Dancing as a Traditional “Nontraditional” Relationship

This month’s topic for the Carnival of Aces is “nontraditional relationships and polyamory.” At first, I thought I might talk about boundaries for future relationships, but that’s so ‘potential’ that I don’t feel I have much substance to hold onto right now. But what else could I talk about, since I haven’t personally experienced nontraditional or polyamorous relationships?

Then I realized … I have. Or, more accurately, I’ve experienced traditional romanto-plato poly-ness, if that makes any sense.

I am, of course, talking about partnered dance.

In various times and places (including the first half of the 20th century in the United States) partnered dance (swing, waltz, etc.) was a space for people to meet, enter a physical, and possibly intimate, relationship with multiple partners, and it was socially sanctioned. Of course, the social sanction means it is ‘traditional’ in a sense.

What about now?

Partnered dance is no longer mainstream. It has now become the domain of lindy hop clubs, waltz classes, and so on, in other words, a specialist hobby. As something that has fallen out of mainstream, it maintains some ideas from a previous era, including the idea that physical contact between people of different genders did not automatically mean they were in / needed to get into a sexual relationship.

And the traditional rules of partnered dance are becoming more flexible. It used to be that men always led and women always followed – but in my swing dance class, the instructor said it wasn’t important what the gender of the follower or leader is.

As I’ve discussed before, partnered dance ties into my own fantasies. I decided I wanted to be a leader, and even though my instructor told everyone that they didn’t have to follow the traditional gender roles, I was the only person in the class who took a role (leader) which is not traditionally associated with my gender (female). One of the other students asked me if I was a lesbian, so clearly somebody perceived this as a queer choice.

And is it necessary to have a follower and leader? No. In my experience, truly abandoning the leader/follower paradigm requires basically completely absorbing yourself in your partner and “listening” to all of their body cues without pausing to judge them. In my whole life, I’ve only pulled this off once. It was powerful stuff.

Maybe abandoning the leader/follower paradigm is like abandoning the dating/romance/sex script and forming a relationship built by listening to each other’s wants and needs?

I think I find the idea of partnered dance so appealing because it can satisfy, at least partially, my desire of physical intimacy without the expectation of sex or even romance. Of course, it’s ‘traditional’, but the rules can be queered, and the dance people I’ve been in contact with are generally open to queering the rules whichever way is necessary to give the participants the best experience possible.

And I’ve had the best experiences under queered rules.


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Another reason it took me so long to identify as asexual…

When I was in high school, it eventually became apparent that I was a lot less interested in pursuing romance and sex than my peers. While they were moments when I thought ‘hmmm, I wonder why I am not as interested as my classmates’ I never thought that there was anything wrong with myself, that it was most likely a natural and harmless variation in my sexuality, and that I had absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Actually, it was a bit of a relief, because I had a lot going on, and pursuing romance or sex seemed like it would have been a great bother.

Ironically, I think this delayed me identifying as asexual.

Because I didn’t see a problem, I didn’t look for a ‘solution’. I don’t quite remember when I first stumbled on AVEN, but when I did I at first thought ‘hmmm, that sounds a bit like me’ then I promptly put it out of my mind and continued to identify as het.

Then, in a conversation, somebody mentioned that 1% of the world population is asexual and ‘that’s a lot of people’. That time, it was not a thing I casually discovered on the internet, it was something that somebody else brought up spontaneously. I thought ‘you know what, I think I am asexual after all’ so that prompted me to look at AVEN again. I thought ‘yep, that sounds like me’ and then … I put it out of my mind a SECOND time, and continued to identify as het. But this time the notion was not as thoroughly dislodged from my consciousness, and when I claimed that I was het, I would wonder in the back of my mind if that was actually not true.

Then, a (non-ace) blog I happened to read linked to several in-depth discussions of asexuality. Reading those discussions made it clear to me that I had more in common with these aces than with heterosexual people. That started a cascade of ace-blog-reading.

Now, why do I say that feeling that there was nothing wrong with me delayed me from identifying as asexual? Well, I grew up in a culture of heteronormativity, even though being in San Francisco and my parents open-mindedness filtered out the most extreme forms of heteronormativity. Therefore, people who feel like they are in place must be het (unless they are obviously gay/bi, but I was certain that I was NOT gay or bi). I did not feel like I was out of place, so I was het.

