Writing From Factor X

January 24, 2012

This Is Not My “Better Half”

So. That House episode, huh?

I admit, I’m not a regular watcher of House. I don’t watch much TV, honestly. So for those people who haven’t been paying attention, yesterday the television show House aired an episode called “Better Half,” written by Kath Lingenfelter, in which (among other things) in which an asexual couple is heavily featured. A lot of people went into this episode feeling really enthusiastic on the strength of a promotional clip that appeared to treat asexuality positively.

What they actually got was an episode in which two doctors (House and Wilson) make a bet as to whether one can find a medical reason for an asexual patient’s sexuality. In the end one part of the asexual couple is shown to be suffering from a brain tumor and the other is revealed to be faking it to be with him. In the reveal, in fact, Wilson explicitly compares asexuality to homosexuality when deciding whether to attempt to cure the man with the tumor–and House reiterates that they are, in fact, dealing with a brain tumor, not a valid sexual orientation. The narrative supports House, not the first doctor. When the man is presented with the knowledge of his brain tumor, his wife essentially pressures him into receiving treatment despite his discomfort and reveals that she was not only actually ace but that all along she had been craving sex that he couldn’t give her. The storyline concludes with House collecting his money and remarking on the extra win of “correcting two people’s wildly screwed-up world views. Not bad for a day’s work!” I think that more or less sums up the episode’s perspective on asexuality.

I wasn’t surprised by the episode, though (or Moffat’s recent quote on Sherlock’s asexuality, the other current piece of media discussion going on). I have to admit, I expected something like this to happen. Admittedly, I didn’t expect it to be quite this bad, but I was frankly expecting it to be insulting at best and… well, as it was at worst.

I would like to say that I expect more. I would like to say that the one page of positive asexual perspective in Guardian of the Dead didn’t reduce me almost to tears when I read it and nearly made me cry again when that asexual character’s orientation was respected for the length of the third of the story that he appeared in. I would like to say that my favorite ace character, one of the most respectful portrayals of my sexuality I’ve ever seen, isn’t one who is also explicitly portrayed as having that orientation because of a gang rape and a clerical vow. I would like to say that when Poppy on Huge came out as ace two years ago, my heart didn’t leap for joy–and drop just as quickly when the show was cancelled a few episodes later, having never mentioned her sexuality again.

You know, I’d like to say these things. I’d like to say that I treat asexual characters being respectfully portrayed as humdrum, because shouldn’t respectful portrayals of asexuality be the default? Shouldn’t I get to expect basic human respect on the (incredibly rare) occasions when my sexuality turns up in media?

But the fact is, I don’t expect that. What I expect instead is for anyone tangentially mentioning asexuality in the mainstream media to immediately attempt to delegitimize it. I expect to be told that really I must be sick, or repressed, or broken in some way. Characters in media are treated the same way–characters can’t be ace for the sake of it, but they must be inhuman, or ill, or traumatized. And frankly,  given the quality of reactions I expect to hear from people around me when encountering asexuality for the first time, I expect media portrayal to get worse before it gets better. As asexuality becomes more well known, I expect more people to bring it up in media–and I expect more of those people to handle it in an offensive way for cheap jokes, as happened in “Better Half” while the characters got around to showing that really, people who identify as asexual are “either sick, lying, or dead.” (This is a direct quote. Hey, the only one we didn’t get to see in the episode was the dead ace! Maybe next time.)

The writer of the episode, Kath Lingenfelter, has this to say about the very critical reaction aces have had to her work:

I am trying to communicate with several of the people of the asexual community who were displeased, so forgive me if I repeat myself. I did a lot of research on asexuality for the episode. My original intent was to introduce it and legitimize it, because I was struck by the response most of you experience, which is similar to the prejudice the homosexual community has received. People hear you’re asexual and they immediately think, “What’s wrong with you, how do I fix you?” I wanted to write against that. Unfortunately, we are a medical mystery show. Time & again, my notes came back that House needed to solve a mystery and not be wrong. So in THIS CASE, with THESE patients, it was a tumor near the pituitary. But I hoped I could (now it seems unsuccessfully) introduce asexuality to the general public and get them asking questions. All they need to do is one google search and they can see for themselves it’s a real community of great people. Originally, part of my dialog included thoughts about whether as a species we’ve grown past sex. Any time we tackle a subject, we risk the possibility of not doing it justice. I apologize that you feel I did you a disservice. It was not my intent.

