This month, the ace journal club discussed
“’When We Talk about Gender We Talk about Sex’: (A)sexuality and (A)gendered Subjectivities”, by Karen Cuthbert (2019). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0891243219867916 (Requires journal access)
The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer. We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for an invite.
Our discussion notes are below the fold.
This paper positions itself in opposition to the “dominant LGBTQ+ discourse”, in which sexuality and gender are distinct and independent. Through qualitative interviews with 21 asexual people in the UK, it explored how asexuality and (a)gender may be interrelated. Three major themes were identified: gender as irrelevant, asexuality and agender as physically embodied, and how the entanglement of gender and sexuality was rendered unintelligible in the wider LGBT+ discursive context.
– The paper deliberately avoided recruitment from AVEN because that’s where most studies recruit from, and it’s oversampled.
– The paper claims that this led to more older participants, although in our experience that’s one axis where AVEN may actually have more diversity.
– AVEN does however, have certain ideologies that aren’t the same as other communities, so the paper likely benefited from the choice.
– The recruitment was from a variety of other sources, including university campuses and social media ads. This did not give us a clear idea of what the sample was like.
– It wasn’t really clear if there were any participation criteria besides being asexual. 12 of the participants said that “agender”, “genderless”, or “gender-neutral” described them.
– One issue with the study was that 20 of the 21 participants were White. Owen 2014 (previously discussed here) is cited, but not really discussed any further.
– This is a common pattern among many scholarly works, to make a token mention of Owen 2014, but otherwise use mostly White participants. Even Owen 2014 had the issue that its empirical section mostly focused on White people.
– However, the Whiteness of the study–and the lack of discussion of that fact–seemed particularly problematic, because it seemed likely that the narratives would be very culturally dependent.
– For example, Owen discussed the White narratives of asexuality as ideal, and sexuality as labor, and it seemed that might be related to some of the narratives coming up in interviews.
– Or thinking about other cultures, e.g. in the Philippines, Bakla is sometimes translated in the west as a third gender, and sometimes just translated as gay, that’s clearly a different conceptual framework. It highlights the possibility that narratives might vary even within the UK among people of different races and ethnicities.
Prior explanations of asexual gender diversity
– The paper described 3 ways that scholars have previously tried to explain the gender diversity among asexuals.
– The first explanation, by Bogaert, proposes that prenatal hormones may affect development related to both asexuality and gender.
– The second explanation, by Chasin, argued that without the need to attract a partner, asexuals have the freedom to explore their own genders. In other words, the onus is on cisheteronormativity to explain why the general population lacks gender diversity.
– The paper complicated Chasin’s theory by noting that many participants did not describe liberatory experiences.
– In our discussion we thought that being asexual didn’t so much lift restrictions as possibly impose different ones. For instance, for a gender-apathetic person, allosexuality might be an anchor to articulate a binary identity, while asexuality might lead one to desire avoiding sexual attention. Coyote described an experience like the latter here.
– The third explanation, by MacNeela & Murphy, is that a nonbinary identity is a strategy to deal with the “threat” caused by asexuality to normative femininity/masculinity.
– The author seemed unsympathetic to MacNeela & Murphy, and we were too. It reminded me of the TERF idea that trans men are transitioning as a way to escape the oppression of womanhood, or trans women are transitioning to escape the oppression of gay men. It doesn’t make sense because this “strategy” isn’t even effective at what it’s supposed to accomplish.
The distinction between sexuality and gender
– The paper didn’t acknowledge the reasons why “the dominant LGBTQ+ discourse” makes such a separation between sexuality and gender, and thus came across as overly harsh towards it.
– Ideally–although not always in practice–the separation between sexuality and gender should be more of an acknowledgment of diversity of narratives. It’s good to explore the experience of subjective connection between their asexual and agender identities, but these experiences are not universal, and other people may have different or even opposite subjectivities.
– The three explanations above are all explanations of a statistical correlation, which isn’t quite the same as a subjective connection.