Once Again, Context Is Complicated: On Racial Tensions in San Francisco School Politics

The brouhaha over the San Francisco school board member who posted a bunch of tweets in 2016, was removed from her position as vice-president, and is now suing the school district and her other board members to the tune of a hundred million dollars, is making national news. What is not making national news is the local context.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this and this article offer good overviews).

My own opinion of the Allison Collins’ tweets is: I don’t think people should resign because of tweets they made five years ago, especially before they won an election, BUT Ms. Collins has handled this situation so badly that she should resign because of how she has behaved in 2021. Also, the teensy bit of sympathy I had for her evaporated when I learned about her ridiculous lawsuit (which I at first believed was an April Fool’s joke) which will take resources away from public school students in San Francisco.

But Allison Collins is incidental. If it wasn’t her, it would be someone else (okay, someone else might not have acted in such a spectacularly awful manner). That’s because the forces colliding in this have been around in San Francisco for decades, long before Allison Collins became part of this picture.

Continue reading

A Guide to Distinguishing Sinitic Languages by Ear: Answers & Commentary

Two weeks ago I posted a guide to distinguishing Sinitic languages by ear. Here are the answers to the exercises where one guesses which language(s) are being used. But just giving the answers would be boring, so I’m adding my own commentary. Continue reading

Reflections on Affluent White ‘Progressive’ Parents who Keep Their Kids in Affluent White Bubbles, Part 2

Yes, I think the parents described in the editorial are hypocrites, at least in a general way. I would probably have a more nuanced view if I got to know them.

I have some relatives who could be described as affluent white progressive parents, and I think, for the most part, they are not hypocrites with regards to social justice. But they do not behave like the parents described in the editorial. They do send their kids to race-and-class diverse public schools, some of them used to live with their kids in a neighborhood with plenty of non-affluent African-American neighbors (which, um, gentrification, but that’s different from the issues raised in the editorial) and I’ve seen that their kids’ peer groups is also diverse, and based on listening to their kids talk about social justice issues, I think they’ve done as much to pass on social justice values as is possible for affluent white people.

I believe the parents described in the editorial are sincerely in favor of progressive changes which do not threaten their privilege, but when their is a conflict between preserve their privilege and pursuing social justice, they clearly choose to preserve their privilege. If they actually cared about racial and class diversity, they would send their children to public schools and get involved in school politics to improve those school. As a public school parent, my mother was able to make a few very small improvements to San Francisco’s public school system. If she had been a private school parent she would have been too far outside the public school system to do anything meaningful.

And I do not think that social justice values is the only way they are hypocrites. They claim that they want their children to have the best education possible. Yet, based on what I read between the lines in that editorial, that’s not what they are doing. They are trying to improve their children’s social standing, not their intellectual or personal development.

First of all, I think there is an educational benefit to being around students of diverse backgrounds. That includes, but is not limited to race and class diversity. As a teenager, I attended a summer boarding school which had an admission policy of having student body which represented all of the regions of California, with a slight tilt in favor of students from rural regions which offered fewer summer education options. It was the first time in my life I got spend a lot of time with peers who weren’t from San Francisco. Exposure to that geographical diversity expanded my horizons.

I think the greater benefit of diverse schools is not the passing on social justice values, but the fact that people from different backgrounds tend to have different points of view, and being exposed to many points of view is good for developing independent thinking skills. By not sending their children to diverse schools or putting them in diverse environments, they are denying their children that benefit.

Beyond that, it seems that these parents are choosing their private schools for prestige and exclusivity, not because they have verified that these private schools actually offer better education. It is very difficult to compare the education quality at public and private schools, but the studies with the largest sample sizes find that, when you control for socio-economic background, private schools do not offer better educational outcomes than public schools.

That is not to say that all private schools are primarily for entrenching/advancing elite privilege. There are many kinds of private schools. Yes, I think there are situations where attending a private school may be the better choice for intellectual/personal development, as well as situations where, even if the private school does not provide a better education than public schools, it has some other advantage which justifies the cost.

Though if it is one of those high schools which charge $40,000/yr for tuition – and San Francisco has some of those – I cannot imagine any advantage which justifies that cost; even if it were the best high school in the world AND the only high school in all of San Francisco AND I had that money on hand, at that price I would choose homeschooling, and if I were so wealthy that $40,000/yr was pocket change, I would rather hire a bunch of really good tutors than send my kid to high school. Okay, I can imagine ONE situation where paying more than $40,000/yr for high school tuition would be worth it; my child has special needs due to disability which I absolutely cannot meet with homeschooling and that super-expensive high school is the only way to meet those needs.

