I recently had the opportunity to interview Kati, a student in Finland, and discuss her point of view on being a Finnish person in the English asexual community. We also conversed about gender, lgbt politics in Finland, definitions of asexuality, aromanticism, student activism, sexual attraction, language, and asexual identity.
Talia: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Kati: I’m 25 years old and living in Finland. I study computational neuroscience in university and I’m currently doing my Master’s degree.
I’m probably aro ace, or at least somewhere in the aromantic spectrum.
I’ve been calling myself a feminist for most of my life. I’m also pretty much a nerd. I enjoy reading, movies, and knitting.
Talia: Great, thanks. What is your preferred pronoun by the way?
Kati: She/her etc. I’m so happy Finnish has only one pronoun. It makes some things so much easier.
Talia: That’s really cool. Is it completely gender neutral? And what is the pronoun in Finnish?
Kati: Yup, totally neutral. It’s “hän.” We don’t have gendered pronouns or classes for words (like der wtc. in German).
Talia: So are conversations in Finnish regarding gender different than the ones you see in English?
Kati: Somewhat yes, since one does not need to make assumptions about gender when trying to address someone. Also we Finns tend to brag a little about gender equality here, since we were the first (or at least among the first) European country to give women the right to vote and we have had a female president and prime minister and stuff. Gender stuff is a little more in the shadows. Awareness about trans-issues is not that high though.
Talia: What do you mean by it’s more in the shadows? That’s really interesting that gender is being discussed, but transgender people aren’t given the same attention. Is there low awareness about both binary and nonbinary trans people?
Kati: Kind of. For example, it’s pretty common to discuss how feminism is redundant or unnecessary and we should all the egalitarians. Most of the glaring problems (like abortion, vote, keeping one’s own last name in marriage) between men and women have been addressed, but lqtb issues in general are not discussed very often. I actually found out about non-binary and stuff only after coming to Tumblr and I thought that I was moderately well educated in these matters. The most discussed part of lgbt topics has been the equal marriage.
Our last government could not bring gay marriage to the parliament because of political pressure. They had to keep Christian Democrats party in government and promised not to advance the equal marriage law. That had to be brought in as citizen motion through campaigning and signatures.
Talia: That’s a really interesting political context. When was the citizen motion and how successful was that?
Kati: It’s happening right now. It got over 150,000 signatures. It’s going to the parliament for the first time during the November. It can be struck down kinda once and for all or then if the “yes” vote wins it goes further in government but is not yet decided. It’s pretty impossible to say whether or not it will go through, since it needs half of the votes (there is 200 members in the parliament).
Talia: I live in Canada and we’ve had equal marriage here since I was young so it’s really interesting to see how the laws in action in other countries. So is most lgbtq+ discussion on marriage and how do you see asexuality fitting into this?
Kati: Pretty much nowhere. There are no organized Finnish asexual organizations. Our largest organization for lgtb+ matters, Seta, defines asexuality wrong. Seta basically says that asexuality is not an orientation and mixes sexual and romantic attraction. As in, because aces can be bi-, hetero- or homoromantic, they are actually straight, bi or gay. So there is very little awareness of asexuality overall. I actually decided to do something about that in the beginning of the month and wrote a letter to change the definition. It kind of accidentally became an address. It has around 250 names! Apparently lots of other Finns are unhappy about Seta’s definition too.
Talia: That’s really great! Did you put the letter online somewhere and do you think the other people signing it are asexual or simply concerned about the current definition?
Kati: I put it in my google drive, circulated the link on Tumblr and posted it on the biggest Finnish forum for asekxuality (aseksuaalit.net). First I kind of thought about getting only aces to sign, but then when the link started spreading I figured what the hell. Everybody concerned is welcome to sign.
I’m not active in aseksuaalit.net since forums are not really my thing. I kind of skulk around a little, but I am more Tumblr based. But yeah, Seta’s definition of asexuality has bothered me for a while, pretty much since I found the term like half a year ago and realized I am ace, and I figured that I could try something, since there isn’t really an organization to do it. Aseksuaalit.net is more of a forum and netgroup and not an “actual” advocacy group.
Talia: As a forum and netgroup are the discussions on aseksuaalit.net about people coming to their own asexuality or would you describe them differently?
