Saturday, December 4, 2021

Blogaround

1. Dollar Tree bumps up prices to $1.25 for most items (posted November 24)

2. Living together in two separate worlds (posted November 12) "A 'progressive Christian' is someone that evangelicals believe is outloving God. 'Progressive Christianity' holds that it’s impossible to do that."

3. Writers Like James Baldwin Led Me to a Black Jesus (posted November) "If the white people I worshiped with and went to school with and had dinner with had the imagination to see C.S. Lewis’s Aslan the lion in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” as Jesus, then I knew there should have been no problem when Black people said Jesus was Black and Jesus loved Black people and Jesus wanted to see Black people free. But I found out that many could see the symbol of divine goodness and love in an animal before they could ever see the symbol of divine goodness and love in Blackness."

4. How to Live for Free in Beijing: An Artist’s Guide (posted December 1) "Zou coined a term to describe this phenomenon: 'excessive goods.' An 'excessive good' could be anything that is given to the wealthy for free, but is inaccessible to the non-wealthy. A complimentary snack at a swanky bar. A free gift at a luxury store. A bottle of wine at an invitation-only dinner."

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Blogaround

1. Roundup of Submissions | October 2021 Carnival of Aces | Attraction (#2) (posted November 2) Lots of good posts here, about the topic "attraction", from an asexual perspective. Several posts question why attraction is emphasized so much in the asexual community- yeah, definitely worth reading.

2. Kids these days with their unholy justice (posted October 28) "The very same rejection of unjust 'holiness' our friend condemns as 'modern moral interpretation' can be found in the Bronze Age sermons of the prophets and in the first-century Gospels, Acts, and epistles, in which this supposedly 'modern morality' is attributed, at various points, to every member of the Trinity."

3. UN to Elon Musk: Here's that $6 billion plan to fight world hunger (posted November 18) "The back-and-forth between Musk and Beasley kicked off with a CNN interview last month in which Beasley asked billionaires to 'step up now, on a one-time basis' to help combat world hunger, specifically citing the world's two richest men: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos." 

This is SO FASCINATING to me because I've always heard those stats about "it would cost $X million to solve this huge global crisis, if only Y rich person donated 1% of their wealth/ if only Americans spent 1% less on non-essential item Z" ... but I've always thought it's more complicated than that. It's not like you gather a billion dollars in cash and then walk in to the "end world hunger" store and problem solved. It takes time, hiring people, planning meetings, big diplomatic discussions, etc etc etc. (I blogged about this a little last year- If We Literally Stopped Spending Billions on Christmas... Well Basically That's What COVID Lockdowns Are.) 

I am really interested to see how this turns out. I hope that there really is an effective plan that will help hungry people, and I hope Musk really donates, and I hope it really works and makes a difference.

4. The Vaginismus Network. I just discovered this useful site about vaginismus. Definitely worth reading if you have experienced problems getting your vagina to open, like I have.

5. Jesus and Hagar: the Form of a Slave (posted 2020) [content note: slavery, rape] "Celia was raped repeatedly by the man who claimed ownership of body, ultimately, bearing him children. Hagar was given by the woman who claimed ownership of her body to a man who would forcibly impregnate her and, she gave birth to his child."

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

This "Do Not Intermarry With Them" Stuff Hits Different Now

A white man and Chinese woman, dressed in very traditional red robes for their traditional Chinese wedding. Image source.

A few days ago, I posted Love Wins (an Ezra fanfic). As I was writing it, I realized that I had never really thought much about what all those Old Testament "do not intermarry with them" commands actually meant. All those times that God apparently commanded his people not to marry people from other nations

Sure, I was a good church girl back in the day, I knew all the apologetics, I knew the right answer was "it was because those other nations followed the wrong religions, and those religions were like, really bad, like with forced prostitution and human sacrifice."

(Okay, yes, I now see that it's more complicated than just "here is what the bible says." My fic was inspired by the Slacktivist's posts about Ezra, and he points out that there are other places in the bible [such as the book of Ruth] which say "STFU, Ezra." But of course, when I was an evangelical, I believed there was such a thing as "the biblical view" on marrying people from different religions, as if the bible was totally consistent on it. I also didn't really distinguish between the Old and New Testaments- I felt like converting to the correct religion was seen as more of a possibility in the New Testament, but other than that, the rules were the same. If they're the wrong religion, then nope you can't marry them.)

Yeah, that was all the thought I had ever put into it, way back in the day. Just a one-dimensional stereotype to convince myself that those other religions were "like, really bad" and rules are rules. And then I moved to China, and then I quit being evangelical, and then I married a non-Christian Chinese man, and then years later I decide to write this fanfic, and oh crap, I realize that all the "do not intermarry with them" stuff was about families like mine. Turns out I "intermarried with them."

Also, I had never viewed those commands as being about race or culture at all. Yeah sure, the bible said "don't marry people from other nations" but I always thought "that's because you're not allowed to marry people from different religions, and the other nations had different religions." Like it was solely about religion, that was all. That's how I understood it, back then. Recently I discovered that there are racist white Christians who use verses like these to say that white people shouldn't marry people from other races- but fortunately I never heard anything like that back when I was an evangelical. I really understood it as being only about religion.

Like I thought it was saying "oh it's totally fine to marry people from other races and cultures! Yes totally 100%! No problem there! Why would there be a problem? But absolutely do not marry people from the wrong religions, and oh my, by SHEER COINCIDENCE, those people from other cultures all follow the wrong religions, so that's why the Old Testament says don't marry people from other nations."

