Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Asexuality and the asexual movement

I've been sleeping really weirdly of late, so the basic thought-processes of this morning were "Ohh, it's 7 o' clock. I really should get up... Ohh, it's 10 o' clock, I really should get up. Ohh, it's noon, I really should get up. Nothing on facebook, nothing on deviantart, nothing on blo- Oh ****, Joy Davidson has commented on my last post!!!!!"

She was really respectful, seemed quite glad I'd written about her actual words, rather than assumptions about her beliefs. I'd ask any asexuals or interested parties reading to check out her comment. I knew she'd been a bit typecast, but it never occured to me before that, in just the same way as media appearences don't allow asexuals to have the very in-depth discussions they'd like to, she may have been constrained by the same system.

Anyway, one of the things she said was that there's a difference between asexuality and the asexual movement. It's something I've always known, but never considered before. Like all binaries, it looks fine at first, but is impossibly complicated once you get closer to the dividing line. For a start, we all know it's the asexual community that defines what asexuality is. And asexuality defines what the asexual community is. I have not a chance of approaching the complexity of the effects of this symbiotic relationship, but Pretzelboy's definitions series, especially the two awesome posts on the history of asexuality, do a very good job of exploring the issue (I seem to spend half my time as a blogger looking through his archive for places where Pretzelboy's said it really well).

To assume that the asexual movement and asexuality are somehow seperatable, we have to assume there's some definition of asexuality outside of the asexual movement, a gold standard by which AVEN's cheques are measured*. This is obvious. There are people who were asexual before the first asexual groups, people who took the name before they knew anyone else had, and, assuming that there has always been, behind the scenes, such a thing as sexual orientation, I'm certain that there have always been people who experience little or no sexual attraction to anyone. However, there's a semantic issue here. The word asexual, with etymologically-easy subdivisions, like aromantic and demisexual, its own roots in the language of sexual orienation like homosexual, has influenced the self-understanding of the first generation of asexuals. And the more fixed these become, the more important it will be, in the real world, that the word we chose is asexual, and that the operative definition of that word is 'you are if you feel like it', and all sorts of things that came about through the asexual movement will affect the real world applications of asexuality, as opposed to nonsexuality, nonlibedoism, lack of sexual attraction, none of which really made it this far.

It's not a bad thing. The only way to avoid semantic issues is to not use any words, and I think the operational definitions of asexuality don't have any real major flaws. Also, even the most semantic people (and I count myself as one of them), eventually start thinking "Blow this. I'll be exactly who I am, and the words will have to try and catch up with me." But it's worth considering.

Maybe I should extend this to a less semantic level, now. The fact that asexuality started off as an internet orientation gives it a sort of memishness. It's main proponents are people who can spend their time stuck behind a keyboard, making it's activists a little different from most other activists. The fact that you have to fight to even find it (though that's changing more and more), means that it attracts introspective researchers. The fact that it models itself on the big three sexual orientations has a whole host of meanings. Decisions of the asexual movement affect asexuality itself, and it's often difficult to find where the gold standard exactly is.

No particular conclusion for this, not at the moment anyway, it's just a thought.

*To explain this metaphor: The gold standard is the amount of gold kept in a bank. In the old days, all bank notes were promissery notes, saying that they were worth exactly so much gold from the bank. You could keep circulating the notes, knowing that, if you ever wanted, you could exchange them for gold, but no-one ever did. It was enough just to know that the gold was there somewhere, keeping the value of the money stable, making sure the promises were worth themselves.

At more financially savvy times, the banks lent and printed more money than they actually had gold to refund for, because they knew that whether there was gold or not didn't actually matter. In the early 19th century, the English radical politician Francis Place went so far as to threaten the collapse of the British banking industry by encouraging all his followers to go to the banks and take out all the gold that they had notes for, even though there wasn't anywhere near enough. No-one, now, bothers with the gold standard, money is entirely judged by trust and confidence, hence the lack of trust and confidence leading to the current economic recession.

Don't know how much of that was relevant to the post, but it does make a rather nice story.

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