Ace Survivors as Rhetorical Devices (part three): The One True Narrative of Sexual Violence Against Aces

Ace Survivors as Rhetorical Devices (part three): The One True Narrative of Sexual Violence Against Aces

This series can be read on The Asexual Agenda, Resources for Ace Survivors, and Concept Awesome.

Trigger warnings: Discussion of sexual violence, including corrective rape and CSA; manipulation of survivors and their stories for political means; victim-blaming; erasure of sexual violence narratives that cannot be used for narrow political purposes; suicide mention; racism; implication that all allosexual people are rapists. As always, if you feel that I should add more warnings, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be happy to add them.

In the last post of this series I discussed the way ace survivors are used to win political arguments. In this post I’m going to discuss the way bloggers construct The One True Narrative of The Way Sexual Violence Happens to Aces. This can take several forms.  First, the author may assume that all ace survivors fit into a particular narrative of sexual violence (usually corrective rape by an allosexual romantic partner). Second, the author may acknowledge that sexual violence against aces may happen in multiple ways, but may highlight one way as more important or “real” than the rest. (This frequently involves fabricating statistics regarding asexuality and sexual violence.)

Let’s take a look at some examples:

Most significantly, it [2009] was a time before zedsexual people
started ( en masse ) appropriating ace educational materials and
mainstream ace discourse to perpetrate and / or justify anti-ace
sexual coercion and rape— not all of which, but much of which is
specifically focused on sex-repulsion ( that is, “anti-sexrepulsed-
ace” violence ).

“f-ace-ing silence” issue 3, page 4

If you haven’t read the full piece, the context is that this quote is from the introduction to the zine where Omnes et Nihil is explaining the history of sex-positivity and compulsory sexuality in ace communities.

Here’s what’s wrong with this quote:

Omnes et Nihil is fabricating statistics on asexuality and sexual violence in order to argue for the harm compulsory sexuality and sex-positivity has wrought in ace communities. We unfortunately don’t have any official statistics on asexuality and sexual violence (although that should hopefully change soon), but as someone who has probably spoken to more ace survivors than anyone else online (except, perhaps, Elizabeth), I can make some general statements. You know what the most common type of sexual violence experienced by ace survivors who come to RFAS is? No, it’s not “anti-sexrepulsed-ace violence”; it’s CSA (child sexual abuse). Of the people who have reported corrective rape, some of them have mentioned sex-repulsion as a factor but others have not. In fact, we’ve had people who self-identify as sex-indifferent or even sex-favorable report being correctively raped.

There’s really no need to make this kind of unsubstantiated claim in order to argue that compulsory sexuality and certain types of sex-positive discourse hurt aces in general or even ace survivors specifically. Unfortunately, Omnes et Nihil has been making this sort of argument for quite a long time, linking sex-aversion with sexual violence against aces. While there is undoubtedly a link between sex-aversion and some corrective violence, Omnes et Nihil uses this link politically (hey, remember last post?) to argue that we should decenter the experiences of aces who have sex because they are harming sex-averse aces. In the comment thread I linked above, Omnes et Nihil argues,

But in case it wasn’t clear enough, yes of course it’s important to acknowledge all aces survivors of violence. Some of this violence targets people because of misogyny, homophobia, racism, disableism, etc… That violence affects people regardless of their asexuality or their feelings toward having sex. Some of it (e.g., the violence I was talking about in my post) is specific punitive/regulatory violence targeting *sex-repulsion*. Some if [sic] it is both. There’s no shortage of violence to go around unfortunately.

My point was that some of it [sexual violence against aces] *does* specifically target the sex-repulsion of sex-repulsed aces, and that violence deploys the “aces can/do/want to have sex” discourse as a weapon.

This presentation of the experiences of aces who are correctively raped for their sex-aversion as a special kind of violence on which ace communities should focus their attention discounts the possibility of any anti-asexual violence that isn’t directly linked to sex-aversion; it says that ace survivors may experience sexual violence because of misogyny, homophobia, racism, ableism, etc., but that the only ace-specific violence (or maybe the only ace-specific violence worth discussing) is anti-sex-repulsed violence.

Again, it doesn’t matter if I agree with this argument or not–what matters is the reduction of ace survivors to a single narrative (ace is correctively raped for being sex-averse) and then the use of that narrative for political means.

