What It’s Like to be a [blank]

I was at a Slam Poetry workshop the other day with Cyndey Edwards. As a prompt to get us writing poetry, she share Patricia Smith’s poem “What it’s Like to be a Black Girl (for those of you who aren’t).” Take a look at the poem below.

What it’s Like to be a Black Girl (for those of you who aren’t) by Patricia Smith

First of all, it’s being 9 years old and
feeling like you’re not finished, like your
edges are wild, like there’s something,
everything, wrong. it’s dropping food
coloring in your eyes to make them blue and suffering
their burn in silence. it’s popping a bleached
white mophead over the kinks of your hair and
priming in front of the mirrors that deny your
reflection. it’s finding a space between your
legs, a disturbance in your chest, and not knowing
what to do with the whistles. it’s jumping
double dutch until your legs pop, it’s sweat
and vaseline and bullets, it’s growing tall and
wearing a lot of white, it’s smelling blood in
your breakfast, it’s learning to say fuck with
grace but learning to fuck without it, it’s
flame and fists and life according to motown,
it’s finally have a man reach out for you
then caving in
around his fingers.

_______________________

What I enjoy the most about this poem is that it reads like a ‘how-to’ guide and is  instructional as well as personal. Here’s the prompt so you can write your own poem and share it with others!

First, we created a list of ways we identify. My list included everything from being asexual and homoromantic, to being a tea lover and a comic book reader.

From that list, we generated our own “What it’s like to be a [blank]”. The idea behind writing this poem is for us to define ourselves and claim ownership our identities and experiences.

Below is my first draft of “What It’s Like to be Asexual and Love Women.”

It’s not a Freudian lack no

Penis envy but a

Filling like the dentist’s

Hands inside your mouth the whir of

Metal drilling into bone under

Gum and enamel so your teeth grow

Strong so you grow strong.

Fixed.

Drink your tea.

Fill those silent mornings evenings wondering

How long can Single last

Before your Aunt, your Grandfather, the dentist (who

Goes to your Synagogue), the airport security agent begins

To ask

Questions about

Where your man is

(maybe) where your woman is

And why you want to shear your

Hair to your scalp and

are you gay and

“a little” does not answer

Cannot provide sustain the

Fullness that is romance

Without sex.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

I never know what to say on National Coming Out Day. On the one hand, I am incredibly privileged. My mother is the most supportive and incredible human being I could ever imagine. My friends, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, are accepting of me as asexual and homo-romantic. I pass as White, I’m cis, I live in a liberal city.

But I have yet to officially come out on Facebook. My Aunt as well as one of my Uncles are my facebook friends and I’m not ready for them to know I’m queer. My Aunt might tell my grandfather and I definitely don’t want him knowing I’m queer, especially because I’ll be home for the first time in months for Thanksgiving and I don’t want my sexuality to be the conversation of choice.

I joke sometimes that I think my grandfather suspects I’m not straight (i.e. a lesbian) because he’s made hints that it’s okay if I don’t get married. He knows I’ve never shown an interest in men. But when I come out to the rest of my family, I want to be honest. I won’t come out as a lesbian because I’m not a lesbian.

I’m asexual and I’m homo-romantic and I won’t compromise on that to make my identity simpler to understand.

Again, I’m privileged. It I were to come out to the rest of my family I’m sure I would still be loved. I would still have a place to live, I would still have employment, and I would still have people in my life like my mother who would stand with me.

On National Coming Out Day, I celebrate these brave individuals who take these steps though their lives might not be so certain on the other side. I celebrate those who are out and proud every day, showing that queer life can be normal life and that we are everywhere. Thank you to the queer community for all your bravery today.

Are you married? and other loaded questions

I bus tables at a restaurant and a coworker today asked me if I was married. He’s older, in his thirties or forties and though I knew he wasn’t asking me out, I was deeply uncomfortable.

