I’m not sure where to put this, but I want to write it down and proclaim it somehow, so I’ll stick it here on a pseudonymous blog that I haven’t touched in two years because it reminds me of a time I’d prefer never to go back to.

I think I finally learned how to execute a very important life skill at last in the past few weeks, one my parents have been exhorting me to practice for years, that of learning to look at the positive side of things, to adjust my framing of a situation, to live with my choices and consciously decide to make the best of situations – even if they aren’t ideal, or if there are still important outstanding problems that need to be fixed. It’s always felt intellectually or emotionally dishonest to me, like I’m running away from my problems, sticking my head in the sand, maybe even gaslighting myself. It doesn’t help that I’ve been a local pessimist from a young age (although always globally optimistic about the overall scheme of things; this is often too high-level to help resolve struggles at the day-to-day level and often makes me feel worse for having those worries). I think it’s good that I still do not feel comfortable with this new approach: it means that I won’t be truly ignoring small fractures until the ground collapses beneath me; I’ll be aware of them still. But maybe this gets me closer to a balance that is healthier for my mental well-being than a state of perpetual dissatisfied crisis. “Cautious optimism” was what a friend termed it.

I often find myself jerking myself back to reality and reminding myself to not be too caught up in appearances, to not assume that all is okay. But, at least based on some preliminary data, choosing to maintain laser focus on the positives and to redirect energy away from being upset has made my day-to-day life a lot more worry-free and actually improved (I think) the original situations. As long as I can somehow make sure that this doesn’t turn into maintaining an empty facade of positivity, as many of my classmates do (to disastrous result), it should be okay. Still alpha testing; have to work the kinks out. Soon it will be time for round two as I start living with what a decision made today has set into motion.


Now for something unrelated to queer or angsty relationship things. I’ve recently been reading a few blogs which mostly describe their authors’ lives – in particular I’ve been giggling quietly at Oh God, My Wife Is German, which makes my wanderlust act up but makes up for it by being very funny.

I used to blog that way too, about the ins and outs of my life (although really it was 75% complaining about homework), and to be honest, I quite miss doing that. It’s a little stressful trying to be a Serious Blog about Serious Things, always trying to say something clever or profound; empirical evidence shows me to be reasonably intelligent, but I just have a hard time saying smart things, even online.

I’ve journalled for over ten years now, but the rate at which I add entries has greatly decreased since I turned 17. I write very quickly if equipped with the right writing instrument and hand, but handwriting is still so slow – it just can’t keep up with the rate at which thoughts are flying through your head. I still require hours for a proper update about what’s going on in my life, especially since the amount of information I want to record snowballs with every entry I don’t write. After an entry I often feel guilty about wasting time that should have been spent on homework, and so it gets worse.

I write slowly on the computer too, but perhaps because I’m typing (look! words on a screen!), I don’t feel as bad about it. I’ve thought about keeping a diary on the computer instead, but for some reason all my attempts at doing so have failed. Long Word documents just feel too insubstantial and useless; they give you neither the permanency of dyed fibres or bits saved on multiple servers, nor the sense of accomplishment you get from putting a bookmark in and closing a codex or hitting ‘Publish’ on a blog post, and rediscovering earlier entries is both difficult and inelegant.

Anyway, back to what prompted this post. My university dorm room isn’t very suited for studying. The ceiling lamp is dim, my table lamp gives off incredible amounts of heat, my table itself is often messy, and unlike last year when my bed and desk were in different rooms, I now live mostly in my bed because there’s just more space there. As a rule I hate doing any serious work on a non-rigid surface and have no idea how my sibling manages it all the time. But work needs to be done (at some point) and so I have been spending more time working outside my room this semester.

I suspect this is a situation many run into because the libraries here are always full of people doing homework. I used to wonder why people would head out to study, but now that I’m living in an environment not particularly conducive to getting things done, I can see why.

The most popular library at my university is located entirely underground. I don’t understand why people go there. It has very comfortable couches and printers, yes, but it’s underground.

I realized after trying to study there for the first time that I absolutely hate being away from sunlight in the day. My roommate likes to keep the shades drawn every hour of the day, which makes my room feel like an alternate realm of perpetual night, and not very pleasant to be in.

