Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Asexual Bingo on Salon

I meant to write about this last week but I just ran out of time. As always!

So I was interviewed in Salon last week. The article is called "You're about as sexually attractive to me as a turtle: Coming out as asexual in a hypersexual culture."

The interview was great! Tracy Clark-Flory, the author of the article, has covered asexuality before, and I was mentioned by her in a previous Salon article when she covered the documentary I was in (entitled (A)sexual). We ended up being unable to schedule a phone chat and her editor wanted a piece about my book immediately for some reason, so she sent me the questions by e-mail and had me answer them. She liked my answers enough that she ended up just posting it as a Q&A instead of rephrasing most of what I'd said, and printed almost everything I sent, with a few cuts.

I was so pleased to get to cover asexual political causes, because no one ever asks that, and though most of the other questions were pretty typical (ya know, my personal history of identity and dating, the masturbation question), it was nice to see a deeper peek; Tracy asked me about what others can learn from asexual people and how we feel about living in this culture.

So I was of course disappointed that the comments were a cesspool.

I know, I know, people are always instructing me to not read the comments. For the most part, if your main concern is avoiding frustration (and saving your blood pressure), you should of course avoid the comments (unless you're reading The Toast). But I believe reading the comments can help me understand the underlying beliefs people aren't willing to state to my face, and that enables me to be a better activist.

But honestly, even though there were some asexual people and non-asexual people who were clued up in the comments, they were overwhelmingly invalidating, mocking, dismissing, and misrepresenting, which was really sad. The first time I was interviewed in Salon was in 2005--almost ten years ago now. The comments were almost identical. Except for the fact that more educated people were arguing with them, I really felt like we had kind of made no progress based on this, and that was a kick in the face.

I really wish it didn't sound like advertising for me to say JUST READ THE BOOK, JACKASS, but really. Read the book, jackass.

So now, for your entertainment, I am going to play Asexual Bingo with you as an illustration of what kinds of invalidation and mocking I'm dealing with!

Here is the example of an Asexual Bingo card I use in my book.

Beautiful, huh?

So let's play Asexual Bingo with these losers.

1. It's fairly obvious that this is a medical condition.  Not something that needs to be "cured," but obviously an abnormality.  Like being born with 4 fingers on one hand. [Oh yeah! Fairly obvious! Thanks, Dr. Tool. Psst--actual doctors who study sexuality have good evidence that it isn't a medical condition, and people who actually have medical conditions that affect their sex drive have other symptoms as well. Real medical people know this.]

2. Well, [sex is] behind air, food, and shelter, but as far as survival of the species I'd say it's pretty damn important. [Somehow people who squawk about the importance of sex on every article about asexuality seem unaware that a) asexuality doesn't preclude procreation; and b) tons of non-asexual people are childless. Census of 2012 in the USA found that 41% of women age 15 to 50 had never had ANY children. You can thank birth control for that, not asexuality.]

3. Is there a doctor in the house? This article does not address what causes asexuality. Can anybody say? Is it hormone levels? Another Salon article that bites the dust when it comes to journalism. [Honey, the article was about asexual experience, and you too can use Google to look up the medical side if you're interested. Somebody linked this person to the huge list of articles on asexuality research.]

4. I saw a documentary about asexuality and one thing that struck me was that some of the people profiled not only didn't experience sexual attraction, but apparently didn't feel the need or longing that most of us do for close companionship with another, i.e. romantic love. One woman in particular didn't care for anything in the way of physical contact with another human being. I don't love my children romantically, but there is a physical component to my love for them and theirs for me. It makes me wonder if an asexual's lack of sexual attraction sometimes goes hand in hand with an inability to experience 'love' the way most people do. [I was in that documentary and this person seems to be talking about me. And misrepresenting me; surprise. I said I didn't like cuddling, not that I can't stand to be touched. And bravo for you never questioning that different people who all want sex "truly" love the people they have sex with, but immediately questioning asexual people's love if it doesn't make them want sex.]

