snowynight: An Asian doctor who's also Captain America (Default)
snowynight ([personal profile] snowynight) wrote2011-05-23 03:03 pm
Entry tags:

Asexuality and Femslash

Disclaimer: As I am no way an expert in the subjects about to be discussed; I’ll be grateful if you can point out the problematic aspects in the following.

What is asexuality?
According to AVEN, an asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.1 Asexuality is a sex orientation that exists along a spectrum. Some feel romantic attraction. Some don’t. Some masturbate. Some have sex. They are all different.

What problem does asexuals face in real life, and in fandom?

If homosexuality is the love that dares not say its name, asexuality is the orientation that doesn’t even have a name. In daily life, there is nearly to none awrareness of asexuality. The media is full of story lines of people becoming fully grown through sex. If people say they’re not into sex, they are often taken to mean avoiding the matter and not taken seriously. In a personal anecdote, one was told it was just because zis biological clock hadn’t clicked yet. The sex-obsessed society puts a lot of pressure on asexuals. They were seen as immature or inhuman. Sexless relationship is described as neutered relationship. People can only get to be more human through sexual relationship.

In the media, they ‘re either inhuman, evil, or socially clueless. We have Doctor Who, who’s an alien. Shelden in Bigbang Theory, who is described as an alien. Sherlock, who’s a sociopath. Dexter, who’s a serial killer.2 Even among the LGBTQ movement, asexuality is like a unicorn. The fandom didn’t fare better. The slash debate last year demonstrated a double erasure of asexuality.3

Common Challenge faced by asexuality and female sexuality.

Patriarchy enforces a male-dominated heteronormative paradigm that every sexuality representation is under its scrutiny. Female sexuality has always been an issue. It has been molded, shaped, and controlled by the patriarchy. Women were punished for just having a sexuality. They were either imagined as chaste virgins or greedy devouring monsters. Despite strides of feminism, discourse about female sexuality is still dominated by male gaze. Freud was notorious for introducing penis envy to show the inferiority of women, that they were “jealous” of men. Modern women face a double-bind situation. If they refuse sex, well, no never mean no. If they welcome sex, they are demeaned and judged as not deserving the protection of patriarchy. Hence the rape culture. Female sexuality is seen as subjugate to male sexuality, largely defined by altruistic notion of traditional femininity. Females were historically desexualized by the society.

The challenge of asexuality comes from its pervasive invisibility. Because they defy safe definition of heteronormative sexuality, their sexuality are deemed as a disease, a phase, unreal, unhealthy. Their romantic relationships don't count. They are included in the DSM. However, their struggle “don’t count”, even in the context of LGBT movement. 4

Oppressions on female sexuality and asexuality do not happen in a vacuum. Rather they both exist in an interrelation network which oppress minority equally. They needed to be understood and (destroyed) together.5 Females and asexuals are not mutually exclusive groups.

Why asexuality in femslash?

Asking this question is somewhat like asking why to introduce disability, bisexuality and female homosexuality, people of colour into fiction. Because it is a part of human life. Because the more representation of minority in fiction, the bigger step it is pushing for acceptability and normalization of the minority. Femslash has always been seen as a step to accept female sexuality, and it can definitely go a further step toward addressing the reality of fluidity of sexuality.

How can femslash reflect the reality of asexuality?
Femslash is often defined as a story that depict two or more canonically female-identified people in a sexual or romantic relationship. But relationship is a loaded word. In recent days, intimate relationship is always an euphemism for sexual relationship. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We have to be aware that there is a spectrum along relationship, including particularly close friendship, traditional but not sexual coupling and other unique combination. "It can be just about women making a deeper connection to each other that's erotic, but not necessarily sexual," as spoken by jazzypom.

Research is always important. Just like writing about any minority, proceed with respect and humility. Be prepared to back down.

What’s femslash with one or more asexual female-identified characters like?

There’s love, humour, angst, or just like other femslash. Except that one or more of them is not into sex. The resolution of a story doesn’t always result in sex. Femslash with one or more asexual characters are still uncommon, and I only found 3 labelled as such on AO3 as I'm writing. They are:

Title: Don't Want to Know What I'll Be Without You
Author: [personal profile] torachan
Fandom: Aoi Hana
Summary: Akira's seen that look before. It makes her heart ache to remember Fumi-chan's quiet despair when she told Akira she liked her that way. She'd do anything to keep Fumi-chan from looking like that again.
Read it on AO3.

