I’m talking to someone about the Trevor Project’s treatment of asexuals (among other things), and she asked, “In terms of harm reduction for the greatest number of people does it do any significant harm for legitimately asexual LGB people to have the possibility of internalized homophobia be brought up (cuz I know it does a whole hell of a lot of harm to repressed LGB people for it to not be brought up)”?
I have a definite opinion about this, but I’m not LGB, so I wanted to ask those aces who are, in a non-leading way. How would you feel about people suggesting to you that maybe you’re not ace but identify as such because of internalized homophobia, and do you think a question or suggestion like that would be harmful?
(Tagging this with LGBTetc tags as well for visibility.)
*considers* I am—insofar as my orientation is romantic it’s definitely skewed towards non-dudes. And I absolutely had this idea in the back of my head when I started identifying as ace and also when I started doing my big horrible romantic orientation questioning period, so I’m going to answer this one despite the fact that whether I qualify as a “LGB ace” is a little bit confusing.
Anyway. I don’t think anyone told me this outright, or if they did I don’t remember the specific incident, but when I was in high school I used to sit up nights going “omg, am I just repressing?” before I finally settled into “definitely asexual” and stopped doing that, for the most part. And then I started doing it again when I started getting confused about romantic relationships. I’m going to say this very emphatically: being told to consider the possibility of repressing homosexuality did me absolutely no good when I was in a questioning stage, and I would outright say it did me a lot of harm and lengthened the time I was confused, upset and worried.
See, what the idea about “well are you repressing homosexuality?” actually says is that your feelings are invalid, that they don’t represent how you actually feel. You don’t really feel asexual or have no attraction to others, you’re just repressing secret feelings for people of your own gender that you can’t access yourself! Your true feelings are something that I, as an impartial observer, totally know, not the things you’re saying you feel!
When you’re questioning and confused and trying to figure out what you actually are, being told to ignore your actual feelings and being told that your feelings are untrue by a third party turns out to be very unhelpful. I say this because the point of questioning is supposed to be figuring out what identity best describes you, which means that you’re supposed to be evaluating what you want and what your reactions are and looking for the label that fits best. When you have someone going “Actually, you might not even know your true feelings!” that makes it much, much more difficult to establish what you actually want because you’re too busy feeling anxiety about whether your feelings are even real.
After all, what if they’re right? What if a third party could know what you want better than you could?! This is utter nonsense now—sorry, no one can know what I want without access to my actual mind and/or me telling them—but when you’re scared and questioning and in particular if you’re the sort of person who really wishes someone else could rescue you from the scary questioning, it’s both very tempting to say “Well, maybe you know my mind better than I do” and also very intimidating when someone who seems like they know more than you do says that you might be missing something.
And hey, I’d like to close this with Andrew Hinderliter’s excellent post on the terribly dodgy history surrounding the concept of sexual repression. Guys, this is a pet theory popularized by Freud. It’s not something with a ton of empirical evidence supporting it, here, it’s the pet theory of a guy whose theories were notoriously unscientific and impossible to test. Maybe taking the concept of repression at face value without having good strong evidence that it exists is not a good idea? After all, there’s a huge difference between being unable to accept your sexuality and shoving it into the back of your mind (something that absolutely does happen) and actually not noticing what your sexuality is.
In my opinion, the best thing you can do for a questioning person is to encourage them to pick the label that best fits their feelings right now, and then remind them that if that label eventually needs to change, that’s okay too. If they have been picking an asexual label, or a bisexual label, because that’s less scary for them than a gay one and they need breathing space to grow—well, sometimes people fish around trying to figure out what fits and what is least scary before they find the identity that fits best. That doesn’t mean every person using those labels is doing this, or even most of them. I will say that I do not believe the vast majority of aces are doing this, given that most people I know personally have identities that are more or less stable for very long periods of time. (Ditto the vast majority of bi people, because do not even pretend that they don’t get the same “well you must really be gay but can’t deal with it” shit.)