11 random thoughts on asexuality studies, to be written up properly at a later date…

  1. There seems to be three tendencies within the literature: medical/psychological, queer theory / cultural studies / women’s studies, sociological & anthropological. With the latter two having a lot of convergence in outlook if not methods. My own work started in the third category and now sits on the border between the second and third category.
  2. Partly this convergence between queer theory / cultural studies / women’s studies work and sociological & anthropological work emerges from the empirical findings of the former e.g. myself and Scherrer. When conducting empirical research on asexuality with any sort of even vaguely hermeneutic concern, the experienced inadequacy of everyday concepts about intimate life becomes rapidly apparent e.g. the clear boundary between friend and partner when sex is taken out of the picture. Likewise a range of people have independently reached the conclusion that the empirical data must lead to a rethinking of both everyday AND academic concepts about intimate/sexual life in a pretty broad way. This is the point of convergence with the more abstract approaches (queer theory / cultural studies / women’s studies), the basic direction of thought seems to be largely the same, it’s just that the starting point has been different i.e. theory –> empirical claims / empirical claims –> theory.
  3. The crucial point is that this rethinking applies to people who aren’t asexual as well. A lot of issues relating to everyday concepts of intimate life are flagged up in a heretofore unprecedented way in terms of the experience asexual people have but these experiences are not confined to asexual people. It’s just that they became newly visible when, in the last decade, you had the emergence of an international community who did not experience sexual attraction talking at length about their respective experiences.
  4. In terms of published academic work that’s been done so far, some fascinating parallels have been drawn between asexuality and polyamory. In terms of unpublished work, people are thinking about this in terms of a range of issues: campaigns about the medicalization of sexuality (particularly in their gendered dimensions), the sexuality of the disabled, the cultural invisibility of older lesbians, the sexualization of society, the meaning and status of friendship within contemporary society, trans experience and trans politics.
  5. There’s a fascinating intersectionality within the asexual community (most obviously in terms of transgender and aspergers) which has yet to be engaged with in anything other a speculative & conversational way.
  6. Nathan Erro has made a very persuasive case (though perhaps I’m biased!) about the value of an asexual literary criticism. It’s an incredibly potent and fruitful lens through which to (re)think texts.
  7. I’ve tried to argue, albeit thus far entirely in chats with the media and online articles, that the social & cultural visibility of asexuality – thus far still in its VERY early stages – is hugely historically significant. Much as the identity of heterosexual only became meaningful once there was a visibile group identifying in some way as homosexual, what will a meaningful identity as sexual look like? Thus far, it’s been entirely taken for granted, to the extent that it’s rarely, if ever, been a meaningful topic of social/cultural dialogue or internal conversation. Speaking from personal experience, spending a lot of time thinking about asexuality, it makes you look at your own sexuality in a far more nuanced fashion. I’ve also been struck when doing talks on asexuality that there’s no good word for people who aren’t asexual: I tend to alternate between saying sexual people and non-asexuals, neither of which sound right. I find this quite interesting.
  8. Why wasn’t there an asexual community until 2001? There’s a lifetime’s work of social/intellectual/cultural history that becomes obvious once you start to really seriously engage with this (deceptively simple) question. Once I get my PhD finished, I’m guessing an awful lot of my intellectual activity for the rest of my 20s at least is going to be taken up by it.
  9. If you take these issues of rethinking seriously then an obvious question occurs: is another transformation in intimate life taking place and, if so, what is it, what’s driving it and what will its effects be?
  10. I was struck about six months ago by the thought there’s an as yet unarticulated shared project here amongst a lot of people working in the area. What is the project?
  11. How does asexuality relate to queer theory? Thanks to Prof Steve Fuller at Warwick who got me thinking seriously about this issue. It seems to occupy a similar intellectual terrain but a distinctively different way. It seems less abstract, more connected to empirical research, more social & cultural in its orientation and, arguably, both less political (in an ivory tower radicalism sense of the term political) and more political (in a normative concern about social organisation) at the same time.

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