Category Archives: Asexuality

Identity, spectrums, and labels

spectrum-wave-radio-signal-frequency-5-600x285

Even after I discovered the asexual spectrum in 2014, it took me over a year and a half to call myself asexual. I changed my identifiers at least three times in that period, and each change was one notch further from the point where the asexual and allosexual spectrums meet.

I have incredibly mixed feelings about labels. As an author and a lover of books, I believe words have power, and I believe finding a word to describe you—or simply some small aspect of you—can be a life-changing moment.

Labels can help us clarify our own thoughts, they can validate our feelings and/or experiences, and they help us find others like us. However, labels tend to be seen as rigid, fixed, either/or definitions of a person. According to the wider consensus, you’re this or that, but rarely both. Labels come with sets of expectations, stigmas, and qualifications, and it’s these plus the seeming rigidity of it all, that makes accepting a label—even an accurate one—a struggle sometimes.

Which is exactly what happened to me.

As I’ve mentioned several other places, I was married. It ended for a lot of reasons, but a major factor was our sexualities. I didn’t have the language I needed to have this conversation with him at the time, but I’m almost certain my ex-husband was about as far on the libido and sexuality spectrums as he could be from me. Bi-hypersexual if I had to guess. Being found sexually attractive and desirable by his partner (i.e. me) was crucial to his happiness. I loved him, but I didn’t want him. Or anyone. Not naked and in bed.

Despite knowing I’d never even been sexually attracted to the man I married—and did love; for a while, at least—when I placed myself on the ace spectrum several years later, I still chose heteromantic and demisexual as my identifiers. They felt safer. More “normal.” It was as though all I needed was to meet “the right person” and then I’d be able have a “normal” relationship one day. I wasn’t admitting it to myself, but there was a strong fear of deviating too far from social expectations, and so I picked the identity closest to what everyone else seemed to experience and told myself it was right.

But it wasn’t.

Like a healing wound or a loose tooth, I couldn’t stop poking at the label. Slowly, I accepted the difference between romantic and sexual attraction, and I admitted the truth of my feelings for my ex to myself: I’d loved him once, but I’d wanted to jump his bones never. The times I did initiate sexual intimacy were about an emotional pull—or the emotional blackmail he was fond of using.

Graysexual, then. Maybe I was heteromantic graysexual. It still left the door open for “normal” one day, even if I couldn’t begin to guess what random set of circumstances would have to occur for me to finally and suddenly feel sexual desire for the first time.

Still, I couldn’t stop poking. I thought back on my life and honestly looked at my history with crushes and attraction and romance.

In elementary school, everyone carried around Teen Beat to pour over. They crushed hard on Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Devon Sawa. I barely knew who these people were and stared in utter confusion as another girl in my class repeatedly kissed a picture of JTT. Why? What was the point?

Through elementary and the end of middle school, I knew people had crushes, so I said I did too, but mine never felt the way they talked about theirs. Watching people kiss in movies made me uncomfortable to the point of squirmy. Sex scenes? I closed my eyes until they ended. There were no posters of bands or celebrities on my walls. I didn’t fantasize about kissing the boy I liked during recess, I just wanted someone to like me best. When someone did make it clear they liked me, though, I had no idea how to react or what to do. I became awkward and panicky until they went away.

I started dating in high school, but every relationship I had was because of someone else’s persistence. Especially the one with my future ex-husband. I discovered cuddling with someone I liked was phenomenal. Kissing was pretty great. Beyond that? Everything was only okay. I didn’t mind it, but I never wanted it. Never.

Finally, more than a year and a half after first discovering the term, I claimed asexual.

It’s not an easy label to claim in a society with such harsh double standards for sex. Especially for women. We’re not supposed to be sexually independent or promiscuous, but when a person expresses interest in us sexually, we’re expected to respond. Enthusiastically. To not want sex (of any type) at all? It’s seen as more deviant and unnatural than almost any kink or fetish I have ever heard of. Asexuality is dismissed as a nonexistent orientation. It’s seen as a smokescreen for past trauma and lingering fear. It’s laughed off as religious fundamentalism. It’s treated with cloying concern and proof of some kind medical or psychological problem that can be fixed. And needs to be fixed.

