This is my submission for the January 2018 Carnival of Aces, on the subject of “Identity”. The roundup of entries is here. The call for submissions can be found here. The masterpost explaining what the carnival is is here. I was rushing to finish this post, below, by the deadline so please tell me if you notice errors.
If you were to ask who I am, you might get an answer that copies other people’s bio blurbs on blogging websites or something. You’d get a different answer if I were to write a cover letter addressed to you as I tried to get hired by you. There are different parts of me that are relevant to reveal at different times.
There’s this lyric I love in the Marianas Trench song Who Do You Love?. The second line especially, but it’s both of the initial lines in the first verse, and they are:
God, it’s been so long wide awake that I feel like someone else. / I miss the way that you saw me, or maybe the way I saw myself.
Feeling like “someone else” than they were when with their (presumably romantic) partner – these are lines about a person’s sense of identity! This is a breakup (and hoping to get back together?) song, by the way.
After my queerplatonic partner broke up with me – really, after both times he did (because yes we were on-again, off-again) – I could feel this.
I didn’t only miss tangible things about our relationship, but at times I also felt my entire perception of myself shifting. There were all sorts of levels to this. It was like external validation that I’m logical if he thought what I said made sense and little things like that, which I also get from friends and family in my day-to-day life but which I got a higher degree of from him.
But it was also… Knowing someone else thinks you’re worth talking to more often than anyone else, knowing they want to build a future with you – it can be a powerful thing, and for me it boosted my self esteem, my sense of how “likable” a person I am, and all sorts of hard-to-quantify things.
Feeling secure in that relationship also shifted what I saw as possible in my future, and there’s some sense that “me” – who I see myself to actually, in full, be – is some combination of my past, my present, and my future.
The second time Robert* broke up with me, he all but ghosted me – while he did tell me he “couldn’t do this relationship anymore” and made it clear he was breaking up with me, he didn’t offer any real explanation and suddenly was completely gone from my life despite a promise to explain more the next day. He went silent, no proper goodbye, nothing.
*Robert was/is his chosen pseudonym for my blog
I really like this article on Psychology Today about ghosting:
Especially this part:
One of the most insidious aspects of ghosting is that it doesn’t just cause you to question the validity of the relationship you had, it causes you to question yourself. Why didn’t I see this coming? How could I have been such a poor judge of character? What did I do to cause this? How do I protect myself from this ever happening again? This self-questioning is the result of basic psychological systems that are in place to monitor one’s social standing and relay that information back to the person via feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.
How does this relate back to identity? I think things like “clearly, I’m an unreliable judge of character” is kind of about your sense of identity, core parts of your skills/abilities/instincts in ways that at least feel unchanging and just the way you are, for better or worse (and you’re thinking, at this point, it’s the “for worse”). Maybe it’s not true that you even are bad at that, and even if you are, maybe it’s not true that it’s unchangeable. But planning to raise kids with a person who ultimately leaves you without a goodbye makes you doubt yourself, “who you are”, how you could’ve ended up in this situation. How much of it was your own fault?
My feelings back when I was still happily in a queerplatonic partnership with him also shifted what I felt my own self capable of feeling – like being “in love” and realizing my capacity to have sensual desire for touch/hugs occasionally but in a demisensual way. I still feel those as lasting effects on my sense of identity, even with Robert gone from life.
What I’m “capable” of feeling, generally speaking, is a big part of why I identify as a non-libidoist sex-averse asexual. It is defining what I like to see as immutable parts of me. It’s not just with one particular person that I feel the need to run away/push the person away if sexual-anything seems potentially on the table. No, instead I possess, knowing these identities of mine, the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me” card, a description of a core part of who I am and expect to always be, in all relevant circumstances as an adult. It’s just a stable set of facts about me.
immutable: adj. Not susceptible to change.
Anything immutable is a pretty good starting point for identity, I think.
susceptible: adj. Easily influenced or affected.
There are tons of parts of me that technically could change, given certain extreme circumstances, but are quite unlikely to change.
In general, the way I conceptualize it, an identity is only an identity once you already realize you’re basically “past the point of no return” – this is who you are by now, whether it was choice that started you on this path or not? Things that are so embedded in your sense of self. Things that even if they change, you’ll say it’s who you used to be in a “I was __ back in those years” sense rather than just what you did.
When the same basic topic came up in the Carnival of Aces almost 3 years ago, I wrote about some aspects of my identity, and just about what I thought identity is, kinda writing as I thought it through, as I carefully read the identity article on Wikipedia, etc lol.
I had said in my submission that:
Being a child abuse survivor is less of an identity for me for a number of reasons. It’s a label, a description, a truth.
But it only shaped who I am. It’s a memory. It is not who I am now.
I think… I’ve changed my mind on that point.
I had even then gone on to say:
Identity is complex though. I do identify as a child abuse survivor sometimes. If people were to make a blanket statement about survivors of child abuse, and that statement didn’t apply to me, I would feel like my identity was being attacked. It’s a spectrum, and while it’s not a prioritized identity for me, it’s still an identity, at least in some circumstances.
