My story of abuse

For years I’ve had a blog that was not secret, but not linked to any of my main blogs or social media accounts in an obvious way. I have now used that blog to write a detailed account of the abuse and sexual assault I experienced in a former relationship. I name names.

I did not write it on this blog because I don’t want some of those details to be part of the permanent history of this blog. I also don’t want this blog to be the center of the personal storm that’s brewing around my and others’ accusations of this person. But the story is there, now, for those who want to read it.

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Packing Peanut Scenes

I am writing a book, and no matter how much I have going on during a given day, I make sure to spend at least an hour on it. A few days ago, about a third of that hour was spent researching Filipino dishes. As I began googling, I worried that I was wasting my writing time. Or rather, the invisible critic looking over my shoulder mocked me for wasting my writing time. I believe its exact words were “isn’t this just an excuse for procrastination, you loser hack?” In retrospect, I’m glad I ignored it. I’ve used research as procrastination before, but I’ve broken that habit, and this time, it was necessary.

I don’t have much trouble with the big scenes; the foreboding setups, the twists, the climaxes and resolutions and so on. The ones that give me trouble are the scenes that have to get me from each of those to the next. They are the scenes between the characters meeting and having the big fight that threatens the relationship, which show the readers what each character is like, which in turn makes the readers decide whether they want the characters to stay together or not. They are the scenes which show the conflicts of personality and prevent the fight from being a plot device that springs from nowhere.

My metaphor for these scenes is packing peanuts, because that encompasses what they are at both their best and their worst. Imagine a story as a package you are sending to the reader. The shiny toy or appliance or whatever else is in the package is the essence of the story; the major characters, the big events, everything that would go into Wikipedia summary of the book. The journey the package takes from your house to theirs is the actual reading of the book, and only once the last page has finished does the reader have your story. Just as a packages often require packing peanuts to get to their destination in one piece, a book needs to be more than just the major events. It needs descriptions, quiet moments of introspection, foreshadowing, small scenes that don’t further the plot much but do help the reader understand the characters and the world they live in.

However, when there are too many of these scenes, or they are written sloppily, they become dreaded “filler.” In this metaphor, those are those boxes so stuffed with packing peanuts that as you root around for the actual product, you wonder if you were shipped an empty box by mistake. Or perhaps they are those plastic shells that are impossible to take off without slicing your finger open. They get in the way of the reader getting to the story, instead of helping it to get to them.

They are often also the hardest to teach someone how to write, because, just as you have to adjust the packaging to every package, you need different packing peanut scenes for each story. They are also what make your story unique. Its in these scenes that you have the space to shape your characters into people more than just Spunky Sidekick or Messiah Archetype. It’s where you make your villain’s traitorous reveal seem like it sprung from who they are, not the dictates of the genre.

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

These scenes need to be told as vividly and carefully as any other in your story. I find that to write a scene, whether a major event or a packing peanut, its not enough for me to know what’s happening. I need to see it. I need to smell it. In the scene I was working on, my character’s sister’s boyfriend is meeting the family, and my character doesn’t want to deal with him. She is, for very good reasons, terrible with people, and while she wants him to feel welcomed she also can’t stand being around him and her sister and their lovey-dovey normality. She tries to escape the situation without offending anybody by hiding out in the kitchen, and I realized I didn’t know what was in there. I made a list of Filipino foods, I looked up how to cook them, I put myself in the head of the cook to decide which one he was making that night (this one is too difficult, that one too expensive, this one not special enough for the occasion), all so that, when I wrote the scene from the perspective of the character making her escape, I would know exactly what the kitchen smelled like, and what dishes were piled in the sink. Twenty minutes of research for a few sentences in a scene most readers won’t remember by the time they get to the end, but that would make that scene real in my head. Because it was real in my head, in came out feeling real on the page, and because it felt real on the page, that packing peanut will get the readers to the scene where… well, spoilers. Point is, it was worth it.

