Ash – Reflection: Sexuality

14196204508_b158d03706_zPhoto credit: every flag together is the peaceful warrior : rainbow country, san francisco (2014)torbakhopper | CC 2.0

An ex reached out to me recently and it caused me to spend a bit of time thinking about my sexuality. I have learned over the years that for me, at least, sexuality is this complicated, grey mess, which I might not ever fully disentangle, especially if romantic attachment is included, incorrectly, under sexuality. Part of the reason sexuality has been a complex topic for me is that during my formative sexual years, I had no access to books which featured anything besides a straight romance. Which caused me to think: is Ash an opening to a broader discussion on the great variation within sexuality?

While in my review, I was critical of the lack of clarity around what Ash was feeling, as I ponder asexuality, I wonder whether my criticism might have been in haste. To be clear, I am not myself asexual, but I fall on the spectrum and have identified as grey-ace for awhile, though the label demisexual is a clearer fit. It’s this grey area of asexuality that may have shown up in Ash, as quite often Ash doesn’t appear to be sexually attracted to the two potential mates, but in the case of the Huntress, there is a clear romantic sort of attraction. I initially chalked it up to the innocence of first love, but now I wonder if it was a bit more complicated than that.

But maybe a more important question is does it matter? In my reading of Ash, I felt the romantic storyline was unclear and vague and I was critical of that. But should I have been? Is there some simplicity in simply not driving a point strongly home and just letting whatever be, be? Quite possibly. Sometimes I feel I struggle with sexual identity simply because I put too much importance on certainty and labels. (Which is interesting consider the teenage version of me did a lot to shirk sexual labels for years.) In my attempt to read more diverse books, written by diverse authors, I have become a bit too focused on what specific diversity is showing up in a book. But how much does that truly add to my experience of reading?

This topic was brought up in my reflection of Wonder where I was critical of a person of privilege (able-bodied) writing about the experiences of a person that lacks that privilege (physical deformity). While I still strongly believe in the importance of #OwnVoices and have found I greatly prefer those stories, the discussion in the comments did cause me to hesitate on whether I was closing myself off into a too narrow box. When I first conceived of this site, I planned on discussing books written by white American women and non-American whites. But then I came across various sites on diversity and felt I was not doing justice to the voices that needed to be lifted up enough if I did not narrow my focus. While I think there was good intent here, and it lead to me reading some amazing stories like Juliet Takes a Breath and The Hour of Daydreams I would not otherwise have read, I think it has become too strong of a focus for me, to the point that I am now in a significant reading slump. For a while I have been slipping into the slump by ignoring the books I want to read based on my mood in favor of reading those that meet the strict criteria for this blog and I finally fell in a serious enough slump I haven’t finished a book in over a week and nothing much has interested me sense.

For me, it is time to take a critical reflection on how I am approaching book reviewing and what it is I am placing emphasis on. Ultimately, my critiques of Ash’s lack of clarity around sexuality did not drive down the rating of it, so I stand by the review; I just wonder whether taking a step back from my critical framework would reignite the spark I had when I started this blog and reinvigorate my reading again. I do think that ultimately, the tone of reviews and reflections are going to shift a bit. The focus in reflections already has and I am happy with this change. There may be more joy in accepting the grey than trying to define things. I think there was in Ash and it’s a rare gift to read a book where there is a vagueness that rings true of youth, innocence, and coming into one’s sexuality. It reminded me of that time in my youth and it’s why I ultimately enjoyed reading Ash, even if I didn’t fall in love with it the way I thought it would.

What parts of your identity are more grey, fuzzy, and hard to define? How comfortable are you with the greyness? How comfortable are you with greyness in books?

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8 thoughts on “Ash – Reflection: Sexuality

  1. I haven’t read your review, but this post is great. I’ve wondered about these things as well. Especially about being asexual (but still romantic), although I didn’t even know that was a thing until I started blogging (last year!!) and I tended to just think, oh well, I’m broken. I still wonder about those things and I feel that maybe it’s too late now to make these decisions (looming thirties), all I can do is stay myself. And about diversity… I know what you mean about ‘the box’. In the end, reading is for enjoying, not just work (as a blogger). So, I’m white and mostly able bodied – does that mean you shouldn’t want to hear my story? (Hypothetically, I do not write in reality). There are other aspects of life that are equal despite your situation, you race etc, and there are books that should be read merely for their emotional qualities rather than “this is diverse and I should read it”.

