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.

Infantilized

This is going to be a somewhat short post, because I don’t have much time to elaborate, but I really wanted to pass along some links. First, Trashing Teens, a Psychology Today article about how childhood is being extended later and later. I could certainly relate to this, because as a teen I was restricted in far too many ways, and what “responsibility” my parents did offer me was a joke, because it only meant chores. I didn’t get any extra freedoms to go along with it, and in fact more than once my parents even removed my bedroom door because I had been demanding some privacy (and more importantly, attempting to protect myself from my abusive alcoholic father by locking my bedroom door). My concerns were never taken seriously, and to some degree they still aren’t. Fortunately I live on my own now, but I still have to rely on my parents for a lot of things.

And if I say I’m asexual? Never mind my parents, the world at large doesn’t really believe me. I’m STILL too young to get it, apparently. How long do I have to wait before people will say, “Oh, okay. You’ve waited long enough. There probably is no right person.” 30? 40? 50?

It is ridiculous that people in their twenties are not considered old enough to have figured this out yet. And I’m of a mind to say that teenagers should also be taken seriously when they figure it out, although because asexuality is based on not feeling something, it is reasonable to keep an open mind about it for a bit longer than it would be for other orientations. But to outright deny it, to say “Oh, you will someday,” as if you know the future? No way.

But back to the article. I’ll admit I was a little torn on this at first because I really don’t tend to get along with most teenagers, in general. I really disliked my peers when I was a teenager, and I don’t like spending time with the majority of the younger crowd now. But then I realized that in large part, it is because of the culture that has come out of teens being so infantilized. I like a significantly greater portion of my peers now, but a lot of college kids act like just that—children. They are perfectly capable of acting like adults, but they don’t, because they have been taught not to.

My distaste for this kind of infantilization extends to my fashion statements, as well. I wear gothic lolita clothing when I can get away with it, which is meant to point out the irony of being an adult and choosing to look like a child. There’s a certain dark humor to it, and certainly a commentary on contemporary society.

I’ll leave off by passing along this, which comments specifically on the sexual aspects of teenage oppression. It’s completely ridiculous what can get you on the list of sex offenders. People think “sex offender” means rapist or child pornographer, but really you might be on there for having consensual sex with someone of your own age group. It’s really gotta change.

Edited to add: Here’s another link that goes really well with these—Ken Robinson on creativity in schools.

Sex as a responsibility?

I was rather shocked recently to hear someone with a high sex drive complain about her partner “shirking his relationship responsibilities” by not keeping her satisfied.

I just don’t see how it’s healthy to consider sex a relationship responsibility, for either party. It seems to me that it places unreasonable demands on the partner with a lower libido, and just… all around encourages negativity. Because then that person is going to feel upset or worthless because he can’t satisfy his lover, or resent that she demands so much from him, while she obviously already resents him for not doing anything about her sexual frustration.

And this is going to be one of those stupid questions only an asexual would ask, but honestly: why can’t she just satisfy herself?

Why is it his problem that she has such a high sex drive? Maybe that sounds a little bit cold, but I think that’s only because it’s normal in this society for people to privilege people with high sex drives. Except in very extreme cases, it’s almost never seen as a problem for someone to have a high drive—instead it’s a problem with the partner not matching that drive.

It’s not even about the mismatch itself, it’s about inadequacy. If they came at it from a point of view of, “okay, we have different sex drives, and that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either one of us, but we’re just a little bit different, so let’s both try to compromise so we can both be reasonably happy,” then fine, that’s one thing. In that case, I suppose it would be okay for them to view sex as a relationship responsibility—but ONLY if the person with a higher sex drive also agrees that she has a responsibility to make sure her requests are reasonable and her partner can fulfill them without undue distress. Otherwise it’s just selfish, although because it’s normalized selfishness it’s often not recognized as such.

But I still think that it shouldn’t really be about responsibility; that sets up a grudging “I have to do this” mentality, when really it should be something you want to do, if not for enjoyment of the act itself then at least as a gift that you want to give to your partner. And the sexual partner should treasure it as such, instead of just always demanding more.

I’m just honestly amazed that this kind of attitude is apparently still so prevalent; I thought it was a historical artifact of a bygone era. I guess I’m just naive.