Ace & Paper: Contradictions(?)

So Coy wrote an excellent piece on ace and stone – how they have similar struggles, similar stigmas, yet are seen as incompatible and mutually exclusive, policed as wholly separate, all while holding some of the same draws to a community and identity. This is barely a summary, and I highly recommend reading the piece.

In the comments, I realized that oh, wow – some people were now seeing paper as incompatible with ace. Lamenting that, yes, but- well, quoting Vesper with permission:

being asexual and stone may readily go hand-in-hand with one another, but being asexual and “paper”? being asexual and a “”pillow princess””? being asexual, a paper pillow princess and what some refer to as being a “victim” or “survivor” (both of which still leave a bitter taste in my mouth)….???

This took me… entirely by surprise, as I’ve long ago come to integrate the two for myself. Or, mostly, anyway.

So here’s a post on how they totally, totally work together.


paper (maché? (sub?)) & me

this section’s content warnings include: moral ocd/scrupulosity trains of thought, non-explicit discussion of what counts as sexual touch or giving, non-explicit discussion of dom/sub roles and their appeals

Now, I’ve claimed paper since I found it, probably around 2013 on Fetlife, with some fluctuating and coining paper-maché to mean “monodirectional touch, either giving or receiving but not both” and flowing back and forth on which I felt comfortable with.

See, “not giving touch” is such a broad, bold statement. Was that true? Was I writing myself into a corner? Precluding relationships where I could be happy? Maybe limiting myself to ones where I mightn’t be – how could I actually know I’d be happiest with someone stone, what if I did want to give a certain kind of touch (sometimes true! just usually not Sexual-feeling to Me) that for them fell under sexual and No? Which branched into even questioning paper maché, to be honest, because what if I liked to reach out while being touched – does clutching at count as sexual touch? If they’re giving touch in a way that focuses on me but also feeds back touch to them, eg fingers in mouth, is that violating the monodirectionality principle I’d set up for myself? But if they’re touching me of course they have touch receptors and nerves, too, so–

So at several points I overbrained my way into identity paralysis, as one does, and into semi-crises and wondering if maybe this was all about dom/sub top/bottom dynamics instead of stone/paper. Since all the times I could envision giving touch feeling good, I was also envisioning me being in subspace to do so, being in that altered mindstate and definitely not in a role where I’d have to pay careful attention to their reactions and be responsible for gauging nonverbal signals of good/bad (as that’s massive dissociation fuel for me and not fun times and the main reason No)… Well, maybe it was a sub thing, and my issue was actually worrying about switching mid-scene or being asked to top or dom.

Maybe. But then oh wow, was that just evading responsibility? Did I just not want to have to pay attention to my partner’s needs? Oh my god, it’s the selfish pillow princess shit all over again but this time with less hope of a complement and maybe the whole reason I was drawn to paper was that there was a corresponding stone and is that also why I clung to femme because butch and what kind of backwards complete role script was I looking for–

You know. The Fun Times with Scrupulosity. Because desires (???? wording) totally adhere to political ethos, and invalidate any moral beliefs we have. Sure. Please, self, we’d been over this.

Then my partner actually brought up a scenario. They were interested in processing some trauma through kink, and would I be willing to – in text only – roleplay as dominant. I got a little shaky, the way I do, but then- then they suggested I could play a paper dom.

Huh.

I’d never thought about that before. Other than as an “of course subs can be stone and doms can be paper and nothing is class-locked or whatever” general abstract.

The paying careful attention to partner’s needs thing was still daunting – being in control of someone getting very vulnerable and possibly losing access to some forms of communication, is super intimidating to me, for autistic reasons + scrupulosity reasons + the aforementioned dissociation + this overwhelming envy and petty jealousy I end up feeling, and god I dunno how doms do it except I guess there’s an actual draw and rush to it for some people who aren’t me. (Also, more reasons I find reading the perspectives of stone stuff, whether interested in giving touch or not, to be really valuable in convincing my head yes other people have different experiences and it’s not true that my only option is to manipulateconvince someone who feels like I do to ~sacrifice~ for me and I’ll owe them back all rolequeer-like.)