So then here I am writing this fanfic and realizing, a cross-cultural marriage is about so much more than religion. It's two complex people with completely different backgrounds, coming together and making a life together. And there's so much to it- there's love, there's fascination with learning about one's partner's world, there's miscommunication, there's confusion and astonishment when you realize your partner just sees things totally different, and there's distance in some aspects- like "you have your own thing, your own culture, you enjoy it but I am not involved in it." Like how my husband doesn't know how to yell at the tv correctly while watching football.

To flatten it down and say it's just about "oh they had bad religions, with like, human sacrifices I guess"... that just so completely misunderstands it.

And my marriage... my marriage is beautiful, and the idea that the Old Testament God (as portrayed in the book of Ezra, at least) wanted a whole society where no one had a cross-cultural marriage... it's just... like, the idea of isolating yourselves so completely from other cultures, so that you can never get to know them enough to run the risk of falling in love with someone. Completely missing the beauty and complexity in the diversity of human experience, missing out on the image of God that lives in every culture. That's what was commanded back then? Really? I never thought about it that way, when I was "on fire for God" and reading the bible every day. But now I really am married to a partner from a different country/ race/ religion/ culture. Now I know.

Now at this point you might be saying, "Surely, in the book of Ezra, there was more to it than just 'don't marry them because they're the wrong demographic'- surely there must have been something really bad that those Canaanite women were doing, right? Surely Ezra wasn't making a whole big scene mourning over something that mundane." But no, I've seen literally this exact thing. I've seen Christians getting all bent out of shape over other people's marriages, other people's personal lives, other people just going about their business in a way that Christians believe is wrong. 

I've seen Christians protesting same-sex couples' right to marry. I've seen Christians getting angry over an ad that showed a same-sex couple just having a normal family life. I remember the time I was at church and the pastor said, "My niece just got engaged... to a woman" and there were gasps of horror from the congregation, like it was an example of how messed-up "the world" is. Literally just queer people going about their lives, and Christians fight and mourn like it's some big tragedy. 

(And I've heard the "success stories" about "a gay person started coming to our church, and we did not say ONE WORD about how it's a sin for them to be with their partner, we just accepted and loved them, and then eventually they broke up, yay what a happy ending!")

I've seen Christians making rules about being "unequally yoked"- ie, a Christian should not be in a relationship with a non-Christian. A podcast where a bunch of concerned Christians fretted over a stranger's personal life, trying to figure out the best way to "speak the truth" that it was wrong for her to get married to a non-Christian man. The missionary I met in China who told me I couldn't come to her Christian group because the Chinese members would think that, as a foreign person, I was a Christian role model, and they just simply couldn't have that, because I was dating Hendrix, a non-Christian. ("And sleeping with him," this nice missionary lady added. I didn't correct her and tell her no, I had never had vaginal sex. I was sure she wouldn't believe me.)

So yes, I 100% can believe that Ezra sat outside wailing and making a scene just because somebody married somebody from a demographic he didn't like. Not because they were actually doing anything actually bad.

Ezra reminds me of the conservative Christians who don't want trans children to be able to use the bathroom.

And Shimei and Nikkal from my story are like the queer American couples who worry that the Supreme Court is going to un-marry them.

Like seriously, look at this:

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.

Ezra 9:1-4

People are just going about their lives, and then Ezra "sat there appalled" about it. Like, get a life! Mind your own business! Yes, I have 100% seen Christians do this. I used to be one of them.

And realizing it was families like mine- me, and my husband, and our precious little son- that Ezra targeted and tore apart... I bet those self-righteous leaders felt all sad about it too, like "oh it's so hard for us, our heart breaks for your family being torn apart, but, rules are rules, hate the sin love the sinner." I bet they felt like "look how hard it is for us to follow God's command- God will reward us for this."

This wasn't a community coming together to repent of their collective sin. This was a community scapegoating a minority, to make them feel like they themselves were godly. Easy to judge people when it's not a "sin" that you "struggle with" yourself.

I wonder what those "detestable practices" were, that the Canaanites apparently did. I have to say splitting up families is a detestable practice. (Also, why is the Slacktivist the only one I have ever seen pointing out how ****ed up this is? I even looked for some bible commentaries on Ezra recently, and they all basically just said "those other religions were, like, really bad.")

I wrote a story about a character, Nikkal, who always fears rejection. Then Ezra's God comes along and says "yes, you should be rejected." Fortunately her husband loved her more than God.

(Ah, well, whatever, I know the good "bible-believing" Christians have already decided they can ignore everything I say on this, because I am married to a non-Christian. And more than that, I don't see it as a problem AT ALL that my husband is a non-Christian. My Christianity is compatible with that, therefore I'm following the wrong kind of Christianity and no one needs to listen to me.)

And another thing I want to say about my fanfic. At the end, [spoilers!] when Shimei decides to leave behind his home, his culture, his religion, and run away with his foreign wife, and I wrote it like it's a happy ending, it's so romantic and exciting... Well, I ended the story there, and I do believe he made the right decision, but man, it's not as simple as that. Leaving behind your culture, moving to a whole new place where no one understands you- it's hard, it's hard in so many ways that I never knew about before I did it.

(Yeah, for me it happened in a different order- first I gave up my culture and moved to China, and then later I met Hendrix and married him.)

Anyway. The reason I wrote a fanfic about it is to show people, wow, this is really in the bible. Sometimes I'm astonished at the things I used to just brush past, reading the bible as an evangelical. "Ah well, God had clearly said they shouldn't marry the Canaanites" and just move on like that's that. But now I am married to a partner from a different culture and different religion. Now those verses are about us.

---

Related:

My Marriage Is So Good, I Forgot "Unequally Yoked" Was Supposed To Be A Problem

What My Marriage Is Actually About (It's Not Sex And It's Not Jesus)

I Didn't Know I Had a Culture Until I Lost It

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Love Wins (an Ezra fanfic)

 

People gather around the rebuilt temple (from the book of Ezra). Image source.

