“Privileged” ≠ “Oppressor”: why these two concepts should not be conflated.

So, to start this post off, I’m including a quick rundown of oppression/privilege terminology as i understand and prefer to use it. A very quick 101 rundown of those terms might go something like this:

1. “Privileged” refers to a group whose members have certain social advantages in the given context. [1]

2. “Oppressed” refers to a group whose members have a certain social disadvantages in the given context.

3. These two groups are considered for the most part to be mutually exclusive. [2]

Now, while I may not be the biggest fan of this terminology, I understand it and at least mostly agree with the underlying principles.

However, there is one thing that certain social justice circles do that does not work for me at all: the conflation of “privileged groups” with “the oppressors”:

ex. “women are the oppressed, men are the oppressors”, rather than “women are oppressed, men are privileged.”

I can see how people get there – privileged is the opposite of oppressed, and oppressor is also the opposite of oppressed, so they must be the same right? It’s an understandable thought process – but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

There are two big problems that I see with this:

1. It implies that oppression is the work of individual actions, rather than greater social and institutional forces.

2. It implies that members of an “oppressed” group are incapable of perpetuating oppression.

See, the thing about oppressive dynamics being institutionalized is that they are built into an entire culture. “Oppression” isn’t about the actions of any particular individual or individuals – it’s encoded into the laws and social mores and traditions and attitudes of an entire culture. And it’s pervasive – anyone who grows up or is exposed to that culture is both affected by it an perpetuates it, willingly or knowingly or not.

The truth is, we are ALL oppressors – oppression works on a societal scale, and all it’s members are actors, whether they benefit or suffer from it in the long run. “Privileged” people don’t go through some secret “how to be an oppressor” initiation that the rest of us are never exposed to. “Oppressed” people don’t get a free pass on their own oppressive actions.

But, surely that can’t be true! you say. Well, let’s look at a real life example of privilege/oppression dynamics in action: let’s look at women in science. Overall, women are drastically underrepresented in most “hard science” fields, esp. in graduate studies and career positions, and recent studies have found that there is very clear bias against female candidates for scientific lab positions – for an example, I’m using “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students” (Moss-Racusin et al. 2012) [3].

In this study, the authors submitted sample resumes for science positions to several faculty members in science departments, and asked them to rate them on competence and hireability, and to propose a salary level and an amount of career mentoring. The key? All the resumes were identical – except that some had typically male-gendered names and some had typically female-gendered names.

“In each case, the effect of student gender was significant (all P<0.01)…faculty participants viewed the female students as less competent and less hireable than the identical male student. Faculty also offered less career mentoring to the female student than to the male student, and the mean starting salary offered to the female student was significantly lower than that offered to the male student.”

So, here, right off we have pretty firm evidence that women in scientific fields have a disadvantaged (oppressed) position and men have an advantaged (privileged) position. Now, if the claim that “oppression” is a function solely or even primarily resulting from the actions of the privileged group is correct, then we should find a difference in the way that male and female faculty members rated student. So, let’s take a look at those results too:

“The effect of faculty participant gender and their interaction was not [significant] (all P>0.19)…female faculty participants did not rate the female student as more competent or hireable than did the male faculty. Female faculty also did not offer more mentoring or a higher salary to the female students than did their mail colleagues.”[4]

Well. As we can see, this idea that oppressive systems [in this case, sexism] are merely something perpetuated by the privileged [men] against the oppressed [women] is incorrect – sexism is being perpetuated by everyone, most of the time without even realizing it.

As a corollary to this – when someone objects to statements like “all men are oppressors”, that’s not the same as denying that men have a privileged position, or that this advantaged position means that their acts of oppressive behavior may sometimes have greater results. What it’s objecting to is the idea that sexism/racism/bias in general is something perpetrated uniquely and solely by the privileged group. Nor does it necessarily come from an ignorance of privilege/oppression terminology and theory – often it comes from having been exposed deeply to such discourse and finding it lacking. Critiquing the way that privilege/oppression discourse is sometimes structured isn’t the same as denying that any kind of privilege or oppression exists.

