Asexuals and aromantics do not experience oppression. What this means, is that asexuals and aromantics are not oppressed for being asexual or aromantic.
I’m not denying that asexuals and aromantics experience various forms of social and cultural difficulties as a result of their aversion to sex and romantic relationships. I’m not denying that allo* people, both straight and LGB, treat asexuals and aromantics like shit, nor am I denying that romantic people, including asexuals, treat aromantics like shit. I’m not denying that being asexual or aromantic (and consequently rejecting sex or romantic relationships or both) frequently creates a lot of turmoil in a person’s social life.
But I am saying that asexuals and aromantics do not experience oppression that is specific to their asexuality or aromanticism. The marginalization and socio-cultural difficulties that asexuals and aromantics experience are the result of oppressive systems that exist to subjugate women and gay people. Asexuals and aromantics get caught in the crossfire, but they aren’t the intended targets. If asexuals and aromantics ceased to exist tomorrow, women and gay people would continue to experience the oppression they’ve always experienced that inadvertently affects asexuals and aromantics. But if anti-female and anti-gay oppression ceased to exist, asexuals and aromantics would no longer experience any negative consequences for their orientations or behaviors, beyond individualized and circumstantial interpersonal animosity.
I admit that I used to be one of the many members of the asexual and aromantic populations that passionately believed in “acephobia” and “arophobia,” in the idea of sexual privilege and romantic privilege. How can there be no ace- or arophobia if asexuals and aromantics routinely get harassed, insulted, bullied, erased, and abused by both heterosexuals and LGB people? How can there be no allosexual or alloromantic privilege if we live in a society where sexuality is considered a universal human quality and romantic relationships are treated as essential in life, superior to all other relationships, where wanting sex and falling in love are considered fundamental qualities of being human? It’s a logical conclusion, when you’re looking at it from an aromantic asexual perspective: allo* people account for up to 99% of the species and thus control society, both straight and LGB people want and need sex and believe that sex is a natural component of romantic relationships, both romantic sexual people and romantic asexuals are in pursuit of a relationship type and corresponding social life that are touted as the ideal and the norm for all human beings, all romantic people are more likely to have their emotional and physical needs met because they participate in romantic relationships, romantic relationships are supported and protected institutionally unlike any other relationship type, not wanting sex in romantic relationships is considered abnormal and wrong, etc, etc.
I think what causes a lot of asexuals (and, to a lesser extent, aromantics) to believe so strongly in acephobia, arophobia, sexual privilege, and romantic privilege is the surface observation, not to mention all the personal experiences, that we are no less likely to be treated badly by LGB allo* people than by straight people. We’re no less likely to be on the losing side of the battle over sex in mixed romantic relationships, whether we get into straight relationships or same-sex ones. Aros are no less likely to be demonized for their sexuality by LGB allos* than they are by straight allos*, even if said aros are themselves LGB. LGB allos*, particularly in the US, Canada, the UK, and other European countries, are increasingly more accepted, more visible in the media, more legally protected, they have civil rights equal to heterosexuals, and it’s easy to see that narrowed or closed gap between them and straight people and conclude that all allo* people are on the same playing field when they’re being assholes to asexuals and aromantics. Getting treated badly by LGB people, both allo* and asexual, reinforces the idea that there is allosexual privilege and alloromantic privilege when you’re asexual, aromantic, or both and you’re not getting anything different from them than you are from straight people. It can feel like there’s a unified hate of asexuals and aromantics, across the allosexual and alloromantic boards, is what I mean. And that feeling easily leads one to believe that there must be sexual person privilege and romantic person privilege, no different than heterosexual privilege; that there must be acephobia and arophobia equivalent to homophobia.
I understand these feelings, but I now see that asexuals and aromantics who believe in ace- and arophobia and sexual or romantic privilege logically reached a false conclusion because they started with a false premise. That false premise—“All allo* people are romantic and sexual in the same ways, with the same consequences.”—is based on a misunderstanding of sexuality that is all too common in the asexual population. (I’ve come to believe that this flawed premise is the reason for many, if not most, of the other identities on the asexual spectrum and aromantic spectrum.) The aromantic population, which includes both asexuals and allosexuals, has been less collectively prone to lump all allo* people together for the purpose of complaining about “arophobia” or romantic privilege, probably because we have just as much of a bone to pick with romantic asexuals as we do with romantic allosexuals. Aromantic asexuals, like me, are also less likely to lump all sexual people together and label them as privileged because we see that our aro sexual siblings are actually penalized for their sexuality on account of their aromanticism and the single status that usually corresponds with it.