The first time Nikkal saw him, he was laying wooden beams for the walls of the temple. She had come with some other Canaanite women to bring water to the Israelite men who were working. His name was Shimei, he told her. It wasn't just his cute curly hair or his deep brown eyes- it was his smile, his laugh, the way his whole face lit up when he was happy.

She came to deliver food and water to the workers at the Jerusalem temple every day. And every time she saw him, her heart leaped. When she handed him the jug, and he wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand, pushed back his hair and his headband, and he smiled at her... it felt like the sun was shining on her.

The other women told her, "Don't get your hopes up. You see the headband he wears- he's a Levite. They have very strict rules. A Levite could never marry a Canaanite."

But he talked with her, laughed with her, asked her about her family and her hometown. And she knew she had fallen in love with him, but she always told herself not to get too excited. He could never really be interested in her, she thought.

But every day they talked, and she felt that he really respected her and cared for her. He didn't treat her like a Canaanite dog, like some of the others did. She had never met a man like him.

---

Sometimes she came to the temple, even when it wasn't time to bring water to the workers. She watched Shimei talking with the other men. Sometimes she saw the group of them stop and pray to their God together, led by Ezra, their prophet. 

"What am I doing?" she asked herself. He could never really be interested in her... even if he was okay with marrying a Canaanite woman, he would surely reject her when he found out she wasn't a virgin. Sometimes, when he talked with her alone, she wondered if she should tell him. Was it dishonest for her to let him think she was really good enough for him?

Why would he want her anyway? She was just a poor girl who had come to Jerusalem to earn some money. Surely Shimei could find a better wife, she thought.

Sometimes she prayed to her God, Asherah, about Shimei. She thanked Her for letting her meet such a wonderful man, and she also dared to wish that maybe the gods could let her be his wife.

---

One day he came to her and said he wanted to talk about betrothal.

She was so happy, but also terrified. There was no way this was real. No way something this amazing could really happen to her. "But, but... I'm a Canaanite," she said.

Shimei smiled and shook his head, as if it was a joke. "Yes I know that."

"You can't really... you're..." she started to say.

"Nikkal, I want to be with you. It doesn't matter to me, that you're a Canaanite and I'm a Levite. I want to marry you, if you'll have me."

She couldn't believe it, and everything in her wanted to leap with joy and say yes. But she couldn't, it was too good to be true. She had to tell him she wasn't good enough for him. She wasn't a virgin. He deserved to know.

"It's just..." she bit her lip nervously, "... just, there was another guy."

"Oh!" he suddenly looked shocked, and then disappointed. "Oh, I didn't know you were already betrothed."

"What? No, I'm not betrothed."

He tilted his head, confused. "Then, what do you mean about 'another guy'?"

"Uh, that was a long time ago."

He continued to look at her, not understanding. "So... not now? A long time ago, but not now?"

"Right," she said, waiting for him to reject her.

"So... what's the problem?"

He still didn't get it. She was going to have to spell it right out for him, and have him reject her. It was so embarrassing. She twisted her hands nervously. "I... he..." she tried to say. "I'm ... I'm not a virgin."

"Oh!" his face broke out into a relieved smile. "That's all? Well that's fine, I don't care about that."

She was speechless. "You what?"

"I want you for you," he said. "Not your virginity. I want you. You make me happy."

All she could do was stare at him, wide-eyed. He reached out, and she let him hug her. "You have to ask my father," she managed to squeak out.

"Yes, of course," he answered.

She had never met a man like him.

---

Their wedding was like a dream. She never knew that she could be so happy. She wore a long dress, embroidered by her mother, with symbols of the gods. He wore his best tunic and the same Levite headband that he always wore.

She moved in with him, and they made their home together. He worked in the temple, and she worked hard with the other women, carrying water and baking bread. At night he prayed to his God, and she prayed and burned incense to Asherah. Sometimes Shimei would eagerly talk with her about the work they were doing at the temple, how their prophet Ezra was leading them to reestablish the religion from old times. She supposed it was important to his people.

---

They had been married 3 months, when she heard the news.

Ezra 9:1-4

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

3 When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.

...

Ezra 10:3

Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.

...

Ezra 10:10-11

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”

There were whispers about it among the women as they gathered around the well that day. Nikkal felt sick; her dream was coming to an end. She had known all along that it couldn't last, that she wasn't good enough for Shimei. 

They didn't even have any children yet. It would be easy for him to send her away, to move on and forget about the mistake that he had made, marrying a Canaanite.

She was so anxious. She didn't want to do anything or talk to anyone. She went back home early that day. She sat in their shared home and tried to memorize it, the walls, the roof, the way Shimei always stacked his shoes in the corner. It would be so hard leaving, but... but she had always known her marriage was too good to be true. And now she was going to lose it, go back to the life she deserved, just a poor Canaanite that no one could want.

But she could cook one last meal for them.

She kneaded the dough, with a hundred different things running through her mind. Oh, she would miss him so much. She'd never met a man like him. Where would she go? Maybe she would go live with her parents, or her brothers.

She tried to focus on the bread she was making. If this was the last meal she cooked for him, she wanted to do a good job. But she was so worried, so distracted. She put the bread in the oven and then there was nothing to do but wait. Wait for him to come home and send her away.

She paced, and waited, and prayed to Asherah for protection on her journey back home. She got the bread out of the oven when it was done. Then waited some more; Shimei was later than usual. She was too anxious to eat. Just sat there and looked at her bread.

