Asexuality in Court Records from Hollingsworth v. Perry

So while trying to look up some more information on works by Kenji Yoshino, I actually stumbled upon something else pretty neat – mentions of asexuality in court transcripts from the Hollingsworth v. Perry court case, which is notable for leading to the legalization of same-sex marriage in California.

While all the references to asexuality were all very minor side notes and not major points of contention in the case, I do think it’s interesting to note that it is popping up in official records and discussions.

You can see the full court transcripts here and here for more context, but here are the relevant passages if you just want to take a quick look.

The most relevant example comes from cross-examination of Dr. Gregory Herek, a professor of psychology at UC Davis. During a discussion of models of gender and sexuality, they mention one approach to modeling sexuality that includes asexuality:

Whereas, masculinity and femininity had previously been conceptualized as lying at two ends of a bipolar continuum. You are either masculine or feminine and if you are high on masculinity, you necessarily were low on femininity.

Around this time some researchers had proposed that actually you could — those were independent of each other. Some individuals were high on both masculinity and femininity, and those individuals were labeled androgenous.

I believe Shively and DeCecco were influenced by that perspective and what they proposed to do was to take Kinsey’s approach, which had that scale that ranged from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, and to apply this new way of thinking and say that you could possibly be high on both, in which case I imagine you would be labeled bisexual; or you could be high on one, low on another, or low on both, in which case you would probably be labeled asexual.

And I think that’s a reasonable way of asking about it. I — I think that one thing that’s missing from this approach is that they are looking at physical preference and affectional preference. They are not asking about a person’s actual identification or a person’s behavioral history; but as far as looking at the idea of physical and affectional preferences, this is a reasonable way to measure that.

The article being discussed is “Components of Sexual Identity” (1977), which I actually don’t think I’ve read before but which is definitely interesting and relevant to the ace community! It also discusses  physical vs. affectional attraction, which appears to be similar to the way ace communities discuss sexual vs. romantic attraction; this is covered earlier in the court transcript.

There is also another more minor reference to behavioral asexuality later in the same interview:

And we can go back, yet again, to the Laumann and Gagnon study, which asked about attractions and identity in the present, but asked about sexual behavior in the past.

So this unanswered question about whether the measure will predict future behavior or orientation, I would say, given the way they phrase this, it would be an unanswered question in that they don’t even — are not proposing, I don’t think, a particular measure that one would even use in this.

And so, again, I would say, as I said before, that if  you are trying to predict a person’s future sexual behavior, especially if this is an adult, someone who has gotten past adolescence and maybe even young adulthood, that you would probably do best to hypothesize that their behaviors will be consistent with their current sexual orientation, if in fact they engage in sexual behaviors.

I believe one of the reservations I had in my deposition was that you might not even know that the individual is going to engage in any sexual behavior. So people end up being celibate or asexual for various reasons.

The other example, from the cross-examination of Dr. Letitia Anne Peplau, a UCLA professor of psychology, is not a reference to asexuality per se, but more a discussion of asexual lesbian relationships. (I’ve noted before that most of the examples in this book are not really of much relevance to the asexual community today, nor do most of the people in the book consider themselves “asexual” as a sexual orientation).

I’m not sure what the point of this particularly line of questioning was, but it followed discussion on whether gay and lesbian couples can accidentally get pregnant.

Q. Do you recognize this?

A. Yes. This is a book review that I wrote of a book by Esther Rothblum, an edited book, yeah.

Q. A book entitled “Boston Marriages: Romantic but Asexual  Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians,” is that right?

A. That was the title of the book, yes.

Q. And in your book review, you wrote that:  “A growing body of research suggests asexual lesbian relationships are not uncommon.” Isn’t that right?

A. I would agree with that. I don’t know if I would — I agree with the statement that we have documented examples of lesbian relationships that are not characterized by what the general public thinks of asexuality; that is, sort of genital sexual activities. And elsewhere I have written about the fact that sometimes we use definitions or criteria for sexuality that are based on male sexuality. Kind of assuming if there isn’t a penis involved or genital contact of some sort, that it’s not a  sexual activity. And one of the things that some lesbians report is that other kinds of activities that might have a sexual component, such as cuddling or kissing, are things that they  value, but that genital sex may not necessarily be a part of their relationships.

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About Sennkestra

I'm an aromantic asexual and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in linguistics. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make costumes and other arts and crafts projects.
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4 Responses to Asexuality in Court Records from Hollingsworth v. Perry

  1. luvtheheaven says:

    Oh interesting! Thanks for sharing.

    I’m a little confused by, “that are not characterized by what the general public thinks of asexuality”… In this context wouldn’t it be better to say “sexuality”, with no “a” at the end there? ;) Lol but yeah it’s cropping up!!

  2. Pingback: Linkspam: October 14th, 2016 | The Asexual Agenda

  3. Pingback: Models of Sexuality in Shively and De Cecco’s “Components of Sexual Identity” (1977) | Next Step: Cake

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