Notes for a talk tomorrow

It’s now been quite some time since I undertook my research on asexuality. It was initially motivated by sheer curiosity, as I guess research should be under ideal conditions: I’d met a couple of asexual people socially around the time I was completing a masters degree project on sexual identity. The conjunction between my confusion concerning the former (I just didn’t ‘get it’) and the absence of asexuality in the literature review I did for the latter, left me wanting to explore it in greater depth. The project I undertook involved an online ethnography, an online questionnaire and a small number of face-to-face interviews. Through the research I sought to answer the question of ‘how does one come to identify as asexual?’. It’s a biographical question about a process that takes place over time and what it means to the people involved.

What I found was get there’s a lot of similarities in the processes people go through: people recognise that they’re somehow different to a reference group, they initially impute pathology to this (often reinforced by others), before beginning to look for other explanations. Before the Internet this could take all sorts of forms, exploring different communities and trying out different identities. But with the Internet it became possible to google one’s experiences, a process which will likely lead to the asexual forums, websites, blogs, YouTube videos which have continually grown over the last decade. At which point the experience was pretty uniform among the people who took part in my research, much as it was with the assumption of pathology: going from “feeling broken” to finally discovering your “place in the world”.

In the last few years my interest in asexuality has shifted away from a concern with the experience of asexual people to a preoccupation with why those who aren’t asexual find it as confusing as they do. This can seem to be a confusingly niche interest, or at least I occasionally worry that it might come across that way. It emerged from one recurrent theme in the many personal stories I encountered in my research: the incomprehension with which most asexual people have at times found their asexuality greeted. What makes the notion so hard to grasp?

What’s more important is how this incomprehension can lead people to act. This inability to grasp asexuality as a concept can bring otherwise well meaning people to act in deeply hurtful and marginalising ways. It can leave those who are far from well meaning acting in even more unpleasant ways than they might otherwise. What these actions usually have in common is a failure to believe asexuality exists as a possibility and a concomitant tendency to explain it away. Offering asexuality as an account of themselves, asexual people are instead told that it can’t exist… it must be their hormones, psychological damage, repressed child abuse. Don’t they know that sex is natural? Don’t they realise that sexuality is an integral aspect of the human condition? Perhaps they’re just a late bloomer? Or maybe they haven’t met the right person yet? In terms of the broader cultural frameworks within which we think and talk about sexuality, some of these reactions are entirely comprehensible to me (and this is why I find the reaction of non-asexuals to asexuality so interesting from a sociological standpoint). But they’re often deeply hurtful and what I find particulalry frustrating is how unnecessary the hurt caused is.

But this isn’t just a matter of asexual visibility, as important as that it is. As Petra Boynton has put it, our lexicon to express what we’re into sexually has expanded hugely and I think this is an unambiguously good thing. But I’m not sure there’s a corresponding expansion in our lexicon to talk about sexuality itself, as opposed to sexual behaviour, in fact I wonder if it might have even shrunk as a evaluative register of ‘moral and immoral’ has been comprehensively replaced by one of ‘normal and pathological’. My own experience as someone who is not asexual (but has often been assumed to be so, which is quite interesting in its own right) has been that I know think much more articulately about my sexuality than I once did. I have an identify of myself as sexual, above and beyond my sexual orientation, in a way I once didn’t. But there’s no good word for this: sexual, non-asexual, allosexual? I think this very telling in its own right. I wonder if my own experience will become a common one as asexuality become ever more visible and recognisable. I think there’s a rich vocabulary to talk about sexuality and intimacy that has emerged within the asexual community that could be of great value to many who aren’t asexual.

I’m looking forward to this event on Friday. It’s been ages since I’ve talked about a/sexuality!

Sexuality and Gender Conference & Official Launch of the Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender

The Open University Camden, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP

Map here

Friday November 27th 2015 9.30am until 7pm

The authors and editors of the Palgrave Handbook of the Psychology of Sexuality and Gender welcome you to the conference and official book launch. Each author will speak for twenty minutes on the cutting edge research and theory contained within their chapter, followed by ten minutes for questions from the audience.