However, the real tell for me is this line from the editorial: “One boy said proudly, ‘My school is not for everyone’ — a statement that reflected how thoroughly he’d absorbed his position in the world in relation to others.” Okay, yes, it is impossible for a school to be right for absolutely everyone, therefore no school is for everyone, but clearly that was not the boy’s point. It’s seems that these parents are choosing schools for their exclusivity, to signal that heir children have the means to enter schools which less privileged kids cannot. I cannot find the essay, but I recall reading a piece by Alfie Kohn which argued that, if a private school really wants to prove that they offer superior education, they need to do admissions by lottery, and then produce better education outcomes than other schools. If a private school gets to cherry-pick students, it’s not proving that it provides a better education, it is just proving that it knows how to choose better students.

I think for some private school parents – including the ones described in the editorial, the point is not to actually provide a better education, but to have those schools mark their child as being ‘superior’ by admitting them while rejecting ‘lesser’ children. It is also why some people prefer to attend colleges with lower admission rates – admission rate does not say much about educational quality, but being able to say ‘nyah nyah, I was one of the 5% who was able to get into this famous exclusive college where most of the lower division classes are taught by underpaid graduate students with little teaching experience’ is a much more prestigious social marker than ‘I got into this college with wonderful experienced teachers which has a 100% admission rate’.

(And obviously, private schools select heavily for income/wealth, especially the ones which charge higher tuition and/or offer less financial aid).

You remember that summer boarding school I mentioned? Not only did my parents not help me get in, they were opposed to me attending it, it was harder to convince them to let me go than in was to get admitted to that school, and I had to pay for the tuition myself (as a 15-year-old, when I was not eligible for financial aid because of my family’s income). But in the end, I’m glad that summer school experience was something that I made happen rather than something that my parents handed to me on a platter. My parents almost did me a favor by being an obstacle (though that is not how I interpreted the situation at the time).

If the parents described in the editorial really are doing things like arranging ‘coveted summer internships’ for their children, than means that their children are not learning how to go out on their own and seek their own opportunities. And that disturbs me for than their social justice hypocrisy.

Reflections on Affluent White ‘Progressive’ Parents who Keep Their Kids in Affluent White Bubbles, Part 1

I recently read the editorial “White Progressive Parents and Conundrum of Privilege” and a lot of it rings true based on my experience.

One of the clearest bits of evidence that San Francisco is not actually a progressive city is to point out that a higher percentage of K-12 students are in private schools than any other metro area in USA (or at least it did when I was in high school, apparently San Francisco fell to third place, though it seems that it is still true that about one fourth of all K-12 students in San Francisco are in private school).

I remember, when I went to Museum of African American History and Culture in Natchez, Mississippi, and I told the man who worked there that I was from San Francisco, his reaction was not ‘wow, you come from such an progressive and enlightened city’ but ‘wow, San Francisco has the most racially segregated school system in the country.’ And I did not argue with him because I knew he was probably right. One of the main mechanisms for maintaining the high level of racial segregation is the private school system (though there are also mechanisms within the public school system itself which contribute to segregation).

I was a bit of an anomaly, because my parents are white and had the financial means to send me to private school, yet they sent me to public school for all of my K-12 education. Very few white parents with the financial means in San Francisco did this. That meant most of my classmates came from families with less socioeconomic privilege, including my white classmates. I know that some of my white classmates would have definitely been sent to private school if their parents had the money to cover tuition. My most affluent white classmates often had attended private school for some years, and then their parents decided to switch to a public school. I would not say that being different from my classmates in this way was a bad thing – in fact, I think most of them did not realize how much money my parents actually had – but it led to some odd experiences.

When I was in high school, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a series of articles about San Francisco’s education system. Many of the articles focused on the differences between public and private schools. I noticed that, even though the articles quoted many parents who said they chose private school for their children, none of those parents provided evidence that private schools offered a better education (and the articles also did not find any evidence that students learn better in private schools than in public schools). The only parent who actually had first hand knowledge of both private schools and public schools because he sent one child to private schools and another child to public schools said that the public schools offered a better education, and that he regretted sending his older child to private school.

After I discussed these articles with my mother, she said “private school parents don’t actually care about the quality of education, that’s why they don’t check whether private schools offer a better education, they just want to keep their kids away from black kids”.

I don’t think my mother’s assessment is entirely fair, since I have met quite a few people who attended private school in San Francisco for at least a few years, and I learned something about their parents (though since these were mostly the parents of students who eventually ended up in public school, they probably are not representative). But I do agree with her that these parents actually care more about social image/status than whether or not their children are learning a lot in school, though many of them do not seem to understand the difference between a prestigious education and an education which actually develops a student’s intellectual potential.

