I’ve been meaning to provide a comprehensive overview of the so-called “ace discourse” that seems to course through the internet every few years, like a UTI that’s survived 3 half-hearted trials of antibiotics, only ever fading- never dying. As an asexual individual that has been out in this world since the Year of our Lord 2010, there have been wild misconceptions surrounding this issue for as long as I can remember. Let’s start with some basics, just for fun.
Disclaimer: As an alloromantic person, I will not be speaking in regard to aromantics. Most of this stuff can be generalized, sure, but I don’t want to act like I know what it’s like to be aromantic when I truly don’t. Write your own analyses! Speak out! Smash the cishetallopatriarchy!
No, I do not experience a sexual attraction to myself. No, not all asexuals masturbate, nor do all asexuals not masturbate. I have never once woken up with a clone of myself nestled beside me, having reproduced as a microorganism would. These may seem silly things to think in this year, but this was the majority of conversation when I first began to come out. Figured I might as well get them out of the way early on.
Asexuality is defined as a non-normative lack of sexual attraction to anyone regardless of gender. “Normative” is a handy little word that means “that which is considered “normal” by the dominant culture within a society”. For example, the construct of cisnormativity implies that being cisgender is the “normative” state for an individual to be. Thus, in the definition, you can hopefully begin to see what’s so queer about asexuality. Here are some more terms the community has!
- Sex-favorable Ace: An asexual individual who enjoys having sex
- Sex-positive Ace: An older term that describes an asexual that likes participating in sex, being phased out due to the confusion with the same term (sex positive) meaning having pro-sex politics
- Sex-neutral Ace: An asexual individual who doesn’t mind having sex
- Sex-negative Ace: An older term that describes an asexual that dislikes participating in sex, being phased out due to the confusion with the same term also meaning having anti-sex politics.
- Sex-repulsed Ace: An asexual individual who abhors all forms of sexual contact- for some, this includes activities like visiting a gynecologist.
- Demi-asexual/Demisexual: An asexual that can experience sexual attraction once they have reached a level of closeness with an individual.
- Grey-asexual: An asexual that experiences some level of sexual attraction, though not nearly enough to be considered within the “normative” range
- Allosexual: A person that experiences a normative level of sexual attraction. Consider this term to be much like the terms “white”, “cisgender”, “abled”, “heterosexual”, and the like. It’s not that it’s necessarily bad to be this way, it’s just that being this way protects you from the discrimination that asexuals experience. Some dislike the term because “it groups me in with heterosexuals!”, but truly any adjective does that. I don’t see people saying “don’t call me white, it groups me in with heterosexuals!”.
It is truly not up to a bystander to determine whether or not someone is asexual. Personally, I knew that I was the moment I saw the term. Many said things along the lines of “Oh, you’re 15, you just haven’t bloomed yet”. However, I wouldn’t say that the analysis that you must be “of age” to identify as anything is necessarily true- Part of the reason I identified so heavily with the term was that I could feel how abnormal I was.
My friends would talk about topics around sex, and I felt incredibly unengaged. I felt like the only person within my age group that felt the way I did. The sense of being an outsider was what caused me to gravitate to understanding myself as an asexual individual. Regardless of the pro-sex education I grew up with, despite having a well-educated friend group that adamantly put down slut shaming and similar misogynistic concepts, I could never find it within me to be sexually attracted to anyone. Many told me I was broken. I certainly felt that way. Finding a proper way to define myself helped me to embrace my difference instead.
Queer Enough To Ride
I would first like to reach out to those of you that believe that asexuality is not “queer” enough to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community- I understand why you want to gatekeep, that is- to staff the entrance to the community, deciding who is and who is not allowed within. Many of you are bisexual, nonbinary, and other queer folks that were once the subject of the “are you queer enough to ride” argument.
I myself gatekept like you did. I quantified how trans a person needed to be to be considered part of our umbrella. I attempted to divide the bisexual community between “fake” and “real” bisexuals. I did this largely for one reason- I felt like I didn’t belong.
I felt that, by providing a baseline, I could place myself squarely into a place of validity. If I could say where “not queer” began, I could say that I was surely queer!
In my desperation to prove myself, I denounced the experiences of others. What I’ve now realized is an amazing concept: if we were to define all folks that felt ostracized for their presentations of gender and orientation (and wish to identify with the word itself, which not everyone does) as queer, that automatically does include us!
As for using the word “queer”? I’ll turn to a very good friend of mine for this one — @neurstorm on twitter
Oh goodie, another fight over the operational definition of the word ‘queer.’
