A scene at the Gay Pride Parade poignantly captured why there is a need for AVEN and greater awareness about asexuality. As David Jay hands out fliers about AVEN to the crowd, a tough, super buff (presumably gay) man in neon yellow shorts shouts, “I pity your soul!” David turns and asks why – why does he pity his soul? “We’re not hurting anyone”, he says as the man blows him off and walks away with his buddies. Onlookers in the crowd try not to stare at David, but it’s too late. David has been ironically cast as the freak among a parade of self-proclaimed freaks, (re)marginalized not for his sexuality but for his supposedly unnatural lack of sex drive. The violence of the man’s words is painful, but the crowd’s rigid silence, the refusal of anyone to stand with David, tacitly endorses the man’s condemnation towards that which he cannot understand. It is an uneasy reminder of how heterosexual individuals openly condemned homosexual persons fifty years ago (and how some still do) – “I pity your soul!” The exclamation reeks of intolerance, hate, and ignorance.
The scene is uncomfortably familiar in how it so effectively captures that universally experienced sense of ostracization – sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but words hurt even more and even longer. What does one do to move past the verbal violence that ends up, for better or worse, defining our identities? How does one live a free, safe life in spite of, what is at times, palpable hostility?
In this moment, however, the film subtly accuses the now common imperative to openly perform sexual identity, to liberate oneself as a fully sexualized being, as a violent command, yet the demand to confess and exhibit one’s sexual desire is seen to take on discriminatory, if not violent, overtones, as if society insists – “Have sex with the one you love…. OR ELSE.” If we have won the right to have a sexual orientation, doesn’t that also mean that we have also won the right to not take on sexual partners? To have the freedom to choose and to also not choose?
During the question and answer session at the end of the film, an audience member asked David if he had personally experienced more hostility from those within the LGBT community or straight folk. After thinking for a couple minutes, David smartly responded that those who see their sexuality as a key component of their identity have the most difficulty in understanding asexuality. [..]
In recent years, academic queer studies have sought to use its deviant position as a strategic means of queering, or in other words, critiquing hegemonic, heterosexual relations (Judith Butler of course and Lee Edelman comes to mind). Queer studies has become a useful methodology and analytic tool of exploring and revealing the mechanisms of gender relations and normative desire. It seemed to me after watching this film that asexuality can be also used as a means of queering the queer, of critiquing the whole field of gender politics. Since so much of gender theory evolves from sexual politics, it would be fascinating to explore how gender is constructed when not informed by sexuality. How is it different? Can gender be separated from sexuality? So much of gender norms hinge upon the object of sexual desire, but what happens when there is no object of sexual desire? How does that affect one’s positionality in terms of gender? The over-determination of sex and sexual desire in contemporary society has meant that in order to become a full subject, one must be marked as a sexual being, whether as a hetero or homosexual person. (Hence, one is considered a child until he/she has undergone their first sexual encounter.)
So much of life is unrelated to sexual activity, yet the over-determination of sex in the everyday lives of people has led to a particular lack of critical engagement in how sex is valued and used. What I mean by that is sex is taken for granted as a universally structuring force in life that relegates people into certain social compartments – gay, straight, trans, bi, etc – when in fact scholarship has perhaps overvalued its function and thus prevented itself from seeing it in other ways. Engaging in sexual relations is often used as a shorthand signifier for abstract concepts like intimacy, commitment, lust, or as an extreme qualifier; for instance, “it was better than sex.” It seems to me that talk about sex is oftentimes talk about how sex structures our lives, produces identities, or delineate gender codes. But how does sexual activity actually affect relationships? How does sex enable or prevent us from forming bonds with others? [..]
Clearly, sex is more important to some than others. I don’t think there is or will be a universally applicable response to this question, but in all, the film shows how the asexual community is queering commonly held notions on sexual relations, and where it can or can not take us.
I just watched this documentary and This Hungry Owl has hit the nail on the head about what struck me most watching it. It’s not a community I’m part of but it’s certainly not one I’m threatened by and whilst I was unsurprised to see people saying dumb, uniformed things on TV about lifestyles outwith the ‘norm’ the scenes at the Pride march made me really sad. The way we wrap up sex (as opposed to sexuality in the political sense) with gender and every other aspect of life frustrates me but I understand it too, biologically and historically. I think it’s interesting though - as David asks in the documentary - to question whether this leads to us being unable to appreciate other forms of intimacy properly.
That said, I know I’m not asexual personally because I spent most of the documentary trying not to think ‘damn, the head of the asexual movement is really cute..’
(oh, and the sections with Dan Savage also confirmed my suspicion that he’s a total dick.)