Asexual Privilege: Revival of an Anti-Ace Idea

A post about “asexual privilege,” the online debate surrounding the concept in 2011, and its later contemporary manifestations in an aro community context.

[This post has been crossposted to Pillowfort.]

2011: The Year Aces Got Noticed

The year 2011 was something of a turning point for the online asexual community, especially the ace blogosphere, which was just beginning to establish a presence on Tumblr. This was slightly before my time, so to speak (I first got involved with the community in 2013), but I’ve been able to learn about it via some retrospectives: 2011 in Ace Tumblr History, this Asexual Agenda post on the same topic, and Aceadmiral’s subsequent addition. Basically, 2011 is remembered as a transitional moment for the queer question and anti-ace blogging, and this is where we got the term “asexual privilege.”

Note that the concept of “asexual privilege” was preceded by some community discussion of “sexual privilege,” as incited by Cor’s (now disowned) initiative to compile a “sexual privilege checklist.” This concept was ultimately abandoned by the ace community, or at least the parts of it that were involved at that stage, anyway. These days, people usually don’t even refer to non-aces as “sexuals” at all; the preferred term since about 2012 has been “allosexual,” although there’s certainly some controversy there too.

Closely on the heels of this “sexual privilege” discussion, some non-aces responded by proposing the inverse: that actually, asexuals are privileged for their asexuality. Contemporaneous reactions to this “asexual privilege” concept included serious ones, such as Overlap and Unpacking the Notion of Asexual Privilege, and less serious ones, like the sarcastic joke phrase “damn my asexual privilege,” as memorialized in this flashing gif. Many of the original uses and arguments in favor of the “asexual privilege” concept have since been lost to link rot, including the relevant LiveJournal posts.

As luck would have it, though, the Wayback Machine has some archived copies of the “Privilege Denying Asexuals” Tumblr blog, which means you’re still able to see for yourself what these claims looked like. On that blog’s Asexual Privilege Checklist, it lists such privileges as not having to worry about STDs, not having to worry about getting called a “slut,” and not being considered a bad influence on children, among other things. An informed reader may notice that some of the items on this list aren’t even technically true or accurate, to say nothing of framing them as “privileges” or components of “asexual privilege.”

Further posts on the same blog implicitly or explicitly frame asexual people and ace community language as arrogant, elitist, and ridiculous. For example, in some posts, this perspective was expressed through the format of advice animal memes. On this archived page, an image post features a haughty-looking white man in glasses and an asexual flag, accompanied by the caption “I like cuddling and intellectual stuff — unlike you sex maniacs.” Another in the same format is captioned, “I’m not straight — I’m heteroromantic.” The implicit message here is that heteroromantic aces are ridiculous for not wanting to be called straight. Another, this time with a piece of cake, is captioned, “Society frowns upon asexuality — What’s ‘abstinence-only’?” In supposedly representing the perspectives of “privilege-denying” asexual people, these jokes frame aces as both cruel and clueless about the societal favor they supposedly enjoy.

Yet according to the owner, this wasn’t an anti-ace blog: “contrary to popular belief, I do not hate asexuals. I hate stupid asexuals.” They didn’t consider it “hating asexuals,” then, to make these jokes or post these arguments. Even from their perspective, other people were going a step too far in their complaints about “the entitlement, the denialism, the appropriation of the holocaust triangle, the absolute stupidity about the effect patriarchy has on all women’s sexuality, etc.” I point this out to specifically highlight that, in spite of everything, this person would have probably objected to me referring to “asexual privilege” as an anti-ace idea.

I do consider “asexual privilege” to be an anti-ace idea, though, for these reasons:

  • Arguments in favor of the “asexual privilege” concept have gone hand-in-hand with other anti-ace behavior such as conflating asexuality with sex-shaming, treating aces as ridiculous, and framing aces as ignorant, spoiled, arrogant, and self-victimizing.
  • Arguments in favor of the “asexual privilege” concept claim that aces are already societally-favored, accepted, and safe, either in general or relative to other groups.
  • Arguments in favor of the “asexual privilege” concept frame aces as dangerous and untrustworthy in their ignorance due to the above.
  • Arguments in favor of the “asexual privilege” concept homogenize societal sexual norms into one singular, narrow narrative of sex-shaming, either deemphasizing or completely ignoring the role of compulsory sexuality and rape culture.
  • Arguments in favor of the “asexual privilege” concept involve functionally telling aces that our experiences of antagonism, harassment, abuse, and violence count for nothing and that we are either misreporting or misunderstanding our own experiences.
  • Arguments in favor of the “asexual privilege” concept involve telling asexual people to understand themselves as less deserving of support and advocacy than other groups, whom they should “listen” to without asking anything in return.

