Friday, May 14, 2010

Asexual Erasure

A reader recently drew my attention to an interesting article about bisexual erasure: The epistemic contract of bisexual erasure by Kenji Yoshino. Although it was published in Jan. 2000--before the birth of the asexual community--the author was clearly aware of asexuality and the issue of asexual erasure.

Though the article does not discuss the issue much, he has a fascinating note on the subject, which I will except from (it's a long end note.)

It is with some regret that I have decided not to attempt a systematic discussion of asexuals in this article, especially since asexuals are, if anything, more likely than bisexuals to be erased in sexuality discourse. To concede that there are two forms of desire--cross-sex and same-sex desire--is to recognize the analytic possibility of at least four kinds of persons.

Not only does he recognize the issue, but--even without there being an asexual community--he has considerable insight into the matter.
My regret is made keen by the convergences between bisexual and asexual erasure, most notably the refusal by both self-identified straights and self-identified gays to acknowledge either category. Thus asexuals, like bisexuals, are prone to being accused of duplicity or false consciousness, or, more specifically, of being closeted gays.

The decision to defer a discussion of asexuals for another day, however, is supported by the undertheorized divergences between bisexuality and asexuality, which suggest that the two topics deserve separate analysis. While both doubled and absent desire appear to threaten straights and gays, they do so in quite different ways. To take one crude cut at that difference, consider the disparate ways in which the time-honored conflation of sexuality and sin ramifies across bisexuality and asexuality. If this conflation leads some to view bisexuals as particularly culpable because of their "promiscuous" desire for both leads some of the same people to view asexuals as particularly pure.

In the asexual community, there have been some attempting to take this view, yet the majority view has been to reject it. In fact, the tendency has been to emphasize the differences between asexuality and celibacy, a point often raised in most introductions to asexuality. For the historically interested, this matter was discussed early on on Haven for the Human Amoeba, and there was an intentional decision to de-emphasize the similarities between asexuality and celibacy. What I find fascinating about Yoshino's article is that he cites the very same issue reason for doing so as was cited in Haven for the Human Amoeba--yet it is one which I have rarely seen discussed in the asexual community since.

While such purity is often ascribed to is not obvious whether that ascription applies equally to the subset of celibates who are asexual. Celibacy may be pure because it constitutes a conquest of the baser desires of the body; if so, the celibate asexual's claim to purity is attenuated because his licentious desire is not overcome, but rather absent. And even if described as pure, the absence of desire may be viewed as a disquieting purity, insofar as our hedonic pleasure in others is viewed by some as a generative, fecundating, and humanizing force even (or perhaps especially) when sublimated....Thus, while bisexuality and asexuality may in some senses be viewed as simple opposites (oversexed v. undersexed), they share negative connotations. But these connotations, in turn, are differently negative.

The issue of asexual erasure is not something I have often seen discussed in the asexual community, there is one notable excption: there is a thread on asexual erasure. Other than this, the only mention of the term that I managed to find (via google) was its use as a tag once on an asexual blog.

For people interested in the incorporation of asexuality into larger academic debates, I would definitely recommend taking a look at Yoshino's article. (It's kind of long--about 50 pages with another 50 pages of notes--but it is interesting.)


Ily said...

Ooh, interesting! I'm such an asexual history nerd--I wish he had gone on to explore asexuality in another article. It seems to me that people do talk about asexual erasure, but they don't use the term or, perhaps, know it's part of a larger phenomenon. When asexuals complain about people assuming they're gay, I would say that's the description of an experience of asexual erasure (as well as bisexual erasure, since people don't tend to say, "well maybe you're bi"). But I think knowing that it's a bigger concept, and that bisexuals experience the same thing, is beneficial somehow.

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

Interesting that the asexual community- name, definition, issues- was so very predictable.

Asexual invisiblity is possibly going to be an even greater problem for the movement than bisexual invisibility was for bisexuals. It is very easy to 'act' straight or gay- just be with someone of a particular gender, and it's assumed. Harder to 'act' bisexual, but you could still have different-gendered partners (sequentially or polyamorously). As an asexual, it is completely impossible to show it. It has to be explained. And then believed.