It was the middle of the night when he finally arrived. He looked pale and exhausted. He wasn't wearing his Levite headband. He stood in the doorway and they looked at each other in silence. She wanted to say something but didn't have any words. She sat at their table, and he stood across the room, and he still had those same deep, beautiful eyes that she had fallen in love with. 

Finally he spoke. "Show me how to pray to your God."

She stood up and walked toward him. Her hands trembled as she took his hand and led him to the box where she kept the incense. She handed him an incense stick, and then a thought occurred to her. "Do you want Asherah, or... or a male God?" she asked.

"No, no," he said quickly, shaking his head. "Asherah."

She took a second stick of incense for herself, and lit both of them using the coals in the oven. She searched her mind for what to say; she had never taught anyone to pray before. She tried to remember what the priests had said when she had gone to the temple with her parents all those years ago. "Oh Asherah, goddess of ... of ... uh prosperity and ..." - she glanced at her husband's bowed head, the curls of his hair pressed down where his headband used to be- "... love. We ask you for, uh, abundant harvests, and ... uh ..." She trailed off. She didn't know the specific words, but it didn't seem to matter now.

They sat there in the lamplight in silence, as the smell of the incense filled their small home. They sat there until all the incense had burned. She still didn't know what to say. She put her hand on his arm, and he didn't move or react. Finally she got the words out: "I heard... Are you going to send me away?"

"No," he said, and pulled her into a tight hug. "No." He pulled back, held her hands in his, and looked her in the eyes. His eyes looked red in the lamplight. "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God."

The next day, they started to pack their things. Together.

She had never met a man like him.

---

Follow-up post: This "Do Not Intermarry With Them" Stuff Hits Different Now 

---

This fic was inspired by the Slacktivist's excellent posts on why Ezra is not a good guy:
A Ruthless reading in the RCL
Biblical Teaching On Divorce: Start With Ezra
The biblical genealogies summarized: STFU, Ezra
Ezra isn’t the Good Guy in this story
This generation has far too many ‘Ezras’ already, thanks

---

My other fanfics:
Strange Fire
Noah's Evangelism
Achan's Sin
In Your Anger Do Not Sin (a Hulk fanfic)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Let me tell you about a fanfic that reminded me of my marriage

Image text: "I ship it." (In fandom, "ship" is a verb which means you want 2 fictional characters to be in a relationship.) Image source.

So the topic for this month's Carnival of Aces is "Inside the Frame, Outside the Frame"- about asexuality and fiction. I want to talk a little about my experiences reading fanfic, and how fanfic has been really helpful for me because it shows many many examples of the feelings people might have about sex and relationships. Really helped me because before, I only knew the conservative Christian "sexual purity" understanding of how relationships and sex are supposed to work.

There was this one fanfic where two characters- let's call them Person A and Person B- ended up in an arrangement where Person B was required to regularly do sexual things for Person A, because of, like, some science fiction reasons, anyway, it was required. The whole fic was about how they dealt with it, how they felt about it. Neither of them wanted to be in that arrangement in the first place; actually, Person A was really uncomfortable with having that kind of power over Person B, and felt really conflicted about it because Person A did enjoy the sex and was attracted to Person B.

I liked this fic because I felt like I could relate to it. Really, I read a lot of fics where someone needs to have sex because of some kind of external motivation, not because they specifically want the sex itself. I feel like I understand that.

A few years ago, I really felt that way about my relationship with my husband (Hendrix). I thought, "I'm asexual, I don't understand what the point of sex is, but apparently he needs it." I love him so much, and back then I was always worried about if I was "good enough" for him. 

I had heard so much Christian teaching about marriage that said sex was the most important thing that a man needs from his wife. That apparently having good sex is essential to his self-confidence and mental health, and I'm responsible for that. And apparently if I don't do good enough, well, don't be surprised if he cheats on me. There were always caveats about "oh of course it is totally not okay for a man to cheat, of course that is 100% his own fault, but also, like, what did you expect?"

So back then, a few years ago, that's how I viewed my marriage, like I was Person B in that fanfic. It meant a lot to me, reading that, because in so many ways I felt like that's the situation I was in.

Another interesting aspect is that, throughout the fic, the two characters never have penetrative sex. Person B says many times that they are okay with it, they're willing to do it, and Person A definitely has a desire for it, but Person A is determined to always say no. Person A strongly believes that it would be wrong, because Person B isn't really able to give consent in that kind of situation. They do other sexual things because that's what the arrangement requires of them, and sometimes Person A feels guilty for enjoying it and for the fact that Person B is doing more than just the bare minimum- encouraged by Person A's desire and enjoyment. But anyway, Person A draws the line there, and they don't have penetrative sex.

I had a lot of feelings about that, because I just hate the idea that since I'm asexual, my consent isn't valid. Like I can say "yes I want to have sex" but somebody is going to judge me and say it was for the wrong reasons and therefore it's not real consent. (Though yes, if we're specifically talking about the "Person A" in the relationship, they totally have the right to not consent for any reason they want, and feeling uncomfortable about Person B's consent is a reason.) I recognized that I often did have sex for problematic reasons- mostly to get rid of my own fears of not being "good enough" for my husband. But there have also been times that I chose to not have sex, and my reasons there were problematic- like choosing to not have sex because I was still so scared of all the Christian purity teaching that "unmarried sex is the worst sin and will ruin your life" even though I knew that intellectually I didn't believe that any more. (And yes, Hendrix and I did have sex before we got married, which was A GOOD DECISION, and I intend to never stop talking about that.) Like, my point is, in both cases, my reasons were based on my own emotional needs at the time, and certainly it was true that those emotional needs weren't necessarily coming from a healthy place, but in the short term, the best way to handle it was indeed to consent or not consent to sex. That was my decision. 

