Writing From Factor X

May 25, 2011

We’re All In This Together

So in the wake of the shitstorm that’s been happening on Tumblr this week I’ve seen one thing over and over again, and it bugs the shit out of me. It happens basically whenever the policing of asexual queer identities comes up, actually, and it hasn’t gotten any less obnoxious over time.

Sexual people, you actually don’t have the right to tell asexuals that our primary identity is “really” whatever our romantic orientation is. No, not even if we’re identifying as queer.

Some asexuals identify first and foremost as asexual. Some don’t. And that goes regardless of what romantic orientation any given asexual may or may not have. (Hey, some of us don’t have romantic orientations that make a lot of sense! It’s funny how life is confusing that way!) You don’t actually get to tell anyone that their primary identity is totally invalid and they have to use a secondary one (or even a different but related one) because it’s easier for you to understand.

And even for those who don’t put any different weight on either their sexual or romantic orientation, erasing asexuals’ identities as asexual is still absolutely not okay. A heteroromantic asexual person is not the same thing as a straight person. A homoromantic asexual person is not the same thing as a gay person. The experience of being a romantic asexual is different from the experience of being a person with a matching sexual and romantic orientation in a whole bunch of ways.

I think it’s telling, in fact, that when asexuals do divide themselves based on romantic orientation, the usual divide is between people who identify themselves as unambiguously romantic and aromantic or confused people. Within romantic asexuals, I almost never see people dividing themselves between heteroromantic, biromantic, or homoromantic, and the similarity of experiences between these groups is almost always emphasized.

I am really sick and tired of sexual people trying to ignore the reality of asexual identities by pretending that they don’t exist. Because that’s exactly what’s going on when these people try to claim that heteroromantic people are really straight and homoromantic asexuals are really gay. Instead of engaging with the reality of asexuality as an identity in its own right, these people think that they can just sidestep the issue by claiming that asexuality itself doesn’t matter, romantic attraction is the real identifier of queerness or not-queerness!

(You will notice that these people never engage with the reality of aromantic asexuals, except sometimes to put us in the box marked ‘straight’ with no discussion or explanation. You know, it’s funny but I thought that to be a straight girl I actually had to like cock. It’s good to know I was wrong about that!)

Of course, if you brought up the reality of aromantic heterosexual people to these Lord Gatekeepers of the Word Queer, I bet you dollars to donuts they’d claim that those people are also Totally Straight. Yes! Apparently if you’re heteroromantic asexual, romantic orientation is the really important part, but if you’re aromantic heterosexual, sexual orientation is far more important.

The thing is, this is a great way for sexualnormative queer people to avoid having to actually engage with the idea of asexuality as a queer identity. It provides them with a tailor-made way to pretend that asexuality itself is unimportant and that asexual concerns can be dismissed as so much unimportant whining. After all, if you’re saying that the only important problems asexuals have come from their association with The Gay (or, in very slightly more enlightened circles, The Bi), then you can dismiss asexuality itself quite easily from the lists of things that you should probably pay attention to.

Unfortunately for them, the reality of asexuality is much, much more complicated than that. There’s a reason that asexuals discussing sexuality amongst ourselves don’t divide our experience into the “really straight” ones and the “really queer” ones amongst ourselves. That’s because when we share our experiences amongst ourselves, the similarities between us are far more starkly evident than the differences.

Besides, there are a lot of queer issues that apply to heteroromantics specifically because of their asexuality. Ace Admiral recently dug up the Queerness Invisible Knapsack and pointed out that fully 36 out of 40 points can apply just as much to asexuals–including heteroromantics–as they can to other kinds of queer people. Now, if you’re an identity-policing queer person, you get to make a decision here. Do these things matter in terms of oppression, or do they not? Is being “accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation” important? Because that’s something almost every asexual I know has encountered at some point. How about being able to “count on finding a therapist or doctor willing and able to talk about my sexuality”? Important or no? Does it matter when it happens to aces, regardless of any other aspect of their identities, or only when it happens to gay people?

