Saturday, 26 June 2010

On privilege

I’m a big fan of the theory of privilege (if you don’t know what it is, look it up. And this may still not be the post for you). As a model, it makes a lot of sense. I see it playing out in the real world all the time. It gives a direction with which everyone- privileged and unprivileged, can start to understand why we’re not a fair society.

However, I’m also a big fan of the meta-theory that models can never be true, only useful. The privilege model is an incredibly useful model. But I see problems when it is seen as not just useful, but true.

I’ll list some examples so we’re not just into theoretics. Bisexual people often experience various shades of biphobia from gay people. Often, this is justified by privilege. Bisexual people have straight privilege, therefore it’s impossible for them to need the protection of their identity that gay people need, goes the theory. I’ve heard something similar happens between Asian and black people in Usian racial dynamics, but couldn’t comment from personal experience.
It gets even more muddy when you rigidly apply the privilege criteria to transpeople. Especially transwomen, here are women who’s privilege (as biologically men) was the very cause of their non-privilege (as trans-people). Ensue not just transphobia but also transmisogyny. I believe it also works the other way, with transmen being disapproved of by some feminists (as well as the status quo) by trying to ‘claim privilege’ that is outside of their rights.

So these examples, as you can tell, are all very much from what I’ve read on the internet, and little from personal experience. Sorry if I’ve oversimplified (which I undoubtedly have) or got anything wrong. The main example I can see in my own life, as a male feminist, is the way the model of privilege is (ab)used in feminism. To an extent, it is incredibly useful. There’s a whole range of privileges men have that need to be recognised as privilege. I’m thinking higher wages, the right to a reasonably unjudged, autonomous sexuality and appearance, the right to see themselves in the media not as clich├ęd stereotypes, the right to basically assume you’re not going to give up your job to look after your children, the list goes on and on. But this creates a very gender essentialist outlook. Feminism can and should be incredibly useful for men, too. Not just pulling them down, but broadening their prospects, too. And when it becomes a case of beating the nasty men, well, do you really think you’re going to win? Remember all that privilege they have. All you’re doing is pointing at the nasty men and saying “That’s what all men are. Nasty!” And then more men are nasty because it is seen as one of the defining things of being a man, and then you really are stuck in a war against lots of nasty men, and you will lose! And they will lose!
When what men really needed was the freedom to break the bounds, to be whatever they wanted to be within their gender. When you’re busy breaking down gender stereotypes for women and building them up for men, the net result is just more gender stereotypes.
The idea that men are nothing more than walking bags of privilege, when applied universally and without discrimination, ignores the very real gender stereotypes that men, too, are forced into, the very real harms that are persecuted against men by the patriarchy.

So, yeah. Privilege. That’s what I was meant to be writing about. It annoys me when ideas of privilege are taken as if they were laws of physics, like the laws of thermodynamics. So you have rules like “An unprivileged person cannot have privilege against a privileged person,” a rule which is true, but misleading. Particularly annoying when you assume that there are no closed systems. As in, when one person would have privilege globally, that person automatically always has privilege, even if they’re in a country, room, or other closed system where they might seem (if replicated on a global scale) non-privileged. To take a fictitious (and thus hopefully non-divisive) example, the Ancient Greek men who lived in fear of abduction and torture by the Amazons* probably weren’t especially pleased because, in terms of the world or country as a whole, men had privilege. They lived in a closed system where men very much didn’t have privilege. In fact, the very fact that they were in the privileged group probably added to their lack of privilege, making people simultaneously believe that they were too weak to be men and strong enough that they could never be truly victimised because, well, they’re privileged.

Ok, ignore the complicated mythological situation for a moment and look at the sentence before. The one that starts “When one person would have privilege...” That’s what’s wrong with the way the notion of privilege is used. That it forces otherwise reasonable people to use sentences like that. I’ve seen people having whole arguments in which both sides have to refer some holy ‘Laws of Privilege’ to make a point.

This is sociology, people! It’s not physics. Physics can be neat and mathematical and logical, but this is the way people live. It needs common sense. It needs analysis that can be, if it needs to be, truly independent of the buzz-words. It doesn’t obey rules and is dirty and messy and incomprehensible. Remember what we were searching for when we started using the word privilege? Remember why we like it so much? It was a quest for empathy, for new ways of looking at things. Sometimes, we need empathy, new ways of looking at things. Sometimes, the model of privilege just gets in the way of that, and that’s when we should quietly put it on one side for later, not try to force it in a space it won’t go.

