Tag: shame

Guest Post: Asexuality and Poisonous Body Positivity

This is a submission for the March 2018 Carnival of Aces which I myself have been hosting this month here on my blog. The theme is “Physical Health and/or Our Bodies”

I offered to host guest submissions on my blog if anyone desired that. Here is Rachel’s essay, “Asexuality and Poisonous Body Positivity”:


Content Warnings: vague discussion of ableism and sexism, body shaming, bullying, body negativity, weight (?), industrial strength bitterness, awful metaphors including one about eating pork

*Looks at the theme for the month*

*rushes out from under my rock to write this*

I’ve been practically chomping at the bit for a theme like this for a while, having a mess of loosely connected thoughts on this topic knocking around in my head for years now. For the sake of keeping this semi-coherent, and because I have at least a semi-unifying theme that underlies all of these separate thoughts: a systematic estrangement by the rhetoric of body positivity. What initially set off this domino chain was an anonymous post on Queenie’s site:

Here: www.queenieofaces.tumblr.com/tagged/body-negativity

To my fellow aro ace, whoever and wherever you are, this is, at least in part, for you.

Confession time: I kind of loathe body positivity as a movement. Please refrain from throwing rotten tomatoes at me until the conclusion of this essay. I know how this looks: I’m nervous to even write this, let alone submit it, because I know this will attract naysayers out of the woodwork like flies. My feelings are born of a convoluted brew of bullying, sexism, asexuality, aromanticism, disability, and quite possibly gender all mixed into an obnoxious cocktail.

I am going to start with the bullying since starting at the beginning is easiest: I was bullied a lot as a child, and by a variety of people. My repertoire of elementary school bullies reads like a college diversity pamphlet. It was the body-shaming and body policing from other girls though, that I think did the most damage. My excessive body hair, acne, and, believe it or not, my thinness all made me a prime target for body shaming (the other girls kept insisting that I had an eating disorder and that I should put on weight).

It took me years to put all of these pieces together, in large part because of my then unrecognized aro aceness. My aro aceness comes into play because women’s beauty standards, as an extension of women’s gender roles, are heavily tied in with performing heterosexuality. Even as a kid, long before I knew that I was aro ace, I had an instinctive aversion to performing women’s beauty standards in part because of that non-straightness. Tie in my ADHD and the fact that women’s beauty standards tend to be taxing on executive function, and performing girl was very much a diminished reward. All of that failure to conform, born of disability and unrecognized aromanticism and asexuality (and possibly being quoigender as well) all painted a body-policing target on my back.

The weirdest part is, I actually managed to bounce back from most of this because my ability to avoid internalizing most of that filth. I always thought of myself as having good body image because, well, I didn’t have a poor body image (compare how I thought I was straight because, well, I knew I wasn’t gay). What I do have is in fact an apathetic one. My first epiphany on that was I undergrad, when my dorm had a poster on the wall allowing female students to write something that they liked about their body. At the time, I was supportive of this (and still am), but that flipped the first switch when I realized that I couldn’t think of a single thing that I actually liked about my body. I had good body image, right? So I should have been able to come up with SOMETHING, right…? Please note that while body image is a component of self image, the two are heavily conflated, which I think is shortsighted. It is possible to have an overall positive self image without having an outstanding body image. I am extraordinarily lucky to be in a position to be able to sustain a healthy self image despite my apathetic body image. It’s more than a lot of people have.

Remember what I stated before that I managed to avoid internalizing that body-shaming filth? That wasn’t entirely true. I did internalize it, just in a different way. Instead of internalizing the messages that the traits I was bullied for were flaws that diminished my worth as a person, I internalized the idea that these traits made me an easy target. It has made me acutely aware of the standards that I fail to fulfill. I don’t consider myself attractive to others because I know that my body is coded as unattractive by others. And you know what? I’m okay with not being attractive. Because when you are aro ace like me, and averse to sex and romance to boot, being attractive loses its appeal. But that has still left its scars. I have a knee-jerk mistrust of compliments concerning my appearance. After enduring so much bullying about my body, compliments on it feel insincere, not to mention also kind of sexist. If you want to pay me a compliment, couldn’t you be bothered to pay me one that is more personally and materially relevant? Apparently not, instead I have to make do with insincere sounding ones about the very thing I was mocked for, because all women prioritize beauty first and foremost, right?

