Reviewing “Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives” – Masterpost

So, after saying I would do it for months and never actually getting around to it, I really wanted to start posting some summaries/reviews/comments for some of the chapters in the “Asexuality: Feminist and Queer Perspectives” anthology, especially because it’s price tag makes it so inaccessible to most bloggers and even many students of asexuality.

But before I start: does anyone have any requests for which chapters they want to hear about first?

The full table of contents is below:

Introduction:

Part 1: Theorizing Asexuality: New Orientations

  • Mismeasures of asexual desires / Jacinthe Flore
  • Inhibition, lack of excitation, or suppression: fMRI pilot of asexuality / Nicole Prause and Carla Harenski
  • “There’s no such thing as a sexual relationship”: Asexuality’s Sinthomatics / Kristian Kahn

Part 2: The politics of asexuality

  • Radical identity politics: asexuality and contemporary articulations of identity / Erica Chu
  • Stunted growth: asexual politics and the rhetoric of sexual literature / Megan Milks
  • On the racialization of asexuality / Ianna Hawkins Owen

Part 3: Visualizing Asexuality in Media Culture

  • Spectacular asexuals: media visibility and cultural fetish / Karli June Cerankowski
  • Aliens and asexuality: media representation, queerness, and asexual visibility / Sarah E.S. Sinwell
  • Compulsory sexuality and asexual/crip resistance in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus / Cynthia Barounis

Part 4: Asexuality and Masculinity

  • “Why didn’t you tell me that I love you?”: asexuality, polymorphous perversity, and the liberation of the cinematic clown / Andrew Grossman
  • Masculine doubt and sexual wonder: asexual-identified men talk about their (a)sexualities / Ela Przybylo

Part 5: Health, Disability, and Medicalization

  • Asexualities and disabilities in constructing sexual normalcy / Einjung Kim
  • Asexuality and disability: mutual negation in Adams v. Rice and new directions for coalition building / Kristina Gupta
  • Deferred desire: the asexuality of chronic genital pain / Christine Labuski

Part 6: Reading Asexually: Asexual Literary Theory

  • “What to call that sport, the neuter human…”: asexual subjectivity in Keri Hulme’s The bone people / Jana Fedtke
  • Toward an asexual narrative structure / Elizabeth Hanna Hanson.
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Signal Boost: New Youtube Channel Aces Wild!

Heya, I just wanted to make a post here about a new asexual youtube channel that’s just started, called Aces Wild. Aces Wild was founded by Bauer of Aces NYC, and it’s a YouTube Channel for “reporting on news and updates within the Asexual Community, along with informational videos and the occasional joke.”

Some of their first videos include one of me being interviewed at Creating Change about the current state of the asexual community, in all my awkward glory. They’re also looking for more people to interview, so if you have something to say you should let them know!

Check out the introductory video here!

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About the whole anti-GLAAD “#Giveitback” thing

Update: Glad has changed the phrasing “A is for ally” to “Be an Ally. Build Acceptance”, which fixed really the only thing about this that was potentially a problem, so kudos on them for a prompt and reasonable response.

——-

So I have mixed feelings about the whole #Giveitback thing that’s going on right now.

On the one hand, I like seeing the outpouring of support for asexual/aromantic/agender people and the clever messaging. On the other hand…the GLAAD campaign is not who we should be targeting with this, and I feel like some of the people throwing themselves into this have sort of had a reactionary response to the phrase “A is for ally” without actually looking at the context it came in. There are a lot of shitty instance of people trying to insert “Ally” into the LGBTQIA acronym while excluding other identities, but this is not one of them.

If you read through GLAADs campaign materials, you can see that they are very, very careful never to equate being an ally with being LGBT, not do they ever imply that there should be an A for “Ally” as part of the LGBT acronym. (Heck, even the graphics emphasizing the A clearly use it in a manner unrelated to the LGBT acronym).

Yes, “A is for Ally” is often used to erase asexuals in other contexts (i.e. when defining LGBTQIA as including ally but not asexual) but this is not what GLAAD is doing here. It’s an unfortunate choice of wording by them given how easily it’s misinterpreted, but what it isn’t is actual erasure. The focus here is on allies because the whole point is to focus on people who are not LGBT, like…..allies.

This campaign is asking allies to do exactly what allies should do – which is support LGBT people by using their privilege and position to help fight anti-LGBT attitudes in their communities.