Taking another stab at this organization and productivity thing

I’ve recently been investigating the possibility that I have ADD. What I actually mean here is that I’ve diagnosed myself, but you get all kinds of finger-wagging and tsk-tsking for doing that, so I’ll stick with the more conservative phrasing most of the time. My thoughts on self-diagnosis are basically that the goods and bads are really down to how you use it, and that it can be helpful in many ways, especially if you’re not able to seek professional diagnosis and help, as I’m not currently. (The awesome Miri has great thoughts on the whole subject here.) How I’m using it is seeking out resources, help, and strategies from sources that I do have access to, in hopes of being able to mitigate at least some of the symptoms and increase my overall productivity and ability to accomplish shit.

One thing I keep reading over and over is how much ADD folk need structure and routine in their lives. And you know what I hate? Structure and routine. (Nowhere in the literature does it say that ADD folk like it.) The more pinned down I am to doing specific things at specific times, the more grumpy I feel. But I am also realizing that certain mental habits I have are really making it difficult for me to accomplish any of the grand and wonderful things I want to do, and that a little structure and routine might actually help. So I’m trying out this tactic.

Like many people, with and without ADD, I both focus better when my workdesk is clean, and I have a terrible time keeping it clean. Stuff seems to pile up on it magically, within 18 hours of a cleaning effort. And devoting all that time to a painfully dull task that has to be done over and over is pretty much anathema to me. So I just let it build up and deal with the mental clutter that accompanies it.

Did you notice how I said “all that time” up there? One of the ADD symptoms I have is being seriously out of wack in how I think about time. I am terrible at estimating the time it will take to do anything. Most of the time I underestimate, like when I think that the process of getting up from my desk, finding my shoes and my bag, filling my water bottle, making sure I have my keys and wallet, and walking out to the car will take zero minutes. Every time… if I have to leave for somewhere at 11, I think that means I need to get up from my desk at 11. Years of observation and counter-examples have not dispelled this notion from my stubborn, time-blind brain.

When it comes to various chores and dull, unpleasant tasks, though, it goes the other way. I assume that cleaning up my desk will take basically my entire day, and who the hell wants to spend their day on that? Same for washing dishes, any other chore. Only since I started reading about ADD has it occurred to me to question my intuitions about these things, like, “You think if you start washing dishes you’ll basically be doing it FOR THE REST OF TIME, but if you actually look at the clock it might only be ten minutes or so?” So my first experiment is this: set a timer for 15 minutes. Clean up my desk and the surrounding area until the buzzer rings. Then I can stop, whether it’s done or not. I can face up to the idea of doing 15 minutes of desk cleaning, especially if it means having no stress or guilt about it during all the time that ISN’T those 15 minutes. My current goal is to do this every other day, which should be enough to keep the chaos under control.

I did it this morning and it worked great. (And my desk is shiny!) Of course, a new system nearly always works great for me for a week or two… I dig novelty. My hope is that the cleaning requirement is so minimal that I’ll be able to follow through after the novelty has worn off. One thing I noticed is that a time-based requirement instead of a task-based requirement cuts through a few more of my self-sabotaging mental habits. If my goal is “clean up my desk” I get hopelessly bogged down in issues like “where can I put this thing that makes the most sense?” and “this clearly goes with craft supplies, but there’s no room in my craft supply bin, and OH MY GOD I HAVE TO REORGANIZE MY ENTIRE CRAFT SYSTEM IT’S TOO MUCH” and then I break down and play logic puzzles while watching Angel for the next three hours. But when my goal is “get as much cleany-stuff done around your desk as you can in 15 minutes” it cuts through all that, and I’m able to just put a thing somewhere, somewhere that makes somewhat more sense and is less in the way than its current location. It might be that I’m just pushing my chaotic disorganization into the margins of my experience, but I can handle that. I doubt it’ll ever go away completely.

