Tag Archive for Queer rights

Queer Feminism’s Closeted Sexism?

LGBT-rights-India

Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the everyday realities of lived queer lives?

By Laura Brightwell

I had never thought much about asexuality until a couple of years ago when, for the first time in my adult life, I lost my sex drive. I mean, I didn’t actually lose it. It wasn’t hiding under the bed or anything, gathering dust with old shoes and mouldy peanuts. It just went on a holiday, to give me the time and space to sort some stuff out. Thank you, sex drive. That was very considerate of you.

Up until that point I had what I considered a very active libido. You know that old myth that men think about sex every seven seconds? Well, as a teenager I thought about sex so much that I didn’t doubt this myth was true. I just assumed it must extend to women, because I thought about sex all the time. This pretty rampant sex drive has followed me throughout most of my adult life, until, as I said, 2 years ago when I became depressed.

As well as being horny, I am a pretty radical person. I am what Caitlin Moran calls a ‘stringent feminist.’ The kind of woman who will make any dinner party awkward by calling out the conservative dude in the tie on his ha-ha, light-hearted jokes about women or race or the working classes. Oh, so funny! I am the stuff nightmare dinner parties are made of.

I am also queer, femme, into BDSM, curious about dating cis men, and all sorts of other interesting things. I consider myself sex positive and pretty non-judgmental when it comes to other people’s sexual adventures. I do my best to live by my feminist code of ethics. My feminism means that I believe we are all a little transphobic, sexist, homophobic, classist and racist because we live in a patriarchal society that is founded on these hierarchies.

We give men the upper hand by putting down women; we use racist theories to justify white supremacy, classism to explain a world-order in which most people starve while a few thrive, etc etc etc. My feminism means that I recognise I have all of these prejudices inside me and that I think it is my job to diminish them. This doesn’t mean that I am constantly beating myself up about what a horrible person I am, it’s more that I recognise my own flawed position. This is a pretty difficult attitude to take. Seeing some people behave in the most horrible ways and understanding the fucked-up logic behind their actions is exhausting. Dismissal is easy. Empathy is complicated.

Queer feminism has allowed me to embrace my kinky side and learn much about non-cis gender identities and LGBT history. But I also find massive flaws in the dynamics of the queer communities I know. There are three assumptions commonly made in queer circles, each of which creates a false hierarchy between an ideal of queer and the reality of many lived queer lives. These three assumptions are: hypersexualisation, the idea that everyone wants to have sex all of the time (and if you don’t you’re repressed); that polyamory is a natural desire and wanting to form monogamous relationships means you have jealousy issues; that masculinity is the hottest thing ever and being feminine, especially as a woman, means you are brainwashed. So, as someone who currently doesn’t want to have sex; prefers monogamous relationships and – shock horror – loves wearing dresses, I’m not being a very good queer at all, am I?

I didn’t come to this realisation out of virtue – I had never thought much about asexuality or people who choose not to or don’t want to have sex before – I came to it following a profound personal crisis. Having always had a pretty raging sex drive, the queer assumption that we all want to have sex all the time made sense to me. But losing my sex drive cut me out of the queer community. It meant that I saw no more reason to socialise in it.  How’s that saying go? Oh yeah: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Sex positive feminism has done a lot of good. In a world which tells anyone assigned female at birth that all we want to do is find a heterosexual male partner and have babies, sex positivity has allowed us to carve the space in which to express our own sexual desires.

The celebration of polyamory, too, isn’t in itself a bad thing. The problem comes when polyamory is glorified as the ‘natural’ state of relationships, and if you’re monogamous you have jealousy issues and have been brainwashed. Erm, hasn’t gender theory taught us feminists anything? Since when did we start embracing words like ‘natural’ to describe our identities? Surely we have learnt to be hesitant about the monolithic meanings of such a word. As deconstructionists don’t we find claims that things are this way for everyone a little bit sketchy? No? Oh, OK. Moving on.