And I think the public schools might even be safer than the private schools. When talking to some former students of private schools in San Francisco, I found some of the things they described rather scary (though I might be biased by the fact that most of these students later ended up in a public school; students who find themselves in danger at a private school are probably much more likely to transfer out). I suspect that the illusion of safety at private schools might actually make them more dangerous. A lot of people are concerned about safety at public schools and there is a lot of scrutiny; a lot less people pay attention to safety issues at private schools.

That said, the private schools are definitely better for making social connections and offering opportunities which can entrench/increase a child’s privileges. I’ll give a specific example: one of my high school classmates was admitted to Harvard. It was a big deal because a) my high school was small, so everyone knew this guy and b) he was the first student at my high school to be admitted to Harvard. He later found out why he was the first, and told us about it; that was the first year that Harvard admissions actually bothered to read applications from students at my high school. If he had graduated just a year earlier, the Harvard people would have tossed out his application unread, and he would have had zero chance of getting into Harvard. That was because my high school was a public school in San Francisco that wasn’t Lowell. Previously, with regards to applicants from San Francisco, Harvard’s policy had been to only read applications from private school students and Lowell students (Lowell is the top-rated public high school in San Francisco). The year he applied, Harvard decided finally read applications from students from other San Francisco public high schools. I think that my high school previously had students who were just as qualified to get into Harvard as my classmate who was admitted; it was unfair that they did not have a chance. Hopefully Harvard reads all applications now, but I suspect that there are still other ways that private high school students get unfair advantages (especially social connections).

Speaking of Lowell and racial diversity, I recently read that Lowell only has eight African American students in its class of 2018. I was surprised. I looked through one of my old yearbooks, and counted thirteen African-American students in my graduating class (not including several students whose racial background was not clear based on the photos and I couldn’t remember whether or not they identified as African-American) – and my high school was much smaller than Lowell. (No, I am not in favor of changing Lowell’s admission standards, but based on the article, it seems that their outreach could be significantly improved).

My parents are white, and might even be described as center-left, but they definitely are not progressive. They did not particularly care about racial and class diversity in schools – they would have been totally fine sending me to an all-white-affluent school, but they also did not mind sending me to racially and class diverse schools. So why did they send me to public schools? Both of my parents thought that paying private school tuition would be a waste of money, but it was more than that. My father felt that it was his civic duty to send me to public school. My mother did not care about civic duty, she simply was not convinced that I would receive a better education in private school than in public school, therefore private school tuition was a horrible waste of money.

And my neighborhood? It’s racially mixed (mostly white people and Asian-Americans, but there are also some African-Americans around here and there). The class dynamics in my neighborhood are complicated, so I’ll oversimplify for brevity: there are poor, working class, middle class, and rich people all living within walking distance of my home, but that does not mean we’re socially integrated, we tend to keep our social selves separate from anyone who is more than a notch or two away from us on the class hierarchy. For example, there is an upper class enclave just a ten minute walk from my home, yet I rarely set foot there, and if I did go there and encountered one of the people who live there, it would be awkward because I don’t know how to engage with them.

Ironically, the fact that my parents care a lot less about ‘social justice’ might be why they were more willing to send me to public school than affluent parents who do care about ‘social justice’. The affluent parents who care about ‘social justice’ probably spend a lot of time about thinking about how disadvantaged poor and/or brown kids are, so the subconsciously think that they need to keep their kids away from the those unfortunate people in case the bad luck is infectious. In other words, as affluent white people who care about ‘social justice’ they may have be more susceptible to the classist and racist assumption that schools with lots of poor and/or brown students must be worse because that is where the poor and/or brown students are. (And if they discovered that some of those schools with lots of poor and/or brown students are actually good, and that poor and/or brown students are not always to be viewed with pity, it might blow their minds). My parents spend a lot less mental energy obsessing over how disadvantaged poor and/or brown kids are, so they did not develop the subconscious feeling that they needed to isolate me from all that.

To be continued…

There Is a Big Problem with How We Talk about Othello

content note: murder, specifically murder related to sexual jealousy

This summer, I saw a performance of Othello. It was the first time I had seen or read the play in over ten years. And I was a bit shocked, because even though I knew the story of the play perfectly well, when I had seen or read the play before, I had never consciously thought about the fact that Othello thinks it is okay to kill his own wife because of infidelity. And everyone else in the play, except Emilia, seems to agree with him. The characters treats the murder of Desdemona as a tragedy because she was chaste, if she really had been engaging in an extra-marital affair, they would have been fine with Othello murdering her.

