on sexual abuse and the direction of imperatives

Hi, folks. If you don’t mind, let’s sit down and have a talk.  An actual, honest talk, if you will.

This is a post about the target audience of imperative grammar (i.e. command words) in the context of talking about abuse in relationships. It’s also a post about making moral-grounds proclamations about sexual violence. It’s also a post about the internalized obligation to have sex. It’s also a post about that thing that we usually call victim-blaming. It may even be a post about rape culture in the guise of fighting rape culture? And, basically, yelling at abuse victims to stop getting abused.

But more specifically, this is a post about this post [cw: bad], which at this time of writing has over fifteen thousand notes. And it’s also a post about my confusion regarding the trajectory of its tumblr reblog chain.

I’m very physically tired right now, I’m sorry. Maybe under different circumstances I wouldn’t feel like there’s a sense of urgency to publish this post as soon as I can type it out rather than revise it into something a little less tired sounding.

The linked post is broken into two parts (the initial post and the self-reblog with added commentary). I’m going to just put a line between the two parts and quote the thing in full here, with bolding added on the relevant imperatives:

“Don’t force yourself into sexual situation just to satisfy your partner” should never be a radical statement

This isn’t a matter of [discord]. If you don’t like sex or are meh about it, then don’t force yourself to do it just for your partner. Sex isn’t a task. Sex isn’t a requirement for a relationship. If you are afraid not wanting sex is a dealbreaker for your partner, talk with them about it.

Sit down and have an actual honest talk about the matter. If your partner prefers to be with someone who is into sex while you aren’t then it’s more fair for both of you if you split up, than to try to keep together a relationship that wouldn’t work. A person who is sex repulsed/uninterested in sex deserves a partner that will respect that, and a person who likes sex deserves a partner who will respect that. Stop perpetrating bad sex rethoric for fuck’s sake

To recap what this is saying: Don’t force yourself. Sit down. Have a talk. Stop perpetuating bad sex rhetoric.

These sentences are 1) written in imperative form (i.e. commands) 2) directed (via second person, i.e. “you” and “your”) at an audience of people who “don’t like sex or are meh about it,” have a “partner,” a partner who is presumed to probably want sex, and are considering whether to (or might have already) “forced [themselves]” into having sex with that partner. The reverse, or the other half involved here, is not addressed as part of the audience.

Well, first of all, what the hell is this. How– I mean. How do you start from a basic premise of “people shouldn’t be forced into sex” (good, check) and stumble your way into saying, hey, you know who needs to be reprimanded here? The people who were forced to have sex. Because they (supposedly) did it all to themselves (by internalizing the guilt and sense of obligation), and therefore, to fix this? We’ve gotta (exhasperatedly) tell them to just stop it! “Sit down and have an actual honest talk”!  “Stop perpetrating”! “For fuck’s sake”!

What the actual true genuine hell.

You know what this reminds me of? This reminds me of my roundup of Examples of Bad Ace Advice, specifically the parts where self-appointed advisors give a thoughtless “Talk to him about it” or “Talk things out with him” or “Talking regularly with your partner elevates [sic] any worry” when that kind of simplistic advice makes no sense in the specific context.

Hey, you know what’s an unfortunate fact of the world? When someone is taking advantage of you, it’s not always possible to simply talk them out of taking advantage of you.

Why is the audience of that post the audience that was chosen for that post? Why is the tone of that post the tone that was chosen for that audience?

Here’s what I do appreciate: the idea that we need to challenge our internal self-talk regarding sex. Yeah, we do. Here’s what’s wrong with this particular attempt: attacking victims of sexual coercion as literally “perpetrating” (exact word) the problem, like they’re the main party at fault.

Now here’s what has me the most confused about all this:

The version I linked was reblogged through “Life of an Asexual,” which is a fairly standard pro-ace/ace ed blog. I checked who they reblogged it from, and one of their recent reblogs is this [moving gif at link], proclaiming their blog “safe for asexuals,” whatever you want to take that to mean. Okay. I checked who they reblogged it from, and oh look, same post. Okay. So I checked who they reblogged it from, and I checked who they reblogged it from, and I found a surprise candidate for “blog whose theme is least compatible with loading in my browser,” which also reblogged this list of terms/definitions that really makes me question what conversations I’ve been missing out on and since when all of those have been canonized — but also has a neutral mention of asexuality (which is practically an endorsement in this climate), so there’s that. The chain is looking solidly pro-ace so far. Who did they reblog it from? A person whose recent asexual-related posts are mostly negative. And the person they reblogged it from is the OP, whose recent asexual-related posts are even more negative.

What the heck happened here?

It’s not that I expect everyone to be on each other’s blocklists — what does surprise me is that this post, a post pretty clearly yelling at sex-repulsed+indifferent people for being sexually coerced, would be taken up from its “spitting at aces” context and start being circulated without comment among aces who reblog offhandly-ace and pro-ace posts.

So, really, I know we need more “Sex isn’t a requirement for a relationship” messages circulating, I know that’s good and it’s fine to want that on your blog, just, uh, maybe… maybe reassure me I’m not just seeing things? And that this particular instance of trying to get that message across is, actually, treating abuse victims like the problem? Can somebody reality-check me in the comments here? I’m very tired.

