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You make yourselves another: On make-up and power

“God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another”

-Mysogynistic rant in Hamlet, III i.

So while catching up on the blogs I lurk, I discovered S. E. Smith on feminism and make-up:

Few feminist conversations confuse me as much as the one surrounding makeup and beauty standards, a reminder of my outsider status in the feminist community in a lot of ways because of my gender and socialisation. This conversation is conducted in a way that assumes everyone is on the same page, everyone is thinking the same things, everyone has the same experiences, but that’s not actually how it goes. With the makeup conversation, there are some of us who feel really, really at sea, and it’s hard to express it in a way that doesn’t come off strangely, evidently.


Read the rest. Something about this really struck me, so much that I needed to talk about it even though I don’t think S. E.’s personal blog allows comments, and it doesn’t properly fit with the theme of this blog, though I manage to shoehorn asexuals in later.

Firstly, my experience is of agreeing with S.E. I’m young enough not to have encountered the middle-class job-market sexism yet, but the only people among my friends who feel they have to wear make-up are goths. I can name at least 3 ciswomen friends who I know for a fact have never worn make-up a day in their lives, several more of the gothy persuasion who have never worn ‘respectable’ make-up. A lot of people I know simply don’t wear make-up in their daily lives and it isn’t a problem.

And this reaction sounds a lot like “I haven’t experienced it, so it’s not a problem,”- the standard reaction of the privileged. I can’t comment on the lived experience of people of a different class, generation, culture and gender to me, who I’ve never met. If they say expectations of wearing make-up are a problem for them, I’m going to believe them. What I don’t like is the assumption that everyone else’s experiences are the same, because a lot of people really don’t have that problem.

I’m going to go further than S. E. and argue that make-up can, in some circumstances, be a source of power. S. E. points out that transwomen are under expectations not to wear make-up. As a cisguy, if the walls of gender expectation came tumbling down tomorrow, I would rush out and buy make-up. Partly because I love the performativity, partly because the simplest contouring and eye-shaping makes my face into what I want it to be, not what it is. I’ve mentioned on yadaforums a group of people who I hang with who tend to do the whole ‘getting ready for a night out’ thing with a massive amount of clothing and hairstyling for both genders, and how comfortable I feel with them. The same group of people also often spend hours sitting in a circle and, unigenderedly, putting on theatrical make-up. Again, I feel so comfortable.

So, yeah, make-up is something I want, want, want, and am never going to be able to have, and I’m going to spend as much of my life as possible appropriating that privilege at halloween and Pride marches until I’m too old for that to be acceptable. And I’m slightly bitter.

That’s not to say that you’re not allowed to complain about unfair cultural expectations on you. I am entirely sympathetic, and will fight for your right not to wear make-up. But when you consider that, in my experience, make-up is entirely a choice for all women who aren’t in the fashion buisness, your cries of “Oh god, it’s so DIFFICULT being able to do this thing that you’re NEVER going to be able to do!” are not going to make me like you.

Lots of people are not allowed the privilege of make-up. At the time when asexuals were the big ‘trend piece’ in the media, I recall there being some talk about a programme where asexuals were presumed not to want the make-up which would make them look good under the studio lights. Asexual people were refused this marker of performativity, attractiveness, which everyone else was expected to want. Asexual people apparently do not have the privilege to wear make-up, to re-invent themselves, to be whatever they want to be. Asexual people, the station presumed, are less-than-normal.

Make-up can be oppression. Make-up can be objectification. Make-up can be privilege. Make-up can be power.

Don’t assume your reality is worth more than mine.

