Monthly Archives: April 2015

The flip-side to being the “perfect representative”

This post could be considered part 2 to my Carnival of Aces entry for this month. I’m writing it, because Luvtheheaven’s entry reminded me of something.

When I’ve written about the pressure for everyone in the asexual community to be the “perfect representative”, by making themselves, and the asexual community as a whole “presentable” to mainstream society, I was referencing the pressures brought about by “Unassailable Asexual” concept.

The Unassailable Asexual concept is a series of observations showing that asexuals so often get their asexuality invalidated because certain other parts of their identity are used against them to invalidate it. I’ve been subject to this myself.

By being “presentable”, it implicitly means hiding away the traits that can be assailed, lest someone be accused of reinforcing the stereotypes or misconceptions. In other words, it’s the “We’re just like everyone else (heteronormative society), minus this one thing” assimilationist rhetoric at play, and it permeates our community due to internal and external pressures.

Assimilationism only gives visibility to those who conform the most, and/or stay silent about their other differences. Some asexuals don’t mind having sex, and may have it to please a partner in a romantic relationship. Some who prefer to date other asexuals want a traditional romantic relationship, and some also want children, but it’s a problem when these subsets of the asexual population are the only ones getting visibility, because it presents a narrative that doesn’t challenge societal views about sexuality, gender or relationships in a significant way, reassuring heteronormative society that asexuals and our experiences are different in just one way.

They (heteronormative society) want a narrative that in their eyes, doesn’t “complicate” things. Aromanticism and nonamory aren’t mentioned in the Unassailable Asexual test, but aromantic and or nonamorous asexuals have reported feeling marginalized within the asexual community. Assimilationist rhetoric erases them.

I said that it’s a battle that we’ll always be fighting against, but the most effective option is to encourage diversity, to support those who are under-represented in our own community.

There’s another, contradicting idea of the what the “perfect representative” is, that can occur within the community. Luvtheheaven noted it in the asexual spaces she’s been in, noting that there was a culture of being expected to be childfree, to never have sex, and to never date. She also notes that negativity towards relationships, sex, and parenthood were also expected in this culture:

It feels like the most acceptable narrative for an ace, the culture we’ve come up with, is one that fully rejects all conventional and traditionally sanctioned ideals. Asexual-spectrum folks are expected to be tolerant and understanding and embracing differences, but the default has been moved to “none” – no sex, no romance, no desire to ever have kids, etc. To not want romance, sex, or kids is to break the norms of society at large, but in the new subculture asexuals have created, the new norm is to reject all of it, as far as what I feel.

I responded here, feeling a sense of culture clash. There are two points I want to make. First is that her response was spot-on: it’s true that I don’t fit in with the asexual community culture. That I identify with the rejection of sex first, and don’t think it has to do with my asexuality, is not a familiar narrative to the asexual community, nor originates from it. It’s because I didn’t find the asexual community first. I know I’ve clashed with others in the asexual community over terminology, but that issue just hides the fact that I’m using an unfamiliar narrative to them in the first place. I don’t know if they’ll understand, regardless of what term I use or don’t use.

I don’t think I’ve seen for myself what she described in the asexual community, or subset she’s been involved with, but I have a guess where that dynamic she observed came from.

Keep in mind this is just speculation, but it seems like the most acceptable asexual narrative to mainstream society, is being “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction”. Sometimes this is considered the most acceptable narrative even within the asexual community due to external pressures, which is very frustrating to those of us who don’t fit that narrative. I say this as someone who doesn’t fit it, but it doesn’t surprise me that the culture in some asexual spaces is one that moved the defaults to no sex, no marriage or romantic relationships, and no children.

I think trying to establish that as a narrative is a way of fighting against societal expectations, showing that by rejecting sex, marriage, romance, and childbearing, that they haven’t internalized society’s expectations to be in a sexual-romantic relationship and bear children are the most “valid” way to live. After all, if an asexual person says they’re open to sex, how do we know that they really are, or feel pressured to be? Keep in mind these questions are legitimate concerns, and talking about consent in regards to asexuality is often a challenging topic.

However, it isn’t liberating to impose another default. It implies that anyone who doesn’t fit it is the “other”, who have to justify their decision to be in asexual spaces.

