reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

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Omnes et Nihil
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reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:40 pm

Edit: I need to remove parts of this post because I want to submit something very loosely based on it for consideration by journal.
Edit: I've added back in the parts that I had removed, so now it's all there as I'd initially written it (back in September 2009).

This started out as a response to Pretzelboy's thread "Criticisms of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them". It kind of turned into a manifesto, so I thought it would be fitting to give it its own post.

The issues of Prescriptive Identity Labels as a Matter of (and Enforced by) Reactionary Politics.

For those of you who were around a few years back the asexual community existed primarily for itself-- to combat the alienation, to find people like ourselves *to escape the constant surreality of living misunderstood*. It wasn't so important who was or wasn't "really" asexual, because none of us were accepted yet as "real". (There was some elitism amid the non-libidioists, and AVEN was partly a reaction to that... but the non-libidioists were, if I recall correctly, primarily non-sexual lesbians, and that's a whole different set of circumstances... especially given lesbian politics of the 90's.)

Fast forward a few years. We got some visibility. Go us! (Don't get me wrong, it is a wonderful thing.) But as other people started to learn about asexuality, and popular media picked up on us as oddities, a version of the "real" asexual emerged. [Edit: part removed.] The "real" asexual is the person who gets to be believed and accepted as asexual. The "real" asexual, as we all know from the cookie-cutter articles and tv clips, has always been asexual, is well-adjusted, has not been abused, is probably either straight or aromantic, or occasionally bi, and has a typical gender identity, although may be acceptably tomboyish as a girl. The "real" asexual does not have a fetish, is not overly disgusted with sex, is old enough to have tried to be sexual without success, and does not have a hormonal imbalance or other physical condition that could be changed leading to a sexual person. The "real" asexual has all the characteristics of the ideal sexual person, but is simply unable to be sexual-- and therefore should be accepted as asexual.

And we all know who would make the most asexual-proving impression on skeptical audiences. [Edit: part removed.] It's not a trans person, a teenager, or someone with a history of abuse, for instance (even though most trans people, most teens and most people with a history of abuse are most certainly sexual). It's not an older person, or a person with a physical disability (because these people are all too often already not entitled to a sexuality of their own).

At any rate, the popular masses now have a vague idea of what "asexual" is. If we fit it, we get recognised, accepted. If we don't, we risk at best merely being dismissed (as not "really" asexual), and at worst, undermining the limited recognition of asexuality that people do have (because look! asexuality isn't real!).

It's a problem. And it's entirely political.

And as a reactionary response, some people try to live up to the version of the "real asexual". If they're curious about experimenting with flirting or sex, they might hesitate, possibly because they risk losing the recognition and understanding they've gained about their perspective (and will have to start from scratch... this time without any excuse for being not sexual like everyone else)... [Edit: part removed.] or they may feel an obligation to protect the "legitimacy" of the entire asexual community's image...

Is it any wonder that it's only within the past few years that a version of the "real asexual" has come about, and that people have started feeling pressure to conform to it? [Edit: part removed.] (Or wondering whether anyone does?) Is it any wonder that when *some people* started to be recognised as asexual, and when *some people* started to live happy openly asexual lives that opponents picked the "asexual identity" as something that is potentially harmful to asexuals and worse-- to confused non-asexuals? (And we're echoing that now ourselves, trying not to hurt anyone.)

When we didn't have anything to lose, there was no pressure to be asexual in any particular way. And nobody telling us we were hurting people, quashing their potential, by insisting that we exist. And it didn't matter if we existed as asexual for a while, and then moved on to something else-- because nobody believed us anyway.

I see the conformity pressure that people are talking about, but I see it differently. It's not about being the same as other asexuals. It's about negotiating the politics, and the cost-benefit analysis about being accepted. And when it's coming from opponents, it's yet another way to keep us quiet and well-behaved.

It's now okay for some people to not be interested in having sex or sexual relationships. We've come that far. Now, some people get to opt out. [Edit: part removed] Now, some people get to opt out of being called "prudes" or "repressed". But only some. And to me, that's not okay.

And whether we like it or not... the people who don't fit the version of the "real asexual" are paying a price for it.

Personally I think the solution is to take asexuality back. It's ours. We should define what it means and who it describes.

And I really do think that we need to stand by all the not-so-cookie-cutter asexuals out there. Not only because I feel we owe it, but also because it will ultimately benefit all asexuals... and eventually sexuals too. Nobody has sexual freedom until all of us are free to be sexual or not, however we feel, however it suits us, and whenever. Even if that never stops changing.

That sort of turned into a manifesto. (With an analogous one in my mind about reactionary trans politics.) So yeah. Don't underestimate the power of politics.
Last edited by Omnes et Nihil on Wed Aug 06, 2014 1:23 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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ily
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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby ily » Wed Sep 02, 2009 1:26 pm

Great manifesto! :D I love it. I agree that our increased media exposure has created a dilemma that I'm not sure how to solve. If asexuality remains unknown to most people, than most asexuals will invariably live their lives without knowing that there is a community of people like them, perhaps always feeling isolated and out of place. But if asexuality gets publicized, asexuals who have been abused, who are depressed, who hate sex, etc will be much more likely to be ripped apart in any media portrayal in which they appear. This dilemma is why I'm such a huge proponent of creating our own media. I think it could partially solve the problem, since we get to portray whatever we want while still reaching asexuals who don't know about the community. However, then there is the issue of how many people we're able to reach through DIY alone.

I also think you might be over-emphasizing the extent to which "ideal" asexuals are accepted. It seems like most media reports are still coming to a "jury's out" kind of conclusion and are not affirming asexuality outright. And even if they were, that wouldn't mean that the same asexuals appearing in the media are accepted by friends and family. Even the most "ideal" asexuals still seem to be open to ridicule. However, I recently had my own experience with "idealized" portrayals of asexuals:

Recently, I was extensively interviewed for an article on asexuality for the San Francisco Chronicle. However, when the piece appeared, I was totally absent from it. I wondered why this was, since I orchestrated a lot of what the piece talked about. But now I see...I wasn't "ideal" enough. Unlike other people in the piece (David apparently has immunity from this), I had never tried any sort of sexual activity and I don't identify with any romantic orientation (nor do I identify as aromantic). To me, the part of the article that most proves your point was a portion talking about David and how he is a good-looking guy. The article said something like, "Here is a man, they say, who could have sex if he wanted to." Who is "they" supposed to be, the asexual community? This cast-off idea from mainstream sexual society is what, it is implied, we value most. It pained me that our ideas of what to value as asexuals could be sold back to us in that way. Suddenly, at least to the readers of this piece, "good" asexuals became ones who could "have sex if they wanted to".

