Asexuality, Activism and Allies

- I first got interested in asexuality after making friends with two asexual people: (a) the sheer absence of even a momentary consideration f the possibility in academic literature (b) my own initial confusion and, as I began to talk to other people about it, the fact they shared this confusion

- initially I just wanted to understand the asexual community, things that were shared and things that were different, because at the time there was a striking lack of basic qualitative research i.e. getting people to talk about their lives in their own terms.

- however as I’ve gone on with my research (and found myself having countless conversations about it because everyone I meet in universities finds asexuality interesting whereas pretty much no one finds my phd research interesting) I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the reaction of sexual people to asexuality

- I worry that when I put it like that it sounds quite dull but I don’t think it is: people who are not asexual almost always, in my experience and from everything I have read and the experiences reported in my own research, find the notion of asexuality inherently confusing.

- they do so because being presented by the reality that not everyone experiences sexual attraction calls into question an assumption (that it’s a universal and uniform thing) which, until they are in that situation, is largely impossible to recognise.

- I don’t think this assumption has always been made and tracking its emergence in 20th century sexual culture is the central question for a project I’ll be applying for funding for next year.

- however while this project is about how this assumption came into being, I’m much more interested on a personal level in the question of what happens when it goes away (though this is much more difficult to study!)

- what happens when people who do experience sexual attraction and have been brought up in a culture that assumes this is universal recognise that this assumption isn’t true? It transforms being sexual into an object of deliberation for the first time – rather than something take for granted.

- In the same way that the emergence of an identity as gay preceded an identity as straight (you can see this in terms of the gap between when the words heterosexual and homosexual were coined and when they entered everyday use + the extent to which ‘homosexual’ was written about much more and much earlier than ‘heterosexual’) so too does it seem likely the increasing recognition of asexuality will lead more sexual people to reflect on what it means FOR them to be sexual.

- and I think this is a good thing for asexual activism because it’s a process which, i suspect, will naturally produce allies… as people realise that the same restrictive logic of understanding human sexuality that left them unable to accept or understand the existence of asexuality (and in many cases act in a stigmatisating way as a result of this) also restricted their own understanding and relationship with themselves.

- My point is not that visibility work is good because it helps sexual people too (though it does) but, not least of all because I wasn’t entirely sure what to talk about today, I just wanted to say that I think an event like today, the hard work that went into it, came before and will follow it and come after it are in a re and significant way helping make wider society a nicer place for everyone.

Edited to add: this was a hastily written talk posted in a rush while on a train down to London. In the end I decided on the spur of the moment to talk about something completely different. 



Categories: Uncategorized

3 replies

  1. Great post!

    I’m asexual, but because I was brought up in a society with the assumption you describe in your fifth paragraph, I didn’t realise this until very recently. I was almost 48 at the time. When I did, everything suddenly fell into place.

    I believe getting rid of this restrictive assumption will indeed make society a nicer place for everyone, for the reasons you give, and also so that in future there are not going to be people who get as far as middle age before they truly understand what their sexuality (or lack of it) is. There are not going to be people who don’t realise they’re asexual, get married, and then wonder why sex is such a difficult area (with heaven knows what effect on their equally unsuspecting spouse); or who don’t realise they’re asexual, don’t get into any kind of romantic relationship, have all their relatives wonder what on earth is wrong with them, and eventually start to wonder themselves if there is something wrong.

    When I started explaining to people that I was asexual, I did get a bit of the confusion you mention, but almost entirely from people who didn’t know me particularly well. (One or two of these even expressed sympathy. I laughed. I think it’s a very positive thing.) Most of them, however, weren’t confused at all: they reacted in pretty much exactly the same “ahhhhhh, that explains everything!” fashion that I did. I conclude – and admittedly my experience is limited – that asexuality is only confusing if you don’t, as far as you know, know an asexual person. :-)

  2. Interesting, thanks for your reply and sorry I only just noticed it (I’m awful with blog comments) – I’m really interested in whether it’s possible to say anything in general terms about why some people get the kind of reaction you did, whereas in other cases people get the nasty bewilderment…

  3. I’ve long been of the opinion that the term ‘bisexual’ is a misnomer; when one has sex with the opposite gender, it’s a straight experience, & with the same gender a gay or lesbian experience. The only true bisexual experience is when one has sex with two people of opposing genders, & in that case, it’s only bisexual for, say the men in a fully interactive MMF threesome. (This is simple in the extreme, as it assumes a gender-binarism that is not, in real life, a given.)

    This is what makes sense to me, b/c as I type, I am not horny & do not currently desire sex of any kind (might even turn it down if offered, but I’d only lay the odds as 50/50).

    I know what you’re getting at – your article & future research is about a full identity as an asexual person, as most people do identify a certain sexuality as the totality of their identity. But I wonder how this fits into my self-definition; for me, sex with a woman would be straight, sex with a man would be gay, & when completely disinterested in sex, am I asexual in that moment, or during a day or week when no desire is felt?

    For those who cycle through sexual orientations (of several days duration, or several months), perhaps when a lack of sexual feeling is neither lamented nor missed, asexuality can become part of the dynamic. Could a three-point Kinsey-esque scale develop out of that, where the continuum is not a line between two points, but the surface area of a triangle?

    Not to discount the feelings or experiences of those who are 100% asexual, but I think this concept has the potential to be of great help to those who desire sex infrequently, those who, as I have defined it, enjoy long stretches of normal, healthy, asexuality.

    Thoughts?

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