For Asexual Awareness Week, I Am Going to Review Asexual Novel(la)s

UPDATE: Dreamspinner Press is having a 30% off sale on all of their books, including the books in the their Harmony Ink Press imprint, from now until October 23. Both Dreamspinner and Harmony Ink have a few asexual books, unfortunately there is no good way to filter for them, so one can find out which of their titles have asexual characters by checking Ace Read’s tagpacker for Harmony Ink Press and Dreamspinner Press. I haven’t read any of these books (yet) so I can’t tell you whether or not they are any good.

When I talk to other asexuals, a lot of them talk about the lack of fiction featuring asexual characters. I myself think there is not enough asexual fiction in this world, and I think the best thing I can do to promote asexual fiction is to buy it, read it, and then review it so that more asexual readers know about it. So that is exactly what I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week. Each day, I will post a review of a Less Than Three Press novel(la) from their ‘asexual’ category which is available in print.

Why Less Than Three Press? Because they have a convenient system for finding and buying a bunch of asexual stories all at once, which makes this project much simpler. I like it very much that LT3 offer all of the stories which I am reviewing in ePub, PDF, and my favorite format, print. I am also curious about the kind of ‘asexual’ fiction which an LGBT small press puts out. I have since discovered that Riptide Publishing also has a way to filter for specifically ace spectrum fiction, but I had already made my purchase from LT3 Press, and more than half of the Riptide asexual stories haven’t even be released yet, which means I can’t read them in time for Asexual Awareness Week. Maybe, once these Riptide Publishing stories are released, I’ll read and review them too.

The Asexuality Content Scale

There is a place for fiction where it is stated that a character is asexual but the story otherwise has nothing to do with asexuality. There is a place for fiction which is all about asexuality. Some readers are more interested in the former, and some readers are more interested in the latter. Therefore, I am going to rate every story for asexuality content on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 1 meaning a character says “By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality never gets mentioned ever again, and a 10 meaning that the story is about asexuality and almost nothing else. This scale measures quantity, not quality. It has nothing to do with whether story is good or bad.

Since this is a series of reviews for Asexual Awareness Week, I am going to put particular emphasis on how these stories present asexuality.

Also, anyone who is interested in fiction about asexual characters should check out Ace Reads and Asexuality in Fiction.

The first review is going to be: How Not to Summon Your True Love by Sasha L. Miller

The Compartments of My Social Life

I do not really understand why, but I really like splitting my social life into separate, distinct compartments.

A lot of people who use the internet use multiple pseudonyms, and use different pseudonyms for different purposes. However, I rarely meet people who go by multiple names in their offline lives.
I do.

Specifically, I go by two three four different names offline. The division I use is very pragmatic – when I expect to interact with a group of people in such a way that they will have to see my legal documents, I will introduce myself with my legal first name, and as that they call me that. If I expect to interact with a group of people on a primarily personal basis, I usually (but do not always) introduce myself as ‘Sara’ (the very same name I use on this blog).

I have no interest in changing my legal first name. The purpose of my legal first name is to be my legal first name, the purpose of my personal name is to be my personal name.

Of course, this does not always break down so neatly. Sometimes, even when I am introducing myself on a personal basis, I use my legal first name instead of ‘Sara’ – and I don’t always know why. Furthermore, there have been times when, even when I was dealing with people on a professional/official basis in Taiwan, I ended up being called ‘Sara’ anyway, even though that was not the first name listed on my official documents, because Taiwanese people find ‘Sara’ easier to pronounce than my legal first name.

And that brings me to the third name I answer to offline – my Chinese name, Zhēn​zhū​ (pronounced ‘jenju’). I have not had so much use for my Chinese name – partially because most Chinese speakers find ‘Sara’ easy enough to pronounce – but a few people prefer to refer to me by my Chinese name, so that it yet another name I answer to in offline life.

