Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Compulsory Sexuality and Asexual Existence

by Julian Real, copyrighted 2009. All Rights Reserved. Excerpting passages addressed in context of its overall meaning below is fine with me. Otherwise, do not copy and paste or otherwise duplicate and distribute it unless doing so solely by sending out the URL of this website at A Radical Profeminist. Thank you. (I've seen what antifeminists do with profeminist writings, and they do it, in part, by taking small snippets of work out of context, misread and misinterpret it, and go on to spread lies about what the author said ad nauseam.)

[image is from here]

[Note: This was slightly revised for clarity on 9 February 2013.]

This essay is an obvious nod and huge THANK YOU to Adrienne Rich, for writing "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence". (You may click on the essay title in the previous sentence for the full text.) An excerpt follows:
The bias of compulsory heterosexuality, through which lesbian experience is perceived on a scale ranging from deviant to abhorrent, or simply rendered invisible, could be illustrated from many other texts than the two just preceding. The assumption made by Rossi, that women are "innately sexually oriented" toward men, or by Lessing, that the lesbian choice is simply an acting-out of bitterness toward men, are by no means theirs alone; they are widely current in literature and in the social sciences.

I am concerned here with two other matters as well: first, how and why women's choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners co-workers, lovers, tribe, has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding and disguise; and second, the virtual or total neglect of lesbian existence in a wide range of writings, Including feminist scholarship. Obviously there is a connection here. I believe that much feminist theory and criticism is stranded on this shoal.

My organizing impulse is the belief that it is not enough for feminist thought that specifically lesbian texts exist. Any theory or cultural/political creation that treats lesbian existence as a marginal or less "natural" phenomenon, as mere "sexual preference," or as the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations is profoundly weakened thereby, whatever its other contributions. Feminist theory can no longer afford merely to voice a toleration of "lesbianism" as an "alternative life-style," or make token allusion to lesbians. A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue. In this exploratory paper, I shall try to show why.  -- Adrienne Rich (1980)
When I was young, as children tend to be, I lived in a world that didn't know of sex. None of my caregivers demonstrated it, and no one in my family, except later my older brother, had any pornography around. I suspect many in my family didn't have sex at all, at least with other people including their spouses. I think this is not that unusual. Many couples I know, lesbian, gay, and heterosexual, stopped having sex together a few years into their relationship. Contrary to popular patriarchal heterosexist, anti-asexual opinion, this doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the relationship. Sex is about as overrated and unnecessary as commerically bottled water.

Let there be no mistaking this or understating of it: white Puritanistic anti-sexuality, a bedrock of white U.S. society, is still actively virulent and pernicious to this day. This is almost entirely due to a privately prostitute-using, child molesting, infidelity-embracing brand of Christian male preachers who, only on the pulpit, use fire and brimstone to condemn so many people of so many ages for wanting to be sexually active in ways that don't have a thing to do with "one man possessing one woman in a patriarchal marriage". This is to say, they condemn themselves publicly, lying through their teeth, lying to the bone, in order to instill in everyone else the shame and guilt they feel for doing to others what their white male sky-god apparently condemns.

To such a white male sky-god: go fuck yourself. May the Goddess who embraces sexuality and eroticism, including lesbian eroticism and love, banish you forever from the minds of human beings.

I don't wish to diminish in any way the power of those predatory preachers. They are and do evil on this Earth and how it is that masses of people go to them for moral guidance or spiritual enlightenment, is beyond me. I grew up exposed to white Christianity primarily--as a religion, but also white/european Judaism--more culturally than religiously. The Christianity I was exposed to was horribly anti-sexual, anti-woman, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-pagan and anti-wiccan, and about as heterosexist, homophobic, and lesbophobic as it gets. What it was not against is easier to list: it was not against patriarchally atrocious heterosexist marriage that condemned women to serve and submit to men, including sexually against their will.

