Considering Intersectionality and Accessing Asexuality: Sexualization
Asexuality has been emerging into the public consciousness for well over the past decade, with numerous appearances in the media, academic articles and studies, as well as a prevalent social media discourse being conducted on its existence as a valid identity and legitimate state of being. Yet, what is often not as widely discussed is access to claiming the identity of asexuality. Although it is evident that claiming asexuality is often met with an automatic invalidation in a society that still does not recognize its existence, regardless of circumstance, it is absolutely worth considering how certain bodies are inherently sexualized or desexualized on a societal level and how this subsequently intersects with this ability to claim and/or have access to asexuality. Bodies that are inherently sexualized or desexualized under oppressive systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, able-bodiedness, anti-fatness, among others, must navigate access to asexuality differently due to how their body is understood on a societal level.
For the asexual whose body is inherently subject to sexualization on a societal level, their body may be understood as a sexual object simply through existence, and therefore, assertion of their asexual existence may be silenced with quick automaticity. In considering how an asexual's body may function regarding sexualization, intersectionality, that is, the reality of considering the intersections of overlapping social identities, such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, age, and many more that an individual may embody, must be applied. Within all of these social identities, certain bodies are subject to objectification and sexualization more than others based on perception and understanding, and thus when applying an intersectional lens, these must all be considered simultaneously when considering access and ability to claim asexuality. How each of these identities may function in the equation of sexualization versus desexualization is a highly complex consideration that requires far more in-depth analysis than this essay will provide, which therefore only serves as a framework or simplistic structure to this idea of claiming asexuality and access regarding sexualization.
When considering intersectionality in relation to claiming asexuality with the specific focus on sexualization versus desexualization of bodies, it is asexuals who are determined to have a greater "sexual worth" that must directly counter forced sexualization of their bodies and the forces of oppression that uphold these realities placed upon them. In a society where sex is seen as a prize that provides value to some as a result of their perceived desirability, while simultaneously making others out to be failures or undesirables due to their perceived "sexless" state of existence, sexualized asexuals are deemed to be too inherently sexual to be asexual, directly conflicting with their ability to claim and have access to the identity of asexuality on a societal level. For example, women of color are subject to a heightened degree of sexualization in comparison to white women, bodies that are societally perceived as thin and/or understood as attractive are sexualized over bodies societally perceived as fat and/or unattractive, younger people are more sexualized than older people, etc. It is of absolute necessity to consider how an individual intersects with all of these scales of sexualization regarding social identity in order to extrapolate how they must navigate access to asexuality.
Bodies that are perceived as sexually inferior, "foreign," "monstrous," "grotesque," "disgusting," and/or "useless," are desexualized or perceived as if they are already existing in a state of being that does not include sex, which, in the societally flawed understanding, may be considered as asexual. Thus, since a desexualized body, under systems of oppression, may be understood as sexually "worthless," claiming asexuality may not directly conflict with domineering forces placed upon the bodies of sexualized asexuals in the same manner. As I have previously written in my personal essay "On being Fat, Queer, and Asexual," bodies of fat asexuals are already subjected to being understood as worthless sexually, and thus claiming or asserting one's asexuality in the presence of those who reinforce societal narratives will only result in a further state of worthlessness being placed upon individuals. Other examples include the desexualization of older people and those with disabilities, who may both be inherently perceived as nonsexual or "asexual" in the societal perception. However, it is critical to emphasize that while access to asexuality may be met with less resistance in comparison to the sexualized asexual, the desexualized asexual also remains invalidated, trapped in a compounded state of uselessness due to one or many overlapping desexualized social identities they may embody.
While this essay has reduced the sheer complexity of social identity embodied in the individual considerably for the sake of clarity and brevity, the central point remains: in either state of existence, whether sexualized or desexualized, the asexual person is not provided opportunity for validation or empowerment. When considering intersectionality, while the sexualized asexual must counter opposing forces of sexualization and objectification forced upon them due to their embodiment of overlapping social identities that has given them "sexual worth" under societal hegemonic gazes, the desexualized asexual must navigate being understood as "sexually worthless," left to deconstruct the notion that they should even be validated or invalidated based on societal measurements of sexual worth that have deemed them as worthless based on their embodiment of overlapping social identities. In conclusion, on this topic of having access to the identity of asexuality, this discussion must also be expanded beyond simply a focus on sexualized and desexualized bodies, yet still center the importance of intersectionality. Other important topics relating to access of asexuality should also consider class (especially regarding how asexuality mainly exists as an internet-based identity), electronic culture, and transnational differences, and I do intend to further develop these, in addition to the topic of this essay, in the future.