Asexuality, Oppression, and Placement

Asexuality seems to be the perpetual oddball when it comes to placing (a) & sexual orientations on a spectrum or scale.

Are asexuals straight or queer? Neither? Both? Some are straight and others are queer? Where do we put these people?

My main objection to the arguments I see in both directions is that people are speaking for other people, people whose group they do not belong to. Many non-asexuals seem to feel perfectly justified in defining asexuals’ place. They may feel fine throwing the identifier “queer” to homo, bi, and panromantic asexuals, while at the same time denying that place to heteroromantic asexuals and oddly enough, aromantic asexuals. Many see nothing wrong, erasing, or co-opting with the act of labeling some asexuals as “straight” (a term that to most exclusively means heterosexual) But non-asexuals are not the only ones to do this. Many asexuals feel fine defining the experiences and placement of other asexual sub-groups they do not belong to. In fact, it’s difficult to really discuss asexuality in a general way, because of the amount of sub-groups and distinctions. Romantically inclined or not? If so, how? Repulsed by sex, indifferent, or positive? No libido/drive or an energetic one? Perhaps one is even a gray-A or a demisexual.

This little cupcake ace is very happy to be part of a diverse group. However, I think it’s of vital importance that we remember that the only one’s definition we can fully define is our own. Feeling shut down, silenced, and shamed about your own experiences as a group is not a positive experience. I know from experience.

There’s one more thing I’d like to address. One common statement I see is that “Asexuals do not face oppression” and “asexuals do not face systematic oppression” used as a defense by people defining the asexuality and ace experience of other people. This may be a radical idea, but it’s actually pretty common for oppressed people to be told they are whining, that they not oppressed, that they have nothing to complain about. It is not uncommon for people to use tactics like claiming other people have it worse, and so trying to fix something “less serious” means you are a bad person and have nothing to complain about or try to fix.

For example… “Why are you complaining about equal pay when kids are starving? Isn’t that more important? Huh?”
Of course it’s important. Caring about about equal pay, gender discrimination, asexual problems, none of that excludes us from caring about other things. It doesn’t prevent us from work on those matters.

I am not, at the moment, going to make the arguments over whether some, all, or no asexuals are oppressed. What I will say is that oppression takes many forms, and I invite anyone making the argument to look at what oppression means.

the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.
an act or instance of oppressing.
the state of being oppressed.
the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, anxiety, etc.

As for the argument that asexuals may suffer from oppression, but not systematic oppression, which is somehow the only important kind? I remind you that many of the problems and discrimination asexuals face is from society as a whole, and from other people. Social oppression is a form of systematic oppression.

And please, for the loves of cupcakes, I am an asexual. A proud ace. My life, my experiences, are that of a happy little asexual. They are not the experiences of a heterosexual, or a homosexual. What I go through, what I think, what I feel, and what I live through, are lived through as an asexual. Don’t tell me that I what I go through, the challenges I face, my burdens, are not asexual challenges, asexual burdens. I am an unashamed asexual.


About Lasciel

Out, out, brief candle!
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10 Responses to Asexuality, Oppression, and Placement

  1. Pingback: Linkspam « Writing From Factor X

  2. Andrew says:


    Recently, I’ve not been really good at keeping up with everything going on in the asexoblogosphere, so I just found this. By discussion systematic oppression, I assume that you’re taking aim at my comments in this thread.

    If you want to say that asexuals as a group are oppressed, give me some concrete examples to demonstrate this and that would suggest that such examples result from systemic social issues and not simply isolated incidents. If you don’t have that, there is no point whatsoever of saying that asexuals or oppressed. Moreover, I have real fears that insisting that asexuals are oppressed, without any data to back up our claims, is going to result is us being seen an annoying and whiners.

    There are two important qualifications I want to make about what I’ve said on this matter. First, the issue is whether asexuals as asexual are oppressed (rather than because of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, or whatever else may intersect with their asexuality.) Second, systemic oppression is vitally important for understanding oppression. Some problems/bad things that happen are the result of systemic problems (ideological, legal, institutional, etc), but sometimes just random bad shit happens. You can’t do anything to prevent the latter, despite the current delusional campaign for a world without risk. Systemic problems, by contrast, you can do something about.

    Beyond that, I stand by my point, if you’re going to claim that asexuals are oppressed as asexuals, give me some evidence, not just raw speculation. Anyone who wants to claim that asexuals as a group are oppressed, the burden of proof is on them. I am not dogmatically committed to the claim that asexuals are not oppressed. Rather, I view my position as deserved skepticism. Give me some evidence, and I’ll change my mind (provided that the “evidence” doesn’t amount to redefining oppression in the broadest way possible.) In the absence of evidence, I have serious reservations about claiming that asexuals are oppressed.

    • Lasciel says:

      Hi! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Sorry to say, but I don’t go on Apositive at all. I’m strictly an AVEN, LJ, and blog acey.

