The ABC of Queer: A for Asexual

Asexual identities have the ability to radically challenge Queer Theory’s often taken for granted assumptions about sexual orientation in the same way that Trans* (see TRANS*) identities radically challenged Feminism’s (See FEMINISM) often taken for granted assumptions about gender.

For a long time feminists have challenged the socially constructed nature of gender. This is a good thing because, invariably, gender was/is being constructed in our society to privilege white, biologically male men (see CIS, see WHITE PRIVILEGE). However, for many feminists, the challenge to the socially constructed nature of gender only went as far as how it oppressed them. They weren’t prepared to critique the privileges they enjoyed under the same constructions of gender (see ETHNOCENTRICISM; see INTERSECTIONALITY); a form of strategic essentialism (see STRATEGIC ESSENTIALISM).

They often failed to distinguish between gender as biological sex, gender as gender role and gender as gendered behaviour (see PORTMANTEAU); issues which would be of increasing significance to Trans* theorists and activists. When faced with the challenges and contradictions of Trans* Theory and identities, to previously taken for granted assumptions about gender, some feminists have responded with gender panic (see PANICS) that has expressed itself in transphobia (see TERFS, see TRANSPHOBIA). It should be stated that this is largely generational and most contemporary feminism acknowledges the need to have a more nuanced understanding of gender.

Likewise queer theorists have often focused on critiquing sexual orientation as a social script we learn. Again, broadly speaking, this is a good thing because the social scripts we learn often imply that heterosexual lives and codes of behavior are superior to sexual minority lives and codes of behavior (see HETERONORMATIVITY). Even when these scripts become more tolerant they may still suggest that sexual minority lives are better when they mimic heterosexual lives (see HOMONORMATIVITY).

But Queer Theory itself also writes a strategic social script which maintains particular privileges and intersections. In both its progressive-liberal and authoritarian-judgemental modes it maintains the pre-eminence of individual choice. Your ability to, indeed your ethical responsibility to, take charge of and control your sexual script is implied. What is subtly being suggested is your responsibility to be queer.

The fact that this type of scripting tends to privilege certain socio-cultural classes, as well as particular sexual and gendered identities, is overlooked. Equally as important, this type of scripting ignores the fact that sexual orientation is portmanteau (see BIOPSYCHSOCIAL) made up of parts which are biological, parts which are physiological and parts which are socially scripted. Another way to put this is that sexual identity is made up of sexual orientation, sexual role and sexual behaviours.

This is significant for asexuals because most asexuals define their identity through their biological asexual orientation. The standard definition being that an asexual is someone who experiences no or little sexual attraction to others. Therefore scripts barely come into it; it’s very much a case of ‘born this way’. Though the extent to which socialisation will then impact on someone after birth is always important. Equally as important, asexuals reject the pre-eminence given to the scripted sexualised self by queer theorists.

They would claim that other modes of human relationship orientation (the romantic, the platonic, the aesthetic, the sensual, et cetera) are equally as important if not more so. I also see little to suggest that they view these as uniquely social scripts, but as physiological/psychological interactions. It also remains the case that a significant minority of asexuals, in selecting other types of relationship orientation, will choose orientations that would be viewed as heterosexual in preference.

Therefore Queer and Asexual may be on a similar collision trajectory that some parts of Feminism and Trans* were on, for similar but slightly different reasons. Queer may have to realise that it has to to develop a more nuanced notion of the scripted sexualised self. It may have to accept that sometimes it cannot always privilege that sexualised self.

It may also have to accept that being inclusive of Asexual is also to be inclusive of heteroromantic asexuals, for example, who make up such a large number of the increasing visible asexual community. Whether that happens easily, or, we see a similar sexual panic happening with queer theorists and asexuals as occurred with feminists and trans* individuals leading to A-phobia? Only time will tell…

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8 thoughts on “The ABC of Queer: A for Asexual

  1. “It also remains the case that the vast majority of asexuals, in selecting other types of relationship orientation, will choose some approximate combination that tilts along the heteronormative axis.”

    Can you unpack this statement a bit?

    1. Hi. If you take romantic orientation for example, although there are many asexuals who identify as some form of LGB, the majority of asexuals who express a romantic orientation express a heterosexual orientation if they express a romantic orientation at all. Regards

      1. Hi – if you see my below response to Coyote. I had transcribed a figure wrongly from the Asexual Census so that one third for heteroromantic asexuals was in my notes as two thirds. Thanks to Coyote for pointing this out. The above article has been duly amended.

  2. Please don’t cling to the idea of “biological sex.” It’s a flawed, oppressive idea in its own right.

    Also–
    “It also remains the case that the vast majority of asexuals, in selecting other types of relationship orientation, will choose some approximate combination that tilts along the heteronormative axis.”
    –what does this even mean?

    “heteroromantic asexuals, for example, who make up such a large number of the increasing visible asexual community.”

    Huh? They make up less than a third of us, according to the lastest census.

    “Only time will tell…”

    Umm, if you’re talking about what I think you are, that’s already been happening for years.

  3. Hi Coyote

    Thanks for the great comments.

    I agree ‘biological sex’ can be an oppressive concept (though I’ve just been involved in an on-line conversation where four Trans* activists were quite clear about their right to articulate their biological sex). I’m interested in how we unpack it – because it invariably bundles biology, diverse sexual and gender roles, diverse sexual and gender behaviours together.

    You’re absolutely right about the figures- I had taken down a note to myself and I must have scratched the two so that I have two thirds rather than one third for heteroromantic asexuals. I’ll amend my article straight away. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

    I’d be interested in what you feel has already been happening for years. Joe

  4. This was an interesting post. It certainly provided some food for thought.

    It also remains the case that a significant minority of asexuals, in selecting other types of relationship orientation, will choose orientations that would be viewed as heterosexual in preference.

    I see you’ve changed the part that onlyfragments and Coyote complained about, but I still feel weird about you saying that heteroromantic asexual people “will be viewed” as heterosexual?? I mean I guess some people might misunderstand them, or draw parallels from heteroromanticsm to heterosexuality, but… you didn’t even bring up the word “heteroromantic” in that section, and… I don’t know, I just don’t quite like the fix, really. I think

    will choose some approximate combination that tilts along the heteronormative axis.

    might’ve been a better phrasing for whatever point you were trying to make, however confusingly worded it was.

    1. Thanks – that is a better phrasing – I’m not trying to say people are heterosexual – I’m trying to give a sense of perceived norms – and how that should complicate things for Queer in relation to asexual activism in a analogous but different way to how Trans* activism has challenged taken for granted a lot of oppressive gender norms mainstream Feminism let slide.

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