Update: Aromantic sexuals- still evil

What’s this? An asexuality test? Now we can pinpoint with precise accuracy whether someone is a/romantic or a/sexual. Like, HALF the bandwidth of AVEN could be saved by this simple test! If only there weren’t these minor flaws in just a few of the questions:

1. Confuses sexual attraction and sexual activity.

2. Gives two options- finding sex a ‘biological necessity’ and ‘not caring’ about sex. Also, ‘liking to date’ and liking casual sex, and ‘not caring for a partner’ is kinda a restrictive spectrum. In fact, I’d personally agree with ALL FIVE of those things (admittedly, the first one only from a species-wide viewpoint). It makes ticking one box kinda hard…

3. How would you describe your libedo? Erm… irrelevant to my sexuality? We’ve kinda discussed this one. To death.

4. And this is where my WTFromance gets the better of me. I want EVERY SINGLE kind of relationship they propose. The rub being- I want them with different people, possibly at the same time. Because I’m fickle like that.

5. Do you think you are asexual?  Finally, the question is right! But every single answer is wrong:

‘Yes. I do not desire, want or care about sex’ -Not the definition of asexual

‘Maybe. I am a bit indifferent to sex, so it would be interesting to see the results’ -I’m not sure where to start with the wrongness of this one.

‘No. I am a sexual being.’ -A relatively trivial and arguable point, but I think that everyone with some sort of reproductive organs or piping is a sexual being. My definition of ‘sexual being’ is based in biology, not in sexuality. Of course, you can make a word have two meanings.

Ok, so badly written quiz, you say. Wait! There’s more! Here’s what I got:

Aromantic sexual

You are basically out to fulfil your sexual desires without buying into romance or love. On a purely honest level, you are admirable, but as an exemplar of social standards, you are dispicable.

Erm… thanks? This quiz just called me dispicable- I’m sure gonna give it a high rating. I mean, luckily, I wasn’t the only one it stereotyped. “American society is alien to you (asexual aromantics) and you are alien to it.” I mean, they’re TECHNICALLY correct- I’m not American, nor have I ever been to America, so, by the traditional meaning of ‘alien’ as ‘foreign person’, I am definately alien to America. God, this quiz is insightful. Or I could have been a Romanic Asexual!  Which means ‘of or relating to Rome or Latin’. So, you know- TOGA PARTY (do any of those people know how heavy togas are? They are definately not party gear, unless you have lots of chaise longues to be pinned to). Anyway, as well as all that lead poisoning, and the discomfort of living in a society that seems to socialise mostly through orgies, I would also ‘seek a prince or princess’, ‘suffer agonising loneliness’ and ‘be burned by my partner’s groinal needs’. No, serously.

Why am I spending all this time taking the piss out of a quiz which probably took 5 minutes and isn’t even spelt correctly? Well, I’m not gonna lie, it’s partly because when I took the quiz and got “Oh, hi! You’re dispicable! (dictionary definition: worthy of hatred and contempt)”, that really, really hurt. BUT! It’s also partly because very, very shortly after I took that quiz- this guy showed up.

It feels rather great to have someone else who has some stake in the label ‘sexual aromantic’ to be blogging. Because now I have someone to justify how dispicable I am. Because he has lots of awesome ideas about intimacy, and the way romantic monogamy as a culture creates and uses artificial intimacy scarcity. Let’s pull out some quotes from his two non-101 posts:

[On possible definitions of aromantic] saying that aromantics can form deep emotional connections, but they aren’t a “purposely initiated monogamous separation as found in romantic couples”. This definition seems little better, as it puts the essential difference in external, culturally defined relationship practices. This definition would include all polyamorous people in the definition of aromantic, which seems to miss the point….

…I think we’re onto something here. According to J, this natural high is much stronger with people she would consider herself romantically attracted to, doesn’t require touch but is amplified by it, doesn’t require symbolic gestures like flowers but is enhanced by them, and is not necessarily connected to sexuality, conversation, or “good company” (though it can and often should be combined with those things)….

…So here’s a preliminary definition, that I’d love to get some comments on:

“Aromantics are people who do not experience the feeling of romance. Romance is a natural high that occurs in the presence of certain people, without obvious connection to sexuality, ‘good company’, or emotional intimacy.”…

…Looking back at my life, a lot of the things I’ve done have been an attempt to squeeze a little more intimacy out of the world around me.