This is getting long, so I leave you with a quote from Riki Wilchins:

"...the moral center of a movement is not defined by how well and how long we fight for our own rights. Important as that is, it's also enlightened self-interest: We all want our own rights. The moral center of a movement is defined by how well and how long we fight for those who are not us, for those more easily left behind." --From "Gender Rights Are Human Rights"

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Dargon
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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Dargon » Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:11 pm

Interesting manefesto. The political side is something I had never considered before, but looking back, it seems to make a lot of sense. I came into the asexual community shortly after the New Scientist Article in 2004 I think it was, so there was some media exposure, but very little At this point AVEN was concerned with visibility, but the "real" asexual hadn't cropped up, and the elitism and antisexuality was limited to the non-libidoists.

Looking back at the major media exposures, there were always a few specific sets of people. It was always Kate and Liver, always Hu and Winter, always KAW and Greybird, and of course DJ himself (but since he founded AVEN, he's always there). I recall a few local shock jocks here and there who interviewed and published with the non-heteroromantic well adjusted couples, but those were all very localized an not all that respected venues. I will say I have never seen an aromantic in the media.

That being said, the reasoning for using these people makes sense. Most people are heterosexual, moderately well adjusted people. So they get the closest they can relate to. Needless to say, if they wanted to do a hit piece, they'd take the people repulsed by sex, the antisexuals, the polyamorous, the people that society sees as having something else wrong with them.

However, when I left AVEN two years ago, despite the major media coverage (this was well after Montel and 20/20), the ideal presented by the media was common, but not the idea present on the community. To be honest, my observation from the community was that the "real" asexual was the person who was so off-put by sex that they would not so much as do the mutual masturbation thing, much less sex, under any circumstances. It was that faction that tended to show the most elitism. (just an aside, the rise of that attitude seemed to coincide nicely with the death of the non-libidoist fourm). That being said I am quite confident that if I went back, I'd be outright told that I am not a "true" asexual. (I'm not bitter or anything ;))

My point there is that the "ideal" asexual to the media and the "ideal" asexual to the community seem to be two different things.

However, neither camp should have exclusive rights to the name.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby pretzelboy » Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:32 pm

There's a lot in what you say that I agree with, and I know that there are reactionary politics involved, and I know that media articles do present a standard idea of asexuals that can be frustrating. (Is my asexuality less valid if my life isn't super totally awesome all the time?) And I agree that it is important the people in the asexual community have to power to decide what asexuality is, and that I should strive to make it an identity that is helpful to people, and not something just to inflate our own egos and carve out a convient little nieche for ourselves by excluding others who don't fit nice cookie-cutter images of asexuality.

But I feel that there is something wrong with your history and that there is something about it that doesn't feel psychologically plausible. I've been searching on Haven for the Human Amoeba, and I think it provides evidence against your narritive:
October 26, 2001
Celibacy implies that one is lacking a thing (i.e. sex) that one values, while "asexuality" implies that one is utterly comfortable with a sexless state. It's sort of like the difference between "childless" and "childfree." Yes, I like this very much indeed. It clarifies for me that I am indeed asexual and not celibate as I had previously labeled myself. But what if we start to question what sex is exactly. Is it just the act? Or does it comprise all of the fairly ritualistic behavior surrounding the act as well? Is a person who reads porn but doesn't desire to have sex really asexual?


November 13, 2001
[From reading pre-asexulity.org AVEN] I felt I could identify with some of what has been said. So I rather quickly and enthusiastically joined this club in order to meet like-minded people and to find out whether I was really asexual or not.


December 8, 2002
Just having perused this groups for a little over a day, I have
learned so much.

I was too ignorant to know that some asexuals (maybe "real" asexuals)
are devoid of any sexual attraction to others or unawareness of their
own sexuality.

I am aware of my own potential as a sexual being, aa attracted to
guys, and want for them to find me sexually attractive (oh, boy do I
want them to!). But sex doesn't appeal to me in the least (grosses me
out actually) and I can only somewhat tolerate certain levels of
closeness, like hugging.

Textbook asexuals don't find anyone sexually attractive, don't care
about projecting their own sexuality, and just seem above the whole
nature of sexuality.

Therefore, my type of asexuality is more normal by cultural standards
(and I don't mean that ot offend anyone, just to be taken at face value).

Whereas, strict asexuals are considered, perhaps, less normal.


From AVEN:
November 1, 2002
I like the idea of making a shirt. It might generate some interesting discussions in real life and help asexuals who are still in the closet find this board. :) Personally, I would phrase the definition of asexuality as "One who has a very low or absent sex drive" (or something along those lines) so that people don't feel like it's an "all or nothing" thing...but since I'm not quite asexual, I would defer to the opinion of real asexuals. :)

The next one is later (October 14, 2004), but the title is revealing:
Am I really asexual?. Now, this person was new to asexuality. Because she is wondering if she is really asexual, shall we assume that it must be the case that she had read some media articles giving her an image of real asexuals?

I’ll just make two points that I think suggest the picture painted above is, in some ways, misleading even though there is a lot of truth to many parts.

In math, there is the long standing debate over whether math is discovered or invented. In many ways, it’s the long standing debate between realism and the many versions on anti-realism/nominalism out there. Lots of very intelligent people are on both sides, and I’m not going to take a stance. With asexuality, we have a similar question: is asexuality something that has long existed but only recently been recognized? Or is it something we have invented? (Or maybe some of both, with asexuality itself having long existed but the identity and social organizing around it something we have invented?) I’m not going to attempt to answer this. Instead, I’m going to ask a modified version of it: When people first encounter asexuality (or have known about it for some time), do they think of it is something ‘real’ or do they think of it as a ‘social construct’ (whatever that means)?

Most people seem to be realists unless they learn about the many difficulties that position faces (and many very smart, very well informed people continue to be realists in spite of difficulties); most people tend towards realist conceptions of their categories. On such a view of asexuality, it necessarily follows that some people are ‘really asexual’ and some aren’t. I suspect that people’s tendency to view asexuality in realist terms plays a powerful role in the belief in ‘real asexuals.’

Second, I certainly recognize that there are considerable social forces at work in our construction of asexuality; I fully recognize that it is an ideological matter, that it is us in the asexual community who define what asexuality is. Yet I have found in myself pressure to conform to some idea of ‘real asexuality.’ It is not a norm I find from the media. It is not a norm I see advocated on AVEN. It is a norm that I myself create; it is a recognition of vaguely sexual feelings that I fear may mean I’m not really asexual and yet are nowhere near enough to make me sexual either. It is a fear of being neither one thing nor the other, a fear of returning to a state of alienation and not belonging anywhere, of not being like anyone in this area of experience where people long for validation; it is this that gives rise to the fleeting feeling of the need to conform to some imaginary asexual norm. This makes me suspect that the psychological forces at work are not wholly--possibly not even mostly--from reactionary politics. Yet I will certainly agree that reactionary politics can have the effect of making people feel a need to conform to some socially acceptable asexual norm.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Clarity » Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:38 pm

@Pretzelboy I think you're saying that the label "asexual" leads to our brains assuming that a person can be asexual or can be not asexual, and so the label causes the conformity pressure.

