Asexuality and Me

For as long as I can remember I have felt different to others in many ways and that includes my sexuality. As a child of ten I was asked in the playground ‘are you a lesbian‘ to which I was uncertain what the meant and on asking my mum that night I was told ‘never mention that word in this house ever again’. It was only as I became a teenager I discovered its meaning and why her religious beliefs had led to the comment she had made, which all these years later have never changed.

In my teens amongst the many things the girls of my year chose to bully me over was my music choice as one they could not understand as I love all sorts of music and not just what was in the charts. I remember the day one asked me ‘which member of Take That do you fancy‘, like it was some great important thing to know, to which I answered ‘none of them‘. This was true I didn’t fancy any of them nor did I fancy any other male celebrity such as Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. They also asked if I was a virgin, which I was but the idea of sex was never something that I thought of and furthermore any signs of male genitalia had me running from biology classrooms to the thought of anything (even a tampon) made me frightened from memories my head did not want to remember. This led to me questioning my sexuality every time the subject was brought up.

By the time I reached university in Aberdeen and saw magazines aimed at teenagers with ‘position of the fortnight‘ in them I still had zero interest in it, if anything it made me want to retreat even more at what might be expected of me. I only ever had a fleeting interest in one guy as we spent so much time studying together and even then never thought of kissing him or more. By the time the year 2000 came round and just before my twenty second birthday arrived I finally kissed someone but he wanted more and tried to rape me twice and then stalked me for three months. The only other experience of note was a blind date a few months later, which when my friend text me just before it with ‘don’t kill me after you’ve met him‘ didn’t exactly fill me with confidence! The date itself was awful as he took me to a pub that he was uncertain even if had a woman’s toilet and had zero mutual interests to talk about!

Five years on and I was about to embark on my PhD in England when I invited a friend to visit for the day and he turned the visit into the start of a long distance relationship. On hindsight there were many warning signs: his visits being restricted to monthly (ironic given his initials were PMS), contact was on his terms through MSN (he destroyed his mobile phone sim card so I wouldn’t text him) to sexual things as forced me to have sex with him and perform oral sex, which I still had zero interest in but wanted to make him happy. This led to other issues of a physical kind in terms of pain due to vulvodynia and discovery of spasms from vaginismus as well as blacking out at times too. He was zero support when trying to explain this to a gynaecologist and when we finally split up nine months later I probably had only ever seen him five times. It was a welcome relief as spent every hour he visited in fear at what he wanted and even at night time I could not sleep for the two days he visited for. Although I was in therapy for other issues with my mental health he certainly added to the issues I had there too. The only other person to show any interest in me over the time I lived in England was a guy I knew online and lets just say I could spot his lies a mile off to the negative energy he gave off told me to run for the hills!

Since then I have returned to live where I grew up in Edinburgh, but it was only when going to Aberdeen to see a friend in concert and stay with a second friend that I had my first kiss with a woman, the friend I was staying with. She identified as bisexual and someone (her or a barman) spiked my drink so my memories of the time are hazy and cannot say that kiss was any better or worse than my previous experiences with men. It no more confirmed for me that I am straight, gay or bi as cannot tell from looking at someone if I find them attractive or not as genuinely is their personality that if I am ever to have any level of attraction it will be from. It was only after this experience I learnt of asexuality and realising that is probably what I identify as – a Grey-A.

Over the nine years since that kiss I have grown to accept, appreciate and love me for who I am. I am now 40 years old and beginning to wonder what the whole relationship thing is really about. I have zero interest in apps or online dating and would rather be introduced to someone through a friend. The kiss in Aberdeen showed me that I cannot classify the gender of a person I would be interested in. My experiences in England have shown me the kind of personality I do not want in a partner and those I do want if I did have one. I still have zero sexual attraction or interest in sex with the idea of looking for to having a partner scares the bejeezus out of me and beginning to wonder as I have often felt that it is something just not meant for me…and perhaps just need to accept that.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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The art of being me