I told him no, I’m not married and he proceeds to tell me that he’s surprised because with my sweet personality he’s sure some nice guy will snatch me up soon. Bull shit.  He thinks this a compliment but I went from being uncomfortable to being offended. I don’t want to be snatched up! I’m not some dessert made for someone’s pleasure. Who I am cannot be broken down into ‘sweet’ and if I am sweet it is not for the benefit of anyone else, regardless of sex or gender.

The worst part was he was trying to be nice! But questions like this are heteronormative. He assumed I was straight, assumed I wanted (and needed) a man in my life and assumed that I had the privilege of being able to get married if I so choose. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong again. I have ace friend who worked at a restaurant and she pretended to be a lesbian because it was more convenient for her than having to explain being ace. I don’t want to pretend to be anything. I am asexual and I don’t want to hide this fact, but I don’t know how to bring it up. It’s not my place to explain my sexuality to my coworker and I am not comfortable having that conversation at work, especially with an older man I barely know.

I feel gross and objectified. I’m not a person in his eyes because all I am is a sweet girl ripe for marriage. Is it so much to ask to be treated as a human being?

I pulled him aside and told him his comment made me uncomfortable. He asked why and I said because it was a personal question. This is true; it is a personal question. But more than that, it’s a loaded question. Even with the best intentions, asking someone questions about romantic or sexual relationships can make the other person feel threatened. I am immediately on edge if someone asks me if I have a boyfriend. Even the non gender specific question of “Are you dating anyone?” holds assumptions about my sexuality and I will inevitably disappoint with my answer.

Does anyone have advice on answering or diverting loaded questions? Any advice on how to watch your language so you don’t make someone else feel unsafe? I would appreciate the feedback. Thank you.

Asexual Flag. Proud to be ace.

Asexual Flag. Proud to be ace.

How to Make Your Holidays Inclusive for Minorities

I used to hate it when cartoon stations I watched growing up would wish me “Happy Holidays!” when the show went for a commercial break. The way I saw it, the network could animate the interstitial with all the secular snowflakes, Rudolphs and Frosty’s it wanted, but the only message I heard was “Merry Christmas!” and I wondered why they didn’t just come out and say it. I knew that as a Jew I was (and continue to be) the minority.

15278_15283x

This is my first year celebrating Christmas. I’m staying with a friend in a small town in Ohio with her conservative religious family. Though I grew up in a majority Christian town, there was a synagogue down the street and I’ve lived in a east coast bubble my whole life. I’ve never sat at a table where someone prays before each meal. I’ve never been wished Merry Christmas by so many well meaning people who in all their well-meaningness assume I’m Christian because Christian is the norm.

It’s unintentionally offensive and makes me uncomfortable. Similar to my queer identity, I have to wonder if these well-meaning people would treat me with the same kindness if they knew I was not like them. Would I be so readily accepted as a Jew? As asexual?

I never noticed the extent of my privilege until I sat with my atheist friend as her family and a visiting pastor sang Christmas carols, many of which I did not know and almost all of which involved Jesus.

And I still have to check my privilege because most people at least know about Hanukkah and grant the holiday legitimacy. But what about holidays like Kwanzaa which are disregarded to such an extent I grew up believing Kwanzaa had no merit because it was only a recently established as a holiday. What I really grew up believing was that Kwanzaa had no merit because it was a holiday for African Americans. I only wish I had recognized my racism and bigotry sooner.

kwanzaa

As the holiday season rushes toward Christmas, here’s a list of things to keep in mind that will make the holidays an enjoyable time for all.

1. Say Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. It’s a quick way to remind yourself that your faith and traditions are not the only ones being celebrated this season and it opens the floor for communication.

2. Learn about holidays and traditions of other faiths. I got to speak to a Pastor for the first time in my life and ask him about his duties. Before my college semester ended I attended a Kwanzaa workshop with Akinyele Umoja from Georgia State’s African-American Studies Program. My friend’s family has been great about getting me the ingredients to make latkes (Jewish potato pancakes) and challah (braided egg bread).