Notes:

[0] if you follow tumblr, you may have noticed that this is sort of reaction to this post over at ace advice, though it’s meant as a more general criticism of this kind of terminology overall rather than any particular post. This was just the particular one that triggered me to write this up.

[1] I say ‘in a given context’, because privilege/oppression dynamics are not universal constants – they are heavily dependent on the social culture of a given time or place. For the purposes if this post most examples will be coming from the context of mainstream US culture, and I’ll mostly be discussing male/female privilege/oppression discourse because it’s the first example that came to mind.)

[2] of course, when you start getting into perception vs. identity and all that things get a lot blurrier

[3] Available free to the public here: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474.abstract#aff-1

[4] The authors also note: “It is noteworthy that female faculty members were just as likely as their male colleagues to favor the male student. the fact that faculty members’ bias was independent of their gender, scientific discipline, age, and tenure status suggests that it is likely unintentional, generated from widespread cultural stereotypes rather than a conscious intention to harm women. Additionally, the fact that faculty participants reported liking the female more than the male student further underscores the point that our results likely do not reflect faculty members overt hostility toward women. Instead, despite expressing warmth toward emerging female scientists, faculty members of both genders appear to be affected by enduring cultural stereotypes about women’s lack of science competence that translate into biases against student evaluation and mentoring.”

[5] Final note, this does get more complicated when you get into A. groups which are largely in seperate social/cultural spheres and thus exposed to different social attitudes and biases and B. situations where you have more than two relevant subgroups. (Male/Female is the most simplistic structure, since nearly everyone is raised in a mixed-gender environment and there are (for the most part) only two major groups at play. Race would be an example of a much more complicated situation, since there are many more than just two groups, and since members of various groups may be distributed much more unevenly among different social/cultural spheres.

I am Not Sex-Favorable: Identifying as a Sex-Indifferent Asexual, and What That Actually Means.

So, when I first heard the term sex-favorable, I thought it was great – I knew of a couple people who had long felt that they were something other than just indifferent, but that never had a good way to describe that. It seemed like a nice way to round out our terminology – sex averse/repulsed for the folks who can’t stand the idea, sex-indifferent for the types who are kinda “meh” about it, and sex-favorable for the folks that actually are kinda interested.

Unfortunately, over the last few weeks that hasn’t been how things have played out, in part I think to a bit of a misunderstanding over what “sex-indifferent” actually means. See, what’s happened with sex-favorable is that instead of being used to describe those who felt positively about sex enough that indifferent didn’t work for them, it’s recently been used to simply replace the term indifferent to create a more drastic averse-favorable binary that’s just missing the point.

See, it’s not about “liking sex” vs. “not liking sex”. A lot of people I think hear “oh, you aren’t averse to sex? that means you like it which means you want it!” But that’s not really how it works.

I like metaphors, so let’s try one: Instead of talking about aversion/indifference/favorability of sex, let’s talk about cleaning toilets.*

(* of course, this metaphor doesn’t align perfectly because non-consensual toilet cleaning is nowhere near as bad as non-consensual sex, and unlike avoiding sex avoiding cleaning your bathroom can actually have negative consequences on your health and happiness. But I hope that it can still explain things a bit).

See, there are some people I know who absolutely hate the idea of cleaning toilets. Like, the thought of having to touch a toilet with their hands or even go near one for anything other than excreting waste just grosses them out. Or maybe they don’t object to the toilet itself, but maybe the smell of cleaning products makes them gag. But for whatever reason, these people would almost never willingly agree to clean a toilet under any circumstances. You could perhaps describes these people as “averse” or “repulsed” by toilet cleaning.

Then, on the other hand, there are people like me who don’t really mind. Like, it’s not fun, but we can see that it has certain benefits, like having a clean bathroom, that are useful. And when I do decide to clean the bathroom, there’s no instinctual revulsion or anything that I have to deal with. Like, it involves weird smelling chemicals and some elbow grease and other unpleasant things, but nothing that bothers that much in the overall scale of things.  Let’s call these people “indifferent” to toilet cleaning

And then, on the theoretical other end of the scale, there’s probably some people who are actually kinda into cleaning bathrooms. Maybe they have like a porcelain kink or something, or maybe they just find the routine of cleaning things a good form of stress-relief. These people could maybe be described as “favorable” towards the act of toilet cleaning.