Another example of this phenomenon is this survey which was being passed around a little while back. As both Elizabeth and I pointed out, the survey was attempting to gather data on a very specific narrative of sexual violence against asexuals (asexual is correctively raped by allosexual romantic partner) with no rationale for why only that data was being gathered to the exclusion of all other ace survivors’ experiences. Aces who had experienced other types of sexual violence were forced to check the “I am not a survivor” box. Aces who had experienced multiple assaults (and, unfortunately, many ace survivors have experienced multiple instances and forms of sexual violence) were only allowed to report the corrective violence they had experienced.

This reduction of ace survivors’ experiences to a single narrative not only harms ace survivors who have experienced sexual violence other than corrective rape, it also harms aces who have experienced corrective rape. For example, I’m a survivor of corrective rape. Surveys and discourse that emphasize the experiences of ace survivors who were correctively raped by their partners for their asexuality alone (or for their sex-aversion alone) make it harder for me to talk about my experiences. Yes, my asexuality was certainly a contributing factor (I mean, he flat out told me that I wasn’t asexual, we just hadn’t tried the right things yet), but there’s also a very good chance that my rapist thought he could rape me out of being attracted to women. He also bought into a lot of “spicy and sexy” stereotypes regarding Latinas. But that narrative is too complicated to be politically useful, so I’m pressured to either erase all the complicating factors of my rape or to keep quiet about the experience altogether, because, you know, we wouldn’t want my experience to be claimed as an “LGBT” corrective rape instead of an ace one or for people to think I was raped because of misogyny or racism instead of anti-asexual sentiment. That’s putting aside the fact that I’ve been assaulted by two separate people and that my second experience of sexual violence wasn’t corrective. This reduction of ace survivors’ experiences to a single narrative makes it harder for aces with intersectional identities and experiences to speak about their experiences in all their complexity.

Other examples of this creation of a Single Narrative of Sexual Violence Against Aces include:

  • using “ace survivors” as a synonym for “sex-averse aces” or “celibate aces”
  • assuming all ace survivors have been correctively raped
  • presenting “aces who have sex” and “ace survivors” as diametrically opposed groups (usually with the former harming the latter)
  • arguing that while all types of sexual violence can happen to aces, corrective rape is the “most important” type of sexual violence to be addressing
  • assuming all ace survivors have been assaulted by people of a certain gender or sexual orientation
  • talking to a small number of ace survivors and then extrapolating their experiences to make broad statements about all ace survivors

and so on and so forth.

Let me quote Tristifere again, because although she’s talking specifically about mentally ill aces, a lot of the logic supporting the rhetorical use of mentally ill aces is similar to the logic supporting the rhetorical use of ace survivors:

The reason why I’m afraid my words might be misused, is that the only way in which I’ve seen explicit discussions on the correlation between marginalization of asexuality and the effects on mental health is when someone needs to make a point about “how bad asexuals have it”. The argument is as follows: “we’re so oppressed, there are actually people getting mental health problems because of it.” A post trying to legitimize “the asexual plight” through rates of suicide ideation is only the latest example in which this narrative is reinforced. In this narrative, marginalization causes mental health problems. And this is pretty much the only way you’re allowed to talk about the relationship between your mental health and asexuality, it seems. That has got to stop.

Similarly, a lot of the time, when people talk about ace survivors, they’re assuming that asexuality ==> rape. While they might acknowledge cursorily that sometimes rape ==> asexuality (usually while demanding that ace survivors be “protected at all costs,” see last post), that type of violence is usually forgotten when ace survivors are being used in political arguments. Never mind cases of asexuality <==> rape or asexuality ???? rape or asexuality | rape. When ace survivors are used in ace community discourse, it’s almost always with the assumption that there’s a causal relationship between asexuality and rape, and that asexuals are raped for their asexuality. Other narratives are less politically useful, and so aces who don’t know if their (a)sexuality was influenced by trauma, asexuals who were assaulted as children, aces who were assaulted for reasons entirely unrelated to their asexuality, aces who were assaulted by other aces, aces who have been assaulted multiple times or who have experienced multiple forms of sexual violence, etc. are shoved out of the way. They’re ace survivors, sure, maybe, I guess, but they’re not the important ones. The important ones are the ones who are correctively raped.

