This post was written for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces.The theme was “the Unassailable Asexual.” It originally appeared at The Asexual Agenda and Concept Awesome.
Author’s note: It’s been a year since I posted this. I still think it’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever produced (ever), which is kind of funny, because I don’t get the impression it’s been read particularly widely. It’s also, sadly, still relevant.
Trigger warnings: If you have any sexual violence-related triggers, please consider skipping this post. Frank (although not explicit) discussion of sexual violence (including corrective rape) and associated emotional fallout, victim-blaming, invalidation, manipulation of survivors and their stories for political ends, and general suckiness ahead. There should also be a blanket trigger warning for sexual violence for almost every link in this post. If you think this needs additional warnings, please let me know.
Here goes everything
I discovered the Wikipedia page for asexuality in January of 2008. By September of the same year, I had PTSD. These two facts are not unrelated.
The story is sickeningly cliche, to be honest. Young Queenie discovers asexuality a month and a half into her first romantic relationship. When she comes out to her boyfriend, he tells her, “You’re not asexual; we just haven’t tried the right things yet.” Young Queenie doesn’t have enough knowledge or self-confidence to stand her ground. Boyfriend pushes at her boundaries, seeing how far he can overstep them before Queenie freaks out and throws him off her or, on one particularly memorable occasion, kicks him in the face, repeatedly. Boyfriend is contrite and apologetic and promises he won’t do it again…until he does. Rinse and repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Boyfriend can’t understand what he’s done wrong. He keeps talking about how he loves her, how he loves her so much, how he loves her too much, how he can’t control himself around her because he loves her too much, how he’s just trying to help.
Queenie still finds it easier to talk about these things in third person.
Queenie doesn’t like to talk about these things much at all.
But if I don’t talk about it, who will?
Ace survivors inhabit a paradoxical space in ace communities. On one hand, we—especially those of us who have experienced corrective rape—are the ultimate trump card. Whenever someone’s talking about how asexuals aren’t oppressed, someone else inevitably counters, “Ah, but some aces are correctively raped!” I don’t doubt that, within the month, someone will link to this piece to demonstrate that, yes, asexuals experience oppression and violence. But while those of us who have experienced corrective violence are held up as proof that Bad Things Happen to Aces, those of us who have experienced CSA or sexual assault unrelated to orientation, those of us who were attacked before we identified as ace, those of us who don’t know whether our experiences of sexual violence “caused” our asexuality are pushed out of the community. We are told, “We don’t want you here; you are making us look bad.” We are told, “Okay, you can be here, but don’t talk about the rape thing, okay? People might get the wrong idea.” We are told, “You are not really asexual, your feelings are not real, you are not real.”
If you must be assailable, you should be assailable in the right way. You should be assailable in a way that is Useful to the Community.You should have a clear narrative. You should have been assaulted by an allosexual person, preferably a straight one, and certainly not another person on the asexual spectrum. You should assert that you did not lead your partner on or “play hard to get.” You should assert that you were correctively raped because of your asexuality, not because your partner thought you were a lesbian or because he believed all Latinas to be hypersexual or because you refused to compromise sexually. You should have identified as asexual and come out to your partner before the assault. You should not have assented to sexual activity at an earlier time. You should not be mentally ill, or, if you must be mentally ill, you should have PTSD from your corrective rape. You should not have experienced prior abuse. You should not be sex-repulsed. You should have exited the relationship as soon as the assault occurred.
It’s bizarre that, based on my experiences navigating ace spaces as a survivor, I can formulate a list of criteria for a “proper” ace survivor, a list that is part victim-blaming and part Unassailable Asexual with dashes of self-loathing and erasure and invalidation. It’s ridiculous that I feel the need to frame my senseless, violent experiences in such a way that they can be Useful to the Community while shoving my other experiences—the ones that don’t fit into that perfectly useful narrative—under the rug, never to be spoken of in polite company. It’s absurd that, among the aces I’ve spoken to who have experienced sexual violence, the vast majority are not heteroromantic and a sizable portion are trans (and that’s not even touching how many ace survivors of color I have run into), and yet they are asked to declare with 100% certainty that they were attacked because of their sexual orientation alone. How can we talk about our intersecting identities if we have so much trouble talking about just asexuality and sexual violence? How can we speak about our experiences when intersecting identities make us targets for invalidation on countless fronts? How can we tell our stories when we feel such intense pressure to frame them the right way, to be the right kind of assailable ace, to be Useful to the Community?
