Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guest Post: Children, Marriage and Family Expectations

This post was written by KJ for round two of the Carnival of Aces. KJ says: "I am a 25, asexual, grad school student who studies art and psychology. My hobbies are reading too much, running, cooking and tilting at windmills."

I come from a white, southern, Christian culture. Obviously, being white has afforded me multiple privileges. Being southern comes with the baggage of a terrible history of race relations and some spectacularly racist family members and family friends. Growing up Christian, I had privilege because I was a member of the dominant religious group. However, at age 16, I stopped believing and left the church, but my knowledge of that culture gives me help in ‘passing’ since religion is not a usually a visible aspect of identity.

Coming from this culture, I received some explicit and covert messages about sexuality. First, there was an assumption of heterosexuality. Second, there was an assumption that, as a woman, I would want to get married. Third, there was the assumption that I would have children. And there was the message that getting married and having children is the most important thing I could do.

The way things worked at my church was an example of all this. The youth group was set up as a place for ‘fellowship.’ It was a place that was explicitly Christian that encouraged us to spend time only with fellow Christians. A large number of the activities were set up to encourage the formation of relationships, from discussions about what God would want us to look for in a spouse, to relay races that involved holding toothpicks in your mouth and passing a lifesaver from person to person (the line was always set up boy-girl-boy-girl.) It was implied that marrying and marrying a fellow Christian was what we should do. It goes without saying that it was implied that we were all heterosexual.

When I announced, in high school, that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have children, my family ignored my statements. However, since I am now approaching my quarter-century mark, I’ve had explicit things said about my single/childless state. For instance when I was discussing the fact that I didn’t want to get married or have biological children, my brother made the comment that “well, people like you should really have children.” People like me means white girls from the suburbs with college degrees. There is a great deal of paranoia among the racists in the south that people of color are having more children than white people. Hence, as a white girl who displays no interest in reproducing, I am letting ‘the white race’ down.

Many friends of the family have made similar statements. I think they are especially puzzled because I am such a ‘good’ girl. I don’t wear mini-skirts or sleep around. I am smart, well-spoken and obviously able to take care of myself. But, by their standards, I have failed at an essential task: marriage and children (in that order, of course). Staying with family friends this summer, I was asked if I was thinking about getting married (I hadn’t seen these people since I was 16). A family friend, on my first trip home from college, asked if I was dating. When I told her I was too busy, she looked pained. I was a freshman in college, double-majoring. Even if I was sexual, who has time?

While I have a great deal of privilege, my asexuality sets me pretty far outside the bounds of acceptable white, southern, Christian female behavior. Though I’m not Christian, it is assumed I will follow those values. Being asexual and a virgin means I appear to have internalized the cultural value of purity. But I am not choosing to be celibate; I am asexual. I also feel silenced because asexuality is not talked about. I doubt any of my family would have heard the term. I did come out to my Mom this summer; of the family, she is the most liberal and easy-going of the family and has no investment in my producing a brood of children. She took it well and eventually, I might tell my brother. But cultural barriers make it harder to do this; being asexual is not just a personal quirk to my family and my culture, but an act of betrayal of the ‘natural order’ of life. I am a freak, not just because I am an atheist, liberal artist, but because I am asexual and refusing (as they see it) to order my life in a conventional way.


Anonymous said...

Expect even more difficulties as you get older - at 25 they still have hope for you, but at 35 or 45 you'll just be the weirdo spinster who everyone will talk about behind your back, will assume at best that you didn't meet the right man, or at worst that you are a closet lesbian. Don't even try thinking about explaining that you are OK with yourself because it's your innate orientation. Instead, expect more disrespect.

This is a perfect example of how, even when you have all the odds seemingly stacked in your favor, as an asexual you are still othered by your community, shunned from your family, and basically discriminated against for who you are.

KJ said...

Yeah, I expect it will get worse, but I've moved far enough away that I only have to deal with it 2x a year. I've also gotten good at playing the career girl, so that may buy me some time.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting topic for a discussion! Has there been any data collected about the races of asexuals? I'd assume more of them proportionaly are white and from privaledged backgrounds. Not only does it mean someone is more likely to learn about the community on the internet, but I've always thought people tend to embrace "otherness" labels more when they don't already have a ton of them. Like maybe if you are already lacking privaledge because of people being racist against you you'd be less likely to want to think of yourself with that additional asexual label, even if you are not interested in marriage, kids, or having sex.

Carmilla DeWinter said...

Hmm. I'm from German not-so-religious suburbia. While there seems to be some panic in our society that we, as whole, might die out and *gasp*, lose this place to people of Turkish origin, this kind of argument was not yet openly turned against me. Though my mom is always pleased when 'decent' folk procreate.

Incidentally, I get the most concern trolling from people who know my parents and thus have known my from childhood. I am, apparently, 'just too picky'. Obviously my attempts to evade their comments are seen as an admission of shame or whatnot.

KJ said...

@Anonymous- From browsing acebook, I agree that it seems like the asexual community is mostly white, but that is not data, but my perception. I've never seen a survey, but it would be interesting. Of course, looking historically, the idea of having a sexual orientation is a pretty recent idea and I suspect it is, to some extent, culturally bound. I'd love to see an anthropologist take on asexuality in a variety of cultures. I'd also like to see an exploration of asexuality and disability, as those intersect and interact in my life. I think we just need more research done, period.

Evee said...

I don't believe the expectations are attached or more prominent in any particular race, religion or culture but rather is driven by biology.

we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that how we feel and how we are programmed is very much at odds with the majority of the worlds population. Biology drives a species on and these instincts are very ingrained into their behaviour. this is a good thing as it means the others can go forth and populate and leave me alone!

The-Fire-Olympus said...

I relate strongly to this story as an white,southern,atheist, asexual women.

I'm worried what people will say. If anything I'm actually better behavaved than many 'church girls'.

I don't drink, sleep around, and I have never snuck out or been arrested.

I don't think I could ever pull off being a career girl. I just want a job that gets be by and I am not ambitious.

How came people have to divid women
into 'family' or 'career' women.

KJ said...

@Evee- From my experience, white people in the Southern US are more focused on race than folks in other part of the country. That focus on 'the white race' leads to this desire for 'the right kind of person' to have children. I've never done any sort of scientific study on this, but I have talked about this issue with friends from California and the northeast and they don't experience the PA pressure to procreate. Again, not scientific, but I am more than certain that, since each part of this large country has a culture, people from each will respond differently to asexuality.

I think that saying 'it's biology' is pretty reductive; culture influences the acceptance/ expression of asexuality. If it didn't this whole blog carnival on culture wouldn't be needed.

Aydan said...

As a white woman from a somewhat southern Christian culture, I can relate, though my experiences have not been as stark as yours. I found that when I went north for school, churches there seemed focused less on family and having children and more on the diversity of people (though that could have been because all the churches I went to were conscious of their proximity to the universities). Now I'm moving to the Midwest for grad school, and I'll be really interested to see how the pressure to get married and have children plays out in churches there.

Anonymous said...

I did see a lot of parallels in your story and my own history, however there were many differences, as to be expected. I'll leave it at that.

I'm a Southern Asexual Atheist with a Christian background.