When Being Asexual Is What Makes You Assailable

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.

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9 responses to “When Being Asexual Is What Makes You Assailable

  • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

    It has happened to me on multiple occasions that a person has discounted my opinions or criticisms of their opinions on the grounds of my asexuality. On the surface it’s an ad hominem, but deeper than that, it’s a (false) statement of “You can’t possibly understand this unless you aren’t asexual-spectrum.” There are things that I can’t judge because of my asexuality, but the use of sex in films (as useful for character development, or as unnecessary) is not one of those things.

  • queenieofaces

    (Question: Are you submitting this to Carnival? Because if you’re not, you really should. :D)

    I’ve had this happen to me on multiple occasions as well, and it’s really frustrating. Then again, I’ve also gotten this from people who DIDN’T know I was ace; a certain adult in my life (who I was not out to) enjoyed dismissing any criticisms of movies I had seen as me “being a prude,” rather than, I don’t know, the fact that the movie was genuinely not super great for reasons pretty much unrelated to the sex scenes? Apparently “I thought their relationship was really manipulative and dysfunctional and not at all romantic” sounds like, “Argle blargle I hate sex” to certain people. I think it’s a general stigma associated with anyone who is believed to not be 100% positive about sex all the time, not just aces. (It’s just that being ace has a high probability of catapulting you into the “probably hates sex vehemently!” category.)

    [and trigger warnings for sexual violence talk below]

    Also, related to this phenomenon is the tendency of allosexual people to dismiss ace survivors’ stories, because it probably wasn’t REALLY rape, it’s just that you’re asexual and hate sex. I’ve seen some people go so far as to claim that any time an ace claims that they were sexually assaulted, they’re just being a whiner because they hate sex anyway, and THIS is why allosexuals shouldn’t get involved with aces, because you so much blink wrong and they’ll yelling about rape!

    • acetheist

      (Wasn’t sure if it was too off topic or not. But if you consider it relevant enough, well, consider it submitted. :D)

      “I think it’s a general stigma associated with anyone who is believed to not be 100% positive about sex all the time, not just aces.”

      Agreed. And that’s why there’s never going to be a truly unassailable asexual (& of course, aces who duck out of this category by being sex-favorable and having lots of sex then have their asexuality invalidated on the basis of that). …Hey look, I connected it back to the main theme after all.

      “it’s just that you’re asexual and hate sex.”

      This is awful and such an atrocious failure to grasp the basic mechanics of consent that I don’t even know what to say. (“It’s not that you were raped, it’s just that you were… forced to have sex that you didn’t want” …? What the hell?)

      Considering this “must like/have sex this much in order to enter” attitude, I almost regret not going into a comparison between, say, “you are a heteroromantic heterosexual so you don’t get to have a say in what is or isn’t heterosexism” (which is legitimate) vs. “you are asexual so you don’t get to have a say in critiquing anything with sex in it”, as if asexual people wield privilege specifically via their asexuality.

  • Mxtrmeike13

    Very well worded! I’ve had a small number of similar experiences, but never thought of it in those terms before. I’ll definitely be more aware of when my point of view is being disregarded because “I don’t like sex.”

  • Calum P Cameron

    Aha.

    Curiously, while I am familiar with the general phenomenon of “you weren’t the target audience on account of Reason X, therefore your criticism based largely on the unrelated Reason Y is invalid”, I don’t recall personally ever being in a situation where Reason X was my asexuality or indifference towards sex (It’s usually my religious or political views, or something like my aversion to sports). And now I want to know why and how I managed to accidentally escape that. Is it because not enough people know? Is it just because I tend not to engage with sex-heavy works of media in the first place? More research may be needed here.

    The nearest I’ve come was that time when someone tried to write off my many, many objections to the 50 Shades books (just, like, as a concept) by arguing that they were “supposed” to be read purely as a tool for sexual pleasure without paying any attention to the actual content or implications thereof. Which kinda sounds like a criticism in and of itself to me, but whatever.

  • Klaraa

    Also, “you are ace, therefore we assume you hate sex, therefore your opinion on something that involves sex is not as valid/important as the opinion of a Person that presumably likes sex.”, besides being illogical and rude, that is very inconsistent with one common phenomenon: Gay men are assumed to not be sexually attracted to women, but some of them work as “very stereotypically gay and somewhat eccentric” (women’s) fashion designers, (women’s) make-up artists or model casting Show (for women) Panel members because people understand/accept that being sexually unattracted to women makes them not less (possibly even more) able to assess and judge the AESTETIC atractiveness of women…

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