Okay, so anyone who’s not a total newbie to the asexual community has heard of the idea that asexuality is a disorder. Right? Well, M had a different idea. A couple of months ago, he told me this:
“Parade your asexual banner around as much as you would like, but in my eyes, you are handicapped; and if you could see yourself with my perspective and understanding of sexuality, I am certain you would understand that conclusion.”
Wow. Never mind the frightening similarity to homophobia–that’s actually an intriguing idea, if only because it’s something I’ve never heard before. It got me thinking. What would happen if, once the ignorant masses finally become aware of asexuality, they all eventually adopted this way of thinking? How would the asexual community react, and what about the disabled community? Is it actually justifiable?
The difference between the perception of asexuality as a disability rather than the more common perception of asexuality as a disorder is an interesting one. If it is a disorder, that implies that it is something temporary, something which can be “cured.” If asexuality is seen as a disorder, then the assumption is made that there is either a physiological or psychological problem “blocking” sexuality. One of the most common ideas is that it is a hormonal imbalance; however, this certainly cannot be the case for all asexuals, because several AVEN members have had their hormone levels checked, and the results were within normal range. Another common idea is that it is the result of trauma, or a lack of positive sexual experiences. The idea is that if asexuals undergo psychotherapy and/or open themselves to positive sexual experiences, they will begin to feel sexual attraction. If it is a disorder, then it is implied that asexuality is not a real orientation, merely a delusion.
If asexuality is a disability, on the other hand, the implication is that it is a real and permanent condition, and that there is no cure. We are “beyond help,” as M so accurately phrased it. There may one day be a cure, just as there may one day be a cure for blindness, but until that day, asexuals must be given “special treatment” by sexual people (though I must say, I do not really understand what that entails–I would have to ask M what he meant by that). They must simply deal with their (apparently tragic) condition, because there is nothing else that can be done about it.
I think the perception of asexuality as a disability is more realistic, because at least it accepts the existence of asexuality as a usually lifelong condition for which there is no treatment. It is more consistent from an evolutionary perspective, since the theory of evolution posits that natural variation among species exists, and since some adaptations are more advantageous than others, those will be the ones that survive. Those who would claim that all humans are inherently inclined to engage in sexual activity attempt to justify this claim with Darwin’s theory as well; however, they fail to see evolution as an ongoing process. They say that any nonsexual members of the species would have already died out, so we must simply be repressing our natural desire for sex (this argument, naturally, lends itself well to a perception of asexuality as a disorder). On the other hand, those who see asexuality as a disability accept that humans are not yet “perfectly evolved,” and therefore it is conceivable that some of us may be born with disadvantageous genetic traits, such as a lack of sexual attraction.
However, there are some problems with this view. First of all, it relies on the assumption that sexuality is genetic, but as of this date, there is no proof that this is the case (personally, I’m inclined to believe it is a result of the interplay of many complex factors which we do not yet understand–making a mental note to post more on that later). Second, if one accepts the idea that asexuals are disabled due to some inherited physiological cause, then shouldn’t one also question whether or not homosexuals are also “disabled” due to a similar physiological cause? After all, they do not desire intercourse with any member of the opposite sex, and therefore they are highly unlikely to procreate, which is our evolutionary “goal” as a species. If one day there is a way to rewire asexuals’ brains to make them sexual, why not look for a way to rewire homosexuals’ brains to make them straight?
It is possible to accept this idea and still be consistent, but it’s a terribly heteronormative way of thinking. This conclusion that asexuality is a disability inherently makes the value judgment that sexuality is normal and good, while asexuality is abnormal and bad. Sexuals (heterosexuals, if one extends this view to include homosexuality) are making the claim that they inherently have an advantage over us. But what advantage?
