A while back there was this big kerfuffle on tumblr* about how aces are secretly harmful to LGB folks. One of the main arguments was that LGB folks have internalized heterosexism, and thus use the asexual community to hide from their sexuality. Now, I’m not really interested in getting into the whole “are aces harmful to LGB folks” debate, because that thing is a can of worms–a can of flesh-eating, fire-breathing, radioactive worms, that is. But the idea of hiding from one’s sexuality in the ace community had me raising my eyebrows so far that they were practically flying off my face, and all I could think was, Have you ever spent any time in the ace community? If I wanted to hide from my sexuality, the asexual community is the last place I’d go. Here’s why:
1. The asexual community isn’t interested in hiding from sexuality–it’s much more interested in analyzing it until it falls to pieces and everyone winds up questioning everything they ever believed about themselves. Sciatrix has already written about reductionism in the asexual community, but there’s also the phenomenon of the Bad Asexual Fairy. You enter a conversation thinking, I’m ace; he’s ace; we’ll probably talk about ace things, and next thing you know you’re plotting ALL THE ATTRACTIONS (aesthetic, romantic, sensual, and sexual!) to every gender on a giant chart.
I have definitely thought about my own sexuality (or lack thereof, depending on your perspective) since getting involved in the ace community more than I did in the preceding two decades of my life combined. I’ve also thought a great deal about my gender, my romantic orientation, the relationships I want in my life, the ways I experience attraction to other people, my gender presentation, etc., etc., etc. And it’s not just me; I have non-ace friends who have seen ace theory and started questioning their sexuality and filling out giant radar charts.
If I wanted to hide from my sexuality, the ace community is the absolute last place I would want to go, because the ace community is far too interested in holding a magnifying glass to my sexuality and saying, “Ah, yes, you appear to be a demiromantic panromantic demisensual repulsed asexual, but have you thought about your aesthetic attractions and libido yet? Here, let me show you forty different models…”
2. Being a member of the asexual community won’t save you from doubt–if anything, it will attract more people to tell you to doubt yourself. The ace community is like a magnet for hate, which you’ll know if you’ve ever frequented the ace tags on tumblr. Even if you only spend time talking to other aces, it’s not as though they’re a bastion of self-confidence. Doubt is a huge part of aces’ experiences, not just because there are always people telling us that we’re wrong, that we’re not really ace, that we’re just hiding from our sexuality or late bloomers or confused or trying to be cool, but also because, for many people, coming to accept an asexual identity is a long and arduous process full of angst and self-doubt.
Just to give you an idea, here’s my weekly cycle of doubt:
Oh, wow, that lady is gorgeous. ==> Frig, what if those people in the tumblr tags are right and I actually am a lesbian in denial? ==> Wait a second, I’ve totally dated two male-ish people who I loved. ==> Well, what if I’m bisexual and in denial? ==> Pretty sure that would require me to be sexually attracted to people. ==> What if I’m sexually attracted to people and just don’t know it? ==> How would I even know if I didn’t know it? ==> What if I’m just a straight person who has a total lack of self-awareness? ==> Dude, you’ve totally gotten crushes on girls. ==> What if I just thought I had crushes on them? ==> What if I just thought I had crushes on guys? ==> What if I just thought I had crushes? ==> What if I’ve really been aromantic and in denial this whole time? ==> Maybe I should fill out that radar chart again…
When people identify as asexual for an extended period of time, it’s usually not a sign of a lack of self-reflection. Sure, there might be some people who adopt the asexual label and then never think about it again, but I doubt they’re particularly involved in the community. Sure, there might be some people who adopt the label in order to stop thinking about their sexuality, but either they’re very, very quiet about it (and thus don’t get to experience the sheer amount of vitriol that’s often thrown at aces) or they have skin of steel. I think, in most cases, people who adopt an asexual identity and hang onto it are not lacking in self-reflection–instead, they continually self-reflect and find that their experiences have continued to match their label.
3. The idea of the asexual community as some kind of brainwashing cult that forces you to leave your sexuality at the door or get out is kind of a giant myth. Yes, some asexual spaces are significantly more anti-sexual than others. Yes, some are much friendlier to non-aces than others. But, at least in the ace spaces I frequent (which, to be fair, are probably the more welcoming and liberal ones, since those are the ones I prefer to be in), deciding you aren’t actually ace isn’t a huge deal. Sometimes, when people are doing that whole self-reflecting thing, they realize that the label isn’t a good fit anymore, so they stop using the label, and they move on with their lives. And, for the most part, I’ve only ever heard of them having good experiences with the ace community. I’m sure that there are aces and ace spaces that would be really, really angry if someone came out as not ace, but they aren’t all ace spaces. We don’t make you sign away your sexuality at the door, or burn you at the stake if you come out as gay or bi or straight or whatever else later. So the idea that once you enter the ace community you will live in fear of ever coming out as your true sexuality is a little bit silly. Sure, it might be awkward for you, because you have to come out again (and who likes coming out?), but people are generally pretty decent about it.
Plus, there’s a huge emphasis on not labeling other people and respecting the labels other people choose for themselves, so the idea of the ace community as some sort of sexuality police state is more than a little weird. Yes, identity policing does happen, and that’s incredibly unfortunate, but a lot of the time the folks doing the policing are A. trolls trying to stir up trouble (see: 90% of the drama over identity policing that occurs in the tumblr tags) or B. immediately called out and told to knock it off (see: the remaining 10% of the drama).
Obviously, all ace spaces are different. Some are more welcoming of non-aces than others. Some are more anti-sexual than others. Some are more elitist than others. Maybe the smaller/more closed ones don’t have to deal with as much hate and invalidation. But the idea that someone would say to themselves, “Man, I don’t want to deal with my sexuality, so I think I’ll pretend to be asexual and just chill in the asexual community for my entire life” just doesn’t make sense to me. The asexual community is a terrible place to hide from your sexuality, because A. a slew of people outside the community are constantly trying to convince you that you’re hiding from your sexuality and B. a slew of people inside the community are trying to analyze sexuality, so really the only way you could be “hiding” from your sexuality “inside” the asexual community is if you…weren’t really that involved. Honestly, if I were hiding from my sexuality, I’d just pretend to be straight.** If you claim to be straight, nobody’s going to come up to you and say, “So you’re straight, huh? Have you thought about getting your hormones checked?” or “You’re straight? Yeah, right, we all know you’re just repressing your gayness.” If you’re afraid of being a sexual minority, why hide in a smaller sexual minority, especially one that’s, as previously mentioned, obsessed with treating sexuality like the greatest research subject in existence?
*Let’s be honest: when is there not a big kerfuffle on tumblr?
**In fact, back when I thought I was bisexual, I decided that the best way to deal with it was to pretend to be straight. As you can imagine, that was utterly ineffective.