Category Archives: Prejudice

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.

We all need to stand behind Orlando


What happened last night in Orlando is horrific and so saddening. I want to curl up in a ball in my house and never leave, but that’s not possible. I have commitments and responsibilities for my job that are taking me out into the world. When I go, though, I’ll be wearing my support with pride.

If it’s safe for you to do so, please SHOW your support today. Let’s cover the country with rainbows to remind those who need it that there’s still color in the world, and reminding those who hurt us that we are NOT GOING AWAY.

Via:: Tumblr to WordPress

#IllGoWithYou


Thank you, Kami Garcia for the fantastic #IllGoWithYou button! I’m so glad you’re passing these out today at #RT16!

Via:: Tumblr to WordPress

I have three words for this book: powerful, insightful, and…


I have three words for this book: powerful, insightful, and important. @IWGregorio has done a brilliant job educating the reader on what it means to be intersex/AIS while not lessening the emotional impact of Krissy’s story in the slightest. This is a book about tolerance, gender, love, strength, mistakes, forgiveness, finding out who you are, and the mutable nature of what it means to be a girl or a boy or human, really. An excellent story by an amazing author and one I highly recommend!

Via:: Tumblr to WordPress

Stories: Sometimes You Don’t Need Words

Before I get into the actual reason for this post, I’m going to gloat for a minute. Somehow I managed to cut out about 4000 words of filler from my novel Sing Sweet Nightingale yesterday! I’m still not sure how the number managed to get that high, but it needs to happen again today. I have to get the word count down to around 100,000! Not an easy task…

Anywho, a while ago I posted work by a photographer that was also a really vivid story. Stories can actually be told in a million different ways, many of which don’t involve words at all. Today I’m going to share two new stories, one a short move with no dialogue and one photographer who is chronicling the childhood of his two girls. [click on the above link to see some of his photos]

I found Jason Lee through a post on BoredPanda.com and it tells the story of photographer Jason Lee and his highly energetic, and very creative, daughters. While the actual photography and technical aspects come from Jason, according to the article a lot of the photo ideas (click here to see the article or here for his personal blog) come from the girls! Each one is its own self-contained story and they’re all a lot of fun!

Second, this video is making the rounds on Facebook. I’m not going to say much about it because I don’t think it needs explanation. Once you get to the end, I believe it’ll be pretty obvious why the director produced the project this way.

 

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! I’m off to machete my book some more.

EDITED TO ADD:
I just came across this secondary video about the team who made the video above. I found it really interesting, so I thought I’d share.

Prejudice: The Power And The Pain Of Hatred

I had planned on writing a post of my own today (really, I had!), but then I found this link on Facebook. I decided sharing this article is much more important than a post about average book sales (which I will post tomorrow or the day after instead).

I grew up in South Florida and attended performing arts schools for middle and high school. While I was aware of racism and bigotry and prejudice, I wasn’t raised with or around anything of the sort. It has never made sense to me to hate someone for something they can’t help. Hate is poisonous and most of the time, you’re only hurting yourself.

I’m posting the article that follows because I’m hoping the more it spreads the more chance there is of someone who needs to see this reading it. If you have a blog of your own, spread the word.

I received the following email today in response to my post I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay. I had decided a couple months ago that it was time to let the whole thing rest, but this response was so powerful, I couldn’t not share it with you all. It was from a woman who simply called herself, “One proud mom.”

Hello Mr. Pearce,
I am the Christian mother of a 15 year old teenage boy and about a month ago he came home from school with a copy of your article “I’m Christian, unless you’re gay”. The teacher gave his class a homework assignment to read it and write a 500 word essay about “what it meant to them”.

He came home and showed me your article and asked me what I thought about it. I read just the title and became furious at his teacher and at you (even though I know you had nothing to do with her handing out the assignment). Anyway, I confiscated it from him and told him he wasn’t to do anything with it till I had a chance to read it first.

And then I got madder and madder as I read it as I felt like it was a direct attack against our beliefs and our Christian religion and that it was promoting homosexuality, a practice that around here is a huge “sin”.

I gave my son an earful about homosexuality and God and told him that he could tell his teacher that he would not be participating and if she had a problem, she could come talk to me and then I threw the article in the trash. My son didn’t say anything just walked into his room and shut the door.

Long story short, a couple hours later it was supper time and I still hadn’t seen him come out of his room. I didn’t expect it to be that big of a deal to him but I went and knocked and told him to come out, he didn’t answer so I opened his door and he wasn’t there, he had left the house and gone somewhere. Of course I got more mad and tried to call him but he sent it to voicemail. I sent him a text and told him he better get home and he was grounded.

This is the text he sent me in return: “I don’t care. I’m at my friends house writing that essay and I’m not coming home till you read it.”