Now comes the moment for the trump card in this loving critique of queer feminism. Now it’s time to get the big skeleton out of the queer community’s closet. And that skeleton is -, sexism! What? Sexism? I hear you cry? How can queer feminism possibly be sexist? I mean, we queers have deconstructed the male/female binary and concluded that gender behaviours don’t go hand in hand with vague ideas about biology and evolution. How dare you accuse us of such a thing?

‘I can’t be sexist because I’m queer’.  We hear this quite often. Don’t we?

Queer Pride photo by Ramlath KavilWell, my friends, sad as it may be, it’s time to face up to the facts. Walk into a queer space and what do you see? A uniform of plain black hoodies, asymmetrical hair and caps. There’s not a dress to be seen. Not a hint of colour, lipstick, of long hair.

Despite all our lip service to multifarious gender identities, there is only one gender that we really celebrate in this queer community, and that is masculinity.

The boyish woman, the gender queer and the trans man are the epitomes of hotness in queer scenes. If you’re a feminine woman, cis or trans, then you are just not cool. Transmasculinities are at the top of the queer pile, pushing transfemininities down to the bottom.

Personally, I think this prejudice is unintentional. Talk to any good-meaning queer and they’ll be shocked when you mention things like sexism and femmephobia. But despite individual professions of innocence, we are all guilty. Any time I ignore a feminine woman in a queer bar because I assume she is straight, I am being just as sexist as the people who exclude me.

As Flavia Dzodan suggests in her recent article on sex positivism and race, the assumption that our desires are innate and not learnt, is worth questioning. How asocial and apolitical can our desires be? If no one professes to fancy femininity doesn’t that reflect our internalised misogyny? If we truly were free lovers, if we did express our natural desire and identities, then surely there would be a proliferation of varying desires and genders in our queer spaces. There wouldn’t be a uniform of jeans and t-shirts and strictly boi-on-boi action.

It’s true that not wanting to have sex or a lover has led me to feel alienated from the queer scene. Combine this feeling with my realisation that I prefer to date monogamously and have a very strong femme identity and I no longer feel included or appreciated in the community I have made my worldwide home for the past 6 years. And I am not the only one who feels this way. As responses to my first article on hypersexualisation prove, many people feel alienated from the queer community because their sexual desires don’t fit the queer bill. I’m not poly enough, not kinky enough, not thin enough, and not boyish enough. Not queer enough. As a friend said upon reading zines about being queer, it seems that we think of queer as something up here – she raised her palm above her head – and of ourselves as being down here – she pushed her palm towards the floor.

This notion of queer as an unattainable ideal is really messed up. What happened to queer as an umbrella term? What happened to the ever-expanding joyful list of people we love: LGBTTSIQQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Transsexual / Two-Spirited Intersex Queer Questioning Asexual)? Unlike slightly mad UK feminist Julie Bindel, I love the idyllic aspirations of queer. The way it wants to join all us freaks together. So it made me really sad, upon moving to Berlin, to realise just how much queer doesn’t want me.

What I want to see from queer communities worldwide, what I think would be truly queer, is a celebration of difference that leads to diversity in our relationships, our beds and on our dance floors. Maybe it is human nature to form group norms (safety in numbers) but I am a political optimist. I think we can do better. Let’s start to really celebrate differences, the freaks and the outcasts. It takes a lot of courage, but I think we can do it. Surely individuality is what is queer.

Laura Brightwell is a compulsive critic obsessed with gender and sexuality. You can either find her on her blog Diary of a Lipstick Terrorist or performing in burlesque shows around Berlin.

Original articles published on feministsindia.com can be reproduced but due acknowledgement to the website is obligatory

Obituary: Sweet Maria

Queer Activist Sweet Maria

Remembering queer activist Sweet Maria/Anil Sadanandan who was murdered at his/her quarters in Kerala, last week

By Anil. A

My friend and queer activist, Sweet Maria/Anil Sadanandan was brutally murdered on 10th May 2012, at his quarters in Kollam, Kerala. I cannot comprehend that such a crime was committed against a person who was so loving and lovable.

