At Least Let Me Call it By Name.

Q: What’s one good piece of evidence that I am overly-busy with school?
A: It takes me a month to realize I’ve been referenced and linked by the ever-awesome Cory Silverberg.

There are a couple of points I want to make in response, the most important of which is just an acknowledgment of his spot-on statement about certain people in the asexual community dismissing the issues of people with disabilities. Looking back at the post he linked, I’m smacking myself upside the head a little because it really does ignore — however unintentionally — the issues of disabled persons. I’ve never been a fan of forced asexuality — on teens, on the elderly, on people with disabilities, etc — but I’ve been so focused recently on the asexual perspective, that I think I lost track of the notion that there are other perspectives out there.  And honestly, I think it’s really important that communities in general (and the asexual community specifically) not lose track of those other perspectives, even when they seem conflictual. I think we’re strongest when we recognize the distinct populations within our community, and — in addition, — ally ourselves with other communities.  The disabled community strikes me as a population of potential allies, because in a sense (as Silverberg points out), members of both communities are looking for greater freedom to express their orientations.  Whatever combination of sexual, asexual, able, or disabled we are as individuals, I think we’re all looking for ways to express that and to have it acknowledged or affirmed by others. I think it makes complete sense that we would work together for that kind of freedom, and I would honestly welcome ideas about how to go about it.

There was one other piece of Cory Silverberg’s article that I wanted to address.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s his line, “It still feels right for me to say say that all humans are sexual.”  In all honesty, it’s a difficult point for me to comment on because, although I see it being painful for certain members of the asexual community, including people I consider friends, it’s not particularly problematic for me on a personal level.  Since I’m not all that attached to the “asexual” label, since it’s not one I use to identify myself, and since a broader definition of sexuality (that encompasses a good deal more than sexual relations) really would satisfy my own needs, I don’t feel entirely “qualified” to comment here.  And yet, my gut reacton to the statement “everyone is sexual” — given that a significant number of people are attesting they’re not, remains one of (at best) unease.

I think I understand what Silverberg intends by this comment.  At the very least, I know what I mean when I’m compelled to say such things.  The desire not to separate, to instead remain unified, is a strong one, and one I think the asexual community benefits from acting on.  A healthy alliance is a fabulous tool, after all, and I understand being concerned about polarization.  My unwillingness to embrace a sexual/ asexual binary was (you may remember) the main reason I stopped considering “asexual” as a potential self-descriptor.  It’s been more helpful for me personally to view asexuality as one area on a continuum (a continuum which stretches into sexuality as well.)  Maybe this has to do with my general dislike of binaries; maybe I simply don’t feel compelled to handle another minority identification; maybe I am internalizing some “a-phobia” or clinging to some sexual privilege — I honestly can’t say for sure.  What I do know is that I gained acceptance of myself and my orientation first by exploring the asexual community and later by shelving that identifier.  Although technically my participation in the asexual community (sans identifier) continues to shape my orientation and increase my ability to accept who I am, for me personally both statements are true.  Silverberg’s desire to see everyone as sexual — albeit with a broader definition of “sexual” than many people I know (more on that in a later entry) — is one I often share.  That’s hard for me to admit, and yet, it’s true.

However.

Before I left California,  I had a really marvelous conversation with David about how much I dislike the binary and how it concerns me to see asexual people distancing themselves so much from sexual folks (and vice-versa, although I think it happens less in the other direction, if only because relatively few “sexuals” are aware of asexuality — even now — and those who are don’t always validate it enough to identify in opposition.  If you’re going to use something as an Other, I think you’re required to accept it as a reality first.)  David’s responsee was really interesting, and suggested to me a reason for constructing those much-detested binaries that I’d honestly never considered before.  His point — as best I can remember it — was basically this:

When he was “questioning” what made him different from his friends who were so interested in sex, there was no binary.  The term “asexual,” the asexual/ sexual binary, and the potential continuum of asexuality/ sexuality essentially (i.e. for practical purposes) did not exist.  All that existed was sexuality, in its very limited “sexual relations” sense.  And given that he did not feel such a sexuality fit him, he had to go outside of it, create another term, and establish a meaning for that term in order to communicae his experience.  If, in the years since then, the “non-sexual” identified space has begun to grow into sometehing as clearly (or rigidly) defined as sexuality was in David’s (although honestly I don’t know that it has; my experience of the ase community is that it’s very open to fluidity and exploration), then things have shifted from the days when he founded AVEN.  In a sense, I think this represents a victory for the asexual community, but I can also see why some people are inclined to say the next step should be expanding “sexuality” to include the “asexual” space.  A more fluid definition of sexuality allows all of us to be part of the “healthy” “normal” group, without challenging the notion of what is healthy and normal. It allows all of us to be “the same” without questioning why we have to be. Difficult as expanding the definition of a term can be, in a sense, this is still the simpler path, and it’s hard, at times, for me not to be one of the people advocating that we take it.

