Monthly Archives: September 2014

They nearly pushed me over the edge…

**tw: sexual coercion, asexual invalidation, repulsion-shaming, talk of suicide**

…In the name of sexual liberation. This is a continuation of my Unassailable Asexual post, in which I explained a lot about why some friends I had, were so determined to invalidate my asexuality and sex-repulsion at every turn. Not only did they convince me I had no right to identify as asexual, they tried to make me get over my repulsion, and be open to sex, by shaming and bullying me. These two were both sex-positive extremists; they didn’t see anything wrong with their coercive tactics, because they believed it was “for my own good”, and would “sexually liberate” me.

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Does the non-religious celibate community exist?

(Alternate title: “I don’t give a f–k for voluntary, non-religious reasons, but what’s that called?”)

EDIT (8/31/2015): This has been by far the most popular blog post that I’ve written. For those who are looking for more information, I’ve also written this page: “Voluntary Celibacy 101“. I’m still looking for more input on the questions that were asked in this post, because I still haven’t been able to find a resolution to them.

It seems like a strange question. As someone who technically identifies with ‘celibacy’ first (and am going to be speaking from that perspective for the rest of this post), I’m envious of how cohesive the asexual community is, even though I’m part of it too. Sure, there is the question of what counts as the ‘asexual community’, and there are significant divisions based on politics (i.e: compare AVEN’s vs. the tumblr community’s), and overall viewpoints. There are also major divisions based on language, as asexuality is conceptualized differently in different languages. Despite all of those differences, the asexual community as a whole, is fairly cohesive*, and clearly defined! Celibacy, when it’s for religious reasons, is also clearly defined, and has a series of cohesive communities. What about the rest of us though?

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Asexual activism, and what is the ‘game’ to play, or not play?

Rotten-zucchinis linked to my first Unassailable Asexual post, and mentioned another take on “the only winning move is not to play”. It’s one that didn’t cross my mind at first, but I’m glad it was pointed out!

When I was using that phrase, I meant that the ‘game’ that is played, is the obstacle course that is asexual activism. The internal and external pressures that asexual activists face make it into an obstacle course. I was thinking that only way to (technically) ‘win’ that game is for the community to collectively not attempt activism, which includes not sharing individual experiences, since asexual activists will get their identities assailed no matter what. But in this regard, I don’t count not playing as a ‘win’, because no progress for the asexual community, which includes the increased visibility, education to the public, and reaching out to other asexuals, can be made that way.

If it does count as a ‘win’, it’s merely a Pyrrhic Victory, because the costs of collectively not attempting asexual activism greatly outweigh the benefit of saving asexuals’ identities from getting assailed. Without any efforts of asexuals sharing their experiences, not taking the risks that come with it, how many of us would still be invalidating our own asexuality for various reasons?

I’ve seen many recent newbies to the asexual community think they couldn’t be asexual, even though they heard of asexuality beforehand, because they thought libido, romantic attraction, aesthetic attraction, were all the same thing along with sexual attraction. I’m someone who realized I was asexual pretty much on my own, and this was years before I found the asexual community. For every person like that, there are many more who would’ve never known they were asexual without the efforts of the asexual community. To make any progress, we have to play the game, and we have to go through this obstacle course, even though it’s stacked against us all.

They (rotten-zucchinis) mention some posts they made 5 years ago on Apositive, that are related to this issue, and are still relevant today. We, the asexual community as a whole, have found ourselves in a situation where, despite the tremendous growth of asexual activism in the past 5 years, and despite all the dialogue discouraging the ideas of ‘real’ or ‘pure’ asexuals, there are still so many of us who are doubting their place in the asexual community, or doubting their right to associate with it!

A lot of the dialogue discouraging the ideas of ‘real’ or ‘pure’ asexuals addressed internal issues within the asexual community at the time. This was in an earlier era of asexual community history*, the idea that ‘real’ or ‘pure’ asexuals don’t have sex, or that someone can’t be sexually active and asexual, were widespread**. That got very thoroughly challenged with the AVEN thread “What is asexual elitism, and why does AVEN discourage it?”***

The Unassailable Asexual concept, and the harm that it does, has been discussed over the past 4-5 years since the term has been coined, or at least described. We all should know by now that the asexual community is diverse. I’ve seen many posts on tumblr and AVEN, affirming asexuals that have any trait that ‘fails’ the Unassailable Asexual test that it (that trait) doesn’t invalidate their asexuality. We should know this, or perhaps we do, yet there’s something holding us back? Their post, and why mine was linked to, affirms my suspicions that there is now internal pressure to conform to the Unassailable Asexual idea, when it used to only, or largely be externally imposed.

Their take on “playing the game” referred to playing into the divide-and-conquer dynamics that undermine our community’s solidarity, in an attempt for mainstream acceptance (for only part of the community), such as buying into the idea of the unassailable asexual as something to try and emulate. This is where my post was mentioned:

And for various reasons, our community became communities. That was useful for spreading the word about asexuality to new and vast audiences, but it left us vulnerable. And it meant that the “within-community ideal” and the “public-acceptance ideal” didn’t stay separate. They merged in a single shape-shifting trickster to form this double-bind—between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place—condemned-if-you-do-comdemned-if-you-don’t situation. It’s an impossible situation. And we can’t win ( unless we refuse to play: https://cakeatthefortress.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/the-unassailable-asexual-the-only-winning-move-is-not-to-play/ ).

To not play the game, in this case, is for the community as a whole to reject those divide-and-conquer tactics, and reinforce our solidarity with each other. Now that is a real way to win!


Footnotes:

*As rotten-zucchinis noted, Apositive has changed a lot since it was founded. Apositive was founded during this earlier era of asexual community history, where intentional asexual elitism was a large problem within AVEN, so Apositive was created to be much more open.