S/he was a vibrant, pleasant, courageous person, spreading a lot of positive energy around. A companion to many in all social classes. Bold enough to express and establish his/her marginalized and stigmatized identity in every space s/he traversed.

S/he was very active in the fight for the rights of sexual minorities. S/he worked hard to form community based organizations for sexual minorities in Kerala. S/he was the former General Secretary of Loveland Arts Society (LAS), Kollam, a community based organization for queer people. S/he was one of the advisory board members of PEHCHAN project for Kerala, initiated by Sangama, Bangalore. The warm relationship and friendship s/he nurtured and maintained with community members was indeed the lifeline of these groups.

Anil’s intervention and focus to prevent and control the spread of HIV/AIDS among sexual minorities is commendable. S/he was very concerned about the health issues of those who have multi-partner sexual behavior. His/her unparalleled rapport with community members was very important in the effective implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, among this high risk group in Kerala.

Sweet Maria proudly revealed his/her identity in his/her family, workplace, every public space and media. To do this s/he had to encounter innumerable problems and had to fight consistently to establish his/her rightful social space. S/he incessantly fought against the injustice of mainstream society towards queer people.

Born on 5th May, 1973, in a lower middle class Malayalee family, Anil struggled hard to become a Govt. employee (Department of Harbor Engineering, Government of Kerala).

Sweet Maria / Anil Sadanandan lived his/her life fully, enjoyed the beauty of his queer nature, displayed it proudly and demonstrated its vibrance. In the queer pride march and in every queer cultural event, her pleasure in dance and the joy she was filled with, still reverberates in those who knew her. It’s still hard to absorb that we can’t rock in laughter at the queer jokes that s/he laid out at every turn, and that we will not be able to see and hear from her any more. S/he will not be there in any more festivals…and the void is unbearable.

S/he dared to face the challenges posed by an intolerant society which normally pushes gays, lesbians or anybody, who even slightly differs from the mainstream, to the limit of committing suicide. S/he faced such a society holding his head high, living his life fully, and standing out for the rights of the fellow queer. And he fell victim to that…

Anil’s murder is a brutal signal from the murdering homophobic patriarchy. We have to gather strength together to fight for the right of all trans/queer/nonconforming people to live with dignity and equality.

Anil.A is a human rights activist living with sex workers’ children, for the last 12 years in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He is also the Vice-president of Sangama, Banglore.

Related reading: Gay activist’s murder: Cops quiz three

 

Russia’s Closet: The Politics Behind a Ban on Gay “Propaganda”

Russia bans homosexual propoganda

A draconian new law in St. Petersburg, Russia, bans any public talk of gay issues even on the Internet. The idea originated with the religious right in the United States

By Brett Edward Stout

Days before the United Nations held its first panel on LGBT rights, the St. Petersburg assembly passed a law banning any public activity (including what happens online) that promotes homosexuality, sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgender identity, as well as any display of homosexual conduct that could potentially be seen by minors (which the lawmakers dubbed as promoting pedophilia). The bill was signed into law by St. Petersburg governor Georgiy Poltavchenko and took effect on March 12. Many have started to look back on how exactly things got to where they are today. The answer: politics, and the rise of religious conservatism in Russia.

In 2008, two years after Moscow denied a permit to the first Gay Pride Parade, a bill to ban gay propaganda in Ryazan was introduced into the local assembly. The bill did not define what qualified as gay propaganda, and proponents presented it as a bill to protect children from the threat of homosexuality. Activists united to oppose the law, challenging it on constitutional grounds. However, in March of 2010, the Russian Constitutional Court dismissed a case opposing a Ryazan law banning so-called “propaganda of homosexuality.”

Activists quickly pointed out that the law seemed a clear violation of Russia’s Constitution Article 29 – freedom of speech, Article 19 – the ban on discrimination, and Article 55 – the ban on local governments infringing on the rights of minorities. Arkhangelsk and Kostroma signed similar laws in 2011, and in November of that year, Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, proposed its own ban on “gay propaganda,” which passed the city’s assembly by a two-thirds margin.

