Hijab as “Leave me alone; I’m not interested”

The thought of someone else finding me sexy? That made me more uncomfortable, and in retrospect I think it was because now I was being asked, in an abstract sense, to picture myself actually in a sexual situation. If Iā€™m sexually attractive, that means people want me to be having sex. (luvtheheaven, Am I sex-averse? Maybe. I have made a decision to identify as such.)

In a recent Tumblr post, Social anxiety, sex aversion, and asexuality, I talked about how for a long time I found it difficult to distinguish between my introversion and instances of social anxiety, and my sex aversion. Over time, I came to realize that I experienced two separate anxiety responses when someone made a sexual/romantic approach to me, and that the person’s sexual/romantic interest in me was a distinct and much stronger trigger for anxiety than the simple social anxiety. The anxiety response specific to being approached sexually or romantically I recognize as my sex aversion.

The quote from luvtheheaven above expresses really well what I think is at the core of my sex aversion. I don’t want people to think they can or should approach me sexually or romantically. If they did, they would want me to engage with them in a way that I am not able to do, they would expect something from me that I can’t give. It’s better to not even let them get started on thinking in that direction. Ideally, I would like people to realize this before they approach me and to only do so if they accept those as my terms.

A few months ago, I wrote On being visibly Muslim and invisibly asexual about some of the ways people tend to perceive me because of my hijab. Many times, people simply regard and treat me with hostility (TW: Islamophobia) because of their prejudice against Islam and Muslims. Sometimes they assume that I’m oppressed; typically they imagine I have a husband who forces me to dress modestly. Even when they have a more positive view of me, they seem to see me as a heterosexual who is celibate for religious reasons (hence “invisibly asexual”).

The interesting thing is that none of these three views seems to involve them seeing me as someone they themselves should approach sexually. Either they despise my very presence, they don’t want to mess with the husband they imagine me to have, or they correctly realize I’m not interested. Because of this, I feel that hijab tends to desexualize me.

And I like it that way. I don’t like Islamophobic harassment, obviously, and being asked why my husband makes me dress that way is annoying and frustrating. But if they don’t vocalize these views, and they just leave me alone, I’ll take it.

For this sex-averse asexual, hijab is a tool that helps me to define how others see and approach me and that makes it more likely they will do so on my terms. It makes my life more livable. This is empowering for me. Even with the difficulties hijab sometimes causes with others, I wouldn’t give up my shield for the world.

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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21 Responses to Hijab as “Leave me alone; I’m not interested”

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    I think I saw somewhere else aces discussing how allo people saying “You’re sexy” really feel like a compliment – we don’t really want to hear it. I think this reaction is common.

    I wonder… for people who are allosexual how much this stuff also applies. If a girl is not attracted to this particular guy, even though she is heterosexual in general, maybe him considering her “Hot” is uncomfortable in a similar way, because she doesn’t actually have any desire on any level to have sex with *him*.

    Maybe this spreads to some heterosexual people’s homophobia. The fact that a gay guy in a men’s locker room might be actually thinking of the straight men as sexually attractive is really unsettling to them, even if the gay guy would never voice his thoughts/feelings and never actively flirt – just the concept that they (the straight men in the room) are being considered in that kind of a “Gay sex” way is something they can’t quite handle, because they’d never want to consent to something like that?

    • I’ve always assumed that the kind of homophobia you mention is based on ideas about masculinity and fear of losing masculinity in the eyes of others, which is pretty different from the kind of sex aversion I’m talking about.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        Well that certainly might be part of it, or the entire fear for some of them… but I think even straight women have some of that where they’d be more uncomfortable having a lesbian as a roommate than a fellow straight girl, and I just wonder if some of them are experiencing something kind of similar to what we’re experiencing.

        • I’ve actually wondered too whether monosexuals may experience sex aversion to the sex/gender(s) they’re not attracted to. However, a lot of the examples you’re providing sound like homophobia. I think there are two reasons for this. First, your examples are all about straight people. Second, you’re presenting scenarios where there isn’t actually a romantic/sexual approach, but the straight person is imagining that there would be.