With that as one bedrock of my society, I turn to another: hypersexualisation and pornographisation of culture and society. This has intensified significantly in my lifetime. Internet pornography, in large part due to Bill "the sexual abuser" Clinton, is unrestricted. This effectively means that those who think depicting, recording, and mass distributing the pimping and raping of women by men is and ought to be free men's speech, regardless of how silencing it is to the rest of us. Pornography silences, it doesn't give voice. It tells lies, not the truth, about human beings, about sexuality, and about what is natural. Just watch this video if you think dominant media, advertising, and the pornography industry are invested in telling us the truth and eroticising what's natural:

If you find the image of the woman on the billboard more attractive than the image of the woman at the start of the video, your sexuality and sense of beauty has been grossly compromised and controlled by pornographers and advertising executives who are selling products, including women as products for sale to men.

Sexual behavior is getting more objectifying and violent in younger and younger populations, in large part because child sexual abuse by adults remains unchecked and covertly supported, such as by priests in the Catholic Church and men who pass their abuses of children and women to each other through internet networks designed solely to accomplish this. Talk about evil.

I don't really believe in such a thing as "evil" as a force that is separate from human behavior. I don't think "evil forces" enter human beings and can be purged from them, but respect the fact that many spiritual and faith traditions do believe this. I state that belief of mine only to reinforce one thing: I don't think the kind of sexuality that exists in the world that is not abusive, exploitive, stigmatising, and oppressive is evil. (Let's see: what does that leave us with?) I think what men, by and large, do to it and with it is evil. And the "it"--human sexuality, as Audre Lorde, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine A. MacKinnon, and Patricia Hill Collins, among other radical feminists of color and white radical feminists, have noted, is not ever dislocated from the political structures and mandates of a society.

The large cultural society I have lived in has always been dominated by pro-patriarchal white heterosexual men. These men, by and large, pride themselves on not being accountable to women, not being accountable to people of color, and not being accountable to lesbians, gay men, transgendered people, and intersex people. Instead, a vast majority of these men, over history, have used their particularly dangerous forms of sexuality and their sexual organs as weapons against humanity, to shame, control, terrorise, dehumanise, and degrade, and humiliate children and women as classes of people so that we will be subordinate, submissive, and subservient to men.

What I will next focus on is the sexual abuse of children and how that, alone, but always in conjunction with everything stated above, shapes and controls human sexuality. That child sexual abuse is one key site of what forms sexuality has always been known to me, as soon as I knew about human sexuality. Because before I knew about it, I'd been sexually abused.

What this abuse did to me was to fuse and confuse my sexual feelings, thoughts, desires, and behavior with a political agenda promoted by patriarchy. What it did was teach me how sex and dissociation go together like sexism and heterosexual marriage. What it did, was to prepare my sexuality to be in line with what white straight male sexuality is supposed to be: terrifying, degrading, humiliating, controling, patriarchal, heterosexist, pro-capitalistic, colonising, and white supremacist. When I say pro-capitalistic what I mean is sex tied to commerce, money, and the classed power imbalances inherent in any capitalist system. So too with the other systems of oppression: sex is, according to dominant society, supposed to be misogynistic and sexist, racist, transphobic, lesbophobic and homophobic. It is designed to make intersexuality and asexuality invisible as social realities.

Intersexuality describes the reality that people are not born discretely as female and male, nor as girl and boy, but rather are made into these, sometimes surgically at birth. As we now know, physical sexual attributes called "sexual markers" and "gender" are complex, fluid, flexible, not stagnant, not fixed-at-birth, not "in opposition", not politically and socially hierarchical unless they are made to be so. In this society, they are made to be so. And all manner of violence and dehumanisation flows from that belief, made real, that sex and gender are arranged to be dualistic, oppositional, and hierarchical.

Asexuality, as the term is used in a human social context, refers to a reality that there are people who do not experience sexuality as it is constructed and enforced by WHM supremacy. There are people who do not have "sexual desires" and "sexual feelings" as defined by dominant society. There are people who do not enjoy or participate in "sex" (unless by coercion and force) as it is defined and constructed by all the forces named above.

In my region, culture, and era, asexuality was assumed to be natural to children and the elderly and unnatural to adults in the period between youth and old-age. These assumptions are false, but these simplistic conclusions are not only not the end of the story, they don't tell us much about the middle of it either.

