Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Asexuality at SF pride 2011

Last weekend, I went to a pride parade for the first time.  I marched in SF pride 2011 as part of the asexual contingent.

But first, the day before the parade, we had a party at David Jay's house.  Which, of course, means cake.


I met a bunch of cool people, and a nonempty subset of those cool people are also well-known in asexual circles. Some shout outs: There was Dallas, the asexual sexologist.  Southpaw and Cale, vloggers on Hot Pieces of Ace.  Lizzie from tumblr.  Cerberus, who blogs at Singularly Bizarre, and is part of the Order of the Molly.  And of course, Ily from Asexy Beast, though I already knew her.  Some of these people came from very far away.

In previous years this party time was used to make signs for the parade, but this year we had someone design the art to give us a more organized look (to be shown further down).  So instead, we organized a conference on the spot.  We came up with topics, organized them into sessions, and had volunteer facilitators.  Topics included future directions for the community, asexuals on TV, the DSM, kinky asexuals, and so on.

On the day of the parade, we actually spent a lot more time waiting to march than actually marching.  We have to wait for everyone else to go first.  So we spent that time setting up and dancing.

 Click for a bigger picture of DJ dancing on roller blades, sporting our shirt and an asexual flag cape.

In front of us was some union group.  Behind us were Amnesty... and the East Bay Atheists.  I know some of them!  I have one last shout out for Greta Christina who was marching with the East Bay Atheists.  I stopped to talk to her at one point, but of course she has no idea who I am.

Ingrid and Greta

Since we had asexual flags handy, I commented that we have no pictures on the internet of these flags waving around in the sky.  Well, now we do.

Taking pictures of flags is so hard...

After the long period of waiting, we finally got to march.  Being in the group, I couldn't take any good pictures of this, so here's one that someone else took.

 Click for bigger.  Image credit: Amanda

Not sure what else there is to say about the parade, but it was a lot of fun.

After the march, I bought a shirt that said, "I'm not gay, but my boyfriend is". I'm sure slightlymetaphysical will get a kick out of that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The pink beast

I heard this story, which at first, I didn't know what to make of.

The story focuses on a YouTube sensation.  In the YouTube video, he and another man are dressed in big body suits that look a bit like Big Bird.  They're playing with a little baby, who is crawling all over their big fluffy costumes.  The other man needs to go, so he turns to leave and starts walking away.  And then our man delivers the punchline.  Holding out the baby he says, "Hey!  You forgot your baby!"

But the YouTube video itself isn't really relevant.  Later, the guy hears a legend about a great pink beast somewhere at the bottom of a particular lake.  Somehow he becomes convinced that this pink beast is the spirit of his dead wife.  So he meets with a local man, who is extremely skeptical, but willing to help.  To get the beast to reveal itself, he drives a car into the lake, as the local man stands by to help.

After he swims out of the car and lake, he starts shouting that there's something there.  The local man rushes to the edge of the lake, and watches the water, which has suddenly become clear.  The dirt at the bottom moves around until a small ledge appears, which lifts up, becoming the ceiling of an impossible cave.  Inside, clear as day, is the pink beast.  I saw clear video documentation of this, and I thought the beast looked like a buffalo.

The story ends there.  I puzzled about the explanation.  Clearly the beast isn't really his dead wife.  Could the two men be liars and hoaxers?  Maybe Brian Dunning should do an episode about this.

Then I woke up, and the explanation became obvious.  This also explains why the man was wearing his Big Bird costume as he drove into the lake.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

LGBTA: Building offline spaces

I wrote this essay for the Carnival of Aces.  I would very much like if it is not the only entry, so please consider contributing before July 1st!

Tomorrow I'm marching in SF Pride with an asexual group.  But why do I bother trying to educate LGBTQ people about asexuality?  The easy answer is that LGBTQ people are just as good targets for education as any other group.  The other answer is about community.

Building an asexual community is damn important, perhaps even more important than countering BS from external sources.   If you encounter erasure and alienation, coming home to a community you trust can make it better. To my mind, erasure is bad not merely because it makes people feel invisible, but also because it makes it hard to find and form communities.  Most of my life I felt confused, not as a direct consequence of erasure, but because erasure prevented me from learning about asexual identity and the asexual community.  Community matters.

