The Pirates at the Top of the Escalator

Ever since I have been reading fiction, I had always be struck by how many stories were largely a description of the relationship escalator.

The book Backwards and Forwards describes how stories start with a stasis, which is quickly broken, and the story ends when a new stasis is formed.

As it so happens, the relationship escalator and old stasis/broken stasis/new stasis pattern work together really well:

Stasis: Two people don’t know each other.
Breaking the Stasis: Two people meet.
[the two people go up the escalator]
New Stasis: Two people are happily married (or otherwise at the top of the escalator)

It’s actually a pretty good story. I myself like good, escalator-style romance tales. But why aren’t there more variations? I’m not talking about off-the-escalator relationships – though more fiction about those would be very welcome. I’m talking about stories *about* escalator relationships where the beginning is not ‘two people begin a romance’ and especially where the endpoint is not ‘two people are happily married’. Why aren’t there more stories like this:

Stasis: Two people are happily married.
Breaking the Stasis: One spouse is kidnapped by pirates.
[plot plot plot]
New Stasis: The married couple is reunited.

It seems that there are way more stories in which the unestablished ‘love interest’ gets kidnapped (literally or metaphorically) by pirates.

The above story doesn’t seem to challenge the relationship escalator – the pirates are an external factor. The couple could experience a lot of personal growth along the way, and personal growth is good,right? If anything, wouldn’t kicking pirate butt demonstrate the strength of being at the top of the escalator.

Or would it?

Is the promise of the escalator ‘at the top, you’ll be really good at dealing with life’s twists and turns?’ Or is the promise ‘at the top, life will stop twisting and turning’?

The story of ‘Pirates Kidnapping the Spouse’ makes it very clear that reaching the top of the escalator is no guarantee of happiness or stability. Even if the couple is absolutely perfect for each other, those pirates can still mess things up.

If you say ‘getting married to The One means that you will have a happy stable life, which no outside force can disturb’, it sounds absurd – what about pirates?

But then again … why are there so many stories in which reaching the top of the relationship escalator represents a new stasis/conclusion, yet so few stories in which an established escalator-style couple have their ‘stasis’ broken, and they have to create a new stasis? I think it’s because once the new stasis is set, it’s supposed to be unbreakable. People stop growing, because they’re not supposed to need that growth to confront the unexpected.

People yearn for stability, and the escalator gets a lot of its power by offering a predictable, unchanging, ‘safe’ situation. If people truly understood that this promise is an illusion, I think the escalator would lose much of its sway over people’s visions.


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Fluidity

The theme for this month’s Carnival of Aces is fluidity.

I talked about some things I experienced as a teenager last month. I also keep on changing the way I interpret my experiences- and possibily distorting them (then again, my ignorance as a teenager might have made its own distortions in my memory!) However, I think the change in perception/interpretation is far greater than my actual fundamental change. In other words, the description is changing much more than what is actually happening on the ground.

I am open to the possibility that my orientation as an asexual of my understanding will change (maybe I’ll discover that I’m a demisexual). However, I think the most likely scenario is that it won’t.

There’s one kind of fluidity which is extremely obvious – the transition from childhood to puberty. Some children are aware of their sexual orientation at a very young age, so apparently there are people whose orientations have extremely low fluidity during the course of their entire lives. But there are also many people who do not realize what their sexual orientation is before puberty. Maybe it is nothing more than a lack of awareness, but something might actually be changing. And even among people who are aware of their sexual orientations all along, it is very rare for people to act on sexual impulses at the age of, say, five. That means there really is some big sexual change between the age of five and fifteen – and therefore there is some kind of fluidity.

And then there are the ‘late bloomers’. They are real, and I know one of them – my mother. That’s also a form of fluidity.

It seems that most discussions about fluidity are not about honoring what is true, but defending one’s agenda. For example, many homophobes claim that sexual orientation is fluid, and therefore a) homosexuals can ‘recruit’ people and b) homosexuals can be ‘cured’. I think this assertion is based on their beliefs, not on carefully gathered evidence. Many queer rights activists counter this by claiming that sexual orientation is not fluid. I understand why they make this response, and I think it’s true in the sense that sexual orientation cannot be chosen, but I still think this is a claim more motivated by politics than a search for the truth.

Likewise, tons of people claim that asexuals are just ‘late bloomers’ … but none of them base this on research about asexuality vs. late bloomerhood. It’s all about defending their beliefs about sexuality.

In other words, if a sexuality threatens you, claim that it is fluid, and therefore can be fixed. If you feel that your own sexuality is under attack, such as being homosexual or being asexual, claim that it is fixed, and cannot be changed. I am much more sympathetic to people whose own sexualities are under attack than people who feel threatened by other people’s sexualities.

I think all consensual sexualities are valid. Whether or not they are fluid is irrelevant. I want to respect what is there, fluid or not.


