Debunking that OTHER Sexual Privilege List

May 29, 2011 at 10:02 PM (Asexuality) (, , , )

Because endless cries of “homophobe” haven’t done the trick, one of our antagonists on tumblr has set forth a list of things they’d like us to provide before they begin taking asexual oppression seriously. Azi has already pointed out one problem with this list, noting that whether or not sexual privilege exists, our problems do. I’m going to take a different tack, and address the list directly.

I’m all for constructive criticism, but I’ll state from the outset that I don’t believe this individual is arguing in good faith. Even ignoring their previous behavior (and the fact that their tumblr is “a blog dedicated to exposing tumblr’s most heinous social justice warriors”), many of the things on this list have already been answered, are irrelevant to what we’ve been saying, or are not possible at this point. A few mistakes are fine; I’m not going to begrudge someone not knowing the history of the asexual community. This many problems, though, strike me as either the work of someone who’s either been paying negligently poor attention or is deliberately setting impossible standards.

Still, they are being civil, and I suppose it’s better to directly address these things. With that in mind, onward!

-Construct a coherent and consistent definition of “asexual” that does not exclude grey-A and demisexual people.

First of all, what is incoherent or inconsistent about “does not experience sexual attraction”? I certainly have a hard time thinking of something more coherent or consistent.

Second, yes, that definition excludes demisexuals and gray-As. That’s part of the point: gray-As and demisexuals are not entirely asexual, but they’re far closer to that state than to any other. (And I say this as someone who may possibly be a little gray-A herself, or close enough for government work.) There’s a reason many of us talk about the asexual spectrum or asexual umbrella.

-Construct a coherent and consistent definition of “sexual” that does not include grey-A and demisexual people and does not imply that non-demisexual and non-grey-A people are oversexed, promiscuous, or even necessarily interested in casual sex or any sex at all.

While I admit that AVEN has some problems in this regard, and that the definitions of gray-A and demisexual are, by necessity, fuzzy, we’ve already done this. There’s nothing about “experiences sexual attraction (more than once in a blue moon, and outside of already being in love)” that implies any of those things, and I’m sure that many, many gray-A and demisexual people would be happy to expound on this for you.

-Construct a coherent and consistent definition of demisexual that does not imply that a huge part of the heterosexual human population, complying with the dominant societal prescription for female sexual behavior, belongs to a sexual minority.

Again, while the definition of demisexual could probably use some refinement, we’ve got the basics of this already down. This is something demisexuals certainly do discuss, so by all means, lurk a bit and learn.

-Decide whether people who fall into these definitions but don’t know about or don’t care about your identity politics count in your oppression or not.

Considering that a couple aces in this very debate who’ve mentioned that they’re speaking up for all the people who’ve never even heard of asexuality, so that those aces don’t have to go through what they went through…

…Well, I’m guessing that’s going to be a yes.

-Demonstrate any compelling pre-Internet link between hetero- and a-romantic asexual people and queer communities.

The asexual community did not exist pre-Internet.

We do not consider this a good thing.

-Be able to talk about why hetero- and a-romantic asexuals belong in the queer community without implying or outright saying (as one person representing AVEN has) that queer people need you to teach them about this new thing called non-sexual intimacy.

Has anyone in this discussion been saying that? Even by the standards of this list, this question is unfair, bringing up a comment from elsewhere and using it to deflect attention from our actual argument.

But, for the record, nobody should be saying that, and I think most aces involved in this would agree with me.

-Be able to illustrate how each instance of asexuals being “oppressed” is specific to those who identify as asexual and does not apply to women with FSD, people low sex drive due to long-term depression or other health reasons, people who abstain from sex due to trauma, gender dysphoria, or any other deeply personal reason, sexual people who are nonetheless alienated by dominant sexual culture, etc.

(For those of you still convinced this list is an honest attempt at dialogue, note the scare quotes.)

…Why?

This whole point is a giant grab bag and I’m not sure how relevant it is. It features many complicated issues, some of which we don’t agree on (some of us take more issue with the whole idea of sexual dysfunction than others, for example). In some cases, the differences are obvious. Someone who doesn’t have sex out of trauma, for instance, is obviously not going to find their sexuality as invisible as ours. In others, there is certainly overlap. But so what? It doesn’t invalidate what we’re saying if mainstream society disprivileges lack of interest in sex and sometimes fails to distinguish why someone’s disinterested.

-Understand the key difference between someone who identifies as asexual and someone who is diagnosed with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder.

