Writing From Factor X

October 25, 2010

Queer as Ace

I want to talk about passing, and queerness, and how asexuality fits into that. Or more specifically, my particular aromantic brand of asexuality, since that’s the only one my experiences apply to.

One of the charges leveled against (aromantic and heteroromantic) asexuals identifying as queer that I saw most often in the recent brouhaha at ontd_feminism had to do with two contentions: one, that we pass as straight and therefore don’t count, and two, that we don’t experience our own personalized forms of oppression, at least not on the scale of homosexuality. And I think both of these charges are bullshit.

In particular, the first time I saw the bit about asexuals passing for straight so easily, I was a bit flabbergasted. Because I don’t pass as straight for any length of time. My experience throughout high school always came back to carefully guarded questions and tentative attempts to get me to come out. And those were the polite ones. Growing up, much of the bullying and harassment I dealt with came down to bothering me about my sexual orientation. The one incident of street harassment I’ve suffered to date occurred when I was out walking my dog and some assholes in a car drove up right next to me, yelled “FAGGOT!” and drove away. When I started coming out as asexual for the first time, it was because I was sick of people getting it wrong.

Some of this is my particular gender presentation. I’m cis, but I freely admit I’m not the most femme cis girl out there. But a lot of it comes down to the fact that I never expressed any interest, sexual or otherwise, in anyone. And in this culture, not experiencing interest in opposite-sex people automatically means you must be interested in same-sex people. I freely admit it’s not every asexual’s experience, but it’s mine. In my experience, I can choose to come out as asexual and be honest about who and what I actually am, or I can be regarded as a lesbian in a closet so transparent that people feel entitled to try to “help” me come out of it. Passing as straight for anyone who knows me well enough to ask about my personal life has not been something I have been able to do well since I hit puberty.

Okay. So it’s possible that asexuals don’t always get passing privilege.  Even if we’re not bi/pan/homoromantic. And for the record, I know a heteroromantic fellow who gets coded gay as often as I do. This isn’t necessarily an aromantics-only thing. But what about the contention that the oppressions we face which are specific to asexuality (e.g. not homophobia misapplied) are so weak and easy compared to homophobia that we’re making a big fuss over nothing?

Well, anti-asexual sentiment is really fucking similar to biphobia, for one thing. One of the things asexuals share with bisexuals is the fact that many people seem to have problems with the idea that one’s orientation is not actually the same thing as the gender of the person one is dating. (Or not dating, as the case may be.) I have seen the very same accusations of attention-seeking and oversensitivity directed at asexuals as I have at bisexuals. As well as the very same charges of appropriativeness. After all, there are plenty of bisexual people who end up in opposite-sex relationships, or even who tend to experience sexual attraction to more opposite-sex people than to same-sex people. Not every bi person is a Kinsey 3, after all.

So why is bisexuality A-OK as a form of queerness,  but asexuality is not?


  1. It’s also BS for the converse reason: not every individual queer person experiences as much oppression, and many of them pass as straight just fine.

    I identify as gay, but pass well as straight. I just don’t have any distinctly gay mannerisms, and it would feel unnatural for me to adopt any. This would be a great privilege if I wanted no one to know, but I want to be out.

    And as it happens, I don’t personally experience much in the way of oppression for being gay. Privilege? Check. But I still identify as queer.

    Comment by Siggy — October 25, 2010 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

    • Which, yeah. A lot of that wank just had me going “Really?” on multiple levels, but I wanted to talk about that particular aspect. I think I mentioned somewhere else that if we’re going to define queerness as requiring an experience of violent oppression, there are a lot of gay and bi people who suddenly don’t count either. (I commented on this thing in about a kajillion different spaces over the last couple of weeks, so it’s hard to remember what I said where.)

      I think some of the passing privilege thing was down to same-sex relationships and how it’s impossible to pass as straight if you’re actively in a relationship with someone of the same sex or take advantage of being assumed to be heterosexual. Which… my point was, there’s passing and there’s passing, and not all of how people’s sexuality is perceived comes down to who they’re currently in a relationship with.

      I mean, I’d love to talk about the ways that asexuals might experience privilege and oppression vis a vis other types of queerness, but given the fact that I’ve never seen someone approach that kind of discussion without immediately heading for Oppression Olympics territory I’m kind of wary. Especially when really almost everything you can talk about with asexuality comes down to invisibility, which is a very different thing from passing privilege but is, I think, easily conflated with passing. Well, that and medicalization, but hopefully the DSM changes are doing somewhat better with that.

      Comment by Sciatrix — October 25, 2010 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  2. […] of problems with this. For one thing, not everyone actually passes consistently for heterosexual. I don’t. Before I started coming out on a regular basis, people assumed I was a closeted lesbian. I can be […]

    Pingback by It’s Easy To Pass When You’re Invisible « Writing From Factor X — December 24, 2010 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  3. I love this post!! That thread at ontd_feminism was such a trainwreck. It also reminded me a lot of how some folks regard us heteroromantic bisexuals — we aren’t really queer either, we’re just “straight people who have gay sex.” Blegh +_+

    Comment by Nerissa — January 29, 2011 @ 1:51 am | Reply

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