I finally got to reading the asexual zine F-ace-ing Silence, an ongoing zine about asexuals who feel silenced in asexual spaces. I was excited to see the publication of the first issue announced, would’ve read it right away, if not for the issues I was experiencing with my computer.
This zine is very relevant to the topic of the “Unassailable Asexual”, that is currently being discussed in a lot of asexual blogs, for this month’s Carnival of Aces. As soon as I saw this zine announced on AVEN, and calling for submissions, I wanted to write one, but just didn’t have the time or energy to try and write about my experiences. I still wonder if I should try again with that, if I’m already in the process of writing on this blog about the things that made me struggle in asexual spaces.
When the Unassailable Asexual concept is talked about, the traits for alleged unassailability are the following: Neurotypical/allistic, no mental health issues, no physical health issues, is cisgender, indifferent towards having sex, is sex-positive, between the ages of 20 and 40, is nonlibidoist, doesn’t have sexual problems, and has no history of abuse. However, there are other traits an asexual could get their asexuality assailed for that aren’t mentioned.
Some of the submissions talked about these other traits. One of them, by an anonymous submitter on pages 14-17 detailed invalidation and silencing for being religious, conservative, and having a fear of sex. When I think about it, I don’t recall anything that addresses how those traits don’t invalidate someone’s asexuality, maybe except that some asexuals who grew up in very conservative households, still realized they were asexual, because they didn’t have the struggle to abstain from sex that most of their peers did. But what about those who didn’t realize their asexuality so easily in comparison?
From accounts I’ve read of people who defected from Christian fundamentalism, and the Purity Culture teachings heavily associated with it*, there are some people who for all intents and purposes shut down their own sexuality in order to cope, becoming functionally asexual. They were raised to believe that even sexual fantasies before marriage are a sin (specifically, they’re considered adultery), and that all sex, and sexual thoughts before marriage are morally disgusting (and can ruin girls and women forever!), and sinful, yet that sex becomes the best thing ever upon marriage, and is the wife’s greatest duty to her husband**, which she’s supposed to always be available for. The various harms of these teachings should be obvious.
What does it mean when someone who defected from this culture thought they were asexual as a result of this coping method, only to realize over time that they’re not? This has happened to some people. What can we do and say to be considerate of these people and all the struggles they’ve been through, while also trying to prevent “You only think you’re asexual because of your upbringing” from becoming another tactic to invalidate those who’ve been through a Purity Culture upbringing, but are asexual? How can we support people who’ve been through those experiences, whether they’re asexual, or not, or are questioning? Same goes for sex-repulsion or aversion; what if someone’s repulsion or aversion towards sex was conditioned as a result of their upbringing? I’ve hardly seen this talked about, so I’d really like some input.
What about asexuals who didn’t defect from a conservative upbringing, and stayed? The anonymous person who submitted that entry for F-ace-ing Silence said she feels silenced in both conservative and asexual spaces; conservative spaces for being a sexual minority of any kind, and asexual spaces for being conservative and religious.
I don’t recall seeing anything, maybe except for a tumblr post or two some time ago, about supporting asexuals and/or repulsed people who are afraid of sex, and their fear isn’t something that they need to get rid of. In many 101-level materials, it’s noted that asexuality isn’t sex-repulsion, a fear of sex, a phase, etc. While that’s true, these materials usually don’t make it clear enough that those things aren’t inherently bad (okay, maybe except for when asexuality gets conflated with sex-shaming), and not something an asexual person should be ashamed of.
I understand very well why someone would want to explain that they’re “actually asexual (and/or sex-repulsed or voluntarily celibate), and not afraid of sex”. I’ve had to do that, to defend myself from friends who thought that I rejected sex only because I’m afraid of it. I’m not, but so what if I were? So what if someone who is repulsed by sex, has a sense of repulsion rooted in fear? There are a lot of other activities that people can be afraid of doing, and have no desire to change that. Their fear of that activity isn’t causing them distress. Why does sex have to be treated differently in this regard?
*Purity Culture beliefs are mainly associated with Christian fundamentalism, but aren’t exclusive to it, and it’s possible to internalize all of its viewpoints on purity, defilement, and the concept of being “damaged goods” without having a religion, nor mentioning sinfulness.
**The Christian fundamentalist movements in the US aren’t actually that cohesive, so I shouldn’t be asserting these claims about the Christian fundamentalist brand of Purity Culture as being absolutes. Some do see sex as a gift to be enjoyed within marriage (and see premarital sex as ruining the sacredness inherent to sex and sexuality), while others believe it’s seen as a necessary evil that should be contained within marriage.