 


27 responses to “on sexual abuse and the direction of imperatives

  • c

    Thanks much for this post. Yeah you’re definitely not just seeing things. [Have more to say that is not happening atm but wanted to say that at least.]

  • Elizabeth

    The hell?

    I’m not skilled enough at tumblr to be able to follow the reblog chain or even figure out what’s going on with the OP (I guess the URL changed?), but… wow. Wtf.

  • Vesper

    mmmm, let me first contextualize my reply by saying that i’m quickly typing this on a (physical-keyboard-less, ugh) tablet in between classes at work, so i cant put everything that i want to say into this reply. maybe later. that said…

    it seems you read and interpreted that post in an entirely different way than i (and presumably others?) did. the only thing about that post that i took issue with is the last sentence of the reblog, which i meant to comment on in the hashtags of my reblog, as per usual, but forgot to due to rushing to bed. i didnt see that one sentence as contextualizing the rest of the post in a negative way (which admittedly in hindsight i probably should have, but see below*) and having dismissed that one sentence, i found the rest of the post very relatable and personally relevant because, well… i didn’t read it as the OP reprimanding people who have been *coerced* into sex, be it by society or their partner. rather, i read it as the OP chiding people on going against their own feelings in order to prioritize their partner’s entirely of their own volition.

    for me, the urge that i’ve felt to do so is not always a result of coercion on the part of anyone or even society. at times it’s literally just me forcing myself for someone else’s benefit and it’s that part of me that i saw as being the audience of that post because it’s that part of the post that spoke to me personally– again, *having dismissed the last sentence, but only after having contextualized it to myself as OP asserting that i’m perpetrating what the they referred to as “bad sex rhetoric” to *myself* from within *myself*, because surely they didn’t mean perpetrating such rhetoric within society at large since the only people who would even know about my “””selfless””” acts of partnered sex would be me, myself and i.

    similarly, you feel as if OP is reprimanding victims of sexual coercion as if they’re at fault, but i personally didn’t / don’t view myself as having been taken advantaged of, abused or coerced in those instances of me making a conscious, informed decision to have sex for my partner’s sake, so i didn’t / don’t see myself as a victim being reprimanded or chided for anything more that forcing myself and i guess “perpetrating” shit to / within myself.

    also, i usually check reblogs and their hashtags before reblogging to see if i may have misinterpreted something, but this time i didnt. opps. i dont, however, generally bother checking the OP’s blog directly since often that just leads to a broken link.

    and yes, there are a million and one new(er) terms circulating around ace Tumblr, 90% of which i personally havent been reblogging for reasons.

    • Coyote

      Hello Vesper. <3

      "it seems you read and interpreted that post in an entirely different way than i (and presumably others?) did."

      Yes, I very strongly get that impression too.

      "i didn’t read it as the OP reprimanding people who have been *coerced* into sex, be it by society or their partner. rather, i read it as the OP chiding people on going against their own feelings in order to prioritize their partner’s entirely of their own volition."

      Yeah. I get where you're coming from. Well, I think. Can't ever really know that. But. What I do get, I think, is talking about "people going against their own feelings" (in this context) as a thing that we want to come to an end. I also think it does make sense to address that audience on the subject (so, I don't think "is addressing the people forced" is necessarily the problem by itself). I also think it does make sense to encourage that audience/demographic to let themselves not do that anymore, especially with the "sex is not a requirement" reminders.

      Thing is — and we can talk terminology I guess — I take "people who have been coerced into sex" and "people going against their own feelings in order to prioritize their partner’s" (re: sex) as essentially the same category. I'm okay with retracting my use of "coerced/coercion" here specifically, but I also think that 1) the partner has a responsibility to make their partner feel safe saying no (and there's some complexity to what that means maybe but they're a person with agency here) and 2) even if being coerced by "society" may also be pretty ambiguous, I don't believe that inner-pressure-to-force-oneself-to-have-sex is a thing that just manifests on its own, like a gene mutation. I think there's a pretty strong current in multiple cultures trending in that direction, fostered by things like "bad sex rhetoric," which is why we're having this conversation.

      So, sure, there's a role of inner self talk in these things. And I'm in favor of countering that. And I find the use of overt hostility (as in OP) in this specific context to be disturbing, especially alongside the expectation that "an actual honest talk" is the singular magic bullet to resolving that. In some relationships, having "a talk" about sex can end up with people just feeling the pressure even more because of irresponsible or selfish partners, which is a variable that posts like OP's need to account for… even if the conversation is also accounting for comparatively-blameless/innocent partners who weren't clued into this and didn't know what was going on. All that was specified in the OP's account of the audience/situation is "a partner who probably wants sex" and "someone who feels obligated to do sex," which absolutely does not exclude situations where "a talk" isn't a viable solution (and also doesn't even acknowledge situations where "a talk" has already occurred!).