If you are taking the reclaimed slur approach, then NBs (which were largely unknown when the slur was at its apex and was strategically reclaimed), transmasculine people (whom the oppressor barely knows exist), and arguably even cis lesbians (who often had different slurs hurled toward them exclusively) don’t have a right to use it either; because the slur was disproportionately applied to gay men and transfeminine people (since the oppressor believed they were one and the same).
However, it was agreed that by extension of a general oppression that all gay people and all trans people could “have” it. It was this same idea of general oppression that started the LGBT+ coalition, since on a 10,000 foot level, the oppressor saw them all as just different manifestations of the same thing.
The redefinition of the slur to become synonymous with the political coalition was part of its reclamation. The strategy was twofold. First- use its deliberate fuzziness to capture all the edge cases, as gender and sexuality are highly individualized. Second — use this re-branding to neutralize the slur’s power further by completely transforming it to mean something else entirely in the hearts and minds of the cis-hetero world.
Regardless of how one defines that term, there is one very basic truth. It has ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING on who gets to be considered a part of the greater LGBT+ coalition, whether or not the term is used to define it!
So with that said, how SHOULD we define those who are included?
Opinions vary, but strictly for the “sexuality” part of the equation of things, my personal definition I tend to fall back to is that it meets 3 basic categories.
1. Its a significant departure from standard sexuality.
2. It’s a significant departure from expectations placed upon you by society’s sexual defaults.
3. It has a major impact on ones life in how they relate to society’s sexual expectations.
This doesn’t imply oppression a priori, and this is deliberate. Oppression is a byproduct of greater society being shitty to certain groups based on their identity, not a part of their identity itself (if it was, then that identity ceases to exist if the oppression against it stops, and I don’t stop being autistic just because I wake up in a paradise where abelism doesn’t exist).
Oppression would be that there is a systemic pattern of mistreatment and bias that conforms to and is promoted by the power structures that be, disempowering and marginalizing the other group for their deviance from the imagined normal.
So then, about the aces. Where do they fall in in regards to this criteria.
1. Asexuality is a significant departure from standard sexuality, as standard sexuality assumes a moderate-to-high level of libido and desire by default (less so for female perceived people, but less is not none).
2. Asexuality is a significant departure from expectations placed upon one because they are expected to perform sexuality and have a certain level of desire in order to be seen as good partners (and in the case of male-identified people, have their gender validated).
3. This has a major impact on ones life because the expectation and desire of sexuality (or at least the performance thereof for the sake of another) is seen as a default part of romantic relationships to the point where it is implicitly believed by some that it is the sole reason they exist. It has a major impact in that it is always assumed to be childhood trauma, shyness, and “not meeting the right person” (and you know what, even when that is the case it doesn’t invalidate the asexuality they have).
I’ll return to her infodump in just a bit, as she did have more to say. No, she is neither cis nor het, if you’re intent in devaluing her opinion. In fact, she’s not ace! So I will add some of my experience to the meat of her argument.
I currently identify as GenderVague (being on the autism spectrum, I don’t necessarily have the best grasp of structures like “gender”), biromantic, and asexual. I did not come out as any form of nonbinary until 2014, as I didn’t have the terms to describe myself, and I did not come out as non-heteroromantic until I forced myself into a state of inebriation (read: became absolutely plastered) and, well, slept with a girl to prove myself.
I knew that I liked girls, don’t get me wrong! It’s just incredibly hard to prove that, you see, when you’re asexual. I could say that I crushed on girls since the 3rd grade all I liked, but I was forever a “fake bisexual” until I could say that I had sex with a woman. That community mindset (and a desire to not disappoint my allosexual gf) led to me doing what I did, all in the effort to validate myself.
I guess I’m bringing all of this up to say this- whenever I hear people talking about those “cishet aces” always “trying to invade” yadda yadda, I see myself in 2012. To the majority of queer folks, I absolutely appeared straight, being closeted. I’m certain asexual aromantics also are devalued as “straight” for the same reasons. I don’t think any of us are any less queer, forcing ourselves to have sex or not.
And for those that identify as heteroromantic in full spirit? I’m going to echo what asexual people of all orientations have been saying- if you say that they’re not welcome, but you say that I’m welcome, you’re specifically stating that my experiences as an asexual person are nothing. Since I personally received far more discrimination for being asexual than for being bi (I emphasize personally, as everyone has different experiences), I feel invalidated when people say I wouldn’t be queer without being bi. You can’t consider my asexuality to be queer while at the same time stating that asexuality as a whole is not queer.
