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March 2016

Asexuality, Writing, and Burnout

Note: This was originally published at The Asexual Agenda.

A year ago, I wrote a post announcing that I wanted to make 2015 The Year of Writing about Asexuality for Muslims. Over the course of the following nine months, I wrote ten essays for Muslim sites about asexuality, as well as four essays about the intersection of asexuality, Muslimness, and accessibility, with a focus on my experiences at the mosque (see list here).

At the end of November 2015, the site I had primarily been writing for, Love InshAllah, shut down indefinitely. I had had some luck writing for other Muslim sites, but usually not directly about asexuality (hence the focus on my mosque experiences in the other essays), so the loss of Love InshAllah was a major blow to my writing plans.

Several other events around the same time also impacted me, including another Muslim site leaving one of my submissions ignored in their slush pile, some private blogging drama, and dealing with misogyny at my mosque. I was exhausted from several months of juggling a full time job, two volunteer positions, an intensive Arabic class, and all this writing, and so I decided to take a hiatus during December.

As the intended one-month hiatus from writing turned into two months and then three, I realized that it wasn’t just writing on top of everything else that had exhausted me, it was writing itself. Writing about asexuality for Muslims had been rewarding in many ways, but it had also burned me out.

One definition of burnout is putting more emotional energy into an activity or cause than you get back. Many of the essays I wrote were deeply personal, in some cases things I had never talked about publicly before or experiences that had been wounding to me. I’m someone that tends to keep things to myself and putting myself out there like that was often a struggle.

I started writing about asexuality and Islam because there wasn’t really anything else out there on the subject. I hoped that by writing publicly about my experiences, I could carve out an asexual Muslim space where others might join me. I have received a number of comments, both privately and publicly, from other asexual Muslims and that means a lot. But there’s still no asexual Muslim community of any kind, just ships passing in the night every few months.

And knowing that if I wanted to read anything about the intersection of asexuality and Islam, I pretty much had to write it myself ended up putting a lot of pressure on me.

There was also the reaction from non-asexual Muslims. Or perhaps I should say non-reaction. For the most part, I didn’t receive too much negativity from people, and I’m grateful for that. However, I began to notice a pattern after awhile that few people seemed to relate to my experiences in any real way. I was just a curiosity to them, worth a “Thanks for teaching me about this” but no deeper engagement. Discussions that I hoped to contribute to continued on as if I didn’t exist.

I realize that community building and visibility work are long-term processes. But I underestimated how much it would take out of me and I overestimated how much I would get back from it. Hence the burnout.

I’ve taken the extra two months to think about how I can continue writing in a way that’s more sustainable. To reset my expectations to be more realistic.

For most of my life, asexuality has been an experience of isolation and alienation for me. Running into the limits of how much I can change that was a tough experience. I still hope that by plugging away at it, slowly and gradually, I’ll eventually get somewhere.