      • Vesper

        hello, Coyote. :)

        i think i see now where our opinions (and subsequent interpretation of this post) diverge and be it a mere difference in terminology that we use or not, i feel like there may be no reconciling that divergence?

        while i agree that a partner has a responsibility to make their partner feel safe saying ‘no’, i still see it as a huge stretch to use that to assert that coercion– or anything else that explicitly implies an active role in getting what they may want from a partner. the partner may* be at fault for not making sure their partner felt 100% safe to say ‘no’, certainly, but in my mind a partner’s failure to succeed at that does not automatically translate to a lack of effort attempting to do so– let alone does it automatically warrant the assertion that what the partner failed to do / failed at doing equates to an *active* role in getting their partner to act against their own well being, which an accusation of “coercion” inherently implies, imho.

        on top of that, i very much do believe that inner-pressure-to-force-oneself-to-have-sex can ‘manifest’ on its own and thus is entirely different from coercion. more specifically, i believe that a genuine desire to want to make someone that you love happy– even at great cost to oneself– can be entirely internally derived, even if just being a feature of a person’s personality. i mean, there’s nothing societal or even logical about me rushing into my burning apartment building to save my cat or a random passerby getting out of their car during a raging Californian wildfire to run to the side of the road and attempt to save a wild rabbit from the flames– all potentially at great cost to the person in question. sometimes that kind of shit…. is just what a person does, without being made to feel like it’s obligatory to do so by external sources.

        but yes, i agree that sitting down with one’s partner and having talk is not a magical solution for everyone or every situation and the OP could have done well to acknowledge that. however, i didn’t read “an actual honest talk” as being overt hostility because i know that for me, i know that there’s been more than once in the past where i called myself sitting down with someone (a partner or otherwise) to have an honest talk only to find that i only managed to voice half-truths; what was meant to be an honest talk turned not to not be an actual honest talk.

        *i can think of reasons why someone may literally have zero chance at ever succeeding at making their partner feel 100% safe to say ‘no’ out of no fault of their own OR their partner. anxiety or depression that literally cannot be quieted or shut off even when the person experiencing it may want it to stfu and gtfo, for example. no amount of effort on the part of the person wanting sex OR the person experiencing the anxiety or depression may ever make them feel 100% safe saying ‘no’ and in such cases the person who is anxious or depressed may choose to push past their feelings for the partner’s sake, but also for their own sake because, well….. reasons that again are not *always* externally derived.

        • luvtheheaven

          Thank you for this comment too, Vesper. I left my comment below before seeing you add this to the conversation and for what it’s worth I agree about the connotations and implications and the word “coerce”.

        • Coyote

          “in my mind a partner’s failure to succeed at that does not automatically translate to a lack of effort attempting to do so– let alone does it automatically warrant the assertion that what the partner failed to do / failed at doing equates to an *active* role in getting their partner to act against their own well being, which an accusation of “coercion” inherently implies, imho.”

          Okay. To clarify, when I describe someone as having been “coerced,” and there is also talk of this person having a partner, that doesn’t mean the partner is necessarily the one doing the coercing. I’m just using coercion as a synonym for forced-ness. Does that make sense how I’m wording things, at least?

          “i mean, there’s nothing societal or even logical about me rushing into my burning apartment building to save my cat”

          Iiiii think this analogy isn’t working for me, since that scenario is one where the cat is in legitimate danger and has a life-threatening need, which changes the moral equation and doesn’t apply with sex.

          “however, i didn’t read ‘an actual honest talk’ as being overt hostility”

          Yeah that phrase isn’t what made the tone feel hostile to me. Or at least, not that alone.

        • Vesper

          “I’m just using coercion as a synonym for forced-ness. Does that make sense how I’m wording things, at least?”

          i [think] understand how you’re using the word, it’s just that using it as a synonym for forcedness doesn’t make sense to me if the person in question doesn’t feel themself to have been forced upon in any way beyond their own conscious decision to disregard their own feelings, which just doesnt jive well with me when worded as “coercion”. to me, “coercion” implies that that forcedness originates from outside of oneself when the decision being made may not have even been influenced by outside forces….?

          but regardless, it seems like it’s just semantics that is the main problem here and i’m fine with agreeing to disagree there. i see where you’re coming from regarding this post and would have felt similarly had i interpreted it in the way that you did.

          as for my analogy, i made the analogy because in either case it’s an example of selflessness in the name of love, the difference being only the gravity of the situation. if one views a partner’s happiness as being threatened and oneself as having the ability to “save” that happiness (or otherwise “spare” a partner from unhappiness) with a selflessness act on your part…..

          but also, i just generally suck at making analogies, so feel free to disregard. *rubs sleep from their eyes and proceeds to eat breakfast before work*

        • Coyote

          “it’s just that using it as a synonym for forcedness doesn’t make sense to me if the person in question doesn’t feel themself to have been forced upon in any way beyond their own conscious decision to disregard their own feelings,”

          So, re: this, I’m taking the word “force” from the original “force yourself” wording in the OP. A person who doesn’t feel “forced” in any way is… a person who wasn’t being interpellated here.

          “to me, ‘coercion’ implies that that forcedness originates from outside of oneself when the decision being made may not have even been influenced by outside forces….?”

          hm. I heard you initially talking about where pressure originates, but saying not externally influenced either… that’s a stronger claim to me. I’m a rhetoric student, is part of this, so I’m inclined to see a matrix of “influences” (so to speak) everywhere, and there’s some especially strong and prominent rhetoric on there on what sex is and when it’s supposed to happen. So, amending “not externally originated” to “not externally influenced” is… escalating a hard sell, pretty much. I operate on a worldview where influences are so saturated and commonplace as to hardly be isolateable.