There are other related questions some of us must and occasionally do ask. Why, if I'm heterosexual, do I not wish to have genital intercourse? Why, if I'm gay, do I not wish to have sex with men, women, transgendered, or intersex people? Why if I'm sexually active, do I feel like me being so is more compulsive that genuinely desired? Why do I find that after being "sexual" with someone, I feel dissatisfied and disinterested in ever doing that again?

Part of the answer, surely, must be that the "sex" people have is the "sex" that is manufactured and sold, and some people don't want to have sex sold to them as a commodity. Some people don't wish for sex to express socially inhumane power imbalances. Some people don't want sex if sex means being dehumanised, degraded, humiliated, controlled, and oppressed. Some people don't want to have sex that requires them to be someone's oppressor or master. And many people do. And to those white people who do, guess what? You're likely to be engaging in politically correct sex. So know that and don't be in denial about it, please. And don't pretend that the sex you're having is hated by society when, in fact, it is required, mandated, and enforced by society. It may be preached about hatefully by white male Christian preachers but it is routinely practiced by them off the pulpit.

Without exceptions I'm aware of, everything people term both "normal sex" and "trangressive sex" are formed by the very same bedrocks. They are both informed by the very same values, the very same social structures, and the very same political imperatives. BDSM, as it is termed by some, is normal sex. Normal sex involves themes of control, dominance, and submission. There's nothing sexually revolutionary going on in either. They are both fully and entirely "status quo". That one is practiced as a subculture to the other is no more an indication of it being revolutionary than Mormonism is to dominant Christianity.

What is not status quo, what is not enforced, mandated, and required, is asexuality in adults as a group. What is not status quo, is mutual and consensual sharing of power as eroticism, in adults as a group. What is not status quo is having a sexuality that is not manufactured, profited from financially, which is to say, bought and sold and turned into commerce.

And I believe one significant, undervalued, and invisibilised population of human beings exploring alternative methods of expressing eroticism, sexually and otherwise, are physically disabled people. The physically non-disabled have a great deal to learn from physically disabled folks about how to have sex, how to make love, and how to express affection.

I am stunned at the vehemence with which people will defend their "right" to have status quo sex. As if there's anything stopping them! As if it isn't mandated and enforced! As if there's any socially viable and fully validated options to do otherwise!

Asexuality is not enforced in adults. It is denied as a reality. It is not mandated. It is stigmatised as only a medical or psychological problem in need of treatment. It is not compulsory. It is the opposite of compulsory.

[Note: Some of what follows was revised on 3/27/2016, with thanks to Cara's comment below.]

I would like to be asexual. Sometimes I am. This wish or occasional being is not tied to an identity any more than sometimes having a hayfever reaction to sugar is an identity, like being vegan or kosher. Preferring dark chocolate to milk chocolate isn't an identity or a choice, nor is enjoying watching movies in theatres over watching DVDs. For me, approaching the matter of asexuality is an issue both of innate preference and social privilege. It varies, though from being celibate, but includes celibacy, to the extent one can. (I accept that whole classes of people with fewer privileges than me, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation or must choose work in the sex trade to survive. Whether or not they are asexual.)

[The next paragraph was revised and added to on 7 March 2010, in part thanks to an alert about a typo. Thanks, Nick!]

This place between being celibate and asexual is, in part, a discovery I have made and a practice I have developed: a move towards integrity and a strategy for living in an oppressive world. I find this shift consistent with my values to not exploit, violate, harm, objectify, and otherwise oppress others with sex, or be oppressed, objectified, harmed, violated, and exploited by the systems which are designed to make it easy to do any of the above. It doesn't mean I don't ever experience any sexual arousal or physical attraction. But I have. And when I have, it feels most like what I want to be, and who I am. I no longer have an enacted, compulsory, dominant behavioral-social-political narrative along the lines of: "I feel arousal therefore I must masturbate to images of exploited people". "I am physically attracted to that guy, so that means I must pursue getting to know him." Having such feelings and attractions tells me nothing about what I must do, any longer. It's not "a sign" or an indicator that something must play out in the social world, or in the world of my fantasies. But this is still within the realm of celibacy, so far.

