Asexual Culture: Values in Conflict

A Carnival of Aces on “asexual culture”?  So many possibilities.  Cake.  Rings.  Graphs.  Puns.  Crocheted winter accessories.  Existential crisis.

There are a lot of ways I might characterize asexual culture(s), but if I had to pick one to talk about for a Carnival of Aces, it would be this: asexual culture is a culture in tension.  By the nature of its existence, its constituents, and its particular place in history, asexual culture is a taut patchwork of conflicting goals, the contested ground of very different ideologies, and even at their most irreconcilable, neither can ever fully go away.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This is a post about ace discourse, identity politics, and rape culture, in which the blogger argues that liberalism and liberation are both inherent to the fabric asexual culture and fundamentally incompatible with each other.

Making this argument feels a bit ambitious, and I may need to make several follow-up posts as I develop what I’m thinking here, so please bear with me.  I have a certain idea in my head, but I’m still untangling the particulars.

On the one hand, you have the permissive impulse.  Acceptance.  Inclusion.  Visibility.  Affirming the individual and battling “erasure.”  Taking its cues from mainstream LGB “born this way” rhetoric, this force prioritizes a certain reassuring, care-taking style and an emphasis on the validity of the innate, which is why it’s also responsible for shoving its dirty secrets under the rug.  You may have noticed a contradiction here already, but wait, there’s more.

This is an ideology that I see as being very much a reaction to what precedes it: all those comments that have inspired the ace bingo cards, the standard lines of invalidation, the belittling, undermining, gas-lighting, and assailing.  This is us trying to be softer than that, more open than that, while also trying to shed or renounce anything that makes us vulnerable.  Perhaps I’m trying to synthesize too much at once.  But given the villification and pathologization we face and the liberal frameworks of identity that are readily available, I can see why we have a tendency toward the lax and the mild and the assimilative, a tendency I see as being in conflict with the other formative ingredient in asexual culture’s coherence.

Because here’s the thing: the societal pressures that draw us together and make an ace community necessary cannot be separated from rape culture, and criticism of rape culture cannot be teased out of ace culture.  Goals of liberation — from rape culture, heteropatriarchy, compulsory sexuality, reproductive coercion — drive its relevance.  None of these are particular to us, but ace identities do color how they manifest for us and produce heightened vulnerabilities to certain kinds of social cost.  And confronting those issues head-on is an ugly, dirty business.  It’s tricky and demoralizing and it’s no wonder that we like to fall back on cushy acceptance rhetoric now and then.

The two sets of values aren’t opposites, not by any means, but they come into conflict on the subject of the Shame Clause.  The permissive impulse, Acceptance for All, (aces are condemned so condemn naught but condemnation), would have it that everyone’s feelings are validated.  The critical impulse, by contrast, is an effort to invalidate what is already validated.

If I seem to be painting a more idealistic picture of the second, it’s true my sympathies tend in that direction, but I’m also grouping under that collective force the accusations that gray-asexuals are “sexuals” “invading” asexual spaces, the assertions that true asexuals don’t like sex, and so on.  It’s not entirely innocent either.  It extends to a suspicion of the sexual that can, at times, go too far.

What concerns me most, though, is where acceptance and suspicion are in tension on the subject of sexual violence.  <big tw for rape> This exchange is something of a microcosm of the clash between the two.

If I’m right about this — about how I’m framing competing forces in the ace community — then it would explain, to me, why ace survivors of sexual violence can say, again and again, “we need you to make this space safe for us,” and the rest of the community just nods and moves along and nothing changes.  Because it’s not the absence of support (although it is that) but also the presence of another ideology that’s allowed to trump that nominal support, which is how FYA can claim to support survivors and in the same breath prioritize being “non-judgemental” over condemnation of getting off on actual real-life rape.

I hope a lot of aces who run advice blogs (or even just reply with advice when asked) will read this, because whenever something like this happens, I want to sit them all down and ask: What does supporting survivors actually mean to you?  What does that look like in practice?  And when that ideal comes in conflict with another value of yours, how are you going to decide which to put first?

