environmental, but if you’re looking for the one gene, the one hormone, the one region of the brain, the one childhood trauma that makes us who we are, you’re not going to find it. We are the result of an extremely complex symphony of causality.

Try to describe yourself in five words; How many pieces of that description was a result of your agency, the direct result of actions you took to produce that particular result?

For my five words, none at all. My first three words -aromantic, asexual, agender- are beyond my control. I’m aromantic because I don’t feel the pull that others do to form romantic attachments. I can’t order my body to feel romantic attraction and expect it to obey. The same is true for asexuality. I can’t force my body to feel attraction towards another person.

When it comes to gender I understand intellectually (now anyway) that many people self identify and feel that they have a gender. I don’t have that feeling and I can’t magically make it appear out of no where. There’s no corner pocket in my mind where my gender is hiding, waiting to pop out and surprise me. It actually took me a long time to even intellectually understand what gender is because I have no personal context for it.

As for wanting tea- Tea is the 2nd most consumed beverage after water. It has a rich history, is a key elements in many cultures, and it feeds my caffeine addiction as a healthier alternative to soda which is something I need to consider given my family’s history of health problems. So, there’s not really a whole lot of agency there either.

As I get older I realize that I’m less my own person and becoming more and more like my parents. I’ll do something or say something and realize in that moment I’ve become like my mom or dad. I could try to fight it, but it would be a losing battle. My race, my religious beliefs, and my cultural quirks all came from them. The American Dream preaches “pulling yourself up by your boot straps”, but a lot of financial success (or lack there of in my case) boils down to good, old fashioned luck. My all four of grandparents were working class, so it’s no surprise that I’m a member of the working class.

My identity is beyond my control, but I’m not worried about it. I can’t control how people perceive me, but worrying about it just makes it ten times worse. I can’t control my body, but I can keep up proper hygiene practices and eat healthy when I can. Since I’m pretty much doomed to be like my parents I can at least be self-aware; I can celebrate the traits I love and ask for help (possibly even professional help) on managing traits and habits that are less desirable. It’s pretty miraculous actually that with the infinite amount variables that “I” even exist. I think I can be happy with that.