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.

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7 thoughts on “The flip-side to being the “perfect representative”

  1. luvtheheaven

    When you say, “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?” – do you mean “how do we know if they…”, “or if they feel pressured”??

    I think you raised a lot of good points here.

    I think a lot of it is just whatever the majority is can make you feel left out, so if you happen to be around a lot of people, ace or not, discussing being childfree and happy to never have kids, to never want kids, etc, being someone who actually does want kids can feel difficult to mention in that moment. It all depends on how the topic is first brought up. “Of course I want kids” makes childfree people feel alienated, like it’s an obvious truth that everyone wants children. Discussing why you don’t want to have kids is going to always be awkward if you’re speaking to someone who actually has kids, although it can be less awkward if they are quite a close friend, and less of a casual acquaintance.

    One of the things I’ve noticed in the ace spaces, both offline and online, that I personally frequent — the ones I mentioned in my post to which this is a reply — is that a lot of people fall into the trap of saying “Because I am asexual, I don’t want kids/marriage/romance/sex.” And it’s complicated, because for a lot of people maybe that is true, especially the final one there, the sex — for a lot of people, maybe it really does seem like their asexuality is the main reason they don’t want sex. But any ace who does want sex despite identifying as asexual is going to feel alienated by that line of conversation, I think. For me, wanting kids has nothing at all to do with my asexuality. I don’t want kids despite despite being asexual. I want kids, and I happen to be an asexual person. So someone saying when they come out as an asexual and aromantic person to their parents and of course their parent is right to assume “oh no, no grandkids”, and I’m just like… “What? Why is that an of course?” I don’t have to feel romantic and/or sexual attraction to other adults in order to have a strong desire to raise a child. So I feel a little alienated when people word it in such a way that implies that I’m doing “being asexual” wrong by having wanted kids for as long as I can remember. I completely support the choice to not want kids. I am completely interested in other people’s thoughts and feelings on the subject and about their parents who are being ridiculously unfair when it comes to the subject and all sorts of these things. I find it fascinating, and possibly quite practical too for an aro ace to not want kids. But… it’s just how the situation is framed.

    As you said, “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.” I agree with that. We should try to be careful not to endorse a culture where anything is assumed about what asexuality means to a person, because these things are so varied depending on who you talk to.

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    1. luvtheheaven

      I messed up my italics a bit there in the middle and wrote “despite” twice in a row… idk what happened. You get the gist, though.

      I think I meant to write:

      But any ace who does want sex despite identifying as asexual is going to feel alienated by that line of conversation, I think.

      For me, wanting kids has nothing at all to do with my asexuality. I don’t want kids despite being asexual.

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      1. luvtheheaven

        Also I think this would’ve been even clearer:

        It’s not that I want kids” despite being asexual.

        Because otherwise it sounds like I’m saying “I don’t want” them lol… I think I wrote a few things confusingly here. I was kind of rushing. Just ask, anyone, if you want clarification. 😛

        I do wonder if a part of the reason that the type of parent I want to be is an adoptive or foster parent is due to my sex-aversion, though. I have wanted to adopt kids for as long as I can remember really thinking about the option as existing, since I was like 14, about a decade before I consciously knew I didn’t want to have sex. I had reasons and still have reasons for wanting any kids I have to be non-biological, reasons that had everything to do with the pros of adoption and nothing to do with my feelings toward sex, but still. There is a part of me that wonders if my asexuality had some subconscious influence on that choice of mine.

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    2. Aqua Post author

      Right, I think I did mean “…how do we know if they really are, or if they feel pressured to be?”. I agree that for some, asexuality may be the primary reason why they don’t want kids/marriage/romance/sex, but it’s a problem when that’s assumed to be true for all asexuals. However, it can be alienating being asexual, and not wanting any of those things, but not feel like asexuality is the main reason for it.
      That assumption is as much of a problem as when people assume that all asexuals are open to those things.

      What do you think could be done to reduce the feelings of awkwardness and alienation? I think it’s important to avoid assumptions.

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      1. luvtheheaven

        I guess emphasizing, over and over, with disclaimers, “I don’t speak for all aces, but” and “there are many different ways to be asexual” and “every option is valid” is the best solution we can have. Whenever discussing how you feel like it is your own asexuality causing you to not want ___, to try to make sure that if a different type of ace might be listening/reading that they know their experiences are still valid, and that the speaker/writer doesn’t wish to dismiss them, but rather welcomes the alternative point of view too.

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  2. onlyfragments

    “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?”

    I would say for a lot of people, the answer to this is yes. I have a Tumblr called “still-a-valid-ace” where I post things about myself that I feel either allosexuals OR asexuals might deem “invalidating” of my asexuality. Without a doubt, my most popular and reblogged posts are ones about being sex-positive. I’ve definitely come across a lot of folks on the ace spectrum who feel alienated for their sexual desires.

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  3. Pingback: April 2015 Carnival of Aces Masterpost: An Asexual Culture? | Asexuals involved in BDSM

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