Journal Club: Gendering asexuality

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“Gendering asexuality and asexualizing gender: A qualitative study exploring the intersections between gender and asexuality” by Kristina Gupta (2019). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1363460718790890 (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 asexualagenda@gmail.com for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.


Summary
Gupta explores the intersections between asexuality and gender in the contemporary Unites States by collecting interviews from 30 aces, including 21 women and 7 men. She argues that while white middle class asexual men may be in greater conflict with gendered sexual norms compared to white middle-class ace women, they may also have greater sexual autonomy, particularly their right to refuse.

Ace men and hegemonic masculinity
– While ace men are in conflict with hegemonic masculinity, many of the interviewees said they were already in conflict with masculinity without their asexuality.
– This reflects Siggy’s experience, although it might have to do with the recruitment methods, which pull from online communities. This might be less true today, as social interactions on the internet have become more common and normalized, but these interviews were conducted around 2011.
– It’s also possible that when we’re speculating why there are so few ace men, the men who are more steeped in traditional masculinity are the ace men who are missing from our spaces.
– The paper remarks on how some ace men may find space within nerd masculinity, or within the associations between white (and sometimes Asian) masculinity and hyper-rationality.
– The paper discusses the example of The Big Bang theory, which has many aggressively heterosexual nerds, but one (Sheldon) who is uninterested in sex.
– We discussed how the archetype of the hyper-rational man was the source of many early characters interpreted as ace by fans, including Sheldon and BBC Sherlock.
– Ace characters who fit the hyper-rational archetype have also been criticized as bad representation, but this could be complicated by ace men who might be finding space within these archetypes.

Ace women and sexual autonomy
– We thought it was interesting to see this distinction between the different ways that ace men and women can conflict with their gender roles.
– Women are expected to be receptive to men’s advances. It’s considered rude and insubordinate to refuse.
– Women’s asexuality is seen as tentative, a result of feminine passivity. They are expected to eventually get over their sexual disinterest or learn to put up with sex.

Consensual but Unwanted
cn: sexual violence & rape
– Gupta referred to “consensual but unwanted sexual activity as a result of social pressure and/or individual pressure from a partner”, which, like last time, provoked a lot of discussion and questioning.
– Clearly consensual doesn’t mean wanted in this context, so does it mean a lack of active resistance? Does it refer to verbal consent?
– On the other hand, “want” could also mean different things, for example not being enthusiastic, but still making a free decision to do it.
– There’s also the possibility that an interviewee described it that way, and didn’t clearly define what it meant.

References
– This article includes a prominent citation to Siggy’s article, “Why are there so few asexual men“.
– We found it odd that the article repeatedly cites the 2011 Asexual Awareness Week Asexual Community Census analysis, when this is superseded by better results from the Ace Community Survey. But it seemed like the article had been written some time ago with minimal edits, and perhaps the idea was to compare to a survey that was more contemporaneous with the interviews.

Words
– There’s a relatively good definition of gray-asexuality (“in the gray area between sexuality and asexuality”).
– The definition of romantic and demiromantic (“indicating that they sought romantic but non-sexual relationships”) is wrong. It was also odd to seem them grouped together when it would be more conventional to group demiromantic and aromantic.
– We’re a bit skeptical of the claim that “within the field of medicine, the term asexual was first used by clinicians working with trans* clients”. We don’t really know if that was the first.
– We discussed the usage of “trans*”, which was in vogue for a few years, likely when this paper was primarily written, but suddenly lost popularity.

Other directions
– This paper seemed to be initially conceived with only men and women in mind, so there was only one trans participant, and one as “other” in terms of gender identity. We can’t really draw any conclusions from that small sample.
– Some participants expressed some sort of gender nonconformity but we didn’t get a sense of how common it was.
– It would be interesting to hear from aromantic men. All the men in this sample were heteroromantic.

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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