“[Y]ou have to go through a lot of sex to get to anti-sex.
Valérie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto
Here’s a thought experiment conceptualized by a Redditor: What if all queer people became asexual, and vice versa?
The answers are revealing. “Honestly, there would be a lot more respect in relationships,” one user said. “Magazines will finally start talking about interesting topics!!!” says another.
Others predict a form of reverse oppression, where a queer minority would be stigmatized – even criminalized – for their desires. Some are downright dystopian: ‘The world wouldn’t be a better place…rape can actually happen more as people try to force sexual attraction back,’ noted an asexual person – comparing how it happens already in aces today.
The varied responses all point to different aspects of how our culture approaches sexuality as a whole. Our blocks around sex make relationships unequal and dangerous; popular culture becomes oversaturated and, dare we say, boring; people are pathologized based on their desires (or lack thereof); and finally, violence is a means of imposing subjugation through sex.
What if we started to decenter sex? This is the radical question we are forced to confront once we begin to recognize asexuality as a real identity deserving of a place in this world – an identity that makes it queer for the way it subverts normative sexuality. , and dares to imagine a world where we free ourselves from its baggage entirely.
All this to say: asexuality is radical, queer, and can reshape the world.
Related to The Swaddle:
How asexual people feel excluded from gay spaces, which complicates their identity
“No one has sexual freedom until we are all free to be sexual (to experience sexual subjectivity independent of sexual contact) – or not, as we feel, as it suits us and when it suits us. “, writes CJ DeLuzio Chasin in an article published in Feminist Studies. This goes to the heart of why asexuality has liberating potential. As ‘autonomous sexuality’, as some have said, it emphasizes the need to reclaim sexual agency – in a form that does not take sex for granted.
Take, for example, the adage that sex sells. It supersaturated media and consumption – so that sex is commodified and transactional, changing the way people perceive their own bodies and, by extension, self-perceptions. It’s based on the assumption that everyone is fundamentally interested in sex – having it, watching it, being influenced by it. It is an interest that has been activated and turned against us on an industrial scale. Mainstreaming asexual awareness would not just reverse this – it would help reclaim sexuality to be as autonomous, diverse and fluid as individuals desire.
Moreover, asexuality as an idea disrupts some fundamental assumptions about the world. Take the term ‘sexual orientation’ itself – used to mean who one is attracted to. What about those who are not sexually oriented at all?
Many even defend the asexual theory – a theory that does not study asexuality, but studies from the point of view of asexuality.
Despite all of this, asexuality remains marginalized even within queer circles, where it is an issue that informs much organizing and thinking.
Think, for example, of the number of aspects of life that are guided by the assumption of sexual desire and, therefore, sexual performance. Sexual desirability can be racist, classist and exclusive – it sorts people into a hierarchy. Sexual performance is imposed, charged with commodifying oneself with commodities sold by entire industries dedicated to it. Cosmetics, clothing, surgery and even pharmaceuticals are dedicated to enhancing the performative aspect of sexuality. The spaces are designed with the intention of facilitating sexual engagement.
The primacy of sex categorizes relationships into those bounded by the presence or absence of sex – such as strict dividing lines between friends and lovers. Even marriage is an institution based on the assumption of procreative (and recreational) sexual intercourse between two people in perpetuity. Given how much sex commands the way we live – in what some have called “compulsory eroticism” – asexuality is a starting point for questioning sex itself as a social construct. When we move on from there, we begin to encounter feminism and homosexuality that further disrupts the status quo.
Related to The Swaddle:
Asexuality is a sexual orientation, not a disorder
“Our experiences with sexuality have not been consistent with our feminist values…As we became aware of this within ourselves, we became painfully aware of how we were being objectified by others. ‘asexuality is an outgrowth of that awareness,’ says Lisa Orlando, who wrote the manifesto on asexuality. Orlando exposes the many sexual myths that dictate how people conduct relationships. One of these myths is that libido is innate to human nature; others include the positioning of sex as the ultimate expression of closeness or love in a relationship. These, one way or another, lead to coercive sex – a relationship that no one may enforce, but many people experience, inevitably leading to hurtful, even harmful sexual experiences.
An asexual consciousness recognizes that none of these are inherently true for human beings: that relationships can be nurturing and close without sex, and that happiness is possible without a sexual relationship with another person.
“Asexuality does not simply require others to accept the relationships that asexuals have with each other. Asexuality requires that other people, even those who are not asexual themselves, actively participate in different types of relationships,” says a member of an asexuality forum.
Although largely neglected by queer and feminist theory, some researchers in the asexual community have begun to ask: is this neglect based on fear? “Asexuality encourages us to rethink the centrality of sex in feminist and queer politics, and to critically consider what has been at stake in the neglect of asexual articulations and perspectives by queer theory and the feminist movement”, say Ela Przybylo and Danielle Cooper, two asexual queer theorists.
“But it is less that queerness should be expanded or revised to include asexuality than that queerness should be reworked and redesigned from an asexual perspective,” they add.
Asexual consciousness can therefore even be politically subversive. Asexuality helps identify how sex is regulated, sanctioned, imposed, and used as an instrument of control. And by helping us achieve this, it liberates not only asexual people, but all people struggling with sexuality itself. That is to say: everyone.