[…]

Asexuality is a new topic for me and definitely one I find fascinating. It is a subject I would like to continue to explore here or ..on future shows I write for. I think it speaks to where humans are now and where we are going. I will do my best in the future to do it justice. Thank you for feedback and please share any and all thoughts.

Speaking for myself, the idea of Ms. Lingenfelter tackling asexuality in her work again after this initial showing is something I find appalling. Particularly given the quality of this particular apology, which suggests that Ms. Lingenfelter is “sorry that [asexuals] feel [she] did a disservice.” There is no feeling here. She undeniably did a huge disservice to my community. Instead of writing against the pathologization of asexuals, she used her large and well-connected platform to reinforce and entrench that pathologization.

If Ms. Lingenfelter needed a medical mystery to solve for House, I understand that. What I do not understand is why this mystery had to be directly related to the asexuality of the couple featured on the show. I’m an asexual woman, myself. I’ve been sick plenty of times. Aces are not mysteriously resistant to all unusual diseases except those pertaining to asexuality. Why, if she genuinely wanted to be an ally to the asexual community, did she make the choice to portray her characters’ asexuality as a disease and a lie? Was there some sort of reason that her asexual characters couldn’t have a completely unrelated disorder?

I’m not a writer, but it took me about thirty seconds to come up with a plotline that simultaneously included a respectful portrayal of an asexual character and a medical mystery for House to solve: An asexual character presents with assorted symptoms. House assumes the asexuality is a symptom and comes up with a list of disorders based on that as his primary symptom. Turns out it’s none of those, and instead is a completely different disorder unrelated to the character’s sexuality. Whoops, they wasted all that time on trying to diagnose a character’s sexuality when really the actual problem was something totally different! It’s not only respectful, it’s an accurate portrayal of the issues that asexual people going to the doctor for anything experience. She could have made social commentary on asexual pathologization a central part of the storyline. Instead, she chose to make the storyline pathologize asexuals explicitly.

You know, maybe I’m a bit sensitive about this because the last time I was told that I should have my asexuality checked out by a doctor was three weeks ago. By my mother, no less, to whom I’ve been out for years, and who knew this was an offensive thing to say to me when she said it. It’s not the first time I’ve been told to have my sexual orientation investigated by a physician, and it won’t be the last. In fact, after this I’m more or less expecting to have pathologizing responses increase in frequency, which means I (and other aces like me) will be saddled with the thankless task of undoing the misconceptions this episode spreads so gleefully.

I’m disappointed that a popular television show has chosen to encourage people to pathologize asexuals and treat our community with such disrespect. Ms. Lingenfelter?

If this is the best justice you can do asexuality, please stay the fuck away next time.

November 5, 2011

Fuck Yes, I Have Pride

Filed under: Anger,Fitting Sideways,Reacting To Assumptions — Sciatrix @ 10:36 pm
Tags: , , ,

I feel the need to tell a story about pride. (This is bouncing off a post Ily recently wrote, which, again, is fantastic and which you should read.)

One day, I was having lunch with a friend. And at this particular lunch, the topic of some personal insecurities of mine came up. It had been a pretty bad day, and I was in the middle of one of my figuring-out-how-my-affectional-orientation-works-and-freaking out phases, and the topic of autism had come up in a most faily way earlier, and I was tired.

So I complained about how badly, some days, I wish I could just fit in; how much I sometimes wish I could be normal, just so I didn’t have to deal with certain kinds of shit. Being different: it’s exhausting. Microaggressions are exhausting! Existing in a world that is adamantly not set up for you is exhausting! Always being the only one in the room is exhausting! And some days, the prospect of getting to stop being exhausted is a really tempting one.

And she was completely flabbergasted. “How can you ever want to be normal?! You always seem to take such pride in being different!”

I paused for a moment, looked at her and answered: “Of course I take pride in being different. It’s that or hate myself.”

I’ve never forgotten this exchange, because it illustrates something that’s pretty fundamental to the way I work.

Every time I say “I’m proud of who I am,” I’m also saying: “Fuck you, world, for telling me I should ever think differently.” Every time I say “being ace is awesome” I’m also saying “and fuck anyone who says otherwise.” Every time I say “I wouldn’t change my autistic status for the world” I also say “and fuck all of you who would rather seen a child dead than see it born autistic.”