Lunch is not provided, however local shops and supermarkets will be able to provide almost anything you would like.

Attendance is free, but registration beforehand via Christina Richards (contact@christinarichards.co.uk) is required. Do book early as space is limited and the editors’ last conference and book launch was over-subscribed.

I was really pleased to discover that the price of the asexuality book I edited with Todd Morrison and Kristina Gupta has dropped to £25 for the Kindle edition. There’s a link here to Amazon. I’m delighted it’s finally affordable and it’s also great to see more reasonably priced Kindle editions of academic books. On the other hand, all the papers are available in Psychology & Sexuality so I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s worth buying.

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2015 Call for Papers about Asexuality

Asexuality Studies Interest Group

National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)

November 12-15, 2015, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The NWSA Asexuality Studies Interest Group welcomes papers for the 2015 NWSA annual conference. These asexuality-related themes are orientated towards the full NWSA 2015 CFP which can be found here: http://www.nwsa.org/Files/2015/NWSA%202015%20CFP_Final.pdf

If you are interested in being a part of the 2015 Asexuality Studies Interest Group panels at NWSA, please send the following information to the designated panel organizer (listed under each theme) by Friday, February 6, 2015:

*Name, Institutional Affiliation, Mailing Address, Email, Phone

*NWSA Theme your paper fits under

*Title for your talk

*50-100 word abstract

We will try to accommodate as many qualified papers as possible, but panels are limited to 3-4 presenters. NWSA will make the final decision about which panels are accepted. Presenters accepted into the conference program must become members of NWSA in addition to registering for the conference.

1) Sponsored Session: Disciplining Bodies, Regulating Identities: Affect/Eros and the Intersection of Asexual and Fat Identities

This is a sponsored session of the Asexuality Studies Interest Group in collaboration with the Fat Studies Interest Group.

The fields of Asexuality Studies and Fat Studies are two exciting areas of inquiry in the contemporary academy. Rigorous scholarly analyses and theoretical production combine with cutting-edge social activism to create new epistemologies, creative political strategies and visionary, new social paradigms. Understandings of affect and eros have informed these two academic fields and social movements by fostering knowledge about the role of affective and erotic economies, intensities and potentialities As the NWSA CFP states: “There is ample evidence of communal and collective practices that invoke alternative imaginaries, worlds, memories, mythologies, desires, cosmologies, embodiments, and yearnings and that disrupt the disciplining of non-normative emotions, desires, bodies, peoples, practices, histories, spaces, and ideas. Affect and eros can thus be considered pivotal both to understanding how precarity is structured and also contested.” This session will utilize perspectives gleaned from asexuality studies and fat studies to explore the fields’ relationship to affect/eros and the productive potential of these intersectional analyses to interrogate, deconstruct and reimagine oppressive corporeal regimes based on compulsory sexuality and the tyranny of slenderness. Topics for this session could include, but are not limited to:

– the experiences of individuals who identify simultaneously as fat and as asexual and the vulnerability engendered by converging ideological systems based in acephobia and fatphobia; affective knowledge of uniquely fat and asexual grammars of the body

– the ways in which affective and/or erotic work is deployed in service of fat and asexual acceptance, rights, visibility, community-building and education; the fostering of fat and asexual affective solidarity

– the corporeal disciplining of fat and asexual bodies and the regulatory control of these identities through affective and erotic inducements in a culture of precarity

– The construction of fat bodies as inherently asexual and the theoretical, discursive and political implications of this conflation

– The stereotyping, bias and discrimination faced by fat and asexual communities; affective and erotic policing and regulatory surveillance of fat and asexual bodies and identities within a neoliberal cultural economy

– The ways in which asexual and fat eros/affect intersect with multiple categories of difference including race, ethnicity, class, age, immigrant status, dis/ablity and religion

Please submit materials for the sponsored session to organizer, Joelle Ruby Ryan (Joelle.Ryan@unh.edu).