Let’s go onto the second half of @neurostorm ‘s rant-
As for oppression, there is a systemic pattern of mistreatment and marginalization against asexual people that favors the power structure. The Asexual community can probably answer this in more detail, but off the top of my head, one example of systemic oppression is that society sees a low-libido as a kind of arrested development of maturation (which plays in to abelism in some ways too). Society will pressure asexuals to perform sexuality and force-spark development through things such as corrective rape. Society will flat out erase the existence of asexual people (I know many an evangelical who believe that there is no such thing as an asexual person, and that anybody who says so is just trying to virtue signal and hasn’t admitted their “sins of the heart” to themselves).
All of these examples and more are promoted, encouraged, and tacitly accepted by greater society at large. All of these examples are born from and promoted by minor and major biases saturated in the consciousness of the majority of the population, and favoring the power structure that currently exists.
That effectively MAKES it oppression using the definition I provided earlier. It is a “…systemic pattern of mistreatment and bias that conforms to and is promoted by the power structures that be, disempowering and marginalizing the other group [in this case, asexuals] for their deviance from the imagined normal.”
So to recap. My argument is as follows.
1. The strategy to re-brand “queer” as a coalition name is deliberate and decided upon by the greater LGBT+ community in roughly the 1990s-2000s. If someone personally doesn’t want to be referred to that way, that’s all well and good, but it’s not their place to tell another how they should refer to themselves. This applies to any reclaimed slur, term, or identity phrasing (i.e. the argument of identity-first language vs person-first language in the greater disabled community [other disabled folks can refer to themselves however they want, but they don’t get to tell me I HAVE to use person-first language when I greatly prefer identity-first language to describe myself]).
2. Regardless of how ‘queer’ is operationally defined, that has no bearing on whether or not asexuals can be part of the greater political coalition.
3. Going by what I feel is a reasonable set of basic criteria, Asexuals ARE qualified to be a part of the greater political coalition.
4. It can be demonstrably proven that asexuals are systemically oppressed by virtue of their asexuality.
There’s certainly folks that are attempting at this very moment to argue that allowing asexuals into pride will mean that ace voices will take over “more important ones”. I would like to introduce you to a concept that every pride I’ve been involved in fails to implement- prioritizing intersectional voices. Give the mic to trans lesbians of color instead of your same favorite white cis gay men. For the love of Marsha P. Johnson.
Hell, as a disabled, trans, bi, asexual, autistic immigrant I experience way more intersections of oppression than dudes like Tyler Oakley do, so can we stop making people like him our first choice for a speaker? I’ll get off this tangent, but my point is that I am actively dreaming of a world where people that are only one letter of the whole acronym don’t speak over all the rest of us. I don’t think it’s fair to be fearful of asexual folks taking up space when our community is so blatantly whitewashed and ciswashed as it stands. Speak out in favor of intersectionality for everyone, stop giving white cis gay men a pass to speak over everyone.
Acephobia, Acemisia, Aceantagonism- There’s a multitude of names to describe the systematic oppression and violence that asexual folks experience. I personally prefer “Acemisia” because it takes up fewer Twitter characters and doesn’t associate itself with mental ailments like agoraphobia, but I’ll call it acephobia since that’s what the kids on here are saying.
Acephobia, like other forms of discrimination, is too wide to be wholly understood in a simple lesson, so forgive me if I don’t touch on some issues. In general, oppression exists on multiple levels-
- Institutional violence- discrimination written into schools, churches, public offices, and other power structures that make up The State. Ex: Redlining, Ugly Laws, Marriage Inequality, etc.
- Social violence- discrimination carried out as an unwritten social rule through everyday language and encounters. Ex: slurs, bullying, common assumptions like “black people tip less”.
- Physical/sexual violence- murder, rape, and how oppressors justify it and get away with it. Ex: the Trans Panic defense, the “don’t ruin this respectable swimmer’s career!” defense, the “well maybe if he had been a respectable citizen that cop wouldn’t have shot him” defense, and we’re gonna talk about the history of corrective rape here too.
I’m going to try to address each level the best that I can, so bear with me.
Institutions & Asexuality
Many queer folks will use religious texts and fundamentalist Christian views to outline why their oppression in society is legitimate, and this is because The Church is an institution that entwines itself in a lot of issues of morality and law, especially in regards to marriage and love. A common argument that I hear is that asexual folks face no such oppression in that system. However, as an asexual who has discussed this issue for the better part of 8 years at this point, I have discovered this- fundamentalist Christian people do hate asexuality, specifically because it throws a wrench in the idea that one has to consummate a marriage. For those unfamiliar, consummation of a marriage is the act of having sex after a wedding in order to prove the marriage legitimate.
