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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Cis diversity

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.  Actually, it used to be two articles, but I concatenated them here.

So, let’s talk about cisgender people, and how our sparing cis intellects assume the most ingratiating posture of surrender whenever the subject of trans people is broached.

When a trans person says they feel like this gender or that gender, many cis people find that confusing.  “What does it feel like to feel like a man?  *I* don’t feel like I am a man.  Rather, I’m a man because society railroaded me into this role.”

If you feel sympathetic to this response, you may be interested in the theory of cis by default.  Under this theory, some cisgender people simply do not have an internal sense of gender (“feeling like a man” or “feeling like a woman”), and simply go by the gender they’re told they are from birth.

This implies that not all cis people are the same.  Some cis people have an internal sense of gender, some do not.  If you’re confused by the very idea of an internal sense of gender, maybe you’re one of the people who doesn’t have one.

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A personal style guide on sex vs gender

It’s common to make a distinguish between biological sex (which includes chromosomes, primary and secondary sexual characteristics, hormones, etc.), and gender (which refers to one’s identity, or to patterns of behavior). The thrust of the distinction is to separate social constructs from biological reality.

This distinction isn’t wrong, exactly, but I have some quibbles. Mainly, I think gender is the bigger and more important concept, the one that you should be referring to in most situations. There are several things that people think of as sex, but which are really components of gender.

Here I will develop my thoughts on the distinction between sex and gender. I’m calling it a “personal style guide” because it describes how I use the terms, but I am not trying to impose this usage on anyone else. I realize some people use the words differently, and there can be some good justifications for this.

Woman vs female

Some people say that “woman” refers to gender, while “female” refers to sex. I think this is incorrect, on both the descriptive and prescriptive level.

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But is it really capitalism?

A few years ago at a conference about queer video games, I said to an acquaintance, “It seems like there are some financial barriers to creating good queer video games.” My acquaintance says, “Yeah, well that’s capitalism.”

But is it? Is it really???

Sure, capitalism makes it hard to make well-funded games catering to a minority group. But it’s pretty hard to imagine an alternative economic system where we decide to invest a disproportionate amount of resources for the cultural benefit of a minority. Of all the problems created by capitalism, I’m not sure this is one of them. If anything, I would blame… eh… utilitarianism.

Capitalism vs utilitarianism

You may have heard that, in the simple case, a “free” market maximizes the good for the greatest number of people–that is, it’s the most utilitarian economic system. It chooses the optimal pricing and product allocation, eliminating “deadweight loss”, which is an angry red triangle that inhabits the supply/demand curves. There are of course, a lot of issues with this claim, most of which are beyond the scope of this post. The currently relevant issue is that hardly any markets qualify as simple.

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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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Paper: Tops and Bottoms

cn: This post discusses m/m sex and genitals. I don’t joke about sex, so if you’re expecting sex jokes stop expecting that.

When I was reading that article about gay loneliness, I followed a reference to “A Longitudinal, Mixed Methods Study of Sexual Position Identity, Behavior, and Fantasies Among Young Sexual Minority Men” by Pachankis et al.

“Sexual position identity” refers to “top” or “bottom” or “versatile”. I would guess that most of my readers are already familiar with these terms, but I don’t want to be presumptive so I’ll just spell it out. The identity terms refer to sex positions in anal sex, with “top” being the insertive position, “bottom” being the receptive position, and “versatile” meaning no strong preference either way.

I will be upfront about my prejudices. These identity labels don’t make much sense to me. If people prefer one sex position over another that’s fine but an identity labels aren’t really useful unless they convey some information that a lot of people need to know. The only people who really need to know are sexual partners, or I suppose potential sexual partners. And we’re talking specifically anal sex, which contrary to stereotypes is not actually the most common sexual practice between men. So, sex position identity labels might make sense if you have a lot of sexual partners, but not otherwise. Given the prevalence of sex position identity labels, I strongly suspect that they are fulfilling some other function, like being a vehicle for stereotypes.

Yes, there are top and bottom stereotypes. Bottoms are supposed to be more submissive and feminine. I don’t understand it. [Read more…]