But the reason the label is something so high-pressured is because of politics. Not as much the politics of interacting with outsiders as it is the politics of interacting with insides--people already in the asexual community.

"Asexual" is really frikkin' useful to me even though I'm bisexual by the asexual "purist"s definition (and questioning by the sexual purist's definition) because it encompasses a lot of my experience. Mostly because the types of things asexual people talk about wrt intimacy are more relevant to my life than the types of things sexuals assume.

To me, it's a coalition of people driven to challenge sexual norms because they are in some way missing a significant, assumed-universal component of sexuality. I don't think the term "asexual" yet has enough social recognition for people to feel pressured to make their orientation clear to outsiders by choosing the appropriate label. But I do think that the majority conceptualization of asexuality is a reaction to sexual norms that we don't want to be a part of, and what better way to unambiguously be free of them than to be the "ideal" asexual? Free of any possible reproach.

Which is why there are multiple visions of the "ideal" asexual--devoid of everything faintly sexual vs. completely normal and functional and attractive and romantic but non-sexual. The first so that you don't feel tied to sexuality, and the second so that no one can say your asexuality is just a reaction or something that goes along with their perception of you as unattractive.

People are afraid of not being asexual enough because that makes them part of whatever they don't want to be part of so much that they became involved in the asexual community. And because they fear social rejection by the asexual community. And possibly because we fear the ambiguity itself, the uncertainty of where future situations will land us.

But that isn't something to be afraid of. It bites to some extent, because those of us who aren't very sexual don't learn all the skills of dealing with sexuality, so I know I for one feel more vulnerable with what sexuality I do have. But that's the reality of my life. I am romantically vulnerable because I haven't developed my own template for dealing with romantic/sexual situations, and I don't fit any pre-defined ones. But I'd be surprised if that made me different from most other people. But it helps a lot to know that I do need to develop my own template, my own rules, and not keep running my head into the wall pressuring myself to be a "normal" sexual.

And no one should have to keep running their head into the wall pressuring themself to be a "normal" asexual. We are very, very far from knowing what either of those mean, anyway.

So, I argued both sides of the argument in a completely incoherent way above, but hey, look, a cop-out!: The personal is political.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Wed Sep 02, 2009 10:55 pm

ily wrote:Recently, I was extensively interviewed for an article on asexuality for the San Francisco Chronicle. However, when the piece appeared, I was totally absent from it. I wondered why this was, since I orchestrated a lot of what the piece talked about. But now I see...I wasn't "ideal" enough. Unlike other people in the piece (David apparently has immunity from this), I had never tried any sort of sexual activity and I don't identify with any romantic orientation (nor do I identify as aromantic).


I get your point about the media making the "real" asexual as someone who could have sex, but just doesn't want to-- and focusing on the attractive part. I suspect that a lot of the early visibility especially had something to do with the spokesperson being a young adult (White) well-spoken man who is charismatic and fits the modern conventional physical standards of "suitably attractive". Media coverage is full of young and pretty people.

Amusing and somewhat related to your interview story:

I'm with you about the lack of sexual experience and lack of romantic orientation (yet not identifying as aromantic). And I had a similar experience of being left out of a newspaper article I was interviewed for. The journalist interviewed 2 of us (that I know of), and only wrote about having spoken to the other person. I refused to disclose whether or not I masturbate (which seemed really important politically to me at the time-- because it's the wrong question... but the other person just answered the question). And the journalist kept insisting that *I was "uncomfortable" talking about masturbation* and sex-- as though I had a personal sensitivity or phobia about the entire subject-- you know, being asexual and all. We had some back and forth discussion where I tried to explain that I wasn't uncomfortable talking about sex or masturbation, but that it was a political decision on my part not to answer the question-- and I gave my reasons. This culminated to the point where she (the journalist) informed me that she masturbated and asked me what I thought about that. I've included my response below because I think people might get a kick out of it. Needless to say... she wrote the article as though she'd never spoken to me, as though she'd only interviewed 1 asexual. I can't say I didn't see it coming.

"I make nothing of the fact that you masturbate. That doesn't mean much of anything out of the context of what that means to you. With a name like [common female first name], you're probably gendered in some capacity female (be that how you identify, or how people see your body). For women and female-bodied people, masturbation can be a symbol of taking ownership of one's own sexuality, in a cultural context that denies women ownership of their own sexuality while simultaneously casting them as objects for the pleasure of others (typically heterosexual men). And so women masturbating can also be a symbolic subversion of patriarchal oppression of women through their sexuality and the traditional passive "feminine" sexual role (or even a practical subversion of this oppression for heterosexual women if this means that a woman no longer needs a man to be sexually fulfilled, and her sexual interactions with a man/men are based on her wanting something more than simple stimulation). But not masturbating does NOT mean that a woman is oppressed or ashamed of her body, nor does it mean that she does not have ownership of her sexuality. In all statistical likelihood, you are probably neither a radical feminist nor a pro-sex feminist (or a sex-positive radical feminist for that matter), and if that's the case, you probably wouldn't think of all of that with respect to masturbation. Or you might. I have no idea what masturbation means to you, your personal experience and history about this or how masturbating makes you feel. So there's really nothing for me to make of it at all except that you probably have a clitoris and can locate it. "

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:08 pm

Dargon wrote:However, when I left AVEN two years ago, despite the major media coverage (this was well after Montel and 20/20), the ideal presented by the media was common, but not the idea present on the community. To be honest, my observation from the community was that the "real" asexual was the person who was so off-put by sex that they would not so much as do the mutual masturbation thing, much less sex, under any circumstances. It was that faction that tended to show the most elitism. (just an aside, the rise of that attitude seemed to coincide nicely with the death of the non-libidoist fourm). That being said I am quite confident that if I went back, I'd be outright told that I am not a "true" asexual. (I'm not bitter or anything ;))

My point there is that the "ideal" asexual to the media and the "ideal" asexual to the community seem to be two different things.

However, neither camp should have exclusive rights to the name.


I think in the past couple years on AVEN, the masturbation issue has sort of come to a point where it's a non-issue (although I could be wrong). I've had some personal issues there myself, so I seldom check up on it. Having said that... since I talk about asexuality to people out in the world, who ultimately want more information... I need to have a feel for what AVEN is like. Especially when doing asexuality visibility stuff in queer circles-- I need to know what I'm sending people to read.