I’m open to discussion of the use of “queer” by asexual people. But that discussion needs to refer to all asexual people, regardless of their other characteristics. And it needs to engage with asexuality as a primary identity on its own first. This divide and conquer bullshit is just that–bullshit. And it needs to stop right now.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I recently had a bisexual person tell me that bisexuality refers to “anyone who is not straight or gay” and when I pointed out that this erases asexuals, this person said that there isa such thing as a “bisexual asexual.” No, no, no. My asexuality or demiromanticism or whatever the hell I ultimately decide to call myself is NOT the same as other sexual orientations. That is why it is an orientation in its own right.

    This all goes back to the fricking word games I wrote about in my last post. Redefining words so that you can avoid acknowledging realities that make you uncomfortable simply makes communication difficult. It does not erase my asexuality to call me bisexual or pansexual or any other sexual besides asexual. It just pisses me off.

    Comment by Stephanie Silberstein — May 25, 2011 @ 12:40 am | Reply

    • Oh yes, people playing word games with someone else’s identity is always frustrating. Especially when it’s someone who thinks they get to label you without even knowing what half the words mean.

      Also, the whole bisexuality = asexuality thing… well, I’ve been known to put “bisexual” on censuses, but only because it’s the least wrong. Being least wrong out of several wrong choices doesn’t actually make that choice right.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 10:37 am | Reply

  2. I love that Ace Admiral post. That’s going on my constant signal boost list. It really demonstrates that asexuality is a THING IN ITSELF. And, like you said, there’s a reason that the asexual community makes very little divide between hetero, homo and other romantic orientations, because there’s very little difference when you look at them from an asexual perspective (and LGBTQ structures can compensate for the differences that there are).

    If anything, the big divide in the asexual community isn’t between homo and hetero, but between romantic and aromantic, and it’s telling quite how much significance this has for asexual people and how much it’s ignored by people who want to fit all asexual problems in their queer binary.

    Comment by slightlymetaphysical — May 25, 2011 @ 3:55 am | Reply

    • So many romantic aces are bi/panromantic anyway–isn’t it something like half of all romantic asexuals according to that one big poll? So I suspect a lot of the discussion doesn’t focus much on differences between heteroromantic/homoromantic because so many people experience both, themselves. (Well, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but you get my meaning.)

      And so much yes on the romantic/aromantic divide being the big one, when we divide ourselves at all.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 10:35 am | Reply

  3. “You know, it’s funny but I thought that to be a straight girl I actually had to like cock. It’s good to know I was wrong about that!”

    Such are the powers of the Magical Cock! It can turn you straight without you so much as looking at it. It’s strange to see queers talking about it, though. Usually it’s the heterosexual men touting it…

    Comment by Miriel — May 25, 2011 @ 7:10 am | Reply

    • I think I love you for this comment.

      Although yeah, usually the people touting the Magical Orientation-Changing Cock are the people it’s attached to.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  4. This is the thing that’s probably bothered me most — the erasure of our identities as asexuals to focus on the part that, sometimes, maps readily onto sexual experience. I kept flailing around trying to explain why it’s problematic, but this is pretty much exactly what I wanted to say. Thanks!

    Comment by anghraine — May 25, 2011 @ 9:27 am | Reply

    • Yeah, no problem! I have so many problems with this line of discussion because asexuals inevitably start discussing why we deal with oppression/identify as queer/insert issue here as asexuals while these people start screaming about how we totally experience nothing (or nothing really bad)/are not queer/are totally wrong as people of whatever romantic orientation. And you know, since I can’t really make sense of my romantic orientation in the first place, I get really angry at people sidestepping discussing what is actually my primary identity.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 10:25 am | Reply

  5. I’ve heard the aromantic = straight thing and I just don’t understand it. How? How is that straight? Maybe an aromantic person benefits from straight passing privilege, but that doesn’t make them straight.

