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. ]