But it would be textual and asynchronous. Lower risk, less intimidating to me. Doing important work, trauma-ways, and in the context of our relationship which was very definitely not going to skew into Now I’m Dom Them Forever, and.

And the prospect of getting to coordinate exactly how I (well, my character proxy, but I) would be touched, to ensure it was what I wanted, to get things that’d been hard to articulate and ask for or had been misunderstood or not-quite-there, but without having to do all the work of writing my own fic in example…

…it was actually appealing.

(Naturally this sparked further “oh god am I not as sub as I thought” trains of rumination, but partner is Good and it doesn’t ~endanger~ our dynamic the way brain likes to fear, and anyway, Everything Is GreyQuoi and darts thrown in approximations; words as tools for communicating experiences and preferences, not as precise dungeon maps.)

So, y’know. Paper. Complicated, for sure, oh always, but paper still being useful and relevant.


repulsion / lack of attraction

this section’s content warnings include: discussion of stigma with examples including some rape culture ones

To me, paper absolutely works with ace. And grey-a, and arcflux, and survivor/victim/person with trauma history/ better wording.

We all know aces can have sex, right? That attraction isn’t behavior isn’t identity? Bi 101? It can be hard to internalize for ourselves, I know, but bringing that up to the forefront.

Similarly, not all aces are sex-repulsed. Yeah? The ever-ongoing dialogue about sex-indifferent, -averse, -repulsed, -conflicted (that’s the a-r-c in arcflux), -positive, -enthusiastic, etc?

At the same time, one of the things that might draw people to an ace or stone identity is sex repulsion. Right? Coy’s post talks about that really well. Or it might be lack of attraction – for stone, think of it as lack of attraction to being touched sexually. And trauma, too, another possible commonality and draw; and honestly same for stigma because if people are calling you broken you might go looking; and for communicating boundaries, making it clear what is and is not on the table: Don’t expect me to be sexually attracted to you, don’t expect to touch me sexually.

Paper is the same! It’s so much the same, just in a different direction.

Sex repulsion? I am honestly pretty damn repulsed when I envision myself touching someone else. It’s what brought me to id as ace, and once I figured out I liked being touched, liked the sensation, it brought me to id as paper. (There’s plenty to get into around my OCD and intrusive thoughts visualizing people and being disturbed/repulsed by that, but guess what, reclamation/Therapy to Fix that or whatever is not an imperative or “better,” it’s a choice I get to make and it may not work even then.) Honestly god I find sex weird and offputting and prefer not to think about it except in terms of how it feels, and sometimes maybe how I am desirable though that is Fraught.

Lack of attraction? Yeah, yep, that sure does feel related to me. Though even with people where I’m almost sure, almost positive that yes, sexual(? kink? sensual? something) attraction, it still is very like, Nope, Not For Touching, Not in a Way that makes them Lose Composure. (…I guess maybe that is the boundary, or a boundary, around what Counts as giving sexual touch for me. Hm.)

Trauma? I mean, yes, and this is interesting to me: I get how for some, their reaction is to control, to be the toucher, to not be touched. Sure. But everyone responds to trauma differently, right, and why is it so unbelievable some of us want to not have to touch people but still get to be touched, to have sex or do kink in that specific way? Maybe the vulnerability seems out of character, if it were ~really that bad.~ (Why isn’t that seen as awesome and healing and powerful, huh?) Maybe that looks like some kind of reenacting, in a Bad way, oh no you’ll retraumatize yourself you silly thing. But for one thing, receiving touch doesn’t equal “any touch, which I have no control over, before or during, as I become the passive receptive party accepting what I am given.” For another, having the center of focus be about you, and any other pleasure is incidental, fine but never to overshadow, is hugely contrary to certain kinds of trauma that were about them. Not the only kind, nor the only reaction, but they can make sense, yeah?

