We Need Specificity

After reading several personal accounts illustrating why, I started to write this post and then put it off, too low on steam to write out what, to me, is obvious beyond words.  Then, because I never learn, I later went walking into the demisexuality tag and found one of those many pompous pontificating manifestos you stub your toe on now and then, featuring the following sentiment:

The oppression starts with the label. Stop saying “this is what people like this are called, accept this group of people” and instead say “accept people.”

First of all, I hope you step on a lego.  Second of all: No.  Stop saying “instead say ‘accept people’.”  Stop decrying awareness efforts and specificity as the source of all the problems, as if difference doesn’t precede the word for it.  Stop making me want to smash things with a hammer, you clueless brinewater buffoons.  We need specificity, and impeding as much is how you lend support to the problem.

“Oppression starts with the label”.  Jesus.  Actual Jesus.  Jesus, come down from the heavens and help us all.  You think people became prejudiced against people who don’t experience sexual attraction only once they learned that those people have an identity label, or that the Imperative Someday became a cultural force only once there were people identifying as sex-repulsed?  Good God, are we going to act as though trans oppression didn’t exist before the mid-1900s, when the term “transgender” was coined?  Were autistic people not oppressed prior to the 1940s?  I should stop here because I’m out of my league, but how can you possibly know so little about the practical workings of oppression that you think oppression is in effect only when there’s an accurate word for the target group?

Here, let me fix that for you: Oppression cannot stop without a label.  Oppression starts with oppressors, and oppression cannot be stopped without letting the oppressed and the marginalized taking the power of naming into their own hands.  To say that oppression starts with the labels is to say that creating your own labels or identifying as one is tantamount to oppressing yourself.  To say that is to say that the actions of the oppressed themselves are the reason the oppressed are oppressed, and if you believe that, you can go jump in a lake of cacti.

But this post isn’t just about labels.  This post is about specificity and the apparent debatability of its use.  I’ve had enough of this idea that we should stop asking for specific acceptance “and instead say ‘accept people'” as if that works and as if that isn’t the opposite of helpful.  We, the maligned and ignored of many stripes, already mentally include ourselves within the word “people”, but we cannot preemptively divine whether you do, too.  You have to say it.  You have to say it outright.  You have to say it outright because too many people have said “I accept everyone” and then not accepted us, because they think it goes without saying that we’re an exception.  They take as much for granted, and so we learn not to place our trust in silence.  Too many times, the exclusion has been implicit and unspoken.  How are we supposed to know that you mean us, too, unless you say it?

It’s not enough to assume “Well, it just stands to reason” when there are people who think our very existence is unreasonable.

Aces can’t always trust LGBT-friendly doctors and therapists to be ace-friendly.  Aces can’t always trust LGBT centers themselves to be ace friendly.  In any situation, concerning asexuality or any other identity, asking for specificity isn’t trying to be special or demanding disproportionate attention — it’s us asking to know when and if we can trust you.  If you don’t want us to trust you, then you don’t have a dog in this hunt anyway.  If we’re not welcome in the first place, then this argument doesn’t apply.  But if you do want everyone — including people like me — to know they’re welcome to your particular space and will be accepted by you, what we need from you first is specificity.  Aces need specificity.  If trusting you with our orientation is a gamble, then it’s a gamble that many of us would sooner not take.

Here’s the problem with eliminating specifics and insisting we just accept “people”, no modifiers: you know who you’re including, but we don’t.  When you say “I accept everyone”, when you say “I accept you no matter what”, when you say “I support people of all orientations”, we cannot know what your exceptions are.  We need specificity because we know how unpredictable and illogical bigotry can be.  We need specificity because we are not mind readers.  We need specificity because open generalities have got us burned in the past and will continue to get us burned for as long as this goes on.

When you dismiss our mistrust as unfounded and unreasonable, you only condemn us for being more cognizant of our surroundings than you are.


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