Asexuality as a hard limit (or: the cat is dead)

Content warnings: discussion of abuse (with a few examples given, including one having to do with food restriction) and boundary violation, discussion of anti-sex-averse sentiment, mention of sexual violence, animal death in the context of a metaphor

In the past few months, I’ve seen a lot of posts in ace communities stating that “asexuality has nothing to do with whether you want or like sex.”  This isn’t a new assertion, but it is one that often makes me uncomfortable for reasons that are hard to explain.  However, recently, Talia wrote a post using Schrödinger’s cat as a metaphor for how we should approach aces attitudes toward sex, and I finally figured out how to verbalize my discomfort.

The assertion that “asexuality has nothing to do with whether you want or like sex” is uncomfortable to me, because I specifically identify as asexual because I don’t want sex.  Asexuality, for me, is a hard limit.

On boundaries (or lack thereof)

This probably isn’t shocking to anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while but let me say it clearly: I grew up in an abusive family.  When I was growing up, my parents would only respect my boundaries if they thought they had been set for legitimate reasons.  For example, we weren’t allowed to lock the bathroom door, which meant that, regardless of what you were doing, someone could (and usually would) barge in without knocking.  My first few romantic relationships were also abusive, and featured repeated boundary violations (along with gaslighting about whether I had in fact set a boundary and whether the boundaries I set were legitimate and worth respecting).

As a result, setting healthy boundaries is difficult for me.  (This is a common issue among people who grew up in abusive environments.)  When I set boundaries, I have the constant fear that I’m going to be punished for saying no or that my boundaries will be ignored if they haven’t been set for a “good enough” reason.  It also requires constant energy expenditure to make sure that my boundaries aren’t eroded, as my first instinct when people apply pressure is to bend and avoid the worse repercussions of a wholesale boundary violation.  I don’t have as much trouble telling people when I want something (although I won’t pretend that it’s easy), but when I don’t want something, it’s hard for me to put my foot down.  To give a very minor example: due to childhood abuse involving food restriction, I will eat anything that’s put in front of me (unless it’s something that will make me physically ill), including food that I genuinely dislike.  I have a caffeine allergy, so I have no issue refusing things with caffeine in them (since I have a “good reason” for not wanting to consume them).  However, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I don’t like pizza, but I eat pizza at least twice a month because inevitably someone orders pizza and it’s easier for me to eat something that I don’t like than it is for me to ask whoever is ordering food to maybe order something different.

You can see how this quickly becomes a problem when it comes to physical boundaries, especially when there’s any kind of pressure applied.  Recently @aceadmiral wrote:

There’s a post about White Collar I’ve been trying to write for the past three years that identifies the lack of one’s own desires as something that reads incredibly asexually. The reason one of the main characters of that show reads as ace to so many people is in how he has no desires or boundaries in relationships (romantic and not) and will accept whatever conditions in order to be loved. Maybe physical expressions of affection are the price that we pay in order to make the relationships we care about work.

This really resonated me, because it’s often what I feel pressured to be.  It’s why I wrote things like

My boundaries, wherever they may lie, deserve to be treated with respect.  My needs, although they may be non-standard, are just as valid as anyone else’s.  I am not required to rationalize or explain my needs and boundaries in order for others to respect them.

and

My history of trauma paired with my sexual orientation may make relationships more difficult for me and may require my partner(s) to communicate with me more than is “standard,” but I deserve to be treated with just as much respect as someone without that history and/or sexual orientation.  My need for additional accommodation does not mean that I deserve less affection or that I am required to compromise more than my partner(s) in other areas to “make up” for my “baggage.”

in my ace survivor’s manifesto.  And, to be clear, this is an issue sometimes  caused by people pressuring me to bend my boundaries and sometimes caused by a partner saying, “I’d really like it if you _____” and me going, “Well, I don’t like that but it doesn’t literally make me physically ill so I can’t say no.”  I recognize that that’s not a good or healthy way to approach compromise (and, oh, how I hate that word, because inevitably I’m the one who has to compromise, because my boundaries are too extreme and I just need to, as @aceadmiral put it, “accept whatever conditions in order to be loved”), but unfortunately these things take a long time to unlearn and I’m trying to chip away at 20+ years of programming with only a plastic spoon and my sheer force of will.