I think that when allo* people try to argue that asexuals and aromantics have no problems directly linked to their asexuality or aromanticism, when they deny the existence of suffering in asexual and aromantic people’s lives, it causes aces and aros to dig their heels in and reinforce their beliefs in ace and arophobia, in romantic and sexual privilege. So let me make myself clear: asexuals and aromantics do experience pain, discrimination, and challenges because of their asexuality and aromanticism. I’m not here to debate that. I’m here to debate the explanation for it.
What kind of problems and suffering do asexuals and aromantics experience related to their orientations?
• Compulsory sexuality, which often results in submitting to sex because of social pressure
• Corrective rape and other forms of sexual assault
• Intimate partner violence/domestic violence
• Amatonormativity + singlism
• Medical and psychiatric pathologization
• Negative perceptions by society as subhuman and abnormal
• Homophobia, when engaging in same-sex romance or sexual acts
These are real problems, but they are not unique to asexuals and aromantics, nor are they consequences of a universal culture that seeks to oppress asexuals and aromantics for the purpose of reinforcing power and privilege that all sexual people or all romantic people have over them. Gay people do not have power, privilege, or protected social status equal to heterosexuals, as a class. That alone eliminates any possibility of there being allosexual privilege or alloromantic privilege that is evenly distributed across the entirety of the non-asexual or non-aromantic populations. Even within the asexual and aromantic groups, straight people have straight privilege that the gay asexuals and aromantics don’t have, and the gay asexuals and aromantics are subject to oppression and discrimination that the straights don’t have to worry about.
Furthermore, women do not have any kind of sexual privilege over men or equal to men, regardless of their orientation. Even straight women can’t be said to have sexual or romantic privilege over all asexuals and aromantics. Straight women are not privileged equally to straight men, based on their heterosexuality. The category of “straight women” includes billions of women all over the world with dramatically different experiences of sexuality, depending upon their circumstances. Sex has never been purely positive or free of consequences for straight women, even if they technically have a kind of straight privilege that lesbians and bisexual women in same-sex relationships don’t have. (And yes, in Western civilization, straight women absolutely do have heterosexual privilege over gay men and lesbians, they are not oppressed for being heterosexual, but because they’re women, their sexuality is still used against them by men.) Sex has been used as a weapon of terror and control against all women, including straight women, globally for thousands of years. Women are treated as sex objects, they are sexualized against their will starting in childhood, and while they are expected to be sexually available at all times for male use and male pleasure, female sexual pleasure is of no importance and never has been. In fact, men deny women sexual pleasure both passively and actively, whether through neglecting to perform the sex acts that give women orgasms or mutilating female genitals to prevent girls and women from ever having an orgasm. While plenty of women, including straight women, want sexual pleasure and engage in sexual activity for their own satisfaction, the fact is that all females are expected to be sexual for and with males, regardless of what they want or how much they actually enjoy it. Sex is not supposed to be optional for women. It’s mandatory. It’s something that men exploit women and girls for, even as they simultaneously punish and shame them for being sexual. That’s not freedom and it’s certainly not a privilege.
Compulsory sexuality is really compulsory heterosexuality, a tool of patriarchy, and it punishes all females, including heterosexual females, and males who are gay or bisexual. Nobody is exempt from compulsory heterosexuality, and it’s this, more than anything else, that’s the root of asexuals’ problems.
EDIT: Please note that compulsory sexuality does manifest itself in same-sex romantic relationships and LGB asexuals do experience it in this context. I do not mean to suggest that LGBQ allo* people as a group see sex as optional, whereas straight allos* see at mandatory. LGBQ allo* people are not any less sexual than straight allo* people; they expect sex in their romantic relationships as much as heterosexuals do. But on a broad socio-cultural scale, compulsory heterosexuality is a thing, whereas compulsory homosexuality is not. From the heteronormative establishment’s perspective, whether you are asexual or LGB, you fail to do sexuality the “right” or “normal” or “healthy” way. LGB allos*, along with aromantic LGB people, do not get rewarded or affirmed for their sexual activity the way heterosexuals do, and in many countries they are still persecuted for it.
Corrective rape and other forms of sexual assault are caused by compulsory heterosexuality and misogyny, when the victim is female and the rapist male, which is the most common victim/perp combination. Corrective rape is a form of violence experienced by lesbians worldwide. Females everywhere, regardless of their sexual orientation, are sexually violated by males, including their romantic or marital partners. When males are the victims, it is a result of patriarchy in that patriarchy created gender roles and assigned males masculinity that depends on the sexual domination of females; failure to perform that masculinity can result in backlash. And the masculine role itself socializes males into aggression and violence that they visit upon each other, sometimes sexually.
Intimate partner violence is experienced by people of all sexual orientations, and the vast majority of it occurs in heterosexual relationships where the male is the perpetrator and the female is the victim. In those cases, that violence is an expression of misogyny. It doesn’t matter if the woman is heterosexual or asexual; she’s abused by her male partner because she’s a woman.
