Guest Post: Why Date An Asexual? An Interview with C

Since I started hosting guest posts, I’ve been bugging C (aka Cat Pajamas), my partner of roughly 3.5 years (and now gayancée), to write one for me. She couldn’t come up with any ideas for the longest time, and so to help her out and make it more comfortable for her, I sent her a bunch of interview questions to answer. If the questions don’t seem to flow from one to another very well, that’s because they were asked in no particular order, just as I thought of them, over email and rearranged later. She’s really worked hard to get her thoughts down and then organize and clarify them better. I’m afraid she found my questions rather frustrating, because they were hard to answer without writing book-length responses. I love that her tendency is to go into great detail about these things… and scribble huge diagrams on my white board about them, too! <3

We don’t often hear much from sexual partners of asexual people, so my hope here is to do a little bit to fill that void. C has another post that she’s working on about sexual attraction as well. If anyone has questions for her that aren’t answered here, feel free to ask in the comments!

From here on out, my questions and comments will be in purple text.

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Hi, I’m a 26 year old MTF.  I love to talk about sexuality and some other topics.  I believe I have a very in depth experience with both sexes because I’ve gotten to experience being gay/lesbian/bi in both genders, which is pretty cool and fun to talk about since I think it’s a perspective not many people get to fully experience.

So, if you read that the same way I did, that means I’m at least 200% gay.

Besides sexuality, I have a rather large interests in PC gaming and some outdoorsy hiking/camping stuff.

Can you briefly explain how we met, and how we sort of accidentally ended up in a romantic relationship?

We ‘met’ through a mix of an LGBT group at the university we both went to and me messaging you on OKcupid. Sadly I don’t remember why I messaged you initially, although I do know I was fairly curious about asexuality. We talked online for a time before we decided to go see a movie as friends. The movie wasn’t supposed to be romantic (kung fu panda) and my plan was to just take you back to your place afterwards, but you wanted to just sit around and talk. So we went to a uh, tea/sandwich place that’s kinda artsy and we just sat around and talked.

As it turns out, if you go to see a movie with someone and then talk to them for about 5 hours afterwards and you can’t say good bye, you’re probably doomed to start some sort of romance, whether you intended to do it or not.

Before you met me, if somebody had asked you, “Would you ever date an asexual?” how would you have responded?

I would probably respond with “I’m not sure.” At the time I wasn’t really aware of asexuality and without some information about it or the person, I would probably not do anything. Although I like people that are different from the norm.

If someone asked me that before I started transitioning, I probably would have said “no” since I was quite a bit more sexually active at the time (and ignorant). Once I started transitioning, it would have certainly been closer to a yes (still based on ignorance).

What did you think when you first encountered my profile on OKCupid, and in the early part of our relationship thereafter? Why did you contact me?

When I first encountered it? Who knows! At this point, I’m not sure if there was a reason I messaged you for reasons other than “I don’t know what asexuality is” and I think we had some music groups in common.

I’m pretty sure the reason I messaged you was mainly because of asexuality, since I wasn’t really aware of it and I wanted to know more. I don’t recall wanting to date you. ;)

How did you expect things to proceed? What things surprised you?

Well, ignoring the whole “What? We are dating?” thing… I fully expected the relationship to develop very slowly sexually, so I tried my best to go very slowly. Since usually my relationships have a very sexual nature to them.

What surprised me is how comfortable you were with certain kinds of play. Also how open you were/are to various sexual activities. Based on my (old) knowledge of asexuality, I would have imagined you to be a uh, prude. Thankfully that’s not the case.
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Nobody has a responsibility to come out.

When I heard that the topic of the blog carnival hosted at Writing From Factor X would be about coming out, I was a little dismayed. I’ve likened National Coming Out Day to Valentine’s Day before, and I think with good reason. I’ve become so tired of hearing people harping on the importance of coming out, especially qualified, as it so often is in the asexual community, with some kind of statement like, “Of course, coming out for asexuals is easy, all we really have to deal with is people saying annoying things.” So, I don’t much like to talk about it.

That is demonstrably untrue, by the way. And if the only responses you’ve received when you came out were just a little bit annoying? You’re a lucky one. Not everyone has it so easy, and it’s a privilege to be surprised that they don’t.

Really though, I think that many of the responses that people categorize as “annoying” are actually instances of emotionally abusive statements that go unrecognized for what they are due to a “sticks and stones” tough attitude that many people have. Since abuse is often thought of as only physical, it’s often hard to recognize it when it happens, especially when society agrees with the sentiment. One single instance is relatively easy to brush off, but the cumulative effect of the majority of people claiming that “there must be something wrong with you” is not.

