I am generally a placid person, but there are certain things that make me so angry that I have to calm down for three days before I can coherently write about them. I saw such a thing at the weekend. A friend had posted a link on Facebook, in the context of some American comedian I had never heard of who had made some utterly offensive remarks about rape; this link was a very well-argued screed on why, although you can never completely rule out any subject for comedy, the more likely it is to hurt people, the more skilled and subtle you have to be to make people laugh rather than simply re-opening their wounds.
And I read the comments. This was where I saw red.
It was bad enough reading all the comments from all the women who had been raped. That should not happen to anyone, anywhere, for any reason. But then I got to a comment from a woman who had been raped, not once, but repeatedly, by this man who insisted he was doing it to “cure” her asexuality.
There is so much wrong here that I have trouble even finding a place to start, let alone staying calm enough to talk about it. Let’s try kicking off with a little analogy. I think most of you would consider it uncontroversial that most people in the world like chocolate, at least among those who are fortunate enough to have been able to try it. And yet there is a small minority of people who don’t. I personally love chocolate, and if someone tells me they don’t like it I am certainly surprised, because it’s not a common thing. Nonetheless, if they don’t like chocolate, that is how they are. I – and, no doubt, you the reader – would get offended on their behalf if someone said things to them such as, “Oh, you should just eat more chocolate until you get to like it.” Or “Don’t be silly – of course you like chocolate! Everyone does.” Or “It’s just a phase you’re going through.” Or “You don’t like chocolate? There’s something wrong with you – you should see a psychiatrist.” And I would get offended to the point of forcible intervention to defend them if anyone were so brazenly ill-mannered as to try to coerce them into eating chocolate.
In fact, as far as I can tell, this sort of thing very rarely happens to people who don’t like chocolate. I can be reasonably confident of this because, although I like chocolate, there is another hugely popular food that I simply cannot stand, namely bacon. I’m a vegetarian and have been for almost the last thirty years, so I no longer get put into positions where I may be expected to eat the stuff (which is why I used chocolate rather than bacon for the analogy; most people do not have dietary reasons to exclude chocolate completely and eternally, although they might temporarily reduce it or cut it out if they’re trying to lose weight). Even before I was a vegetarian, I avoided bacon at all costs; I can’t even stand the smell of it. And, again, people are generally surprised by this and think it’s unusual, but I don’t get anyone telling me that I should like bacon and I’m somehow wrong not to.
It is generally felt – and quite rightly – that telling people what sort of food they ought to like is just not done. (Unless they’re children, of course. In some quarters it is apparently still considered appropriate to inform children what sort of food they ought to like, or even what sort of food they do like. I don’t consider this at all appropriate, but that is a whole different post and not one connected with asexuality, therefore not germane to this particular blog.) If you asked a group of people why this sort of thing isn’t done, you would probably get a set of responses similar to these ones:
- It’s arrogant to tell people what they ought to like.
- What’s the point of trying to make someone like something when they just don’t?
- What harm is a person doing by not liking chocolate? All the more for those of us who do!
- It’s up to every individual to decide what they like, not other people to tell them.
- Ewww. That sounds like something out of 1984.
OK. Now replace the concept of “chocolate” with the concept of “sex”. (Bear in mind here – I’ve said it before, but it stands repetition – that many asexual people like sex. They just don’t connect it to attraction. But it appears that the majority of us are at least indifferent to sex, and some asexual people hate it as powerfully as I hate bacon. From her comment, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the unfortunate woman who was raped to “cure” her asexuality was not keen on sex, and probably dislikes it even more following her ordeal.)
Now. How exactly is that different? I’ll let you think about that a little before I give you my answer.
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Well, I think that there is a difference. I don’t think it is a legitimate difference, but it is one that exists in practice. The thing is, if you don’t like chocolate, that doesn’t stop anyone else eating as much chocolate as they want. You’re not a threat to them. But if you don’t like sex, that means that they can’t have sex with you, or at least not with your consent. In a sane world, this would be no problem either, because there are enough people in it that pretty much anyone can find someone they would like to have sex with who would also like to have sex with them. Your wish not to have sex with them – whether it’s because you don’t like sex in general or because they don’t attract you specifically – is not, in reality, going to prevent them from having consensual sex if that’s what they want.