I’ll tell you this when you can tell me the key difference between someone who identifies as gay and someone who is diagnosed with ego-dystonic homosexuality.

-Be able to recognize that some people may desire treatment options for low/null sex drive without assuming they are asexuals with a false consciousness.

This is a loaded question – who’s to say they aren’t? Would you offer a similar bullet point in regards to homosexuals who don’t want to be gay?

Even ignoring that, asexuality is not about sex drive. It’s about attraction. This isn’t just Asexuality 101, it’s the very first comment in the very first lecture on the very first day of Asexuality 101.

And even ignoring that, the asexual community is generally pretty good about distinguishing a sudden drop in sex drive from asexuality. Additionally, the DSM V committee we had was very concerned about providing recommendations that allowed asexuality to be removed while still retaining something for people who wanted a higher sex drive.

-Omit any examples of “sexual privilege” that women in a misogynistic society and queer people in a heterosexist society do not actually benefit from.

Benefit compared to what? I assume this bullet point covers things like saying that sexual privilege means I can find information on my sexuality, because queer people still have a harder time of it than heterosexuals? I don’t deny they do. But there’s a difference between only having a crappy community center and ten queer books in your local library and not having any community center or any books, anywhere. The degree of the problem is so vastly different that it arguably becomes different in kind; when you have people regularly reaching their thirties and beyond with no idea what is going on with themselves, it’s not the same thing as not finding out about homosexuality until you’re sixteen. Not to say that the latter situation isn’t awful for anyone going through it, but it’s simply not the same thing.

Mostly, this point seems like an attempt to get us to take anything with any overlap off our list.

-Learn the complex pre-1990 history of anti-oppression movements, specifically those whose frameworks you are appropriating.

“Those whose frameworks [we’re] appropriating”? What’s next, a question about whether we stopped beating our platonic partners?

Sorry, sorry.

I don’t see any reason for us not to take a look at history – it’s useful, after all! – but I fail to see how this is particularly relevant to whether or not we’re currently oppressed. I can look at current examples of, for instance, bisexual erasure and see my own experience mirrored there, and if the former’s a problem, then so’s the latter.

-Using reliable, concrete data, be able to illustrate how sexual persons, including LGBTQ sexual persons, have better access and opportunities than asexual persons in most if not all of the following categories: housing, education, employment, health care, income, and wealth accumulation.

One, discussions of heterosexual privilege (and monosexual privilege, for that matter), concern themselves with plenty of things besides these issues. Should you have to show all these to have discussions of heterosexual privilege taken seriously? Do the other forms of heterosexual privilege not matter? If LGB people were on par with heterosexuals in all those areas, would those mere ten queer books in the local library cease to be worth mentioning?

Secondly, I can’t think of anyone who was saying we had it bad in any of these areas (save certain aspects of mental health care). This entire bullet point has almost nothing to do with our actual concerns.

Thirdly, this bullet point is not just irrelevant, it’s currently impossible. There is simply no data available, because nobody studies us – which is why a lack of academic studies was put on the sexual privilege list.

-Optional: Using reliable, concrete data, be able to illustrate how asexuals are disproportionately policed and imprisoned.

Absolutely nobody’s saying they were, and even if someone was, we wouldn’t have the data.

As I said before, I don’t believe this list was a good faith attempt at constructive criticism. A couple irrelevant or inaccurate points would have been perfectly excusable; these things happen. (If I don’t have several screw-ups in any given post, it’s probably not long enough.) But here, between the well poisonings, the attempts to change the subject, and the ignorance about what we’ve already said, I have a hard time believe this list is nothing but honest mistakes.

Which also makes me wonder why I even bothered, but I suppose someone had to.

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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?

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…But not for you.

May 25, 2011 at 10:01 PM (Asexuality) (, )

As this is my blog and I can do what I want, I’ve decided to lead off with a guest post. This comes from an older friend of mine, Susan. That’s not her name – it’s not even close to her name – but we love our Internet anonymity here, and so it will do.

————–

I’m a lesbian. It’s easy to say now, under a pseudonym, typing to people I’ll never meet face to face, but it hasn’t always been.

I grew up in a time and place where homosexuality simply wasn’t discussed. Nobody, either in person or the media, told me it existed. If I opened up a textbook, it wasn’t mentioned. If I turned on the TV, I never saw anyone like me. There were no books I read about the kinds of relationships I wanted; no movies I saw with gay characters. There was, in fact, no indication to me that I wasn’t entirely alone in the world, or that what I was feeling was even possible. I had no words for myself.