If I had lived in a generation before the internet disseminated asexuality awareness, I would have probably been able to happily identify as het for my entire life. Realizing that I was asexual did not bring relief, or make me realize that I was not broken (I never thought my sexuality was broken). The realization does, however, help me understand myself better, and that is valuable in its own right.


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Aaron Swartz Day

If you still don’t know about what happened to Aaron Swartz, you should read this, (the rest of these links are TW: suicide), this, this, this, and this. And then, if you can, sign this petition (the more signatures it gets, the more likely Carmen Ortiz will be held accountable).

Matt Stoller has suggested making today, January 18th, Aaron Swartz Day. So, in his memory, I want to do two things:

1. Talk about how the United States legal system treats young black and Latino men

Aaron Swartz at least had competent lawyers on his side, and enough money to pay them for almost a year. Now he’s getting some justice from citizen media.

Most innocent young black men who get fouled up by the “justice” system don’t get that far.

In the United States, young black and Latino men are assumed guilty until proven innocent – and sometimes even after that. This means that many innocent black and Latino men have their lives ruined by the justice system, and some face things worse that what was facing Aaron.

Aside from the black and Latino men who are legally innocent yet *still* get convicted or jailed, they are also punished for ‘crimes’ which shouldn’t be crimes, like non-violent drug abuse.

I don’t grasp the full scope of this injustice myself, but I can point in a few directions:

In Washington D.C., black smokers are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white smokers.

Black people are more likely than white people to be wrongly convicted.

Crimes with white victims are punished much more harshly than equivalent crimes with black victims.

The police tortures black and Latino boys into confessing crimes they didn’t commit.

While not a part of the formal (in)justice system, much of the actual punishment of a conviction is that it makes it harder to get a job … but evidence suggest that it’s easier for white people with criminal records than for black people without one to get a job.

And, to go on a tangent, many young black and Latino people have very limited access to computers and the internet. Some only have access at schools and libraries … and the funding is getting cut. A young black man might have the potential to be 10 times more technologically-brilliant than Andrew Swartz, but never have the resources needed to develop it.

We should be outraged by what the legal system did to Aaron Swartz. We should be even more outraged by what the legal system does to young black and Latino men.

2. This blog is going public domain

I actually planned to do this a long time ago, but I was too lazy to implement it. Now, however, is the time for action. All material here can now be treated as public domain. If you find a way to make money off this blog, good for you. I’d rather live with scrapers than “intellectual-property” fascists.


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So, I Use “the Power of Negative Thinking”, Eh?

So, I occasionally intentionally and consciously think about “downer” topics, as I discussed in the posts “Why Tragic Fiction is Important” and “Fear of Death”. In both of these posts (particularly the first), I discuss how I feel that American culture at least (and I would say this also applies to Taiwanese culture, though it’s less applicable other Chinese-speaking cultures) goes out of its way to avoid thinking about doom, gloom, and death, and that actually seeking out some of that gloom, ironically, makes me feel better.

When people get to know my views, they often say that I am remarkably pessimistic or cynical for somebody so young, yet I think I am actually happier than average among my peers.

Well, I found this article by Oliver Burkeman in the Wall Street Journal:

The Power of Negative Thinking

This is an example of me trying very hard to figure out what I want to say, only to discover that somebody else has said it.

Of course, since Oliver Burkeman has done a lot more research on the issue, and even written a book about it, I can hardly grudge him for it.

While, not having examined the research myself, I don’t know how accurate Burkeman’s assertions are, they ring true with my experience. And this shows that, at the very least, I don’t feel alone in feeling that artificially manufacturing optimism actually creates a void of emptiness which vacuums away the ‘good’ feeling.

I like knowing that I’m not alone in this.

Of course, there is much more to say about the dark side of positive thinking – for example, it’s a tool of oppression. Oppressed groups are often told that if they only starting thinking more positively (instead of, say, getting their oppressors to stop oppressing) their suffering would go away, therefore it’s their fault that they’re suffering.

I was particularly struck by one of the last comments in the article – that ‘negative thinking’ might be more accurately called realism. If I am trying to force myself to be happy, I am also forcing myself not to think about the blues, which makes it more frightening and gives it more power over me. If I instead I accept and roll the blues, then they have less power over me. I ultimately feel that’s better for my psychological well-being.