My next project for regular organization is to get writing done. I have sooo much writing I want to do at any given time, from blogs to website content to fiction. Very little of it actually gets done, and over the last 15 years I’ve resigned myself to being a person who doesn’t actually produce that much writing. In many areas, my way of coping with ADD as I’ve moved into adulthood is to continually lower my expectations for myself. But that’s not how I want things to be, especially as I once again nurture grand dreams of having my own sexuality education website and going into business for myself. I’m serious about this: I’ve sunk a non-trivial amount of money into it, partly as a way to lock me in and make it so that I can’t possibly back out and give up on myself without serious shame. But that’s going to mean getting my ass in gear and outputting a lot more than I’ve been doing previously.

So, on the same task calendar I’ve put my 15-minute cleanup, I’ve put a 30-minute writing session, every day. At this point in my life there’s no day where I’m so busy I can’t write for 30 minutes, especially since I’ve set no boundaries around what I can write. Fiction, nonfiction, blog posts, even schoolwork are fair game. This is absolutely possible to fit into my life. It also feels like a ridiculous bare minimum, but I’m trying to avoid overreaching myself. If I actually can make myself write for 30 minutes a day, over a period of a couple of months, maybe I’ll increase the requirement on my days off.

As with the cleaning, having a time requirement helps me get into it. I learned this with NaNoWriMo: the most productive times were the word wars, where a bunch of us would agree to start at a certain time, stop at a certain time, and post our word count at the end. I’ve written before (probably on another blog, as I can’t find it here) about how NaNo helps me overcome a lot of my writing issues, and this creates a similar dynamic: as long as I’m writing, I’m doing the right thing, so I don’t have to spend nearly as much time fussing about exactly what I write and how.

I did have some mental struggles with myself about setting the time at only 30 minutes (even though I know that’s the most I’ll realistically sit down for, especially on a workday.) I can be a slow starter, and spend 10 or 15 minutes clearing distractions, figuring out what I want to write, false-starting and realizing that what I actually want to write is something different. This is a trap that’s plagued me most of my life: I work best in shortish bursts, but I take so long to get started that I don’t feel like it’s worthwhile to work unless I have a stretch of several hours. So I avoid working when I only have a short window of time (I also hate being interrupted when I’m into my task, but that’s another issue), and then when I have a long window of time I only wind up using the first hour or so of it. Reading about ADD has helped me make sense of these contradicting challenges, and for the time being I’m just going to reconcile myself to the fact that I will “waste” a good chunk of my productive time in getting settled into it. At the end, I’ll still have more done than if I skip that 30 minutes of work because it’s not long enough to be worthwhile.

So this is my current game plan. We’ll see how it goes! (At least, I will see, and you readers may or may not see, depending on whether I follow through and give updates.)

Birth control!

Hey everybody! Want to read a post about birth control choices? If not, may as well click away now!

Since realizing that I was going to become sexually active as soon as I found someone I liked enough, I’ve thought a lot about birth control options. I’m the kind of person who likes to weigh choices over and over, considering them from every angle, so it was a pretty natural thing to do. But I never hear other women talking about their own birth control choices; at most maybe they mention what they’re using, or something they had a bad experience with.

Methods I have used
Condoms: Still a part of my life in the poly world: like many poly folk, we have a rule about using condoms with new partners, and not stopping using them without discussing it with the other partners. It’s primarily about preventing infection, not preventing pregnancy, but when I wasn’t on any other form of birth control it served double-duty. The interruption in spontaneity doesn’t bother me, but the increased dryness does. Still, sex with a condom is way better than no sex at all: it’s a price I’m quite willing to pay.

Withdrawal: A much-maligned strategy, for couples where the male partner knows his body and can exercise control. You’ll still hear conflicting reports about whether there’s sperm in pre-ejaculate: there isn’t conclusive evidence, but the most likely answer is “sometimes, from a previous ejaculation.” Either way, it is possible to get pregnant from perfect use of withdrawal, but the odds are low: the perfect-use rate is 96%, which is close to the perfect-use rate for condoms. I like it because it’s free and doesn’t require me to do anything, not even go to a doctor every few months. I would like it less if I didn’t trust my partner’s “perfect use” abilities, and I would never, never recommend it to teenagers. The biggest disadvantage is that it might be less fun for the man: it is for mine, which is the primary reason I went on to a different method.