Title: A Country That Has No Language
Author: [personal profile] language_escapes
Fandom: St. Trinians
Summary: Because really, how can you explain a polyamorous relationship consisting of an asexual domme, a lesbian sub, and a vanilla bisexual? They fit. They love each other. Isn't that enough?
A Country That Has No Language

And the last one from me:

Title: Treasures
Author: [personal profile] snowynight
Fandom: Disney
Summary: Another chapter of Belle and her companions' expedition to a lost ancient city, and Belle discovers something more too.
Treasure

Reference:
  1. "Overview." Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Asexual Visibility and Education Network, n.d. Web. 23 May 2011. <http://www.asexuality.org/home/overview.html>
  2. pippin, . "FONSFAQ post -- asexuality in fiction." N.p., 26 004 2011. Web. 23 May 2011. http://pippin.dreamwidth.org/95781.html
  3. kaz, . "Some words are rather unpleasant to read in this context...." N.p., 14 001 2010. Web. 23 May 2011. http://kaz.dreamwidth.org/215605.html
  4. mirielenfield , . "LGBT Community." asexuality. N.p., 21 009 2010. Web. 23 May 2011. http://asexuality.livejournal.com/766364.html?thread=13612956#t13612956
  5. Harris-Lacewell, Melissa. "Intersectionality." The Kitchen Table. N.p., 16 003 2009. Web. 23 May 2011. http://princetonprofs.blogspot.com/2009/03/intersectionality.html

Further reading:
Asexy Sex Scenes 101
Asexual information and perspective
FONSFAQ: Asexuality


Questions:
How do you explore asexuality in femslash? What’s the joy/challenge of writing about it?
What do you think can be done to make femslash fandom more friendly for asexuals?
ein_myria: (Default)

[personal profile] ein_myria 2011-05-23 11:17 am (UTC)(link)
I have a question, are platonic relationships under what you think of as "asexual"? The reason why I'm asking this is because I think you'll find more fics tagged on AO3 with this tag. :)
phoenix64: parker holding an orange and smiling (Default)

[personal profile] phoenix64 2011-05-28 10:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Just my opinion, but I wouldn't automatically associate the two. To me a platonic relationship could involve anybody regardless of orientation, but an asexual relationship would contain at least one asexual in the relationship.

On the other hand, I should hardly expect everyone to operate along the lines of how I interpret the language, duh.

Nothing to see here, move along. Good post! *headdesk*
muccamukk: Wanda of Many Colours (Marvel: Scarlet Witch)

[personal profile] muccamukk 2011-05-23 04:26 pm (UTC)(link)
I like this essay. It is well laid out, and has good information. I like your points about how our society does not allow women to be ace.

I would point out that there is a lot of canon debate as to whether Sherlock is a sociopath (he says he is in the show, but may have been being sarcastic, and doesn't really act like one).

Re above comment:
Wouldn't platonic relationships only count if the characters didn't have sex with other people?

Like there's a lot of smarmy gen in fandom, especially in older fandoms, but the characters involved aren't ace. They have sex or want to have sex with other people.

I'm in a close platonic friendship with my best friend from college. But I'm a sexually active lesbian and she's happily making babies with her husband.
elspethdixon: (Default)

[personal profile] elspethdixon 2011-05-23 10:27 pm (UTC)(link)
there's a lot of smarmy gen in fandom, especially in older fandoms, but the characters involved aren't ace. They have sex or want to have sex with other people

Good point, and that's something that's always bothered me a bit about smarmy gen where the author stresses that the characters AREN'T GAY nosirree, NO SLASH here. You can almost read it as asexual romance, except that rather than being a romance without the sex because the characters are supposed to be asexual and hey, you can have romantic relationships that are real and valid without having sex, it's what's effectively a romance without the sex because the writer thinks gay or lesbian sex is icky.