But the conversation on consent I've seen in feminist spaces doesn't really allow that. And actually, I feel a bit weird even talking about this, because someone is going to say that my marriage is bad, or something, if I'm having sex for reasons other than "I really want to have sex." 

Maybe I'm only willing to blog about it because the situation is totally different now- much better now. See, things changed when I got pregnant. At the beginning of the pregnancy, I felt so sick all the time, so we didn't have sex... and at the same time, my husband was so caring and affectionate and doing everything he could to help me feel better. I was shocked, because those Christian marriage books basically said men aren't capable of that- like if I'm not giving him sex, not holding up my end of the deal, then he won't do nice things for me.

And when I was pregnant, I felt like I finally had a "good enough reason" to not have sex. Okay, this is another problematic line of thinking that I had. I felt like, if sex is painful for me, well, that's not a good enough reason to say no (that's what the Christian marriage books said). But suddenly there's a worry that sex could hurt the baby (in particular, pain could be a sign that something is wrong and could potentially affect the pregnancy) and suddenly I felt like I could actually say no.

And then after little Square Root was born, at first we never even had time to have sex (due to, you know, having a newborn baby), and then when we did, I discovered that penis-in-vagina sex was SO MUCH EASIER than before. Kind of a long story (I blogged about it here, it's about vaginismus) and then because it felt so much different (better!) physically than it had pre-pregnancy, I started to actually enjoy it and desire it. And that's great. My sex life is so much better now! And I'm not worried about "am I having sex with him frequently enough for his *needs*" and all that- I don't even think about that any more.

So that's good news, but ... I'm not sure if it means I'm framing the "before" part in a bad way. Like "oh, a few years ago, I felt like the 'Person B' in this fanfic, like I was required to have sex because those were the terms of the arrangement, and I love my husband so much and I worried about if he would think I was good enough, but DON'T WORRY GUYS, IT'S OKAY, everything is different now, now I enjoy sex because it actually feels good and I actually like it, phew thank goodness." Like yes, my situation now is definitely better than back then, but I still don't believe that the "I am required to have sex with my partner, whom I really love, because that's the expectation for the relationship structure we have" is necessarily a bad thing. I think that's just the reality that a lot of asexuals are in. I have talked to other asexual straight married women in that situation.

And that fic I mentioned- how did it end? Well, they eventually found a way to break out of the arrangement they had been forced into for science fiction reasons. After that, Person B left, and was away for a long time, healing from it. Then eventually, Person B comes back and decides- on their own terms- to have a relationship with Person A. Then you know the consent is real. Yay, good ending for everyone. But in real life, there are asexual/allosexual relationships where that kind of ideal solution isn't really an option. The asexual partner chooses to have sex for various reasons that may be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, and I believe that's okay. That doesn't mean their relationship is bad/wrong/rapey.

(Or... actually, I should say, maybe it's okay, maybe it's not. But you have to look at the whole picture; you can't make a judgment on it just based on the fact that one partner is consenting to sex for "problematic" reasons.)

So. Just wanted to give one example of a fanfic I really liked because I could relate to how one of the characters felt about sex. I think fanfic is great- there is so much out there, so much variety, you can find anything, and it's a great way to see a lot of examples of different ways that people might approach sex/relationships. I needed that because I grew up with Christian purity ideology which presented only a very narrow view.

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Related:

On Purity, Asexuality, and Timing

He Just Loves Me (a post about Sex, Pregnancy, and My "Wifely Duty") 

Conservative Christians Teach That Wives Are REQUIRED To Have Sex Even When They Don't Want To. Here Are The Receipts. 

How Pregnancy and Childbirth Changed My Asexuality (or, actually, A Post About Vaginismus) 

So this is new

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This post is part of the November 2021 Carnival of Aces. The topic for this month is "Inside the Frame, Outside the Frame."

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Blogaround

1. William Shatner, TV’s Capt. Kirk, blasts into space (posted October 13)

2. LinkedIn is shutting down its China platform because of a 'challenging operating environment' (posted October 15)

3. James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther on 'Friends,' has died (posted October 25)

4. My Black Generation Is Fighting Like Hell to Stop the Whitelash (posted July 13) "Yet, over the past eight years, that most critical law has been gutted by the Supreme Court. Our one unelected branch of government has taken away the key thing put in place to keep the elected branches from sliding back into the whites’-only rule that plagued the first 150 years of the American experiment. There’s no white American equivalent to the Voting Rights Act. There’s no thing we can weaken or take away from white people that would threaten their ability to participate in self-government."

5. This tweet with an infographic about "Where we donate vs Diseases that kill us" (posted October 22), and in the replies there's another infographic "What Americans die from, what they search on Google, and what the media reports on." This is FASCINATING to me because in 2016 I wrote Prayer Rates Don't Correlate With Actual Risk. As a math person, I have spent a very long time fascinated by the fact that the things Christians spend the most time praying against aren't the things that really pose the most danger; instead, they pray most about the things they are most worried about. And if it is really true that prayer actually affects real things (outside of one's internal psychological state) then we need to get everyone organized to pray against the things that really do represent the biggest danger- so probably heart disease.

It's so interesting to see this same idea explored but not related to prayer; rather, related to the money that people donate towards these causes. And yes you could argue that the ideal distribution is not as straightforward as "this one has the most deaths, so it should have the most funding"- you should also take into account how promising the research is (ie, where is your donation actually going to make the most difference), and also maybe it could be true that the number of deaths from some certain disease has decreased precisely because there has been so much money spent on research.

Overall, though, yeah it does seem there is a mismatch.

Monday, October 25, 2021

So this is new

The word "new". Image source.

