Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Attacks on my boyfriend

This was cross-posted on The Asexual Agenda.

I'm openly asexual, and I also pay attention to media mentions of asexuality.  So I've heard all the standard attacks and denials.  I can handle them.

But here's what I think is particularly nasty: attacks on my boyfriend.

This happened a few times in my boyfriend's circle of friends.  It's a fairly typical circle of friends in that it consists of people who are mostly the same age, race, and social class.  This particular circle consists mostly of gay white educated young men.  They're my friends too, of course, and I have nothing against them.

A year ago, one of these men, named J, found out that my boyfriend and I were going to an asexual meetup that weekend.  Meetups are something we do on occasion.  We go to a cafe and have casual conversations about whatever people like.  More often than not, what we discuss has nothing to do with asexuality.  J seemed to have a different image in mind though.  J accused my boyfriend, over instant messages, of getting into a sexless relationship for me.  He said I was trying to convert him to asexuality.

On a more recent occasion, my boyfriend went to a movie night.  This is something we do every few weeks, but this particular week I was out of town so he was there without me.  The host of the movie night says to my boyfriend, "So, I heard you were asexual.  What's that about?"  My boyfriend had to explain that I was asexual, but he wasn't.  This led to a situation where all his friends were quizzing him on asexuality.

My boyfriend felt very uncomfortable, because he felt put on the spot to defend the legitimacy of our relationship to his friends.  He felt like he was in a double-bind.  First they assumed that we're in a sexless relationship, and then they questioned the legitimacy of sexless relationships.  My boyfriend wanted to inform them that our relationship is sexually active, but also didn't want to imply that sexless relationships were somehow less legitimate.

That's what bothered my boyfriend the most, but I was more bothered by the larger pattern of behavior.  They pounced on him when I wasn't there.  It felt like they were using underhanded tactics to hit me at my weak spot.  And they've never mentioned any of it to me, even though my boyfriend said they should redirect questions to me.

It's true that I'm not as close of a friend to them, and that may explain their behavior.  But if they were really interested in learning about asexuality, they should have asked the more knowledgeable person.  My boyfriend is not asexual.  He gets all his information about asexuality secondhand through me.  He doesn't necessarily know how to respond to all the standard attacks.  And why should he have to?  Asexuality isn't his own lived experience.

On another occasion, a different friend said to me in front of my boyfriend, "You're the most sexually active asexual I know."  That was awkward, and assumed knowledge about our sex lives.  But you know, that wasn't as bad, because at least he said it to my face.


Unknown said...

Sorry to hear about your experience. I think it's probably the case that your boyfriend's friends' suspicions of your motives are likely driven more by ignorance than anything else. I feel as though I can confidently assert this because I am completely ignorant about asexuality (beyond the basic definition of the word) and I can easily see where they're coming from. Now don't get me wrong, you sound like a genuine person and I find it very likely that my own ignorance is seriously impeding my ability to understand the dynamics of a relationship such as yours. Putting this aside for one moment, however, I think that I can probably shed some light on the thought processes that have led to people's concern for your boyfriends welfare and suspicion of your motives.

First of all, on the surface it seems strange that someone who self-identifies as asexual would choose to engage in sexual activity. A natural assumption is that there must be some motive other than enjoyment - perhaps unscrupulous - such as keeping a partner satisfied until you can "convert" them. Please understand that I am not saying that this IS the case - I find it highly unlikely in light of your post - but I would consider it a natural conclusion for somebody with a naive conception of asexuality to draw.

Secondly, I can understand why people might think that your boyfriend, as a non-asexual, has resigned himself to an impoverished sex life by committing to a monogamous relationship with an asexual partner. Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate why people might think this is to impart my own experience as a non-asexual in a sexual relationship.