I suspect that some of the internal anti-sexual elitism that seems to ebb and flow (from my limited vantage point) has to do with moral issues around sex in society. We do live in a profoundly sex-negative culture... that mixed hypersexual images everywhere with really repressive puritanical moral prescriptions about sex, particularly for women. So not having anything to do with sex is a way to claim the moral high ground in that context (and rejecting others who disagree is a way to maintain it, if only for themselves). And it sucks. And I don't accept that morality. But I also suspect that this kind of puritanical elitism is supported because it works, particularly amid the Abstinence Only USA! (American social and political climate could be pretty significant given that a huge proportion of the AVEN membership and the media attention were coming from the US.)

But yeah... elitism sucks.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:48 pm

pretzelboy wrote:But I feel that there is something wrong with your history and that there is something about it that doesn't feel psychologically plausible.
The next one is later (October 14, 2004), but the title is revealing:
Am I really asexual?. Now, this person was new to asexuality. Because she is wondering if she is really asexual, shall we assume that it must be the case that she had read some media articles giving her an image of real asexuals?


I'm not entirely sure what all these quotations and this thread are meant to illustrate.
I do think it's important to consider context when looking at people's posts about whether or not they are asexual. Unless they specify, we don't know how they came to the idea, but obviously they heard about it somehow (popular media, word of mouth, inventing the word asexual and typing it into a search engine), and something about asexuality resonated personally. Okay, so the poster literally asks others if the label of asexuality would be suitable. What else is going on here? Keep in mind that an online asexual community is still a community, and that posts and interactions are social just like face-to-face conversations. A person needs an initiation strategy to join a conversation-- you don't just walk up to a group of people at a party and comment on their conversation... you say hello, and introduce yourself. A lot of what people are doing in questioning whether they would be asexual is establishing their position in the conversation: do they have a right to participate or should they be silent?

Coming into a new place and asking if you belong is a good way to enter the conversation. You could be bold and assert that you do in fact belong-- look I'm so completely asexual I belong so completely that I don't need anyone's permission. Someone who is more shy might try something more tentative, like "look at all these ways that I seem to belong here-- please tell me do I belong here?" It's not hard to see how that might be just as much of a quest for general community validation as validation of asexuality per se. The thread you linked to is about someone who has a history of abuse, and abuse survivors are constantly being told wierd things about what abuse might lead to. Note that the very first response is someone telling the poster that it doesn't matter *why* people are the way they are. It wasn't a statement about asexuality or lack of asexuality, it was a statement of "your past abuse doesn't control you-- just go from here". I don't think this is someone looking to conform to some definition of asexuality. And the responses to the post don't treat it that way. They treat it as someone seeking the validation-- telling them that they don't need to cling to the history of abuse and treat their perspective as a symptom. That has nothing to do with conforming to some version of asexuality.


pretzelboy wrote:I’ll just make two points that I think suggest the picture painted above is, in some ways, misleading even though there is a lot of truth to many parts.

[...]

Second, I certainly recognize that there are considerable social forces at work in our construction of asexuality; I fully recognize that it is an ideological matter, that it is us in the asexual community who define what asexuality is. Yet I have found in myself pressure to conform to some idea of ‘real asexuality.’ It is not a norm I find from the media. It is not a norm I see advocated on AVEN. It is a norm that I myself create; it is a recognition of vaguely sexual feelings that I fear may mean I’m not really asexual and yet are nowhere near enough to make me sexual either. It is a fear of being neither one thing nor the other, a fear of returning to a state of alienation and not belonging anywhere, of not being like anyone in this area of experience where people long for validation; it is this that gives rise to the fleeting feeling of the need to conform to some imaginary asexual norm. This makes me suspect that the psychological forces at work are not wholly--possibly not even mostly--from reactionary politics. Yet I will certainly agree that reactionary politics can have the effect of making people feel a need to conform to some socially acceptable asexual norm.


I'm going to skip over the realist part for now because I think that's another conversation entirely...

As to the rest... Something about the asexual community works for you. You're here. And you're quite involved. You even have your own blog and website dedicated to asexuality-related stuff. There's clearly something of yourself that you do see in asexuality. And your reaction-- the norm you yourself create-- is a reaction to something I was getting at.

There are a lot of people in the less-than-sexual / somewhat-asexual / grey-demi-hypo-ish zone. And as Clarity noted, whatever it is that brought you to the asexual community in the first place-- that alienation from sexuality or sexual interactions or whatever-- is something you share with everyone else in the asexual community.

What is it that keeps the entire grey zone relatively quiet? Why is it that we have this form of self-enforced silence (which ultimately prevents all the the grey zone folk to identify with each other)? Why is it that the no-sex-anything-ever asexual voice seems to be more legitimate than the many different flavours of maybe-some-sex-something-sometime asexual voice?

That's my point. I think we need to recognise our diversity, and that we need to value the breadth of our voices. Some of us may have "more" or "less" "asexualness" than others or have different kinds of "asexualness", but we're all real.

So yeah, I get that you may feel pressure to be "asexual" in some sense to as not to lose something you can identify with, so as not to tumble once again into the depths of alienation. I'm not trying to undermine that. And I get that the immediate pressure might come from within. But my point is that it shouldn't have to be that way. It could be different. We can make it different. (And reactionary politics just happen to be what made it that way in the first place.)

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby pretzelboy » Thu Sep 03, 2009 7:17 am

Regarding the quotes, I should have better explain why I felt they were relevant. Several of them come from a time before the AVEN forums existed. (Thos started at the end of May 2002.) I think these provide definite evidence that some people coming to the asexual community very early on had ideas, however vague, that there are "real asexuals," one person even talks about "textbook asexuals." Presumably, this was before there was much, possibly any, media coverage of asexuality that these people were aware of. To a large extent, I think the difference is one of how we conceptualize things. I probably place less emphasis on social, cultural, and political factors (though I certainly believe these are very important) than you, and often wonder to what extent things can be explained in terms of general reasoning ability/patterns/tendencies that exist across individuals and across cultures. (Not to say that everyeone reasons/thinks the same, but there I do feel that cross-culturally, we often find the same sort of range of thinking types, though these are manifested quite differently in response to different experiences/issues/etc.) At least, this is my impression of where the difference in thinking may lie. It may be something deeper, rooted in tendencies in how people think/reason/etc. that lead to some of these issues, and evidence for this seems to be provided by the fact that people have ideas of "real asexuality" before there is any media or cultural message communicating ideas about "the asexual."

Here's where I suspect a big part of it comes: people tend to be more likely to be persuaded by people we feel to be "like ourselves" in some significant way. What constitutes "significant" is highly depended on individual and contextual issues. I’m more easily persuaded by people who I know think similarly to myself than people I percieve to be “other” in some sense. This can be based on the standard sorts of sociocultural identy categories; it could be based on similar beliefs. (Many academics tends to read journals by people with similar theoretical orientation to themselves.) Perhaps this stems from a suspicion that these are the people more likely to be “right.” To some extent, we have to do this: there is so much information out there that we can’t read anything near all of it, so it’s in our interest to read that which we expect to be “the best” or the most informative or the most likely to be right, etc.