I knew all of this, which is why it took me so long to espouse the label most suited for my identity. I knew claiming asexual would come with all of these judgments and social expectations, and it took me a long time to be ready for that. Because we view labels (and not solely ones for orientation) as fixed, defining points of focus, they’re often the first thing to fall back on when describing someone, so claiming a label often means accepting the culture and ideology surrounding it. Or accepting the constant battle against them.

For me, identifying as asexual meant stepping up to protest the dismissal and misperception of the orientation. I use the stories I create and the characters I populate them with. I use the essays I write. I use the panels I have the chance to speak on. I educate and spread awareness of the truth—or, rather, of the idea that there is no “truth.” All there can be is experience in its infinite variety, and all we share are moments of overlap where we can look at someone else with wide eyes and say “You too?”

There’s no one way someone is as an asexual, and there’s no one path to embracing the label. Mine was long and had a lot of stops and wrong turns. Others might be able to jump in and immediately attach to the term closest to their heart. The point is how important it is for the community at large to allow for this exploration.

As we become more educated and aware of how different our experiences and perceptions of the world can be, giving each other safe spaces to work through their identities and figure out their brains is crucial. What I hope initiatives like Ace Awareness Week will do is give people the language they need to have this conversation—either with themselves or their family and community—and allow them the space they need to set aside the expectations of the label and look at its core. That’s where the comfort lies, and that’s where the rest of us who’ve already made this journey are waiting to welcome them.

 


In honor of Ace Awareness Week, I’m hosting a giveaway!

Entries are simple, and you can enter daily. To win the grand prize, you must live in the US, however, both second and third prize are open internationally. The caveat for international winners is these books won’t be signed; I’ll be ordering them through Book Depository or sending you an ebook through Amazon.

Another note? This is the FIRST time I’ve ever given away one of my incredibly limited paper ARCs of Island of Exiles! Very few of these printed copies exist, so enter to win a signed, limited edition copy of my upcoming fantasy novel.

To enter, check out the form below! One of the entries is to leave a comment on this post answering a question: When and how did you first hear learn about asexuality?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Friday Five – August 19th

THE FRIDAY FIVE

Welcome to the first ever Friday Five post!

To give credit where credit is 100% due, I have stolen this idea (with permission) from the lovely Katie Cotugno’s Five Good Things posts. The world can be a crazy place, so I think it’s excellent to recognize and publicly acknowledge the good things in it when we can. I am going to try to make these posts every week (I set an alert on my phone and everything), and this is the first one. Here are five things I enjoyed or am grateful for about this week:

  1. I don’t know how I’ve gotten so lucky with editors so far in my career, but I am so super grateful for my Entangled editor Kate Brauning who has been uber patient and supportive, helping me contain and shape my current projects and encouraging my new ones. She has continuously not keelhauled me for being overdue on this draft. I gotta say that I greatly appreciate that in an editor.
  2. Cait Greer has been especially fantastic this week, listening to me flail and whine about book problems only I can actually solve. A+ awesome friendship. Plus, we’re counting down the days until I fly to Salt Lake City, help Cait load up a trailer, and then road trip with her back to South Florida! I am very excited about that trip. There will be a LOT of pictures.
  3. It’s wonderful to me every time I see my Don’t Erase the Aces essay shared anywhere. The response to this post makes it more than worth the anxiety of writing it. Thank you to anyone who has promoted it, and even more thanks to the people who have told me how much the story resonated with them.
  4. I am closing in on 100k in my current project. The end is kind of in sight? If I grab a old-school seafarers telescope? And look in exactly the right direction? And good things are happening in the background on book one in this trilogy! I am trying to use that to spur me into finishing book two…
  5. Tomorrow (later today?) I am continuing my efforts to be social periodically and am meeting up with several local SCBWI friends for lunch and a workshop session! My regional chapter is fantastic, and I adore all of my local people, so I’m really happy I get to see them.

I’m on LGBTQ Reads!


Today I’m featured on LGBTQ Reads! In the interview I talk about asexuality, MOGAI rep, books, writing, and more. I also compare the LGBTQ YA community to a dragon. Because of course. ?