Speaking of community, I'm aware that at least a few asexuals in the asexual blogosphere are here because they had some problem with the AVEN forums.  Let me tell you why I'm here.  I have never had any horrible drama on AVEN (sorry to deprive you of the schadenfreude).  There have been some people I've disagreed with, and people I've really disliked, but they never chased me away.  In fact, I'm still on AVEN, posting at the same steady rate I always have.  But I don't feel I have made any real friends or connections through AVEN.  The members of AVEN just seem like a collection of faces I recognize.  But there are too many of them, and they move too fast.  I treat AVENites as a means to finding ideas, and have trouble treating them as people in themselves.

This happens on every internet forum I've ever been on.  What can I say, forums just aren't my thing.  Blogs are my thing.  I feel far more connection to my readers and other bloggers than to any forumite.

But what about people who don't feel comfortable on forums OR blogs?  What if they don't feel comfortable on tumblr, on podcasts, on YouTube?  What if they don't feel much connection to any kind of internet community at all?  Such people, by their nature, have very little voice in an internet community, but we need to think of them.

I believe that many of these people who want offline spaces first consider joining the LGBTQ community.  It's what I did, anyways.  To a novice asexual, it made sense.  I needed a support group for minority sexualities.  LGBTQ was the only thing that offered it.  It also offered community centers, student organizations, counseling services, big national organizations, and political goals I cared about.  So I tried it, cautiously at first, going to a few student group meetings as an ally.  Long story short, it transformed my social life, and I found all the support I needed and more.

But I have read many accounts of asexuals trying the same thing, with horribly negative results.  It's unsettling to think that my success was dependent on a number of lucky coincidences.  Luckily, the group had at least heard of asexuality.  Luckily, they knew enough not to say horrible things about it.  Luckily, I identified as borderline gay and asexual after a few months.  Luckily, I'm not averse to sex.  Luckily, I had previous experience with student groups, and had the persistence to make the experience worthwhile.

The asexuals who are not so lucky?  Probably most are scared away by the very image of the LGBT community, and never even try seeing it for themselves.  Those who aren't scared by the image may find the reality even scarier.  There are queers who are naively sex-positive (because everyone wants sex).  There are gay people who don't believe in bisexuality, much less asexuality (if they've even heard of it).  There are queers who make lots of noise about hate, but think erasure is not worth mention.  I bet most asexuals don't even get as far as coming out to the group.

Remember, many of the people I'm talking about are novice asexuals.  It's true that there are all kinds of LGBTQ groups and spaces.  It's true that LGBTQ people need some spaces to talk about sexual things that would make most asexuals uncomfortable.  But do you think the asexual who is just stepping into a community for the first time appreciates that?  Who wants to deal with all that when you're just trying to figure yourself out?

My concerns are pragmatic.  Asexuals are wandering into LGBT spaces, either by accident, or because they have no better community to go to.  I would like it if the communities they wander into know how to deal with them.  Start by being educated.  Then make it clear that you're educated, so you don't scare asexuals before they even come out.  And if you can't provide a safe space, figure out where you can redirect them.  These are very basic things to ask for, but they could go such a long way to helping.

I found a community, and I want others to have the same opportunity.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Massive and massless electrons

Some seemingly unrelated questions:
  1. Now that I've explained electronic band structure, what are its consequences?
  2. Why is it that some materials conduct electricity with electrons, and some conduct with holes?
  3. What is so scientifically exciting about graphene that it won a Nobel Prize?
Effective mass

In classical physics, we have the following equation for kinetic energy:
E = 1/2 mv2 
Earlier, I said k was the quantum analogue of velocity.  I lied.  k is really the quantum analogue of momentum, which is mass times velocity.  For some reason (silly physicists!) momentum is represented by the letter p.  So this is another equation for kinetic energy:
E = 1/2 p2/m
So if we just replace p with k, we get the quantum analogue:*
E = 1/2 k2/m
The important thing is that this relationship depends on m, the mass.

