The History of Closet Breaking Predicted the Backlash Against Ace Spectrum People

The tension between ace spectrum individuals (those who identify as asexual, aromantic, or similar variations) and those who identify as allosexual (those who experience sexual or romantic attraction and do not identify as ace) can be considered remnants of a slightly different struggle that occurred between closeted and “out” gays and lesbians in the 1980’s and 90’s.

Most people are familiar with the concept of “outing” today in the form of anti-LGBT religious figures or politicians being exposed as actually gay or lesbian, or in the case of LGBT+ dependents outed by strangers as a form of punishment for pro-LGBT+ activism. While “outing” individuals is generally frowned upon today except in the cases of extreme hypocritical anti-gay activists, outing was once used as a form of political activism by marginalized LGBT+ individuals against closeted upper-class (usually white) gays.

There was an atmosphere of rightly deserved bitterness towards closeted upper-class gays, who took advantage of the fact that they were not publicly perceived as queer in order to advance their own socio-economic status. Closeted gays did not suffer from the same adverse affects that “out” LGBT+ individuals did. I highly recommend Larry Gross’ “Contested Closets” as an accessible historical perspective into the politics of outing and closets in the United States.

“The resentment against those who choose to stay in well-appointed closets rests on more than the understandable anger at their refusal to join or assist the gay liberation movement. The argument that is made most often is that by staying in the closet, successful, prominent homosexuals in all walks of life help perpetuate the invisibility that fuels antigay stereotypes. One one hand, their secrecy reinforces the belief that homosexuality is shameful, and on the other, it reduces the possibility of disconfirming this belief by providing positive examples of gay people. In particular, it has long been argued, this secrecy deprives others, especially young people, of role models.” (Contested Closets, 23)

Many of the arguments against ace inclusion (and sometimes, even against transgender and bisexual inclusion) in the LGBT+ community are based on the same arguments that out activists used against closeted LGBT+ individuals. In particular, the idea that asexuals and bisexuals do not experience oppression because they can pass as straight or because they do not experience oppression in the same way that other members of the queer community do has been used as an argument for exclusion.

However, the original arguments (those of past LGBT+ activists) do not mesh well with the current state of affairs within the community. As of today, we have some elements of LGBT+ representation. We no longer need to know that LGBT+ people exist in prominent places in society. Although representation can and should be better, we are not working from a blank slate. Therefore, forcibly outing people is no longer necessary (save for the virulently homophobic hypothetical pastor). The strands that tie the new generation of queer individuals together are those of mutual oppression, whether it be conversion therapy, homelessness, discrimination, or inter-familial and inter-community violence and abuse.

For that matter, intersectionality also comes into play. The cisgender white gay child living in a middle class, accepting family is arguably less oppressed than the transgender asexual child of color living in a family that does not accept them. Therefore, quantifying oppression in the same way is meaningless. Instead, we as a community need to accept that we are grouped together by difference – that our community is diverse and individuals within it have different needs in the struggle for equality.

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7 thoughts on “The History of Closet Breaking Predicted the Backlash Against Ace Spectrum People

  1. Pointing out the variances in privilege held by people in the LGBT community is appreciated. Although, as a poor, ace, and trans person of color, I’m not sure if you fully understand the difference between discrimination and oppression, or that we simply have different definitions of them. I don’t think its “quantifying” to point out the distinction between discrimination and oppression. A rich, cis, gay man, will always be oppressed closeted or not, though the discrimination he will experience will certainly be different than his “outted” counterpart. Furthermore, I feel like you’re neglecting the fact that being Ace alone doesn’t always merit oppression, discrimination yes, oppression however? It depends. There are asexual gay men, asexual lesbian women, asexual trans people, and asexual bisexual people. Therefore, there are also asexual straight people, and asexual cis people, and asexual people who are the combination of both. If the LGBT is a coalition to combat transphobia and homophobia, then those affected by it should be allowed to spaces that cis heterosexual people are not in. Furthermore, are you aware that many LGB people consider the phrase “allosexual” homophobic?

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    1. I’m a poor ace trans POC as well.

      I’m trying to get across the idea that quantifying oppression as a method of including individuals in the community (not in general) is problematic. A rich gay man is still gay, even though he may experience less oppression than a poor trans woman.

      In regards to “cishet” aces, I’m unsure as to my stance. Personally I believe that being ace alone should qualify them as included in the community.

      I am aware of the contention behind the term “allosexual,” which is mostly in regards to it being a term used to hypersexualize LGBT+ people (although it does apply equally to straight people). I also personally believe that combating hypersexualization shouldn’t be at the cost of desexualizing LGBT+ people. LGBT+ people have every right to be sexual without their sexuality being stigmatized. Combating hypersexualization by not representing LGBT+ sexuality altogether (while allowing straight people to express their sexuality freely, in nearly every aspect of public life) has its own set of problems.

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      1. I respect that as well, I don’t have a position on “cishet” aces concrete either, so if I sounded stern about that I apologize. I think I misunderstood your argument, so my comment is more of a mistake on my part. That being said, I agree with you that quantifying oppression is problematic. This has helped me develop my opinions a little further, thank you!

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