Still, let’s note some things. First, the fact that I am not repulsed by the idea of cleaning toilets doesn’t mean that I’m automatically going to say yes if someone asks me to clean a toilet. Like, if someone comes up to me and says “hey, wanna clean my toilet?” I’d laugh in their face. Heck, even if one of my close friends comes and pleads for me to help clean their toilet, I’m still probably not going to. See, even when you’re indifferent to something, you’re still not going to do it unless the benefits are greater than the costs. Cleaning toilets involves missing out on other things I could be doing, it requires energy that makes me tired, etc. so I’m only going to do I if there’s some reason I think I’ll benefit.

So to exit from the metaphor, being sex-indifferent (or sex-favorable, for that matter), doesn’t mean you’re going to say yes to sex – now, or maybe ever. It just means that if the right circumstances arose, you might be comfortable considering it. It does not mean that you’re automatically willing to have sex with a romantic partner, or that you would ever be automatically open to anything.

Also, from a historical perspective, words like  “indifferent” and “averse” were meant to be less about your willingness to do certain acts than they were about your comfort level around certain things. At least, when I first encountered the terms on AVEN, they were often used much more broadly to describe things like not just dis/comfort with having sex but also various levels of dis/comfort with things like talking about sex, or watching sexually charged movie scenes, etc. And just being “averse” or “indifferent” didn’t really say anything about how you would choose to act in certain circumstances – for example, there are some people who consider themselves sex-averse or sex-repulsed who may decide that some level of sexual activity has, in their view, more benefits than costs, and may choose (for whatever reason) to engage in certain things, even if they might be uncomfortable with them – while on the other hand a person who feels more indifferent may nevertheless decide that for them, the costs aren’t worth the benefits.

Unfortunately, it seems like these definitions are being lost now – “indifference” has been extremely warped where it hasn’t been completely erased, and that “averse” and “favorable” have been bastardized into shorthand for “would you be willing to have sex with a partner”, which for people like me has never been what they were meant to mean. And at this point, I’m still wondering if those originally meanings can be reclaimed or if the concept has just been too far warped.

Asexual History Interest Group

Asexual History Interest Group

The Asexual History Interest Group is a Google Group (part mailing list, part forum, part document sharing and storage) for anyone interested in:

  • studying asexual history
  • learning about asexual history
  • recording asexual history
  • creating asexual archives
  • and more!

If you think you might be interested, please send a join request via the link above (or if that doesn’t work, message asexualitysf@gmail.com for an invite!)

This group was inspired by discussion had at the 2014 SF Asexual UnConference. Great things happen when aces gather :)

Categories are Complicated, or: What Tomatoes have to tell us about Demisexuality

So recently I’ve been thinking a bit about the debate that often goes around about whether or not demisexuality should be considered a “sexual orientation” per se. And while this post isn’t meant to try and settle that debate in one way or another, I want to address something that I think has been missing from the ‘debate’, which is the idea that there can be different categorical systems for different purposes, and that how a a thing is categorized can change depending on what you are using the categorization for – and that as such there maybe doesn’t need to be a debate at all.

A common example of different categorization for different purposes comes from the categories of fruits and vegetables. There are actually two different of systems for categorizing these. First, there are the biological definitions of fruits and vegetables: fruits are the seed-containing parts of a plant, vegetables are the other parts of the plant, like leaves and stems. Second, there are the culinary definitions: fruits are generally sweeter and used in things like deserts and jams and fruit salads and are almost always edible raw; vegetables are not very sweet and used in things like soups or roasts and are usually cooked. Biological fruit/vegetable categorization tends to be fairly strict, based on clearly defined definitions and innate, quantifiable traits; they’re based on trying to make a clear, objective, logical model of the fruit/vegetable distinction. On the other hand, culinary definitions are determined not by innate characteristics but by subjective social factors (for example, the popular definition of “if you wouldn’t put it in a fruit salad, it’s not a fruit”). It’s based not so much on the innate properties of the items but around how they are used in everyday life.

