Friday, April 13, 2012

Common Myths and Misconceptions

Here is an interesting article at 13 Common Myths and Misconceptions about Asexual People

Part 2

I haven't had a chance to read it in full yet, but it looks quite promising.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

House M.D. vs. Asexuality

Perhaps the greatest danger of asexuality gaining greater visibility is even more inaccurate portrayals of asexuality and asexuals themselves.  Perhaps it's just the cynic in me, perhaps I've just been overexposed the numerous "asexuality isn't real" arguments, but I find myself doubting that asexuality will ever be accepted or seen as a valid sexual orientation.

Last night, I had taken a break from my homework to watch one of my favorite shows: House.  Imagine my excitement when an asexual woman, in an asexual marriage, turned up.  It was a welcome surprise.  However, as the show progressed, I found myself getting more and more depressed.  Right up until the inevitable conclusion: asexuality is curable.

Before I get into all the ways the show completely misrepresented asexuality (and the inevitable and lame defense for why), I wanted to point out an incredibly interesting fact.  The character of Gregory House is based on Sherlock Holmes, who is arguably one of the first asexual characters in popular culture.

Last night's episode of House had an "asexual" woman seeking a flu shot.  The second House was brought in on the situation, the dialogue turned into the old argument of asexuality being an abnormality that must be cured.  "Sex is the natural force that drives our species."  Therefore, asexuality is unnatural.  Any character that argued against this was automatically wrong and worse, was looking for someone to prove them wrong.  The character of Wilson started out neutral, but by the end of the episode, he agreed with House's conclusion that asexuality didn't exist.

At one point in the episode, there was a debate between the interns about the benefits of asexuality and perhaps unsurprisingly, they all revolved around incredibly shallow generalizations.  Asexuals are immune to advertisements (untrue) and therefore their self-esteem must be better (yeah, because constantly being told your abnormal and sick just does wonders for your self-esteem).

As they got closer towards a medical reason for asexuality, the conclusion was that the woman had to be sexual and there was something wrong with her husband.  First House speculated that he was a closeted homosexual before finally concluding that there was a reason for his decreased libido.  The reason turned out to be a tumor near his pituitary gland.

This was where the episode turned from mildly irritated to completely offensive.  When confronted with the diagnoses, the blonde wife immediately turned into a sex kitten.  She was practically bouncing up and down, insisting that her husband have the operation because "a girl has needs".  Her husband was hesitating, understandably so, and did not want to give up his identity.  But that didn't matter, because there is no such thing as asexuality and chaste romance.

In minutes, House had reduced asexuality to a sexist narrative that was nothing short of derogatory: Women are only asexual for men.  Men are only asexual due to some physical ailment (or because they're closeted homosexuals).  House went so far as to flat out say, "[Asexuals] have a wildly screwed up world view."  One that must be corrected, preferably by a white, heterosexual, educated male.

This episode is reflective of society's general view of sex: There just has to be sex for no other reason than its natural.  The producers would likely counter this conclusion and defend the episode by stating that it wasn't meant to be reflective of all asexuals.  Just that select number of asexuals that might be asexual due to physical ailment.

If this were true, than how come we never seen any other sexual orientation being "cured"? It's because that asexuals are the last sexual orientation that it's okay to declare "unnatural" and therefore dismiss.  It makes me so angry that people take advantage of the fact that there aren't as many asexuals as there are other sexual orientations.  Just because there are fewer people doesn't mean we don't have feelings.  We are entitled to the same rights and the same respect as any other sexual orientation. 

What the producers and writers of House did was nothing short of bigotry in my opinion.  We decry the organizations that claim to have a cure for homosexuality.  We should feel the exact same way about anyone or any organization that claims to cure asexuality.

There is no cure for asexuality.  All the asexual community wants is recognition of that, of their very right to exist and live the life they choose.  Is that really so much to ask?

I'm using this again because it's my favorite asexual graphic to date

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dehumanizing Asexuals

The day after Asexual Awareness Week ended, I happened to see a commercial for "The Big Bang Theory" that was blatantly anti-asexual.  Full disclosure, I don't watch the show and what I know of it is from the AVEN message boards.  One of the main characters has been consistently portrayed as heteroromantic asexual.  In the most recent commercial, Cooper's girlfriend is making advances on him and making her intentions known.  This would not be so offensive if it were not for the announcers declaration of "Is it finally time for Sheldon to join the human race?"