Othello’s final line came across as especially creepy, the one where he describes himself as being “one that loved not wisely, but too well.” Wanting to kill one’s wife because of jealousy counts as ‘loving too well’? Really? And if that is not what Othello means, then what does he mean? (note: I hope that people who consider killing their own wives because of jealousy to be an expression ‘love’ will never, ever love me)

In an English class in high school, we studied Othello. We analyzed the play extensively, from various different angles. We had in depth discussions of Othello’s feelings. Yet amid all of that analysis and discussion, I don’t recall anyone asking the question ‘if Desdemona was really having an affair with Cassio, would it be okay for Othello to kill her? Is the problem that Iago tricked Othello into thinking she was unchaste, or is the problem that Othello wanted to kill Desdemona ~at all~?’ And in retrospect, I am shocked that I have no memory of any discussion like that happening in my high school English class. If my memory is accurate, and we did not talk about that, then what does that imply about our values?

The most memorable part of studying Othello in that high school English class was hearing the teacher describe her Real Life Soap Opera. She shared with us the story of how a woman had an affair with one of her brothers, causing him to divorce his wife, then she had an affair with another one of her brothers, causing him to also divorce his wife, and then this woman had an affair with my teacher’s husband, which ruined their marriage, leading my teacher to legally separate from her husband and stop cohabiting with him. In addition to doing everything short of divorce to break up with her husband, my teacher played some mean-spirited pranks on the woman who had the extra marital affairs with her brothers and husband. My teacher was very proud of her pranking skills, and that she made the woman break down in tears. I got the impression that our English teacher really sympathized with Othello.

Legal separation and ending cohabitation are ethical and reasonable responses to infidelity. Mean-spirited pranks are not necessarily ethical or reasonable, but at least my English teacher (as far as I know) never threatened that woman with violence.

When Othello came to the conclusion that Desdemona was unfaithful, why did he immediately decide to murder her? Why not divorce, or legal separation? Or even mean-spirited pranks?

Maybe you’re thinking that we do not discuss whether it would have been okay for Othello to kill Desdemona even if she had been unfaithful because the answer is obviously ‘no, of course it would not be okay’. Sadly, I can tell you that it was NOT obvious to all of my high school classmates.

This is a true story. I don’t want to reveal these people’s real names, so I am going to use the following names: Sara’s Classmate, Girlfriend, Friend, and Victim. Sara’s Classmate became convinced that his Girlfriend had some kind of sexual flirting with Victim. Therefore, with the help of Friend, he kidnapped Victim. Sara’s Classmate said that he wanted to kill Victim, and had a loaded gun. Though Friend was willing to participate in the kidnapping, Friend did not want to be an accomplice to murder, so he came up with a scheme to deceive Sara’s Classmate into thinking that Victim is already dead. I would like to think that my classmate would have come to his senses in time, and not actually carry out his murder threat, but I think it is very possible that, without Friend’s deception, Sara’s Classmate would have killed Victim.

The obvious parallels between this true story and Othello are Sara’s Classmate = Othello, Girlfriend = Desdemona, Friend = Iago, and Victim = Cassio. However, whereas Iago deceived Othello so that Desdemona and Cassio would die, Friend deceived Sara’s Classmate in order to save Victim’s life.

Though my classmate and I were not in the same English class, I know he also studied Othello in his English class because all of the 10th grade English classes at my high school studied Othello. I suppose it’s possible that in his English class they discussed whether or not it would have been okay for Othello to kill Desdemona if she had been unfaithful, but … I doubt it.

We were classmates in theater class, and I definitely know that he studied Othello in our theater class because he performed a monologue from the play. Specifically, this monologue:

OTHELLO:
It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,—
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!—
It is the cause. Yet I’ll not shed her blood;
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,
And smooth as monumental alabaster.
Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.
Put out the light, and then put out the light:
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me: but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. When I have pluck’d the rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again.
It must needs wither: I’ll smell it on the tree.
[Kissing her]
Ah balmy breath, that dost almost persuade
Justice to break her sword! One more, one more.
Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,
And love thee after. One more, and this the last:
So sweet was ne’er so fatal. I must weep,
But they are cruel tears: this sorrow’s heavenly;
It strikes where it doth love. She wakes.

Yes, it’s the monologue shortly before Othello kills Desdemona. When I was in that theater class, and saw my classmate perform this monologue multiple times, I had no idea that in a few years he was going to try to do something like this in real life. In retrospect, it is hard to believe that it is a coincidence that he chose this monologue, and then later attempted to murder someone because of jealousy.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Othello inspired him to perform kidnapping and attempted murder – if anything, I think the reverse is more likely, that he chose this monologue because he already had fantasies of doing something like this in real life. However, in English class, and even in theater class, there were opportunities to discuss whether Othello’s conduct would have been okay even if Desdemona were guilty, and those discussions, as far as I know, did not happen. And maybe, if that discussion did happen, my classmate may not have tried to imitate Othello.

