Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ideal Asexuals

Apparently, there's an ideal asexual. It's not me, and no offense, but it probably isn't you either. Who is it, you ask? Well...

On Apositive, there's been a bit of discussion about the temptation to try to fit your asexuality into some sort of pre-approved version, rather than just being as you are and calling it asexual. So, since I try to read and respond to every thread on Apositive (not even kidding), I'd heard about this potential problem, but I didn't really believe it. There are no pronouncements about asexuality from on high...are there? How can you try to "be asexual" when there are so few ideas out there of what that means? I didn't realize that "trying to be asexual" can actually mean "trying to be an ideal asexual", and that it could be a problem, until I read this post/manifesto, also on Apositive. Its author talks about how our increased visibility in the media has also led to the rise of an "ideal" or "good" asexual. Of course, this person doesn't actually exist, because asexuals appearing in the media no doubt conceal aspects of their asexuality that might be seen as contradictory or confusing. I know I would be tempted to do the same. Here are some traits of "ideal asexuals" that people might potentially feel pressure to measure up to. Feel free to add any that I missed. Ideal asexuals:
  • Do not have any kind of disability or mental illness
  • Are physically attractive and have good social skills
  • Have dramatic stories to tell regarding their asexuality
  • Are not genderqueer or transgender
  • Are old enough to not be late bloomers
  • Are part of a racially diverse group
  • Are happy and "well-adjusted" (whatever that means this week), fitting seamlessly into mainstream society
  • Tried sexual activity in order to decide they didn't like it
  • Have an interest in dating or romantic relationships
  • Would not want to magically become sexual if given the chance
  • Have never experienced sexual feelings of any kind
  • Are not in any state of confusion about their asexuality
  • Are out to the people in their lives
  • Have not been abused, sexually or otherwise
  • Welcome non-sexual intimacy
  • Do not have anything negative to say about sex
I expect the average asexual to be somewhat taken aback by this list, because we tend to be non-conformist (go us), and because the vast majority of us probably don't actually fit this ideal. This list, perhaps, should not exist, but it does. However, talking about it diminishes its power. It emphasizes something that I've been saying since the infancy of this blog: We want to tell people about asexuality, but we also need to have control over how the message is communicated. If given the chance, mass media will sell us back an image of ourselves that may not look much like us at all. We have to make sure, consciously, that no asexual is left behind, no matter how abused, unhappy, and conflicted they may be. Mainstream media isn't primarily concerned with educating people, so it sure as hell isn't going to care if autistic transgendered teenage asexuals are fairly represented. Therefore, we have to care. However, DIY media tactics will not reach as many isolated asexuals as quickly as a TV spot will. If we're a niche, then we'll always have people wandering around wondering why everyone is interested in sex besides them. That's not good. But if we become a household name, will we be able to maintain our say over what asexuality means?

This is the conundrum that has baffled me for some time, and will no doubt continue to do so.

However. Even if we can embrace the fact that we're not ideal asexuals, we still seem to be in a constant state of confusion over whether we're asexual at all. Can we really blame the media for our constant investigations into whether we are "real" asexuals or not? Join me next time to puzzle this out with yet another thing that asexuals like.

19 comments:

heidi said...

I was psyched, until the bold:
* Do not have any kind of disability or mental illness
* Are physically attractive and have good social skills
* Have dramatic stories to tell regarding their asexuality
* Are not genderqueer or transgender
* Are old enough to not be late bloomers
* Are part of a racially diverse group
* Are happy and "well-adjusted" (whatever that means this week), fitting seamlessly into mainstream society
* Tried sexual activity in order to decide they didn't like it
* Have an interest in dating or romantic relationships
* Would not want to magically become sexual if given the chance
* Have never experienced sexual feelings of any kind
* Are not in any state of confusion about their asexuality
* Are out to the people in their lives
* Have not been abused, sexually or otherwise
* Welcome non-sexual intimacy
* Do not have anything negative to say about sex

...sex itself isn't so bad, but if not for my husband, I certainly wouldn't miss it. And seriously, is it reasonable to expect anyone to not have some sexual badness in their past?