Moscow has yet to hold a legally sanctioned gay pride parade and, with the new law, the chances it will any time soon seem even less likely.

The Western Wind
The emergence of this law has taken some in the international community by surprise and has raised many questions. The most asked question is, “Why now?” In an interview with The Advocate, Andre Banks, executive director of the international advocacy group AllOut, which created the much-publicized public service announcements on the issue, offered this theory: “There is one particular advantage. The law has public support and is a populist issue. It was no surprise that this issue came around at the time of a very contentious election in Russia.”

Indeed, the 2012 election in Russia saw some of the largest opposition protests in the country’s history. Dozens of unprecedented political protests, some estimated as large as 25,000 people, condemned the Conservative Party, United Russia and even Vladimir Putin in the months before the March elections. Many see this election as not just about the Conservative Party staying in power but also as a move by Russia to differentiate itself culturally from the West. Putin’s determination to show his independence is even the subject of a new BBC series Russia, Putin and the West. Ironically, the law Russia’s Conservative Party is using to flex its cultural differences was born not in the Motherland, but in the U.S.

Pouncing on antigay momentum around the 2006 ban on the Moscow Pride parade, American evangelist Scott Lively wrote a letter to the Russian people after completing a speaking tour in the country. Through his speaking engagements, Lively closely allied himself with the Russian Orthodox church and his influence is still evident. Many will remember Lively as the origin of what became Uganda’s Bill 18, also known as the notorious “kill the gays” bill. In his letter, Lively elaborated that, “The purpose of my visit was to bring a warning about the homosexual political movement which has done much damage to my country and which has now taken root in Russia. This is a very fast-growing social cancer that will destroy the family foundations of your society if you do not take immediate, effective action to stop it.” Through his tour, Lively closely allied himself with the Russian Orthodoxy and presented its adherents with a road map to protect themselves from what they saw as gay propaganda.

Of the several steps he lays out, the third is this: “Criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality. My philosophy is to leave homosexuals alone if they keep their lifestyle private, and not to force them into therapy if they don’t want it. However, homosexuality is destructive to individuals and to society and it should never [be] publicly promoted. The easiest way to discourage ‘gay pride’ parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal in the interest of public health and morality.” Play by play, the Russian Orthodoxy has taken Lively’s blueprint and is acting swiftly on his urging “to protect their country from the gay movement.”

Gay rights Russia- Gay protest Russia

Photo courtesy: GAYRUSSIA

The Rise of Russian Religious Conservatism
In the years since Yeltsin turned the reigns over to his successor, Putin, Russia has drifted toward the right. However, in the last four years, that slow drift has turned to a sprint. Polina Savchenko, general manager of the St. Petersburg advocacy group Coming Out, says, “There is a clear tendency in Russia’s both external and internal politics to move toward more ultra-right ideas; clerical, traditionalist discourse is finding its way into legislation.”

In 2009, Metropolitan Kirill was appointed as the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. From the day of his coronation, he has made it clear the new focus of the Church would be to save Russia from moral decay. As the new Russian Orthodoxy has moved swiftly to align itself within the Conservative United Russia Party it began to strategically place its pieces on the chessboard in key positions. In late 2011, the patriarch himself created even deeper controversy about church and state separations when he personally moved into residence inside the Kremlin.

The primary political voice behind this most recent law is St. Petersburg’s new governor, Georgiy Poltavchenko. While many abstract references have been made about the dismantling of Russia’s democracy, Poltavchenko is a concrete example of this. In the last two years, both Poltavchenko and his counterpart in Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, were handpicked by United Russia with the blessing of the Orthodoxy and appointed to their posts. In the federal Assembly, the Orthodox Church has sanctioned United Russia to make other key appointments, most importantly, the new chairman of the Upper House, Valentine Matvienko.