The sharper the curve of the parabola, the smaller the mass it represents.

That's the picture of particles in a vacuum.  But in a crystal, the picture is more complicated.  In my explanation of electronic band structure, I left off with this image:
The four lines represent possible states for electrons within a crystal.  But as I said before, I am only showing a part of the electronic band structure, namely, the "first Brillouin Zone".  That's because the rest of the band structure is just repeating.  Here, three copies are shown:
This picture of electrons in a crystal is very different from the electrons in a vacuum.  And yet, there are some places where they're nearly the same.  Near points A, C, and E, you can see the similar parabola shape that you would see in a vacuum.  However, some of these parabolas are more sharply curved than others.  That tells you something about the electron's "effective mass".  An electron at point A would have a smaller effective mass than an electron at point E.  The effective mass tells you something about how the electrons respond to a voltage.

*I am ignoring some constants.  Or, as physicists say, I'm setting h-bar equal to one.


Notice that there are also upside-down parabolas at points D and B.  Do electrons at these points behave as if they have negative mass?

The answer is yes, sort of.  Except you won't really find any electrons at points D and B.  An electron at B will just naturally fall down towards point C, and an electron at D will fall down towards point E.  The only way to really prevent this is if there are already electrons occupying those lower states.

Imagine, if you will, that there are electrons occupying all of the states on the green line.  Electrons at point B cannot fall down because no two electrons are allowed to occupy the same state.  But if the electrons cannot move along the curve, they can't conduct electricity!

So now imagine that electrons occupy nearly all the states on the green line.  There are a few empty states at the top, near B.  Electrons at B have negative effective mass.  But a lack of an electron at B would have a positive effective mass.  We call this abstraction a hole.  Like electrons, holes have a positive mass (because it is a lack of a negative effective mass), and unlike electrons, holes have positive charge (because it is a lack of a negative charge).

One of the easiest ways to observe holes is by measuring the Hall Effect.  Without going into detail, the Hall Effect creates a voltage which is proportional to the charge of the particles that carry the electricity.  So in materials that conduct by holes, the Hall voltage is in the opposite direction you would expect.


Graphene is a 2-dimensional material made of carbon atoms in a honeycomb pattern.

I can't really explain all the scientifically interesting things about graphene, but I can explain one thing that has to do with its band structure.  Since graphene is 2-d, we have to draw the band structure with a 3-d graph.  The horizontal directions represent the two components of k, while the vertical direction represents E, the energy.

(Image credit)

That's a bit hard to look at, so we'll just zoom into the important part, at one of the corners of the black hexagon.
This is what's called the Dirac Cone.  It appears because of certain symmetries in the graphene structure.  What's interesting about it is that it does not look like a parabola.  E is not proportional to k2, but is instead proportional to k.  Translating to classical physics, E is proportional to momentum.

It turns out that in classical physics, there is another situation when E is proportional to momentum.  It's true of massless particles, such as light.  And so, electrons on the Dirac Cone behave as if they are massless.  (If you like, you can think of the cone as being an infinitely sharp curve.)  Electrons on the Dirac Cone are relativistic particles!  If that sounds exciting, imagine how it sounds to a physicist.

That concludes today's answers to physics questions you thought you'd never understand.  Until next time...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The premiere of (A)sexual

Over the weekend, I saw the world premiere of the documentary (A)sexual at the Frameline International LGBT Film Festival.

To be honest, I did not entirely expect to give this film a positive review.  I thought that, since I'm an asexual blogger, I'd inevitably spot something horribly wrong with the film.  I'm also not a fan of the documentary genre.  And to top it all off, I'm one of those movie critics who gives movies thumbs down by default.

But I liked this film.  It opened with a bunch of people on white screens giving their first reactions to the word "asexual".  They're fairly standard ignorant reactions, though told in a funny way.  The audience was laughing the whole time.  Eventually, these reactions become juxtaposed with further information showing the fundamental mistakes being made.  Many topics are introduced this way, including "Do asexuals masturbate?", "Shouldn't you try sex first?", "Can asexuals fall in love?", and "Why should asexuals ever want to gather?"