Another major component in belief and persuasion is perception of authority. If I’m interested in some topic, I’m going to want to read/talk to someone reputed to be very knowledgable about the subject ratehr than someone who is a complete ignoramous regarding the matter. When I first came to the asexual community, I saw it as “real” and as “established” in some sense. I saw that these were people with information on a subject and I wanted to learn about it. At first, there was this sense that what was said by those who seemed to be in-the-know was right. Now that I know a lot more about it, I feel much more entitled to be critical and to have my own opinion. In some sense, this is how learning goes in general: the more advanced we get in our education, the more we are expected to think critically and develop our own opinions and recognize that things are not set in stone. For much of our education, things are presented more as, “These are the facts; this is how things are.”

I suspect that similar dynamics are at work for many people first coming to the asexual community. They assume that there is “how things are.” There is a sense that asexuality is “real.” And they want to know if they are asexual or not. I think that it’s a valid question of what sorts of cutural factors are at play in the creation of people’s concepts of “asexuality.” But it’s also a valid question how much of this has to do with more individual psychological factors (that have commanality across lots of people) creating some of the trends that exist. Of course, one could say, “Where do those psychological factors come from? Society!” But you could just as well say, “What is society? The emergent properties of individuals interacting with each other, and the learning of norms, values, and beliefs in those contexts, learning which is done via innate learning mechanisms!”

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby ily » Thu Sep 03, 2009 11:48 am

Did anyone here ever NOT wonder if they were a "real" asexual? I ask because it seems so pervasive, and yet I can't remember ever doing this. Once I "officially" accepted that I was asexual, I don't recall having any serious doubts about it, even though I am far from "the ideal asexual" in many ways. There were times when I wished I wasn't asexual, but I didn't question the fact that I was. Maybe this is just my personality, because I tend to get VERY into things and I've always been pretty insusceptible to "peer pressure". It's very hard to just BE asexual. But since asexuality is an orientation, presumably like any other, it would then follow that most of us will, indeed, be asexual forever and no matter what. If this isn't the case, then there is some fundamental difference about asexuality. We're always like, "yes, but what if we find that we're not asexual in the future?" No other orientation that I know of thinks like this-- it's exhausting, really.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Clarity » Thu Sep 03, 2009 4:37 pm

I think there's tons of people who question their orientation constantly, in every label.

These statistics are completely subject to suspicion, but here's some quotes from a book called The Bisexual's Guide to the Universe[/i by Nicole Kristal and Mike Szymanski:


"Extensive Kinsey studies show that 37 percent of American men have achieved orgasm with other men, yet only 4 percent identify as gay."

"A large 2002 study in the [i]Advocate
, reveals that 40% of gay men at some point identify as bisexual."

"35 percent of bisexuals previously considered themselves gay or lesbian.--Ron C. Fox, psychotherapist, San Francisco"

"Most bisexuals understood their opposite-gender attraction at a prepubescent age and about three years later became aware of a same-sex attraction.--California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco"

"40 percent of gay men have had sex with women, and almost half still engage in sex with women as well as men, but don't call themselves bisexual.--James Spada, author of The Spada Report, a 1979 survey of gay male sexuality"

"20 percent of the general population experiences same-sex attraction some time in their lives.--Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, 1993"

"41.6 percent of the girls and 36.4 percent of the boys ages twelve to nineteen reported fantasizing about sex with both genders, according to a 1987 Minnesota Adolescent Health Survey."

"35 percent of lesbians and 17 percent of gay men report some sexual attraction to the opposite sex, whereas 39 percent of lesbians and 15 percent of gay men had sexual fantasies about the opposite sex in the past year. Even more dramatic, 75 percent of lesbians and 50 percent of gay men had had vaginal intercourse at some point in their lives.--ADVOCATE survey, 2002"

If other orientations don't think about what if things change in the future, it's because they're confident enough with their identity currently that they'll keep it regardless of future behavior or attractions, or else they'll change it if they need to. But they aren't all confident.

Look at the neuroticisms of macho culture in today's world--boys and men trying to prove how hetero they are.

And plenty of people on online bisexual forums are questioning, agonizingly. Bisexuals especially hear the "It's just a stage" thing.

I think the concept of an orientation is fundamentally flawed in that it doesn't describe either the majority or at least a very large minority of people well. And orientation assumes that someone's sexual and romantic attractions (fantasies of all stripe and in person in day to day life and in person during the act and in response to performances and 2D and 3D art) and sexual and romantic behaviors all have the same sex or all have both sexes as objects, or else don't exist. And if they do exist, they all (or at least those most important to sexual relationships and socializing) have to abundant. Asexuality does a good job in splitting up sexual and romantic attractions, but that's not nearly enough.

In short, the "fundamental difference" (if any) about asexuality as an orientation is that it's harder to seem to conform to an asexual ideal. Having sex with, pursuing a romantic relationship with, or using porn featuring a woman is enough to prove to yourself that you're a straight man or a lesbian woman. Any of the above with a man "proves" you're a straight woman or a gay man. Speaking about or internally focusing on one's bisexual attractions proves you're bi, even if you're not polyamorous. Having a history of sexual relationships with the partners you're supposed to be attracted to is reassurance of your orientation. With asexuality, you can't prove a negative. But just because some people want and have sex with men and rarely or never want or have sex with women, and vice versa, doesn't prove the existence of orientations either. While I won't dispute that there are probably "real" people of every orientation, that doesn't mean there aren't a huge number of people who aren't "really" of any orientation, and so they pick out what parts of their sexual experience are most important or relevant to them (or, worse, which align best with social or political pressures), draw a circle around them, hold onto them, and call themselves by that label. And will even say that the behavior or experiences outside the circle they drew don't invalidate use of that orientation label. But the problem there is someone else draws a different circle that only overlaps in places, and someone else draws another circle, and so on, until we only have a very vague idea about what anyone means by orientation (because human sexuality is very complex and diverse, as is human understanding of sexuality), but we all think and talk like we know a lot more.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby ily » Thu Sep 03, 2009 4:57 pm

"Extensive Kinsey studies show that 37 percent of American men have achieved orgasm with other men, yet only 4 percent identify as gay."

I've heard that kind of stat before, but I think it shows how resistant people are to questioning their orientations. Same with the macho guys. If those 37% of guys were constantly thinking about their sexual thoughts, experiences, etc and what that might mean, most of them would probably ID as gay or bi. They're trying to stay what they are, while we're finding every possible reason to not be asexual. I agree that orientation is kind of like drawing rough boundaries on an earth. It doesn't really respect the totality of what's actually present.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Clarity » Thu Sep 03, 2009 5:26 pm

Or maybe they're perfectly capable of orgasming from mutual masturbation or sexual activity with another man, but when they think about the psychological component, they're not attracted to men. And the psychological component's more important than the mechanical.