2) Co-Sponsored Session with Trans/Gender-Variant Caucus:

Institutions, Containments and the Intersection between Asexuality & Trans/Gender-Variance

This is a co-sponsored Round Table Discussion* with the Trans/Gender-Variant Caucus and the Asexuality Studies Interest Group.

Institutions, even with the best of intentions, can create containments or confinements for those they work to serve, and exclude those outside predetermined groups. Asexuality and trans/gender-variance often fit outside institutional categories, which can cause uncertainty, insecurity, or precarity for one’s well being. This discussion will focus on the intersection of trans/gender-variance and asexuality, how their resistance to control, repression, and confinement overlap, and power imbalances between them.

Proposals for this theme may include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

●How can the intersections of trans/gender-variant and asexuality studies serve as a way to critique institutional control and containment, through disability, debility, race, citizenship, sexuality, class, and gender?

●How are asexual and trans/gender-variant bodies positioned within hierarchies of power and what (different) avenues are available for contestation and resistance to those hierarchies?

●Collaborations and intersections between trans/gender-variant and asexual studies can be key to contesting the violence of institutions/containments and to addressing pervasive injustice, but how are power asymmetries addressed within such work?

●How do institutions promote and help asexual, trans/gender-variant, and queer communities and how do they induce precarity, marginalization, and containment?

●Where do trans/gender-variance and asexuality intersect and how can they work against precarity?

●How can asexuality and trans/gender-variant identity be a form of empowerment and not stigma?

*As a round table discussion there may be 4-6 presenters. In addition, paper titles are not required for individuals and 50-100 words introducing your contribution to the discussion will suffice as an abstract.

Please submit materials for the co-sponsored session to organizer Bauer McClave (Caroline) at bauer1331@gmail.com

3) Theme 1: Debility/Vulnerability:

The Relevance of Asexualities, Debility and Vulnerability

This panel examines the adaptability of asexualities, debility and vulnerability, as related to both current and past issues of precarity and paradox: indifferent and varying working contexts and creative agency and voice; uncertain futures and possibilities of the present; established hierarchies and open, horizontal structures – largely organized online; old nationalism and new cosmopolitanism; individual inadequacy regarding climate change and project based alliances.

Questions to consider for applicants:

– In what ways are asexualities connected to, and different from, debility and vulnerability?

– How do asexualities, debility and vulnerability represent a radical challenge to power structures rooted in heteronormativity?

– What are working lives of lived asexualities, vulnerability and debility like, within framework of heteronormative dominant culture?

– What are the risks, possibilities and ensuing tension implied within asexualties, debility and vulnerability?

Please submit materials for this session to organizer Anna Lise Jensen, aaaonyc@gmail.com

4) Theme 2: Affect/Eros

Between Affect and Eros: Precarity and the Asexual Community

Following the NWSA theme of Precarity and Affect/Eros this panel will explore the “embodied, political, affective, economic, ideological, temporal, and structural conditions” which construct and regulate asexuality. Precarity “draws attention to the lived conditions, structures nature, and relational aspect of systemic inequality” as an emerging and often contested sexual orientation asexuality is a precarious identity, and asexual individuals often find themselves in precarious positions. As an emerging political identity and orientation asexuality challenges established understandings of both eros and affect. What role can eros play in the politics of asexuality? How do eros and affect emerge in the daily lived experiences of asexual individuals? What expectations around affective labor does asexuality reinforce or challenge? Can eros and affect be deployed to challenge the precarious and marginalized position of asexuality? Or do eros and affect contribute to the precarious position of asexual identities?

Proposals for this theme may include–but are not limited to–the following topics:

●What can be gained by attending to eros and affect together, as sites where Asexual Identity is both precarious and resisted?

●How have affect and eros served as sites of social control? How does Asexuality challenge these conceptions across context and over time?