So this wasn’t a discussion of a/sexuality and gender, as I promised you in a side-bar that is, as you read this, probably way up above you. It’s something that’s been cooped up inside me, as I read various things, for a while. Judging by the effortless length, I didn’t realise how much this did mean to me.
But this is one of those things that I really want to say before we get into the proper discussions of sexuality and gender. As a person who’s basically privileged in every way, I want to articulate this as pure theory, because I’m going to need it if I ever take that step to call someone out on it. I needed to write this before too long, because I thought it needed to be said. In the space in my own head, at least, and I tend to think of this blog as an extension of that.

More flippant asexy posts soon? I hope so too.




*a mythical tribe of women in Ancient Greece who abducted, tortured and often killed (as far as I can remember, I may have my fake facts completely wrong) the menfolk near them.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

You don't count

“Isn’t it annoying how men are really sex-obsessed?”
“Not all men are sex-obsessed. If you thought about it for a moment, you’d realise that a lot of the men you know aren’t.”
“Give me an example.”
“I’m not.”
“Well, you don’t count. You’re asexual.”

“I think everyone would secretly do anything for sex, they’re just hiding it.”
“Again, not true. I wouldn’t.”
“Yeah, but you don’t count. You’re asexual.”


So what’s with this idea that, because I’m asexual, I’m outside of the normal spectrum of sexuality? I’m statistically written off? I think partly, it’s an example of how people construct a ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy in their stereotypes, especially of gender. They think that, for example, men like sex, and so think of men who like sex as being most typically men, and then, when they think of the people who they know who are typically male, surprise surprise, they all like sex.

There’s also an element, though, of odd otherness. Like when you cross the line to asexuality, your views are no longer useful because you’re in your own little subsection. Which is just not how it works. Firstly, asexuality is a spectrum, or several, not a little group of people born without any relation at all to the world of sexuality. Secondly, if you’re going to remove all the people on one side of the data, you’re going to have really badly skewed results. Thirdly, I’m a human being, dammit! (or a man, or whatever other population you were talking about). It’s as simple as that. I’m a human being so, whatever my sexuality, I am automatically one representation of how human sexuality can function. Even if that means functioning by absence.

"How to loose your virginity"- the wrong film title to leave on your computer when your friends come round

Remember a while ago, I pointed my faithful readers (/reader?/imaginary friends?) in the direction of all the great stuff on the blog The American Virgin?

Well, they're producing a film examining the myths of virginity in the American culture, and looking for donations. Go and check them out, have a look at what they've been doing and give what you can. Also, I'm sure they'd love to hear from other asexuals, or indeed anyone, who's interested in doing a First Person post (I've written one which should be out soonish, more on that story later).

I feel I really should explain why I've not been posting much. Partly, it's because college is screaming to a finish, partly it's because the sun's shining and I've suddenly lost interest in my computer. Partly it's because I spent quite a while researching for a Flibanserin post and then lost all the research. All I can really remember is that google returns shockingly few results for "I have HSDD" (and by shockingly few, I mean 3), and that I was going to conclude cautiously with this very good summing up of all my present knowledge from Feminists with FSD:

The thought that keeps popping into my mind is, “So an asexual woman and a woman with sexual dysfunction walk into a bar…“
What I mean by that is, I can’t figure out what the next line in that setup is but there’s something going on there…


More on that story later, maybe?

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Shaming the mentally ill, and why we shouldn't do it

Ok, so just to clarify, I don’t think that this is something we, the asexual community, actually do. However, I’ve not seen anyone saying how we can stop it happening. I thought it might be worth a quick mention, though I don’t know how many people actually read this blog.

I’m sure all of the asexuals who may be reading this know that we’re trying to get the new version of the DSM, the psychiatrist’s handbook, to be more asexual-friendly, especially in the wording of Hyposexual Desire Disorder. This is a really good project, and I wish those involved the best of luck. It is very important that a normal, healthy asexual can’t be diagnosed and stigmatised with a mental illness just for being who they are. However, it’s worth considering our motives and the language we use while doing this. You might want to read through this post, and those it links to, about autism distancing itself from mental illness. The context for asexuality is very different, since asexuality doesn’t imply any lack or difference in functioning, an asexual can be completely mentally healthy, and if the DSM decides that something is wrong with that state of being, then the DSM is incorrect.

However, consider for just a few seconds the situation we appear to be in. Mental illnesses are stigmatised, those who have mental illnesses, whom society should be protecting, encouraging, are instead minimised and excluded. The solution, to those on the outskirts of mental illness, are to protest that they’re not part of the category. If these people win their fights, it just encourages the view that mental illness is shameful and dehumanising, and there is no way you could possibly live with it.

