Writing From Factor X

January 23, 2011

How Inclusivity Fails On Asexuality

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

October 1, 2010

Asexual Feminism

Filed under: Feminism,Intersections — Sciatrix @ 12:01 am
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So I’m cheating a bit on the content here. This was actually a piece I wrote in June for the first edition of Asexual Feminism, a zine about… well, asexual feminism. It’s quite well named that way. I will actually put something new up on Monday, but given that it’s been about two months since this was first published, I thought I would add this to my blog now as well. Asexual Feminism is a great zine–if you want to read the whole thing, which I highly recommend, I host the PDF here with permission from the publisher and the relevant AVEN thread is here. (The zine does not have its own website, which is a shame in my view.)

So I kept meaning to write this Asexuality and Feminism thing. And the thing is, asexuality and feminism, on first glance, don’t seem to meet up too well at all. They’re quite different spheres, at least on the face of it.

But there’s this concept called intersectionality, and it’s rather important to my feminism, which is very wrought up with ableism and heterosexism (because those are the other two I have personal experience with) and also with racism, classism. That’s the most obvious way for the two frameworks to interact.

In a lot of ways, I relate asexuality most strongly to heterosexism and ableism, and only pull it back to feminism insofar as it’s another axis of oppression which is a Bad Thing and should be targeted. See, I’m specifically aromantic, asexual, and autistic, and those things are a more pertinent intersection in a lot of ways than the fact that I’m female. It also makes a pretty good explanation of how intersectionality works. For instance, one of the prevailing media stereotypes about autistic people is that we are somehow cold or emotionless. That also happens to be a common misconception about asexual people, which means that people who meet me and find out both qualities tend to get funny ideas about my desire for social contact. That’s an example of stereotypes behaving in cumulative fashion, but such intersectionality also works in conflicting ways.  As an example, the stereotypes surrounding aromantic asexuality and autism both tend to also be coded strongly male while I am female, so the expectations I am hit with differ strongly depending on whether someone is focusing on my femaleness or my autism or my asexuality.

But even aside from questions of intersectionality, asexuality and feminism have a lot of things to contribute to one another. For instance, asexuals inherently challenge gender roles by not living up to heteronormative ideals of femininity and masculinity. Asexual men in particular challenge the patriarchal ideal of men being obsessed with sex however they can get it, and romantic asexual men take this a step farther by rejecting the patriarchal idea that men put up with romance only to get sex out of it. But asexual women challenge the status quo, too.  Asexual women regardless of romantic orientation often have much more nuanced views of romantic relationships than the general culture would determine, because for us a romantic relationship is usually fraught with dealing with orientational mismatch. And all of that doesn’t even get into how asexual people with queer romantic orientations or gender identities challenge the strict gender roles demanded by patriarchy.

Then there’s rape culture. Asexual women in particular benefit from feminism and concepts like “no means no” because the concept of frigidity combined with the perception that sex isn’t a thing for women to begin with is particularly likely to pressure asexual women into having sex that they don’t necessarily want to begin with. The narratives surrounding men who might not want to have sex are even worse, however—asexual men may feel particularly confused by cultural conditioning that men are up for sex at any time and be just as likely to be pressured into unwanted sex.

Feminism also benefits from the asexuality movement simply by acknowledging asexual perspectives in feminist thought. For instance, it is entirely possible when considering asexuals to have a person who is sex-positive in theory, when considering the needs of other people, and yet completely personally disgusted by the idea of sex as it relates to them. The problem with some current mainstream feminism views on sex is that often they forget that not all people do have sexual desires, that the problems surrounding sex in this culture can’t all be solved by getting everyone in tune with their sexual selves, and that a person can be repulsed without being repressed. Asexuals serve to remind social thinkers that people are more and less comfortable with sex, and that this is okay.

Asexuality and feminism have a lot to teach each other, even if they appear to be unrelated at first glance. I greatly look forward to seeing the thoughts of other writers working on this intersection in the future.

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