Disclaimer: I have nothing against asexuality. It’s a real and valid thing. And I’m not trying to start or continue a fight, just doing some research and sorting it out on paper for myself. See my asexuality tag for more ace info, at least partially reblogged from ace people!
So the reason I’m writing this is that I reblogged a post I agreed with on tumblr, and I got a very rude, condescending response. Yikes. So I responded with what I thought, and it got me thinking. The post went like this:
what asexuality is:
what asexuality isn’t:
therefore, it also isn’t:
The rude response can be found here (and Grey, if you end up reading this, it wasn’t you!), as well as my response. But I’m not really writing about a little tiff I had on tumblr. What I’m writing about is the curious question of “ace politics”, aphobia and the issues behind the discourse.
The way I see it is like this: LGBT (or queer, if you prefer) people and hetero cisgender (cishet) asexual people do not have common histories. Queer people who are also asexual (or ace) share that LGBT history, but not because they’re asexual.
The majority of my argument can be summed up in a post made by leftbians on tumblr:
It’s always stood for Ally. Not that our predecessors necessarily wanted “allies” (cishets) in those spaces, but for things like college campuses they couldn’t be allowed unless they indicated that anyone could attend. Hence why it needed to be added here and there and may have spread elsewhere. It’s not like there was an official rule of “hey if you’re a cis person and straight then don’t show up” but I think it was implied to some degree.
Because it wasn’t ever talked about, it became a good way for closeted people to attend meetings, to attend events and meet people. If anyone asked why they went they could just say they were an ally and supported LGBT people. Sure, it might’ve gotten shit from people who found out like bigoted friends, family, but no one would mind as much if they were just an “ally” because at that point it would seem like the person was just supporting them out of politics and not because they actually were LGBT. Like, being a supporter of trans rights obviously is a lot safer than actually being a trans woman, it was true then and it’s true now.
It stood for ally before an additional A was added for asexual by David Jay, or before the A was revamped to say it stood for Ace, Aro, Agender (the latter of which makes no sense since it would fit under the T anyway). The thing is ace people literally could have attended previously since there is no legal way to bar people from LGBT spaces. Saying the A always stood for asexual is ahistoric. Trying to shove the A for asexual in is silly since LGBT resources/discussions etc. have little to nothing to offer to straight&cis people. It’s just an attempt to make it some all-inclusive thing for any person who somehow deviates from like the expectations of a 1940s nuclear family which is not at all what the point of the coalition was initially. And whatever resources the whole LGBT thing gives us (e.g. scholarships, shelters) should not be going to cishets (which is what straight aces are).
Most of the arguments against this seem to be that it’s “exclusive” or “gatekeeping”, or a form of lateral oppression. This point of view is pretty well explained in these posts on asexualityarchive.com. Basically, it comes down to a bit of Oppression Olympics: “I’m oppressed” “I am too” “No you’re not” “Yes I am!” “Well I’m MORE oppressed”. This is pretty unproductive, as it undermines the sense of community queer people share and doesn’t actually accomplish anything. The Huffington Post takes a much more neutral stance, although they’re still pretty much on board with including asexuality under the queer umbrella.
Now, I’m not saying that asexual people don’t face prejudice. As the site says,
- Pathologizing of asexuality as a disorder.
- A lack of societal awareness of asexuality, which frequently leads to ignorance and insults.
- Relationship issues, particularly family relationships and romantic relationships.
- Difficulty navigating a sex-driven world, in particular, the social expectations regarding sex. [and]
- Threats, coercion, sexual assault, rape (in particular “corrective” rape), and potentially even murder.
are all things things that ace people can and certainly do face, especially in instances of domestic abuse. The thing is, (and this is where the Oppression Olympics comes into things a bit) queer people face all of that and more. I’m talking things like
- medical discrimination (AIDS, anyone? Trans folks especially have big issues with healthcare as well.)
- religious discrimination (Westboro Baptist Church is the most extreme example, but many religions have extremists who preach that queer people are evil or going to hell.)
- being kicked out of their family’s houses, or denied housing by landlords
- being fired or denied employment
- marriage discrimination
- discrimination from shopkeepers
the list goes on. In fact, in lots of countries it’s outright illegal to be gay, bi, or trans. People are killed or arrested because of these laws. In many countries, that only changed within the last decade or so.
