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.
*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.