Luvtheheaven’s observations raises some questions, which I’m looking for input on: is it implied that those who are open to any of the things deemed “normative”, is a sell-out who internalized societal expectations? Is it implied that they’re going against the ideology of the asexual community?

When there is this culture of adhering to the defaults, or feeling like a sell-out for not doing so, there can still be self-doubt among those who adhere to the new defaults. Someone may have to continuously “prove” to others how much they hate sex, how much they hate romance, and how glad they are to be childfree, to show that their viewpoints haven’t wavered, therefore no change of having internalized societal expectations. This pressure could lead to feeling like a sell-out if they express any ambivalence, or if their viewpoints waver in any way.

The culture of the asexual community shouldn’t be having any defaults. Asexuality itself doesn’t have an ideology or specific lifestyle tied to it. It’s a sexual orientation. Contrast this with the celibate communities, including the one I the most adhere to, which may have their own defaults for a reason (some are more open to variation than others though); some aren’t simply about not having sex, but also have specific ideologies tied to them, and in some cases, also certain lifestyles that are central to the identity of those communities.

I’ve been through the same pressure to want to be the “perfect representative”, though it was before I found the asexual community. It was actually a result the frequent invalidation I faced. I felt like I had to show how much I hated sex and romance to try and prove to my unsupportive friends, and myself that I’m asexual (under the assumption that not hating all forms of intimacy must mean experiencing sexual attraction), and prove to myself that I haven’t succumbed to societal expectations. I doubted myself, because I was in a relationship even though I didn’t want to be, and felt like a sell-out.

Defining an asexual culture

This entry is for the April 2015 Carnival of Aces: An Asexual Culture.

This month’s Carnival of Aces poses a question that I find very interesting: Is there an asexual culture, or how would we define it?

By “culture”, I mean more broadly the common characteristics of a group of people used to define themselves, and as a group, such as shared beliefs, values, symbolism, and rules. Another aspect of a culture is a shared framework that’s used to conceptualize the most important concepts to them, along with a shared set of symbols used to communicate concepts amongst themselves, and with outsiders.

Other sexual minorities have their own cultures. One of the hallmarks surrounding them is setting themselves apart from heteronormative society. It is partly because heteronormative society marginalizes those who don’t fit its model of cisgender heterosexuality, and distances itself from them.

Gay neighborhoods and bars are two of the most visible markers of LGBTQ culture, and they originated in a context of survival. Many youth who were disowned by their families moved to these neighborhoods, as those may have been one of their only opportunities left for housing and employment. Gay and lesbian bars served as way to meet others, but they weren’t safe spaces, as they had operated under the constant fear of crackdowns by the police.

The other side to the existence of LGBTQ and asexual cultures*, and why they set themselves apart from heteronormative society, is because of choosing to resist it and its norms; resisting the idea that being heterosexual and cisgender are the normative, or “proper” ways to be, while everything else is an aberration to be “fixed”.

Asexuals don’t have as high of risks of being disowned, or facing violence for their sexuality, but the existence of an asexual culture and community still has many parallels. The asexual culture didn’t originate in a context of survival like the LGBTQ cultures have, but like the LGBTQ cultures, it originated out of a need for solidarity.

Many LGBTQ and asexual people have spent a large part of their lives trying to live as something that they’re not, to fit the heteronormative mold. The existence of these cultures values liberation, being accepted as who one is, instead of trying to assimilate themselves at the cost of not being true to themselves.

Being forcibly outed when trying to assimilate for their survival is an act of violence. Some people are out and visible by choice (though some people still aren’t out, because it isn’t safe for them) as a way of showing that they aren’t ashamed of who they are, in a society that tells them they should be.

It’s why the the different labels under the LGBTQ and asexual umbrellas developed their own symbols: for solidarity within their own groups, and to choose to make themselves visible. The asexual culture has its own symbols, and its values that developed in a context of both countering compulsory sexuality and heterosexism.

Among the key values of the asexual culture overall are acceptance, and inclusion, which are done by validating asexuals’ experiences. It’s crucial to counter the misconceptions that lead to invalidation, to show that asexuality is a sexual orientation in its own right. However, Ace Theist notes that there are conflicting values within the asexual community and its discourse, and describes it as a culture in tension.