Asexuality as a hard limit

In Asexuality 101 materials you’ll often see a line that goes something like, “Asexuality is defined by a lack of sexual attraction, not by whether or not you want to have sex.”    Sometimes there’s then a line saying that some aces want to have sex while others do not, but pretty much across the board there’s a decoupling of “not wanting to have sex” and “asexuality identity” in 101 materials.

I identify as asexual because I don’t want to have sex.  I also don’t experience sexual attraction, but that is less important to me than the fact that I never want to have sex.  And, yes, I felt the same way before I experienced sexual violence, although I’m not in any way obligated to disclose that information for my feelings to be valid.

I’ve talked about this before, but one of the ways knowing about the concept of asexuality helped me is that it gave me a reason to say no to sex.  I didn’t want to have sex, but without knowledge of asexuality, I didn’t have a “good” reason to say no.  @starchythoughts has talked about this as hermeneutical injustice, and, more recently, @grison-in-space has talked about the importance of asexuality allowing you to not want, but you can probably also see how this slots cleanly into the issues I outlined above concerning boundaries.

There has been a lot of discussion about positive vs. negative definitions of asexuality over the years, and I have to admit that I don’t identify with most positive definitions.  This is not to say that I think asexuality is a bad thing, but rather that, for me, asexuality is a hard limit, an always no, an absence that makes me safer and healthier when I acknowledge it.  I’ve argued against “substitution” rhetoric in non-sexual relationships (“we do X instead of The Sex”) and talking about aces as being “just like everyone else” because, for me, that negation of something I am expected to want is a big part of my identity as an asexual person.  I don’t want “something else” to fill the space that’s left behind, because when I say I’m asexual I’m putting up police tape and “DO NOT ENTER” signs.  My lack isn’t bad, and trying to fill that empty space with something else can give the impression that you think it is.

When I say I’m asexual, I’m drawing a line in the sand and saying, “This is a hard limit and you don’t get to push on this.”  Asexuality allows me to set boundaries around sex and not feel bad about it.  (Although, to be clear, I still sometimes do feel bad about it, as much as I know that I don’t need to.)

The cat is dead

In We Don’t Know if Asexuals Do or Don’t Want to Have Sex Because They Are All Queer Cats, Talia wrote:

Instead of saying asexual people don’t want sex or asexual people want sex, I propose treating asexuality like Schrödinger’s cat. Erwin Schrödinger came up with a thought experiment of putting a cat, poison, and a radioactive source in a box. Until you open the box you have no idea if the cat is dead or alive, meaning the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. Until you ask someone how they experience asexuality, they simultaneously want to have sex and don’t. They also simultaneously have a sex drive and don’t. And so on. However most of the time it’s none of your business so be cautious and respectful about how or if you ask.

Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t think that this is a bad way to approach the problem.  I would personally air on the side of caution and assume that aces probably aren’t interested in sex unless they specify otherwise (for reasons I’ll explain below), but I understand why it’s frustrating for aces who have sex to constantly have their identity invalidated by their sexual experience or vice-versa.  My way of being ace is no more or less legitimate than anyone else’s.

Let me be perfectly clear about this too: My cat is dead.  It is deceased.  This cat lives no more.  (This cat, in fact, was never alive at all.)

I am fine with treating asexuality as Schrödinger’s cat as long as it is only treated that way until the ace in question makes a clear statement about their cat.  I am not okay with treating asexuality as Schrödinger’s cat when I have had people (some trying to date me, some not) who are convinced that because some aces have sex, I must be able to have sex (and will, of course, be willing to “compromise”).

“The cat is dead,” I say.

“Oh, but some other aces’ cats are alive,” they reply.  “I read about it on the internet.”

“Nah, but this one is really, really dead, though,” I say, showing them the death certificate for the cat.

“Oh,” they say, “but it’s Schrödinger’s cat, so how can you really tell?  It could come back to life later.”

