This is part 1 of my submission for the February 2015 Carnival of Aces: Cross Community Connections
Part 1: Greetings from the “celibate” “community”! (There’s a reason why both of these are in quotes!)
Note: This first part is about the communities that the English-speaking asexual community may recognize as being celibate*, so for this post, I’m going to use “celibacy” as the umbrella term for people choosing to not have sex. Also as you can see with how I’m referring to the asexual community in the third person, I’m speaking as a “celibate” person first, asexual second.
I could say that I’m part of the celibate community, but that sounds misleading. To narrow it down, I could say I’m part of the community of people who are celibate for non-religious reasons, but that still sounds misleading, or it may even sound contradictory. It’s not a cohesive community, at least not in English, and I’ve written about this conundrum before. Yet, it’s technically what I identify with before my asexuality, and having this perspective does make me feel like a mercenary to the asexual community, and this is further complicated by the faction of the “celibate” community I most strongly identify with.
In English, there appears to be multiple factions with contradicting ideas of what constitutes celibacy, including some who could be considered celibate, except they use a definition that excludes themselves, and some that might not count by other people’s standards. Who counts, who doesn’t? These contradictions make the boundaries, and the existence of a “celibate” community unclear.
It was frustrating for me to come to this conclusion, because I’m trying to reach out to people who don’t want sex, and contribute to the “celibate” community, or a particular faction of it. Complicating this further, is the overlap between asexuality and “celibacy”. Many asexuals are sexually inactive, and are happy to never have sex. However, as the preliminary results from the 2014 AVEN Community Census show, nearly 90% of the sexually inactive asexual spectrum respondents don’t identify as celibate, so they might not consider themselves part of any sort of celibate community.
One of the main reasons listed in the survey results for not identifying as celibate, have to do with the connotations of celibacy as a term; it suggests a deliberate effort to not have sex, which might not apply to asexuals. Some people (asexual or not) say that asexuals by nature can’t be celibate, saying that asexuals have no sexuality to resist.
That’s consistent with what I’ve observed; many asexuals can relate to the concept of “celibacy”, or whatever not having sex is called, but can’t identify with it directly if they feel like their asexuality is the main factor behind their decision to not have sex.
I haven’t seen many asexuals say they’re part of any “celibate” communities, and I wonder if it’s because so many sexually inactive asexuals don’t feel a need to be in such a community? Another possibility that isn’t mutually exclusive, is that the different parts of the “celibate” community have different goals than the asexual community, and some of them don’t account for asexuality that well. That can lead asexuals who want to associate with celibacy, to feel alienated. If these communities want to be inclusive of asexuality, they have to listen to asexuals first!
Skeptic’s Play wrote an account of celibate people invalidating asexuality. He noted that one of the misconceptions about the religious life, is that people in religious orders are asexual, and the author he quoted said that asexual people don’t exist, and thinks it’s an insult to be called asexual.
Skeptic’s Play also cited Celibrate, a support site for people who are sexually inactive for whatever reason, though it is more geared towards abstinence until marriage. They acknowledge asexuality, but their section on asexuality is very flawed, suggesting that gay men and lesbians are hypersexual, that homoromantic asexuals don’t exist, and that asexuality is the lack of sex drive.
The celibate communities can be just as prone to perpetuating misconceptions of asexuality as any other community. Was Celibrate trying to be an ally to the asexual community, but was doing it wrong? Some asexual activists have contacted Celibate before about their problematic definitions, but Celibrate refused to change their descriptions of asexuality. Part of being an ally is to listen to the group that one is an ally to! The asexual community is nervous of those who claim to accept asexuality, but not the LGBT.
On the other hand, the asexual community could learn some things from the celibate communities, notably developing a more nuanced understanding of celibacy, or the different reasons why someone would choose to not have sex.
The asexual community has done a great job naming and defining the various types of asexuality, and they’ve created a space where they can define themselves, in the face of mainstream society trying to shove them into a narrow box of how asexuals are perceived.
From my observation, I’ve been discontent that that the asexual community treats the people they consider celibate, as a monolith, shoving us all under the celibate label without giving us room to specify more about our experiences. I feel like the asexual community has that power over us, because the “celibate” communities aren’t united. We don’t have a large central hub like the asexual community does. But is this to be expected? After all, the asexual community is about asexuality first, so understanding the nuances of asexuality, but not celibacy, may be expected in asexual discourse.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that asexuality itself is celibacy (or sexual abstinence), but in the effort for the asexual community to distance itself from celibacy to clear up this misconception, I’m concerned that’s shutting out the opportunity to understand what celibate people really are like. It does a disservice to us, and seems hypocritical to not try to understand. We dislike being shoved in narrow boxes as much as asexuals do, for their asexuality.
The celibate communities could learn some things from the asexual community too, particularly that sexuality is a gray area, and that celibacy itself may have gray areas. That’s something I learned from the asexual community, though I’m not sure if the celibate communities should embrace that rhetoric, as the boundaries of the celibate communities are already unclear.
*The recognized definitions of “celibacy” vary by language. In English, there are several definitions, but in some languages, it’s still primarily defined as being for religious reasons. This does make me wonder how do asexuals in other languages talk about their decision to not have sex then?