Category Archives: Research

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.

Say hello to my new favorite shirt!

Also, say hello to my new favorite shirt!!

Via:: Tumblr to WordPress

SoCal, research, and the great cupcake overdose of 2012

Treasure Island Beach

When writing a book set in a place you’ve never been, it’s a good idea to get pictures and information from the locals. When writing seven you better get your behind on a plane.

Luckily for me, my co-author Lani not only lives near the area we’re writing in, she has birthdays. Every year in fact! Almost like clockwork or something. It’s weird. This year we combined a research trip and a birthday trip and got an epic weekend of awesome things! And I have pictures to prove it!

The weekend involved sightseeing, author pictures, visiting beaches and restaurants we want to use in the books, bonfires, and book events. And a whole hell of a lot of cupcakes. And really beautiful, cool weather, which was an added bonus. We plotted out an entire book we had nothing for before and spent time together in person instead of on Skype–another bonus!

Below the link are some pictures from the trip that I loved. I can’t wait until we meet up again. Maybe next time it’ll be on my side of the country!

Sunsets are gorgeous over the beach
Bonfires are better at the beach
Author signing in Encinitas

Sherman Library Gardens
Otters live in gardens!
Table Rock Beach

Table Rock Beach

Treasure Island Beach

Cupcakes! Sooo many cupcakes!

Sometimes research is one of the best things about writing.

Air Travel (c) gimbok

In the name of research, I have crossed the country! Okay, also in the name of friendship and vacations and birthdays and cupcakes and just because, but research shall also happen!

Lani Woodland and I are working on multiple projects together and, somehow, they’ve all end up set in and around Los Angeles and Laguna. Now, this is okay for her because she lives within an hour of those locations but it’s not so easy for me to swing by and get a feel for the place considering I live about as far south in Florida as you can get before you hit the Keys. So what happens when you combine a birthday present with the need to research a place for a book? Apparently, you get a cross-country weekend trip! Or, I do anyway.

I flew out of Florida last night and today we head for Laguna! We’ll be scoping locations and scenery and lifestyle. We’ll be trying out the restaurants and talking to the people. All in the name of authenticity, you know. But also in the name of how-much-awesome-can-we-shove-into-one-weekend?

Look for pictures and updates next week! Hope you guys have an awesome weekend, too!

Research: Seek And Your Shall Find

Sometimes we have questions, but the answers don’t come easily. Or maybe they just bring up more questions. Maybe you’re working on a project and it would be so cool if your character could do such-and-such or if they knew everything about whatever. Researching the topic yourself is the best way to get answers, but that research isn’t always easy.

One of my novels on a back burner right now involves a girl who is very math-minded. The problem? I am so not a math person. At all. Never have been. In fact, it took me three years just to master multiplication. I wish I was exaggerating.

I haven’t worked on this story much yet (partially because the idea of going back and assigning myself math homework was a little scary), but I overheard someone at work talking about an online library of videos, something called The Khan Academy.

There are some ideas and that are so genius you wonder how no one ever done something like this before. Salman Khan began by tutoring his cousins online and eventually posted some of his lessons on YouTube. Other people found them, commented, and soon he was posting more and more lessons, getting hundreds, then thousands of comments from all over the globe. Soon he’d created a library of simple lessons on math and science from basic addition to higher maths like calculus and physics. These videos have been used as tutoring tools, homeschooling lessons, and even in classrooms. Suddenly, because of these lessons, going back and relearning math doesn’t seem so scary.

I’m telling this story for two reasons. 1) Don’t back away from a story idea just because one element of the story is daunting. You never know when the right tool is going to fall into your lap. And, 2) Salman Khan really is a genius. For a long time I’ve hoped to homeschool my kids (when/if I ever have any), but teaching math and science wasn’t something I looked forward to. I think that the lessons he’s creating here will change the face of education not only for parents who don’t trust the educational system, but also for the students who are enrolled in public (and even private) schools. The Khan Academy and Salman’s hopes for the future of education are best explained in his own words, so I’m going to leave you with this video of his appearance at the TED Talks (another really fascinating library of videos).

Hopefully you’ll learn something new. If not, you might at least find it entertaining.

Research: Beware Misconceptions

See the original here.

I found this XKCD comic online recently and then asked myself, does Wikipedia really have a list of common misconceptions? Another Google search showed me that, yes, they do! How intriguing. Some of the information on this rather long list I already knew, some of it I didn’t. What it made clear to me, however, is how easy it is to get something wrong. Misconceptions, misperceptions, and misunderstandings happen all the time. In fact, it’s a little scary how easy it is to misunderstand someone.

Since misinformation is so prevalent, how do you know what to believe when doing research for your books? Especially when a lot of research is being done online and all it takes to make a source look legitimate is a good website and a believable url. It’s a tricky question and truly depends on the subject. A lot of times, though, finding someone who works in the field and asking them to direct you to reputable sources or answer some questions is the best and safest way to go. If this fails, books published by a reputable house are usually (but not always) safe. Textbooks are safer. You can use the internet as a starting point, but don’t let it be the only way you research.

Below the cut line are some of the misconceptions I found interesting, amusing, or weird. Since they’re on Wikipedia, I in no way vouch for them being 100% true, but it’s still interesting. To see the full list, go here.

Continue reading

Research: Would People Think You Are Crazy?

Sometimes, especially while researching details for a book, I start to wonder what people would think of me if all they had was my search history and bookmarks from Firefox. Namely whatever government agency keeps tabs on things like that… I would tell you why I might suddenly be on a government watch list because of recent searches, but I don’t want to ruin any future stories that might come out. 😉