While most people just see this as silly advertising, the implication is clear: unless you are sexually active, or at least desire sex, than you are not human.  Asexuals are not part of the human race.  Whether or not it is played for laughs is not the point.  Think about it.  Would this be acceptable if it were said of any other sexual orientation, race, or gender?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On the Last Day of Asexual Awareness Week

Today marks the final day of the first ever Asexual Awareness Week.  I would like to leave those that have kept up with the blog a few final observations:

  • There are few (if any) out-asexual characters in popular media
  • Only two states recognize asexuality as a protected class (meaning they are protected under anti-discrimination laws): Vermont and New York
  • Asexuals still feel an enormous amount of pressure to perform sexually for their partners, either out of obligation or to prove to themselves that they are "normal", suggesting that the only valid intimate relationship is a sexual one
  • The majority of people still see asexuality as a disorder and use the argument of what is natural/biological and what is not
  • Our culture equates sex with happiness and no sex with gloominess, misery, and dysfunction
As I hope to have shown through my posts, asexuality is not a disorder but simply another sexual orientation and therefore another state of being.  There is nothing wrong with you if you identify as asexual.

The goal of asexuals (particularly the AVENites) is visibility and education.  Asexuals simply want to be included in the dialogue and accepted as they are.  If you wish to help, here are a few things that you can do:

  • Help open up the dialogue around asexuality.  Talk with your friends, loved one, and campus groups about the lack of resources for students that might identify as asexual.
  • Educate people about the difficulties and issues faced by asexuals
  • If you hear someone use the term "asexual" in a detrimental way, call them out.  Chances are they just don't realize how damaging misuse of the term can be to the asexual community
  • If someone you know is asexual, be open and understanding.  Let them know about this blog and some of the resources under "Useful Links"
Perhaps the most important thing to take from asexual awareness week is that even though sexual orientation is not a choice, sex is.  Nobody should ever feel pressured or obligated to engage in sexual activity if they do not want to.  I find it incredibly disturbing to read about asexuals that feel they have to satisfy their partner(s) sexually because it is "right" or "normal" to do.  There are some asexuals out there that do find pleasure in pleasing their partner(s), but not all asexuals do.  Sex should always be a choice, not an obligation.

I probably will no longer regularly update the blog, but I will post if/when I find more materials on asexuality that I feel are important.  While this blog might not be far reaching, if I have reached just one identifying-asexual and made them feel less alone, I feel that I have succeeded.

Thank you so much for your interest and time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Feminist Approach to Asexuality

In the Fall 2010 issue of Feminist Studies, there was an article on asexuality that was written by Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks.  It was entitled New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice.  The article was a call for a new academic approach to asexuality, one that overlapped with women and genders studies.  Despite it being a relatively short article, I feel it is one of the most important ones out there.  Cerankowski and Milks have pointed out the connections of asexuality to gender and sexuality theories, thereby creating a dialogue of asexuality as identity rather than as a disorder or abnormality.

The article looks at the online community of asexuality, which has been steadily growing since 2001 and has grown into a worldwide movement.  Asexuality is steadily gaining the visibility that asexuals desire.  There is currently a documentary in the making called Asexuality: The Making of a Movement, by Angela Tucker.  In 2009, for the first time ever, asexuals from AVEN marched in the San Francisco Pride parade.  They received support and acceptance from the watching crowd.  Indeed, the most support asexuals receive is from the LGBTQ community, further evidence of intersecting dialogues of sexuality and sexual identity.

Milk and Cerankowski are interested in tracking how asexuality intersects with discussions of feminism and gender.  They mention the diversity of asexuality and what constitutes it.  For example, someone who does not engage in sex but does not identify as asexual is generally not considered asexual.  Perhaps the most interesting part of this particular article is their discussion of its relevance to the pro-sex/anti-porn sex wars of the 1980s.  Using critiques from these two very different arguments, they theorize that asexuals can create a new discussion about how to avoid sexual hierarchies and also caution us about using terms such as "dysfunctional" and "repressed" especially in connection with one's sexual identity.

