Interrogating Sex and Gender Categories: an Asexual Case Study

Until 2001 there wasn’t an asexual community. Why was this? 

  • The question is more complex than it appears.
  • The internet was a necessary condition because it allowed a geographically dispersed group to connect. Was it a sufficient condition though?
  • It provided the infrastructure for a disparate group to connect.
  • However there still had to be a converging drive to connect across a diverse and disparate collection of individuals.
  • What explains this drive to connect? Empirical and theoretical dimensions to this.
  • Empirically, asexuals pretty much universally face partially or entirely pathologising reactions (at least initially) from others when they voice their lack of experience of sexual attraction. “Maybe you’re just a late bloomer”, “There’s probably something wrong with your hormones”, “Were you sexually abused as a child?
  • Theoretically, it’s the experienced inadequacy of the sexual/intimate discourses situationally available to make sense of the fact they don’t experience sexual attraction.
  • Their everyday environment both (a) renders this lack of sexual attraction problematic, making it an unavoidable object for internal deliberation (b) fails to provide the cultural resources necessary to articulate a self-understanding which is either subjectively or socially adequate.
  • This is the socio-cultural process underlying the drive to connect.

What explains the reactions asexual individuals face? 

  • Their friends, family, peers literally did not understand.
  • The sexual assumption is a habitual cognitive category which, as an empirical claim, asexual individuals regularly encounter in the dispositional reactions and the reflective judgements of peers, friends, family and others.
  • The sexual assumption —> sexual attraction is both universal and uniform: everyone ‘has’ it and it’s largely the same thing in every instance.
  • The sexual assumption is a component in distinct clusters of interactions which asexual individuals find themselves engaged in at different points in their biographical trajectory.
The methodological implications of this approach
  • Construing the lives of participants in biographical terms & preferably studying them longitudinally
  • Valuing their personal narrative (in both an ethical and methodological sense) without reducing their biographical trajectory to their story about it.
  • Recognising the multi-dimension nature of that biography: individual <–> networks, individual <–> ideas, individual <–> social structures
  • All of these dimensions shape biographical unfolding in different ways AND they interact with each other
  • My particular focus in studying asexuality has been at the level of individual <–> networks and individual <–> ideas.
  • In the terms I used above, the  everyday environment (a) renders lack of sexual attraction problematic, making it an unavoidable object for internal deliberation (b) fails to provide the cultural resources necessary to articulate a self-understanding which is either subjectively or socially adequate.
  • This plays out differently at distinct identifiable stages e.g. when someone first starts to recognise that they don’t experience sexual attraction and a given reference group does OR when they’ve decided that an assumption of self-pathology is unsustainable and want to find other ways to understand themselves.
  • A general approach to studying sexualities would involve using qualitative methods, preferably longitudinally, to (a) identify situations such as the this at particular moment in the individual’s past, aiming to fully capture the material and psychic aspects to them (b) understanding the individual’s internal deliberative responses to them (c) identifying the ensuing influence on the individual’s biographical unfolding over time.

 

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About Mark