          I would be much more interested in the example of a lesbian who is approached by a man who wants to flirt with her. That’s much closer to what I was talking about.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            Yeah I was specifically choosing homophobic examples. Like Siggy said below, I guess I was specifically bringing up homophobic examples because I was wondering if their homophobia might be motivated by aversion. šŸ˜›

            Sorry for derailing your comment thread with this unrelated topic, though.

          • This is a response to luvtheheaven at 3:35 pm.

            To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by your introduction of this topic. I wondered if you were trying to analogize my sex aversion to homophobia, and it felt invalidating. I didn’t understand why you felt that the topic was related to anything that I wrote and I wondered why you chose this particular post to open this discussion.

            I will not be responding further on this topic in the comments of this post but I wanted to let you know that I found this conversation to be difficult, and why.

    • Siggy says:

      I think a lot of homophobia is motivated by aversion, and that is in fact why LGBT audiences have particular difficulty with the concept of aversion. A lot of work needs to be done to separate out the general phenomenon of aversion from the specific expression as homophobia.

      Based on my experience with gay guys, I think many also have aversion to straight sex, but it’s greatly diminished by cultural factors.

      • Yeah, I think the issue of aversion has to be handled carefully. Besides the issue that you mentioned, some misogynistic rhetoric treats women as a corrupting, defiling, or polluting influence so it’s not always neutral for a man to say that he experiences repulsion or aversion towards women.

        Perhaps I should have made it clearer in this post, rather than assuming people had read my other posts, but I am primarily talking about my experiences when approached by men (I discussed this at https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/when-the-answer-is-always-no-sex-aversion-and-my-sex-negative-feminism/ ). That is, a heterosexual context.

        I think that the question of sex aversion as experienced by monosexuals is an interesting and important one, especially how it intersects with homophobia, but to be honest I feel like it’s somewhat off-topic from my post and deserves its own post. I was hoping to open a discussion about the experiences of sex-averse asexuals, especially women and Muslims.

        • Siggy says:

          I agree that it is off-topic and will not discuss further here.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            I’m really sorry. You quoted something I wrote, so obviously in some ways I actually relate to you, as you did to me. I never meant to be invalidating.

            I just thought that the section of my post that you quoted, which you said you too related to, was something some potentially homophobic allosexuals might relate to too, ironically or whatever, so when I left my first comment it did feel like a related topic. It was the first thought that crossed my mind when I read the beginning of your post. I never meant to make you uncomfortable.

            I appreciate the post as a whole and your insights into how the hijab functions in your life and your relationships to other people, but I didn’t feel I had anything to say in response to that topic… I’m really sorry again though.

          • Thank you for the apology, luvtheheaven. I appreciate it.

  2. Siggy says:

    It seems like you’re using the desexualization stereotype of hijabi women to your personal advantage. Would you agree with that characterization?

    I strongly believe that no one is obligated to personally take up the fight against a stereotype, especially if doing so would require being someone they’re not.

    • Yes, I think that’s accurate. In an ideal activist world, I would heroically confront stereotypes wherever I find them. In the real world, a lot of times I just want to be able to carry out my daily business without being harassed so as long as somebody leaves me alone, I’ll leave them alone even if I suspect they may be holding stereotypical views of me.

      It’s not so much that I don’t want to combat the stereotype overall, but that I would prefer to do so in a different context than when somebody is approaching me in public. For instance, my post about being invisibly asexual was an attempt to combat part of the stereotype, through the medium of online writing and discussion.

  3. Miriam Joy says:

    I understand what you mean: it’s similar (although of course without the religious connotations or prejudiced responses) to the way that I tend to dress in very baggy, androgynous clothing. I’ve got short hair, I don’t wear makeup, and I sometimes get mistaken for a boy. In our society this tends to mean that I get sexualised far less than a more ‘feminine’ presenting person. But most people just assume I’m a tomboyish lesbian, which I guess has its own merits and difficulties.

    • I’ve read a number of posts by other aces also mentioning that they often dress in a way that tends to desexualize their appearance and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

      • Miriam Joy says:

        It was hearing another ace talk about their disconnect with femininity that helped me recognise my own motivations and feelings towards how I dress and present – before they’d been fairly nebulous and undefined, but it brought clarity because suddenly I was like, “Yes, that’s how I feel, that’s what I do.” So it’s always good to know one isn’t alone. šŸ™‚

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