Fertility awareness: Another much-maligned strategy. As with withdrawal, its effectiveness depends on how well you know your body and how good your self-control is. I used a lazy-but-cautious form of fertility awareness, keeping only a very small window of “safe” times. For this reason, I probably won’t ever use it as my primary form of birth control: to do it effectively, you should be charting your temperature and all your cycles and cervical fluid, and while I like the idea of knowing my body that closely, I’m not disciplined enough about daily tasks to carry it out.

The Sponge: I liked this one. It was easy to use, I had control over it, and I didn’t have any comfort issues. The major downside was the cost: something like $12 for a pack of three. That would be okay if I was single and only occasionally having sex, but not something I wanted to consider long-term.

You’ll notice that all these methods are non-hormonal. For a while I was dead set against using hormonal methods of birth control: I was afraid of undiscovered side effects, and I didn’t like the idea of constantly medicating my body when it’s just operating the way it’s supposed to. My take on this changed somewhat as I learned more about reproductive biology: it became less “don’t disturb the magic and mystery of the reproductive cycle!” and more “here’s why the body does these things at this time, and here’s all the things that can change that, and just because it’s natural doesn’t mean that it’s the healthiest thing for you.” (Kate Clancy writes a lot of good stuff about women’s reproductive physiology: this post contains links to a lot of great information, by herself and others.) This ideological shift, combined with what I learned about some other non-hormonal methods I was considering (more on that in a minute), got me looking at hormonal methods again. And so we come to…

What I’m using now
NuvaRing: I just started it, which is what prompted this post. In a month or so I’ll come back with a fuller report on how I like it. It’s the first hormonal birth control I’ve taken, and I chose it for two reasons: it’s lower-dose than any of the others, and it’s instantly removable. If I find I don’t like its effects, I can take it out and the hormonal effects start breaking down after several hours. Also I like that it can be used continuously, without a withdrawal bleed every month. If I’m going to be messing with my hormones, I’m going to enjoy the full benefits, goshdarnit! I like it so far: I don’t feel it at all, insertion was no problem, and I’ve noticed no other effects.

What I’ve considered using
Diaphragm/cervical cap: This was going to be my method of choice once I finally made it to a doctor. Both methods are very similar to the sponge, which I liked, but more cost-effective for someone who has sex more than once a week. What changed my mind was learning that spermicide may increase risk of HIV infection: frequent use can cause minor abrasions which make HIV transmission easier. The risk given my circumstances is pretty low: while I’m non-monogamous (risk factor), none of my partners are hugely promiscuous, and I trust them all to use condoms with outside partners, and I’m not going to be exposing myself to spermicide every day. But low risk isn’t no risk, and gosh it’d suck to get HIV, so I bumped any spermicide-dependent birth control methods down several rungs on the preference ladder.

IUD: This one I might go with after I’ve had all the children I want to have. Several years ago I was planning on using the copper IUD once I became sexually active: over many years it becomes cost-effective, I liked that it was non-hormonal, and I liked that I wouldn’t have to do anything about it once it was placed. Non-monogamy, and my late onset of sexual activity, changed my calculations here too: some people don’t recommend the IUD for the non-monogamous, as it can increase the risk of complications if you do get an STI. Also, I’m now thinking it will be less than five years, not more, that I decide it’s babytime, so it makes less sense financially. And finally, my calculations of “prefer less hormonal interference” and “prefer less menstrual difficulty” have flip-flopped: before, I wanted no hormones even if it might make my periods heavier and more painful, and so planned on using the copper IUD. Now, I’ll probably opt for Mirena if I do get an IUD.

So! Now you know all you’d ever want to know about my ruminations about / experiences with different forms of birth control. If you’d like to share your own, please do! I’m genuinely interested to hear other people’s experiences and considerations… which is why I posted this in the first place.