[ Edit: If you’ve read this far, this is one of those posts where I recommend reading the comments. ]

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30 responses to “Asexual Culture: Values in Conflict

  • Siggy

    I disagree with part of your framing (and that of ScaryBalkanLady). There needs to be some separation between the idea of supporting survivors and criticizing perpetrators. “Supporting survivors” does not merely mean getting really angry at perpetrators, and insisting that everyone else be as angry as you. It’s not just about the destruction of rape culture, as worthwhile a goal as that is. There are… more direct ways to interact with survivors than through their perpetrators.

    • Coyote

      I’m hesitating, but I’m listening. Maybe you can spell this out for me a little more, since I’m not sure how this connects to what I was saying.

      • Siggy

        Well, I’m looking at the post you linked from Queenie at the end, and eight or nine of the nine bullet points have nothing to do with interacting with perpetrators. I have no desire to defend FYA, but you ask what “supporting survivors” means to me, and moral outrage isn’t it.

        To fit this within your larger thesis, I would say that even within the discourse of rape and rape survivors, there’s a tension between acceptance and criticism.

        • Coyote

          Ah, okay. So that was your answer to that specific question. Sorry, I’m a little slow in the afternoons.

          Anger isn’t always the fix, I can agree with you on that. If my framing made things look like the difference between a presence or absence of outrage — well, that’s not what I meant to do.

      • Siggy

        Well it’s not just the presence or absence of outrage.

        You said there is a tension between the acceptance impulse and the critical impulse, and I totally agree. You frame “supporting survivors” as one particular issue that calls for more critical impulse. And your example of someone failing to support survivors is one where someone gave into their acceptance impulse. But when I think of supporting survivors, the first thing that comes to mind is how we interact with survivors directly, and whether we are accepting of their experiences. So to me, it’s an issue that calls for more of the acceptance impulse.

        I mean, really it calls for both impulses to be used at exactly the right times and never at the wrong times. But I suppose that’s not much of a guideline.

        • Coyote

          “I mean, really it calls for both impulses to be used at exactly the right times and never at the wrong times.”

          Well, yes, lol. That’s about what I was thinking, but like you said, that’s not much of a blueprint. So, to rephrase the question:

          In any given situation, how do we determine which approach is most appropriate?

  • luvtheheaven

    I’m just going to be a lurker. I’ve definitely appreciated this idea you’ve raised, Coyote, and Siggy’s response and your subsequent conversation here in the comments. It’s provided some food for thought, for sure.

  • epochryphal

    Goddd I have opinions.

    I do not like Scarybalkanlady’s response. It blanket condemns anyone with violent fantasies – which includes many many survivors and people marginalized at high risk of violence. It perpetuates the spectre of “not kinkshaming is perpetuating rape culture” and encourages interrogation of people with certain kinks as to whether they are allowed to have them (either blanket no, or only if you Prove you are marginalized enough).

    I do not agree with FYA’s response. It does not address the unacceptable consumption and support of real-life media like snuff films. It does not firmly advocate for keeping fantasy to fantasy, only consuming ethically made media, not allowing behaviors to reify oppressive structures.

    Honestly I think FYA came closer to the mark in initial post, and didn’t understand SBL’s response because it was full of too-broad scare-mongering. (I also still have issues with SBL’s assertions that ever saying “aces can have sex” alone is rape culture. Many of SBL’s statements leave no room for aces with different experiences.)

    I stand by fantasy and attraction and kinks as being, like intrusive thoughts, not initially intentional and very very hard to squash, usually counterproductive to try to eliminate, and not a problem unless they affect your actual behavior.

    Why can’t we get “attraction != behavior” actually integrated into our politics.

    And why do we keep focusing on “protecting” survivors from people with violent/etc fantasies, when it is seriously more likely for survivors to have those fantasies to cope? And when demanding proof of worthiness to have those fantasies, outs and hurts and polices survivors?