Espikai said...

I think the idea of being an "ideal asexual" is what kept me from identifying as ace for a period of time between finding out about it and actually identifying as it. The list, I suspect, is what it is because such an asexual, theoretically, has easier rebuttals to many of the commonly thrown around criticisms. It seems almost impossible to bring more of the diversity of the asexual community like grey-A, ace transfolk, asexuals with disabilities, etc. into the light at the present time when the media is still for the most part sensationalizing and denying the core ideas of "ideal asexuality." As much as that makes me want to tear my hair out, I sadly have no great suggestions for the future.

Anonymous said...

Interesting list. Few more

- Isn't homo-romantic. (Because that makes you a repressed gay.)
- Was tested by a doctor for hormonal abnormalities, and everything came out normal.

Actually, I guess the ideal asexual has to be heteroromantic.

pretzelboy said...

I find the presentation of the list disturbing because it feels like a distortion of the problem in order to attack it. There is a real problem involved, but here's a question: whose ideal and in what context? There may be one image on an ideal asexual in media presentation--it's the sort of person whose asexuality-skeptical readers are most likely to accept as valid. And if people aren't going to accept the "ideal" cases, why would they accept any others?

The distortion and idealization of asexuality for media purposes is real, and I agree that the solution is to create our own content and make it readily available. But I'm not convinced that the idealized images of asexuality in the media are the source of pressure that some people feel to conform to some kind of asexual norm. (Nor do I think media presentation are the source of that norm.) One norm comes from outside of the community (and has political reasons) and the other norm comes from inside the community, even if no one is actually advocating this norm.

redpandacyborg said...

No groups have ideal archetypes that exist. sexuality and asexuality all have people on the extremes but in the middle its just a giant gray area. As someone who has a physical disability and is asexual the first bullet point is incredibly silly. Although any group portrayed by the media will develop archetypes because it is hard to display the subtle nuances of each group within a movie or a show. It boils down to the no "true" Scotsman idea.

Ily said...

*Is interested in Heidi's dramatic story* :-)

Espikai, it's funny you say that, because when I first heard about asexuality, I had a somewhat negative view of asexuals. I thought that if I was asexual, then I would "die alone" or some other thing. But, in the end, I was way too asexual to stay in denial for very long. I remember watching the 20/20 segment and being really mad that the asexuals didn't seem to be given wardrobe, hair, makeup, etc (all things I would want if I was appearing on TV). I guess I thought they should have looked MORE ideal than they did! I thought the looks of asexuals should matter just as much as anyone else's who might have appeared on the show.

I've seen some homoromantic people in media. I think having an interest in gay relationships is seen as more normal than not having an interest in relationships at all. Of course, this will all depend on how well-acceopted gay folks are in your area.

Pretzel-- I'm not saying that the media is creating all of our norms, just that it has a lot of potential power to do so. That wouldn't make much sense, because all things considered, we haven't been seen in the media all that much. It's more than nothing, but it's hardly a constant barrage. I try not to disturb my fellow asexuals TOO much...

Redpanda-- Yes, it IS silly, that's my point. Most of the things on that list don't apply to me, either. I don't agree that no groups have ideal archetypes (for example, my high school and college definitely had images of ideal students), but I do agree that most of the group probably doesn't even come close to meeting them.

heidi said...

Ok, so there are plenty of stories but none are page turning thrillers. On second thought, with a decent pseudonym... heck, why don't we all get together and write essays about asexuality and publish a book? Perhaps with a catchy title like "Asexuality; the Uninterested Orientation" or somesuch (*listens to crickets chirping).

Eh, it all just needs to be more approachable. But each topic (if we go down your list) could feature both sides of the argument. I'm not part of a racially diverse group, but we could include an essay by someone who is... and my boring background could be the next essay. And we could feature a socially awkward A alongside the super-popular one. If we look at each extreme and make sure that each topic is well covered, we don't need one poster child (though, who doesn't love David Jay?)