Better Know an Author: Erica Cameron

Via:: Tumblr to WordPress

Don’t Erase The Aces

A while back, the wonderful Michael Waters asked if he could include me in a piece he was doing for the B&N Teen Blog about diverse authors in young adult who were writing diverse books. His questions were wonderfully thoughtful and concentrated on my experiences growing up asexual and how that orientation has impacted both my life and my writing. 

As I usually do when someone asks me to write something, I gave him WAY too much material. After the article released, I dumped the extra content here to come back and edit into a post later. Apparently, it’s later now. 

Side note: You can read part 1 and part 2 of Michael’s beautiful series by clicking on the links. You should also follow him on Twitter


Asexual. It’s a word that is usually first encountered—at least for my generation—in biology class. In that context, it refers to any organism that reproduces by splitting. Like amoeba.

That’s not I’m talking about when I use the word asexual.

Definitionally speaking, asexuality is an orientation in which an individual does not experience sexual attraction to anyone regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or aesthetic appeal. Or even their wonderful personality.

What it means socially and contextually is a lot harder to pin down. For me, it’s a hyper-awareness of innuendo and oversexualization. It’s an extreme discomfort when someone calls me hot or even, sometimes, beautiful. It’s also the hope that one day I’ll be able to say “I’m asexual” without the explanation that always follows now.

Because I am asexual. More specifically, I identify as heteromantic-asexual.

Deciding on that label has been a winding, partially obstructed mental path (and explaining it could be it’s own post), and it took me through most of the ace spectrum identities. Since 2014, I’ve called myself demisexual and graysexual, but asexual really does fit best.

I wish I’d grown up knowing the term, because looking back at my life, it’s clear that this has always been a huge part of who I am. It never happened. I was twenty-nine before I first heard “asexual” outside the context of amoebic reproduction. By that age, I’d already been married and divorced. My lack of interest in sex had been a huge factor in the dissolution of that relationship. And the emotional manipulation and abuse I suffered through most of it.

For almost thirty years, I assumed I was straight but broken. How could I not? The only options I knew existed were straight, bisexual, or gay. I had no interest in kissing girls, so that knocked two of the three options out. I didn’t mind the thought of kissing boys (though I don’t think I’ll ever know how much of that is naturally me and how much of that is social conditioning), so straight was the only box left for me to check. “None of the above” was never offered.

Because I never had any explanation or understanding of why I didn’t want sex the way that the rest of society seemed to, and the way my ex-husband definitely did, the only answer I could come up with to the question “Why don’t you want me?” was “Because something is wrong with me.” It was a belief that developed over the course of years, and it was reinforced by my ex, by the media, and, inadvertently, my friends.

During my marriage, because I couldn’t explain the way my mind worked in a way that made sense to my ex, he used that against me, guilting me deeper into a sense of self-loathing I’m still in the process of shedding.

He would ask questions like: What’s wrong? Why don’t you want me? Don’t you love me?

He’d say things like: If you loved me, you’d do this for me. You won’t tell me the truth, so you must not trust me. This would make sense if you’d been raped or something. If you won’t give me what I want, I’ll go find it somewhere else.

Blaming me for his cheating was easy for him to do and, by the time that began happening, the relationship had been so twisted for so long that it was easy for me to accept. There was nothing in society or the media to tell me that he wasn’t right, so obviously it was my fault.

Trying to force myself into compliance only made things worse, causing depression and anxiety and self-esteem issues I’m still trying to get over years after my divorce was finalized.

After the divorce, I tried one more time. Because I still thought straight was the only option I had. The relationship was better, but the same lack of interest in sex from my side of the relationship happened again; I still didn’t have any explanation for it except “There’s something wrong with me.”

When that relationship came to a natural conclusion, I didn’t look for anything new. There was an incredibly strong fear burrowing inside my head that I wouldn’t ever be able to make anyone happy because I’d never be able to give them what everyone but me so obviously needed. If what had happened in my marriage and the only other long-term relationship I attempted was just going to happen again, it wasn’t worth it. So I stopped trying.

But I still didn’t understand why I was so fundamentally different from the rest of the world.