Now, what does all of this have to do with my distrust of body positivity? One, body positivity at its most insipid is all about vague and platitude-laden validations of ~you’re beautiful~. Uh, no I’m not, and stop insisting that I am (remember the insincerity hang-up). Women of the world: you do not get to specifically and deliberately target me with ableist, sexist, and aphobic body shaming and otherwise ingrain the message that I am ~not beautiful~ and then pull a complete 180 on me with impersonal and clichéd validations that don’t mean a thing now that it’s easy and convenient. I am not buying it.

Two, related to point one, body positivity is heavily tied up with sex, romance, and sensuality. Messages about ~celebrating~ and ~enjoying~ your body abound, all tied up with eroticism. I’ve written before about how I am averse to sex, romance, and touch. As a result, a lot of body positivity is actively anathematic. I live effectively severed from eroticism and limerence, so what is a heady perfume to most is a noxious sewage to me. Being aro ace with a triple helping of aversions and absolutely no libido means that I don’t have a body that I can enjoy, and certainly not one I can celebrate. To risk misquoting Coyote of The Ace Theist: “I don’t want to celebrate my body. Go jump in a lake.”

Three—and this is a damning thing to proclaim—I don’t think it’s possible to build authentic body positivity for someone like me. Body positivity that encompasses me is self-defeating: it’s great and wonderful that you do not enjoy your body and are indeed stuck in a body that is incapable of being enjoyable. See, aren’t those empowering vibes just overwhelming? Even if I’m wrong and it is possible, I don’t like the idea of creating a permanent underclass of second best in which I can only get the ham hocks and pig ears while everyone else gets the juicy, juicy bacon. (Incidentally, I’d sooner go without pork than eat ham hocks or pig ears thank you very much). Or to use a punny metaphor: a system where everyone else gets to fly first class while I’m confined to flying economy. But I should totally be grateful of the fact that I am at least allowed part of the pig or am allowed to fly at all, right?

Look, I get why these points take center stage in body positivity. I know that these are uplifting messages that a lot of people need. But… I’m sick and tired of being cast aside because I don’t fit trendy rhetoric. I’m sick and tired of being expected to applaud things that benefit OTHER PEOPLE when it comes at my own expense. Because we aces and aros are constantly expected to sacrifice and de-prioritize our own needs for the sake of People Who Matter More. It’s alienating. It’s embittering. It’s isolating. And I really don’t want to be bitter. Despite bitterness being the cool thing to be online these days, I don’t recommend it. I’m not the first one to point out that body positivity is a mess of well-meaning but contradictory sentiments and competing access needs, but I wish that I wouldn’t get branded as regressive for the crime of pointing that out. I wish that body positivity would be honest about being inherently built for some people but not for others. I’d still hate it, but at least I’d respect it.

 

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Asexuality, Shame, and the Importance of Ace Pride

This post was written for the March 2017 Carnival of Aces, which is themed around Ace Pride. The call for submissions was here – and the round up post containing all of the submitted entries is here: http://purrplelace.tumblr.com/post/159167437413/march-2017-carnival-of-aces-round-up


We’ll get to Ace Pride by the end of this post. First, I need to talk about Ace Shame.

[Content note: Heavy discussion of anti-ace sentiments, invalidation, shame, negative emotions, etc. Some NSFW text. Unhappy ace/allo sexual relationship dynamics also touched upon. It’s a bit of a rambling mess too.]


shame: n. A painful emotion caused by the belief that one is, or is perceived by others to be, inferior or unworthy of affection or respect because of one’s actions, thoughts, circumstances, or experiences.

