The importance of visibility

(Note: This is an expanded re-post from textualtidepool)

Well it’s funny to think about, you’ve got the gays marching for the right to be cocksucking homosexuals, and then you have the asexuals marching for the right to not do anything. Which is hilarious. Like, you didn’t need to march for that right. You just need to stay home, not do anything.  

– Dan Savage

I’ve been mulling over this comment, and the commentary of many other people, with regard to the inclusion of asexuality in queer and other support spaces for marginalized identities.

At first glance it strikes the average person as incredibly, well, reasonable.  It seems to make sense.  ”Why does there need to be an asexual section in the pride parade?  It’s not like anyone’s taking away their rights on the premise of their asexuality.”

And that’s true, from a legal standpoint.  Heteroromantic asexuals can still marry other heteroromantic asexuals – no judge will prohibit their marriage because of its lack of sexual intent.  Unless one party wishes to annul the marriage and cite lack of sexual contact as the cause, their marriage can persist, in every legal sense, as no less valid than that of heteroromantic sexuals.  And that’s nice.

But the crux of pride parades, the purpose of the LGBT movement, of feminism and of social justice in many respects, is not purely a legal crusade or a singular plea for ink-on-parchment legislative rights.  These movements also exist in an effort to initiate a shift in societal thought that will allow their proponents to exist without the threat of harm, without invalidation, and without the social stigmatization that comes from being who they are.

If the expected lifestyle of our society were such that “staying at home, not doing anything” was our primary goal, there would be no problem with the above quote.  Yet this flies in the face of fact and stands utterly contrary to our known realities.  Asexuality – neck-deep in a culture of expected monogamy, of centuries-old socially embedded narratives of human bonding, of the still-present stigmatization of “the spinster,” “the loner,” and “the virgin” – remains unacceptable, othered, and invalidated in a culture of hyper-sexuality.

We live in a society in which human bodies (largely, female bodies) are over-sexualized, and where the basic functional anatomy of a person is deemed inherently sexual.  By virtue of being human and possessing these components, we are assumed to have sexual drives linked to these body parts, and we are assumed to have latent desires to express this sexuality with another human being.  In moving through public spaces, one may be conceived of as potentially sexual, and potentially available.

It is unsurprising that the hostilities that asexuals face run parallel to the harassment and coercion of women in public, of lesbians in public – the two (or three) often going hand-in-hand in intersectional circumstances.  Where humans are presumed to be sexually driven, and to exist for the sexual satisfaction of the “opposite sex,” those who are overtly sexual, and who hold power in society are liable to exhibit aggressively coercive attitudes towards those who deviate from the narrative.  Those who are asexual hear similar, and sometimes identical proposals and verbal threats to those experienced by LGBT-identifying individuals.

You don’t have to look very far to find someone in the asexual community who has been confronted with echoes of “You just haven’t found the right person,” “You won’t be asexual after you sleep with me,” and “Are you sure you weren’t abused as a child?”  Among the barrage of sexual pleas, assumptions, and threats, asexuals encounter the all-too-familiar Psychoanalytical Layman, who deems it their responsibility to elucidate the “suppressed reasons” for the asexual’s orientation through invasive personal interrogation.  Negative sexual experiences equal an “opportunity for healing,” positive experiences equal a “well, then you aren’t really, are you?”, indifferent experience equals “not the right person,” and no experience equals, “you don’t know until you try.”

In essence, asexuals are tasked with weaving a cohesive, bullet-proof narrative out of every past experience in a way that coincides with their current sexual identity.  And even in knowing this narrative, we are all still conscious of the fact that few factors of any person’s identity ever demonstrate perfect causality.  We are often not granted the space to assert our identity alongside seemingly incongruous events.

Generally, we can accept the narrative of a gay man being married to a woman for a number of years, having sex, and having children, while knowing that his current relationship does not coincide with who he is theoretically most comfortable being with.  We can conceive of a kind of permanency to his identity, of a person having underlying preferences that are muted or set aside for any number of reasons.  But replace the character with an ace, and red flags will be raised.   The label of “asexuality” becomes less manageable than “gay,” because it represents a voluntarily withdrawal from sex-driven interaction and a defiance of the unconscious sexual narrative.  It asserts a person as unavailable, or considerably less available, as an object in any form.

There’s a saying about sex that exists in the country where I find myself, and it is repeated without irony nor apology.  Roughly translated, it becomes, “If there’s meat, the cat is going to eat it.”  In navigating cultures of hyper-sexuality, we are conscious that there are often no qualifiers for when, why, and how a person may be approached for sex, and it is by the presence of a desirable “object” alone that prompts another to act.   In response to invasively sexual attitudes, some asexuals can experience bodily discomfort unrelated to their gender identity, seeing their sexually-distinguishing characteristics as an inconvenience in the face of sex-driven interactions.  Asexuals who find their identity overlapping with frequently hyper-sexualized demographics (women of color, queer women) grapple with an even more disquieting brand of attention that forces their outward interactions and internal comfort into further conflict.

Yet even in light of these similar experiences of both invalidation and self-discovery, of marginalization and growth, asexuality remains in a dubious grey area for many LGBT spaces.  Because we still value overt sexuality – because the LGBT community is largely concerned with matters of safe sex and of positive sexual expression – those who remain uninterested or repulsed by sex are at times thrown in with the “prudish” forces that are conceived of by the community as a threat to sex positivity and the greater sexual culture.  

In creating spaces that truly value sexual empowerment, that are committed to educating the public in matters of consent, respect, and self-awareness, why are we shaming those who have chosen to consistently decline to consent Could we be predicating our judgment on the idea that consent, at some point, must inevitably be given?

We are embedded in a culture where sex is conceived of as an integral part of human interaction, queer or otherwise.  Yet we have overturned previous notions of sexuality and of human bonding before, and opened our minds to novel ways of respectful living.  Is society capable of expanding our minds just a bit further, to conceive of a sexless lifestyle that is equally deserving of our respect?

About Katie

Katie is an American expat working abroad on environmental conservation. She is a queer romantic asexual, mixed race, and existentially overwhelmed. When she’s not chasing pigs away from her vegetable garden, she likes to keep up on intersectional issues and open her ears to the murmurs of the internet.
This entry was posted in Misconceptions, Sexual normativity. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The importance of visibility

  1. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    Wow, excellent analysis.

  2. Pingback: “But I’m not gay”: being visibly queer and invisibly asexual | The Asexual Agenda

  3. Pingback: Ace Obstacles | Something Queer to Read

  4. Pingback: “But I’m not gay:” Being visibly queer and invisibly asexual | LGBTeen

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