For the most part, culinary and biological definitions of fruits and vegetables overlap. Both agree that apples, blueberries, oranges, and mangos are fruits, and that  lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and celery are vegetables. On the other hand, there are other places where they differ: for example, things like cucumbers and zucchini and pumpkins and tomatoes are commonly considered culinary vegetables because they are used in cooking more like other vegetables than other fruits, even though biologically speaking they would be fruits. And things like mushrooms are culinary vegetables despite biologically being fungi and thus not even belonging in the fruit-vegetable distinction at all.

So, what does this have to do with demisexuality debates? Well, one of the problems with some demisexuality debates is that arguers are often using two very different categorical approaches: one the one hand, there’s the ‘theoretical scientific model’ approach which attempts to categorize aspects of sexuality in logical ways, categorizing things based on their underlying similarities or differences to build a general model for how sexuality works. On the other hand, there is the ‘social identity’ approach, which is based not necessarily on the underlying workings of a persons sexuality but on their personal identity and on the social implications of their sexuality. People using these approaches tend to come to different conclusions about whether demisexuality should be a “sexual orientation” because they have different operational goals underlying their categorical systems:

From a theoretical perspective, it’s true that demisexuality doesn’t really fit in with other “sexual orientations” which are based solely around the gender of the target of sexual attraction.  Demisexuality is primarily about what contexts sexual attraction can develop in, not what genders it can develop towards. Furthermore, some demisexual people do report also having an underlying sexual orietnation/gendered patterns of attraction, which again indicates that it can be useful to consider these two different factors from a theoretical perspective. From a theoretical perspective, what matters most is whether the mode is accurate to the underlying functions of sexuality. Thus, when constructing models or theories of human sexuality it makes the most sense to think of demisexuality (or not demisexuality) as a separate factor from sexual orientation.

On the other hand, from a social perspective, it makes perfect sense to place demisexuality as a sexual orientation. First, in a popular context there is usually very little distinction between a persons sexual orientation, sexuality, and sexual identity, and the three concepts are usually collapsed together*. In a popular (non-academic) context, sexual identity is all about what the most socially salient aspects of your sexuality are – for most people, it’s patterns based on gender, but for others (as in demisexual), it’s patterns based on familiarity, emotional connection, etc. Furthermore, even if you assume a demisexual person might theoretically have an underlying sexual orientation as well, they will likely never have enough “data points” to know what it is, so that knowledge is socially useless – their demisexuality is much more salient. From a social perspective, what matters most is validating a persons sexual identity. Thus, from a social perspective, it makes sense to include demisexuality in the same category alongside more “gendered orientation”-based sexual identities.

(Note: this relationship between “sexuality” , “sexual orientation”, and “sexual identity” is important. If you consider “sexual orientation” to be merely one small aspect of a greater sexuality/sexual identity, then saying that demisexuality is not a sexual orientation just means it’s a different underlying aspect, and just suggests a terminology change without implying any invalidation. However, when one assumes that “sexual orientation” is the same as “sexual identity” or “sexuality” -as is typically done by most people – then saying that demisexuality isn’t a sexual orientation is seen as invalidating the entire concept of demisexuality, even if that wasn’t what was intended. Because of this, I think it can be usefully to speak of “sexual identity” rather than “sexual orientation” in a social context. Personally, I tend to prefer using “sexual orientation” to refer to the theoretical category and “sexual identity” to refer to the social category to keep things clearer)

However, in asexuality debates, people usually don’t realize that there can be two different ways of looking at things: those who start from a more theoretical perspective get frustrated because they see the social model types seemingly blatantly ignoring how sexual orientation is historically used for specifically for gendered attractions. Those who start from a social perspective get angry because they think the theoretical types are trying to invalidate demisexual identity. However, a more useful solution might be to distinguish between the theoretical and social ways of categorizing demisexuality for different purposes. For example, if proposing an academic model for understanding sexuality, then it would be appropriate to consider demisexuality something in addition to rather than instead of another sexual orientation. But if asking about a persons sexual identity for community demographics, or for asking about anyone’s sexual identity in general, it makes more sense to use a social model and consider demisexuality alongside other sexual orientations. And, much like with culinary vegetable categorizations, while socially including demisexuality as a sexual orientation may seem “illogical” or “inconsistent”, from a social perspective being “right” doesn’t matter – being “useful” matters. And considering demisexuality as a sexual identity for social purposes is indeed useful. Just as a tomato can be both a fruit and not a fruit, demisexuality can be both a sexual orientation and not a sexual orientation.