The thing is, for someone to find out who they are, there needs to be a safe space for them to try things on—personalities, clothes, genders, sexualities, jobs, tastes—without the pressure of someone else’s expectations. I think one of the reasons it takes us so long to discover and become comfortable with who we are is so few of those spaces exist. Humans are social creatures, and we’re programmed to bond with others. For the most part, we want to please the tribe we’ve been born into or chosen, and sometimes the only way we can see to do that is to change or deny some aspect of ourselves.

And that’s why, even if I had heard of asexuality at a young age, I don’t know that I would’ve embraced it. I was somewhat socially isolated as a kid, different in small ways that seemed to make a huge difference. To discover back then that there was a true, significant difference between me and everyone else? I might have grabbed that and espoused it immediately, or I might have held it at a distance as I tried to follow the path everyone else was walking. It’s hard to know.

When I did finally find asexuality on a list of sexualities and gender identities, the loudest thought in my head was, “Holy hell. I’m not the only one. I’m not broken.”

It didn’t magically fix everything, and fully integrating the concept into my identity in a meaningful way has taken time—that’s an ongoing process—but it’s helped so much in understanding myself and determining what I need to be content. It’s helped me figure out what kind of compromises I’m willing to make if I ever find someone I want to be in a relationship with. It’s given me something almost like a shield I can hold up against the world when it tries to tell me that what I feel (or don’t feel, more often) is something that needs to be fixed.

Discovering asexuality has given me back a tiny spark of hope that one day I’ll find a romantic relationship that includes only the physical element I’m comfortable with, but actually finding that partner in a sex-obsessed world is…daunting to say the least.

The first person I told about asexuality warned me to make sure I wasn’t reacting out of fear and writing off something I actually, secretly wanted. It was several months before I mentioned it to anyone else and, partially because of the previous reaction—that “well, really…are you sure?” feeling I got from the conversation—this time I couched the whole conversation in the terms of “this is just a theory, and I’m not really sure, but it kind of fits, so I don’t know.”

The doubt of my initial conversation became a trend. In fact, the theme of a lot of “coming out” discussions has been something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that! That sounds so sad. Here, let me see how I can fix that for you. Have you tried ______?” In almost every case the words aren’t intended to hurtful, but that doesn’t make it okay.

Unless someone is already familiar with the asexual spectrum, confusion and disbelief are usually the predominate reaction to coming out ace. People don’t seem to know how to react to an absence of something. “You’ll change your mind when you meet the right person,” is an incredibly common response. Others include:

“You don’t know what you’re missing!”

“Are you sure your partner knew what they were doing?”

“Were you abused in the past? Maybe it’s just fear.”

“So, what? You’re a prude? Or just celibate?”

“You’re asexual? You can’t be! You’re not a virgin!”

“Wow, so you actually expect to find a guy who doesn’t want sex? Good luck with that one.”

The erasure and the disdain in these micro-aggressions (although some of them feel like straight-up aggressions to me sometimes) is frustrating. The feeling that the person I’m talking to believes they know my mind and my emotional experience of the world better than I do is sickening. What’s even worse is that the people asking these questions are usually the same people who don’t understand why asexuals are currently making so much noise about the fact that we exist.

Pretty much the only conversations I’ve had about asexuality that haven’t been somewhere on the scale between doubtful and disdainful have been with people who are already involved in the MOGAI (marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and identities) community. However, even in that sphere there can be pushback. Some people still try to claim that the A in LGBTQIA stands for allies. In the recent past, notable gay rights activists have literally laughed at the asexual awareness movement saying, “You have the asexuals marching for the right to not do anything. Which is hilarious! Like, you don’t need to march for that right, you just need to stay home and not do anything.” (Dan Savage, 2011, (A)Sexuality documentary)

What they don’t realize is that we’re not fighting for rights, we’re fighting for recognition.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, non-consummation of marriage has been perceived as an insult to the sacramental union and grounds for divorce. Today, a couple who doesn’t have sex would have an almost impossible time convincing the INS that their relationship is valid and real. This is the society we’re born into, so, you’re wrong.