          Anyway, yeah, I hear you on coercion having external connotations.

          “as for my analogy, i made the analogy because in either case it’s an example of selflessness in the name of love, the difference being only the gravity of the situation. if one views a partner’s happiness as being threatened and oneself as having the ability to ‘save’ that happiness (or otherwise ‘spare’ a partner from unhappiness) with a selflessness act on your part…..
          but also, i just generally suck at making analogies, so feel free to disregard. *rubs sleep from their eyes and proceeds to eat breakfast before work*”

          heh. Yeah, my analogies don’t often go over well either. Also, I’ve been wondering what time it is over there for you! Good… morning? My search engine says it’s morning.

          Anyway, if we’re talking about fire, to me the “forcing yourself” situation is more analogous to the… gosh, what was it… I can’t seem to find the origins, but that quote about “setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.”

          Giving someone a nice/happy experience at personal cost is one thing when like… the “personal cost” is paying for their new tires, or something. That’s an example of exceptional generosity, in most contexts (not accounting for, like, someone who has so much money that it throws the scale of proportions out of whack). And I categorize that differently than like… throwing yourself in front of a bus for the sake of YouTube views, or something. So I guess the thing at stake is how we accord weight to “person getting to have a fun sexytime” and “person forcing themselves to suppress negative feelings about sex w/ their partner in order to do it anyway” (which, note, I’m not categorizing the same as “person isn’t entertained by sex but doesn’t mind”). So, to me, “person getting to have fun” is relatively low-value as good things go, not a lot of weight to it, vs. “person suppressing negative feelings” is a thing that I care a lot about! Suppressing or forcing down or making yourself ignore your negative gutsense is an awful experience, even when it’s actually necessary in the circumstances. I hate having to do that and I hate seeing people undergo that, and to me? That’s the situation that’s like somebody being in a burning building.

        • Vesper

          “So, re: this, I’m taking the word “force” from the original “force yourself” wording in the OP. A person who doesn’t feel “forced” in any way is… a person who wasn’t being interpellated here.”

          i feel like this is going around in circles a bit now, but as i said in my original comment, i (and presumably others?) read the OP’s usage of “force [yourself]” as being inline with my usage of it. that is to say, that the only person one may technically feel “forced” by is oneself and as i noted in my last comment, “…using [coercion] as a synonym for forcedness doesn’t make sense to me if the person in question doesn’t feel themself to have been forced upon in any way beyond their own conscious decision to disregard their own feelings, which just doesnt jive well with me when worded as “coercion”.”

          which brings us to this.

          “So, amending “not externally originated” to “not externally influenced” is… escalating a hard sell, pretty much. I operate on a worldview where influences are so saturated and commonplace as to hardly be isolateable.”

          …mmm, so *this* is where our opinions diverge, i guess, because i stand by what i said previously. “i very much do believe that inner-pressure-to-force-oneself-to-have-sex can ‘manifest’ on its own and thus is entirely different from coercion. more specifically, i believe that a genuine desire to want to make someone that you love happy– even at great cost to oneself– can be entirely internally derived, even if just being a feature of a person’s personality.”

          while i agree that it is incredibly unlikely that anything or anyone could possibly be beyond societal influence, i see that as “unlikely” not “impossible” and i feel like feelings and desires are in the realm of possibility of being derived entirely internally without external influence.

          that said, my belief in that isn’t so strong or important to me as to attempt to debate that with a rhetoric student. i mean, i have no doubt that you could mop the floor with my ass, so yeah. *bows and scurries on*

          “I’ve been wondering what time it is over there for you! Good… morning? My search engine says it’s morning.”

          lol and good evening to you. :) if you’re even still awake at this hour.

          “Anyway, if we’re talking about fire, to me the “forcing yourself” situation is more analogous to the… gosh, what was it… I can’t seem to find the origins, but that quote about “setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.””

          yaaaasssssss, that is the analogy i should have used. that precisely. although i’m pretty sure that i would also run into a burning building for someone that i love, even if that “someone” were technically a cat, but yeah. i see how that analogy isn’t the same.

          “So I guess the thing at stake is how we accord weight to “person getting to have a fun sexytime” and “person forcing themselves to suppress negative feelings about sex w/ their partner in order to do it anyway” (which, note, I’m not categorizing the same as “person isn’t entertained by sex but doesn’t mind”). So, to me, “person getting to have fun” is relatively low-value as good things go, not a lot of weight to it, vs. “person suppressing negative feelings” is a thing that I care a lot about!”

          ah, but see…. i feel like someone who is willing to subjec– errr, i mean, force themself to have sex for the sake of their partner feels (whether just based on the impression they’ve gotten from their partner or otherwise) that for their partner, sex (not necessarily as a one-off thing but even in the context of a long term relationship) is not the equivilant of simply “getting to have fun” nor is it of low-value like you feel that it is. that kind of thing is entirely subjective and i think that both you and i are rather biased in the value that we personally would place (and feel like others ought to place) on sex. it’s because a person knows (or at least assumes that they know) the high-valued placed on sex by their partner that one subj– forces themself to have sex, even if at great cost to themself; the assumed value of sex is seen as being equal or greater to the cost incurred by them in doing it.

