In my previous post, I discussed how different orientation labels not only have direct meanings, but also oppositional meanings. For example, "straight" has the connotation of "as opposed to gay".
The inspiration for this topic was the concept of
"privilege". When we talk about White privilege, we're implicitly
talking about White (as opposed to Black) privilege. When we talk about
male privilege, we're implicitly talking about male (as opposed to
female) privilege. When we talk about straight privilege, we're
implicitly talking about straight (as opposed to gay) privilege.
In particular, the inspiration for this topic, was the concept
of "allosexual privilege" (aka "sexual privilege" or "non-asexual
privilege". "Allosexual privilege" is a discredited concept, and has
been since 2011. When the idea was first proposed, it received a lot of
pushback, and was the center of a lot of drama. By now, many problems
have been identified,* and even its earlier proponents have long been
disillusioned. However, I believe that people have so far missed the
heart of the problem, which has to do with the technicalities of our
*For example, people originally called it "sexual
privilege", but it became clear that there are some justifiable
complaints about the word "sexual". This is basically the origin story
of the word "allosexual".
"Privilege" is a way to talk about the minority group by
talking about the majority group instead. The minority group has
certain problems that need attention. That is to say, they need
attention from people with power. Often the people with the most
power are people in the majority group. So how do we make the minority
group's problems relevant to the majority? We reframe minority
problems as majority privileges.
Crucial to the reframing tactic is that there are only two groups, the majority and the minority. Privilege requires a majority/minority binary. When there are two or more minority groups, the rhetoric falls apart.
When people tried to use "privilege" to talk about
asexual problems, no one even thought to talk about "straight
privilege". Because "straight" means straight (as opposed to gay), not
straight (as opposed to asexual). Instead, people talked about
"allosexual privilege". The problem is that "allosexual" refers equally
to straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual orientations. Many asexual
problems are shared by gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Thus, a list
of allosexual privileges risks erasing gay/lesbian/bisexual problems,
despite no one intending to.
By all rights, people should have been talking about
straight (as opposed to asexual) privileges. But this is impossible,
because there is no word for "straight" that connotes "as opposed to
asexual". If you look up lists of straight privileges, you will have
trouble finding any items that address asexual-specific issues.
A corrolary: similar problems would arise if people
attempt to apply "privilege" to other "secondary" minority groups such as Asian
Americans, bisexuals, and possibly people with non-binary genders. Of
course, each case will be affected by its own particular details.
do not mourn the loss of "privilege" as applied to asexuality. The
truth is, "privilege" is not a very good concept. "Privilege" is
supposed to be a billboard word, something you use in public outreach
when there isn't room for more than a few words. In practice,
"privilege" requires so much more explanation. When you tell someone
they have privilege, people don't know what to do with that, and they
often feel accused. Often, I think we can do better by tabooing the word "privilege", to explain what we mean with different words.
Throughout this post, I referred to "privilege" as a
framing device, or a public outreach tool. I've noticed that many
people who talk about privilege appear to take it more seriously,
reifying it into a real thing. That is to say, privilege is thought of
as a mechanism for the oppression or marginalization of certain
groups. People acquire certain privileges, and through some
unexplained process deprive others of those same privileges. I
explicitly reject this view of privilege as not just wrong, but not even
wrong. It's just unclear what any of it even means. It could mean
something completely vacuous, or something completely outrageous, and I
think it's all a setup to equivocate between the two.
In this post, I've explained why "allosexual privilege"
failed, and it had nothing to do with the particular problems of asexual
people (except that these problems strongly overlap with LGB people).
It only had to do with language technicalities. I believe this supports
my view that "privilege" is merely an
educational tool. If privilege were "real", then it would be
impossible to talk about the same problems without referencing the
advantages gained by straight people. In fact, people still talk about
the same asexual problems, and have simply adopted different language to
describe them, like "amatonormativity" or "compulsory sexuality".