Weddings! And symbolism, and lavish spending

In terms of gender role performance, I think I’m about 30% girl-typical, 25% boy-typical, and 45% neutral. One of the ways in which I’m girl-typical is that I’m interested in weddings. When I was little, I read all of Emily Post’s Etiquette multiple times, but especially the wedding section. I would draw dresses and come up with exact, detailed plans for what my flowers would be, and what the wedding party would wear, and what our invitations would look like, and all of that. Sometimes it was a breezy casual beach wedding, sometimes it was an elaborate formal affair with 25 pearl buttons on my dress. I didn’t ever think that what I was planning was the actual wedding I would actually have someday; I just enjoyed making the plans. (I did the same thing with families, planning how many kids and their names and how I’d space them and where we’d live and which kids would be musical and which would be introverts and all of that.)

To be actually planning my actual wedding gives me a weird, disjointed feeling: kind of like when you rehearse a performance over and over, and then you finally go on stage and it feels entirely different from the rehearsal, but also weirdly the same, and you can’t quite convince yourself that this time it’s the real thing.

To me weddings, like a lot of rituals, provide a unique opportunity to express yourself in the context of your culture. Each wedding is a blend of “things you do because that’s what your culture does” and “things you do because it appeals to your individual taste.” Rituals are all about symbolism, and being, as I am, something of a junkie for symbolic self-expression, I think a ton about what the symbolism of each aspect of the wedding ritual is and how I want to embrace, reject, or modify that symbol. It becomes a very particular expression of identity. Planning my hypothetical future wedding was about trying on different possible identities; planning an actual upcoming wedding is about settling on one; looking back on my wedding as I attend other people’s will be about comparing and contrasting what my wedding said about me with what their wedding says about them.

So! If all of that sounds ridiculous and/or boring to you, you can skip this and any other post tagged “wedding” I may write in the future. If you’re still here in the next paragraph, I am going to assume you have at least a passing interest in in-depth discussion of contemporary US wedding customs and the symbolism therein.

First contemporary US wedding custom: Spending a ton of money.
It’s easy to dismiss this one as out-of-control advertising and rampant materialism and whatever else, and that’s all certainly part of it, but let’s eschew the knee-jerk dismissive response shall we? What I see in the “obscene cost” aspect of weddings is a desire to play rich for once in your life. It’s like your own private Oscar ceremony, your chance to live like a movie star for one day, where all attention is on you and everything is lavish and decadent. Most Americans can’t afford to do this more than once in their lives, and the wedding has become the time when you do it: live in glorious splendor, spend like a millionaire, and remember it all your days.

I am not uncritical of the lavish-spending custom; in fact I have been known to throw around words like “ridiculous” and “insane” as well as the above-featured “obscene.” And, as I’ll discuss in a minute, I am entirely not on board with it for my own wedding. But I do understand, I think, where the desire comes from, and I can see my way to conceding that once in a lifetime, spending half a year’s salary on a really great party could be a good choice for some people. The downside, of course, is that the market created by people who want to have the star-for-a-day wedding experience makes it rather difficult for people to have a less expensive wedding if they choose. “Wedding” anything can be expected to cost more than the same thing NOT intended for weddings, just because the producers know that consumers will pay it. A modest wedding still costs thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, depending how you define “modest.”

My personal spin on this custom: laughing in its face as it speeds by.
I don’t really have an option here: we’re broke and pretty much on our own for footing wedding costs. But even if I had money to spend, even if I had quite a lot of money to spend, I’d be shooting for the four-digit end of the wedding-cost spectrum. The idea of a big, expensive wedding last appealed to me in early college years: since then I’ve been thinking of my wedding as “celebration with friends” rather than “chance to live it up big.” We have a lot of people who love us and are excited to participate and contribute, so we’re drawing on their various talents, and letting it be a pretty homespun affair. I’m keeping track of all our expenses, so that when people ask me “How can I possibly throw a wedding for less than $X?” I’ll be able to tell them how we did it.