The other day, Rachel Maddow said this:

I’ve long held three basic beliefs about the ethics of coming out:

  1. Gay people — generally speaking — have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out, if and when we feel that we can.
  2. We should all get to decide for ourselves the “if and when we feel that we can” part of that.
  3. Closeted people should reasonably expect to be outed by other gay people if (and only if) they prey on the gay community in public, but are secretly gay themselves.

I also believe that coming out makes for a happier life, but that’s not a matter of ethics, that’s just corny advice.

Now, I’d agree on numbers two and three, but that’s it. Frankly, I think it’s very naive to assume that coming out would make everyone’s lives happier. Some people (and I wouldn’t say it’s impossible that any asexuals are among them, even if I’ve never heard of such a case to date) actually lose their lives after coming out, and I think it’s good to keep that in mind. I found Lena Chen’s response to Maddow’s statement particularly on-point. Much as I usually admire and appreciate the work that Maddow does, in this case I think she’s got too much privilege to see this clearly. I find it inconsistent to claim that queer people (of any stripe, including asexuals) “should all get to decide for ourselves” if/when to come out, while also claiming that we have a responsibility to do so. Saying it’s a responsibility heaps a whole lot of pressure on people to come out, thus making number two ineffectual. If it’s really meant to be our own decision, shouldn’t it be as un-coerced as possible?

In practice, though, I do see a lot of coerced unclosetings happening throughout the queer community. Sometimes this is accomplished through persistent nagging and guilt-tripping. Sometimes people just tell others without their permission. Sometimes it’s a case of a significant other going, “I won’t let you tell your family I’m your friend.” That last case is the only time that I think this kind of behavior is marginally acceptable, because it does affect the significant other’s life too, but even then, it has to be handled delicately.

And you know what? I don’t see all that much of a difference between people saying that queer people have a responsibility to their community to come out, and people saying that married people have a responsibility to their spouses to have sex. Education of the privileged about the lives of the marginalized, like sex, should be a freely given gift. Turning it into a duty makes that gift meaningless.

The asexual community, being invisible and obscure, does need people who are willing to educate others, spread awareness of our existence. But you know what? There are enough people who freely volunteer to do that. We don’t need to make it a responsibility. So let’s try to avoid that mindset.

IDAHO: A Plea for Honest Initiatives

So today is apparently the “International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia” aka IDAHO. Which is all well and good… except wait a minute, what? Why is transphobia tacked on to the end, there? Shouldn’t it be IDAHOT, if anything? Well, no, not really. Not only does it make the acronym less “catchy” (uh, if you could ever really call it that), but there doesn’t appear to actually be any appeal to transphobia being made here, at all.

You see, the big event for this day is a same-sex Kiss-In, which… yep, you guessed it, doesn’t address transphobia at all. And the reason why May 17th is being celebrated in the first place? Because it’s the day that twenty years ago, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality—homosexuality, and not transsexuality—from its list of mental health disorders. Gender Identity Disorder is still an institutionally sanctioned diagnosis of mental illness in America as well as much of the rest of the world, and will remain so under the new name of “Gender Incongruence” with more extensive coverage, according to the DSM-V’s Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders workgroup’s current proposal.

Yeah, but who cares about that, right? Not the group behind IDAHO. I haven’t seen anybody talking about that at all, except for the excellent coverage going on over at Asexual Explorations, which is of course completely unrelated to this event. [Edited to add: Check out this link, if you haven’t already; it’s a letter by Dr. Allen Frances to the APA Board of Trustees on what is going wrong with the DSM-V—as Andrew says, “When the heads of DSM-III and DSM-IV are going ‘Holy shit! Holy shit!’ you know things aren’t going well.”]

So why the hell is transphobia being included at all?

This is just one instance of a larger trend within the GLBT community of tacking trans issues on to the discourse as an afterthought, without really doing anything to help alleviate them. It’s kind of like, “Oh yeah, and transphobia is bad too.” It’s a disingenuous way of making nice, and while the people involved might actually honestly believe that they are doing something to be inclusive and helpful… they’re not.

Transphobia and homophobia are very much separate issues, and that is a point that most people don’t seem to understand. Trans people can be homophobic (take Christine Jorgensen for example), and lots and lots of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals are transphobic. Gender and sexuality are two different things. Some members of my girlfriend’s family approve of me because they think it is somehow a sign that she isn’t trans after all, that eventually she’ll come around to lead a straight life as a man. That’s not going to happen, because she’s trans whether or not she decides to date girls or boys. Yet because “transsexual” sounds like “homosexual” and “bisexual,” and because the T is tacked on to GLBT without acknowledgment that trans issues are different from issues of sexual orientation, people seem to see connections between the two that aren’t there.

