In defense of political writing in the asexual community

I’m very sorry to inform you that it befell on me to defend political writing. I know it’s a shock, but since my fellow writer Andrew has decided to call out all the « political bullshit » in the asexual community, everyone has to do his bit. Oh my !

Because I confess it, I’m guilty. I love this « political bullshit ». I may not be the best suited writer for writing it, but I love to read a good bit of political bullshit writing, especially about gender and sexualities.

To me, political writing is underrated. Political writings gave us so much. It gave us the idea of gender. No less. It gave us the idea of heterosexism, it gave us the idea of cissexism, of disability as a situation created by society and not as individuals’ property. And much much more.

Andrew may say what he wants : political writings are incredibly liberating. Political writings help us to remember than even when we’re told the contrary, the way we’re supposed to act and feel is not ordained by human nature.

What if not political writings can empower us up to the point where we’re able to choose our own name, and not the name society chooses for us ? What if not political writings can enable us to tell our own story, to define ourselves in our own terms ?

With political writings, we have the chance to discuss about what we need, about what we want and what we don’t want. We have the possibility to bring change.

So I’ll just say this : I love political writings in the asexual community. Keep at it, I will keep to read it. Continue to be incredibly free. Continue to invent new words and drop them when you don’t need them anymore. Continue to invent new ways of relating to each other. Continue to define what you think is wrong. You clearly deserve it.

And as much as I respect Andrew’s work, I strongly disagree with him on something else. If you read his text, you’ll be under the impression that political writings and truthful writings are two different things. That you can’t speak the truth if you talk politics. That there is science on the one hand and politics on the other.

That is not true. If Andrew has something to say about rhetoric in humanities, or rhetoric in social movements, that’s one thing. If he believes that feminist writers or queer theorists should write differently, that’s one thing. As for me, I think he’s dead wrong. But please, let’s not confuse everything here. It’s not because somebody does not write in the style that one likes, that this person is mistaken. To have a certain political stance is not the same thing as being wrong.

Feminism is political. Gay and lesbian studies are political. Disability studies are political. And that’s also science. Or is this also « political bullshit » ?

Anyway, in a few days, “The asexual agenda” will release a short text on « social construction ». Through this text, it will be easier to further the discussion between me and Andrew about what he calls « straw men » and « oppressive social order », but mainly about what is « real » and what is « socially constructed » and why it does matter. I look forward to it.

About Baptiste

I blog here or here and tweet here.
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6 Responses to In defense of political writing in the asexual community

  1. Andrew says:

    The argument here relies on an equivocation between narrower and broader meanings of “politics” (and “political writing”). The broader meaning is anything intended to effect some sort of meaningful change, whereas the narrower meaning involves a certain kind of strategy for doing this.

    I think of bullshit as existing in different degrees–I call it “levels of bullshit.” In academic writing, I’m fine with a bit of bullshit, especially in the into and lit review when you have to justify why your work is super important, but I have a serious problem with work that more resembles a national-politician level of bullshit.

    There are bullshit-heavy sorts of politics and bullshit-light sorts. I see my own work as part of asexual politics–a major source of visibility is academia, and this visibility there requires research on the subject. I’m wanting to promote more of it and promote better research. In such a case, high quality, bullshit-light research does have a major role to play in advancing asexual politics. (Indeed, the bullshit heavy stuff has the major problem of appealing mostly to people who already agree with you.)

    Bullshit-heavy approaches to politics are not the only possible ones. I think they’re necessary for national level politics, but I’m not persuaded it’s necessary for asexual politics. Another major issue is that you say you love political writing. I hate bullshit-heavy writing, and I’ve talked to a lot of people for whom the bullshit is a major turn-off.

    To illustrate, I haven’t always been very good at keeping up with feminist asexual blogs, mostly because the level of bullshit is such a huge turn off for me. It’s been suggested to me (I think rightly), that when people object to “tone”, they are in fact objecting to bullshit. Now, I’ve seen people responding to this criticism by calling it the “tone fallacy”, so I see attempting to argue the point as being a lost cause. Instead, I just stopped reading. Even though I felt following these blogs was important for understanding the ongoing history of asexuality, and that there were undoubtedly valuable insights to be gained from such blogs, the level of bullshit is a huge turn-off for me (and for many others), and it makes reading almost painful.

    I suspect that the degree of bullshit in a great deal of feminist writing is a major part of why a great many women who aren’t especially conservative don’t like feminism.

