Asexual Is Queer And Gatekeeping Is Not Liberation
Asexuality would also be better understood if we expanded and reformed our understanding of queerness itself.
“Pursuing an understanding of queerness as an absence of or an aversion to sex might include figures deemed unnatural for their lack of a natural desire—a host of saints, dandies, frigid women, isolated children, and awkward teens. Although the absence of sex is certainly an important aspect of queer historical experience, it has not received much critical attention, perhaps for the somewhat banal reason that it is not very sexy.”
—Heather Love, “Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History”
Coffee, ice cream, and alcohol. These are three things that always elicit a look of shock, horror, and disbelief or even an audible gasp whenever someone learns that I don’t like them. How can you not like coffee? But everyone likes ice cream, it’s delicious! So you don’t like any kind of alcohol? They either pity me or become irrationally angry about my aversions—which I did not consciously choose to have. They try to convince me that I simply haven’t tried coffee, ice cream, or alcohol in the right way yet, and they pressure me to try it again at some undetermined point in the future. Sometimes it feels like moral outrage. Sometimes it feels like they have instantly become offended, either because they assume that I have insulted something that brings them great pleasure, comfort, and joy or because they think I’m judging them. I’m not. I have simply tried these things—on multiple occasions, with different flavors, and in various situations—and I have determined that I don’t like them and I currently have no interest in trying them again, in any iteration. This is apparently a difficult thing for most people to grasp, and I have seen similar reactions when people learn about asexuality.
Sex is not a human necessity or obligation (and neither is romance). Sex is not universally desired and sexual attraction is not a universal experience. People on the asexuality spectrum acknowledge and embody these unpopular truths, and we are ostracized for it. Not only do we have our very existence questioned by a dominant society which cannot stretch its imagination far enough to believe in the validity of orientations outside of those deemed normal, but we are also often denied space in the very community that takes pride in the challenging of those norms. Asexual is queer, but many queer allosexuals spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to convince us otherwise and actively trying to shut us out of the queer spaces that should be safe havens for everyone with (ethical) non-normative sexualities and attractions.
So many people see queerness as being principally defined by which gender(s) one has a sexual and/or romantic affinity towards (or which gender(s) one is). Historically, this is largely how it has been defined and understood, by both queer and cishetero folks. They have only understood queerness through the non-normative performances of and attractions related to sex (and gender), not through the denial or subversion of these performances and attractions. It is my belief that asexuality would be better understood if we collectively expanded and reformed our cultural notions about sex, intimacy, and relationships, and even prescribed gender roles in relation to these things (an essay for another time).
Asexuality would also be better understood if we expanded and reformed our understanding of queerness itself. Over the last few years, it has become increasingly clear to me that far too many people largely define queerness in the same problematic way that many define Black womanhood—by how many harms and heartbreaks we are faced with and by how much danger we are in on a daily basis. I cannot begin to express how dangerous and counterproductive it is to define queerness by our suffering. I’ve had my queerness invalidated and witnessed others have theirs invalidated by self-proclaimed queer experts citing the dangers allosexual queer identities face for being out or not “passing” as straight and/or cis, making all sorts of assumptions about what traumas I may or may not have and how they may or may not be wrapped up with my asexuality.
Related: HOW THE COLONIAL HISTORY OF HYPERSEXUALIZATION OBSCURES THE POSSIBILITY OF BLACK ASEXUALITY
Conceiving of queerness in this way is in direct contradiction with the project of queer liberation. The point is to normalize queerness so that none of us have to endure, survive, or die from these abuses—whether institutional, individual, interpersonal, structural, public, or private. It is not to define our queerness by whether or not we have experienced these abuses “enough” to be considered authentic. Gatekeeping is not queer liberation. It only serves to reproduce the same harms as compulsory cisheteronormativity.
I remain in awe of the cognitive dissonance necessary for queer gatekeepers to insist that asexuals are not queer while simultaneously participating in the discrimination and invalidation that alienates us. There are multiple truths that they must conveniently ignore or overlook in order to deny the real and present pressures and hazards of compulsory sexuality, as if they are not just as abiding—if not more so—than those associated with compulsory cisheterosexuality. How easily they evade the truth of how often they have partaken in or witnessed the infantilizing, shaming, chastising, and abusing of those who opt-out of the socially prescribed compulsions of traditional sexual and/or romantic entanglements.
Queer allosexuals have been spectators to asexual queering as much as cishetero allosexuals have, and they have even been participants in many of the moments in which we have been queered by virtue of our disinterest in sex and/or dearth of sexual attraction. We have always been identified as non-normative in a sex-focused society of people unwilling to consider perspectives on, attitudes towards, and experiences with sex and sexuality outside of their own as possible and valid. Perceived as betrayers and failures of our social scripts, asexuals have been pressured to contort, deprive, and sacrifice pieces of ourselves in order to make others more comfortable with our existence—so that they might find some relief from their anxiety of uncertainty about which unimaginative box to put us in.
Though it does not and should not define us, so many queer folks know the feeling of a crushed, dying spirit that comes from feeling forced, coerced, and threatened into performing a sexuality that is simply not a part of your natural way of existing. We know, intimately, the wreckage that it leaves behind, and what it’s like to spend a lifetime trying to heal our accumulated wounds. Asexuals know this torment. We know it all too well. It is both disingenuous and damaging to say that asexuals have not been read, understood, and constructed as queer, as uncomfortable subversions and perversions of society’s sexual and relational norms, even as our right to claim our queerness is continually challenged—sometimes especially by the ones who should be supporting us the most. Asexual is queer, and the world will never be able to convince me that it isn’t.
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