The number on the scale: yes, I’m going there

A fit of madness has seized me, and I am going to talk about weight. Normally this is a subject I do not discuss. I don’t like when people talk about their weight; I don’t like when people compliment me on looking “thin”; and I really, really don’t like it when people talk about other people’s weight. I had a relatively brief phase of body-image self-loathing crap in college, and it was bad enough that I maintain pretty rigid defenses against those kinds of thoughts entering my world.

It’s important to me that I look good, and I think there are a lot of ways to look good, and I’m comfortable with my own way, which is soft and curvy all over, but still within the socially-accepted range of figure types for the most part. (Which is another reason I don’t like to talk about weight, by the way: I have some privilege here, and there are other people much more qualified to talk about body-size stigma and body-image disorders and the like.) It’s also important to me that I be reasonably healthy, and the way I do that is make sure I’m maintaining a moderate amount of physical activity, and eating lots of nutritious food, and not going completely overboard on junk food. I never weigh myself for my own benefit: the number on the scale isn’t going to tell me whether I look good, or whether I’m healthy, so I don’t do it.

Now I have two elderly cats, though, and as part of keeping an eye on their overall health, I’m weighing them on a regular basis. And by far the easiest way to do this is to pick up the cat, weigh myself holding the cat, and then weigh myself without the cat and subtract. Which means that, for the first time in many years, I know what I weigh.

Which brings me back to one of the reasons I never weigh myself for my own sake, because the number on the scale is invariably way, way higher than I think it should be. Which is stupid, because I have no reasonable basis for judging what that number should be. When I was a teenager, and too young to realize the multiple levels of stupid involved in this task, I went through an article in a magazine talking about different stars and how much they weighed, trying to get a sense (by comparing myself to the ones who were about my height) of how much I should weigh in order to be perfect. Like I said, stupid. Anyway, the number I came up with was around 130 pounds, which I then upgraded to 135 because, you know, these magazines exaggerate stuff (oooh, look at me being a critical consumer *cough*), and then found that I still weighed a full 15 pounds more than I should! The horror! At that time my body-image issues had not kicked in yet. I thought I looked pretty good, but this little exercise sowed the first seeds of doubt: I thought I looked good, but the magazine told me I didn’t, and proved it with math! Clearly, it was time to start fretting about my body.

Anyway. Fast-forward thirteen years, and what strikes me is that never, in all that time, have I heard a (non-pregnant) woman admit to weighing more than 130 pounds. Sometimes it’s a lot less. Like I said, I don’t listen to or participate in a lot of weight talk, but on the few times I’ve heard a number mentioned, it’s always been 125. Or 120. And often it’s “Yes, I’m 125, I really need to drop a few pounds.” So somewhere in my mind there’s this anchoring effect around the number 130, that that is a good and normal and attractive weight to be, and that I know I’m a little plush so I probably weigh more than that, so probably I weigh around 135 or 140. Which is what I’ve given my weight as every time I’ve needed to do so in the last decade, because that’s a number I can say that fits my self-image.

Well, I actually weigh 160. Which, when I discovered that, sent me into a little mental panic spiral that I had to firmly talk down, with only limited success. (I’m still firmly talking it down.) In my mind, 160 is way too much. Not because I have any idea what a doctor who didn’t have their head up their ass would say about my body’s health, not because I have any idea what’s average for my height, just because the only women who talk about their weight loud enough that I can hear claim to be 30 to 40 pounds lower than that, and because I read this magazine feature once. I have to actually remind myself that my body looks the same as it did before I stepped on the scale with my cat, and if I was happy with it then it would be stupid not to be happy with it now, just because I now know a fact I previously didn’t know.