One-Year Anniversary

This blog is already a year old … time flies when you’re having fun.

When I started this blog, I was determined to make it a regularly updated blog, so I vowed to have a new post up at least once a week. And, lo and behold, I did manage to have a new post up every single Friday.

One of the things which had delayed me from starting a blog for so many years was my tendency to write very long pieces, which took a lot of time and energy, and thus burned me out quickly. I became acutely aware of this while writing my first round of guest posts at Manga Bookshelf, Why You Should Read Evyione Part 1 and Part 2. It’s one thing to pull out the stops for a one-time guest post, but I knew there is no way I could keep that up over the long haul.

So, when I started this blog, I put a word limit on myself. 500 words per regular post, period. I sometimes let myself go over the word limit for special posts, but I even try to avoid that. If I can’t fit an idea into 500 words, the idea needs to be split into multiple posts.

Without that 500 word limit, this blog would have been a *lot* less regular. In fact, it’s quite possible that without the word limit this blog would have already gone silent.

It’s forced me to make my writing style more concise. I think this has even spilled over into my It Came from the Sinosphere column – though I don’t put a hard word limit on that, if I hadn’t trained myself to make my writing more concise, I think it would be even harder for me to keep that feature updated regularly. And people who follow both that column and this blog must have noticed that this blog, with the hard word limit, has been more regularly updated.

But it’s not just conciseness. When I have only 500 words, instead of expressing a complex idea, I have to break the complex idea into simpler ideas, and present the simpler ideas one by one. This forces me to choose which (simple) ideas to express, and consequently, I think it’s made my writing clearer.

I had hoped that, if I could keep this blog updated regularly for a year, then in the second year I could do something more ambitious. But now that a whole year has passed, I think it’s best to keep things going the way they are. I have found a way to maintain this blog which works well for me, and right now I’d rather stick with what has been working than try something bold and new and have it blow up.

My Parents are Sometimes Cooler than I Realized

When I read Queenie’s open letter to parents about how to talk to one’s children about gender and sexuality, the thing which struck me the most was … my parents didn’t need that letter (well, not most of it).

My parents, as far as I can recall, never said “when you have kids” or “when you have a boyfriend”. They sometimes would said “if you have a kid…” or “if you get a boyfriend…” – but adding an ‘if’ definitely cuts down the assumption/expectation load.

And my parents never, ever said “when you get married…” – it would have been downright strange if they had, since they aren’t married themselves.

My mother once did make the assumption that I wouldn’t have kids, and that stung, because I hadn’t told her I didn’t want kids. But it only happened once, as far as I can remember.

My parents, despite their rather open-minded attitudes about sex, never discussed the mechanics much with me (I somehow managed to not know about the birds and the bees until the age of 10), so in that way they were pretty even-handed in their discussions of penis-in-vagina versus other kinds of sex – unless it had something to do with getting pregnant, or they were making a joke (when talking to each other, they generally weren’t comfortable using sexual humor when talking to me directly), most of their references to sex were non-specific enough to distinguish PIV from other varieties.

While my parents certainly are not experts on gender and sexual minorities, they at least get the 101-part-one stuff, and they usually don’t pretend to know more than they do.

I remember how I first discovered the existence of trans-people. My father enjoys the work of Wendy Carlos, and has a number of her albums. As a kid, I noticed that her newer albums credited “Wendy Carlos” and that her older albums credited “Walter Carlos”. I asked my dad why. He said that she had been living as a man, but then chose to live as woman, or something like that. It may not have been the best way to explain trans-genderism/sexuality, but I was mainly left with the impression that my dad likes her for her music, and that fact that she is trans is not important to him. I got the message that if people don’t conform to cis-norms, it’s not a big deal.

The one part it would have been nice if my mother had taken to heart is Queenie’s tip #4 “Just because you grew out of it doesn’t mean your kid will” – that happens to be the subject of one of my first posts.

That isn’t to say that I think my parents approach to sex education was perfect. Far from it … ha ha ha. But it’s easy for me to spot the points where I wish my parents should have done a better job … and to overlook the points where they actually did a better job than the majority of parents out there.