So basically, it isn’t logically inconsistent to say “Demisexuality is not, theoretically speaking, a sexual orientation like heterosexuality or bisexuality, but it is, socially speaking, a sexual orientation like heterosexuality or bisexuality”. Understanding that scientifically considering demisexuality to be say, a mode of sexuality rather than a sexual orientation per se does not mean invalidating demisexual identity, and that considering demisexuality a sexual identity doesn’t mean ignoring the history of sexual orientations, would help people to actually have productive conversations instead of talking past each other as often happens now.

Just as a tomato can be both a vegetable or a fruit, demisexuality can be both a sexual orientation and not a sexual orientation depending on the purpose and definition.

Asexuality in Television and Film: Explicit Mentions (a reference post)

First, a quick explanation: This list is specifically of explicit, canonical mentions of asexuality in film or television; anything with an explicit mention of the word “asexual” is included, whether it’s a good example of actual asexuality or not. Instances of possible asexuality that are hinted at but not explicit (a.k.a. Sherlock, Sheldon) are not included here. Also, nonfiction works like the (A)sexual documentary have not been included.

(For some examples of characters in other forms of media like books and webcomics see this post)

Asexuality in Film:

The Olivia Experiment - an indie film featuring a main character (Olivia) who is questioning her (a)sexuality (but still remains undecided/in a “gray area” at the end of the film). Also includes an “asexual support” group, with some unfortunate stereotypes but a nice amount of explicitly identified asexuals (the treatment of the main character – especially in the latter half of the movie – is much better, in my opinion, but is less explicitly about asexuality). (*Note: currently only available at occasional screenings; public release expected sometime later this year)

Trailer is available to watch here

Asexuality in Television:

Shortland Street – (episode 4029/4030 and on). Character Gerald Tippet is questioning his lack of sexual desire in his relationship with his girlfriend, discovers asexuality and starts exploring it over the next season(s). It’s a soap opera, so there’s definite over dramatization of things, but overall pretty accurate representation otherwise. Also includes an asexual meetup group with several other asexual characters later.

- most clips from the asexuality story arc are available here.

Sirens – (haven’t seen this one yet, so I can’t provide much info, but includes an out asexual character as of a few weeks ago. Will update this as soon as I have a chance to watch it!) This series is also currently airing, so go watch it!

Here’s some gifs: one, two, three.

House (see season 8, episode 9: “A better half”) – Wilson gets an asexual patient married to another asexual, House claims he can disprove her asexuality because anyone with no sexual desire is “sick, dead, or lying”; episode ends with her husband having a brain tumor that suppresses his desire, and her revealing she lied about her asexuality for 10 years to be with him. Explicit but absolutely horrible representation.

-Collection of some of the major moments here, with a response from the author of the episode

Huge (see season 1, episode 5) – Poppy, one of the camp counselors, comes out as asexual when talking to another counselor about how she can’t relate to things like romance movies (while the campers are watching a twilight parody). Unfortunately, the topic isn’t really brought up again and the show was cancelled a few episodes later.

-Clip from the coming out scene

 The Gayest Show Ever – Canadian comedy sketch show which included a series of short spots about an mixed orientation couple (one asexual, one lesbian). (TW: possible implications of some iffy consent issues in part 2)

-Available on youtube: part 1, part 2, part 3

Divorce (starting with episode 2, season 2) –  Dutch-language television show featuring an out asexual character and an asexual meetup group. I haven’t seen it, but see Tristiferre’s post here.

Know of anything I’ve forgotten? Leave a note in the comments!

