Warning: Contains discussion of acephobia, arophobia, homophobia and sexual violence.
Some things happened in the asexual and aromantic community this week and for the most part they were positive. I won’t go into detail now because this post is not about that. One thing that did happen was aces and aros getting some attention on the blogging platform tumblr. And not all of it good attention.
What I found particularly disturbing was repeated assertions that asexual and aromantic people do not experience oppression. This is so incorrect.
First of all, let me be clear what I mean when I say oppression. The word doesn’t necessarily mean being locked up or killed. It doesn’t have to mean systematic and deliberate acts by a Government. Oppression, in the context of social justice, means behaviours and words that marginalise and cause harm to a minority. It doesn’t have to be overt and it doesn’t have to be deliberate. All that’s required is that the victims are marginalised and that the behaviour is harmful: physically harmful, emotionally harmful, it doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter whether a person who is not part of the marginalised group in question thinks the act should be considered oppressive. It is up to the people experiencing the harm to say whether they feel oppressed.
Let me be clear right now. Anyone who says that asexual and aromantic people do not experience any oppression is flat out wrong. (Agender people also certainly experience oppression, but as I am not agender, I will not be writing about that today).
First and foremost I must say this: Asexuality describes a lack of sexual attraction to others. There are asexual people who are in same-sex relationships. Some of those relationships involve sex and some of them are purely romantic. Some aromantic people have sexual relationships. Some have romantic relationships based on something other than initial attraction. Those asexual and aromantic people who are in relationships with people of the same gender (or even people of the same perceived gender) are certainly victims of oppression. They shouldn’t have to identify as gay for it to be acknowledged that they experience the same treatment.
Having said that, this is oppression based on perceived homosexuality and as important as that is, I want to talk about the specific oppressions experienced by ace and aro people based on their actual orientation.
To demonstrate what asexual oppression looks like, I went to one of the many asexual advice blogs on tumblr. I picked fuckyeahasexual, because they were the first to give me permission to use content from their blog. I scoured the blog going back just one week, and took screenshots of questions sent in by readers. I got 13. I only copied those questions which described an incident of oppression. I did not include any of the abusive messages sent directly to the blog (most of which are not published anyway). I also cut a few out because they were in the context of a larger conversation that blog was involved in, and they made no sense in isolation.
I also have not included the advice given to these readers. I’ve just taken a screencap of the question, as written by the reader. Below each, I have written it out in full, making minor grammatical and spelling corrections, to make it easier to read. Most of these were anonymous, some were not, but I made the decision to cut off all the names, to protect privacy.
That said, here are:
13 Stories of Asexual and Aromantic Oppression
They Say: “I came out to a friend who knows asexuality and thought he can encourage me to come out to everyone. But he said “You are just a coldhearted sociopath. You probably don’t have any feelings at all.” I am scared everyone else reacts the same.”
“I hear so many people say that asexuals don’t face anything near what others in the LGBTQ+ have to deal with. While yes I can admit that the “A” spectrum is not openly assaulted, it’s still challenging as an aromantic asexual. Everyday I am forced to face the idea that “To Love is to Be Human”, or that “Love is what makes us special” and to live with the fact that I won’t feel this. Everyday I struggle with “If Love is what it means to be human, to be living, than what does that make me?”
Why it’s Oppression: In the first case, this person is dehumanising their asexual friend. He uses insults to degrade and belittle them. He is making them feel as though there is something wrong with them. This has obviously damaged their self esteem and has reduced them to a state of fear. I think the second example speaks clearly enough about how this attitude is destructive.
It Says: “Do you think that it’s wrong for someone to not want to date someone because they’re asexual? I’m ace and there’s this person I really like, but they said that they think that sex is really important in a relationship and they didn’t want to pressure me into doing anything I didn’t want to do, but that they didn’t want a relationship without sex. I mean, I get where they’re coming from but I was still really hurt and I guess I just wanted some other opinions/hear if this has happened to others.”
Why it’s Oppression: Let me be clear here. The person who rejected this reader seems to have done so very respectfully. Based on the story as it is told, I would not say that the individual is committing an act of oppression. Everyone has the right to refuse a relationship for any reason whatsoever. Getting rejected makes you sad, but it isn’t oppression. The culprit here is society itself. Media and societal influences perpetuate a belief that all romantic relationships must have an element of sex to them. No individual is to blame for buying into that. But that prevailing societal attitude is oppressive and harmful not just to asexual people but also to people who choose to abstain from sex for any reason, but still desire romantic relationships.
It says: “I go out to gay bars because I am ace aro and gender queer so it should be a safe place. Every time my sexuality is questioned and when I answer I get ridiculed and insulted. The other night I was told I was sick and needed therapy because I’ve never masturbated. It hurts that I don’t get the acceptance or the kind “explain please” but a medical diagnosis. People should accept us and not… Make us feel like we’re ill.”