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    • Thank you! I felt like I was going a bit out on a limb with this one, so it is really great to get that feedback. I’m sorry you tended to see yourself as broken, though I can relate to that as well. I couldn’t quite understand how I could love someone so very deeply and not feel sexual attraction to them. I always assumed romance and attraction went hand in hand and then I learned it didn’t. I’m in my 30s and feel a bit at a disadvantage as I didn’t grow up with the internet and there weren’t these kinds of discussions in my small town. But I don’t think it’s too late. Identity is a tricky thing and it shifts as we age, so I think it can be important for us to check in with ourselves from time to time on who we are.

      I understand your point. I definitely don’t only read diverse books as the emotional, soul-touching ability of a book is so important to me. This all started back years ago when I got really tired of white male writers writing in ways that fueled the sexism and patriarchical BS I was dealing with all the time at my job. I connected better with female authors and made an effort to read them over other options. It then expanded from there. I do greatly value a diversity of ideas, which is why I cannot and won’t exclude non-diverse authors. For me, the problem came when I started requesting books to review almost exclusively because of their diversity. Then everything felt like work more than fun. It’s not that they weren’t good books – just that I hadn’t picked them up because I was interested but because I felt obligated to read more diverse books to ensure I had books to review on this blog. Which is mostly why I think I need to be a bit more lax in how I define diverse books so that I don’t feel that awful pressure of obligation over enjoyment. I love reading too much to have it become one of those dreaded things!

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      • I think I know what you mean! I have a similar problem with requesting, cause I’ll see a book about disability / sickness and I’ll be like OH I WANNA READ THAT! And then I’m all like “hey, why do I only read this depressive nonfiction” 😂 the books are great. But dang, we need some recreation too. As for identity… you’re right, perhaps it’s not too late. Either way, I am lucky to have a partner who doesn’t mind me being the way I am and loves me all the same. So I guess there’s no pressure this way or that. But it’s nice to know that it’s a valid identity, you know?

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  2. For several years I gave myself the label of sapiosexual, attracted to the intelligence of others. But I also sometimes think that the labels we use to define ourselves can change as we grow and learn and develop further. In fact, towards the end of last year and the very beginning of this year, I started to strongly consider shifting my label to more of asexual, because honestly I had not felt sexually attracted to anyone (outside of maybe some fictional book characters). But then I met my boyfriend, and after our first date–and first kiss–I felt an attraction to him that I had never felt with anyone before. So, I think our identity can change, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    As for diverse reading, I try and add to my repertoire as much as possible, but I don’t only seek out books for the representation they contain. Nor do I limit myself on reviewing because of trying to fit certain criteria. I am a geek and a reader. Primarily my blog focuses on books and book reviews, but I’m also a writer, and I have other geeky hobbies. It would be a shame to not share what I’m passionate about with others.

    If you need to take a step back and figure things out, or pull back to reignite that reading spark, then that is what you need to do. There is nothing wrong with that, and we readers will still be around once you’ve figured out where you’re headed next with the blog.

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    • I very much agree that our identity can change as well. I also identify as sapiosexual, but I don’t quite see it in the same category as asexual or demisexual or lesbian or the like. I don’t really know how to fits into everything; I just know intelligence is incredibly important piece of attraction to me. I do think we can also go through periods where sexuality is more or less important to us. I do think I personally have a problem with my sexuality shifting, though I understand and acknowledge in others that it does in fact shift. I have been of the mindset that sexuality is a specuturm. I came out at 16 as bisexual and ever since then, I have been somewhere between lesbian and bi/pansexual. As I’ve aged, I’ve moved more toward lesbian enough so that I tend to identify that way because to its easier than the messy, messy truth. Maybe that’s the thing about sexuality. It is just very very messy, even though society tends to want it to be cleanly in some sort of box.