Asexuals, Sex Ed, and the Delayed Realization

(Inspired by discussion of delayed recognition of asexuality in this post: http://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/allonormativity-self-vs-other-and-the-delayed-realization/ , which made me think of some of the other reasons I personally have for taking so long to develop an asexual identity)

I think that for me personally, a large part of the delay in realizing that I was probably asexual wasn’t that I was afraid of being othered, but that I literally believed that everyone else just felt the same way I did. And I think a part of this may have been the way sex ed was discussed – or rather, the way that such courses focused heavily on sexual behavior, peer pressure, and romantic relationships while carefully tip-toeing around any hint of sexual desire or attraction.

The way sex-ed was taught at my school was similar to the way a lot of anti-drug programs worked: you learned about the possible risks, about ways people might pressure you into it even when you didn’t want to, and how to say no on those cases. The closest it got to acknowledging sexual desire was saying “if you do decide to do it use contraception.” or maybe “some people have relationships with the same gender.” On the one hand, the framing of the class kind of assumed everyone experienced heterosexual attractions – but at the same time there was no discussion of sexual attraction and the way it affects people.

For example, when discussing reason a teen might have sex, the list might look like this:

-because their friends are all doing it

-because their romantic partner says they should do it or they’ll break up

-because they’re afraid of being “prudish”

-because movies make it look glamorous

-because they think “loving someone” means you have to have sex

-etc.

Basically, all arguments cam down to “peer pressure from friends or romantic partners” and there’s one big reason missing: the fact that people might have sex because they experiences sexual attraction, or experience sexual desire or like orgasm or desire the act purely for itself. I think this may be partly because heterosexual attraction is assumed, and partly because educators are afraid that admitting that people like sex and do it for reasons that are not bad like “peer pressure” might suddenly make all these teens go out and have sex. (This is a common attitude that shows up even more strongly in abstinence-only education and in a lot of anti-drug campaigns).

And I think that that was part of the reason I took longer to figure out that I was ace – because I literally thought that the only reason people would be sexually interested in [boys/anyone] was because of peer pressure, and that when other girls mooned over celebrities they were just “faking it to be popular”. I didn’t realize that my lack of sexual attraction was unusual because I just assumed that everyone else felt the same – and that the real difference was that I had better self-control or was less susceptible to peer pressure.

Call for contributors: relaunch asexualitystudies.org as a group blog

Cleander:

Signal Boost! There’s a real need for something like this, glad to see it’s coming back online.

Originally posted on Mark Carrigan:

I’ve been thinking recently about trying to relaunch asexualitystudies.org (which is now asexualitystudies.wordpress.com because the domain lapsed) as a group blog. As I see it the site would serve four purposes:

  1. Collating news about asexuality research
  2. Curating asexuality related resources 
  3. Providing a network spacing for asexuality researchers
  4. Providing a forum for people to write shorter articles about asexuality research

If we could get five or six people together, it seems as if the site could be a really useful resource without it being a major responsibility for any one person. If you’re interested in getting involved please get in touch: mark@markcarrigan.net

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Individual suffering (or lack thereof) should not determine queerness.

(originally posted April 19, 2014 at http://nextstepcake.tumblr.com/post/83256994241/individual-suffering-or-lack-thereof-should-not)

So I’ve been thinking more about why it is that statements like “You’re asexual? Well, you’ve never been disowned by your parents or harrassed on the street, therefore you’re not a real queer” really bother me. The assumption that asexuals can’t have problems or can’t be queer is huge part of it, but for me I think the biggest problems that I personally find with it are these:

1. It measures individual queerness by individual suffering, which effectively punishes queer folks who have been lucky enough to fare relatively well for not having suffered enough, which is a really harmful and limiting perspective that get stuck obsessing over past oppressions instead of fighting for future opportunities and equates making social progress with betrayal of the “true queer” ideal.