Why it’s Oppression: This should be obvious. A person’s sexual orientation is not an illness. Most of mainstream society has gotten behind the declassification of homosexuality as a medical condition. Asexuality hasn’t reached that point yet, and many people continue to disregard the personal experiences of asexual people and tell them they’re sick.
It Says: “Hello. My friend and I both identify as asexual but she aromantic and I’m panromantic. People seem to have gotten the idea that we are dating and many people have made comments about us “fucking”. We are both openly asexual and I’ve explained these comments offend me because they imply I’m lying about my sexuality and while I don’t go around flaunting that I’m asexual it’s a common question at my school. But I’m just wondering what’s the best way to deal with it since it really bothers me.”
Why it’s Oppression: It is hurtful to disregard another person’s subjective statements about themselves. It is not okay to tell someone what their sexuality is, and while what this person describes is not overt denial of their sexuality, it is still a subtle implication that they don’t know their own mind. If someone tells you they are straight, it is not okay to insist they are gay. This is a similar scenario to that.
It Says: “So I’m kind of on the fence about telling people I’m grey-ace. Half of me really wants to share my feelings with my loved ones and friends. The other half is terrified someone will hear about it by proxy and try to “fix” me by possibly assertive means. Is this a concern other people feel or am I just super sensitive to that kind of thing…”
Why it’s Oppression: This person hasn’t even come out as asexual, but societal attitudes towards asexuality have them in genuine fear of sexual assault. Of course that’s oppression.
They Say: “I’ve asked many people on tumblr this question and I can’t get any proper advice so I’m nervous about how to go about this. The past few weeks my college sent out emails informing its students about support of lgbtqia+ students, which included the use of the alphabet that explains different terms (I’m sure you’re familiar with this method). Unfortunately the a was listed as standing for ally. I want to email them explaining how harmful this erasure is but I need help with exactly what to say :(”
“As an asexual, I don’t feel welcome within the LGBT+ community, nor in “regular” society. I feel like no matter where I go, I’ll always be erased. I honestly don’t even see the point in fighting for the A anymore… :(”
“I need my voice heard because while explaining my orientation, a bisexual cis boy (that had never heard of asexuality before he met me) told me that the a-spectrum isn’t part of MOGAI. I’m still angry about it all the time, five months later.”*
Why it’s Oppression: Erasure is a form of oppression that involves denying that the minority group exists at all. Erasure leads to ignorance which leads to all the other examples of oppression in this post.
It Says: “I got told I was being “selfish” for wanting a relationship without sex and that “I should expect my boyfriend to cheat on me” and that I should be ok with it.”
Why it’s Oppression: The people telling this writer that they “deserve” to be cheated on are using her sexual orientation as a reason to invalidate her emotions. Any person has a right to be respected by their romantic partner. The implication (or outright statement) that asexual people don’t deserve to be loved and respected by a partner is hurtful and offensive. Every person deserves respect and to suggest otherwise based on sexual orientation is dehumanising.
They Say: “So I’m ace and I’m out to my friends as such but I haven’t [come out] to any of my parents (divorced and remarried each) I know they don’t think asexuality is a real thing, should I continue to keep it from them or tell them?”
“I sort of have an issue. I’ve identified as asexual for a little over two years now (although I used to think something was actually wrong with me where I was repulsed by the idea of sex, which kept me out of basically any relationship in school). I tried to come out to my family as asexual, and even after explaining it, they either disregard it, or, like my sister, she flat out tells me I’m not, and basically said I need to have sex in order to know. I don’t know what to do and I’m sad over it.”
Why it’s Oppression: These are more examples of erasure, but I have put them separately because they are coming from the person’s own family. Self esteem is hugely tied up in the way parents treat their children. In the second case, it is a whole family causing damage to the asexual person’s self esteem. The sister is very wrong to say an asexual person needs to have sex to be sure. That is like telling a straight person that they must have gay sex to be sure they are not gay. It is total nonsense and it is hurtful. If it wasn’t, this person would not have found it necessary to write to a stranger on the internet for advice.
It Says: “I’m afraid to out myself as a victim, but this needs to be said. Could you perhaps tweet it as a screencap for me? The people who sexually assaulted me had never heard of asexuality. They thought they could “cure” me. They also thought they were LGBT allies. But they didn’t have my back. Asexual erasure destroys life, GLAAD.”
Why it’s Oppression: If I have to explain to you why sexually assaulting someone to “cure” their sexuality is oppression than you are not worth my time. Of course this is oppression. Even if these people did not know the word for it, they committed an act of violence against someone because of their sexual orientation. That’s a hate crime.
There you have it. Just one week of just one advice blog provided me with 13 clear examples of the oppression, erasure, discrimination and violence experienced by asexual and aromantic people. I don’t want to hear ever again that it isn’t real. Because it clearly is.
*MOGAI stands for Minority Orientations, Gender Indentities And Intersex
I’ll be following up later this week with an interview I’ll be conducting with moderators of Asexual Advice Blogs. I’ll be asking them about the kinds of questions they get, anonymous hatemail, and their thoughts on the oppression of asexuals and aromantics.