Do you want to?

[Trigger warning for discussion of rape and violence, including a non-explicit excerpt from a survivor’s story. Please note that any hateful or otherwise inappropriate comments will not make it through moderation.]

Via Sciatrix’s Monday Linkspam, I’ve come across a couple of good posts on asexuality and oppression, which I highly recommend: first one from Kaz refuting the infuriating claim that asexuals “aren’t really oppressed.” Then this one on victim-blaming, which references something which apparently happened on the AVEN forums. I think it’s good to read them both together. Kaz writes:

But what I really want to address is the bit about violence.

“Asexuals don’t experience violent oppression!”

I would like it if people stopped saying this.

First of all, I honestly don’t think we KNOW. I know of no wide-scale surveys or other information-gathering measures on this front. It is possible there genuinely isn’t much in the way of violence against asexual people. But it’s possible that we don’t see it because we aren’t looking, because we’re just assuming there is no such thing as anti-asexual violence or specifically hate crimes.

Or—I must interject—is it because we don’t WANT to know? And actually, I created an information-gathering measure about that, but more on that later. Continuing (more behind the cut):

Asexual people? Are extraordinarily vulnerable to rape and sexual assault. For one, there’s “corrective” rape, which queer women of all stripes have to deal with. Asexuals aren’t immune from that by any means. (I haven’t spoken to anyone who suffered this myself but have heard of at least one case second-hand, as well as other cases of sexual assault.) For another… I expect a large number of asexual people have ended up having sex or in sexual situations they didn’t really want, thanks to confusion, pressure, invisibility, etc. … I’m pretty sure that if we knew how many asexual people had experienced nonconsensual or otherwise unwanted/traumatising sexual encounters (here’s where that whole “need workable model of consent for the asexual community” thing comes in…), the number would be shockingly high.

Do you know what? If you (any of you) have spoken directly to someone who has suffered that, do you think you would know it? Given the victim-blaming reactions, and the idea that “you’re not asexual, you’re just suffering from trauma—did someone ever do anything… weird to you when you were a kid?” do you think it’s likely that people who have experienced anything like that would feel welcomed to disclose it to you?

Last April, I created a survey to gather survivors’ stories of being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted (or “gray-area” rape/assault, since many people do not recognize their experiences as non-consensual—see Robin Warshaw’s book “I Never Called it Rape”) for the purpose of compiling material for a lyric essay juxtaposing these experiences with a critique of victim-blaming rhetoric. The response I received was much larger than I thought I would get; the current total number of respondents is 126. Since I received a such a large response, I decided to leave this survey open, and it is still open to this day; I have posted a project update for the survey here, and you can find links to the survey if you want to participate from there.

When asked whether they reported the incident, only 14 out of 91 (16.48%) who answered the question said they had (a few not by choice); of those, very few seemed satisfied with what followed (were there any who were? I’m not really sure). The vast majority of respondents were very selective about whom they chose to disclose to, with most confiding in only one or two people. Some only told their therapists, several never told anyone about it at all. Many respondents reported that people whom they confided in reacted negatively to their disclosure, including some who lost many (even all) of their friends as a result, and one person who said that their therapist didn’t believe them (I hope that person will find another therapist!). Furthermore, only 75 people (59.52%)  fully completed the survey; for many, it proved too painful to even begin with the story portion, so the only part of the survey I have from those people is the set of questions establishing demographics.

So… why should we expect anybody to speak up about this? Why would they expect anyone—especially the asexual community, given all this talk about how we’re “not really oppressed” and the likelihood that even fellow asexuals would then claim that they must not really be asexual—to believe them? To be kind to them? Why would they expect their community to support them?

So the question should not be so much about whether we know or don’t know. It should be, “Do we want to know?”

Things like this have been discussed on AVEN before. It’s not like it’s a totally new concept, so why the dismissal? I’ll throw this out there: there are at least 20 asexuals that I know of, as of right now, who have been sexually assaulted; some of these were indeed corrective rapes. No doubt there are more. My latest asexual respondent took the survey less than a month ago, so I’m sure there are plenty of people who still haven’t stumbled across it yet. That, to me, does not sound like a few isolated incidents or “flukes” especially given the low reporting rate, so I would caution against trying to make these cases an “exception” to the general rule that “asexuals aren’t really oppressed” like I’ve seen people do in the past. Are people going to believe these numbers and finally begin to understand that yes, asexual people actually ARE violently oppressed, and not just suffering the ill-effects of invisibility (itself a form of opression)? I’m sure some of you will. But how many? Will the community come together on this?