The main thread of the movie was a profile of David Jay, the founder of  We get to see DJ's mad rollerblading skills.  We see people recoiling from him at the Pride Parade, as if he were contagious (or cheering him on enthusiastically).  We see his close relationship (romantic? non-romantic?) with a couple, and the subsequent breakup.  This is great, because it provided a much-needed depiction of not just romantic and aromantic asexuals, but asexuals who fail to fit the binary.

Other asexuals are profiled too.  The ones that got the most screen-time were Swank Ivy (creator of educational YouTube videos), an asexual couple, and this older woman whose asexuality was a life-long experience.  A few of the people were portrayed as rather eccentric (one person in the couple demonstrated her nail-in-nose trick), but it was humanizing rather than excessive.

Of course, I'd inevitably spot something wrong, so despite my positive review I must also devote some words to my biggest complaint.  Basically, there is no mention of the sexual/asexual spectrum (except in the Q&A session).  Being on that spectrum, I naturally consider this important.

The movie correctly defines asexuality as not experiencing sexual attraction.  But as far as the movie is concerned, the major consequence of this is not being interested in having sex.  It's made pretty clear that asexuals can and do have sex, but it's mostly assumed that they'd really rather not.  As far as generalizations go, this is a pretty accurate one, but there are exceptions.  And the exceptions become more frequent as you consider people on the asexual/sexual spectrum.  But that spectrum was never mentioned, not as far as I recall.

The closest approach was an interview with DJ after his breakup.  He said he was interested in trying out partnered relationships rather than community relationships for a change.  And then, clearly conflicted about it, he said that sex might have to be part of that, since it's hard to find partnered relationships without it.  Frankly, this interview was confusing.  In the Q&A session, someone asked if he didn't feel like he was betraying the community by saying such things.  On the contrary!  That short interview was the closest the film came to representing the asexual/sexual spectrum, as well as the whole possibility of asexual/sexual relationships.  I just wish it had been portrayed more fully and positively.

My boyfriend thought the asexual couple seemed a bit tokenized.  I'm not sure how he caught this, but it's true.  Romantic asexuals are common; actual asexual couples are not.  But for some reason the public is enamored with the idea, so the AVEN media team always has to have a couple handy.  The same does not hold true of asexual/sexual relationships, even though I suspect they are slightly more prevalent.
Update March 2012:  Someone from the couple told me she did not feel she was tokenized.  Looking back, I'm not really sure what I meant either.  Therefore I retract the statement.

This documentary will show in Newfest film festival in New York in July.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What is electronic band structure?

I'm gonna do it!  I'm going to attempt the impossible: to explain electronic band structure for a lay audience.

Why should you care about electronic band structure?

Condensed matter physics is one of the largest fields of physics with some of the biggest practical applications.  Pretty much all of our electronics are built on it.  Now, this knowledge is neither necessary, nor helpful to our everyday use of electronics.  But doesn't it bother you that you don't know the first thing about it?  That is, you don't have any idea what electronic band structure is?

There is a reason you've never heard of it.  Unless you've taken courses in quantum mechanics, electronic band structure is a very inaccessible concept.  And yet, it's one of the most basic concepts in condensed matter physics.  So let's do this!

First, a familiar concept
E = 1/2 mv2
Does this look familiar?  This is the equation for E, the kinetic energy of an object, given v, its velocity.  We're going to analyze the heck out of this equation.  Look, a graph!
In the above graph, v is simply a number, positive or negative.  But in reality, v is a vector, containing components in x direction, y direction, and z direction.  If we were to include two directions, this is what the graph would look like:

But that's complicated, so we'll just consider v in a single direction.

But now we have to add in quantum mechanics.  Even if you understand nothing about quantum mechanics, you probably know it has to do with combining the concepts of particles and waves.  It turns out that the velocity of a particle is proportional to how much the wave goes up and down per unit length.  We usually call this quantity k, the wavenumber, which is defined as 2 pi times the number of cycles per meter.