5. many "asexual" people are LGB, and I suspect many of them have wrongly convinced themselves that they have no attraction toward other specific people  as a way of coping with LGB feelings they aren't comfortable with.  I'm NOT in favor of consigning those people to a life without sex by publishing articles like this that just say "asexuality is normal". [Another intolerant person who thinks asexuality can only be explained by internalized homophobia, claiming that asexual awareness is actually destroying people's potential for "normal" sex lives. Thumbs up, you.]

6. Oh dear lord, what is it about millenials and their obsession with labelling themselves?  This is yet another version of special snowflake-itis. As for "asexual" being an orientation--i.e. the need to stick a label on one's self--libidos fluctuate in *everyone*.  This isn't news.  It's also pretty clear that the writer has some other issues going on--she seems very shut down emotionally.  Maybe she has no libido, but that's not the only thing going on with someone whose attempts at intimate relations seems to have ended in high school. [Yay, another person who thinks we mean "not having sex because we're not horny" when we say "asexual." Yes, we know the word "abstinence," and yes, this is different. And sure, I "seem shut down emotionally." If the only emotions that count to you in a cursory article are romantic attractions, I guess that's how you're going to spin this. And I can see how closely you read the article, baby, since you assumed I'm a millennial because you love rolling your eyes at young people and using their youth against them to dismiss them. Even if that WAS a good reason to dismiss someone's asexuality (which it's not), I'm Generation X, sonny. And since asexuality isn't "low libido" anyway, I think we need to chalk this one up to willful ignorance.]

7. The attempt to play to the puritan/new Taliban element that view all sex as bad shouldn't be encouraged. / How does one "come of age" if one is "asexual?" Does a eunuch attend a debutante ball and come out changed? Is this not just another false flag for abstinence education? [That's right baby, by talking about what I personally experience, I am trying to take The Sex away from you and shame you. Wowwwwww.]

8.The "magic" of therapy happens when a psychiatrist or therapist really does understand someone's life better than the person themselves understands it- the term for that is "a breakthrough." It's up to you to decide if you want to plaster this wall with bumper stickers or do the hard work of therapy. I would rather read a psychological study of this condition than find out a bunch of people have gotten together online to form a support group and they invented their own lingo and slang for it. [Then go read that because they exist and the sex researchers who did so seem to have concluded that asexuality isn't a disorder. But why would you need to go actually read what the research says when you already intrinsically know that people who aren't like you need psychological intervention to fix them?]

9. Did anything happen to this person that may have caused her to be an asexual? [And of course he rambled on after this about how he's asking in a scientific sense, but never phrases anything about heterosexuality as though hormones and societal expectations have groomed them to be straight. Nobody ever wonders whether a person was harassed and abused into identifying as straight. They always assume it's genuine. But not us!]

10. Since Ms. Decker is still young, her lack of sexual feelings may yet change. [Of course, of course. I guess it means nothing that as I'm inching toward forty people are already telling me I'm also too old to want sex? I'm assuming this person took one look at the photo and judged me early twenties--that's the usual assumption--but yeah, most people don't tell mid-thirties women that they're too young to know what they want sexually.]

11. Years from now, might she say, "I just hadn't met the right man/woman"? [Too bad if I die a happy asexual centenarian, people will still be grinningly assigning me pity for never having found the one. The one is out there, you know. THEY all know it was just a matter of me not meeting them. Not anything about my sexual orientation not including that kind of attraction or anything.]

12. Well, humans are by and large 'sexual'. Everyone seeks to maximize pleasure, unless they adopt a philosophy or spirituality of denialism, so a human being inherently nonsexual immediately suggests to me that there is an underlying medical or hormone difference between them and other humans. I would never discriminate against someone for being nonsexual, but honestly it is going to never not be weird to me. It's definitely not a normal thing. [Then feel weird about us. People like you have certainly almost never caught flak for going out of your way to make sure we know we aren't normal. That's very important. And considering I would have to fight my own nature to MAKE myself have sex, seeing it framed here as "denialism" in the name of refusing myself pleasure is hilarious.]