My pride is a reaction to an entire lifetime of being told to be ashamed of who and what I am. To being told that I should hide away, should pretend to be something different, so that other people can be more comfortable. Or less bored. Or something, anything, but forced to consider that I exist.

I have encountered a lot of people, over the years, who see my existence as something to grieve over; whose first response to hearing about people like me is unthinking pity or scorn. I have encountered a lot of people whose first reaction to me telling them about an essential part of myself is to ask me if I’ve looked into curing it, if I’ve sought treatment, if I’ve tried to make that part of myself go away. I have encountered people who are completely baffled by the idea that I would find attempts to make sure no children like me are ever born again offensive.

I’m also a naturally contrary, angry person. And there has been nothing in my life as freeing as the realization I had a while ago, that I can say “fuck them.” That for every person I come across saying my asexuality is something pitable, for every fucking Autism Speaks bumper sticker I come across, I can stand up and say “I’m fucking awesome, just the way I fucking am.” And I can say: “I’m proud of who I am, who I am is great, and if you think otherwise you can go screw yourself.”

I don’t know that I would be as proud of what I am, of who I am, if so many people hadn’t attempted to make me feel otherwise. But I do know that if it’s a choice between being proud and taking joy in who and what I am and listening to the people who tell me I should be ashamed and hate myself?

I’ll take the pride every time.

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.

April 10, 2011

Newsflash: There Are More Than Two Rules

So I’ve been seeing this list around lately that claims to explain the root of all unpleasantness around sexuality in mainstream culture with two simple rules:

  1. It is simultaneously inconceivable and intolerable for a woman to have sexual desire.
  2. It is simultaneously inconceivable and intolerable for a man to be sexually desired.

And you know, I see a lot of excitement around it! I keep seeing people exclaim that it totally explains everything! So it’s a pity that I think it’s horseshit.

I’m not going to go into much detail on the second point, the one about men, because I’m not male and don’t have much personal experience there. I will point out that all those super-masculine images of the Stud, who has All The Girls, is presumed to be sexy and handsome and at least attractive enough not to have to actually pay women to have sex with him. Seriously, you think women aren’t supposed to find Manly Men attractive? Really?

But you know, it’s the second contention–women aren’t allowed to express desire–that really amuses me. Because I’m a woman, and I don’t experience sexual attraction and therefore don’t exactly go around saying “mmm, you hot thing, I would totally like to sleep with you!” You’d think that society would be all over me as the Perfect Woman from that list!

And you’d be wrong.

Even before I was out as asexual, I was generally pretty open about not being interested in anyone. I didn’t go around proclaiming my asexuality, but when people asked me direct questions I answered truthfully. So I’d be asked whether I found specific boys attractive and I would say “no.” And instead of going “well done then!” and getting social brownie points as this little set of rules assumes would happen, I get suspicion. I am told that I am broken either in my body or my mind. I am told I must be lying. In short, the reactions I get for not expressing sexual desire for anyone are a far cry from accepting, let alone praising.

It’s funny how according to this, mainstream society finds it inconceivable for a woman to be different from me.

It is not okay within mainstream society for a woman to never express sexual desire. It is certainly not okay to be openly, loudly asexual, and it is damn well not the ideal for women to be asexual. Where do you think the term “frigid” comes from? Did you think it was a compliment?

I have a problem with the kinds of discussion I often see in sex-positive spaces, and things like this are an excellent example of why. I find that sex-positive spaces often set themselves in opposition to a presumed sex-negative mainstream, as if the nasty dynamics surrounding sexuality in mainstream were as simple as black and white. They’re really, really not.

For instance: women are supposed to have sexualities. Sexualities directed, I might add, specifically at men. They’re just not supposed to take charge of them or express them openly. Which is probably a large part of the reason that asexual women–I repeat, women who don’t express sexual desire for others because they don’t experience sexual attraction–come in for so much crap, because women who identify as asexual are already stepping out of the narrowly constricted boundaries for female sexual expression and owning their own sexualities.

The thing is, it would be one thing if all that came out of this depressing tendency to oversimplify the fucked-up attitudes that culture has to sex was that asexual people get to trip over works assuming that we’re what the mainstream wants and laugh until we choke. That would be obnoxious, but manageable and at least entertaining. But that’s not actually the worst of it.