We do need to march. Not because we’re fighting for the right to get married or even the right to “do nothing,” but because we’re fighting to be acknowledged, to have our existence validated and accepted. We’re marching and making noise and calling people out on their erasure because we want asexuality to be recognized as an orientation, not classified as a disorder.

And it has been. People see a “missing” sex drive as practically inhuman. “It’s a bit like people saying they never have an appetite for food. Sex is a natural drive, as natural as the drive for sustenance and water to survive. It’s a little difficult to judge these folks as normal.” (Dr. Leonard R. Derogatis as quoted in an article in the New York Times on June 9, 2005). Starting with the DSM-III, a notable lack of sexual desire has been considered a psychological disorder by the psychological community. It’s begun to shift away from that, the most recent DSM offering clarification that could protect ace-spectrum individuals from inaccurate diagnoses, but that doesn’t mean the perception has changed enough to counteract the stigma.

Not yet, but we’re working on it.

All we want people to see is that we are just as normal as anyone else on the planet, partially because there’s no such thing as normal. This isn’t a religious thing, and it’s not at all like abstinence or celibacy. We’re not trying to convert you. Go ahead and do your thing, whatever that is. We’ll be over here playing Scrabble or watching Netflix with only the literal chill, not the innuendo laden kind.

That is what we’re marching for. That is why we’re standing on our chairs with our hands wildly waving above our heads. That is why American Apparel’s erasure of the A infuriates us so much. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. We want the next generation of asexual children to grow up without the “What’s wrong with me?” question playing on loop in their minds. We want people to acknowledge our experiences as valid and real and not broken, and we want kids growing up today to be able to see asexuality on the list of available sexual spectrum check boxes.

What we’re fighting for and making noise about is the right to exist. So please stop erasing us.


My books that feature ace characters (as of this post):

I’ve read thousands of books in the course of my life, yet until I really went searching for it, I’ve only seen the word “asexual” used to describe someone’s orientation once. And that author used it wrong. It’s doubtful that any of my books will be about asexuality, but I want everything I write to include the concept. I went three decades without encountering the word, and so I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to someone else. If I can help someone who’s never heard of asexuality be a little more understanding when someone in their lives claims a spot on the spectrum, wonderful. If I can introduce this identity to someone who’s struggling to understand themselves, even better.

  • Deadly Sweet Lies will always be a special book for me because although Tumblr may have introduced me to the term asexual, it was my research into the spectrum for Julian Teagan’s character in Deadly that gave me my “Oh, that’s me” moment.
  • In the Laguna Tides series, Kody Patterson is demisexual, something that is verbally confirmed on paper by him in the third book, Dealing With Devalo (which should be out before the end of 2016, I think).
  • In my upcoming Assassins series one of the characters in Discord identifies as asexual, but I can’t say who because it’d be a bit of a spoiler. The narrator of the second book, Nemesis, is also confirmed on page as ace-spectrum.
  • Within The Ryogan Chronicles series, the fantasy trilogy that begins with Island of Exiles and releases with Entangled in 2017, will include more than one asexual-spectrum character.

What American Apparel did and why it matters

AmericanApparel-AllyBagIt’s Pride month, and companies are shwoing their support. Which is fantastic. One day we’ll get to the point where people won’t have to SAY that they’re decent human beings who accept that everyone is different, but until that day it’s important for those marginalized by society to know who’s standing with them against a sometimes scary world.

They need to know who their allies are.

What they don’t need are those allies erasing a segment of the population who are marginalized even within a marginalized group. But that’s what American Apparel, HRC, and the Ally Coalition have done with at least one product in American Apparel’s line. Instantly, the asexual, aromantic, and agender comunities stood up and shouted, “NO!” They joined forces behind activist Tiffany Rose and demanded that American Apparel #GiveItBack.

Why? Because A is not for Ally. A is for Asexual, Aromantic, and Agender.

We’ve screamed into the social media void about this before, but this is the first time we’ve ever heard social media echo back at us quite this loudly. The story was picked up by Buzzfeed, Fusion, Refinery 29, Seventeen, and Yahoo. It was amazing, and so encouraging.

Then American Apparel “apologized.”

AmericanApparel-Apology

This is not an apology. This is not a retraction. This is not a promise to do better in the future. This is nothing. All this does is tell us one thing: Yes we saw you, and we know you’re upset, but these other people are more important than you.