3. Include secular traditions in your festivities. Singing secular songs and winter activities like sledding or taking frozen walks are always great ideas. Not everyone believes in God.

4. Remember that people of varying gender and sexual orientations as well as people of different races will experience the holidays differently.

I wish everyone Happy Holidays and I’m looking forward to a great New Year!

Kick Off Asexual Awareness Week

Celebrate asexual awareness week by celebrating the diversity within the ace spectrum.

Like other sexual orientations there are variations in our gender, our sex, our dress and our race. We are heteroromantic. Or not. We are homoromantic. Or not. We are panromantic. Or not. We are biromantic. Or not. We are polyromantic. Or not. We are aromantic. Or not. We are demiromantic. Or not. We are grayromantic. Or not.

And that is okay.

sexual and romantic expression

We are cis, trans, genderqueer, gendervariant and agender. We are gray aces. Demisexuals. We masturbate and we don’t.

And that is okay.

We are varied in our expression of our orientation. Celebrate Asexual Awareness week by celebrating diversity and inclusion. If ace is to become a more accepted part of the queer community we need to stand for the inclusion we hope to achieve.

Watch the video below to see different asexuals speak about their experience. Happy Asexual Awareness Week!*

*if I have unintentionally forgotten anyone’s gender identity, romantic orientation or other means of expressing their asexuality it was unintentional. Please leave me a comment and I can update this post to include you as well.

Coming Out Part II

Theoretically there should have been a “coming out part I” but this blog was one of my ways of coming out as asexual. Now, I’m coming out as homo-romantic and it feels like I’m stepping out of the closet all over again.

Ever since I’ve defined myself as asexual I have also defined myself as aromantic because I had never fallen in love.

I knew asexuality (like all sexuality) is a spectrum, but I was scared that having vehemently denied being sexually and romantically attracted to anyone that if I were to reveal romantic feelings toward any gender I would be immediately thrown under the bus as “not a true ace”.  I feared  all the comments I would receive along the lines of “So, you are a lesbian after all! Why didn’t you just say so?”

But I told my mother about being homo-romantic and how one day I might come home with a girlfriend. She listened and didn’t question me. She took it in stride as just another aspect of me as a whole person who is more than her sexuality. Her only comments were to tell me as we drank tea and coffee in NYC a few days later:

Whoever you decide to spend your time with had better treat you right or else they’ll have to answer to your Bronx mother.

The next morning she told me she had a dream where I had brought my partner home and we announced we were getting married. My mother said that in the dream she embraced both of us and told us how proud and overjoyed she was. To celebrate she suggested we all make bread.

My mother is the most amazing woman I could ever ask to grace my life. She is a rock of support and I cannot be thankful enough for the love and understanding she brings to each day she graces. I know not everyone is lucky enough to have such a support system, but finding even one person in your life who you can trust can make all the difference in coming out. When you have such people in your life, coming out feels a lot more like stepping between rooms of your childhood home: you don’t even think about it.

 

“No, I’m not gay”…I’m just not straight

My mother is a wonderful person who cares deeply about the rights of every human being. Although she initially told me being asexual was a phase I would grow out of, she is now my staunchest supporter. She wants to ensure that I feel comfortable with my sexuality and am treated with respect. She works that this same respect is given to everyone as a matter of course. I am grateful beyond words.

But I spent time visiting my grandfather who believes gay people shouldn’t get married and says he believes so because that’s how he was brought up. I don’t think he understands that being queer is not a choice. And, even more unfortunate, he doesn’t think to question why he holds the beliefs he does. Like my brother, he believes that because he has a right to his own opinions, this right extends to saying whatever he wants. He has no understanding of his privilege as a straight, white cisgender man. And I knew my grandfather was conservative (he watches Fox News religiously), but when I told him his comments were hurtful he did not understand.