          “Suppressing or forcing down or making yourself ignore your negative gutsense is an awful experience, even when it’s actually necessary in the circumstances. I hate having to do that and I hate seeing people undergo that, and to me? That’s the situation that’s like somebody being in a burning building.”

          annnnd we are on the same page again. 👍🏾✨
          *goes back to doing work, but only after eating a sandwich first*

        • Coyote

          Heh. Well. Being a rhetoric student doesn’t really mean anything about my own rhetorical ability, alas. Science vs engineering and all that (I’m the scientist, not the engineer). I guess the one thing I’ll ad… given a perspective where all communication shapes and builds memories and impressions, the only way for someone to have not been influenced at all on the subject of sex/relationships would for them to have never been communicated to about it at all and been kept completely in the dark… which is still even an influence of a sort, keeping someone ignorant about a thing.

          “it’s because a person knows (or at least assumes that they know) the high-valued placed on sex by their partner that one subj– forces themself to have sex, even if at great cost to themself; the assumed value of sex is seen as being equal or greater to the cost incurred by them in doing it.”

          Yeah um… how would someone get that impression? Presumably, the partner, as a participant in sex and someone responsive to it, is uh, making their perspective or their experience known — as something more or besides funtimes, which… would be a piece of information externally gleaned… which is what I thought was supposed to be outside the scenario you were talking about. Otherwise I don’t know how someone convinces themselves that sex is so Super Important beyond just nice sensations (Would hypothetical person be just as compelled to break their back obtaining a rare perfume for the partner to enjoy?).

        • Vesper

          “the only way for someone to have not been influenced at all on the subject of sex/relationships would for them to have never been communicated to about it at all and been kept completely in the dark…”

          …mmm, touché.

          “Yeah um… how would someone get that impression? […] which is what I thought was supposed to be outside the scenario you were talking about. ”

          this part of my comment was an entirely separate stream of thought and just general commentary on what you’d said, not a continuation of a particular scenario. sorry.

          (although yes, hypothetical person would be just as compelled to do other things, such as breaking their back to obtain a rare perfume, if they had any reason to believe that doing so would be feasible for them and would be a good way to express their feelings and made said partner happy. hypothetical person’s desire to express their feelings and make their partner happy is not specific or limited to sexual situations.)

  • luvtheheaven

    Good conversation here. Yay I didn’t already see and thoughtlessly reblog this. I wonder but doubt I would’ve because yeah it seems pretty hostile and just… Makes me a little uncomfortable.

    But I too, like Elizabeth, am wondering what reblog chain I should be trying to follow… I know there’s conversations like here: https://the-son-of-dathomir.tumblr.com/post/169336429417/runawaymarbles-lesbianiida-occamstireiron And here a little different ending ones: http://themadcapmathematician.tumblr.com/post/169359826798/ch-shm-na-themadcapmathematician

    BUT like I don’t really know how you were looking at it, Coyote.

    Your final comment here (Coyote) is definitely spot on. I think this whole post, if they really want people to stop “forcing themselves” into sex, is missing so many key issues and not actually addressing the reasons people do this. I could be said to have forced myself to have sex even though I had plenty of reason to really deep down know I’m sex averse and know only my partner would benefit, but I wouldn’t have even framed it as forcing myself to do it for him. I was influenced heavily by compulsory sexuality AND amatonormativity to want to BE different, myself. I wanted my feelings to change. I was hoping and wishing I might be demisexual when I learned the word because maybe I just needed to be in love and then I’d finally feel what society instilled in me I would need to feel in order to BE happy long term and in order to keep any partner at all. It’s really really hard to imagine finding a new romantic partner after breaking up because you don’t want sex at all. The idea that all romantic partnerships need sex to be “healthy” is something you’ve blogged about more than anyone I think, a bad idea we need to fight but not one fought publicly enough yet that any significant percentage of target audience of this post would realize that this is what is at play.

    Sexual Coercion from a partner definitely isn’t spelled out in this post, nor is abuse in general, so yes this post has a broader target audience than “just” people with abusive partners. But you’re also right that it’s not accounting for all sorts of things, and plays into the “why doesn’t an abuse victim just leave” judgment of victims instead of acknowledging that actually, there are REASONS and this stuff is hard and complicated.

    “Just break up if ___” is never advice that is easy for everyone in that situation in the blank to take. In some unfortunate cases it might be impossible, in others it is still not nearly that simple. At least THIS reblog: http://bpdcalvinfischoeder.tumblr.com/post/169293446425/lesbianiida-lesbianiida-dont-force-yourself suggests that you could still be friends which helps a little for the people in non abusive romantic relationships who would want to BE and makws breaking up less scary as a possibility…

    • Coyote

      “BUT like I don’t really know how you were looking at it, Coyote.”

      The way I was looking at it was from the perspective of “why are these specific people apparently reblogging w/o comment” and while it did cross my mind to look for comments, that was my kind of main thing there. Since you posted these links, though, I went ahead and skimmed those. Dunno if you had a particular takeaway in mind but they definitely solidified my impression of the OP.

      Anyway, thank you though. I wish things weren’t how they are but if something in my interpretation spoke to you, I’m glad for that.