For the same reasons, I've never been 100% sure what to make of the "romantic friendship" genre in Xena fandom, which was basically identical to Sentinel, etc. smarmfic. On the one hand, the idea of getting all the romantic-love-for-your-same-gender-best-friend goodness without the sex scenes I often scroll past anyway was appealing and the term "romantic friendship" makes it sound like it's describing what could be an asexual romance, but on the other hand, some writers were clearly using the term to actually mean "straight women who are straight being platonic friends who act like they're romantically in love but are completely straight did we mention they're straight no lesbian cooties here."
muccamukk: Iolaus laughing. Text: "Adorable me-sized warrior friend type" (H:TLJ: Me-Sized Friend Type)

[personal profile] muccamukk 2011-05-23 11:20 pm (UTC)(link)
I never read much Xena fic, but I remember that from Hercules: TLJ fandom, which considering it was allegedly set in ancient Greece amused the hell out of me.

I'm with you on smarmy gen though, it's so often h/c-filled and lovely, but the authors so often feel they need to put in "but we're not gay because that would be wrong" or put in evil gay characters, or have the characters have random meaningless sex with hookers to prove they're not gay (Starsky & Hutch fandom is special).

Plus, while I might buy Hercules as Ace, I really, really wouldn't for Iolaus given his enthusiastic appreciation for sex in canon. Which would be an interesting fic in itself, an asexual romance between those two, then Iolaus having awesome lady friends to have sex with.
pulchritude: (4)

[personal profile] pulchritude 2011-05-23 05:39 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, as someone who is asexual I'm a bit :||| about the first comment that talks about platonic relationships as being asexual. Yes, they tend to be devoid of sex (but not always), but to me what you discuss here are romantic relationships, and possibly romantic friendships (which, having had two of that type, I firmly categorize as different from both romantic relationships and from platonic relationships), so.
ein_myria: (Default)

[personal profile] ein_myria 2011-05-24 05:35 pm (UTC)(link)
*nods* I completely agree, it's just that there are so many ways to categorize "asexuality" that often people don't necessarily tag it as such, is all. :)
pulchritude: (1)

[personal profile] pulchritude 2011-05-24 06:38 pm (UTC)(link)
imo someone who tags something as 'platonic' probably isn't meaning asexual as the op means in this essay, though I don't rule out the homoeroticism that may be present. I suppose the idea of labelling an asexual romantic relationship of some sort as platonic just annoys me, as it implies that sex is necessary for a romantic relationship, which is mainstream discourse.
lysanatt: (Default)

[personal profile] lysanatt 2011-05-28 06:49 am (UTC)(link)
IAWT. And thanks, Snowynight, for bringing this up. :) also, I agree very much with your opinion on the patriarchy's entitlement and rape culture.

Tagging fics with "Platonic"... Being a (formerly) married (twice, no less) romantic bi- Ace, neither sex, nor romance is ruled out in an asexual relationship. Sex is not an option for many Aces, but for others it's something that one might do occasionally (or often) for a loved partner. For some (sexually active) it ranges in the "do the dishes, vacuum, have sex"-spectrum, for others, in the "feels nice", and for some in the "never again in this life"-spectrum and therefore no option.

The difference lies in that an Ace doesn't look at their partner with an urge to devour them out of sexual desire. Which does not, by the way, stop us from admiring human beauty or, as mentioned, in some cases enjoy sexual encounters. We're neither impotent nor without senses, just not tuned with sexual attraction. ;0) I should mention that many Aces, though, are not into romance or any form of sexual encounters, so I don't speak for anyone here.

Sorry for the long explanation, but just my thoughts on why I wouldn't tag anything "Platonic" when it's about Aces - unless of course it is really Platonic. ;0)
lysanatt: (Default)

[personal profile] lysanatt 2011-05-28 06:50 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, sorry. I should mention that I'm here via Metafandom.
shadowings: (Default)

[personal profile] shadowings 2011-05-23 08:41 pm (UTC)(link)
have you read this fic?
http://fandomfrom3.livejournal.com/35410.html

it's not femslash, (well the asexual character is not involved in femslash) it's glee and matt is also aromantic, but i thought it was pretty amazing.
elspethdixon: (Default)

