My entry for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces theme: The Unassailable Asexual.
The Unassailable Asexual is the concept that the ideal asexual, especially when it comes to activism, is one who doesn’t have any traits that could be used against them to invalidate their asexuality, nothing that could be used to claim that they’re not really asexual, because of x trait.
How has this concept impacted me, from personal experience? It impacted me so badly, by friends who were identity-policing me, that I stayed away from the asexual community for 2 years.
**tw: ableism, emotional abuse, talk of sexual coercion**
I originally didn’t have any problem accepting my asexual identity. I realized that asexuality is a sexual orientation some time in my junior or senior year of high school, and I accepted it right away. I didn’t give it any thought at first. I read about it a little bit, knowing the basics, but I didn’t look into the asexual community, nor tell anyone, because I didn’t feel a need to. That all changed when I got into college, and made some new friends in 2010. The friends I made in college asked me what my sexual orientation was; they told me theirs. When I told them that I’m asexual, they all repeatedly denied it.
I thought they’d be accepting, because they are understanding of LGBTQ issues, and some of them were LGBTQ themselves. I thought they didn’t know of asexuality at first. I was wrong. They knew of asexuality, but were just so sure that I wasn’t asexual. One of these friends had romantic and sexual feelings for me, and claimed we were a couple. Not at all suspicious. </sarcasm>
They constantly invalidated my asexuality, because of parts of the Unassailable Asexual test that I fail, or was perceived to fail.
I’m allistic (neurotypical used to be the term for people not on the autism spectrum), but they thought I was autistic, and invalidated my asexuality because of it. They told me that I’m not asexual, and only think I am, because I “lack self-awareness”, and “can’t perceive the feelings of sexual attraction” (their approximate words). From their perspective, they were saying that my ‘real’ sexuality lies dormant, masked by my alleged inability to perceive it, and my unwillingness to acknowledge that. They thought I was in denial, ashamed and afraid, and were trying to get me to come to terms with my sexuality that I wasn’t originally aware of.
What they claimed, in hindsight, reminded me of what Ace Theist described as “The Theory of Dormant Sexuality“, but Ace Theist argues that it doesn’t matter if someone can’t perceive sexual attraction; experience doesn’t count as experience if it can’t be perceived, and asexual is defined as a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction.
To any asexual who actually is autistic, have you faced invalidation like this? I’ve read about the ways that asexual autistics have their asexuality invalidated, such as this article about how autistics are seen as non-sexual (as opposed to asexual), being erased of having any sexual identity, including asexuality: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/double-rainbow-erasure-and-asexuality-feminism-autism-ableism
“What popular culture tends to do is to deny that autistic people possess the agency and self-awareness to think about and establish sexual identities.”
My friends thoroughly denied me any agency and right to self-identification, and said I don’t have the self-awareness to know what my ‘real’ sexuality is. However, they didn’t claim that I’m unable to have any sexual identity, only that I’m unable to perceive mine correctly. They were trying to impose sexuality on me, while autistics are usually desexualized, seen as having no sexual identity.
I’m repulsed by sex, and they used that against me too, telling me that I just have sexual hang-ups due to internalized misogyny, slut-shaming and struggling with social cues, and that I’m just afraid of intimacy. They said that asexuals are all indifferent towards having sex.
I’m also not sex-positive, and that was also used against me, though at the time, I was extremely sex-negative. I thought sexual relationships were a fate worse than death, and nothing more than ‘using’ another person. I thought all sexual contact was disgusting and defiling, but all of this negativity makes sense in context: Sexual contact feels repulsive to me, so of course I’d feel gross afterwards, and of course I can never envision myself consenting to any sexual contact without coercion, and can only envision it as a form of physical and psychological violation, at least when I’m involved. I didn’t understand how others could consent either, given how rampant sexual exploitation is. I could never envision sex, or any sexual contact as a consensual and mutual thing, all the while they were coercing me into it, and telling me I’m wrong for not wanting it! The one that claimed we were dating wanted sex with me, while his other friends were enablers to it all (They made me think that sex was inevitable, and the issues surrounding that warrant a separate post).
Of course I lashed out in self-defense; they took away my right to self-identification, and were now taking away my bodily autonomy! This relationship was extremely unequal, and in an unequal relationship, consent isn’t possible (or if it can be argued that someone can say yes in an unequal relationship, that ‘yes’ isn’t meaningful), because honest communication isn’t possible.
It’s because of their constant invalidation that I didn’t look into the asexual community. I thought I had no right to. I tried to fight back every time they invalidated my asexuality, but they told me that they don’t take anything I say seriously. I didn’t look into it, even though this would’ve been one of the best times to, because they’d think I was feeling into my ‘false beliefs’, giving them more reason not to take anything I say seriously. It came to the point that I was policing my thoughts and actions to please them, despite resentment building up inside. I felt broken thinking that I’m not asexual, and have no right to identify as such, despite being so sure that I don’t experience sexual attraction. But if they say I’m heterosexual, I must be, because I haven’t been able to prove them otherwise, and they’re the sexuality police. They’ve never shown me their badges though.
What helped me break free from that mindset was when I ventured into the tumblr community 2 years later, and found posts speaking out against identity policing. My friends didn’t have any real authority to police my identity, and never did. I read more and more about the various ways asexuality is invalidated, and many of these ways are contradictory.
In general, the Unassailable Asexual concept seeks to find anything that could be used to discredit an asexual person’s identity. There is a recent thread about it on AVEN (the main board is still down), where members compared how they did on the test, with the intent of showing that it’s a ridiculous test that no one can win. There was a member who passed all the parts of the test, but she said that she still gets her asexuality invalidated! If the traits mentioned on the Unassailable Asexual test can’t be used to invalidate someone, others will be used!
Isn’t the easiest option to never play the game, to never bother with asexual activism, because of the various ways asexuals can have their identities invalidated? No, because if no one had tried, then all the progress with raising asexual visibility, and educating people about asexuality that has been made wouldn’t have been possible. There are a lot of people now who don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them anymore, and know that they no longer have to push themselves into sex or therapy for the sake of being ‘normal’, or trying to ‘fix’ themselves. In just a few years, the asexual community has grown so much, thanks to the many people sharing their experiences. For any progress to be made, we have no choice but to play, even though it means fighting against an unwinnable set of standards. Not everyone in the asexual community wants to be an activist, or feels the need to come out to anyone, but all have benefitted from finding out about asexuality, and reading others’ experiences.
The internal pressures by the asexual community to appear as ‘perfect’, unassailable representatives may still be there. The asexual community is diverse, and we need to embrace that diversity, not sweep it under the rug. People who doubt that they’re asexual because of some trait, would benefit from people with that same trait sharing their experiences, showing that it doesn’t invalidate their asexuality.