This is, again to be perfectly clear, not a problem with aces who have sex; this is a problem with people who are unwilling to accept that my asexuality is a hard limit.  This is a problem with people who take the fact that some aces’ cats are alive to mean that all aces have the potential to have living cats.

I tend to have a hand-on-a-hot-stove reaction to a lot of rhetoric surrounding aces who have sex–a lot of it, I fully admit, is my own baggage, but some of it can veer into slamming sex-averse aces or compulsory sexuality (which, reminder, affects all aces, not just sex-averse aces).  When I say, “I’m asexual and I don’t want to have sex,” and people respond, “Oh, but don’t you know? Some aces want to have sex; being ace has nothing to do with not wanting sex,” it can feel like gaslighting, because I have been gaslit about my own boundaries with this specific rhetoric.

In the post I quoted above, Talia wrote:

I think there’s an important difference between “I came to identify as asexual because I don’t want to have sex and asexual people don’t have sex” and “I came to identify as asexual because I don’t want to have sex and that’s a part of the asexual experience.” In the first statement all of asexuality is conflated with your personal reason. In the second statement you come to identify as asexual because it can encompass or include your personal reason.

On one hand, I agree with this statement.  Of course we shouldn’t be making generalized statements about how all aces feel about anything.

On the other, I wonder how many people are actually making statements like this (and how many of those people aren’t folks who are just coming into their ace identity) and, conversely, how many people out there, like me, use asexuality as a hard limit and see statements like this and feel like they are not allowed to talk about that experience because they might be hurting sex-favorable aces.  And, to be clear, I am quiet about this experience because this is a constant, constant source of anxiety for me–that if I say, “I am asexual because I don’t want to have sex” people will A. shout me down as illegitimate (too repulsed, too traumatized, a bad community representative, why can’t you just use the sexual attraction definition like everyone else) or B. be hurt/alienated/chased out of the community because the way I experience asexuality has no room for their experience.  And, again, I feel like this entire post is a series of “for me” and “personally” and “nobody else is required to experience asexuality this way” hedging, and yet I feel that I have to reiterate again and again, that this is how I experience asexuality personally, this is how asexuality is experienced by me, this is my experience of asexuality but if it’s not yours there is of course room for you and your asexual identity is still valid.  Obviously I’m not the only ace who is told, “You have to watch how you talk about your own experiences because you could hurt someone if you frame it wrong”–sex-favorable aces are subjected to some of the same messaging–but when I see things like:

So many people have told me “I could never date an asexual person because they don’t want sex” I’ve lost count. I often hear or see both asexual and allosexual people say aces don’t want to have sex and/or they don’t have sex. In this post I’ll discuss how this common narrative is both inaccurate and problematic.

I wonder, is there space for me here?  If I talk about my own experiences while doing activism, am I perpetuating a “problematic” or “inaccurate” narrative?  Am I wrong for wanting people to hear me say, “I’m asexual,” and know that sex is off the table for me?  (Am I hurting other aces?)

There are no easy solutions, obviously.   The seesaw cycle is ruthless, and we’ve been trying to fix it for years.  A lot of these aren’t problems that can be traced to or fixed by a single person.  While I’ve talked about Talia’s post in-depth here, this is because their post is a convenient illustration (and the catalyst for my solidifying my ideas on asexuality as a hard limit) and not because I think they were being malicious (or, in fact, particularly harmful).  Sometimes one person says something that sets off a chain reaction because of persistent societal messaging, a history of abuse, and a variety of other factors beyond their (or anyone’s) control.  This isn’t about shaming aces who have sex for taking up too much space or slamming sex-favorable aces for talking about their experiences.  Nobody’s asexuality should be invalidated based on their attitudes toward sex, and we’re all dealing with impostor syndrome.

This is instead an issue of competing needs–I need to be in a position in which I am not being pressured to have sex, whereas folks like Talia need to be a position in which people will know that they are open to the possibility of sex.  While the ambiguity of Schrödinger’s cat can be freeing for some folks, for others it can be frightening or unsafe, especially if you (like me) have had experiences of that rhetoric of ambiguity being leveraged to disregard or invalidate your boundaries.