See, if we’re being held up as “what the mainstream wants,” if people are hanging out in circles that espouse this kind of thinking, they’re likely to think of us as part of the problem. If the problem is that mainstream culture doesn’t like sex, then clearly people who also are not particularly interested in sex must be collaborators in oppression!

And that’s where I think most of the terrifying anger you see at asexuals in feminist and queer spaces–those most likely to identify as sex-positive–comes from. After all, if you’re dealing with a ton of crap about your sexuality and you’re being told it’s the fault of all those people who (gasp!) don’t like sex, of course you’re going to get angry when people stand up and claim to not experience sexual attraction and furthermore explain that this is not actually an enviable state of affairs.

It’s a pity that so much anger comes out of such a fundamental oversimplication of what Western culture really thinks people “should” do about sexuality.

February 19, 2011

Why I Hate Ticky Boxes

There’s this piece about asexuality that’s just been published: Asexuality–Not Just For the Amoebas: What It’s Like to be “Ace” in College. It did not go on the linkspam. Admittedly, part of the reason for that is that I found it shortly after the linkspam went up, but even if I’d known about it weeks ago it wouldn’t have gone on the linkspam, because this piece is everything that is wrong with articles sexuals write about asexuality. It’s not even original in its failure, in fact, which is why I’m going to specifically critique it here. I may as well get some use out of its mediocrity.

First, way to cast suspicion on aceness as an identity right there in the title by calling us quote-unquote “aces.” That sets the tone for the rest of the piece, in fact; nothing asexuals have to say about themselves in the piece is treated as above challenge. We don’t even have the right to our own words without air-quotes.

And then we have the tired old trope of calling up a “sexologist” to explain why asexuality isn’t really real. This is what really gets me, folks, because it shows up in just about every damn article or TV discussion of asexuality you can name. But oh, the media have to provide a balanced opinion, as if there really are two legitimate sides to every issue, so of course they need to dig up someone to prove us wrong in our silly little self-identifications! It’s not like we can be definitive experts on our own experiences or anything!

But anyway. We’ve got our sexologist out to prove asexuals wrong. Her name’s Dr. Patricia Fawver, in fact, and it appears that she’s Dr. Joy Davidson, Round Two: a self-proclaimed expert who is dead-set on hiding her refusal to accept asexuality as a valid identity beneath a heavy layer of concern trolling. Again: not original. Davidson did it four years ago; you’d think they’d have learned something new by now, but apparently not. Davidson, incidentally, has since had the gall to express surprise that asexuals don’t like her. Wanna bet this lady does the same thing down the road?

Fawver, I might add, appears to have no idea what we mean when we claim “asexual” as a label, which would call her status as an expert on sexuality (or at least asexuality) into question if we were discussing any other topic. However, we’re discussing asexuality, so her assertion that “asexuality” means “without sexuality” goes totally unchallenged. In fact, the piece immediately follows this up with the line “In some ways, it is difficult to argue with Dr. Fawver.”

Yes. It is totally difficult to argue with Dr. Fawver. The fact that she’s setting up a complete straw argument about the nature of asexuality goes completely unnoticed and undiscussed, of course. So does the fact that she’s apparently never heard of asexuality or what it means before this conversation, since the fact that we’re discussing lack of sexual attraction rather than total lack of sexuality appears to have flown over her head. But her arguments are so good, guys! She’s totally a credible expert on this topic!

Then the article moves on to discussing whether or not asexuals actually exist. This is treated as a topic worthy of serious discussion. I don’t even have words. For the record? I exist. Fuck anyone who tries to say otherwise. This is another one of those “no, actually, there are not two legitimate sides to the story” topics.

Fawver returns later on in this one with a stern warning to the rest of us not to identify as asexual without checking all the laundry list of causes that could potentially have done it. For crying out loud, we’re discussing an orientation, not a symptom of disease! This is what I mean by concern trolling, by the way: Fawver is covering up her insistence that no one identify this way by insisting that making people jump through a ton of hoops before identifying as asexual is for our own good. As a special bonus, she hits most of the common stupid explanations for asexuality on her way down. Apparently that old whine about claiming to change one’s sexual orientation because of a bad break-up could be true, guys!

