Appearances Can be Deceiving (Another Privilege Post)

May 28, 2011 at 9:00 PM (Asexuality) (, , , )

Over at tumblr, they’re putting together a sexual privilege checklist. After some typically nasty protests from the usual suspects, they appear to be trying to eliminate all overlap between sexual privilege and heterosexual privilege. As far as I understand it, anything that can happen under both is removed from the sexual privilege box and put solely into the heterosexual privilege box.

I believe this policy is a mistake.

I already made a comment to this effect over there, but I don’t know if it’ll show up (it was an anonymous ask, since I don’t have a tumblr account), and I’d like to expound a bit more anyway. I believe this is a mistake for two reasons.

One, in many cases the degree of privilege is different, sometimes wildly so. For example, I’ve no doubt that LGB sexuals have a harder time finding information on their sexual orientations, but the situation is significantly better than it is for asexuals, many of whom go years without understanding why they felt the way they did. While “I can easily find information about my sexuality” can thus go on both lists, I believe you very much miss something – something quite central to what we talk about when we talking about sexual privilege – if you simply lump both situations under heterosexual privilege. Similarly, to make another example, there aren’t many gay characters on TV, in movies, and in literature, but there are still significantly more of those than there are asexual characters. As unpleasant at it is to only have a few movies and a niche publishing industry, it’s not the same situation as having essentially nothing. If you’re going to make a list that’s truly accurate, instead of merely missing any technical falsehoods, I believe you need some way of taking these differences into account.

The other reason I have is that different forms of privilege can look the same, but ultimately come from different motivations and mean different things. An interracial couple may be subjected to statements about how their union is unnatural, and a gay male couple may be the recipients of identical comments, but that doesn’t mean that the same social forces are at work. Similarly, a bisexual woman may be told her orientation is just a phase by people convinced everyone is straight and people convinced everyone is either straight or gay. The former is homophobia (and an example of heterosexual privilege); the latter is biphobia (and an example of monosexual privilege). They can outwardly look the same, yes, and you could put them down on both lists as “My orientation is not dismissed as a phase.” Yet they are not the same thing in truth – different states are being privileged as normal and natural – and the existence of one does not negate the existence of the other. Even if you eliminated one, the other would still remain. I’m sure many bisexuals would agree that both homophobia and biphobia exist!

Likewise, heterosexual privilege and sexual privilege are often going to appear outwardly similar. This does not mean they’re the same thing, and that any overlap should automatically be assumed to be exclusively heterosexual privilege. Privileges can coexist. Before you remove something from the list, I ask you to remember this, and to consider what specifically is being favored: sexuality, or heterosexuality?



  1. Christine said,

    I like this post very much. I was one of the first submitters of some of my bullet points of privilege, and most of mine had some overlap with heterosexual privilege because, quite frankly, I think a good 90% of the oppression faced by asexuals has something in common with the oppression faced by gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. I immediately was called a homophobic bigot and received numerous death threats (death threats!! Over one stupid post!!) that led me to leave Tumblr. I’m gay and asexual, so I’ve seen how both sets of oppression overlap in my life; I can’t easily say that a situation excluded me or made me uncomfortable based on just one factor of my sexuality. However, I’m led to believe that a lot of the non-asexual queer community on Tumblr is so stuck in their old ways and so judgmental of asexuals that they refuse to believe we share any oppression.

    • Miriel said,

      Oh no. I’m terribly sorry that that happened to you. I don’t know what’s wrong with some of those people that they think that behavior is okay. I guess I should be glad I can’t stand tumblr’s format and never got a blog there myself…

      I agree that there’s a lot in common, outwardly and otherwise, even if it’s not always coming from the exact same place.

  2. Sciatrix said,

    Hm, this is actually a good point and is making me do some thinking. Because yes, the differences between specifically asexual experiences and broader queer experiences do differ significantly in terms of degree for some things.

    (For instance, the differences in levels of information about sexual orientation in the classroom. I don’t know about LGB people, but I have taken a college-level Human Sexuality course that completely failed to mention my orientation in lecture except in terms of dysfunction and which included a book that defined asexuality as a lack of external genitalia while simultaneously citing AVEN. Misinformation isn’t the half of it.)

    The trouble is, these differences in what’s going on in terms of cultural negativity are rather complex and require a lot of discussion. I’m not sure a privilege list is the best way to discuss them, particularly not right off the bat, because privilege lists tend not to have a lot of nuance attached, and I think nuance is what’s required here, especially for those things that are general queer issues that are exaggerated for asexuals. And I’m not sure that these are necessarily “sexual privilege” issues so much as general sexual minority issues that have been amplified because asexuality is both less visible and less established.

    • Miriel said,

      Your last paragraph: yes, I agree. It’s a complicated issue, and privilege lists definitely aren’t quite the best format for that. So I don’t quite know what to do. :/ I’m just worried we’ll end up with a privilege list that ignores some of our central concerns because they’re too nuanced to do justice to in the format.

  3. Debunking that OTHER Sexual Privilege List « Asexy Miri said,

    […] this point seems like an attempt to get us to take anything with any overlap off our […]

  4. Wednesday Linkspam « Writing From Factor X said,

    […] Asexy Miri: Appearances Can Be Decieving (Another Privilege Post) Over at tumblr, they’re putting together a sexual privilege checklist. After some typically […]

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