      I also have absolutely no interest in arguing about whether asexuals are oppressed. That is not what this post is about, it is simply reminding people that they may not have the same experience as aces of other flavors (a heteromantic asexual for instance, is not personally affected by same-sex marriages being illegal in their state) .

      I can make a few points for the idea that asexuals are oppressed if you’ll tell me what factors, for instance, prove that homosexuals oppressed. Many people have different ideas of what constitutes oppression. I’d like to know yours.

      Oh, and have you read Derailing for Dummies? because telling people that they have to personally find proof that there group is oppressed is a very common derailing tactic.

      • Andrew says:

        I took a look at the link and have mixed feelings, especially given the context. I identify as asexual and have participated considerably in the asexual community, so I’m not coming at this as someone who doesn’t know much of anything about the issue. One the one hand, dismissing someone’s feelings and experiences is bad. On the other hand, if you’re making a claim beyond your own experiences (or experiences of others you know/have read about), then there is something to be said for having evidence to back up your opinions. A lot of those things strike me as being a way to defend your opinions from the very possibility of criticism.

        As for homosexuality, way back when, “sodomy” was illegal–here in the US the last of the sodomy laws were only struck down in 2003. Under the (now defunct) sexual psychopath laws, you could be locked up with the “criminally insane” for being gay. People were subjected to “aversion therapy.” Progress has been made, but there remains anti-gay violence: people killed for being gay, people bullied for being gay. In most places, gay marriage is illegal; besides the symbolic value, it also creates serious legal problems in terms of hospital visits, ownership, wills, etc. People have been fired from their jobs for being gay.

        There is one state (New York) that includes asexuality among its sexual orientations in a non-discrimination in housing and employment. No one is aware of any instance of this having ever been used.

        Asexuals do have difficulties on account of their asexuality, people not understanding them/being dismissive or offensive, and other things, and there is a lot of progress to be made in terms of visibility and education. I myself am active in trying to promote this. On the subject of oppression, I wrote a piece about it in AVENues a ways back, and there have been a few people who’ve responded critically of my position there. Not one of them has been able to give any evidence to support their position. Mage had made a thread about it in Apositive, and (in commenting in Sciatrix’s linksmap post linking to this one, said: “I got dismissed rather quickly there and started to think I might be alone in seeing asexual oppression.” It seems that the large majority of asexuals who’ve thought about the issue and talked about it disagreed with the idea that asexuals are oppressed.

        • Lasciel says:

          See, you say that most Ace’s disagree with the idea that asexuals are an oppressed group.
          The fallacy is that if you applied the same strict standards for oppression to homosexuality or many other commonly accepted as oppressed groups, they would also fail to qualify as oppressed.

          For instance, you mention the US sodomy laws. Those sodomy laws do not prove anti-homosexual sentiment in the slightest. The same laws outlawed sex between unmarried heterosexual couples, and against anal and oral sex between heterosexual couples, married or otherwise.

          You also mention anti-gay violence and bullying. However, what you really mean is violence against same-sex couples, who can be of any orientation, not just homosexual. Pansexuals, bisexuals, homoromantic asexuals, panromantic and biromantic asexuals, or even heterosexual couples that include a trans person.

          You mention “gay” marriage, and how that oppresses homosexuals. It equally oppresses… once again, bisexuals, pansexuals, romantic asexuals, heterosexual couples with a trans person, and people who may want to marry someone of the same sex for whatever reason.

          Do you see what I mean?

    • Brunhilda says:

      Well, I’d say asexuals are oppressed by first the heteropateriarchy, the expectation and social rule that people get married and have kids (same as for lesbians/gay, except hey, at least lesbians/gays have a sex drive, even if it’s not a heterosexual one), and now, in the modern age, we are oppressed by the social expectation that everyone wants to have sex, and pathologized as abnormal/physically ill and/or as some kind of religious liars (eg. someone who’s celibate/waiting until marriage and wants to force their religious views on everyone else), which is not what asexuality is.
      There’s also the issue of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as ‘any sexual advance that has been made known to be offensive, or which should be reasonably known to be offensive/unwelcome.’
      For example:

      Example 1:
      person A: “Hey person B, I want to stick my dick up your boobs and come on your face! Let’s go to the backroom and do it!”

      Example 2:
      Day 1:
      Person G: “Hey Person Q, do you want to go on a date?”
      Person Q: “No. I am a lesbian/married/asexual/not interested.”

      Day 2:
      Person G: “Hey Person Q, do you want to go on a date?”

      and etc. with the date asking all week/month/year long.

      What person A has said is OBVIOUS sexual harassment. What person G has done is sexual harassment after the first rejection.

      Now, for asexuals, a person hitting on them/attempting to get us to have sex/be involved in the precursor sex behavior (dating, kissing, holding hands, etc.) is going to feel like sexual harassment. Yes, the individual may not know we are asexual, but it’s still unwelcome, and it’s annoying to have to constantly try to find a way to make people leave us alone sexually, without having them treate us as social pariahs. This is literally the same issue that lesbians run into when straight men ask them out – the lesbians do not want the penis, but in our society, penis is advertised at women constantly.

