Friday, January 23, 2009

The Designated Hater

The original purpose of this blog was to respond to representations of asexuals in the media. As you've noticed, these are so few and far between that I've had to branch out to other topics. But with ABC's recent coverage of AVEN's DSM (that's the big book with the psychological disorders) project, I seem to have reached critical mass, mentally speaking. I feel like I can really start to identify trends in the way that we're presented. I'm about to lump a lot of things together, however, there are exceptions. The most notable ones to me are Bitch Magazine's article "Do Not Want", the KPFA radio story, and the Guardian's article from Paul's perspective.

First of all, in most media we're really presented as "other" and outside the mainstream. There's little done to help the readers identify with us. Harvey Milk was very wise when he declared that gay people were your family, friends, and neighbors. He knew that gay people would be "othered". Milk and his compatriots took to the streets to show solidarity, but also to demonstrate how many gay people there really were. And that's another thing about the articles-- they make it seem like we're an extremely small group, when in fact, 1% of the world's population is an enormous group. There's always mention of AVEN, but little thought is given to the power and implications of this community. And asexuals actually interacting off-line? That must really be an urban legend.

To me, the most annoying feature is that there is always, always at least one hater*. What they're saying doesn't even have to make sense, but it apparently has to be included anyway. So few people know about asexuality to begin with, so where did these haters come from? I would guess that they're not very informed about asexuality, if at all. Most people spend about zero time thinking about asexuality, so how much do these "experts" really know? They seem to be operating on rumor rather than fact. I know that dissenting views make a good story. But you don't look at the wedding announcements and then see quotes from people who claim the wedding didn't actually happen. Asexuality, like I've said before, isn't an issue with two sides because it isn't an issue. The way we're treated might be an issue, but our orientation itself is not.

Since I realized this issue with the haters, I've looked for haters in media about other groups. You'll find them often in stories about the gay community. A few months ago, I saw a documentary, made by a gay man, called Small Town Gay Bar. As you might imagine, it was about the patrons of gay bars in small towns. It was obvious that the film's subjects were risking their safety, perhaps even their lives, to congregate with people who they could relate to. So when Fred Phelps appeared to talk about how much he hated gay people, it didn't serve to educate me much further. Hearing the stories of the small town gay people themselves was much more edifying than random hating. However, maybe I just say this because I already know more than I want to know about Phelps. If you had no idea what gay folks have to contend with, Phelps' vitriol might show it to you. But the thing is, Phelps is so over-the-top and ridiculous that he's obviously there to illustrate how stupid hating makes you look. The asexuality haters are cloaked in professional or "expert" terms, and so people are more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. Whose word would you believe, a self-professed sex expert or a random asexual? Would you believe a mild-mannered lesbian or a raving bigot? Maybe we can include haters after all, if they're batshit crazy enough.

But the three stories I mentioned above (Bitch Magazine, KPFA, and the Guardian) are proof that we don't need haters to produce a quality report. Those three pieces were the best so far, in my opinion, because they were the most informative, thoughtful, and fully-formed. I know that many aces, myself included, are very hesitant to appear in media, if we don't refuse alltogether. I think part of this apprehension is because we don't want to square off against haters. To me, arguing with someone you know is wrong is the most frustrating feeling in the world. That's why I have a blog so I can always be right. (Mwhahaha.) But I really do think our media options are beginning to improve. The hating on ABC was rather light, all things considered (I know, my expectations are so low). And at least it focused on something we were actually doing rather than the mere fact of our existance. Maybe one day we'll get more in-depth reporting than the 10 people in the world who are allergic to water and are always on TLC during the daytime.

*[Sidenote: Let me define exactly where in the ABC article hating takes place. An professor who doesn't seem to have any prior information on asexuality says: "Given that I believe our sexuality is a great emotional and physical asset, it is hard for me to think asexuality is appropriate to declassify [as a dysfunction]". But what she misses is the fact that asexuality isn't classified in the first place! Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is classified. Way to ignorantly mislead people and imply that we're emotionally and physically deficient. But! Cake for Lori Brotto!]


pretzelboy said...

In this particular article, I felt that the inclusion of the asexohater's quote did serve a purpose--because the issue at hand was not the existance of asexuality, but it's relationship to the DSM, showing that there are more than one opinion is important. (Not that I didn't find the quote annoying.) However, if I recall correctly, there were three supportive experts quoted compared to one hater. I've also come to respect the way the Tony Bogaert now does interviews on the subject. In his early stuff, he tended to sound fairly scientific on the matter--perhaps the way one might address an academic audience. In more recent articles, he focuses more on the person side of asexuality and the issues that asexuals face. While most of what he says is well know to asexuals, I see it as very valuable that it comes from someone quoted as an expert who has research the subject.

Also, I would disagree with you on the subject that asexuality is not a disorder classified as a disorder. In my understanding of things, asexuality basically is treated as a disorder by the DSM, and that part about "distress" is freely ignored by a good number of people and may be removed in the DSM-V. (Well, not actually removed, but moved far away to make it even easier to ignore.)

The Impossible K said...

Oh man, I've totally been thinking about this topic (Haters) too... especially since it seems like everything I love is being challenged by haters- grr... I respect other people's opinions, but not when they are based in hate and lies. Not cool.
Oh, but I LOVE your wedding announcement analogy! It takes a lotta nerve for so-called "experts" to dismiss our personal experiences so flippantly... or others to question our orientation just because it doesn't mesh well with their paradigm! All the more reason, I say, to speak up and speak out about asexuality. :)

Ily said...

But I don't want more than one opinion! I want propaganda! Asexuals are made of candy! :-)

Lanafactrix said...

Asexuals are made of candy!

And we're not at war with Eurasia.

Seriously, though, I feel you. There's always the same hating in articles about OMGTEHFATZ, even when the point of the article is something benign and (you'd think) uncontroversial, like "being ten pounds 'overweight' won't turn you into a freak of nature."

Jessica (Lydia) said...

Interesting, since looking up Hypoactive Sexual Desire disorder, it says that it "is a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity." SInce a lot of asexuals do have sexual fantasies, and a lot of asexuals do desire sexual activity (to fit in, to please their partners, and so on and so on and so on), it does indeed seem that this disorder does not pertain to ace folks. (That seems to be twisting it a little, though--most probably the desire for sexual activity is supposed to be innate and physical, visceral, rather than "calculated," of sorts: for "non-visceral" reasons.)

But then I worry that ace people who don't desire sex ever at all and don't fantasize ever at all will get smeared with the disorder paint brush, although looking further into the definition, it would seem to rule the ace person out. But a lot of people won't get that. Bah.

Queers United said...

There needs to be a term for asexual haters or the misinformed because they exist and there are a lot of them. Many of the same people who are quick to label asexuality hypoactive sexual desire disorder, are the same who says homosexuality is the same-sex attraction disorder or that transsexuality is a gender identity disorder. We are all dealing with the same people.

Ily said...

You're right, every group of people has its haters. It's always sad to encounter homophobic asexuals, or aphobic or transphobic gay people. You'd think people would extrapolate from their own experiences, but...people are weird.