  • Siggy

    It’s really hard to tell what message people are taking away from the post, without seeing a concrete example of people applying those beliefs. One way of reading it is just as an affirmation mantra–in this case, people would feel more empowered to take the suggested actions, but would not demand that others take the same actions. Then there’s your way of reading it, which would result in victim blaming, and demands on victims. I think there is a third way of reading it, thinking back to the “sex shaming debacle” of a few years ago. In this case, people would assume that whenever an ace has sex to satisfy their partner, they must be a victim.

    ————
    I just looked up some ace affirmations to see how they are usually written. Some statements are assertions about abstract concepts, but there are also many statements about “you” (e.g. “Your asexuality is…”, “You are…”, “You don’t need to…”). I could not find any imperative statements.

    Personally I find the assertions about “you” to be off-putting, because my reaction is “You don’t know me!” But I can see how imperative statements would be on a different level of problematic.

    • Coyote

      “I think there is a third way of reading it, thinking back to the ‘sex shaming debacle’ of a few years ago. In this case, people would assume that whenever an ace has sex to satisfy their partner, they must be a victim.”

      Yeah, this… crossed my mind, as maybe a part of what inspired this or what OP might’ve had in mind. But I also tried to stick very closely what exactly was in the post, to avoid putting words in their mouth. But yeah. I would feel tipped off to anticipate that kind of thing from this person possibly.

      “But I can see how imperative statements would be on a different level of problematic.”

      Oh, that element by itself isn’t what I think is bad here. A statement like “Get some sleep and take care of yourself” is technically in imperative form too, and that’s not really a kind of statement I have a problem with by itself.

  • Elizabeth

    So I want to actually explain a little about my own thoughts on this post you’re talking about. I didn’t really have the time or brains to get into it last night, but this is a good discussion here and I want to weigh in on some of it.

    It might be helpful to preface this by saying that I am somewhat familiar with studies of rhetoric (it overlaps with my major and some classes that deal with it are required), and I also come from a perspective of seeing influences as saturated & commonplace.

    Tbh, if I saw this post on my dash (lol, like I ever log in) I probably would’ve just scrolled right by after reading the first few lines, without engaging the rest. I’m glad you called my attention to it though, because it just gets more and more egregious as it continues. I’m going to guess that probably, most of the ace and ace-positive people who uncritically reblogged this did so based more on the earlier part of the two posts, without thinking so much about the later parts or considering implications of all of it put together.

    I can see Vesper’s interpretation, I get where that’s coming from. Like, I agree that it’s totally possible for a person to feel internal(ized) pressure to have sex to such an extent that they’d feel they are forcing *themselves* to have sex in the absence of coercion coming from their partner—the actual absence, not just the perceived absence, although it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two (speaking from experience) and that’s another dimension to consider. I agree that there are circumstances where it is impossible for a person’s partner to make them feel 100% safe even when they’ve made every effort to do so (the shattered sense of safety from PTSD is something I’ve struggled with myself, and for me I don’t know if there is such a thing as feeling 100% safe… maybe 90% or optimistically 95%?).

    I am disinclined to call this kind of experience coercion, although I am not suggesting that it’s actually free of external pressure from all sources—there is surely an element of social pressure, and possibly also upbringing, past relationship experiences, and personality all play a role in contributing to the internal pressure to have sex. But I don’t think it’s generally helpful to label this kind of experience as coercive, because the person in that situation may not see it that way at all. It does imply fault on that person’s partner pretty heavily, and that may seem unfair. If the person describing their experience calls it coercion, I’ll go with that, but if not, that’s not how I would presume to classify it.

    Buuuuut… that said, the very alarming analogy to rescuing a cat from a burning building (!!) and “setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm” (can I just say how much I HATE that phrase??) … uh. Those both… really throw up gigantic red flags. If I heard someone describe their experiences in a context like this tumblr post suggests using analogies like that, I would suspect that emotional abuse and manipulation may have been going on either in that situation, or in previous situations. I think we’re all in agreement that such a mindset is very unhealthy, at least!

    I have seen a hell of a lot of abusive rhetoric about why asexual people owe their partners sex that frames it with really manipulative life-or-death analogies like these (where of course the allosexual partner is the one suffering so greatly, casting themselves as a victim desperately in need of a rescuer). I have also personally had someone tell me “I’m not going to set myself on fire to keep you warm!” in a profoundly melodramatic attempt to manipulate me into thinking it’s wrong of me to set boundaries and to get upset when those boundaries are crossed (this was related to my triggers in this case, not sex, thankfully). Sooooo if that’s the kind of thing that’s come up, then I’m much more likely think that yes, there was probably coercion going on here. Maybe there was grooming that this hypothetical person has not recognized (yet?) as such. Maybe it was just a message absorbed from an aggressively anti-ace climate. Either way, if I hear something so extremely self-sacrificing like that, I will be Very Concerned.

    …This has gotten really long so I guess I’ll split this up into two parts.

    • Elizabeth

      Returning to the original post you were talking about…

      I strongly agree with you that “an honest talk” is absolutely not always (or, I would go so far as to say *usually*) a possible solution, in cases of abuse. You can’t expect to just talk someone out of abusing you.

