Can Asexuals be part of Pride? Who decides?
In high school, after years of confusion and fear, I was relieved to discover I was asexual! My life quickly became surrounded with powerful, strong queer and trans peers and elders, and I grew to celebrate my identity as the president of my high school GSA. I’m now 23 and work for an LGBT non-profit and am part of a queer arts collective. Although my friends and workplace support me, I’ve noticed a change in the last year where many people no longer believe asexuals should be included in the queer community. I’m becoming nervous about going to events where people roll their eyes at me, or might begin accusing me of being an “appropriator of queer culture” like they do online. This month, it’s become popular with other queer people on twitter and tumblr to post jokes about asexual people. I feel terrible being excluded from the community that raised me and am hurt by being called “straight” by other queer people, even though I’m not attracted to anyone – men, women, or non-binary folks.
Am I really an appropriator who should leave the community? Should I be allowed to call myself queer as an asexual person?
Dear Brave Correspondent,
I want you to know that after reading your email I was possessed of the urge to lay down on the sidewalk and have a temper tantrum. Not because there’s anything wrong with your letter, which of course there is not, but because I cannot believe we are STILL having these conversations.
You are too young to remember that 25 years ago certain people had an absolute fit and fell in it when the 1993 March On Washington official title included bisexuals, or how horrible people were to bi women especially when they tried to participate in lesbian/dyke spaces. I was in the room when the Julia Penelope-inspired Lesbians For Lesbians refused to participate in Northampton, Massachusetts Pride because bi people were being included and held their own picnic in protest. You may even be too young to remember the exact same fight about trans people being added to the term LGBT, or people saying transantagonistic and generally horrible things about trans folks when we tried to join queer groups and Pride events, even those of us who are queer-identified (which especially confused me). So it’s completely exhausting to discover that we are having, literally, the same fight again about some slightly different but basically associated concept in which a sexual minority group that is consistently stigmatized and disempowered is trying to join under the banner of resistance to the heteronormative, cisnormative, allosexual mainstream.
::takes a deep breath and collects myself::
Here’s the thing, Brave Correspondent: at the end of the day, there’s who is privileged and empowered by the dominant culture and then there is everybody else and you, my friend, are the else. You are, along with me and a whole lot of other people for whom “bride and groom” are not now and may never be a thing, for those of who are neither pink nor blue, for everyone who has ever needed to call ahead and ask whether our family group would be welcomed, everyone who has ever needed to take a friend into the public washroom (or wished we could). Along with all the rest of us for whom the primary narrative that’s shoved down little children’s throats from birth (or while they’re still fetal, in some cases, thanks to the fresh new misery of the gender-reveal party in which people start projecting gendered expectations on tiny humans LITERALLY BEFORE THEY TAKE THEIR FIRST BREATH) doesn’t apply.
(note: sometimes our lives shift an change in ways that appear to match the dominant paradigm. This is not the same thing at all, and don’t let anyone tell you different.)
I feel this way especially, actually, exactly because you are in the work of LGBT2Q liberation. I admit to occasionally looking around on Pride Weekend and thinking “well, nice of you to come and bring your silver lamé thong and all, but where were you the other 363 days of the year when I just see the same 500 people at every protest, fundraiser and artistic event?” It’s all very well and good to have gay sex, or gay sex ideas, and sexual liberation is very important for all of us, but sexual liberation must include the freedom to not have sex, to not be interested in having sex, to have it often or rarely, to have it top or bottom or both, to have it with one person or an entire roster, and most of all to move freely between any or all of those positions based on what you – your very own actual self – want. Queer identity may sometimes be about who we might be fucking at the moment, or have done in the past, but it is also about our politics, our place of resistance to the forces of compulsory heterosexuality and all the other pieces of the privilege puzzle that come with it. And you, who are doing the thing with vigor professionally and in your spare time, are definitely not the person I think should be quietly excusing yourself from a dry spot under the rainbow umbrella, if you will.
(That’s besides the fact that, unless I am very mistaken, being asexual does not preclude queer romances that aren’t sexual, does it? Some of the first ace folks I ever knew were queers who protested together and ate vegan complementary protein loaf together and had plenty of intimacy together, but not sex. As it happens.)
Beyond that, since I have you, can we talk for a minute about gatekeeping in LGBT2Q communities generally? Because I have had a lot of feelings about the ways in which people behave around this topic for, oh, a quarter-century, and now I have this fairly well-read forum in which to have them so here we go.
Gatekeeping has been a powerful force of queer and trans communities for as long as I have been a part of them, and from what my elders and betters tell me it wasn’t a new problem when I got to it. As marginalized and often stigmatized people, it’s pretty understandable through a psychology lens that we’d have internalized so much hostility and experience so much fear we’d be extremely prone to take it out on anyone we safely can – which, super unfortunately, means taking it out on one another. And so this thing keeps happening where the terms change, and the Official Outcasts change, but the essential experience of some people being “the right kind” and some others being “the wrong kind” seems to have lasted as long as anyone I know can remember.
What’s worse, it seems to be intensifying. When I came out, before you were born (I know, I know, but occasionally I can’t help myself) we were all dirty queers. The cops wore two pairs of latex gloves to work the pride marches and arrest demonstrators, and even the whitest, polo-shirtiest, upper-middle-classiest, monogamiest homosexuals were considered a sub-human cast of characters by an alarming majority of Americans. As the power structure has shifted slowly, though, and marriage equality has been enshrined (for now, even if you can’t get a cake) and Target has a whole pride line of tank tops, there has become a stratum of Acceptable Gays And Transes and a smaller, and commensurately more maligned, layer of dirty queers. We’re the kinksters and the polyamorists and the insufficiently grateful trans people and the sex workers and the political queers and the multiply marginalized people – everyone who won’t stop fucking and/or fighting, basically. HOWEVER. Just because this nonsense isn’t new doesn’t mean it’s not harmful to people, Brave Correspondent. In many ways, I think it’s more harmful now, because people have climbed a little higher up the privilege ladder and then pulled it up behind them, which leaves others of us feeling even worse.
Here’s where I would like to veer into actual advice, actually: I was recently reminded by a beloved and wise human that being generous is both more fulfilling and also more relaxing than trying to keep accounts and allot each person only that to which we might imagine them allowed. To you, Brave Correspondent and all of everyone else, this means not only that I want you to feel completely welcomed and at rest in queer communities but also I really need you to hold on to this learning. I need you to remember what it felt like to feel afraid of exclusion, to be tentative and tender as you consider where your place might be or whether there’s a place for you at all.
I know it seems now like it would be impossible to forget, but once acceptance is assured people have been known to let some of that knowledge gained in the fight fade away along with the uncertainty. We forget how it feels to still be waiting and hoping and trying hard. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t hold it too close; don’t let it keep you feeling always on the outskirts, but also don’t pack it away into the boxes under the eaves you never get into. Remember the wisdom of Toni Morrison, who famously said “I tell my students, when you get these jobs you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free you need to free somebody else. If you have sone power, than your job is to empower somebody else.”
Brave Correspondent, I hope you have a fabulous Pride, and that your friends and colleagues feel empowered enough to push back if some numbnuts tries to suggest that you don’t belong there, and that delightful people smile at you all day. I hope you feel happy and safe enough to smile back.
love and courage,
Do you enjoy Ask Bear? Do you want it to continue, and grow wings (and a tail, and also probably a podcast)? Become a patron! The rewards are nice, including that this column will keep happening.