According to the evolutionary model, again, we would be at a disadvantage when it comes to reproducing. However, in an era of widespread contraceptives, sexuality has been all but divorced from its reproductive function. Any sexual can tell you that the desire to engage in sexual activity for personal pleasure is entirely separate from the desire to procreate (or at least the conscious desire to procreate). For decades, it has been possible to separate procreation from sex, and now it is even possible to separate sex from procreation. Those asexuals who do wish to procreate but are not willing to subject themselves to sex now have the choice to undergo artificial insemination, and may even find a surrogate mother if they do not wish to carry the child themselves. And for those asexuals who don’t mind it, the desire to procreate can be a powerful motivator for sexual activity they would not otherwise be inclined to engage in. Those who believe that asexuality has already died out do not seem to be separating asexuality from celibacy, or recognizing that not all sexual activity is motivated by sexual attraction (or primary sexual desire).
Who can say whether asexuals are really dying out? There is no study showing that asexuals are less likely than sexuals to want to reproduce (and again, there’s no proof that it’s genetic anyway). Perhaps asexuality will, rather than die out, become more common. Perhaps in a hundred million years or so, with the aid of this technology, humans will become a sexless, genderless race, much like the J’naii of Star Trek. It’s a far-fetched idea, but it has as about as much basis in truth as the idea that asexuals will surely all die out (or have already). Who can say with any solid scientific backing that we are really at a disadvantage when it comes to reproduction? Might there even be some advantages to being an asexual parent which are being overlooked? One could argue, with just as much validity, that asexuals are more likely than sexuals to make good parents, because they are less likely to accidentally conceive children they do not really want, and because they would be less subject to the sexual frustration that inevitably comes with being a parent. This is taking an idea and running with it as far as one possibly can, without regard for the reality of the situation. Aren’t sexuals doing just that, without even examining their beliefs? Aren’t they relying on “common knowledge” rather than objectively examining the situation?
And even if we are at an evolutionary disadvantage, who cares? Why should we bring into the discussion something that will surely happen an unfathomably long time after our deaths? We’re here now, even if most people don’t know it. The question is, are we dealing with a disability or are we dealing with a minority sexual orientation?
If we are dealing with a disability, then what exactly is it that we are unable to do? According to M, we are lacking a sense. He compares asexuality to blindness, deafness, and anosmia. But I question whether this is really an accurate comparison. All three of those things are a lack of a physical sense, but sexuality is far more abstract. One could say that we are unable to experience sexual attraction, but the existence of “gray area” asexuals (like myself) proves that this is not necessarily the case (unless of course we are to be discounted as “true” asexuals, but most of us reject that line of thought). Isn’t asexuality, then, more of a predisposition to a very low level of sexual attraction than a lack of ability to feel it entirely? Maybe one could argue that there are people who can still see a little but are considered legally blind, and grasexuals are the equivalent of that. There are probably some asexuals out there who might accept this model. But I still think this whole comparison is rather iffy, due to the fact that we (humans) just don’t have a very sophisticated understanding of sexuality yet.
Dictionary.com’s definition of a disability is this: “a physical or mental handicap, esp. one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job.” To go so far as to call asexuality a disability, then, even if it is not meant in a legal sense, is to say, literally, that we are incapable of living a “full and normal” life.
There’s that word again. Normal. What does it mean to be normal? The word is completely relative to the context in which it is spoken. Back in the Victorian era, I would have been considered normal, because all women were assumed to be asexual. Now that all people, men and women, are assumed to be sexual, I am not considered normal. And even within this one culture, there are quite a lot of conflicting opinions about what is normal. According to the evangelicals, only vanilla heterosexuality is normal. But according to sex-positive people, many more variations are accepted as normal, including kinkiness, homosexuality, and even polyamory. The rationale behind this is, what’s normal for one person is not normal for another. So why can’t asexuals be accepted as just one more variation?
But what’s REALLY disturbing to me is the conflation of normality with fulfillment. Is it not possible to live a life that, while considered to be quite “normal” by the culture in which one lives, is still profoundly unfulfilling? What is one to do, when one recoils from the values of one’s culture so strongly that to adhere to them is to deny one’s own inner nature?
Exactly what asexuals are now doing: forming communities, making ourselves known. We are shouting out to the world that hey, we don’t fit your ideas of what’s “normal” and what’s more, WE LIKE IT THAT WAY.