I really don't think that I would enjoy having sex with my girlfriend unless I knew that she was "into it". I've actually asked her numerous times whether she gets sexual gratification when we engage in certain sex acts because I wouldn't like to think that she was participating just to please me. For me, sex is all about having a shared sexual experience. Perhaps your boyfriend's friends are similar to me in this respect and are (quite possibly erroneously) assuming that your boyfriend is like this too, and hence, cannot be getting his sexual needs fully met in your relationship (or at least that he won't in the long run). Now I know that it would be rather presumptuous of somebody to think this but the fact of the matter is, people ARE presumptuous when it comes to assuming that others shares their view. In fact, I suspect that the false consensus effect could be largely responsible for these people's behaviour. They might think that because THEY wouldn't be satisfied in a relationship such as yours that your boyfriend must not be either, and because they care about his welfare, they might be tempted to persuade him that he'd be better off in relationship with a sexual partner.

Of course to reach such a conclusion one must fail to seriously consider that your boyfriend is perfectly happy with your relationship and sex life. It is also slightly patronising to assume that he is incapable of making decisions about his life independently. Nevertheless, I think that this is at least a plausible explanation of your boyfriend's friends' behaviour and certainly reflects conclusions I might draw myself if not for my tendency to reserve judgement when conscious of my own ignorance and biases.

Unknown said...

*Continuation of my previous post which exceeded the character limit*

Now, PLEASE don't see anything I've written as attacking or accusatory. I've merely attempted to explain a line of thinking that at least makes SENSE to me, even if I don't necessarily agree with it. I would love to hear you reaction to these thoughts and your explanation as to why such thinking, steeped in ignorance, leads to inaccurate conclusions.

Ultimately, I think that until a greater understanding and acceptance of asexuality is widespread, asexual people are bound to encounter this sort of unfair judgement from time to time. I welcome the opportunity to be educated and to educate others in-turn whenever the opportunity presents itself!

Oh, and if your wondering why I'm suddenly all over your blog, it's mainly because I have something very important to do and I've found that commenting here is a fantastic way to procrastinate! :D Also, it's a generally interesting blog ;)

miller said...

I should say, I wasn't so much confused by the reaction as I was simply annoyed by it. I think you got it right with their motivations. There's also an extra dimension added by the fact that they're gay. They're used to all sorts of political opponents, and it's not hard to imagine asexuals as some sort of ex-gay or celibate gay movement. In reality, identifying as asexual is political, but not like that; it's about asserting sexual diversity and freedom, not about encouraging celibacy. (Similarly, some believe that trans women are all about making gay men straight again. It's paranoid and harmful, but I see where it's coming from.)

I should correct an assumption(?) of yours that asexuality necessarily implies that I'm not "into" sex. That's what it is for many asexuals, but it's not an essential trait.

Unknown said...

I didn't realise that asexuality was linked to homosexuality in any way. Why might some consider it to be an ex-gay or celibate-gay movement? Isn't it simply the lack of sexual feelings and desire irrespective of gender? Also, why would identifying as asexual be political? Isn't it simply the most accurate and concise way of describing your sexuality (or lack of, as the case may be)?

I should clarify what I meant by being "into" sex. "perusing and obtaining sexual gratification" captures it nicely. Implied here is that there is a real distinction between non-sexual gratification and sexual gratification, which I believe there is. Assuming that you agree, would you say that in order to correctly describe oneself as asexual it is necessary to not experience the latter? I should say that I'm entirely open to the possibility that I have an overly simplistic understanding of asexuality. In fact, I find it likely - though I'd be interested to learn more about the nuances.

miller said...

I didn't realise that asexuality was linked to homosexuality in any way. Why might some consider it to be an ex-gay or celibate-gay movement?
Because they don't know any better. Because there are plenty of religious groups out there who claim to be gay-friendly but don't want gay people having sex.

Also, why would identifying as asexual be political?
All identities are political.

Assuming that you agree, would you say that in order to correctly describe oneself as asexual it is necessary to not experience the latter?
No I would not say that. For the past decade, the community has found it most useful to adhere to a particular definition: an asexual is someone who doesn't experience sexual attraction. See my 101 page on the sidebar. As such, an asexual may experience sexual gratification, whatever that means.

Additionally, in my case, I'm on the asexual spectrum rather than asexual per se.