This is what is ultimately entailed by the “asexual privilege” concept: that aces have responsibilities to others that they have no obligation to reciprocate, that we already have it good, that we need to just shut up and listen. Contemporary iterations of this idea live on in the ongoing debates on the queer question (which at some unclear point seems to have morphed into the LGBT “inclusion” question), but since then, more recent developments have also introduced the idea in a completely new context, as well.

Present Day: Revival Among Aros

In the present day, a similar concept to “asexual privilege” has been developing in the aro community. My hope is that by writing this out and explaining its predecessor, I can encourage others to help me nip this in the bud before it becomes a greater problem. The phrase “asexual privilege” itself may not ever appear, but it’s functionally the same idea: asexuals enjoy disproportionate privilege on the basis of being ace, need to cede the floor to other groups, and deserve to be regarded with suspicion. Within aro blogging I have encountered this idea both in explicit and implicit forms. In its most explicit form, this manifests as arguing that aces (categorically) “hold power over aros” in the role of oppressor, that it’s acceptable to hate aces because aces are oppressive, that asexuality is societally desirable (“society would rather I be aroace”), and that allosexual aros are “the most poorly treated” relative to aces.

These perspectives are something the aro community indirectly lends credence to when aces are treated as disproportionately responsible for demonstrating allyship to aro allos, with no mention of the reverse. This dynamic doesn’t necessarily involve saying anything wrong, per se, but the omission of reciprocity allows the “asexual privilege” idea to fester undisputed. For example, when people make serious guides or more lighthearted posts about supporting aro allos, that’s all very well and good. I’d like to see that commitment reciprocated, or at least acknowledged that some reciprocity is called for. Since I haven’t encountered so much of that, and since there’s arguably an anti-ace problem in the aro community (depending on where you set the goalposts)… I have to wonder what’s going on here.

What I suspect is that, similar to what Sennkestra has argued, a “natural” connection is being presumed between aro identity and allyship with aces. In other words, supposedly, aro allosexuals can’t really be anti-ace, simply by nature of them being aro. I’m not sure if anyone would say it quite like that, but there’s room left wide open for that interpretation when ace allyship within the aro community is treated as a one-way street.

For example, here’s a post which correctly argues something true: identifying as aro yourself doesn’t mean you can’t do anti-aro things. I agree with this argument overall.

What worries me about that particular post is the particulars: it specifically argues that aro aces “can perpetuate [anti-aro views],” unnecessarily specifying those aros as ace. It then goes on to mention aro allosexuals solely as victims of this treatment, never as unwitting perpetrators in the same way that aro aces can be. It could have just said “aros can be anti-aro” and left it at that, but it didn’t. It specified anti-aro antagonism as something aces can be guilty of — only aces — without balancing that with acknowledgement for aros of all sexualities. In the post’s formulation of responsibilities, alloromantic aces should listen to aros, and aro aces should listen to aro allos. Who should aro allos listen to? Unspecified. That doesn’t even come up.

When the allyship of aro allos is taken for granted as a given, when it’s assumed that aro allos already know how to perfectly do right by aces, when aces are framed as exclusive objects of suspicion, that paves the way for the “asexual privilege” concept to revive itself. And in the binary logic of Tumblr acceptable targets, a “privileged” group is a group it’s acceptable to target, to antagonize, to silence, to ridicule, to harass, to openly hate. This isn’t a mere hypothetical. We’ve already seen this happen, and now it’s happening again.

“Asexual privilege” is an anti-ace concept. Don’t let it go unchallenged in any community.

2 responses to “Asexual Privilege: Revival of an Anti-Ace Idea

  • Linkspam: April 3rd, 2020 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote wrote about the revival of the idea of asexual privilege. […]

  • How do you talk about sexual norms in an ace-competent way? | The Ace Theist

    […] There can be a lot of complexity involved in articulating the nuances of societal norms around sexuality, and even in the briefest of offhand references, sometimes people can miss the mark. One of the most common mistakes I see (and the one that I’m the most sensitized to, for the same reasons that I identify as ace) are the mistakes that zero in on the types of sex you’re told not to have without accounting for the types of sex you’re told to have, to the point of being not just incomplete but outright inaccurate. Neglecting the latter leads into overgeneralizations as ludicrously inaccurate as “everybody tells you not to have sex,” instead of attending to the specifics of which particular subjectivities and choices are condemned. This, in turn, is functionally how you end up with people arriving at the notion of asexual privilege. […]

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