So I’ve been thinking about asexual culture and asexual perspectives lately. There were a few recent comments on an old post at Asexuality Unabashed on the topic, and then last week’s journal club got drawn out on a tangent about whether asexual people see the world differently than allosexual people, on the whole.
I often see people complaining that asexual culture boils down to cake, Sherlock and Doctor Who, and that it’s just an annoying collection of in-jokes. The thing is, I don’t actually think that’s true. I’m one of those people whose thinking about sexuality is very much a product of the time I’ve spent in ace circles, and I am always noticing that I think very differently about things than many of my peers. For that reason alone, I think there’s more to ace culture than the references that people often seem to think of.
So here’s one thing I think is central to asexual culture: a reductionist view of sexuality. When I say “reductionist,” I mean that aces often think of sexuality as a very complex thing that can be simplified down into component parts, and if you could just understand all the pieces at the simplest level, you would have completely understood the whole. The infamous ace tendency to have a string of complicated identity labels–nonlibidoist demihomoromantic homoaesthetic quasirepulsed asexual–is a byproduct of this, because if we’re juggling so many modules that more-or-less fit under “sexuality” we need to have names for what each of them is.
I have never encountered anything quite like the level of reductionism I am used to in ace communities in any other forum for discussing sexuality. I’ve spent quite a lot of time with academics working on one intersection of sexual behavior and another, and it’s not uncommon for me to listen to someone discuss sexuality from an academic perspective and think either “yeah, that’s an obvious distinction” or “but that’s oversimplifying!” For example, a few years ago I was sitting in a Human Sexuality class where the professor brought out what was clearly her trump card of a case study whose orientation was impossible to classify: a good friend of hers who was sexually attracted to women but who only wanted to date men. I recall being somewhat underwhelmed by this challenge.
It’s not that ace cultures are the only cultures of people interested in sex who are out there getting reductionist about things. That’s obviously wrong; reductionism is a hallmark of most scientific attempts to understand sexuality, and I’ve seen reductionist views of parsing sexuality in one form or another in polyamorous circles, sex-positivity circles, and LGB circles. It’s just that aces seem to take things to a very elaborate level in a way that I almost never run into in other contexts. And what’s more, fine-tuned, modular understandings of sex and sexual orientation aren’t the province of theorists, but instead are something a lot of aces seem to engage in, even if they’re not interested in working out new bits of jargon.
We’re a group of people who come up with complicated ideas about sex, and then try to explain them with metaphors, charts, graphs, and occasionally even Bayesian models. I really do think it’s a cultural difference about what to do when presented with someone whose sexual orientation doesn’t fit the existing framework people use to think about sexuality. In my experience, other “sexuality cultures” have historically been likely to take an approach where the person identifies themselves as part of a miscellaneous category–“queer,” for example, or “I don’t like labels,” which is almost its own label.
Asexuals, on the other hand, tend to react to someone who doesn’t fit in the existing model by changing the model to understand why there’s a disjoint. If someone says “I don’t categorize easily under this system at all,” the tendency is to say “Oh? How?” and rework the system to allow the person to fit easily under it. There are a lot of dead models of asexuality, like the ABCD model, for precisely this reason.
So why are we so interested in parsing complexity? After all, a lot of the distinctions we make don’t really matter that much to our social lives. Almost none of that long string of identity jargon I mentioned earlier is actually useful to me outside of a very specialized sort of conversation that is only really found in asexual-heavy spaces.
I’d argue that we do this partially because of romantic orientation. It seems to be much more likely for aces to have “mismatched” sexual and romantic orientations than it is for allosexual people. While I know of six or seven cases of homoromantic heterosexual people (or vice versa) and “affectional orientation” as distinct from sexual orientation is actually a concept asexual communities borrowed from LGB groups, nevertheless between 55% and 84% of asexuals are not aromantic (depending on how you count the “other” category in the last census). Other censuses put the number around 74-81%. No matter how you slice the data, the numbers on mismatched orientations among allosexual people don’t even come close. Because there are so many aces for whom the distinction is important, the idea of a “split” orientation has become central to asexual culture models of sexuality.
Once you’ve parsed sexual orientation into two components and have a culture where everyone is used to thinking about things in terms of two possibly-but-not-necessarily-linked modules, I think it’s much easier for people to keep thinking about new modules that might explain diversity and adding them onto the way they think about things.
What about you? What do you think is an integral piece of asexual culture?