There’s nowt so queer as asexuality: asexual researchers at the 1st Non-monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference, Lisbon.

It was a real privilege to attend the 1st Non-monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference in Lisbon to present my paper on Asexual Activism as an Emerging Contemporary Sexual and Gender Social Movement. It was doubly exciting because there were three/four other presenters who were either speaking directly on asexual studies or interdisciplinary on topics related to asexual sexual-gender identity formations.

Even within the small group of asexual researchers there was a real diversity of research interests and opinions, which speaks well for the future of European asexual studies. I’m loath to pull out too many overarching themes in any of our work, but there were some common threads I think we were all considering.

One of those was the intersectional relationship between diverse asexual identity formations and queer (as a subjective claimed identity which posits itself against normative and often oppressive sexual and gendered identities). Rita Alcaire highlighted this with a quote from David Jay, a key figure in asexual activism and founder of AVEN (The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network):

David Jay

Another common concern was the problematic nature of the standard definition for asexuality – “an asexual is someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction to others.” I think it’s fair to say that none of us are happy with this definition, which complicates/obfuscates as much as it clarifies, but as I tried to say in my presentation part of the success of the asexual movement over the last 10/15 years has been its ability to cohere behind a common ground/statement despite their immense diversity.

To move on to the papers themselves, Patricia McLeod in The Asexual Slut: When Compulsory Monogamy Meets Compulsory Sexuality discussed the kinds of ‘myths’ and expectations society has of asexuals, particularly drawing on her own experiences. She drew out the intersectional links between compulsory monogamy and compulsory sexuality; the way in which the expectation that we should be sexual reinforces the expectation that we should also be in dyadic relationships.

In a similar fashion, Aoife Sadlier in ‘I’m Not That Bisexual. I’m the Other One ’ Queering Straightness on Match.com discussed her experiences of engaging with heteronormative relationship network sites. She juxtaposed this with examples from interviews with other queer asexual women who discussed their ambivalence with the types of labels offered to asexual women seeking relationships.

Mercedes Pöll’s paper on Defining “Sex” in Relationships Without was one of the highlights of the conference for me. Mercedes work is not directly on asexuality; she is concerned to consider all types of relationships in which people do not engage in ‘conventional sex acts’ according to societal expectations as part of their affective relationship matrixes (asexual identity-formations being just one segment of these). Mercedes work is subtle and complex; she draws on many theoretical traditions without being ideologically tied to any one. In this I feel her work reflects the shifting precarity that is so much a part of our current socio-political-cultural environment. In particular, I was struck by one of her comments “sex is that which is legible as sex.” It’s the statement that I’ve come away from the conference having to reflect on; it seemed so obvious once stated and yet it’s so radical, inclusive and queer.

Rita Alcaire gave three papers, so I’m only going to focus on the paper that she gave in the same session as me The Minority Report: The Asexual Community Discusses Its Struggle to Find Acceptance. This for me was also one of the standout moments of the conference for many different reasons. First of all, Rita delivered a brilliant polished analysis of the macro and micro aggressions which have prompted the asexual community to mobilise and organise; the relationship between that mobilisation and prior LGBT+ movements, and, how that very struggle by the asexual community is queer in its opposition to societal norms. Secondly, and this is unusual compared to British conferences where if you’re presenting a paper on asexual research you’re lucky to get 5/6 people coming to hear you, the room was packed (100+). I’m really grateful to the organizers, to researchers on polygamy and non-intimacy and Portuguese researchers for the openness to asexual research that they showed at this conference. As for Rita, there was a real sense of a foundational figure in Portuguese Asexual Studies delivering her first significant paper on her topic.

I was also very happy with my paper “Asexy and we know it”: The Emergence of Asexual Activism as a Contemporary Sexual and Gender Social Movement. If Rita focused on the kinds of macro and micro oppressions that have encouraged asexual communities to mobilise and organise, I focused on the kinds of cultural and structural forms that mobilisation and organisation have taken. The dissimilarities and similarities asexual activism has with prior sexual and gender social movements. The kinds of internal dialogues asexual activism was having with itself; the kinds of external dialogues asexual activism was having with the wider Pride/LGBT+ movements. The Q & A that followed our session was incredibly lively. I was too tired to go to the party afterwards!!

Overall, as I said previously, I think it was a very productive conference for asexual researchers. I hope that this is something that we can build on in the future.

Note – throughout I have tried to use pronouns that people stated they preferred at conference. If I have made a mistake please let me know and I will amend the text.

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Non-Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference

Off to the Non-monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference  in Lisbon. I’m giving a paper on ‘Asexual Activism as an Emerging Sexual and Gender Social Movement’.

I’m looking forward to it, not least because Lisbon is supposed to be a great city to eat fish in. But, especially because there is a large number of researchers who are engaged in one form of asexual studies or another giving papers. It’s a real opportunity to network/consider potential collaborations.

BSA Youth Sexualities Conference: Durham 18/10/2013

This was a well-organised, well run conference as you would expect from the BSA Youth Group.

I’m not sure I totally agree with Jo Phoenix’s opening remarks – that there are no more sexual pioneer researchers. I don’t consider myself one, but I’m not sure that I’d want to close the door to another generation taking our disciplines into completely radical directions.

Matthew Waites’ keynote was a quantitative analysis of Age of Consent debates across the globe (especially in Commonwealth countries). He pointed out quite interesting trends: for example, the centralising moves towards an age of 15/16 in many countries. He also quickly discussed the recent Teddy Bear Clinic judgment in South Africa which decriminalised consensual sexual activity between young  people between the ages of 12 and 16 (where the judgment views young people and their consenting bodies in a very different light from standard recent British juridical-medical discourses).  Given the time restraints, and much of the material being quantitative, there wasn’t much opportunity to offer a cultural context for the data presented though some was offered in relation to India which helped illuminate the figures.

Mark McCormack’s keynote on the social mechanism of decreasing homophobia was full of cultural context. For me – this was one of the best papers of the day; not least because the content was matched by the presentation (is learning to use Prezi that hard for most people).  I thought he raised important issues about how Stonewall report on homophobia. How these may not be a moral panic, but have some of the features (of a sexual panic?) (which would be picked up on by Clarissa Smith on porn discussing Simon Watney’s conception of a sexual panic). He also discussed homohysteria as a concept (the fear of being socially perceived as gay) and outlined a model of homohysteric language. What kind of factors might impact upon this.  I thought that this was a incredibly strong paper; the only thing I would have liked was more clarity on the specific youth populations his work was speaking to.

Clarissa Smith’s paper on porn anxiety and children was, for me, the stand-out paper of the day.  As mentioned before, Smith distinguished between a moral and a sexual panic. Sexual panics involve anxieties that may flare up into moral panics, but mostly they exist all the time in our media and society. They are dominant narratives about sexual fears that exist at a low to medium level at all time in our society which the media both fuel and feed off. Porn and children involve a dominant model of porn, easily understood by adults. It engages with the rhetoric of the child in danger, framing risk, exposure and addiction. The difficulty is that when young people are spoken to about porn, they also frame their public accounts in accordance with this public model available in the media. Smith then offered ethnographic accounts of young people speaking about their porn use (where they’d been offered the opportunity to reflect rather than simply say what they felt was socially acceptable). The accounts were so considered and challenged how we view youth sexuality, youth agency and the use of porn.

Most of the other papers that I saw were postgrads. Although the standard was very high with one glaring exception; I’m not going to comment as I wouldn’t want someone to comment on my work at this stage.