I had let other people do the shouting until then, boosting their voices when I could. Seeing that apology enraged me. I don’t usually let things get to me the way this did, but it hit a chord. The wrong one at the wrong time. Or maybe it was the right one at the right time. I wasn’t sure then, and I’m still not.

Sure or not, I took to Twitter and tried to explain to the world why this matters at all. It’s just a bag, and it’s just a word, right?

Wrong.

So what’d I say? You can view the thread on Twitter here, on the Storify site here, or embedded below.

I was featured on the B&N Teen blog!

The wonderfully talented Michael Waters asked to interview me for a two-part feature about queer YA authors, and of course I was ecstatic and said yes! Part one of the series is out now and you can read about me, Anna-Marie McLemore, and Fox Benwell. Below is a snippet from each of our segments:

Fox Benwell is known around Twitter for his tireless queer and disability activism, his dog and cat photos, and his impeccable taste in ties. The author of The Last Leaves Falling (published under the name Sarah Benwell), he is genderfluid transmasculine and has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/fibromyalgia. Because of the marginalization he has faced, he is committed to creating safe, intersectional spaces for people like him. “It’s important to me to try to be the kind of visible role model I wish I’d always had—to do what I can to make things better for the next generation.”

For Anna-Marie McLemore, magical realism is an essential staple of both her writing and her cultural heritage. As a queer Mexican-American girl, she grew up reading the genre—she cites magical realism novels such as Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate as the reason she fell in love with literature. Now, they are the reason she writes it.

To McLemore, writing magical realism comes naturally. “[Magical realism’s] heart is the intermixing of the ordinary and the ethereal, and I fell into that easily both because it felt right for my work and because it’s where I come from. The origins of magical realism hold close the idea of culture and community, and rising out of the forces that try to hold down your culture and community. It’s a worldview that feels true to who I am and where my stories live.”

Photo Credit: Lani Woodland

Photo Credit: Lani Woodland

Erica Cameron is fighting for visibility. As an asexual author writing asexual characters, she is working to make her identity known and normalized in the public consciousness. Asexuality—describing individuals who experience little or no sexual attraction to anyone—is frequently misunderstood. Even people familiar with its definition may not fully grasp why, for example, there are asexual awareness marches.

Cameron is well aware of this. “What they don’t realize is that we’re not fighting for rights, we’re fighting for recognition,” she says.

Read the full article here!

10 Authors Discuss Asexuality, Immigration, and More on December’s YA Open Mic

10 Authors Discuss Asexuality, Immigration, and More on December’s YA Open Mic:

Erica Cameron, author of Deadly Sweet Lies

I am asexual. It’s a fact of my life now, but it’s one I didn’t discover until I was 29 and trying to recover from an emotionally abusive and manipulative marriage.

I grew up in a liberal, diverse city in South Florida and the available spectrum of sexual orientations was always pretty clear: gay, bisexual, or straight. I could be attracted to anyone of any gender, and that was okay—it was something I knew both in theory and from watching my childhood best friend try to figure out her own sexuality as we grew up.

No one ever mentioned that being attracted to no one was an acceptable option.

Parents, teachers, and even friends told me over the years not to look for too much external validation. Or, at least to avoid letting that validation impact my self-worth. Sometimes, though, something has to be verified, labeled, and categorized by someone who isn’t in my head for my experiences and emotions to feel real and acceptable. That is especially true when the word I was looking for to describe myself didn’t exist in my vocabulary. Not outside the context of the short section in my freshman biology class about the asexual reproduction of amoebas, anyway.

It’s why I vacillate between the urge to laugh and cry when someone questions the need for diversity in books. I was a voracious reader as a child. How different would my life have been if I’d known at 9 or 19 what I discovered at 29 about the sexual identity spectrum? I won’t ever know the answer to that question, but I will try my hardest to be the voice that tells teen readers what I never heard. What I would absolutely love is for my asexual spectrum characters to provide the “Oh my god, that sounds like me” moment for at least one person. Not going to lie; it’s kind of a life goal.

Click here to read the rest of the stories

Via:: Tumblr to WordPress