People have always resisted ideas which fall outside of socially constructed binaries. It makes us feel uneasy to not be able to categorize everything in our lives into neat, separate spaces. One half of this binary is typically viewed as “good” or “acceptable” while the other is “bad” or “deviant”. What about nonconforming individuals? People who are outside of the binary all together? Most people think sexuality is fundamental humanity as illustrated by this House clip. Indeed, if it is a large part of our human identity, then it must exist, right? For people outside of the realm of sexuality all together, challenging this binary based on the existence of sexuality can cause dis-ease among those who fit and thus encourage a search for the “reason” behind asexuality.
This likely goes back to what Fisher describes as a dualistic culture of sexual morality: purity or pollution (38-44). This binary demands that some acts or identities are right (pure), while others are inherently wrong (polluted). The next logical jump assumes that those who are deviant or polluted will likely contaminate others and will “spoil” those who are right, normal, or pure. But, who decides which group is pure or polluted? Obviously the majority, or perceived majority, gets to set the standards and create the binaries and limitations. It is always a reflection of power dynamics and those in positions of power get to make the rules and decide who is polluted and thus dangerous. Asexuals, who definitely fall outside of the norm are limited by this pollution/purity thinking. They are repressed or dismissed as liars because their existence challenges our conception of what it means to be human.
Asexuals, defined by the documentary (A)Sexual are individuals who do not feel sexual desire or attraction to anyone at all. They are not simply homosexuals in the closet, people with repressed sexuality, individuals who are just too “inexperienced” to know what they want, or liars. They are people with a legitimate sexuality, it just happens to challenge everything we think we know about human nature. How is it possible that someone could have the sexuality of not having any sexuality? For me, it is similar to how I understand atheism. They are people who believe in not believing in religion at all. Not too big of a cognitive leap for me personally, but some cannot accept this identity. Although the film lacks a firm conviction to embracing asexuality, as the founder and main character eventually ends up searching for a sexual relationship, it brings up some very important and surprising problems and discrimination that asexuals face.
Surprisingly, even sex columnist Dan Savage, a prominent speaker in the documentary (A)Sexual, pushes back against the existence and rights of asexuals. Oddly, for a sex columnist, he seems to be especially resistant to all non-heterosexual identities. This quote, in which he challenges the rights of asexuals, illustrates both his homophobia and his incredulity at the existence of asexuality.
“Well it’s funny to think about, you’ve got the gays marching for the right to be cocksucking homosexuals, and then you have the asexuals marching for the right to not do anything. Which is hilarious. Like, you didn’t need to march for that right. You just need to stay home, not do anything.”
Clearly Savage is resistant to accepting asexuality, he says himself later in the film that “it feels weird to be challenged to embrace a lack of any sexual urge, or impulse, or desire as a kind of sexuality all by itself.”
I am sure this comment represents the dis-ease that many individuals face when forced to think outside of the carefully constructed binary founded on the guaranteed existence of sexuality as part of what it means to be human. However, he is wrong both in his presentation of this belief and in the belief itself. This resistance is likely based in an irrational fear that asexuality might challenge the majority and create social chaos. Indeed, if asexuality became the norm, the human race would cease to exist. But, this assumes purity/pollution thinking which is highly irrational. Accepting asexuality as an identity will not lead to the spread of asexuality. They will not “contaminate” the rest of the population.
This irrational thinking can be seen throughout the film. Even as someone who fits nicely into most binaries, I felt uncomfortable listening to his chaffing opinions. His homophobia was evident in comments like “the right to be cocksucking homosexuals” and his general attitude throughout the film. He was very dismissive of identities other than his own, and particularly judgmental of asexuality. He finds it “hilarious” that people would need to march for the right to “not do anything.” Although it is true that you do not necessarily need to march for the right to be asexual, he definitely missed the boat. The point was not that they were seeking the right to be asexual, but rather, they wanted to be visible and recognized by the larger community as legitimate humans with the right to be sexual, or rather not to be sexual, on their own terms. They joined the march to educate people who doubt their existence or have never even considered that perhaps not everyone is wired a sexual being. It is part of our nature to want to be understood by others, accepted, and not questioned about our every decision, action, and preference. For asexuals, marching was to bring attention to their very existence, not because the needed the right to not exhibit sexuality.
They have the right, as humans, to form communities based around whatever identity they chose, and they have the right to have that identity understood and heard of, if not accepted, by society at large. Bigots like Dan Savage might have missed the point, but others were impacted and intrigued by the existence of asexuality as a sexual identity and have grown because of their decision to march for the right to be understood. They were resisting the norms of society and demanding recognition while pushing against this irrational fear that their existence might pollute the world and create a generation of asexuals.
Why do you think this purity and pollution argument still persists? How can we resist the temptation to fear that which we do not understand? How can we ignore prominent voices like Dan Savage and instead focus on what matters, listening to people and respecting their right to exist?