cn: Discussion of sexual violence, particularly coercion
Recently, we saw the release of the asexual short film, It’s Not You, It’s Not Me (cn: sex and sexual coercion), about an allo-ace couple. Judging by the response on AVEN, reception from asexual folks was generally positive. However, I found myself in agreement with Sherronda Brown, who said,
So… I just watched an asexual man be guilted into sex, I thought. That’s… not okay.
The person whose feelings are centered and whose desires are catered to is the allosexual character, at the expense of and detriment to the asexual character.
The film is clearly trying to portray a deeply uncomfortable situation. There’s certainly a place for that sort of media–if we want stories about relatable experiences, we need to acknowledge that some of those experiences are deeply uncomfortable. But my feeling was that this is uncomfortable in a bad way, beyond what was intended.
A bit of background on the film. The filmmaker, Jaymee Mak is an allosexual person who had a relationship with an ace person, and it didn’t turn out well. They made It’s Not You, It’s Not Me as a way of processing that relationship. The film is accompanied by an interview with ace activist Justine Munich, and she talks about how the film originally prioritized the allo character’s viewpoint, but was reworked to give more balanced attention. Oh, also they made a meme based on the interview.
The messaging I’m getting, from both within the film and outside of it, is that this is supposed to be a morally ambiguous situation, with no right answer and no clear blame. My problem is that I didn’t think the incident in the film was ambiguous at all, because I am familiar with the textbook definition of sexual coercion. Hold on, I got a citation for this: Page 17 of the 2010 NISVS report.
In NISVS, sexual coercion refers to unwanted vaginal, oral,
or anal sex after being pressured in ways that included being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy […]
I’m not saying this is the only way to interpret the film, but it was how I immediately recognized it. So what I found uncomfortable, was not merely the scene itself, but the thought that sexual coercion was going under the radar, in plain sight but unrecognized and unnamed.
And there’s a second layer of discomfort at the thought of implying directly to the filmmaker, and all the viewers who found it so relatable, that what they experienced may have been sexual coercion. I don’t know anything about your life, I don’t want to be in a position of telling you what you were or weren’t a victim of. You might be figuring things out, and it’s okay to not know the answer. Just… know that sexual coercion is one of the possible answers.
There is another asexual short film that has stuck with me over the years: “Ace and Anxious (2017) by Bri Castellini (cn: sexual references, implied masturbation). Emma is asexual, but is persuaded that sex might help with her anxiety issues. So she posts a Craigslist ad, and starts interviewing candidates to have sex with her. Naturally this doesn’t work, and her friend has a better proposal. (Asexuality film nerds may observe that this is basically the same plot as The Olivia Experiment.)
Although it’s comedic, in my viewing there’s a bit of an edge to it. Emma is very distressed, and she’s putting herself in a situation where should be seriously hurt. I have mixed feelings about addressing such a serious problem in such a light and comedic context. I have an old blog draft where discuss numerous niggling complaints about this film, but the draft struggled to justify itself in the face of It’s only a comedy! Because it’s a comedy, I am deprived even of the joy of complaining about it.
But I’ve made peace with it. I feel like Ace and Anxious is the antidote to It’s Not You, It’s Not Me, and vice versa. Where It’s Not You, It’s Not Me shoves sexual violence in our faces and presents it as a conundrum, Ace and Anxious presents the mere possibility of violating boundaries, and rebukes it. Where Ace and Anxious seems to dodge the issue and treat it with levity, It’s Not You, It’s Not Me dives straight in with due seriousness. I am not entirely happy about either film but I felt they made a good contrast.
By the way, if you’re looking for other asexual short films, I compiled a list from our linkspam archives.