On Friday morning I sat for an hour in an art gallery looking at a sea of paintings of people from times past; a few were of religious significance to the Christian faith, others were special commissions to show the sitters proclaimed importance and others were of a person in the crowd watching an event unfold around them. I considered how times had changed as saw people around me reaching for their mobile phones to take selfies of themselves with paintings they liked as captured themselves in that moment. I opened my sketch book and started to think on how I would draw me, with the opening lines of the Ben Folds’ Five song Best imitation of myself playing in my head.
In times past I would have drawn an ogre with big ears and nose, as thought with all the laughing and pointing to comments on how ugly I was that must be a fair representation of how the world saw me. I sometimes wish I had MC Escher’s talents, as love Hand with reflecting sphere as to me it is the ultimate self portrait but it is way beyond my drawing ability as an artist. However, as drawings are highly subjective, unlike photographs that are regarded as non-subjective as fixed in time and space, it made me question who I am at that moment looking at these great works of art.
I have learnt to appreciate, respect and love the woman I am but in my head at first it was more like a cubist portrait by Pablo Picasso, for example Woman in hat and fur collar and The weeping womanIt was then I saw a rag doll image in the style of Picasso enter in my mind, so it was that I focused on as I began to draw. As I drew the form became less rag and Picasso more patchwork one. For each patch was something that had happened in life (good and bad) in the past (be it yesterday, last month or over three decades ago) that has left an impression on the person I am today, stitched together with love, respect and appreciation of those closest to me.
I also acknowledged whilst drawing that I have faults,  I am not perfect, but then again what or who is? I smiled as thought of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, which is  sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. The paintings around me had looked so perfect at first glance and thought of modern popular culture pictures, which are heavily stylised and edited to create images of people that are unrealistic. In the same way I would never know how realistic these paintings were of the people in them and how much was to the artist’s interpretation of the person(s) there in.
As I finished my drawing I decided it belonged only in my sketch book and not have a life beyond the book as not everything we see or do needs the world to see it. For art to me is a personal way of telling the story in heart and soul, life’s journey at that moment in time, giving it voice, sound and colour. Thus, perhaps in time I may paint a picture that looked more like those in the paintings in the gallery, but knew the one in my sketch pad was just as beautiful because it represented some things nobody could take away from or replicate if drawing or painting a portrait of me, as was me by me.
© Fi S. J. Brown

Breaking the invisible wall

As someone with a visual mind I often found when studying for scientific subjects it was easier if I had a visual reference or way of seeing them. It is perhaps for that reason I was drawn to the environmental sciences, not just for my love of the environment and nature but the anthropogenic (human) impacts upon them could be seen, whether that be at the present time with my own eyes or elucidated using proxies for the past such as pollen, seeds, charcoal, diatoms etc under a microscope. When it comes to mental health for many it is the invisible nature of the illnesses I feel that contribute to the continued stigma associated with them. For unless we ourselves or have a close friend/family member it can be very hard to understand let alone empathise with. We see someone with a broke leg or having treatment for cancer we wish them a speedy recovery ot luck with their treatment, with diabetes or asthma although unseen too and for life we accept that they are common human illnesses; yet one in a four adults and one in five children in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, with 1 in 100 being diagnosed with bipolar or schizophrenia at some point in their life. What can be done? How can we break down these invisible walls that we have built to create a them and us scenario?

A bit of background to my own story. I was diagnosed in January 2007 aged 28 with depression and anxiety, however, you can look back to almost 25 years before and there were signs of both due to my acute sensitivity and bullying I experienced from when I first started school in 1983. I had counselling from 2006 to 2007 and psychotherapy from 2007 until 2009, which I have mentioned in previous entries on this blog. In the last few years as I have learnt to respect, appreciate, forgive and I guess love myself for who I am and who she’s not, I have also developed deep friendships that give back what I give them in love, respect and appreciation, which help me daily. The name of this blog is a tribute to one of them who encourages me and my creativity, so my little thank you back to him. For me, one reason I write, photograph, play or make music, and model with clay, is to let the feelings I have their own voice or become beyond what is inside me as would keep them bottled and been told in therapy how much they suffocated me for doing so, thus needed an outlet. I found creativity a great outlet, not just for my aforementioned visual mind but it allowed what I was feeling a way to be seen, they could no longer strangle/suffocate or even hurt me as they were now real and had their voice, but I retained the power that they were trying to take away from me. I also realised by sharing some of my creativity with others it meant it was no longer invisible to them, with some inspiring others to realise their battles were not alone or show how far I had come to become the person I am today.