The last time I had seen or read Othello was before my former classmate committed his crimes. This year, when I watched the play on stage, I was thinking of my former classmate quite a bit.

And my former classmate is not an isolated anomaly. At least one third of all women murdered in the United States are murdered by a male initmate partner, and that is not counting people like Cassio or Victim, who were suspected of being the women’s lovers, or attempted murders which did not result in death. I could not find statistics indicating how many of those murders were related to sexual jealousy, but I suspect it is a high percentage.

I am not opposed to reading or studying or performing Othello. On the contrary, I think it can be useful for provoking discussion. But, in my observation, the discussion of whether murder due to jealousy is ever justified usually does not happen. I certainly noticed no traces of that discussion around the production of the play I saw this summer.

Compare that to The Merchant of Venice. I studied the play in a college class, and my college class did not ignore the anti-semitism. On the contrary, the anti-semitism was one of the most discussed aspects of the play. And whenever there is a production or adaptation of The Merchant of Venice in the contemporary United States, the way the anti-semitism is addressed tends to be the focal point of the producer’s, the performers’, and the audience’s attention. I disagree with some of the common ways the anti-semitism is addressed, but at least it IS acknowledged and addressed, people aren’t silent about it. To a lesser extent, this is also true of the way readers, directors, actors, audiences, etc. treat the misogyny in Taming of the Shrew.

I do not think the play Othello itself is dangerous. I think ignoring the way the play tacitly supports murdering unfaithful wives (conditional on the wives being truly unfaithful, unlike Desdemona) is dangerous.

My Slowly Increasing Seniority in the Ace Community

This is a submission to the July 2018 Carvnival of Aces “Then and Now”.

It’s the kind of change which can really creep up on someone, but looking back, I feel the effects of my increasing seniority in the ace community.

First, an analogy to something more concrete.

I attended a small high school. That meant there was a lot of interaction between all grade levels – freshman (first year), sophomore (second year), junior (third year), and senior (fourth year). Often different grade levels would be mixed into the same classes – for example, since there was only a single physics class offered during my junior year, it was open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and we were all in the same physics class (it was not open to freshmen because students had to request to be put into the physics, and practically none of the incoming freshmen even understood how the classes at my high school were organized, let alone consider putting in a request to be placed in that rare physics class). Though it was uncommon, there were occasionally classes which were all four years mixed together.

The fact that there was so much mixing of grade levels meant that people of different grade levels had a lot of social interaction with each other, and thus one’s grade level was socially important. Everything else being equal, the higher one’s grade level, the higher one’s social rank. It was rare that students in the higher years would pick on the students in the lower years – that was Very Uncool (and on the rare occasions when outright bullying of students in lower years happened, the school administration would land on the bullies like a ton of bricks). It was more of a frame of mind thing than anything explicitly enforced.

Mostly, freshmen were new to high school and insecure in their position relative to their peers and the school in general. Seniors had generally figured out their place in high school, understood the school very well, and they were going to leave soon anyway so they cared less about trivial social matters, and from the outside this looked a lot like that the seniors were confident and had their shit together. As a freshman, I looked up to the seniors as the Awesome Beings Who Were Really Capable. When I became a senior myself, I was far from being an Awesome Being Who Was Really Capable, but I could fake it, at least in front of freshmen. Sophomores and juniors were in between the extremes of ‘freshman’ and ‘senior’.

One of the most memorable moments of my high school years was when I was a junior, and I was dealing with a freshman just a few weeks after the beginning of the school year. I could see how vulnerable he was, and how he looked up to me as a sparkly idol of how to be a high school student. I recognized that feeling because I had felt the same way towards juniors and seniors when I was a very fresh freshman, and I also felt at that moment that I was unworthy of being his sparkly idol, that I was merely a teenager who was slightly less confused than him. And that was also the moment I realized that the juniors and seniors who had gone before me were not actually sparkly idols, but teenagers who had been slightly less confused than me. It was as if someone had ripped a veil off my face and I found myself staring into a mirror.

The ace community is not organized on lines anywhere nearly as clear-cut as high school. We do not divide ourselves into ‘people who have identified as ace for less than a year’ ‘people who have identified as as for two years’ ‘people who have identified as ace for seven years’ etc. At ace meetings, I won’t say ‘hey, are you a fourth-year ace?’ However, I feel that the ace community also has a dynamic where one’s seniority within the ace community – i.e. how long one has considered oneself to be a member of the ace community – affects how we relate to each other.