So I wanted to post this just to correct the information imbalance that I, at least, was suffering from, even though I think the whole number-on-a-scale thing is bullshit. Apparently some fabulous-looking women weigh 160, and I bet some fabulous-looking women weigh a lot more, but I have no idea because I don’t know their number, I just know I think they look fabulous. The point here is that a number cannot tell you whether you look good or not. It just can’t. And for too long, I’ve let a number have that power, and only my elderly cats’ health has forced me to confront that little brain parasite and try to eradicate it. And this post is part of my attempt to do that.

(Admin note: this post has a zero-tolerance policy for fatphobic comments, or any comments that imply that a woman has an obligation to tailor her body to someone else’s satisfaction. I rarely delete comments but that shit will be deleted without apology. My blog, my rules.)

Musings on asexuality

I’ve seen several blog posts and commentaries on asexuality pop up recently, and it always prompts a lot of conflicted thought from me. I want to muse through it here… but to understand my thoughts about asexuality as an orientation, readers need to know a little more about my personal history.

About five years ago, I underwent a five-month transition from conservative evangelical Christian to atheist. And what do most teens and young adults do after leaving a sexually repressive ideology? Why, go out and have lots of sex! Many of my friends expected I’d do this; some people probably assumed, as I used to assume about others, that I was leaving religion in order to get license to pursue sexual activities. But for me it was different. Sex had zero appeal to me, although I passionately wanted a relationship of love and pair-bonded intimacy. I’d never masturbated, and the last sexual fantasy I’d had was over ten years ago. As a young teen, I hadn’t found it difficult to repress the budding sexual desires that my religion told me were dangerous and destructive unless I was married; by 25 I had repressed them so successfully they were nowhere to be found.

I knew that I wasn’t “normal,” and began searching out information about what had gone wrong with me, that I rarely felt sexual attractions and didn’t desire sexual interactions. Fairly quickly, I stumbled on the concept of asexuality, and found www.asexuality.org. It was like a revelation: I might not be normal, but I wasn’t alone! On the message boards, I found a community of people who discussed love and attraction in terms I could relate to; I found a place where I could discuss my sparse sexual history without feeling like a freak; I found a language for my feelings of attraction and desire, words like “aesthetic attraction” and “heteroromantic.” It was liberating. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the people on those message boards, for giving me a safe, welcoming place to discuss sexuality and begin exploring my own sexual identity.

Obviously, at some point my identity began to shift. I slowly felt a resurgence of sexual interests and desires, and the label “asexual” or even “gray-a” (usually used to mean not quite asexual, but with a very low libido) no longer felt right to me. But becoming a sexual person was not an easy road — I should say is not, because in many ways I’m still working on it. At times of anxiety and depression, my libido disappears completely. I enjoy sex, sometimes quite a lot, but never as much as others seem to, and at times I feel inadequate, envious, or resentful about this. In short, my relationship with sexuality is still somewhat dysfunctional: sometimes we get along great, I’m happy to have it part of my life, and I’d hate to lose it; other times, I feel like it’s all struggle and confusion, and I wonder if it’s really worth it.

Going back to a self-identification of asexual (or, more likely, gray-a) sometimes seems like a tempting option (ignoring, for the moment, that I’m in not one but three sexual relationships, and how that would impact them). It would be easier, without a doubt. But it would be dishonest to say that it was my only option. My sexuality has grown and strengthened over time and with some deliberate effort, and I believe it can continue to do so. But it takes a lot of energy and courage to keep on that path. I see what sexuality can be for other people, and I want that for myself. But sometimes, when I look at the level of joy and satisfaction I get out of sex, and compare it with the level of joy and satisfaction others seem to, I’m afraid my potential is permanently limited, and I wonder if it would be wiser to just give it up and find satisfaction in other areas.

I know there are people within the asexual community who have approximately my level of libido and sexual connection, who have chosen to let sexuality fall by the wayside and to pursue other avenues of joy and pleasure. Sometimes I worry for these hypothetical people (who I am not at all supposing to be the majority of self-identified asexuals) that they’ve let an orientation label cut off their own assessment of what’s possible for them. Other times I envy them for evading many of the frustrations I feel.