[content note: talking about sex]

Attraction is... different now... and I don't know how to talk about it, or maybe I do have words but I don't know if I should publish them. Because it's personal and intimate now in a way that it wasn't before.

All right, the general overview is: I'm asexual, I'm married, and having PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex with my husband was always a whole huge difficult task, because it turns out I had vaginismus (or something similar). And then I gave birth to our baby, and that cured the vaginismus. Now sex is completely different than before, so completely different, it's astonishing how big the difference is. Sex is a totally different thing now- it's easy, we can just go ahead and do it just because we want to do it (okay realistically though, we have a baby and therefore hardly ever have spare time). It's not like before, where I had to go through a whole long process, which I developed myself through trial and error, to get my vagina to open- and if I didn't do that process, PIV would be incredibly painful or even impossible. And no, the process didn't always work, so sometimes we just couldn't, and that was that. But now, oh wow it's so different, it's so different, I cannot overstate how different it is. Sex is a totally different thing now- better, definitely better.

So that's the physical side of things, but it turns out there's also an emotional/ attraction/ desire side. Which I will, maybe, I guess, talk about in this post. 

But... should I? Because it's personal in ways that it never was before. It was easy to blog about "I'm asexual, I don't have sexual attraction", but now I want to tell you I do have a desire for sex with my husband, in ways I didn't before... is that too personal to post on the internet? Or, actually, the answers to the questions "How is it different? Why is it different? What is it like?" maybe that's what's too personal. Because I could answer those; I think I do have the words to describe it. And asexuals everywhere are asking each other "has anyone figured out what sexual attraction is???" and the allosexuals are like "well I can't really describe it, but, like, it's just, you just know." And now here I am with an asexual background and I can actually describe the sexual feelings I have now, in a way that's accessible for an asexual audience. I think?

And... I want to write the post that 4-years-ago Perfect Number would have needed. But... is it too personal to post on the internet?

Or, is someone going to say "Having sexual desire for your husband is not really news... That's like, the most normal and boring thing. Why would you blog about that?" But for asexuals, it's not "normal and boring"; for asexuals, it's one of life's biggest unsolved mysteries. And now I have something to say on it.

Where to begin?

Okay I'll start with this: If I had any doubt before that asexuality is a real thing, or any doubt that I was asexual, well that's obviously gone now. The feelings I'm having now are really totally different than before; I very much did NOT have these feelings before, so I can say for sure I was asexual. (I also say I still am asexual- maybe I'll talk about that more in another post.) 

Way back years ago, when I was questioning, trying to figure out if I was ace* or not, I always wondered if maybe I do have all the same feelings as a "normal person" but I'm just so confused and therefore categorizing them wrong. I thought, maybe I do feel sexual attraction, but I'm just such a loser that I can't even recognize that's what it is. And maybe this is common for asexuals- you never really get a good answer to the question "what is sexual attraction, anyway?" and eventually you just have to conclude, "well, I don't really understand what it means, so, uh, I guess that means I don't have it... surely if I had it, I wouldn't be spending this much time confused about it" and that's how you come out as ace.

You never get an answer, and eventually you decide that's your answer.

But now, now I have new feelings, new desires for sex. And it's not like "I felt this a little bit before, but now I feel it a lot"; no, it's something I really have never felt before. Specifically, well maybe this is TMI but here goes- specifically, I mean occasionally daydreaming about the feeling of PIV, the actual physical feeling of it in one's genitals, and wanting that feeling, and therefore wanting to have sex. That. I'm calling that "sexual desire", I guess. 

Wait, let me rephrase it, I want to say this clearly. If I was had a time machine and was explaining it to myself-from-a-few-years-ago, here's what I would say:

Okay, yeah, I know when you hear "I like the actual physical feeling of PIV" you're confused as hell. You're making a list in your mind of all the physical feelings you have during PIV, and you're trying to figure out which of them is the one that has people so excited. No, that's not it at all.  

The feelings on your list- which range from pain to neutral to "yeah it's good but nothing to write home about"- no, it's not any of those. You really don't have this one. You really are asexual.  

My "list of physical feelings I have during PIV" is now completely different from before (before I gave birth vaginally). And now the overall experience actually is the sort of thing that one would desire, like inherently desire it for itself. Not like I used to desire it, like "here is a complex explanation of the reasons I want to have sex." No, it's nothing like that any more, because now it's the kind of thing that is actually desirable in and of itself.

So, yeah, that. And other new emotions too besides that. Maybe I'll blog about them, maybe not.

Before, I wanted to have sex with my husband for other reasons- and even years and years ago, before I met him, and I was attracted to other boys and I conceptualized it as "lust"... Other reasons. Reasons about wanting my partner to feel a certain way about me. Or more "transactional" sorts of reasons. Or curiosity.

Anyway. And all of this is very much caused by the physical side of things- the fact that apparently childbirth cured my vaginismus. Because of that, the physical aspect of PIV sex is now "it feels good" rather than "ughhhh I have to spend a long time trying to get my vagina to open"- and so it makes sense that now that I've experienced sex in the "it feels good" way, now that it's happened often enough to change my understanding of what sex is, well yeah it makes sense that now I would start having the desire for it.

And also, wow I have a lot to say about this, and I feel like it's all tangled up- maybe I can't write it all in one post. (I feel like I should also address the fact that I'm just talking about PIV in this post... I know that it's problematic to claim that PIV is the only real sex or whatever, but based on my own experiences I have reasons for specifically focusing on PIV here, but I can't get into all that, it's complicated.) Let me just say one more thing though:

I now feel like there is something intrinsically special or intimate about sex/genitals. I never thought that before; it always felt like society had arbitrarily assigned all this meaning to this one specific activity. Take a look at what I wrote in this 2017 post, Sex is Like an Inside Joke (Thoughts from an Asexual):

And now I see sex as a hobby. You know how, if you're dating someone who's really into board games, and they always want you to play board games with them, so you do, and it seems weird at first but after a while you end up liking board games too. It's like that. My partner is into having sex, so I've gotten into it too, and it's enjoyable, though if it were totally up to me, I would choose to spend my time on a different hobby instead.