If I want you to take one thing from this post, though, it’s this: asexuality, for me, is a hard limit, an always no, a DON’T, a permission slip to not want something that it’s assumed that I inevitably will.  That’s not what asexuality is for everyone, but that’s the way I experience it and the reason that I find it a useful identity term.

About queenieofaces

QueenieOfAces is a graduate student in the U.S. studying Japanese religion. She is a queer asexual. She also blogs over at Concept Awesome and runs Resources for Ace Survivors. She is never quite sure what to write in these introduction things, but this one time she accidentally got a short story on asexuality published in an erotica magazine.
This entry was posted in Articles, asexual identity, asexual politics, personal experience, sex-repulsed. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Asexuality as a hard limit (or: the cat is dead)

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I relate to so much of it. I have also been abused while growing up although I’m not entirely sure if it has made it harder for me to set boundaries. I think that, for me, it has made it so that I’m much more sensitive about my boundaries and when they get violated I’m way more likely to get extremely angry.

    That being said, when it comes to sex, growing up as asexual but not knowing it, I didn’t think I had the “option” to never have sex, even though I didn’t want it. I thought of it as something inevitable that you can’t say no to, even if you don’t want it, like going to school or having a job. I thought, just like you, that in order to say no to sex I had to have a “good enough” reason. I spent most of my teenage years trying to come up with excuses for not having sex. And crying, of course. I thought “Oh, well, I think having sex while underage is illegal, so I’ve come up with a good excuse for not having sex up until I’m 18. But about after that? Oh, I’ve got it! I can say I don’t want to have sex until marriage. That’s something people say, right? BUT WHAT ABOUT AFTER THAT??!!” and so on. So when I was 16 and discovered that asexuality exists I started crying out of relief. Finally, I thought, I have a “good enough” reason to not have sex ever.

    Whenever I tell people I’m asexual I mean it in the sense that I don’t want to have sex. Ever. I even explain it that way – “I’m asexual. I means I never want to have sex.” Online, I use the definition “asexual is someone who has no innate desire for partnered sex”. Again, thanks for writing this.

    • queenieofaces says:

      I have a similar reaction to my boundaries being overstepped–when I reach a breaking point, I tend to freak out and push back with about five times the force necessary. It makes sense, given my history, but also is not that great or healthy!

      I also had a very similar thought process about sex before discovering asexuality–it was a countdown until my 18th birthday, and I was absolutely dreading every second of it. It seems like a more common experience than I originally expected, since a bunch of folks started talking about it in the wake of starchythoughts’s excellent hermeneutical injustice post.

  2. Kamath says:

    Thanks. I feel the same – and I’ve had that response, too, when I told someone I would not have sex because I’m asexual: “But some asexuals have sex!” Which feels… invalidating. Like you, I feel like being asexual is the only “good” reason I have to not want to, and if that is claimed to not be a good reason, then we’re back to compulsory sexuality.

    To me “not wanting sex” and “not experiencing sexual attraction” are inseparable. They’re one and the same. I know intellectually that it’s not that way for everyone, but… yeah.

    • queenieofaces says:

      One of the things that really helped me pull the compulsory sexuality issue into focus was a private discussion a few years ago where a friend pointed out that there’s a difference between saying, “Aces can have sex,” and “Having sex (or having had sex) doesn’t invalidate your asexuality.” A lot of the time we’re trying to say the second, but we wind up saying the first, which comes across as a much more threatening statement to folks who are using asexuality as a boundary.

      (Also, I feel you on not being able to tease those two apart. Am I sex-repulsed because I’m not experiencing attraction or do I not experience attraction because I’m sex-repulsed? Well, in the end it doesn’t really matter, because the outcome is the same.)

      • Sennkestra says:

        That’s actually a really helpful framing for it – as someone who does 101, having concrete suggestions really helps when it comes to finding solutions that are actually workable. (And I think putting it in those terms is less likely to lead to misunderstandings in either direction)

  3. DasTenna says:

    Well written, QueenieOfAces.

