Cake and Traffic Accidents: Asexuality as Part of an Intersectional Identity

Intersectional identities are tricky. According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, my identity is much like a traffic accident at an intersection; cars come from multiple directions and sometimes you can’t tell who made the hit. In “I’d Rather be a Cyborg Than a Goddess” Jasbir Puar comments, “identification is an encounter, an event, an accident, in fact. Identities are multicausal, multidirectional, liminal.” If identities are multicausal and multidirectional accidents, how can we even begin to explain what it’s like to live them? How might we learn to navigate them better?

I’m not positive my identity is intersectional, but there is some use in temporarily assuming it is. The different parts of my identity, summed up by seemingly simple words like asexual, vegan-feminist, agender, panromantic, and so forth, intersect. Together they coalesce, shift, and overlap to make me myself. In theory this sounds pretty good so far, but I don’t know how to keep it together in practice.

How do I find my place in a community while being intersectional? Even if the community accepts me, do I really belong? I’ve self-identified as asexual for about six years and for many reasons I’ve been on the fringes of the community. One of those reasons is cake.

Starting from cake is interesting to me because, well, it’s cake; cake being a gatekeeper to my asexual identity sounds farfetched enough to laugh at. Humour helps, so I do laugh. Simultaneously though, cake is also a symbolic representation of what asexuality is supposed to be in a way that does not include my whole intersectional self. Language is powerful, so while I can laugh at a pixelated baked good, I also think about the place it’s played in my isolation.

As asexuals many of us give cake because it is better than sex. I post in AVEN’s welcome forum and I am greeted with cake. If I post something particularly thought provoking, clever, or important, I am rewarded with cake.

Cake says that you and I are alike because we share an inside joke that cake is better than sex. This joke is important because sex is usually seen as better than cake everywhere else, so here, in these asexual spaces, we can be ourselves and prefer cake. Thus, offering cake is a symbolic appreciation of how alike we are. Cake fosters community and a sense of belonging. It brings us closer together.

Many self-identified asexuals might stop here. I never can. Every time I am offered cake I am reminded that I am not the intended receiver of this symbolic exchange. Luckily, I am not the first to voice my displeasure of cake, but it is still worth discussing here because cake maps onto my intersectional identity in a unique way. Furthermore, even though cake is challenged in some asexual spaces, it remains an important cultural currency in others.

First, I am a sex-favourable asexual (see issue 25 of AVENues for my article on this). I fit into AVEN’s definition of asexuality, but I don’t fit into how many people talk about asexuality. When someone offers me cake I can’t laugh at the inside joke because I am not on the inside. Even when people offer cake with the best of intentions, it feels like they are upholding gatekeeping practices to weed out those who don’t really belong.

How do you say to someone who was just being nice, ‘well, actually, cake does not represent all asexual people and you assuming that it represents me makes me feel excluded’? You don’t. Or, well, I don’t (except I just did, consider this a rare brave moment). I usually squish my shoulders in a little closer and feel bad about not fitting into the very narrow asexual identity box.

It’s also worth noting that even if some self-identified asexuals fit into the box, the box itself might not be accurate. QueenieOfAces points out that liking cake (or disliking pizza) does not have the same effects on your life as having an asexual identity. She writes, “comparing my ‘lack of attraction’ to pizza to my lack of sexual attraction minimizes the impact of my asexuality on virtually every facet of my life.” Acetheist also wrote about the inaccuracy of food metaphors and asexuality. Like Acetheist and QueenieOfAces I’m also concerned about food metaphors in general, but my intersectional identity takes me in a different direction and I have different critiques.

I publicly identify as a vegan-feminist. Abolitionist would be a more accurate label, but I’m currently skeptical about what it means to you when I claim it because it’s so far from the public consciousness. To further confuse you, not all vegan-feminists would be bothered by cake, but I am. Let’s move on from the word games! In short, people offering me cake on and offline is a very uncomfortable experience and this has something to do with veganism.

Once again, someone offering me cake is being nice, but the bottom of my stomach is dropping and I’m suddenly not breathing. I’m panicking. A non-human person I never knew was treated like an object to make this ‘food’ and I have no idea what to do about it. I don’t want to be angry, but I feel terrible. Someone was hurt, and they will die, as property. If I say nothing I betray their suffering. I am complicit with the silence that allows this to be done to them. If I say something, well, you probably already know how people take it.

‘Food’ metaphors are complicated because ‘food’ means different things to different people. Notice my scare quotes. I don’t consider cake to be ‘food,’ which is where I take a different direction than other self-identified aces who write on this topic. Cake doesn’t register for me as edible. I do eat cake, but I’ll bake it myself or read the ingredients list five times before I touch it. I call it vegan cake, or cake made from plant ingredients, because differences are important and repeating them serves political purposes.

When I see real or pixelated cake I first think of a history of pain and oppression and feel frustrated because cake is supposed to stand in as a metaphor for asexual community. My metaphor for community comes at the expense of an individual cow and chicken. Even if they weren’t physically harmed, because cake is just an icon on a forum, metaphors uphold culture.

