Inspired by the August Carnival of Aces theme, this post is about a notion that’s the near inverse of “the unassailable asexual” concept. Rather than the idea that certain traits can invalidate the apparent validity of an asexual identity, this post is about the idea that an asexual identity or a sex-averse identity can invalidate the apparent validity of one’s opinions and perspectives, nullifying their weight under circumstances where it’s presumed that sex-favorable allosexuality is a necessary prerequisite to a legitimate verdict.
Sorry, that was atrociously wordy. Let me get into a couple of examples.
CW: One of these stories is about an agender friend of mine and their previous roommate, whom I later found out to be an abuser. The story itself is not about an abusive behavior (albeit kind of a jerkish one), or maybe I failed to read it as one at the time, but I wanted to put this warning up in case that friend is reading this and might not want to read about her.
Several months ago, as my friend was driving the three of us to go see a play, their roommate started giving me a summary of a movie that the two of them had seen. It didn’t sound like a very good movie, thematically, since the main character arc and happy resolution were about “being attracted to” (and having sex with) “a real person” (hrmmmmmmph ace issues, self-displaced sexual fantasy, self-sufficient solitary sexuality as valid in its own right, other objections I didn’t think to raise), but I kept quiet long enough that I was relieved when my friend reluctantly muttered, “It wasn’t a very good movie.”
She turned her head to look at them, and said simply, “Well, you don’t like sex.”
And, it was then revealed, there had been a lot of sex in this movie. A lot of it. Seemed like a fair reason to dislike a movie to me.
Although I couldn’t bring myself to classify this response of hers as capital-“w” Wrong of her (because maybe it was a fair response? possibly? or ? because maybe internalized sex-normativity ?? because maybe getting so tired of disapproving of everyone and getting of bad vibes from every new person I meet that I get desperate to overlook things ?? ???), I couldn’t help but keep mulling over what it was supposed to imply. She didn’t elaborate much, as if the implications were self-evident, so I was left to extrapolate.
“Well, you don’t like sex” = “so of course you wouldn’t like a movie with lots of sex”, naturally, but does that mean “You would have liked this movie if you were more sex-favorable” or “Because you dislike sex, your opinion on a movie chock-full of sex is of one negligible relevance”, which is to say, “If you think this movie is a bad movie, and this movie was full of sex, then you must think this movie is a bad movie only because of the volume of sex, and for no other reason,” which amounts to, “When a person who doesn’t like sex has a negative opinion on a highly sexual piece of media, I will either presume that this person (due to not liking sex) either has no criticism or objections to any other aspect of the piece aside from the amount of sex, or that the dislike of sex is the chief concern and that all other criticisms are lesser enough to be sidelined in favor of devoting attention to that, which is fine as a personal preference but deserves to be dismissed when applied in relation to any impersonal piece of media” …?
It seemed like either a “Yeah, but aside from that…”-type of response (which is a bit nonsensical if sex took up the bulk of the movie), or a “Yeah, but you don’t like sex anyway, so your opinion doesn’t matter”-type response.
Or possibly something else altogether, but I didn’t like it. It seemed like “you don’t like sex” was being leveraged to lessen the legitimacy of my friend’s reaction, a reaction which probably would also have been my reaction.
And just to cover this other possibility: the information in “well, you don’t like sex” didn’t seem like it was being introduced for my benefit, as if their roommate didn’t think I was aware of this and was trying to defend the movie to me as a third party. If anything, I think she had momentarily forgotten that I was in the back seat at all.
Different story, different time, different person, a later incident that changed how I looked back on that one: I was having an IM chat with a friend from school, most of the subject matter being a novel of his that I was one of the beta-readers for. This is a friend that I had previously informed of my orientation, so he knew that I identified as gray-asexual/ace. I thought he’d taken it well, asked respectful questions and that sort of thing.
Once, then twice, then a third time, some kind of sex joke came up that I had a negative reaction to (each time for wildly different reasons), but each time, he gave the the same kind of defensive response along the lines of “well, you’re ace though.”
Which is to say, you’re ace so your criticism is invalid.
It hurts to wonder what he would have said or if he would have dismissed me as much if I had never come out to him (note to self: stop revealing your orientation to men; it never goes well). And it’s infuriating to see your already-marginalized-and-pathologized sexuality trotted into the conversation as a way to tell you, “I’m going to write off your reaction as irrelevant.”
It’s still frustrating for me to think about. He did not ask questions or seek to investigate what my actual thought process was or what the source of my sentiments could be, because he presumed he already knew. Ace person has opinion on thing? Thing involves sex? We can deduce all we need to know about that, then, because asexual people are a monolith who always have the same consistent opinion on all forms of humor and narrative that feature sex.
In this case, as well as in the case I explained before this one, the explanation for our reactions was one they came to themselves; this wasn’t a case of either one of us stating point-blank, “I don’t like that, specifically because I don’t like a sexual element to be included in anything ever at all” — they made that jump themselves, without bothering to check or verify or even affirm that preference as valid.
What’s interesting to me about this is that these were both people who, ostensibly, were okay with “I don’t experience sexual attraction” and were okay with “I don’t like sex”, but were not as okay with any criticisms (of entertainment they enjoyed) that they connected back as being rooted in either of those. It’s a kind of conditional acceptance that says, “It’s okay if you’re like that, but not if it actually affects the conversations we have.” It’s okay if you’re asexual, it’s okay if you’re sex-averse, but only as long as we can ignore it.
It’s been established plenty of times elsewhere that 1) nobody is really an “unassailable asexual”, and 2) the ideas about what traits make an asexual identity more un/assailable are ideas that are prejudiced, oppressive, or otherwise wrong and harmful. However, it does seem like individual allo people have their own personal ideas of what constitutes the Preferable Asexual, the ace person who is a preferred conversation partner in so far as they will avoid creating any conceivable reminder that they’re ace, and the ones that will, in interpersonal situations, sever themselves from their internal ace-ness in order to avoid letting their non-normative perspective “affect their perspective”, so to speak: an asexual person unsullied by any perceptible markers of not being allo. A chameleon asexual. Or a cephalopod asexual, rather, if you want to be biologically accurate.
I’m sure there are some aces who are more capable/comfortable with blending than others, and this post isn’t about placing a value on that. This post is about sex-favorable allo folk putting a value on that.
That said, in these instances at least, these people don’t seem to realize they were expressing such a preference, because it didn’t seem to occur to them that any asexual person could actually blend in with sincerity (that is, without faking enjoyment they don’t really feel).
[ There are asexual people who love sex jokes, I told him. “yeah. sure.” was his doubtful response. ]
So what this tells me is that there are some social circumstances where being out/open about being asexual or sex-averse can, under some paradigms, make an individual’s opinion or judgement become more assailable, more irrelevant, and less credible in its own right, and that there are some social circumstances where sex-averse asexuality is accepted only as long as it is kept hidden and isolated from the conversation.
You’re ace, so keep your mouth shut here. You’re ace, so you wouldn’t like it anyway.