They noted that the way that rhetoric used to validate asexuality itself as something that’s “normal”, and absolutely isn’t caused by, or influenced by any other factors for anyone, can unintentionally invalidate other aspects of an asexual person’s identity that already tend to be assailed. This can lead to tension between those who can’t separate their asexuality from other experiences of theirs, and those who feel their asexuality is completely separate. How can we validate both groups?

There’s such an emphasis on making asexuality visible, that these assertions are common. Pianycist notes how those assertions strip away the agency of trauma survivors, and the disabled by denying it to those whose experiences tie into their asexuality.

This issue of unintentionally invalidating some asexuals in the effort to validate their asexuality also ties directly into the “Unassailable Asexual” concept. As this round-up on the Unassailable Asexual topic shows, it’s an unwinnable system at its core, as even those whom have all of the “unassailable” traits still get invalidated for one reason or another, but as Tristifere noted here, disabled asexuals and those with a history of trauma are among those whom face the worst of the invalidation.

The Unassailable Asexual concept is another force that shapes the asexual community’s culture. It is one of, if not the key underlying factor as to why the asexual culture is one in tension. When fighting against the forces that say that someone’s asexuality is “invalid” because of reason X, we have to be careful not to reinforce them ourselves.

On a more positive note, another value of asexual culture is breaking down what “attraction” is, crafting models, and an elaborate a lexicon related to the different types of attraction, and their gray areas. These are crafted in opposition to the societal assumption that sexual, romantic, aesthetic attractions are one and the same with no gray areas. They’ve helped not just the asexual community with finding the ways to describe themselves that they couldn’t before, but also cross-orientation non-asexuals,

Another value that could be considered a tenet of asexual culture overall, is the emphasis on self-identification. This is influenced by the fact that sexuality isn’t black and white, and what “sexual attraction” and “sexual desire” are, can be ambiguous. As said on AVEN, members can’t say if someone is asexual or not, only point them to resources to help someone determine if the asexual label fits them. Another reason for this value is that some people who don’t desire sex, or don’t experience sexual attraction, might not want to identify with the asexual label, particularly if they’re part of a group of people who are frequently desexualized.**

I’ve mentioned before that the asexual community has its own framework, which is a collection of the terms, definitions, and concepts that they find useful, along with what aspects of sexuality do they prioritize. We communicate these concepts amongst ourselves, and in our outreach and education efforts. I’ve mentioned it in the context of explaining how I can’t fit my experiences into it, but I’ll explain what I actually meant by the framework used by the (English-language) asexual community.

  • In the English-language asexual community, one of the concepts that’s most prioritized is the asexual spectrum***, and where someone is on that spectrum.
    • On asexual blogs, and on AVEN, members usually specify if they’re asexual, gray-asexual or demisexual as either the most, or second most important part of their sexual identity, with the other most important part usually being their romantic orientation.
  • Many also specify their romantic orientation, seen as another of the most important concepts to prioritize.
  • In an earlier era of the asexual community history, whether someone was libidoist or nonlibidoist used to be prioritized. Now, few people specify it anymore except in threads or posts about it.

However, this framework isn’t used in all languages. It’s mainly associated with the English-speaking community. In defining an asexual culture, we do need to be careful to not erase differences in language, and how it shapes the asexual communities in other languages.

Another aspect of someone’s sexuality that’s widely discussed is their personal attitude towards having sex; the repulsed, indifferent, and favorable labels are usually used, although as of now, controversy is erupting over the “sex-favorable” label again.

The asexual community as a whole is predominantly internet-based, because of the smaller, and more scattered population of asexual people as a whole. Many people are also involved in organizing, and participating in offline meetups.

Asexuality has been written about before the creation of the online asexual communities, but it wasn’t until the widespread use of the internet that asexuals were able to connect with each other, unless they happened to know another person who was aware of their asexuality, which was very unlikely.

The culture of the asexual community is predominantly influenced by AVEN, but it could’ve turned out a lot differently, if The Official Asexual Society had overtaken AVEN in popularity and influence in its early years. Or it could’ve been different if tumblr had been around during that time. AVEN isn’t perfect, but it’s important that they value gray areas, and self-identification, as they allow more room for discussion and for the individual to question what label fits them best.

I have a lot to say about this topic, and may end up writing a part 2 to this.