E is proportional to v2, which is proportional to k2.  And so, if we were to graph E vs k, it would look like this:
Congratulations!  We've just constructed an electronic band structure!

Band structure in a crystal

The band structure we constructed is the band structure in a vacuum.  That is, if we have electrons in a vacuum, then each electron will fall somewhere along that line.  But most electrons are not wandering freely in vacuums, they're trapped in sold objects.  For simplicity's sake, I will only consider the simplest of solid objects, a crystal.  A crystal is a solid which has a repeating structure.

Now I'm going to wave my hands around wildly.  Woooo!  Math omitted!  A repeating crystal structure leads to a repeating band structure.  (Mind you, the crystal is repeats in space, while the band structure repeats in k.  k is measured in units of inverse meters, so it's more like the reciprocal of space.)
But if the band structure is just repeating itself, then we might as well keep only the first copy.  In other words, we'll limit k to the "first Brillouin Zone".
Okay, but we forgot something.  The electrons are attracted to the atomic nuclei, and repelled by each other.  This changes the energy of the electrons in ways that are difficult to calculate.  But qualitatively, the effect is most noticeable whenever those lines cross each other.  That's because when the lines cross, it's easy for electrons to exist in a superposition of those two lines (and that's all the explanation you'll get out of me).
The dashed lines represent the original band structure, and the solid lines are our correction.

Okay.  So far, pretty simple (I see people in the audience shaking their heads saying, "Um... not simple, no.").  But as we add more dimensions, we can get even stranger-looking band structures.  For example, this is the band structure of graphene:

The horizontal axes are k in the x and y directions.  The vertical axis is E.  The black hexagon represents the first Brillouin Zone.

My point in showing this is to demonstrate that the electronic band structure can be quite complicated, and look very different for different kinds of solids.


And now I'm going to connect the band structure with another concept which you might find familiar.  In an atom, electrons have discrete energy states.  It's almost as if electrons are only allowed to be in certain orbits around the nucleus.

Of course, this is not an accurate picture of electrons (which are waves, not just particles), but it's still true that electrons have discrete energy levels.  This is true of the electronic band structure as well.  I drew a continuous line, but in reality it is a set of discrete points.
And so, electrons are only allowed to have certain values of E and k.

How many points are there?  Well, how many atoms are there in the crystal?  The answer: millions of billions of billions.  So I might as well draw the band structure as continuous.

And yet, the fact that E and k are discrete has an important consequence.  According to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, no two electrons* may have the same values of E and k.  And we also know that there are millions of billions of billions of electrons.  As a result, the electrons fill up all those energy levels, starting with the lowest energies, going upwards, until we run out of electrons.

*ignoring spin

Note that if we ignore k, we actually get bands of allowed energies.  And sometimes there are gaps between these bands, where no electrons are allowed to exist.  Physicists call these energy bands, and energy gaps.  It's not uncommon for electrons to exactly fill up an entire energy band, right up to the energy gap.

The electronic band structure is the set of allowed energies and k-values of electrons.  In a vacuum, E just has to be proportional to k2 (due to kinetic energy), but in a solid object, we have to consider the energy of attraction to nuclei and repulsion from other electrons.  This results in distortions in the relationship between E and k, and may even create energy gaps.  Energy gaps are values of energy which are forbidden to electrons.

Since there are lots of electrons, and they obey the Pauli Exclusion Principle, they fill up the electronic band structure, from the lowest energies upwards.

Now that I've explained the electronic band structure, you may look back at my post on semiconductors, which may make a bit more sense.  I also hope to write a few more essays explaining other things that should now make sense.  In the meantime, are there any questions?

All images, except those credited, were created by me.  They may be used if they are attributed.  I think 11 images in one post is some kind of record for me.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What happened to BASS?

Long time readers know that last year I was president of BASS, the Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists, a student group at UCLA.  Of course, I want to compare BASS during my regime to BASS now.  If it's doing worse now, that means that maybe I wasn't so terrible a president as I thought.  If it's doing better now, that means things are looking up for BASS.  Since I'll feel good about either result, I guess I don't even need to know the results before feeling good!

