Saturday, July 11, 2009

You're not asexual: You're just not willing to accept your true sexuality.

Although the not-accept-true-sexuality response to asexuality doesn't seem to be as common as the (maybe)you're-gay response, it is a more generalized version of it. Instead of asserting someone is (or might be) claiming asexuality because of a refusal to acknowledge their homosexuality, this response suggests someone is claiming asexuality because of a refusal to acknowledge their sexuality, whether that is a socially stigmatized sexuality, the most vanilla heterosexuality imaginable, or anything in-between.

Before Clay Aiken came out as gay, there was speculation that he may be asexual, though he never himself claimed this. In an ABC News article, Could 'American Idol' Star Clay Aiken be Asexual?, they quoted a sex-educator who affirmed the legitimacy of asexuality but pointed out that Aiken's comments could not be taken to mean he was asexual. They also quoted a sex-therapist with less positive things to say.
Using asexuality as an excuse, according to Ian Kerner, sex therapist and author of "Sex Detox," is also common for people who have had negative sexual experiences earlier in life or are trying to hide their true sexuality.

"There are many people who are confused about their sexuality or their sexuality is in stark contrast to their social and cultural values," said Kerner. "So they think it's easier to be asexual than to acknowledge their unique sexuality and identity."

Of course, there are a number of points on which this can be criticized: the sex-therapist probably knows virtually about asexuality as the term is understood in the asexual community. However, rather than admitting his ignorance on the subject, he equivocates on the meaning of asexual to feign expertise and to speak with seeming authority on the matter. And then there's the fact that people leading non-sexual lives who decide to go see a sex-therapist about it are probably not representative of people leading non-sexual lives in general. And then there's the fact that the things he associates with non-sexuality are pretty standard ones that sex-therapists have been claiming for decades. However, I've never seen anyone do so with a citation. Even in books on sex-therapy. It seems that a lot of it comes from people being told to look for these things in sexual disinterested people (but not necessarily ask about in other cases), so when they find them in some such people, this belief is reinforced. This is called confirmation bias. Hypothetically, the remedy for this would be actual scientific data, but that data just doesn't exist.

Anyway...

In the asexual community, there seem to be three main classes of beliefs regarding the not-accept-true sexuality response.

(A) It's WRONG, WRONG, WRONG: Asexuals are asexual! They are NOT people who are afraid of their sexuality!
(B) It's wrong in a number of cases (certainly some people really don't experience sexual attraction), but the criticism is right in many cases; this is a real problem. The result is a mixed view towards asexual identity.
(C) It's wrong in a number of cases, and even when it's true, so what? What's wrong with someone temporarily using asexuality to hide from issues they aren't ready to deal with?

Corresponding to these beliefs, there are, potentially, three kinds of replies from within the asexual community to the not-accept-true-sexuality response. To make sense of this, it is important to note that there are really two parts to the not-accept-true-sexuality response:

(1) People calling themselves asexual are really just unwilling to admit their true sexuality.
(2) This is a bad thing.

The three reply-types are:

(A'). The claim in (1) is wrong: Asexuals are not people unwilling to accept their "true sexuality."
(B'). The claim in (1) is clarified and the one in (2) is accepted: Some people really are asexual (and should be accepted as such), but many people identifying as asexual really are just afraid to accept their sexuality; this is a real problem.
(C') The claim in (1) is clarified and the one in (2) is rejected: Some people identifying as asexual really are asexual, and even if some are "just" unwilling to accept their sexuality, so what? That might not be a bad thing.

Furthermore, responses of these three types can function at the individual level (focusing on one's own experience) or the general level (it's not a valid criticism of asexuality more generally.) I'll refer to these A'-personal, A'-general, B'-personal, etc. For example, the blogger Naturally Curvy, in her Introduction to Asexuality uses A'-personal: she emphasizes that she is sexually experienced (it's not for a lack of trying to be sexual or trying sexual activities), and she mentions multiple non-standard sexualities that she tried on (and couldn't get them to fit) before identifying as asexual. The blogger The Venus of Willendork, in the post Hide and Seek, uses C'-personal, and then uses this as a springboard for C'-general: she explains why she thinks it would be perfectly reasonable for someone in her position to identify as asexual (even though she doesn't identify as asexual anymore), and then discusses how using a temporary asexual identity may be helpful to provide a safe space for people trying to figure things out.

Now, it is worth noting that while the beliefs A, B, and C correspond to the responses A', B', and C' respectively, believing in one of the former does not have to mean that someone employs the corresponding response, and using one of these responses does not necessarily mean that someone holds the corresponding belief. For example, someone who believes B or C cannot (honestly) use A'-general, but they could very reasonably use A'-personal. Moreover, beliefs often do not result in expressing those beliefs. Sometimes we have no occasion to express some opinion, and sometimes we feel the need to keep an opinion to ourselves. I rarely see opinions B and C expressed, and when they are, it's usually privately, or, if publicly, on Apositive or a blog (i.e. not on AVEN.) People are either afraid of being attacked or afraid of being subversive. This is especially the case with B: people recognize the importance of asexual identity for some people and do not want to give fodder to those eager to delegitimate asexuality.

In my next post, I intend to defend option C: even if some people identifying as asexual, aren't "really" asexual, so what?

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