[personal profile] elspethdixon 2011-05-25 05:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Kind of belated, but it's ocurred to me that one potential challenge of writing an asexual relationship in femslash is that there's an old stereotype about lesbians not having sex (I'm not sure where it comes from. Maybe from the idea that sex isn't really "sex sex" unless penetration's involved?). I think that would be more of an issue in original fiction meant for a mainstream audience who've never heard of asexuality and don't know much about bi or lesbian women other than what Hollywood has told them than in femslash that's going to be read mostly by a fannish audience that's predominantly female, queer, or both, though.
erinptah: (Default)

[personal profile] erinptah 2011-05-28 05:04 pm (UTC)(link)
(here via metafandom)

This is such a weirdly one-dimensional comment that I'm not even sure how you got it. Desexualization isn't a side effect of all kinds of oppression. Look at the objections to repealing DADT that went "oh noes, gay male soldiers might look at others in the shower." Or the historical legacy of white Americans using men of color, especially black men, as sexual-predator bogeymen. Or the stereotype of trans women "tricking" men into sex.

With cis women (trans men and genderqueer people tend to just get ignored), it's all complicated by the madonna/whore complex, in which sexualization and desexualization are two sides of the same oppressive coin. "Good girls" don't have sex at all; "bad girls" want it all the time. The former results in things like the stereotype of lesbians not having sex, and the denial of accurate sex education to teenage girls. The latter feeds into things like rape culture ("not dressing modestly enough = bad girl = wants it"), and sexualized stereotypes of women of color.

In f/f scenarios in popular media, the "whore" aspect plays itself out in stereotypical bad lesbian porn. But there's plenty of material from the "madonna" side too, with romantic, nonsexual f/f relationships that serve to highlight the goodness and purity of the women involved. The best example that comes to mind is Maria-sama ga Miteru, in which almost every major character is involved in that kind of romance. Of these relationships, only one features anything overtly sexual - and all we see is an out-of-frame kiss - and even that is apparently so bad that one of the girls has to redeem herself by becoming a nun.

Going back to your original post, I don't think asexual femslash is inherently barrier-breaking or patriarchy-challenging. It certainly can be, but it's not likely unless the writer knows about these stereotypes and puts some thought into avoiding them.
hollyberries: (Default)

[personal profile] hollyberries 2011-05-28 05:19 am (UTC)(link)
In a personal anecdote, one was told it was just because zis biological clock hadn’t clicked yet.

As a tentative asexual and still figuring things out - that one annoys me SO MUCH. The automatic assumption that there must be some damage or immaturity if you don't want to have sex, even from otherwise rational, supportive people.

Thank you for this post.
shirozora: Maxwell Trevelyan (Default)

here via metafandom

[personal profile] shirozora 2011-05-30 02:44 am (UTC)(link)
Funny, I'd been thinking about making a post about being ace and shipping in fandom when I saw this. I hope you don't mind if I link this as a primer of sorts, :)

[personal profile] fennel 2011-06-01 09:56 pm (UTC)(link)
I admit, your posting made me uneasy in many ways, particularly because I think that we really need the opposite in F/F. Badly.

I’ll be grateful if you can point out the problematic aspects in the following.

It mainly feels a bit like playing off femmeslash against asexuality, and priorizing the later at the expense of the former. We need both in fiction, and for Femmeslash, we particularly need femmeslash that isn't focussed on keeping the characters pure and unsullied from the scary scary sex. We need more sexual F/F, not less.

The lack of sexual F/F in particularly is what plagues many, many stories that are F/F - Maria Sama ga Miteiru as mentioned above is one of the more jarring examples, but there are many more. We're kinda pushing away from it for a reason.

"It can be just about women making a deeper connection to each other that's erotic, but not necessarily sexual," as spoken by jazzypom.

This, especially, is what I mean. From my perspective, this is not a solution, but one of the major problems in F/F canon stories. Most authors take great pains to make sure that it's one of these two:
a)non-sexual (I can start listing canon stories and finish next week, and people'll be able to list more. Women being sexual with other women? Sure is frowned upon - including by the very same men who are usually claimed to like it. What they tend to like is women making out before a guy joins in)
b)non-emotional (pretty much every supposedly lesbian encounter in every fantasy story ever, Song of Ice and Fire being a "good" example for it. Sure, they have sex, but care little for each other, that'd threaten the ego of poor male readers, after all, women being able to love non-men? Blapshemy!)

