Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Schmekel, Sheldon and Role Models

A few weeks ago, my beloved PRISM had the super awesome band Schmekel (Transgender, Jewish Punk/Polka? Heck yes!) play at our school for TransAction day and we got to take the band out to dinner. I was lucky enough to show up late and occupy the only empty seat, which was with the band and a couple of my PRISM friends. So we got talking about any number of things, but the overarching theme was queer stuff- go figure- and at one point one of the band members commented that they "end up being big brothers" to other trans kids who are in the process of coming out.
And then I kind of started wishing that I'd had somebody like that, an asexual big brother or sister who already knew how it all works and what it's like.

As it is, I began my asexual journey with no clear indication of how one went about this. I didn't have anyone to discuss my coming-out process with, or to trade stories with. One of the ways in which we validate our identities is through discussion and construction of narratives about how our lives are lived as people who identify a certain way and I think we all know that there's no perfect substitute for being able to construct that narrative alongside somebody who is going through the same life story.

In the absence of a personal friend or acquaintance we can look up to and learn from, how are young asexual people supposed to find a role model for our lives? We have a few places we can look and one of them is, I'll tell you right away, a failure: the media.

Now, don't get me wrong- I love Sheldon Cooper. Problem is, he's fictional. He's also abrasive, oblivious and obnoxious. He makes a great sitcom character, but a terrible real-life friend. Sherlock Holmes is much the same way, although the BBC version of him is reasonably endearing. A slightly better choice is Kevin from Guardian of the Dead- he's the "best friend" character and is written as a believable asexual character which is to say, like a normal person who, by the way, is ase. Overall, though, the media's a crapshoot. Role model status is a lot for Kevin alone, so let's move on.

Online options are slightly better, and I often fill the role model position that is open in my life by reading asexual blogs and frequenting Livejournal. This isn't too bad- it gives me access to older asexuals, or at least asexuals who do lots of deep blogging, and this gives me a way to participate in some kind of dialogue with other asexuals. It's what I do if I'm feeling alone, because it's a quick way for me to get a fix of the feeling of belonging. Long term, it's a great way to stay in touch with the asexual community and become part of this dialogue.

The last option, which I'm sort of combining with the online option, is to adopt role models of other orientations and identities. What I've ended up doing is learning from the older queer students on my campus. Lacking an asexual role model, I've watched how older (and sometimes not older, just other) queer students negotiate the world around them. From them, I have been able to learn what it means to live with a queer identity and I'm grateful to all of them, maybe even more because they accepted me and took me in and let me belong even though I was, for some of them, the first asexual person they had ever met and they were as clueless about the formation of an asexual identity as I was. They were and are my role models without even knowing that they are. It would be weird to say it to any of them directly, I guess, but I can say it here- they do beautiful things for my soul and I'm grateful every day to know and be part of this community.

At that dinner, with Schmekel, the talk turned to one of the guys at the table coming out as trans and kind, "older brother" advice was offered. "However they react," somebody suggested, "just take it in stride. It'll be okay."
And although it wasn't meant for me, I listen and I learn. And I take it in stride- it'll be okay for me, too.