I mean, I'm sure some many would, in another time and place, identify as gay or bi. But then that opens the question: Which one, gay or bi? That usually seems to depend more on the social aspect of identity than on actual experiences or thoughts/attractions.

The asexual emphasis on "sexual attraction" is kinda bemusing when applied to the context of "bi or straight/gay". Because there are plenty of things that are undeniably sexual attraction or desire (fantasies and responses to stimuli) that someone can have to one sex, but they strongly prefer the other sex and so calling themselves "bi" would be useless. At least in describing past experiences and foreseeable future ones. Which, in the parallel, is why I keep flip-flopping on calling myself asexual: I don't fit the "asexual" definition of asexuality, but I have the sorts of attractions to both males and females that, say, a woman (who I know) who has questioned and experimented but still doesn't identify as bi has toward women.

A lot of this has just been confusion on my part, but I think for people who fit the stereotypical category for any sexual orientation, the only source of confusion is heteronormativity. My confusion is also rooted in the assumption that people have a clear orientation, which I interpreted as prescriptive. And which the scorn for questioning and/or experimenting people confirms. I think that if those 37% of guys were thinking clearly, a large portion of them would identify as "none of the above" or "I don't know" or "this question is biased to people portraying a certain pattern of attractions and behaviors".

More on ambiguous orientation:

If someone strongly craves sex with men, but only relationships with women, they might identify as lesbian or straight male despite having casual sexual encounters with men throughout their lives. (Hopefully with the knowledge and consent of their long-term female partners!) That's the equivalent of them saying they value their romantic orientation more than their sexual orientation and that it's also more useful in describing themselves. They may or may not actually be sexually attracted to women at all, but that doesn't matter. Some people might be annoyed that they don't identify as bi or gay male/straight woman, but honestly, who is that up to? It's a choice to give away any information about one's orientation, much less to go into the details.

I think that orientation self-identification is often a decision. And if people often choose the default--"I was a lesbian before; I'm a lesbian in my in-group; so I'm still a lesbian," or, "I was raised straight and I have a wife, so I'm still straight"--that's just as much a decision. People mostly choose the default on anything, even (or especially?) if it's high-pressure. I think even people who question their sexuality often go with the default when there isn't a clear answer. For me, the default is bisexual because it's what I first identified as. I also occasionally use other labels (just about every other label there is). So the default might change. But I don't think that it's wrong just because it's a default. I don't think it's right either, because I don't have enough information to tell if any of the labels are right. But I think that judgment still involves deciding what's important about orientation, or else almost everyone would identify as bi. And people don't all choose the same things as the important ones.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby pretzelboy » Thu Sep 03, 2009 7:04 pm

Clarity wrote:I think there's tons of people who question their orientation constantly, in every label.
"Extensive Kinsey studies show that 37 percent of American men have achieved orgasm with other men, yet only 4 percent identify as gay."

This "stat" actually comes from Kinsey et al.'s book "sexuality of the human male." A very presumptious title for a book that only used white males, most of whom lived in Indiana in the 1940's. His sampling methods were attrocious and so all of Kinsey's numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Or rather, make that a salt block. There was a rather large group of prisoners in that sample, if I recall correctly (they were readily available.) I don't think that men in prison are the most representative sample where same-sex encounters are concerned.

Nevertheless, Kinsey's numbers still get cited a lot. (Ever wonder where the number "10%" came from for the percent of the population that's gay? Kinsey.)

I also tend to be skeptical of lots of the other stats because who knows where they came from or what methodology was used (e.g. did some dude just make it up?) If I get a citation of a study, I can go look it up to see how much faith I feel I should put in that number. Also, I've long gotten the impression that bisexual politics has long had this desire to include as many people as possible under the label bisexual. (For example, the nonsense about everyone being [potentially] bisexual.) But that's just my impression. However, I think it's fair to say that bisexual politics has it's fair share of reactionary politics as well.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Clarity » Thu Sep 03, 2009 8:28 pm

pretzelboy wrote:
Clarity wrote:I think there's tons of people who question their orientation constantly, in every label.
"Extensive Kinsey studies show that 37 percent of American men have achieved orgasm with other men, yet only 4 percent identify as gay."

This "stat" actually comes from Kinsey et al.'s book "sexuality of the human male." A very presumptious title for a book that only used white males, most of whom lived in Indiana in the 1940's. His sampling methods were attrocious and so all of Kinsey's numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Or rather, make that a salt block. There was a rather large group of prisoners in that sample, if I recall correctly (they were readily available.) I don't think that men in prison are the most representative sample where same-sex encounters are concerned.

Nevertheless, Kinsey's numbers still get cited a lot. (Ever wonder where the number "10%" came from for the percent of the population that's gay? Kinsey.)

I also tend to be skeptical of lots of the other stats because who knows where they came from or what methodology was used (e.g. did some dude just make it up?) If I get a citation of a study, I can go look it up to see how much faith I feel I should put in that number. Also, I've long gotten the impression that bisexual politics has long had this desire to include as many people as possible under the label bisexual. (For example, the nonsense about everyone being [potentially] bisexual.) But that's just my impression. However, I think it's fair to say that bisexual politics has it's fair share of reactionary politics as well.


What do you think (if you know anything) about the Advocate survey results? I'm kinda curious about those in particular...

Yeah, I take these numbers with a block of salt, too. And this list, compiled by someone with an obvious point to get across, yeah. But I guess I don't really care about the frequencies of the general population, because I know that the frequency of this kinda thing among the people I gravitate to are pretty damn high, and, anyway, these things are real even if the statistical sample is not representative. As long as the numbers weren't made up, someone experienced that, and I don't think there's any use in ignoring them. (No use in spreading lies or misleading numbers, either, but, well, damn, I don't really have an excuse for that other than "I haven't seen any other statistics on similar things, which makes them the best info I have without actually looking for more (and that would be a battleground of politics and sloppy research), and they make the point I was trying to make".)

I didn't know the 10% number was Kinsey's. That makes me... wonder. If we're relying on him, does that mean we don't have any good statistics, or is it just the political Schelling point because anything more recent and less entrenched gets attacked from all sides for underrepresenting or overrepresenting some group or another? That plus meme power...