I mean, at the very least, if you’re going to say you’re against transphobia, wouldn’t you try to at least discuss the issue? The closest IDAHO gets to that is some petition they’re creating against homophobia and transphobia in religious discourse. Which, uh, yeah… fat lot of good that is going to do. I mean what are they going to do, hand it to a bunch of religious leaders? Yeah, I can’t see someone like Fred Phelps buying it, can you? Or the Pope. Or much of anyone else, except for religious organizations that already support gay (and maybe trans) rights.

It’s all well and good to have a day set aside to celebrate the removal of homosexuality as a diagnosis of a mental disorder, and promote acceptance of that. But it’s totally dishonest to claim that this has anything to do with transphobia, which isn’t even mentioned at all on the page which explains the origins of the event, so I have no idea at what point somebody decided it would be best to add it. So why do it? If it’s a move to be inclusive or politically correct, it’s a bad one, because simply mentioning that something is bad without taking measures to stop it doesn’t really constitute inclusiveness in a political sense. It may even do more harm than good, because saying that you’re fighting transphobia while you’re only really focusing on homophobia creates the misconception that the two words are synonyms.

Let’s be honest: it was never about trans issues, and it still isn’t. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; there can be other days set aside for trans stuff, where the focus is not split by another, more well-known issue. But if you’re going to say you’re fighting transphobia, then it’s best to actually do it.

Edited to add: I realize now that apparently, last year’s IDAHO was more focused on transphobia. And individually, some people have chosen to focus their own efforts on it this year. However, I still feel that this is not sufficient. I think it’s still problematic to call attention to the issue once and then go back to focusing almost solely, on a collective official level, on homophobia. Transphobia needs to be given an equal level of acknowledgment every time the day comes around, or else it becomes support in name only, and that is not good enough. We should not let trans people be kicked to the curb again and again and again, as they have been so many times already. In order to be true allies, we need to have higher standards than that.

Baseball is Creepy!

The baseball metaphor, that is.

While messing around on the intarwebs tonight, I came across this article about finding a positive sexual metaphor. I’d highly recommend that everyone go take a look! In the first part of the article, the author examines baseball as a metaphor for sex in American culture, and just how insidious this metaphor really is:

Baseball is fundamentally oppositional. Both teams can’t win. One team wins and the other loses. As sex, that’s about one partner “gaining” something, and the other partner “losing” something. In our culture, women tend to lose status when they have sex, and there’s a lot of hubbub about women “losing” their “precious virginity.” Men, on the other hand, gain status and respect from sexual experience. This aspect of the model also serves to reinforce gender stereotypes, which are rarely conducive to safe, empowered and satisfying sexual encounters.

Could this have had anything to do with my own fairly intense fear of rape? I was born into the losing team, after all. And the message that I will lose out if I have sex is everywhere, as is the message that the “opposite team” is out to get me–to force or coerce me into having sex without regard for my own feelings about it. In a lot of cases, that really does happen to people, and when it does, doesn’t the baseball metaphor for sex provide the perfect excuse for the assailant? After all, it’s just how you win the game. No wonder there are so many rape apologists!

In its literal sense, baseball can be a fun game, but unlike its literal counterpart, when we’re talking about sex as baseball, there is almost never a switch-up between which team is batting and which is on the field–there is not supposed to be; you are born as either a batter or an outfielder, and that’s where, at least in theory, you stay.  That takes all the fun out of it, doesn’t it? Because if sex happens, somebody loses, and that loser is determined before the game even starts. It’s a predictable, rigid social role. To win the game says nothing about whether the sex was enjoyable for either party. It’s just about whether or not it happens.

This underlying way of thinking has shaped my experiences with heterosexual men, and that’s not to say that they all thought that way themselves, but that this unhealthy power dynamic exists at all has made me extra wary of dealing with “the opposite team”–to the point that I, for the most part, choose to simply opt out of dealing with them entirely, and instead I generally only play with the queer team. It just removes that whole level of uncertainty, that vague sense of wondering whether this person is playing against me, that sense of always having to be vigilant, just in case. Queer people can’t play the game like everyone else anyway; they aren’t allowed to be included in it in the first place.

The article goes into a lot more detail about that, and also proposes an alternative metaphor for sexuality: eating pizza. It’s definitely a much more ace-positive model, since nobody assumes that everybody must eat pizza; while they may be rare, there are just some people who don’t, and that’s fine.

