Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sex-negativity and asexuality

When I talk about reactions to asexuality, I mostly discuss reactions from sex-positive and non-religious people.  This emphasis is decided by what's most relevant to me in my own life.  My social circles mainly consist of queers, physicists, and skeptics, none of which are particularly sex-negative or religious.

But a fuller understanding demands that I also speak of the reactions from sex-negative and religious people.*  Do they love asexuals?  Do they think asexuals are aberrations to be discouraged?  Do they shrug their shoulders and move on?  Do they shrug their shoulders and stab asexuals in the back when it comes to substantive issues?  If only I had the relevant experience to say!

*In American culture, religion tends to be associated with sex-negativity, but of course this isn't true in general.  All my comments have limited applicability.

Nonetheless, I will blather on as if I really did know what I was talking about.  I will give two examples.  These are not representative examples, but the worst examples I have ever seen on the internet.  (I wouldn't be surprised if the only hits these websites get anymore are from angry asexuals.)  These examples do not tell you what will go wrong, but what could go wrong.

Here's the first one:
Question: What do you call a person who is asexual? Answer: Not a person. Asexual people do not exist. Sexuality is a gift from God and thus a fundamental part of our human identity. Those who repress their sexuality are not living as God created them to be: fully alive and well. As such, they're most likely unhappy.
--"Eight Myths about Religious Life", on the Catholic Religious Vocation Network
The authors of this article are responding to myths about people in religious orders.  One of those myths is that these people are asexual.  Of course, the authors don't know that there is actually a group of people who identify as asexual, they just see "asexual" as an insult.  Therefore, this is not an intentional attack on asexuals.  It's unintentional.  It's still an attack though.  (It's not as if good intentions magically reverse reality.)

You can see in there several myths about asexuality right off the bat.  "Asexual" is an insult, the ultimate way to dehumanize someone.  Asexuals must be repressing themselves.  They must be unhappy.  And you can see that these myths spring directly from their view of sexuality as a gift from God.

It's definitely possible to reconcile asexuality with the view of God-given sexuality.  But if you believed in God-given sexuality, asexuality is certainly not what you'd initially expect!  You wouldn't have guessed that God gave one of his greatest gifts to only some people.  You wouldn't have guessed that these people can come to value different things and be just as happy.

Sometimes atheists get asked, disingenuously, how they can believe in love when it's just a bunch of bouncing chemicals.  But I actually think this is one of the greatest things about the naturalistic worldview.  Love is just a chemical pattern, which doesn't mean it can't be great.  But its greatness is not a fundamental fact of reality, it is derivative, contingent.  So if you have some people who don't fall in love, or other people who don't care for sex, that can be great for them too.

The other example is from Celibrate, a website that "provide[s] support, encouragement, advice, information and acceptance for everyone living without sex".  By itself that's fine enough.  Since asexuality is one reason people might be celibate, they have a nice section on asexuality.  And then there's this paragraph at the end:
Misleading websites have appeared that suggest asexuality has much in common with homosexuality, some going so far as to say that one can be homo-asexual. However, a person identifying as such is more likely to be a homosexual practicing celibacy. Of course, asexuals often have an aesthetic attraction to either one sex or the other, but this is not the same as a sexual attraction. Generally speaking, in terms of sex drive and desire, the homosexual and the asexual could not be further apart.
--From Celibrate: Celebrating Celibacy
This reminds me of a dream I had.*  I was watching TV (who does that anymore?) and there was a newsperson giving a public service announcement, something about cigarettes and cancer.  And then the newsperson inexplicably stops as if something more important just came up.  He turns his head, looks at me--not any else--and says, "Fuck you."

*This is fictional.

Yeah, so the quote is pretty homophobic.  It seems out of place in an introduction to asexuality.  No parallel comments are implied about hetero-asexuals.  And you can tell that they're using the stupid version of the sexual spectrum.  (I'm pretty sure I stole this idea from Kaz at some point.)

asexual -------------- straight -------------- gay
robots? ----------- normal folks ----------- OMG buttsex

And that's why their response to asexual plus gay is "Does Not Compute".

Homophobia really is a serious barrier to accepting asexuality.  I can't talk to people about asexuality when they don't even accept the more basic concept of homosexuality.  Like, if someone still thinks being gay is a choice, or that homosexuality is wrong because men and women are complementary, or that gay stereotypes are accurate, what am I supposed to say to that?  How am I supposed to talk about attraction vs behavior vs identity in any sophisticated way?  How am I supposed to talk about societal expectations, gender roles, or asexual stereotypes?

And if they don't like the significant fraction of asexuals who are gay/lesbian, who knows what other subgroups they'd toss out.  Bi asexuals.  Asexuals with gender issues.  Asexuals who talk about sex, or make sex jokes.  Asexuals with a sexual history, or present sexual activity.  Asexuals who look at porn.  Kinky asexuals.  These groups are not just necessary for the people within them, but also for the community's spirit of self-exploration.  It's hard to explore when large swaths are declared off-limits for no good reason.

The worst part about it is that it makes me paranoid.  Even if a sex-negative person gives a positive or neutral response to asexuality, I tend to distrust them.  Do they yet know what the asexual community is like?  And when they find out, will they still be friendly?

Finally, I'd like to say that sex-positive people have got it all wrong about sex-negative people.  Sex-positive people are like:

But so-called sex-negative people can be sort of the same way.  Remember, "sex-negative" is only a term given them by their opponents.  Sometimes, sex-negativity is really all about how unquestionably great sex is, as long as you are having sex the right way at the right time.

And other times, sex-negative people are not so bad.  Darn it, why people gotta be so varied?  They're preventing me from overgeneralizing.