Friday, September 24, 2010

Asexuality is queer

This has nothing to do with skepticism,* but for some time I've wanted to write about the relationship between asexuals and the queer community.  This topic is close to my heart, because I live in that intersection.  I openly identify as gay and asexual (or more precisely, between the two).  Clearly, it's in my interest that these groups get along and be allies to each other.  But I also think that these groups should be together because they advance each others' causes.

*Note that my blog has always included topics of little relevance to skepticism, since the beginning.

The queer ideal is to be radically inclusive of all gender and sexual minorities.  This does not just mean gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.  This means pansexual, intersex, polyamory, fetishism, questioning, fluidity, asexual, and the intersection of all these minorities with gender, ethnicity, disability, social class, and anything else you can imagine.  The queer ideal is to destroy all the false binaries and societal norms that unduly disadvantage these minorities.  That's the impossible dream.

Asexuals belong in that dream, but not just because asexuals are a sexual minority.  Nor is it because asexuals physically overlap with those other minorities, though there is indeed a large overlap.

A breakdown of the community on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.  Some caution is advised, since this is based only on two internet surveys, but we're not going to have much better data than this for a long time.  "Romantic orientation" tells us which gender(s), if any, the asexual is inclined to form romantic relationships with.  "Assigned" refers to the gender (male or female) assigned at birth.  "Cis" means having the same gender identity as the gender assigned at birth.

Asexuality belongs in the impossible dream because it challenges many of our deeply held assumptions about sexuality and relationships.  It challenges the assumption that sex and romance always go together.  We all sort of knew that already, in the back of our minds, but there is no clearer demonstration than the existence of people who experience romantic feelings, but not sexual desire.  And clearly nonsexual relationships are not any more "pure"; this is just how people are, and it has nothing to do with virtue.

Asexuality challenges us to seriously talk about fluidity.  People often assume that asexuals are just "late bloomers" or they haven't met the "right person".  These people have a very naive view of fluidity, as if everyone is constantly changing, but changing in specific directions conforming to specific norms.  Many asexuals don't change, but a few do.  And that's okay, because people can identify as something without having to commit permanently with absolute certainty.  The best we can do is provide a space where people are allowed to question themselves, and where new self-discoveries are accepted, even celebrated.  Fluidity is not betrayal, after all.

Asexuality challenges the assumption that romantic and sexual relationships are the ultimate form of interpersonal relationship and success.  If that's the case, why do people get on just fine without them?  Sexual relationships are seen as the best and only source of intimacy in our lives, but in fact there are other sources.  We have our friends, and our communities, and we can make new relationships which are uncategorizable as either friends or romantic partners.  The same way gay people opened up new possibilities for sexual relationships, asexuals have the power to open up new possibilities for nonsexual relationships.

Sadly, the impossible dream is not here, and asexuals know it.  The asexual community is split between the people who want to be part of queer, and the people who don't (clearly I am radically in favor of the former).  When you ask people in the latter group why, they give three reasons.  The first reason is that they are not gay, and thus do not belong in the gay community.  I think this is sad, because it indicates that the queer community is doing so poorly at its goal of radical inclusiveness, that people don't even recognize it as anything more than a group for gay people.

The second reason is that they feel that we need separate spaces.  This objection is just based on a simple misunderstanding.  I am not advocating that we dissolve our separate communities and merge into an amorphous whole.  I am advocating that we all be allies and friends, that we fight for each other's causes, and we make our respective spaces safe for each other.

The third reason people give is that they tried to join a queer group, but it didn't turn out well.  Many asexuals, when they first discover the concept, initially assume that the place to go is the queer community.  And then when they get there, they find that some queer groups are no more accepting than anyone else.  Sometimes they are sex-positive in the most naive way.  Often they're just ignorant about it, occasionally willfully ignorant.

A more difficult problem is the focus of such groups.  They focus a lot on sex.  And that's great until it comes at the exclusion of everything else.  When that's all there is, I feel there's a lack of imagination.

And in case this all seems hopeless, let me just say: I am typing this from a queer space right this moment.  I am sitting in an LGBT themed house, where I often get food and internet.  I like it here a lot.  I recognize that the reason I can be happy in queer spaces is due a fortunate series of circumstances.  But some of these circumstances are no accident!  It's an accident that I am privileged enough to be able to go to university, but it's not an accident that university queer groups are so successful at being radically inclusive.  This is the result of an intentional and sustained effort.  Let's keep it up!

1 comment:

miller said...

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