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.
So how can that be avoided? I don’t claim to have the answer completely sorted out, which is why I’m inviting input here in the comments. As an opening to the discussion, though, here are some things that I think are important to understand: 1) there is no one singular monolithic “society” that speaks with one voice, 2) other sexual norms can intersect with sexnormativity/compulsory sexuality, and 3) when talking about other types of sexual norms, you should try to take that intersection into account.
[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview photo by Marco Verch.]
There are times when I think about how things would have been different growing up if teachers and other adults had chosen to express that whole idea of kids “being inappropriate” (re: making sexual comments in class and stuff) as… like… a matter of appropriate boundaries between themselves as adults and us as kids, rather than as one of the Rules, the way “do your homework” is a rule and “be respectful of the teacher” is a rule.
I mean what if those adults had told me and other kids that it wasn’t that talking about sex was taboo, but rather that they just didn’t want to necessarily share those conversations with us (outside of formalized sex ed) and that if an adult DOES want to share lots of sex jokes with a kid and share sexual conversations with a kid, that we should regard that adult as suspicious.
What if they had actively encouraged us to judge and be critical of the way adults treated us, in case of an adult stepping over a line, and what if those boundaries were genuinely treated like something for our benefit rather than another excuse to control us and scold us and brand us “bad kids,” and what if “breaking” that “rule” about appropriate talk for the classroom was reframed as not yet having learned how to set good enough boundaries for ourselves and how to be more wary of what we share with people in a position of power over us, not for fear of wrath or deliberate punishment but because there are people we will meet who will try to exploit us.
Like what if the way adults acted towards us didn’t put the idea in other kids’ heads that sex was this edgy rule-breaking thing and that having any kind of boundaries about it ourselves meant we were goody-two-shoes stuck under an adult’s thumb. What if not setting boundaries for yourself well enough wasn’t ever framed as “acting out.”
How would my life have been different then? Can I even imagine that?
Recently, the lovely Queenie quoted an excerpt of a post of mine on tumblr (!), and I happened to discover that someone has reblogged it to voice some disagreement. See their post here. Although that particular user might never see this response, I want to address it as best I know how, as well as open the floor for y’all to comment and tell me if/how I’ve hosed up. For full disclosure: Lee/maizegeek is a survivor of sexual abuse. I am not.
What follows is their commentary and my response: