Although not necessary, I suggest reading my previous post, “Why I Blog”, for some background on my own perspective on the political side of asexuality.
Last year, I and many other people were enabled to read Lisa Orlando’s 1972 article, “The Asexual Manifesto”. I loved it. Besides being an interesting instance of someone using the term “asexuality” years before the founding of AVEN, it also provided an example of the word at its most political.
In modern usage, “asexual” is an inherent characteristic, the state of “not experiencing sexual attraction”, or something similar. It’s not a political position; it’s simply a state of being. However, as Lib points out in their recent post, “I am Not an Activist”, even just being an asexual carries certain political implications. In a society where everyone is assumed to want sex, asexuals have to challenge dominant ideology just to be accepted. There is, thus, always a political side to asexuality – even if we might wish there wasn’t.
Here’s the thing, though. As I wrote in my previous post, the ideologies that hurt aces also hurt the people we refer to as “allosexuals”. It’s not necessary to be “asexual” in the modern sense to be harmed by erotonormativity. And, therefore, it’s not necessary to be “asexual” in the modern sense to want to resist it.
“The Asexual Manifesto” takes the resistance side of asexuality and unties it from the orientation label. Acknowledging the ways sexual norms harm women, it offers “asexuality” as a way of resisting those norms. This model of “asexuality” is available to people we would think of as “allosexual”.
Why is this exciting to me? Because I’ve always felt strongly that the asexuality had a lot to offer, not just aces, but society as a whole. And because, conversely, I’ve always felt that what aces need is not just an ace community, but society-wide change in how people think about sex. The ace community is a great place, and it’s done great things, but it can only accomplish so much. What we really need is for asexual ideas to be taken up and embraced by the rest of the world.
What sorts of ideas? “The Asexual Manifesto” spells out some of the myths that its writers believe contribute to the patriarchal oppression of women:
- Interpersonal sex is essential since the sex drive is a powerful force in human life and, if unsatisfied (through interpersonal sex), tends to produce unhappiness or possibly illness,
- It is important that any sexual excitation always and/or immediately be satisfied,
- Sex is essential for closeness in a relationship, no relationship being complete without it,
- The ultimate closeness in a relationship occurs during sex and/or orgasm,
- The needs for physical affection and sex are basically the same,
- It is almost impossible satisfactorily to express affection physically without sexual excitation also occurring,
- Women who have little interest in interpersonal sex, or who rarely if ever reach orgasm, are somehow inadequate (undersexed, frigid).
These myths should, of course, be familiar to aces everywhere; they are the same ones that lead to the marginalisation of asexuals. In other words, both asexuals and women have an interest in dismantling those myths. As, I’ll wager, do several other groups of people.
One limit to the “Manifesto” is that it focuses exclusively on how sexual norms oppress women, ignoring the ways they hurt other people, including men. However, it does acknowledge that it is not only men who sexually exploit women, but that, by following or adapting normative sexual scripts, women may also sexually exploit each other.
Another is its rejection of interpersonal sex “as a goal and, essentially, even as a possibility” in relationships between men and women. Personally, I don’t think we should be trying to eliminate sex from interpersonal relationships, or even just from male-female ones. On the contrary, I think we need better ways of having sexual interactions for those who want them. But the “Manifesto” does allow for the possibility of interpersonal sex between women as long as it is “both congruent with our values and totally incidental and unimportant to our relationship.”
Even if its scope seems limited, I think the principles of the “Manifesto” are useful ones that can be transferred to different kinds of people and relationships. If sexual exploitation is a problem for women in their relationships, then it is also a problem for non-women, and non-women should also attempt to resist it. And if it is possible to remove the exploitation factor from sexual relationships between women, then it is also, at least theoretically, possible to remove it from relationships between people of other genders.
As I wrote in my first ever CoA post, I kind of feel like “I have a foot in both [the asexual and allosexual] camps, since I know what it’s like to feel sexual attraction but also what it’s like not to.” And, as I wrote in “Asexual, Allosexual, and Other Labels That Don’t Quite Fit”, “I find modern sexual norms very frustrating – both as an ace person and as a sexual person.” The asexual community has given me an opportunity to challenge those norms from one direction. “The Asexual Manifesto” presents a challenge from the other.
So, what do I think the ace community should do with “The Asexual Manifesto”? I don’t know that it’s necessarily our responsibility to do anything with it. It is not, after all, the job of aces to fix the world for allosexuals; we have enough on our plates dealing with our own issues.
On the other hand, “fixing the world for allosexuals” and “fixing the world for aces” are not separate goals. A more ace-friendly world would also be a better world for allosexuals. And allosexuals should, in consequence, want to help us build it.
Sometimes, I think we can forget this fact. We experience so much hostility and incomprehension from the outside world that we spend all our time saying, “Hey, we exist! Accept us!” – when what we should be saying is, “Hey, we have some awesome ideas about how to make relationships better! Let us tell you more!”
“The Asexual Manifesto” is one example of how an asexual perspective can be usefully taken up even by people we wouldn’t normally think of as “asexual”. It is not a perfect or ultimate document, but it does neatly articulate some of the problems with erotonormativity and make some suggestions about how to resist it. It’s a document I’d like to see more allosexuals reading and thinking about. So I suppose what we should do is make sure it’s displayed prominently, so that even people outside the community can discover it and know that asexuality has something to offer them, too.
P.S. Two other articles I’d recommend to allosexuals:
- “Independence from the Sexual Revolution” by Dana Densmore (1973)
- “The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism” by Lisa (2012)