Three years ago now, I wrote a fanfiction that is probably the longest piece I will ever write almost certainly the most important one to me personally. It was essentially an asexual bildungsroman, tracing the character’s journey from ignorance through discovery and adjustment to self-confidence, and it’s no coincidence that I purposefully gave the character a lot of my traits when sketching out his asexuality, including an aversion that was just as absolute as mine, if not as expansive. Towards the end of the story, he tries to force himself to have sex, and while his (allo) partner shuts him down, I still felt like it was a scene that could be distressing, but I couldn’t put my finger exactly on how. He not only consents, he’s the initiator, and when his partner says no, they stop. The bare-bones facts seem like a pass, but there’s an unease in the pit of my stomach that tells me it’s a fail.
I feel like “consent” as a concept is lacking when it comes to me. I’ve been chewing on this on-and-off for at least the last three years, but I only had questions: Am I capable of “consent”? Are no aces capable of it? Are all aces?
Speaking personally, I don’t see my “always no" as a lack of agency. To the contrary, I have exercised my agency to determine that sex is never right for me and to therefore refuse to engage in it. I feel like a lot of discussions about sexual consent seem to assume that the necessary outcome of a consent process is a "yes" and that if a person doesn’t have a way to get to "yes", that indicates a lack of agency on their part. I reject that. I assert my agency through my "no".
This discussion feels a bit similar to me to the one about celibacy. Many aces seem to feel that the term celibate is not appropriate for them because it implies a conscious choice and they simply aren’t intrinsically interested in sex. Neither am I, but I could choose to have sex for a wide range of other reasons. I choose not to and therefore feel the term “celibate” is accurate. My choice to never have sex is conscious and deliberate based on what I feel is best for me and my circumstances.
In both of these cases, there seems to be an assumption that if asexuality creates a default or passive “no” that person can’t also make a conscious choice of “no”. I don’t see why that has to be the case at all.
I explicitly rejected the idea of an “always no” as a lack of agency not once but twice, so I’m having a little trouble responding to this, but I particularly want to because of the apparent similarity of our aversions (and just because you’re awesome). You or I could say “yes,” but the fact that we won’t, combined with the pressure being put on us, seems somehow to make not the “yes” suspect to me, but the… I don’t know, that’s really what I’m trying to identify.
In the original scenario I presented, it’s not like anyone is doing anything rash or coerced. It’s really an unimpeachable “yes,” and while I am not enthused by the character’s reasons, he’s making a decision based on his priorities and what’s important to him, not on what’s important to Society. I really do think it’s something apart from the consent, something about his (my) aversion, that is making me feel uneasy. Perhaps something in how, even though his reasoning is divorced from Society, it can’t ever actually leave the conversation fully.
It’s interesting you bring celibacy into this, because I feel it lacks as a concept for me, just like consent, although perhaps in a different way. Not because I am “default celibate” (I am in fact not, I would say), but because of what comes along with celibacy. Perhaps is has to do with my particular history of trying on “celibate” and consciously rejecting it within a specific (religious) context, but, I mean, I read a lot about different approaches to celibacy, I have talked to several people who actively identify themselves as celibate, both religious and non, and I feel outside that experience. It seems to me that not only is it a choice, but it is a path. Maybe it’s just a preemptive defense against muggles (not that I would know anything about that!), but they way they talk about their reasons and, more saliently, what they hope to achieve… I mean, I tried celibacy as an “allosexual” person, and what it achieved for me was… bupkis. Maybe I was doing it wrong; or maybe (more likely in my estimation), it’s not an activity that is going to yield me personally a bumper crop.
I think we’re picking at different elements of the question rather than actually disagreeing. In particular, I was not so much disagreeing with your post as commenting on why I feel the concept of consent that you referenced is lacking when it comes to me. Sorry for the confusion.
Without knowing anything about your story except what you’ve mentioned here I can’t comment on it or how the issue of consent was dealt with in it. I do think that for myself the only situations where I might say “yes” would have to involve either some type of coercion or me not being myself/in my right mind. Part of my aversion is that I’m not particularly interested in trying to develop such scenarios at this point in my life. Instead, I’m interested in making the best out of the path that I’ve chosen, which is where celibacy comes in.
I’m really interested in the various reasons aces give for not feeling the term “celibacy” fits them, especially since I feel that it fits me well. In some cases, people seem to have a different (usually more narrow) definition of it than I do.
Islam discourages celibacy, in general (though from an assumption that people are allosexual) and there are few if any models of what an Islamic celibacy would be like. I’m trying to work within that context, however, and not a Christian one and I think that in general many aces who respond to the term are reading it in a specifically Christian way.
I’m not celibate “for religious reasons” which usually means abstaining from sex until marriage. I’m celibate because I don’t want to have sex, ever. It happens to conform to what my religion expects from me as an unmarried person (keeping in mind that my religion also places a very, very strong emphasis on marriage) but even if my religion was totally cool with sex outside of marriage, I would still be celibate. I think that most discussions of celibacy by celibate people do tend to assume the “for religious reasons” framework and that isn’t particularly helpful to me either. Part of why I liked the A Queer Calling blog so much (separate discussion thread here) is precisely that they’re trying to build a different conception of celibacy, just as I am, as a positive choice that one might feel called to regardless of religious rules.