  • What is there to be proud of? Isn’t asexuality nothing?

pride: n. a feeling of honour and self-respect; a sense of personal worth

  • “Are you sure you’re not repressed? because you grew up Catholic?”
  • “Everyone masturbates – and the few who say they don’t? are lying.”
  • What do you fantasize about though?
  • Everyone is turned on by some type of person.
  • “Maybe you should talk to a doctor about your hormone levels.”
  • “WAIT — you’re 22 and you’ve never been kissed??”
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin is a great movie, made me cry. I’m so happy that he finally lost his virginity at the end.
  • “It’s natural and healthy to have sexual thoughts and desires”.
  • You’re betraying feminists if you fight Flibanserin (Addyi) being on the market.
  • Who do you have a crush on?”
  • “You should watch this tv show, if for no other reason than the eye candy, you know what I mean? 😉 “
  • “Philosophical or psychological hypothesis: What if all human desires are, deep down, influenced by sex because it’s instinctual that we need to want sex in order for our species to survive? I mean it’s probably true, it just makes sense.”
  • My mom: “You don’t have to get Confirmed Catholic if you really don’t want to however… You might want to belong to a church for when you get married?”
  • “A soulmate is your other half,  the person who completes you, everyone is waiting to find theirs unless they are so lucky to have already found them.”
  • lust can be such a powerful feeling that it motivates people to cheat with a stranger they just met
  • without ‘passion’ in that marriage can you blame that miserable spouse for cheating?”
  • OK Cupid question: “How many dates will you want to go on before you’re ready for sex? One? Three? 12?” (See the 100 words prose poem thing I wrote, which I just tonight posted about this topic.)
  • Check a box: “Which of the three fits you best: straight,  gay,  or bi?”
  • “Have you tried having sex with both men and women and didn’t like it? Only men? You probably just didn’t give being lesbian enough of a chance.”
  • “Ok interesting.  But. Are you absolutely sure you haven’t just not met the right person yet? You don’t want to close yourself off to that possibility too young”  (said to me when I’m 24.)
  • Me before I accepted I’m ace: “I… this first kiss to you feels just as lackluster as the other time I tried kissing a different person last year. I need to admit something… I’m starting to worry I might be asexual, unfortunately. I like you a lot as a person already, so maybe I’ll turn out to be demisexual? Over time? (If we… fall in love or something?)”
  • It’s the standard narrative.  Boy meets girl.  One is too traumatized or just mistrustful of the world. Let’s say it’s the girl this time. The guy loves her hard enough, for long enough… that she learns to love him back with time. Or she suddenly has a revelation that the love of her life has been there all along. He might be suddenly attractive to her too. Like Lois and Clark in versions of their story where you see them before they get together. And wow.  They feel all the feelings. They have a magical kiss or even the best sex ever by the end of the story. Happily ever after. It wouldn’t be a happy ending without getting together romantically.
  • “Are you sure you’re not aroused right now?” – when I tried sex with my boyfriend.
  • “I’ve never met anyone who’s asexual before. (That can’t be real.)”
  • “Oh, that explains a lot about our conversations these past years. I always just thought maybe you were a bit prudish.”
  • Isn’t the idea of being proud to be ace arrogant, elitist, and saying you’re better than people who have sexual desires, shaming them for that, and that’s not cool?
  • “You’re lucky you’re ace. I wish I was ace. You have it so easy.”

Sorry I decided to write such a downer of a post for such a seemingly happy theme.  I kind of went a pretty… different direction than the other entries. At first I wondered if I was completely going off topic but now I realize… My post is basically a long answer to (Purr)ple(L)ace’s final bullet point in the suggested topics:

How do displays of pride (in whatever forms you choose to show it) help you deal with any negative aspects of being ace? How do they help you love/accept yourself and your asexuality more?

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