Do I Get to Be Queer?

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I am on the asexual spectrum. I’m not sure if there’s a great word for me. I’ve slipped in and out of demisexual, but it’s never felt 100% correct. My sexuality is a flitting thing: it comes and goes as it pleases, often with no rhyme or reason. One day I’ll feel sexual attraction to my fiance in a perfectly normal fashion, the next it will disappear for a month, two months, six months.

It’s stressful, and I have yet to encounter a community that describes quite this experience or gives a name to it. I find that particularly difficult. It makes it feel as if my sexuality isn’t real. I still have not entirely convinced myself that I get to claim the word asexual, even though I am definitely not allosexual.

Which makes it even harder to talk about the word queer, or about being in the LGBTQIA+ community.

I consider myself an ally. I don’t like to use that word very often because if I have to tell someone I’m an ally I’m really not doing it right, but I think it’s important in this context to recognize that I explicitly think of myself as an outsider when it comes to queer spaces. When I go to gay clubs or pride, I only go with queer friends, and actively think of myself as a guest.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have a sexuality that fits into the norm. My sexuality has very directly impacted my life in ways that led to sexual assault, breakups, and dismissal by the people I love most. I very much struggle with the idea that oppression is what makes someone queer: if a gay person grew up in an accepting family and never experienced bullying, harassment, or cruelty because of their sexuality, they would still be gay. They would still be a part of the queer community. So I struggle to understand what exactly defines queerness, and who gets to decide what groups are part of that umbrella.

The best I can understand is that queerness has to do with disrupting the status quo. And as far as that is concerned, my sexuality certainly fits. It fits enough that it has disrupted every relationship I have ever been in. It disrupts enough that I have had a therapist ask me if it was maybe actually just my mental illness not my sexuality.

So why do I not feel comfortable identifying as such? Why do I still feel like an outsider at Pride, or other gay/queer spaces?

The question of whether or not asexuality fits under the queer umbrella is fairly hotly debated, with some people suggesting that aces don’t experience enough oppression to count and ace people suggesting that they feel alienated by mainstream conceptions of sexuality and would like a safe space to come together, just as other LGBT folks do.

I see a few reasons why aces SHOULD fit in queer spaces, as well as a few reasons why many queer spaces aren’t a good fit. Because I am constitutionally incapable of letting any question about my identity be until I’ve driven it into the dirt, I’m going to spend some time detailing those reasons, and the best definitions of “queer” as I understand them, to better get to the bottom of why I feel like I don’t get to claim that label and to understand if I should.

Let’s start at the end and work our way back: what IS queer?

There isn’t a single, great definition of queerness. But most definitions are explicit in saying that queerness is political. Nadia Cho suggests “Being queer is first and foremost a state of mind. It is a worldview characterized by acceptance, through which one embraces and validates all the unique, unconventional ways that individuals express themselves, particularly with respect to gender and sexual orientation.” Under this definition, anyone who actively embraces alternative genders and sexualities or who identifies as an outside the mainstream gender or sexuality, could be queer.

The Unitarian Universalist Association gives a breakdown of quite a few potential definitions:

-being attracted to more than one gender
-not fitting cultural norms with regard to sexuality/gender
-non-heterosexual
-transgressive or challenging the status quo

Pflag suggests that “queer” means a nonbinary gender or sexuality.

Historically, queer was a slur, which means that for many people using it as an identifier today is all about reclamation. Some people focus on that element: on the oppression of it. I see three major definitions of “queer”: outside the norm (which some people define as heterosexual and cis), challenging the status quo, and oppressed with regards to sexuality or gender.

There are certainly some of these that don’t make sense with asexuality. Asexuality has nothing to do with being nonbinary, or with being attracted to more than one gender (although someone might experience romantic attraction or a gender identity in these ways and be asexual). I will suggest that these definitions don’t encompass all the identities we typically consider “queer”: for example we often include trans individuals under the queer umbrella, and that does not necessarily make someone nonbinary or attracted to more than one gender. However if we really do want to define queer by either of these definitions, then it would make sense for asexuality not to fall under that label.

Another reason that aces often don’t fit in queer spaces is that queer spaces can often be incredibly sexualized: Pride is often all about embracing sex and sexiness, queer people tend to gather in clubs, or at drag events. What aces need from their safe spaces isn’t always what gay, lesbian, bi, and pan folks need. Instead of wanting a place to express their sexuality, they often want somewhere that they can feel safe from sexuality. I’m not sure that this means aces aren’t queer, but it does mean that we need our own unique spaces.

The definition where the rubber seems to meet the road for many people is “oppressed with regards to gender or sexuality.” Many people who use the word queer have expressed frustration with the idea that aces could be part of their community when asexual people don’t experience the same oppression that trans, gay, bi, and lesbian folks do. And this is where we can talk facts instead of just debating which meaning seems or feels best to us.