F/F canon stories that have both an emotional and a sexual component are very, very rare and only became a bit more common in the last 3-4 years.

Canon-wise, I don't see asexual characters being underrepresented in F/F. They seem to be the norm. And since fanfiction tends to fix what canon is missing, not what canon has in spades, it makes sense that fanfiction tends to add characters that are sexually involved, for a change.

The only real way to reconcile them that I see is have a couple of both kinds, sexual and nonsexual, or sexual couple AxB, who both have a deep nonsexual relationship with C, who has no sexual interest in either A or B. I think the later option could actually be pretty interesting in fact.

Just removing the sexual as the main part is really not what's lacking in F/F. We can just watch canon for it.

[personal profile] fennel 2011-06-01 10:05 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, sorry, I came by metafandom. Forgot to mention.

Also, uhm, if I sound a bit odd, it's near midnight here, I spent nearly two hours on the response, deleting it over and over again because I just wasn't sure how to put it all. x.X
sevilemar: Rock On, Dean Winchester! (Default)

[personal profile] sevilemar 2015-04-09 05:54 pm (UTC)(link)
>What do you think can be done to make femslash fandom more friendly for asexuals?
Well, some acknowledgement would be good. I do not read much f/f myself, but from the above discussion I can see that there is still a problem with differentiating between platonic relationships, asexual relationships and "romantic friendships". If you want to make f/f fandom more welcome to asexuals, work on defining each term more clearly, and tag accordingly.


Generally, I would welcome more variations in asexual characters. Like people said in above comments, there are so many different facets to asexuality. Someone might enjoy kissing and casual touches, or they might not. They might enjoy flirting, or they might not. They might even have a high sex drive, but are not interested or attracted to other people (autosexuals). They might feel sexual attraction sometimes, or only for specific persons (demi-grey). They might not like sex per se, but maybe they like the feeling it gives them when they get their partners off in different manners.

Please keep in mind that sexuality and sensuality are two different things, and that someone might be very sensual (likes touches and smells and colours, etc., can appreciate beauty in a partner in very sensual ways) but that for asexuals, this appreciation and sensuality has nothing to do with sex. The same goes for erotic. Maybe they like the power they have over other people when they dress and behave in an erotic fashion, maybe they revel in the eroticism of other people, of images, etc. It doesn't mean they are sexually attracted.

Another thing I would like to see more of is the day-to-day challenges asexuals face. I always need a moment to understand sexual innuendo or jokes when I don't expect them (like in a work context), and that often creates awkwardness. When I was younger, I never understood when someone was hitting on me. I invest a lot into my friendships, and I frequently get frustrated (or worse) when my friends get boy/girlfriends and spend less time with me. I do not understand sexual attractions, that means on a fundamental level I do not understand why my friends want to be with someone they don't know based on that.

For much of my life, I dressed very blandly, shabby even, because I did not want to attract unwanted sexual attention and did not know what to do with it. Whenever someone says "I'd hit that", I am torn over nodding along and feeling like a liar, or remind them of my asexuality/come out of the closet. These are just a few things, I bet when you set your mind to it (or ask asexuals in a forum), you get many, many more.


I can not speak about f/f, because I don't read much (m/m and gen, mostly, some het). For me, women or girls who actively know and pursue their own sexual desires is still shockingly rare, in fic and life. I recently read Of Roses Unfurling and Devilry by snowgrouse, and the genuine and unashamed way in which both protagonists pursue their desires fascinates me deeply. I do not know how often this happens in f/f fic, but I for once wouldn't mind more of these kind of fics. And like I said, characters can be deeply, wildly erotic without being sexually attracted to other people.


In other words, do your research when you write asexual characters, and use your imagination. Get creative, see beyond your own assumptions and stereotypes. And, as always when writing about characters that belong to a minority, don't make everything about that. Make relatable, well-rounded characters with interesting jobs that happen to be asexual. Write a soap opera in space that happens to have an asexual protagonist. The usual.

Edit: Here via metafandom, sorry I forgot to say.
Edited 2015-04-09 18:20 (UTC)