DiversifYA: Julie Sondra Decker

JulieToday, we have the wonderful Julie Sondra Decker at DiversifYA! Julie writes fantasy, YA, science fiction, speculative fiction, and nonfiction (with a focus on asexuality awareness activism).

Julie is an asexual activist, pseudonymously for the most part (with a pretty big following on YouTube and Tumblr). She’s appeared in a documentary, on the radio, has been interviewed in mainstream magazines and more. She’s written half a dozen articles on asexuality that were published in Good Vibrations which might be of interest to readers not familiar with asexuality. Her author profile at Good Vibes can be found here. She blogs here and can be found on Twitter here.

1. How do you identify yourself?

I’m an aromantic asexual woman, which means I’m not romantically or sexually attracted to anyone.

2. What did it feel like growing up asexual?

Most of the time it was a non-issue for me, but my relationships with other people (especially boys) were strained because I wasn’t attracted to them. People who are attracted to you tend to assume if you’re not already involved with someone else, they have the right to proposition you (again and again and again), and when you’re asexual you don’t reciprocate this interest with ANY of your wannabe partners, so it can get frustrating. No one was talking about asexuality at all when I was a teenager–I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, pre-Internet–so I had to define and defend my experiences through made-up words and dialogues no one else around me could relate to. I was a happy kid and a happy teen, and didn’t often feel left out even though I was not experiencing what everyone else was, but being pressured and condescended to about how I would “grow out of it” was the most difficult aspect of growing up asexual.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

The challenges mostly involve having to launch into a forty-minute education session every time I disclose my orientation. Some people are just curious, but they ask a lot of questions and it can become time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. More often, though, it’s worse than curiosity–I’m subjected to anger (“just shut up, no one cares if you’re determined to die a virgin”), or erasure (“sorry, but that’s just not a real thing, people can’t be asexual”), or dismissiveness (“you’ll change when you meet someone, you’ll see, everyone grows up”), or sexualized pressure that usually sounds threatening (“you’re gonna come take a shower with me and you’ll see, you won’t be asexual anymore”). Some people also just humor me but privately reject asexuality’s existence, and proceed to treat me as if I am romantically and sexually available no matter what I say. And the more I do to educate people, the more often I hear other people attacking me for doing it “too much” because “it isn’t a big deal.” Maybe not, if it doesn’t affect you!

The perks for me involve meeting and helping other asexual people through my activism, but related to asexuality itself, I don’t feel there’s much about being asexual that makes my life any better. Some people suggest I probably have more time and energy for other activities because I’m not “distracted” by sex and relationships, but I find that everyone chases their passions, and if mine happened to include sex and relationships, I’d focus on them like anyone else. I don’t feel I do my creative work “instead of” sexual relationships, any more than a basketball star shoots hoops “instead of” figure skating. Quirks of course involve straight people treating me like I need fixing and queer people telling me I’m actually just straight. (Both groups often seem to believe I belong in the other one.) I’ve also found that the asexual community is very diverse and more aware of intersectional issues than most other “minority” communities, especially since we have a ton of overlap (with people who are gay and asexual, trans* and asexual, autistic and asexual, etc.). I get to meet tons of great people through my community and broaden my own horizons.

4. What do you wish people knew about being asexual?

I wish people knew asexual people are much more common than they think! We’re estimated to be about 1% of the population. If that doesn’t seem like much, or if 1 in 100 sounds tiny, you might think differently when you realize that we outnumber, say, people with breast cancer, or people in the USA’s armed forces . . . those groups get a lot more attention than we do, and yet we’re constantly perceived as this elusive, tiny minority, but we’re honestly not. Tiny minorities still deserve respect and awareness efforts, but when you remember that you are likely to come into contact with many asexual people throughout your lifetime–and you might even date them, be related to them, or befriend them–so paying attention to awareness efforts on the subject is more relevant to your life than you probably think.

