There’s no true way to assess whether someone is lying about their orientation. After all, people don’t get to have sex with every person they’re sexually attracted to, and people can have sex with a person without necessarily feeling that said person is hot — and then there’s also the fact that ones’ orientation can change, in rare cases, regardless of will — so we know that past sexual behavior is not an accurate predictor of sexual attraction. There’s no objective means to assess the veracity of attraction claims. Therefore, as another means of examining the issue, I propose we engage in a little cost-benefit analysis.
In order to determine the likelihood of an ace-ID’ing person telling the truth about feeling asexual, let us consider what possible motives (alternative to or aside from actually being asexual or not understanding the meaning of asexuality) the person could have. To do this, we can compare the costs and benefits of identifying as asexual to the costs and benefits of identifying as another orientation. For argument’s sake, let’s use heterosexuality as a point of comparison.
The following breakdown does not adhere strictly to the method of true cost-benefit analysis, as that would require combining these into one set of costs and benefits with some of the benefits presented as avoided costs or vice versa, and there are other divergences from the method as well, but for these purposes, splitting the factors as such may be the more illustrative course.
Benefits of identifying as heterosexual:
- viewed as “normal” sexuality, the default mode
- claims of heterosexuality unlikely to receive skepticism (ignoring, for the moment, doubts spawned by gender non-conformance)
- claims of heterosexuality viewed as unremarkable (and therefore unlikely to receive “special snowflake” accusations, similar to above)
- likelihood of harassment for orientation very low
- freedom from feeling unsafe due to orientation
- no need to come out to anyone due to heteronormative culture
- expected to be permanent and lifelong
- no burden of “proof”
Costs of identifying as heterosexual:
- nothing, except being excluded from (some) queer spaces, which is a petty price to pay
- receiving blacklash from whining about the above
Benefits of identifying as asexual:
- a small niche community dedicated to the asexual spectrum and related discussion
- secret code rings
Costs of identifying as asexual:
- very little widespread education or awareness about what asexuality is
- claims of asexuality are a magnet for skepticism
- a magnet for personal questions about masturbation and genitalia
- a magnet for harassment and invalidating jokes
- viewed as a mental problem or disorder
- viewed as a medical dysfunction or an unhealthy imbalance of hormones
- viewed as a result of trauma or fear
- viewed as something that can be fixed, a view that leads to sexual assault and corrective rape
- viewed as a (wrong) choice
- viewed as impermanent, just a phase, a placeholder until the real orientation reveals itself
- due to heteronormative culture, making this identity public requires coming out, which often involves a stressful on-the-spot education session
- above sometimes leads to termination of relationships
- viewed as selfish or “a waste”
- viewed as failing to accomplish the point of life
- viewed as equivalent to “not liking anyone” or being incapable of any form of love
- viewed as an inherently inhuman characteristic
[ You’ll want to check the description of this video if you’re not already familiar with anti-asexual prejudice. ]
To conduct a complete analysis, we could assign a numerical value to each of these costs and benefits, which would be possible via a contingent-valuation survey to determine willingness to pay to avoid (or gain) these results, but that shouldn’t be necessary because by any feasible calculation, identifying as heterosexual would be more cost-effective by a landslide. Therefore, barring one’s actual orientation as part of the consideration, there are insufficient incentives to identify as asexual when one could identify as heterosexual.
In the case of homoromantic, biromantic, panromantic, and aromantic aces (or any who don’t identify as heteroromantic), asexual identification has sometimes been blamed on internalized homophobia/heterosexism, a theory which can be disproven by a couple of simple observations. First of all, considering heteroromantic asexuals have the above incentive structure (costs + benefits of ID’ing as heterosexual > costs + benefits of ID’ing as asexual), we must conclude that there may be unaddressed motives for identifying as asexual (i.e. the fact that asexuality exists). Second, allow us to repeat the analysis with another orientation, such as homosexuality, as the point of comparison. Many of the costs for identifying as ace and identifying as gay (as a sexual orientation) are the same or similar (including marriage equality), so for simplicity’s sake, this analysis will disregard the overlap and solely address community discrepancy.
Benefits of identifying as homosexual:
- universally welcome in queer and LGBT+ spaces (which cannot be said for all gsm identities)
- the definition is widely known and understood, albeit mistakenly viewed as a choice
Costs of identifying as homosexual (excluding overlap):
- prominent, mainstream rhetoric from world religions regarding it as sinful
- viewed by some as worse than being asexual
- instruction that celibacy is the only option
- cultural association with pedophiles
- target of specific slurs
Benefits of identifying as asexual:
- sometimes welcome in queer and LGBT+ spaces, but not all
Costs of identifying as asexual (excluding overlap):
- largely unacknowledged by official stances of world religions
- viewed by some as worse than being homosexual
- the definition is a continual point of confusion
- fierce arguments about whether it deserves to be considered queer
When you compare asexuality to homosexuality instead of heterosexuality, the discrepancy between which identification is more advantageous is not as clear — and that’s my point. If you’d like to argue that identifying as homosexual is more costly than represented here, be my guest, as long as you acknowledge that asexuality doesn’t beat it by a mile the same way heterosexuality does.
Perhaps if we assign a numerical value to the costs and benefits and investigate further, we can derive a more precise set of measurements to determine exactly who “has it worse”, but I don’t think that would be a very efficient use of our time. Instead, what’s important to note is that people on the asexual spectrum are neither accepted in heteronormative society, nor are we unconditionally-accepted and welcomed into the queer club the way allosexual cis gay people are, and there’s much less awareness about the issues asexuals face (the common presumption being that there aren’t any), meaning there is less overt support to fall back on.
Thus, it may be safe to conclude that, aside from puppet trolls, self-labeled asexuals have no incentives to identify as asexual if they do not believe it to be true. It may well be that allosexual queer people currently do have it worse than asexual people; I can’t contest that, not from my own experience, but even so, identifying as asexual does not — as far as I know, in America — provide a convenient escape route for avoiding prejudice, hostility, and discrimination. As an “easy way out”, asexual identification is not that pragmatic or useful of a strategy to employ, and thus, claiming that asexual identification must be a deliberate lie is an accusation with little logical support.