The following is a guest post by Captain Heartless.
Recently at an ace meet up, someone brought up the “are asexuals queer?” question and made me realize I’d never fully fleshed out some of the assumptions behind the question. Siggy has explained some of the ambiguity in that question before, arguing that calling asexuals queer acts as either a community guideline or political strategy. And a long time ago I certainly spent my time in the tumblr trenches adamantly arguing that asexuals are queer*. But rather than argue the merits of the question itself, more and more I’ve been leaning towards rejecting the idea that this is a question that can be answered, and we should instead start taking the community guideline approach- and asking “are asexuals part of X group?”** instead of “are asexuals queer?”.
There are two assumptions in that question that bother me: 1) that groups as a whole can be described as “queer”, and 2) that there is a single coherent “queer” community.
The first assumption is basically a category error. Technically speaking, I would say asexuals are not queer- because no group is. Individual people are queer, not everyone with a particular sexual orientation. For example, there are gay men who do not identify as queer, for a variety of reasons (since it’s a reclaimed word that has a different impact or meaning for different people, for example). But of course, some gay men do identify as queer- and so I’d say those gay men are queer. But are “gay men”, as a category, queer? No, because that would imply that something about being gay and/or a man necessarily makes someone queer, and therefore all gay men are queer. I would never want to imply someone who recoils in horror at the word queer must in fact identify as such. Individuals are queer; groups are not- unless everyone in the group happens to identify as queer, which probably isn’t going to be true of any group (except for “the group of all people who identify as queer”, or tautologies like that).
The second assumption- that there is a single coherent queer community- is pretty straightforward.There is no single “queer community”. Every campus center, every meet up, and so on are their own queer communities, and I’m a lot more comfortable asking the question of each group individually, similar to Siggy’s approach in the previously mentioned post.
The point of all of this is that I feel like the reason the “Are asexuals queer?” question keeps getting brought up and never dies is because it’s not a coherent question. The better question is to look at a specific group or community, and then ask the question about that group.
This isn’t to say we must ignore broad level discussions about queer groups. My complaint is based on the ambiguity in the meaning of the word “queer”, and how that leads to arguments where each side is answering a different question. If we ask the question “Are asexuals part of X set of groups?”, that removes the ambiguity (as long as the set of groups is clearly defined), and makes it obvious that we aren’t talking about a monolithic queer community.
*In the framework I used there, note that I’m now leaning more towards a “queer people are people who identify as queer” definition (but in reality I’m likely to use some kind of combination of definitions).
**Group X puns unintended, but intentionally left in