“But isn’t asexuality the same thing as chastity??” you ask, clearly illustrating that you don’t get the point that we are not experiencing any sexual attraction at all, no matter how hard we try. The problem is that asexual folks don’t “get over” this “phase” like that Mormon kid at your high school did when he got married. Many of us are unable to consummate marriages, and to not consummate a marriage deems the marriage, in the eyes of the church, illegitimate. This isn’t merely a thought experiment- I do know asexual folks that legitimately were run out of their home for disclosing that they would never marry “the way God intended”. That’s actually a reason for marriage cancellation- “annulment due to a failure to consummate the marriage”. Thus, you can see that the institution of the church, which affects the institution of marriage, which we all know impacts relationships very intimately, has a very marked issue with putting its head around the idea of a sexless marriage.
When the same-sex-marriage debate was still young in the early 2000s, many opponents claimed that the reason same-sex marriage was sinful was because the process of consummation would require, in their gross words, “sodomy”. I brought up that many asexual homoromantic couples were likely seeking the ability to marry, and this idea jarred them further- they were outraged that anyone could refuse to consummate a marriage, and stated that a sexless marriage was effectively more of an insult to God than a marriage that brought forth “sodomy” [blech].
There are other institutions where asexuality is actively discriminated against within- I was actually given an intervention in a liberal middle school for writing in health class that I had no plans to have sex, and I quote, “never never ever EVERRR!!!”. I know, excessive, but I was completely sex-repulsed. Multiple teachers were brought in to try to convince me, stating that at my age, “you really need to be thinking about sex rather than trying to avoid it”. Even though this program focused on encouraging students to abstain from sex until they’re ready, they found it problematic that I had no interest in “EVERRR!!!” performing the act. It spoke heavily to the hypocrisy that even abstinence-encouraging programs have when faced with asexual students.
Asexuality in Society
There were countless YouTubers that popped up around the year 2010 that discussed in depth the social ramifications of coming out as an asexual individual. One in particular that I followed was swankivy, who was immersed in discourse in the immensely queerphobic 2009 youtube and OkCupid community. She heard everything from “you’re clearly a lesbian in denial, come out of the closet and join us” to “you’re straight because that’s the default”. In fact, she has almost a decade’s worth of videos titled “Letters to an Asexual” that highlight the sorts of comments we receive on a daily basis. If you couldn’t already guess, many of the comments indicated that she wouldn’t be so controversial if she could pick a “real” sexuality, and stick with it. People often told her things like “it’s ok to be a lesbian” after she had already argued extensively that her asexuality was how she was made and who she was. I know that 2009 youtube videos don’t age the best, so take all of those low-quality films with a grain of salt- a lot of homophobia got launched at her in the early days, and nobody in 2009 was entirely unproblematic.
As the asexual community began to receive recognition from both queer and cis/het communities, their placement was treated like a game of hot potato. We didn’t fit in with the cis/het community, as we still got accused of being broken for not experiencing sexual attraction. The queer community hasn’t wanted us either, for largely the same reasons. We were too deviant to fit in with the mythical norm, and simultaneously too deviant to fit in with the counter-norm. Both communities had very staunch views on sex that we couldn’t fit into.
Eventually, the A in LGBTQIA+ made space for us. By the year of 2011, I began to see space made in the queer community as a whole for asexual folks. Many empathized with our struggle to find a place of belonging, especially bisexual and trans folks that had been overshadowed by the L and the G for decades. This was a magical moment for me. I didn’t get queer theory at this point. I didn’t totally understand gender & sexuality studies at 16. There was just a piece of me that finally felt welcome. I was allowed to be myself, and everyone was expected to educate themselves on my lived experience to make that possible. I stopped being bombarded with questions and started being able to talk to asexual lesbian and bi girls, asexual trans folks, and everyone else that showed me that it just might be ok for me to be more complicated than society would like me to be.
… I’m typically a person that speaks uniquely in logical & academic terms, but looking back at that moment in time is difficult for me to succinctly verbalize. It is incredible to find a place of belonging… I don’t think I would have survived had I not had a community. Being an asexual teen was only bearable the moment people said “You know what? It sucks that people are shitty to you for not being into sex. You can hang out here, we think you’re pretty cool anyways. If you wanna talk about sex we’re down but we totally respect how you were made and know what it’s like to be forced into being someone you aren’t”. I can prove to you with study upon study that unconditional love and acceptance is absolutely integral to a developing teen, but I don’t think even that would attest enough to how blessed I was to find a community who was ok with the way I was.
Asexuality, Sex, and Rape
This section contains sensitive content that details largely my personal experiences with corrective rape and coercion. If you may have a difficult time reading, give yourself a moment to prepare. I feel that this discussion isn’t nearly whole without this piece.