    Of course making this its own post is a minefield.

    • Coyote

      And like. “I’m not an expert in this area but my feeling is that line is getting blurred here” — blurred? No. That is firmly over the line.

      And in their response to SCB they act like the problem was that the post wasn’t tagged properly enough.

    • DG Arf

      I have to admit I am inclined to agree with you… I think FYA could have being firmer with stating that the fantasies are not okay, but SBL’s reaction was just not really helpful to the discussion at all.

      I do feel for the mod of FYA… A person came to them seeking help, feeling ashamed/confused/afraid of their own thoughts, so would it have helped the anon to be like “omg no that’s so messed up how could you think that way you’re a freak??” No, it would have just made them even MORE ashamed and afraid and that’s not productive. That’s what will turn the person into a rapist, because they would feel they can’t get help because their thoughts are too abhorrent to tell anyone about. People have enough trouble working up the courage to go to therapy as it is, and SBL’s comment is the kind that would make the anon retreat further into themselves instead of getting out and getting the help they obviously need.

      Personally, if I had received that ask, I would have suggested the person seek therapy and not commented further. That’s like the #1 thing you ought to do when an ask is above your paygrade. Only psychology professionals are truly qualified to help that anon.

      • Coyote

        “That’s what will turn the person into a rapist, because they would feel they can’t get help because their thoughts are too abhorrent to tell anyone about.”

        I’m… not inclined to view this is a plausible scenario.

        I’m also not sure why you’re suggesting professional therapy as the solution, since there’s no indication here of a mental disorder, and therapists aren’t… well, they’re not priests.

        • DG Arf

          They have intrusive thoughts which they said are causing them distress, which seems like something a psychologist should.

        • DG Arf

          And honestly when I said “that’s what would turn the person into a rapist,” I was thinking of how heavily stigmatized pedophilia is. Regardless of where such urges come from, there are undoubtedly people out there who feel intense shame at having them, and treating them like freaks doesn’t help anyone because it probably just makes them less likely to get help/support. I just feel like a lot of people in the discussion aren’t being sympathetic enough to the anon, who is seeking help because they are distressed. Anyway, this discussion is making me upset, so that’s my last word.

          • Coyote

            “I just feel like a lot of people in the discussion aren’t being sympathetic enough to the anon,”

            Then I’m curious where your threshold for enough is. I think people are being a little nicer than they need to be.

            I’m not particularly concerned for them, perhaps influenced by my interpretation of their message as being more worried about being accepted as ace than remorseful about what they’ve done. But I’ll admit to finding it difficult to sympathize with them regardless, since I don’t see it as all that hard to deal with.

            Look, I don’t like to talk about this, but I get some of those violent intrusive thoughts too. In a way that can be kind of worrying. And I just deal with it. And maybe it could be made more difficult to manage with some kind of neurodivergence or something, I don’t know — but you know what’s really easy to not to? Go and watch videos of real people being harmed.

            I’m not demanding more outrage, just to be clear. I just… really don’t see theirs as a pitiable plight and am confused as to why that’s being encouraged of me.

      • epochryphal

        Hm, I don’t see you agreeing with me at all.

        You’re still saying “the fantasies are not okay” which is anthetical to my position. Fantasies are fine. Actions like watching-and-thus-supporting what they called “real” rape/torture porn–not ok.

        And I disagree that only a psych pro can help. I do agree that if you feel unable, refer them somewhere else. But there are many many psych pros who could hurt this anon, and actually several “civilians”/orgs who could help. I don’t like reifying psychology above grassroots orgs and support groups that are often more accessible and successful.

        (The specific name slips my mind, but Philly had something for perpetrators and people scared of perpetrating. And there’s a lot of value just in talking with one person who can point out what isn’t harmful and what is. I think we’re just so scared of messing up and being liable, that we mess people up further.)