13. judging by her looks I think it's best for her self-confidence that she's asexual as she probably wouldn't be getting much anyway.. [And yes, the article was posted underneath this picture. I just love the old "this is just to save face because no one would bang you anyway," as if there actually is an objective line of who's just plain too ugly to get sex. No honey. But tell yourself that it's about us not being able to get any offers if that's what you have to do to sleep at night.]

14. I'm thinking she's never had a good r%%t / She obviously has never experienced really great sex before!! [Amazing how often this gets said even to people who have had sex and liked it all right but still identify as asexual. Wonder if this guy just hasn't had good sex from a man and that's the only thing stopping him from being gay?]

15. Sorry but your loss woman you don't know what your missing [Just annoying. You by definition don't know what you're missing by not being like me, so can we agree that we're both allowed to be happy with our lives? Especially since the times I was harassed and cajoled into necking with people I wasn't attracted to, I thought it was disgusting, so let's just also agree that I wouldn't feel the same about it that you keep promising me I would?]

There. Took me fifteen ignorant comments to get to Bingo, but there it is.

There's one I didn't talk about here where a woman commented dozens of times rambling about how misleading, cruel, and dishonest it is for asexual people to date when EVERYONE KNOWS all romantic relationships BY DEFINITION and BY FAIR EXPECTATION are supposed to lead to sex. A few people explained to her that yeah, asexual and non-asexual people sometimes date each other, and most of the time an asexual person (if they have the tools and knowledge to do so) will disclose their orientation so they can figure out how to compromise, but this woman just wasn't having it. No, no, no, asexual people are being TRICKSY and DISINGENUOUS through the act of ever dating a person, because dating is automatically, undeniably, without exception coded as sexual, and everyone agrees on this. She claimed she had never, EVER dated someone she was not hoping to sleep with eventually--even in middle school, she said--and that there simply is no way for these relationships to work out. Furthermore, it is entirely the fault of the asexual people who want to "force" these relationships. In her mind, we are claiming DISCRIMINATION at people refusing to date us because of our orientation. Discrimination.

I don't know if you got the memo but there is not a single piece of legislation or social shackles that require ANY person to be forced into dating another person for any reason.

She claimed that asexual people are "being passive-aggressive at best" when we date, because even if we disclose at the beginning of the relationship, the people we date are still going to want sex from us and yes, even if we said we did not plan to deliver it, they are still 100% perfectly in the right for expecting that to change. It is owed. It is simply part of what dating IS. Even if the people in the actual relationship have no such beliefs or definitions.

She then linked to Dan Savage's scolding letter to a "minimally sexual" advice seeker, telling him he had a responsibility to get the hell out of the dating pool and only date other people with no/low sex drive because of all the misery he's causing and disappointments he's racking up. "Why would you even contemplate inflicting yourself on normal people?" he said. And the woman posted this as backup for her position. It's gross. (The asexual community and Dan Savage have had words over this letter, by the way. He's sort of partially repented for it since.)

My favorite comment in response to her was this:

Reading this letter from 2011, it's clear to me that there is an epidemic of innocent normo-sexuals being targeted and persecuted by asexual date terrorists.

I love sarcasm.

Here are some other "favorite" ignorant comments that weren't on the Bingo card:

This is intellectually and emotional dishonesty.  The whole thing is about control.  If one person's idea is basically "No, and it's non-negotiable," compromise is impossible. I've lived with control freaks and believe me, I know it when I see it. [Oh, so the only REAL compromise is for ONE person in the relationship--always the asexual one--to give up their needs. Remember, only one person in the relationship has needs that matter: the non-asexual person. Who is never an adult capable of deciding whether they'd like to give up sex or have an alternate arrangement for the sake of the relationship. Nope! Only asexual people have to give in! We get filthy glee from denying people sex, too!]