I don’t want to be reduced to proof that Bad Things Happen to Aces, I don’t want to package my stories into palatable soundbites, and I certainly don’t want to have to fight for my right to stay in my own community. Do I want to speak out and speak up, when chances are good that I’ll be reduced to a sad picture of The Oppressed Ace to be whipped out at key moments in an argument, a dirty secret that other aces want to keep under wraps, or a reblog to prove that the blogger Cares About This Issue (only to promptly forget about it and go back to saying the same ignorant things about asexuality and sexual violence)? Writing my Challenges Faced by Ace Survivors series took months, but how much impact has it really had? I still regularly see people who profess to being ace activists making exactly the sort of problematic statements I deconstructed, and it’s very rare that anyone who isn’t a survivor calls them out. Sure, people are willing to say they support survivors, but only when a survivor speaks up about how isolated and unwelcome they feel, rarely when other aces are actively making survivors feel unwelcome. Has my writing about sexual violence and asexuality changed things for the better, or have I just made myself uncomfortably vulnerable so that people can point at me and say, “No, but look, aces are oppressed!” or prove how “supportive” they are?
This is why, when I see people complaining about how nobody talks about asexuality and sexual violence, I have to laugh. If I don’t, I’ll cry. First of all, learn to use Google, and second of all, do you want to talk about asexuality and sexual violence? Do you want to offer people a chance to invalidate your feelings, your identity, your experiences? Do you want people telling you that you’re making it up for attention? Do you want people demanding details, concrete evidence of exactly what happened, because unless you can prove to them that what you experienced was bad enough, you’re probably just oversensitive? Do you want to be brought up only when proving a point or demonstrating social awareness, only to be discarded when you might start reflecting poorly on other aces? Do you want to feel intense pressure to edit and reframe your sexually violent experiences so that they will be Useful to the Community?
If you don’t, I can’t exactly blame you.
If you’re one of those people complaining about how nobody talks about this and someone should talk about it, you are demanding that people highlight their vulnerabilities and open themselves up to attack from both inside and outside their communities. Are you prepared to defend us? How invested are you in our stories, if you can’t be bothered to go looking for them? How interested are you in supporting ace survivors, if you aren’t making any effort to make space for us to feel safe telling our stories? Is it just that it’s easier to ask why nobody is doing the thing than it is to consider why nobody’s doing the thing? Is it because it’s easier to complain about things that don’t affect you than it is to actually do something to support ace survivors? If you’re angry that “nobody” is talking about and supporting ace survivors (false), are you doing anything with that anger or are you just angry to prove that you’re socially engaged? Do you only want us to come forward so you have more trump cards or do you actually want to do something to help and support us? Because, from where I’m standing, I see a whole lot of talk and not much else.
You want to know what it’s like being an ace survivor? It’s isolation. It’s silence. It’s hesitantly raising your hand at a meet-up when someone asks whether anyone there has experienced sexual violence, and hoping that you both are and aren’t the only one. It’s wondering whether, if you had just held your ground firmer or walked away sooner or saw the warning signs earlier or been less curious, you would have been okay. It’s trying to disentangle your (a)sexuality from experiences of sexual violence, and realizing you can’t. It’s guilt and shame and feeling like the assault was your fault, feeling like, if you hadn’t been asexual, this never would have happened. It’s wondering if you really are broken, like they say you are, if your sexuality or your experiences or your PTSD or your sex-aversion or your whatever means that you really are an irredeemably damaged human being. It’s not knowing how to respond to the virginity question. It’s being told to “stop trying to appropriate corrective rape from lesbians.” It’s staying in a sexually abusive relationship, because who else could possibly love someone as broken as you? It’s second-guessing yourself, wondering if what happened was really rape, whether it was really sexual assault, whether you’re really asexual, whether you’re really grey-A or just traumatized, whether you’re really demisexual or just scared of intimacy, whether you really feel the things you feel, because you’ve read that PTSD can screw up your perceptions and, who knows, maybe you’ve been misperceiving everything. It’s wondering whether you should mention your history of sexual violence or whether you should keep quiet, because you’re a respected ace blogger and you have a niggling suspicion that everyone will hate you if they know the truth about you and won’t want you associating yourself with asexual activism anymore because, you know, people might get the wrong idea (they’ll say, apologetically). It’s agonizing over every word, every phrase, every detail you let slip, because you have to do this right, you have to tell the right story the right way, you have to prove to them that you are worth listening to and supporting and welcoming into their community. And it’s not just you, it’s all the other ace survivors out there because there aren’t enough of you speaking, so every time you speak it’s like you’re SCREAMING THROUGH A MEGAPHONE INTO A SILENT BALLROOM PACKED WITH PEOPLE, and you better not screw it up, because it’s not just your acceptance on the line. It’s feeling like every time you speak about asexuality and sexual violence you’re jumping off a cliff yelling, “Here goes nothing!” and hoping that, against all odds, the rest of the ace community will be at the bottom to catch you.
To all my fellow aces who have experienced sexual violence, I wish I had more to offer you than words on a screen. I wish I could give you hotlines and therapists and crisis centers and domestic abuse shelters and ob/gyns who know how to deal with aces. I wish I could give you friends, family, partners, communities that will listen and love you and accept you for who you are. I wish I could give you safe spaces that understand how to respectfully accommodate all your identities and experiences. I wish I could protect you from all the invalidation, erasure, and plain awfulness in the world.
Unfortunately, I am just one rather diminutive, very tired person with limited energy and perpetual anxiety.
