Saturday, July 5, 2008

More reflections on a negatively defined identity

Reflecting on what can be achieved by forming larger, more active offline asexual communities, offhand, I can think of five main benefits: two for asexuality as a movement/(a)sexual minority and three for individuals. As a movement asexuality can benefit because it would give asexuals wider visibility and more education opportunities at the local level, promoting asexuals being seen as members of one’s own community rather than seeing them merely as people appearing on TV or in newspapers on occasion.

At a personal level, when people come to identify as asexual or are questioning, they want a sense of validation, a sense that it’s okay. It is possible to gain this sense from participation in online communities, but these are simply not the same as friendships in real life. It is emotionally important for people to feel a sense of validation, especially from people they respect and trust. This requires that there be people they respect and trust who will provide it and, outside of asexuals, it is difficult to predict who would or would not be supportive, and even among non-asexuals who would be inclined to be affirming of that self-identification, not many people are particularly knowledgeable about the subject and newly identifying asexuals will want support from people who don’t have to be educated about what that self-identification is.

Another time that support is important is in the coming out process. People want a sense of validation of their asexuality and a sense of acceptance on the part of those close to them, but since others may or may not be affirming in their responses, the coming out process can be difficult. Having support from others can be important for this. As with the sense of validation, this can be more meaningful coming from people in real life.

And, of course, some asexuals want to form romantic relationships and would only be willing to do so with other asexuals…

As I think about these, what strikes me is that the negative definition of asexuality is irrelevant. So, perhaps, the difficulties in forming such communities lie elsewhere. Certainly, the negative part of asexuality’s definition is part of issue. When describing the coming out process for other groups, some people talk about the first step being coming out to oneself. Perhaps some guy comes to see that the things he’s been feeling towards other guys aren’t simply the warm-and-fuzzy, friendly sort of definitely not gay feelings he’s been trying to convince himself that they are. But with asexuality, it isn’t a matter of coming to recognize certain feelings you have for what they are, but a matter of admitting that you aren’t feeling certain things. But of course, is someone has never felt sexual attraction, they don’t know what sexual attraction feels like so it’s hard to know if what they are feeling is or is not sexual attraction, especially if other forms of attraction have been felt.

It could be that the biggest difficulty in forming local asexual communities is precisely the societal prejudice about asexuality that we have to fight against. Asexuality isn’t believed to be evil, a perversion or an abomination. Rather, if considered at all, it is believed to be non-existent. Otherwise, nothing is believed about it. It simply has no place in dominant beliefs about sexuality and the variation that exists among people, regardless of whether such differences are regarded as “normal variation” or “perversions.” It may be this, above anything, that prevents us from uniting, and it is precisely against this that we need to unite.


The Impossible K said...

I definitely agree - even if you are sure you don't feel a certain attraction, our culture's overwhelming insistence that we MUST feel this way is bound to plant seeds of doubt... And you're right- as great as online communities are, it really helps to have "real life" friends and peers that are supportive.

Ily said...

But of course, is someone has never felt sexual attraction, they don’t know what sexual attraction feels like so it’s hard to know if what they are feeling is or is not sexual attraction, especially if other forms of attraction have been felt.
Totally...I read somewhere that the average age for people coming out as gay now is 13, and I can't imagine most asexuals coming out that young, for precisely that reason.
And I am so with you on the value of real-life/physical communities!

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, and more yes. Especially to that last paragraph--I think the disbelief that asexuality exists, and the fact that aside from that, there is no stigma attached to it, is probably the biggest obstacle we face when it comes to building community. It's harder to create allies, I think, when we're not being told that we're evil or perverse, and there's not any kind of civil rights controversy going on. If people aren't offended by the way we are treated (or not treated, as it were), then it's much easier for them to dismiss us and say, "Why should we care?"