I am currently job hunting, my past feels like a giant noose around my neck as found many do not understand that we do not fit simply into boxes and some of us do fit two at the same time. I am fed up feeling like the outsider watching in. Equally, having achieved academic qualifications while battling physical and mental illnesses is something I am proud to have achieve, but feedback I have I received is my past is intimidating but impressive…so what can I do? It is not helped by people thinking they can decide what is best for you, when you have tried and tried but just want to give up and only your closest friends saving you from going under completely. However, one thing I know is that I am determined to help inspire and help others, so they do no give up and break this stigma or invisible wall around mental health. As another way to break the wall is for us to work together, showcasing what we can and not what we cannot. In the past to try break the stigma we have created a glut of diagnoses that are really just descriptions of certain patterns of human behaviour, and have not helped. My dream? I am not sure, maybe one day I will be a creative and/or eco therapist of some kind using my passions to help others. Until then here is my hammer breaking down the invisible wall for today, will you join me?

© Fi S. J. Brown

F is for…

I seem to have an issue with the letter ‘F’. My own name of ‘Fiona‘ sent tears of bitterness and sadness to my teenage self, bullied and abused for being myself, which others found something to pick holes in till I felt I resembled more a Swiss cheese than a human being. “Nobody is friends with Fiona” any new pupil starting my year of high school was told, one that tried was reputed to have been pushed and shoved along a corridor for daring to try to break this. Depression often called.

This in turn lent to me turning ‘Fiona‘ into ‘Freak‘, for who would want to befriend or date this girl that looked like the love child of Frankenstein and the Hunchback of Notre Dame? I could not look in the mirror for its contents scared me that felt it would laugh back at me or even shatter to cause seven more years of misery. I had people stop and laugh in the street or in their cars pointing and laughing at me, so thought why do I not just die and end this miserable existence?

It was only through using my camera to record the world through my eyes that things started to change. I took a picture of myself in Italy and saw the real me staring back at me; nobody was laughing, pointing fingers or mocking me for having my eyes shut. However, I did not understand who this woman was and nearly did not stop to find out as decided the next year whilst on antidepressants to finally end it, jumping under a train seemed the best way to make my curtain call on life.

I was caught just in time but the misery was far from over. In the following few days I was told by family they were coming to “take me back to Scotland where I belonged”! I never felt so frightened in my life, ringing round social services to mental health helplines, nobody would answer me what I should do. Eventually I got a brother based in England to get them to stop and finally I could breath, and put down my dressing robe rope that was in hand to hang from the tree in my garden.

The years that followed I did end up back in Scotland but some things were different, I end up seeing me the woman not the ‘freak‘ of my head. She was and is highly intelligent, quirky and creative not a freak of a mad scientist that needed to be put down like a sick dog. I also learnt instead of ‘Fiona‘, my friends could use ‘Fi’ and I was mostly alright with that even if didn’t feel always me. However, the F decided it wanted to change from ‘freak‘ into a new word – ‘Failure’.

I have spent now three years with this F word teasing me like the others before it. I feel a failure to humanity, that some how I am not living life the way it is meant to be, always an outsider watching in. Unable to do the ‘normal’ things people do like gain a ‘proper‘ job or move away from where I don’t belong to having partner/companion of my own. My high school physics teacher remarked on how I could always do the advanced stuff but not the basics, which feels like an echo of my life.

However, tonight something has clicked in my head, I feel a new F word is dawning, that word is ‘fine‘. I am ‘fine‘ the way I am, not everyone leads life the same way and it is okay to follow our own path not going the same as every other one. I have no idea what my purpose to what my dreams really are, but that’s okay as I am not frightened. Where will I be this time next month or year, I do not know, but what I do know is that all will be just ‘fine’ in the end and suitably Fi-shaped.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Labels

Yesterday I went to a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Joe Sellman-Leava entitled ‘Labels’, which told of Joe growing up in rural south west England in the 1990s, the questions and comments about his dual heritage, and also examined the way we use words, the line between curiosity and fear, and the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric.