Being in another city, I don't know what's going on with BASS most of the time, but I can still stalk them on Facebook.  Here are some of the events they held this year:

They had a UFOlogist come over to speak, AND they made a bunch of cool hand-drawn posters, AND they made alien-head shaped cookies for the event.

 They counter-protested the Westboro Baptist Church (the "God Hates Fags" people), who in addition to picketing funerals, also picket at the Golden Globes every year.

They had Rebecca Watson give a talk: "The Religious Right vs Every Woman on Earth".

They went to a Hammer Museum exhibit called Demon Hill, which was based on those "gravitational mystery spots".

Brian Dunning gave a talk: "Myth or Miracle: The Virgin of Guadalupe".

I'm sure I left other things out too.

If you were paying attention, you noticed that the Rebecca Watson poster mentions two student groups: BASS and Bruin Atheists.  Bruin Atheists is a new spinoff group, with some overlapping membership.  When I was at UCLA, there was a similar spinoff group called Infidels, but unlike Infidels, it appears that Bruin Atheists will survive past its first year.

I consider this a positive development.  As the single skeptical group and single atheist group, BASS served multiple purposes, which, while not in competition with each other, were hard to do all at once.  Bruin Atheists helps pick up some of the slack.  Also, if one of the groups goes defunct or fails to produce much activity, the other group will still survive.  On a related note, BASS is also considering renaming itself to Bruin Skeptics.

I am also happy to report that more women participated in BASS and Bruin Atheists this year.  They might even outnumber the straight men now.  A few of them were officers; I hope more become officers next year.

I believe the results show that BASS is doing better this year.  Big thumbs up to the co-presidents Tommy and Jenny!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Necessity isn't so necessary

Following my retrospective on the ontological argument, I just remembered another thing I always thought was funny about it.  According to the argument, part of God's definition is that God necessarily exists.  But why?

I can just imagine, what if there were some powerful being which shared every property with God, except for the necessary existence.  That is, this being is exactly like God in every way, except that unlike God, it only exists in our world, not every possible world.  By definition, this being would not be God.  After all, it's not the greatest being imaginable.  We can imagine a being that is greater: one that exists in every possible world, not just ours.

But a fine distinction that would be if in our world, we're being subjugated/loved/ignored by an all-powerful and vengeful/benevolent/passive being!  I don't know about you, but I'd call that thing a god, even if it doesn't quite fit the definition in the ontological argument.  As for those other possible worlds where the being doesn't exist, who cares about 'em?  Depending on who you ask, there isn't even any metaphysical significance to the other possible worlds, they're just ideas.

That leaves the ontological argument in a funny position.  The god it argues for does not necessarily have any of the properties we normally assign to a god.  But it does have this extra property, necessary existence, which I do not think is necessary to qualify a being as a god.  Does it really have anything to do with gods, or is it just a logical game, as I've been treating it?  (Also applies to nearly every other philosophical argument for gods.)

And yes, I do have some idea of how ontological argument proponents would respond.  A transcendent being such as a god must also transcend all possible worlds, thus necessary existence is an inseparable quality of God.  But if we understand other possible worlds as mere ideas, this doesn't make any sense.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The rigged card game

I place nine cards on a table, 1 through 9, face down.  They are grouped in triplets.  First you pick a triplet, and then I pick another triplet.  Then we each reveal a random card from the triplet we picked, and the higher card wins.

I know what cards are in which triplets, but I don't know which random cards we will reveal within those triplets.  How can I arrange the cards such that, no matter which triplet you pick, I am more likely to win than you?

(This game is taken from an article by Martin Gardner called "Nontransitive Paradoxes", which attributed it to Leo Moser and J. W. Moon.)

See solution

Monday, June 6, 2011

Solution to the confused passenger

See the original puzzle

This puzzle can be solved by induction.  First consider the 2-passenger case, and then see what happens when we increment the number of passengers.  You will find that no matter how many passengers there are, there is always a 50% chance that the last passenger gets the correct seat.

However, there's another way to solve it.  Do like physicists do: ignore all details of the problem and just consider the symmetries.