Of course, the flip side to the “two sides to a story” malarkey is that the article’s got to present the pro-asexuality side, too. Which it does by… citing possibly the worst research paper on asexuality ever published. Seriously, they’re claiming that the fact that 5-6% of Americans are still virgins has some kind of useful relevancy to asexuality, despite the fact that asexuals are generally quite happy to say “asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy” until we’re blue in the face. The author, who is writing from a college campus and therefore almost certainly has a lot of access to actual academic journals, presumably cited this pile of steaming academic fail because it’s available free on the Internet.

Finally, halfway through the piece, it goes on to detail what a real asexual person actually has to say about the experience of being asexual in college. I don’t have anything much to say about that; it’s pretty unobjectionable, but the fact that it took a solid page and a half for the author to get around to asking an asexual person what their experiences have been like is fairly significant. It demonstrates exactly whose opinions on asexuality are important here: nonasexuals’.

The piece’s ending makes this particularly clear, because it concludes firmly on an anti-asexual note. First, it stresses that asexuality is totally fluid and subject to change, comparing it to other “identities” rather than other sexual orientations. Again, this is telling. Asexuality discussion is particularly prone to stressing the potential changeability of sexual orientation and explaining that this is why someone shouldn’t take on an asexual identity–after all, one’s asexuality could change any moment! Of course this is never applied to other sexual orientations like identifying as straight or gay. Those are legitimate, cast as unchanging; asexuality is framed as a temporary state that could change at any moment, despite being no more fluid than any other sexuality.

Also? Apparently we shouldn’t “pre-diagnose ourselves with a trendy label” before we’ve thought very hard about who and what we are. There’s a bargain–two commonly used tropes to dismiss asexuality in one phrase! We’ve got “pre-diagnose,” which harkens back to the framing of asexuality as a sort of mental or physical illness, and then we have “asexuality is a trendy label,” which implies that we’re all just mindless fashionistas adopting the word because it’s cool. I don’t know what planet the author lives on where being ace is the next big thing, but I’d love to live there. The planet I live on, as a person who is actually an out asexual, is the one where being ace is a thing coated in obscurity and treated with condescending distaste under that. Hers sounds way more fun.

And Fawver gets the last word, as always in articles like this; heaven forbid we end on a positive note about asexuality from our own perspective. Apparently we’re supposed to “claim our sexuality and be proud, but understand it’s a choice not to engage with another person”. Does Fawver have a functioning grasp of logic? How do I claim my sexuality for what it is while simultaneously writing it off as a choice that I’m making? Unless of course that I’m supposed to understand that the choice is for me to own my innate sexuality, which duhthat’s what I’m doing when I identify as asexual. Which we’re not supposed to do. Why is this person held up as an expert, again?

So seriously, fuck Her Campus. Dr. Fawver may be an arrogant twit when it comes to asexuality, but they were the ones who gave her a platform in the first place. As an asexual in college, all this article is telling me is that Her Campus doesn’t actually care about or respect college asexuals. Instead, it’s telling me that Her Campus cares more about what nonasexuals think asexuality is than listening to what we have to say about ourselves. And honestly? That’s worse than not helping. If we’re going to have pieces on asexuality, can we maybe find some that aren’t packed chock-full of dismissive language and interviews from uninformed, pontificating “sexologists” who have never studied asexuality in their lives?

February 14, 2011

They Still Don’t Care About Us

Filed under: Anger,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 9:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

So reviewing the Dan Savage commentary from his admittedly fucked-up recent post about fat marriage in the general social justice blogosphere has been illuminating. Namely, people are talking about it. Big-name people. Small people. My Google reader exploded! People care about the fact that fat people maybe don’t deserve to be vilified for the fact of their bodies. Awesome, fantastic, this is a topic that needs to be talked about!

His equally fucked-up commentary about “minimally sexual” and asexual people in the same week, on the other hand? Absolutely zilch. Except coming from asexual people ourselves, of course. It’s been a slap in the face, actually. It’s a remainder that no one gives a damn about asexuals but ourselves. Savage can say whatever the hell he likes about asexuals, and who we should and shouldn’t inflict ourselves on, and no one will speak up for us but ourselves. Other people have allies who leverage privilege in their behalf. We have nothing.