Before the governor could sign a bill, he first needed a bill to sign. Under the governor’s direction and following the blueprint laid out by the Ryazan law, assembly member Vitaly Milinov, a champion of what he calls Russia’s “moral sovereignty,” wrote and introduced the bill. In an interview with the Russian Service Milinov explained that, “The perverted concepts about family – about society, destroys the state. Our problem – to show Europe, that this is wrong, that they have rethink this.”

Gay arrests in St. Petersburg

On April 5th, Police arrested two gay rights activists for holding up "Homosexuality Is Normal" placard in St. Petersburg . It was the first arrest under the new law. Photo by Olga Maltseva -AFP

But these political moves have not been without opposition. “I think that for the opposition party, their key focus is being seen as seeking greater rights. This law is one piece of a much broader push to limit free expression by the Conservative Party,” said Andre Banks from AllOut.

In Russia, the chief spokesperson of the opposition party on this issue, Assembly Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, called the law “strange” and issued a written criticism of the bill’s vague language: “The very term ‘promoting’ is uncertain from a legal viewpoint, hence either cannot be applied, or can be applied arbitrarily, or, to put it simply, creates the grounds for arbitrariness toward adult citizens.”

All this being said, activists argue it is reductive to say this is simply a political game. Without digressing into religious dogma, there is a philosophy behind Orthodox Russian Conservatism. It is a view that there are two different means of pursing civil liberty. The foreword on the United Russia Party’s website reads, “Our critical situation should not be bound to the motivations of temporary or fleeting temperament: e.g. the scheming of authorities, the struggles between geopolitical elites etc., but by a multitude of other, more meaningful, and inevitable motives connected to impending End of Times.”

In the eyes of Russian Conservatives, only the pursuit of the freedom to work is compatible with Russian religious traditions. The pursuits of personal freedoms (such as expression) are not compatible with those traditions. In the eyes of the new Orthodox movement, without these religious rules to govern society, civilization itself will collapse. In the U.S., it is easier to see this as the same old tired, worn-out set of arguments and assertions used by the radical Christian right (many an evangelical figure has warned Americans of the fall of civilization and against the gay “indoctrination” of children). Nonetheless, it is important to understand that for the new Orthodox Russian Conservatism movement, proponents literally see the pursuit of individual liberty as a means that will bring about the social and economic death of civilization.

As Goes St. Petersburg, So Goes the Nation
Legally, the Russian Constitution appears to clearly prohibit these laws at a local level, but at the federal level, it does allow for laws that inhibit the rights of minorities that could be deemed as harmful to the majority. A federal law is exactly what is feared at this point and that fear is spreading quickly.

In Russia, the natural progression of laws is to move through the local assemblies of the two major cities and then be presented at the federal level. The bill is being discussed in Moscow and a federal bill is also in the works. Andre Banks pointed out that this process is habit and not a requirement. The Russian Federal Assembly can take this bill up at any time and appears ready to do so.

The problems with the law are twofold: the language and the impact. In a statement issued by LGBT activist Polina Savchenko, she expressed great concern over both the vagueness and the implications of this law. “To talk about existence of homosexuality, to publicly denounce homophobic violence, to develop a sense of self-awareness and dignity in homosexual people, to promote tolerance – all of these acts can fall under the ‘propaganda’ law,” she said. “This law will serve directly to further isolate and marginalize the gay community and encourage hate towards a social group.”

These exact types of arguments and policies are being seen in the U.S. as well. One need not look deeper than the headlines of Tennessee and Utah, where legislatures passed “don’t say gay” bills for public school systems in an attempt to erase the LGBT community from the minds of young people. Additionally, in Michele Bachmann’s Minnesota school district, a slightly different but similar law was repealed after a lengthy string of gay youth suicides. Community outcry from concerned parents and faculty finally prompted school board members to reconsider and implement changes in its policies.

In Russia, the law is much more far-reaching than school systems, covering the entire citizenry anywhere they go, even on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Without a specific definition of what constitutes “gay propaganda,” the potential for widespread abuse is great and enforcement will largely be left to the whims of police and judicial authorities.

