As I understand, there’s been some hullabaloo lately on tumblr about whether or not asexuals, by virtue of being asexual, are allowed to call ourselves queer. I don’t have a tumblr, so I haven’t been following what’s going on too closely, but I understand there’s a group called Privilege-Denying Asexuals that insinuates that there’s some sort of… well, it certainly can’t be asexual privilege, because for that to exist, other people would have to know and understand what asexuality is. But, they’re basically saying we have straight privilege because apparently we all pass as straight (yeah, whatever, meet my lesbian lover), and the ways in which we don’t experience straight privilege that don’t involve passing as straight don’t count (e.g. media representation), and by the way, none of us ever have sex ever (obviously they’ve never looked at this blog. I recommend this post for starters. It’s been consistently popular since it was written, so I must not be the only asexual who has sex out there). So we’re “appropriating” their queer spaces that we apparently have easy access to even though this kind of viewpoint is WIDESPREAD, and often we are harassed or otherwise unwelcome in queer spaces.
There have been numerous posts trouncing this already, the best of which I’ve read is by Mary Max (you may remember her as Venus of Willendork). I think that one is the best I’ve seen so far because it gets to the root of the problem, the very definition of privilege, that they get so very, very wrong. There are far too many posts about this for me to link to every post, but look around and I’m sure you’ll find more. Check out the linkspam posts at Writing From Factor X, for starters.
That’s not the only thing that’s been going on at tumblr lately. Asexuals over there have been attempting to compile a sexual privilege list, and our opponents have replied with a list of things that they insist we provide before they take that list seriously, debunked by Asexy Miri here. This list is quite obviously a set of ridiculously high hurdles they’re making up so that they can justify continuing to drive asexuals out of “their” community. I want to take a few of her points a step further. Hang on, guys. This will be a long post.
One thing I’d like to ask is how the existence of gray asexuals or demisexuals invalidates the basic concepts of asexuality to the extent that their acceptance of asexuality is contingent on a clear and consistent definition of grays/demis? A gray-area asexual is someone who feels they’re somehow in between being asexual and being sexual, since the two are viewed as poles on a continuum rather than binary opposites, and the “how” varies from person to person, because it’s an issue of personal identity. I think that’s a fairly consistent and clear definition. (By the way, I do not identify as gray-asexual anymore, so please don’t assume that just because of the name of this blog.) I personally will be the first to admit I don’t understand what precisely is meant by demisexual, because I am not demisexual, and sure, they (by that I don’t mean AVEN, which btw is not the place to go for information beyond the most very basic stuff; AVENwiki is a terrible source that is still being updated and reconstructed to make it less so) could come up with a clearer definition that doesn’t hinge on Rabger’s model, which I reject because it’s convoluted. But since I’m not demisexual, it’s unfair to ask me to come up with a definition. It’s not my field of expertise, and demisexuality isn’t written about very often, so I don’t have much to refer to in order to get a better idea. And since they’re different things, you do not need to accept demisexuality to accept asexuality; there are even some asexuals who don’t. Besides which, looking for very specific subsets of people and using them to discredit a larger group of people is a key part of how prejudice and discrimination perpetuate themselves. I hope I don’t need to elaborate on this. Sometimes it’s unconscious and people don’t understand how they’ve made a mistake (confirmation bias), but other times it’s deliberate. This strikes me as more likely to be the latter. What they’re saying about it is wrong anyway, as others point out.
The main point I want to address with this post is this, though:
-Be able to illustrate how each instance of asexuals being “oppressed” is specific to those who identify as asexual and does not apply to women with FSD, people low sex drive due to long-term depression or other health reasons, people who abstain from sex due to trauma, gender dysphoria, or any other deeply personal reason, sexual people who are nonetheless alienated by dominant sexual culture, etc.