Once upon a time, I was a baby ace. I was insecure and vulnerable in my ace identity. All of my interaction with the ace community was strictly passive. I think there were both advantages and disadvantages to not having active interactions with the ace community at that time. A lot of that passive interaction was reading blogs (and if you’re curious what blogs those were, this post gives you a good idea). Back then, the options for interacting with the ace community were much more limited than they are now (it was basically AVEN with a few very, very small groups on the side), but the main reason I kept my distance was a lack of confidence.

Then, I had my moment of sophomore arrogance. I had settled just enough into my ace identity that I felt I could stand up for myself – which meant that I went to the other extreme for a little bit, and thought I could SHOW THEM ALL with my ace brilliance, like a sophomore drunk on the power that comes with being a returning student instead of an incoming student (except the transfers – since I wasn’t a transfer, I won’t speak to that). I briefly had the ambition of not just starting an ace blog, but starting THE BEST ACE BLOG EVARRRRRRR!!!!! Fortunately, this moment of sophomore arrogrance passed quickly, because that would have been a recipe for burnout. It did push me to finally start this blog, which I deliberately made a low-key endeavour, even if that meant it would not turn into the best ace blog ever, so that I could keep it running for the long haul (and also, this has always been more of a ‘I want to write about this now’ blog than an ace blog, which is a large part of why I don’t burn out).

In the beginning, this blog was very obscure, and I was fine with that. It was only once I started participating in the Carnival of Aces – this very carnival I am submitting this post to – that this became noticed by the ace blogging community at large (yes, I know a few of you found this blog before that, and I appreciate you).

In the process of participating in the ace blogging community, I learned a LOT about asexuality as well as various other topics, and as I learned more, and became a little better known, I became even more confident, not strictly in my own personal identity, but also with my standing as a community member.

After I moved back to the United States, I also started participating in the ace community offline. By now, I’ve been going to local ace meetups for years.

There are two curious things I notice at this point in time.

To the extent I have status/rank/prestige in the ace blogging community, I believe it has more to do with the fact that I’ve been at this a long time than the quality of my posts. If you were to compare, say, my 5 best ace blog posts, and compare them to the 5 best ace blog posts of quite a few other ace bloggers past and present, my posts would look less impressive. But the quality of my posts is high enough to interest enough people, and I have been going at this for more than half a decade, and I don’t burn out (well, I sometimes get tired of writing about asexuality for a while, but then I write about something else, and then I get back to writing about asexuality) and I think that counts for a lot. All a high school freshman has to do to become a senior is pass the required classes and spend three years in high school.

The other curious thing is that, at offline meetups, I am often in the top fifth when it comes to people who have identified as ace the longest. I described in this post a bit of how I have become more secure as an ace over time. I feel that one of the disadvantages of that is that I am forgetting a bit of what it is like to be a ‘baby ace’ and I that I sometimes fail to show them enough consideration. There have been a few times in the past year when I have interacted with someone who has only recently been identifying as ace, and when I look back at those interactions in hindsight, I wish I had acted with a bit more sensitivity. This is a relatively new concern for me, and one I only became aware of once I started perceiving myself as someone who has been in the ace community longer than most members (though of course there are still many who have been participating in the ace community longer than I have).

I do not think seniority was nearly as big of a deal in the ace community ten years ago since back then there was hardly anybody who had been participating in the ace community more than a few years, if even that long. As the ace community continues to go one, I expect there will be more diversity in terms of how long someone has been in the community, and I expect the seniority dynamics will become more complex.

In Spite of Growing Up in a Society Full of Allosexuals, The Allosexual Experience Still Doesn’t Make Sense

Like the vast majority of people, I grew up in a society heavily dominated by non-asexual people. Therefore, I ought to understand non-asexual experiences well, right?

Eh, heh heh heh.

Yeah, I know a heck of a lot about allosexual experiences. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I know more about allosexual experiences than any non-asexual knows about asexual experiences, including non-asexuals who have done extensive research into asexuality.

There are, however, still a lot of things about allosexual experiences which I do not get.

For example, you know that statistic about how people think about sex every seven seconds? I don’t believe that’s true, even for non-asexual people. It simply boggles my mind that people would think about sex that often. Every hour, sure, I could buy that. I do not think about sex even every hour, but accounting for the fact that I am asexual and non-asexuals, obviously, are not, I can buy that the vast majority of adult allosexuals think about sex at least once and hour. But every seven seconds? Seriously?

This conviction that that statistic is not true is not based on any real evidence. If someone presented a robust study which proved that, yes, most allosexuals generally think about sex at least every seven seconds, I would have to admit that to my knowledge. But even if I accepted that on a intellectual level, I do not think it would ever make sense to me on an intuitive level.

