Considering Intersectionality and (De)Sexualizing Asexual Bodies
Disbelief is the immediate reaction I have most often received upon revealing my asexuality to others in my life. There is a sense of shock that envelopes them as the root of their belief in the innateness of a sexual drive or desire for sex is unconsciously unearthed. How can people with no interest in sex possibly exist? Of course, some asexuals actually do have sex and possess sexual desire, but they are absent from societal perceptions of what asexuality is or should mean. On a societal level, the “naturalness” of sex is pervasive, and therefore asexuality is largely deemed an impossibility. At the same time, invalidation applies differently to asexuals based on how their asexuality correlates with perceptions of their physical body. Under oppressive systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, anti-fatness, able-bodiedness, and other hegemonic systems of oppression, certain bodies are inherently sexualized or desexualized. This applies to asexual bodies as well. Asexual people must navigate identifying and expressing their asexuality differently due to how their body is understood in this manner. The nuances of how this may actually function for every asexual person in the societal equation of sexualization versus desexualization is a complex consideration that requires far more in-depth analysis than this short essay will provide. As such, this discussion merely serves as an introductory framework discussing how asexual people must navigate expressing their identity in relationship to how their body is perceived differently based on their embodiment of overlapping social identities.
For the asexual whose body is inherently sexualized, they may be 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. Thus, the asexual that is sexualized under hegemonic gazes not only counters understandings of asexuality as an impossibility, but also must navigate a heightened level of disbelief, invalidation, interrogation, and subsequent violence that may be initiated by the non-asexual who objectifies their body as a sexual object. This is especially true for asexual women whose bodies are innately perceived as sexualized objects under the male gaze and are thus not only forced to navigate expressing their self-identification as asexual because of its existence as a force that counters the sexual objectification placed upon their bodies, but also must consider how openly expressing their asexuality may be perceived as a threat to the fragile masculinity of men who invest their identity as a man in the sexual domination of women’s bodies. Women of color are subjected to heightened levels of sexualized objectification in comparison to white women, just as women’s bodies that are perceived as thin or attractive are sexualized over women’s bodies that are seen as fat or unattractive, and just as younger adult women are sexualized to a greater degree than older adult women. All of these variables are of absolute necessity to consider for the asexual who exists in a society where sex is seen as a prize that provides sexual value to bodies that are perceived as desirable under hegemonic gazes.
For the asexual whose body is desexualized, they may already be understood as existing in a state of being that does not include sex, and may therefore be societally understood as “asexual” already, even though this would be flawed understanding. Still, in a society that glorifies sex, the desexualized asexual is already understood as undesirable or a “failure” due to their perceived nonsexual state of existence attached to how their body is perceived. Because a desexualized body under systems of oppression may already be understood as sexually "worthless," for the desexualized asexual, expressing their asexuality openly does not necessarily conflict with hegemonic gazes, as it does with the bodies of sexualized asexuals. For example, the bodies of fat asexuals are already subjected to being understood as worthless sexually by hegemonic gazes, 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 them. This is because, under hegemonic gazes, fatness is generally already desexualized and perceived as “disgusting.” Thus, for the fat asexual, because their body is already desexualized, expressing their asexuality may already be assumed in a manner that is meant to be demeaning or insulting, and thus, self-identifying as asexual may be met with less outright resistance in comparison to the sexualized asexual. Similarly, this can be applied to other groups, such as older asexual people and disabled asexual people, whose bodies are generally desexualized under hegemonic gazes. However, it is critical to emphasize that while self-identifying as asexual may be met with less overt disbelief or resistance in comparison to the sexualized asexual, the desexualized asexual also remains invalidated, trapped in a compounded state of perceived worthlessness due to their identity and perception of their body. The desexualized asexual who engages in sexual activity and/or possesses sexual desire, as some asexuals do, will have to navigate greater levels of invalidation, both in relation to their sexual activity as an asexual and as someone who possesses a desexualized body, both within and outside of the ace community.
While this essay has reduced the sheer complexity of this issue to a few general examples for the purposes of brevity, the central point remains: in either state of existence, whether sexualized or desexualized, the asexual person is not validated or empowered. When considering intersectionality, while the sexualized asexual must counter opposing forces of sexualized objectification forced upon them due to their embodiment of overlapping social identities that has given them "sexual worth" under hegemonic gazes, the desexualized asexual may have to 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 attractiveness. In conclusion, I plan to expand this discussion regarding how the asexual whose body is inherently sexualized or desexualized must navigate interpretations of their identity in relationship to perceptions of their body differently based on their embodiment of social identities further in the future through incorporating scholarly research, interviews, as well as my personal experience as an asexual person.