The stigma conversation is interesting, right, like. Some things are similar: how selfish, how abnormal, broken, in need of fixing. Doing Sexual Availability Wrong. How sad, not to be able to enjoy sex properly. Some things are a little different: “prude” doesn’t really come up so much as slurs against sex workers, and it’s a different kind of denying a partner, not denying them access to you as with stone (mmmmm) but instead denying them their Turn in the… focus… light. Not being willing to compromise, and – I mean, is it “putting out” if it’s not (centered on) gratifying the other person? Hm. But “selfish” is definitely the main one, and even if it’s flavored differently from “no sex” selfish and from “only gives touch” selfish, there’s the same sort of undercurrent, of denying your partner a Normal relationship and Normal experiences and Reciprocation (in attraction and in touch).

So of course, identity words as tools as communication. I’m grey; that means you should expect my experiences with attraction to be complicated, and (please!) neither expect me to be attracted to you or expect me to not be attracted you ever. (And certainly don’t expect that to look a certain, stable, leads-to-bidirectional-sex way!) I’m paper; that means you should expect (the vast majority of the time!) that I will not be down with touching you sexually, but might be up for receiving touch. Nothing substitutes for more precise, contextualized talking about it, yeah, but this is me trying to preemptively set out average (question-your-) expectations. I’m saying I have experiences of lack-of-attraction and of repulsion (in my case, which yep I gotta clarify), and those will likely affect our dynamic, interaction, relationship.


hand-in-hand

this section also discusses stigma and stereotype examples

I guess I can see where stone+ace seem to match super well; Coy laid it out nicely, after all. But zed also did so because so many people think they’re mutually exclusive.

Which, you know, kinda comes back to the same issues around conflating identity and behavior, “ace” and “doesn’t have or want sex” and “is probably sex-repulsed, in all ways.” (Some people use it that way, yeah- but far from universally.)

And yeah it’s, tricky with how paper and stone kinda are about behavior? Or can be framed that way. But… they can also be framed, more essentially perhaps, as about boundaries and about actions that are no.

Which, huh, admittedly my glossary has long defined stone as “gives but does not receive” and paper as “receives but does not give (usually sexual) touch.” And I may well adjust that now. Because, well… bluhbluh “asexual is a negative identity, don’t define yourself by a negative” still sucks, even if sometimes it does feel bad, and- and these are about, to me, communicating “don’t expect x of me” so…

And yes, the most salient part of paper for me is, noooo to touching other people, not centrally, not as anything other than incidental to being touched. And isn’t the most salient part of stone the Untouchability?

But stone truly sits no closer to asexuality than paper does, objectively, and so much of the draw of both stone and ace is also true for paper. A way of articulating a very deepseated boundary and truth, something people are often surprised by and can be upset about, a divergence from the assumed norm of reciprocal attraction and touch.

I suppose I can’t convincingly undo all the associations we have of “ace and stone mean No, pillow princess means YES ME” in one blog post. I know I’ve wrestled sometimes with feeling like they invalidate one another. But that’s also me spending a lot of time feeling like they are part and parcel of each other, to the point that I loop around to wondering if one of them is the Truth and the other is Already Explained And Superfluous. Toss in sub and femme and hit blend for a roller coaster of “yes these all align perfectly for me Wait No Maybe I’m OverComplicating How I Relate To People And Feel” just, repeatedly.

But. It really does make sense, that someone looking for words, identities, articulations of boundaries, explaining the ways they keep bumping up against and differing from what’s expected of them, trying to craft a coherent narrative, could find ace+paper. Just as much as they could find ace+stone, if those boundaries, those bumps and clashes, were in the other direction.

People not understanding it is different from it not making sense.

And if they understand stone, as giving touch but not receiving, but don’t understand paper, as not giving touch but yes receiving? Maybe that understanding of stone is as some selfless giver, suffering in silence for a turn far in the future, or is otherwise not as thorough an understanding as they might think. I dunno. Sure, ace+stone fits the “compromising ace partner who’s sex-indifferent” stereotype/idea, maybe because it’s about not ~denying~ them sexual pleasure and that’s the primary focal point in thinking about what they’d Lose Out On. And maybe paper overrides ace+paper in stereotype/idea as Not Compromising, Just Selfish. Normal, even, because everyone Wants (Partnered) Orgasms, it’s just that Good People Learn To Share. Maybe that’s why one seems to make more sense. (Which is, yknow, ignoring whether the stone person is “compromising” or not, their agency/desire, and the double standard around how a stone person is ~denying~ their partner the chance to touch them but a paper person is, like, demanding touch, not just allowing it.)