I do think, however, that the metaphor starts to break down a little here:

Eating pizza with a partner is also not a radically different experience from eating pizza alone. The pizza model deflates the myth that masturbation is a lesser sexual experience than partnered sex. Eating pizza alone encompasses the complete pizza-eating experience, just as masturbation is a complete sexual experience. When we do it it with someone else, the fullness of the experience doesn’t change, we simply add communion with our partner(s) to the experience. What’s different is the companionship, intimacy, variety, and possibly the fun of having someone feed you for a change.

I am not sure whether we should classify masturbation as a purely sexual experience. After all, there are plenty of asexuals who masturbate but do not necessarily consider the experience sexual. To some, it may be. To others… the very reason it might be considered okay is because it seems to be a lesser sexual experience (though even then, many find it bothersome). It really isn’t all that involved, when compared to partnered sex, whereas when eating pizza, aside from the initial negotiation of toppings, the actual act of eating the pizza is not different when doing it alone or with a partner. More is required of the person who is having sex with a partner, as opposed to the person who is masturbating. In many cases, a lot more is required. I just don’t think the difference translates well, when we use this metaphor as a vehicle for expression.

I guess the question is really about whether we consider something to be sexual based on sexual appetite, or whether we consider it to be sexual based on which body parts are involved. It seems that people define things as sexual using both of these determinants in different situations. For example, some people think that kissing is sexual–for them, perhaps, it arouses a sexual appetite. But then, to continue the metaphor, people can still eat something even if they have no appetite. Is it the physical act of sex that defines it? If so, which physical act(s) are we talking about, here? Or is it more about the mental aspect of it, the desire/appetite? In some cases, it’s clear how to define it, but in other cases, like this one, it really isn’t.

I also usually have a problem with food-based metaphors for sex because of the idea that having sex is a need, in the same sense that it is a need for humans to eat. I will admit that there is a need for people to procreate, but it is not an individual need, it is only a collective need. Every individual member of a species does not need to procreate in order for the species to survive. However, every individual must eat in order for the individual to survive. So you really have to be careful not to take a comparison of sexual desire with hunger too far. In this case, though, I think the metaphor of sex as eating pizza works okay, on that level, because it refers only to a specific kind of food, and not to food in general. People who don’t eat pizza can thoroughly enjoy other foods, and that’s not weird at all. Likewise, people who don’t enjoy or engage in sexual activities can get plenty of fulfillment from other activities in life!

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Edit from the future: For further reading, check out this post by figleaf.

Why Trendy Bisexuals Are Dangerous to Asexuality

Over the years, a bunch of people have made the point that asexuals have something to add to discussions of sexuality, because their differing perspective on the topic lends an ability to see certain points that others miss. Since I’m currently incapable of forming any coherent thoughts on the topic of asexual gender variation, I thought I might try to add my perspective to an essay that I recently stumbled upon: Sexa Rubelucia’s Defense of Trendy Bisexuality, wherein she attempts to do just that.

She makes a few good points in the essay, but my main issue with her argument is that, while she seems at least aware of the difference between sexual attraction and sexual behavior, she does not acknowledge its relevance to the topic at hand. This is an issue with the definition of bisexuality. This is about what it means to be bisexual, or not. And the commonly accepted definition of any sexual orientation is based on attraction, not behavior, although many people seem to have a muddled and inconsistent understanding of this, including the author of this essay. Reading the essay, I have no clear idea of what her actual views on “real” biseuxality are, though she offers the following definition of fake bisexuals:

Trendy bisexuality is … the kind of bisexuality in which a girl has sex with, hooks up with, or makes out with, other girls to arouse/get the attention of a guy (or guys) watching, or because she wants to be able to say she’s bisexual as she knows it makes her sound sexier to guys, or just because she’s heard that it’s cool to be bi now. It’s distinguished as “trendy” bisexuality to indicate that these girls only do it because it’s “cool” and because lots of other girls do it. The term “trendy bisexuality” is meant to be insulting, and women who self-identify as “trendy bisexuals” only do so in a self-effacing, deliberately ironic way.

It’s clear that she understands what the difference is between so-called “trendy bisexuals” and real bisexuals–that is, the motivation for their behavior. However, she curiously does not address the distinction between orientation (a relatively set pattern of gender-based attraction) and behavior, which is being clarified by people who use the terms “trendy” or “fake bisexuals”–clearly, people question whether such people ought to be calling themselves bisexuals at all. She seems to go back and forth on this, acknowledging her own low level of attraction to women and how that qualifies her to claim the label “bisexual,” and then later saying that a woman who has had sex with other women’s claim to be straight is somehow suspect. Instead of looking at the very obvious definitional qualms that people have with trendy bisexuality, she focuses on feminist objections to the phenomenon of, as she so aptly calls it, “female/female sex as a performance.”

