It…kind of is, when it comes to the community (edited 4/17/14 at 6pm; 4/29/14 at 1am).
For now, I’m using the term PoC (people of color) as a shorthand, understanding that it refers to people in white-majority cultures and can’t describe white-minority cultures, for ease of writing, but also because I will largely discuss diaspora.
First, let’s discuss the issue of terminology and identity. “Asexual” is a difficult term for PoC to use. We are made hypersexual (e.g. stereotypes of Black women as very sexual) and asexual (e.g. Asian men being treated as alien, sexually dysfunctional; the Mammy trope). The term “asexual” is often actually used in these contexts. Even when it isn’t, to attach “asexual” to our identity means navigating a really complex, terrible issue where PoC bodies are regulated and controlled because of racist views of our “asexuality.” Sterilization programs that target minority women are realities in the US and other nations with racial minorities, while the simultaneous “aging up” of Black children and assumed asexuality means they are treated as sexually passive, and so often are targeted in sexual crimes. This sort of “de-sexing” has been a form to control PoC/especially Black women’s agency since slavery.
Siggy writes (1):
"Stereotypically, Asian women are hypersexualized and Asian men are desexualized. Each of these come with their own set of issues for asexuals. Asian asexual women might be disbelieved because they conflict with the stereotype. Asian asexual men might be assumed to conform to the stereotype completely, even if the stereotype is actually very different from asexuality in real life. Also, sometimes people say Asian men are stereotypically asexual, which is bad because it’s using the word "asexual" as a pejorative."
With regards to the challenges Black women face, voltafiish writes (2):
"While asexuality has not had such a long history, the majority of its representation in the media has been overwhelmingly white. Asexuality is seen as a “white thing” too! For asexuality in black people (especially black women) from the outside looking in can be broken down into a few categories:
A) Asexuality functions as a white supremacist stereotype. This means asexual black person is not actually asexual, but simply a desexualized black person (like the mammy, for example) or they are simply suppressing their “true sexuality” in light of other racial stereotypes (like the jezebel). Of course, these are dependent on an inaccurate definition on what asexuality is but contrary to a lot of activism, a lot of people are still fixed on using this definition. Because people do not know what asexuality is, their first assumption is one that equates behaviour and attraction.
B) Asexuality cannot possibly BE a thing because black people MUST be sexual by “nature.” This is due to the myth and stereotyping and labeling of black people as hypersexual. If we operate on the definition on asexuality being about not having sex/being sexual and operate within the realms of white supremacy, black asexual people cannot exist. I remember looking up research concerning blackness and asexuality and came across someone make the very same statement: “Black people cannot be asexual because they are hypersexual.”
C) Asexuality (and any other sexuality for that fact) is not possible for black people because all black people are heterosexual. Cue compulsory heterosexuality.”
As you can see, not only does the concept raise issues for PoC self-identifying, but for those who identify as asexual but must, again, navigate larger issues.
GradientLair writes (3):
"If I tell anyone that I am 34 years old and I’ve been celibate for a little more than 8 years now, they look at my Black skin and female body and the judgment starts. Because I am a Black woman, I am automatically typed as heterosexual but “deviant” (as “normal” heterosexuality is reserved for Whites in a White supremacist society) and “hypersexual” (based on the long history of specifically anti-Black misogyny used to justify the rape, exploitation, lynching and dehumanization of Black women’s bodies and lives). Any sexuality that I ascribe to that is not heterosexual and hypersexual is deemed as me sidestepping the “norm.” However, this White supremacist lie is not the norm or even remotely explains the complexity of sexuality for any people, especially Black people because of our history."
I recommend if you are unfamiliar with some of the issues she discusses, to click through and then explore her embedded hyperlinks. Meanwhile, queerlibido/Alok Vaid-Menon discusses issues of intersection with respect to the South Asian male identity (4):
"As a queer South Asian I don’t feel comfortable ascribing the identity of ‘asexual’ to my body. Part of the ways in which brown men have been oppressed in the Western world is by de-emasculating them and de-sexualizing them (check out David Eng’s book Racial Castration). What then would it mean for me to identify as an ‘asexual?’ What would this agency look like in a climate of white supremacy? Can I ever authentically express ‘my’ (a)sexuality or am I always rehearsing colonial logics? The dilemma of this brown queer body is its inability to see itself through its own eyes. The mirror becomes a site it which we view what white people have always told us about ourselves. Regardless or not of the status of my libido, I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable identifying as asexual because it seems like I am betraying my people.