The fourth name is my trail name. In the United States, long-distance hikers tend to introduce and refer to each other by ‘trail names’ rather than their legal names. Many hikers like to separate their lives on trail from their lives off trail, and having separate names is a way to do that. I’ve read about hikers experiencing shock when they get off trail and have to start answering to their legal names again.

This leads to the problem of people who know me by one name eventually learning that I answer to a different name. It’s never been an issue with my Chinese name, since nobody expects my Chinese name to be the only name I answer to, and it’s understood that hikers have names other than their trail names, but with my other two names … oh boy. It’s sometimes hilarious, but always awkward.

And since I only have one email account, I have to use it for all of my social compartments, which is why the name I use for my email account includes both my legal first name and ‘Sara’.

Sometimes, I like it when different compartments of my life come together. Sometimes, I really dislike it, mainly because I feel like the compartments are breaking down. I do not understand why I sometimes dislike this.

So far, I’ve just been talking about my offline social life. I answer to more than three pseudonyms online. Maintaining distinct compartments is much easier online, and even when different compartments come together, people are generally much more understanding of having multiple names online than of having multiple names offline.

One might think that my various different names represent different identities, but that is not how I see it. I am always who I am. For example, I am always asexual, even when I’m not publicly declaring it. To me, different names represent different masks I use for different social situations, not as an indication that I myself am any different as a person.

Maybe I dislike it when my compartments break down because, just because I am ready to show a certain group of people one of my masks does not mean I am ready to show them a different mask, and I want to control the process of how people learn about my various masks.

Three Steps into the Asexual Community

This is a submission to the October Carnial of Aces: “Joining the Asexual Community”.

Step One: Private Identity

My first step towards joining the asexual community was identifying with asexuality. Whenever I fill out a survey which asks ‘when did you first realize you were asexual’ I always have to put in some variation of ‘I don’t know’. There was not a distinct moment when I could say that before that moment I identified as asexual, and after that moment I did not. It was a gradual process.

However, what really solidified my identity as asexual was discovering the asexual blogosphere in late 2009. Before then, my feelings were ‘maybe I’m asexual, maybe I’m not’. I had figured out that I was different from my heterosexual peers, and I never thought I was homosexual or even bisexual, but being non-hetero/homo/bisexual did not necessarily mean I was asexual, did it?

After reading long descriptions of asexuals’ experiences on blogs (I’ve written a post about that), my reaction was ‘this makes so much sense, I guess I am asexual’.

However, even though I was privately identifying as asexual, there was enough going on in my life that I did not feel I had the time and energy to actively participate in the community.

Step Two: Starting This Blog

Aside from occasionally commenting on asexual blogs, this blog is the first active effort I have ever made to participate in the asexual community. I started it exactly one year after my arrival to Taiwan – to the very date – and that is not a coincidence. My first year in Taiwan was about settling into a society I had never been to before, in a region of the world (East Asia) I had never been to before. Suffice to say, I was not much interested in exploring my asexuality during that time. I had even stopped following asexuality blogs.

However, after a year, things had settled down, and I had been thinking about starting my own blogs for years. So I decided to go ahead and do it. Though this has never been strictly an ‘asexuality’ blog (I discuss whatever miscellaneous thing I want on this blog), it turns out that asexuality is something I want to blog about relatively often.

I did not know that at the time, but I started this blog at the time there was a major transition in the asexual blogosphere. It was a time when a number of major asexual bloggers quit blogging, and a number of new prominent bloggers got started. The most significant event, however, was possibly the creation of the Asexual Agenda about six months after this blog.

However, at this time, I was living in Taiwan. At that time, Taiwan had no asexual community that I was aware of, so I was limited to interacting with the asexual community outside of Taiwan.

Then I left Taiwan.

Step Three: Meeting Asexuals Offline

One of the first things I did after I returned to the United States of America was go to the meeting of a local asexual group. Since then, I’ve become a regular at the local asexual meetup group.

