Sunday, January 21, 2018

Finding My (Asexual, Straight, Married) Place in the Queer Community

A pillow that says "Queer Enough" with the colors of the asexual flag. Image source.
So I've been identifying as ace for about a year, and I've found this really good group of queer people here in Shanghai. That's great, but I still find myself unsure of where exactly I'm supposed to fit in, in the queer community. And whether or not it's useful or meaningful for a group to "be inclusive."

Long before I realized I was ace, I was very interested in queer issues and supporting queer people and being an ally (and before that, I was very interested in queer issues because I wanted to "hate the sin, love the sinner" and be Andrew Marin). Coming out as ace means my relationship to the queer community has changed. I'm no longer "just an ally"- I actually am queer. But what does that really mean? I feel like I don't have much in common with my queer friends.

Let's go through all the reasons this is confusing:

Being an ally is a totally different role than being queer.
When I was "just an ally," my role, in the context of a queer space, was to listen to queer people. But now that I actually am queer, that means I have a right to do more than just listen- to actually take up space and have my opinions be heard. Right? But should I really do that? A lot of queer people have it much harder than I do- I'm lucky in that I don't need to be "out"; all my acquaintances and random strangers in public can just assume I'm heterosexual and it doesn't matter to me. In queer discussions, I don't want to take up space that should belong to those who experience more discrimination than I do. Right?

But aren't we all allies on some issues?
I wonder if it's even useful to be so "inclusive"- to try to bring together all the letters, L, G, B, T, Q, I, A, and any other letters, and put them all in one big group as if they all have something in common. For every queer issue, there will be some people in the queer community that aren't affected by it at all. For example, legalizing same-sex marriage doesn't affect me. I'm married to a man, and nobody ever said I shouldn't legally be allowed to get married, or any crap like that. So on that specific issue, I'm "just an ally." And every queer person is "just an ally" sometimes. Nobody is L, G, B, T, Q, I, and A.

I feel like I have to be the asexual representative, so I downplay other aspects of my identity.
A lot of people, even in the queer community, don't know very much about asexuality. In this Shanghai queer group I'm in, people are very nice and "inclusive" and interested in learning more, and any time some topic comes up which affects aces in a unique way that other people may not know about, I feel like I should give the "ace perspective" on it. It's so important to me to be visible as an ace in this group, and educate them about ace things. But that means I emphasize my ace identity over other aspects- like the fact that I'm straight, I'm married, and I do have sex. As if those aspects are "not queer" and therefore I shouldn't take up space talking about them in the queer community. (Same-sex marriage isn't legal in China. Should I really be talking about my marriage, when most people in this group don't even have the right to get married?)

And I don't really tell them I identify as straight.
In queer spaces, I make such a big deal about being asexual, sometimes I forget I'm also straight. (I experience romantic attraction and sensual attraction. A LOT.) I tell them I'm married to a man, but I don't usually say the word "straight." Why? Maybe because there's this assumption "the straight people in our group are allies" as if people can't be both queer and straight. Maybe because we all roll our eyes when some ignorant person is like "but what about straight pride?" I feel like I actually do need to embrace my straight identity more- but that's not something I'm going to bring up in a group of mainly LGB people.

Which has more of an effect on my life- being straight or being ace?
Being straight. Like, I'm married to a man, I love him so much, occasionally I discover some male character in a movie is super attractive and I want to look at him, occasionally I have crushes on men who are not my husband. I'm straight. (I just don't get why, of all the activities one could do with an attractive person, stimulating each other's genitals is assumed to be at the top of everyone's list. Like, why that, specifically? So arbitrary.) And if society believed it was completely normal to be gay, bi, ace, aro, straight, whatever, that all orientations (both sexual and romantic) were completely fine and normal and you shouldn't assume you know someone's orientation unless they've explicitly told you, then I guess I would be more vocal about being straight than ace. But that's not the world we live in, and I have to put more emphasis on the ace aspect of my identity because it's so hard to find the support and resources I need for that, and because other people don't even know it's a thing and I want to educate them. Because heterosexual heteroromantic is seen as the default, and it's only worth mentioning the ways that I differ from that standard.

But really there's no reason I should imagine there's a conflict between being asexual, straight, and married.
It's almost like I have this subconscious belief that aro aces are "more asexual" than me, or that aces are "supposed to" not date at all, or that "real" aces don't have sex. Which is just ridiculous. It makes no sense to say one person is "more asexual" than another, or that my asexuality is not valid because I'm married and I do have sex, or any nonsense like that. And maybe I feel that way because probably some members of this queer group, who don't know much about asexuality, would assume those things are true, and I'm trying to "prove" my aceness to them. Which, again, is ridiculous- I shouldn't concern myself with making sure every single person in the group understands exactly what my identity is. It's enough to have a few close friends in this group who get it. I don't have to prove myself to everybody.

This queer group isn't really able to give me support with the ace-specific problems I have.
So my biggest problem, as an asexual, is that I want to have sex with my husband but it's confusing as hell. I really would like advice from other aces about how to have sex, and how to know when I should say no because it won't be good for our marriage if I try to force myself to do it when I don't want to. I know of two other aces in this group, but I'm pretty sure they are both single. So nobody in the group is in a situation similar to mine.

But statistically, a lot of aces are in similar situations. They just wouldn't necessarily seek out a queer group.
Statistically, a lot of people are straight, and a lot of people are married. And so, (assuming the variables are independent) it must be very common for aces to be married to a partner of the opposite gender. Most people don't even know that asexuality exists- so probably a lot of these straight married aces don't even know they're ace. And even if they did know, why would they join an LGBTQIA group? The vast majority of queer issues discussed in the group don't affect them at all.

So the point is this: If I hadn't already been an ally to the queer community, I wouldn't have any reason to attend this group.
I've been interested in queer issues and queer rights for a LONG time, though I have only been identifying as queer for a year. I've spent a lot of time learning about things that affect gay people, bi people, trans people, etc. It's really important to me to support them. And so, I like this local queer group because I can meet more queer people and learn about the queer community in China, and I can help others understand what asexuality is. But if I just wanted to meet other asexuals and get support for the specific issues I have as an asexual, well... the group doesn't really do that. (Which isn't their fault, but when you're trying to be "inclusive" of so many letters, you can't spend too much time focusing on something that only affects one letter, right?)

Soooo yeah. I love this Shanghai queer group I've found, but I still don't know how I fit in. I know how to attend queer groups as an ally, but what is my place as an asexual? I'm straight and I'm married, so do I really have anything in common with the other queer members? If aces are queer, then straight married aces are queer. But how can I really count as queer if my straightness has more of a practical effect on my day-to-day life than my aceness?


This post is for the January 2018 Carnival of Aces. The topic for this month is identity.

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