The Origins of Sexuality as a Capital-I “Issue”

The Ace Theist

Recently, I came across an anonymous message sent to an asexuality blog, inquiring after the reason why individuals’ sexualities are such a big deal, culturally, and where that came from as a social phenomenon, and the moderator didn’t know how to answer.  They attributed it to the assumption that everyone is straight (heteronormativity), but then that begs the question, where did heteronormativity come from?

The ignorance of their answer concerns me.  The reason why I’m responding here, understand, is not to embarrass anyone, but because I think it’s crucially important for everyone to know — especially for White aces to know — and so I’m making this post to offer what I’ve gathered and perhaps prompt others to do the same.

Why is human sexuality “such a big deal”?  The short answer is colonialism.  For the long answer, keep reading.

If gender is a cultural construct, and if colonialism forces…

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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

Claiming a sex-repulsed identity

This is for the July 2014 Carnival of Aces, whose topic is sex repulsion.

I have had a complicated history regarding identifying as sex repulsed. For all intents and purposes, sex repulsion describes me very well: I’m completely uninterested in and repulsed by the idea of my having genital contact with another person. I would find it extremely unpleasant. I have hesitated until now, however, to describe myself as sex repulsed.

My previous hesitation came from several sources. I witnessed a lot of elitism among several sex-repulsed asexual people about sex repulsion: according to those elitists, ever having been able to tolerate masturbation made someone not-really-sex-repulsed. I also felt like my repulsion to genital contact wasn’t enough: not that there was not enough repulsion, but that it was not sufficient to have repulsion to genital contact. I felt like I needed to experience repulsion to everything that anyone has ever called “sex” in order to call myself sex repulsed. And that meant I needed to pin down a definition of “sex” that encompassed all of that, and come to the conclusion that I would find all of those activities unpleasant.

It was relatively easy to dismiss the elitists on the surface–very few sex-repulsed people think masturbation is relevant to their sex-repulsed identity–but the need I had for years to define “sex” and “sex repulsed” in exact terms probably came from internalizing that elitism.

It has taken me a long time to come to the point where I don’t think that defining sex in exact terms is necessary in order to call yourself sex-repulsed, and to be okay with claiming a label as an approximation, rather than as an exact thing. It’s completely okay for a label to be an approximation. In the same vein as that you are allowed to call yourself “asexual” even if you can’t exactly define “sexual attraction,” you are allowed to call yourself sex repulsed even if you can’t give an exact definition of “sex.”

Although and I can’t tell you what “sex” exactly is, I’m finally okay with claiming a sex-repulsed identity without feeling a need to qualify it with “mostly” or “sort of.”

Demisexuality as a concept is not “appropriative” of asexuality

I once had a non-asexual-spectrum person tell me via a private message that because asexuality meant “not experiencing sexuality” and demisexuals “experience sexuality,” demisexuality as a concept was appropriative of asexuality.

I think that “experiences sexuality” or “experiences sexual attraction” are phrases that describe a very broad category, as The Ace Theist points out in their post “Experiences attraction infrequently” doesn’t cut it. While The Ace Theist’s post is about gray asexuality, demisexual people get a very similar “That’s just Allosexuality Lite” response when trying to describe their experiences.

My “experience” of sexual attraction is very similar to The Ace Theist’s. They write in the above-linked post:

For me, sexual attraction is infrequent, yes, but it’s less infrequent than it is faint and fickle — ephemeral — some kind of unstable compound with a brief half-life, one that catches my attention but then starts to evaporate just as soon as I try to seize my attention on it in an attempt to analyze it for the benefit of humankind, since “what does sexual attraction feel like?” is ever-popular question in the asexual community. I don’t “experience” sexual attraction so much as I have brushes with it. We bump shoulders in the hallway as we head in opposite directions, or it rings my doorbell and then runs off, or occasionally appears on my doorstep unannounced, and then just as soon as I get out the words, “What are you doing here?”, it’s taking off and leaving me there with my head stuck out the door watching it speed away, saying to myself, “Oh. Um. Alright. Well, see you again in a few months, then.”