Let's number all the passengers from 1 to 100 in the order that they board.  By the time passenger 100 boards, seats 2-99 are guaranteed to be filled.  Among the seats 1 and 100, exactly one is filled. But none of the passengers 1 to 99 make any distinction between seats 1 and 100.  (In other words, seats 1 and 100 are symmetric with respect to switching.)  Therefore, seat 1 and 100 are equally likely to be filled, each with a 50% chance.

The malicious passenger

1% of the time, the confused passenger sits in his own seat, which allows the final passenger to get the correct seat.  The other 99% of the time, the confused passenger acts exactly like the malicious passenger.  Therefore, we get the following equation:

0.5 = 0.01 * 1 + 0.99 * X

...where X is the probability that the final passenger gets the correct seat if the first passenger is malicious.

Solving for X, the probability is 49/99

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Privilege is not ordered

One of the words commonly thrown around by social justice advocates is "privilege".  A privilege is simply some sort of benefit or advantage that a certain group has.  It's a fairly basic concept, but I'm not sure I'm a fan.  It seems to breed a lot of misconceptions, like the idea that privileges are always bad.

As an example, one privilege straight people have is the ability to go through life without labels for their sexual identity.  Arguably, this privilege is unavoidable, as long as straight people are in the majority.  All the same, if you are aware of this privilege, you should understand why it is insensitive to tell queer people not to bother with labels.

Another big misconception is the idea that groups are ordered from most privileged to least privileged.  In truth, two groups can each be privileged over the other in different ways.  For example, consider white women and black men.  It may be the case that one group has more privileges than the other (supposing that you found some way to quantify "more privileges"), but nonetheless, each group has at least a few privileges that the other does not.

As another example, consider aromantic and romantic asexuals.*  Romantics are privileged over aromantics because people are less likely to think they are devoid of all emotion.  Aromantics are privileged over romantics because in non-romantic relationships they generally aren't expected to be sexual.

*If you don't recall, romantic asexuals are the ones who are interested in romantic relationships, and aromantics are the ones who are not.

I feel this is a fairly obvious point, and if people miss it, it's because they just haven't taken a moment to think about it.  I guess this will be a short post!

For the fallacy geeks: What kind of logical fallacy is this?  I'm thinking it's a false dilemma: either group A has privileges over group B, or group B has privileges over group A.  Or maybe it's tu quoque:  "I have privileges?  You have privileges too!"  This is a fallacy because pointing out another person's privileges does nothing to refute the existence of one's own privileges.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Carnival of Aces 3: Call for participation

Welcome to the 3rd edition of A Carnival of Aces, the asexual blogging carnival!

Your host this month is me, miller (aka Siggy), and the theme is community.  I intentionally picked a very broad theme, because that's what I like.  Here are a few possible ideas:
  • How do you feel about the asexual community?  What are some interesting aspects of it?
  • Are you part of other communities?  What's it like to be asexual in those communities?
  • We talk so much on partnered relationships, but how do you feel about the idea of relationships with whole communities?
The above list is incomplete, of course.  If you talk about how great/terrible any particular community is, keep in mind that some readers and writers may have opposite impressions and opinions as you do, so try not to insult them with generalizations!

How to submit an article 

Send me an e-mail at skepticsplay at gmail dot com, or leave a comment on this post.  The deadline to submit is July 1st.  Unlike previous hosts, I'm unwilling to host guest posts on my own blog, but Sciatrix offered to host any guest posts if it's necessary.

About the Carnival of Aces

A blogging carnival is an event in which many people write blog posts around a single theme. These posts are then collected at the end of the carnival and linked together by the carnival’s host.  For example, the previous edition was about the intersection between race/ethnicity/culture/nationality and the asexual identity.

This blog carnival is an effort to encourage a variety of different voices to speak about asexuality from their own perspectives. Anyone can participate, but the responses should deal with asexuality or the asexual spectrum (grey-As, demisexuals) in some way, and relate in some way to this month's theme, community.

We do need more people to volunteer to host.  If you're interested, see the masterpost.