Today we’re joined by Elyssa Tappero. Elyssa was one of the first followers of the Asexual Artists WordPress site and she’s a very talented and prolific writer. She writes a bit of everything: poetry, flash fiction, haiku, and many other writing styles. My thanks to her for taking time out of her schedule to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
By day I have a 9-5 desk job that really isn’t worth describing. By night (and sometimes during the 9-5 desk job . . .) I write. And write. And write. Flash fiction, haiku, free form poetry, spiritual offerings to Bast, the odd non-fiction or persuasive piece . . . whatever sparks my inspiration. I’m not interested in being published, which is good news for the folks who like my writing – everything I write I post on my WordPress blog, which I update every other day. I can’t say it’s all good writing, but there’s always something new!
Since this is an ace-themed interview, I’ll also note that all of my characters (okay I only have like three of them) are somewhere on the ace spectrum. I’m also working on a story about a succubus who falls in love with an asexual girl, but that’s still in the preliminary “how cool would this be” stage.
What inspires you?
I hate to say “everything” so I’ll hit the big themes; relationships, sexuality, myth and fantasy, nature, religion, and more recently mental illness. The main focus in my writing is my two characters, Tanim and Daren, through whom I explore varied relationship types and structures, the power of our past to shape and haunt us, and the sometimes blurry line between love and obsession. Which sounds dramatic, I know – I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m inspired by characters who are human, as flawed and diverse and complicated as that means.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
Honestly, I’ve always been a writer. When I was about six I wrote my first “book” – it was about how to train your cat, and when my girlfriend read it out-loud some twenty years later I laughed so hard I cried uncontrollably. I literally ended the book with a picture of myself and the line “Thank you for reading. I’m done now. Bye.” Suffice it to say my writing has improved a bit over the years, but I owe it all to that poorly colored book . . .
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in our work that you’d be willing to reveal?
My characters die. Often. And repeatedly. That’s not really a signature or feature or anything, but it’s probably worth warning new readers. No one’s safe. Sorry in advance.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Don’t get rid of anything you create. I know a lot of people feel ashamed of their old work, especially when it’s old fanart or otherwise linked to the stuff you may have been obsessed with as a kid. But I promise you, you’ll want to look back on that work to see how far you’ve come – and to see how long you’ve been devoted to your craft. Never be ashamed of your old work; we all had to start somewhere, and it’s the fact that you started at all, and continued from there, that counts. So go back, look at old drawings or read old writing, and don’t wince. Let yourself smile and remember how proud you were when you created that piece.
(And laugh until you cry, if you need. That’s okay too.)
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I identify as a queer asexual. To me, the word “queer” serves as an umbrella term for those aspects of gender and sexual/romantic orientation that don’t have a specific term already, or simply can’t be labeled. So when I call myself a queer asexual, I call myself that because while my sexual orientation is definitely asexual, my other orientations and relationships aren’t so easy to define. Queer seems the best way to show other people that the aspects of me that may seem defined or clear-cut are much more complicated below the surface.
And, to be honest, there are so many people who are adamantly opposed to allowing asexuals into queer spaces that it makes me want to cling to this label that feels “right” to me even more. I hate identity policing, and I try to speak out against it whenever I can. I don’t think people realize just how hurtful and damaging their words can be when they try to silence or shove out queer asexuals.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
When it comes to writing, I usually get questions about how I can write realistic relationships when I’m asexual and only have very limited experience with romantic relationships and sex. Depending on the person (and how crazy I do or do not want to sound) I’ll either say that a good writer should be able to write about any experience (true), or I’ll say that I let the characters tell me what to say (truer). It doesn’t matter if I haven’t experienced something myself; if my character has, they can let me experience that memory through them.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
Honestly? That we don’t face discrimination or oppression. I get that from straight and queer people alike, and it’s very disheartening. Aces face much of the same oppression as others in gender, sexual, and romantic orientation minorities, yet it can be a battle to convince people that our experiences are valid.
I also hear a lot about how romantic relationships between allosexuals and asexuals can’t work. Well, my girlfriend and I just celebrated 20 months together and we’re doing wonderfully. So if anyone out there has questions about mixed orientation relationships, or wants advice for their own, or just wants someone to talk to, I’m here. I know how hard they can be, and how beautiful and rewarding, and I want to help anyone who’s in the same boat as me.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
Two things. First, you don’t need to pick a label right away – and when/if you do pick one, you don’t have to identify with it forever. Take your time, test different ones out, and see if any fit. If one does, great! If not, also great! It’s okay to not have a label. It’s okay to switch labels. It’s okay to be uncertain or questioning. Just because others might try to fit you into certain boxes doesn’t mean YOU have to put yourself in those boxes. You are the only person who gets to decide how you identify. No one else can determine what you can or can’t identify as.
Second, asexuality isn’t an exile sentence. If you’re someone who is asexual and still interested in a romantic relationship, please don’t feel like you’ll never find someone who will love you for who you are. Despite our sexually-focused society, there are a lot of people out there who will be willing to forgo sex for you, if that’s what you want. And just because you’re asexual doesn’t mean you can’t have sex if you’re comfortable doing so with your partner. Nothing you do will make your asexuality less valid.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
All of my writing is posted to my WordPress, which can be found at http://onlyfragments.com/
You can also follow me on Tumblr at http://only-fragments.tumblr.com/, where I usually reblog pictures that remind me of my characters, asexuality-related posts, and other such things. I love new friends!
Thank you so much, Elyssa, for participating in this interview and this project. It is very much appreciated.