Though I was always certain enough of my feelings to know I didn’t want to date boys, I was otherwise lost. Without any even halfway accurate framework in which to put my experiences, I simply tried to ignore my feelings, or dismissed them as some sort of odd delusion. As a teenager, more nights of the week than not, I would shut myself in my room and cry for hours, believing I was uniquely defective and destined to be alone forever.

I found a few other lesbians in time, and learned that I was neither alone nor impossible. It helped, a bit, and I gradually began to incorporate their opinions in my worldview. One of my victories, I suppose, is that I can look back now and marvel that I ever thought my feelings weren’t real.

But my triumphs were few and far between. I fell into an awful depression in my twenties, brought on in large part by my homosexuality. Although I no longer felt utterly alone, I continued to be terribly alienated, stuck in a culture that mostly denied the existence of people like me, and had little room for us when it didn’t. Mentions of lesbians in textbooks, on TV, in books, in movies – these were still nearly nonexistent. What I had was a disease, I was inevitably told. It was unnatural. It was a phase. It was a flaw. It was a symbol of immaturity. It was a cover for something truly unsavory. Worse, I internalized many of these beliefs. Intellectually, I didn’t believe them, but they wrapped myself around my heart and slithered into my brain, and I felt worse than ever. I cannot recall the number of times I seriously considered downing an entire bottle of pain pills.

I looked for a therapist. It was harder, in those days, not least because homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. I had to find someone who both didn’t believe this and would know how to help me accept myself. It was a tall order, and I was lucky in that I found someone who at least fulfilled the first criterion. Medical doctors I was more hesitant to tell, as they had less reason to know, and cost-benefit analysis didn’t bear out. Wanting to be responsible, I tried to research sexual health on my own. The vast majority of the literature assumed women simply weren’t sexually active with other women; thus, this task proved tricky but thankfully not impossible.

And then, of course, there is the matter of the closet. I do not often come out. I’ve never told my family, but they must suspect something’s up. Some of my friends have known; some haven’t. I’ve only rarely been able to work, due to my psychiatric issues, and have never had a boss that needed to know the slightest thing about my personal life. Half of the reason I’m not particularly out is because I’m shy, and a touch reclusive: there simply are not many people for me to come out to. The other half, of course, is fear. I’ve never been in a situation where I feared violence, thank goodness, but I worry about the reactions such an announcement would garner. What if they say something disbelieving or hurtful? What if their response reignites my depression? What if they become uncomfortable around me, thinking I’m unsettlingly weird or covering up some truly distasteful proclivities? What if they, simply, don’t want to spend time with me anymore?

These days, medication helps me, but I’ve yet to pluck every last tendril of internalized homophobia from my psyche, yet to come to true self-acceptance. I’m still regularly wounded by things I see in society around me, and I have my bad nights where the pill bottle again looks tempting. It’s a long road to pride, a long road out of hell, and I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the end. But I try to keep moving forward, and perhaps that will have to be enough.

————–

Forgive me, reader: if you haven’t already guessed, I’ve fibbed. There is no guest poster. That’s my life story, except the events described are more recent and, of course, I’m not a homoromantic homosexual. I’m asexual, and not particularly sure about my romantic orientation. But try not to be too angry; there was a point to my deception.

There’s been talk lately (as there sometimes is) about whether or not asexuals are oppressed, and if they’re sufficiently oppressed to be considered queer. My question to those who believe they’re not, on either count: what of my story, both the real and fictional versions? Although my story’s unique, as all are, I’m sure I could find plenty of similar ones if I asked my fellow aces.

If you were making a face of sympathy or fighting back anger at Susan’s story, what changed when you realized it was really about an asexual? Is the issue that Susan could have lost her job, been assaulted, or been kept out of the military, while I don’t have to worry about those things*? If so, then what of the rest of the homophobia she faced? Does it not matter that her orientation was considered a mental disorder? Does it not matter that she had no role models and barely any information about what she was? Does it not matter that mainstream society ignored and dismissed her? Does it not matter that she was made miserable? Do these things not count as oppression**?

And if they count for her, then why not for me?

* Although, considering the lack of studies, perhaps I do have to worry about some of them.

** I don’t actually care for using the word “oppression” in this manner, because I feel like the connotation is a bit too strong. But that’s the word typically used, so that’s what I’m typing.

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