    >> And, to be clear, I am quiet about this experience because this is a constant, constant source of anxiety for me–that if I say, “I am asexual because I don’t want to have sex” people will A. shout me down as illegitimate (too repulsed, too traumatized, a bad community representative, why can’t you just use the sexual attraction definition like everyone else) or B. be hurt/alienated/chased out of the community because the way I experience asexuality has no room for their experience. And, again, I feel like this entire post is a series of “for me” and “personally” and “nobody else is required to experience asexuality this way” hedging, and yet I feel that I have to reiterate again and again, that this is how I experience asexuality personally, this is how asexuality is experienced by me, this is my experience of asexuality but if it’s not yours there is of course room for you and your asexual identity is still valid. <<
    I could write the same about the german community, especially the german AVEN-Forum – only that it´s vice versa there since they use the definition "An asexual person is a person who experiences little to no desire for sexual interaction.". Only a few there identify as asexual because they don´t experience sexual attraction. And most of their experiences are constantly invalidated by people who seem to accept only one definition.

    Thank you for writing this article. Many of the things you write resonate with me because my experiences weren´t that different. My family didn´t care much about my boundaries as well and as a result, I have the same problems to set them myself. Discovering my asexuality helped me to set this hard limit. I don´t want to have sex as long as it doesn´t fullfill a "purpose". My personal purpose is conceiving a child. For others, this purpose might be different (like pleasing a partner or being close to a partner or anything that´s comes to mind) and that´s fine with me.
    And I can be sure of not wanting sex because every time someone makes a comment that could mean that this person might want to do anything sexual with me, it feels similar to my fear of heights. I don´t want to go there because going there would definitely be harmful.
    Plus, I cannot stand being confronted with a person´s sexual interest/desire in me. It´s a source of mild disgust, not caused by the person, but by the behaviour.

    To me, your article has a certain importance and I´d really like to reblog it. But I´d like to reblog it in a translated version for the german community – because many informations and discourses are still unknown to many german aces because of the language barrier.
    Would that be ok?

    Greetings,
    Carmen

    • queenieofaces says:

      Hi, Carmen! Feel free to translate this post into German–just make sure to link back to the English version somewhere!

      • DasTenna says:

        It was intended by me to link at the beginning, so everyone could see directly that the original text wasn´t written by me.
        Most probably, I will show the translated text as quotes and add my own experience to it.
        Thank you 🙂

  4. Pingback: Specifying My Asexuality with Sex-Aversion – From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

  5. demiandproud says:

    Yes, this resonated. I’m demisexual, but I’d say for the foreseeable future I’m only comfortable engaging in asexual relationships, romantic or not, because I’m dreading that pressure and just don’t want to deal with the emotional labour of negotiating the limits of my comfort zone. And that’s with only the doubts of being a beginner at dating on my shoulders. I am so much in favour of what you propose if it’d let people feel off the hook for things they don’t feel comfortable doing. They should not have to carry the burden of communication.

  6. Zoe says:

    I had the same reaction reading Talia’s post (and those like it) for largely the same reasons but I couldn’t articulate it. You captured it so well though!
    I’ve not had the same traumatizing experiences (my sincerest condolences, no one should be put through that and you deserve to have your boundaries respected no matter what) but asexuality is a hard limit for me as well. The idea that some people push for a softer definition makes me want to shove them over into the demi camp and wash my hands of the matter. I don’t want to invalidate anyone though, like you said, we’re all struggling with imposter syndrome. However, asexuality, for me, CAN’T include a clause for possible sex or the whole identity feels pointless and puts me back to square one. It’s not that I’m repulsed, it’s just not something I want or have ever wanted and definitely not something I want pushed on me by anyone or anything.

    • Sennkestra says:

      Demisexual already has a very specific definition though, and it’s not just “any aces who have experiences that are a little too different from mine”

      • Zoe says:

        Funnily enough, I wasn’t proposing that was it or that the people I was referring to should be defined as demi. I was acknowledging my own desire to push them aside because it makes me uncomfortable and how unfair that is. Reading is clearly not important on this blog though.

    • queenieofaces says:

      Sorry for being late responding to this but I agree with Sennkestra–shunting folks into a different definition is not a good solution. I said in the original post that part of the reason that I am always nervous about talking about this stuff is that it might hurt other aces, but part of that is that I’m always nervous that my words will galvanize folks who want to start gatekeeping asexuality and push folks who don’t fit their definition out. That’s not something I want and it’s not something I think we should be doing, so I’m constantly having to check and recheck my words to make sure that they can’t be weaponized in ways I don’t intend.

