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[personal profile] sciatrix
...you know, the one I accidentally triggered [personal profile] kaz with a few days ago. Because apparently my initial reaction to being reminded that it exists and just how badly I reacted to it (and Kaz reacted to it, and several other aces I know) is to start poking at it and taking it apart to see why I found it so upsetting. Which, by the way, is why this post is here in the first place, under lock and also behind a cut, because this is not the kind of discussion I would like to get back to the author. (I am being very forthright in a way I would not be in a public sphere.)

Also, for those of you not under Kaz' access lock, this is a fic Kaz described quite accurately as (paraphrasing) 'a distilled, concentrated syrup of a "typical" aro/wtfromantic asexual person's fears about sex, being hit on, companionship, the devaluation of friendship, being alone forever, etc.' If this is triggering for you, take that as your warning. It also contains self harm and a suicide attempt.

The fic itself is Teambreaking and its sequel Coming In, of MCU Avengers fandom. I will point out now that I reacted pretty badly when I read it the first time, as a warning to anyone unfamiliar with it. The thing about this fic is that it's rather expositiony, and its characterization is very bad, and it's pretty overdramatic, and usually I'm very sensitive to those things in fiction but it didn't quite matter here because its grasp of emotion was so powerful I got transfixed. In short, it's very clearly idfic.

The thing is, I don't think I've ever seen ace idfic out in display like this before. Most acefic I have seen--not all by a long shot, but a lot of it--seems to be written from a perspective firmly grounded in an allosexual POV. That all-too-common narrative where a character starts out asexual and single and learns to love pleasing their allosexual partner via the magic of sex is a prime example of what I'm talking about. It might be emotionally compelling from an allosexual point of view, but it's certainly not from mine! On the other hand, this fic ends in a way that I think is very compelling from an ace point of view, with asexuality acknowledged and out in the open and people promising to keep the sex out of the ace person's life. (Whether I think it's realistic that problems won't keep coming up is probably another story.)

There are also things in it that speak to an asexual perspective in a way that I don't generally see out "in public", like finding sex disgusting. That's a really common perspective among repulsed aces, in my experience, but it's also not one that *ever* gets aired where allosexual people might possibly see for a variety of reasons. And there's a tension that comes from that, that saying "this is gross" is how you actually feel about something while knowing you can never actually express that feeling for fear of hurting someone, which is not often explored in either nonfictional writing or acefic. Because your personal feelings are never, ever more important than anyone else's.

(It actually makes me really really angry that people are apparently having a throwdown about those mental asides, about how asexuality is so bad and wrong and sex-negative, about how the fic is so offensive for them. Because if you can't have a thought like that in the privacy of your own head--note that Clint never expresses these thoughts where any other character can hear him--where can you? Are we not even allowed to be honest in the privacy of our own heads? And of course that's complicated by the fact that this is a public story, but that's where my visceral reaction is coming from.)

Part of the reason I wasn't offended by the fic--although I know a couple of other people who were--is that I took it as being a fic that was a very self-inserty "novelization" of the author's emotional arc pretty quickly. Clint's reactions to the actions of everyone else, for example, struck me as the kind of thing you see only in someone who is processing their feelings in response to asexuality for the very first time. He has no coping mechanisms to deal with his emotional responses and no apparent community support. He therefore read extremely young to me, at most early twenties, because if this keeps happening you do develop those coping mechanisms, and they're really obvious if you know what to look for. They're not always adaptive coping mechanisms--I wondered why he was willing to let people emotionally close to him in the first place, for example, and I'd argue that being open and angry and strongly sex-negative is a really common one--but they're there.

The other thing is, it hits so many ace sore spots and does it so well. I mean, just re-skimming it, I flinched at:
-wanting close friendships but not dating per se and thinking this is impossible
-fears about not having "real" relationships
-losing what I do have to other relationships with sex in them
-being really afraid of even talking about ace issues
-not having words for the concepts you're trying to articulate when you do talk
-trying to go to allo friends for support about your ace-related issues and having them Not Get It even though they think they do
-having to then explain why you're upset in the first place and intellectualize what you're going through, so you're doing educational work *on top of* needing the support you initially came for
-having allo friends/SOs pressure you into talking about it/coming out even when you really don't want to*
-feeling left out of group bonding relating around sex/sexual discussion (the team orgy is much more exaggerated than what I actually encounter, which tends to be stuff like fuck/marry/kill games or girl-bonding about who is cute or going on about which movie star is most attractive)
-feeling selfish for wanting the types of relationships you want and not wanting to lose existing ones and, idk, having emotional needs
-being invited into a sexual situation and finding that horrifying, and then having to explain in a nonoffensive way why
-using work to deal with issues related to feeling hopeless about relationships
-trying to negotiate emotional responses related to coming out to people whose opinion you care about with the desire to effectively educate

