Sunday, December 1, 2013

Negative may be better than the alternative

This post was crossposted on The Asexual Agenda.

Earlier I saw a post by Anagnori expressing a sentiment I've seen several times before: Why do we have to define asexuality in a "negative" way, in terms of what asexuals don't experience?

The desire is there, but for the most part no one is really able to come up with a "positive" alternative.  So no one really knows what it would be like to have a "positive" form of asexuality.

However, I can analogize it to another "negative" label that has come up with "positive" alternatives: atheism.  Atheism is also defined as a lack.  But there have been many attempts by many groups to come up with "positive" alternatives.  Words like "humanist", "skeptic", "secularist", and "freethinker" are examples.  And even where these labels are not used explicitly, many "atheist" communities de facto have positive values--people not sharing those values are either pushed out or made to feel out of place.

This strategy has costs and benefits.  The benefit is a more coherent goal, and more power to achieve that goal.  The cost is divisiveness.

Division isn't really a bad thing in itself.  For instance, it's not bad that the atheist and asexual communities are divided, that just makes sense!  In terms of atheist communities, I don't really mind if supernaturalist atheists aren't part of my community--we don't have much in common anyway.  No, what's wrong with divisiveness among atheists is that atheism is not just a political cause, but also a minority identity.  (I developed this idea more in a post on my blog.)  Atheists can in principle have all sorts of political views, and yet they may still need community support by virtue of being a minority in a religious society.  If some people feel unwelcome in mainstream atheist communities, or worse, there are big clashes between different atheist communities, that's the price we have to pay.

When I apply these costs and benefits to asexuality, it just doesn't make sense to turn asexuality into a more "positive" label.  Is there a particular need for a more coherent goal?  Is it worth the divisiveness?

Asexuality serves more as a minority identity than a political cause.  If you find an alternative positive meaning, it will exclude people.  For example, you could create a definition in terms of queerplatonic relationships (ie strong relationships that are neither friendships nor romantic), but personally I'm not interested in those relationships.  I'd be willing to politically advocate for their legitimacy, but not to participate in them.  If asexuality were a political cause, that would be fine.  But since it's a minority identity, it's not fine, it's exclusionary.

Another example: A lot of asexuals (especially in the blogging community) are very pro-feminist.  Feminism--there's a positive value for you.  But do you feel comfortable with branding asexuality as a kind of feminism, perhaps the kind of feminism that emphasizes sexual diversity, loves reductionism, and has sophisticated views on "sex-positivity"?  Those things are great, but given how often asexuals feel their identities delegitimized, I'd like to reduce the pressure on asexuals to be anything in particular.  (In contrast, I'm just fine with atheist communities where atheism is closely associated with feminism.)

So based on my experience, I just don't see a "positive" definition of asexuality as being a good thing.  I think it would lead to misery.

Of course, arguments from analogy are always sketchy.  Would we come to the same conclusion if we considered other analogies?  There's probably something to be learned from non-binary people, for instance.