The Importance of Tending Your Garden

We are now in a meteorological spring.  As I sit in my conservatory it actually feels like the first flush of summer.  The nephews are running round the garden screaming with delight and hosing each other with water guns whilst their mother looks on with a mix of trepidation and glee.

In the break I have taken from writing this blog I have done a lot of introspection and a lot of reading on various topics as a matter of continuing self-development.  Somewhere in the mix there were a number of self-help books.  (Generating a variety of results, only some successful…)

One of the concepts I particularly liked was the idea of each person being born with their own garden to tend.  At birth we are given our own patch situated next to our relatives.  Clearly at this time we are unable to care for ourselves, let alone a garden.  Thus, decisions of what to plant and when to work on our patch are left to those around us.  Our parents can go one of two ways: they can either plant a mix of seeds from their own garden, or they can start something totally new.  Typically, we get a mix of parental values along with a small touch of new thinking.

As we grow, we find that we are given little tasks in our garden so that piece by piece, weed by weed, we begin to learn how to nurture the life garden we have been given.  We begin to notice things for ourselves and we begin to understand whether we like our garden or we don’t.

Through our teenage years we are left more and more to care for our gardens alone.  Occasionally a loving parent may step in and fix a patch of weeds for us, or offer well-meaning advice, but that’s pretty much it.  It’s also at this crucial crossroads in our life that we may meet another teenage gardener, who is also just starting to tend his or her own garden and we embark on a mutually satisfying relationship in which we tend our gardens together.  We may find that instead of taking cuttings from our parents’ garden that we take cuttings from a variety of other gardeners’ patches and start to experiment with how we want our garden.

However, not all of us have good gardens with which to begin adulthood.  It may be that our parents simply didn’t care about gardening and doused our plot in weed killer shortly after our birth, so that they could concentrate on something else.  Or perhaps our garden – and the gardens all around us – was subjected to a nasty wildfire early in life.

Either way, we have hit eighteen and ready or not, we are now obliged to look after our own gardens.  If we have been left with nothing at all, we now have a mammoth job in constructing something new at this late stage.  But, no matter what, we must and often do with great success.

All through life, we are faced with challenges and pitfalls as well as amazing triumphs that shape us every day, every step of the way.

Just remember, no matter what, that garden is yours.  Care for it and nurture it and love it because that’s the only garden you will get.

Feminism In Argentina

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I noticed recently that I have been getting a lot of hits on this blog from Argentina.  I do not know anyone there so my curiosity is piqued.  Wanting to keep things relevant to my readers, I’ve decided to write a piece on the country’s rich feminist history.  When I was researching, my first port of call was Amazon for any ebooks that I may find useful.  I was quite disheartened to find that there was only one text in English that might have proved useful.

Argentinian feminism is about more than a few key feminist figures such as Eva Perón and Domingo Sarmiento.  It is a grassroots women’s movement that was borne out of a collective frustration with the patrimonial status quo.  As many small organisations gained power they were aided by mass immigration and assistance from many exiled Socialist Party members.  Thus, feminism in Argentina is more accurately described as a women’s movement.  A key aspect of Argentina’s women’s movement is that it places welfare matters above any other matter – including matters purely affecting women.

The traditional, pre-independence view of the Argentinian woman was that she was first the property of the father and latterly the husband.  Families sought to marry their girls off between the ages of fifteen and eighteen to men twice or even three times their age.  At this time divorce was not legal and whilst a legal separation may be granted, the wife would not have received financial assistance from the husband.  Separated women were shunned by society and most likely destitute.  Widows were unable to inherit estates and were under great pressure to remarry quickly.

Independence from Spain in 1816 did bring some equity in law.  However, the traditional views expressed above remained and many families found ways to circumnavigate the new laws to ensure primogeniture.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries attitudes became more liberal, with French culture playing a huge role.  The upper classes began to mirror the goings on of French salons, in which young men and women of intelligence could meet to form their own relationships.