2. It assumes that I, personally, have been fortunate solely because of my asexuality, and that if I were a “real queer” I’d have the suffering to prove it – when in actuality, I am fortunate mostly for other reasons that still would not change even if I had a more “traditionally queer” identity like being lesbian or bisexual:

  • It’s true that I have not been disowned, or ever had to fear it- not because I am asexual, but because I have a very accepting, LGBT+ friendly family. My parents have always made it clear that there is absolutely nothing bad or unusual about being something other than heterosexual, and coming from a family with multiple relatives already out of the closet and the knowledge that they will be cool with me no matter what meant that I was lucky enough to escape that fear – no matter what I ended up identifying as.
  • It’s true that It’s not illegal for me to marry my (hypothetical) partner – not because I am asexual, but because I live in California, which in a major supreme court decision this summer legalized marriage for all couple regardless of gender. (whether we’d be recognized elsewhere would be a 50/50 chance depending on my partner’s legal sex, much like it would be for many other non-monosexual queer people)
  • It’s true that people don’t harass me when I’m with my partner – mostly because I’m single and don’t have a partner, so as with all single people, queer or otherwise, this was not even applicable in the first place.
  • It’s true that I am not harassed on the street much – because I have a conventional, not very butch look, and I happen to spend most of my time in some of the most queer friendly areas of the country. Since no one ever stops and politely asks how you identify before they harass you anyway, my actual sexual orientation doesn’t actually have any input on this.
  • It’s true that I have never been harassed for being at an ‘asexual’ bar – mostly because we have no permanent resources like that, but then I’ve never been harassed when leaving actual gay bars and queer conferences and other such spaces.

All of these statements of my so-called “asexual privilege” would have been equally true if I were bisexual, which is what I thought I probably was before I found asexuality, and which is still the most resonant identity for me after asexuality.

Using suffering as a benchmark for queerness isn’t just harmful to people like asexuals who often face difficulties different from the stereotypical ones – it’s harmful to any queer person who has had the good fortune to live a good life. By defining queerness solely by suffering it precludes the possibility of a future where queer people can be free of suffering. So instead of trying to invalidate the identify of anyone who hasn’t had to suffer as much as some stereotype would predict, we should be working towards a future where all queer people will be able to be that fortunate.

The Quantum Queer Effect

(originally posted March 4, 2014 at http://nextstepcake.tumblr.com/post/78607036156/the-quantum-queer-effect)

Roughly defined, the Quantum Queer Effect is the process by which, in terms of how they are viewed by outsiders, nonmonosexual individuals exist in an ambiguous state of “kinda queer, kinda not” until they are reduced to “gay” or “straight” by outside observers.

The idea of the quantum queer effect stems from the way that the identities of non-monosexual people (like bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, etc.) are often reduced to either “gay” or “straight” by others (usually depending on the gender of their current partner), and the way this affects who is considered “queer” and contributes to the erasure of nonmonosexual identities.

For instance, a bisexual or asexual person may be considered “actually queer” when dating someone of the same gender, yet derided for being “really just straight” if they happen to date someone of a different gender*. But by this logic, a single non-monosexual person then exists in a sort of “quantum queer” state where they are simultaneously both “queer” and “not-queer” (and by the same logic, both privileged and oppressed) at the same time.

To many people, “bisexuality” or “asexuality”, etc. is just too difficult of a concept for them to hold in their heads, so when they encounter it they just try to find ways to split people up into “gay” and “straight” (no matter how little sense that may make).

(The term quantum refers to the idea in quantum mechanics that at subatomic levels, a systems can exist in a “superposition” of multiple possible states, only to collapse into a single state when “observed “by an outside force – think schrodingers cat.**)

Examples of the quantum queer effect in action include:

  • References to “straight” and “gay” marriage (bisexual people can get married too!)
  • Describing same-gender couples as “gay couples” and different-gender couples as “straight couples” regardless of how each identifies
  • Constructing arguments about how only “some” nonmonosexuals should be allowed in queer spaces.
  • Claims that only nonmonosexuals who actively date same-gender partners can suffer oppression.
  • Claims that nonmonosexual people having straight privilege.
  • erasure of the identities of nonmonosexual people in long term relationships.
  • erasure of the nonmonosexuality of historical figures and modern celebrities.

(* this is without even bringing polyamory into the equation)
(** science followers: please let me know if I got anything wrong here!)

(the inspiration for the concept comes from here:http://nextstepcake.tumblr.com/post/48578050636/next-step-cake-everytime-someone-says-a-variation-on)