Far be it from me to claim that sex as a performance is a necessarily bad thing (especially considering my own advice on the topic), but some of her claims are a little suspect. I’m sure there’s something to the whole feminist “sexual expectation double-standard,” but her emphasis on how people who object to this on feminist grounds must be man-haters is a little overblown, in my opinion. Some people simply don’t like the idea of performing to fulfill a man’s fantasies, and I don’t think it necessarily means that they hate all men (or even all heterosexual men) because of that. When their fantasies are about women existing as objects meant for their use, it’s understandable why some women would be uncomfortable with that. I, personally, wouldn’t go so far as to say that other women shouldn’t ever engage in any erotic activities with other women solely with the intent of arousing men, but I still find this practice distasteful because there is such a heavy cultural bias towards the fulfillment of male fantasies (which she does mention), and I think that distaste is very much legitimate. I also do think it is interesting that in the same breath as she dismisses others’ claims that straight girls engage in bisexual behavior because they have low self-esteem, she writes off people who have a repulsion to and/or ideological problems with society’s conception of sex as having low self-esteem:

Girls who have low self-esteem do a lot of things. Some girls have low self-esteem and therefore have promiscuous sex. Some girls have low self-esteem and therefore refuse to have sex at all and write feminist theory about why all sex is bad and wrong and evil.

And then there is this little gem:

The overarching answer to the concern of “someone will get hurt” is that it’s sex!  Someone always gets hurt!  It feels really great, and then it confuses you, and then someone gets hurt, and then everyone deals with it.  There’s pretty much nothing you can do to prevent that. (emphasis hers)

Um… what? I mean, first of all, from that previous quote, she acts like sex is so wonderful that anyone who has problems with it must have low self-esteem… and then she says this? I sure HOPE people don’t ALWAYS get hurt when they have sex! Even I, an asexual woman, am not so cynical as to say such a thing, and you know? I guess you could call me naive if you want, but that hasn’t been my experience, either. There was a time when I wondered if I would ever be able to get through sex without pain, but I have since discovered that I am perfectly capable of it, on both an emotional and a physical level. There ARE precautions that people can take to keep themselves from being hurt, and even those who are acting outside of their orientation can benefit from them. I wonder, that this woman would say such a thing, especially in this context. I understand very well how a lack of experience and understanding about one’s own desires (or lack thereof) might lead to less-than-stellar communication (been there, done that!), and I don’t think people should be vilified simply for that. However, this reeks of an unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s actions. If people are not up-front and honest about their intentions, including whether or not they are experimenting, then things are likely to go wrong, and if somebody gets hurt because the other person wasn’t honest, you can’t claim that it was the fault of the person who WAS honest. Of course, when entering into any kind of relationship, there is always the risk of being lied to, or hurt in any other way. But just because someone understands that they are taking that risk, does that mean that it is acceptable for people to do manipulative and unsavory things to them? Should people just never trust anyone, ever? How about: “Well, it’s your fault you got raped, because you knew there was a chance I might have been lying to you!” No. This is just a way of avoiding blame.

That’s not to say that ALL “trendy bisexuals” engage in this behavior, because some people, I’m sure, are actually up-front about the fact that they are just experimenting, or solely interested in sexing women because they want to attract men. Those who aren’t, however, incur the displeasure of those they mislead for a very good reason. Either way, this argument just barely misses, and then dismisses, the real issue:  that trendy bisexuals are MISLEADING PEOPLE by calling themselves bisexual in the first place (and do note, I didn’t say they are “using” people, because I agree, that’s a useless phrase, and plus, it’s such a narrow term it misses some of the broader implications). They aren’t actually bisexual, even though they engage in sexual behavior with people of both genders, and tend to claim that label (the writer of that essay is an uncommon breed in that she actually calls herself a trendy bisexual; usually, that is a label that only other people use to describe someone, while the person being called a “trendy bisexual” just calls herself bisexual).  And this can potentially hurt both the people with whom they are intimately involved, and the wider bisexual, lesbian, and even asexual communities due to its spreading of the misinformed conflation of behavior with a label that’s not about behavior at all.

She continues:

But really, what sinks this complaint is that trendy bisexuals are pretty clearly distinguished from serious lesbians, usually by the fact that their boyfriend is standing no farther than a few feet away.