Compared to what allosexuals feel, this is much quicker to fizzle out and has much less of an effect (read: none at all) on how I form relationships. It’s like the difference between the feeling of holding a solid object in your hands and reaching your fingers out into a cloud of fog. Not the same thing as a pure nothingness, but not weighing as much on your perception, either.

Also, yeah, I experience it “infrequently”, whatever that means.

My brushes with sexual attraction seem to only occur toward people with whom I’ve been best-friends for a long time, so I’ve referred to myself as demisexual for a while. The fact that my brushes with sexual attraction, similarly to the Ace Theist’s, are faint, quick to fizzle out, and have no impact on how I form relationships, is why I additionally have a very strong asexual identity. I can only really tell in hindsight that I ever experience anything that can be called sexual attraction, because in the moment when it’s happening, I am very confused about exactly what it is I’m experiencing.

I’m not entirely sure, for example, if I’m sexually attracted to my fiancé, although I love him very much, and we’re much closer to each other than I’ve ever been to the previous partner I was sexually attracted towards. If I’m not entirely certain that I’m having an experience or not, it doesn’t make sense to me to say I’m experiencing it. Experiencing something requires being aware of the experience at the time of its happening, and my awareness always comes after the possible-sexual-attraction is over. The possible-sexual-attraction is not a coherent experience for me, but more like an event, to describe it like The Ace Theist does.

Though my demisexuality is most definitely heavily tinged with gray, I suspect that it’s a common experience among demisexual people that sexual attraction often doesn’t influence how they form relationships. If a demisexual person starts a romantic relationship, there’s no guarantee that they will develop sexual attraction at all, and that uncertainty makes the presence or absence of sexual attraction an unreliable indicator of whether they want to continue the relationship. I imagine it is very common for demisexual people to form relationships without reference to sexual attraction–just like asexuals do.

To go back to the person whose private message about demisexuality appropriating from asexuality began this post, only a lack of understanding of demisexual experiences could lead to the conclusion that demisexuality “appropriates” from asexuality. Not to mention a lack of understanding about how the term came into existence, gained visibility, and was accepted as a valid identity label on the largest asexual forum in existence.

Me, my gender, and the “Am I REALLY trans?” question

I wonder how many gender abolitionists are actually agender and are generalizing their lack of strong gender identification as the default mode of being. I will admit that when I was a young teen, I had believed that my lack of strong gender feelings meant I was “enlightened” as to the “true nature” of gender. It took me a very long time to learn that other people experience the world differently than I do. I had (wrongly) assumed that girls and women (and boys and men), as a general rule, didn’t have feelings of connection toward the concept of being a girl/woman (or a boy/man).

Around the time I was 16 was when I realized that I wasn’t a gender abolitionist (or politically genderqueer). I realized that many cis people actually did have feelings of connection to their birth-assigned genders, as well as to their bodies’ sex characteristics. I had previously not understood that it’s actually very rare that a cis woman experiences dysphoria about having breasts. So I came to the conclusion that I was trans. That was nine years ago. Back then, I was discovering that being called a boy was much more comfortable for me than being called a girl. I continued to call myself a boy until about two years ago, when I came to a point where realized that I am actually uninterested in masculinity and being seen as a man. I also, in the past few months, have realized that I’m not all that bothered by it anymore when strangers call me “she” or “miss.”

I’m no longer upset by strangers who mistake me for a woman. There’s nothing wrong with being a woman. It doesn’t feel like much of anything to me when people call me a woman: it’s just factually incorrect. People I’m closer to who repeatedly call me a woman or “she” without correcting themselves are a different story, but that’s because they’re not mistaking me for a woman—they’re deliberately going against how I’ve expressed I want to be called.