Buenos Aires’ first daily newspaper, Telegrafo Mercantil founded in 1801, played a pivotal role in revamping education for girls.  Regular articles were published calling for secular education.  It was believed that church education kept girls ignorant, superstitious and irrational.  On the other hand, secular education was assumed to turn girls into emotionally stable, fit and competent young women who would be more suitable intellectual companions for the men.

During the country’s fight for independence from Spain women’s roles changed.  They began to manage their husbands’ businesses and estates whilst the men were on the front lines.  However, their new role was only ever seen as temporary.  Societal pressure demanded that they relinquish their newfound freedoms when the men returned.

Bernardino Rivadavia – the first president of Argentina between 1826 and 1827 – wanted to include women in the building of the nation.  His argument was that women provided much needed public morality.  Earlier in 1823 he had founded the Argentine Beneficient Society with this core principle of being run by women to administer charities which has previously been under Church control.

In 1853 the first constitution proved a major setback.  Article 21 said that all citizens of the country had to take up arms when necessary.  As women were prevented from doing so, the courts unfairly judged them not to be citizens!  This also meant that they are unable to benefit from any constitutional rights afforded to the men.

In 1856 in an unprecedented appointment Domingo Sarmiento asked a woman to join the Board of Education as the Supervisor for the Buenos Aires area.  At this time, middle class women did not work, let alone take positions of seniority over their male counterparts.  Sarmiento was an advocate in advancing education for women and believed that women’s inclusion in local – and then national – politics would only be a good thing for the country at large.

Eva Perón appealed so much to lower class women because she was one herself.  The early upper class feminists would shun her because she stood in their way when they tried to jump on the bandwagon of feminism and use it for their own gain.

For a decade between 1975 and 1985 the country was overtaken by a series of repressive regimes that unfortunately spread propaganda in the hopes of reinforcing the traditional, bygone era view that women should be subservient and primarily restricted to the home.

Divorce was finally legalised in 1986 with a more favourable constitution being adopted in 1994.

My Honesty Shouldn’t Be Regarded As Bravery

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Last night I reactivated a dormant dating profile on a well-known site.  It is something I have wanted to do since I came out as asexual.  Whilst I am not looking to settle down, I would like to know that there are people locally who match well with me and who are accepting of both my disability and asexuality.  I decided to be upfront about both and wrote a disclaimer at the top of my profile explaining each very briefly and stating that I would be happy to discuss either via a private message.

I had only been on-line an hour when a PhD student from Glasgow sent me a message.  His opening line said that he found me ‘brave and straightforward’.  Quizzical, I replied.  After much back and forth he said he admired my bravery because I was willing to discuss things privately.

I have not taken this up with him, but I do not see myself as brave.  All I did was state a couple of very important facts in a place where they could not be missed.  I was honest and open and prepared to get far fewer messages because of it.  I do not choose to be a flag bearer.  I did not choose to die on a sword for my morals.  I simply wanted to find someone who would accept the most important parts of me.  Crucially, I did not want to waste my time on people who cannot accept a disabled partner or a reduced sex life.

I even questioned – myself, not him – whether his words carried pity.  Was he messaging me because he felt sorry for me?  That I was in some way inferior and would find it hard to find a compatible match, even on a site with such a rigorous matching algorithm?  He certainly never gave me any reason to doubt my theory: he has not once asked about me.  He has not complimented me on anything or sought to find shared interests.  I have yet to actually discover what interests him about me.

But above anything, I know that my honesty is not brave.  It is necessary.  I did not have to psych myself up for days to do it.  I did not tremble writing it.

I simply wrote the truth and it made me smile.

The Different Asexual Definitions Explained

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Since openly acknowledging that I am asexual, I have been asked multiple times to explain myself.  I had a very frank conversation with my sister and brother-in-law just now where they asked many, many questions about my feelings, my desires and my hopes for the future.  I thought it would be useful to write a brief piece on different asexual definitions, along with how I feel I fit into the spectrum.