Anecdotally, IRL I know at least one lesbian who used to sleep with men and call herself straight, one gay man who used to sleep with women and call himself bi, one bi guy who thought he was gay before realizing he was also attracted to women, one gay man who used to call himself pan and experimented in a MMF threesome but was ehh about it, one gay man who I know dated women but that's all I know, two gay men who AFAIK never dated or slept with women, although one makes out with them, one guy who (I think) calls himself gay and is primarily gay but has casual sex with women, one lesbian who's never ever dated a man or anything, one lesbian who apparently does make out with/sleep with guys, one very bicurious but otherwise straight guy, a guy who "doesn't use labels", one bisexually active bi woman, some straight people who may or may not fantasize about the same sex and/or make out with people of the same sex at parties and possibly do stuff involving hands and parts of the body that are normally covered ("heteroflexible"), and that's all who I know that level of information for, not counting any long-distance or internet friends.

Just, from all that, I wouldn't be surprised if the bisexual advocates were right about it being more prevalent than people admit. "It" being rather broadly defined, bisexual behavior, attraction, or fantasies. And I kinda follow the reasoning that: Sex feels good to most people even without attraction, right? So wouldn't more people who only experience heterosexual orientation engage in bisexual behavior if there weren't all these taboos on homosexuality and bisexuality?

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Noskcaj.Llahsram » Thu Sep 03, 2009 10:49 pm

Firstly, as corny as it sound I have to say, Label are for cans, not people.
Bad humour out of the way, I believe that we all hold ourselves to an ideal, whether it is an ideal asexual, an ideal female, an ideal American, and ideal janitor, whatever; depends on what at that moment we are using to describe ourselves. Unfortunately, how people think is by association and example, these heuristic archetypes are often one dimensional beings, comprised solely of the (if we're using it to describe something ting in a positive manner) positive and perceived desirable traits, devoid of any other trait or flaw that a real individual would acquire normally. Not only do see these archetypes in the most unattainable of terms, but we tend to view them as immutable, blind to the fact that, like everything in human existence, they're in a constant state of flux. Now the more you deal/dwell with/on a particular archetype, the more evolved it becomes (not necessarily more accurate), and, assuming you still use it to positively describe you,the more you will seek to emulate it; ignoring the fact that it is a single face on a die, card in a deck, ingredient in a recipe, of which all components are required for a full being to actually exist.
our problem is no different from that of anyother group that uses a common moniker, except that ours is so non sequitur to even the most other related archetypes that we've had to construct one from (more or less) scratch; and our small group here has merely stumbled on to it half done. We'll never be able to remove this looming 'real asexual', nor will we be able to ever truly make it realistic; but like all noble aims, just because success is not an option, does not mean we should not try pursue it.
What is love? Well, you know that feeling you get when you've been locked in a tiny dark space alone for a year? It's kind of the opposite of that.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Sat Sep 05, 2009 7:25 pm

ily wrote:Did anyone here ever NOT wonder if they were a "real" asexual? I ask because it seems so pervasive, and yet I can't remember ever doing this. Once I "officially" accepted that I was asexual, I don't recall having any serious doubts about it, even though I am far from "the ideal asexual" in many ways.


I don't think I ever wondered whether or not I was a "real asexual". I wondered about other things, including whether or not there was a place for me in the asexual community-- not because I doubted my asexuality but for other reasons dealing more with philosophy and politics. But I never wondered whether I was a "real" asexual (maybe because I have serious revulsion to the very idea of "real" anything).

Claiming asexuality didn't make much different to me, except that I felt a little less freakish (which I really am in so many ways that I'm generally comfortable with in any event). What was life-changing for me in the discovery of asexuality was realising for the first time that the rest of the world *is not* asexual. That cleared up a lot of misunderstandings, both for me and some of the people around me, who were already thinking about me as asexual-- thinking that they invented the word to describe me. Asexuality suddenly gave me other people to point to when defending myself against the age-old criticisms that I basically couldn't exist as I claimed to exist. And I gained new words and ways of explaining how I had always experienced the world. Coming to asexuality is what really helped me get a better grasp of sexuality and why sexuality is such an important social force. It situated me with respect to other people so that I could genuinely begin navigating my way through the messy social world without bumping into too many things, and let me begin having good discussions where we everyone knew where to look in order to see eye to eye.

Noskcaj.Llahsram wrote:Bad humour out of the way, I believe that we all hold ourselves to an ideal, whether it is an ideal asexual, an ideal female, an ideal American, and ideal janitor, whatever; depends on what at that moment we are using to describe ourselves.


I actually don't think that's true-- or at least not necessarily true. (I realise that sometimes I wax idealistic, but even though what you say may be true for a lot of people, I really believe that it's equally not so true for another lot of people.)

For me asexuality really functions as a descriptor of my starting point perspective, mitigated and modified by the rest of my perspective, just like "north" is useful in giving directions. It's got nothing to do with ideals (which if I consider them, I don't fit and don't care to fit). It wouldn't matter so much except that in addition to being asexual, I kind of do human relationships in ways that aren't always intelligible to a lot of people. Describing asexuality and myself as asexual is a good way to get people thinking of things that will ultimately get them a little closer to understanding the relationships I actually have. I know a couple other people who seem to experience asexual identity in similar ways.

Noskcaj.Llahsram wrote:We'll never be able to remove this looming 'real asexual', nor will we be able to ever truly make it realistic; but like all noble aims, just because success is not an option, does not mean we should not try pursue it.


That's sort of what I'm thinking about, except that I do believe it's at least theoretically possible to overcome the looming "real asexual". I don't know if we'll manage it, but I do believe we have it within us to do so.

pretzelboy wrote:Nevertheless, Kinsey's numbers still get cited a lot. (Ever wonder where the number "10%" came from for the percent of the population that's gay? Kinsey.)


Originally it came from Kinsey, but people didn't just accept it as though he were Aristotle in 11th Century Europe. I've seen several dozen original empirical studies trying to determine the prevalence of "homosexuality" in the general population, with different kinds of samples, definitions, recruiting methods, sample sizes etc. I've seen estimates between 1% and 30%, and a number also around the 8-15% range.

10% isn't just what Kinsey said, it's also a number that the huge political battle-mongerers are willing to agree to disagree with. I suspect that this 10% persists because 1) it's a happy medium in a political war zone and 2) it's a neat round number in a base 10 system. Regardless, it's not just a single-study meme. Lots and lots of decently conducted research out there... and several meta-analyses concluding numbers around 10%. Kinsey is just the most well-known.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby sinisterporpoise » Mon Sep 07, 2009 11:09 am

Being what passes for an asexual member of the media at the moment, this bothers me. By the way, if you want additional areas you want covered, it'll make the task of coming up with story ideas easier.

Now that my shameless self-promotion isout ofthe way. The one thing I would like to know is why is the ideal asexual always male?

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Clarity » Mon Sep 07, 2009 3:10 pm

I think you answered your own question, sinister:

Perhaps the need for a male stems from our views on sex and the current expectations of how men relate to the opposite sex. It is okay for a woman not to want sex, but a man who does not have a constant porno film running in his mind is somehow broken.


