In Which Asexuality Goes Green.


I meant to post this, as a much shorter snippet, well over a week ago.  But I didn’t finish babbling before I had to leave that evening, and alas, it hit the back burner until now.  So, um, enjoy?

I’ve been reading some very interesting things lately, upon my long-belated reentry into the blogosphere.  Among them are Pretzelboy’s recent thoughts on the claim that “all people are sexual.”  It’s no secret that I was a fan of Carol Queen’s comments to David about a more inclusive definition of sexuality that could even encompass asexuality, although I maintained reservations along the lines of “I wouldn’t want anyone claiming that my homosexuality 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 asexual-identifying folks who responded that the idea bothered them less, because they didn’t see asexuality as the binarial opposite of sexuality (ala homosexuality and heterosexuality) but rather as a place on the larger spectrum of sexuality. 

However, Pretzelboy has raised some points recently that draw my mind in new directions, although the conclusions are (as usual) pending.  With the exception of his superb satire, perhaps the most compelling point in Pretzelboy’s series (for me personally) occurs when he questions the effect of broadly defining sexuality on asexual sex-ed students:

The people in sexuality education seem to use a “broad” definition of sexuality because that makes sense in their lives. But for asexuals sitting in on their classes, does such a definition make sense of their experiences or does it render them invisible? Does this “broad” definition empower them or does it declare them disordered? Does it validate their experiences? Does it help them think about decisions they have to make regarding relationships, regarding sexulaity, and about their lives more generally?

I have no desire to render anyone invisible.  Based largely on Pretzelboy’s posts, I highly doubt that the clearest understanding of asexuality is rendered through the lens of sexuality.  Imagine the inversion.  Imagine basing our understanding of sexuality entirely — or even largely — on asexuality.   While it’s less likely, given the power of the majority to determine social perspective, it’s hardly less confining.  I’m reminded of a train ride I took recently, and the difficulty I had seeing the minimal landscape through the foggy glass of the train windows.  I’m reminded even more of a series of Through the Viewfinder (TTV) photos a friend of mine has been working on, in which each shot is taken through lenses from two different cameras.  The representation of the image loses certain clarity, and in some ways its realism is compromised as a result.  I would argue, however, that it’s not necessarily the lens on asexuality that’s the true problem, but more precisely, the prioritization of this one perspective, this one representation, this one understanding.

When I first read Pretzelboy’s posts, the metaphor that occurred to me had nothing to do with train windows or photographs.  Rather, it was a metaphor of color.  This is hardly unprecedented in the discussion of a/sexuality, I know.  We’ve had the problematic metaphor of asexuality as equivalent to colorblindness and the general discussion of the a/sexuality spectrum in terms of the color spectrum, but this particular thought had more to do with how we come to understand each individual color.  Take green.  Based only on the color wheel, if someone asked you to explain green, you could answer them in several different ways.  You could say that green was like blue, but with a higher concentration of yellow.  You could say that green was like yellow, but with a higher concentration of blue.  You could direct them to imagine the complementary opposite of red, or a “cool” color more in range with purple than, say, orange.  Each of these explanations would give the person some information about green, likely increasing their understanding of the color.  Ideally, each of the explanations could combine with the others to create a strong foundation for understanding green, so that it was not simply a matter of choosing the best description (is it best to imagine the opposite?  or to describe things that are similar?), but of offering a multitude of descriptions, which — in concert — help highlight the true nature of the hue.

For the purposes of this post, I’m calling asexuality green, and I’m wondering if the obstacle in our gaining (or offering) clarity about the nature of asexuality isn’t so much a problem of looking through the wrong lens (i.e. coming at it from the “complement” perspective of the sexual red, and trying to understand it as the opposite), but rather an issue of too few lenses.   If we could understand asexuality not solely in relationship to sexuality, but also in relationship to its color-wheel neighbors, (the blues and yellows of its world, say celibacy or homosexuality or… well, what might you suggest?) , as well as  in relationship to colors with similar degrees of warmth, and finally — based solely on its own information (viewing green starting with green), we might have a more multi-dimensional grasp on the experience.  The problem I see now is that one perspective — the perspective that starts with the opposite and works its way around the wheel — has been prioritized to the point that it’s difficult to start anywhere else.  And that’s limiting our understanding.