      I also can’t deal super well with asexuality having a clause for possible sex, but I think, as I said above, there’s a difference between “aces can have sex” and “having sex doesn’t invalidate your asexuality.” Siggy was arguing recently that we should be discouraging aces, even those who are sex-favorable, from having sex (see: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/take-it-from-a-sex-favorable-ace-you-dont-need-to-have-sex/), and I think that slots nicely into this. Also, if there were multiple acceptable definitions of asexuality–a sort of “some types of aces are ace because they don’t experience sexual attraction but some build their identity around not having sex (and we’re not going to say one or the other is more legitimate)” –that would do a lot to take pressure off of me.

  7. Nowhere Girl says:

    Thank you as well. I have already criticised Talia’s text in the comments section and she acknowledged that it may of course be uncomfortable for sex-averse aces.
    My experience is different insofar as I never perceived sex as “inevitable”. I knew that I don’t want to have sex long before I knew about asexuality and sex never felt like a sword of Damocles hanging over me. I knew that I have a right to make my own choices, including the choice to reject motherhood, marriage and sex in one stroke.
    But I’m sex-averse too (not exactly sex-repulsed, because, while having intensely negative feelings towards the idea of personally having sex, I’m also autochorissexual) and I define my own asexuality precisely as not wanting to have sex. Personally, I don’t see that much hostility towards the idea – there is a lot of discussion on AVEN forum whether asexuality shouldn’t be defined as “not experiencing sexual desire” (instead of “attraction”) and I use it as an open door for having my own reasons recognised as valid. My own problem with the attraction-based definition is different: “sexual attraction” feels very theoretic to me compared to the visceral reality of not wanting sex. It feels like I need to backtrack to grasp this idea – something like “I don’t want to have sex, so it means I don’t feel sexual attraction towards anyone”.
    A lot of aces have trouble with this definition, which they express as “how can I know whether I experience sexual attraction if I don’t even know what it is?”. Certainly there is some ambiguity in it, my own primary doubt is: is it possible to experience sexual attraction while still explicitly not wanting to have sex with the object of attraction? (If it is, I may not be asexual. But I still prefer defining myself as “at least effectively asexual” based on my sex aversion and nudity aversion and what I love about the asexual community is the possibility to discuss such topics without being shamed for one’s feelings. The Polish asexual forum is much less friendly for the nudity-averse and for aces who feel that they weren’t “born this way”.)
    My hypothesis is that people on the sex aversion spectrum (which includes both sex-averse and sex-repulsed and also different intensities of aversion, from “I feel uncomfortable about it” to “NO WAY”) may be more likely to experience/define asexuality as not wanting to have sex, and sex-indifferent and sex-favourable aces may be more likely to use the definition of “not experiencing sexual attraction”.

    • Siggy says:

      I think a lot of this issue would be diminished if there were multiple definitions of asexuality which were all put on equal terms. Some people, like me, identify as ace primarily because they don’t experience sexual attraction, and other people identify as ace primarily because they don’t want to have sex. We agree that these are both valid reasons to identify as asexual, so why aren’t they both emphasized?

      Because of the historical significance of the sexual attraction definition, we clearly give it a lot of privilege over other definitions. For example, if a piece of media describes asexuality as not liking sex, and omits mention of sexual attraction, then we consider this “bad” representation. On the other hand, if a piece of media describes asexuality as not experiencing sexual attraction, and explicitly rejects the definition of asexuals as people who don’t like sex, then this is considered more acceptable.

      Part of the problem here is that the public has a hard time understanding the concept of multiple definitions being used side by side (despite polysemy being ubiquitous in human language, people often don’t think about it). Aces want to use the one definition that somehow leads to all the other definitions. And “not experiencing sexual attraction” often fills that role, as you would guess that most people who don’t experience sexual attraction don’t want to have sex. On the other hand “not wanting to have sex” is not very clear on its own, because it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from, e.g. political or religious celibacy.