I'm pretty sure no one able to hit so many of those stresses and fears so accurately without having actually experienced them. The story didn't read to me as necessarily emotionally realistic in the sense that many of the emotional dynamics in it are highly exaggerated in a way I read as almost metaphorical. (For example, I mention that the team orgy thing and the way that it emotionally resonated in my hindbrain with the times that I've been left out of social bonding because I have literally nothing to say for games like "fuck/marry/kill." Are those the same thing? Obviously not! But you can see where one could be spun out into the other with MASSIVE HYPERBOLE.) That bit is actually the bit I would argue is most offensive from an allosexual perspective, because I don't think "team orgies!" are any less fraught a concept to most allosexual people than they are to aces.

Objectively, this fic is not good. But I find it very interesting in that it's doing something that I've never, ever seen before in an acefic context, which is to take all these very private emotions and to put them all out there and paint them large on the background of the story and to not really apologize for them. (Or rather, the apologeticness of Clint's feelings is part of what it's painting so large--I would argue that Clint has very little agency about how he talks about his sexuality and whether he talks about it within the scope of the story.) And I want to explore why it's so emotionally compelling without necessarily being good.

*ffs, the second fic literally starts with the line "I don't want to talk about it" after which Clint is gently but firmly pressured into a coming-out conversation he doesn't want to have which then goes about as badly as every coming out scene I've ever been a part of. Which means that it's awkward, he's internally very anxious and trying to downplay his own emotional reactions in order to play calm educator, and he's trying to balance everything in order to appear as confident as possible--seeking any kind of support for a coming out experience, for example, is not a real factor in his mental equation. And his clueless but helpful friends inadvertently step on all these very insulting reactions (is that a disease? have you checked?) and he cannot react to that in any meaningful way.

Date: 2013-02-23 11:59 am (UTC)
kaz: "Kaz" written in cursive with a white quill that is dissolving into (badly drawn in Photoshop) butterflies. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaz
Thanks! You've pretty much pinpointed where I am about that fic, and thanks for teasing out all the fears it plays on. Also...

The story didn't read to me as necessarily emotionally realistic in the sense that many of the emotional dynamics in it are highly exaggerated in a way I read as almost metaphorical. (For example, I mention that the team orgy thing and the way that it emotionally resonated in my hindbrain with the times that I've been left out of social bonding because I have literally nothing to say for games like "fuck/marry/kill." Are those the same thing? Obviously not! But you can see where one could be spun out into the other with MASSIVE HYPERBOLE.) That bit is actually the bit I would argue is most offensive from an allosexual perspective, because I don't think "team orgies!" are any less fraught a concept to most allosexual people than they are to aces.


Thank you thank you for articulating that! Because I was really struggling with... I actually went in the fic to check if that "team orgy" thing was as dubious as it sounded, but got so totally sidetracked by "ow, my sore spots", and then afterwards got really upset when people focussed on the whole "but *sexual people might not want to participate in team orgies either!" thing even though I had to agree their criticism was right. And I think you've nailed it - I also read the whole thing as exaggerated into metaphor in order to put Clint's fears into sharp relief, and as a result focussing on that bit makes it yet another iteration of "shut up about your concerns, ace people, what about the *sexual folk?" in my head.

(Of course, it didn't help that the person in question had clearly made up their mind that this fic was OPPRESSING ~ACTUAL~ QUEER PEOPLE before they even read it. When they did, guess what their argument was? That it was bigoted to act as if [*sexual] queer people would respond to an asexual person coming out by using the same arguments that had been used to denigrate [*sexual] queer people in the past! I fucking laughed, honest. I am so sorry you think accurately depicting asexual people's realities is bigoted!)

And and I really hear you about the whole thing where we're not allowed to talk about things like being disgusted by sex or by vaginas or whatever. >< And that most ace fics are filtered through a *sexual perspective... and now I'm wondering whether there tends to be a positive slant in how people depict coming-out scenes?

...you know, this would be an interesting discussion to put on [community profile] asexual_fandom, if one put, like, giant glaring red alarm signs in front of the fic for triggering content. (ETA: also, if the author or one of their friends is on that comm, it would be hideously awkward.)
Edited Date: 2013-02-23 12:02 pm (UTC)

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