Amatonormativity and singlism are caused by compulsory heterosexuality. In fact, I think that they are inseparable from it. Amatonormativity and singlism affect anyone and everyone who is single, especially women. While it’s true that most romantic people spend much of their adulthood in romantic relationships and therefore enjoy the perks of being coupled, the number of single-unmarried adults, especially women, is on the rise in the US, and single alloromantics are no less disadvantaged legally, economically, or socially than single aromantics. The only difference is that single allo* people are exponentially more likely to become coupled at some point than aromantics are, and alloromantic people want to be coupled, unlike the vast majority of aromantics. None of that changes the fact that singlism and amatonormativity affect single-uncoupled alloromantics, however.
The medical and psychiatric pathologization of asexuality and aromanticism are expressions of compulsory heterosexuality, and long before asexuals and aromantics were on the medical establishment’s radar, homosexuality was pathologized—again, because of compulsory heterosexuality. Female sexuality has long been pathologized too, including female celibacy, low libido in females, and female disinterest in sex with their husbands. There was a time when women in the US were sent to asylums for refusing to fuck their husbands, and marital rape was not legally recognized in the US until the 1970s and in the UK until 1989-91, which means men could get away with raping their wives. In many countries, they still can. Female “frigidity,” which some consider to be asexuality by another name, was classified as a psychiatric or psychologically based disorder beginning in the 19th century, and Freud originally characterized female frigidity as the failure to have vaginal orgasms (as opposed to clitoral ones), because he was a misogynistic male writing for other misogynistic males who all wanted to believe they could make women orgasm via penetration. If she didn’t orgasm the way males wanted her to, she was at fault, not the male. Women could be labeled “frigid” (which basically meant mentally ill) even if they had sex regularly.
“Moreover, the woman desiring clitoral stimulation, as opposed to vaginal intercourse, became representative of women who behaved like men and denied their maternal obligations – behavior that led to neurosis, isolation, and social disintegration. In addition, social and psychological ills such as feminism and lesbianism were also linked to a clitoral sexuality. Here, the elucidation of norms for female sexuality was also a way of enjoining norms of femininity and heterosexuality.”
I can’t make this shit up.
Negative cultural perceptions of asexuals and aromantics as subhuman and abnormal are expressions of compulsory heterosexuality. Again, there is overlap here with homophobia and misogyny. Gay men and lesbians have long histories of being seen as abnormal. Women have always been treated as subhuman, just for being female, regardless of their sexual behavior.
Homophobia is obviously a form of oppression that exists independently of asexuality and aromanticism and which specifically targets anyone who is same-sex attracted or involved—and again, homophobia is an expression of compulsory heterosexuality. Gay asexuals and gay aromantics don’t experience homophobia because of their asexuality or aromanticism but because of their homoromanticism or homosexuality. Straight asexuals and aromantics don’t experience homophobia at all, barring gender nonconformity. If aromantic asexuals experience homophobia when being misperceived as gay, it still doesn’t change the fact that the prejudice is rooted in a heteronormative, homophobic culture—not an acephobic, arophobic one.
That’s every problem asexuals and aromantics experience, relevant to their asexuality and aromanticism, explained not by acephobia or arophobia but by systems of oppression that target women and gay people, which eliminates the possibility of allosexual or alloromantic privilege.
Asexuals and aromantics suffer not because they are asexual or aromantic but because they are women or gay or otherwise fail to perform (romantic) heterosexuality. Their experiences are not unique to them: women and gay people have experienced it all throughout human history and still do.
I want to draw a distinction between oppression and discrimination, because I think it will be helpful to understand how asexuals and aromantics experience one but not the other.
Oppression is systemic, institutional, sponsored by the state and its establishments, and legally enforced. It seeks to preserve the power and privilege of a class of people by perpetually subjugating all other classes. Oppression often employs physical violence. Oppression is internalized by the oppressed because of its wide-reaching institutional presence. Oppression always benefits a group with a certain profile, just as it punishes a group with a certain profile. Oppression is so far-reaching that we can observe it globally and throughout history; it is a pattern independent of ethnicity or nationality.
Discrimination is interpersonal, not systemic. Discrimination is not about class power, although it can affect the power dynamics between two individuals. Discrimination is an individualized prejudice based on one person’s dislike for another or for a group of people, that has no institutional backup. Discrimination, independent of oppression, is rarely if ever consistent throughout an entire category of people: in other words, within a class, some people may discriminate against another group but others do not. Discrimination can start in specific isolated circumstances of interpersonal conflict, as opposed to starting simply because of the class profile of the person being discriminated against.
