Saturday, November 29, 2008

Open Forum: The Asexual Rights Movement?

This blog is about uniting sexual and gender minorities in the fight for equality. We are about calling out those who discriminate, boycotting and protesting against those that seek to destroy our lives, and showing appreciation and support for those who have been allied with us in our fight for true liberation.

It is without doubt that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are fighting for genuine rights, such as the right to marry, adopt, serve openly in the military, donate blood, and be free from discrimination and hate. Likewise the transgender movement is about creating acceptance for gender diversity, obtaining the rights listed above and in addition fighting to change the notion that gender identity variance is a "disorder" make sure sex re-assignment is affordable, safe, and approved. There are also efforts to make the process to change the birth certificate, passport, license, etc to reflect the new gender identity of the individual. The intersex movement does not have to fight for medical care in the same way the transgender community does, instead they are fighting against childhood genital mutilation of intersex babies. They are also on a mission to create awareness, advocacy, and acceptance of third gendered people.

That leaves us with one group under the queer umbrella that begs to question if it is indeed a civil rights movement. Asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation, one that needs awareness and understanding within society. The question is, will there be an asexual rights movement and what would the fight be for?

Some things to consider about the current movement and status of asexuality:

-It is newly organized and just beginning to receive publicity, due to the internet people are learning about and coming out as asexual and/or questioning.

-There is a division within the movement over whether asexuality falls under the queer umbrella and whether it should be added on to the LGBTQ acronym.

-Asexuality is not being taught in sex-ed or in books with regards to human sexuality.

-There is a complete lack of resources available for an asexual or questioning asexual person.

-Laws which mandate marriages be consummated are discriminatory against asexual couples.

-The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association lists asexuality as "Hypoactive Sexual Desire isorder"

-Asexuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or intersex face additional struggles and lack of equal rights.

Those points being noted, do you think that asexuality is the next battle on the civil rights front? Is this a battle for some degree of equal rights and recognition or more a battle for acceptance and understanding?

21 comments:

pretzelboy said...

I think that it is mostly a matter of understanding and acceptance. A funny thing about the marriage laws is that they may become a bigger problem in the future than the are now. Asexuals are fighting against the belief that we don't exist, and this belief has done a good job of preventing us from coming together. As a consequence, there have been pretty few marriages between asexuals just because we didn't know each other existed until recently. As this changes and there are more asexual-asexual marriages, this is likely to become a bigger issue.

The DSM is a really complicated issue because HSDD pathologizes asexuals, but the diagnosis is mostly for sexual couples where one person has lost interest in sex, and having the diagnosis--at least in the US--is important for those couples to get reimbursement for therapy to help their relationship.

The asexual community's issues are a lot different than the other members of the queer community with respect to civil rights. However, I think that there are a lot of similarities in terms of acceptance and the coming out process. Asexuals face a lot of the same dismissive attitudes and insulting questions that other queer people face. Parents asking what they did wrong. People assuming you must have been abused. People saying that you just haven't met the right person yet or been in bed with the right person yet. (Very similar to telling a lesbian that she just thinks she's a lesbian because she hates men, or hasn't met the right man yet, or hasn't been in bed with the right man.) Challenging the assumptions underlying these sorts of questions, providing resouces for asexuals, including more information about asexuality in sexual education--all of these are important goals, but I think they are more about understanding and acceptance than civil rights.

Queers United said...

Thanks for a really eloquent and thought out comment. I wonder though if the gay movement could have started out as an acceptance movement, but once reality hit and people weren't accepting and refused to change their notions of gay people and culture, that it became a battle for rights among the lgbt community.

I wonder if the same could happen to asexuals? Right now I agree I think it is a more an issue of educating, and asking for understanding and acceptance. What happens though if organizations refuse to add asexuality, under the false pretense that asexuals don't exist or that it is just a psychological problem. What if even when presented with scientific evidence to support the notion that asexuality is a healthy sexual variant the APA still refuses to budge.

Do you think if that occurs that asexuality will move beyond a education movement and become a battle for certain rights or to overturn certain stigmas?

Diane J Standiford said...

Good questions, wish I had good answers. I feel like many rights have been taken from all of us over the last 8 years...how to prioritze? I'm 50 and tired; I almost want to pass the baton to younger folks.

Emma said...

There definitely needs to be an asexual awareness movement, but a rights movement implies specific legal goals-- what would those be?

Anonymous said...

Asexuals are at an interesting spot. We've got the beginnings of a community and we're beginning to ally ourselves with LGBTQI (it's only a matter of time before it's formal) and we're still unknown enough that we only face passive discrimination. So yeah, a lot of our focus is on education and standing up against the general gender discrimination and sexuality discrimination that makes everyone's lives harder, but eventually we're going to hit a point where we face active discrimination and we'll have to be ready.

