power of words

When we face the long dark nights of the soul where unsettled issues are the new normal, we must remember that God sees our pain and meets us in that place of worry and concern. He is in control of it all, we must learn to rest in Him alone.
Identity, Spectrums, and Labels

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, visit my website before midnight on November 2, 2016 and follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter form!

When I was nine, possibly ten, an author came to our school to talk about writing. His name was Hugh Scott, and I doubt he’s known outside of Scotland. And even then I haven’t seen him on many shelves in recent years in Scotland either. But he wrote wonderfully creepy children’s stories, where the supernatural was scary, but it was the mundane that was truly terrifying. At least to little ten year old me. It was Scooby Doo meets Paranormal Activity with a bonny braw Scottish-ness to it that I’d never experienced before.

I remember him as a gangling man with a wiry beard that made him look older than he probably was, and he carried a leather bag filled with paper. He had a pen too that was shaped like a carrot, and he used it to scribble down notes between answering our (frankly disinterested) questions. We had no idea who he was you see, no one had made an effort to introduce us to his books. We were simply told one morning, ‘class 1b, there is an author here to talk to you about writing’, and this you see was our introduction to creative writing. We’d surpassed finger painting and macaroni collages. It was time to attempt Words That Were Untrue.

You could tell from the look on Mrs M’s face she thought it was a waste of time. I remember her sitting off to one side marking papers while this tall man sat down on our ridiculously short chairs, and tried to talk to us about what it meant to tell a story. She wasn’t big on telling stories, Mrs M. She was also one of the teachers who used to take my books away from me because they were “too complicated” for me, despite the fact that I was reading them with both interest and ease. When dad found out he hit the roof. It’s the one and only time he ever showed up to the school when it wasn’t parents night or the school play. After that she just left me alone, but she made it clear to my parents that she resented the fact that a ten year old used words like ‘ubiquitous’ in their essays. Presumably because she had to look it up.

Anyway, Mr Scott, was doing his best to talk to us while Mrs M made scoffing noises from her corner every so often, and you could just tell he was deflating faster than a bouncy castle at a knife sharpening party, so when he asked if any of us had any further questions and no one put their hand up I felt awful. I knew this was not only insulting but also humiliating, even if we were only little children. So I did the only thing I could think of, put my hand up and said “Why do you write?”

I’d always read about characters blinking owlishly, but I’d never actually seen it before. But that’s what he did, peering down at me from behind his wire rim spectacles and dragging tired fingers through his curly beard. I don’t think he expected anyone to ask why he wrote stories. What he wrote about, and where he got his ideas from maybe, and certainly why he wrote about ghosts and other creepy things, but probably not why do you write. And I think he thought perhaps he could have got away with “because it’s fun, and learning is fun, right kids?!”, but part of me will always remember the way the world shifted ever so slightly as it does when something important is about to happen, and this tall streak of a man looked down at me, narrowed his eyes in an assessing manner and said, “Because people told me not to, and words are important.”

I nodded, very seriously in the way children do, and knew this to be a truth. In my limited experience at that point, I knew certain people (with a sidelong glance to Mrs M who was in turn looking at me as though she’d just known it’d be me that type of question) didn’t like fiction. At least certain types of fiction. I knew for instance that Mrs M liked to read Pride and Prejudice on her lunch break but only because it was sensible fiction, about people that could conceivably be real. The idea that one could not relate to a character simply because they had pointy ears or a jet pack had never occurred to me, and the fact that it’s now twenty years later and people are still arguing about the validity of genre fiction is beyond me, but right there in that little moment, I knew something important had just transpired, with my teacher glaring at me, and this man who told stories to live beginning to smile. After that the audience turned into a two person conversation, with gradually more and more of my classmates joining in because suddenly it was fun. Mrs M was pissed and this bedraggled looking man who might have been Santa after some serious dieting, was starting to enjoy himself. As it turned out we had all of his books in our tiny corner library, and in the words of my friend Andrew “hey there’s a giant spider fighting a ghost on this cover! neat!” and the presentation devolved into chaos as we all began reading different books at once and asking questions about each one. “Does she live?”— “What about the talking trees” —“is the ghost evil?” —“can I go to the bathroom, Miss?” —“Wow neat, more spiders!”

After that we were supposed to sit down, quietly (glare glare) and write a short story to show what we had learned from listening to Mr Scott. I wont pretend I wrote anything remotely good, I was ten and all I could come up with was a story about a magic carrot that made you see words in the dark, but Mr Scott seemed to like it. In fact he seemed to like all of them, probably because they were done with such vibrant enthusiasm in defiance of the people who didn’t want us to.

The following year, when I’d moved into Mrs H’s class—the kind of woman that didn’t take away books from children who loved to read and let them write nonsense in the back of their journals provided they got all their work done—a letter arrived to the school, carefully wedged between several copies of a book which was unheard of at the time, by a new author known as J.K. Rowling. Mrs H remarked that it was strange that an author would send copies of books that weren’t even his to a school, but I knew why he’d done it. I knew before Mrs H even read the letter.

Because words are important. Words are magical. They’re powerful. And that power ought to be shared. There’s no petty rivalry between story tellers, although there’s plenty who try to insinuate it. There’s plenty who try to say some words are more valuable than others, that somehow their meaning is more important because of when it was written and by whom. Those are the same people who laud Shakespeare from the heavens but refuse to acknowledge that the quote “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them“ is a dick joke.

And although Mr Scott seems to have faded from public literary consumption, I still think about him. I think about his stories, I think about how he recommended another author and sent copies of her books because he knew our school was a puritan shithole that fought against the Wrong Type of Wordes and would never buy them into the library otherwise. But mostly I think about how he looked at a ten year old like an equal and told her words and important, and people will try to keep you from writing them—so write them anyway.

I don’t know how to love without using my whole heart. I don’t know what its like to love someone ‘half way’. I practice giving love in the same way i’d like to receive it.
—  Reyna Biddy
Words, I think, are such unpredictable creatures. No gun, no sword, no army or king will ever be more powerful than a sentence. Swords may cut and kill, but words will stab and stay, burying themselves in our bones to become corpses we carry into the future, all the time digging and failing to rip their skeletons from our flesh.
—  Tahereh Mafi, Ignite Me
Being in love is a very strange thing. Your thoughts constantly drift towards this other person, no matter what you’re doing. You could be reaching for a glass in the cupboard or brushing your teeth or listening to someone tell a story, and your mind will just start drifting towards their face, their hair, the way they smell, wondering what they’ll wear, and what they’ll say the next time they see you.
—  Pittacus Lore, The Power of Six