        • embodiedinlanguage

          I don’t know that I have a moral position either way on the mere existence of fantasies, but I’d agree that it’s not very productive to tell someone they’re bad or wrong. As has been pointed out above it doesn’t really work to directly squash intrusive thoughts and the like. My response in this situation would start with telling anon to stop consuming “real” videos immediately, since that’s the portion of the situation that’s actually harming others. From there, I would actually be inclined to suggest both professional and civilian resources. There are a lot of different ways of dealing with unwanted thoughts/feelings, which these fantasies definitely seem to be. I agree with epochryphal that psychologists aren’t always the best or only support for that, but many therapists can offer techniques for managing intrusive thoughts. I certainly disagree with Coyote’s implication that only people with diagnosable mental disorders can find therapy helpful.

          Regardless of the response, an ask like this is not going to be safe for a lot of survivors, but FYA could have been a lot more effective in aiming for harm reduction. Their second response was certainly very dismissive and disappointing. SBL’s comments, while 100% understandable, aren’t the kind of thing that I would hope to see on an advice blog. If anything, it seems like everyone involved ignored the part where anon is “ashamed and confused and afraid.” I get SBL not engaging with that part. But honestly, if we’re positioning FYA as the “acceptance” side of this scenario? They don’t seem to actually accept what’s in this message. Instead, they downplay both the seriousness of thoughts and behavior and the distress to anon, apparently for the sake of their general views on kink/fetishes.

          • Coyote

            “I certainly disagree with Coyote’s implication that only people with diagnosable mental disorders can find therapy helpful.”

            Well, okay. You got me there. You’re right.

            What I wanted to imply is that “that kid needs therapy” is not an appropriate response to someone doing something morally wrong, watching those videos, which is the part of this I’m concerned with.

            “it seems like everyone involved ignored the part where anon is ‘ashamed and confused and afraid.'”

            Um… no? It seems like FYA fixated on that pretty heavily and used that as a justification for being so tentative about saying they “possibly” shouldn’t watch snuff vids.

            “But honestly, if we’re positioning FYA as the ‘acceptance’ side of this scenario? They don’t seem to actually accept what’s in this message. Instead, they downplay both the seriousness of thoughts and behavior and the distress to anon, apparently for the sake of their general views on kink/fetishes.”

            I was interpreting the “downplaying” as reassurance, but fair enough.

          • embodiedinlanguage

            Ok, yes, I take your point–“get therapy” is not an appropriate replacement or code for “re-examine your moral priorities.” I do think it could help with the intrusive thoughts/fantasies portion of this situation, but it certainly can’t stand in for a clear instruction to stop engaging in actual harmful behavior.

            As for the rest, perhaps my judgment is colored by my own sense of what would be comforting or helpful. I wouldn’t consider the type of reassurance offered to be productive in this situation. Actually, I think if I were in anon’s shoes I might find it more distressing–they’ve clearly recognized there’s a problem with what they’re doing, and it seems like they want help to change? And now this person is acting like they shouldn’t be so upset? Perhaps I’m being too generous in my assessment of anon’s motives, and that’s why FYA’s response doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • Elizabeth

    I strongly agree with Siggy, especially the first comment. Criticizing perpetrators and supporting survivors are (related but) not really the same, and to some extent ANY time criticizing perpetrators comes up, survivors will feel more triggered and less safe. Because what perpetrators do is inherently triggering. It’s important to address perpetrators directly anyway, because otherwise nothing will change—but we should be clear that in doing so, we are always bound to alienate those survivors who are not in a good place to handle seeing that criticism.

    Now, that’s a theory/concept-level comment I just made, not a comment on this specific instance. I am definitely not meaning to imply anything about SBL in particular by saying that, so if anybody reads that and automatically wants to leap to any conclusion there, please don’t.

    The problem is, survivors are not a monolithic group. We don’t all agree with each other on the best course of action in any given case. Most of us would probably agree that FYA’s reply to that ask was problematic (and FYA’s reply to SBL was even worse, in my opinion), but the specific course that should’ve been taken instead? There aren’t easy answers there. We’re not all going to agree.