Since metaphors uphold culture cake might also brings to mind unintended histories, lives, and experiences for people who are not vegan-feminists. At the moment I’m thinking of people who live with, or have had, what our culture calls an eating disorder. I’m sure there are many other identities where this is true as well. I can’t speak to these experiences, but I’d be remiss to overlook them completely.

Part of me worries you’ll think I’m looking into this too deeply, but that’s also the point. Cake functions as ‘food’ in our culture because it’s ‘normal’ to eat the bodies and secretions of other animals. This makes people who only eat plants the marked Other. When some asexuals use cake as a metaphor the normalcy of eating cake goes unquestioned and I definitely think it’s something we need to be questioning (at the very least).

How do you even begin to navigate all of this in an interaction with another person?

Some days I just want to say ‘thank you for the cake,’ and I probably have, but that only works if I pretend I’m just asexual. I’m not.

True to Crenshaw’s metaphor of a traffic accident for intersectional identities, identities are also messy. It makes me feel uncomfortable to write this post because I know how important the symbol of cake is to some parts of the asexual community, but I also know I am not just asexual. I feel excluded from the asexual community when we use metaphors that assume and uphold the idea that all asexual people prefer cake to sex and that it’s unproblematic to eat ‘food’ that requires seeing some animals as objects.

In spite of these concerns I don’t think cake will go away anytime soon. Even if it did, cake is not the only ‘problem.’ Cake is not the only reason I struggle to exist within the asexual community. It’s one piece of a much larger puzzle, but importantly, talking about it might help us one day piece together the complete puzzle.

I don’t know how to have an intersectional identity and function in a community, but that’s hardly an excuse to stop trying. Maybe I’ll figure something out along the way. As Anthony J. Nocella II and others state in the introduction to Defining Critical Animal Studies, oppression is intersectional. If identities and oppression are both intersectional, maybe the ‘way out’ of oppression has something to do with ‘getting in’ to social movements whole.

 

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary trans, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing World of Warcraft and writing fiction. They are working on a PhD in Environmental Studies where they think a lot about oppression as intersectional and impacting identities differentially. Talia has a particular fondness for asexuality, fandom, and Critical Animal Studies. Their personal blog is petuniaparty.tumblr.com
This entry was posted in activism, asexual identity, asexual politics, Community, Intersectionality, personal experience. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Cake and Traffic Accidents: Asexuality as Part of an Intersectional Identity

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    Everything you’ve said here makes perfect sense to me and I appreciate you sharing your perspective. I wish we lived in a world where you could feel comfortable and have a reasonable expectation of acceptance if when someone “welcomed you to the asexual community with cake” or something you could easily say “Please don’t, cake offends me because it hurts animals to make cake and plus even if I ate cake it wouldn’t apply because I actually enjoy sex itself, I just don’t experience sexual attraction”. I would completely respect that, I think. Honestly, sometimes I do think I should become a vegetarian or vegan as a moral issue, but for now I do still eat meat/etc.

    Honestly, I’ve never liked the cake metaphors, even though I personally actually enjoy eating some types of cake (I’m sorry!! I don’t want to upset your vegan sensibilities but bear with me while I explain my point of view) – partially because the little cake icon on AVEN reminds me of the gross plastic-tasting cheap cake you can get at bad grocery stores or something lol but mainly because…

    I was introduced to the concept when I was still someone who had never taken off my clothes in the presence of anyone before/been around someone else who was naked. “Cake is better than sex” implies that you’ve tried both sex and cake, and that you have decided that when comparing the two, you’d prefer to eat cake. Technically it *could* mean “I’d rather eat a piece of cake than lose my virginity” or other things like that but I never felt comfortable saying sex is “better” or “worse” than anything if I hadn’t experienced sex yet. I still feel like it’s never fair to compare two things and claim one is better if I don’t have enough information to properly judge the other one.

    Someone I know on twitter (who’s been seeing me tweet out a lot of asexuality-related posts lately) recently messaged me to tell me she thinks she might be asexual, but she’s not sure because she has a sex drive and masturbates. She told me when she first was exploring asexuality, all she saw were things about asexuals not masturbating. But for me when I was considering that I might be asexual, I kind of felt like maybe I wasn’t asexual and maybe instead there was really something medically wrong with me because I’ve never even been aroused once in my life, I can’t figure out how to masturbate/orgasm, etc. I felt like I was different than most asexuals because I thought I *did* experience romantic attraction, yet kissing felt really… like something I’d rather not do and all I saw when I searched AVEN’s forums for people’s points of view on kissing were people wondering if they could still “count” as asexual if they *did* really enjoy kissing, they just didn’t want to go further and have sex. It’s easy for almost everyone to feel excluded when trying to finally find a place where they fit in perfectly, because we all are so different, and I think in general people never try hard enough to emphasize the “but this isn’t true for everyone”. Lots of asexuals (and possibly even the majority of them/us) may very well love to eat cake and also be sex-repulsed but when they make assumptions that this is reasonable to accept of all asexuals, they are being closed-minded and inconsiderate and all sorts of things.

    • Talia says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed comment!