Kati: Yeah, I think. aseksuaalit.net is pretty equivalent to Aven, except the info is also in forum spaces and you must log in to really see the stuff. There is not much 101 asexual stuff in Finnish in general. The Wikipedia article is pretty decent though.
Talia: Is the Finnish content that you have come across largely translations of the English content or does it contain any information specific to Finnish communities?
Kati: Finnish content on asexuality is pretty scarce and as far as I’ve read, mostly translations. I kind of find it easier to talk about these things in English though. It gives a little distance and a weird kind of clarity. I have trouble expressing feelings and am really fond of an analyzing approach, in which a non-native language helps with.
Talia: You mentioned you’re more Tumblr based. Do you participate in both English and Finnish asexual communities on Tumblr and what do you do there?
Kati: I mostly participate in the English asexual community. I’m fairly new and actually finding the Finnish aces on Tumblr is pretty hard since most of us blog in English anyway. On Tumblr I mostly skulk around still. I reblog lots of stuff that helps me / had helped me to come to term with my own orientation. I rarely start talking randomly, but comment if some issue really touches me. I read blogs and Carnival of aces is really great.
Talia: How did you first find out about English asexual communities? Or, asexuality in general?
Kati: I found asexuality on Tumblr, like many others. I joined Tumblr around January for Sherlock season 3, after finding funny articles about it on Buzzfeed. I’m a feminist, so I got into that tag which led me to lgtb issues and eventually asexuality. It took me a couple of months to actually wrap my head around the fact that I am asexual. I’ve kind of always waited “for the right person” or whatever, since “sex is part of the human experience” and what not. I’m also pretty aromantic, so this meant letting go of life goals that I was set in, like happiness = romantic love = sex. I work like that: first I find out about things, then spend some time mulling it over, and then jump in and start doing staff (in this case the Seta letter).
Talia: Did you find out about aromantic after asexuality through it or did you come to that in another way?
Kati: Through asexuality. I love that the romantic orientations are discussed in tandem with asexuality. It is really big deal to realize and come to terms with. It’s pretty hard to realize that sexual and romantic orientations are not the same thing, since romance and sex are so intertwined all around.
Talia: Yeah, one of my favourite part about asexual discussions is how they take apart romantic and sexual attraction and also separate those from other attractions like platonic, intellectual etc.
Kati: To me, it was pretty much realizing that my “crushes” that I desperately wanted to be crushes where actually more like aesthetic appreciation and squishes and not about romancing or having sex with them.
Talia: I also really liked realizing that my ‘crushes’ were more squishes, which gets kind of complicated because the people I feel that way about read it as a crush or sexual interest anyways.
Kati: Yeah! Exactly that.
Talia: So if Seta assumes sexual attraction and romantic attraction are always linked, is there any discussion of aromanticism in Finland?
Kati: Even less than about asexuality, I think. On the aseksuaalit.net forum they are separated, similarly as in the English community, but awareness of the distinction is really low. Romantic orientation is one of those things one does not need to think about if they align.
Talia: Right, so lack of awareness about aromantic might be because of a larger structure that assumes sexual attraction and romantic attraction always align.
Kati: In my knowledge, yeah. But I’m not really “in” in lgtb or ace organizations
Talia: Do you want to talk about the organizations that you are in? I know that you do student advocacy work in the Student Union. Could you give a little bit of background information regarding what that is and what you do?
Kati: So, basically student unions are pretty big organizations in Finland, since every university must have an independent student union made by students and every student must be member of student union of the university. My student union is one of the biggest around. It has like 15,000 students. Basically student unions make sure that the most important committees of the university have student members and the union takes care of student rights. In the student union I was a member of the board responsible for social affairs like health care and over all freshman policies. I’ve also been involved in my own degree program association (ainejärjestö in Finnish) making parties and stuff.
Talia: What specifically drew you to get involved in this capacity?
Kati: The first step for me, getting involved in the degree program association, was pretty much because I wanted my university experience to be a good one; I wanted to find new friends and interesting things to do. Lots of my relatives have been in university, so I had heard a lot about student activities.
