Please stop saying “aces aren’t repressed”

Or at the very least, reconsider what it means to say that “aces aren’t repressed.”

This post is for the February 2015 Carnival of Aces, applying the theme of “cross community connections” to my complicated relationships with the ace community and the Christian Church.

First, however, I feel obligated to make a case for why such a discussion is even relevant.  Unlike my identity as an ace, my “religious community” is not on the victim end of any institutional force of exploitation and abuse.  Far from it, in fact.  Presumably, some of you may believe that anything coming from the Church is going to be wrong anyway.  And… yeah, I won’t argue that, but I think by ignoring the area completely you’re going to be missing out on some inferences and connections that have serious implications for all aces in general.  Or, in other words, let’s take a moment to wonder why I get the impression that both sides in this matter are taking pains not to be mistaken for… well, someone like me.

Start from the fact that asexuals are sometimes stereotyped as pious and monotheistic people are sometimes stereotyped as asexual.  We know how most aces feel about the former, but do you have an idea of how most Christians respond to the latter?  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably do, but for the uninformed: modern Christianity hates that stereotype and regularly tries to distance itself from it and, in essence, from me.

I want people to understand that when I see people combine Christian doctrine with puritanical sex-positivity, I don’t hear the triumphant song of “progressive” and “liberated” enlightenment.  I hear a disgusted, sneering whisper that says, “Ugh, no — we’re not like you.”

So, of what importance is it to nonreligious aces that many popular religions don’t make room for us?  Better question: why is being associated with asexuality and sex aversion something that any ideological movement takes pains to avoid?  Why are people so ready to believe in the idea of the oppressive prude?  What is it about sex that makes enthusiasm for it such a necessary component to being seen as a good person?

I can’t recall many times aces have explored these questions in depth from the angle I’m suggesting, possibly because they don’t want to be seen as angry sex-haters themselves and are worried they’ll come across as shaming sexual activity unless they bury their point in disclaimers.  You don’t want to look like one of those right-wing anti-sexual Jesus Freaks, right?  We need more representation of asexuality, but we don’t actually want to rewrite the rhetoric of sex beyond adding a little asterisk for ourselves, right?

It’s a counterproductive ignorance.

Listen.  Don’t worry about that.  You’re not going to look like one of the nasty Christians.  They’re too busy making sure that they don’t look like one of you.

Aren’t you curious what’s at the core of what both communities are so scared of?

The effort to distance aces from those messed-up prudish folk extends to our intracommunity rhetoric, as well — I still consider it jarring that the number of times I’ve seen the phrase “asexuals aren’t broken” is almost matched by the number of times I’ve seen the phrase “asexuals aren’t repressed” and individual aces wondering if their Christian upbringing is part of the reason why they’re ace and/or sex-averse — which is why, in this post, I asked:

Are we still “not broken” if we’re the ones who broke ourselves?

What I want from the ace community is a more serious conversation about what it means to be “repressed.”  I want to see more people, especially aces, asking what’s so bad about being sexually repressed.  I want us to get talking about how maybe some aces are repressed — depending on how you define repressed.  What about the opposite of (or the subcategories of) repression?  What do we call that?  What do we call a thorough internalization of social cost so high it controls people like puppet strings?

Or is it more important to vie for assimilation and chant the party line?

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18 responses to “Please stop saying “aces aren’t repressed”

  • Sciatrix

    Ah–to clarify, the reason I sometimes say “I’m not repressed” and try to make that clear is that I don’t actually think repression is a particularly useful concept. It’s much easier to be clear about the things I want and don’t want, and I think introducing repression as a concept just adds a layer of self-doubt and panic to that.

    I think there’s a real distinction between the concept of being repressed and the concept of being a prude. Someone who is repressed is by definition disconnected from their “real” self, and I think there is really a lot of value to the ace community in being clear that no, my asexual self is my real self. On the other hand, ‘prude’ doesn’t carry that meaning of disconnect, and so I don’t mind reclaiming that word so much.

    • Coyote

      Now that’s a whole different thing altogether. If you don’t actually believe repression is a particularly useful concept in general, then that’s fine by me! While writing this post, I was most interested in addressing times when aces have distanced themselves from “repression” while holding to the idea that some people are repressed… …which is an idea I will also accept, depending on how repression is defined. It’s a loose concept that’s been used many ways. And that’s also what I’m interested in bringing to the fore.

  • Siggy

    I have two issues with “asexuals aren’t repressed”. First, the term “repression” really needs some philosophical analysis. What does it even mean? Why is it bad?

    Second, it seems to give the concept of asexuality some etiological baggage. Asexuality is no longer just about not experiencing sexual attraction, it’s about not experiencing sexual attraction because X, Y, and Z. The acceptable X, Y, and Z are “Just because”, “it’s my orientation”, or “I just don’t”. Any more detailed reason such as medication side effect or repression are unacceptable. But why?

    I would be interested in exploring these ideas in more detail in my future blogging. Also, I’d love to talk more with my atheist audience about Christian backlash to sex-negative stereotypes. Although the problem is I need a diverse sampling of examples, and I mostly just hear about it from you.

    • Zhanna

      Delurking to say: I’m ace and raised in a moderate Calvinist Christian household, and I got really similar messages to the ones Coyote talks about. There was this whole idea that sex is SO GOOD that it should only happen inside a marriage- it surprised me to find out that this was what’s called sex-negative in feminist discourse, when I had always heard sex described as a wonderful gift from God. This was all happening on the fringes of Purity Culture™, and I think they would definitely resist sex-negative stereotypes.

      Another data point!

    • Coyote

      Do these examples help?

      link 1
      link 2
      link 3

      Also, I’m not sure if they’d be willing to take questions about it, but I know both appalachian-ace and beranyth have experience with the kind of sex-is-holy Christianity I’m talking about.

