Archived: What elitism (really) looks like: a response to those who are critical of demisexuality as an orientation

Since first joining AVEN a little more than 8 years ago, I have observed many instances of asexual elitism on the site. Asexual elitism on AVEN took the form of an asexual person’s understanding their asexuality as being defined by behavior or nonlibidoism rather than by attraction, with an additional belief that relationships without sexual activity were inherently “purer” than relationships with. Some asexual elitists I observed were anti-masturbation and many or most were anti-sex. Most of them did not state any religious reasons for their views. Many of them rejected the idea that a person can masturbate or participate in sexual activity and still be asexual. All of them took the position that they were more enlightened than people who were not asexual, and all of them had views that invalidated other asexual people’s identification as asexual.

Demisexual elitism, when it happens, is slightly different than asexual elitism. Like asexual elitists, demisexual elitists view their sexual orientation as a state of enlightenment rather than a description of their subjective experiences. Also like asexual elitists, demisexual elitists view their sexual orientation as contingent on behavior and engage in invalidation of other demisexuals’ identities.

A demisexual elitist might take the position that only people who experience sexual attraction in a demisexual manner are capable of truly loving relationships, or some other position that devalues sexual attraction in the absence of a close bond. What all demisexual elitists have in common is their making a moral judgement that it is better to be demisexual than another orientation, or that everyone should be or become demisexual. They also seem to all share an understanding of their own demisexuality as a state they have achieved or were gifted with, rather than a state they happen to be in.

All the people who are critical of demisexuality that I’ve read have made the error of identifying a demisexual elitist’s demisexuality, rather than a demisexual elitist’s elitism, as the problem. People critical of demisexuality as a valid orientation fall into two groups: those who view demisexuality as an inherently elitist construction, and those who consider demisexuality to be “normal sexuality” or the default kind of sexuality society wants us to have. I will consider both groups separately.

I have read multiple people on Tumblr telling demisexual people that their orientation is an elitist or slut-shaming construction. This may be in part due to the fuzzy ways that people describe the inherently fuzzy concept of sexual attraction. If sexual attraction is described as an inclination toward sexual behavior with another person (as I’ve commonly seen it described), it is easy to confuse attraction with behavior and think that a demisexual person is describing their behavior rather than how they experience attraction (which is one reason why I’ve tried to identify sexual attraction in terms of desires rather than inclinations to behavior). At the same time, I have seen multiple individuals who are critical of demisexuality in this manner fail to respond to arguments against them by demisexual people who do engage in casual sex or otherwise have sex in the absence of sexual attraction–and thus fail to acknowledge that demisexuality as an orientation is descriptive of how a person experiences what they identify as sexual attraction rather than a description of their behavior.

I have also read multiple criticisms of demisexuality as an orientation by people who argue that demisexuality is the kind of sexuality that society wants people to have*. This group of critics argues that society wants us to be romantically attracted to people before we are sexually attracted to them. I think the people who make that argument have also confused attraction with behavior, but not in the way that you would expect. I think this group is also making the mistake of thinking that sexual attraction is a more conscious process than it is: they may be making the assumption that sexual attraction as a term describes what you feel when you judge that you are “ready” to have sex with a person, rather than a feeling that happens before then. If you feel that at some point you had to make a decision as to whether or not you were “ready” to have sex with a person that you already wanted to have sex with, it’s likely that sexual attraction, if you experienced it toward that person, preceded that decision. So this position also confuses behavior with attraction. Ironically, the position that demisexuality is “normal sexuality” also has the consequence that sexual attraction (or sexual behavior) in the absence of romantic attraction is freakish, abnormal or bad. According to this criticism of demisexuality, it’s not okay to shame people for their sexual behavior, except that it’s totally okay to shame people for experiencing sexual attraction or engaging in sexual activity without also desiring a relationship. That position invalidates casual sex and any other form of sexual behavior or attraction that is not accompanied by desire for a romantic connection–I have a problem with that as a person who has willingly done sexual things with others without desire for or intention to have a relationship, and so does every demisexual-identified person who willingly has sex in the absence of sexual attraction: they exist, and are more common than you think.

It may be true that a lot of demisexual people describe themselves in the following manner: “I only want to have sex with someone after developing a close bond with them.” It is possible to interpret this statement as slut-shaming (if interpreted as a description of behavior), but it may also be a case of the speakers’ not being clear with how they’re describing their experiences, which results in others misinterpreting demisexual identity as slut-shaming and elitist. I think the underlying problem is people being quick to make assumptions when faced with vague statements, rather than willing to ask, “Are you sure that’s what you mean by demisexual? Could you be more descriptive? Phrased like you said it, I don’t understand how you’re not making a moral judgement about other people’s sexual behavior, and I would like to not make that assumption.” It’s time that the critics of demisexuality as an orientation become willing to acknowledge that they are reacting to vague statements rather than responding to true demisexual elitism.

It’s time to challenge the true elitists.

* It is worth noting that this position ignores that there are demisexual people of color and that the racist sexualization of people of color results in people of color, especially women of color, being expected to be hypersexual. It is also worth noting that this position ignores that there are demisexual men and that men are expected to be always ready for sex when their partners desire it.

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