In fact, I bet some of the asexuals reading this are thinking “we should expect other people to speak up for us?” and looking gobsmacked, because the belief that we can trust others to know and care nothing about asexuals is that ingrained. And it’s not an irrational belief, either; it’s not like experience teaches us otherwise. I suppose I’m the irrational one, in fact, for believing that people ought to care about asexuals.

Actually, you know what? At this point, I don’t even care whether you do care about us. I’m just tired of seeing people throw asexuality in as an aside without ever actually backing up the word with a breath of actual conversation about asexuals.

Shakesville, in particular, if you want to call yourselves asexual-friendly? You want to call yourselves allies?

Don’t just slap a cutesy “the cultural narratives surrounding romantic relationships assume you’re sexual” on your post and never mention the existence of asexuality again on a post, please. In fact, at this point? Either find someone to say something tangible about asexuality from a social justice perspective, or stop putting us in your so-inclusive lists and go back to pretending asexuals aren’t important. That we’re not worth talking about. Everyone else is doing it, you won’t even have to feel bad about it, but it would be a damn sight better than this bait-and-switch thing you’re doing.

I am sick and tired of seeing asexuality listed in groups of marginalizations–if I’m even that lucky–and never seeing people even stop to educate themselves once.  I am tired of never seeing issues that relate to people like me come up, ever. I am particularly sick of seeing lists that pat themselves on the back for being inclusive and never follow up that promise of inclusivity with action.

I am sick and tired of people putting asexuals on those lists, and then never actually so much as trying analyze a single issue from an asexual perspective. Because actually, the existence of asexuality could enrich discussions of consent, medicalization, ignoring boundaries, rape culture, concern trolling about one’s health, anything–even an aside that makes it clear that one is actually considering how a given issue might affect asexual people.

I am sick and tired of flinching when I come into social justice spaces when my own damn orientation comes up because I am waiting for the flurry of insults, concern trolling, and general demands to prove my existence in spaces that are ostensibly supposed to be safe for queer people. In fact? I flinch worse in queer spaces.

The omission is getting obvious. And you know, I’m greedy, and I do expect more. I’m tired of handing out cookies. Either be actual fucking allies and say things of substance when tangible issues of asexual oppression crop up, or stop putting on the pretense. But right now? I’m feeling pretty fucking slapped.

January 31, 2011

On Being Incapable of Love

This post was originally written for the Spectral Amoebas blog carnival.

I found out about autism when I was twelve years old–young enough to be impressionable, old enough for my life to change. Old enough to go out and do my own research. I promptly started reading everything about autism and more specifically Asperger’s Syndrome that I could. Not that there was much, particularly much that dealt with teenagers instead of children or autistic girls of any age, but I went through everything I could find anyway. In retrospect, that was a recipe for disaster.

See, I kept running into NT stereotypes that claimed that autistic people had a hard time loving others, or caring about them, or expressing love if it was there at all. I even ran into a bunch of people who appeared to be conflating autism with sociopathy and who variously claimed autistic people couldn’t connect to otthers, or didn’t want to, or simply didn’t have “higher emotions” to begin with.

This struck me as a bit strange, because I am not a person who has any difficulty feeling strong emotion. On the contrary: I sometimes have difficulty because of my strength of feeling. I can’t bear to see someone embarrassed or two people arguing. I used to have to flee the room because I couldn’t handle the fear or anxiety I was getting off the characters on a movie screen, and I was supposed to be incapable of strong emotions? Does not compute.

And of course I kept seeing the comparisons to robots, to hyper-logical characters, the stereotypes of being really good at analysis but incapable of feeling anything emotional. Guys, I’m good at analysis and I’m not necessarily great at emotional processing, I usually need either help or a ton of time to analyze emotions when they confuse me–but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

But to continue the story, I kept reading. I started interacting with specifically autistic communities. I got an account at WrongPlanet and started posting on the forums. And I began to absorb the idea that to be autistic, I had to be hyperrational and low on feeling. Besides, I liked the idea that I could be cold and rational all the time. I was getting bullied in some pretty unpleasant ways at the time, and it felt pretty good to pretend that the insults I was getting didn’t bug me, that I couldn’t feel hurt at all.

I turned fourteen. Somewhere in there, I found out about asexuality and about being aromantic, and started sort-of identifying myself as both. Not that I, you know, told anyone about it or spent much time in asexual spaces–I basically ignored that aspect of my identity for a long time, unless someone asked me directly about it. I was focusing on other things, and it didn’t seem important then; after all, I was fourteen and none of my friends were dating anyway.