      • Siggy

        Thanks, although reading a whole book is more time than I’m willing to devote to a blog post. :P Maybe I’ll borrow one in the future.

        My experience with atheists is that they know that Christians are in favor of, and glorify, vanilla hetero monogamous married sex. However, they don’t seem to remember it consistently. And I’ve never heard discussion about Christian backlash to stereotypes. Generally, the way that religious people react to stereotypes of religions is not really a topic of conversation! So that’s what interests me most.

        I totally believe it on your word, but I’d also love to see different perspectives. Like, what does it sound like when a (allosexual) Christian actively defends their glorification of sex? What justifications are used?

      • Siggy

        Note: I’m aware that you have plenty of examples in your archives, and I’m not trying to make a demand for more evidence or anything. It’s just that this is a topic that interests me. So if you blog about it more, I would like that. :)

  • Ace in Translation

    In addition to the other comments and very valid points on definition and usefulness of the concept: why should sexual repression and asexuality be mutually exclusive? If you’re taking the position that sexual repression is a useful concept, you might arrive at the conclusion that it’s possible to repress your asexuality. There are quite some definitions floating about for which this is perfectly possible. For example, when you take the definition that sexual repression is the inability to express your sexuality coupled with feelings of shame and guilt (what it says on wikipedia…), this might be the result of an internalization of compulsory sexuality. After all, we’re all told there’s a very limited number of ways (depending on which clan you’re part of culturally and religiously) in which we’re supposed to form relationships and express our sexuality. I haven’t come across any system of compulsory sexuality yet in which asexuality and aromanticism fit comfortably.

    In this model, ironically, you could say that one form of (a)sexual repression is an asexual doubting the genuineness of their feelings and asking whether or not they’re sexually repressed.

  • aceinlace

    “What is it about sex that makes enthusiasm for it such a necessary component to being seen as a good person?”

    An interesting question to be sure, and one that requires a deep analysis.

    “”I want to see more people, especially aces, asking what’s so bad about being sexually repressed. ”

    To me there’s not a great deal of point in answering that question. What’s bad or good about it is going to be dependent on one’s individual philosophy/moral frame. Nihilist? Nothing wrong with it. Hedonist? Anything that reduces your pleasure is arguably bad. Christian? It’s going to be affected by your sect’s priorities.

    “Please stop saying ‘aces aren’t repressed'”

    Sexually repressed, to most people, means that you’re a homosexual or heterosexual (or bi, pan, etc) who is shoving your sexual feelings down to where you can’t notice or act on them. Since an asexual is (by most definitions) *not* homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, etc it’s impossible for them to be one of the heterosexuals, homosexuals, etc who are shoving their sexual feelings down, aka the sexually repressed.

    This is assuming you’re working with the increasingly common belief that sexual orientation is inborn and predetermined, and not affected by psychological or post-birth environmental factors.

    When using the most common association the term sexual repression has, and the innate sexuality theory, it’s correct to say that asexuals are not repressed.

    • Coyote

      I feel as though I must not have communicated my point adequately.

      • aceinlace

        Perhaps not. Care to clarify?

        • Coyote

          I don’t know how to avoid sounding petulant if I ask you to read the post over again.

          My point was less, “Repression is a thing that exists. Does it apply here? y/n” and more “What does it even mean to call someone repressed? Is that a legitimate concept? What are the different ways of defining it, and what can we get out of that?” but even more “From my (limited) vantage point, aces and Christians look like they’re running away from being associated with each other. Why?”

  • Christianity as Trauma | The Ace Theist

    […] aversion” and “sex aversion caused by Christianity,” and I’ve talked about Christians and aces both trying to distance themselves from the specter of “repression,” so you may be sick of this topic by now, but it recently occurred to me that there was another […]

  • flipcakes

    I want to say that I absolutely love your blog, and sometime I will write a comment gushing all over it but first I had to reply to this. Sorry for the rambling.

    ” what’s so bad about being sexually repressed”
    To me the easiest way to see the answer to this is to look at the ex-gay movement. You can read people’s experiences of this, of from a young age and into adulthood forcing down any tiny thought of sexual attraction for the same gender. Absolutely denying any conscious thought of it. And in turn how this drove them to depression and self-hatred, especially if they fail.

    In my opinion a “repressed asexual” would not be an allosexual who has so completely suppressed all sexual attraction and become asexual. It would instead be someone who is still living as an allosexual, suppressing any thoughts that might creep in that don’t fit a heteronormative viewpoint. In this case thoughts of their own inability to feel sexual attraction or lack of desire for sex or even sex repulsion. Denying the thoughts a place to settle.

    I do think that repression is, to an extent, a real thing. I think it is something that everyone does at least a little but I don’t think it is something you can do to the point that you fundamentally change who you are(and don’t realize). And if you can that brings up the question of what even is the “fundamental self”. What are you if not a collection of experiences and thoughts? (with the base being genetics) And if your “repression” is a part of that does that make the results less valid? Lets say you take someone from a culture that teaches peace and abhors violence and you take someone from a culture that celebrates violence. The first feels very few violent impulses and the second feels many and feels free to act on them. Is one fake? Is one repressed? They are both products of their environment. Are they both valid? Are neither? Is one more so?

    The implication is of course that “repression” is something that can and should be fixed, it’s a way to invalidate someone’s sexual(in this case) agency. So I understand the backlash at it.

    I realized after writing this that you had said similar things in different posts, so I didn’t know if I should post this. But oh well here it is.

  • When Someone Learns a Word, But It Will Take a Lot for Them to Grasp the Concept It Describes – From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

    […] its own way, convincing you everyone who is an adult wants sex, the compulsory sexuality so strong that you convinced yourself you’re repressed or that aesthetic attraction must be […]

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