“How am I being hurtful?” he asked.

“I have a lot of gay friends and they do not have the same rights that you do–”

He interrupted and turned to me. “Where did you meet these people?”

“At my college. I have a lot of gay friends and they deserve to be married and have lives for themselves. They’re great people.”

We went on for a bit, back and forth and getting nowhere. He assured me that if he were to meet any of my gay friends (as if being gay is always as visible as a birthmark or a scar) he would still treat them with courtesy. I wonder if this is worse: closeted homophobia. It certainly feels worse to be on the receiving end.

For years now, I was certain my grandfather has been waiting for me to come out as a lesbian. I have never dated and never showed any interest in boys so therefore the only option for me was lesbianism, in his view. And after all these years he finally asked me the big question:

“Tell me, then are you gay?”

And I stared at him and kept my face blank. “No. No, I am not.” I came so close to following my statement and revealing the truth that No, I’m not gay, but I’m not straight either. 

I’m queer. I’m asexual. I won’t bring home a woman on my arm anymore than I will bring home a man. But I didn’t say any of this and, though I know how lucky I am to have my mother on my side, I felt shoved into the closet. My grandfather and my aunt are my only immediate family I have not yet come out to. I am fortunate that I can easily pass as being straight.

Still, I don’t think my grandfather believed me when I told him I’m not gay. He asked me later that day about when I would want to get married and I told him that I don’t want to get married. He didn’t press the issue then and told me it is my decision–though he would have been able to hold a lovely wedding reception. I was not surprised when he brought up the issue of my refusal to marry to my mother. Again, I see how damaging closeted homophobia is. I fear my grandfather will never see me the same way and, even worse, he will never tell me so and our anger and misunderstanding will simmer away under the surface.

I know I am not the only one to feel closeted and to be concerned about coming out. I know I am incredibly lucky to have my mother as my support network. I know I care about queer issues beyond my own sphere and this conversation with my grandfather really brought homophobia home for me. I am even more dedicated to advocating for queer rights because no one deserves to suffer under homophobia or any other type of bigotry.

A few months ago I spoke on a “Queer + [Blank]” panel  where everyone who spoke came from a place of intersectionality. I have a shirt from the event that proudly displays “Queer + [Blank]” and I have yet to fill in my intersectionality because I am afraid to wear this short outside of my campus environment. When the panel was first being publicized I did not yet know that I was speaking and I talked with a queer friend of mine about the design for the shirts. She is very open about being a lesbian, but she said she had to ask herself whether or not she would want to walk down the street and have everyone know that she is queer. I agreed, but I felt I needed to do buy this shirt because I needed to embrace being queer as an essential part of my identity.

I do not know if I will come out to my grandfather anytime soon, but I will not get married–even if it means I stop entirely passing as straight.

 

Wild About Wilde Magazine: Issue #3 Available Now

Yes, this is indeed a publication named after Oscar Wilde! Appropriately enough it is a queer arts and literary magazine who describe themselves as

Art and Literature with a Queer Edge.

I was so lucky to have found this journal and even luckier to have my non-fiction published in the Summer 2013 issue.  My non-fiction piece The Worst Thing” is about coming out to my brother as asexual and finding my voice in the queer community.

Wilde Magazine is a recent publication, starting in 2012 and seeking a community for LGBTQ and allies to discuss the queer perspective and open up the realm of art for communal enjoyment.

Wilde Magazine publishes bi-annually in both print and digital copies. Hopefully I will be able to schedule an interview with a member of their staff to tell us more about their publication, what they look for in submissions and the future of the magazine.

In the mean time, both the print and digital copies of the Summer 2013 issue are available and you can buy your own copy here:  http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/589325

 

“That Escalated Quickly”

I was at a barbecue the other night and the woman who hosted it is married to a man who a big comic books fan. We talked about Man of Steel, our favorite superheroes and if he had comic book recommendations. When everyone was sitting around eating, he asked me if I would like to see his comic book collection. I was so excited about this, but everyone around us started laughing and making jokes of “that escalated quickly”. I want to show you my comic book collection is obviously code for I want to have sex with you.

