The “privilege” framework is weak

1. Allosexual privilege

I can give a lot of reasons why “privilege” is a weak theoretical framework for social justice activism. But as it is for many things, I didn’t come to this conclusion by just working through all the reasons, I came to it via an experience. So I’ll start by sharing that experience.

In fact, it’s an experience shared by most asexuality activists of a certain generation. There was a time, around 2011, that activists tried talking about allosexual privilege. This was widely regarded as a failure, and now we don’t talk about it anymore, except to tell newer activists that it’s a bad idea.

The whole debacle is well-documented. This was around the time that the asexual tumblr community was formed, and asexuality discussion that used to be held internally was for the first time exposed to a much broader audience. A lot of ideas were refined during that time, often by way of flame wars with TERFs.1

One of the biggest flame wars was over the concept of “sexual privilege”. As with many flame wars it was a lot of nonsense, but there were a few substantial critiques that came up.

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Educating atheists on religious aces

This is being cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

Recently, I wrote an article for A Trivial Knot about how aces are affected by Evangelical Christian beliefs about pre-marital sex. This is an important topic, but also an iffy one for me to talk about. While I’m ex-Christian, I’m not ex-Evangelical, and the experiences described are not so similar to my own. Basically, I’m repeating and condensing stories I’ve heard from primary sources, such as the Aces in the Church zine and various bloggers. I worry that maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it at all, except to boost other voices.

But the fact of the matter is that a lot of atheists, especially politically active atheists, already have their own prejudices and presumptions about the experiences of religious aces. I have this platform that reaches a moderate number of progressive atheists, so I feel at least a bit responsible to get them on the right track. Also, atheist activists are not such a friendly group that I want to just send them to primary sources.

This was fresh on my mind at the 2017 SF Ace Unconference, so I attended a session for religious aces. The personal stories shared in that space were confidential and I will keep them that way. I did, however, ask them if they wanted me to share any particular message with my atheist readers.

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Pre-marital sex is an ace issue

By reputation, Christians are very sex-negative. They’re the main driving force behind abstinence-only sex education, they teach kids that having sex with multiple people will make them dirty and used up, and people who leave Christianity often need to overcome a layer of sexual shame.

But that’s only one side of the coin. The flipside is glorification of sex–within the right context. Sex before marriage supposedly leaves you all twisted up inside, but sex after marriage is supposedly mind-blowing. But how does sex go from point A to point B so quickly? And if a couple chooses not to have sex before marriage, how will they know whether they’re sexually compatible?

Libby Anne talks about two different evangelical responses to sexual incompatibility. One response is to ignore the problem. The other response is to acknowledge the problem, but insist that sexual compatibility isn’t that important.

Both of these responses have serious problems, and especially for aces. To some extent, being ace is essentially the realization, I am sexually incompatible with nearly everyone. Obviously I’m not saying everyone needs to have sex before marriage; nobody needs to have sex at all. But if sex is expected in the context of a particular relationship, it should be expected early on, so that sexual compatibility can be spotted and addressed earlier in the relationship.

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An activist perspective on gender studies

Another note on that “Sokal-style hoax” on gender studies (see my post, or School of Doubt)…

Although I will come to the defense of gender studies against the sorriest excuse for a hoax I have ever seen, I don’t like gender studies that much. I would never claim that the whole field is pathological–that is not in evidence. But I have read some gender studies papers, and have not been generally impressed with them.

Yes, I have, as a physicist, read gender studies papers. And I didn’t select papers by following right-wing news sources that intentionally cherry-pick the most ridiculous examples. No, I read gender studies papers as part of my work as an asexuality activist. Back in the day, my other blog hosted a journal club on academic asexual studies.  Asexual studies are very cross-disciplinary, including psychology, sociology, history, linguistics, law, and… gender studies!

The short version: Gender studies papers often say stuff that activists already know, or already know is wrong. I am not sure what advantage gender studies provides over, say, blogs.

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Any ace writers?

I almost forgot to mention, my other blog The Asexual Agenda, is currently looking for contributors. We’re a group blog targeted at asexual-spectrum readers.

If that interests you even a little, please consider applying! There are details here, and the deadline is next Monday, June 5th. We don’t get that many applicants, so your chances are fairly decent.

Asexual, because reasons

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015, primarily for an ace audience.

I grew up in a family that never talked about sex or even really relationships and intimacy. Of course I was still surrounded by sex in media, my peers, etc, but I never got “the talk” or had any discussions about sex within my household. My therapist wanted me to consider if that could have influenced my disinterest in sex and lack of sexual attraction.

–Seen on AVEN

I don’t feel sexual attraction to people but I know my antidepressants repress my sex drive so I don’t know what I feel naturally and what’s been taken away from me if that makes sense.

–A question seen on Asexual Advice

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 […]

Alok Vaid-Menon

There’s a common theme among people questioning whether they’re asexual. What if I’m really this way just because of _____? Replace the blank with “trauma”, “hormones”, “medication”, “my age”, “gender dysphoria”, “abuse”, “anxiety”, “repression”, or “upbringing”.
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Ostensive definitions for queer experiences

While I’m still on the subject of Wittgenstein’s private language arguments, I’d like to say more about how it relates to queer experiences.

You might notice that I’ve never stated exactly what the private language argument is. It isn’t really a formal argument, in the sense of having premises and a conclusion. Rather, the private language argument refers to a cluster of issues regarding personal experiences. For example, what does “pain” refer to, if anything? When I experience a thing, how do I identify it as pain or not pain? How do I know that it is similar to what other people are feeling when they refer to pain?

You must realize that I am not formally trained in philosophy. I’ve never read Wittgenstein first-hand and don’t know precisely what he says. But it seems to me that the private language argument is wasted on philosophers, when it’s so directly relevant to queer experiences. How does one know that one is experiencing sexual or romantic attraction? How about gender dysphoria? This isn’t philosophical abstraction to us, it’s something we live through and discuss amongst ourselves extensively. I would bet that it is also relevant to other minority experiences, such as chronic pain, depression, or aphantasia.

Usually, when we define a word, we explain it in terms of other words. But clearly we can’t do this for every word, because the definitions would eventually become circular. If you think about it, there is a way around this.  You can define a word by pointing to examples of it. For example, I can define an ant by pointing at one, or I can define an octahedron by pointing at one. This is called an ostensive definition.
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