“Asexual” as a Pejorative

A little while ago, I was googling aimlessly and stumbled upon this little gem of a blog post, wherein the author tries to insult Barack Obama by calling him asexual. I laughed. It’s almost precious, isn’t it? The feeble attempt to smear him using a word that she doesn’t even know the definition of… I can hardly imagine that a grown woman wrote this. I feel like I’m reading something written by a catty fourteen-year-old girl, except about politicians instead of her classmates. If that’s all the McCain camp can come up with, well. That’s pretty sad.

I don’t know about you guys, but if Obama really were asexual, that’d make me more likely to vote for him, not less. After all, if he’s not distracted by scandalous sexual affairs, then theoretically he’d be more likely to actually get some work done.

But still. It got me thinking about non-asexuals using the word “asexual” as an insult—a pretty rare phenomena, but one that may gradually become more common as awareness of asexuality spreads. Obviously, it’s not something we want to happen, but to some extent it’s inevitable. Rather than getting upset about it, we should take advantage at least of the fact that people are now starting to mention asexuality, by listening to what they say and learning what they think it means, and why they think it’s bad.

With this particular example, the closest approximation I can come up with for what this person thinks asexuality is, is some form of emasculation, possibly an intersex condition or the state of being a eunuch, or maybe just impotence in general. Maybe she thought she was coining a term herself, or maybe she’s heard of asexuality before and is just severely misguided about its definition. Either way, asexuality here is conflated with gender. Why?

Well, apparently for men, gender identity is closely connected with virility. Because if you’re not interested in sex, guys, then you must be a woman. (Right, cause that makes so much sense… and WHY EXACTLY is it an insult to call a man woman-like anyway, hmmm???) There’s something wrong with you, you’re not fulfilling your proper societal role, which I guess is to be horny all the time. (Whereas women are supposed to be… what, exactly? She can’t be implying that women are asexual, can she? Maybe they are supposed to be gossipy and shallow.)

Here we see a very definite sexual-normative prejudice as well as a distinct anti-homosexual bias. She may be too batty to make much of an impact, but that’s basically the kind of attitude we’re up against. Coming from someone more mainstream, it could very well hurt the community.

So I’m trying to think, now, of any other time I’ve heard “asexual” used as an insult. The only thing I can come up with is an episode of House from season four, during the survivor arc, wherein one of the contestants complains about Ridiculously Old Fraud’s favor with House. I remember it because after it aired, M (obnoxiously) pointed out that “they bashed asexuals!” With a little help from the saved convo and ctrl + find, I was able to find the exact quote (the episode, btw, is “Guardian Angels”):

“Why does he get to be Bosley?”
“You want to be Bosley? Bosley’s like the asexual messenger boy.”

But other than that… I can’t think of any other times I’ve heard “asexual” used as a pejorative. Of course I’ve heard people imply that it’s bad, but not specifically use it as an insult. If any of you guys can think of any other times when you’ve heard it used that way, please do comment, because I’d love to get a better idea of why these people think it’s insulting! Plus it’s always amusing to see people try to make an insult out of a label we wear proudly. ;)

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5 thoughts on ““Asexual” as a Pejorative

  1. Sex positive people have been using the word “asexual” as a pejorative for decades (not to say that this particular instance is by a sex-positive person, but that I think they’re the ones who started it.) I think that this is one of the reasons I’m a bit more skeptical about sex-positivity than a lot of asexuals. Typically it isn’t used explicitly as an insult, though. Rather the idea seems to be that since all people are sexual, assuming that someone person/group is asexual is denying a fundamental part of their humanity. It could be said that making this assumption about sexual people is denying an important part of their humanity, but the way in which such comments are made suggest this isn’t what is being said. (For example, claims about how people in the 19th century thought were asexual, how people think the elderly are asexual, how people think people with disabilities are asexual, etc.) It pretty much always carries the idea that being asexual is itself a bad thing. I think that it is this, making the term “asexual” derive a pejorative connotation, that serves as the basis for using “asexual” as an insult. Not a lot of specific examples come to mind of explicitly using “asexual” itself as an insult. I came across this blogpost a while back, which comes close to using asexual as an equivalent to stupid. (Too stupid to interpret things as sexual innuendos that obviously aren’t.)

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  2. I’ve heard it a few times, and noticed that, like “gay” as a pejorative, it rarely makes sense. Since the stereotype is that people lose their sex drives as they get older, it would make more cultural sense to call McCain asexual, although it would, of course, be equally inaccurate. In writing, I remember hearing about an “asexual couch” and also “asexual sweatpants”, implying that both these items were ugly. But if someone ever said something like that in my actual presence, I’m all ready with a response: “So, the couch doesn’t experience sexual attraction?”

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  3. Pretzelboy – Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know why it slipped my mind that the sex-positive crowd uses it as a pejorative word, since that’s like the most basic example out there. I blame my sinus headaches. XP I think it’s more than just the sex-positive people who do this, though. It seems to be the majority of people, sex-positive or not, think of asexuals as somehow not human.

    Ily – LOL, I would sure HOPE that couches and sweatpants are asexual! It’d be a little silly, wouldn’t it, for them to have a sexual orientation–not to mention creepy!
    But on a more serious note, I don’t get the whole asexual = ugly idea. By general consensus, I’m not ugly. Matter of fact, I’ve had a couple of different artists tell me they want to paint me. Sounds like they’re confusing a lack of sex appeal with asexuality, which is pretty dumb, but I guess we can’t really blame them too much.

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  4. I was just recently re-reading the 1977 paper on asexuality by Myra Johnson. If you get a chance to read it, (especially the opening paragraph) speaks directly to this issue, (but I don’t feel like typing it all out.)

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  5. That reminds me of a response I got from a former co-worker when I “outed” myself as asexual. I could tell he didn’t understand what I meant when he said, “Oh, yeah. My friend complained he was asexual- but that’s just cuz he couldn’t get any.” Umm, no… I guess that confused definition fits with the asexual = ugly assumption. If anything, doesn’t this just emphasize how little most people really knows about sex, despite being so sex-obsessed?

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