What I get from offline meetups is different from what I get from online blogging. The blogosphere is where I do / receive the most critical thinking on asexuality, so the offline meetups are more about hanging out with people who happen to be ace rather than doing specifically asexual stuff. That said, I think simply doing social stuff with other asexual people has helped me bond with the asexual community in a different way that I can through asexuality blogging.

Will there be a step four? I don’t know. I guess I will find out.

We Need to Accept Sexual Diversity, Not that Sex Is ‘Natural’

A few months ago, there was a post made in response to writing by asexuals which, among other things, said that a core concept of sex-positivity is that “sex is natural and normal” and that it is this concept specifically which needs to be promoted to stop various forms of unjust violence and oppression. Furthermore, the blogger asserts that the reason why certain groups of Christians oppress homosexuals is because they find *sex in itself* disgusting, not because they are specifically disgusted by homosexual sex, and therefore the way to fight that oppression is to say that sex is positive.

I am not linking to that post because this is about the general idea, not the specific post, and I do not want to single out that blog post.

First, I highly recommend reading “On Christians & the Sanctification of Sex”. The summary is that there are very few American Christians who believe that sex is bad – in fact, most Christian sects go out of their way to say that sex is a ‘gift from God’ or something in that vein. Of course, many Christian sects only approve of certain forms of sex, but generally, religious Christians think that sex is good.

And it’s not just Christianity – I dare you to find a single mainstream religion (i.e. a religion which is not considered fringe or extremist) which claims that sex between a man and a woman in a monogamous marriage is not a good thing.

I did not come from a conservative religious background myself, but I have read the accounts of many asexuals who have (here is an example), and it seems that conservative religious people are just as likely to be make asexual people feel broken and unworthy as other people in mainstream society.

That’s why, when ‘sex-positive’ people declare that ‘sex is good’ as if there is anyone in mainstream society who disagrees with that assertion, I scratch my head. It seems that they are straw-manning the people they are trying to criticize (such as conservative Christian fundamentalists). Actually, I suspect that it something deeper. They have so internalized the extremely mainstream idea that ‘sex is good’ that they are parroting it to signal that they are being reasonable and respectable to mainstream society, rather than to break with mainstream society.

You know what would be a real break from mainstream society? Asserting a radical acceptance of sexual diversity. One which promotes acceptance of all sexual orientations and genders, and tolerates all sexual behaviors – including never ever having sex – which do not cause unjust harm. Of course, not everyone is going to agree about what counts as ‘unjust harm’ of course, which makes putting this principle into practice tricky.

Notice that this principle is neutral on the question on whether or not sex is ‘good’. The core message is ‘sexual diversity’ not ‘sex is good’.

Finally, there is this article from Psychology Today which presents research that indicates that prejudice against sexual minorities is based on their deviance from the social norm, and not, in the case of sexual minorities who have sex, based on the sex they are having. For example, the research found that religious fundamentalists were prejudiced against homosexuals who were celibate, even though they are not having sex.

Some ‘sex-positive’ people are supportive of asexuality and other groups who are less ‘sexual’ than the social norm, and that is cool. However, I have also seen many examples of ‘sex-positive’ people shaming asexual and other less ‘sexual’ people and telling them that they are unnatural and abnormal (and yes, if your core message is ‘sex is natural and normal’, you are loudly implying that people who do not have sex are unnatural and abnormal). In short, they are shaming people not because those people have done anything harmful, but because they are deviating from a social norm. In other words, those sex-positive people are acting in a completely mainstream and, dare I say it, conservative way.

The way to help sexual minorities is to accept diversity, not to join the chorus of mainstream society in saying that sex is so great.

Darn, I Got Mandarin in My English

English is my native language, whereas I did not even start learning Mandarin until I was about twenty-one years old. So there is no way that Mandarin can mess up my use of English … HA HA HA HA HA.

There are a few ways which Mandarin makes it harder for me to use English correctly. I’ll go over a couple of them.