I doubt this very much, as in my experience (as a biromantic asexual woman partnered to a bisexual passing trans woman–meaning, we look, act, and are treated like lesbians in public), many men seem to assume that most, if not all, out lesbians (who are attractive, at least), are just trendy bisexuals, and would be receptive to their frequent catcalls and offers for threesomes. I really can’t stress enough how frequently this happens. In fact, just a few hours ago, as my girlfriend and I were walking back to our car, just holding hands and not being overtly (or even covertly!) sexual at all, some guy ran into a curb because he was too busy staring at whooping at us to pay attention to the road. You could argue, perhaps, that these men aren’t really seriously harming us by expressing their interest, but the degree to which (even the smallest amount of) female-female affection is sexualized makes me think there is something more insidious going on. My (non-sexual) affection for my girlfriend is routinely trivialized and cast as a simple ploy to gain male attention, when in reality, it has nothing whatever to do with either men OR sex, at all. This is indeed an example of male narcissism, but I am deeply concerned with the idea that this narcissism is harmless. It represents society-wide beliefs that have real-world consequences, which trendy bisexuals may not be aware of because they play into and reinforce the beliefs that other people hold, but women who are seriously committed to one another are much more likely to encounter. The main issue, aside from the demoralizing assumption that women exist for men and the extreme focus on sex, is that we lose credibility. We are much less likely to be taken seriously, as people will assume this is “just a phase” that women go through in college… and if, for example, my mother thinks this way, I may have a disaster on my hands when I finally come out to her, since I am still financially dependent on her and she has quite a bit of power over me. Is this not a legitimate concern?

It seems to me that there is an unwillingness to accept the fact that lesbians even exist, and that it is not at all clear (especially not immediately so) whether any given female-female couple are actually lesbians (this goes back to the issue of orientation vs. behavior, and how that is likely to contribute to the invisibility of groups like asexuals and bisexuals). Although there will certainly be people who assume they are lesbians, people also tend to see what they want to see. The fact that trendy bisexuals exist lends credence to heterosexual males’ wishful thinking, and though that may not actually be what the trendy bisexual is aiming to do, it is understandably annoying to lesbians that this happens, especially since it happens with such frequency. It also undermines the credence that people are likely to give to actual bisexuals, a group that is presumed to an even larger extent than lesbians not to even exist. Again, going back to visibility issues and the damage that defining orientation by behavior does. The writer of this essay seems to be aware of the behavior/attraction distinction, but she is blantantly dismissive of it:

I’ve heard plenty of women say “Oh, I’ve had sex with girls but I’m straight” (note: That is a pretty ridiculous statement), but I can’t even imagine a man saying the same thing about having had sex with a man.

Why is it ridiculous for a girl who has had sex with girls to claim that she’s straight? She is basing her statement on her patterns of attraction, and NOT on her behavior. It is a perfectly legitimate statement. I am asexual, but I have had sex, and that doesn’t make me any less asexual. That I have had sex does not automatically mean that I experienced sexual attraction (contrary to popular belief, I’m sure), because arousal can be a purely physical response to stimuli, that does not spring from any sexual attraction. If it’s possible to be aroused without feeling sexual attraction at all, it’s certainly possible to be aroused by an attraction to something else (in this case, the men that are turned on by lesbians) and then have sex with someone who did not inspire the initial attraction.

The author goes on to explain that that statement would be even more ridiculous in reverse, with a man insisting that his having had sex with a man does not make him gay, and rightly so. To most people in our culture, that would seem like a contradiction, but there have been other cultures where male homosexual interactions were even institutionalized, as mentor-student relationships that were considered a rite of passage. I am thinking of the ancient Greeks and Tokugawa-era Japan, here. As I understand it, it was quite normal in those cultures for men to have sex with other men without being presumed to be homosexual, as those men usually also took wives. There was no stigma attached to this, as there is in our culture, which is probably the reason why our men are so afraid of doing anything whatsoever that might lead others to assume that they are gay. That a man has had sex with another man, in my eyes, would not automatically mean that he is gay, except that since that assumption is so prevalent throughout this society, and since there is so much stigma attached to that act, so much homophobia running rampant throughout society, it would be quite a stretch to think that a heterosexual man would be so willing to experiment that he would even be willing to subject himself to that stigma.

To be gay is to lose social status. For men, who are ascribed a higher social status than women, it is a very, very bad for their image to appear effeminate in any way. Having sex with other men is seen as a marker of effeminacy, because of the way that society conceives of the power structure that is built into sex. To be a bottom in an act of gay sex is to act as a woman, and in so doing, sacrifice one’s (ever-fragile) masculinity. Which is, of course, probably the reason why, as the author observes, there is no male equivalent of the trendy bisexual in American culture (though there is something similar in Japan, but it is usually outright acknowledged that the guys are doing it solely for the girls’ benefit, instead of them claiming to actually be bisexual). Curiously, she fails to comment on that power structure, but she does point out some of the differences between gay male sex and lesbian sex:

Lesbian sex is far less necessarily physically threatening than gay male sex.  Penetration isn’t a requirement for two women to have sex with each other, whereas a man who identifies as bisexual is basically saying he’s willing to take it up the ass.