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A Novel Featuring a Non-Sexual/Non-Romantic Intimate Relationship

I recently finished reading Shén​ Tōu​ Tiān​xià​ (神偷天下), which roughly means ‘The Fantastic Theft of the World’. Here’s a quote (note: I’m cutting out the spoilerful parts of this conversation):

尹獨行直望著他,說道..「她為你…吃盡苦頭,險些送命,你二人又是心意相通的知心伴侶。怎地你不娶她…」

楚瀚一呆,說道..「娶百里緞?我怎能娶她」

尹獨行道..「為何不能?」

楚瀚說道..「我從來也沒動念要娶她。她不是我能娶得了的,她是……」一時不知該如何解釋,想了許久,最後才道..「她就如同我自己一般。她好似我身上的一個傷疤,無論如何都會永遠跟著我,不會離開。我不必娶她,也不能娶她。」

Yin Duxing stared at him, and said “She has … suffered so much for you, and risked her life. Your affections are mutual, and you two are bosom partners. Why don’t you marry her…?”

Chu Han was surprised, and said “Marry Bailiduan? How could I marry her?”

Yin Duxing replied “Why wouldn’t you be able marry her?”

Chu Han said “I never thought of marrying her. I can’t marry her for real, she is…” For the moment he didn’t know how to explain, and thought for a good long time, and then said “It’s as if she and I are one. She is like a scar on my body, no matter what, it will always be with me, and never leave. I have no need to marry her, and cannot marry her’.

And thus Chu Han discovers just how much Mandarin sucks at describing emotionally intimate relationships which are not based on romance or family kinship (not that English is any better).

The novel specifically says that Chu Han and Bailiduan’s relationship is non-sexual. Word of God says it’s also non-romantic. I would add (my interpretation, which I admit somewhat contradicts Word of God) that Chu Han and Bailiduan are also not friends. Or perhaps, most accurately, they are ‘frenemies’.

And yet … they love each other more than anybody else in the world.

So what do non-sexual/romantic/friendly intimate partners do? In this case, their top two shared activities are:

1) sleeping together (for real, not as a pseudo-euphemism for sex)
2) listening to each other breathe

They understand each other’s thinking so well that they do not feel a need to express themselves with words, hence they don’t talk much. Mainly, they just want to be together.

Chu Han is definitely not an ace, and there is no evidence that Bailiduan is an ace either. Both of them have sex with other people, and Chu Han also experiences some romance. In a way, that makes this even more interesting, since they love and care more about each other than they do about their sexual/romantic partners – Chu Han loves Bailiduan more than even his own blood kin (which is a HUGE deal in Chinese culture).

Now, this is a story in which, among other things, there is a poison so potent that even looking at it will cause the victim to age 80 years within days. I suspect most readers of the novel will consider Baliduan and Chu Han’s two people / one heart intimate relationship to be as much a work of fantasy as that poison. Yet I have experienced a relationship like this. It was very brief, and certainly never got nearly as deep as Baliduan/Chu Han, but I know this kind of non-sexual/non-romantic/non-friendly intimate relationship can really happen.

I am very happy to see this kind of intimate relationship featured in a bestselling novel. Maybe it will open some minds.


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My Dream Is to Fill the House

When my mother was a relatively young single woman, she bought a seven bedroom house in San Francisco. Given that she could not pay for the whole house upfront and therefore had taken out a mortgage, and that the money she made from her job was not sufficient for the mortgage payments, there was only way that this could make financial sense – rent out the extra space to tenants. Thus my mother’s career as a small-time landlady began.

It’s a career, I should point out, that she thouroughly hates. There are some cool moments which come out of being a small-time, living-on-the-premise landlady … but the cool moments are far, far outnumbered by the really bad moments (for example, the time that a tenant almost set the house on fire). She’s in a financially better position now then when she bought the house, so she can afford to be a bit more lax – she has fewer tenants than she did before, and fewer tenants = less stress. Nonetheless, she looks forward to the day when she can quit landladying for good. One way to quit would be to sell the house … but she doesn’t want to leave. The other way to quit would be for her to pass all of the responsibilities onto somebody else … moi.

The thing is, I don’t really want to be a landlady either. I’ve seen what it’s done to my mother, and while it definitely has some perks (such as excellent job security), I would rather … do something I don’t hate.

Instead, I see the house as an opportunity to form the tight, loving family that I dream of.

My mother has already partially filled the house with loved ones. My father now lives there too, and while he technically is a tenant (they have a contract, he pays rent every month), it’s a far more loving relationship than what my mother has had with any other tenant. And then my mother had me (though I don’t live in the house right now, and my room is now empty – something that my mother would not have let happen when she first bought the house).

When I return to San Francisco, I would like to finish filling the house with loved ones. With my parents and myself, there are four remaining bedrooms to be filled with loved ones (and even more people can come if the bigger bedrooms are shared). Ideally, I would like one of those people to be my own child, and the rest to be my friends/partners/etc. I know my parents would also be interested in getting another relative to move in, which I would like very much too. I’ve never been interested in forming a nuclear family, but to be able to live with about six people who I love would make me extremely happy.


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