When I first realized I wasn’t upset by strangers mistaking me for a woman, I wondered if that meant I wasn’t really trans. This thought was not frightening to me, but it was confusing. I remembered the voice dysphoria I had before testosterone and how I’d like to go back on T to finish my voice change, and I remembered that I would feel most at-home with my body if it had a flat chest and no genitals. Remembering what I’d want my body to be like in terms of sex characteristics made me question the possibility that I was a woman, but it didn’t dismiss the possibility, either, because there are cis women who want deeper voices and flatter chests and no genitals, and there are trans women who don’t have strong feelings of body dysphoria. There are women with all kinds of bodies and they have all kinds of differing feelings about their sex characteristics. So my “am I still trans” question remained.

Then I found an essay by trans woman Natalie Reed called “How do I know if I’m trans?” Her answer surprised me. Reed writes that you ultimately don’t know, because you can’t objectively prove a subjective experience (in this case, the phenomenology, or experiential knowledge, of what it means to be your gender) to yourself, or to anyone else. She also writes that the idea that trans people need to prove their transness to themselves and others is rooted in the idea that being cis is the default, and writes more about why “cis as default” is a poor hypothesis here. Cis people are not asked “Are you totally sure you’re a woman? How do you know?” Cis people “just know.” They’re allowed to know without having to objectively prove they know. Trans people should be afforded every respect you would give to a cis person’s gender. Including “just knowing.”

One of the major realizations I had that led to my discovering that I was non-binary was that many women and men (cis & trans) do have feelings of connection to being called women and men, respectively. It feels right to them. They just know. I don’t know if my gender is an exclusive product of my neurobiology. I don’t know if it’s an exclusive product of socialization. It doesn’t matter to me what makes me my gender. Based on my lack of gender-feelings, combined with my feelings about my body (though those are unnecessary to come to this conclusion), I think the best possible hypothesis is that I’m agender and neutrois. I just know.

Echo chambers

Earlier this week, I received a message on Tumblr from a person who had been a transfundamentalist. A transfundamentalist is a trans person who believes that a person is trans if and only if they experience sex dysphoria, (dysphoria about their sex characteristics), and who believes that having a gender identity other than the one assigned at birth is not a valid definition of “trans.” This particular person said to me in their message that they would like permission to subscribe to my posts because they wanted to get out of their transfundamentalist echo chamber.

I’ve been working on distancing myself from activist circles that have become echo chambers. By “echo chamber,” I mean a political or social group where all or most of the individuals involved share the same opinions, frequently repeat them, and don’t have much in the way of new ideas, or much evidence of critical thinking about the group’s opinions. Not all echo chambers are activist groups, but the ones I have been involved with happened to be activist groups.

Although it’s hard to tell when you’re in an echo chamber, it’s easy to stumble into an echo chamber, especially if your group is composed of people with a shared marginalized status/identity. People naturally gravitate towards others with similar values, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Where the problem begins is when you assume that people with similar opinions to yours necessarily have similar values to yours.

It’s not irrational to at first think that having similar opinions means having similar values. It’s true that your values are a major foundation for your political and social opinions. The pitfall is that an opinion that is reached by having one particular value can also be reached by a conflicting or opposite value–and two people who share the same value can have very different opinions with respect to how that value is expressed. Some people support building homeless shelters because they value the lives of homeless people and want to improve them. Some people support building homeless shelters because they believe that homeless people are unsightly.

I would rather surround myself with people who have similar values to me than with people who have similar opinions to me. I firmly believe that activism should be about coalitions of people with similar values and differing opinions, rather than about assimilation of others into having similar opinions.

When you’re only associating with people with similar opinions to yours, you don’t have to carefully consider your opinions (about how to go about the activism) because you can begin to take them as given. You are less likely to be able to question your opinions, or to want to question your opinions. I was once involved in a sex-positive circle where it was taken as given that consent must be enthusiastic and verbal (spoken) in order to be valid.* I was so resistant to questioning this opinion that I completely ignored anyone who thought otherwise. I thought that valuing consent was literally impossible if you didn’t have the opinion that all valid consent is enthusiastic and verbal.

