Journal Club: Grounded Exploration of Asexuality and Disability

Ace Journal Club banner

This month, the ace journal club discussed

“You Have to be Normal to be Abnormal: An Empirically Grounded Exploration of the Intersection of Asexuality and Disability” by Karen Cuthbert. (2015) (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 for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

This paper explores the intersection of asexuality and disability, first by discussing prior literature, and then through interviews with 11 people with disabilities recruited through AVEN and LiveJournal.

Literature review
– The paper was fairly critical of prior work on the intersection of asexuality and disability for not being grounded in what asexuals with disabilities say.
– We’re sympathetic, but to some extent this seems a bit unfair to the literature. For example, Gupta 2014 (previously covered in this journal club) did look at comments from people in ace communities.
– There wasn’t any review of ace community history, only citations to recent academic work, making it feel like asexuality is newer than it is.

The intersection of asexuality and disability
– Overall, the participants of the study seemed more positive about how our communities treat the intersection of asexuality and disability, in contrast to the literature which was more critical.
– Many interviewees expressed the possibility that their asexuality could be caused by disability, and said this was a valid way of being asexual. But they also said this was a sticking point in the ace community, and that the absence of cause can be perceived as a test of legitimacy.
– Interviewees discussed wanting to avoid medicalization of asexuality. Tangential to that topic, we discussed how some disabilities communities may want to demedicalize their own conditions (following the social model of disability), or may prefer to keep the medicalization.
– The way asexuality is ascribed to people with disabilities can make it more difficult for people to come to an asexual identity. Other authors have argued that identifying as asexual involves rejecting the pressure to be sexual, but the ascription of asexuality to disability can problematize that pattern.
– We noted that the interviewees never named ableism or any other isms.

The gold star asexual / unassailable asexual
– The paper discussed the unassailable asexual, something that people feel pressure to be like in order for asexuals to appear acceptable to the outside world. There’s a citation to a blog post by Gaia.
– Another resource on this subject is Ace Admiral’s history of unassailable asexuality, and discussion of how it differs from asexual elitism.
– In a lesbian context, “gold star lesbian” has the more specific meaning of someone who has never had sex with a man.

– All interviewees were White, and this was acknowledged as a problem with the study.
– The author asked interviewees whether race was an important factor, but most thought it wasn’t–unsurprising from White interviewees.
– The introduction noted how asexuality also gets ascribed to Asian men, older people, and lesbians, which suggests some parallels between disability and race in their intersection with asexuality.

AVEN sampling
– We discussed how the fact that the study sampled from AVEN might affect the kind of responses gathered.
– For example, the comments seemed particularly defensive of the community, and sometimes AVEN in particular. And there was a lot of focus on asexual awareness.
– The journal club has previously covered another study by Karen Cuthbert, and it was interesting that in that later work Cuthbert made an effort to recruit outside of AVEN.

Other discussion
– The paper mostly talks about disability in asexual communities rather than asexuality in disabilities communities. It would be interesting to see another study that recruited ace people within disabilities communities.
– The paper didn’t do much to distinguish between different kinds of disabilities, such as visible or invisible, physical or mental. The age and orientation of the interviewees are provided, but not what disabilities they have. Perhaps the sample size is too small to make much of a point about it though.
– There were a few interviewee comments that irked us, for example saying LGBT people and straight people are similar because they’re just focused on sexual attractiveness.

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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