I felt like I was back in elementary school where I was terrified to have guy friends because the entire playground would bully you mercilessly about you getting married.

Now I’m an adult, surrounded by other adults and its the same mentality: men and women can’t be friends by this logic. There is an unbreachable divide that says men and women can only be in a relationship if it’s a sexual one and any conversation is just hidden sexual tension.

I think this especially applies to how people view me because I am the innocent one. I am the one who never talks about sex, boys, girls or romance and that means that there has to be something about me that is corrupt and that people can pick at. This is wrong on multiple levels. One, sex is not corrupt. Two: there is no reason to ever put anyone on a pedestal; it’s not admiring them, it’s waiting for them to fail so you have a right to rage against them. This instance was both sexist and heteronormative, as everyone assumed I was straight and was interested in him sexually.

The whole situation was so uncomfortable and just a moment ago I felt very at home and at peace with people I felt I could talk to.

No one at the BBQ knows I’m asexual, but it’s so heteronormative to assume that if I’m having a conversation with a man that it means I’m attracted to him. And the worst thing was that he played into their jokes. He never did show me his comics and said something about how maybe we should wait for the second time we meet. We could seriously be friends and he was more comfortable playing along with the jokes and stereotypes at our expense than looking into the friendship we could have.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my summer room mate about sexuality and how it’s so awkward to bring up your sexuality without the risk of either making yourself or someone else uncomfortable. It’s not a normal topic of conversation. But not talking about being asexual, especially in situations where people assume that I’m straight, leads to me feeling isolated and childish. I’m sure other members of the queer community can relate.

Sexuality is strangely treated as a marker of adulthood. Yet when you first get sexual feelings you’re not an adult but a hormone crazy kid. Sometime in college, or beyond, you somehow transition to adulthood and having sex is a part of that transition.

So where do asexuals fit in? I know I’m still at an age where people can look at the absence of a partner and tell me that I’m making the right decision to focus on my school work instead of dating. But when I leave college? Will I always be less of an adult because I’ve never wanted someone’s penis or vagina?

I don’t swear. I don’t drink. I don’t have tattoos. I don’t smoke. These factors coupled with being asexual mean that I’m the innocent one and therefore the perpetual child. Again there is the element that I need to be corrupted. There is something about this “innocence” which unnerves people. Why else make jokes about things “escalating quickly”?

Asexuality isn’t innocence any more than having a sexuality is maturity. There is no correlation or causation. I’m just as much an adult as most anyone else my age.

It’s time people stopped associated maturity and adulthood with sexual experience. It’s sexist and quite literally incorrect. I’m adult because I take responsibility for myself; what I do or don’t do with my body holds no bearing.

Asexual Visibility

I was looking up literary magazines to send my creative writing to and came across Glitterwolf. This UK based lit mag opens up submissions from LGBT writers and artists from around the world. This is a fantastic idea: celebrating the creativity of the queer community, but my issue arose with the use of the category LGBT.

Not everyone is comfortable, or agrees with, the umbrella term queer and I understand that, but LGBT is limiting. As an asexual, I didn’t know if I was allowed to submit because I’m not technically on the LGBT spectrum. As a Gender or Sexual Minority (GSM) however, I thought to ask.

I emailed the magazine and later that same day someone responded! Mr. Matt Cresswell told me:

I’ve never even considered this question before–I think I’d like to err on the side of welcoming though, so go ahead and send us a submission and we’d be happy to read it!

Even just these simple words of encouragement are enough to remind me that every part of the queer community can be visible. We don’t need to specifically identify as LGBT in order to be queer and I’m so excited that there are people who are open to this premise.

This little victory gives me assurance that the queer community can be inclusive. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading in the right direction.