  2. Siggy says:

    What exactly are you defending? I feel that “political writing” is far too broad a category to say that it’s all good or all bad.

    Andrew’s specific examples were cases of overreaching generalizations and hyperbole. Consider many of the ideas we complain about–“All humans are sexual beings” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), “Asexuals are not autistic” (except those that are), “All consent must be enthusiastic” (and therefore compromise is problematic). These ideas exist in the first place because someone found them politically convenient!

    So the question we should ask ourselves is, if someone made a generalization erasing your experience, would you accept your own defense of it? (Answer: sometimes yes and sometimes no.)

    • Calinlapin says:

      I agree about generalization, it could be hurtful. And in a general manner, it’s always good to be reminded that it’s always possible to get better. I give credit to Andrew for that. This being said : all writings are not scientific writings. Political writings are a certain kind of writing with a certain set of codes. You can’t, let’s say, fight for equal rights with the same rhetoric that you use for writing a paper for an academic journal. Political writings have certain functions and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the same way that you don’t ask a poet to be perfectly logical, I’m not sure it is just to impose on political writings very strict rules concerning rhetoric. I’m not saying that I’m in favor of outrageous lies ! I’m not saying : let’s write anything without any caution. My point is : the rules of scientific writings and the rules of politically charged writings are not exactly the same because you don’t do the same things with each kind of writing.

      • Andrew says:

        This being said : all writings are not scientific writings. Political writings are a certain kind of writing with a certain set of codes. You can’t, let’s say, fight for equal rights with the same rhetoric that you use for writing a paper for an academic journal.
        I feel like you’re using a false dichotomy here between “scientific writing” and “political writing” (by which you mean writing using certain sorts of political tactics). I’ve read plenty of essays, blogs, forum posts, etc. that didn’t use the sort of rhetorical strategies that I am questioning the use of in asexual politics. (I’ve also seen scientific work that does use them–it’s especially common in lit reviews, where people say, “Traditionally, people have believed X, but I suggest Y” with the subtext, “which is why my work is super important and you should read it.” Generally, you’ll have very weak evidence that X has had as much support as authors claim.)

        So my questions still stand: Do we need this sort of political rhetoric in asexual discourse? And even if we do, is it useful in writing primarily aimed at people already familiar with the topic? What are the pros and what are the cons?

  3. Calinlapin says:

    @Andrew

    The problem is we’re presenting this “strategy” in two very different ways.
    1- You say that it is an attack against a straw-man that aim at presenting oneself as resisting an imagined hegemonic oppressive social order and whose function is to “rally the troops.”
    2- For me, those writings aim first at clarifying ideas that are a) taken for granted in our culture at this time b) hurtful in one way or another. The second part of this “strategy” is to destruct or “deconstruct” those ideas, by refuting them or by promoting alternatives discourses, etc.
    So you need to : show that X is taken for granted, then show that X is hurtful, and then proceed to rebutt X in one way or another. Honestly Andrew, I don’t see what’s so horrible in this.
    That’s in part how feminists change(d) our world, how the gay movements change(d) our world, and so on. I don’t see why you’re so spooked about that. I mean it’s not terror propaganda, really.

    So yes definitely, I think we need it. I think we need to be very clear about how norms, ideas or behaviors are ordained in our societies. Why, let’s say, some of us feel forced to have sex. What kind of discourses seem to encourage this. How discourses translate into norms, or behaviors, or identities. Or, to take another example, we need to shed light on why some of us feel inadequate for being asexual. Then, when we’re clear, we need to promote different stories, we need to try and fight those stories which seem dangerous, etc. Again, what is so wrong in that ?

  4. Andrew says:

    those writings aim first at clarifying ideas that are a) taken for granted in our culture at this time
    I do not see constructing a straw-man as “clarifying ideas.”

    b) hurtful in one way or another

    My general impression has been that a very low empirical standard is set for concepts the critic doesn’t like to be labeled as hurtful. I think that excessive BS is not without its potential to harm, but the bar is likely to get set much higher for this.

    Then, when we’re clear, we need to promote different stories, we need to try and fight those stories which seem dangerous, etc. Again, what is so wrong in that ?

    People by and large believe that a commitment to the truth (whatever that might mean) is important, but they’re willing to set that aside in various circumstances (i.e. it conflicts with something they view as sacred and unquestionable, because it is done for some “greater good”, etc.) BS violates this, and as such I think a satisfactory justification is needed for why it is necessary for asexual politics.

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