I am invested in South Asians and all other Asian Americans being able to reclaim, re-affirm, and be recognized for their sexual selves. I am invested in brown boys and brown gurlz being able to get what they desire. I am invested in the radical potential of brown (queer) love in a society where so many of us grow up hating our bodies and bending our knees for white men. I want to be part of this struggle. Sometimes I get angry at myself for not being able to eliminate the distance, not being able to join in solidarity. To fuck and be fucked, to publically claim and own my sexuality. I understand that there is something (as Celine Shimizu reminds us in her book Straightjacket Sexualities) radical about Asian American masculinities being displaced from patriarchal masculinities rooted in hyper-sexuality and hyper-masculinity and the reclamation of ‘effeminate’ and ‘asexual’ representations of our bodies as a political refusal of the very logics which have rendered those bodies numb.
So when I read this piece about how folks involved with the asexuality community feel as if they are post-race I’m pretty well, flabbergasted. Asexuality has always been a carefully crafted strategy to subjugate Asian masculinities. Asexuality has everything to do with race. Which goes to say that what if the very act of articulating a public asexual identity is rooted in white privilege? Essential understandings of being ‘born’ ‘asexual’ and loving my ‘asexual’ self will never make sense to me. In a world that continually erases Asian (male assigned) sexualities I was coerced into asexuality. It is something I have and will continue to struggle with. My asexuality is a site of racial trauma. I want that sadness, that loss, that anxiety to be a part of asexuality politics. I don’t want to be proud or affirmed – I want to have a serious conversation about how all of our desires are mediated by racism and how violent that is. My pleasures – or lack thereof – are not transcendental and celebratory, they are contradictory, confused, and hurt.”
They cite an interview on AsexualAgenda (5), excerpted here:
"Often, white asexuals and those who do not identify themselves use these threads to make statements that, 1) AVEN is a safe, diverse environment, 2) AVEN is a race neutral place and asexuals are color-blind, or 3) race is anarchronistic, un-important or itself “racist.” All three of these tendencies work to minimize the significance of race, to obscure “white” as a race by claiming neutrality, and to dismiss user interests or lived/digital experiences."
So now we arrive at issues within the community and how it treats PoC and the diversity of the ability for aces to identify as such. A good place to start is the “crux” of the community - AVEN - where we can see, in often popular threads, blatant racism.
A thread discussing World Pride 2013 and whether PoC aces should have a separate space:
AVEN forum search for keyword “racism” (6):
The AVEN thread “AVEN has traumatized me” (TW for sexual assault/rape/victim blaming) also brings up how often AVEN members come across racism in the forums and are unable to report it (7). The AVEN thread “Asexual People of Color” has many a post on the grievances aces of color face with their identities and on AVEN (8).
As we can see, there is an issue with racism, talking over PoC, and treating racism as a nonexistent issue, or else race itself as a nonfactor in asexuality and sexuality in general. But these issues are not limited to AVEN, which many identify as a generally problematic space and have thus abandoned for spaces like Tumblr. Here, and in similar spaces, the racism has been more subtle, and it is where I see the sweeping issue of racism in our representation, dialogues, and activism.
The faces of the asexual movement - and by “asexual movement,” I use a term and definition as employed by David Jay and his followers - have been exceedingly white. A simple example:
How popular was this image? Has it changed at all? Siggy writes again, two years ago (10):
"And yet, the publicly visible asexuals are disproportionately white. An asexual who was Asian asked me the other day if there were any non-white asexuals I knew of, and was clearly disappointed when I could only think of a few. This is both indicative of, and a contributor to greater asexual invisibility within API and other non-white groups.
And here I am, contributing to the problem even further. I decided it was less worthwhile to present asexuality to an API audience than to a “general” (but probably predominantly White) audience. I was further tipping the already imbalanced scales. If all asexual activists did the same, it would become a major problem a decade down the road.”
