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If you remember my thrilling possible appearance with asexuality on Channel 4, this is the minor followup. I was invited to be a part a studio audience, be shown small sections of the show, and then asked questions on the themes brought up by them. 

It was overall, a good day. Very exciting, being on tv and all, and some of the people were very interesting to chat to.

Unfortunately, I got the feeling that someone really conscientious and wanting to educate came up with the show, collected some really good material, and then it got handed to some writers who just wanted something cheap and mass produced to fill a slot as soon as possible.

It made me sad that a highly intelligent group of people were herded into the room and split up, girls on one side, boys on the other. That was quite uncomfortable (especially as I wanted to sit next to Micky from the Queer Youth Network, who I'd just met!) and utterly unnecessary. It made the uneven boy:girl ratio obvious, made us feel about 12 and in school sex ed, made it boys vs girls and very hetero- and gender-normative, which I detested. (I made a very strong point about the fact that if there are any transpeople going to be there for the sexuality section, this will make them feel very uncomfortable and asking anyone to 'sit in the middle' would be more than insulting. They did have unisex toilets though.) There were a lot of comments about 'what guys do with a girl' and 'how to please your boyfriend, ladies!' which made the space less welcoming for people who aren't in a sex-filled male/female relationship. Once it became obvious that not everyone was straight ('I worry about STIs' 'Don't you worry about getting a girl pregnant?' '...Girl?') the presenter responded by laughing and by trying to appear open minded from then on by stuttering the possibility of a person's partner not being the opposite gender on the end of questions, but it was a very conscious effort that made it seem forced and a little awkward. There remained a great deal of 'guys, you do this. Oh my!' 'Girls, dealing with men, honestly,' and all that. Very frustrating. Of course, the fact I was a virgin was very surprising, because everyone over the age of 18 *must* have had sex (a very unfair and untrue view!).

Also, some of the filler audience members (mainly on the guys side, alas) were pulled from the street, or even the pub, given alcohol and expected to be intelligent. They weren't (and in some cases became abusive) and sometimes made terribly ignorant and giggly, and generally made the guys look bad. It makes me sad that this was so.

It annoyed me that it didn't focus solely on sex ed, and instead tried to talk about spicing up your sex life, talking about bikini waxing and stripping for your partner. All very appealing on tv, and all very forgettable and done-before and frivolous. It also frustrated the professionals and made some of them leave when they could still have said some good relevant stuff. All of this stuff was terrible: 'Would you do this for your man?' Um... well, what if it's for a woman? What if you don't want to go out with one? The burlesque dancing bit was the worst... 'Women, ever done a sexy dance or performed for him? Men, ever received one? Like it?' Why couldn't men perform in the bedroom, or wear something silly or sexy? Why should it be presumed that women must do something to titillate a man or he'll be bored and leave them? Definite thumbs down on that, and I said as much, since the presenter seemed utterly unaware that this was possible.

It also did a good old 'slut' judgement which was less than brilliant. 'I'm not judging you but...' which was, again, uncomfortable and unfair. The presenter did seem to be very good at getting people to speak, but not good at keeping things unbiased and safe and comfortable.

The relevant stuff was very good; I just wish that it had been more of it taken more seriously. It skimmed over real issues like the fact condoms usually fail because men do not know they should wear an appropriately sized one. It also discussed STIs briefly, but it then failed to discuss HIV, or mention the scarily high rates of STIs in young people, or in middle aged people, instead focusing on whether kids should watch porn by discussing 2girls1cup. I mean, that's not even porn to most people, it's just shock.

I feel I got to make my views known - that sex is not damaging as of itself but in it's abuse, that 'slut vs stud' is bad, that men are human too and defining gendered behaviour was not a good thing to do, that early or late sex is not good or bad, it is if you have a responsible, positive experience and you and your partner(s) are happy with yourselves.

It was more interesting talking to the people there and finding these very openminded and interesting individuals with fascinating knowledge and experiences! I talked to some amazing people and wish I'd thought earlier in the day to ask about asexuality. Of the two teen sexual health educators I asked, one had had people enquire about not fancying anyone and would have referred them on to have a physical exam and then be given a psychological assessment to see what caused it. The other one hadn't but would encourage people to discover what feels best for them and not try and fit in with everyone else (brilliant guy! Said some good points). I liked both of them and they both seemed very interested in asexuality and definitely agreed to look it up. I also talked to another woman who worked with teens, but those who had caught herpes, so it wouldn't really have been about things like that. She advised me that I'd find someone hot one day, once I feel ready to cope with a relationship. (Way to go believing me!) She was also being interested in asexuality though (I think she'll look it up on the internet to see how repressed and damaged we are. Joys.)