Currently, my sexual feelings, desires, and attractions don't rule my activities; they don't have the kind of clout I used to imagine they had when I indulged them or imbued them with a mystic relevance or meaning. But being asexual means something more than being able and happy to let those sensations, feelings, and attractions be--just be. My identity is not bound to a set of behaviors designed to demonstrate to the world "this is who I am", sexually and socially". I see many men act this way: as if various sets of behaviors must be played out over and over or else one's status will diminish. Nothing I feel has to be outwardly expressed, or manifested in social behavior. And my places of privilege are part of this story: As someone white and designated male, I can withdraw from some practices and not be seen as deviant. For many people who are of color and/or female and/or transgender, not being seen as deviant by dominant culture is nearly impossible.

What being celibate most means to me is that I am free to choose how and whether to act on any sexual feelings or sexual arousal or attractions I experience, to the extent that I do. I don't assume I must act on my male privilege to dehumanisingly objectify people just because I find them attractive or desirable. I don't assume I am entitled to have sex with others just because I experience desire for connection in their presence. I don't assume I have the right to approach and invade people's social lives in order to obtain sexualised attention and sex with them. This means I reject as harmful and oppressive all forms of rapism. It means I reject as inhumane all forms of predation and sexual perpetration. It means, in my case, that I value a selfhood that is more integrated than dissociated. As a radical rejection of the status quo, I don't require myself to sexually behave in the colonialist and patriarchal ways described above.

What I know about a lot of people, from them telling me directly, is that it is extremely difficult to know what one likes and doesn't like in a society that scripts and enforces forms of sexuality that are so often obnoxiously narrow and desperately empty.

What goes beyond celibacy is that I have, for long periods of time, gone through life without any sexual desires or feelings. That is not really a choice; it just is how I am. This has occurred for weeks, months, and years. I certainly embrace asexuality as valid, good, and reasonable way to be in the world. I experience it as healthy, loving, and anti-oppressive. When such periods of asexuality are my experience, I feel better. I'm not yet clear how this dovetails with the eroticism Audre Lorde describes. I'm not sure if one is necessarily non-erotic if one is asexual.

I have been told my refusal to participate in the status quo culture of acted-out sexuality is wrong, unhealthy, or harmful. I say: don't knock it 'til you've tried it. And, maybe, you don't know what you're missing. Sip from the cup of asexuality and you might just discover feelings, ways of relating, and dimensions of being you never knew existed. And please note: it's not a beverage that is marketed and sold.

But for those who experience asexuality either part-time or full-time, I want to support your existence as meaningful, worthy of respect, and fully human.

*     *     *

For more on how various people understand and experience asexuality, please go to *this website*, started by a white man named David Jay. My views are not theirs nor are theirs mine, but AVEN is a place to explore this reality and in a social space, albeit white-centric, where it isn't stigmatised as unhealthy, unethical, unreasonable, or undesirable.

Coincidentally or not, I just found out that at The Angry Black Woman blog, something of a very related nature was posted just yesterday. Click here for that.


  1. It seems to me that you're radically misappropriating the word 'asexual' when you use it to signal that you're opting out of hegemonic masculinity or misogyny or something. That's all well and good, but there's a great mass of people who don't want to make any sort of radical social statement. For them, asexuality means that they don't experience sexual attraction or desire--not that they can deal with their desires in a radical, out of the box way!

    You're characterizing asexuality as a choice, as well, which I suppose I can't dismiss out of hand--let's just say that most people that use the term would leave 'chosen' asexuality outside the definition.

    Being asexual shouldn't obligate one to be a radical, any more than being gay should obligate one to be a radical.

  2. Hi Mr. Spock,

    I do not believe I am misappropriating the term, exactly. Perhaps in some senses, but not all the ones you state.

    Asexuality, for me, has not exactly been a choice, any more than being gay is a choice.