      I know I’ve said this before on some other post of yours, so this is not totally new information to you, but I think it’s important to bring these details into this conversation [cw for next paragraph]:

      When I was going through That Ordeal, I actually did ask people in the ace community for advice. And you know what they told me? They said “just talk to him!” and that’s… pretty much it. I mean, other than “good luck! :)” (these are not exact quotes). And I tried that over and over, but he did everything he could to disrupt and sabotage every conversation. In person, he refused to look at me while I was talking, and just browsed the internet instead. Over the phone, he kept interrupting to tell me to “get to the point” or just acted like he had no idea what I was talking about (including pretending like certain things didn’t happen) so that I had to go back several steps and try to explain those first, before I could get to what I was really trying to say… only for him to interrupt again and impose his own very off-base assumptions/interpretation of the situation. When I gave up trying to talk and just sent an email, he wouldn’t respond at all, so I would have no idea if he even read it or not. And at each step of this, he made it out like I was just bad at communicating and that’s it. He took no responsibility for his end of the communication. But communication isn’t all up to the speaker. It fails when the listener… doesn’t.

      So, okay. Back to that post. I’m pretty sure, based on the last sentence of their own reblog and some of other people’s responses in the reblogs linked in the comments above, that yeah, that OP was actually hostile to asexuality. But even if they weren’t? This kind of thoughtless advice is a serious problem in the ace community.

      There is nothing wrong with having an honest talk. Open communication is good and necessary! But you can’t just tell people to do that and that’s it. Because that implies that the responsibility for starting and successfully conveying a message *solely rests* on the ace person. Unless some care is taken to address the listener’s part in the conversation, the advice will support the status quo of putting all the burden on the asexual partner, and none on the allosexual partner. What happens if (when) one of these hypothetical ace readers’ allosexual partner doesn’t listen? What then?

      And I’m sure that, while maybe the majority of this post’s readers might not be in an abusive situation, *some of them will be* because abuse is commonplace. Advice givers need to learn to always step back and think “What if this person is in an abusive situation? Will this advice still hold up?”

      This is one of the reasons why I really appreciate the advice on Captain Awkward: it typically includes thoughts about if the person responds one way, then… and if they respond a different way, then… and so on, including possible abusive scenarios. The best advice doesn’t just address the first stage and then quit, it includes a thoughtful consideration of what might happen next too.

      Anyway… beyond that, lesbianiida’s posts read as very hostile to me in a few ways you didn’t bring up too. One, the phrase “an actual honest talk” sounds like the assumption is that this presumptive ace audience that the post is addressing… don’t talk honestly, in general, so the “actual honest talk” would be an exception to the rule. Intentionally or not, this subtly reinforces the trope of aces dishonestly “trapping” an allo partner in a relationship.

      And two… there’s just such a lack of nuance or gentleness here. This was brought up in one of the reblog chains so I won’t get into it, but yeah. It’s very strident black-and-white thinking.

      (Aaaaand now it’s time for bed.)

      • Coyote

        “I have also personally had someone tell me [fire phrase] in a profoundly melodramatic attempt to manipulate me into thinking it’s wrong of me to set boundaries and to get upset when those boundaries are crossed”

        Wooooow. o.o

        “So, okay. Back to that post. I’m pretty sure, based on the last sentence of their own reblog and some of other people’s responses in the reblogs linked in the comments above, that yeah, that OP was actually hostile to asexuality. But even if they weren’t? This kind of thoughtless advice is a serious problem in the ace community.”

        !
        Too true.

        “One, the phrase ‘an actual honest talk’ sounds like the assumption is that this presumptive ace audience that the post is addressing… don’t talk honestly, in general, so the ‘actual honest talk’ would be an exception to the rule.”

        Oh, I didn’t think about that part like that. hm. Yeah, it… that would fit with the rest of their whole approach here.

        (Also, I’m sorry to alert you to this… but the post you linked brought me to a “not found” page)

        • Elizabeth

          Oh woops, it looks like I typed an extra quotation mark on that link. If you delete it from the URL it should load. Although I realized I should have also included this one too since it’s along the same lines. But they’re both linked above in luvtheheaven’s comment.

    • Vesper

      oh god, the analogy i made has been described as “alarming”…. D; not that i disagree with your assessment at all, mind you, although i personally wouldn’t be so quick to think that coercion, manipulation or anything of the sort was (or ever had been) going on because yeah… my personal experience with depression includes being in such a state of mind as to have zero regard for my own well-being while still caring deeply about others’ and when the scales are tipped like that, yeah…. i can relate to such an analogy being made in this context, which is i guess why i made it? with full awareness of the fact that i am all kinds of Unhealthy that probably does / has at various points in time been well deserving of Much Concern. :D

      • Coyote

        I for one am in support of Vesper being less exposed to the metaphorical fire. <3 Sometimes you should get to be the one worth sacrificing something for.

      • Elizabeth

        Yeah, that makes sense, with the context of depression, of course. But, what I was trying to get at in my original reply, and honestly I meant to include this but I just got too tired and forgot was this:

        It’s not so much that I would assume that coercion/manipulation had definitely been going on, but, if I heard that kind of analogy in a context of an ace person asking for relationship advice? (Which, I’ve had people ask me for and have heard some similarly self-sacrificing things, so it’s not really out of the question…) Then my assessment of the possible situation would be more heavily weighted towards “there could be abuse here.” And then any advice I give would definitely (gently!) address the self-sacrificing mentality and probe about what the allo partner’s attitude is like—do they have the same sort of mentality (i.e. is it a mutual “we must rescue each other” or “your needs are more important than mine, it doesn’t matter if I suffer” sort of thing?), or is this unequal? Does the allo partner realize that sex feels like that kind of sacrifice from the ace person? Is this framing of the allo partner as someone who needs to be rescued something that the ace person received from them (the allo partner) or is it something they got from somewhere else, and if so, where? And why is it being applied to this situation? What are the communication patterns like here? What are the power dynamics?