As someone who was correctively raped, who does fit into that politically useful narrative, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable to see these kinds of arguments. I don’t want to be reduced to an Oppressed Lamp, and I certainly don’t want my story to be used to erase or overwrite the experiences of other ace survivors (or even my own non-corrective experiences of sexual violence). I don’t think what happened to me is more important than what has happened to any of the other ace survivors who’ve written to RFAS.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that even in cases where there is no causal relationship between sexual violence and a particular identity or experience, intersectionality still exists. For example, maybe there’s a sex-favorable ace who was correctively raped for reasons unrelated to their sex-favorability, but their being sex-favorable impacted how they reacted and how and to whom they felt comfortable disclosing their experiences. Or maybe there’s an ace who was sexually assaulted for reasons unrelated to his sexual orientation, but his being ace impacted his ability to access health care afterward. Or, if we want to stop being hypothetical for a moment, although my asexuality was not “caused” by sexual violence, my experiences of sexual violence have shaped and informed the way I conceptualize and experience my asexuality. Intersectionality exists even without a causal relationship, but discourse that only cares about causation focuses only on the moment of sexual violence and elides any other factor, experience, or identity that may shape the fallout from that moment. If you want to support ace survivors, you should care about what comes after sexual violence, especially since the (sometimes long and painful) fallout is often where we need the most support.

To some extent, I can understand the impulse to create a single monolithic narrative of sexual violence better than the impulse to use aces for political means. If there’s only one way sexual violence happens to aces, that makes solving the problem so much easier. All you have to do is address that one thing that’s happening, and suddenly aces will be safe from sexual violence! That’s a very comforting thought, so I can’t entirely blame people for clinging to it. But it seriously simplifies the diversity of ace survivors’ experiences, and it does more harm than good. It’s time to move past the “ace survivor = corrective rape survivor” model. It’s time to embrace the diversity of ace survivors and start brainstorming solutions for all of us rather than just those of us who can be used as a rallying cry.

And here’s another corner case:

Sometimes people create a One True Narrative of Sexual Violence Against Aces not to talk about negative things that happen to aces but rather to get people to behave in a manner they perceive positively. For example, ace/ace relationships can be lovely and awesome, but sometimes the justification people use for recommending them is less than lovely and awesome. Case in point:

When you love another asexual, you can feel safe and certain of your safety in ways you can’t always feel with allosexuals. And I’m not just talking about sexual safety, although that’s certainly the most pertinent type. Yes, when you love another asexual, you pretty much don’t have to worry about being raped or sexually assaulted.

“Why Love Between Two Asexuals Is Fucking Awesome,” The Thinking Asexual

I’ve already talked at length about why this sort of discourse sucks, so I’m just going to quote myself here:

1. This is victim-blaming to the max.  No one should ever expect to be sexually assaulted by a partner.  If their partner assaults them, that is their partner’s fault, not theirs.

2. Not all allosexual people are rapists.  I can’t believe I had to type that sentence.  Allosexual people are, in fact, capable of communicating with their partner(s), and are also capable of terminating relationships that are making them unhappy.  If an allosexual person assaults an ace, that’s a problem with them personally, not their sexual orientation.

3. Aces can and do sexually assault people.  Not experiencing sexual attraction does not make you a wonderful person, and sexual violence is often about power, not attraction.  Aces can be abusive.  Aces can be rapists.  Aces can molest children.  The only surefire way to be safe from sexual violence is to become a cave-dwelling hermit and station a people-eating bear at the door.

I understand that some aces really want to date other aces!  That’s totally cool.  Ace/ace relationships can be awesome.  If you want to talk about how awesome ace/ace relationships can be, go for it.  But please don’t talk about how awesome all ace/ace relationships are (again, aces can be abusive) or how abusive all ace/allo relationships are.  Generalizations and blanket statements won’t help anyone, and will make aces who have been assaulted (whether by allos or by other aces) feel really awful.

I wrote the above quote more than two years ago, but I still see this kind of discourse thrown around ace communities willy-nilly. This Narrative of How Sexual Violence Happens to Aces (they date an allosexual person who rapes them!) is unhelpful and victim-blaming and erases the experiences of those aces who don’t fit into that narrative.

If you want to talk about how great ace/ace relationships can be, that’s fine, but there’s literally no reason to bring ace survivors into this. Again, we’re not here to be used to scare your readers into the Way of Ace/Ace Love, and we’re not here for you to pity, especially if you’re pitying us for a narrow set of experiences that not all of us have even had. If you’re so worried about aces being raped in mixed relationships, what are you doing about it? What concrete steps are you taking to protect aces, and to help those who have had these awful experiences? What are you doing other than pointing at us and saying, “Don’t be like them”?

Up next: Avoiding Using Ace Survivors Rhetorically

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  1. […] Up next: The One True Narrative of Sexual Violence Against Aces […]

  2. […] ace survivors are used as rhetorical devices–by using them to win political arguments and by creating a monolithic narrative of The Way Sexual Violence Happens to Aces. If you’ve read this far, you might be worrying about whether you’ve done either of these […]

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