There is, however, a socially sanctioned way of getting more intimacy: a “relationship”. In a (sexual, romantic, monogamous) relationship, you have a lot more freedom and power to gain intimacy. You are supposed to be a scheduling priority, and you can expect a certain amount of regular alone-time. You have some say into where your partner lives, and if the relationship goes long-distance you’re assured of constant communication and visits as frequently as possible. You have both the time and societal permission to really let down your barriers and be emotionally vulnerable. All of this is wonderful. There’s a reason I don’t spend much time single…

…No one negotiates with their platonic best friend about how their relationship will progress… but why not? Platonic relationships can be just as meaningful as the best sexual/romantic relationship, why not give them the same time and energy and communication skills? Why do we assume we have to only be “partners” with people we’re attracted to? If we decouple intimacy, sex, and romance, then we have so many more ways we can make our relationships work for us. Why not have a straight guy and an asexual guy as primary partners, with the straight guy having sex with women on the side? Why not have a triad where only one of the relationships is sexual? If we break down the assumption that we have to sleep with people we’re intimate with, we can start to solve our intimacy problem.

I think the (whateverwe’regoingtocallourselves)romantic scene needs this. I suspect a lot of the exciting discourse around romance, intimacy, relationship models, is going to happen around Intimacy Cartography. I’m happy because I finally have a second go-to blog for this stuff, now Asexual Underground doesn’t update regularly. I’m also happy because a (possibly) aromantic sexual is contributing to society. Is honest and emotionally mature and non-deceitful. Is, essentially, not wearing an opera cape and a twirly moustache. On a purely social level, we’re dispicable. We’re worth hating. Which shows we’re onto something good…

On Static Content

So this comes apropros of two things, both of which have been discussed particularly recently. Firstly, as we’ve mentioned, there is uncertainty about the role of AVEN. Is it a place for visibility? 101? Community? Discussion? I know I’m not the only person who feels uncomfortable linking someone to AVEN when I don’t know what sort of discussions are going on there, what the current mood of the site is. And yet AVEN has, like, ALL the static content in the asexosphere. Apart from AVEN, there’s the wiki, which I find much harder to navigate than specifically written FAQs, and the collection of academia on Asexual Explorations, which is hardly the first thing the general public would look for.

And secondly, I know a couple of other bloggers are starting to consider how we might more closely emulate other social justice movements (feminism, LGBTQ, civil justice, etc), I don’t know how quick this is going to be, but I think some serious trolling and fail will emerge at some time within the next three years. Up till now, we’ve largely been doing our 101 seperately, adressing different things in different blog posts, and linking back to them when needed. What I’d like is a comprehensive and easily navigable pool of resources that we can link people to quickly, which is off-AVEN. What I want, essentially, is this.

I’m considering calling it Awesome! An Asexual 101. Yes, it’s a complete rip-off of Finally, Feminism 101. That’s intentional. It’s a homage to those aspects of social justice we want to adopt.

I’m going to be honest, part of the reason I want this is because I think the non-AVENites have been dithering over whether to create static content, or whether that’s outside our bounds, for a long time now, and this is possibly the simplest way of getting it off the ground. What we’ll essentially have is an average blog, to which I encourage other asexuals who are interested in the scheme to contribute. I’m looking for good summaries of asexual phrases and our responses to typical attacks in a short, sweet writing style, with just a hint of “F*** off” when needed. Also, links to other posts where we discuss the same issues but more in-depth/more ranty/more personal would really help.

Anyone else interested in collaborating with me on this one? I’m kinda scared of starting it all by myself, partly on the ‘presuming to speak for all asexuals’ basis and partly on the ‘running two blogs while also doing lots of essays’ basis.