    I like what you’ve said here. You’re right about a lack of engaging with the asexual community. I find it interesting that a lot are dismissing it out of hand without understanding it.

    I’m somewhere between aromantic and biromantic (because, suprise! asexuality is actually complicated!) and I don’t feel safe, respected, or accepted, despite all the “we’re only saying heteroromantics shouldn’t be included!” remarks. I saw one person on the ontd_feminism post that started this whole mess talking about her experiences as someone who identifies as homoromantic, and they were shooting down her perspective because she dared to suggest that the asexual aspect of her orientation meant anything to how people responded to her. You’re right about the way people are trying to pigeonhole us in based on our romantic orientation, when it’s so much more complicated than that. It’s funny, because we’re being told that we’re not oppressed because “all” that happens to us is that we’re erased…while continuing to be erased.

    Comment by presentlyhuman — May 25, 2011 @ 10:31 am | Reply

    • Like I said, I don’t get it either. But, you know, I’m an aromantic person who actually doesn’t benefit from much straight passing privilege (hi, non-standard gender presentation!), so it never made any intuitive sense at all to me.

      And yeah, actually, insofar as my weird confusing romantic orientation has a gender skew it’s definitely towards other people who are at least feminine of center. I don’t think I’d identify as homoromantic because I’m not actually sure I am experiencing feelings that are romantic at all, assuming I could identify romantic feelings in the first place, but I’m definitely much more prone to forming strong attachments to other women than I am to men.

      All that aside, though, I don’t feel safe at all around that crowd. They make me want to downplay that gender skew so that I don’t become associated with them in any way. I wouldn’t want to be in any group where they wanted me to be a member because it’s very clear to me that the sort of people who hang out at ontd_feminism are primarily interested in shoving me and people like me into a corner and ignoring us as best they can, and hating us when they can’t ignore us.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 10:47 am | Reply

      • I’m with you on the “is this romantic feeling or not?” and I think, if discussions of asexuality more appreciated, a discussion on how difficult it is to identify romantic feeling in a world that conflates the romantic and the sexual. There are few areas that explore romantic as separate from the sexual, to make the process of understanding emotions easier. I form strong emotional bonds with both men and women, but I don’t know if those bonds are romantic in nature, and I tend to fluctuate between feeling romantic and feeling platonic. I think there needs to be a word for someone who feels in between those two things.

        There’s so much I could say about my experiences as an asexual but I think if I were to do that, I’d probably just make a password protected blog on tumblr, and only give the password out to fellow aces, because I don’t think I’d have the emotional strength to deal with people so willing to dismissive asexuality as a whole.

        Comment by presentlyhuman — May 25, 2011 @ 10:59 am | Reply

        • Yeah, I have spent so much time asking “what does a romantic relationship feel like that makes it different from a platonic one?” to people who are very sure of what it is. And the thing is, most of them seem to come down to “you just know, it feels qualitatively different.” (Well, when I’m not getting totally condescending “how can you not know this?” responses, which is just aggravating.) These responses aren’t really all that helpful, which means I get to flounder around and do a lot of self-analysis. I tend to use “wtfromantic” when I’m feeling unhelpful, but I know other people use “greyromantic” to capture the sense of not actually knowing what the heck is going on there.

          I’m sorry you feel like you’d have to hide from nonasexual people, but I completely get where you’re coming from, unfortunately.

          Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 11:24 am | Reply

    • “I’m somewhere between aromantic and biromantic (because, suprise! asexuality is actually complicated!) and I don’t feel safe, respected, or accepted, despite all the “we’re only saying heteroromantics shouldn’t be included!” remarks.”

      My romantic orientation, from what I can tell, falls somewhere in there, too. If they’re only willing to accept me because I’ve had one or two crushes on women (which probably *still* wouldn’t count as queer enough for some of them), they’re not getting it and they’re not actually accepting me.