●How has the surveillance and regulation eros and affect been differently marked in the asexual identity and across intersecting identities such as race, class, disability, citizenship status, gender, ethnicity, religion and/or spirituality and body size?

●How does asexuality eros and affect transform inequality and challenge hegemonic values and practices?

●What productive investigations can be produced by placing asexuality into conversation with affect theory?

●How can feminist theoretical understanding of asexuality produce challenges and knowledge about the norms of romantic love?

●How can asexual identities and experiences challenge, reinforce or dismantle expectations of eros and affective labor sexual relationships of all kinds

Please submit materials for this session to organizer, Julia Rogers jerogers@ucsd.edu

5) Theme 3: Institutions/Containments

This theme will seek to explore how various institutions and regimes of social control have sought to contain or regulate asexual identity, as well as how asexuals might form coalitions to resist oppression and precarity. Papers might address any of the following questions, or other relevant questions:

-What is the state of asexual institution building? Do these institutions help asexuals resist precarity or do they further reproduce it?

-How have various institutions and regimes of social control (medical, legal, educational, cultural, carceral, etc.) sought to contain, regulate, or define asexuality across different historical and geopolitical contexts?

-How might asexuals’ coalition building with other gender and sexual minorities contest the violence of institutions/containments and combat pervasive injustice? How are power asymmetries addressed within such work?

-What are the possibilities and potential problems inherent in institutionalizing asexuality under the umbrella of queer identity? Is such an alliance a site of resistance or containment?

-How does asexuality intersect with other institutionalized forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, colonization, and poverty, to produce precarity?

Please submit materials for this session to organizer Kara French at kmfrench@salisbury.edu

6) Theme 4: Distortion/Dispossession

This year’s conference theme of precarity is particularly relevant to Asexuality studies and to work which intersects many fields of study including health sciences, sociology, anthropology, geography, and others. Precarity, as the NWSA 2015 CFP indicates, is intended to “draw attention to the lived conditions, structured nature, and relational aspects of systemic inequality. Focusing on diverse forms of violence, inequality, and harm pervading contemporary life, precarity names a ‘politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become deferentially exposed to injury, violence, and death.’”

To address precarity and differential suffering, distortion (via representational economies and controlling images) and dispossession (structural dispersal and material deprivation) are key areas of interest. This panel will look specifically at social and material realities of Asexuality, including the effects of distortion and dispossession at both individual and collective levels and possibilities for resistance. From relationships with Queer/LGBT communities, to media representations of Asexuals using only White representatives, to the lack of legal protection for Asexual/LGBTQ people in many states, this panel is intended to build from lived experiences of Asexuality in relation to the systemic and structured nature of inequality and violence.

Proposals for this theme may include–but are not limited to–the following topics:

-Asexual activism as resistance to dispossession/distortion

-Intersections of distortion and dispossession in Asexual experience/Asexual community

-Differential suffering of/for/by Asexual people

-Ways that structures, institutions, and systems perpetuate dispossession/distortion around Asexuality and Asexual people and the associated effects

-How do Asexual people deferentially “experience the material, representational, environmental, political, and discursive effects of dispossession, distortion, and degradation?”

-Solidarity with Asexual people/communities and confronting dispossession/distortion/degradation

Please submit materials for this session to organizer Sarah Jasmine Stork, stork.sarahj@gmail.com

If we accept this account then we can see the ‘sexual revolution’ as constituting a decoupling of sex from commitment. Can we read the emergence of asexuality as a parallel decoupling of commitment from sex?

“The really big change in sexual practices among young Americans occurred with the Baby Boomer generation, that is the move toward premarital sex,” says Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who studies sexuality. This change was followed by “the move in the Sixties and the Seventies to having sex before a relationship was really fully committed. That big move happened with the parents of the people who are now in college, basically.” And those college kids are now pushing the trend further to today’s standard in which commitment and emotional connection of any sort are both unnecessary precursors to sex.

http://feature.rollingstone.com/feature/millennial-sexual-revolution-relationships-marriage#ixzz3IPZzoOLF