Sometimes I wonder if some sort of natural phenomenon occurs when the resources are drying up for the mammals to self correct their breeding. Perhaps with our 7 billion and counting numbers, that built into our systems, somehow people who do not want to reproduce are being multiplied at higher rates. [This isn't as bad as some, but the "it's an evolutionary response to overpopulation!" nonsense really makes me roll my eyes. There have always been asexual people. You can observe uninterested individual mammals in sexual species that aren't overpopulated too. The actual science suggests it's just a variant.]

Why I don't get is why DEFINE yourself by something like this? it seems narcissistic, to let what doesn't interest you define you. First decide if your Straight or Gay, then all you need to do is tell your significant other sex isn't important to you.If it's the same with the other person at most you will have to go with it at most a few times a year, big deal. [Aw, how cute, we're narcissistic for wanting language to describe an experience everyone has been telling us is impossible to have, and even when we do try to talk about it, people like you still talk about it like it's a synonym for celibacy. Now that we have words for it and are able to find each other and rest assured that we're not alone in the whole world, oh god we just want ATTENTION. Totally not relevant in ANY situation at all except telling the relationship partners that we don't want to do them--especially since others in this conversation are saying those relationships shouldn't happen. Guess what's historically happened when we weren't able to talk about this? We got pressured into living with compulsory sexuality in our lives and having to suffer it in a way you don't understand if you really think it's no big deal. It's "no big deal" to us the same way it's just no big deal for most straight people to have no problem at all having sex with someone of their own gender.]

The worst part is she doesn't complain, sex hurts or something like that, she doesn't just desire to do it, I say grow up lady and welcome to the club. [That's right, I have to have a reason BESIDES my own feelings--like actual physical pain--before I have any excuse to not give sex to men. Biting down my own desires and putting up with sex I don't want is called "growing up," because that's what an adult woman has to learn: she has no agency in the world, and there is no room for her own desires to figure into the life she lives. Being respected as a mature person is all about being what YOU want us to be.]

I can accept your indifference to sexual experiences, trust me If i can go with my girlfriend to Bingo and Shopping(endless) you can spread your legs and fake it. [Yeah man, it's something I should just be expected to do in a relationship, because sex is totally like not really wanting to go to Bingo. Not to mention I have found a ton of non-asexual people who find it off-putting to imagine an asexual person just letting themselves get nailed if they're not interested. Knowing the sex you're getting is considered an obligation, oddly enough, is often a turn-off. You know what, no. Get out of here with your rape culture/compulsory sexuality b.s.]

This is abnormal, FLAT OUT, Sounds like she has some sort of Autism or a Mental Disorder to me. [Looks like Dr. Tool is back. Not only is he shaming autism and mental disorders, but he's pretending--laughably--that he knows what medical science says about this. Nope.]

how selfish can you be? I spend roughly 75% of my waking life doing things I'd rather not do. Some I have to, like work. Others things i do in ALL my relationships because it makes others happy,even if I felt ZERO sexual desire, I would try to please my significant other, Why do you think you get a pass? [More violently phrased HOW DARE YOU NOT GIVE SEX, WOMAN???? nonsense. I'm sorry you think that's what I'm for and that I'm "selfish" if I believe my wants and needs are as important as yours. Guess what? Some people who have ZERO sexual desire do indeed have sex if they want to for other reasons. But you don't get to tell me sex is EVER something I owe to any person. I "think I get a pass" because I do, in fact, get to decide what my dealbreakers are. Not that any of this is relevant because I'm not having relationships, but these people all really seemed to think I was.]

It's an issue because if lack of a sex drive is a disease or an abnormality, then people shouldn't be promoting the idea that "it's just normal".  It's not "just normal" in that case. It's something for which people should be offered treatment -- and, perhaps, people who choose not to treat it should be treated like people who choose not to be treated for depression or diabetes. No one forces anyone to treat any abnormality, but don't applaud people who willingly choose not to. [There sure are a lot of people with imaginary medical degrees here! Yes, there are medical disorders that, in part, include lack of sex drive or loss of sexual interest. Asexuality is not that. Period. It has been determined to not be a medical or psychological disorder in and of itself. But you'll keep bleating into the corner that sex is necessary for a healthy life until the cows come home instead of actually reading any medical or psychological literature on this subject--even if I were to link it as several people commenting did--so there's not much I can do for people who refuse to learn while blathering about our supposed disease.]