I used to have no problems with being indoors, but after coming to university I now avoid it if I can. (I suspect this is largely because of the weather. The heat in Singapore makes being outdoors not nearly half as pleasant as it is here.) When I’m in America, even the biggest open space inspires some desire to escape if it doesn’t have a window at least the height of my torso. The space I’m currently sitting in is basically an entire floor of books with very narrow aisles between the shelves, a low foreboding ceiling lined with uninspiring fluorescent rectangles, but because I have my window and a sunlit view outside, I feel incredibly comfortable and at peace.

There is a bigger – much bigger – library not far away from the underground one, a prominent landmark that extends 14 storeys into the sky. Imagine! 14 storeys of books – 4.5 million books, to be precise. Last year a girl from the scifi club made an offhand comment about study spaces up in the bookstacks. I went looking, braved a rude security guard, and was richly rewarded.

The stacks are, as previously described, just massive rooms filled with books and little else. If the 4.5 million sum is accurate, this works out to an average of 321428.571429 books per floor; you can imagine that there isn’t space for much else. But at the very sides of each room there are a few study carrels aligned with the windows of the building, little nooks that each come with two shelves, two power sockets, a desk, and a hard wooden chair.

love these spaces. No words can describe how fond I am of them. My first time in the stacks was such a profound experience that I ended up drafting a post for my old personal friends-only blog instead of writing the research paper I was supposed to be working on.

(edited from original draft) I keep getting little static shocks from resting my arms on the metal strip oddly placed at the front of the desk, but apart from that, this is lovely. I feel connected to the other people in this library. I can hear the creaking chair of whoever is upstairs. It’s my own little world here, ensconced by books; I love this. It’s not like the study rooms in [the underground library], which are a private space yes – but they are tiny and you are acutely aware that they are not so much a world as a room. Here looking out of the window I see, admittedly, one of the uglier facets of [my university]: [the grimy club, an ugly building, the ugliest residential buildings in the distance, the Courtyard Marriott hotel]. I just saw [acquaintance from primary school]’s pictures from Oxford and… (probably something envious about beautiful campuses) … to my left are those, but to my right are books, glorious books. The smell of books keeps renewing itself although I’ve been here for 40 minutes already. It just doesn’t go away. A fragrance that you never get acclimatized to. Wonderful.

That feeling remains. I love how connected yet isolated I feel in the carrels; it’s a wonderful experience for someone like me who draws energy from being around people but gets tired from actually interacting with them for long. I never know who is above or below me, and really, I prefer not knowing; the feeling of camaraderie with faceless strangers who will never become anything more than strangers is one that I cherish. I think there is an affinity between strangers that, when it exists, feels more essential, more fundamental, than any bond you could have with people you know personally. The relationship isn’t one based on some external history that you share, not some fuzzy emotional attachment that you’ve previously developed. It’s one that is founded on absolutes, on objective truths about both of your states in the moment. Independent of superficial appearances, you are both human. You are both students. You both have work to be done and probably aren’t doing it.

As with any public space (except perhaps in Singapore), the stacks contain their fair share of graffiti. I almost always use the same carrel, and have become familiar with the graffiti there – but I still manage to find a new piece every time.

There are names. Stephen Herd was here. Nils-Bertil fucks dogs. (I wonder who wrote this. An enemy?) George Bush Jr. was here! I will be a stupid President! from someone who disagreed with the choices his administration made. R PeL ’00. EKT 10/22/85. E.R.F. ’69…1969. This graffiti is from 44 years ago. That feels odd. But it’s also funny to see that men back then (and this was definitely a man) could also have terrible handwriting.

There is love…or maybe heartbreak is a more apt descriptor. Milena is written in pencil-bold, followed by …said no. A comment later added next to it in blue pen reads F.L., don’t despair, you are great! There is a heart containing what appears to be a baseball and the letters ‘VWT’. I still love you but you don’t love me back and I need someone to love… and another lonely night. Bad poetry, too: Here I sit / broken hearted / tried to shit / but only farted. Oct 5 ’08.

