Essential understandings of being ‘born’ ‘asexual’ and loving my ‘asexual’ self will never make sense to me. In a world that continually erases Asian (male assigned) sexualities I was coerced into asexuality. It is something I have and will continue to struggle with. My asexuality is a site of racial trauma. I want that sadness, that loss, that anxiety to be a part of asexuality politics. – Alok Vaid-Menon (ETA: link is broken, but the article has been mirrored)
Asexuality is not my racial trauma. It is antithetical to everything a Black man is supposed to be. – Obsidian Magazine
Would I consider my own asexuality the site of racial trauma? Is my asexuality in defiance of, or compliance with, colonial logics?
- Asian men: De-sexualized. Accepting asexuality is compliant.
- Black men: Hyper-sexualized. Accepting asexuality is not compliant.
- The unknown quantity – Asian women: Hyper-sexualized, but only as objects. Not given sexual desires in themselves, but expected to be sexually receptive. What then?
Did colonization coerce me into asexuality?
Is coerced asexuality actually relevant to asexuality?
I’ll bite. My asexuality is compliant in the sense that I am not the subject of sexual desire. I do not seek, nor desire others to fulfill my sexuality. Left simply at my lack of initiative, I can be cast as the submissive, exotic woman. Existing to be chosen, to have sexuality exercised upon me, yet possessing no endogenous sexual drives that would upset the dynamics that render me powerless and voiceless.
My asexuality also removes me from the ultimate realization of these dynamics. I am not compliant – I am declining – I am uninterested, unimpressed, and the subject is rejected not because another man has “claimed” me, but by my own withdrawal from his pursuit. I do not fulfill his sexual fantasies, but neither do I subvert his with any of my own.
My refusal toward objectification is in direct defiance of the role expected of my identities. But my acceptance of not being a subject, in not possessing any of my own sexual desires, is compliant. So where does that leave me, in a colonially-shaped conception of my asexuality?
I could have internalized white conceptions of Asian and female sexual passivity, which has led to the complete neutering of any sexual desires within me. This leaves me with something appearing partially defiant, but ultimately not revolutionary. My asexuality is still the product of colonization, and I am alienated from attaining a more fulfilling sexuality because of it.
My happy complacency with my asexuality could be construed as a cowardice to combat colonial logics and my self-silencing within racial dialogues. We could say that my asexuality is the unwilling result of years of colonization, now so comfortably embedded in my conception of myself that I am loathe to reject the very thing that subdues me.
I am grappling with the impossibility of describing my subconsciousness.
I fully acknowledge that the influence exists – that I am weighed down by internalized racism by virtue of operating within this world – but its exact effect upon my sexuality is unknown. Perhaps it happened exactly as described. Or, alternatively, the disgust at what I found buried within my mind led me to feel empowered to become asexual. To refuse to conceive of myself as an object for the white male gaze.
There are a hundred permutations of internalization – realization – rejection – acceptance that could have led to what I feel now, and no way of knowing which is true.
And deciding upon any of them has no consequence in changing what I am now.
Whatever influences that exerted themselves upon my developing mind to lead me to this identity have long since sealed their doors, and what I am left with, currently, is a lack of sexual feeling. Do I pick apart the facets of culture that could have led me to this point? Toward what conclusion would this ultimately lead?
The realization and explanation of colonial influence upon my body will not “correct” what other bodies failed to change. It will not make me feel any lighter.
I find some small liberation in claiming the label of asexuality and removing myself from the role of a sexual object, which I recognize is not afforded to all POC. I am allowed to feel satisfied in being noncompliant. For people who are cast as neither the sexual subject nor the sexual object, there is something submissive about claiming asexuality within the dialogue of colonization. I recognize this as a source of distress.
But much more so than this – than viewing asexuality within colonization – satisfaction came to me from acknowledging the bounds of my personal comfort, and with reconciling what I internally felt with what I externalized in my relationships. Asexuality is still a source of anxiety and incongruence within a heteronormative culture, but it is decidedly more comfortable than forcing sexuality. This was an even greater source of distress.
To view the site of asexuality as wholly confining, coercive, and distressing – to regard it as something needing to be broken away from in order to heal – describes a radically different conception of asexuality altogether. The desire to be sexual itself excludes all conventional notions of being asexual. And this is where the argumentative disconnect occurs.
The conversation addressing the policing and colonization of POC sexualities is vital. The conversation addressing POC within asexual spaces is vital. Yet the convolution of the two in Vaid-Menon’s writing, in a manner that uses the term “asexual” to describe POC who aren’t actually comfortable with asexuality, who consider their sexuality taken from them, confounds a functional identity with something forged through violence. As long as we are insisting upon a pathologized and broken asexuality – one that hinges on cause-and-effect and seeks to rectify the effect by correcting the cause – people will not follow. This is not due to reluctance or lack of investment in the goals of the dialogue. It is because the argument has been rendered incommunicable.
We can, and should talk about how colonial politics shape our desires. We need to talk about the de-sexualization of brown male bodies and how this is harmful and traumatizing. But to inject this topic specifically into asexual circles among people who have a very different functional definition of asexuality – one that involves consent to one’s asexuality above all – ceases to make sense. And it is likely to be met with confused silence.
Conversations concerning the “unassailable asexual” have reiterated that trauma should never call into question a person’s claim to asexuality, nor should it be assumed to be the cause. But the intentional posturing of trauma as the cause and subsequent asexuality as a source of distress will incite page-flipping through the DSM from allosexuals and asexuals alike.
Deconstruction of conventional rhetoric is useful, until it dismantles communication.
It is nonsensical to haphazardly invoke a label and ascribe to it an entirely different description than what has been reached by medical and psychological research. And then consequently reject the label because it is ill-fitting. And then to leave the burden of explanation upon the people who use that label. And to lastly wrap the argument in revolutionary rhetoric so that conscientious objections are stifled out of fear of appearing oppressive.
Again – these dialogues need to happen, but I don’t see how it is at all rational or pertinent to insist that these dialogues belong here.
I am aware that I am partially arguing semantics (i.e. “use different word”), but I need to reiterate the harm in specifically seeking to engage with asexual politics. To drag in a segment of the population that already experiences hostility, invalidation, and pathologization – to invoke decolonizing rhetoric in a manner that places asexuals in a Catch-22 of hosting a self-harming dialogue that is not germane to their identities, or risk appearing erasive – strikes me as unfair. At the very least, it is an unfocused and ineffective manner of making this truthful dialogue happen.
I don’t want to be the singular voice on this, and I don’t know if I am speaking alone. Vaid-Menon’s posturing of this dialogue ensured that very few asexual voices replied, and the essay has been passed through allosexual blogs without commentary or recognition of its inherent problems. Asexuality politics risk being shifted by popular assent from those who are not asexual, demanding asexual communities’ engagement in a dialogue that is already rigged to cast them as invalidating POC histories.
A dialogue that I ultimately do not feel is asexual.
I’m leaving this to the comments:
Does it make sense for asexual politics to be asked to provide the space to address this?
Are we allowed to ascribe to our current definitions of “asexuality” and mediate its application without being classist, racist, and colonizing?
What would it take to make this dialogue specifically asexual?
How should we be engaging with this?