    It's more a slow recognition, a realisation that took years to arrive at because society didn't tell me this was possible, desirable, something to embrace, value, or celebrate. I hope that clarifies that aspect. The choice, perhaps, is in being out as asexual. And being outly gay was a choice too for me, in that I could also choose to be outly "queer-identified" or "a person with homoaffectional feelings" or SGL, who, for whatever reasons, decides not to identify as gay.

    I also think many forms of heterosexuality are both chosen and compulsory. As are many forms of being sexual. Being patriarchally sexual and oppressively heterosexual are particularly compulsory, no matter how "out of the box" many think they are being, by, for example, being into bdsm. Being into bdsm is, in my view, entirely "inside the box" called patriarchal sexuality. Ain't nothing new going on there that hasn't been going on in patriarchy for centuries. And adding a safe word doesn't make it radically different, only more consensual in a world that, for me, doesn't really offer much meaning-in-practice to the concept of consent.

    Not making any sort of radical social statement is, in my view, a radical social statement. And being asexual automatically places one outside the box of compulsory sexuality. To publicly, openly disidentify with such a norm does not (and I would argue cannot) leave on in a box called "the status quo", so your issue with me may well be where outside of the box called "the status quo" I go, not that I am there.

    You say "being asexual shouldn't obligate one to be a radical, any more than being gay should obligate one to be a radical".

    My response to that is if you really understand what trying to be part of the status quo meant, for all of humanity, you'd fight like hell not to be part of it. Because, truly, it does mean, consciously or not, supporting rape, genocide, and ecocide. I simply chose not to be in denial about that.

    Every choice I make is about being in private and public support of or not in support of "the status quo".

    But I hear what you're saying about making a choice to be out as asexual doesn't obligate someone to be a radical... any more than it should obligate someone not to be.

    To clarify, I don't think someone being asexual tells us anything about where one stands relative to, say, the tacit or explicit promotion of racism, rape, or genocide. Nor does calling oneself "Christian". But there are some who might argue that such self-identities and designations (and modes of being) do come with their own political imperatives, whether or not one realises them.

    So when I hear someone is a Christian, and they promote bigotry and oppression, I think to myself, "You don't listen to Jesus much, do you?" And when I hear someone identify as queer, I hope that means that they are, at least, against heterosexism. Usually I'm both right and wrong in that assumption.

    If someone is asexual, one might presume that means they are someone who has done a lot of searching about what that is, what that requires, in terms of self-determination to not act out the status quo's ideas about "being sexual". Because, of course, probably most people who could identify as asexual, are, as we speak, acting out compulsory sexuality. Yes?

  3. A fellow named Nick sent me a message about a typo problem in the piece above; specifically regarding a sentence that abruptly ended without, well, an ending!

    Thank you, Nick, for pointing out that typo. I fixed it and credit you in the piece for bringing my attention to that paragraph.

  4. YOu need also to look at Dawson (2008) on erectile dysfunction and Radner (2008) before passing these ideas off as your own. A nod in their direction would be wise.

  5. dunce,

    I think the political and sexual problem is how too many men choose to use their penises, when erect, as weapons. I think the whole dominant cultural discussion of men's sexual dysfunction assumes horribly atrocious premises, such as what women exist as, what they exist to do, and who they exist for.

    The sooner men stop assuming their dicks are the center of the sexual universe, the better.

  6. Your premise that men use their dicks as weapons MAY be taken to mean that homosexuality (male) is wrong ... if taken to its a logical conclusion.

    Also I can you talk more about your asexuality please. Do you have any sexual drive at all...?

    Good discussing with you :-)

  7. dunce,

    Beware of logic that has no grounding in reality and of taking things out of context.

    In context, how does me noting above that far too many men use their penises as weapons against women's bodies, bring you to consider as possibly negative my own views on male homosexuality? By what inference do you arrive there?

    My point is that this is what far too many men do--mostly het men, to women and also to girls. In reality, not at all in theory.

    My asexuality is a political decision, in part, and a consequence of trauma, in part, and a general physical-emotional-social preference, in part, to not engage in what the dominant culture calls "sexual activity". I reject it as an exploitive, objectifying, or inhumane practice--if practiced the way boys and males are socialised to "do it".