It got me thinking of the topic of labels, which I often tell people when they try put them on me that they belong on foods not human beings. We put labels in theory to group us together, but in fact they put distances between us as see someone that does not have the same label as us as different or we use them as a way to stigmatise someone for being different. When no two humans are ever truly unique, including identical twins, why do labels continue to give labels such power?

Joe told us how his surname is unique to five people, his parents/siblings/himself and the story of how it came to be. It made consider how relatively common my own surname is the UK, one name shared among 1000s of people on this small island alone, and in some ways I felt jealous for a moment of Joe’s uniqueness but at the same time how grateful there would not be the racist comments, hate and impressions his parents encountered with my own surname.

It also made me reflect on to my first name, which I hate. Why do I hate it, as it is a very strong word to use for one’s own name? Quite simply it goes back to my teenage years when I was badly bullied, any new pupil starting at my secondary or high school were told “nobody is friends with Fiona“. The stigma and pain of that cut me like a thousand blades ripping into my skin and still bearing the scars almost twenty years later. My family nickname was Oni, which my eldest brother always added “moanie” too, because I questioned things and did not want to be forced to do certain things that he or other people wanted me to do. So I use Fi, which is the name all my closest friends use and feels right when I hear or see them use.

My middle names I do not like either. Sarah is after my great aunt of the same name, in many ways my surrogate grandmother and not an easy woman to like, which my father would agree upon as told me a few years back it was only added as he registered me as it would “keep the old bat happy“! My other middle is Jane after Sarah’s sister, my actual grandmother, that died when my mother was but a toddler and so have no idea who this woman was. However, as a name it jars on my ears, as my mother would shout – “Lady Jane“, whenever she felt I had done anything to ire her as a child.

My nationality – Anglo-Scot, not Scottish or English or even British; my father was from North West England and my mother South West Scotland, thereby making me a “half-breed” (as I have been called in the past). I have never felt I could claim to be Scots or English as feel a mix of both but perhaps more culturally I identify with England than Scotland. for I am certainly no Braveheart or SNP supporter (no I don’t vote Conservative/Labour/UKIP before your mind wanders).

My father would reinforce my Englishness when any major sports events were on television, when the UK played as different nations, and tell me I should be supporting England as I was English. Both my brothers, unlike me, speak and read Scots; if I hear it spoken I have been known to ask for subtitles as don’t always follow what is being said. When I meet people from my home city I get told after saying yes I grew up here, “oh well, you don’t sound local“! Yes I have moved around the UK and lived briefly in Italy but found that remark curious and led me to ponder “well where do I sound like I’m from“?!

When applying for jobs, the so called “Equal opportunities form” many companies ask for along with an application form wants information on us relating to gender to race, religion, sexuality and disability, all of which for me are labels that we use to box people in and expect them to be a certain way before we even meet them. Do these forms really make things equal or as excuses not employ certain people, and even so they can meet some secret criteria in certain areas?

Thinking of the question of race, I often find companies try split White into White Scottish and White English not White British or simply White, I suddenly find myself questioning how the River Tweed can mark such a difference on an island that they need to have two distinct labels and which one or neither am I? I have close friends that would be identified as being of mixed race, my mother once remarked one was “half something“, to which I responded “English like me” before leaving her to wallow in the mire she’d created. I do not see race but the person I am talking to and their personality.

Thinking of race made me remember a supermarket chain, which now no longer existing in the UK, many of my friends said of their branch in Aberdeen how diverse the staff were c.f. another no longer existing chain that they were so white they were transparent! When a friend worked for the second company she found they did have a few (‘token’) non-white people working behind the scenes as were almost ashamed to have them seen and/or served by the public! Was this a reflection of late 1990s/early 2000s Britain, or was it company policy at that time?