It was intriguing how little asexuality was recognised, how a lack of sexuality was thus pathologised, but how eager people were to LEARN about it, and that made me very happy.

Afterwards, Micky and I went and explored a small area of London then, and I really enjoyed his company. Yay! Definitely meet up again some time, and discuss lots more sexual health business.

EDIT: Sex Education is on Channel 4, Tuesday the 9th of September, 8:00 (I think! Might be 9) and runs for 6 weeks.

17th Aug, 2008

I was looking at this thread on AVEN (the asexual visibility and education network) and flicking through some of the statistics. 

I find it interesting that more than 76% of asexuals have been told that they've got to try sex to know they are ase (despite, y'know, most straight people having never had sex with someone of the same sex to check they aren't gay) and also 46% of them have been told that having sex means you aren't asexual. 

What are we to do? Damned if we do, damned if we don't... guess we'll just have to do what feels right for us thanks!

On a less antagonised note, I find that survey very interesting, and once it reaches over 100 responses I'm going to use it to make some real statistics on what ase people get. I think that will be interesting. I might even make a youtube video. 

I was going to post about (and still am), my glee at finding a reference to asexuality in 'Homophobia: A History' by Byrne Fone. While discussing the ancient Greeks and Romans, he describes Lucian of Samosata's play the 'Erotes', which describes four men. Theomnestus likes men and women, Charicles likes the ladies and is described by as possibly the first recorded homophobe. Callicratidas likes young men. They call upon Lycinus, the narrator, to be an impartial judge as to who is best, 'since you incline to neither passion'. (Homosexuality wins, just about.) It is a good bit of evidence to throw back at people who refuse to believe that asexuality's been around for very long, but I've realised quite how much I look out for asexual characters, mentions or role models.

I watched John Barrowman's 'Story of Me' about (mainly biological) reasons for being gay, and got a bit saddened by his constant need to be biologically different, as if that validated how he personally felt, when surely biology was irrelevant to that. But am I not doing something similar? Searching through history, fiction and people's personal lives in the hope of finding someone like me, to validate my existence by feeling the same way?

That seems rather unhealthy, but I know I'm not alone; lots of queer people feel the need to find people like them to identify with. Society tells us we're supposed to be in straight relationships, so we consciously or unconsciously look for examples where this doesn't happen? Gay celebrities, trans movies, lesbian tv characters, bi singers, queer fiction...

I just wish there were more ase ones. There's a handful of ase 'celebs' that I've never heard of (a comedian and an author, and then people who're famous within the ase community like David Jay), but none that other people have really heard of.

As for fiction, I'm pretty fond of Wall-E and Dr Who. But it'd be nice to have some thoroughly human and explicit examples out there. That's why the asexual character in Shortland Street is so exciting. OK, now we need a human and *cool* role model...

I am now awaiting the first movie to deal with asexuality. I may have to write the screenplay...

Let's Queer the Pitch

I find it much easier to define as 'queer' these days. The first time this got suggested to me was by Ruth, when I was very drunk, and I explained that I'd heard it in a negative context so many times, that I didn't like it.

I still dislike the fact that the only collective word for 'queer' people that excludes no one is one that traditionally was a term of abuse meaning to be 'odd/strange/unsettling/corrupting/unsettling'. (Apparently the Swedish(?) equivalent means 'rainbow people' and I think that's brilliant, why couldn't we have that!)

However, there does appear to be a definite reclaiming of the word... maybe it's just because I see it happily proclaimed on the 'Queer Youth!' homepage so often that it's been redefined in my head, and that I know it's this label that will let me get into LGBT conferences (well, a lot easier than being 'asexual' anyway, I'd get kicked out).

Plus, it should be fine for people that I'm 'queer'. I define as ase, and I think it's important for me to tell people that. But the labels and nuance and explanation of this (I'm panromantic, pancurious, asexual with sensual tendencies) isn't something everyone needs to know, and nor is it easy or useful to spend 20 minutes to an hour explaining to people the jargon I'm using. Sometimes, I just don't want to go into it. So I'm 'queer'. It works brilliantly, and shows my fellow feeling with LGBT(QA?) people.

Queer means not to be heteronormative. If you transcend how society expects you to be in any way, you're queer.

But that's not a bad thing. Perhaps if we embrace the fact that society thinks we're a bit 'strange/unsettling' and queer the pitch, corrupt the idea that being heteronormative is the proper way to be, we can make out that to be queer isn't that queer at all.

