Allosexual privilege is not a viable concept

Author’s note: I am in the middle of moving to a new house (I won’t be finished until probably halfway through September), and the disorganization of my possessions have made it harder for me to concentrate and be productive. This post is a little disorganized because of that. I plan to expand on the points in this post in the future and when I am in a more organized environment.

About three years ago, I was one of the main popularizers on Tumblr of the word “allosexual” in reference to people who are not asexual-spectrum. During that same time, I was also trying to popularize the concept of allosexual privilege. As of two years ago, I have stopped thinking that allosexual privilege explains the mechanism by which anti-asexual prejudice spreads, and I have written a fair amount about why such a concept doesn’t work. But the phrases “allosexual privilege” and “sexual privilege” keep popping up among asexual people on Tumblr.

To an extent, I can understand that the people currently arguing for allosexual privilege as a valid concept may be doing so because they don’t know how to talk about culturally-ingrained prejudice without a privilege-disprivilege dynamic to explain it. There was a time when I thought that the concept of privilege was the only way to explain the prevalence and spread of anti-asexual attitudes. But we need to move away from the privilege-disprivilege conceptualization of anti-asexual prejudice.

Privilege terminology originated in critical race theory, which established the concept of white privilege. White privilege is a set of unearned advantages that white people receive as a consequence of living in a racist society that values whiteness. Racism—the systematic, culturally ingrained prejudices and oppression against people of color—does not cause harm to white people. The cultural forces that are responsible for anti-asexual prejudice, however, do cause harm to allosexual people.

The major reason that allosexual privilege is not a viable concept is that there are groups of people who are demonized or pathologized for their sexualities regardless of what they are: allosexual trans women, allosexual black women, and allosexual people with disabilities, to name a few groups. Allosexual trans women don’t have it any easier than asexual-spectrum trans women, and they definitely don’t wield allosexual privilege over any asexual-spectrum cis people or cafab¹ trans people. Black, Latina and native women are frequently assumed to be more sexually desiring or more open to sexual advances than white women. Allosexual privilege is not why that happens—racism is. People with disabilities (especially if intellectually disabled and/or LGB*) have been forcibly sterilized for expressing any sexuality, and there is a long and ugly history of not teaching intellectually disabled people about sexuality. Allosexual privilege as a concept fails to account for that there are groups of people who are punished for expressing what would be otherwise socially-sanctioned sexuality.

Amatonormativity and compulsory sexuality are concepts that I find much more compelling in explaining the sources of anti-asexual prejudice. Amatonormativity, a term coined by feminist philosopher Elizabeth Brake, is “the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types.” Amatonormativity is something that hurts asexual- and aromantic-spectrum people as well as people who are not asexual- or aromantic-spectrum, because we all have the potential to internalize that we’re supposed to want a certain kind of relationship, or that our existing interpersonal relationships aren’t good enough, even if they are the ones we know we want to be having more than any other kind. Putting forth allosexual privilege as a concept doesn’t lead to an understanding of the nuances of interpersonal relationships, like the concept of amatonormativity does.

Compulsory sexuality, a term coined by Lisa from A Radical Transfeminist, refers to the culturally ingrained idea that “everyone should have, or want to have, frequent sex of a socially-approved kind.” Compulsory sexuality affects every sexual orientation category in particular ways, and it also affects people whom culture categorizes as desexualized or undesirable. Jo from A Life Unexamined offers a further analysis of compulsory sexuality as it affects asexuals. The concept of compulsory sexuality offers a much more viable explanation than allosexual privilege as one source of anti-asexual prejudice.

 

¹ cafab stands for coercively assigned female at birth, which means a person who was declared a girl at birth (or in early childhood) by parents/doctors

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