So… I mean, all these contradictions are fake. Basically. This tangled web of roles and allowability is ultimately about only one role being allowable: mutual attraction, desire, and sexual touch (with no boundaries except the Normal, vanilla ones, but certainly none that exclude vanilla sex staples – and hell, that still applies with kink and d/s because the norm’s still Who Doesn’t Like Sex?). So any deviation is marked, and more than one, holy crap, who do you think you are? But that’s… variation. And queerness, imo, in the violating-the-sexual-norm-and-what’s-allowed, interrogating-the-model sense at the very least.

Conclusion? Gosh we have a bunch of narratives about what’s Right. And that can make it hard to access how different modalities of Differing can actually complement each other and occur together.

Dang I wanna contemplate the demi + paper “But That’s Normal!” parallels now.

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5 thoughts on “Ace & Paper: Contradictions(?)

  1. thanks for this. ❤ i'm at work and not really in the physical or mental space to reply to any specific thing you said with any amount of actual detail, but i really appreciate you sharing your experiences and thoughts on this topic and can see that yeah– there really is no reason why ace + paper would be any more contradictory than ace + stone or ace + paper maché or anything else for that matter.

    without elaborating too much, it seems like you relate to being paper a bit differently from me….? regardless, having thought about it a little (just a little) more now, i feel like perhaps the source of the conflict that i felt about being an ""asexual, paper pillow princess and “victim” / “survivor”"" wasn't ever really about me being ace + paper as much as it was conflict that i felt / feel re: specific sexual experiences with past partners, trauma and being paper….. and how there's always been an underlying question in the back of my mind as to whether i'm even actually paper in the first place or if i just default to such because of X or Y or Z…..

    ….a question that has underlined my ace identity as well. hmm…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “and for communicating boundaries, making it clear what is and is not on the table: Don’t expect me to be sexually attracted to you, don’t expect to touch me sexually.”

    TBH this ^ is also the reason I ID as gray-ace: basically just to say “don’t expect the way I feel about this to be normal.”

    Anyway, I want to say, as somebody who’s never read much into stone/paper and is coming fresh to this whole question, being repulsed by the idea of touching other people really does make just as much sense as being repulsed by the idea of being touched. It’s not the common narrative, but it isn’t contradictory.

    I think you’re right that a big part of the reason people might not understand ace + paper, is just that they’re thinking of it from the point of view of “stone = no, paper = yes” and not thinking through that stone is also saying “yes” to something and paper is also drawing a boundary.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. paper as a kind of sex repulsion, oof that… is helpful to think about. sex is offputting except in terms of how it feels, yes. remove as many bodies as possible.

    just different kinds of boundaries

    i think there’s also this thing around trans-ness? at least for me, as someone whose first exposure to stone, via stone butchness, included connotations of dysphoria: giving touch because to have your own body be the “focus”, or the “object” (queer theory, oof) meant dysphoria. but what if it’s the idea of touching someone else that makes you all too aware of the things your body Cannot Do? when ACTING through your body is worse than it just being a recipient of sensation

    “But That’s Normal!” continues to be the main reason i forget “paper” is even a thing, until we read something from you, hahh. there’s an unfortunate two-step argument i see in both cases, where first you define demisexuality and paper-ness as Just Normal (so stop acting like you’re different from everyone else), then you define it as Doing Normality Wrong (by “not finding the right one yet”, by “being selfish”).

    – A

    Liked by 3 people

    • HELLO THIS COMMENT IS VERY GOOD, PLASTERS IT ACROSS MY FACE

      remove all the bodies, s’just nerves which is Fine. a body that Acts haha would that be fucked up or what

      it’s almost like similarities and relatabilities continue to be real but are all too often used as a quick bypass for really listening to a different effect/impact because nono same experience just Processing It Overcomplicatedly

      Liked by 1 person

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