When I was fifteen I moved. I took some time away from WrongPlanet and I spent most of the rest of high school focusing on other things. I was pretty isolated throughout high school, so I spent a lot of time online or reading books. And all the introspection started making me question the “triumph” of logic over emotion. I certainly started questioning the idea that I was necessarily all that logical. It’s hard to think of yourself as a hyperrational data junkie when you’re freaking out because your routine got destroyed, for instance. With that came disbelief in the “emotionless” paradigm. I was isolated, as I said; well, as I got older I started realizing that not having any close meatspace friends really sucks for me. I need people to care about.

I developed a violent distaste for being told I was cold, robotic, emotionless, or any combination of those things. I started getting particularly upset about the idea that I didn’t care about people, because I do. I care strongly about people, as a matter of fact. And I started getting angry about seeing all those stereotypes applied to me. I’m not a goddamn robot.

Then I went to college and started interacting with people again. I got reminded of why I had an identity to begin with, because I was surrounded by people who weren’t like me at all, and interacting with them made me feel isolated again. Suddenly being on the spectrum mattered, but asexuality really mattered now. I was so different from my friends that I started craving the company of other asexuals just to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t a freak, I wasn’t the only one out there. (I was one of the unbelievably lucky ones; I knew there was a community and I even knew where to find it.) So I came back to AVEN and started talking about being asexual again. And I started talking about being aromantic.

Imagine my frustration when I started hitting stereotypes on AVEN about aromantics being–you guessed it!–emotionless, cold, and devoid of strong emotions for others. I remember threads where posters asked shamelessly whether or not aromantics loved others, whether aromantics were heartless. Aromantic sexuals, where they came up, were almost always discussed as completely feelingless people who knowingly used and manipulated people for sex.

I started to get angry.

I looked at the media and noted that where portrayals of aromantic asexuals existed, they tended to be coded inhuman, alien, and most of all emotionless. Where portrayals of asexuals who cared about other people popped up, they tended invariably to be romantics. I won’t even begin to discuss autistic media portrayals here; they tended if anything to be worse.

I got angrier. And I am still angry.

I am not emotionless. I am not cold. I am not robotic. I am human, I feel things, I care about people. And I am so, so tired of other people trying to take that away from me.

January 23, 2011

How Inclusivity Fails On Asexuality

Filed under: Anger,Feminism,Intersections — Sciatrix @ 4:44 pm
Tags: , , , ,

So I got linked to on Feministe last week. And if you haven’t read the post there, you really should, because it’s notable for a) being written by someone who is clearly trying to be a clued-up ally, and b) having a comment section that is remarkably well-behaved, probably more due to some awesome moderation than to actual niceness on the part of the commentariat.  The post is about how asexuality tends to get ignored by the broader social justice movement, and how this is not, in fact, a good thing.

I’ve actually been thinking about this post for a long time, because the search term most often used to find this blog after its name is “asexual feminism” and variations on that theme. I’ve been feeling a little obscurely weird about that, because while I am a feminist and my writing is certainly influenced by broader social justice concepts, I don’t tend to write about issues of sexism here. Elizabeth at Shades of Gray has done a lot more of that in her archives than I have. When I wrote “Asexual Feminism,” I felt strangely about it, because my feelings are that asexuality has more in common with broader social justice movements.

So let me start again. Why I think that the social justice movement ought to pay more attention to asexuality: because asexuality is an oppressed class, dammit. Asexuals are pretty used, as a whole, to being ignored. That would be because one of the main mechanisms of asexual oppression is invisibility. (The other big one, I would argue, is medicalization. When we’re still in the freaking DSM, under the same criteria last applied to ego-dystonic homosexuality in 1973, I think claims to asexuality being a privileged identity fail to hold water.)

When I say asexuals are oppressed by invisibility, I don’t only mean that the usual state of things is, right now, for asexual people to grow up without even the simplest words to describe what they are, even to themselves. I don’t only mean that for asexuals, it is not uncommon to expect to spend our lives lying about what we are, or hiding. I don’t only mean that seeing the word “asexual” outside of our own spaces, used in the sense of sexual orientation, is cause for minor celebration even if it’s a bad definition.