This is not how privilege works, and this bullet point illustrates a particularly obtuse, deliberate misrepresentation with an obvious exclusionary goal. You see, there’s this thing called intersectionality. It means that, among other things, more than one group can experience the same kind of oppression for different reasons. I contend that if you insist that asexuals remove every instance of sexual privilege from the list that is also experienced by non-asexuals, then in order to be logically consistent, you also would have to remove items from your own list that are shared with other privilege checklists. Otherwise, you’re making a special exception for asexuals just to be exclusionary.
So let’s look at some evidence. This straight privilege checklist comes from Queers United. Bolded are the items that also apply to asexuals, generally speaking; italicized are items that apply to some asexuals but not to others, or are otherwise borderline. A few items have been reworded or had minor additions, all of which are marked.
On a daily basis as a straight person…
- I can be pretty sure that my roomate, hallmates, and classmates will be comfortable with my sexual orientation.
- If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
- When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation onto others or being too self-indulgent. I will not be told to shut up, or that nobody cares about my sexual orientation. (italicized part added)
- I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.
- I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (IE fag tag or smear the queer). (NOTE: I am not aware of any games that specifically attack asexuals by name, but keep in mind that when I grew up asexuality was invisible, to an even greater extent than it is now. However, by middle school I was frequently subject to pranks (which I’m sure were considered a type of “game”) by more popular classmates attempting to get a rise out of me by saying that so-and-so was interested in me, because I showed no interest in any boys at all. They could not believe that I didn’t like anyone. There are also elementary school games (usually dares) which involve elderly single neighbors, insinuating that they’re “crazy” or “witches” because they live alone. So I am italicizing this one, because it’s borderline. There certainly parts of childhood games that emphasize sexualnormativity and especially the huge importance that romantic relationships are supposed to have.)
- I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation.
- I can go home from most meetings, classes, and conversations without feeling excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, stereotyped or feared because of my sexual orientation.
- I am never asked to speak for everyone who is heterosexual.
- I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to the existence of people with my sexual orientation.
- People don’t ask why I made my choice of sexual orientation.
- People don’t ask why I made my choice to be public about my sexual orientation.
- I do not have to fear revealing my sexual orientation to friends or family. It’s assumed.
- My sexual orientation was never associated with a closet.
of my genderdo not try to convince me to change my sexual orientation.
- I don’t have to defend my heterosexuality.
- I can easily find a religious community that will not exclude me for being heterosexual.
- I can count on finding a therapist or doctor willing and able to talk about my sexuality.
- I am guaranteed to find sex education literature for
couplespeople with my sexual orientation.
- Because of my sexual orientation, I do not need to worry that people will harass me, assault me, or attempt to correct my orientation via rape. (Glaring oversight in original added; see these posts for examples.)
- I have no need to qualify my straight identity.
- My masculinity/femininity is not challenged because of my sexual orientation.
- I am not identified by my sexual orientation.
- I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my sexual orientation will not work against me.
- If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has sexual orientation overtones.
- Whether I rent or I go to a theater, Blockbuster, an EFS or TOFS movie, I can be sure I will not have trouble finding my sexual orientation represented.
- I am guaranteed to find people of my sexual orientation represented in my workplace.
- I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double-take or stare.
- I can choose to not think politically about my sexual orientation.
- I do not have to worry about telling my roommate about my sexuality. It is assumed I am a heterosexual.
- I can remain oblivious of the language and culture of LGBTQ folk without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion. (NOTE: While some asexuals may not identify as queer, I think that within asexual culture if you don’t have any familiarity with LGBTQ history/culture at all, you’ll most likely feel some penalty for it. At the very least, I imagine you’d feel quite isolated, and uncomfortable with/unable to participate in discussions like these, which happen frequently. A lot of us have taken queer theory/history classes and/or read extensively on the subject. The condescending assumption that we haven’t is wrong, and probably more often than not at that.)
- I can go for months without being called straight.
- I’m not grouped because of my sexual orientation.
- My individual behavior does not reflect on people who identity as heterosexual.