First of all, I recently have been doing more Chinese -> English translations than … I ever have before. This means that not only am I exposing myself to a lot of Chinese written by native speakers, but I have to pay much more active attention than when I am, say, simply reading a book in Chinese. Ever since this recent spate of translations started, I have found that sometimes the Chinese way of expressing an idea is popping into my head before the English way of something pops into my head, and then I have to translate my thought into English before I speak/write. I had not experienced this much since I left Taiwan, and I find it interesting that it is working on Chinese -> English translations as opposed to other ways I have of using my Chinese language skills which is triggering this.

Second, even though English is my first language for most subjects, there are a few areas where, in a sense, Mandarin is my first language, and English is my second language. Tea is a good example. I barely ever paid attention to tea, let alone drank tea, before I moved to Taiwan, and practically everyone who introduced me to tea and taught me more about it did so using Mandarin. Therefore, I find it much more natural to talk about tea in Mandarin than English. This is why I sometimes talk about ‘red tea’ in English, even though that is the incorrect term. That is also why I tend to talk in Mandarin in tea shops in the United States, even though the people who work in those shops are fluent in English (fortunately, they also tend to understand Mandarin, otherwise speaking to them in Mandarin would cause communication problems).

Since I first got serious about hiking/backpacking/camping while I was living in Taiwan, I also feel that Mandarin is a first language for me there. I also always had a significant level of communication about hiking/camping/backpacking in English, so I was never so far behind in talking about hiking/camping in English as I was with talking about tea. However, when I went on my backpacking trips this year, it felt strange to me that I was talking about it exclusively in English, and not using Mandarin at all (yes, I’ve also done hiking/backpacking/camping in Japan, but I used a surprising amount of Mandarin while I was travelling in Japan, including rural Japan).

That said, English is still by far the language I know best, so when my thoughts appear in Mandarin, translating them into English is generally pretty easy. And I am glad that there are some parts of this world which I got to know in Mandarin before I got to know them in English. Perhaps that is the takeaway for people who are learning a new language – once one has a sufficient level of proficiency, take something you know little about, and explore it using the language you are learning rather than your native language.

Linkspam: Autistics Writing about Asexuality

For this month’s Carnival of Aces: Asperger’s and Asexuality, I put together a linkspam of autistic people writing about asexuality. To be included in the linkspam, a piece of writing had to meet the following two criteria:

1) The writer must identify as Autistic, having Asperger’s, or being on the autism spectrum in some other way, regardless of the writer’s sexual orientation.
2) The writing must discuss asexuality or demisexuality, regardless of whether or not autism is discussed

Some of these writers are autistic and asexual, some are not asexual. Most of these posts discuss asexuality and autism, but some barely mention autism.

Furthermore, I decided to focus on writing which regular readers of the Carnival of Aces are unlikely to have encountered before. That is why blogs by autistic asexuals such as Writing from Factor X, Critique of Popular Reason, Yes, That Too, and Asexy Beast have been excluded from this linkspam – I reckon people who have been following the Carnival of Aces for a long time, or who have go through previous festivals, have already encountered those blogs.

I am going to divide this linkspam into three parts:

Part 1: Written Before 2011

Since these are older writings, they do not reflect the way asexual discourse has changed since the year 2011:

Jane Meyerding, who is autistic, discusses her experiences with dating and how she experiences asexuality.
“More about Jude the Obscure – the writer describes why she feels that a character from the novel Jude the Obscure is both autistic and asexual.
“We’re Not All Sexual” – an essay which points out that some disabled people are, in fact, asexual.
“Sociological Natural Selection” – an essay which looks at how asexuality and autism (mostly autism) contributes to the survival of the species.
“Because there have to be different words you can use” – an essay which argues against using the word ‘asexual’ in a negative way.
“Thoughts about My Romantic Quest” – a reflection on pursuing romance as an asexual with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Part 2: From the Year 2012

I just happened to find these three essays from 2012, so…

“Double Rainbow: Erasure and Asexuality” – an essay about how the stereotype of autistics all being non-sexual erases the experiences of asexual autistic people.
“Autism and Sexuality – IMFAR 2012” – an overview of autism and sexual orientation which, ummm, makes a factually inaccurate statement about asexuality (I believe that the writer made that statement due to ignorance, not malice).
“And it’s not always just about “weird” identities, either.” – an essay about how trolls attack demisexuals on Tumblr. This blog discusses online trolling a lot, particularly in mental health and autistic communities, so this post could be seen as comparing and contrasting how trolls treat demisexuals to how trolls treat the communities which the writer belongs to.

