Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Openly Asexual

Not a coming out post. In no way.

"He is gay, guys. Only he doesn't talk about it all the time, on account of having interests outside of being gay." ~Ryan North, comic character

I was gonna wait a day or so to post, so as to space things out, but I've given up on that. This has been bugging me for a long time and I'm going to vent, darnit!
What is it with identifying people's sexualities? If somebody's not straight and they're mentioned in the media, or in conversation it seems like their sexuality always gets inserted right next to their name. "Jim Bob, a gay Minnesotan, thinks this about fishing season" or "Mary Jane, an openly asexual librarian, likes to correct other people's punctuation." (ooh, stereotypes...)

Why do they do this? I get that in some contexts it makes total sense, but I see it freaking everywhere! I was reading an article online which talked about the 'openly gay registrar' of a country in Iowa (okay, maybe it was just a little bit relevant.) Still, the registrar wasn't the one getting married and I don't recall that she said anything earth-shaking. But they still stuck her sexuality in there.

Now, I get that in that case the person's sexuality was relevant and knowing her sexuality helps us understand her motivations and where she's coming from. But the quote I started this post with is quite a good point. GLBTA people have interests other than in being GLBTA! I'm pretty certain gay people don't sit around thinking about the fact that they're gay any more than I sit around thinking about being ase. Of course, I do that to some extent, because I'm blogging about it, but it's in the context of ordinary life. Of course it think about it during the day, but not "Wow...I'm asexual." More along the lines of "Ugh... I could have done without that last 'that's what she said' because I'm ase..." So I think that mentioning sexualities every time somebody's not straight, unless it's definitely relevant to the conversation, is probably pointless.

In fact, what if we purposely leave it out and just treat it like it's normal? If I'm talking about my friend Cory, and I just casually mention his latest boyfriend without starting the sentance with 'My friend Cory, who's bi..." what would happen? Nothing dramatic, I think. At worst, somebody would be confused and I'd back up and explain that Cory likes guys. At best, somebody is surprised when it clicks in their mind that Cory is a boy who likes boys and they are forced to challenge their own assumptions about gender and sexuality. And that can't be too bad.

I like that it takes the emphasis off of people's sexuality and assumes that because a person is human, their sexuality is normal. Reminds me of a guy in my campus GSA (we call it PRISM and I'm going to talk about it a lot. I love the group) who, when we talked at one meeting about the term 'queer' went on a long rant about how we shouldn't need these labels- we're all human and that should be good enough. I agree, and I think it would be great if we could change the way we talk in order to change the fact that we view sexuality as a dividing line and start seeing everyone, regardless of sexuality, as simply human.


  1. If we want to talk about some topic, I think it is simply natural to have a word for it because if we have no word for something we want to talk about, we're going to use some phase to talk about it instead. If we didn't have the word "asexual" we could go around talking about "people who don't experience sexual attraction." But talking about "asexuals" is easier. Also, having labels doesn't have to be divisive. We can describe people as tall, or blonde, or brown-eyed without assuming these are fundamentally important ways to divide up people. Jim Bob is probably not going to be introduced as a tall Minnesotan.

  2. You've got a good point there, and you've listed all the reasons that I bother to use labels. I just think that they get overused and are used in a way that can be divisive, especially when talking about people's sexuality. Also, when used to describe a minority group, I feel like they're often used as proof that the writer is open minded.