I think that what helped me realize that I wasn’t thinking critically about consent was when I joined a discussion group related to sexuality in the d/Deaf community. I think that was when it became clear to me (I am hearing) that a verbal consent model contains the (really messed-up) assumption that d/Deaf people cannot consent to sex or have any kind of sexual agency unless they adhere to the standards and language of hearing people.

Around the same time, I witnessed a conversation where other autistic and neurodivergent people pointed out that nonverbal people have sexual agency, that speaking neurodivergent people can go nonverbal during sex (because of sensory processing atypicality), and that a lot of neurodivergent people cannot express enthusiasm in conventional ways. They brainstormed about methods of establishing consent that don’t require speaking or expressing enthusiasm in neurotypical ways.

Going about activism in such a polarized, you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us manner means your activism stagnates. There isn’t room to share new ideas, because stating a differing opinion automatically puts you in the “against the group” category. The above conversations about consent models were impossible in the sex-positive echo chamber I was once part of.

I once brought up those objections to the enthusastic consent model to members of that echo chamber (after I’d left it) during a planning meeting for a consent workshop, and the entire room went silent for a moment. Then the facilitator changed the subject. No one in the group spoke to me afterward about what I’d said. I was completely ignored. The group didn’t think it was important to emphasize the sexual agency of autistic, d/Deaf and neurodivergent people like I did, and they likely assumed (as is fashionable among neurotypical hearing activists) that the amount of autistic, d/Deaf and neurodivergent students at our college was negligible and unimportant.** Although they believed they valued sexual agency, they didn’t actually value the sexual agency of autistic people, d/Deaf people or neurodivergent people enough to have any place for talking about it in their consent workshop.

Echo chambers can develop online as well as offline.

The conversation structure on message boards can make it so it’s hard to see the entire conversation without putting in a lot more effort, and if there was an early message on the thread, it can become buried in the later messages. This makes it more likely that an echo chamber will form on a message board.

Similarly, Tumblr conversations are threaded such that once a post becomes popular, it actually is impossible to see all of the comments on it. If a person makes a statement that becomes popular but then later changes their opinion and edits the post, it’s very unlikely that people who reblogged the post will see any edits on it. This is why I’ve decided that I want my Tumblr to be a repository for resources, rather than a place where I develop arguments. Tumblr’s structure makes constructive criticism extremely difficult, and that contributes to the likelihood of pockets of Tumblr becoming echo chambers.***

I decided to stop following the #asexual and #asexuality tags on Tumblr because asexual activism done on Tumblr has unfortunately taken on some of the qualities of an echo chamber. If I make a post about asexuality, it will either be widely reblogged, or ignored (or I’ll get messages from non-asexual people who don’t take me seriously). Neither of those outcomes represent the effect I want my posts to have on other people. I want people to take me seriously and give me constructive criticism, whether they agree with me or not.

I have found some wonderful people on Tumblr who do give me constructive criticism, but there isn’t a culture on Tumblr where constructive criticism is welcomed. I’ve decided to stop doing on Tumblr the kind of asexual activism I like best–long critical analyses of things pertaining to asexuality. I’m going to do that kind of asexual activism on this blog only, from now on. So that if I’m doing my duty of critically thinking about my asexual activism, I won’t have a gap of three months on this blog without a new post.

* I didn’t yet know about myself that I would be nonverbal in sexual situations due to my atypical sensory processing, and I also assumed that a person either enjoyed sex wholeheartedly or was completely sex-repulsed.

** The people I spoke to knew I was autistic and that I go nonverbal in sexual situations due to sensory processing. I also knew several other autistic students at our college.

*** I do not believe that the phrase “Tumblr social justice” has much meaning because of the sheer diversity of social-justice-oriented movements that have come to Tumblr. I do not believe “Tumblr social justice” is an echo chamber. I do believe that there are activist circles (plural) on Tumblr that are echo chambers, but it is just factually incorrect to say that all of them are. I object to any person using this post as evidence that “Tumblr social justice” is an echo chamber or that social justice activism is inherently an echo chamber.