- In everyday conversation, the language my friends and I use generally assumes my sexual orientation. For example, sex inappropriately referring to only heterosexual sex or family meaning heterosexual relationships with kids.
- People do not assume I am inexperienced in sexual activities, afraid of sex, or even afraid of intimacy merely because of my sexual orientation. (reworded; related but opposite assumption)
- I can kiss, cuddle, or otherwise show affection to a person of the opposite gender in public without being watched and stared at. (slightly reworded, bold added)
- Nobody calls me straight with maliciousness. If they did, it would be more laughable than threatening. (italicized part added)
- People can use terms that describe my sexual orientation and mean positive things (IE “straight as an arrow”, “standing up straight” or “straightened out” ) instead of demeaning terms (IE “ewww, that’s gay” or being “queer” ) .
- I am not asked to think about why I am straight.
- I can be open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job. (NOTE: It’s often assumed that asexuality wouldn’t affect job prospects, but in my experience in the workplace, the topic of dating and presumed sexual attraction does come up, and it can be a quite uncomfortable subject. This discomfort can be obvious to others and lead them to make bad assumptions, whether their assumptions are about your sexual orientation or about you having a disagreeable personality, etc. Because workplace relations have a significant impact in decisions on promotions and such, I do believe this can have an effect on an asexual person’s job prospects, and had I a less liberal workplace, I would have worried about being open about it. The chance of outright losing the job might be rare, but there are also concerns about it becoming a hostile environment.)
Everything in bold is a straight privilege that I don’t have. In fact, the italics also apply to me as well, because I am partnered to a woman. I think by virtue of this list alone, I should be allowed to call myself queer, without taking my partner into account at all. By the way, every item on this list could fit my partner, too, by virtue of her being trans, if you substitute words in the appropriate places. Being transgender is not the same as being non-heterosexual. There’s a whole other axis of oppression here, a whole other privilege checklist: cisgender/cissexual privilege. She could be a straight trans woman and all of these straight privilege items would still fit into a list of privileges she doesn’t have. Most likely that is why trans people are generally allowed under the queer umbrella, although by no means are they universally allowed. Still, the acronym is GLBT. It’s hierarchical, and the T is in the weakest position, but it’s still tacked on there, whether or not the G, L, or B people actually appear to give a shit about what happens to the T’s. By virtue of that fact, it seems that there is already tacit acceptance in the queer community that privilege overlaps.
And if that’s not clear enough, check this out:
41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me. (From the White Privilege Checklist)
I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my sexual orientation will not work against me. (From the Straight Privilege Checklist)
That is not just an overlap, it’s a word-for-word overlap. It is not only ridiculous but completely inconsistent to require that we eliminate any items that overlap with any other privilege checklist from any sexual privilege checklist that we attempt to compile, or justify their presence on a list by the fact that only we experience them. This is not a good faith standard; it is essentially making up bullshit hurdles that will be impossible for us to leap over. Does the word “gatekeeper” mean anything to you? These are people who are trying to play gatekeeper to the queer community itself. It’s different though, because while you can drive people out of one specific community if you really make a concerted effort, you have very limited power on a global level, and you can’t do anything at all to stop someone from identifying as queer. You can try to spread vitriol about it, and you can try to keep other people from accepting us as queer, sure. But you’re not reaching everyone, you’re not going to reach everyone. Your arguments are pretty shoddy. I’m not sure what you think asexuals are taking away from you by (rightly) saying we don’t benefit from straight privilege either, but this isn’t doing anything to preserve it. I’d recommend you spend your time on something more productive than arguing about why asexuals can’t call themselves queer.
I have more to say about privilege checklists, but this is getting too long, so I’ll make it into a two-parter. Stay tuned.
[Trigger warning for comments: They include a long argument with a person from Privilege-Denying Asexuals, who is at least being relatively respectful. However, there is some mention of corrective rape, and ableism vs. asexuality. Also transphobia/cissexism.]