Challenges faced by asexual spectrum survivors of sexual violence (part 3)

Challenges faced by asexual spectrum survivors of sexual violence (part 3)

This post was originally posted at The Asexual Agenda and Concept Awesome in September of 2013. It is the final part of a three-part series. You may want to read part one and part two first.


Trigger warnings: If you have any sort of sexual violence-related trigger, you should probably skip this post.  Specific triggers in this post for rape, sexual assault, child molestation, therapy trolling, denial of proper therapy, identity policing (if you think additional warnings need to be added, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to add them)

This is the third and final part of the series.  You may want to read part one (here on tumblr and here on The Asexual Agenda) and part two (here on tumblr and here on The Asexual Agenda) before proceeding.  This series focuses on awful things people say to asexual spectrum survivors, sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of concern, and sometimes out of ignorance.  Each section has a quote (or collection of related quotes) followed by a “translation” of the quote (or a distillation of the essence of the argument, if you will) and then commentary on why this is an awful thing to say.  This series is intended to accompany my resources for ace survivors project (masterpost here and tag here).

Okay, we’re finally in the home stretch.  Let’s do this thing.

“If you’re sex-averse, there’s something wrong with you, and you should consult a doctor.”

“I mean, yeah, it’s okay to have PTSD, as long as you’re getting treatment for it!”

Translation: I will accept your quirks as long as you are in therapy that fits my specifications and are actively working to get rid of those quirks.

Let’s say you’re an ace who has experienced sexual violence of some kind.  You probably have a lot of people (many of whom are other aces) telling you that you should go get therapy.  So why don’t you do that?

Hey, remember how some people think that asexuality is caused by sexual violence?  (If you don’t, maybe you should reread part two.)  That misconception causes huge problems for ace survivors who try to get therapy.  A fair chunk of PTSD treatment is geared toward “reclaiming your sexuality,” and so an ace who goes in to be treated for PTSD may (if they have a clueless therapist) wind up having their therapist try to “cure” their asexuality.  This can cause the ace patient pretty serious distress, not to mention damage to their self-esteem and self-image.

This is assuming that the ace in question manages to get themself to therapy at all.  Many aces, when faced with the odds of having a completely clueless therapist, will decide it’s better not to risk it.  That’s not even factoring in the stigma of getting therapy, the extreme reluctance of many folks to report being the target of sexual violence, and the fact that the ace in question may need an LGB- or trans*-friendly therapist.  Remember, not all ace survivors are heteroromantic and/or cisgender, not all of them were attacked by someone of a different gender, and having a clueless therapist, as we’ve already established, can be pretty damaging.

This is, of course, assuming that the ace in question has access to counseling services at all.

But let’s assume that the ace does have access to ace-competent (as well as whatever-else-they-need-competent) counseling that’s within their budget.  Whatever problem you decided that they needed to go to therapy for (I most often see sex-aversion cited) may not even be addressed in therapy.  If, for example, the therapist doesn’t think the ace’s sex-aversion is an issue (and it seems as though a fair number of ace-competent therapists don’t, if it’s not causing the patient distress), they’re not going to address it or try to treat it.  Even if they do try to treat it, there’s no guarantee that it will go away.  Heck, that’s true of PTSD as a whole–therapy for PTSD tends to be more about learning how to manage it (for example, learning how to deal with panic attacks or learning how navigate situations that are likely to make you triggered) rather than trying to “cure” it.

So when you demand that someone get counseling to cure their sex-aversion, their PTSD, or their general fear or dislike of sex, you’re assuming that A. they have access to affordable therapy, B. they are actually willing to play the Russian Roulette therapy game, C. they haven’t already tried therapy and found it either entirely useless or harmful, and D. they aren’t already in therapy that isn’t interested in “fixing” whatever it is that you find offensive.

You don’t get to decide whether a particular person “needs” therapy.  Even if an ace really does need therapy, they might not have access to appropriate resources, and so telling them over and over that they need therapy is unproductive and extremely obnoxious.  You also don’t get to specify what a successful therapy outcome would look like; that’s for the ace in question and their therapist to decide.  You aren’t the therapy police!  I don’t care if you’re ace and you’ve never been sex-averse, and based off of that overwhelming evidence, you’ve decided that sex-aversion is wrong.  I don’t care if you’re a survivor yourself and you got over your sex-aversion, so you’ve decided that some other survivor needs to get over theirs because it’s clearly a result of trauma.  You’re not the therapy police and you’re not the sexuality police!  So kindly stop policing other people.

“Don’t talk about that; you’ll make us look bad.”  

“If you talk about being assaulted, people will think asexuality is fake.”

Translation: Sit down and shut up.

Ah, yes, the eternal problem of the Unassailable Asexual.  To be the perfect asexual advocate you have to fulfill every criterion on a long list (allistic, able-bodied, conventionally attractive, neurotypical, etc., etc., etc.), and, of course, being a survivor of sexual violence is the fastest way to get yourself thrown out of Perfect Asexual Advocate Land.  But don’t worry!  You can still be an asexual advocate…as long as you never talk about that stuff.  You wouldn’t want to reflect badly on the asexual community, right?

Guess what!  If I am going to talk about my asexuality, that means talking about all aspects of it, all my experiences because of it, including the really ugly bits.  If that makes me a terrible asexual activist, so be it.  I never claimed to be unassailable.  I don’t want to be a poster child for the asexual movement–let’s be honest, I’m nowhere near as photogenic as Highly Photogenic Poster Boy David Jay. I want to be someone others can point to and say, “Look, it’s not just me; I’m not alone.”

Sadly, thanks to the folks who think they can fix us with their ~magical genitals~, sexual violence is a part of many aces’ experiences.  If you silence the voices of survivors, you isolate those survivors, and halt any discussion that might occur.  When you only allow “unassailable” aces to be advocates for the community, the majority of the aces you attract will be more or less “unassailable,” and those who are “assailable”–who really, really need people to talk to and reassurance that they are not alone–will feel that they do not have a place in the community.

Let us speak.  Better yet, listen to what we’re saying.  There are more of us than you think.  And if you really want life to be better for the next generation of aces, you’re going to have to confront the sexual violence problem eventually, so why not start now?

…and thus concludes this incredibly upsetting and triggering series.  Major kudos to everyone who stuck through it.

Hopefully this series is just the first part of a larger conversation about sexual violence and asexuality that we can get going in the community.  The more people start talking about it, the more ideas we get out into the open, and the more possible solutions we find.  It’s not going to be easy, and change isn’t going to instantaneous.  But I’d like there to be some recognition that this is an issue.  I’d like there to be some ace-competent resources for survivors out there.  I’d like there to be ace-competent crisis hotlines and ace-competent therapists.

More than that, I’d like there to be a safe space for asexual spectrum survivors in our community.  I’d like there to be a safe space for every survivor who has ever been told that they should have just put out or that they aren’t really asexual, just traumatized or that they need to sit down and shut up and stop reflecting badly on the ace community.  I didn’t have that safe space for a very, very long time (and there are still days when I wonder whether I really have that safe space now), and I don’t want anyone else to go through that.  I’d like for someone to be able to come into the ace community, say, “I was correctively raped” or “I was sexually assaulted” or “I was sexually abused as a child,” and get sympathy and understanding and acceptance rather than a kneejerk reaction of, “Stop talking; you’ll make us look bad!” or “You need therapy!”

Maybe I’m an idealist.  But if this series has made one person–whether ace or not–stop and think about the way they talk to/about ace survivors, if it has made one ace survivor feel less alone, I’ll consider it a (small, but not insignificant) step in the right direction.

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