And yet, when I stop to think about it, when I try and imagine how I’d feel if “asexual” were an identifier I used and valued using, the suggestion that asexuality is “just” another sexuality starts to strike me as a hurtful move.  I identify as lesbian, and I can basically guarantee for you that no matter how broad, inclusive, and accepting “heterosexuality” grows, I will never feel quite comfortable or truthful or right identifying as straight.  Even if heterosexuality evolved to a point where other straight people could conceive of my identity and experience using that label, I think the terms I use now — lesbian, queer, etc — would remain important to me.  I think those of us who don’t identify this way need to remember that the term “asexual” has functioned — and functioned importantly — for people whose experience of sexuality was not one like Silverberg describes, of an aspect or filter of experience that exists in all of us, regardless of whether we desire sexual relations, but rather one that was much more limited, often to sexual relationships or the desire for sexual relationships.  In my opinion, we need to include in our effort to advocate for sexual expression the absolute right to self-identify.  We need to be able to adopt the term (and the definition of the term) that suits us best — because protecting our idea of the universal human truth has to be less important than allowing each other to fully communicate our individual experiences.  I suspect that Cory Silverberg (to continue semi-unintentionally singling him out) recognizes that, because he recognizes the problem of one group of people telling another group of people it doesn’t exist, but given that some asexual people don’t view their asexuality as a sexuality at all, I worry that his earlier statement might be taken as just that.  My sense of the situation remains that, if we’re going to really listen to each other, which is something I feel we need to do more of, — (it’s a fundamental part of intimacy, isn’t it?) — we have to allow each other the right to our own words and the right to defining our own words, even as antonyms of those chosen by another, and even when we, personally, don’t necessarily see them as oppositional.

ETA: Since I wrote this, Cory Silverberg posted the following comment clarifying his statement about everyone being sexual: “I’d be interested in what you think […] about the way I describe people as sexual. Essentially what I’m saying is that people who are asexual are sexual, and their sexuality is expressed in a way that’s different than someone who isn’t asexual. I think if we started with the premise that we’re all sexual, but that doesn’t have to mean we all want or do the same things, it would address both people who are asexual and people with disabilities.”  I’ve already offered my own thoughts on that here, but I’d love to hear from other people (however they identify).  What are your thoughts?

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5 Responses to “At Least Let Me Call it By Name.”

  1. Rainbow Amoeba Says:

    The idea that asexuality could be a form of sexuality – that asexual people are sexual people who express their sexuality in their own way – does not shock or offend me. When we say that asexuality is a sexual orientation, aren’t we already saying, in a way, that it is a form that sexual attraction (which is, itself, a part of sexuality) can take? I’ve never really felt that asexuality was a no-sexuality or the opposite of sexuality, so I have no problem seeing it as a part of it.

    I’ve always been uncomfortable with the use of the word “sexual” as an opposite of “asexual” because it felt too much like the two ideas were stricly opposed. So I use “non-asexual” instead. Of course, technically “non-asexual” is a double negative so it should come back to “sexual”. But it all depends on how we use the words, doesn’t it? Don’t words change meaning over time, so that in the end they may not mean what their construction suggests anymore?

    I think that asexuality being a part of sexuality is a quite different situation from gays or lesbians being considered straight. Pretzelboy would explain this better than I and I may even be making mistakes here, but I will try to explain my reasoning all the same. “Straight” is just another word for “heterosexual” and “gay” or “lesbian” refer to the same thing as “homosexual”. “Heterosexual” and “homosexual” are not words constructed in direct opposition to each other (contrary to “asexual” which is the negative of “sexual” – technically they are not really opposite, simply “sexual” is something that “asexual” is not). They simply refer to two different things. A “heterosexual” prefers the other gender. A “homosexual” prefers the same gender. They like different things, but they are not structually opposed to each other – they are only considered that way in a context in which there are only two genders, and therefore someone who does not prefer his or her gender necessarily prefers the opposite gender, and the other way around (and in fact, things are not even that clear-cut in the real world since it is possible to like both genders – be bisexual – and many people now challenge the idea that there are only two genders).