There are some things which allosexuals don’t think they need to say explicitly because they believe everyone already aware of them, even though many aces are not, in fact, aware of those things. Thus, when asexuality is acknowledged, and when people take into consideration that some of the people they may be communicating with may be asexual, and that more explanation may be required. I am more likely to understand more about allosexual experiences than if everyone assumed that there were no asexuals around.

On the other hand, with something as personal, private, and intimate as sexuality, there are some things one probably is not going to grok unless one is walking in a similar pair of metaphorical shoes.

So that is what it’s like from my perspective as an asexual who has grown up immersed in a culture of allosexuals. What about the allosexuals who did not grow up in a culture dominated by asexuals?

For them, it’s even harder for them to ‘get’ our asexual experiences. Is that a problem? It depends. In most contexts, I don’t think a deep understanding is necessary. What is most important is respect – things like respecting personal boundaries, respecting self-described identities, respecting non-harmful differences in behavior.

And I try to remember how hard it is for me to understand them when I get frustrated by how they do not understand me.

Did I Know I Was Asexual in High School? Did It Matter?

This is for the November 2015 Carnival of Aces: ‘Reasons I Should Have Known I Was Asexual’.

As I’ve said before, whenever a question like ‘When did you realize you were asexual?’ appears on a survey, I have to leave it blank, or put ‘I don’t remember’ or some other non-answer.

See, those kinds of questions seem to assume that there is some kind of ‘aha’ moment, and that before the aha moment you are totally unaware that you are asexual, and that after the ‘aha’ moment it is totally clear to you that you are asexual. Suffice to say, I did not have that kind of ‘aha’ moment.

If you had asked me when I was in high school what my sexual orientation was, and if I were willing to answer the question, I would have told you that I was straight. So that means I didn’t know I was asexual, right?

Well, there is knowing, and then there is knowing. If you had asked my high school self if I experienced sexual feeling the way most of my peers did, I would have told you ‘probably not’. If you had asked my high school self if I found people ‘hot’, I would have told you ‘not really’. If you had asked my high school self if I was interested in having sex, I would have told you ‘no’. I had been aware in differences between myself and my peers when it came to sexuality even before I was in high school, though it became more apparent in high school. Does this mean I knew I was asexual, even if I didn’t have that word?

Let me throw another wrinkle into this. If I recall correctly (and I might not – I don’t even trust my own memory about this one) I found the AVEN website while I was still in high school! If so, it was really early in the history of AVEN, since I was already in high school when it started. How did I find AVEN? Because I thought it was odd that there was not a sexual orientation for people who attracted to neither males nor females, and ‘asexual’ was the most obvious name for such an orientation. I did read the basic AVEN intro and FAQ section, and thought ‘hmmm, that might be me’ … and went back to thinking of myself as straight by default.

You see, even though I was fairly aware that I was experiencing a lot less sexual attraction than my peers, I did not know how long that state of affairs would last. I still thought of myself as a late-bloomer. It was not until after high school that I stopped being comfortable with thinking of myself as a ‘late bloomer’.

So, let’s say during that health ed class I took during my first semester of high school, our enthusiastic young teacher who was proud of having studied human sexuality in college knew about asexuality, and included a decent Asexuality 101 in the class. What would have been different?

Well, I would have probably started identifying as asexual in high school (at least privately – whether I would have been open about it would have depended on how my classmates would have reacted to the asexuality component of the class) … but I don’t see that as making much of a difference to my high school life.

You see, in high school, when someone came up to me and say ‘Sara, you’re weird’ I took it as a compliment. I was proud of being weird. So a little quirk like not being interested in sex did not ruffle my feathers, or anybody else’s feathers. Of course, there was an intricate social pecking order, it was just that being a weirdo did not condemn you to having a low status in the pecking order (indeed, it was better to be weird than boring).

I experienced a fair bit of drama during high school (see ‘social pecking order’, also, academics were a source of drama) but practically none of it was related to sexuality/romance, so I don’t think identifying as asexual would have changed much of that.

When an asexual identity had more potential to have an impact on my life was … around the time I started identifying as asexual. It’s as if it were stored in the back of my mind, ready to come out when identifying as straight-by-default wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Also, I started identifying as asexual after I got some information about asexuality which was a lot more in-depth than the AVEN FAQ, which made it clearer that it was an appropriate label for me.

What’s the takeaway from all this? 1) Identifying as asexual can be a blurry process, not necessarily a clear transition and 2) I was lucky to grow up in an environment with a relatively low level of compulsory sexuality, and that probably made a bigger difference than having or not having the ‘asexual’ label.

