This post is for the August Carnival of Aces.
Author’s note: This post is inspired by this question posed by aqua-ace as well as some recent discussions (follow-ups partly captured here, but there seem to be too many different threads to easily reblog or link to here) about sex-averse and sex-favorable asexuals. It’s something of a long ramble but eventually arrives at a point.
For personal reasons, I recently took a total break from Tumblr for about 10 days and upon returning a few days ago significantly reduced the number of blogs I’m following as the number of posts on my dashboard every day was overwhelming and I felt like I was missing the content I really wanted to read.
The only reason I’m on Tumblr (I otherwise dislike its format) is the asexual community there. And the core purpose for which I seek out the asexual community is to gain benefit from others who share similar experiences in navigating the world as someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction. So I decided to limit the blogs I follow on Tumblr to those which primarily provide content related to asexuality that is of interest to me. When it comes to other topics of importance to me, I prefer other formats and forums (primarily Twitter for online interaction).
Another thing I had come to realize even before this is that the subset of asexual blogs I follow is not necessarily representative of the asexual community on Tumblr as a whole. This again is because I primarily follow what interests and benefits me in navigating my asexuality. I don’t follow any “asexual advice” blogs as I’m not a newbie, and I don’t follow blogs that primarily produce 101 content as this is not very useful to me in my own life.
As it happens, a lot of the recent debates over how “the asexual community” treats certain groups or certain people have focused on either advice blogs or 101-resource blogs, none of which I had any idea about until reading the critique posts. People would be writing, “the asexual community has such-and-such attitude,” based on these blogs and I would have no idea what they were talking about or how exactly that came to be “the asexual community”.
It does matter to me if the asexual community (however defined) is acting in ways that are harmful to some of its members, or to other groups of people. However, I have neither the time nor the motivation to follow asexuality-related tags looking for such instances or to otherwise seek them out beyond what I come across via the blogs I regularly read (on Tumblr or otherwise). I also realize that by limiting my Tumblr follow list to blogs that primarily post asexuality-related content, I may be missing important discussions on blogs that usually post on other topics. I ultimately found that it was not sustainable for me, given my other commitments both online and offline, to spend so much time sifting through content that is not directly related. I have a lot of respect for those who are able to devote significant time to doing so.
Given this context, I’ve felt rather disconnected from some of these discussions, especially since being away for 10 days sometimes feels like being away for 10 months of non-internet time, and it took me quite awhile to even figure out what everybody was talking about! If this discourse is “the asexual community”, I wondered if I was on an island. This sense of disconnect is part of why I identified with aqua-ace’s post about feeling alone even within asexual communities.
Aqua-ace talks about feeling “broken” because of not fitting certain “narratives” about asexuality, and this has also been the subject of many recent discussions about sex-averse and sex-favorable aces.
According to many of these discussions and narratives, I seem to be somewhat unassailable as an asexual. I’m aromantic, non-libidoist, and celibate. I barely even experience aesthetic attraction. On pretty much every measure, I seem to be almost completely non-sexual. I’ve found it difficult to untangle my sex-aversion from a lot of things, but I have no doubt whatsoever about my asexuality and neither I nor apparently anyone else considers any of the above characteristics to invalidate it.
I’m also considerably older than most aces on Tumblr or even on many of the non-Tumblr ace blogs I follow (I’m 41). I didn’t learn about asexuality as a concept and sexual orientation until I was 31 and didn’t join any asexual communities until just two years ago (I’ve never been interested in AVEN because of its discussion forum format). I’ve had plenty of time to come to understand myself and to come to terms with myself. No asexual community or blogger defined any of that for me; the community only gave me a new set of words to express what I already knew.