But is this really what he is saying, or is this just what people assume he is saying? What about a bisexual man who is strictly a top? And since when is penetration required for gay sex? I have known gay couples who never engage in penetrative sex because they don’t enjoy it, but do have other kinds of sex. Obviously, one alternative is oral sex. I also remember reading about one society (maybe the Romans? but I can’t recall which) that considered the anus dirty, and instead of having anal intercourse, they would engage in frottage–i.e., men would rub their penises between the closed thighs of other men. This statement highlights how incredibly phallocentric and extremely focused on penetration our society is. Even though anal intercourse is not the only form of gay male sex out there, it is the only form that society recognizes as such (and furthermore, people specifically focus on the bottom without considering the top, which shows how much focus there is on the person who is being “emasculated” and stripped of their social status).

An asexual perspective might be useful here, because in searching for an alternative form of sexuality that might be more tolerable to us than the usual penetrative kind of sex, we often realize how incredibly narrow society’s definition of “sex” is. There are many, many other ways to do sex than just penetration. In the case of lesbian sex, too, this must be acknowledged, because not all lesbian sex involves a strap-on. It is interesting to me that the author of that essay acknowledges that penetration is not required for lesbian sex, but doesn’t realize that it isn’t required for gay male sex either. It strikes me as something of a double-standard. After all, lesbians can and do penetrate each other–why, then, with all this focus on penetration, is that not considered THE way that lesbians have sex? In fact, to many people who hold such a penetration-centric view of sex, it is not even obvious that women CAN have sex with each other, because most women haven’t got a phallus–at least, not one that’s biologically attached.

In short, her arguments leave me unconvinced.  I wonder whether she has ever heard of asexuality, and what her reaction to it would be.  She doesn’t really seem the type who would take well to the idea, what with her comments about self-esteem and how “ridiculous” it is for girls with a history of having sex with other girls to call themselves straight. I would expect her to dismiss my experiences, claim I am insecure, and say I must be a man-hater because I dislike the way men sexualize me and trivialize my emotions (to say nothing of the actual objectification). I do have a problem with trendy bisexuals, but not because I think they shouldn’t act the way they do, on feminist grounds. My problem is that they are straight women who call themselves bisexual, and thus spread misinformation about what a sexual orientation even is, which can be harmful to ALL non-heterosexual orientations. It would be fine with me if they would at least acknowledge that they are not really, or only barely, attracted to women, and are mainly turned on by them because it turns on men. (I can, after all, understand enjoyment of others’ sexual reactions, as that is the main reason why I even have sex at all.) But most of them don’t (and actually, I wouldn’t call anyone who did a “trendy bisexual” at all; in my eyes, she would just be a straight woman who engages in bisexual behavior), either because they don’t understand what the term “bisexual” means themselves, or they are simply not willing to say they engage in behavior that is viewed negatively, even though that is the truth. They either do not realize the harm that they are doing to the larger community by spreading misinformation, or are not willing to take responsibility for misleading people. I don’t think these concerns are off-base; in fact, her essay only serves to trouble me more.

Why Acronyms are a Bad Idea.

Lately there’s been a bit of a stir around this blog post, wherein some gay dude rants about how asexuals aren’t worthy enough to add a letter to his sacred acronym, because we’re disabled, repressed, traumatized, pitiable, not oppressed enough, and dammit, we all just need to stop being anti-sexual prudes and get laid. And some other ignorant drivel that’s really not worth repeating, and has already been well argued against.

For some reason (likely because I’m bored and bed-ridden, and can’t do much of anything else), I sat there skimming over the comments today, unable to get myself riled up about any of it.

I found the most salient comment of that entire discussion to be the one about how the guy doesn’t seem to care about the trans community either, which rings true with my own experience of GL(bt) groups. Frustrating as it is, there is a ton of in-fighting and prejudice within these types of groups, especially towards the most minor of the minority groups. Nobody gives a thought to asexuals, and trans people are the first to get jettisoned should the group face any major resistance to whatever law they’re trying to pass (case in point: the ENDA debacle).

I know not everyone thinks like this, as I have had some success at getting asexuality included within a few local queer groups, although it is still largely ignored until one of the active asexual members brings it up. As for trans stuff, they will mention whatever PFLAG is putting on, or the things they do every year (out of habit, by this point), but they don’t seem to know or care exactly what it’s about. Mostly, they just seem to care about parties (and fundraising for them). It’s all about social events, and has very little to do with real activism. At this point, people have gotten so fed up with the incompetence and petty drama that the group split into different factions, and active members (which once filled the tiny room we are assigned to bursting) are down to a small handful.