Part 3: New Blogs from 2016!

I discovered two new autism + asexuality blogs which were started this year, and have not received much attention. I’m linking one post from each blog:

“The Lost Land of Labels” – an essay about how the writer finds it difficult to figure out which labels are appropriate for themself.
“A Bit about Me” – an essay about how the writer came out as autistic and asexual.

I found it very interesting and educational to see just how diverse the writings by autistic people about asexuality is. I hope everyone who goes through this linkspam will find something new which is worth their while.

The City and the Hinterlands

Mt. Shasta, as seen from the Marble Mountains

Mt. Shasta, as seen from the Marble Mountains

I am an urban denizen. The smallest town I’ve ever lived in had about 75,000 residents, and it was a suburb of a city with over a million people. And I found suburban life to be weird. Living in the downtown of a small city (about 400,000 residents) seemed much more natural to me.

When I travel, I’m generally much more interested visiting rural places than visiting other cities. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in cities all my life – rural places feel more ‘different’ from what I know. For example, during my two three-month trips to Japan (my first trip and my second trip) I generally enjoyed rural Japan a lot more than urban Japan, even though I have to admit that urban Japan was a lot more convenient. It’s telling that my favorite region of Japan is the relatively sparsely populated Hokkaido, even though I do not like Sapporo (I do like some of the smaller cities in Hokkaido, such as Asahikawa and Hakodate).

I feel that the better I get to know the hinterlands, the better I get to know my own place in the world. After all, I depend on the hinterlands for survival (most of the food I eat did not grow in the city after all!)

After I came back from Asia, I was in the awkward position of knowing the rural areas of Taiwan, Japan, and even South Korea better than I know the rural areas of California, let alone the rest of the United States.

The former International Order of Odd Fellows building in Etna, Siskiyou County, California.

The former International Order of Odd Fellows building in Etna, Siskiyou County, California.

This year, I spent quite a bit of time in Siskiyou County, one of the most rural areas in California. Even though it has almost as much land as the state of New Jersey, the entire county has less than 50,000 residents. I visited a number of the major towns, met a lot of the locals, and hiked about 100 miles (though not all at once).

One of the things which really struck me as I was hiking was how … foreign the land was, mainly because it’s a lot drier and has a different ecology than East Asia. That’s ironic, since I was born in California. However, since most of my hiking experience has been in East Asia, I think of that as being the default, thus California is the land with the ‘foreign’ feel to it. On the other hand, because I’ve spent most of my life in California, and I’ve always had some interest in botany/gardening, I was able to identify a lot of the plants. I even managed to find these in the wild:

These are pitcher plants growing in the wild. Yes, they are carnivorous. Technically, I think these plants were in Trinity County, but it was really close to the border with Siskiyou County.

These are pitcher plants growing in the wild. Yes, they are carnivorous. Technically, I think these plants were in Trinity County, but it was really close to the border with Siskiyou County.

Going to Siskiyou County, hiking, and talking with the locals was a really good way to get me out of the bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area, and to help me get in touch with the hinterlands of my native state.

Would I want to live in the hinterlands myself? I have to admit, I like the conveniences of urban living, but I could also living a satisfying life without them. On the other hand, I think living in a rural area would come with some challenges which I would not anticipate in advance. For now, I’m staying in the city, but I want to go out and spend more time getting to know the hinterlands beyond the metropolis.