Come to think of it, that’s limiting our understanding of sexuality as well.  Having comprehended it largely on its own grounds, rarely investigating the surrounding and complementary territories, how much can we truly know?

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5 Responses to “In Which Asexuality Goes Green.”

  1. pretzelboy Says:

    A very thought provoking post! I think that it is this issue–finding lenses to use to understand asexuality–more than anything else that has kept me as involved in the asexual community as I have been. My own struggles to find ways to think about asexuality are what have led me to blog. Because it is such a new identity, there is very little to work with for developing any kind of framework. Using celibacy as a tool for understanding asexuality hasn’t been used very much, but part of this comes from the fact that a distancing strategy has become standard in asexual rhetoric. On the other hand, the book “A History of Celibacy” features prominently on AVEN’s recommended reading.

    As for using homosexuality as a lens to use by comparison, I think that to a large extent, this is already done. From early on, asexuals have been trying to make allies with LGBT groups, and I think a lot of our ideas get borrowed from queer groups. (And there’s the fact that there’s a fair bit of overlap between asexuals and other queer identities.)

    I definitely agree that we need to develop other tools and other ways of thinking about things in order to develop tools for making sense of asexuality and that asexuality has the potential to help us better understand sexuality–it challenges assumptions that need critical reevaluation.

  2. willendork Says:

    Yeah, I don’t think the “blues and yellows” I came up with were particularly ground-breaking. I’m still racking my brain for more interesting ones, and ones that perhaps are a little less explored by asexual thinkers than celibacy and homosexuality are. I think that’s been my own major connection to the asexual community, though: the mental exertion of trying to understand something so new and so fascinating, within a community of people who are equally fascinated, and the constant search for new ways to expand and rethink that understanding.

    Well, that, and feeling like there’s somewhere I might belong even if I never become that lesbian who’s comfortable in the meatmarket bar scene. 😉 Cheers!

  3. AVENguy Says:

    Awesome post! I still contend that Polyamory is an interesting “yellow,” as is the trans community. To me the most interesting thing about asexuality isn’t the process of understanding it, it’s the perspective that it brings to everyone else.

    In your final point about sexuality you state that there aren’t enough surrounding and complimentary territories for it, either. Asexuality, as the “opposite” of sexuality, is a pretty important one. I think that by defining asexuality we have a lot of power to define people’s understanding of their own sexuality, and that’s a pretty powerful position to be in. Unlike most other queer identities we can’t be attacked morally, so it’s harder to shut us up and take that power away.

    Now I’m tempted to do a whole ‘nother post about the environmental side of asexuality going green.

  4. theimpossiblek Says:

    Funny AVENguy should mention that… when I first saw the title of this post, I thought it was about environmentalism! Even though it wasn’t, your post definitely did not disappoint… I like the color wheel analogy used here, though I think I’d prefer to think of asexuality as black, in the center of the color wheel- because black absorbs every color in the spectrum. 🙂

  5. willendork Says:

    AVENguy: Polyamory and the trans community are definitely interesting yellows. The conversation between communities, and between people who have a stake or an identity in various combinations of them, is definitely fascinating. Asexuality raises interesting points in other areas, and other areas raise interesting points regarding asexuality. I ❤ that. … Also, I didn’t mean to say that there aren’t enough surrounding territories, necessarily, so much as that they are underexplored. Asexuality was definitely one of the informing territories I was thinking of in regard to that. … As for the environmental post, you totally should! I love when interests bridge, and something tells me you’re more “qualified” to comment on this one. I was mainly just qualified to make the pun, ha ha.

    TheImpossibleK: Yeah, that was my joke; although it maybe misleads more than is fair. I’m glad the post wasn’t disappointing, even though it was a shift from your expectations. I like the idea of asexuality as black, for the reason you mentioned, and also because it totally complicates the notion of it as “pure” — at least in cultures like the US, where purity is usually equated with white. Complicating the notion of purity is always a good time, doncha think? 🙂

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