More adventures in sex school

So today I had a “Research Design and Implementation” class which was fantastic and gave me lots to think about when it comes to my official academic research (which I’m not currently conducting. I’m still writing the report on the BRP).

In addition to getting lots of new ideas about research methods I also burst into tears. Crying in class is not actually that uncommon in my graduate program, but apparently I am the first person to ever cry during this class… you know me, always the trendsetter.

Anyway, we were all going around the room, each of us saying what it was that we want to research- even if we only had a vague idea. I said I wanted to write something that would help get more information and recognition of asexuality out there, particularly in the helping professions (doctors, nurses, teachers, sex educators, therapists, counselors, etc etc etc). As always lots of people had questions and I got interrupted about half a dozen times before I was accused of having avoided one of the questions that the teacher asked (which was very frustrating, I was answering the questions as quickly as I could, geesh).  Anyway, eventually the questions changed from “what does the word asexual mean to you?” (from the professor) and “isn’t that the same thing as low desire?” (from a classmate) to “why is this important to you?” (from a classmate) and (basically) “why are you just trying to stir things up when you could just go with a different word, why is that word so important?” (from the professor).

I didn’t even really get through answering the professor’s question because I kept getting cut off but I started crying answering my classmates question about why this has become so important to me. Every month I hear really powerful stories from people who are gracious enough to share with me their experiences via my monthly surveys. In general the people who take my surveys have both a great sense of humor and heart breaking stories which, month after month remind me why it’s important for me to be listening to what you have to say and, more importantly, sharing it in a way that creates a meaningful ace-experience narrative. That’s kind of a lofty goal, but I’ll work on it.

I got in late tonight but my intention is to update the tumblr tomorrow, so keep an eye out for that.

Also, I’d welcome some input on the following conversation:

So, after class a classmate came over and said that she has a problem with the use of the word “asexual” unless it is used by someone who means to say that they have no sexuality at all (and I know some of you identify that way). I tried to explain that it fits the X-Sexual model for labeling sexual orientations (and orientation does not limit anything else about the person- ie behavior, libido, etc). My classmate said we “can’t just use a term that exists in other contexts and reappropriate it” or something like that. Neither of us was budging on the issue and I’ve been trying to think of a good analogy.

My first attempt at an analogy that might make sense to her, as someone who’s studying sexuality would be to imagine her in a gay bar, being shown around by someone from the gay community, and when her host points out a big hairy gay man and tells her that the word for a guy like him is “bear” that she gets a very serious look on her face and explains to her host that the man in question cannot be a “bear” because the word “bear” is already used to refer to animals who live in the forest, have claws, and eat honey (I’m pretty sure real bears eat honey but I guess I’m basing that largely on Whinny the Pooh, now that I think about it…).

In some ways I think this trivializes the term “asexual” as an orientation because, of course, bears (from the gay community) are not trying to be recognized, necessarily, by the outside community where as the asexual community would like to be recognized by people other than the asexual community. But I also think it’s similar because when words are used in practice differently than they perhaps should be, in theory, then that’s an important concept to grasp- especially if it’s relevant to your studies (and if you’re studying human sexuality then asexuality is relevant).

Oh, and regarding the class for which I read the workbook which had the “bisexuality” chapter that I excerpted in my last post: This class probably deserves it’s own post… I will just say here that, generally speaking the professor defended the workbook as something that could and should still be used when working with groups and insisted that people just needed to type up their own amendments to the sections to distribute with the workbook that would solve the problems in the book. I’m glad to report that most of the students in the class insisted that they would be ashamed to use the workbook and would need to start entirely from scratch and that the workbooks main benefit would be as a guide for ways to organize the workshop.

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4 Responses to More adventures in sex school

  1. Sciatrix says:

    Wait. She’s saying that because this term has other meanings, it can’t be changed and used to mean something different?
    By this logic, “gay” should still mean “innocent and happy,” “lesbian” ought to refer to “an inhabitant of Lesbos,” and… well, so forth. The idea is just totally foreign to me because it implies total ignorance of the way that words and definitions change over time as new concepts arise and need words to describe them.
    Is there a word she insists asexuals should use instead? It might be helpful to also deconstruct the words that she suggests and explain why they imply things that don’t actually fit the concept we call asexuality as well as the term “asexuality” does. (“Nonsexual” is the most common one I see, and… well, a lot of asexuals identify as having sexualities in other dimensions besides sexual orientation. Kinkiness is probably the best example to bring up to her there.)
    If I were constructing an analogy, I’d probably use “queer” rather than “bear” because she seems to be hung up on the fact that in her experience, “asexual” is already used to describe a different phenomenon relating to sexuality. But the thing is, the definition she’s using that term for isn’t the one that actual asexual people apply to themselves and is imposed from outside by people who don’t share the identity. The meaning we use has been modified to suit the needs of the people who actually need that identity word.
    In the same way, “queer” was originally ascribed to (mostly gay) people from the outside and the meaning has changed over time as people who actually identify with it reclaim the word from its pejorative connotations. Queer used to mean a really nasty insult; does that make the entire field of queer theory wrong for using it to instead mean “deviating from the heterosexual norm?” Does that make everyone who identifies as queer wrong for taking a word that already had a “meaning” within discussion about sexuality and using it with a very different meaning?

  2. Andrew says:

    The argument that a word can’t have more than one meaning or that it can’t change meaning is so bizarrely wrong, that I think it’s worth thinking about why people use it. My suspicion is that they simply don’t like the idea of “asexuality.” But they can’t say that, so they make up some bogus justification for that position. I find that, in general, the arguments people use are generally not arguments that persuaded them of anything. Very often, it’s that they use such arguments to support/justify beliefs that they hold for entirely different reasons. Which isn’t to say that we should ignore such arguments, but it’s worth considering if some surface argument is what’s really going on.

    • Miriel says:

      I agree with this, honestly. I think my agreement is bolstered by the fact that none of the people I’ve ever heard using this argument have been enormously ace-friendly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone who was an actual, honest-to-goodness ally who also had quibbles with our naming.

      Incidentally, “bisexual” didn’t originally refer to sexual orientation, either. Funny, then, how the first person to tell me I couldn’t call myself “asexual” was herself bi….

    • swankivy says:

      Exactly. I got this comment on YouTube once:

      “My main objection to this is linguistic. Homo- and Hetero- are prefixes. A- is also a prefix. The history of the meanings of these prefixes in the scientific community has a history that goes WAY back. Like long before the IDENTITY of “asexuality” arrived. This new identity has very little to do with traditional definitions of asexuality. I’m talking about centuries of science here, not a fad for Oprah’s show. Just because you misappropriate a word does not mean you deserve recognition.”

      Sure man. If the main objection is “linguistic,” why all the ham-fisted attempts to undermine the legitimacy of asexuality itself (by calling it a fad, saying we don’t deserve recognition, etc)? This is the same way people who dislike homosexuality based on their own feelings of confusion, alienation, and disgust claim their objection is really about the impossibility of procreation as a result of gay sex. (Somehow this doesn’t stop them from using birth control, which also prevents procreation.) With asexuality, people are sometimes looking for a way to discredit it without sounding like bigots.

      The use of the word “asexual” as an orientation is fine because no one will misunderstand a human using it to be expressing the ability to reproduce asexually. It is not in any way confusing or likely to get mixed up with other scientific uses of the word. We are describing our orientation, not our reproduction. It needed a word. We have one.

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