Firstly, we must discuss the term “corrective rape”. I hear often that it is impossible for me to have experienced corrective rape, as I do not identify as a lesbian woman. Let’s break this down as gently as possible- Firstly, if you’re going to claim that asexual corrective rape is “appropriation” of a lesbian term, I hope you also exclude white lesbians from using that term, seeing as a doctor coined it in discussing the corrective rape of black lesbian women in South Africa. Alternatively, we can understand that it’s a term that very succinctly identifies an experience in which someone is targeted for sexual assault in the attempt to “cure” them of an undesirable sexuality. We really ought to give more credit to black innovations of language in general, but I think you see the point that it’s easier to say “I was correctively raped” than “I was targeted for rape by a bisexual guy that believed that asexuality specifically needed to be raped out of someone”. Hopefully, we’re clear on this now.
In 2012, I met my rapist, Mr. Epperson (name is for context later) at an anime-con sort of event. He was a bi cisgender allosexual man. He knew I was asexual, and promised that we could “go slow” if I agreed to date him. Seeing as this was my first ever experience with a relationship (and being autistic and easily manipulated), I naively agreed to date him. He, predictably, did not hold true to his promise and forced me to become sexual with him early on in the relationship by saying “well how will I know you really love me if you’re not willing to make love to me?”. He was very effective at discreetly threatening me with abandonment and ostracism from the community (and more, later) were I to ever say no to his advances.
Some months into the abusive relationship, I finally persuaded him to watch a documentary on Asexuality in the hopes that he would learn how uncomfortable I was with sex. He made multiple comments on how effectively raping the male star would make him give up asexuality (He was a “feminist”, though, so he never called what he did rape). He referred to asexuals featured as “creepy freaks”. He boasted about how he had cured me and turned me into a “normal person” by threatening me and guilting me into allowing him to do what he wanted to me. He commented on what a sad, empty life the male star must have, not knowing the joy of having an Epperson dick inside of him. He and his mother, a cisgender bisexual woman, were laughing by the end of the documentary about the “freaks who need help”. He later admitted that he targeted me specifically because he was interested in “curing” a “weirdo” like me. He had a phrase for it too. “I’ll turn you Eppersexual”. He intended, from the start, to “cure” me.
I’m lucky to have been set free from the relationship, even though it was only because he found a 13-year-old lesbian to “turn Eppersexual”.
A month after being let go, I met a stunningly beautiful girl. I’ll call her M. She was incredibly effeminate and reserved and had long, brown, curly hair and freckles. I was smitten. Only being a month away from the abuse, I was in a very vulnerable position and asked her to be my girlfriend. Initially, she was okay with “taking it slow”, but eventually she confessed that she really wanted to have sex with me. Afraid that I would be discounted as a “fake bisexual”, I got incredibly drunk (I became severely alcoholic, but that’s another article) and satisfied her as best I could. It was fine at the time, but the aftermath is why seeing her on campus to this day tears my heart.
We broke up because I was way too traumatized by my abuse to hold together a relationship, and drinking and using all day forced me to drop out of college. We initially had planned to stay friends, until a mutual friend of ours broke up with their girlfriend because she was pressuring them to have sex with her, and they were asexual. They felt it better to break it off than to leave them wanting.
“If you’re asexual, you really need to give that up if you really want to satisfy your partner!” she said. “I mean, Ren did it!”
I called her out for that comment, and we haven’t spoken since.
I’m just one asexual out of millions. The fact that countless others can attest to having dated Ms and Mr. Eppersons should speak volumes- after all, the personal is the political. That is to say, I’m not an isolated case. What happened to me was bred from a culture that, at its core, devalues asexuality. I can only hope that M’s learned better since, but I know for a fact that Mr. Epperson continues to be on the hunt for kids like who I was.
A Positive Note
That last section was totally trauma central so I’m going to end on a positive note.
To keep what happened to me from happening to others, we need a cultural shift. Rather than attempting to quantify how bad acephobia is compared to transphobia and homophobia etc, we need to realize that every human has an intersectional experience. It’s not a matter that an asexual biromantic black woman is oppressed more than a disabled autistic gay trans man- people living in intersections experience overlaps and magnifications of oppression in such complexities that to state something as over-arching as “any black person is more oppressed than any trans person” is not only devaluing but too simplistic to account for personal experiences. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that the woman and man mentioned earlier experience different disadvantages in society, not more or less.
Not one asexual person is demanding that all allosexual folks stay quiet on their experiences being involved in other intersections of oppression. All we’re asking is a place at the table and a room to feel safe in.
I hope that this article was able to provide positive insight regarding the discourse. Let me know if you have any other questions!