It’s also important to know that asexual people come in various romantic orientations, so sometimes an asexual person will want to date and fall in love. Since sex isn’t the only important part of a relationship for most people, I think it’s pretty easy to understand why an asexual person might still want those other relationship perks. Some are aromantic, like me, but it’s disappointing when people assume there’s “no point” to asexual people dating if sex won’t be involved.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

In the media, on the rare occasion that asexual people are featured and canonically called asexual, we’re usually portrayed as extremely logical or scientific to the point that we’re super weird and unapproachable, and definitely socially awkward and/or unreasonably obsessed with hobbies that are portrayed as geeky and/or childish. We’ve also been portrayed as liars deliberately hiding our REAL sexuality and as people with a medical condition (looking at you, House, M.D.). And sometimes “asexual” is mistakenly applied to people who are abstaining from sex for religious reasons, so sometimes we’re assumed to be very religious or conservative.

Outside of media, in everyday life, the stereotypes are similar: we’re immature and haven’t figured out what we want, we’re getting over a bad breakup and rebelling against dating, we’re very very childish, we’re alien/inhuman, we’re cold and emotionless, we’re unable to experience the full range of human experience, and we’re probably the victims of abuse or sufferers of hormonal disorders. There’s also a common misconception that all or most of us are autistic, which isn’t true (I’m not). There are lots of autistic people who are not asexual, and lots of asexual people who are not autistic, but there are some people who are both. And finally, asexuality is frequently misinterpreted as abstention from sex–a choice–when it’s not. Chastity, celibacy, and abstention are choices people make about sexual behavior, while asexuality is about the lack of inclination or the lack of attraction. (There are different definitions, but it is ultimately not about behavior; some asexual people do have sex, and they don’t stop being asexual any more than a gay person having straight sex becomes straight through that action.)

We’re about as varied as the rest of the population, though, so these clichés and stereotypes shouldn’t define us!

BONUS: Writing diverse characters:

An author should never feel limited to writing characters of their own background due to their own lack of experience, but the ability to think like a person from another background is necessary if you want your characters to read authentically. For this, you do need a fair portion of empathy in your skill set, but you also need to check for understanding with members of the groups you’re representing. If at all possible, get test readers whose backgrounds match your characters’ to read your work and react. If it’s not possible–or, better yet, in addition–read books that were written by authors of those backgrounds.

Writing as a different person is not about putting yourself in their shoes. It’s about HAVING DIFFERENT FEET. I can’t put on your shoes and know what it’s like to walk as you, or what those shoes feel like when they’re designed to fit on YOUR feet. Wearing another person’s shoes is only part of the story. You have to go back to the day your point-of-view character was born, and understand what experiences and culture that person was absorbing throughout childhood, and how it mixed with the traits they were born with to create all that they are. You have to write as if you’ve been that person since the day you were born, and filter it through THEIR lens–not through yours.

As an asexual person who frequently has to write about characters experiencing romantic and sexual attraction, I have very little trouble because I live in a culture saturated with representations of it, so I find it very natural to include this aspect of their experience in my writing. (I have to, unless I just want to make all of my characters just like me. But I still ask my beta readers to pay attention to whether my relationships and feeling about them are written realistically.)

If someone wanted to write an asexual character, they would be very likely to just think of *themselves* with the sexual interest removed, leaving a hole behind. You can’t do that. There’s no hole. The asexual person would have formed whole without it, so processing it as YOU with an empty space will make your character ring false. This is probably why asexual characters are represented as robotic and alien, because so many people find sexual experiences so intrinsically vital to their experience as a living being, so anyone lacking it ends up being written like a person with a missing piece. It’s not accurate, any more than it would be accurate for me to decide all non-asexual characters need to have an overbearing sexual appetite grafted onto everything they experience. It needs to be seamless. Read perspectives, reflect, incorporate, and check for understanding.

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5 Responses to DiversifYA: Julie Sondra Decker

  1. This is a great post, thanks!

  2. Brilliant information!

    As genderqueer, I understand exhaustion that comes with defining yourself for a 45 minute Q&A after you say, “I’m THIS.” <3

  3. […] Anyway, here is my interview: DiversifYA: Julie Sondra Decker. […]

  4. What a great post on a rarely discussed topic, and I think your wise words on writing a character other than yourself is really the crux of this whole site – it’s not just about focusing on how the character is different from you, just like in life it’s not about how someone is different from you. It’s about who they are, from birth til now, and it means knowing that not everyone travels the same paths, experientially or neurologically. So much to think about here – thank you!

  5. […] Swankivy was interviewed for DiversifYA. […]