Human beings are more rationalizing than rational, and will find a way to believe what they want to believe, if they are determined enough. There is not enough cognitive dissonance in the world to convince some people to change their minds. Here is an excerpt from the story of one 19-year-old respondent who was especially articulate. I hope you will all read it and carefully consider the implications.

My mother calls it PTSD, the acronym, and treats it like a disease that will spread if she stays in contact with me for too long. It’s an illness, therapist prescribed, and the explanation for all of my problems and then some. A mental condition. Mine is considered advanced because it’s lasted longer than six months, my mother informs me as she cooks and bustles around me, doing everything in her power not too look directly at me. She can’t ever look at me when she talks like this. Like I’ve jumped the line from being her daughter to being some stranger who’s ruined her life. But I’m not surprised by the diagnosis, considering that the abuse never stopped on a certain level. She doesn’t want to hear it, so I say nothing, and just let her talk at me. She tells me there are ways to suppress it, this PTSD. There are ways to forget about it. About all of it. She says that she wants me to look into them seriously.

So they say insane, and you say “But for how long?” and if they say always, you nod. What do you know? You’ve always made things up, it’s what you do. But then, it’s not! It isn’t what little girls do. And if it is, then why only you? Why are you the only one making it up, and playing this game. Why are you the only one who can remember the feel of..No, no, let’s not. Not go there. Taboo. So section it off, out of my brain, forget it for now, it’s okay. Right, forget it. That’s what you did once, then it flashed back behind your eyes, and made you more crazy, up against the inside of your skin, begging it to split open so you could get out, get out of this body before it’s the death of you. The dichotomy between physical and mental stretching like a vast, vast void between you, something you can’t cross, and still aren’t sure that you want to. But the point is, you don’t know! You don’t know who to believe. Because you don’t want to believe yourself any more than she does. God, does she ever not want to believe me. But that’s not the point. Because you know, sort of, what you remember, even if you can’t tell her. And you know, what happened, don’t you? Little sketches, inklings from when you weren’t fled from your sanity like the frightened child you were. You know that much, don’t you? Do you? How can you? And years ago, it was years ago, everything is foggy. How can a little girl with no eyes compare in details to a boy who was conscious? How can a little girl who half the time couldn’t feel, wasn’t there, couldn’t bear to be a part of herself for this violation, tell a story to rival his? She can’t.

I realize that because this is about childhood sexual abuse (CSA), it inspires a reaction a little different than the reaction people might have towards a survivor of adult sexual abuse, which is what the example of victim-blaming was about. Still, the tendency to deny and minimize the abuse is strong. In our community, in cases of CSA, even if we don’t deny that the abuse happened, there’s a tendency to deny a person’s identity because of it, just to make asexuality seem more legitimate to outsiders. That’s wrong.

It’s nice to think, “That couldn’t happen to someone like me. I wouldn’t put myself in that position. Some part of them must have wanted that to happen.” It’s comforting to think, “There’s no way he’s telling the truth… and even if he is, then there’s no way it was actually because of his asexuality.” It’s comforting, because it allows you to retain your own sense of personal safety. But conversation about this topic isn’t supposed to be comforting. Nobody wants this to be true. So instead of denying it, how about we try to stop it?

ETA: I think it’s telling to note that the first comments I received on this post were not like the sort that ended up getting through below. They were criticisms, essentially calling “bullshit” on what I just said. It took several days since I posted this for me to receive even one supportive comment. For the most part, it’s just been silence.

Asexual people? Are extraordinarily vulnerable to rape and sexual assault. For one, there’s “corrective” rape, which queer women of all stripes have to deal with. Asexuals aren’t immune from that by any means. (I haven’t spoken to anyone who suffered this myself but have heard of at least one case second-hand, as well as other cases of sexual assault.) For another… I expect a large number of asexual people have ended up having sex or in sexual situations they didn’t really want, thanks to confusion, pressure, invisibility, etc. Hell, I’m repulsed, the “no sex please” thing is much clearer for me than for many other ace people, in some respects I think I’ve known I was asexual forever, and I still ended up in a situation like that… because it is just that hard not to go “I must want to do this because all my life everyone has told me that there isn’t any other option”. And that’s not even touching on the whole “sexual/asexual compromise can go badly wrong” thing, or asexuals who end up in romantic relationships with sexuals without knowing they’re asexual. I’m pretty sure that if we knew how many asexual people had experienced nonconsensual or otherwise unwanted/traumatising sexual encounters (here’s where that whole “need workable model of consent for the asexual community” thing comes in…), the number would be shockingly high.