Because, really, let’s look at who goes on talk shows, interviews with newspapers and magazines, and gets photographed. Who do we see associated with articles on asexuality, like HuffPost’s series?:
Some must wonder now if it’s that whiteness and white culture allows for greater visibility when it comes to queer identities. But is this true? What about the history of queer Black artists (musicians, visual artists, dancers, writers) and their precedence of very public activism? Because I say that the lack of brown and black faces in the public, representing us, cannot be completely chalked up to cultural differences. When I look at canonically asexual characters (or…attempted asexual characters), I see white faces - in fiction, where writers look at our community and try to create fictional characters, or else ace writers create these fictional characters. Sirens, House, Huge, Ignition Zero, Girls with Slingshots, Quicksilver all have canonically (or attempted) asexual characters that are white, and even articles/essays that seek to analyze the media where we find these characters will not bring up the race question a single time (11). These data can only reflect the community and the visible, un-erased members of the community - because not all of these authors are outsiders.
I also want to talk about how aces of color are cordoned off when it comes to dialogue. This is an especially subtle aspect of the community that I have noticed for a few years - where writers who discuss the intersection of race and asexuality are largely written off by the community as irrelevant to net community politics. For example, GradientLair’s posts almost never make the rounds of the tags or forums, except for black aces, as if white aces and non-Black aces of color have nothing to learn from an asexual Black woman’s important perspective on sexual politics.
There are two effects I observe from this habit. First, aces of color feel pushed out because their voices are not heard, or else they face racism as evidenced above in AVEN. Second, what is established is whiteness as the norm - PoC voices are, even if not actively, made an “other,” or a “niche,” and if these posts do make the rounds, they are not discussed, but tagged lazily with “intersectionality” or “boost” to be passed along for followers of color. PoC are made to feel like we are a separate cause and the nuances of our identities have no effect on the asexual community, where “asexual community” is thus equated with “white asexual voices.”
An example of this harm is the recent backlash against sex positivity rhetoric among the ace community. There is no harm in such dialogue, but what I find especially interesting is how aces, including prominent asexual activists who often represent the community publicly, have taken credit for spear-heading the critique of the sex-positive movement. As I’ve cited above, Black women in the West have traditionally been targeted sexually because of their race and as an effect of slavery - Womanism, therefore, has traditionally involved critical analysis of compulsory heterosexuality for decades. I recently began to compile a list of sources by mostly Womanists because of this strange trend among white aces (12). This type of irresponsibility and co-opting is exceptionally harmful to Black women and Black aces, who already face massive erasure, and furthermore it is distressing that leaders in the community propagate these attitudes in a largely white community.
- the community ignores or dismisses race as a factor in sexuality
- blatant racism occurs in the community
- aces of color do not get any visibility in the media
- the issues aces of color face at the intersection of many identities are deemed irrelevant to the “broader” community, and so the community is equated with whiteness, and co-opting of QWoC dialogue occurs on a large scale
I want to wrap this response up here, because I think this information is sufficient enough to convince those willing to learn that racism is very much rampant in the asexual community, and that aces of color find it difficult to find a space in it as it exists currently. This post is not for those who refuse to teach themselves. You are the problem, not just those who merely don’t know what’s happening around them because of their privilege. I urge those of you in this latter group to recognize your privilege, end this Othering of PoC, challenge the presumed “normality” of the whiteness in our spaces, and magnify the voices of people of color around you. It is not tokenizing to stop erasing, and it’s not an attack on you to notice, let alone speak up.
Remember: being an ally is not about posting a political alignment on Facebook or any social equivalent. It means knowing that you will not be attacked for speaking up about a certain issue (ergo, you have privilege), and employing that power to protect and defend those of us who are vulnerable. Because we are vulnerable. I have personally received hate/abuse for even mentioning race in this space and offline spaces, and have been building up the courage for four years to discuss these issues on such a public blog, so please understand that I am not exaggerating.
70% of anti-LGBTQ murder victims are PoC (13). 87% of hate murder victims in 2011 were QPoC (14). TPoC statistics reveal even more - and make sure to go through this whole study (15):
This isn’t fun and games, or petty complaints on a website. This is survival.
- This is a great essay on being Black and asexual that I personally learned a lot from: http://thingsthatmakeyouacey.tumblr.com/post/66431633676/im-supposed-to-be-working-on-an-art-history-paper-rn
- http://queerlibido.tumblr.com/post/74181237292/whats-r-ace-got-to-do-with-it-white-privilege ; http://www.thestate.ae/whats-race-got-to-do-with-it-white-privilege-asexuality/
- My masterpost of sex-critical writings by WoC/Black women, many of which discuss the issue of being simultaneously made hypersexual and “asexual”: http://thingsthatmakeyouacey.tumblr.com/post/82269213656/if-you-dont-believe-me