Please don't start presenting people who are asexual as though it's analogous to being transgender, gay or even on the spectrum of those who identify as fetishists. It is not a sexual 'orientation.' There are medical and psychological reasons for such a condition. [Yeah, 'cause homosexuality and transsexuality totally are never and were never assumed illegitimate, and LGBT people were never and are never erased or shamed or othered or denied or assigned medical conditions just like you're doing to us now. There's no analogous situation AT ALL. Geeeee. Why won't we just wake up and realize they're all legitimate orientations and ours alone is a disorder?]

You need to find another word for platonic liaisons with the opposite sex; dating implies a physical relationship and intimacy is difficult for most humans without some kind of physical interaction. [Yeah actually "dating" works just fine for us thanks, because IT IS DATING. And thanks for calling it "the opposite sex," since all dating is cross-gender and there are totally only two. Also it stops being dating or marriage if the relationship is long distance, because it's the physical act of touching that makes a relationship intimate. Asexual people explode if you touch them. There's definitely never a physical relationship of any kind. And I forgot you're the one who listed out all the conditions that must be met before someone's romantic relationship that's indistinguishable from everyone else's actually counts as romantic. Wow and we're the label-obsessed ones?]

I'm struggling to understand what discrimination against asexuals would look like. I'm a single guy in my late twenties...to my employers, the court system, my landlord, etc., I may as well be asexual. [This is after I described in the article exactly what it looks like. I've also talked about it at length and did a lecture about it at Princeton. I seriously get super tired of straight dudes claiming they're going to be mistaken for asexual because they're single. That's not how it works.]

Believe it or not, no one cares if you *don't* have sex with someone-- the only person who cares is the person you're partnered with if that person expects a sexual relationship. And that is what we end up hearing from many asexuals-- that sexual people should learn to accept and understand having a relationship with an asexual. If asexuals all just dated each other,  no one would care. [a) "Just date EACH OTHER!!!!!!" is way easier said than done. b) We're not making any blanket recommendations for what non-asexual people have to do in their relationships. We're saying quit assuming that it's just natural for us to do all the compromising, because the entire world is behind you and has been teaching you AND US that you deserve sex, so how about instead of exploiting that, you pretend for a second that the feelings of the asexual partner in a hypothetical relationship are equally important in how you negotiate the sexual compromises. Ugh I'm so sick of these people acting like we have any social power to force them to date us.]

The fact that this person is claiming an asexual identity but engaging in a social activity that is primarily about sexual attraction, and is also not big among sexually active young people is baffling. Asexuals seem to regard the fact that they are "ruled out" as potential romantic partners because of their "orientation" as an unfair prejudice or something out of ignorance. It's not. People can define the parameters of their relationships however they want. Ruling out asexuals as a romantic partner isn't an act of prejudice-- it is a matter of basic compatibility and expectations. [Oh look, you redefined dating there, baby. Is it possible to enjoy the non-sexual parts of a date or a relationship? Yep. Is it possible for an asexual person to want those things in their lives despite not wanting sex? OOPS NO NO NO NO NO THERE IS NO LEGITIMATE WAY FOR AN ASEXUAL PERSON TO ACCESS THOSE THINGS WITHOUT SEX NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WE ALL KNOW SEX SEX SEX SEX IS THE IMPORTANT THINGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG. Talk about baffling. This is a really. easy. concept. Dating. Is. Not. Inherently. Sexual. If you insist it is, frigging speak for yourself. People involved in it who aren't interested in or are okay without sex are allowed to do it how they want. Oh, and guess what? No, we don't think it's unreasonable at all for people to consider sex one of their must-haves in a relationship. They should disclose that to us just as early as we disclose our position on sex to them. (The idea that only the asexual person has a "dirty" secret here is really gross.) We haven't said ruling us out as romantic partners is a frigging act of prejudice. But considering in our experience we often do disclose and people simply decide we'll change or don't mean it, this is not doing us a lot of good.]

