Posted by Annalytica
NB: This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on annalytica.dreamwidth.org. This post contains discussion of oppression and abuse which is not detailed but may be triggering.
As Jenni mentioned in her post on Tuesday, there has been a lot of debate in some corners of the internet about whether asexuals are queer, and much of that has centred around whether they are oppressed enough to deserve the label.
When Jenni posted a piece on her personal blog explaining why, as a hetero-romantic asexual, she identifies as queer and participates in queer communities, she came under attack, including being told that she is straight. Some people have argued that, in referring to the fact that she has been welcomed into other queer spaces, such as Lashings, she is speaking on behalf of queer people, and thereby abusing her so-called straight privilege. So, I'm using this post to speak on behalf of myself, as a queer person who recognises Jenni as queer and welcomes her into this community.
Since a lot of this debate has been about who may or may not identify as queer, I should start by laying out my own queer credentials. I am a bisexual woman in a monogamous relationship with a man. As far as I can tell from what I've read so far, most of the people involved in this debate would accept that I may call myself queer, though it's worth noting that there are people in the queer community who would disagree.
I regard Jenni as queer because as an asexual person, her desires regarding sex and relationships don't match up to the heteronormative ideals expected by our society. The desire to have a relationship that is romantic but non-sexual is not one which our society recognises as valid. As such, if she talks about her desires and experiences, she is likely to be met with disbelief, misunderstanding, or hostility. In other words, oppression. Part of the experience of being queer is that people don't accept your identity, experiences, and desires. As I see it, the main reason for claiming the label queer and seeking queer communities is so that we can share our experiences of oppression and work together to combat it.
One of the arguments which has been raised is that a hetero-romantic asexual person can never experience homophobia. For example, if she is in a romantic relationship with a man, they won't experience homophobic abuse for holding hands in public. Therefore, the argument goes, she is not entitled to reclaim a term which is used as a homophobic slur. When pushed, the person arguing this defined queer as “attracted to people of the same gender”. Aside from asexuals, this definition also excludes trans* people, unless they also happen to be gay or bi. The people arguing for this definition were prepared to amend it to include trans* people, but paying lip-service to the inclusion of trans* people does not address the bigger problem: their definition of queer relies on the assumption that it is easy to establish whether two people are of the same gender or not.
I would argue that the use of “queer” as a slur – and as a positively reclaimed term – goes beyond same sex attraction. “Queer” is used to attack anyone whose gender or sexuality is not socially accepted, and as such can be reclaimed by anyone in that position. Obviously this lack of acceptance manifests itself in many different ways and there are important differences between different kinds of oppression. A lack of representation in popular culture is not the same as being told you'll grow out of it, which is not the same as lacking certain legal rights, which is not the same as being violently attacked. We can argue over which forms of oppression are worst, and whether some pave the way for the others, and whether we should try to tackle all of them or prioritise only the most damaging. But in all of these debates, I wish people would recognise two things:
1) Whether or not someone is queer is not determined by whether they have experienced a given, specific form of oppression.
2) Whether someone has experienced a particular form of oppression is not determined by their orientation
There are asexual people who have been physically or sexually assaulted because of their orientation, just as there are gay people who haven't experienced that kind of abuse. Type of non-heterosexual orientation does not map neatly onto type of oppression. I could understand if someone wanted to set up a group that was exclusively for queer people who have experienced violent hate crime, for example, if that is what's necessary to create a safe space. What I can't understand is using orientation as a proxy for what kind of oppression someone has experienced. That's affected by all kinds of factors – in particular, how their sexuality intersects with other forms of oppression and privilege.
Jenni's experience of invisibility, of having her identity explained away, of being regarded as not queer enough for the queer community and not straight enough for the straight community, are all things that I, as a bisexual woman, can identify with. We share the experience of being oppressed because we don't fit other people's expectations of how our sexuality ought to be. That is enough for me to regard her as queer.
I want Jenni in my community because we share many experiences. I want her in my community because she is able to speak insightfully about her own experiences, without assuming they are universal or speaking on behalf of other people. I want her in my community because she respects the diversity of queer identities within Lashings and does not attempt to tell anyone else how they should identify. Lashings is a safe queer space and Jenni's presence does not threaten the safety of the space in any way. However, when I hear people calling a self-identified asexual person straight, and accusing her of invading queer spaces and abusing her straight privilege, I certainly don't feel safe in that space. As a bisexual person, I'm all too familiar with having people refuse to recognise my queer identity and I don't want to see this happening all over again.
This topic has led to some very heated debate on other sites. Please read the comments policy before commenting and remember that this blog is a safe space.