      It’s a little funny, because I personally don’t even particularly *want* to call myself queer or get heavily involved with that community. (Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’m not sure how much I’d want to even if I were gay.) But the reasons they’re excluding asexuals are privileged, ignorant bullshit, topped off with a helping of vile behavior, and that’s just not okay.

      Comment by Miriel — May 25, 2011 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  6. “A heteroromantic asexual person is not the same thing as a straight person. A homoromantic asexual person is not the same thing as a gay person.”

    Well as I’m sure you know, some heteromantic asexuals do label themselves straight and some homoromantic asexuals do label themselves gay. I’m somewhere between heteromantic and aromantic and do consider myself straight. However I’m not heterosexual or homosexual – even slightly.

    “the usual divide is between people who identify themselves as unambiguously romantic and aromantic or confused people. Within romantic asexuals, I almost never see people dividing themselves between heteroromantic, biromantic, or homoromantic”

    This is not my experience at all. As a crude way of estimating, I did the following google searches.
    “+homoromantic +asexual” – 12,200 hits
    “+heteroromantic +asexual” – 4,380 hits
    “+biromantic +asexual” – 3,470 hits
    “+panromantic +asexual” – 5,370 hits
    “+aromantic +asexual” – 11,700 hits
    “+romantic +asexual” – 7,810 hits (note this will include some spurious hits from “a-romantic” and “homo-romantic” etc., which means the true number is lower than this).

    Certainly doesn’t look to me like “romantic asexual” is a more common identifier than the more specific romantic orientations.

    Comment by flergalwit — May 25, 2011 @ 11:32 am | Reply

    • Yes, some asexuals do identify as straight or gay or bi in addition to asexual, and I’m sorry for eliding that. Identities are complicated things and everyone approaches them differently. I didn’t mean to say that romantic asexuals can’t also identify alongside their romantic orientation as you do, only that sexual outsiders don’t get to make that decision for other people’s identities. (This particular incident centered around a heteroromantic asexual who does not identify as straight and who was being told by many other people that she was straight.) I am sorry that that nuance got lost in the post itself, though.

      Actually, what I meant by “the usual divide” was not in terms of personal identity but in terms of intergroup tensions and experiences. Generally, I see people specifying when they identify their romantic orientations, not identifying as only a “romantic asexual.” (Offhand, I think I know of only one person who identifies that way.) However, in terms of the way people discuss their experiences and differentiate between different experiences, I see a lot more asexuals discussing the differences between romantic and aromantic experiences than I see asexuals discussing the differences between homoromantic and heteroromantic experiences. I also see a lot more hurt feelings or outright tension and anger between those two groups–not that there’s a lot, but I have seen romantic/aromantic infighting and I don’t think I’ve ever seen homoromantic/heteroromantic infighting.

      I don’t think I was clear there about referring to subdivisions within a larger group and not personal identity, though, so I apologize for that.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 11:46 am | Reply

      • I’ve seen a bit between the hetero v. homoromantic groups too. On the hetero side, there is the whole “we have nothing to do with queerness; stop embarrassing us by associating with LGBT; oh and btw we can’t be bothered to do any visibility of our own, but we’re just going to whinge about yours because it’s LGBT related” brigade. The homoromantic asexuals, naturally, do not buy this argument for the most part.

        RE: the aromantic v. romantic divide: one very interesting thing is that there is a popular perception (with some justification I think) that AVEN and AVEN-associated visibility movements are set up largely for romantic asexuals with the aromantic asexuals somewhat marginalised. Yet I recently found out, to my surprise, that the founder of AVEN actually identifies as aromantic. It’s ironic because I’ve heard aromantic people express bewilderment at how much focus there is on romance over there.

        Comment by flergalwit — May 25, 2011 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

        • Ehhh. I would read that as a political divide, not an orientational one. You’re heteroromantic, for example, and you were one of the biggest “asexuality is or at least can be read as inherently queer” voices, last I checked. And I know a lot more heteroromantic and aromantic pro-queer association people, too. Admittedly, that particular obnoxious faction is pretty low on homoromantics and bi/panromantics. (And refreshingly, I actually don’t think I have ever seen one of them off of AVEN or Apositive. It’s been pretty nice not having to deal with them since I left both sites.)