      And how can we expect the general public to understand multiple definitions, when the ace community itself can barely handle it? I haven’t been on AVEN lately, but if it’s anything like it used to be, I imagine people are proposing the “sexual desire” definition as a replacement for sexual attraction, rather than a second definition to be used side by side. I’ve never particularly liked sexual-desire-based definitions, because if you look at non-ace sources, it’s really not clear what sexual desire means, and this is sorely underexamined in ace communities. But if sexual desire is simply a second definition, i.e. “an asexual is someone who lacks sexual attraction and/or someone who lacks sexual desire”, then I’m okay with that.

      • Sennkestra says:

        Yeah. I think the issue as a whole comes from the practical reality that most outsiders (and even many insiders) tend to form one quick stereotype of what it means to be ace – and so activists effectively spend a lot of time arguing about which stereotype we should lean into, when the ideal solution would be a world in which people could accept and imagine many variations of asexuality. (Of course, we don’t live in that world yet, so while we can still push for it, when it comes to dealing with the present there’s still some pragmatic value in at least trying to think about what stereotypes are going to be the most/least damaging).

      • queenieofaces says:

        Yeah, all of this. The “bad representation” especially is so fascinating to me, because, uh, by a lot of measures I am REAL bad ace rep.

        Also, re: not wanting to have sex, that’s part of the reason I often frame it as “I don’t like sex”? Which sometimes gets the “oh, well, you haven’t had REAL sex, so you’re not allowed to have an opinion” response, but does distinguish me pretty neatly from folks who are celibate but that’s an active choice they’re making not to engage in something that they enjoy. (Obviously there are also celibate people who don’t enjoy sex, but they’re never being “confused” for aces; it’s always “celibacy as a choice to abstain from action you would otherwise be engaging in” vs. “asexuality as a feeling that has nothing to do with action.”)

        • Siggy says:

          Although my comment mentioned a possible confusion with celibacy, that doesn’t especially worry me at this point, after almost two decades of messaging insisting that asexuality is different from celibacy. Asexuality is usually introduced or explained in such a way that it’s understood to be a sexual orientation, and “orientation” is a very loaded concept that already does quite a lot of work to distinguish it from celibacy.

          • queenieofaces says:

            I don’t think it’s actually confused with celibacy all that often (I’ve had exactly one non-ace person ever think that I was talking about being celibate), but at least on the ace side when you’re doing vis/ed there’s a huge pressure to distinguish yourself from a person who is “merely” celibate.

        • luvtheheaven says:

          I’m sure you’ve seen my ping-back and other blog post i wrote about some of my thoughts on this topic. I find the label sex-averse as a description of an inherent part of my identity and of my asexuality basically is a way of saying “I don’t like sex” with an added dose of “don’t try to change my mind/don’t misunderstand me” because of the… Jargon ish nature of using that hyphenated word, the fact that this is established vocabulary among asexual people helps I guess. 🙂

      • DasTenna says:

        The same discourse came up again lately in the German AVEN-Community, when Maz made a poll to show that people define themselves either by using both models (describing themselves as feeling little to no sexual attraction AND little to no sexual desire) or by using only one of the definitions, either attraction- or desire-based. And still, sadly, there are gatekeepers who invalidate the self-description of others.

    • queenieofaces says:

      I’m super curious how sexual desire is being defined these days! Back when I was regularly attending off-line meetup, sexual desire was often defined as the halfway point between libido and sexual attraction–so it was the drive to have sex, without that drive pointing at any particular person. Under that definition, I have no sexual desire, but I wouldn’t say that that is a major component of my asexuality, because the way sexual desire was formulated there, you could have no sexual desire and still want to have sex (you just weren’t physically and mentally motivated toward it).

      • I have no idea how anybody else defines sexual desire, or what scientific definitions might be used, but what you describe is very different from how I have always understood it. The way I’ve always thought about it is that sex drive or libido has to do with being turned on, or how easily/quickly you get turned on, and sexual desire is when you actually decide to engage in sexual activity, whether with yourself (i.e., masturbation) or with others. I do think there’s some ambiguity because usually when I see “sexual desire” talked about people are referring to wanting to have sex because of feeling attraction or arousal, rather than a state where they decide intellectually to have sex but have no drive towards it (so this would distinguish between sexual desire for sex, and a desire for sex that is not motivated/caused by sexual feelings).