We're hardly repressive...

I've heard people say that places like AVEN are places people go to hide from their sexuality; they go there to be 'indoctrinated' somehow into not being sexual people, beacuse they're cut off from all other options. As David Jay says - you don't go to AVEN and just stop talking.

Thread like this show just how unrealistic it is. It shows the true spirit of AVEN.

It's an amazing place for self-discovery.

Yellow fruit pastille?

I remember in my early days on The Student Room, talking about asexuality and someone said:

I'd've thought that 'coming out' as asexual is roughly as useful as 'coming out' as a person who doesn't eat yellow fruit pastilles. I mean, someone might come out as gay so that other people who are gay know who he/she is and might approach them. If you're not interested in having sex then just don't have any (just as if you don't like yellow fruit pastilles you don't eat them). 

I replied: 

It is like that, except people talk about them all the time, offer them round and expect you to be as enthusiastic. Wouldn't you say you didn't like them too?

Thing is, I don't see it like that anymore - sex and the direct desire to make us want to have it is not just offered, talked and enthused about. 

If yellow fruit pastilles were a presumed adulthood rite, that to not want to eat them seen as unhealthy to the point of a doctor's visit, or to see a psychologist, that they are seen as a very important part of a relationship with a loved one, are discussed as a precious commodity that should not just be shared with strangers, described as a beautiful part of human experience, people who prefer the green ones are a huge political issue and make religious people angry, yellow fruit pastilles are used to sell everything you can think of, some people see society's treatment of yellow fruit pastilles as shocking lax or uptight and ridiculously restrictive, some people like writing whole books on the joys of eating them, some people say that you're betraying your body to not be eating them, many people believe that without eating them you are dooming your relationships and will be alone, that not liking fruit pastilles is due to not finding the 'right' yellow one (or maybe green?), that society expects and encourages the eating of yellow fruit pastilles, that not wanting to eat them is seen as 'unnatural', that not eating them denies your masculinity or femininity, that it was inconceivable for many health care professionals and everyday people that some people might just not be interested in them.

It's not just a disinterest. It's a huge social structure that just doesn't apply to us, and that means a lot.

Oh, and by the way...

I'm now Asexual Coordinator for the Queer Youth Network.

That was unexpected! But rather exciting. I'm in charge of ase campaigning now. It's a pretty big organisation too! 

I will now plan, think and panic in equal measure.

Coming Out

It's something that ase, gay and trans people do. 

It's understood as important for bi, gay and trans people - after all, if you're going to be true to yourself, your friends and love ones are going to notice, and it would be sensible to get them used to the idea beforehand. It's also seen as a scary, scary thing to do. This is, again, very understandable, considering some people's reactions and feelings towards bi, gay and trans people.

But I've had many people ask what the big deal is for ase people to come out. I've been told that there is no point - it's a lack, not something you need to go on about. Who needs to tell anyone about their lack of sex life? (Thanks for reducing asexuality to not having sex, but yea.) If you're heteroromantic, surely it's only your partner who 'needs to know'. You can appear to be completely normal and heterosexual (again, thanks for claiming that anything non-hetero is 'abnormal').

Why is it scary for an ase person to come out? I was terrified when I mumbled to my mother when I was 15 that I might be asexual. There is little prejudice against asexuality. There are no people saying we shouldn't be allowed to adopt children, or have a position in the church, or marry (as long as it looks 'normal'). But what we have in common with other queer people is that it changes people's perceptions. I've seen people back away from friends who have come out gay - they're now seen differently. Ase people are not backed away from - we are not scary, we do not unsettle many people. But we are pitied. Some people find the concept of asexuality as something that can be 'fixed' something that can be overcome, something that can be changed so that we can be normal. We do not know how fun it is to be sexual, so we must be turned - and if we can't we are missing out on something, and we should duly be pitied. Or maybe we just aren't trying hard enough to experience and enjoy attraction, and should thus be patronised.

I suppose it boils down to being put into people's shoes - some people find the idea of suddenly becoming gay gross, terrifying, shameful (considering what society has told them over the years) but the find the idea of being ase depressing and lonely, so they pity us.

In terms of perception, ase people certainly don't get it as badly, but it's still scary to reveal something so personal and opinion changing about yourself. We're also objects of curiosity at the moment - almost alien, and thus we become the focus of a lot of questioning, a lot of disbelief, and I often find myself defending the very thoughts that go around in my head, because the person I'm talking to refuses to believe me when I say how they work. I find my own experiences discounted, as the other person feels they know better than I do about my very being, since I am 'broken' in some way, and they are not.