        I don’t have the answers, and that’s my point. Neither does the OP of that tumblr post. It’s likely that some of the people that they addressed in that post do fall more into the category that you’ve been talking about… but it’s also completely possible that they may be in a situation more like what I was in back in 2007-08. Or they could be in another category entirely. There’s no way to tell the difference without carefully asking these kinds of questions. But none of that kind of care is being taken here. The post just makes sweeping generalizations and offers shallow, generic advice that… really reads to me as pretty hostile. If I read it 4-5 years ago, I probably would have taken it as… kind of a proclamation of things I should have done differently and how I’m just bad? (at communicating, relationships, etc.) It could’ve easily triggered a massive shame-spiral.

        I should also say that my interpretation of these things (all of it—the post, the analogies, etc.) is pretty heavily influenced by my own experiences with abuse, so I’m reflexively seeing similarities there that probably aren’t apparent to a lot of people. And when I talk about abuse, I’m not just talking about things that have happened to me… I’m also talking about the weird little window into other people’s attitudes about negotiating sex with an asexual partner that I’ve had through comments over the years. It’s… not pretty.

        So… yeah, anyway, in short, it’s that possibility of this advice being applied indiscriminately, to a situation it really should not be offered for that gets me with this post.

        And I’m with Coyote on you being less exposed to metaphorical fire! Your well-being is worth it, even when the depression-brains won’t let you believe it. <3

        • Vesper

          oh no, i very much understand / understood what you (and Coyote) are saying and see where you’re coming from in how you interpreted the OP and your assessment of my analogies. my interpretation of the OP was also heavily influenced by my own experiences with poor mental health and my present situation; i think it’s safe to assume that that is also true of how most people interpreted and reacted to the OP.

          i very much appreciate your addition to this conversation and Coyote for initiating it. i read the OP through eyes that were focused on my own particular situation at the moment, seeing solely what i wanted to / needed to see from it without any thought given to the other sides of it; how someone in a toxic, abusive or otherwise unhealthy relationship or mindset might interpret it– which is ironic given that it’s not even like i haven’t been in such situations / mindsets myself in the past.

          this conversation has been eye opening in more ways than one, not the least of which being my own internal compartmentalization of things in order to more easily [re]interpret and digest them. by which i mean that it’s mildly alarming to me how i left all thought or consideration of even my own past experiences with toxic relationships, interalized sexnormativity etc conveniently boxed away in some dark recess of my mind in order to focus specifically on my own mental [un]health and what i saw as advice for me to abide by in the future, since that’s what’s at the forefront of my mind at the moment.

          also, right now depression-brains says that people are being unduly nice to me SCREAMING, but stfu-depression-brains says that depression-brains should stfu and accept people’s kindness, so <3

        • Elizabeth

          …Ack! Sorry for the very late reply, I totally missed the comment notification somehow. I guess my phone app ate it again.

          I just want to say, boy can I ever relate to the compartmentalization thing. I have totally done that before.

          I’m glad you understood what I meant, too. I’m starting to think maybe I should like, try to collect thoughts on this kind of thing for a larger post sometime, buuut… yeah, I dunno if I’ll have the free spoons for that anytime soon…

          Anyway, you take care, okay? :)

  • queenieofaces

    I’m very late to the party as usual but a few scattered thoughts (although mostly, as usual, Elizabeth has already said most of what I wanted to say):

    – My kneejerk reaction to that post was that it reminded me of a lot of the rhetoric I see about aces inflicting themselves on non-ace partners (and, especially aces inflicting themselves on “real” queer folks) and trapping them. And that’s something that gets under my skin, as much as I don’t want it to. I’ve had a couple of close friends ask me out in the past couple of months (including one earlier this week) and I just wind up feeling…such a need to make it absolutely, crystal clear exactly how unsuitable I am as a partner for them. “[A] person who likes sex deserves a partner who will respect that,” right? And, I don’t know, at least for me it turns into this thing where I’m scared that entering a relationship means that I’ll be hurting my partner in some way, so best to just not go anywhere near that and feel intensely guilty every time I accidentally trick a wlw into liking me, right? (Part of this, I am fully willing to admit, is my own baggage, but part of it is also just…constantly hearing how manipulative and bad it is to date someone who is into sex when you are not.)

    – also echoing everything everyone else has already said about how poorly this advice reacts with coercion and abuse

    – also, all of this talk about people being coerced into sex without explicit coercion from their partner reminds me of that conversation I tried to start about this exact topic years and years ago (before it got derailed): https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/mapping-the-grey-area-of-sexual-experience-consent-compulsory-sexuality-and-sex-normativity/

  • Linkspam: February 2nd, 2018 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote critiqued a widely reblogged post about aces in abusive relationships. […]

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