Being asexual, being autistic

This is a post for this month’s Carnival of Aces, whose theme is analogies to an asexual experience.

After reading Queenie’s submission to this month’s carnival, in which she said that she could not imagine a world in which she was not asexual, and Jo’s post spurred by Queenie’s, where she posits how an identity such as asexuality can become undetachable, I started to think about my own experiences with undetachable identities. I realized that a lot of my experiences as an asexual person have been analogous to my experiences as an autistic person, and not only because both identities for me are undetachable.

Autism is undetachable from me because it literally describes how my brain developed. I can learn coping skills, I can study social skills, and I could even learn to pass as non-autistic, but that doesn’t change that my experience of the world (especially my sensory processing and how I relate to others) is fundamentally different from a non-autistic person’s. A neurotypical person is able to acquire social knowledge in ways that I as an autistic person can’t. My experience of the world is filtered through autism, whether I want it to or not. Both autism and asexuality affect the types of relationships I desire with others.

Similarly, asexuality has made my experience of interpersonal relationships fundamentally different than if I were not asexual. Asexuality very strongly shapes the types of relationships I seek out, and how I interact with others, especially because the types of relationships I seek out with others are atypical in ways other than lack of sexual attraction. I would not have been able to have words for those relationships without having interacted with the asexual community.

I have experienced similar types of adversity for being an autistic person and for being an asexual person, sometimes at the same time. I was once at an asexual visibility event In New York City where a few of us from the AVEN meetup group were in a park holding up signs that said “Ask an Asexual.” One passerby asked us if we were autistic. I was the only once who said I was, and he proceeded to completely ignore me while lecturing the other aces there about how they should be evaluated for autism, presumably so that they could be “cured” of both things. Other than that one time, I have experienced people wishing to cure me of both things, but separately. It is worth noting that being autistic involves facing a far more dangerous kind of cure rhetoric than being asexual: As far as I am aware, there is generally no widespread eugenicist motivation in people who desire to cure asexuals of asexuality.

I have experienced being told to shut up when I have attempted to advocate for myself as an autistic person and when attempting to advocate for myself as an asexual person. I have been told that my experiences and opinions don’t matter. In the case of autism, it is because I have asked for something so that my environment is more accessible to my sensory processing, or because I have said I don’t want to be cured of autism. In the case of asexuality, it’s because I have asked for a discussion to be inclusive to asexual experiences, or because I’ve said lack of sexual attraction is not inherently a problem in need of fixing.

While for me this analogy ends here, I wonder how other autistic aces have experienced autism and asexuality in relation to each other.

A question begged, in asexual and demisexual vis-ed

I have been involved in demisexual visibility work on Tumblr for some time, to the point of making charts to explain it:

click to enlarge

[Demisexuality chart transcript here]

I included the note in the corner because when talking about demisexuality, I have frequently had to explain that demisexuality is a different phenomenon from preferring to get to know someone before having sex.* In order to demonstrate this, it is necessary to give examples of situations where a person is experiencing sexual attraction without willingness to have sex, and vice versa.

A person might be sexually attracted to another person but unwilling to have sex with them for any multitude of reasons: sex repulsion, a history of sexual abuse, and medical problems that cause pain during sex (e.g. vaginismus) are only a few. Likewise, it is possible to be willing to have sex in the absense of sexual attraction. Though sex repulsion is very common among asexuals, it is not unheard-of for a non-sex-repulsed asexual person with a non-asexual partner to occasionally be willing to have sex with the partner.** Additionally, it is unrealistic to assume that a person who willingly chooses sex work is sexually attracted to all their clients.