The other unspoken attitude towards a female asexual is that she is simply frigid.


Perhaps as a male you've never experienced the violent outbursts people who want sex from females tend to have toward females who don't want sex with them. And there is just such a stereotype of a large category of females being cold fish, etc, that a female not wanting sex is something that people can nod to and forget, whereas the idea of an attractive male not wanting sex is something that makes people's ears prick up. I don't see this so much as people seeing asexual males as broken because they don't have a high sex drive (but I'm sure that exists too)--it's just not a pre-existing stereotype. Also, there's so much on the positive side about giving females the choice to say "no" and respecting their wishes if they don't want to have sex, and that strengthens the cultural acceptance of the possibility of a female not wanting sex. But this concept isn't one that considers the sheer scope of asexuality as an orientation, so people don't learn much if they just say asexual female = cold fish. Not passionate enough, not confident enough, incapable of feeling pleasure, all that nice stuff people think about some women.

Edit: To clarify, basically, being a woman asexual is pretty much the same as being an asexual with a physical illness or a history of abuse. People can explain away your orientation/identity in other terms, but our culture doesn't provide another story for asexual males.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby pretzelboy » Mon Sep 07, 2009 3:56 pm

I don't think that the "ideal asexual" that might be constructed by the media has to be male. I'm actually (sort of) skeptical about if an ideal image of asexuality is being constructed by the media. Although there is definitely is some truth to the notion.

When people are confronted with information that doesn't fit in their current conception of things, there are a few possible ways to deal with this. If the new information fits really easily (e.g. they know someone who fits the description of asexual or they have a very broad idea of the range of human sexuality such that it just makes sense that asexuals exist), it will probably be incorporated into their beliefs pretty quickly. If it challenges their views, they have one of two options: change their opinion or find a justification for maintaining their views in spite of (supposed) evidence to the contrary. In the case of asexuality, this means using various ideas (especially culturally prominent ones though it is perfectly possible for someone to use a highly idiosyncratic one instead) about why someone might claim to be asexual but not really be asexual. e.g. lack of experience, history of abuse, fear of accepting their true sexuality, hormonal problems, not having met right person, being a late bloomer, being too ugly to get laid, etc. (and different people may employ different explanations.)

Given that people presenting asexuality to the masses know that many readers/viewers will be skeptical, they may try to maximize acceptance of asexuality by using people for whom such rationalizations are least likely to apply. This probably puts similar pressures on a number of people which can be extrapolated over to create an "idea." (However, I'll bet that anyone who decided to take the time to actually look at all the asexuals presented in the media, you'll probably find a much more nuanced view of tihngs, and most of the "ideals" have exceptions. This has regularly been my experience when researching things for my blog when I want to find examples to justify my claims.)

Also, I think that this reason for "ideal asexuals" in the media provides support for the idea that the media-created "ideal asexual" might have minimal relevance within the asexual community. In the asexual community, people tend to react very negatively to these dismissals of claims of asexuality. (Though it is possible that certain people may be excluded to justify these claims' rejection, and that would constitute reactionary politics. I'm not sure how much of this I've seen in the asexual community, however. I acknowledge that it is a real danger. But I don't anticipate a lot of people being driven away from the asexual community by being told they haven't had sex with the right person or they're probably a late bloomer, etc. so they're not a real asexual.)

I'm skeptical of the degree to which media idealization constructs an image of an ideal asexual because there probably aren't a lot of people reading lots of media articles (and nothing by asexuals) and constructing some asexual prototype based on that. As for the ideal asexual being male, that's simply not true. There are lots of female asexuals in the media.

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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Siggy » Tue Sep 08, 2009 5:41 pm

I only really skimmed this thread (it's so long!), but I would like to add two more ideas.

First idea! We aren't just talking about one "ideal" asexual, but two! First is the "ideal" asexuality described by Omnes, and second is the "ideal" asexuality described by pretzelboy. One "ideal" is enforced by political criticism, and the other is enforced by the asexual community itself. They are similar, but have some differences. For instance, being good looking ("the kind of guy who could get some if he wanted to") is part of the political ideal, but not part of the community ideal. It's something the media loves to mention, but I can't imagine that anyone on AVEN cares about that, except with relation to our political goals.

Second idea! Perhaps some of the community-based "ideal" stereotype is justified? I do not think it is impossible for someone to mistakenly believe themself to be asexual. I'm not sure which traits are most indicative of such a person, but I can guess. And I wouldn't be the first person to have tried guessing.

The thing is, there isn't really anything wrong with being gray-A or sexual as opposed to asexual. There isn't anything wrong with making a tentative conclusion which can be found wrong later. Nonetheless, I think some people still feel shame for it. Is this shame internally or externally motivated? That is to say, is it caused by people wanting to fit a group, wanting to get definitive answers, or is it caused by a desire to appear more legitimate to the outside?

I'm inclined to say that it's primarily internally motivated, because that's how it was for me, anyways.

Clarity
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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby Clarity » Tue Sep 15, 2009 10:16 am

This article is amazing: http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/46345

Apparently originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle and written by Demian Bulwa, it's titled "Sex? Asexuals say who needs it?" I'm assuming a lot of y'all know about it.

It starts off discussing a 48-year-old asexual lesbian who seems mildly repulsed by sex. Definitely not what we might be arguing is the media-constructed ideal asexual. But it's self-conscious of the asexual ideal:

Into that breach came the great uniter of obscure groups -- the Internet -- and Jay, whom many asexuals consider to be an ideal spokesman. Young, charismatic and good-looking, here is a man, they say, who could have sex if he wanted to.


Although there's that (probably unintended) slight implication that it's asexuals who are driving the media to present an ideal asexual. Which has more than a grain of truth in it--asexual advocates want to put their best foot forward and escape any criticisms, of course.

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ily
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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby ily » Tue Sep 15, 2009 11:27 am

Yeah, that's the article I was talking about on Pg. 1 on this thread. That quote bothered me because who are "many asexuals" and who is the "they" of "they say"? It's not as if we got together and elected David to be the spokesman, but that's how the article makes it sound.

pretzelboy
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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby pretzelboy » Tue Sep 15, 2009 11:33 am

We didn't elect him. It's more like he took the lead because he was the person most motivated to do so, and there haven't been any serious objections because he's so good at it. But I feel like calling him an "ideal spokesman," there is almost an implicit recognition that the reality of the situation is being masked by having this ideal. We typically don't call something an ideal unless we are recognizing that that's not how things actually are.

sinisterporpoise
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Re: reactionary politics and prescriptive asexuality

Postby sinisterporpoise » Wed Sep 16, 2009 11:53 am

The bloggers are stepping forward and taking up the work David Jay started. They can do more than someone like me can do, unless I can convince Examiner.com to make my column national, which will result in probably only a few more extra page views.