        In any case, I neither have any sex drive nor have any other interest in or desire for sex, but in fact am averse to the idea.

        • DasTenna says:

          I sometimes still struggle with accepting my asexuality because of my history of emotional abuse by family members and of the sexual harassment (rape sounds strange to me, though it was) that happened to me when I was 18.
          It has to do with the definition of “sexual desire”.
          I´m absolutely sure that I don´t feel sexual attraction. I cannot connect to people calling others “hot”, “sexy”, “desirable”, etc.
          But is it already sexual desire when I feel driven to sexual activity once my body reacts to stimulation? I have a libido and I hate the fact. I wish it wouldn´t exist. I´d like to cuddle and kiss without it permanently reacting and driving me to things that don´t fulfill me and drain energy. I´m forcing myself to sexual activity because I´m driven to it. And I´m driven to sexual activity because I internalized that when my body reacts with arousal, I was expected to want sex. Because like way to many people, I really believed that body reaction equals desire. And I conditioned myself in order to not disappoint my partners.
          Due to being raised in an abusive environment, too, I learned that my boundaries aren´t important, that no one cared what I wanted or didn´t want. There had to be a “legitime reason” because “I don´t want to do that.” or “I don´t feel comfortable doing that.” didn´t count. Asexuality finally WAS a reason legitimate enough. But if it´s repeated over and over that Aces CAN have sex, then it´s not legitimate enough, all of a sudden. Which makes it difficult for me again.
          It helped a lot to shape those thoughts into words and write them down here.

  8. Rachel says:

    Having been much less critical of Talia’s post, I still find myself appreciating seeing an antithetical response:
    – As someone who is sex averse, I absolutely get why other averse aces find the whole “aversion is not the same as asexuality” to be invalidating. Speaking for myself, I find my sex aversion to be natural and inevitable consequence of lacking any sort of sexual attraction. Trying to decouple the two from each other will create openings for outsiders to undermine us. I can totally see “Well, some aces have sex” as an excuse to pressure and manipulate aces (regardless of our attitudes on sex) into stuff we don’t want.
    – Queenie, I feel the “bad representative” narrative so much. As someone who is basically a walking and talking asexuality (and aromanticism) stereotype, I can’t help but cringe at how my communities talk about “bad representation” being basically an exaggerated portrait of myself, and then tries to claim that I am welcomed and totally not a threat to the rest of the community. I can’t help but imagine that if I were a fictional character, aces and aros would be writing think-pieces decrying me for being a ~problematic and inaccurate stereotype~.
    – I still stand by my previous posts on Talia’s essays though. I still firmly stand by the idea that favorable and repulsed aces do not (or at least should not) have anything to fear from each other. What Queenie’s and Talia’s posts both get at, but don’t state explicitly is that we all have plenty to fear from allo people. It’s allo people who are manipulating our language to hurt us all. It’s allo people who are weaponizing our personal experiences who undermine us all. It’s allo people. Same as it ever was.

    • “As someone who is basically a walking and talking asexuality (and aromanticism) stereotype, I can’t help but cringe at how my communities talk about “bad representation” being basically an exaggerated portrait of myself”

      Yep, I feel like that too. I think there can also be a tendency to think that stereotypes that the larger society often holds about asexuality, including aromanticism and sex-aversion, are somehow “representation” for aro and sex-averse aces, when in fact many allos don’t understand anything about aro or sex-averse experiences and thus we don’t feel seen even when we are supposedly being “represented” by these stereotypes.

    • queenieofaces says:

      I’m gonna throw a little bit of a wrench into your last point–I’ve been gaslit about my boundaries by other asexual people. There’s a reason I specified people who don’t respect my boundaries and not people of a specific orientation. Now, you can say that ace people are a much smaller threat to aces than non-ace people, but in my own experience, some of the most damaging experiences I’ve had with my boundaries being violated or not respected have been instigated by other asexual people.

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