Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Became of Class?

"If you've got letters after your name, or someone else to take the blame, you've got privilege".
--Television Personalities

Okay, you should definitely read the title of this post in the manner of the song from Chicago. In the comments to a previous post, Slightly Metaphysical mentioned that "there have been some comments on AVEN that asexuality is a white identity". It's a statement I've heard implied before. Okay, once. But still, it's something that's being asked, somewhere. I've been lucky enough to meet a lot of asexuals, and I've seen racial diversity in those I've met. As much as exists in my particular area as a whole? That, I don't know. As far as the question goes, I find it impossible to even guess at it directly. To do that, I feel like I'd need some sort of data both about asexuals and about the racial makeup of other queer identities. I think it's a multi-pronged question, but there is one small (?) prong I feel confident tackling. And that's class.

I don't think it's that surprising to state that at least in America, race tends to map onto class. In different regions of America, you'll find people of various backgrounds who predominate as "the poor". The constant is that the higher you go in terms of socio-economic class, the more white people there are. Of course, there are non-white people who are affluent and there are plenty of poor whites. However, when I look at the very rich people in my area, and then look at the people in poverty, I am generally looking first at white people, then at people of color.

So while class and race aren't permanently married, they can be connected statistically, and this is an idea you'll have to consider buying into in order for the rest of this post to relate to asexuals and race. My thesis here is that while I may not be able to prove (or disprove) a racial divide in people who identify as asexual, I may be able to prove that there is a class divide.

First, a fact: Most of the information available on asexuality is on the internet. And a lot of people still don't have access to the internet. "The digital divide" is a reality even in America. When poor people do have internet access, they might be using public or shared computers, and would have to accomplish the essentials rather than doing exploratory research on sexuality. If you're a low-income person, you might not have a job that requires you to use a computer, and you might have not learned to use one. This especially applies to older people, if the advent of computers happened when they were already out of school.

There's also the fact that when you're in poverty, you might not have all that much free time. Time-saving conveniences cost money, so being poor usually takes up a lot of someone's time. Since asexuality is the lack of a feeling, I think it can be a lot harder to realize you're asexual than to realize you're gay or bi. For me, I don't think it was a coincidence that I discovered I was asexual when I was able to spend some time in relative solitude, away from my everyday life. A lot of people in poverty don't have that opportunity. College is a prime time for people to question their identities, including sexuality, but you have to be able to afford to go there, at least in the US. Your income doesn't affect how thoughtful you are or how much you question. But, there are certain environments that are more conducive to those things than others. Being in poverty can include a lot of urgent worries like unsafe living conditions or medical problems you can't afford to fix.

I think one reason for the class disparity isn't that AVEN (the place from which most info on asexuality springs forth) is inherently classist or anything but that it just doesn't have the resources to target particular groups of people beyond the media that comes to us. Hopefully, this will change in time. I think that in the future, people of all classes will know about asexuality, however, right now, I think that knowledge of asexuality is largely skewed towards people who are relatively more affluent, or at least come from families fitting that description. I know some readers will be thinking, "Well, I'm asexual, and I'm poor". But it's not individuals I'm talking about here, it's general trends. And of course, people who weren't able to find out about asexuality due to class-based reasons (or any reason, I guess) won't be reading this and commenting here. So that's my theory...or at least, one potential circuitous route.


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

I've been thinking a bit more about race and asexuality since we last spoke. If there is a difference between white people and other races in their representation among asexuals (and it's difficult to analyse something we don't even know exists), then there's two things that may play a role. Firstly, as you explained, asexuality, as an introspective identity, needs a certain amount of time and resources to realise, and secondly, I know I have felt pressure on me as a white man to conform to the stereotypes of white men; oversexed and undiscriminating. I think this is a relatively weak pressure, comparatively, so how much more difficult would it be to come to the conclusion that you're asexual if you're one of those groups which are stereotyped as hypersexual- black men, black women or asian women, for example.

Ily said...

Thanks for the my experience, it's Black and Asian women who are stereotyped as being sexually receptive, not necessarily sexually voracious. To me that's a big difference. However I have no idea to what degree people internalize these stereotypes. As a white person who doesn't really fit into any subcategory of white people, it's not an experience I've dealt with.

I searched "sexuality and race" and came up with this article:

about gay Asian-Americans. There's this quote:

Lin is part of a larger pattern: the "polymarginalized" minority, whose identity cuts across divergent categories and belongs nowhere in the social mosaic. Gay Asian America is a world of the persona non grata. From discrimination there is never respite, even amidst one's "own," Lin is an outsider among outsiders.

that I thought was pretty relevant. Asexuality is pretty easy to hide if need be. I can understand why if you were already feeling marginalized, you would not want to be marginalized further by coming out as asexual.

Raymo.E-J said...

For what it's worth (as I possess relatively dark-skin):
I approve of this conversation, haha

And, a mini rant:
Most people have been and are being "brainwashed" by an onslaught of racialized, stereotyping media (including "the classics"); Eurocentric lingua-semantics (shut up); and the modern system of North Atlantic economics doesn't help a bit--besides the few with ethics skewed enough to "create time".

But like I said in another comment here, we must account for these statistics that glare at us.