  3. Andrew says:

    As far as I can tell, your point is that with enough logical maneuvering, you can make any position completely impervious to the very possibility of criticism. Point granted.

    On the issue of the oppression of other groups, fear, oppression, and hate generally don’t take great pain to be careful with who they hurt. Specifically on the subject of sodomy laws, some only targeted homosexual acts and some did not (I believe most did not). As I understand it, in actual practice, the main effect of such laws ended up being more blackmailing than anything else.

    • Lasciel says:

      Well I don’t know if that’s quite what I was trying to say 😛 One reason I’m not big on arguing whether X group is oppressed or not is that I’m not really big into the sociological viewpoint. I don’t like deciding something about a group and declaring it to be so for each member of that group. I’m more interested in individual’s experiences and problems.

      You know, I agree entirely with your second statement. Most people that are big on judging people that go outside the norms don’t quibble about the little differences. Queer asexual couples experience discrimination for being same-sex couples, and many in the asexual & LGBT community simply label this is as another instance of homosexual oppression & homophobia. This is another instance that is used as evidence that asexuals are not oppressed, since they argue that it is not discrimination against romantic asexuals, but against perceived homosexuality. I think the mistake in that sort of thinking is in believing that oppressors think like we in the LGBTIQQAA communities do, and that our oppressors are capable of making the same distinguishments between groups that we do. They do not. And as far as I can tell, they do not give free passes to any same-sex or perceived as such couples.

      For instance, many oppressors would be against a cis man and a trans woman marrying. Is this is an instant of homophobia, since they perceive the trans woman as “really” a man and thus as in a homosexual relationship? Or is it transphobia?

      If our oppressors are ignorant of the distinguishments we make, it does not lessen the oppression and discrimination in the slightest.

      Institutional oppression. Would teaching students that homosexuality is a mental disorder or an unhealthy dysfunction be an example of oppression? I’ve attended several high-level psychology classes where I’ve been taught that asexuality is not real and is an instance of delusion and repression, for which one should seek therapy. We have seen plenty of examples in daily life, in books, in scholarly articles, on TV (see recent Glee episode for example…) that all explain that it is normal and healthy to desire sex with other people. In other words, that asexuality is unhealthy and abnormal. Asexuality is not a legitimate orientation, quit being a prude man!

      I wonder how the same people can argue that asexuals are not oppressed, when if they heard someone tell a lesbian that she needed sex with a man to be “cured” they would agree that it was an example of gross homophobia. When we believe the treatment of homosexuality as a disease is proof of institutionalized oppression. When we react with horror at hearing someone say homosexuality is just a delusion and a choice. We hear all the same things about asexuals, but it’s not oppression when it happens to asexuals.

      Sorry, got a bit wordy there 😛 I swore I wasn’t going to argue that asexuals were or weren’t oppressed, but I guess when a topic is close to my heart I get on a roll.

      • Andrew says:

        I think that a big part of it is how you define oppression. If pressed, my gut feeling would simply be that things need to be really bad for me to label something as oppression (e.g. regularly subjected to violence, [unjust] incarceration, and possibly death). In general, I don’t think that the discussion of whether or not asexuals are oppressed is a helpful one. For insiders, it comes down to how high a bar you set for “oppression,” for outsiders if they set the bar at a level comparable to what (from discussions I’ve seen) most asexuals do as well, then they can correctly take the position that asexuals aren’t oppressed, which could have the problematic consequence that they dismiss the real issues that asexuals have, the way they find their experiences dismissed, how they are made to feel broken, invisible, etc. I simply don’t find “oppression” to be a useful way to communicate the problems that asexuals in our society often have.

        I don’t like deciding something about a group and declaring it to be so for each member of that group. I’m more interested in individual’s experiences and problems.
        For bare plural nouns in subject position where the predicate is saying something about them as a group, how many individuals in the group have to have that property vary a lot. (Lions have manes. [true, even though it only applies to adult males.] Lions give birth to live young. [true, even though only true for a subset of adult females]. Prime numbers are odd. [false because of a single counter-example].)

        • Lasciel says:

          One reason why discussing whether asexuals are oppressed or not is helpful is because when you can agree that something is an oppressive, discriminatory action or behavior, you can work towards people recognizing that said behavior is wrong and harmful.

          You mentioned denial of same-sex marriage as evidence of oppression earlier but it doesn’t meet the death-imprisonment-violence criteria. I suppose my criteria for an oppressed group is, any group which is treated unequally, as inferiors, or as second-class citizens by society as a whole. Do you think that is a good criteria for oppression, or do you think another term, such as “disadvantaged” might be more apt for asexuals?

          Women, for instance, may not be oppressed by certain standards (or the criteria you listed) but I do not think any one would deny they are at a disadvantage in society compared to men (lower pay, less leadership positions, perpetually struggling for reproductive rights and the right to serve in the armed forces)

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