A rather obnoxiously large I want to fuck Joslyn, upon closer inspection, has been reprimanded by another student, who crossed out fuck with a faint pencil line and wrote HOLD perhaps? Another has written well writing it on a wall probably won’t get you closer…

Then there are the more academic scribbles. Why am I reading Shakespeare and arguing that he’s slightly less misogynistic than his contemporaries? The Fibonacci triangle, up till 1 3 1 1 2 2 1. Studying ain’t fun. There is an exchange about propositional logic: If it’s raining then there’s water. If it’s not raining, there isn’t water. A = B ergo ~A = ~B. Isn’t logic beautiful? A later occupant of this carrel emphatically responded NO! and rewrote these statements to be more logically sound (mere one-sided implication is not enough to prove equivalence) and furnished the shelf with two truth tables to demonstrate it.

And the mysterious. I will never meet Jessica Chen. You are stupid. Some words in Cyrillic that I cannot read.

I love the graffiti in the stacks, and the sense of history I feel when I’m in these spaces. It’s fascinating to read the dialogue between students over the years. I know these tables aren’t that old, and have been replaced many times in the lifetime of the building, but in my head I imagine a montage of thousands of students – for a very long time all male and white, then slowly diversifying – all sitting at the same seat, hunched over books and later laptops, and the landscape beyond the window gradually changing into the view I see today: a strange mix of faux-Gothic churches and ugly flat rooftops, both out of place in the sea of green and yellow trees engulfing them and spreading into the distance. It feels like a scene out of an early Italian landscape painting – the atmospheric perspective is perfect – but then there is an ugly hotel to the right and mysterious boxy units on top of a building whose purpose I cannot fathom.

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I quite enjoyed writing this. Next time I might tell you about my cycling trip to the local park, how I biked home in an absolutely terrible rain storm (cycling on the road for the first time, too) and how much fun it was. And how much my legs hurt right now.

I always feel a bit torn when composing titles for my blog posts here. On one hand, SEO and good semantics dictate that my titles should be clear and descriptive of post content. On the other hand, that means really boring titles, like ‘coming out as asexual IRL for the first time’. But now you know what this post will be about despite the lengthy introduction!

Yesterday was an excellent and productive day: I attended class in the morning, had fun looking at phonetics and con-scripts with two guys instead of writing code, ate surprisingly good chicken and lots of cherry tomatoes for lunch, said something useful at a lab meeting full of postgraduates, hung out with someone, made a fool of myself bobbing along to live jazz in the evening, and made major progress in an upcoming magazine illustration. I also outed myself to said someone as both not-straight and asexual. The former was much easier than the latter, although I’d hinted very slightly at both in previous communications. 

So this post is about the hanging out part. I had coffee (well, a ginger tea for me) with a lady who taught me German for two weeks before I dropped the class – let’s call her R for the purposes of easy reference. We ended up talking for three and a half hours, which was fun because I enjoy talking to people, but very exhausting, especially because she:

  • talks a lot and can keep going, and
  • is extremely fannish

while I am neither of these things. I face the same problem with one of my main friend groups at school, and it doesn’t help that I cycle drastically between extraversion/introversion depending on physical state. Despite that, it was a thoroughly decent use of an afternoon, and I got a hug out of it at the end (which caught me off guard). I felt completely drained and overwhelmed afterwards, though, which unfortunately happens very often because despite my shyness I quite like chatting with people and put myself in situations where 120-minute talkathons can happen…

When I arrived at the coffee shop R was reading a book called Sexing the Cherry, which Wikipedia informs me to be a postmodernist work that heavily incorporates intertextuality. 

(My reaction to any fiction ever.) No, but after I read the blurb it seemed like a sexuality book. Just to be sure, I briefly flipped through it, and concluded that it was definitely a sexuality book.* Probably one of those books that reviewers describe as ‘powerful and honest in its exploration of sexuality and desire’ or something along those lines – lines that tend to make me feel like some essential part of the human experience is missing from me (which is something I almost never feel about my asexuality otherwise).