21 thoughts on “Do you want to?

  1. Pingback: Sunday Linkspam « Writing From Factor X

  2. This is… unsurprising but terribly depressing to hear. And oh my, I knew the pressure to present in a way that makes your asexuality difficult to invalidate was there and that it was hurting people, but I hadn’t extended it to pressure not to talk about rape and sexual assault and abuse in people’s pasts…

    And multiple corrective rapes. I knew of one, and that was too many; I knew one person whose parents had dismantled her support systems when they discovered she was ace, and that was too many. How can we try to prevent this from happening to more people if we don’t ever talk about it, if we pretend it doesn’t exist?

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  7. I was once approached by 2 men (both of them almost twice my size) and asked if I was a “fag” because of an ARA Queers bash back button I was wearing. I told them that I wasn’t homosexual, but I wasn’t heterosexual either and one of them punched me in the gut and I fell to my knees (got to pick your battles, and this was not a time to bash back). Since I never got to tell them I was asexual, because they punched me before I had the chance, it could be argued that I was bashed for just not being heterosexual, but since I am asexual I consider it asexual bashing. It doesn’t seem to be as common as other types of queer bashing, but it can and does happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing that story. I’m sorry that happened to you… I really don’t understand what is the point of splitting hairs about whether it’s specifically because of being asexual or not, aside from that the people who do it are motivated to exclude asexuals from being considered queer, and dismiss our issues. I mean, I guess I can understand why non-asexual people are motivated to do this, because if we don’t have oppression to fight, then they can focus on theirs more… but other asexuals? I’m glad I haven’t seen it as much lately.


      • Thank you for your kind words Elizabeth, but I actually do not consider myself (as a heteromantic) queer. I do consider the bashing itself to be a queer bashing (or an A bashing) because the reasons for bashing asexuals, even heteromantic ones, are usually the same as the reasons for bashing others who aren’t heterosexual.

        I have actually met many sexual people in the LGBTQ activist movement who do not consider heteromantics queer, but believe we can be good allies to one another. So excluding some of us from queer isn’t always about ignoring us or fighting for their causes more.


        • I think on the whole, whether or not you personally consider YOURSELF queer, all heteroromantic asexuals should be allowed to consider themselves queer. Having arguments about who is allowed to consider themselves queer is just a big distraction from EVERYONE’S issues, so no, I don’t agree that we can be good allies to each other while that sort of thing is going on.


          • I quite agree that extending a communal bond is totally indefensible to deny on grounds of separate sexual self-concept, because that’s demanding social status reflect personal intricacies, an even more dangerous goal to individuality than is politics itself! If personal uniqueness weren’t discriminated _against_ (by first establishing narrow definitions for civil liberties the state grants, instead of the state being seen to have none itself but what is taken from we the people) and left off the political table where it belongs, we would have no need to form communities for the establishment of basic political rights for minorities, and prosecuting harrasssment and abuse would shed the stigma of rocking the establishment boat just for having the gall to do so on the basis of minority status.


        • Personally, I think heteroromantic asexuals can identify as queer if they want. But even a hetero-allo-cis person can be a victim of queer bashing, if they are mistaken for queer. (Particularly if they violate gender norms for dress, behavior, interests, etc. For example male fans of My Little Pony can be bashed regardless of their orientation because of the assumption that a guy has to be gay or have a fetish to like a show aimed at little girls.)


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  10. Thank you for sharing this post. I’m so sorry you got negative comments on this as the first two comments. That is so hard for me to wrap my head around – the idea that people can read this post and then react with anything other than understanding that this is a serious issue that deserves paying attention to.


    • Honestly, it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten what those comments even were… but it happens a lot everywhere, not just within the asexual community, mostly because people tend to want to believe the world is just. Their own feelings of self-preservation kick in so hard they can’t accept what they’re hearing, sadly. Plus some of the people who show up to comment here are just trolls, so there’s that, too. Anyway, thank you for showing your support!


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  13. I grew up in a deprived district where it seemed like everyone around socially saw tons of the abuse going on around us quite clearly and spoke openly about it. For example, local childrens homes and the sexual abuse going on there by staff and politicians; thirty years later, there were public scandals about it, but to us it was like, do you mean to say this is supposed to be news? It seems like there are many people brought up with a mindset where all negativity tends to be denied. I have never resonated with that, and always avoid people like that on a social interactions and trust level. I feel it’s a mindset rooted in stuff I don’t understand, due to no experience. But harmful.


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