I think you would have seen steam coming out of my ears if you saw me. I started preparing to go talk to the school the next day. I sent a few angry texts to my son that he didn’t answer. I got the article out of the trash so I could take it into the school and get this teacher fired. My anger got a little out of control and while I was sitting there fuming and planning what to do, I got another text from my son that said “Just emailed it. Love, Jacob.”

My son’s name is not Jacob, and it took me a minute to realize that he was talking about your friend Jacob in your article. And when I realized that I suddenly started shaking in fear and anger at what he might be telling me. I started out of control crying because I couldn’t handle having a gay son and what if that’s what he was trying to tell me? After a long time I finally got the courage to go look at my email and see what he had sent. And this is what he wrote.

I am gay and only my one friend knows so far. My mom doesn’t know yet. My dad doesn’t know yet. You didn’t know it when you gave us this homework. I am only 15 years old and I have never felt so alone. My mom and dad always are being angry about gay people and talking about how they are bad and going to hell and they also always talk about how all the gays should be shipped off to their own private island or something so that the rest of us could live God’s commandments in peace.

I have been so scared of them finding out that I’m gay because I know that they would hate me and would want me out of their life and at the same time I can’t keep this secret anymore because it is not something I asked for, never in a million years would I ask to be gay in a town like this where everybody would hate me. And anyways I can’t keep this secret anymore because I’m about to do something crazy like run away or hurt myself or something. I just want to be dead sometimes.

And then you gave us the assignment to write this essay for our homework and I read it like ten times I even skipped lunch and just kept reading it in the bathroom and by the time I went home I decided that maybe I am only 15 years old but maybe this town will change if I can be honest about who I am and maybe my family will change if I can be honest about who I am with them too. I don’t see why I don’t deserve love just like everyone else. I see some crazy stuff that so many people do and people still love them but for some reason everybody around here thinks its ok to hate gays and stuff. And I don’t know really I think I just realize that I don’t want to be Jacob in ten years and still live my life in secret and scared of being hated.

So I go home and I tell my mom to read this handout you gave us and she got so mad at me and started going crazy about how evil gays are and how all of this was just the devil spreading his work and everything else she said. But this time I just got mad myself and I got so mad because I suddenly realize that this is the woman that my whole life made me go to church where they talk about love just like the writer said but she and every other person I pretty much know just hate so many people especially gay people. So I got madder and madder and madder and then I snuck out and came to my friends house to write this essay because its time to stop letting people’s hate stop me from being happy. I mean should I really have to hate my life and want to die because other people are so hating?

And I don’t know what will happen but I am done playing like I’m something I’m not and if my parents don’t love me anymore because of this then I realize that’s not my problem and it will hurt but not as much as the way I hurt right now. I feel like if my mom and dad would just think about things they’d realize that what they always say and how they always hate gays is not what Jesus would do and maybe there is a chance that they will some day love me like Jesus would. I am their kid afterall.

Tonight I am going to send this to my mom and see what she says I guess. I don’t know what will happen but I know that I deserve to be loved just like everybody else does I just hope she thinks so too.

Obviously you can imagine the emotions and thoughts that were going through my head when I read that…

I started crying and couldn’t stop for the longest time. I don’t know why I was crying exactly, just so many emotions came over me. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. I finally stopped and went and read your article once more only this time I tried to read it through my son’s eyes and the whole thing was so different than it was a couple hours before. By the time I finished I felt as big as an ant and I realized just how much hatred I have in my heart toward others.

You see, Mr. Pearce, you are right. It’s not about what other people do. It’s about whether or not we are loving them. Nothing else matters at all. And it took all of this for that to finally sink in.

I texted my son back that I loved him and left it at that. He came home that night and didn’t try to talk to me about it, I just told him I loved him at least ten times that night and made sure not to talk about anything else. My love for him was the only thing I wanted him to feel and I knew he’d talk to me about it when he was ready.

That was a month ago and in the last month my son and I (his dad lives three states away and still doesn’t know) have grown much closer than we ever were before. We have both stood up against hate several times when we hear it coming from the people around us. You see, where we live people really do have problems “being Christian unless…” But no longer in this home.

I’ve shared your article now with countless people. I have made my sisters read it. I talked about its message to my parents. I sent it to my friends and neighbors. And I’ve had some people get really upset by it, but a change is starting to happen around here and it’s because one teenage boy finally had the courage to stand against what he felt was wrong. He believed he could make a change. And I’ll tell you right now, it makes me happy to see him so happy. I never knew how unhappy he was until I could finally see how happy he could be.

So thank you. I know this is long, but I thought you’d like to know what your article has done in this little town we live in. And it’s just the beginning.

Sincerely yours, one proud mom.

Whew.

If you think you can’t make a difference, you are wrong. If you think you are too old or too young to make change happen, you are wrong. If you think that somebody else will do it first, you are wrong. I think this letter is proof enough of that.

Take another look at the people in your life. Sometimes you may be unknowingly hurting those you love the most.