Russia’s Gay History
The Russian Federation has evolved a long way since the days it exiled artist and activist Slava Mogutin in the mid ’90s. Officially, Russia legalized homosexuality in 1993 and six years later it was also removed from the country’s list of mental illnesses. But the country has continued to struggle with mainstream acceptance of gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people. Every year since the first 2006 attempt to hold a Pride parade in Moscow, each subsequent attempt has been denied permits, counter-protested, met with violence, and followed by arrests of gay activists.

Gay rights Russia

Riot police arrest a gay activist during Moscow's second attempted Gay Pride parade in 2007. The parade had already been banned by Moscow's Mayor on the grounds that it would provoke violence. Photo courtesy: Moscow Pride

At the first ever United Nations Human Rights Panel on LGBT rights, the spokesperson for the Russian Federation reiterated his government’s official position. In the eyes of the Russian government, they are simply protecting “the majority’s rights.” He went on to insist that, despite Russia’s ratification into the European court of Human Rights, “no international commitments are breached” by the country’s actions denying gays and lesbians their rights. (The European Court of Human Rights Article 10 guarantees an individual’s right to freedom of expression.)

This same spokesperson stated that the United Nations must “respect the opinion of the majority and of moral precepts and avoid the promotion of one group over the rights of others. It’s not about [one group] over another; it’s about the inclusion of all. It is not appropriate to give rise to appreciation of special groups such as LGBT.”

Again, say American gays, we’ve heard this all before. “This is the same ‘special rights’ argument we have here,” Stephen Grant, a scholar of gender and antigay violence, says. “This isn’t about special rights that elevate one group over another, it’s about bringing an oppressed group up to a level playing field with the majority.”

Through the fight, Russians have tried to make their voices heard in the streets. Dozens of grassroots protests have occurred since December, but most have been only groups of up to 250 people who were dispersed by the police. Now that the bill has become law in St. Petersburg, fear has silenced most would-be protesters. But internationally, voices continue to speak out. Groups like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex Association and AllOut have mobilized to keep the pressure on, calling for a travel boycott of the city. The ILGA spoke out about gay oppression at the UN Panel on Human Rights and AllOut’s PSA on the St. Petersburg ban has received hundreds of thousands of hits worldwide. Even Madonna said she plans to speak out about the issue during her upcoming St. Petersburg concert: “I don’t run away from adversity, I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity.”

Dr. Irina Kostina, who teaches Russian Studies at the University of Iowa, said, “Russia is a country where gays always were not welcome and oppressed by politicians and society. It is very dangerous to show that you are a gay in Russia.”

According to a poll done by the Levada Center in 2010, 74% of Russians believe homosexuals are mentally defective, and 39% say they should be isolated from society.

“While we’re much further ahead than Russia regarding civil liberties issues like marriage equality and the reversal of the DADT policies,” says Stephen Grant, “the dangers of being openly gay are very real [in the U.S. as well]. Antigay hate crimes in America number in the thousands every year.”

Dr. Kostina also pointed out that that this issue is low on the everyday Russian citizen’s priority list. “I believe that Russian people care less about this situation,” she says. “They think about the other huge problems they have. The government will not change anything. We should change the government. For Russia, it takes a long road to understand this situation and make it better for gays.”

What happens next?
At the moment, what will happen is purely speculation. No one knows for sure. Several paths exist for repeal. Legal challenges can still be made both in the Russian Constitutional Court and in the European Court of Human Rights. Non-judicial avenues exist as well. Laws can be passed that negate the “propaganda ban” as can amendments to dilute or nullify its enforcement. While both are possible, federal legislation will be more difficult to repeal than local laws. In any case, the path taken must be well executed after careful strategic planning. The darkest possibility still remains that these laws continue to gain traction and Russia’s closet will be sealed even more tightly shut in the days and months ahead.

