Sunday, March 9, 2014

Words in my mouth

Well apparently I'm in magazines saying things I didn't say again.

Late last year I gave an interview to a US-based British journalist who said she was going to sell a story about me to a major magazine in the UK. She expressed surprise and dismay at how The Daily Mail treated me with their sensationalistic headlines (triggery language in the title, y'all). She said things are different in the UK--subjects of articles even get read-backs before publication, which is nice--and proceeded to conduct a very sensitive interview with me.

The article was supposed to be published in Best in January, then February, but by mid-February I'd heard nothing from the journalist so I contacted her. She said she still hadn't heard when it would be published.

Today I got mail from someone trying to find me on Facebook. She'd read the article in February's issue of Best and wanted to talk about having a similar experience with asexuality. Nice connection, but the fact that the article was already published was news to me. I told her so and she sent me these scans. (You can click them to try to read them, but the scan isn't great.)

An abbreviated version was published in Best Daily and it is just as terrible. What's so terrible you ask? Well, most notably, what's terrible is that the entire thing was written in first person, as if I had written it, and I have never said and would never say the great majority of those things. It's even full of British writing conventions, like "Mum" and "I never fancied anyone." At least it says "By Laura Millar" on it, but I doubt anyone will realize I didn't write it. (Laura Millar is not the journalist I was talking to. I am still waiting to hear back from Georgie as to how the hell this happened, why I didn't get a read-back, and who's responsible for stuffing so many inappropriate words in my mouth.)

It's not a terribly disrespectful article, and it's not as sensationalistic as The Daily Mail, but I am pretty ticked about its being in first person and how it misrepresents both my life and asexual people in general.

Inaccuracies in the online version:

  • "At school whenever my friends discussed what boys they fancied or which pop singers they wanted to kiss, I'd recoil in horror." What? No I didn't. Never.

  • "I couldn't work out if they were faking those urges in order to seem more grown up. Because whatever they were feeling, I certainly wasn't." NO.  I was 100% aware that what they were feeling was real. The attempt to make me sound oblivious here is gross.

  • "Kissing was as far as I'd go so it was no real surprise when we broke up six months later." Nope. Peter broke up with me because I was moving, not because he couldn't get more than a kiss. He never even once pressured me.

  • "Being asexual, I don't have the feelings of jealousy that other people have so the idea of him sleeping with other people didn't affect me at all." This is horrible! I indeed didn't feel jealous in this situation, but implying that asexual people don't experience jealousy or can't have exclusive relationships is way off. I would never, ever say something simplistic and elitist like this.

  • "In fact I told my friend Meghan she could have sex with Philip to take the pressure of me, so she did. Philip thought the more he cheated the more it would make me jealous but it didn't." "The pressure of me"? They got the spelling of his name wrong too. And though my best friend did have sex with my boyfriend after I said "go ahead, maybe he'll stop bugging me!" there was never any repeated attempts to "cheat" to make me jealous. This is just so far from what happened.

  • "And after a year of 'dating' we mutually agreed to part." Haha really? Actually he guilt tripped me by saying "I think we should break up because YOU'RE not happy," and I surprised him by agreeing. It wasn't exactly "mutually agreeing to part."

  • "Friends often ask me if I'd like to be different but I love myself just the way I am. What you don't know you don't miss." I never say things like "what you don't know you don't miss." It is, again, simplistic and misses the center of this issue completely.

  • "People refuse to believe you can ever be happy without sex in your life, but I'm living proof you can" And now Best boycotts terminal punctuation. I would never say something like this either. I don't make pronouncements about what other people should "be happy without," and this makes it sound like I'm saying non-asexual people don't need sex for happiness. It's true I'm happy without it and people have trouble believing it, but the thrust of this is so hippy-dippy and way off the mark.

And in the print issue, there were a few more annoying issues:
  • The title? Yeah, that's just as bad as most of the copycat articles from The Daily Mail. Sensationalistic headlines about a thirty-five-year-old virgin are really annoying.

  • "Of course people ask me if I'm gay but I explain to them that I have no sexual desires towards anyone, male or female." I would have ended that sentence after "anyone." I prefer not to make statements that reinforce gender binary like that.

  • "In many ways I'm just like your average young woman. I love putting on heels and a dress to go on a night out with friends, and I can appreciate when someone is good looking - but that doesn't mean I want to sleep with them." This is beyond confusing. I'm pretty girly, but I don't think I have ever, not a day in my life, "put on heels and a dress to go on a night out with friends." Like, who would I even do that with? The last time I wore heels was in 2008 at a wedding. This whole "look at me, I'm a normal young lady!" nonsense is so far from anything I would ever express that I really want to know what possessed anyone to glean it from anything I said. This is what a damn night out with friends looks like for me. 

It's a drawing club. Notice the lack of heels or a dress.

  • "As much as people struggle to understand it, for me not having sex is the secret to a very happy life. I don't have to worry about being heartbroken or dumped and I don't feel lonely, because I love my own company." This prattling sounds like somebody who's making excuses, actually. Yes, not having sex is totally fine for me, and I'd probably be less happy if I was forced by circumstance to have sex, but calling it "the secret to a very happy life" is in another galaxy from something I'd say. It's irrelevant to my life, not related to any kind of "secret." And if anyone reading this thinks not having sex saves you from heartbreak, holy crap, I have a prescription for a reality pill you'll need to take.

The whole thing would have been MUCH better if they hadn't tried to make it sound like I'd written it! I'm used to journalists getting it wrong or having the nuances escape them, but it was extremely irresponsible of them to stuff these words in my mouth. Now it looks like I would say and believe these things, and it kind of looks like I write unnecessarily reductionist twaddle about happiness secrets that I wouldn't dream of trying to generalize.

I know the magazine isn't exactly aimed at those who want to read high literature, but I don't mind that at all; I want my existence and my message to be known to people who wouldn't necessarily go out of their way to watch a documentary about asexuality on Netflix or get a book about the topic from their library. I'm happy it was in Best, but I feel misrepresented. If they'd wanted me to write about my experience and give me some guidelines, holy crap, I would have, and this is NOT even close to what I would have said.


  1. Wow, have you ever had a hell of a time with this crap. :( So sorry you have to deal with this. Are you contacting the publisher or anything like that?

    Also, just hearing what you've been going through really makes me rethink so many articles I've read in magazines before, and makes me happy I rarely read magazines at all anymore.

  2. Uhm. Wow. That is some seriously skeevy bs. I hope people who heard of you through that article actually bothered to look up the work you do--they should know immediately that this magazine didn't do you justice. It's seriously disheartening that they twisted up the things you've done, said, and lived through so much, to an unrecognizable point.

  3. It's amazing to me how conditioned I am to conform to society and all there silly rules about sexuality. The way you express what you're feeling and have felt about this subject is so amazingly accurate. I want to quote you and say, "Yes, that's exactly how I feel!", but it'd be all the print in red. The last section of red is so very true. I know I keep thanking you for the work you do and speaking for us, but it's not said enough. cake cake cake

  4. I hope you sue. This is libel.

    1. No, I didn't sue. Yes, it's libel, but for me there's little benefit to chasing a trashy magazine and spending lots of money and having lots of headaches just to get them to . . . what could they do, print a retraction? The number of people who have the means to sue them for printing misleading and exaggerated content is very tiny, so they keep doing it, and that will continue to be their business model. Damage is done, I figure, and as it's clear to anyone who reads it that it was written by a British person (which I'm not), I doubt there'll be any confusion about whether I actually wrote it by anyone who wants to take it seriously. Still, it was fun to have my say about it.