Another factor is that I had already shaped my life long since around my sex aversion; I’ve been living on my own longer than many Tumblr aces have even been alive or they were infants when I first started doing so. I have never been interested in sex or romantic/sexual relationships and have always been sure that I wanted to avoid them. Because of both luck (in having parents who accept my choices) and privileges (including white, middle-class, conditionally able-bodied, cis, citizen), I’ve been able to structure my life to avoid entering such relationships and thus to avoid a lot of the difficult experiences many aces have had with sex and romance. While this is a privilege in many ways, it has also entailed significant disadvantages and limitations for me, which are beyond the scope even of this post to discuss. Over the last 20 years, these disadvantages and limitations had become normalized to me and it’s only been while considering new alternatives that I appreciated again just how profoundly my asexual solitariness has shaped my life and what costs I have paid for the particular freedom that I’ve won.
And, again, all of this is something I had built for myself long before I ever heard of asexuality as an orientation; asexual discourse has only provided me with new conceptual language for discussing it. The asexual community did not “give” me my identity in any way and it cannot take it away, whether I fit a narrative or not. That may be the ultimate in unassailability.
Returning to the larger question of sex-averse and sex-favorable aces that has been the focus of recent debates, I thought Ace Theist had a very perceptive comment during an earlier discussion of the same topics. They said that sex-favorable aces are more likely to feel that they don’t have a right to or don’t deserve to identify as asexual (i.e., their asexuality is assailable) while sex-averse aces are more likely to feel that the larger society is very hostile to our particular way of being asexual and that we need the asexual community to be a safe space for us from that. That is, the two groups are talking about completely different things. I think this is very true, and certainly fits my own experiences as described above.
As a political matter, I believe that the asexual community should prioritize creating a safe space for sex-averse and sexually-inactive aces, who often have no place else to go, whereas I see sex-favorable and sexually-active aces as being less stigmatized by the larger society because of being less different from the allosexual majority. It frustrates me when sex-averse and sexually-inactive aces are depicted as “elitist”, privileged (which is ultimately what being “unassailable” is presented as), or oppressive to sex-favorable or sexually-active aces for talking about our own experiences and identities (obviously, this is not to deny that specific individuals may act in any of these ways). To me this ignores important differences in how the groups are regarded by the larger society – which is after all where most of us spend most of our time (there not being any “ace neighborhoods” to live in or even “ace clubs” to hang out in). I see it as reproducing the dynamics of the larger society within our own community and ultimately as marginalizing many aces from a space that should center our asexuality. (That sex-averse and sexually-inactive aces are the majority of the community and are being marginalized makes it even more troubling, in my opinion.)
It’s honestly in being sex-negative as a consequence of my sex aversion that I feel most alienated from the asexual community on Tumblr, and it’s the issue I least feel I can speak freely on. If there’s a sex-averse “side” to the recent debates, I’m on it. I don’t want there to be “sides” and I ultimately want to seek a solution that supports both groups, perhaps through sub-communities or sub-spaces. But I do feel that treating the two groups as if they are positioned the same way, or that it’s just a matter of “accepting diversity” among aces, creates a potential for injustice because it ignores the larger societal structures* and forces (particularly compulsory sexuality and amatonormativity) that asexuals must deal with. To me, there is no point to having an asexual community if it doesn’t help asexuals in finding out to lead livable lives within the larger society as people who don’t experience sexual attraction. It’s not just a social club!
As much as the concept of “unassailability” is used within debates about sex-averse/sexually-inactive aces and sex-favorable/sexually-active aces, and as much as it becomes associated with sex-averse and sexually-inactive aces to present us as a problem because our asexuality is felt to be less ambiguous either within or outside of the community, I have to ask whether this is really the right framework or will lead us to the best solutions.
I think that the concept of the unassailable asexual is better when it is used to discuss characteristics that are considered normative or privileged within the larger society, and which are also possessed by some asexuals, and how asexuals who do not possess these characteristics are excluded from narratives. This would allow us to focus on intersections of asexuality with sexual and racial trauma and with disability and to examine the representation in visibility efforts and in the media of asexuality as white and middle-class, among other issues.
*This also applies to the many other societal structures and forces that impact asexuals aside from their asexuality, including patriarchy, white supremacy, economic stratification, and so forth. However, I do not address these issues in this post.