Why I no longer engage the “Are aces queer?” question

Last year, Siggy had an excellent post, What does it mean to say asexuals are queer? Captain Heartless’s recent guest post, Why the “Are Asexuals Queer?” Question is Incoherent takes a similar approach. It took me most of the time that passed between these two posts to realize that I thought they missed the mark (at least as far as my own experiences are concerned) and to articulate for myself exactly why.

Whenever the question, “Are aces queer?” comes up on Tumblr, it quickly gets narrowed to, “Are heteroromantic and aromantic aces queer?” In most cases, homoromantic and bi/panromantic aces are accepted as queer because they have some degree of attraction to the same sex or gender. The first problem comes in when there’s an implicit assumption (and I believe there is in most cases) that “not queer” = straight. To me, this is emphasized by treating heteroromantic* and aromantic aces as a unit (by the way, we’re not the same thing). The result of this is that I end up feeling that, “Are aces queer?” is really asking, “Are aromantic aces straight?”

And that’s where this really goes wrong for me. As an aromantic asexual woman, I am not attracted to men at any level. I have never had a romantic or sexual relationship with a man, I do not want one, and I wouldn’t know how to navigate one. How in the world is this “straight”? In order to think that, you have to assume that an asexual is simply a celibate allosexual (by the way, this misunderstanding impacts all asexuals, not just aromantic ones). I relate to other people and to the world in a profoundly different way from most allosexuals I know, especially when it comes to romantic love, relationships, and sex. I am not straight.

When you imply that I’m straight, you erase my experiences of alienation, marginalization, and isolation because of my asexuality. You invalidate my identity. This is not a neutral act. I have seen this same “Are aces queer?” debate play out for a number of years now, and in all that time it has not changed. Again and again and again (and again and again) aromantic aces are written off. At this point, I no longer engage with allosexuals who pose this question. I don’t believe it’s asked in good faith.

To me, the posts by Siggy and Captain Heartless miss the mark because they don’t address the way that the “Are aces queer?” question is used in practice. They don’t get at the fundamental misunderstanding of asexuality and the erasure and invalidation that is implicit in most of these debates. For me, this isn’t about how is asexuality properly classified, or about whether I should have access to certain types of spaces or not**. It’s about me being imputed with the wrong sexual orientation even after I have come out as not straight. Accept me for who I tell you I am, and then we can talk about categorizations and access.

There’s an important discussion to be had about whether queerness should mean more than same-sex/gender attraction. I believe that it should. But if you’re going to hold to a narrower definition of queerness, then you need to put me in a category other than “straight”.

P.S. Homoromantic and bi/panromantic aces, do me a solid and the next time you’re asked this question, disrupt the framing. Don’t accept your fellow aces being imputed as straight by default.

*In fact, I believe that heteroromantic aces are not straight; they’re asexual. See Heteroromanticity and being straight and another thought on that “dividing us up according to our romantic orientations” business for more. However, I do not address this question in this post.

**The implicit assumption here that aromantic aces want access to spaces where we “don’t belong” I believe also betrays a belief that we’re “really” straight.

About Laura (ace-muslim)

Laura is an aromantic asexual, queer-identified, and a Muslim. She lives in the U.S., works in online tech support, and volunteers for a Muslim anti-racism organization. She blogs about asexuality, queer Muslim issues, and other topics at http://ace-muslim.tumblr.com and has written on asexuality for a number of Muslim sites.
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24 Responses to Why I no longer engage the “Are aces queer?” question

  1. I definitely agree with this, at least as I’ve seen the debate on the internet outside of ace spaces (I think the cases where I feel like I’ve seen the question in good faith seem to be either in ace spaces or in person at resource centers).

    I suppose to some degree my instinct of viewing the question as one of “should aces have access to X space” is me trying to interpret the question as generously as possible. Certainly I feel like the ambiguity in the question ends up with people using it to ask things without actually saying them; and the more I think about it the more I think it could be asking any number of things- one of which is “Are (heteroromantic/aromantic/wtfromantic*) asexuals really any different from straight people?”. In that case it’s clear they are using the question to try and argue that asexuals don’t exist without admitting it to themselves. There might be a good analogy to be made to other contexts, maybe in the case of dog-whistle type statements? But nothing I’ve come up with off the top of my head fits quite right.

    *I’m using wtfromantic as a stand in for “people who don’t use the concept of romantic orientation”, because that is too big to fit in a parenthetical, but when talking theory I think they get lumped in with aromantics a lot, who then get lumped in with heteroromantics.

    • If you group together heteroromantic (22%), aromantic (16%) and wtfromantic/other (29%) aces, that’s 67% of aces that are being excluded now. As long as “queer” is “experiences same-sex/gender attraction” and not “not cis or straight”, it’s not ever going to include most aces. It erases why people have come to ID as asexual rather than the default straight, often after a long struggle. We can’t win the debate on those terms.

