The August 2014 Carnival of Aces is on The Unassailable Asexual. The Pure Asexual. The Gold-Star Asexual. True Asexuals. Real Asexuals.
These are all terms to describe the kinds of asexuals that meet whatever qualifiers someone has set for what makes up an asexual.
There is an agreement on what makes someone an asexual that is widely agreed on. “Does not experience sexual attraction”. Few people dispute that definition. The problem is that there are so many people out there that have decided there are other qualifiers to being considered a “real” asexual. Not only must you not experience sexual attraction, you must also not masturbate. Or have sex with your partner for any reason. Or you must never have been raped or traumatized. Or you must not be physically impaired or its probably the physical impairment that’s causing the asexuality, you’re not a real asexual in those people’s eyes.
The Unassailable Asexual, the Pure Asexual, the Gold-Star Asexual…I don’t think such a person actually exists, anywhere. The goal-posts are constantly moved on us, and if you meet one random stranger’s requirements for respecting the validity of your identification, there will be another whose standards you do not live up to.
You know why there is not, and can never be a true Unassailable, Gold-Star Asexual? Because of one contradictory dichotomy you’ll be caught between. That Inescapable Dichotomy is:
“You can’t know you’re really an asexual until you’ve tried sex.”
“Real asexuals would never have sex with someone.”
It seems like these wouldn’t be common enough to trap everyone, but I’ve heard those two things probably more than any other myth about asexuality. And they are mutually-exclusive; that is you can never fit into both groups, never meet both criteria.
“Real Orientation” is not a concept that’s unique to asexuality. As far as I know, people of all sexual orientations are subjected to these kinds of outside (and sometimes inside) qualifiers. Bisexual? “You’ve never dated someone of the same sex? Call yourself a bisexual after you’ve had a girlfriend then.” Lesbian? “If you were a real lesbian you’d have never slept with a man.” Straight? “No guy who’s slept with another man before is really straight. I mean come on.”
We’re in good company, with everyone else who’s human and not sorted into easy neat little boxes and subjected to the scrutiny of the ignorant and judgmental.
What kind of effect does this unrealistic scrutiny have on those of who are caught between its pincers? I can only speak about asexuality, and the experience I’ve had with Real Asexual™ scrutiny myself.
Has it made it more difficult for me to accept my asexual identity? Heck yes. I meet the idea of the Real Asexual™ better than many people. My only points of assailability are my health problems and the Inescapable Dichotomy. My youth (“you’re just a late bloomer!”) is fading away into my mid-twenties, and once you’re in your thirties, you’re one hell of a late bloomer.
So it’s not because I’m especially vulnerable to accusations of not being a Real Asexual™ that makes the scrutiny damage my ability to accept my orientation. It’s because, seeing asexuals constantly under attack, constantly being scrutinized for evidence that we aren’t “really” asexual, I have to have my identity constantly assailed and scrutinized as well. So what if my asexuality stands up to scrutiny? So what if it endures being assailed and repulses all would-be attackers? Some would-be-expert on asexuality gives me a nod and concedes that well yes, I really am an asexual and get to call myself such.
Whoopty-freakin’-do. The feeling that I have no control over what I get to identify as remains. The feeling that others get to decide my sexual orientation remains. The underlying fear that I will slip up and something arbitrary will make people decide that I am a liar and not really asexual remains.
The very feeling of an identity as something you choose and that’s based on your knowledge of yourself and what best fits you, is assailed, whether your identity stands up to others’ scrutiny well.
Does this constant scrutiny cause me to not feel comfortable talking about certain things about myself and my experiences? Heck yes. Look right up there where I go with the very vague “has health problems”. Were I to go into specifics on aspects of my physical and mental health, someone out there would decide that I am not really an asexual and some medical treatment could “fix” me of what they “know” is really wrong with me and is “causing” my asexuality. There are other experiences, thoughts, doubts, that I don’t feel comfortable sharing or talking about because, while most asexuals would understand and not take them as Proof! That! Ace in Lace is Lying! I do intend my blog and writing to be for general audiences, people of any orientation.
Which brings us to what we, those in the asexual community, can do to deal with the idea of the Unassailable, Gold-Star, Real, Pure Asexual. We can keep on doing what we’re doing.
Because Gold-Starism is something that affects people of all orientations. But asexuals are in a particularly vulnerable situation, because they are not just trying to fit into a preconceived notion of what an asexual is, they’re also trying to convince people that asexuality is a real orientation. When we fail to live up to the Unassailable Asexual standard, it’s not just our right to identify that’s invalidated, it’s often asexuality’s very existence that’s invalidated along with it.
Many people only know one asexual, and when that asexual fails to meet the criteria they’ve made up for what a real asexual person would be like, they dismiss the entire orientation.
“The only person I know that’s asexual is Jill, and she’s on anti-depressents, that are probably killing her sex drive. Plus she was raped. I don’t think asexuality is really a thing–there’s other reasons why these people identify as that. They have a low sex drive, or they’re just repressed, or something.”
So we have to keep on doing what we’re doing. We have to keep spreading information, increasing visibility, making asexuality something people see as valid, rather than as something they want to find an excuse to tear down because it’s easier than expanding their worldview.
We also need to promote better education on human sexuality in general, so that people better understand that things are not always simple or black-and-white in regards to sexuality and orientation. So that people understand that sexuality can be fluid and human behavior does not always match with people’s attraction or orientation. We need to promote all research into human sexuality, because there is still so much that we don’t know, even in areas of academic interest that are far older than asexuality.
We need to continue to provide support for other asexuals and make it clear that outside definitions of what makes up a “real” asexual are neither wanted nor needed. We already have a definition that works very well and encompasses a deep understanding of the nuances of human sexuality. We have given it more thought than any random passer-by.