          Well, to be fair DJ hasn’t been an active participant on the forums of AVEN for several years now, and he seems to have very little to do with the forums themselves in general, so it’s not surprising that they’d have changed in his absence. He’s actually a strong influence on the writing of a lot of aromantics/greyromantics writing off of AVEN about different, nonromantic forms of obtaining emotional intimacy through his old blog Love From the Asexual Underground, did you know that?

          Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

  7. “A homoromantic asexual person is not the same thing as a gay person.”

    Thank you so much for this post: it is so rare that someone really gets it.

    “Gay” commonly means homosexual. I am not a homosexual: I am an androromantic demisexual (an asexual who experiences occasional sexual attraction toward biomales). Not quite the same thing as “gay” which is why (unlike some) I do not refer to myself as a “gay asexual” (which seems like a contradiction in terms). Queer, yes. Gay, no.

    I first became involved with the LGBT community over twenty years ago and have worked as an AIDS activist and educator. And quite frankly I am appalled at the level of vitriol and hostility that asexuals are subjected to by many LGBT people. Appalled and ashamed. I feel utterly betrayed by the community I thought I was once a part of.

    There is heteronormativity … and now there is homonormativity. And they both smell the same to me.

    Please keep posting. Great work!

    Comment by AndrewGyne — May 25, 2011 @ 11:55 am | Reply

    • I… am not sure I’d label this homonormativity, because to me homonormativity would be a culture-wide pushing towards EVERYONE being gay, and to me this smells rather more strongly like some people people saying “you’re not queer enough” and pushing people towards identifying as straight even if they actually don’t.

      But thank you very much for the compliments. I’m really glad to have been able to write something that resonated with you.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

  8. I think this really gets at the core of what’s upset me so much about what goes on in these debates. These people are telling us that they know our identities and vocabulary and communities better than we do, and that they have the right to define who we are, because they know so much more than we do, and have things figured out better.

    I feel like I really only see people discuss different romantic orientations (when having an overreaching discussion, not discussing their personal selves) when heteroromantic people are being attacked. Or discussing asexual spectrum people’s perception in the non-asexual queer community. (Granted, I don’t hang out on AVEN anymore, so this is a skewed impression based on blogs, Tumblr, and very old AVEN experiences.)

    I have not seen these types of people dealing with aromantic asexuals but to put them in the straight box … what? This is like putting a steak down under the vegetarian option. It’s like a big glaring “please don’t check my work on these problems, because I haven’t done it” sign. Really, I don’t get angry often, but, argh!

    Comment by ace eccentric — May 25, 2011 @ 12:44 pm | Reply

    • I’ve seen discussions go up on things like, oh, differing experiences trying to find long-term relationships and different perceptions by outsiders and that kind of thing. (Granted, I used to hang out on AVEN quite a lot, so I might also have a relatively skewed opinion thanks to issues there with infighting.)

      Oh yes, that came up a lot last time ontd_feminism got involved, and I saw in a couple of places that it had come up again. Apparently you only qualify as queer if you fuck or date members of your same gender. And anyone who isn’t queer must be straight! So aromantic asexuals are totally straight! …except, you know, how that’s laughably wrong.

      Comment by Sciatrix — May 25, 2011 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

  9. One thing, of the many things about this debate that has tripped my “wait. what?” sensors, is the fact that the people at ontd_f and elsewhere say they don’t want asexuals appropriating queer identities. Whether or not I agree, it’s at least a fair argument. But then somehow it’s appropriate for them to police asexual identities, saying that they are stupid, asking why asexuals aren’t actually sexual, and just generally trying to define the terms of our identities for us? No, that is neither logical nor acceptable.

    Comment by Aydan — May 25, 2011 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

  10. […] been reading through some recent stuff on tumblr. Sci’s recent posts give you a little bit of the […]

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