      A few years ago, I was unable to leave the house easily due to physical disability and my local library would mail me books to read. Since I had a librarian who would help me choose books, I took it as an opportunity to expand the authors I was reading and it changed me. I saw the world in a different way and I slowly started adding more diversity in books to my shelves. I personally need that experience as it deeply enriches my soul in ways I cannot explain in words. Then, once I ended up on permanent disability, I wanted some way to combine my passion of books with my passion of social justice and other political movements without being too engaged in the political world (there are restrictions on what I can do based on my private disability policy since I used to actively work in politics). Elevating diverse books seemed like a great way to do just that, so I decided to have the blog focus on those books, while my social media would have access to all the book reviews I write (Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook). In some ways, this is to a certain extent who I am. I studied political psychology in my PhD program and have been one to actively read and engage in social discussions. I have long intellectual conversations with friends about things like prison policy, education systems, etc. and the reflections are that part of me coming through. But when I first thought of the blog, I was also mostly thinking about writing reflections on any book that impacted me and talking about it on a personal level. Part of it was that I was reading so many books that were shaping me at the time that it made sense. But then, books weren’t impacting me as much. That happens sometimes, but I didn’t know how to write reflections on books that weren’t touching my soul. Plus, I was growing frustrated that books weren’t touching my soul and I think I blamed it on diverse books like they were the problem and not that 1) I haven’t exactly wanted a book to touch my soul right now as its super fragile from the near loss and known upcoming loss of Nica and 2) not every book touches my soul. There are slumps like that, though I am just now better understanding that and better understanding what’s important to me in books. Now that I’m reading so many book review blogs, it is becoming apparent to me that I am a bit of an odd reader as the kind of escape/ transportation I am looking for is very different from the one most readers are looking for. I am looking for a new way of seeing the world and it is not something every book tries to do.

      I think blogging helps me better understand what I need in order to blog. I love blogging, but I still struggle with feeling like it is a valuable use of my time. But to be fair, I struggle with pretty much feeling anything is a valuable use of my time. I think I just need to try some things out and see how it goes. Maybe there is a way for me to be serious and light; to be myself and yet a persona; and to find out what drives me to keep blogging.

      Thank you for talking with me about this. I think it has been incredibly helpful to be able to work out some of this with a person rather than just my own internal dialoge.

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      • I think now can easily be a time of experimentation on your blog. Try some new ideas or new options and see how you feel about them. Then either implement them on a more permanent basis or scrap them and try something else.

        My own blog has shifted and changed and grown. When I started out I was only posting once a week and I missed out on sharing so many great books I was reading, so then I started posting twice a week. But I still felt pretty isolated on my blog because I only very rarely had a commenter. So then I started exploring book tags and other stuff and really started trying to be an active member of the community.

        I feel like I have grown so much, especially in the past few months. I blog typically 5 times a week (and sometimes on weekends as well) and I’m meeting so many great people. But I’m still learning and figuring things out. So sometimes I have a reading slump or a blogging slump, and I just have to accept that as okay. I just take a little step back and reevaluate. Typically that leads me to realize that I like what I’m doing on my blog and if I miss too many days, I feel sad or guilty, and then I’m able to get back to discussing books and other geeky topics.

        I’m happy to talk about most any topic, and to listen as well. Sometimes it is helpful to be able to share your thoughts and get feedback from someone else.

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      • Thank you for this advice. It is incredibly helpful and it’s nice to hear how someone else has done it in a real way (as opposed to those lists of the top five ways to grow your blog, blah blah). This blogging idea was a bit of a whim and then it grew to where I am posting 5 days a week (when I’m not recovering from surgery or Nica isn’t), but I’m still struggling to find my voice exactly. Though the introvert in me tends to struggle with that. This has been an interesting opportunity to let a different side of me show through and more and more I am taking risks. I hope to try at least one new thing out a week! Thank you for your support. Knowing I have readers who are interested in the content I produce has really kept me going. There is nothing like writing to a quiet room that can kill motivation!

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