In drawing attention to that sexual attraction refers to something different from willingness to have sex, these conversations about demisexuality beg the question of what sexual attraction actually is. I don’t have an answer to that question. Although asexual-spectrum visiblity and education efforts have made it clearer what sexual attraction is not, the definition of sexual attraction has still eluded us. But I think that pointing out things sexual attraction is not—it’s neither sexual arousal nor willingness to have sex—is a step in the right direction, though indirect. When such things as sexual attraction are often described as “you know it when you feel it,” I think it means we have to be indirect.

* Another way to respond to this argument about demisexuality is to point out that when a non-asexual-spectrum person states such a preference, the person is saying that sexual attraction by itself is not sufficient for them to be willing to have sex with the person, and thus that they are already experiencing sexual attraction, and by definition not demisexual. While this can be a satisfying answer for the purposes of visibility, it still begs the question.

** It is worth noting that this behavior should not be interpreted as common or expected among asexuals without sex repulsion. Expecting sex from an asexual person just because you’ve heard that some asexuals are sometimes willing to have sex is abusive behavior.

Emotional investments

It has happened to me before, a few times, that I got emotionally invested in a character in a book or show, and that character suddenly died, so I stopped reading or watching the series because I couldn’t handle experiencing the series without that character.

I think I have gotten better at recognizing becoming emotionally invested in a fictional character’s fictional well-being because it doesn’t seem to happen to me anymore, perhaps because now I have real people in whom I am emotionally invested, who are also emotionally invested in me.

I think that when I would get emotionally invested in fictional characters, it was a thing that protected me from feeling lonely. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong or unhealthy about getting emotionally invested in fiction, because it can be a very valuable coping mechanism that protects a person from feeling lonely. I also think that my past emotional investments with fictional characters gave me some preparation for the possibility of bad things happening to real people I care about. It obviously won’t shield me from feeling sad or powerless, but it serves as a sobering reminder of how there are many things that are out of my control.

And that’s why I don’t make judgments about people who get very emotionally invested in the fictional affairs of fictional characters.


Trigger warnings: This post is about abuse.

A few weeks ago, I watched a documentary about the Amish, where an Amish woman spoke about what forgiveness meant to her. Her school-age daughter had just been murdered. This Amish mother described forgiveness as a state of mind where you give up your right to revenge and let nature (God, in her words) take its course. Forgiveness does not mean you believe the person did no wrong. It means not holding a grudge.

I find this definition of forgiveness very attractive, but I am not completely certain that it is compatible with my beliefs regarding abuse. I do not hold a grudge against an abusive partner I had several years ago, but I don’t want to say I forgive him. If I said I forgave him, people around me would interpret this as my saying he did no wrong. Additionally, if that person were to enter my life again, I would not trust him not to hurt me again, and I would avoid him for my own safety. It is common for people to interpret this behavior—avoiding a past abuser—as holding a grudge, even though it’s about safety.

I harbor no malice for my past abuser, but part of my healing process was to experience anger about everything he had done to hurt me. It was necessary for me to feel angry and to imagine revenge, in order to feel safe and secure. I emphasize imagine because I never set out to hurt my abuser. My imaginings of revenge were private. I was able to get to a point where those imaginings were no longer necessary, but I don’t think it’s my place to say that every survivor of abuse can. Nor do I think that it would make sense for me to say that every survivor of abuse should aspire to hold no grudge. Grudges can be a very powerful tool to use to feel safe.

So while I really like the idea of being able to get the release of not holding a grudge againt a person who has wronged me, I don’t live in a world where I can have faith that the person will become a better person. Because I live in a society that delegitimizes being non-cisgender, I can’t trust that the high-school classmates who harassed me ten years ago for being non-binary will ever come to realize that they were wrong to do so. I have to be afraid. For my own safety, I can’t forgive them.

Robot Hugs

Enjoy the cold, emotionless embrace of Robot Hugs.

Talia C. Johnson

Sensitivity Editor, Educator, Coach, Facilitator, Spiritual Leader, and Activist

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Thoughts on Judaism, gender and diversity from the inside of a really big fish

The Caffeinated Autistic

Neurodivergence, queer things, and fandom