I got “higher” on the organization, specifically the student union, after I did the most interesting things in the degree program association. I wanted to do something other than throw parties. I wanted to do something more for every student in the university, instead of just people in my program and wanted to understand policies behind the workings of the student union. On the board we got to make decisions that affect a lot of people, like about money, the strategy of the organization, and what kinds of policies we should lobby on the national level regarding the well being of the students. I really like getting involved in equality policies and stuff.
Talia: When I think about my asexuality sometimes I see it as connected to the other activist work I do and sometimes I have a hard time seeing the connections. How does asexuality fit into your student advocacy work for you, or does it?
Kati: It doesn’t really. In university people are mostly in their twenties and exploring the world, which includes looooots of sex, or at least talking about sex. Sex jokes and talking about sex are really common. It’s a good thing that there’s very little sex-shaming: it’s assumed that you’re having sex regardless of your gender and I have never heard anyone getting shamed or called a slut because of their behavior. The bad thing is that the assumption that everyone is having sex is pretty deep.
Talia: Was there anything we didn’t talk about that you would like to add?
Kati: Hmm.. I’d like to talk about words translating from English to Finnish and why I find English useful. Words like “horny” and “attraction” don’t really have good Finnish translations. Something is lost with words like “kiihottunut” and “vetovoima.” Especially “horny” and slang connotations which allows one to say things like “I’m never horny.” For me, concepts like sex-drive and attraction are easier to grasp in English.
Also, the Finnish word for “ace” is “ässä.” Even though it has the exact same meaning it does not resemble the word for asexuality (aseksuaalisuus) at all. I feel weird using the Finnish word about myself, but happily use ace. That’s personal preference though – I don’t know about other Finns.
Talia: Are there different words in Finnish for sexual attraction and sexual desire/sex drive or would they be considered the same?
Kati: They are rarely talked about as different entities, but there are (thankfully) different words. “Seksuaalinen vetovoima” is sexual attraction and sexual drive is “sukupuolivietti.” They are close together conceptually though – or at least to me, and people I’ve talked about this with. But like we talked earlier, most people don’t really need to distinguish between them.
Talia: Yeah. It’s a really interesting topic to me as a big part of the Masters research I just finished was doing work on how in English we do have different words, but their definitions are closely intertwined to the point that we assume they will always be linked or overlap (which I suppose I pursue thinking about because for me they’re completely separate). Do you mind expanding on what you mean by they are closed together conceptually?
Kati: Hmm. Words like “vetovoima” are not commonly used. I actually had to pick it from common definitions of homosexuality. In everyday speech we are more likely to say “I like girls” etc. and that contains both sexual and romantic liking (seems to be pretty much the same in English). Sexual attraction and sexual desire in Finnish are kind of “official” and “big” words, in that they are used in official definitions and books. I basically meant that since the distinction is not really common they are tied together in the assumption that one leads to the other. It’s hard to explain since I actually have not thought about it that much and it kind of came to me in this discussion.
Sukupuolivietti is a synonym to libido, or sex-drive by the way. Neither is a common word but their concept is overall understood and usually expressed differently.
Talia: So “seksuaalinen vetovoima” is more in the orientation and “sukupuolivietti” is purely physical? Just seeing if I got this right. But in general, you might not use those terms at all because you’d just say I like girls or I like no one?
Kati: Yeah, first is pretty much the same as sexual attraction, the second is sex-drive. Those terms are kind of too clinical for “normal” usage. People who have talked about their orientation in casual conversations have always went with “I like [insert gender].” It’s more casual, but has absolutely no differentiation between romantic and sexual attraction or your general level of wanting sex.
Talia: Right, that’s extremely confusing. To people who don’t know anything about asexuality sometimes I say I like no one, but then they have all these assumptions about what that means that just make it worse.
Kati: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve get confused stares for trying to explain that. The usual.
Talia: Haha yeah I usually tell people who are hitting on me… but that just makes it worse sometimes. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate that and I’ve known I was asexual for years.
Kati: I usually don’t realize if someone is and just continue talking. Or then get pretty weirded out and get away. It’s hard to decide who to tell and what because it needs explanation, and I can’t really resent that ‘cause I did not know about asexuality either. I can’t really expect people around me to know either. Also I feel kind of weird having to come out cause it changes nothing about me. I did not just suddenly become asexual, I just found a term that describes me and helps me understand that I do not actually need to wait for my sexuality to bloom and suddenly become a whole person or something.