Three points, two of which I expect most of y’all to be familiar with already:
1) Prejudices that target gay, bi, ace, or aro people specifically (in ways that are ostensibly mutually exclusive) are all different forms of heterosexism and heteronormativity, each based on whichever group the bigot at hand believes to be “closest” to straightness at the given moment. The only group that really has what I’d call “privilege” in this realm is straight people and them alone. There is anti-bi heterosexism that casts bi people as “indecisive”, anti-ace heterosexism that casts aces as “sexually dormant”, etc., but all of it is essentially heterosexism because at its root, it measures us on proximity to straightness — either by presence of different-gender attraction, presence of romantic or sexual attraction, or absence of same-gender attraction. It’s important to examine the distinct and conflicting ways that heterosexism manifests, and I want to do that without losing sight of what it all adds up to.
2) I purposefully avoid using the “phobia” suffix to refer to acts of bigotry and oppressive ideologies, and I advocate for others to do the same as well. I want to preserve the meaning of “phobia” as referring to a psychological disorder that is not the person’s own fault and which they cannot fix by simply changing their mind. Analogizing a flawed and violent ideological position to a psychological disorder only serves to demonize mental illness and/or treats the matter as if a bigot simply cannot help what they do because they have an illness. Oppressive ideas are a failure of morality, not a psychological disorder. People with phobias don’t deserve their involuntary conditions being likened to oppressing people. Health is not morality.
3) The way that words like “liberated” and “repressed” are usually thrown around in the context of sexuality, people tend to imply (or other times outright declare) that being sexually active/having frequent sex is necessarily synonymous with being healthy and free. To some extent, the asexual community has borrowed and concocted its own rhetoric for discussing and deconstructing this mess, but I still see us as having insufficient means to talk about the inverse of “liberated/repressed” rhetoric’s conventional meanings — to talk about the allosexual norm as repressive and nonsexual relationships and celibate lifestyles as liberating.
The idea of “sexual repression”, as used to invalidate asexuality, is often bound up in a presumption of “religion” as the perpetrator, which is an idea I’ve come to associate with people who don’t know what they’re talking about (see my Religion & Asexuality Overview if you can’t guess why), but with that being said, as I proceed on this topic, I do want to acknowledge that, for various reasons, there are people who have been made to repress their true patterns of attraction.
Problem is, that characterization leaves out half the picture.
Heteronormativity doesn’t just tell people to suppress, ignore, deny, and feel ashamed of same-gender romantic and sexual attractions. It also demands that people express, uplift, proclaim, and perform cross-gender romantic and sexual attractions.
This is why I find “repression”, as a model, to be insufficient for articulating the experience of internalized, oppressive norms. It’s only one part of what goes on. And what do we call the rest?
What do we call the inverse of repression, the internalized compulsory sexuality — not just the pressure to perform, but the pressure to believe in the necessity of one’s own allo(hetero)sexuality? If we have a word for suppressing what exists, for burying and shoving it down, then what word can we use for artificially trying to fill an absence, for projecting a mask and trying to sculpt something out of the void?
I don’t think it’s accurate to say that repression doesn’t exist, but I also don’t think it’s sufficient to legitimize that term without contrasting it with another, as if to imply that internalized heterosexism can only manifest in this one way. That’s why I want to ask y’all for help in thinking about this, in finding a better way to name an experience that is about an artifice of presence rather than (or in addition to) an artifice of absence.