You're right, Ily: solitary leisure time and access to the free flow of information about sexuality encourages questioning. You said it correctly. Simply put, poor people without adequate public and community resources--who may also happen to be black, immigrant, white, European, asian american, aboriginal, Asian, mestizo...--are too busy with socio-economic pressures to FREELY explore their sexualities or to consciously FREELY form, or let manifest, their identity.

Without a room of their own, as provided in college dormitories and housing, poor people can only afford glimpses into their consciousness, which isn't enough of a time investment to overpower aforementioned onslaught.

I guess I'm lucky since I'm poor and "black"...Thanks Montgomery County, Maryland; YOU ROCK (with your affluence and public resources)!

Ily said...

Thanks for your thoughts...I really like the way you put this:

Without a room of their own, as provided in college dormitories and housing, poor people can only afford glimpses into their consciousness, which isn't enough of a time investment to overpower aforementioned onslaught.

I have a hard time seeing our society as being so "advanced" until everyone can have the choice of free exploration that you mention. In the early part of the 20th century, it was thought that by now, people in the working class would have all this leisure time to spend on intellectual activities, thanks to technology. But now it's almost like technology can act as a barrier.

Quantum Moon said...

This seems somewhat elitist, it costs nothing to think.

Ily said...

it costs nothing to think.

Well, I agree with that, and said as much. But to be clear, it isn't just "thinking" I'm talking about. It's figuring out that you're asexual, which can be hard to do under the best of circumstances. As it says in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, people need things like food and safety before they can get to work on self-actualization. And a lot of Americans either don't have those basics, or are in danger of losing them.

Anonymous said...

Hi, just a lurker, but one who would like to point out that in the US, at least, it's much cheaper to be married or at least living with another person than it is to not be. If you (general "you") don't have a lot of money, you think about getting a roommate. If you want a cheaper one bedroom apartment, you get a roommate with whom you can share that one bedroom. That roommate who shares your one bedroom is probably going to be considered your significant other; in fact, you probably don't consider getting a one bedroom apartment with anyone other than a significant other. So even if you don't particularly want to be with someone, it's more economically feasible to just go ahead and do it. And it's a lot easier to find someone to be with if you are following the "normal" path of having a significant other with whom you have sex. So that could be another angle.

Ily said...

Hey, lurkers welcome. :-) As for me, I found it really difficult to be single, making minimum wage, and living in San Francisco which I believe is the country's most expensive place after Manhattan. A lot of people there live with total strangers without much issue, however I happened to end up with an awful living situation that way. It's just one more crappy thing that poorer people have to potentially deal with (and yes, minimum wage in SF puts you below the poverty line in that city). I was lucky in that I was able to move in with family when my housing in SF didn't work out.

I think the asexuality-related issue here might be that if an asexual in poverty is in a relationship with someone who's pressuring them for sex, it's harder to leave the relationship if you rely on the other person financially or for housing. Of course that would go for non-asexuals too. Personally, I found it easy to be in denial about my asexuality, so maybe a situation like the one above would perpetuate that.

Quantum Moon said...

I find there's only so long in a day I can worry about how to pay the rent, and not being to afford to do anything gives me lots of spare time to surf the web for information. That said I'm not American so I don't really know the situation of the poor there. I get the feeling Americans are somewhat more uncaring towards those less fortunate then one might hope from an advanced nation. I wonder if this perceived class difference in self-actualization exists in other countries with a more developed welfare state?

Ily said...

If you don't mind me asking, what country are you from? I don't think that Americans, as individuals, are any more uncaring than folks of other nationalities. But I do think we have some cultural beliefs that tend to impede our progress when it comes to helping disadvantaged people on a large scale. That said, unless there is a country where everyone is given a computer by the government, there will still be some number of people who can't get online to find out about asexuality. (Which would be such a trivial concern to most people that it almost sounds silly to me to say.)

This map of the "Global Digital Divide" might be of interest :!Global_Digital_Divide1.png

There are AVEN sites in other languages but they're mostly from countries that have a lot of computers, primarily in Europe. The reason there's no AVEN sites for any African country, for example, might be because so few people on that continent have computers. Of course, the digital divide angle is only one among many that are possible.

Quantum Moon said...

I'm from England so there's relatively little cultural difference, though America has an extra 30% GDP per person, plenty of money around to give everyone a decent standard of living. Isn't democracy the means for individuals to change things on a large scale? Someone must be choosing to vote for these neo-liberal governments, even though its guaranteed to result in high inequality.

I do agree with you in principle, since there's little mention of asexuality in the media having a computer is the best way to find out about people with similar experiences. I was just slightly concerned by phrases like this “poor people can only afford glimpses into their consciousness” which got a bit close to suggesting the poor are less introspective.

Raymo.E-J said...

I was just slightly concerned by phrases like this “poor people can only afford glimpses into their consciousness” which got a bit close to suggesting the poor are less introspective.


NancyP said...

Asexuality has a class and race component insofar as being able to maintain standing in one's own community (presuming the person cares) and having the financial freedom to avoid sex for survival's sake (with spouse with income, sugar daddy, john with money).

If it bothers someone to be called gay in an anti-gay environment, or to be called a loser, or to be the automatic caretaker of everyone else's children and doer of chores for the "important" people in the family, chances are good that that person will not want to identify in public as "asexual", and will privately be thinking "not worth my time" rather than "I have a separate type of identity".

If you have adequate social and financial resources, you might bother putting a name on your disinterest.