A couple of weeks ago we watched the documentary film (A)sexual, which explores the ideas and judgment surrounding the sexual identity of asexuality. The documentary primarily followed David Jay, one of the most prominent advocates for the recognition of asexuality as an identity. At the foundation of his explanation was understanding that intimacy doesn’t have to mean the same thing as sex—and that romantic relationships can exist without the desire for what most people classify as sex.
Much like several of the interviewees at the beginning of (A)sexual, I have had very little exposure to the concept and meaning of asexuality. Although not skeptical of people who identify as asexual, I have a difficult time understanding the varieties of the asexual identity—the difference between those who desire romance and who don’t, those who masturbate and those who don’t, etc. When I am exposed to something that I don’t understand, I try to listen and learn as much about the concept before passing judgment, if at all. However, I think that deciding whether or not you approve of someone’s identity is completely inappropriate. The members of The View were incredibly judgmental in how they gawked at David Jay and asked extremely offensive and personal questions of his lifestyle and identity. As he was being interviewed, one of the women on The View tried to explain his sexuality to him: “well, maybe it’s just repressed sexuality, rather than that you’re just a normal guy walking around…It’s repressed, because you don’t want to face what the sexuality might look like” (The View). A common theme in the film was that people who didn’t know about asexuality were extremely reactive, whether immediately negative or indifferent about the concept of asexuality.
One of the people interviewed, Dan Savage, seems to claim his education of asexuality and has decided that he is the authority on whether or not asexuality is “real”.
“For somebody who’s pro-sexuality, 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. It looks like such a dodge from outside. I know—from experience—and I know from giving people advice about their sex life for 18 years that a lot of people are deeply conflicted about their desires and people are really conflicted about their sexual orientations… and for a lot of these people it’d be easier to just not have a sexual orientation… it’d be a great escape to say ‘oh, I’m not gay, I’m not lesbian, I’m not bi… sexuality is so disturbing to me because my kinks are this and this and this… that I’m just asexual, I’m just nothing’” (Dan Savage).
He claims asexuality is a type of cop-out; a way to ignore complicated personal sexuality. By saying this, he completely invalidates people who identify as asexual (different than celibacy.) He also cites feeling “challenged” by asexuals, as if they threaten his identity as a sexual person. Not only is does this seem selfish, but as someone who proclaims himself a scholar it is very ignorant—in the film, he acts more like the people at the pride parade refusing to be near the AVEN group for fear of “what they stand for” rather than an educated critic and scholar. Even though I have minimal overlapped experiences with people like David Jay and Swank Ivy, I am in no position to criticize their personal journey.
It seems as though those who identify as asexual have to work much harder to get others to acknowledge their sexual agency—their ability to express desires (or lack thereof) without feeling inhibited or challenged by what society believes they should desire. In some ways it reflects “down low” culture, because asexuals often choose to participate in sexual relations with others, regardless of their genuine desires. In down low culture, the way men express their sexuality to society is different than their sexual behavior.
It is intriguing to me how much discrimination can exist within marginalized communities. One of the scenes that was most surprising in the film was when the AVEN group attended San Francisco’s pride parade. Many of the attendees– most of whom were there to celebrate their own non-heterosexual identity– were not open to learning about asexuality, and, in some cases, seemed to fear AVEN group. At pride parades, alternate identities are acknowledged and celebrated, but the thing that most LGBTQI communities share is that they are all sexual beings. Because these groups have fought for visibility for so long, it’s possible that the presence of an asexual identity within non-normative sexualities feels threatening. On the YouTube channel KindaGayBlog, there is a video that discusses many of the questions and critiques that I have about asexual classification. (starting at 1:48). He addresses the issue of how society groups together all non-heterosexual communities, as if each of their struggle to achieve recognition is the same. Not only do asexuals have to fight to be considered a part of non-normative groups, but they must also seek the approval and legitimization of others given their unique struggle.
I have not had significant exposure to the meaning and stigmatization surrounding asexuality, so I am still learning about asexuality as an alternate, and real, sexual identity. Do you believe that asexuality is on its way to gaining more significant recognition, or do you think that it will maintain its position in the background of non-normative identities? Do you think asexuality belongs in the LGBTQ, etc. alphabet, or is asexuality a range of categories all on its own?