Females are oppressed by males, based on their sex. Homosexuals are oppressed by heterosexuals, based on their sexuality. Black people and other people of color are oppressed by whites, based on their race and ethnicity. The poor are oppressed by the rich and by the system which keeps the poor in poverty and the rich in wealth. This oppression is and has always been codified in the law, lauded by major religions, built into the economy, taught and supported in the education system, and sold through the media. This oppression has always been enforced and perpetuated through physical violence, including violence carried out by the state. When I describe oppression as systemic and institutional, that’s what I mean: sexism, racism, homophobia, and economic inequality are installed in the institutions and systems that make up the structure of our civilization. Oppression is not about individual relationships. It is not something that individuals can opt out of by choice, and it is not about mere dislike of the oppressed classes. Oppression is a method used to achieve a social and economic goal, that goal being the power and gratification of the ruling class.
Asexuals are not oppressed by allosexuals, based on their asexuality or celibacy. Aromantics are not oppressed by alloromantics, based on their aromanticism or singlehood. Asexuals and aromantics are discriminated against and marginalized by some allosexuals and alloromantics because of their asexuality and aromanticism, their celibacy and singlehood and corresponding romantic or sexual behaviors, but their marginalization is rooted in the systems of oppression that exist to specifically subjugate females and gay people, for the interests of heterosexual males. Even when asexuals and aromantics are bullied, harassed, abused, assaulted, etc, for being asexual and celibate or aromantic and single, it’s still ultimately the result of these systems of oppression that operate for reasons that have nothing to do with asexuality or aromanticism directly. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of people who rape, sexually assault, sexually pressure or harass asexuals, who attack aromantics for their singlehood and corresponding sex lives (particularly aromantic women), who pathologize asexuals and aromantics medically or psychologically and who run the medical and psychiatric fields, and who are responsible for the legislation that penalizes singles, are heterosexual males.
The question we have to ask is: if misogyny, patriarchy, and compulsory heterosexuality were destroyed and no longer existed, would asexuals and aromantics still experience sex-related and romance-related discrimination and violence?
Without misogyny, patriarchy, or compulsory heterosexuality, anyone could be single, celibate, or gay without consequence and all females would be safe from sexual violence. Theoretically, males would not experience sexual violence either. Males who are raped or sexually abused are usually victimized by other males, and in a world without patriarchal gender, males would not be socialized into aggression, dominance, violence, or sexual entitlement. Which means that we could expect male-on-male sexual assault to virtually disappear, along with male-on-female.
Is there any sex-related or romance-related difficulty that asexuals and aromantics experience that really is unique to them as a category of people and which therefore has no correlation to their being female or same-sex attracted?
And I know a lot of ya’ll self-identified asexuals and aromantics are going to read that and have a knee jerk response objecting to it because you feel like I’m denying your struggles as people who don’t want to have sex and don’t like sex and who are having sex anyway, as people who choose to be single and can’t fall in love and yet still want companionship and love and affection. But I’m not denying your struggles. I’m denying the explanation you came up with for your struggles. I’m denying the fucked up idea that all sexual people got it better than you do just because they’re sexual. I’m denying the fucked up idea that all romantic people got it better than you do just because they’re romantic. Even if an allo* woman or an allo* gay person is an asshole to you because you’re asexual or aromantic, even if they’re prejudiced against all asexuals or all aromantics, even if they as individuals have a better life than you do, they and the class they belong to are still oppressed for their sexuality in society and they don’t have privilege over you on the axis of sexuality. Do not confuse someone’s personal mistreatment of you for class power.
In closing, I want to say that I did not forget about race, but I wanted to focus on comparing sexual orientation groups above all and to highlight the fact that females of all sexual orientations are targeted for their sexuality, which is something that asexuals especially need to acknowledge. The way race impacts the level of oppression or discrimination a person experiences based on their sexuality is a topic that needs its own post or series of posts, but it must be said that black allo* people and other allo* POC absolutely do not have any kind of privilege, for being romantic and sexual, over white asexuals and aromantics. I don’t even think we can say that allo* people of color have privilege over asexual and aromantic POC; whether you’re sexual or asexual, romantic or aromantic, being black or otherwise a person of color means you’re targeted for your sexuality within a white supremacist, imperialist, colonialist society. The history of sexual oppression that global majority people (POC), especially women and girls, have experienced all over the world under white imperialism and colonialism is enough to destroy the idea that any sexual person who isn’t white has privilege because of their sexuality. And even now, in the US and other white majority nations, people of color and particularly women of color experience sexualized racism and have their sexuality co-opted by racism.
Basically, the idea that a black lesbian has romantic or sexual privilege over a white hetero ace or a white heterosexual aro or ANYBODY is ridiculous. If allosexual or alloromantic privilege, on an international scale, was a thing, the black lesbian would have it no differently and no less than the white heterosexual man. At no moment in history has that ever been remotely true.