It’s not coming from a place of demanding that allies have access to LGBT spaces, it’s responding to the fact that a large portion of the straight cis populace still expresses discomfort at the idea of being near or even seeing LGBT people – and pointing out that straight/cis allies have the power and the obligation to help change that.

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What carbonated beverages have to teach us about identity politics

So I’ve been thinking about the whole “Bisexual vs. Pansexual” debates recently, and wanted to articulate something that I think is sometimes forgotten in identity label debates, which is that sometimes, a difference between terms doesn’t have to be a difference of meaning.

I think many people’s first impulse, when they hear about pansexuality and bisexuality, is to immediately ask “so what’s the difference between bisexual and pansexual identities?” And proposed explanations abound, along with accusations: “pansexuals are attracted to all genders and bisexuals only to two!” or “Pansexuals are gender blind, but bisexuals still see gender!” or many other claims that many bisexuals and pansexuals would likely disagree with. People see two different identity labels, and assume that they must describe two fundamentally different experiences, so they start trying to draw dividing lines, even when there are no clear divisions to be drawn.

But the thing is, sometimes (even a lot of the time), there can be multiple accepted labels for a single phenomenon – and these can coexist, without needing to deem one more correct/unproblematic/appropriate than all the others. And this isn’t a revolutionary idea – we deal with these kinds of linguistic differences all the time, without making a big deal of it.

Which is where we come to the subject of carbonated beverages. These are a pretty ubiquitous item, yet people have numerous different terms they use to describe them: In New England and the american southwest, they’re called “soda”. In the midwest or northwest, they’re called “pop”. In the south, they’re called “coke” (even when it’s pepsi). Cross the ocean into the UK, and they become “fizzy drinks”. And on the in-flight menu on the way over, maybe you’ll see them called “soft drinks”. And of course travel and cultural mingling and also just personal preference mean that even these generalizations arn’t hard and fast- you could perhaps hear all these terms used in a single place in a single day. Yet despite having all these terms, you can use pretty much any term and people will likely know what you are talking about. And while people often have strong loyalties to whatever term they prefer, you rarely see people getting into emotional fights about which of these is most or least “problematic”.

Perhaps because sugary drinks are less of a high-stakes subject, people are more forgiving of variance in these terms. I’ve never heard someone complain that using “soft drinks” to refer to carbonated beverages is problematic because it’s etymological history once referred to all non-alcoholic drinks, not just fizzy ones. And while people are often confused by “coke” being used as a general term when they’re used to hearing it refer only to coca-cola, they generally shrug it off and move on without a hitch.

So, why then do people get so up in arms about whether another person chooses to identify as “bisexual” or “pansexual”? Part of it is the high-stakes and high-emotions nature of identity politics, but i think part of it is that people sometimes forget that a difference in term doesn’t always have to be driven by or even justified by a difference in meaning – and that maybe if we can remember that, we can learn to be a little friendlier about the label choices of the people around us.

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Open Discussion: What changes have you noticed over time in the Asexual Community?

A recent post by godlessace that linked to a discussion about changes over time in queer and feminist communities, and how those changes are perceived,  has kicked of a bit of a parallel discussion about how the asexual community has changed over time. It’s been getting a lot of cross-discussion, so we thought having a more linear discussion site mightbe useful.

The conversation on tumblr can be a bit hard to follow, so here are links to some of the tumblr replies so far:

1. godlessace, writingfromfactorx, and nextstepcake discuss whether changes move faster in online and/or asexual activist circles.

2. nextstepcake and writingfromfactorx discuss some of the thematic changes we’ve seen in asexual communities.

3. Captain heartless weighs in on ambiguity and definitions and how that’s changed over time, and I comment on some of my understandings about the purpose of AVEN’s definitional models.

(There are also some sem-tangential but inspired by this conversations going on here.)

So, readers: what changes have you seen over the course of your time in asexual communities? Do you think these changes move faster or slower than in other communities you’ve been in?

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Building an Asexual Blog List

So I’ve started using an RSS reader to streamline my blog reading and increase the spread of asexual blogs I follow to include a lot more non-tumblr blogs, and it’s been super helpful (and I’m wondering why I didn’t start doing this years ago).