The main problem I have had with these groups (aside from general incompetence) is that they are so very self-interested that they fail to see the larger picture. I think in large part this has to do with the group’s focus, which is reflected quite clearly in the name. I would argue that not only does the intended focus of the group contribute to its name, but that the name also shapes its focus, sometimes in a way that can be quite detrimental to its ability to get anything productive done.

I am not the first to recognize the trouble with acronyms; many groups have seen that, not only is there a linguistic hierarchy clearly visible in the structure of the name (Gay > Lesbian > Bisexual > Transgender > * > * > * etc.) that reflects badly on the group because it points out a real underlying hierarchy with regards to the weight of importance given to the issues of each respective smaller community, but that it quickly accumulates into an unpronounceable alphabet soup in any attempt to include additional minorities. Some people, like the above-linked blogger, seem to take issue only with the latter problem, and advocate a non-inclusive approach. Others have decided, instead, to change the name of the group to one that’s both easier to keep track of and more inclusive: Queer-Straight Alliance, or QSA.

That’s a bold move, because “queer” is a very broad term. It can be re-envisioned to mean almost anything that goes against the norm, although in this context, I would assert that it was originally meant to include not only minority sexual orientations (challenging heteronormativity), but also those challenging sex (as in male/female) and gender norms–because athough you might take a narrow view and claim that trans people automatically challenge heteronormativity just by switching genders, that argument is specious because for such a long time, trans people were only considered to have transitioned successfully if they were straight in their target genders. There is also the issue of the inclusion of an I for intersex, which, while it isn’t universally accepted, also makes it clear that an essential component of this definition of “queer” is the challenging of gender norms, not just heteronormativity.

It has been argued that asexuality is not or should not be considered queer by this definition, and I think a key point here is that gender norms are being challenged on two different dimensions: 1) on the level of the physical self, self-expression, and gender roles; and 2) the idea that the only right way to do things (sexually, but also implies romantically) is to have a male-female couple. A lot of people don’t seem to fully grasp the enormity of what it means to challenge these norms, focusing solely on the male-female couple bit. I think this is why trans, intersex, and asexual people so often get left out, and especially so for asexuals. Some asexuals are accepted as queer on the grounds that they form same-sex couples (with or without sex), or because they are trans or intersex, but cisgendered heteroromatic and aromantic asexuals may find themselves excluded because they are otherwise considered straight (by secondary orientation or by default). So, some asexuals may be considered queer for other reasons, but asexuals, simply by virtue of being asexual, often are not. I would argue, however, that such a view misses an essential part of what it means to be queer, what it means to challenge this particular set of societal norms.

To express the big picture to its fullest: What all of these minority groups have in common is that they challenge the idea that male and female are mutually exclusive categories, which are pairs of opposites, and thus naturally complete one another through (penis-in-vagina) sexual intercourse.

Therefore, any of the following is not natural and constitutes a pathology or defect: a same-sex couple, a transgendered person, an intersexed person, or any person sincerely not interested in copulating (not making the choice to abstain, but sincerely uninterested).

What I am saying, here, is that this set of norms has a specifically sexual component, and to be asexual is to challenge the part of that idea which says that people are completed through sexual intercourse. And so, we should be able to legitimately call ourselves queer. It is, admittedly, a less gendered part of the equation, which is probably why it so easily gets overlooked. But we ARE challenging heteronormativity, even if we don’t directly challenge gender norms (although many of us certainly do). Because the idea that men and women are complementary opposites that complete each other implies that men are supposed to be sexually attracted to women and vice versa, but if there is a naturally-occurring segment of the population which does not experience attraction to either, well. There you go.

In the interest of brevity (ha!), I won’t argue the point too finely, because I’m sure I’m pretty much already preaching to the choir, here. I’m sure there will be people, both asexual and not, that continue to say that asexuals should not (by virtue of being asexual alone) be considered queer, but I wanted to point out that it’s all in how you define things. If you take a broad view, we fit. If you take a narrow view, we don’t–but personally, I think if you’re going to take a narrow view, you ought to just stick to the acronym approach. I think even many of those who have accepted the QSA approach, though, are still thinking strictly in terms of same-sex couples, and not about the larger implications of using the term “queer.” The ugly hierarchies still exist, and many gays and lesbians even question the validity of bisexuality, never you even mind transgender, intersex, or asexuality. I think it’s time for people to stop using acronyms, stop thinking like they’re still using acronyms, and truly give some deep thought to what it really means to be queer. If we’re going to have a more inclusive community, then both the name and the focus of the community ought to reflect that–and that means being more sensitive to the more minor minorities involved. That way, hopefully the members will actually stick around.