    In my case—again speaking generally, and prompted by Siggy’s comments above—anger towards perpetrators actually feels threatening to me. There have been many times when I’ve told someone my story privately, and they’ve expressed anger and sometimes even specific violent desires towards my perpetrator. That makes me feel much LESS comfortable talking to that person. Because if anyone were to actually go through with that sort of violence, or even just challenge him directly with words only on my behalf, I’d be less safe. The fallout would be mine to deal with, not theirs. And they’re centering their own feelings instead of listening to mine (I’ve actually had a therapist do this in session before, too). So I think anger towards perpetrators especially needs to be very cautiously expressed—and in many cases, it’s probably better to keep it to yourself.

    Much of what Queenie said in this post is relevant to this conversation, and better said.

    There’s a lot to unpack here, and I can’t get to it all in this one comment. But… framing the situation as if anger and outrage is the most appropriate response for FYA to have had just kind of perpetuates the problem of ally anger appropriating survivors’ experiences and centering non-survivors’ responses.

    So… I dunno. I don’t agree with FYA, but my response to it would’ve been different from SBL’s, too. I’m not going to get into every problem I had with the whole exchange, but my thoughts are generally similar to epochryphal’s.

    I gotta say though… did that anon really think that being ace is the main problem people would have had with that? seriously????

    • Coyote

      That’s understandable. And…

      “did that anon really think that being ace is the main problem people would have had with that? seriously????”

      …yeah. Seconded.

    • queenieofaces

      I’m gonna steer clear of most of this discussion because, wow, triggers, hello, I was not planning on hanging out with you this morning, but, yes, people getting really angry at perpetrators is SUCH a huge problem for me. One of the first guys I told about my experiences told me he was going to hunt the perpetrator down and [do something very violent to him], and the conversation then turned into me trying to minimize my experiences and calm him down, because I didn’t want to be responsible for my friend going to jail (or, for that matter, for [very violent thing] to happen to my perpetrator). Needless to say, I never brought up the subject with him again, and we’re not really in contact anymore. Like Elizabeth already said, a lot of the time, when people get super outraged at perpetrators, they’re A. centering their own experience of outrage rather than survivors’ experiences and B. using that outrage to argue for something that is unrelated to the issues of and WILL NOT benefit survivors (I’m thinking of, for example, The Thinking Asexual assertion that LGBT people are rapists so aces should become separatists [http://www.donotlink.com/eepr, but proceed with EXTREME CAUTION]).

      • Coyote

        “I’m thinking of, for example, The Thinking Asexual assertion that LGBT people are rapists so aces should become separatists”

        What the everliving…
        …I was not aware of this. Good grief.

        • luvtheheaven

          I was not aware of this either. Now I’m scared to click, but I am going to anyway. I’ll read it later, when I have time. But… GOD.

        • queenieofaces

          Yeah, I mean, if you want to support survivors, I feel like making sure that prominent ace bloggers aren’t using them as rhetorical devices to win political arguments is a pretty high up on the priority list…but instead we’re having more conversations encouraging non-survivors to be outraged on behalf of survivors, which is pretty much what I’ve been asking people not to do for two years. *sigh*

          • Coyote

            Oh. :x That’s not what I meant to do.

            I guess I shouldn’t have used that example, since I was meaning to get at something broader (a more general tension between ideals) and instead a lot of comments focused on that. Which makes sense, and is my bad.

        • Elizabeth

          Yep, I wasn’t aware of it either until Queenie pointed that out to me last month—and I missed a whole lot of drama during my hiding-from-the-internet time apparently, so I really had no idea. I think a lot of people have an eyes-glazing-over reaction to TTA’s posts, and these little gems of awful are buried further down on purpose because people are sure to miss them. I’ve wanted to challenge them myself but I’ve been a little leery of getting into that argument, because whoa triggers. I’ve been sitting on a couple posts for months now, but I don’t know when I’ll be ready to post them, since they basically need to be rewritten from scratch. But yeah… tired of being used as a rhetorical device.

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