It's not a matter of it but rather when, because asexualities by existing challenge a fundamental assumption underlying power structures: that lust/sex and love are separate concepts. Much like LGB challenge the gender roles of men and women and TI challenge the immutability god-given role myth, As break down an assumption that patriarchs use for control, the idea that pair-bonding requires sexual sacrifices and sexual obligations. As such, we will face persecution once the power structure figures out we exist. There are already hints of that with angry psychologists ranting about how asexuals are just repressed deviants living unhealthy and destructive lives as well as "jokes" about how the Priest Child Abuses are a result of the asexuality rather than the power structure and lack of oversight.

Of course, it's possible we'll have it a lot better because of all the work that's come before us. Marital consummation is seen as far less of a mandatory than it used to be thanks to second-wave feminism, non-traditional sexuality and the lingo for it has been staked by the LGBTQI, and polyamorists are already beginning the groundwork towards explaining and allowing freedom for asexuals in sexually-incompatible relationships.

Cerberus said...

anon is me.

Also, I think for now, a lot of the active work in our direct rights movement will be related to feminism and more focused on the women. Male asexuals have issues (coming out, assumptions of homosexuality and subsequent discrimination, disbelief, etc...), but female asexuals have the most on stake from cultural ignorance, because it makes them more susceptible to rape and sexual assault. Female asexuals are often berated to have sex against their will "to be sure" and because of a lack of lust are unlikely to produce enough natural lubricant to make penetration even bearable much less enjoyable.

Add to that assumptions as to a women's natural role and cultural mistrust of bachelorettes who seem happy (a man can be a bachelor and seen as a stud or "wise", whereas a female bachelor is seen as crazy or evil and often faces direct discrimination because of those cultural views). Also add to that an inadequate language for women to say no or express their desires in general. Especially in terms of expressing a lack of desire. Add all that together and you've got a system ripe for a greater incidence of sexual abuse that can be turned around and used as "proof" that asexuals are just sexually abused sex-haters.

I think on top of coming into our own, spreading visibility, and fighting for general sexuality and poly rights, we need to also strongly stand up for feminism especially where it intersects (females the above, men the assumption of being broken, gay, or less of a man for lacking heterosexual lust) and educating our young questioners as to their rights to say no.

I think it's also the main reason why visibility is such a big cornerstone right now. The younger and more easily a youngster can find out about what they're feeling or not feeling, the more easily they can resist conformist social pressure to do things they don't want.

But anyways, thanks for the post and all the effort you've contributed to asexual rights. No one else seems to be fighting as hard for our inclusion into the queer umbrella as you. Speaking as an asexual queer activist, thank you.

Raphael said...

I understand that asexual people may face a number of rude and prying questions, as well as nagging relatives who don't understand. But is this the same as discrimination? What rights are they specifically being denied? The law is crystal clear that we do not have to engage in sexual or marital relationships if we don't want to.

I also question the assertion that asexual women are more likely to get raped than other women, or it is somehow more traumatic for them. Rape can be a horrible experience for anyone of any orientation (or gender).

I haven't thougth much about this issue, and I'd like to think I have an open mind. But a lot of the problems listed above don't really strike me as discrimination. I welcome an asexual person to share his or her story. A lot of the problems that were mentioned are actually faced by all single people of any orientation.

And I strongly believe the "queer" umbrella is big enough to cover asexual people (as well as heterosexuals too). I mean, is this point really controversial?

I am also strongly against the notion that a listing in DSM-IV is itself a civil rights issue, and I think some trans activists are far off the mark in trying to get gender identity disorder de-listed. I'd rather fight against the stigma of mental illness. I fear that if GID were declassified, trans people would be denied access to (or insurance coverage for) treatments, like therapy, hormones, or surgery, which they may need to be happy with their bodies.

Cerberus said...

@ Raphael

We could solve that trans problem by having actual health care in this country so that insurance loopholes didn't impede actual human rights. Being pathologized is a human rights issue. Having your immutable identity turned into a disease means that it is a disease requiring treatment. In simpler terms, if who you are is a disease, then you will be approached as if you need to be fixed and face discrimination on that score. All marginalized groups have a point in their history where normal behavior was seen as psychotic.

Examples:
Slaves who resisted their masters were sent to specialists who would "cure" the "tempers" from them with whipping and torture.
Women who had sexual desires, reacted poorly to the expected marital rapes, or disobeyed their husbands or fathers were routinely locked away in mental institutions.
Gays and Lesbians were often institutionalized for their "abhorrent" desires.
Trans and asexuals are still to this day seen as psychoses and there are still psychologists who argue that what they need is intensive therapy to be the psychologist's idea of normal. Though to be fair, other queers still have to deal with this in the form of "ex-gay therapy" and it's runty faith-based children.