Perhaps another important discussion is whether or not asexuality can be considered inherently queer.  There is a worry that this makes the notion of queer much too general: defining it as simply "outside the norm".  However, there are some asexuals that do identify as queer and the parallels between the treatment of both groups is undeniable.  Asexual people are often told that they have not fully developed their sexual identity, not experienced their sexuality, or are hiding from it and then interrogated about past trauma or abuse.  Asexuality has been viewed solely as a disorder and still considered a disorder.  When brought up, it is often used to describe something negative (like the classroom experience I mentioned in the second post).  When looking at these similarities, it is no wonder that the asexual community has found such an ally in the LGBTQ community.

Cerankowski and Milks end on a positive note.  Both are working to expand the dialogue around asexuality and asexual issues.  Together, they are hoping to edit a volume of various studies and theoretical perspectives on asexuality.  This article is an important one for expanding the current dialogue on asexuality as a political movement and I highly recommend looking it up.

Tomorrow is the final day of the first every Asexual Awareness Week.  Overall, I am pleased with how this blog/site has been received and I hope it is just the first step in creating an awareness of asexuality within Beloit College.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Asexuality as Resistance

I should start my review of Ela Przybylo's Crisis and Safety: The Asexual in Sexusociety by confessing that a lot of the terminology used went over my head.  That being said, I believe this article (though flawed in some ways) makes a couple good and important points about the asexual identity.

Crisis and Safety appeared in the August 2011 issue of the Sage Publications Sexualities.  Przybylo's aim was to examine the asexual community through a postmodern and feminist lens.  She begins with a discussion of how asexuality is shown on daytime television shows.  This leads into a discussion of how sexual identity tends to be defined by the same essentialist model, where certain behaviors become "naturalized".  Przybylo approaches asexuality as a cultural construction but one with transgressive possibilities.

One observation that Przybylo makes is how the sexual world for asexuals is akin to the patriarchy for feminists and heteronormativity is to the LGBTQ community.  Asexuals are put in the category of "abnormal" and representations of asexual individuals, the few there are, are often portrayed as melancholy, lonely, sad, and just waiting for that "right" person to cure them of their ennui.  The importance our society places on sexuality is stifling to asexual individuals, who are constantly being told that they are lonely.  If they protest, they are seen as somehow putting on a show or lacking sincerity.

The idea of natural vs. unnatural cannot be reiterated enough, as it creates a very narrow vision of the world.  In her article, Przybylo points out both the subtle and not so subtle ways "normal" behavior is rewarded in society, usually with a privileged status.  Przybylo often refers to the theories of Foucault, particularly his views on the construction of power.  In Foucault's theory, power is everywhere and comes from everywhere.

Przybylo places a lot of emphasis on repetition and while she sometimes gets bogged down in postmodern language, the point is not completely lost.  She quotes Gayle Rubin's idea of the "hierarchical system of sexual value".  The importance our society places on sex is nothing short of complex and the pressure on asexuals to "blend in" with normal society cannot be overstated.  The pressure is not only on having sex, but the act itself must be incredibly enjoyable and must result in orgasm.

A side note that I feel important to state is Przybylo's observation that the DSM is a cultural product.  It should not be completely dismissed, but it should be remembered that as a product of a flawed culture, it is flawed as well.

One point that I do not entirely agree with is Przybylo's argument about the tool of confession, wherein individuals "confess" to others (family, friends, psychiatrists, etc.) in order to judge how closely our actions are to those of the "norm", thereby serving as a kind of correction.  Surely an individual can assert individuality without necessarily trying to fit into a society norm.  However, her next point I do agree with.  The person being confessed to acts as a kind of judge, trying to assert just how "true" this individual's desires are.  David Jay, the founder of AVEN, is often interviewed on TV and is almost always tested in some way to see just how genuine he is.  Przybylo points this out as the sexusociety attempting to correct what it sees as an incorrect repetition.