This isn’t to say that the struggles ace people face aren’t valid – feeling broken and isolated in a sex-crazed society, coming out, and miseducation aren’t easy things to deal with by any means – but to emphasize that being an ace cishet person is much easier legally (and yes, socially) than it is to be gay, bi, or trans.
That’s my position on the whole thing, anyway. And since so many tumblr arguments centre around one single word – “source?” – I figured I’d back myself up a bit. (That said, most of this is coming from a blogger I trust to fact check and who’s extremely well-read in queer history)
As I’ve already said, queer people and cishet ace people don’t share the type of history that forms a community. Although ace people are fighting similar battles now, the way to their success was paved and supported by queer people. “Gay people have really had it the hardest of all. From verbal abuse to being killed, they’ve been put under so much fire for expressing their sexuality. They’ve suffered a lot, they’ve paved the way,” said Mark McClemont in the HuffPost article. Bronte is so well-spoken that I could quote her endlessly, but the basic truth of unifying history comes from the AIDS crisis, so that’s the quote I’ll use.
When we talk about the AIDS crisis in relation to oppression which is unique to the LGBT community, we’re not saying that we faced unique oppression because, 20 – 35 years ago, we and people like us were in a high risk group for the contraction of HIV – that would be ludicrous. What we’re saying is that the AIDS crisis revealed people’s homophobic attitudes in ways which distinctly set our experiences apart from the experiences of cis het ace/het aro/aro ace people. To put it bluntly, they wanted us to die.
The first cases of AIDS were identified in 1981, and AIDS was initially called GRID, which stood for gay-related immunodeficiency disease. Gay and bisexual men and trans women accounted for disproportionate numbers of the people who contracted HIV and died of AIDS and other HIV-related illnesses due to the fact that, since the sexual liberation movements of the sixties and seventies and particularly after the Stonewall Riot in 1969, LGBT people had been far more sexually liberated, and, for obvious reasons, condom use was lower in these groups than in sexual interactions between (cis) men and women. There were also lots of LGBT communities growing at this time, so there were groups in which lots of people were having sex with one another. Additionally, the anal membrane is not as thick as the vaginal membrane, making the risk of the membrane tearing and bodily fluids entering the bloodstream more probable.
The links she adds (to her own writing and to outside sources) are also extremely informative, so click around her tumblr blog for more!
A third time for emphasis: the lgbtq community (although you could argue that coalition is more accurate, as it started by bringing gay, lesbian, and trans communities together during the AIDS crisis to be political and fight for rights, as well as fight AIDS) was entirely formed based on that shared history. Cishets simply aren’t a part of it, except as the oppressors. And since we’re on the topic of the ace community and AIDS, check out this list of links discussing it (the blog theme is a bit hard to read, so here’s those links). This is where the acronym comes from. It became popular around the end of the crisis, in 1988, because the separate communities had come together to battle a terrible, deadly crisis.
A second argument against expanding the LGBT acronym to include asexual (and aromantic) people is that the person most active in expanding it was David Jay, a “notorious homophobe and misogynist,” as Bronte says. He originally, whether seriously or in jest, arranged the acronym so that the word “fag” – a slur that a cishet man should definitely not be using – and the acronym BDSM (yes, as in kink, which is not what LGBT means!) both appeared in it. Not. Cool. I think this alone is enough to convince me to limit it to LGBTQ.
Basically the difference between being ace and being queer is that,
‘Asexual’ refers to how you experience attraction, while terms like ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ refer to who you experience attraction to (and so do terms like ‘bisexual’ – terms ending with the suffice ‘-sexual’ weren’t coined to refer specifically and exclusively to sexual attraction, one of many issues with the split attraction model).
That last link to the issues with the split attraction model is also worth reading – using it helps to perpetuate the idea that being queer is specifically about sex, that it’s a sexual deviancy.