    I reject such behavior because "being sexual" is tied to traumatic memories and feelings for me: it's not generally fun or enjoyable. And I reject it because so many gay men and het men I've known who are pro-feminist have fucked over women--in one way or another, interpersonally and institutionally--by fucking around sexually with people they had no "business" having sex with; they thereby hurt lots of people, betrayed lots of people, and participated in systems of gross sexual and economic exploitation of girls and women, and sometimes also of men and boys.

    I learned from all of them what NOT to do as a pro-feminist male. I'm not opposed to people being sexual. I'm opposed to people being inhumane, trauma-inducing, terroristic, tyrannical, and oppressive.

    That so many men seem to think "sex" must be a collection of the above to be "hot" or "good"--evidenced most readily in what so many het men consume in the world of pornography, is evidence enough that socialisation and propaganda work to intimately or economically link sex with sexism in practice, not in theory.

  8. P.S. I have no idea who you're referring to with "Dawson" and "Radner". Googling their names with
    "erectile dysfunction" brings up--pun intended--nothing at all.

  9. This is a couple years late, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciated this essay, the first radical understanding of asexuality I ever read. I had to come back to it today because of some really ignorant things that people in the media have been saying about asexuality, and some of the ugly comments I've seen on tumblr because various aces have dared to express anger over it. I'm a lesbian and asexual, who spent her high school years confused and resentful over not being able to understand and feel attraction the "normal" way (I guess some people would say was an aromantic in denial). I thought the worst of myself because of it at times, until I found AVEN at 18.

    My favorite part of this is the ackowledgement that one can feel some level of attraction to someone and not act on it. I can relate to this a lot, though strangley this alludes many people, esp hetero men. I also think the idea that people need to have sex in order to function properly (not even just masturbate) is a disturbing one, because it means people are literally relying on someone else's body for some gratification, if that makes any sense. I don't know, it doesn't sit well with me.

    What's sad to me is that many asexuals people will only look at their as "abnormality" as something to accept. That's a crucial first step to be sure because you have to be able to live with yourself in a world that refuses to acknowledge your existence. But at some point I'd love to see a more imaginative, glorious understanding of asexuality, the way lesbian feminists of the 70s and 80s especially rallied around lesbianism. I think this essay lends itelf to that. Anyway, thank you for writing this. I wish more people would read it.

  10. Hi Ash,

    Thank you so much for this most recent comment. I am glad you are out there stating your truths and reality. And honoring them. I'm very happy that this essay was helpful to you. I continue asexuality as a practice: personal, spiritual, social, and political. Please feel free to put this URL with title of the piece, on AVEN's site, if they administrators would welcome that happening.

    I had some brief contact with AVEN a long time ago--well, a few years ago--and found their understandings curiously apolitical. As I'm someone who doesn't think there's anything apolitical about sexuality and asexuality among human beings living in societies founded on racial and sexual political hierarchies, or about personal and social interactions more broadly, it seemed like AVEN wouldn't be a good place for me to hang out in at that time; hopefully there are more politically radical folks there now--at least so that you are not alone!

    I already felt alienated enough in the very large sexual world without also adding to that by feeling alienated in a tiny asexual one.

    I'll respond now to some specifics in your comment:

    This is a couple years late, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciated this essay, the first radical understanding of asexuality I ever read.

    How sad is that??? Very, to me. I'd love to see a book that delves into everything you are speaking about, radically and cross-culturally.

    I had to come back to it today because of some really ignorant things that people in the media have been saying about asexuality, and some of the ugly comments I've seen on tumblr because various aces have dared to express anger over it.

    I'm really sorry to hear that, and am not at all surprised. It seems that in most spaces online, bullying and meanness are the accepted practices and values above thoughtful, caring, supportive, compassionate interaction. Many people I have known who were once active online have left the cyber-scene because of that and a mob-mentality of ganging up on someone or a group of people. Mostly I've seen whites and men--with white men being the overwhelming majority of bullies and thugs--gang up on people of color, radicals, womanists and feminists (categories often overlapping). If you'd like me to link from this blog to any of your sites, please send me the URLs and I'll be happy to do so.

    I'm a lesbian and asexual, who spent her high school years confused and resentful over not being able to understand and feel attraction the "normal" way (I guess some people would say was an aromantic in denial). I thought the worst of myself because of it at times, until I found AVEN at 18.

    I wish you'd had more social support in high school. I expect that will still be a long time coming. Sadly. But I'm glad AVEN was in existence by the time you were 18.

    (continued below ...)

  11. My favorite part of this is the ackowledgement that one can feel some level of attraction to someone and not act on it. I can relate to this a lot, though strangley this alludes many people, esp hetero men.

    It is, to me, a dangerously naturalised assumption that to have a sexual response to something or someone means one has to do something else about that feeling or physical response, other than experiencing it. It took me way too long to realise that the socialisation to be sexually active, socially and interpersonally, needn't be "acted out", particularly when they act out the values of a heterosexist and racist patriarchy. Which leads to your next point...

    I also think the idea that people need to have sex in order to function properly (not even just masturbate) is a disturbing one, because it means people are literally relying on someone else's body for some gratification, if that makes any sense. I don't know, it doesn't sit well with me.

    I'm glad you phrased it that way. Imagine if a society was set up so that people were only allowed or encouraged to eat dessert when with other people. (This imagining puts aside, for the moment, the issue of whether or not sugary desserts are socially good for all of us; surely it isn't so good for people struggling to contend with diabetes or sugar-addiction.)

    What's sad to me is that many asexuals people will only look at their as "abnormality" as something to accept. That's a crucial first step to be sure because you have to be able to live with yourself in a world that refuses to acknowledge your existence.

    Yeah, I agree that asexual people need to accept ourselves as asexual, in practice if not also in identity. (I'm not sure it's necessary to make one's asexual practice into an identity, but if it helps us find one another to do so, then that seems useful.) And I agree that the whole notion of a need for larger acceptance carries with it a given that the larger society is somehow in a good position to offer such acceptance, and that "acceptance" is socially good. I often see social acceptance as a warning sign that what's being done is too much like what the status quo already does. But I'm clearly distinguishing personal acceptance of oneself in all one's unique complexity from the dominants of a society accepting non-normative and anti-normative practices. My hope is that our collective practices are radical, organised, and sustainable.

    But at some point I'd love to see a more imaginative, glorious understanding of asexuality, the way lesbian feminists of the 70s and 80s especially rallied around lesbianism. I think this essay lends itelf to that.

    I'd love to see that as well. Perhaps you will be a key person in making that happen!

    Anyway, thank you for writing this. I wish more people would read it.

    You're very welcome, Ash!!! And thank you for that support. :)

  12. In a response to Mr. Spock (Dec. 25, 2009 @ 4:26am) above, I wrote:

    "Not making any sort of radical social statement is, in my view, a radical social statement."

    What the hell was I trying to say? I think this:

    Not making any sort of radical social statements, and choosing not to take any anti-hegemonic positions in one's life, is still a political practice. No less or more political than choosing to put forth radical statements. The only difference is that one position is pro-status quo and one is not.

    I also want to emphasise something that may not have been clear in the post: for various periods of time in my life, I've not desired sexual intimacy with other people and have not had "sexual feelings". My choosing the term "asexual" for myself occurred during one of those times.

    Since then, I sometimes have some sexual feelings but I still don't choose to socialise based on that, at all, and don't choose to have sexual relationships with anyone.

    Some might call this "being celibate" and it is. And I have to say I've challenged people, as Mr. Spock challenged me, on using the term "Asexual" to basically mean "Celibate". What makes it also a practice of asexuality for me is that it's not something I'm doing only because I don't especially like sex; it's something I'm doing because I don't desire sex and don't "feel" like having sex with anyone. If asexual means not wanting sex, and not having what most people call "sexual desire", or "sexual interest" in other people, then I think I qualify unambiguously.