Turning an identity into a disorder is passive discrimination and as any trans person can tell you, having the world deny who you are is taxing on one's mental health and fortitude.

On asexual women, they are NOT more traumatically raped and I'm rather appalled that I came off as arguing that. Rape is a universally horrifying experience and a frankly common one.

I used the term "more susceptible", but I intended it in terms of being more likely to "consent" to the more basic forms of rape or being less hyperaware. I don't know if they are statistically raped more often, because I imagine many knock off all sex pretty quickly or avoid entering it entirely (not an uncommon phenomenon among asexuals). Nor is it "more traumatic" in the psychological sense. There is no good rape or bad rape, all of it traumatizes pretty brutally because it is the removal of consent and agency.

In fact my statement is simply that without visibility, self-understanding, etc... an asexual woman is more likely to be brow-beaten to "consenting" to her own rape because she'll feel like she is supposed to be having sex and because she'll feel like there is something wrong with her from lacking sexual desire. It is similar to pre-out homosexuals. They have "sex" with a partner without any attraction or informed consent because they are expected to and because the alternatives are not well understood or greatly stigmatized.

Many asexuals have to go through a period where they face such an empty forced interaction with both sexes before they are even aware and even if they are, everyone they meet will assume that it can't be true if the person hasn't physically tried it with both sexes and even then, it will be assumed that it was with people who "were bad at it".

-----

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what you actually want, Raphael. I mean it's definitely true, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an asexual who'd deny it, that asexuals are not yet actively discriminated against. Most people don't believe we exist, so they don't bother trying to specifically target us though we definitely are caught up in all the side-lash against feminism, queer rights, poly rights, etc... We're not big enough yet to be seen as a threat, as we're not even formally allies yet of the organization we will be and are allied with.

But it's also true that we will be. We will face ACTIVE persecution in the not-that-distant future (certainly in my lifetime) and we certainly do face the passive discrimination that results in not being recognized in policy.

Now, it may seem like a lesser thing, but it does effect people. Look at assumptions of sexuality or the statements that without sex one is somehow less than or unfulfilled or worse one step away from killing people. I'm sure that you can see how the latter will be problematic once we are more recognized in society. Look at assumptions of love that require or are based on sex and sexual attraction. Not only does it not apply to us, but we by our existence, prove it wrong. Once we demonstrate that publicly, there will be a backlash as has been seen on the few tv programs we've been on (each had a psychologist berating us for our sick relationships and the pathetic justifications).

Is it less than, is it future? Does it really effect our employment, our ability to marry (if like bisexuals we have the good fortune to fall in love with the "right" sex), or even that much in the here and now outside adding an additional layer of conflict, potential menace, and strife to relationships? Not really. Which is why I devote the majority of my time to queer rights, feminism, and racial and class equality and only a minority of my time to asexual and polyamory activism.

Not only is it the right thing to do to resist an active current bigotry, but in very selfish terms, the more we do know to fix that shit, the easier it'll be for us once the haters figure out we exist.

JaneyRuth said...

I dunno.

I scrolled back up to read Anonymous' comment again and my fist thought was, are you kidding me? You use "we" over and over again like you're speaking for a movement. "We're doing this and that," "We're forming an alliance with the GLBT's," "We're breaking down barriers, making a difference."

With all due respect, there is no "we." There's Anon and maybe two other lost souls. Three people with a computer and too much time on their hands.

This is not a mighty wind. No one has to break out the storm windows.

http://tinyurl.com/gf-s-first-day

L said...

Cerberus & pretzelboy: Thank you so much for your comments. I learned quite a bit from you both.

With the DSM-V coming out in 2012, perhaps it would be a good idea to petition the APA? Right now Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder is classified as a disorder "if it causes distress for the patient or problems in the patient's relationships". The wording of that is quite problematic.

Emma: Not all movements have legal goals in mind; many of the goals of feminism, for example, involve trying to shape public opinion.

It's important for us to inform the communities we're in, both queer and non, about misconceptions about asexuals. As long as the majority of people believe that asexuality is an unwanted disorder, there's not likely to be many changes.

Cerberus said...

@JaneyRuth

That would be me. Hi. You have a point that my use of "we" is possibly presumptuous. I don't have the permission of my asexual overlords from our Fortress of Doom and I am speaking hideously evilly with my humanizing scientific look at the evolution of public opinion of people like me and our place in the movements.