      • Exactly- that’s why I feel comfortable saying if someone is lumping all those together, they are probably trying to just argue that asexuals don’t exist, and divide the community up by romantic orientation (which of course has a lot of problems that have been discussed before). That’s definitely an example of asking the question in bad faith.

        When I mentioned all those groups being lumped together, it should seem jarring to anyone who knows the theory. I think the process tends to be outsiders finding the asexual community and saying “we don’t know what to do with this, so lets just act like their romantic orientation is their sexual orientation”. Then they see aromantics, and say “well, I guess we’ll just throw them in with straight people”. Then (if) they see asexuals without romantic orientations, and say either “let’s do with them what we do with aromantics” or “let’s throw them in with straight people”. This is sad/hilarious because it is basically using “straight” as a default norm (yay heteronormativity!), but also ends up with people in same sex relationships being called straight (but since its all theory no outsider realizes that), and as you mentioned basically ignores the existence of most of the asexual community. I know someone on tumblr has discussed this before (maybe nextstepcake? Maybe you? I really don’t remember).

        • Yeah, I’ve commented on that before and I know that nextstepcake has as well. I don’t think that most of the people who do this are actually aware of the 29% “other” group (I’ve been known to refer to them all as “wtfromantic” for convenience, but that’s probably not the best use of the term). Most materials I’ve seen produced by aces on romantic orientation don’t mention the group either (or that it’s the largest single group by romantic orientation), so how would outsiders even know about it? I like Queenie’s distinction[1] between alloromantics as those who experience romantic attraction in a normative manner, and those who don’t (which would include aromantics, wtfromantics, and Other) and I think this would be more useful than the way the asexual community currently talks about romantic orientation.

          It wouldn’t necessarily help us with the endless “queer” debates, but it would help us to do better by our own community, at least, and maybe help us to more effectively conceptualize things within our own discourse.

          [1] https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/alloromantics-vs-aromantics-the-great-divide/

  2. Sara K. says:

    You know, I have a post on this topic that I wrote months ago … but since I am travelling I have canned a lot of posts and the queue is quite long, so it still has not been published. What I say is similar to what you say – as implied by the title “Is Straight/Queer a Binary? Should It Be?” – though my post does not go into detail on how people use the ‘are aces queer?’ question in bad faith.

    Anyhow, that post is set to go live on June 6th.

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  4. Talia says:

    I really appreciated how you went into what this question practically does and how it excludes. This was a really interesting learning moment for me because I’ve never seen asexual aromantic people lumped in to the category of straight before. Perhaps that is because it’s not my experience and thus I haven’t noticed it as sharply as I would if it were (which I hope is not the case). More optimistically (and unlikely), I’ve managed to avoid spaces where this does occur. Either way, it’s important for me to learn about how my easy inclusion into queer spaces (as an asexual panromantic) should not be something I just accept and move on from. Your P.S comment about disrupting framing is helpful as I critically think about my part in this narrative. 🙂

    • To be honest, I think this argument is something that takes place almost exclusively on Tumblr. While some aces have experienced difficulties with offline queer communities, it doesn’t usually seem to be focused on romantic orientation or to make distinctions among different aces. So if you’re not active on Tumblr, you may never have seen it!

      • queenieofaces says:

        Yeah, I’ve only ever seen the argument on tumblr. I’ve talked to some people offline, and they were pretty deeply confused by the idea of splitting aces up by romantic orientation AND by the idea that anyone would consider ANY aces straight.

      • Sciatrix says:

        I have seen it elsewhere from Tumblr, in contexts predating the 2011 blow-ups. However, I also see it way more online than I do in person. I suspect this is because people are railing about theoretical asexual people who are assumed to be straight, and it’s a little more difficult to rail about a single polite asexual person in the specific.

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  15. Alan says:

    I’m straight. I’m straight-ace. That’s my thing. I’ve always accepted that I’m different, but I’m not LGBT in anyway. I’ve never felt like I belonged there at all. Would you tell me otherwise?

    Even worse, in the past, I’ve been more than a little homophobic and transphobic. Glad that’s no longer true, but would you force someone like me into that box? Is that fair to those other people in that group?

    Is there another side to this? Does have to be such a generalized idea that “all” or “none” asexuals are LGBT or queer or straight or something else?

    • EF says:

      I see what you’re saying. Yeah, I wouldn’t argue for forcibly including anyone in a community they want no part of. it’s an identity thing, so some straight aces can identify as straight and others as lgbt/queer, depending on if they feel sufficiently alienated by our heteronormative culture. it’s my understanding that some intersex people don’t want to be included under LGBTI, so they might have a similar situation – I’m not really sure

      As for x-phobia – there are certainly, for example, cis lgbt people who are transphobes. I’m aroish and I probably believed arophobic things before I knew better. You can kick offensive people out of lgbt spaces, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still identify as lgbt. straight aces who call themselves queer just have to make sure they respect the different experiences that others in the community have had

      (sorry for wordiness!)

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