Hmmmm....

Ily said...

It would be cool to do a book. Although I'm sure that if it was a collection of essays in our own words, it would be diverse without anyone trying to make it so.

heidi said...

This is true - I'm thinking along the lines of shorter essays though, but so much goes into developing context that things would get pretty interesting. Full page bios would be fun, sans actual factoids. My spouse would probably be sad that I still keep such close tabs on your blog (I've weeded out a few other "A" blogs that got repetitive). Sigh.

Ily said...

My spouse would probably be sad that I still keep such close tabs on your blog...

Why is that? Does he have a competing blog that I don't know about? ;-)

Trix said...

I love the idea of a book! In fact I want to seriously look into it. With self-publishing nowadays... /goes off to brainstorm/ (any suggestions that occur - send them to my Aven inbox please)

heidi said...

Hah, Ily, I just love you =) He's always been defensive about labels and thinks that I'm boxing myself in by identifying as asexual (doesn't hurt the sex life, so I don't see the problem). So when I read asexy things and want to share my enthusiasm, I'm greeted with an icy reception... perhaps it reflects poorly on some ideal of masculinity, or makes him think that I'm not as enthusiastic about the frisky behaviors as he is. =/ Oh, and our blog (seetrail) doesn't compete at the same level (you're my asexy brain candy, our blog is mostly wildlife), so he can't be too jealous =)

KC the MoUsY spell-checker said...

"Are old enough to not be late bloomers"

How old would that be? And how does one "aspire" to be older? It is something that comes with time.

"Are part of a racially diverse group"

How is that relevant to being asexual?

"Have an interest in dating or romantic relationships"

This one seems slightly counter-intuitive to me because some people conflate the ideas of being asexual and aromantic.

"Have dramatic stories to tell regarding their asexuality"

I think this one somewhat contradicts the "well adjusted" one. I think well-adjusted would imply that one's life is not dramatic.

The Sinister Porpoise said...

You forgot one other thing and this is regrettable:

The ideal asexual must be male.

Tomatl said...

I love this post, and totally get what you are saying. We do need to be careful, and we can learn from other groups... there are other idealized queers (sweet, guitar playing monogamous lesbians, adorable fashion forward gay men who are funny, and would never make "fools" of themselves at pride, pretty/handsome transgendered people who can "pass" and have some sort of "medical" proof that they were born into the "wrong" body...) there are ideal women of size- they're pretty, and bubbly, and fun, there are ideal people without means- they work hard, don't have drug/alcohol problems, don't have mental illness. There are ideal persons with disabilities- have a visible disability, (but not developmental), are good looking, are grateful. I won't even start with racialized "ideals" ...the list goes on and on.

Society asks every "odd" group to offer up some of its more "normal" members as the means to acceptance. What will we do?

I'd selfishly and secretly love for people to think of aces as beautiful interesting healthy people, but f^ck that sh!t if it sells out even one of our ace siblings. We're queer, in different and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

We want to be visible in the mass media to reach out to other aces, but what is the point of being visible if what people are seeing doesn't resonate with them in their situation?

Ily said...

Gotta say, I lol'd at "guitar playing monogamous lesbians", probably because it's so true. It's like how in the L Word, there was all this discussion among viewers about how in a world where everyone was a lesbian, no one was butch, and the only one who was kind of butch became a man later. Maybe it's out of our hands, but maybe because we know that this idealization has happened to other groups, then we can do something about it.

Tomatl said...

For now I'll take Gerald (and his fabulous 3 piece suits) even if he isn't exactly sex-positive (and they threw people with Asberger's and sexual abuse issues under the bus) but it is all a process I guess. Thanks for the links, I'm only a third of the way through, but have been ROTFL, Nigella Lawson under the covers with a torch--things asexuals love: Food!!!

heidi said...

@ Tomatl - I <3 Gerald, but the rest of the plot was just getting revolting. So I haven't watched since the whole surrogacy fiasco started.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it