So I’m asking the wider ace community to do something. Do something. If you want to make angry tweets about how no one’s talking about this, go for it, but then do something. Read an ace survivor’s narrative. Read the #for supporters tag on resourcesforacesurvivors. Read more about sexual violence in general. Read any of the numerous pieces on asexuality and sexual violence I have linked above. Read, and learn, and then figure out what you can do, because you can do something. I know you can do something to make ace survivors feel welcome and safe in your communities. I know you can do something to educate and call out those who invalidate ace survivors’ identities and experiences. I know you can do something to give survivor-competent ace advice. I know you can remember that ace survivors exist and are part of our communities beyond the times when you need us to win an argument. I believe in you. I’m going to make the leap, because I know that you can catch me.
Here goes nothing.
I just discovered this website yesterday.
I joined AVEN in June of 2012. I abruptly stopped visiting the website more than a year ago. I needed a break. I felt vulnerable from a number of the postings I had made, yet, simultaneously, an overwhelming urge to express what had been up to that time bottled up experiences: an unquenchable need to share my story of rape. I realized only in retrospect, in time away from AVEN, what really prompted the indeterminate need for rest – perhaps, a subconsciously driven rupture from the network… I realized that I had had a similar altercation (as you) with an electronic bully. She questioned whether I was to blame for my trauma. (She seemed to have been trolling me on AVEN for awhile, a constant irritant following my posts. making cynical (at least, that was how I perceived it) comments). I defended myself from the provocations (very disquieting, sociopathically needling in my mind) comments that were unequivocal lies: blatantly ignoring what I had written; using her words to replace what I had written. When I made it clear to desist or else I would bring it to the next level (to report her), the interchange ended, blessedly no response from the tormentor was forthcoming. But, unbeknownst to me at the time, the only malignant skirmish on the network (or anywhere else on the internet for that matter, considering my inexperience) I engaged in had perceptively damaging effect. But it went beyond that I realized. It went to what you stated regarding being in ultra-heightened awareness (of community receptiveness) of anything expressed regarding one’s experience of violation. Outside of the exception previously mentioned, I felt there was no ill will from other members of AVEN – quite the contrary, support was forthcoming. I might put the word support in quotations though. Responses were overwhelmingly clinical arm-at-length constructed in which the community at large was being addressed in reference to story of harm (my feeling: As ace, broken? No! But, out of the closet as victim of sexual assault, a great fall, in despair so very much! Will Humpty Dumpty ever be put back together again?) or emotionally heartfelt exclamations that if taken wordy further would either burst the vessels of the heart or degenerate into repetitive expletives. But what else can a victim expect in divulging iniquity, of personal human tragedy, of expressing wounds so deep that they pierce to the core of the soul? Any threads begun on the subject of rape (if explicitly made known through title/warning) are largely (I think) summarily passed over for threads that are incomparably light – and by “incomparably” that means any other subject, please! I should have not been and I should not be presently (in reflection) surprised, as well as not be judgmental – but walk in understanding that such a world is too painful for most and that social fear grips the throat of even a good number of the most caring and well-meaning, that there is foreboding that each word of truth is a chip on the dam and when veils of silence give way en masse, much will drown underneath the turbulence.
I considered myself a revolutionary in my youth but I was not. I am now. Whether yelled/reverberating from the highest mountaintop or existing in stone cold silence, it is a letter that defines and will continue to define and imbue my life whether willed or desperately not. Heather Prynne’s “A” for Adultery is my and so many others’ “R” for Raped. Both contrasting social stigmas that suffuse society: One of volition and perpetration that has graduated to subject of social popular recognition (free discussion) and the other of compulsion and victimization, wished to be repressed (taboo) is the popular expression (messages: just shut up!) given. It is not scarlet-colored material but burni(shi)ng metaphysicality of the most deeply scarring sort. It is an abiding unexpungeable curse, and, perversely, a blessing in the waiting. I am victim here I stew or hear me roar, and survival of my spirit and the relative health of my society (and, indeed, may I be so dramatically bold to assert, in the face of existential billions, the world) on the seemingly infintessimal choice of involvement or not.
This letter, Queenie, is to acknowledge the reading of this re-transmitted blog. I thank you for your willingness to speak out and set up a framework to help others come to terms in freely speaking about their traumas, helping them connect up with resources, and facilitate outreach/activism. I have been in the process over the last several months of constructing a website to turn my experiential lemons to a vision of service of helping others sexually assaulted: to overcome, to find meaning, to find joy in life, but to do so in a way that empowers rather strips control and divests – assiduously avoiding directing what is best (best of intentions has tremendous baneful potential, of which those sexually assaulted are especially – tragically – keenly aware). I would like to assist your endeavor in whatever ways I can, to help all of you to the maximum degree possible in contribution and development of this website. This letter will be followed up with further correspondence so we can become better acquainted and hopefully strike a close, warm, mutually respectful, trusting, and beneficial interrelationship.
P.S. I don’t see the need to shelter my identity. Maybe, this is exceedingly naive. I would like though, despite…, to think the better of my fellow beings.