Brett Edward Stout is a writer and activist living in New York. He attended the University of Iowa after serving 5 years in the US Marines. He published his novel Sugar-baby Bridge in 2008. This article was originally published on advocate.com

Related reading here

Asexuality: Fighting all odds

Asexuality India

Being an asexual in a sex-saturated culture is to fight the accusations of being abnormal or medically sick. Making asexuality visible is the challenge that online communities like AVEN have risen to

By Kristina Gupta

In many contemporary societies, there is a great deal of pressure on people to be sexual and to engage in sexual activity. Unfortunately, asexuality is often considered as a state of denial even within the progressive circles.

In response, in the past decade, online communities of people who identify as asexuals have been formed – the largest of which is the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) founded in 2001. AVEN defines asexuality as follows: “an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.” AVEN has two stated goals: to educate about asexuality and to create a community for asexual people.

As of March 2012, over 34,000 people were registered members of AVEN. According to a recent survey, the majority of AVEN members are under the age of 25. Around 65% of the community identifies as female and around 14% identifies as male. AVEN was started in the United States, and the majority of members are from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. AVEN also has members from all over the world.

There are also a number of affiliated sites in different languages, – there are several Spanish-language sites that connect asexual Spanish speakers and their allies all over the world. Besides these, there are a number of other websites focused on asexuality, including blogs, dating sites, and other community forums.

There is a great deal of diversity within the asexual community, even in terms of sexuality. Asexual individuals also vary in the types of intimate relationships they desire; some may identify as “romantic asexual” if they want romantic relationships that don’t involve sexual activity, while others may identify as “aromantic asexual.” Some romantic asexuals may also adopt an identity label based on the gender of their preferred romantic partner (e.g. some romantic asexuals will identify as hetero-romantic or homo-romantic).

Asexuality rights

Too asexy to be sexual: Photo courtesy AVEN

While many asexual individuals feel that they have been asexual their entire lives, there may be some people who move in and out of the category. In this sense, asexuality is not very different from other sexual identity categories, as some individuals may maintain a stable sexual identity throughout their lives, while others may have more fluid sexual identities.

Asexual individuals who live in a sex-saturated culture may feel stigmatized or marginalized. In the U.S., for example, asexual adults may be perceived as strange or even sick. The handbook of mental disorders used in the United States (the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM) includes a mental disorder called “hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” which is defined as a persistent lack of interest in sex.

For the asexual community, a lack of interest in sex is not always a medical condition; in some cases, it can be a fulfilling way of being in the world. Some members of AVEN want the APA to revise the definition of hypoactive sexual desire disorder to exclude people who identify as asexual.

In cultures where marriage and children are what is expected (which is still the case, to a certain extent, even in the U.S), some asexual individuals may feel coerced by society to accept the ‘norm’. It could be that some asexual individuals seek refuge in religious institutions where celibacy is accepted or mandated, but there isn’t enough research to support the case.

Stockholm Pride March 2011 - Photo courtesy: AVEN

In some ways, asexuality fits comfortably within the GLBTQ community, as asexuality is another “non-normative” sexuality. However, much of the GLBTQ community (in the U.S. at least) is very sex-focused, so some asexual individuals might not feel comfortable. In recent years, there has been some collaboration between AVEN and different GLBTQ groups; for example, for the last few years, a group of AVEN members has marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade.

As asexuality is a relatively new sexual identity category, there has been little feminist research on it to date. Since the early 1990s, much of western feminism has been very “pro-sex,” which might have prevented early recognition and acceptance of asexuality.

However, currently there are a number of feminist scholars considering the implications of asexuality for feminist theory and practice which include Kristin Scherrer, Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks, Ela Przybylo, and Eunjung Kim.

Integrating considerations of asexuality into feminist theory and practice will be very productive.  Considerations of asexuality can lead us to question our “pro-sex biases”; encourage us to question the boundaries between the sexual and the nonsexual and between romance and friendship. It could also lead to us to think about new types of relationships and affinities, and encourage us to think more deeply about the prevalence and meaning of “unwanted sexuality.”

Kristina Gupta is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. For her dissertation, she is researching the intersections of feminist theory, asexuality, and scientific and medical research on sexual desire

Related reading: ‘We’re married, we just don’t have sex’