Why asexual visibility must be forgiving

The following is a submission to the Carnival of Aces this month, with a theme of “The Unassailable Asexual”.  Please consider submitting something!

I have a question: Why do we care about the idea of “The Unassailable Asexual”?  Why do we care that asexual activists feel pressure to conform to a particular image, to avoid as much criticism as possible?

I’ve spent time in other social movements, and we rarely hold back on criticizing our activists.  It happens all the time: this activist is scaring away women, that activist is too friendly with Republicans, this other one just got convicted of felony, etc.  If someone isn’t presenting a decent image of our movement, then they should step down and let someone else do the work.  Why is it okay to do this in other social movements, but not in the asexual community?  What’s the difference?

A major difference is that all the things I talked about are choices (people choose to cozy up with Republicans, choose to commit felony, etc.), while most of the things that supposedly make asexuals look bad are beyond their control.  No one controls whether they’ve been abused, or whether they’re neurotypical.  Although, some other aspects of the unassailable asexual (like being sex-positive, or non-religious) are choices.

But there’s another difference.  In almost all the examples in other social movements, the activists are leaders.  They are presidents of organizations, authors of bestsellers, producers of very popular content.  When I think of asexual activists, I think of ordinary people.  In fact, I hardly think of activists at all.

This is one of the most common elements of coming out as asexual.  “I hate coming out because then I have to spend half an hour to explain what I mean.”  In other words, “I hate coming out because I have to do visibility work.”  We all become visibility activists, whether we really want to or not, when we come out.

Upon reading other commentary on The Unassailable Asexual, I’ve concluded that it goes beyond that.  People are worried that they’re hurting the asexual image, even when they’re just privately identifying as asexual.  How does that even make sense?  I would say that we do visibility work, even when we identify privately.  The very first person we focus our visibility work on, is ourselves.  I am asexual.  I need me to accept it, and to understand it.  What we are worried about is hurting our own personal image of what we conceive asexuality to be.

Asexual visibility is intensely personal, and everyone needs to be able to do it.  Everyone needs to be allowed to do it.  It doesn’t matter if you have some disability that hurts the image of asexuality.  It doesn’t matter if you are no good with words, and will give people wrong impressions.  It doesn’t even matter if you aren’t hip to the latest wisdom on how to do visibility right.  You need the freedom to come out, and the freedom to identify as asexual.  You come first.

And don’t believe for a second that you’re being selfish for it.  If someone else made you stay in the closet just to keep the asexual image tidy, or worse yet, made you deny yourself, they would be throwing you under the bus.  It is not selfish to refuse to throw yourself under the bus.

When people are doing “general” visibility work, not just for themselves, but for other people,* then higher standards may apply. But it’s not fair to criticize people for things beyond their control.   And some care needs to be taken that this doesn’t simultaneously discourage people from doing visibility work in their personal lives.


*Sometimes the line between visibility work for yourself and visibility work for others is blurry.  When I first started making presentations on asexuality, it was just to show to my friends, and to help me make sense of it myself.  This first presentation is not online but I can tell you it wasn’t particularly great.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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4 Responses to Why asexual visibility must be forgiving

  1. I really like this post and it says some things I needed to hear right now. I would assume that part of the internal worrying about making asexuality look bad is due to asexuality being so little-known and the community so small and new (relative to many other movements) that people fear one wrong move could ruin things for everybody, whereas this seems much less likely to happen in a more established movement. I wonder if there are other factors as well.

  2. Janet says:

    I really appreciated the points you make in this post. We are a smaller community, and I know that when I talk to people about my own asexuality, I do feel like I’m representing the whole community. I’ve come out to a few people since the spring, and I’ve had to do visibility and education work simply in order to be understood. Thankfully, so far, everyone has responded really positively! But while it’s so crucial to accept for ourselves that we are asexual and that coming out is never selfish, I wonder if we can shift our perspective even further to a point where we can view our uniqueness as positive rather than as potentially harmful. Asexual people are people, and some people have disabilities and some don’t; some people are neurotypical and some aren’t; some people have been abused and some haven’t; some people are good with words and some aren’t…. What if we could take the point of view that whoever we are and whatever we bring to the table, we’re good for asexual visibility because we’re people? The uniqueness of each of us helps to paint a fully human face on asexuality.

    • Siggy says:

      I agree. I’m taking a specific angle on “The Unassailable Asexual” idea, and under this particular angle I don’t discuss the benefits of diverse representation. That does not mean that there are no benefits, it just means that we need to look at it from multiple angles, of which mine is only one.

  3. Pingback: The “Unassailable Asexual” in Activism | Beyond the Rainbow

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