Asexual people have and do experience oppression. Our identities are invalidated, called fake, mocked, and ignored, often by people who claim to be progressive. More often than not, asexual people are told they’re broken, sick, or need therapy (and yes, saying that someone’s sexuality is an illness is definitely oppressive). We’re erased from media, from sex education, from discussions of diversity. We’re told we’ll never be happy and that no one will want us if we won’t have sex. If you believe that oppression is only when someone’s rights are taken away, then I suppose aces aren’t oppressed, but if you think the systematic erasure and dehumanization of a group isn’t oppression I don’t really know what to do with you.

Worse, it’s absolutely an ace experience to receive threats, abuse, rape, or violence because of our sexual orientation. Saying no to sex can be dangerous, especially if someone thinks that your reason for saying no isn’t good enough. I know very few aces who haven’t experienced some form of violence or abuse because of their orientation.

Beyond all of this, no personal individual has to experience oppression in order to be queer. There are white, rich, cis, gay men who have never encountered discrimination in their personal lives but no one is denying their right to be a part of the community. Oppression simply doesn’t make sense as a litmus test.

So how DO aces fit into the queer community?

Well I’d say the biggest and most obvious way is that they’re a sexual minority, and just as non hetero or cis identities challenge the status quo, so do non allo identities. Compulsory sexuality is a huge part of how society today understands relationships and sexuality, and it is deeply tied to heteronormativity and monosexuality. When you live an identity that questions whether sex is a necessity for a happy and fulfilled life, you challenge the status quo. In fact asexuality is so far outside the status quo that many people still don’t believe it exists. If queerness is about being different, well asexuality DEFINITELY fits.

And as an ace, the most important reason that I want to be a part of the queer community is because I want a community where I don’t feel like an outsider, where I don’t feel judged, and where I don’t feel that others think I’m broken. Obviously queer communities aren’t perfect and may still act negatively towards aces, but the idea of having a connection with other people who feel that their sexuality is different sounds very important and positive to me. Aces, as a minority community have said that they want to feel that sense of belonging, and that sounds important to me.

At the end of all this, I still don’t feel as if I should make a strong statement about whether asexuality fits within the queer spectrum, because I am cis and hetero. What I will say is that I can’t fully understand arguments against it, and I do see a benefit to including it. If the queer community wants me, I’d be happy to be a part of it.

3 thoughts on “Do I Get to Be Queer?

  1. Jacqueline

    I hope you don’t mind me commenting on this despite the fact that this post is a few months old. I have been on both sides of the “are aces queer” debate and I’ve met with a lot of vitriol from both sides, which has led me to withdraw from the discussion completely. I now try to focus more on empathy and really listening to everyone’s concerns rather than attacking people for holding the “wrong” perspective, which I have seen a lot of. That’s just a little background about where I am coming from.

    You mention that you want to be part of the queer community in order to have a connection to other people who feel their sexuality is different in some way, and I guess I am curious about what that means to you on a practical level. I am a lesbian myself and I don’t really feel connected to any broader queer community. I feel connected to other lesbians, and to bisexual women to a certain extent. I feel a more tenuous connection to gay men, mostly because I just love seeing relationships outside the man/woman norm. It seems to me that there are many communities who could be considered queer in different contexts, but I struggle with this notion of “the” queer community that everyone either has membership in or not.

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    • Hey! I love comments no matter when they come! I think this is a really good question, because it gets at why we want labels, and why we seek out groups of similar people. For me, I think it’s two fold. The first element is that I feel quite isolated when it comes to my sexuality right now. I am in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, and the scripts that exist for my life just don’t work for me. I would love to be around people or in spaces where those narratives get questioned and subverted more often. I also am interested in having more discussions about sexuality and relationships, which I realize is not the exclusive purview of queer communities, but does tend to happen more often and more in the ways that I find fruitful in queer communities.

      The other element that I really crave is that I do have lots of friends who are queer in the way that they are VERY QUEER and like to be queer and like to talk about being queer and basking in destroying gender norms. I honestly feel most comfortable and at home when I am with these people, and I love the brazenness with which they flaunt expectations. It feels so good and free and I feel accepted and loved, but also like I’m faking because I’m NOT queer. It’s as if I shouldn’t participate in their jokes or that maybe I’m invading and taking space from them by being loud myself, because they are queer and this beautiful gender fuckery space is theirs not mine. So for some reason the word queer has taken on an odd importance to me. Being a part of that community means I get to make a space for myself and my needs. I think this is an unfortunate combo of my conviction that my needs aren’t important and the generally good social justice principle that there should be more space for oppressed people.

      That was really long winded. Sorry, haha. I think you’re right though that there are MANY queer communities. I just would love A community.

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  2. Jacqueline

    That makes sense; thank you for taking the time to explain that to me! I’m still not sure exactly what I think about the whole debate over asexual inclusion, but your needs are definitely just as important as everyone else’s, and I truly hope that you are able to be part of a queer community where you feel you belong. You have just as much a right to fuck with gender as anyone else 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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