Footnotes:

*When I write about the LGBTQ and asexual communities, I don’t mean that they’re mutually exclusive.

**By “desexualization”, I meant the forcible and systemic denying someone of an autonomous sexual identity, which can include either denying their asexuality (as that is an autonomous sexual identity), or forcing an asexual identity on them.

***In other languages, that there’s a gray area with asexuality may be acknowledged, but there might not be a term for it specifically. The existence of an asexual spectrum, as opposed to asexuality being on its own, and the gray area being considered part of the sexual spectrum instead, still has some controversy.

Tried to reconcile the unreconcilable?

I created Outside of Sexuality as a project to reach out to people who don’t want sex, and chose life without it. There’s nearly no visibility or affirmation for non-asexuals who don’t want sex, so I especially wanted to reach out to them.

A lot of people in the asexual community have written about the politics of having, or not having sex, and how those who choose to not have it deserve to have their choice respected. Many have written about their personal experiences, but they were writing as asexuals who happen to not have sex. We also need writings about not having sex, as people who identify with celibacy/the rejection of sex first.

I intended to first write about OOS for part 4 of my “Mercenary from unknown lands” submission (part 3, still in progress, will be about conflict of interest issues). However, I felt like an issue has been plaguing OOS, and I need to write about it: the discrepancy between what I intended, and what it turned out to be.

I never was fully honest with what I intended for OOS to be modeled after. I was afraid others wouldn’t understand unless they already knew, even if they never wanted sex, and were happy to find a community about choosing life without it. I intended use the framework and concepts directly from the Antisexual Stronghold as closely as I could, because at least some other English-speakers do, and I find those standards useful. However, that required adapting certain concepts into English, while also figuring out how to adhere to those standards while still trying to reconcile the fact that at least half of the OOS members are from AVEN and identify as either celibate or sex-repulsed instead.

I don’t want to alienate them. I know that it can be hard enough for sex-repulsed individuals to talk about their experiences in asexual spaces just for being sex-repulsed, and it’s troubling that this is still an issue.

I knew that the contradicting definitions of celibacy between those who identify as celibate vs. those who identify as antisexual would be an issue, and struggled with it the whole time. I realized that identifying as antisexual and adhering to the framework of the Antisexual Stronghold means that in order to be consistent, I’d end up invalidating those who identify as celibate without religious reasons. In order to adhere to those standards without invalidating those who identify as celibate would require being inconsistent (which would make things even more confusing). To use celibate as the default term means invalidating those who identify as antisexual, by telling them to identify with a label that they feel doesn’t apply to them.

After all, if celibacy doesn’t have to be for religious reasons, then why don’t those who identify as antisexual just switch over and say they’re celibate too? Do they know I intended to include them when I talk about “voluntary celibacy”? This is what I mean by being inconsistent! Why bother using an impractical term or use a framework that’s difficult to adapt into English?

Sometimes I wish I could say we’re all sex-free instead as a term that’d include all of us, and kind of wish that’d catch on. Whatever we identify as, we feel like we’re free from sex, and that we’re not missing out, like how the childfree identify as childfree instead of childless, because they feel free in their choice to not have children.

Personally, I’m hesitant to identify as celibate. I sometimes do, as it is the easier option, and technically applies, but sometimes am still hesitant. Part of me still feels like I can’t, because I don’t have religious reasons for my “celibacy”, but I have no intent to invalidate the choice of those who identify as celibate without religious reasons just because I feel those doubts about myself. I don’t want to take away from others a label they find useful for their experiences.

I understand the reasons why these factions use the labels that they do, so how can I acknowledge and validate both of these factions without any contradictions? This issue has been frustrating me since I created OOS. It’s why progress for the main page stalled so much, and it also held me back from some of the topics I wanted to discuss. I know what to say, but not how to say it in a way that’s concise, and will include everyone I intended to include. I’ve felt stuck the whole time.

At this point, OOS doesn’t have a default term used to refer to the rejection of sex. It might be for the best, to sidestep that dilemma, but it makes things confusing. Some members don’t bother with labels, and I don’t blame them. Sometimes I don’t want to bother with labels either. I’m concerned that I’m taking this too seriously, but I’ve been wanting to get this issue resolved to find the most effective way to achieve the goals I had in mind with this project.