Saving Spaces

EDITED TO ADD A DISCLAIMER: I’ve come under severe criticism for being so blindly supportive of sex-positivism in this post, which I think is pretty fair. The problem is, up until this was pointed out to me, I’d always gone with the sex-positive movement’s rhetoric of assuming that sex-positive is a synonym for non-judgemental. I’m not going to edit anything out of this post, but for now, please read ‘non-judgemental about people’s sexualities’ where I’ve written ‘sex-positive’.

Not been writing much recently, restraints of work, and all, but every few days, I seem to stumble across new cool asexy blogs. My list has increased almost exponentially. Check out the list to the left-hand side if you’re interested.

One post in particular, from Dreki’s archive, has just got my head spinning.
If you’re interested in (post-101) asexual community building, you must read this.

(It’s so important that I’m not going to summarise what they say. I’m going to wait here until you’ve read it. Done? Good. I’ll carry on).

I’m still really not sure if I want to believe Dreki is telling the truth. On the one hand, they argue well, it is, for example, kinda weird that the only safe space on AVEN is for sexuals. There’s a whole thing about asexual investment in sexual pain which is another issue entirely- I think a lot of it stems from romantic clichés of bodies burned by the irresistible forces of lust, and unavoidable hyperbole when sexual people try to describe sexual attraction.

My biggest argument against them is that asexuality is fundamentally different from most other minority groups. We live in societies that are cissexist, ablest, racist, ect, but we also live in societies that are often quite anti-sex. When some other minority talks in a way which might be called ‘un-PC’, the privileged can ignore them. That’s what the privileged do anyway. When asexuals talk with a hatred of sexuality, that hatred is fuelled by the strong political groups which invest in creating hatred of sex, in breeding judgement and human misery. That hatred is also picked up by the same currents in society. These are horrible lies, I don’t want to see them spoken at all, let alone by people in a group that theoretically represents me. I’ve always seen sex-positive conformity as an acceptable price. True, it means we can’t say what some of us think, but it also means we’re not feeding straight into the judgemental power games of the natural opponents of alternate sexuality. Asexuals should be held to the same standards as others when making judgements about the moral value of sex.

These were my initial thoughts. Essentially, this is what I think the chief difference would be if AVENites stopped self-policing so rigorously. There would instantly be a lot more of the vile sex-negative threads that pop up occasionally, and there would be no stopping them. All the good work of AVEN would be wiped clean, massive asexual loss of credibility, planes falling out the sky, etc. And I don’t think it would help if we had safe spaces, because I still don’t want that filth in my community, thanks.
But then, re-reading and re-reading, I realised that this doesn’t answer the entire charge. In a slight twist to the Ideal Asexual idea, Dreki asks; why is it that transpeople and people with mental health problems and non-neurotypical people (three communities which appear to have a larger incidence in the asexual population than the general population), have to be hidden away? What sort of positive community can that make?

And are we limited to sitting around for an eternity saying “Jolly good lark, this asexuality business! Such fun!” while we secretly blog and queersecrets and PM our (perfectly valid) questions about intersectionality? That’s why I like the blogosphere and apositive, we can talk without worrying too much what the sexuals will think. When I posted a series of angsty cries for help because the loss of my assumed privilege as a romantic person hurt Too. Damn. Much, a month or two ago, I found myself supported by other bloggers going through the same things as I was. It’s comforting, and a conversation which probably couldn’t have happened on AVEN, where there’s suggested censure at your unhappiness, and no way you could have a proper discussion about romantic privilege.

Dunno. What do you guys think?

Quotes of the da- of the night

Staying up way too late, ostensibly finishing a long and introspective blog post, I decided to check what Figleaf had been up to recently. He’s found some killer quotes since I last read him, quotes which resonate with me, and I think could have a particular meaning in the asexual community. So, in the aim of spreading the love between asexuality and sex-positivism/queerness/kinkiness/otherness in general:

What I am saying is that as we intersect with a world full of people who don’t yet understand what we do and who we are, we aren’t doing ourselves any favours by putting on a good face and only trotting out the kinks and the people who are easiest to digest. No real understanding can come of it.