**This is related to the concept of the “Gold Star Asexual”, which Fox, one of the co-bloggers of The Dragon and the Fox, notes is a separate concept from what’s been described as the Unassailable Asexual. The “Gold Star Asexual” is an internal restriction on who counts as asexual or not, and while it has largely been discredited by the asexual community, it seems that the Unassailable Asexual concept ended up taking hold within it, when it had originally been only an external set of restrictions.

***Not to say that issue is completely resolved. Recent criticisms of asexual elitism still being alive in the community argue that it’s still there, but it’s a lot more subtle than it used to be.

Let’s talk about allies, and ‘allies’

My entry for the September 2014 Carnival of Aces: Asexuals, Advocacy, and Allies.

What makes a good ally in general, is amplifying the voices of the community they support. They must take care not to speak over the voices of those in the community, because on a systemic level, the voices of the marginalized are silenced, and a good ally must avoid perpetuating this themselves. They’re not in it for the spotlight; allies are meant to have a supporting role in which community(ies) they’re involved in, and acknowledge this. While allies provide a lot of support, it’s disrespectful to the people actually in that community to say that allies made possible the social movements, and the advances they made, as if the people in that community (for whom those social movements are for), didn’t start it on their own initiative!

What distinguishes good, or real allies, from ‘allies’, is (pardon the cliches, and overuse of air quotes), is whether they will put their money where their mouth is. They talk the talk, but will they walk the walk?

The posts I’ve seen on blogs, of people allegedly hating on allies, are those venting about ‘allies’ who are clearly in it for themselves, identifying as allies without any meaningful actions to back it up. Some of these ‘allies’ think their ally label makes what they say above criticism, and believe that they can’t possibly perpetuate the same rhetoric that marginalizes that group. Or perhaps, they’re the ‘allies’ who only support a subset of the community, and it’s usually the subset closest to mainstream society.

Some examples of this problem for the asexual community, would be an ‘ally’ who supports only indifferent and/or favorable asexuals, while saying problematic things about the repulsed and averse, or another are those who support alloromantic asexuals, while saying problematic things about aromantic asexuals. Exclusion of sub-groups could be unintentional, when an ally was trying to debunk misconceptions about asexuality, but didn’t quite know how to word it right. A good ally is willing to learn from their mistakes, and in this case, work towards using more inclusive language.

If an ally constantly gets defensive, they can become unwilling to learn from their mistakes. This is bad, because they care more about simply having the ally label, and not the work involved in the process of being an ally.

Another issue with ‘allies’, are those who refuse to acknowledge how race, ability, gender, or other aspects of a person’s identity play into their experiences, and silence anyone who tries to talk about those. In general, across communities, I’ve seen these discussions dismissed as being unrelated, or someone trying to be divisive. There isn’t, and can’t be a ‘universal experience’ when it comes to any group, because different aspects of a person’s identity, and their experiences are related. To ignore this is really what’s being divisive.

Then there are the kind of ‘allies’ whose support of the community they claim to support is conditional, making them the equivalent of fair-weather friends. I’ve heard accounts of ‘allies’ who said things like “If you don’t stop calling me out (on the problematic rhetoric I’ve said), then I’m not supporting you anymore!” I haven’t dealt with ‘allies’ like this first-hand, but I’ve had fair-weather friends, including one who said that she’d stop being friends with me if I didn’t give in to her demands. She was only ‘friends’ with me when it was convenient for her. Fair-weather friends can’t be counted on to actually support a person in their time of need.

What does being a good ally entail for someone who wants to be an ally to the asexual community, whether inside, or outside of it? (Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments)

  • Unlearning internalized assumptions about sexuality, romance, and relationships.
  • Supporting all sub-groups, especially taking the time to understand those that are less familiar to you, and those that are more marginalized.
  • Working towards using more inclusive language in visibility and education materials.
  • Listening to what we have to say about our experiences/listening to others’ experiences within the community.
  • Acknowledging the diversity of the asexual community. There isn’t, or shouldn’t be a single ‘model asexual’. We can face invalidation for just about anything. For reference, look at the August 2014 Carnival of Aces submissions.
  • Acknowledging, and addressing that different forms of marginalization are inter-related.
  • (I’ve seen non-asexual allies guilty of this) Don’t put others on a pedestal; asexuality doesn’t mean being free from relationship problems, or always having more free time! Those statements, although well-intentioned, gloss over the issues that we actually face.

Grace of Diamonds, in their description of this Carnival of Aces, makes an interesting point about how allies can be people within the community. While I’ve only seen the ally label refer to people outside the community, those of us within the asexual community need to support each other too, listen to each other’s experiences, and learn from them. If we don’t, then we risk perpetuating rhetoric, and exclusionary language that marginalizes others within our own community, particularly those who are already more marginalized.

The recent, and ongoing discussions about treatment of repulsed/averse, as well as sex-favorable asexuals, are an example. The marginalization that sex-repulsed/averse and sex-favorable asexuals in the asexual community face aren’t equivalent, but it’s a problem that so many asexuals have a hard time feeling like they can talk about their experiences for one reason or another.

An ally, within, or outside of the community also needs to be willing to learn from their mistakes, and continue to keep reading, to stay informed. When I created a resource about mixed relationships, I realized I made some mistakes. While the explicit acknowledgement of non-asexuals who are happy to not have sex was a step in the right direction, I know now that one of the underlying mistakes I made is that it didn’t really, or didn’t clearly enough, account for how more marginalized sub-groups are impacted by the concept of ‘compromise’, even though I fall under some of those sub-groups. Wanting to learn from those mistakes is one of the things that prompted me to participate in the asexual blogging community.