And I find it very weird that sex is such a popular hobby. Sure, I guess it feels good, but, really? It's not like, that good.

And this post from 2016, Boundaries in Dating: #stillpurityculture:

And this stuff about "100 percent of your body" is also ridiculous. When they talk about "sex" in this chapter, I'm assuming they're referring to vaginal intercourse (though other sexual acts are also not allowed, obviously). To be clear, "Boundaries in Dating" does not offer an explicit definition like this- I'm assuming it because that's what purity culture/ society in general typically means by "sex." It's so weird that they're using language about "100 percent" when they're talking about something that, in its most basic form, just involves a penis and vagina and no other body parts. If you have vaginal sex but not anal sex, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"? If you have vaginal sex but your partner never rubbed the back of your head with their hand, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"? If you have vaginal sex but never show your partner any ultrasound images of your internal organs, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"?

If you have sex with one partner, then break up, then have your appendix removed, then have sex with a new partner, does that mean that your ex got "100 percent of your body" in a way that your new partner never can, because they can't be anywhere near your appendix? What if you start dating the surgeon who performed the operation? Wait, does a surgeon have "100 percent of your body" in a way that a sexual partner never can?

My point is, "giving away your body" is a euphemism for performing acts which stimulate certain areas [genitals, skin, tongue, etc], which definitely ARE NOT "100 percent of your body". And as a math person, I believe it's utterly ridiculous to attach actual numbers to a euphemism which doesn't literally describe the act to which it refers.

Back then, when I mostly chose to have sex because of how other people viewed it, or "transactional" kinds of reasons like that, then it didn't matter very much what the specific activity was. Oh, people are interested in playing with each other's genitals? Okay sure whatever I guess. If "sex" instead meant going outside and making bear sounds while patting each other's heads, it would be all the same to me. Okay sure whatever I guess. And I thought it was ridiculous how apparently society had decided that playing with each other's genitals is the activity we will use as a symbol of love and intimacy- like, why that, and not something else? Like yeah there's orgasms but I still don't think that's enough of a big deal to really justify it.

Same thing with euphemisms about "giving your body away" and stuff like that, stuff where you're supposed to hear the term "body" or "self" and interpret it as "genitals" and no other body parts. Just utterly ridiculous. Your ear is just as much a part of your body- why does nobody hear terms like "explore each other's bodies" and picture (fully clothed) poking around in your partner's ears?

But now I'm like, wait, something about this is special and intimate in a way that's not like other things. That's a new feeling for me. And maybe there is some sense in which your genitals feel more representative of "your body" than other parts are? I don't know, I'm still confused about euphemisms like "give your body away"- is it simply a euphemism that people use because they're too squeamish to say "sex" or "genitals", or do they truly feel that your genitals are "your body" in a special, intrinsic way that's different than your other body parts?

And, maybe it was "intimate" before, in a sense- in the same way that you might have a splinter that's so bad that you need somebody to help you get it out, and it's a huge act of trust to allow someone to do that. Yes, for me, sex always required a lot of trust and love and so it never made sense to imagine it with anyone other than Hendrix (my husband). But now it's intimate in a different and better way, not the "help me with my splinter" way.

And this is all swirling around the question "am I sexually attracted to my husband?" and I don't have an answer to that yet. Maybe yes? But I still want to ID as ace, for a bunch of reasons.

It's all new and different- in a good way- and I want to talk about it because I'm a blogger and that's what I do. And the world needs descriptions of sexual feelings that are accessible for asexual readers. And... there's a lot here, a lot that I could say. Maybe I'll write more about it in future posts.

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* ace = asexual

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Related:

How Pregnancy and Childbirth Changed My Asexuality (or, actually, A Post About Vaginismus)

I'm Still Asexual 

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This post was written for the October 2021 Carnival of Aces. This month's topic is "attraction."

Friday, October 22, 2021

Blogaround

1. Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle (posted October 19) 

(Also, in case you forgot, the orange antichrist is THE WORST.)

2. How Taylor Swift (Legally) Changed Music Forever ft. Rick Beato (posted September 28)

3. The Extremely Simple Model of Orientation (posted 2015) "For those not mathematically inclined, that means a single orientation consists of a complete mapping from every circumstance to a feeling."

Saturday, October 16, 2021

US Immigration and the Definition of Marriage

An image showing a US immigrant visa, social security card, and green card. Image source.

So my husband and I are working on applying for his US green card, so we can move to the US. There are a few different ways that one can be eligible for a green card; in our case, it's because he's married to me, a US citizen. And since our marriage is the entire reason that it's possible for him to get a green card, the US immigration system is very interested in making sure it's a "bona fide marriage."

The US government provides this list of evidence you can submit to prove you have a "bona fide marriage":

Evidence of the bona fides of the marriage, if petitioning for a spouse:

  • Documentation showing joint ownership of property;
  • A lease showing joint tenancy of a common residence, meaning you both live at the same address together;
  • Documentation showing that you and your spouse have combined your financial resources;
  • Birth certificates of children born to you and your spouse together;
  • Affidavits sworn to or affirmed by third parties having personal knowledge of the bona fides of the marital relationship. Each affidavit must contain the full name and address of the person making the affidavit; date and place of birth of the person making the affidavit; and complete information and details explaining how the person acquired their knowledge of your marriage; and
  • Any other relevant documentation to establish that there is an ongoing marital union.