This post also explains why cishet aces don’t get a choice about being called straight, which is an argument I’ve seen a few times. Although it doesn’t link to any articles or other sources, the point is clear: if you’re heterosexual-aromantic or asexual-heteroromantic, you’re straight. That’s just what the word means. And no, the spinster movement was not queer. Also, here’s a fantastic post about why being called queer doesn’t make you queer. TL;DR: getting called a homophobic slur by a bully doesn’t give you the right to reclaim it if you’re not actually queer.
Now, I’ve already said that I don’t think queer people should totally withdraw support from cishet aces, especially since we’re all fighting (when we do fight) for better education and a more inclusive society. Noble goals, right? But is it really the job of queer folks to support and stand up for cishets? They’ve spent decades oppressing, murdering, and excluding us. Why are they our responsibility? They barely take care of us, we don’t have an obligation to take care of them. They’re already catered to in society, what with the thousands of romcoms and love stories out there featuring a moderately attractive white man and woman.
I could probably make this point myself, but Bronte is so damn articulate that I’ll just quote her instead:
I agree that aro and ace people need support, but the LGBT community is not a catch-call club for anyone whose sexuality falls outside of the hegemonic group. When groups of people share specific needs, like LGBT people do and like ace and aro do, the most productive thing to do, as LGBT history illustrates, is to form a community specifically to provide for those needs.
The argument that (cishet) aces belong under the queer umbrella is often based on the fact that they, too, deviate from the norm. This argument doesn’t really hold water, because it’s exactly the opposite of what lgbtq activists are trying to prove. We’re not abnormal, we’re not weird or wrong or broken. We’re as normal and natural as cishet people. (Ace people are too, but that’s rather beside the point.) As this blog post says,
There is NOTHING fundamentally abnormal about gay love. What makes it a unique experience, and what causes gay people to require communities and safe spaces and resources and support, is that gay people are targeted by homophobia. Gay people only ‘deviate from the norm’ in that they are oppressed by the forces of homophobia.
Homophobia is perpetuated by cishet people. When ace and aro people suggest that cishet people should be allowed into the LGBT community – a community of people whose shared experience is one of being hurt by cishet people, who are bound together by the fact that cishet people decided that not only were they disgusting and wrong but they should literally be killed – they show a fundamental misunderstanding of what the community provides.
Just for fun, let’s talk about the entitlement of all of this: why do cishets want into our spaces so bad? Are they lonely in the society that loves, cherishes, and caters to them? Do they think we’re just a fun club and a cool parade? Are they jealous of our badass rainbow aesthetic? Who knows. But honestly, this post (quoted here for clarity’s sake) about sums up the problem with it:
“All you het aces still belong in pride remember that and ignore those who tell you differently”
“Well, I carry a gun, so it’s not like they can make me leave…”
“straight people threatening to shoot lgbt people? groundbreaking.”
This is now almost 2500 words long, so I’ll end it here. But there’s more discussion out there about why this whole ~discourse~ is actually pretty harmful to queer people, if you’re interested in looking that up.
In conclusion: Asexuality is valid and real. Society needs better education, representation, and inclusiveness. But ace people aren’t queer because they’re ace. If they’re queer, it’s because they’re gay, bi, or trans. Not because they don’t feel sexual attraction.
I’m ending with another Bronte quote because, obviously, I have a bit of a tumblr crush on her. Oops.
it’s just so bizarre to me when people who aren’t lgbt demand entry to lgbt spaces and claim that we’re excluding them like do you think those places just popped into existence??? no, lgbt people built them, often put themselves through experiences ranging from estrangement to assault to build them, with lgbt people and their needs in mind. if you feel that your community has needs which deserve spaces to cater to them, do what our elders did and get to work (and believe me, it’ll be far easier for you than it was for them)
If you got this far, thanks for reading!
Ps: I didn’t look too closely at the source for the post that sparked my interest (very first link), but I’ve been reliably informed that they’re Not a good blog, and in fact quite hateful. That’s unfortunate, but they made a pretty decent point in that post. At the very least, it’s concise.
Pps: this got long and I got tired, but if you’re interested check out @queersherlockian and @vauxhallandi’s posts about why the term “allosexual” is harmful (lumps lgbtq people in with cishets), invasive (in that it makes very personal assumptions about how non-asexual people experience attraction), leaves out demi- or grey-asexuals, and basically shouldn’t be used!