AsexualA person who is not interested in or does not desire sexual activity.  Also, a person who does not experience a sexual attraction to either gender.

Demisexual/Greysexual: A person who will only experience a sexual desire in very specific circumstances, most likely after knowing a romantic partner for a number of years.  They may well only experience a sexual attraction once or twice in a lifetime.

AromanticA person who does not experience a desire for a romantic relationship, or a romantic attraction to either gender.

Sexual DesireThe desire to engage in any form of sexual activity.

Sexual AttractionAttraction on the basis of sexual desire or the quality of arousing such an interest.

Romantic AttractionAttraction on the basis of desiring a romance with that person.

Romantic DesireThe desire to engage in romantic activities.

CelibateChoosing to not engage in sex for a specific reason, or for a set time period, yet desiring sex or sexual activities.

I identify as asexual.  I have never experienced a sexual attraction to any person.  Until recently, I did not realise just how I felt.  It was only when I joined a disability group and had a few discussions about the ability to engage in sex as a disabled person, that it really hit home that I had never desired sex in the first place.

Thinking back, I can remember instances in secondary school where my classmates were talking about attractive people and I just could not relate.  There was one time, where to try and fit in, I talked about how I liked a classmate.  It was an embarrassing and very cringe-worthy episode, and if that boy ever caught wind of it, I am sorry.  I now realise that I did have an attraction to him, but a strictly platonic one.

I still have a desire for romance, with either gender.  I want to kiss, to hold hands, to cuddle, to sleep in the same bed.  But do I ever want to have sex?  No.

What would happen if my partner was not asexual?  Obviously, a very frank and open discussion would need to be had early on in any relationship or perhaps before a relationship has even begun.  Whilst I have no desire to even try sex for curiosity’s sake – it is not something I feel I need to do to be able to dismiss – I am not sexually repulsed.  For the right long-term non-asexual partner, there is room for compromise.  Quite what that compromise is remains to be seen, but I know I am open to the conversation if it ever needs to be had.

I am mostly convinced that my asexuality is not disability based.  The school incident I mentioned above predates any knowledge I had of sex.  Therefore, I am fairly sure that my asexuality is not down to my disability, or my understanding that if I engaged in sexual activity, that it would be physically awkward and difficult.  In the future, I would like to explore this.  I do not wish to be cured, I am happy.  I just wish to know.

Finally, I would like to debunk a myth.  Asexual people can – and many do – experience sexual arousal.  Sexual arousal is separate from sexual desire and sexual attraction.  Arousal is a physical response to mental stimulation – even if that is not sexual in itself.  Not all asexuals choose to act on that, however.  For some, it is a way to relieve stress and a method for falling asleep quickly.  For others, it is their only method of sexual release, where they enjoy orgasm.  I know many asexuals who release, but do not describe it as orgasm.

I hope that all my readers come away from this better informed.  Should anyone have questions, I am happy to answer them either here, in private, or in person.  I am also happy to answer questions about my own experience of asexuality.

Asexuals: Identifying The Need For Broader Sexual Discussion

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I presume you are looking at the title and scratching your head.  The most common understanding of asexuality is that asexuals do not engage in sex.  This is a common misunderstanding.  As forums such as the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) demonstrate, many asexuals regularly engage in a wide variety of sexual activities with their long-term partners and enjoy them too.  Of course, there are also a large number of sex-repulsed asexuals as well.

Over recent weeks I have read much on the topic of asexuality and watched some very informative documentaries.  I discovered, much to my amazement, that the asexual community is leading the way in terms of open and informed sexual discussion.

Although many in the broader LGBT community question the logic behind allowing asexuals to share their space, I feel strongly that asexuals have a right to be included.  In such a sexual world, the right to celebrate non-sexual desires should be applauded.  Granted, the celebration of LGBT pride is based in the right to openly love in the face of historic sexual laws, but why should the freedom to love without sex not be celebrated too?

A common discussion for asexuals is consent, particularly in the face of sexual compromise.  Exactly what is sex?  Is it simply penis-in-vagina, or is it a host of many other, varied, sexual acts that may not even include penetrative sex.  What are the expectations of the non-asexual (sexual) partner?  What sex acts, if any, can the asexual submit to and/or tolerate?  What if the sexual partner was to seek sex outside of the relationship?

All this needs to be considered carefully when a new relationship starts.  It also needs to be a conversation left open, as many asexuals find that, as a relationship evolves, they may start to feel differently.  This does not mean however, that physical things will change.  One can never expect something of a partner.

The Importance of Personal Space

As a disabled person I know a lot about personal space, yet ironically I have little.  Each and every part of my life includes another person supporting me, often in quite intimate ways.  One of the few things I do unsupported is write this blog.

I found out recently that, sadly, not everyone values personal space.  In India, for example, the public transport systems are too crowded.  Commuters sit on each other’s laps without a second thought.  In Japan, they are packed like sardines into underground trains.  The guards wear white gloves and when a carriage is too full for the doors to close they push people in tighter.

I learnt very early on that I had little personal space.  It is something that I never missed, because I never had it to begin with.  However, I also learnt how to value myself.  I learnt that I had the right to invite people into my space and that nobody should expect to be granted access.  I also learnt – the hard way – that many in the care profession will assume they have rights over a client’s space when they do not.

The flip side of this is that I am overly cautious when it comes to other people.  I, perhaps too readily, apologise just for accidentally brushing past someone innocently.  I am not happy to touch anybody without asking first, even my own mother, for obvious contact that may not even need permission.  I value another person’s space, in a way that I cannot value my own.

To everyone, I say that your personal space is important.  When you feel you have none, remember this: it is your choice who enters it.

We should all remember that.

Sex Workers Should No Longer Hide In The Shadows

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In recent days our media has been overtaken by yet another political scandal.  This time it has been alleged that Culture, Media and Sport Secretary John Whittingdale could have been unduly influenced by press reports not published by newspapers when he unknowingly had a relationship with a sex worker and dominatrix.

I strongly feel, as do many others that I know, that the occupation of Mr. Whittingdale’s ex-girlfriend is irrelevant.  In this modern day sex is viewed very differently to the Victorian bygone era.  It is not as shamed as it once was and a lot has been done to legalise the profession.  We now have a multitude of websites set up in order for clients to find local sex workers.  College-aged girls now appear regularly on websites promoting paid-for camsex.  I even watched a programme a few years back where unemployed girls were taking jobs on sex hotlines.  One girl made over £100K per annum!

The sex industry, I feel, should no longer lurk in the dark and dangerous shadows.  In Leeds now, they are promoting safe and open areas where girls can openly solicit between 7pm and 7am every day without fear of prosecution.  This has increased safety for the girls, decreased related crimes and ensures that girls with sex work related issues feel able to come forward to seek help.

There is also the much-touted issue of sex workers and disabled clients.  There are even advertised trips for disabled men to go to Amsterdam, to seek out women who have been specially trained in ‘alternative’ sex.  In an era when disabled people are still sexually repressed and more commonly viewed as asexual, regulating these girls can only lead to positives.

Finally, there is the hot topic of legalising UK brothels.  As the law currently stands, operating a brothel is illegal.  Yet, there are most likely thousands in the UK.  A large percentage of the sex workers have been trafficked, particularly from Eastern European countries.  They speak little or no English.  If the owning and operating of brothels was to be regulated carefully, we would see a drastic decrease in trafficking, as all workers would have to be registered and have the right to work in this country.  We could ensure proper safety standards physically, sexually and by the adherence to employment law.  Not only that, but as a regulated business, it would no longer be a cash-in-hand system: taxes could be levied.

Just look at Amsterdam and Nevada.  The UK could learn a lot.