Unfortunately, this is not a sane world. This is a world in which there are people who believe that they are entitled to sex. Therefore, telling them that you don’t want to have sex with them is an immediate challenge to that belief, and the very existence of asexual people is a standing challenge. Not all these “entitled” people will go on to attempt to rape you, although I think it’s reasonable to say that nobody rapes unless they do feel that they are somehow entitled to sex. Some of them will merely attempt to make you feel bad by putting pressure on you, trying to guilt you into sleeping with them, insulting you (to your face or to other people) if you continue to refuse, and other generally anti-social behaviour. But the bottom line for all of this is that they think, consciously or otherwise, that you are denying them their basic rights. Your rights don’t come into it, or are conveniently forgotten.
This should be mind-numbingly obvious, but the evidence shows that someone needs to keep saying it: nobody has any automatic right to a consensual activity. When you put it in those blunt terms, it’s on the same level of obviousness as “you need suitable building materials in order to build anything”. It’s tautological. The fact that an activity requires a consensus automatically, by simple definition, precludes anyone having a right to it. And the moment someone does start thinking they have a right to it, there is going to be trouble.
Not the moment they actually rape someone. Not even the moment they start to consider raping someone. They may never get as far as that; they may perfectly well be horrified, at a conscious level, by the idea of rape, and so do everything they possibly can to get “consent”. No. It is the moment of arrogating sex as a “right” that is the where the problem starts.
A person who truly believes that sex is a consensual activity rather than a right is not going to feel threatened by the existence of asexual people. They are not going to want to “cure” us. They may feel we’re missing out (news flash: most of us don’t agree with that assessment, although there are some who do at least some of the time; as always, you can never generalise 100%) and therefore feel sorry for us, but that tends to be about as far as it goes. Oh, and you do also get the ones who don’t believe we exist. Yes, well, that’s fine. We’ll just go on existing anyway. As far as I’m concerned – and, as usual, mileage varies on this – I’m not particularly worried if you don’t believe I can be asexual because you think there is no such thing, as long as you accept the fact that I am not going to go to bed with you. Simples, as a certain meerkat is inclined to observe.
As I’m sure everyone reading this is aware, it is not just asexual people who sometimes get raped under the pretext of “curing” their sexual orientation. It also happens to lesbians. This is particularly true in certain countries, but I have heard of cases of it all around the world. Asexual women and lesbian women have this in common (in general): they do not want to have sex with men. To a man who feels he is entitled to have sex with any woman he happens to want, that is a clear threat. Such a man will, consciously or otherwise, assume there is something wrong with any woman who refuses his advances, because there are only two other choices available: one is to accept that sex is a consensual activity and therefore the woman has the right not to consent to it, and the other is to continue to believe that he is entitled to sex but that there is something wrong with his approach. (I say a man here because the overwhelming majority of rapists are male, but the general idea applies equally well to female rapists and indeed to any rape scenario.) And if he has a convenient label to put on what he considers to be “wrong”, then he can tell both his victim and himself that he is trying to “cure” it.
Of course it’s patently obvious that raping someone isn’t going to “cure” anything. To go back to the chocolate, if you hate chocolate and someone force-feeds it to you in order to “cure” your dislike for the stuff, what’s likely to happen? More than likely, you’re going to throw up, so you then get that added in on top of your existing dislike. Even if it didn’t make you physically sick before, it will now – possibly even the very thought of it will now make you feel queasy. And I don’t believe rapists don’t know this. But they say it because they can’t say “You won’t give me MY SEX! It’s MINE! I must HAVE IT! Your opinion on the subject DOESN’T MATTER!” without being aware that this makes them a selfish, arrogant, dehumanising swine who seriously doesn’t deserve sex with anything other than maybe a non-functioning vacuum cleaner. But it would never do to admit that, so they have to keep up as much pretence as they can that there is something wrong with you.
Well – there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t like chocolate. Or bacon. Or sex. But there’s everything wrong with a person who insists that there is.