To be honest, whenever I see discussions of ‘sexuality’ in Serious Literature, a lot of it just reads as romantic or aesthetic or sensual attraction – things which I can understand and empathize with – except it eventually crosses over to some sort of activity involving nipples or genitals. (I’ve wondered a few times if maybe that feeling of empathy is, in fact, indicative of sexual attraction. Does sexual attraction require thinking about certain body parts? I don’t know. But my feelings seem neither as physical or as…basic, as instinctual, as the way discussions of sexuality seem to imply they should be.) Maybe it was Freud’s fault, because honestly, sex and sexual desire doesn’t seem to be much of a big deal to people when you observe them in regular non-sexual settings. But from time to time I get faced with a reminder that sex is a big deal to most humans, that sexual desire is a very strong motivator, that sexual acts or the lack of them can cause in most people the same depth of emotion as I feel about certain other things. Media, literature, my classes and professors even, keep telling me that sex is an integral component of life and love. The internet – which I consider to be a very telling reflection of human nature – is filled with anguished writings on sexual desire or sexual incompatibility and of course millions of ‘too horny to function, send help’ posts that seem genuinely distressed.

R mentioned liking postmodernist literature (and the author of this book, Jeanette Winterson) because of how it explored identity and sexuality without being a coming-out story. I wanted to say something about asexuality at that point, but my brain was still forming words, and the conversation flowed away to commenting on our environs as we left the coffee shop.

A while after R and I left the coffee shop, I brought the conversation back in a very inelegant fashion: while waiting to cross the street, I said ‘uh, so you mentioned liking postmodernism because it explores sexuality…’. (I need to work on my segues.) Accompanied by a lot of hand-waving to take the place of actual speech, I tried to explain how I enjoyed smutty fanfiction as much as anyone else, but sexuality seemed to be such a powerful theme in literature and human life, and how I could never really relate to that and…something, I fizzled out by this point. She replied that, well, sex was indeed very important to most people, so…

I tried to do this without talking about asexuality at first, but it was kind of impossible without creating a hypothetical asexual figure to talk about, so in the middle of it I said ‘I identify as asexual’.

Something I found interesting was that I felt very strongly asexual at that moment in response to the foisting of sexuality upon me (in the ‘most people’ part), so much that I didn’t add any of my usual qualifications about not being totally sure, maybe being demi but maybe not etc. The second thing I found interesting was how difficult it was to come out as asexual! I felt very similar to the way I felt before coming out (as not straight) to the ex-English teacher from home: unsure about its relevance to the conversation, worried that it would be weird, and incredibly hesitant to formally mark myself as ‘different’. But also wanting to let the truth out.

I think that the difficulty came about because being L/G/B (and hopefully increasingly, T) is pretty much mainstream and widely discussed and (at least around these parts) completely acceptable, while asexuality is not even talked about and hence has no chance to be perceived as normal. And being normal is important to me, at least, until I get assurance that it’s okay to not be. (Or even better, ‘what is normal anyway?’) Hey, as my friend A says, #collectivistcultureproblems.

I’m not sure why, but I got a very strong sense that R is a high-libido allosexual to whom sex and sexuality are very important. That’s completely conjecture, but because of it I felt like she might judge me harder for being asexual, or even take offence at my asexuality because it denied the legitimacy of her allosexual feelings (this part isn’t logical, I know). She didn’t, of course, and later on she talked quite a bit about hypocrisy in the LGBT community, sexuality being complicated, and asexual fanfiction.

Another more facetious reason for the difficulty might be that I, uh, like looking at girls with short hair and tend to get aesthetically attracted to people who present close to androgynous. R’s not ridiculously attractive** or anything, but is obviously lesbian and definitely on the masculine side of tomboy femme and…well. Uh. Although I concluded rather quickly yesterday that a relationship is so far off the table that it’s probably hiding under a sofa in the apartment of a bewildered insurance agent who lives four blocks down, I guess there was still some subconscious ‘I shouldn’t tell attractive people that I don’t feel a type of attraction that’s probably important to them’ type of thing going on.

I’d be interested in knowing what sorts of reservations other ace-spectrum people feel, if any, when letting other people know about your aceness. Let me know with a comment!

(As an addition to what I wrote above, I feel completely comfortable with the idea of wearing an asexual friendship bracelet (am in fact in the process of perusing YouTube tutorials to learn to make one) or a more standard rainbow pride bracelet, but actually saying the words ‘I am asexual’ out loud is difficult.)