  13. I accept this kind of understanding of asexuality because I am, on the contrary, deeply opposed to views which say that sexual orientation - in order to be "valid" or whatsoever - cannot be chosen.
    The claim about "being born this way" is a double-edged sword. It can be read as a plea not to hurt people for their sexual orientation because it's not their _fault_. I always sense some hidden layers of such arguments - they are rarely expressed and usually not even meant, but could be construed in such a way by hostile people: that if a gay man COULD choose his orientation, than he SHOULD choose being straight.
    I like the opposite of this kind of argument: a truly tolerant person should accept other people's behaviors and identities - as long as they don't involve doing harm to anyone - regardless of whether it's deeply innate or just a choice or even a whim.
    For me my asexuality is a complex reality which definitely involves some kind of predisposition, but not exactly an inborn, immutable orientation. It's the choice of a path that is more comfortable for me - leaves me OK about my lack of attractiveness (I suffer from quite severe and incurable allergy, my skin always looks bad and I consider it a legitimate choice NOT to accept my body completely, to live with anger, not acceptance), and, first of all, gives me the possibility of not being a sexual object. Why should it matter whether I was truly born this way or perhaps responded to my already low libido by recognizing that full asexuality may be thhe best choice for me?

  14. I agree with your critique of explaining, as innate, our non-patriarchal or anti-patriarchal behavior and experience. I don't think much about me is innate. And once we argue that, it tends to shut down more radical levels of inquiry and challenge to the heteropatriarchal colonial status quo.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  15. While I am incredibly into this idea you've described about rejecting our societies oppressive packaged expectation of sex, as someone has already said, I think you're misusing the term "asexual". And as someone who is asexual I find this rather hurtful and disrespectful. You describe it like its a choice, when its not. I never chose to be like this. You have also described experiencing sexual attraction, the lack of which is the only prerequisite for being asexual. Asexuality is lacking sexual attraction, plain and simple. We don't ever look at someone and think "gee I'm like to have sex with you specifically". If you experience sexual attraction, you are not asexual. You could very well be greyace or demisexual, or any number of other sexualities on the asexual spectrum. Grey-asexuality is defined as "Someone who experiences sexual attraction and drive but not strongly enough to want to act on them; and/or can enjoy and desire sex but only under very limited and specific circumstances." And asexual people can certainly have sex for various reasons, one of which being the simple physical stimulation.

    It sounds as if you're more taking a page from the asexual book. The realization that asexuality exists changes how one looks at sexuality. It brings about the realization that sex and sexual desire are not nessisary, and made you reflect on your own sexuality. Its a starting point. And I'm very interested by your take on that. But I really don't appreciate your insinuating that you can just stop having sex, or change they way you have sex, and call yourself asexual. Perhaps I'm just misunderstanding, but again, you said you experience sexual attraction. I don't want to sound like a gate keeper and tell someone else what they're sexuality is, but there really only is one requirement to be ace, and thats not experiencing sexual attraction. People already struggle to grasp the concept, simple though it is, and I don't see this as particularly helpful.

    Again, its not like you can't be in the community, because you really do sound like you're on the ace spectrum, just not specify asexual. Its harmful to the rest of us when people are misusing the term for our sexual identity. We don't even get much support in the rest of the queer community, its very difficult for us to be taken seriously and you possibly treating this as "whim" (your words, not mine), confusing the definition of an already clearly defined term, is kinda disrespectful.

  16. Hi and welcome, Cara.

    I've been wanting to revise this piece, now over six years old, in part to clarify somethings you illuminate. Several years ago, I remember getting into an argument with someone who described being celibate, but not asexual, but they used the term 'asexual' as how they identified. It annoyed me. So, it is not difficult to understand your objections and what I'd like to do is edit the piece to be clearer.

    I agree with your understanding of being asexual: I agree it is misunderstood and so it tends to be met with either judgment, condescension, doubt, or confusion. And my unclarity about asexuality vs. celibacy was not helpful.

    Thank you for adding your voice to this conversation. Let me know if there are things that are problematic for you in the revised version, new as of today.