This opinion needs to change. There is not only one way to feel. People are mostly getting over the must-have-partner-of-the-opposite-sex thing now, although there is still plenty of latent and more blatant homophobia about the place. One person is not more 'correct' or 'normal' in their tastes, attractions and feelings just because they are in conflict with another person's, and that person should not have to edit their innate self to be more 'acceptable' to a majority view. We are all very different, and it's important that society understands this.

We are all presumed heterosexual in a world where plenty of people clearly aren't. Society pressurises us to be as 'normal' as possible, and to stray from this worldview is worrying, and may not be tolerated - and all too often, that's all it is, tolerated. I'm humoured in my feelings and beliefs, they are not embraced.

The more people stand up and deny the narrow world-view that everyone must be straight, cisgendered, monogamous, in a long-term relationship, not be too kinky, not be too vanilla, not sleeping around (only if you're female of course) and say that it's fine to be all or none of these things, the freer and happier all of those non-conforming people can be. And that's one reason why I'm out.

Homophobia: A History by Byrne Fone

It's a very interesting and crushingly depressing book. I feel very lucky to be alive today.

Like all sensible readers of a big fat textbook, I started in the middle with the end of the renaissance, and I'm nearing the end of the Victorian era.

Some fun facts about the treatment of 'convicted sodomites' 
Henry the 8th made sodomy a secular rather than religious crime to help get rid of those monasteries and steal all their money.
Gay people actually did get burned to death... including the women.
There's all these lists of executions... One of the ones that touched me the most was the strangling and burning of a 14 year old in Holland, 1731. 'Remained silent while sentenced.'
People were really scarily homophobic... really scary. I'd always imagined that being put in the stocks was a humiliating but mainly harmless punishment - you would get pilloried for being gay if they couldn't prove it in the 17 and 1800s, and some people died, because it became a stoning.
You could be executed until 1871 in this country. Then it was reduced to life penal colonies and such like. And re-named 'gross indecency with another male' which is blimmin vague and thus very dangerous.


I can see why there is such in-born fear and hatred in some people with this much precedent. 

But it's changing.

Some of the quotes from these nineteenth century guys are amazing. 1891, and John Addington Symonds said: 

'If I have taken any vow at all, it is to fight for the rights of an innocent, harmless, downtrodden group of outraged personalities. ... We maintain that we have the right to exist after the fashion that nature made us. And if we cannot alter your laws, we shall go on breaking them'
A Problem in Modern Ethics

Oooh... that's good. 
And ridiculously brave.

The Lovely People from Channel 4

I went to see them today - I got to talk about sexuality and the various out-lying related subjects with three other women for almost two hours. I love it. I should force people I know to do this more... I know I've pinned down Ed, Ruth, Chris, Harriet, and at first pride Liz , Helen and Lauren and gone on for a loooooooong time, but I should do it to all sorts of people. Strangers. Which is, I suppose, the reason I want to go on telly.*

People hardly ever talk about sex, not properly. It's hinted at and skated around and filled with idealism and shame. It's not something to ever talk about, but not to have it is unnatural. 

AVEN exists to talk about asexuality; to create an 'open and honest dialogue'. David Jay speaks about how that was why he made AVEN - there are no words to explain the asexual experience, and say it's ok, so why don't we make some and discuss? 

Let's take it further - encourage everyone talk about sex and relationships with no shame at all times. then it would never be shameful to have different experiences to other people, because there'd be no stigma attached to it - and anyway, it's just sex. I have the benefit of not being heteronormative, seeing the world a different way, and yet being unthreatening. I should take advantage out of this as much as possible!

Niall said that the telly thing might be the first rung on an interesting ladder. I'd never dared think about the implications of that, but that really would be amazing. I have so much respect for the people who further the ase movement, or sexuality as a whole, and it would be amazing to be amongst those people. The ones I hear DJ talking to on his podcasts. Sneaking into the LGBT conference is my next goal, it seems!

So... anyone got any opinions on sex or anything? I'll be very happy to discuss!

*They're going to keep in contact - filming may or may not happen in the next two weeks. They even said they might meet me when I'm on holiday, since it's in the country. They really want to put asexuality in the series, but realise it takes too long to explain, since it's about sex ed, not sexuality. I said that they could let me go on about how there's no variety or discussion in sex ed to help people who are outside the box like me (cos I'm asexual, not attracted to either gender) to understand themselves and grow. Gets a little visibility out there - I'd rather have that than no screentime at all.

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