It's also true that we're not a mighty wind. Unlike LGB, we're only likely 1% of the population rather than 10% or possibly as high as 50% if we were to be truly honest about bisexuality, especially Kinsey 1. We'll never have organizing power. We're diffused. Outside of an online community, we're usually only a handful in any given city who are out. There are no asexuality specific stores or communities. We are a fragment, much like trans-people or intersex. No, we aren't a mighty wind.

But then, I also exist. And I'm also not alone. In this queer orientated thread, asexuals just averaged 2 out of 7 of the commentators which is way higher than the 1% we make up. On other boards, I've mentioned my sexuality and had 2-3 others give outting high-fives. This in threads closer to 50 distinct commentators. So being people who exist, we inevitably give voice to ourselves.

Now, from there you jump to us crowing about power and wasting time on computers. I'm currently bed-ridden already today with a cold and a backlog of emails, so it really wasn't out of my way. On power, we're nascent, the "we" is nascent, our secret evil "we" activities are nascent. On alliances, LGBTQI activists have extended hands, but many of us were already part of the community at large. I myself self-identify Q due to asexuality and devote a large amount of time to education and activism on behalf of LGBTQI rights.

But yes, I'm curious as to your response or further exposition on the topic. What were your motivations towards your post? What are your views on "our" "us"?

End The Hate @ Penn State said...

With regards to the DSM and APA we have to remember that as long as diagnosis for "sexual & gender disorders" are in the DSM they can always be used to abuse minorities (or those with the least power) in society. A good example would be how McCarthy(ism) used the DSM, APA, & AMA against the gay and lesbian movement. Also read "The Last Time I Wore a dress" by: Daphne Scholinski very sad and powerful! The Queer community faces so much ethnoviolence and lack of opportunity to speak in our own context, what ever our identity might be within the Queer spectrum. One way to broaden understanding in order to overcome inter-group conflict might be to advocate for "Queer Studies" programs at universities!

Ily said...

Another asexual here...
I find the "there is no 'we'" comment interesting...people have told me before that there are no other asexuals, as a way of discounting my orientation, whereas I've met dozens of asexuals offline and AVEN has thousands of members. When you have 1% of a population, I suppose it can be tempting to round down, but 1% is still millions of people. I don't think acknowledgment of our existence is a "right", but it's important anyway.

Dr. G said...

As a 76 year old male doctor, this discussion is a Godsend, for it points out my ignorance. I'm in the process of writing my book on Woman's Sexuality, the culmination of over 50 years of work with women and am embarrassed to admit that I'm not even aware of the situation. No woman over this time (over 7,000 to date) has ever mentioned it to me in those terms; although now that you have enlightened me, I can see the hidden references they gave--unfortunately, they fell on deaf ears. I need an education

Cerberus and QU, will you educate me further please so that I may include it in my writing? I realize that my personal education can't take up valuable blog space, so if you would consider expanding my knowledge, you can reach me directly at esybron@bresnan.net and I welcome all of you who are interested to erase this area of ignorance and open new vistas for me. Thanks.

Ily said...

Hey Dr. G, you should definitely check out www.asexuality.org. You'll find it very informative!

Anonymous said...

Im for the asexual people!

GRITtv said...

Tonight on GRITtv with Laura Flanders, a preview of a documentary in progress "Asexuality: The Making Of A Movement."

The show is on DISH ch 9415 at 8pm EST - the segment will be available online at grittv.org

Dr. G said...

I've been spending some time trying to educate myself on the topic of asexuality and have learned a lot from several of you and I thank you for the help. As yet, I haven't found a link in understanding the process and have returned for more assistance. If the definition of asexuality is "someone who does not experience sexual attraction", is there any proposed mechanism? For those of you who experience this normal continuum of human sexuality, would you venture to postulate whether you feel it's a biologic phenomenon or is it more psychic in nature? I realize this is a wild openended question, but only you can answer it for only you experience it. Genetically and biologically, you are "normal"; that is you have your XX or XY and all the associated anatomy/physiology that goes with it. What then, in your opinion, makes you feel differently? If you don't want to post your answer on this forum, but would like to contribute to my better understanding, please just e-mail me directly at esybron@bresnan.net
I would like to thank all of you for your efforts.

Queers United said...

Dr. G we do have quite a number of asexual readers here, but my suggestion is to post on the asexuality.org forum which has thousands. You will certainly be able to connect with many people and get an array of feedback.

Dr. G said...

Thanks everyone and I posted the above on the web site as suggested and hope that someone will respond. This is too important an issue to push under the rug and I would like very much to address it in our upcoming book, so I keep looking to educate myself appropriately.

Mackenzie said...

@Raphael:
A gay man sexually harassed me when he found out I was asexual. Not just verbally, like...dropped his pants and entered my dorm room telling me I just needed "a long hard cock" up my "pussy" to cure me, as he approached.

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