    I guess I could see things this way: sexuality is a spectrum, like sexual orientation, and asexuals are part of it. On this sexuality spectrum, “asexual” is not the opposite of “sexual” but of “non-asexual” – we are all sexual, but asexuals express their sexuality in their own way (by not having sex and not wanting to, or having sex for different reasons than non-asexual people do) while non-asexuals express their own sexuality in the ways that are considered the norm today (I am not talking about moral norms here): they experience sexual attraction, want to act on it and have sex (I’m afraid I can’t be more specific here, since I am asexual and I do not really know how things are for non-asexuals). Therefore, we are all sexual. Some of us simply don’t experience sexual attraction, or not strongly enough to want to act on it, and therefore their sexuality is expressed in a different way: they are asexual.

    In the same way, asexuality is part of the sexual orientation spectrum (I would see it at a circle: starts with asexuality, moves on to, say, homosexuality, goes through bisexuality, then on to heterosexuality, and back to asexuality). We all have a sexual orientation. which defines who we are sexually attracted to. Some of us simply are not sexually attracted to anyone: they are asexual.

    (Does this even make sense? It is really getting late here and maybe I am not so coherent anymore,but I had to comment now or else I knew I would forget. I’m sure Pretzelboy will write something much better and clearer (and maybe totally disagree with me) if he sees this, but although I have not studied linguistics, I like words and I found this idea very interesting.)

  2. pretzelboy Says:

    I’m totally with you on your comments about an asexual-sexual binary. One thing that I’ve found is that although in the early asexual community (I’ve been reading a lot about it recently), people tended to think of asexuals as being “not sexual,” this has weakened a lot since then. Some have a strong sense of being not sexual, but a lot of others don’t. My own suspicion is that this largely is an unintended consequence of the way asexuality has come to be defined. Early on, a good number of asexuals thought of it in terms of sexual preference rather than sexual attraction, but by defining it terms of sexual attraction, I think it gives people in the gray area a lot more freedom to explore sexuality while still identifying as asexual. And in an odd way, because the current definition creates a clear-cut asexual-sexual binary, it almost seems to force people in those gray areas to bring attention to those gray areas. (As for my thoughts on whether we should think of asexuality as a sexuality, the comments on Cory’s blog that he’s responding to were mine.)

  3. Ily Says:

    It’s weird, because people can fit into categories that they also break. Sure, in terms of categorization, asexuality is a sexuality, and in the spectrum of sexuality from 0 to 100, asexuality is included. But I don’t want an overly-broad definition of sexuality to “absorb” asexuality or make it disappear. I know that’s not what you’re thinking, Venus (at least from what I see here), but I fear that there are many people out there who want everyone to be the same. (Like you said– if there was some reasonable way to incorporate homosexuality into heterosexuality, I’m sure someone would have tried it by now, and gay folks would have every right to be offended by that.) Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like binaries either. Asexuality is like being agender or neutrois…Being agender is the absence of gender, but categorically, it’s still a gender. This is bordering on some Gender Trouble-stylee stuff, so I’m not sure how much further I can go…but I do think what is normal should probably be questioned as much as possible, if not abandoned altogether.
    In reference to Cory’s comment, though, not everything that feels right is necessarily right 😉 I find this interesting:

    Essentially what I’m saying is that people who are asexual are sexual, and their sexuality is expressed in a way that’s different than someone who isn’t asexual.

    Because while I express an asexual orientation, I don’t express anything that is “sexual”, if that makes sense. If I do express my sexuality in some way, then sexuality would have to be defined in such a broad way that it would crumble on itself– sexuality as “passion” or “creative energy” is way too loose, I think. I appreciate the effort to be inclusive, but maybe people are just too diverse to include everyone in everything.

    Always glad to read new posts from you 🙂

  4. bentcrude Says:

    very interesting stuff

  5. In Which Asexuality Goes Green. « The Venus of Willendork: Exploring A/Sexuality and Gender. Says:

    […] could be encompassed in their ‘more inclusive version/ of heterosexuality.”  I said a version of that in response to Cory Silverburg’s article as well, but was largely assured by those […]

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