My Mom’s Been Reading The Invisible Orientation (Part 2)

Here is Part 1.

Ever since my mom started to actually talk to me about asexuality (which was about a month and a half after I returned to North America) she has been very focused on dating. She told me I could start an asexual dating website as a business – I pointed out to her that asexual dating websites already exist. When she asked me about them, I told her I never bothered to register at any because I am not interested in dating. My mother interpreted it as ‘not interested right now’ rather than ‘not interested at all’, and I wasn’t prepared to have a long serious discussion with her about it, mainly because I’m not entirely clear what I want. She also seemed to think of me going to ace meet-ups as a way of *ahem* shopping for asexy dates, and she usually asks me if I met anyone I really like after a meet-up.

Fast forward to my mother reading The Invisible Orientation.

She came to me, and said that the most striking thing she found in the book is that asexuals can date non-asexuals, and that the writer does not recommend that asexuals only look for asexual partners (note: I have not read that section of the book, so I do not know whether my mother is accurately representing what Julia Sondra Decker says). I replied ‘Well, of course’. It turns out that my mother was under the impression that a) of course I’m interested in dating and b) that asexuals can only date other asexuals. She said that internet dating is a wonderful thing for niche groups, and that I would have to find an asexual partner through the internet because it would be too difficult otherwise.

This is where I had to say straight out to my mother that I do not want to date.

And I don’t. I’d like to form some kind of chosen family at some point. I’m not sure how I’ll try to do that, but it won’t be through ‘dating’. I have never felt any inclination to date anybody, except in circumstances when the word ‘date’ is being used very, very loosely (I had a friend who I would go on ‘dates’ with, but a ‘date’ was simply anything we decided to do in advance together at a specific time, like go to the Wanhua District of Taipei. She is heterosexual).

Even though I’ve told my mother before that I don’t want to date, I don’t think she actually understood what I was saying until just then. Maybe she still doesn’t understand. We’ll see.

She also said that one of the most interesting parts of the book is the list of novels with ace characters. She asked me if I had read any of them. I have only read Quicksilver. My mom went ahead and got a bunch of these novels from the library, but I think most of these books are not her cup of tea (she hasn’t said much about them).

The Invisible Orientation has been a helpful book. It is a lot easier to hand it to my mother than to try to educate her about asexuality myself. It has also sparked dialogue, especially about this issue of dating where she had some misconceptions about myself and I avoided talking to her about it because it was easier to avoid the subject and I only had a vague notion of the misconceptions she had. I am very glad that this book exists.

My Mom’s Been Reading The Invisible Orientation (Part 1)

For those who don’t know, The Invisible Orientation is the book about asexuality by Julia Sondra Decker which was published last year.

I’ve only skimmed through the book, and just as I’ve expected, I’m not in the target audience. It is mostly stuff which I already knew.

My mom, however, IS in the target audience. And she’s been spending a lot more time with the book than I have.

After I returned to San Francisco, she’s become a lot more interested in asexuality than she ever has been before. The background is, when I first came out to my mom, she said I was just a late bloomer, and a few months later I moved to a different continent and had only limited contact with my mom for a few years, and never discussed asexuality with her during this time. I do recall that, at the time of my departure, she had seemed to have already accepted to some degree that I was asexual.

She has tried to learn about asexuality on the internet but … well, let’s just that the internet is not a suitable venue for my mother to learn about asexuality. I have given her some Asexuality 101, but there is a limit to that because a) I don’t like giving people Asexuality 101 in general and b) it is particularly difficult with my mother because there is a lot of personal history, expectations, feelings, etc. – and we both have to get through that in a way which is not harmful to our relationships – which makes it more complicated than giving Asexuality 101 to a stranger. She actually asked me if there was a book about asexuality, which was the perfect opening for me to tell her about The Invisible Orientation.

One of her first reactions was “This book is like reading a dictionary”. At the time, she held a book which I’m guessing (but am not sure) is a romance novel, and I said “Uh, I think that’s the wrong book.” And then she said “I mean the asexuality book – I started reading this because I’ve had enough of reading about word definitions today.”

That is definitely one of the reasons why The Invisible Orientation is more helpful than the internet for educating my mom – even in organized book format, it was tough enough for her to get the hang of the terminology. On the internet, with its plethora of disorganized sources, it was overwhelming for her.

She eventually got through that section of the book, and then confided in me “When I heard you were asexual, I had two thoughts. The first was that, as you get older, and have more experiences, you may find that you are sexual. I’ve given up on that.” [I think coming out to her shortly before leaving North America was brilliant timing on my part] “But I still have my other concern, and that asexuals are so rare, 1% of the population, it’ll be hard for you to find a partner.”

To be continued.


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