An Ace Bullet Manifesto

For the September 2020 Carnival of Aces, drawing on some prior notes.

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image by DBPerko, CC BY-NC 2.0.]

  • Asexuality is made salient as a nameable identity by a cultural context of sexnormativity.
    • In broad strokes, sexnormativity includes both the universalizations (everyone has sex, everyone wants sex, everyone loves sex, we are all sexual beings, everyone is drawn to other people in a sexual way, everybody feels enthusiastic about sex, everyone experiences sex as an expression of love and a basis of social connection) and the imperatives: if you aren’t (sexually) normal, then you should be.
    • For some number of people, these cultural imperatives produce a sense of alienation and an understanding of ourselves as deficient in something supposedly important. 
    • Out of that group, some people find it valuable to seek out others on the basis of that alienation and turn that disconnect, itself, into a source of connection.
    • And so we have formed what we call the asexual community.  
  • Doing right by each other in this community is complicated by many factors. 
    • These include, for instance, the prevalence of Whiteness in the ace community, the silencing of aces of color, and the role of white supremacy in dictating norms of sexuality and distributions of violence. 

For these reasons and more, we have work to do, internally. 

  • An ace ethos should include, among many things, a deliberate rejection of identity essentialism
    • Our community has always struggled with and debated how best to define “asexuality” and “the asexual spectrum,” and while some of the most popular definitions have been promoted in part as a response to identity policing, no definition alone can resolve this issue.
    • We must also embrace individual autonomy in the naming of identity, in order to respect the full breath of reasons that draw people to identify as ace, be it lack of sexual attraction, lack of sexual desire, low sex drive/libido, past trauma, a preference for celibacy, a disposition of sex-repulsion or sex-indifference, or anything else it may be. 
    • The concept of “the spectrum” may be valued partly as a response/solution to this diversity, but this too faces the risk of being essentialized — gray-asexuality reduced to something quantifiable, a select and discrete low number of “experiences of sexual attraction” — and we must guard against this too. 
    • More generally, even as we create new models to better suit ourselves, crafting alternatives to the models which have pinched and alienated us, we must also be careful not to universalize the result, even as those models (like romantic orientation) become highly popular in the community. 
  • An ace ethos should also include, among other things, the recognition that we are all simply fallible people and no one can (or should) shoulder everything alone.
    • A part of what this means is that we should aim for more democratically involved processes and communal input than letting any self-appointed individual get too big for their own good.
    • No one is above criticism.
    • And where it arises, we deserve and owe each other accountability, not escalation and emotions dogma.
    • As Angela Chen put it:

One book should not be responsible for representing all of ace experience—and that’s not even possible, you know? We need this ace canon. I want there to be this vibrant collection of books on asexuality that challenge and criticize mine and hopefully also agree with parts of it too—there should be this conversation. I think from a marketing perspective, people will want to say this is a definitive book, but I don’t think any book should be the definitive book because the conversation is always changing.

Angela Chen

We also have work to do externally. 

  • Ace advocacy can and should be involved in issues that are not ace-specific.
    • It should challenge normative conceptions of the nuclear family, of primary-partnership-as-sexual, of two-parent childrearing, of “single-family” zoning, of blood family or marriage as the only legitimate form of family.
    • It should challenge the idea that anyone ever “owes” anyone sex.
    • It should challenge the legal privileging of marriage.
    • It should foster support networks to help each other in all those ways which, in more individualist cultures, may usually only be accessible through partners and family — especially for the benefit of aces who’ve cut ties with or been disowned by family.
  • Ace advocacy is not always simply a matter of “informing” or “educating” or simply filling an empty void. It is also a matter of intervening in and wrestling with existing conceptions of (a)sexuality that are already out there.
    • The contemporary ace community did not predate the archetypes of the virgin, the prude, the sexually repressed, the sick, the alien. Our task is to engage with these preexisting ideas and make the case for acceptance — including self-acceptance. 
    • As part of this, we should challenge the medical/deficit model of low/absent sexual desire wherever it threatens to justify curative violence. This is not a question of whether asexuality “is” a medical condition or not, but rather, whether we deserve to suffer a view of ourselves as broken things to be fixed by any means. 
    • As another part of this, we should challenge the abuse and violence that emerges from anti-ace ideas, which casts us as challenges to be conquered, as selfish leeches entrapping innocents, or disgusting wretches to be rejected as freaks. 
    • We should not be advocating that aces be granted an exception to the rule, but rather, to abolish the rules of sexnormativity entirely for everyone.
  • Not just in “the media,” but in our immediate personal relationships, many of us are by turns coerced and alienated and taught a view of ourselves as lesser, defective beings. 
    • Which is why, to return back to the first point, we have aimed and will continue our efforts at consciousness raising — to address the “problem” of our existence with the forbidden solution of acceptance. 

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