Another question on the forms is religious belief. To me belief is a very personal thing, and because of certain events to stories in the media certain religions are seen a certain way. If someone is a Muslim, it leads to an automatic label of terrorist by many, without trying to see the media is painting a false picture of many peaceful people like you or I but identify their beliefs in this way. To me it should not matter if you worship an afro haired Martian to a man who died on a cross, as long as you do not use it as a way to excuse behaviour that hurts or exclude others.

Then there is the question of sexual orientation, this almost always gives me a heavy sigh to read, does it matter to my work who I choose as my partner in my personal life if does not impact upon on my working life? As someone that has no sexual desire, i.e. asexual, to be asked if I’m heterosexual, gay, bisexual or prefer not to say is awkward and feel I can never give a truthful answer as I am attracted to neither gender and do not identify myself in such a way. Due to our beliefs above we can use them as an excuse or reason to dislike someone due to how they perceive some that is perhaps gay or bisexual to be without getting to know them, the same way some may with their religious beliefs.

The question though I am most scared to answer is on disability, do I consider myself disabled? No I do not. However, I have been diagnosed with depression, fibromyalgia, and dyspraxia, any of them could be seen as a disability but to me they are part of the colours that make me, well me. I have been called names and labelled all sorts relating to all of these, but it is perhaps my dyspraxia that I had the worst bullying and abuse as people do not understand or know of it. Mental health I have had people find my honesty on my battles helps them be more open rather than wear their diagnosis with pain or a jumper to keep them warm as defines them now rather than let their personality not the label show.

I may continue to dislike labels, particularly when used as a way to define me that I am not. I often fall between two so how is one or either truly a reflection of me as an individual? Is it not time we saw beyond a label and saw the person? I believe by listening to those that experience different aspects of life helps us understand and grow as people. So put down The Sun, Daily Mail or The Guardian, The Times, and explore the world for ourselves not through dirty spectacles. Finally, if in Edinburgh do go to Joe’s show as it certainly is powerful stuff and thought provoking work.

© Fi S. J. Brown

All about me

I live life simply without excess and questioning not wanting. Taking things slowly like the tortoise, for I may belong to the human race but I will not to run in the rat race. I fall asleep when my body has had enough for the day, and rise when the sun taps out her message on my window to awaken me with birds singing their song. I sit looking out of windows day dreaming as I like to listen to the rhythm of rain falling on leaves, which seems like Morse Code giving me a message of hope and dry my own tears. I love to write not because I want to be the next J K Rowling but because there many stories yet unspoken and/or unheard. I choose to help another because I can and there is much darkness in the world without adding to it. I ask nothing of the world in return, but feel its love in my heart and soul, for it is enough.

© Fi S. J. Brown

My story

Why are those things you admire most in others the hardest to find within yourself?
No matter matter how hard I try I am destined to be the one left unsold on the shelf.

I’m tired of endless searching high and low for what seems to be hidden from sight,
My place is stood shadows not to be hogging front of stage under a big spotlight.

For my expectations of life are not all that great with no dreams fame and fortune,
But a simple life with a job, dog and house by the sea with less tears and misfortune.

I watched the others flying, rising and soaring far and wide in the sunrise at dawn,
Perhaps I am meant to fly at night with the moon when the world is full of yawn?

For now I need to keep believing it again repeating the words that they taught,
And I’ll have to keep being patient, waiting a bit more and finalised my story’s plot.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Who I am

Unpredictable reflections from reality, deep thoughts from life, haunting sounds of silence, and cries from the voiceless, keep my mind busy. What makes me happy is: a beautiful piece of art from painting to music; a serene scene from skimming stones lakeside to on top of a mountain; good news from friends near or far; and a message or hug from one I hold in heart and soul. It is the simple things I am grateful for.

I prefer to see the diamonds of the sky or beach to ones on my finger or neck, and flowers in my hair or in the garden than an animal in a zoo or laboratory. Laughter and lunch with friends, rather than mocking and munches with uncaring colleagues. Talk music, philosophy, art and politics, than get drunk, stoned, laid and dizzy. The free spirit who only wants the best for those she loves and will let her be who she is without ever trying to clip her wings. This is who I am.

© Fi S. J. Brown