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.

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