Monday, May 14, 2018

To Learn About Asexuality, Definitely Read "The Invisible Orientation"

Book cover for "The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality." Image source.
Recently I read The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, by Julie Sondra Decker. It's a good book that gives a broad overview of what asexuality is. I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about asexuality.

To give you a general idea of what's covered in the book, here is a list of the chapters:
  1. "Part One: Asexuality" (basic definitions, as well as emphasizing the fact that asexuality is a real orientation and shouldn't be dismissed as a medical issue or a phase)
  2. "Part Two: Asexual Experiences" (about how asexuality intersects with other identities- romantic orientation, the queer community, polyamory, race, gender, trans/nonbinary, young/old, autism, disability, etc)
  3. "Part Three: The Many Myths of Asexuality" (refutes an huge list of misconceptions people often have about asexuality- for example, "Have Asexual People Just Not Met the Right Person?")
  4. "Part Four: If You're Asexual (Or Think You Might Be)" (advice about how to figure out if you're ace, coming out, how to handle people's negative reactions, etc)
  5. "Part Five: If Someone You Know Is Asexual (Or Might Be)" (how to support aces, what not to say, in particular how to react if your child comes out as asexual, or your partner)
  6. "Part Six: Other Resources"
I don't have the space here to talk about everything in the book, but I'll point out a few parts I found very insightful. For one thing, on page 64 there was a privilege checklist, which listed privileges that people who experience sexual attraction have, that aces do not have. For example, "Feeling sexual attraction or interest isn't considered a treatable mental illness by mainstream mental health professionals" and "People who are sexually attracted to each other can call their relationship romantic without frequent challenges to the relationship's legitimacy." I had never thought about this in terms of the privileges I don't have because I'm ace. It was really mind-blowing to see all these aspects- many of which DO affect my life- stated so clearly in a big list. Yes, there ARE ways I'm different from non-asexual people. And it is a big deal.

Additionally, there was a privilege checklist on page 65 for cisgender heterosexual people- privileges that aces and L, G, B, and T people do not have. For example, "Cis heterosexual people are not repeatedly told to have sex with people they're not attracted to so they can be 'sure,'" but many LGBT and aces are. So yes, aces do belong in the queer community.

Another interesting part was the list [on page 58] of various types of discrimination that affect asexuals:
  1. Consummation laws
  2. Adoption denial
  3. Employment discrimination and housing discrimination
  4. Discrimination by mental health professionals
  5. Lack of marriage equivalent for non-romantic relationships
  6. Religious pressure/discrimination
  7. "Corrective" rape
  8. Lack of representation in media and sex education
  9. Internalized oppression/self-hate
For example, in the "consummation laws" section, it mentioned situations where an immigrant is married to a citizen of the country where they live, and immigration officials ask a bunch of invasive questions about their sex life to check if the marriage is "real." "[It] is simply considered obvious that every married couple will be having sex if they're really married."

And in the "adoption denial" section, it mentioned a case where a (opposite gender) married couple wanted to adopt children. "Social Services asked them, 'How come you don't have children by yourselves,' and the couple said, 'We are asexual.' And Social Services said 'Well this is not normal, if you are asexual, you are not fit to be married.'"

Basically, there were a lot of examples of discrimination I had never even thought of. Society really does need more awareness and acceptance of asexuality.

I also appreciated the parts that talked about marriage between an asexual and non-asexual partner. (Because that's what I've got going on here...) The book was adamant that incompatibility between their sexual needs should NOT be framed as "the asexual person doesn't want sex enough" but as "we have mis-matched sexual needs." BOTH partners need to "compromise." Don't treat it like it's only the asexual's problem.

Also, the book was very clear that NO ONE should ever be forced to have sex they don't want to have. Even if they're married, that doesn't mean they're required to have sex with their spouse.

But at the same time, the book also said that it's valid for the non-asexual partner to see it as a dealbreaker. They might be unwilling to be in a relationship without sex, and that's fine, and sometimes marriages do break up because of this. (But note this important insight from page 45, about "happy" marriages that break up when one partner comes across the concept of asexuality and realizes they are asexual: "If a critic argues that the relationship was 'happy' when the asexual person felt required to hide and be ashamed of their lack of desire, that critic is suggesting that only one person-- the non-asexual person-- actually has desires that matter in the relationship.")

In my opinion, these 2 concepts- "you never should be forced/coerced into having sex you don't want" and "it's fine to leave a relationship if your partner's not willing to have sex"- exist in tension with each other. I really want to know how other people deal with this contradiction- if an asexual person knows that their partner considers sex a "dealbreaker", how can their decision on whether or not to have sex NOT be considered "coerced"? Sure, the non-ace partner respects the ace partner, would never try to force them to have sex, would never try to guilt them into it, but ... even though the partner is not coercing them, the situation itself is coercing them.

This is why I'm suspicious of a lot of the discussion around "enthusiastic consent"- as if your "yes" is only valid if it would still be "yes" with all the context of the situation removed, only valid if it's motivated by your own "enthusiastic" pleasure in a way that has nothing to do with pleasing your partner. I feel like "enthusiastic consent" is not inclusive of aces- it seems to be saying I'm literally unable to consent to sex, because the reasons I want to have sex aren't the "right" reasons.

Anyway, those are just my own thoughts; the book didn't mention there was any contradiction between "you never should be forced/coerced into having sex you don't want" and "it's fine to leave a relationship if your partner's not willing to have sex." I really would like to hear what other aces have to say about that though. I would assume that the healthiest course of action in that situation would depend on whether the asexual partner is sex-repulsed, neutral, or enjoys sex.

The book "The Invisible Orientation" is a very good introduction to asexuality, covering a wide range of topics, and I very much recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about asexuality. We are often "invisible" because people don't even know that asexuality exists, or they assume that aces don't face any discrimination and therefore awareness is not really that important. Even in the queer community, there are a lot of misconceptions about being ace. We need to promote ace awareness and acceptance, and this book seeks to do just that.

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