How much of what Ms. Decker claims is scientific? Granted she can speak from her own experience, but that doesn't make it scientific. [Good thing you're not reading a "scientific" article. It just really rustles my jimmies when people think they're being ~scientific~ by talking this way about something that is BY DEFINITION A SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE. We have nothing to prove. Asexual = lack of sexual attraction. That's what we're feeling. We named it. There's some science attached to studying us, and some scientific categorizations of our numbers and reported experiences, and some examination of and consideration of whether what we're reporting is maladaptive or pathological (nope!), but the ridiculous snorting and whining over THIS ISN'T SCIENCE is, like, incredibly inappropriate. Are you going to complain that something's not science the next time someone makes a list of their ten favorite albums?]

There's no such thing as a romantic asexual and no such word as 'aromantic'. There is a word that describes you: Misanthrope [I found a word for dismissive self-satisfied jackasses like you, too: Asshole. Gee, I love when people announce that things aren't real because they've never felt them or they're not in the dictionary. Wow.] 

Another non-issue that journalists attempt to make a story out of. [Another smarmy comment by a person who could happily not read an article if they didn't feel it was relevant to them. Considering the hundreds of comments left on this article by people who told me I have a disorder or am damaged or just want attention or need to be sexed into thinking differently, I venture to say there is some education to be had here. Too bad you're too busy folding your arms and bleating about its irrelevance to you to actually see that.]

I'm glad this new class of sexual orientation is coming out. That way they can be upfront and honest with potential partners who are sexual. It will save alot of future relationships from confusion and resentment. [Why am I not surprised that this comment blames asexual people for supposed dishonesty that caused the resentment? I imagine that if I waxed even more loquacious on the subject of asexual people's confusion and resentment at being bludgeoned by society and individual partners into accepting sex they desperately wanted to avoid, you'd just accuse me of being a drama queen. But sure. It's sexually frustrated partners who need to be coddled here--they're the ones being lied to and abused by people who newly feel the freedom to claim their part of the sexual agency in the relationship. It wouldn't take but a few minutes on the AVEN forums to find people whose relationships have included sex they were beyond desperate to refuse that they felt forced to submit to anyway. You want to talk about resentment? Yeah. Let's.]


  1. Replies
    1. It is mutual, my favorite tiara-wearing author person. Walls of text for hire!

  2. This is really interesting to me--I wasn't really aware of asexuality as an orientation, so thank you for being so open! Also, it totally makes sense to me that some people are simply not interested in sex. All of us have different preferences.

    1. Thanks for the comment. :) Lots of people don't know it's an "option" (especially if it never seemed necessary to describe their experience), but most decent people hear about the orientation and just say oh, okay, didn't know that existed, cool, thanks for telling me so I can be more aware! (Like you did, haha.) It really should make sense and it really shouldn't cause people to want to argue with me or prove it isn't real.

  3. As for the woman (and others saying similar) saying "I spend 75% of my life doing things I'd rather not be doing".... Sounds like she's just plain in a horribly codependent relationship. I feel sorry for people that think sacrificing what they want most or all of the time somehow means that others should do the same. Your choice if you want to be miserable.

    Relationships (romantic, platonic, or familial) are supposed to be give and take, but you don't "owe" people anything. (Especially sex, people- it's YOUR body, sheesh!) I wonder how long it'll take society to catch up to this logic.

    1. I agree. Not to mention that having to suck it up and be a grown-up to do your job or household chores or schoolwork is not the same thing as having to suck it up and give someone sex because they demand it. Most people I know actually would rather have sex with someone who desires them, not someone who considers it an obligation. Though I've definitely known people with low sex drives who aren't repulsed by sex and view it this way--as long as the parties having the sex are okay with what they're giving and the terms associated with it, other people don't need to be stampeding in to tell them they're doing it wrong.