It is towards the end of the article that I believe Przybylo's argument is strongest and subsequently, most interesting.  She has an interesting theory that asexuality may be stigmatized and ignored because it shows the flaws in sexusociety.  Our media and popular culture has become so oversaturated with sexualized images that we may not have a clear idea of what sex is anymore.  Przybylo cites Baudrillard when she states that "it is the oversaturation of sexuality that is indicative, in part, of its absence" (451).

Asexuality could be threatening to sexuality because it calls for a better definition of it.  It encourages a reattachment to sexuality.  It can be viewed as a challenge to redefine the borders of sexuality and reinvigorate a genuine sense of self and sex.

The final point that Przybylo makes that I feel is important to take away is the need to do away with the reactive definition of asexuality.  Instead of focusing on what they lack, asexuals should focus on the new discourses they can bring to our understanding of what constitutes sexuality.  The community can show that living differently is possible.  Asexuals have already begun to create their own language with romantic orientations, which is a powerful statement.

Przybylo's article is another one that is worth looking up.  It demonstrates that an identity cannot be defined by what it lacks, but rather what it offers.

Tomorrow, I will review an article that offers a feminist point of view on asexuality.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Asexuality as an Identity

In the October 2008 issue of Sexualities, a fascinating article by Kristin S. Scherrer appeared entitled Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire.  In it, Scherrer explored the many dimensions of the asexual identity based on a survey she conducted online.  Through this, she revealed many of the complexities of the asexual identity and also some of the flaws of previous research.

One of the main flaws that is approached right away is that researchers have been focusing almost solely on categorizing asexuality as either a behavior (lack of sex) or a desire (lack of wanting sex).  Through this, asexuality is labeled and seen as a bodily dysfunction that requires medical intervention or as a psychological disorder that requires therapy to remedy.  Most of the early writings on asexuality view it as being negative.  Scherrer advocates steering away from this method and instead focus on asexuality as an identity.  If asexuality is viewed as a legitimate identity, it may motivate social and political action similar to other marginalized identities.

Scherrer's article has some interesting insights, though it is by no means exhaustive.  I recommend looking it up if you are interested in the asexual identity and it is certainly a good place to start.  Scherrer lays out the different aspects of identity, how people engage in it, and how asexuals define it.  A wide spectrum of asexuals responded to the survey, giving an interesting mix of romantic and aromantic individuals.  She also touched on the important topic of what constitutes sexual behavior from the asexual standpoint.  For example, there are some asexuals that engage in masturbation while others view this as a sexual behavior and therefore have no desire to partake in it.

Another important point made in this article is the relationship of asexuality to essentialist notions, which, no surprise, is incredibly complicated.  The essentialist argument relies heavily on the notions of "natural" and "unnatural".  This can be a double-edged sword.  Asexuality lacks legitimization and acceptance from most of society because human beings are "naturally" sexual beings.  Just like the LGBTQ community was once viewed as "unnatural", the asexual community is facing a similar uphill battle.  However, LGBTQ used the essentialist argument to gain legitimacy when they argued that their sexual identities were "natural" (i.e. sexual desire is not a choice).  Asexuals could use a similar argument and many do focus on how their asexuality is just a natural part of who they are.

The use of language plays a big part of the asexual identity and many asexuals struggle with finding an appropriate language.  This identity is different in that it kind of revolves around a lack of sexuality.  The internet has been a great help to the asexual community and many individuals have found acceptance and been able to accept their asexuality through the help of such online communities as AVEN.

Perhaps the most interesting finding/observation in Scherrer's article is the high occurrence of bisexuality in the asexual community, which could be the result of gender not being particularly important within the asexual community.  Scherrer's survey found a high percentage of bisexuality, higher than even found in surveys conducted in the gay and lesbian community.  Scherrer believes this provides an insight into the construction of the asexual identity.

It is interesting that when you remove sexual attraction, it removes the need to use gender as a definition in a relationship.  In sexual relationships, the aspect of gender tends to be central.  In asexuality, it appears to not be quite as important.  However, more research will have to be done in order to make any definitive statements.

Perhaps Scherrer's most important conclusion is how the lack of visibility and awareness is preventing its inclusion in legitimate sexual orientations and thereby acting as a barrier to political action.

Scherrer's findings and observation are fascinating and like I mentioned earlier, I recommend looking it up if you are interested in the asexual identity.