Andrea from Sex Geek (I think this may have actually been in Figleaf’s reading list, rather than his posts), on queer community-building, sounding almost exactly like a lot of conversations we asexuals have had in the past. The speech is full of interesting poly/kink stuff, two areas I feel the start of a personal involvement in, as well as that random “Don’t forget the asexuals! How’ya all doin’ out there?” line that always makes me go “Ohh! Ohh! That’s ME!”

Like Svutlana mother always say, if it take only two adjective and one noun for describe your sexual proclivities in headline, you no try hard enough.

The titular Svutlana, on Vivien Leigh.
To anyone who knows my label addiction, or anything about the vast, polysyllabic sexualities asexuals often build themselves, this needs no explanation.

On redefining queer, and who’s allowed to use it

First off, a quick asexy link, courtesy of my friends at American Virgin. I think I’ve heard about this film before, and I’m guessing the first place they came to fundraise was AVEN, but, in case you haven’t heard the trailer, go and take a look.

Anyway, I forgot to write down the big list of topics I had to write about, so now I’ve forgotten them all, and I’m back to writing whatever comes into my head.

How does this reclaiming the word queer thing work, guys? Are we still meant to be slightly disapproving of anyone who uses it and doesn’t fit in the LGBTQ crowd? Does it still hurt too much that we don’t want to give others a free pass to use it?

I ask because I may one day decide that asexual is too confusing a shorthand for demisexual etc, and decide queer would be better. If I label myself queer, am I defining myself by a word that over half my friends can’t even say? Cos that sort of sucks for them. It sort of sucks for me, as well, when they try and explain what I am, and can’t use the actual word that I find most helpful.

Is it free to use, but you have to be prepared to grovel the instant any non-hetero-cis person takes offense?
Or is it based on how progressive you are? Feminists and sex-positive people get in free? Do you have to donate a certain amount to gay rights organisations (in which case, I’m not entitled, and won’t be until I have some actual disposable income, in several years time [hopefully])?
Maybe you have to have a seal of approval by an actual queer person. If so, we could get little cards printed. That would definately save on confusion.

Or maybe we could just say ‘ok, a word’s a word. What’s more, it’s the only word we’ve got for a concept that needs expressing*’. If it’s used in hate, sure, point out the hate, same as you would if someone viciously spat the word ‘gay’ at you, but just agree that the word itself isn’t offensive any more.

*And a concept that needs expressing is a concept that EVERYONE needs to be able to express.

"How to loose your virginity"- the wrong film title to leave on your computer when your friends come round

Remember a while ago, I pointed my faithful readers (/reader?/imaginary friends?) in the direction of all the great stuff on the blog The American Virgin?

Well, they’re producing a film examining the myths of virginity in the American culture, and looking for donations. Go and check them out, have a look at what they’ve been doing and give what you can. Also, I’m sure they’d love to hear from other asexuals, or indeed anyone, who’s interested in doing a First Person post (I’ve written one which should be out soonish, more on that story later).

I feel I really should explain why I’ve not been posting much. Partly, it’s because college is screaming to a finish, partly it’s because the sun’s shining and I’ve suddenly lost interest in my computer. Partly it’s because I spent quite a while researching for a Flibanserin post and then lost all the research. All I can really remember is that google returns shockingly few results for “I have HSDD” (and by shockingly few, I mean 3), and that I was going to conclude cautiously with this very good summing up of all my present knowledge from Feminists with FSD:

The thought that keeps popping into my mind is, “So an asexual woman and a woman with sexual dysfunction walk into a bar…“
What I mean by that is, I can’t figure out what the next line in that setup is but there’s something going on there…

More on that story later, maybe?

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