I perhaps have a new sense of what’s important when it comes to my own personal identity now, in 2018.
It’s… A pretty relevant part of my entire lived experience. It comes up more than I might think. It shapes me and it will always be true – no matter what else I am, I will always be a person raised by an abusive mother who I then cut off contact with on my 18th birthday, a person who relates most abuse I hear about back to those experiences, a person who doesn’t have a mother in her life BECAUSE of the abuse, no mom to come out to as asexual, etc… It’s messy to frame as an identity but it’s… It is a part of me I can count on as immutable.
I also went on, in that blog post of mine from 2015, to say that I didn’t use sex-averse as an identity, at least not usually. (Rather, I said, it’s more of a description.) But in fact, while I think what I wrote then is largely true in terms of how I’m not prone to using the word much out loud… the fact is that I consider, when thinking about who I am, sex-aversion (and kissing-aversion!) to be an immutable part of me. And part of why I don’t use the label as an identity label more is because I use the asexual identity to imply (at least the possibility of) my sex aversion instead.
Another reason is it gets too close to talking about my sexual preferences which is inappropriate in “polite company” or, a lot of contexts?? Or I’m afraid will be seen that way.
I only tried kissing 2 guys and experimented with sexual situations with one of those guys. When I start to briefly consider the possibility that I might be wrong about my identity as sex averse, because I didn’t, for instance, try experiencing it with women, it is an unpleasant thought, a challenge to my secure and safe sense of identity as “a person who never has sex”. I then assuage any discomfort by reminding myself that I don’t have to try every possible thing to know it’s not for me. I can remember I have no desire at all and that if I decide to live my life this way (determinedly celibate) yes that’s fine and I can find a way to be happy long term. But… But this stuff is messy.
Kissing-aversion is such an intrinsic part of my sense of identity now that every ace I saw kissing a partner happily in fanfiction, especially aces ostensibly like me and sex-averse, it felt “wrong” deep down, like I completely couldn’t find it in me to try to relate to the character as much as i could anymore. This character became fundamentally different from me.
And to take this identity talk in a different direction…
When I accepted that I was asexual, I was accepting that I was wrong about my identity as a heterosexual woman. It was reevaluating my entire set of lived experiences and realizing asexuality explained them better than anything else, and therefore asexuality could better predict my future and provide the framework I needed to decide how to approach dating/a love life going forward.
Part of that was that my identity as a straight woman had always been… Shaky, at best. Not fully formed. Waiting to be solidified. On the occasions I’d stopped to think about it, I knew I didn’t really have all my “past the point of no return” moments for being heterosexual. I had only a starting point, like when I dipped my toes into being a Chemistry major in college before eventually changing to Linguistics. Once I had taken enough classes to have a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics, being a “linguistic nerd” basically had become yet another part of my identity. (I don’t say Linguist because it’s not my career? Because it’s too strong a way to put it? I don’t know lol…)
Chemistry, though… It never quite got there. And neither did heterosexuality. (Lol this seems like a joke about not having chemistry with my attempted heterosexual dating partners, which… Also true, but kinda besides the point.)
I process trauma in a very specific way. I recently revisited old tumblr posts written in 2011 about a traumatic day I’d kinda forgotten I’d experienced in 2009. My reaction to the events of those 17 hours is remarkably similar to my reaction 8.5 years later written I went through a new traumatic experience this past November. My trauma recently was days long and more intense, but these types of reactions have become character or personality traits of mine that seem immutable. Not just these two occasions but after my traumatic breakup with my qpp, with my uncle’s suicide in November 2013 that I was there to sort of witness, etc…
When I experience something hugely shocking and upsetting, I start sharing my distress with online friends, I like writing everything out, I’m just… I’m not a private person. I relate to characters on tv shows that I saw one fanfic writer describe as “external processors” – I unpack the trauma by talking it ALL out, explaining what happened and all my feelings and why I feel the way I do… sometimes by voice too with an in-person conversation, because honestly I’m not sure I can ever really talk about this stuff too much. Part of what I love about the characters being described as “external processors” is that it can be a character trait then, basically something that is them, their identity, an immutable part regardless of what other contexts you put them in.
Especially in the context of traumatic stuff, I also cry easily/a ton, after the detached mild dissociation wears off, and there are probably a few other things I consistently tend to do. While some of this can be hard to put into neat or exact labels, it is all part of my identity, of how I realize, in retrospect, I am and have been for as long as I can really remember.
So this is a post for the Carnival of Aces, but I’ve been rambling about things that aren’t asexuality for a while. I just… I want to conclude by saying I rank asexuality high on my list of identities for a few reasons.
A) it’s easy to label and understood generally in identity politics as an identity
B) it’s where I can find true friendship in online and offline community and so I stay in spaces where this identity is what is tying us together
C) it’s an identity that was powerful to discover and would’ve been helpful for my life to find sooner, so I feel motivated to identify loudly and do whatever else I can to provide this identity option to others, young and old, who need it
D) it helps me map a future path for my life, both in terms of activist goals and who I might possibly be compatible with to build a life alongside as a partner.