Sex and Gender in Understanding Asexuality

This is the first of a series of posts I plan to make about Dr. Anthony Bogaert’s recent book Understanding Asexuality. It will probably be one of the most harshly critical posts in the series, because much in the chapter on sex and gender is at odds with my lived experiences as a transgender person.

Raggedybearcat made a post a few days ago about Chapter 6 of Understanding Asexuality and pointed out that there are undertones in it that can be interpreted as “women are more likely to be asexual because it’s normal female sexuality.” The chapter begins with a discussion on recent work on (cis) women’s sexuality as compared to (cis) men’s. Bogaert writes uncritically about the idea that cis women’s sexuality is less targeted and more fluid than cis men’s sexuality, an idea put forth by various researchers, including J. Michael Bailey and Ray Blanchard, whose papers are cited in the chapter. Bogaert also cites Kenneth Zucker, a researcher who supports anti-trans and anti-gay reparative therapy on children, a few times in the chapter.

Bailey and Blanchard are the researchers who have argued, based on cis men’s arousal patterns, that non-monosexuality (e.g. bisexuality, pansexuality, et al.) among DMAB individuals does not exist. Blanchard is also known for having published papers classifying trans women as either “homosexual transsexuals” (meaning heterosexual trans women) or “autogynephiliacs” (meaning trans women who experience any sexual attraction to other women–which Blanchard describes as a fetish). J. Michael Bailey is the author of The Man who Would Be Queenwhich is a book that is about DMAB gender atypicality. In the book, Bailey defends Blanchard’s above-mentioned typology of trans women that contradicts the lived experience of the vast majority of trans women.

The fact that Bogaert cites Blanchard, Bailey and Zucker for several things in this chapter related to gender was something I found alarming. It is true that all three of them are considered “experts” on trans people in their fields, but they are absolutely not considered such by trans people themselves.

Bogaert favors a prenatal-brain-structure-organization theory for the origins of gender identity and sexual orientation, where atypical brain structure organization results in being trans, non-binary or (if cis) non-heterosexual. He acknowledges binary trans people who experience body dysphoria and nonbinary people who don’t, but he leaves out binary trans people who don’t experience body dysphoria and nonbinaries who do–presumably because there has been more research on the previous two groups.

Bogaert suggests in this chapter that asexual DFAB people are more likely to have brains that are “neither ‘masculine’ nor ‘feminine,'” which leads to nonbinary gender identity. He also suggests that some nonbinary asexual people developed a nonbinary gender identity because of their asexuality, and I agree with what Raggedybearcat writes in the post of theirs I linked above: I don’t buy that there is a causal relation between someone’s gender identity and someone’s sexual orientation in either direction. I think that Bogaert’s claim also reflects a poor understanding of the complexity and diversity of nonbinary gender identities, especially because there are nonbinary people who experience loose male identification, loose female identification, strong male AND female identification, fluctuating levels of male and female identification, identification with no gender, identification with several genders, etc.

I take issue with the idea he puts forth in the last sentence of the chapter that asexual women are less likely to be feminine “because they are not as socialized to be an object of desire.” Asexual women are not immune to the cultural expectation that women should be objects of heterosexual male desire, and to say they are immune reflects a poor understanding of what asexual women (and non-asexual-spectrum women) have written about their own experiences of socialization.

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