So asexuality isn’t a mental illness. But as we point that out, we can try to avoid perpetuating the cycles of prejudice against the genuinely mentally ill*.
We don’t say “We’re not mentally ill because we’re not like THEM.”
We talk about the original reasons for HSDD (as far as I’m aware, many of the best ones are American health-insurance-system related), and why these are questionable, and need to be reconsidered, given the rise of the asexual community. We ask why exactly it is that lack of sexual attraction can’t be considered normal.
We talk about the use of the stigma of mental illness to control undesirable groups. We talk about the way homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness, we look outside our community to issues like how the DSM stigmatises fetishes (and, yes, this is exactly what ACH has been doing brilliantly). And, most importantly, we discuss how it’s wrong that classing a socially undesirable group as mentally ill can be an effective weapon against them, can completely invalidate their existence.

*Important note: Throughout this post, I’m thinking in terms of what we say in wider society, the conversations we have with each other, what we may say to the media, that sort of sphere. If you’re sitting in a boardroom with the people who decide DSM policy, then you don’t start with “The entire current system is fundamentally flawed.” You play the game, which may involve not challenging professional prejudices, and I’m completely behind that.

Important note II: This entire post was written before all the stuff about Flibanserin hit the blogs. It is absolutely nothing to do with all of that, which is a very different interaction between asexuality and mental health, and one on which I'm still organising my thoughts.

Varied things: Behavioural sexuality, pieces of ace, the myth of HSDD

A couple of quick thoughts now (and interesting links). These are ideas that I may come back to, but I just wanted to get them out there first.

Firstly, I found this awesome blog post about sexual identity, with some really cool things about behavioural sexuality. Check it out. A couple of the highlights, for me:
We are using what I call the “behavior model” of sexuality, where a person’s sexuality tends to be judged by their appearance and behavior. This is in fact how we define sexuality: gay men are “men who have sex with men but not women”, straight men are “men who have sex with women and not men”, and so on. This seems straightforward but is in fact inaccurate. Some lesbians have husbands. Some bisexuals have been sexually monogamous for the last decade. I know a straight woman who would get drunk and have sex with her woman roommate, on a weekly basis.

When a gay man tells me he’s gay, he could be telling me any number of things. Maybe he is gay because he is attracted to men. Maybe he identifies as gay because he only has sex with men. Maybe he identifies as gay because he has no attraction to women. Maybe he feels gay. Maybe he identifies with the gay community. Maybe he falls in love with men but not women. Maybe he is extremely effeminate, and other people continually identify him as gay, whatever his attractions. Usually, being gay is a combination of a number of these things.


Also, Hot Pieces of Ace, the new asexual youtube channel, is up. I'd really like to get into watching it, but I tend to avoid spoken-word formats because of the amount of time involved. As good as it is to hear asexuals in a less formal mode than the average blog post, I tend to find I can't dedicate enough time to watching/listening. I may just check in to specific vloggers/topics.


Finally, I've always been interested in what the asexual movement can do for the world in general, and as the debate over the new 'cure' for female hyposexual desire rages, I'd just like to pull out this statistic:

43% of women experience sexual dysfunction.

I think that statistic may actually be '43% of women can have their life experiences pushed, twisted and occasionally hammered into fulfilling the HSDD criteria, minus the distress one'.

But wow. Just wow. The abuse of maths itself is overwhelming. If slightly under half of women are abnormal, you know what we need to do? REDEFINE NORMAL. You know, so it's actually normal, and not just a random state decided by advertising executives. The entire argument has echoes of Freud's insistance that women who couldn't orgasm from man-pleasing coital sex were repressed, when we all now know that orgasm only from clitoral stimulation is common, even normal, and Freud's false norms were caused by his own values of what women should be.

This proves something deeply uncomfortable about psychiatric diagnosis. If 43% of women can be crowbarred into the 'sexual dysfunction' category, then roughly 100% of women who come looking for psychiatric help for sexual problems will be able to be legitimately told that they have a sexual dysfunction. By singling these people out, because they're the ones who will be diagnosed, you're wilfully hiding the fact that the thing you're curing them from, the thing you're pressuring them not to be, selling them placebo-like drugs for and charging them to get rid of- that thing is the way that half their gender works!

Yes, we do need discussions about those who are genuinely distressed about their lack of sexual desire/attraction. We do need caution. But, at the same time, asexuals are in the perfect position to kick down this myth until it dies. And we need to.