Asexuality, academia and accountability

Is academia another place where asexuals aren't understood?

Is academia another place where asexuals aren’t understood?

Editor’s Note: This post was submitted by Laura S. for the May 2014 Carnival of Aces.

When I was first coming to college, my biggest worry in regards to my asexuality was that I’d encounter one of those LGBTQ communities I’d heard about where they didn’t accept asexuality as a valid identity. I didn’t have a worry about being accepted otherwise, as I could claim an (at the time) ex who would ‘qualify’ me to be queer; but the best I was actually expecting was having to explain to everyone what asexuality was.

But then I showed up, and not only did the queer leadership on campus already know what asexuality was and had completely accepted it, they had it on their lists of vocabulary and identity words that you should know. Anyone who didn’t know was open and accepting when I told them, and the staff in positions of leadership that directly impacted most of the LGBTQ student body were more than willing to let me explain things to them about intricacies and terminology and common community problems.

Even better, I immediately met other ace and aro spectrum people! Things turned out a lot better socially than I ever expected them too. I’ve had zero problems with being asexual on campus—it’s been a great year.

Except for with, sadly and ironically, the Gender and Women’s Studies department.

Now, it’s not actually with the people in it—I haven’t had reason to talk to any of them about anything personal besides my professor for Introduction to Critical Sexuality Studies (whom I have a whole slew of issues with, but who was at least respectful of my being asexual even though I don’t know if the actual concept was well grasped or understood), since I wanted to write a paper about asexuality for the midterm and final.

The set-up for the midterm and final with this professor I rather like—the midterm is the first part, and then you do revisions, and then you write the second part. My midterm was The Utilization of Sexual Normativity in Response to Asexual Identities, and in it I analyzed swankivy’s video Shit People Say to Asexuals with the idea that most people cite heteronormativity when talking about acephobia, but the real root of the issue is Michel Foucault’s biopower.

It’s a great paper, I love it, I loved writing it and I get to add more now that I’m staring finals in the face.

But I got a comment back on the paper from my professor, telling me to cite allosexual, or admit to inventing it.

Clearly, I am not the person who came up with the term allosexual. But how am I supposed to cite that? Nobody asks for a citation for heterosexual or cisgender. Plus, does anyone even know who came up with the word allosexual? We just use it—nobody gets credited for it, because all of the theory that asexuality has?

It’s all community based.

All of the legwork has been done on the internet, as a communal effort, semi-anonymously in that we don’t know a lot of people’s legal names. It’s one of things I really, really like about the asexual community. Ideas flow pretty freely, we have a lot of dialogue going on; and especially lots of exciting things happening nowadays on WordPress’s asexuality corners.

The kind of thing academia is—specifically what Queer Theory/Queer Studies is—is not at all set up to accommodate anything on the asexual spectrum. People have written about asexuality—asexualexplorations has the only bibliography of scholarly papers—but most of them are about ‘Does it exist? Look, we’ve proved it exists’. That’s not what I want—as quoted so well by asexualspace, it’s: “sexuals talking to sexuals about asexuality”.

I want the asexual portion of academic queer theory to be asexuals talking about asexuality, the same way feminist theory is feminists talking about feminism and lesbian theory lesbians talking about being lesbians.

But how am I supposed to do that when all the legwork I can cite has been done communally, when it started outside of academia, and there’s nothing ‘scholarly’ about any of it? As much as I would love to be the Michel Foucault or the Judith Butler or the Kimberlé Crenshaw of academic asexual theory, I know the way to do it isn’t by falsely representing the community’s work as my own, or simply restating what’s already been said so, so many times online. The praise I got from my professor was very, very nice—but it does feel false and I feel kind of guilty for being proud of it, because of the praise about the “originality” of the essay, and how in ten years he’s never seen anything so different and potentially groundbreaking in academic writing.

I know it’s only “groundbreaking” and “original” because we developed it where no one else was looking; so now they’re surprised when I can pull on my knowledge and insight as an actual honest-to-God asexual and apply it to what I’m learning.

I can’t pull out ‘Asexuality’ bookmarks folder and embed it in the essay. I can’t link to blogs in the essay. There’s no easy ways to show where all my knowledge and information has come from. And even if I could—links break, and people take down content, and things just disappear off into some sort of digital ether.

And there’s none of the easy assumption there is with feminist writing and gay/lesbian writing that you’ve got a backlog of information that maybe you can’t cite or aren’t expected to cite, because it’s just common knowledge in the field—the same that if I say allosexual in any asexual space, people immediately understand what I’m talking about and where it’s from and that everything I’m saying has been said elsewhere.

Outside of asexual spaces, anything I can present is new to academia, and the assumption will be that it’s all my work if I can’t provide citations.

My involvement in this scholarship is intensely personal, and I can’t let myself start off in a way that I feel like I’m robbing people or being dishonest—but there’s no room in academia for crowdsourcing or community effort.

I don’t think there’s a good way to fix this, or at least if there is I don’t have it right now.

And once more, here’s a place we don’t fit.

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