      I agree, it would be nice if I could voice my discomfort about cake when offered it and feel comfortable that this opinion would be accepted/not cause a problem or breach of social etiquette. I see that as a place that might be easier to get to than stopping the use of cake as metaphor in general.

      Thanks also for sharing your personal experiences with cake as metaphor and asexuality. It’s really interesting to read about how cake may not work for others for reasons that I haven’t imagined yet. I like the idea of opening up space for these kinds of discussions.

      Also, emphasizing ‘this isn’t true for everyone’ is awesome and extremely important. It would also be neat to find a short and succinct addition (which I can’t think of off the top of my head) that acknowledges, wherever you fit in, that’s great, and you’re not better or worse if this category does or doesn’t describe your experience. I’ve heard a few yoga instructors say similar things.

  2. Siggy says:

    Privately, I’ve always had an alternative narrative for the cake: Lots of people think cake is great, amazing even. If you found someone who didn’t like cake, you might be shocked, and think they were missing out. But before going overboard, you would stop yourself and think, it’s just cake. Not everyone needs to like it to get the most out of life or anything.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      I really love that alternate narrative. If that was what the metaphor was… then I would support it full-heartedly. 😀

    • Sara K. says:

      I also like this alternative narrative, especially since I am that someone who does not like cake (with a few exceptions).

    • Talia says:

      I also prefer that alternative narrative! It’s neat to think that even though cake is pretty widespread across asexual spaces how it’s mobilized and what it means is different. So much meaning bound up in one little icon. 🙂

  3. Janet says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write about how the cake metaphor affects you. It’s helpful to know how being offered cake could be an alienating rather than welcoming experience, and none of us needs any more alienating experiences.

    I have a different experience of intersectionality when it came to being offered cake. I live with multiple food allergies and intolerances, and am unable to eat any cake except one that’s been made especially with my needs in mind. When I was welcomed to AVEN with cake, my own take was simply that I was being actively welcomed and included in the community, and as such, I really appreciated it. At the same time, it did feel a bit strange, knowing that in real life, I couldn’t accept any cake. Because I had no doubt that in real life, people would offer me something that was safe for me to eat, I felt the welcome much, much more strongly than the strangeness. Your post helped me see that some people might have other feelings about cake that would make it much harder to feel mainly positive feelings. Thanks!

    • Talia says:

      Oh it’s always exciting (for me) to read more about how intersectionality functions for other people’s identities. Thanks for sharing your experience and I really appreciate that you both expressed how cake was welcoming and a positive experience for you while also being attentive to how cake isn’t for me. 🙂

  4. Seth says:

    I understand your argument. It’s very similar to the reason why I’ve come to regard Halloween as being even more problematic from a vegan point of view than Thanksgiving is. And if I were actually offered cake, my reaction would be much like yours: what kind of sugar was used, and was the flour enriched, and were any dairy products involved, and if not, was the brand of non-dairy milk definitely vegan? Yet, I’ve never seen a big problem with cake as an ace in-joke, and I still don’t (if I did, I wouldn’t have baked this. The in-joke refers to the concept of cake, abstracted from the implementation, and I can agree that cake, in the abstract, is awesome. As long as the cake remains hypothetical, I can easily assume it’s vegan, and there’s nothing to prove me wrong. And politically speaking, I think that saying, “Yes, cake is great, and by the way, did you know that it’s possible to bake one without causing undue pain and suffering?” is far better than hating on cake unilaterally.

    • Talia says:

      The connection between how I’m thinking about cake and Halloween is really interesting! Thanks for sharing your thought process. I’m glad you did because I tried to make it explicit that how I respond to cake has to do with me being vegan, but everyone who is vegan won’t have this response, and your thought process expresses that (and makes visible an experience I don’t have and can’t represent).

      It’s interesting that you start from the hypothetical that food is vegan and I don’t. I once had a friend who assumed everyone who joined her anti-vivisection club was vegan and that worked really well for her. My brain doesn’t work that way; I immediately jump to, okay, let’s imagine the worst case scenario, and then be prepared. That might also be why I feel uncomfortable bringing up undue pain and suffering that goes into cake, but you’re right, bringing it up in that way is a good political option. 🙂 I usually worry that in doing so I have to sacrifice my comfort in the asexual community for my political interest in veganism though, which I wish wasn’t the case (hence the article hah).

  5. Sara K. says:

    Having never been a part of the AVEN community, I have never been welcomed with cake … but I have never liked the cake metaphor because I generally do not like cake. For example, I had (vegan) cake today, and I wish I hadn’t because I did not like the taste very much (by the way, the fact that it was vegan had nothing to do with the disappointing taste – I generally disliked cake even before I became a vegan, and I have had some amazing vegan cakes). However, if I were offered hypothetical cake I would, like Seth, mentally assume that it was vegan cake. That would be a harder mental trick to pull off if I was offered hypothetical, say, scrambled eggs with bacon.

  6. Pingback: The Asexual Community & Veg*n Communities, Conclusion | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  7. Pingback: Thinking of Asexual Culture as Indefinite, Ephemeral, and Sometimes Incompatible | The Asexual Agenda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s