So, of course, the next step is to build up a list of blogs to follow. I have a list that I sort of cobbled together from some blogrolls on the blogs I did follow before, but it’s hardly an exhaustive list and I suspect I’m missing a lot of good blogs.

Does anyone have any suggestions for non-tumblr blogs that are either mostly or sometimes about asexuality? feel free to self-promote too! 

The current list of blogs I follow is below. (Note that many of these blogs are inactive, unfortunately).

Blogs that are mostly* about asexuality (at least over the few weeks I’ve followed them):

  1. alifeunexamined.wordpress.com
  2. asexualagenda.wordpress.com
  3. asexualcensus.wordpress.com
  4. asexualcuriosities.wordpress.com
  5. asexualfeminist.wordpress.com
  6. asexuality.livejournal.com
  7. asexualityarchive.com
  8. asexualsexologist.wordpress.com
  9. asexualspace.wordpress.com
  10. asexualunderground.blogspot.com
  11. asexystuff.blogspot.com
  12. cakeatthefortress.wordpress.com
  13. efftheatre.blogspot.com
  14. fistfelt.wordpress.com
  15. hypomnemata.me
  16. pianycist.wordpress.com
  17. prismaticentanglements.com
  18. queeringasexuality.com
  19. reflectiveace.wordpress.com
  20. theacetheist.wordpress.com
  21. thethinkingasexual.wordpress.com
  22. writingfromfactorx.wordpress.com

Blogs that are sometimes about asexuality:

  1. skepticsplay.blogspot.com
  2. neutrois.me
  3. markcarrigan.net
  4. thenoteswhichdonotfit.wordpress.com
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Housekeeping notes – Name Change

As some of you may have noticed, I’m no longer listed as “Cleander” on several ace sites but have been gradually switching to “Sennkestra”. This is part of an ongoing attempt by me to consolidate some of the many “personas” I’ve taken on over the years on various corners of the internet.

The username “Cleander” is one I started using during my first explorations of asexuality, at a point when i wasn’t ready to be out or be linked to any of more public personas. While it still holds a special place in my heart and it’s a name that I’ll always respond to, now that I’ve come a long way in accepting that part of myself as a core part of my identity, I felt it was time to end the separation between my asexual and non-asexual online personas.

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Second Generation Atheism

So, the theme of this month’s Carnival of Aces is Asexuality and Atheism, which got me thinking about atheism. And while I haven’t really noticed any ways in which my atheism and my asexuality affect each other, it has gotten me thinking about my relationship atheism in general, so this is going to be a non-asexuality post.

My relationship with my atheism has I think been most strongly affected by the fact that I’m what I guess I would call a “second generation atheist” – both of my parents are well-educated atheists, and I was raised in what I guess could be called an atheist household, although I never really think of it as such. And even most of my other close relatives tend to be minimally religious at most. So because of that, I didn’t grow up with religion – I never went to church, I wasn’t raised to believe in a god or gods, I wasn’t really raised with any particular supersitious or other pseudo-religious beliefs.

And as a result of that, I never had to “find” atheism. I have never had to question or overcome religion. I have never had to “come out” to my family as atheist. And I never really had to struggle with the assumption that there must be a God – because from my time as a kid, I just never was given any reason to believe that “God” was any more real than Harry Potter or the Simpsons or any other popular character. I’ve never really been “passionate” about atheism because it’s just something I’ve always taken for granted. And while I’m passionate about things that are often correlated – like, say, good science and having sensible politics that are dictated by real data instead of arbitrary dogma – I don’t tend to think of those as part of my atheism, but just as part of being a sensible individual.

And because of this, I sort of feel like an odd duck in atheist communities. Now, admittedly, I’ve never really done more than glance at occasional atheist blogs or groups, or talk to individual atheists, so my first impressions may be completely off. But in general I feel like I wouldn’t be that comfortable in most atheist groups because I just don’t care about religion or god as much as they seem to. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense – Atheism, as an identity typically defined by not believing in God, or not following a religion, would sensibly have to talk about these topics. But when people are talking about how coming out as atheist to their family was hard, or sharing notes about when they began to doubt the existence of god, or people talking about the difficulty of “breaking up with religion” or the hypocrisy inherent in some particular school of religious thought, or whatever, I have nothing to share. It’s just a completely alien experience to me.

Of course, personal experiences with god are only part of the reason that people can have strong feelings about atheism vs. religion – for many people the need to talk about religion comes from external clashes with religion, but even there I don’t have a lot of personal investment.