In our case, we have some of these things but not all. We have a whole child together, don't have joint bank accounts (joint bank accounts are not really a thing in China). I have been told that if you have kids together, then that's pretty much all the evidence you need, no worries that the US government will think your marriage is fake.

I also submitted photos of us together, going all the way back to when we started dating. And affidavits from some family members about how me and Hendrix are totally married. (And I joked about submitting a statement about that time we had a whole discussion in Ikea about what kind of brush to buy for cleaning the bathroom- that's basically the most married you can get.)

Looking around on websites about immigration, I read a lot of advice for how people in more tricky situations can prove their marriage is "bona fide." What if you have never actually lived together? What if you are currently living in different countries? What if you don't speak the same language? What if you have been in a relationship for a while, but the timing of when you rushed down to the courthouse to get the marriage license was very much forced by immigration laws?

Overall, when USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) talks about a "bona fide marriage," what they really mean is that you actually intend to make a life together, as opposed to just acquiring a marriage license for the immigration benefits. And apparently the best way to show that is kids, living together, and joint bank accounts- though if you don't have those, there is plenty of advice about what other things might work. I found it surprising, to be honest, because I always assumed that if you have a marriage license, then you're married, and that's that- but no, for the US immigration system, that's not enough.

(And I have heard anecdotes about going to the visa interview and being asked questions about your sex life, as evidence that the marriage is real. I don't really expect any questions like that in our case, because we have a child so I don't think they will doubt our marriage fits their definition of "bona fide"- ie, we are not just faking it to commit immigration fraud. I also heard an anecdote about an asexual couple having trouble because their marriage was seen as not real due to not having sex- no idea how common that is, or if that was in the US or another country.)

This is FASCINATING to me, because when I was an evangelical, there was always such a big deal made about "the definition of marriage." "Marriage is between one man and one woman." Apparently this is "the biblical definition of marriage"- though I very much believe that anyone who thinks the bible is a dictionary deserves to be mocked. Really, though, this "biblical definition of marriage" stuff is solely a response to same-sex marriage and polyamory. That's it. It doesn't address any other aspects of marriage at all.

And now that I think about it, I have heard a lot of different "definitions of marriage." There are people who aren't interested in marriage, who say "marriage is just a piece of paper." Maybe they are in a long-term relationship but don't see any reason that they need the "piece of paper" in order to make their relationship more "real" or whatever.

And in purity culture, there is such a big deal made about "don't have sex before marriage," that it made me imagine that marriage was basically about sex. What a surprise when I did get married and found out it's actually about inside jokes and buying the kind of yogurt your spouse likes.

And one time I read a blog post from a polyamorous person; she already had a boyfriend, then she met someone else and "I knew right away that I would marry him" and indeed she did marry this new guy while still in a relationship with the boyfriend, which is fine if everyone knows what's going on and they're not sneaking around. I read that blog post and I was so fascinated and confused about why she would say "I knew right away that I would marry him"- clearly she has a different definition of marriage than what you see in the kind of Disney-style romance stories where people "knew right away that I would marry him."

Here's a thought: What if it makes sense to use different definitions in different circumstances? And people from different backgrounds have different understandings of what marriage means, and that's fine? Though I do have a problem with purity ideology pushing their "marriage is about sex" message on naive teenagers (okay they don't phrase it like that, but that's basically what I took from it). 

And... I don't know, maybe it's a problem that the US immigration system privileges certain family structures over others, and puts limits and waiting periods on different categories of visas and different countries. (There are no limits on the number of green cards issued to spouses of US citizens.) I don't really have a whole opinion about it... I understand that maybe for practical reasons we can't just "let everybody in." But I am just thinking about how easy it was for me to come to China and find a job teaching English, way back in 2013, and I had absolutely no idea how hard it is for non-US-citizens to go in the opposite direction. That's privilege.

So. Anyway. Applying for my husband's green card has introduced me to a definition of marriage I'd never considered before. Realizing that different definitions make sense for different situations kind of makes the whole "marriage is defined as one man and one woman" seem a bit silly.

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Related:
What My Marriage Is Actually About (It's Not Sex And It's Not Jesus) 
4 Biblical Definitions We Need to Defend in the Culture Wars 
On Immigration and Double Standards

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Chopsticks for Babies

I live in China and I have a little toddler son. I thought you all might be interested to see the chopsticks they sell for little kids who are learning how to use them. Here are some photos I took at the baby store:


These are imported from Japan- see all the text on the packaging is Japanese. (Except the 右手用 which means "right-handed use" in Chinese; I guess the characters for it in Japanese are the same?)



Basically one chopstick has 2 loops for your fingers, and the other has 1 loop for your thumb. Some of the chopsticks sets (like the bear and My Little Pony, above) let you attach the 2 chopsticks together at the top. Also you may notice the pointy end which picks up the food is a little bit flattened or has a grippy texture, to help with that.

I have heard some moms complain that the design of the loops only works for right-handed people. (In China traditionally people think you should teach left-handed kids to be right-handed instead...) Apparently you can also get training chopsticks without the loops; some moms think those are better.

Little Square Root has a pair of chopsticks with the loops, but he hasn't used them yet. So far he mostly uses a spoon, or a fork for fruit. Even though forks aren't traditionally used by Chinese people, they are easily available to buy for babies. (And also he eats with his hands of course, being a baby and all.)

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Hey readers! My Patreon reached a goal of $20/month, which means I am writing some posts with photos of life in China for you all! The previous ones are: 

If you would like to sponsor me on Patreon, link is here! Thanks readers, you are all great!

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