I mean that when you try to break that invisibility, mainstream culture comes down on you like a ton of bricks. “You can’t be asexual, you must have diabetes or autism or some kind of hormonal disorder.” “You can’t be asexual, that doesn’t exist–everyone wants sex.” “You can’t be asexual, you must have some kind of specific mental disorder instead.” “You can’t be asexual, all you need is a good raping.” When “do you reproduce like an amoeba?” is among the better responses one can get, I have a hard time believing that asexual invisibility persists only because of a temporary ignorance.

Generally, asexuals think that we’re doing pretty well if people know what asexuality is, sort of. Never mind actually paying attention to asexual issues, it’s generally enough to make people rejoice if we get added onto a list. Speaking for myself, my first reaction to Chally’s post was astonishment, followed by being grateful–oh my gosh, someone from a mainstream social justice blog actually deigned to discuss asexual issues, and oh my gosh she actually implied that we’re a real orientation that counted, do you know how rare that is? I have seen a post on a social justice blog discuss issues of asexuality exactly once before in my entire life, on a guest post that Kaz did at FWD. FWD in general was pretty asexual-friendly, in fact, but it recently shut down.

Aside from that, Shakesville is the only blog that I know that tries to make an effort to be asexual-friendly, and even that only extends so far as not letting asexophobic trolls go unremarked and occasionally mentioning asexuality on lists. Chally’s post was remarkable for being the only non-101 asexuality post outside of asexuality-specific space I have ever seen discuss my orientation as self-evidently real.  I’m far more used to seeing asexuality come up in broader social justice spaces, usually in the comments of other posts, and have to flinch because the hatred comes out of the woodwork. If it doesn’t in the main post, the concern trolling and the medicalization always pops up on the comments over and over and over again.

It sucks to see places that claim to focus on all social justice issues continually ignore asexuality. It’s depressing to see worse reactions to asexuality crop up in ostensibly feminist sites, in fact; the worst examples of asexual fail I have seen have been on… Feministing and ontd_feminism.  It frustrates me that I feel grateful because I see my orientation listed instead of omitted completely, but never discussed at all. And it saddens me that posts like Chally’s are so very, very rare. I’m so used to being ignored by the broader social justice community that I started this blog in part to discuss asexuality from that standpoint–because if no one else was, at least I could start doing it.

I’m used, in short, to assuming that I don’t matter to the social justice community. And I have no idea how to go about changing that.

December 18, 2010

FAIL, Teva.

So this morning I finally heard about this awesome new ad campaign that Teva Pharmeceuticals is running for Plan B. There are a ton of things to criticize about this campaign, and I’ve done my bit by writing a letter explaining them to the representative listed in very small words. (Among other things: if you seriously think asexuality implies asociality, I’m going to have to question whether you sleep with everyone you’re friendly with, right down to family members.) There is a lot of fail, lots of people are talking about the fail, awesome. There’s more than enough fail to go round.

The thing is, the campaign actually plays into existing use of the word “asexual” as a pejorative. See, one of the things I do as a blogger is keep tabs on what people are saying about asexuality. I use a couple of blog tracking sites to find out what people are saying, and I read just about everything that’s not clearly about bacteria and also isn’t in Spanish.

And I have noticed a growing number of people using the word “asexual” to mean “ugly.” “Unfuckable.” “Unattractive.” “So ugly I think of them as genderless” is a particularly frustrating minority usage. I’ve had that one used on others around me, by people I considered actual friends and whom I was out to. I was not pleased then, and I’m damn well not pleased now.

I think it’s actually possible that Teva Pharmaceuticals didn’t know about asexuality as an orientation before they orchestrated their ad campaign. (Although Ily has some compelling arguments that they might have, most notably the grey-and-purple color scheme, and you ought to go check that out. Certainly I’m not inclined to take not knowing as an excuse.) I think they’re using “asexual” in terms of the popular pejorative meaning I’m beginning to see. To wit: they’re using it as an insult. An insult which is meant to make women yelp “Oh, I’m not like that!” and use their product. Which is really, now I think of it, a slightly more subtle insult to women.

We’re not totally invisible anymore, folks. Our orientation is now a bona fide insult. Fuck visibility, we’re out there now, we’re home free–! Oh, wait, now we’re having to deal with other kinds of oppression. Funny how visibility isn’t turning out to be the all-consuming panacea that we’ve all been told about.

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