* I don’t know if it’s actually a sexuality book. She recommended it quite enthusiastically, so I plan to read it (and Winterson’s other work, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit being the most famous) at some point.

** I was walking to the lab with my bro N a few days ago, and had to completely change the route we were taking because she’d caught a glimpse of a boy who was ‘extremely attractive’ and wanted to follow him. This friend also tells me gems like ‘intercourse is lots of fun’. I don’t think I’ve ever discussed sexuality much with her, but her random acts of sexual-ness amuse me to no end. She’s great.

Since coming to college I’ve started getting a sense for the visual traits I find attractive (…baby-faced, pretty eyes; game’s up, I guess) but am still largely clueless about what I think I’d like in a primary relationship. They’re difficult to imagine, and what I’d be happy with would definitely change depending on the specific person involved. But I am nothing if not overly theoretical, so here goes.

So first. What is a relationship?

I suppose this definition would change over time as well, but for now I’m going with this: if you’re in a relationship with someone, that person lives at the top level of your emotional hierarchy, and you do things together. You partake in fun activities together, and not-so-fun ones as well. When something happens, good or bad, you want to tell each other first. I suppose eventually you start to become each other’s family; both in the more exciting emotionally intertwined way and the more boring take-care-of-each-other-when-sick way or maybe the file-taxes-together way. Perhaps eventually you’ll even try living or babyraising together.

That you start becoming part of each other’s lives is a no-brainer, but more important is that you make a commitment to that. I see the formalizing of a relationship as an agreement to free physical and emotional access to each other (still with consent of course) – making it a given that you can ask each other for funtimes, dates, emotional support, seeing each other, and so on, without any fear of rejection. And whether you will be together for a year or a hundred you don’t know yet (and will never know!), but you want to stay together for as long as possible and will put in work to maintain that, even when things get difficult. Your partner is to be treasured and the relationship a thing to be maintained. The idea of being a unit is also important.

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Here is an excellent post written by an allosexual in a relationship with an asexual and how they’re handling things. I’m appending, as commentary, what I wrote on her blog:

This is both beautiful (I’m so happy for both of you!) and reassuring – I’m…somewhere on the asexual spectrum, but I’m worried that I’m neither sexual enough (by a far cry) for an allosexual partner, nor completely asexual enough for an asexual partner. As a result, I’ve wondered about open relationships like these, and strongly considered having them myself, where the allosexual partner can go have sex with other people while remaining emotionally monogamous to the ace partner – and it is wonderful to read a first hand affirmation that such relationships can exist. I wish you and Tara all the best.

Not too sure how WordPress.com reblogs work yet – let me know if this is showing up funny for you.

I hope this post will be interesting to A and Y, who both asked me about my ex and got answers that were neither entertaining nor informative, and who both hear a lot about the ex (if you ever read this – sorry, A, I know you’re not really a romantic-relationships person either; sorry, Y, but you’re just way more experienced with relationships than me, and I come out of every rambly conversation with something new). This is both long and very personal and I can think of at least one subscriber who might not want to read it – and one other who would probably be quite interested. This post has also seen some minor addenda (more than I usually make) since it was originally published, so don’t worry if what you see in your email and what you see here are slightly different.

Last week I went for dinner with a girl from school. The term hadn’t started yet and people were still arriving on campus, catching up on each other’s summer shenanigans (oh, you went home? I went to Peru, then the UK, then Belgium, then Singapore, then Amsterdam, all while doing an internship with the United Nations and learning three foreign languages, oh no, I’m not jetlagged at all…), which was what we were doing when I mentioned – with a bit of hesitation – ‘so my ex came to visit a few days before I left…’

My dinner companion gave me a look of mixed horror and surprise. ‘Ah,’ she said, sucking the air sharply between her teeth in a sort of hiss of pity. ‘I’m sorry. Are you…you know, all right? How are you feeling?’

I didn’t really know what to say. ‘I don’t know, but I think so’, while probably the most truthful answer, seemed too negative and felt almost like an insult to what a nice time the ex and I had had together and how happy and comfortable I’d felt. So I brushed it off and started describing the museums we’d gone to instead.

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