Even outside my blatantly atheist family, I lived in a community that wasn’t particularly pushy about religion. In fact, most of my exposure to organized religion had been through the local Jewish congregation – I went to a Jewish preschool because it was one of the better schools in the area, and later on I had a lot of Jewish friends and would occasionally tag along to synagogue with them when I was visiting for a sleepover or playdate or whatever, and of course there were the rounds of bat and bar mitzvahs in middle school. But even there I never really felt any pressure to be anything other than atheist – I think probably because Judaism, with it’s mix of religious and cultural components and (in my experience) a seeming emphasis on traditions over beliefs, tends to be more open to secular participation (and several of those friends have identified as secular to varying degrees), and the local congregation was I think a fairly laid back one. And apart from those occasional events, religion or god were just…never a topic of conversation.

To be honest, my first real serious exposure to a more aggressive religion came in college, when for a couple years I lived with a Christian roommate and two of her friends who were all in the same Christian student fellowship. I was present at a couple dinner parties and things for this group, and my roommate convinced me to go to one of their campus social activities once (and only once) – the free food was pretty great, but there was just way too much talking about christ and pretty heavy recruiting pressure, so I was never comfortable there. But then that has been like most of my religious experiences: I went somewhere with religion, was made uncomfortable, so I just left and went back to the rest of my life, where most of my activities and friends are, if not explicitly atheist, quite nonreligious. Which pretty much sums up my relationship with a religion: there really isn’t one. We occasionally brush up against each other and then depart, but there’s no strong connection, whether of a positive or negative nature. On a political level, sure, I have strong opinions about what role religion should (or shouldn’t) play in things like government and education, etc. etc. But there’s no personal resonance.

On the other hand, I get the impression that so-called “Skeptic” things (which are sometimes but not always tied into the atheism movement) – as opposed to “Atheist” things, tend to be a little more in line with my interests, as they seem to be less focused on organized religion per se and also include things like pseudoscience and common superstition, urban legends, etc – which I have much more experience with in my personal life and actually care about a lot more personally, and I do follow a small handful of skeptic-themed blogs and podcasts that I do enjoy (Though keep in mind that as with atheism, my interaction with the Skeptical “community” is tangential at best). But considering that I’m mostly there for the science, theory, and current events talk, I still feel uncomfortable identifying myself as any part of even the more “general” atheist/skeptic/etc. community considering the issues discussed above.

——

As a sort of corollary to that, though, I have a question for any of my followers who might be more aware of this than me: Do any of you know if there’s any information available on how common “2nd-generation atheism” even is, or if there are any good blogs/books/etc. that talk about the subject? My impression from my current social circles is that it tends to be extremely uncommon (especially when you restrict it to parents who were actively “atheist” – coming from vaguely nonreligious backgrounds seems more common in some of my international friends from counties that are in general less religious than those from western/christian backgrounds). But I still haven’t been able to find any actual hard data so I have no idea what the reality is.

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Olivia Experiment Public Release

So if anyone’s been curious about The Olivia Experiment, it’s now available publicly via amazon and itunes (you do have to pay though). I think the cheapest option is a one-day rental for $4-5.

Amazon link here. iTunes link here. (ETA: it looks like it’s available on several other platforms like google play as well, but they all seem to have the same pricing).

You can watch the trailer here.

The main character is questioning her a/sexuality, and it also features a Berkeley asexual meetup group in one scene (though they are nowhere as fun or accepting as the real Berkeley asexual meetup group).

Be aware that it does have some really awkward asexual stereotypes (mostly in the beginning), though I think the conclusion of the movie was better done. Overall verdict: treatment of Olivia’s questioning a/sexuality  = pretty decently done. Treatment of all the other asexual characters = pretty poor stereotypes. So it’s a mixed bag, but I think it’s worth taking a look given that explicit asexual representation of any kind is so rare, and there were several genuinely funny/touching scenes.

Also, re: the “have sex to figure out if you are asexual part” that seems to worry a lot of people – they actually handle this part pretty well in the end even though it may not look like they will at first, though I can’t say more without spoilers. But yeah I know it looks really skeevy but that’s not actually a part to worry about (in my opinion anyway, ymmv).

Still waffling on whether to write up a longer review/summary/commentary, would people be interested?

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“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.

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