This week I chipped in to Seb Whitaker's Let's Talk! podcast about issues related to life at Monash Residential Services, in an episode titled ‘Let's Talk about being agender, aromantic, asexual and Asian (the 4 A's)’. On the podcast, we discussed my experience exploring my own identity, and topics like amatonormativity, representation, stigma and discrimination.
If you're here from my shameless plug at the end of that video, welcome and thanks for visiting! Or, if you haven't checked out that episode, consider giving it a listen.
The podcast was very much a pretty informal chat between me and Seb, so I wanted to take a moment to clarify, expand on and dig a little deeper into a few things that I touched on there. As a look through my blog will tell you, I do like my footnotes, so consider this the ‘footnotes’ to the podcast.
In the podcast, we use the term ‘allosexual’ to refer to a person who is not on the asexual spectrum – from the prefix ‘allo’ meaning ‘other’, i.e. ‘experiences sexual attraction to others’. The term replaced the earlier term ‘sexual’, and is now widely accepted within the asexual community.
However, I acknowledge that the term ‘allosexual’ (like many asexual issues) was historically contentious, and its acceptance remains not quite universal. As one prominent Tumblr user argues, ‘grouping straight/[LGB] people together as “allosexuals”’ is to ‘spread homophobic ideas disguised as ace positivity’, suggesting that ‘[LGB] people experience some kind of shared experience as straight people just because they both experience sexual attraction’.
I understand where this view comes from. It is not contestable that people have and continue to experience discrimination, stigma and oppression because of their sexual orientation at the hands of straight oppressors. It is naturally uncomfortable to draw attention to similarities between LGB people and their straight oppressors by grouping them under the shared label of ‘allosexual’. I have no doubt that those who express views like that the above quote do so with the best intentions, led by their lived experience.
However, I must reject the conclusion that the use of the term ‘allosexual’ perpetuates discrimination on this basis. A label does not suggest that all people within that label are the same in all respects, merely that there is some similarity which is being referred to – just as, for example, the term ‘gay’ does not suggest that all gay people have the same experience.
To point out that LGB allosexuals and straight allosexuals share the common characteristic of experiencing (some form of) sexual attraction, and therefore cannot be discriminated against on the basis of experiencing (as opposed to not experiencing) sexual attraction, is relevant. It does not imply that LGB allosexuals cannot be discriminated against in any other way, just that this is not one of them.
If the term ‘allosexual’ supposedly perpetuates homophobia on this basis, then surely the same must be said of the terms ‘cis’ (lumps gay people together with their straight oppressors), ‘straight’ or ‘heterosexual’ (lumps transgender people together with their straight oppressors).
As I discussed during the podcast, no two people who experience discrimination will have the same experience, and just because two groups experience different kinds of discrimination does not mean either's experience of discrimination is less ‘valid’. We must learn how to be effective allies to others, despite that their experiences may differ to our own.
Asian families, Chinese jiapu genealogy books and my family
The Chinese jiapu (家谱) or zupu (族谱) is a genealogy book, which records the members of the family ‘clan’.
Chinese family names follow a patrilineal tradition – the wife does not change her name on marriage, but the children bear the father's name. The jiapu follows this patrilineal tradition, following only the male descendants (who bear the family name). Some jiapu, such as my mother's family's, may record female children (who continue to bear the family name), but would not follow their descendants.
As I discussed during the podcast, the amatonormativity and patrilineage of the Chinese family system has created significant angst for my family. On reflection, this was a bit more complicated than crossed my mind while chatting about it, and I myself am a bit hazy on many of the details – I will probably try to clear this up and the end of the year. For the curious, here are the details to the best of my understanding.
My paternal grandmother was the only child of the Li family, whose numbers were already growing thin. Under patrilineage, there were therefore no remaining sons to pass on the Li family name, and the family name would have ended in that generation. Under the usual practice, I should have the surname of my paternal grandfather, Yang.
To avoid this, my paternal grandfather was ‘adopted’ into the family, such that his children would continue to bear the surname Li. Two generations later, here I am.
That, however, is about it. To my knowledge, the only remaining families within this branch of the Li family are mine and my uncle's – and both immigrated to Australia. There are no remaining members of the Li family in China.
This has given rise to our family's attempts to be included on another family's jiapu, either my paternal grandfather's, or my mother's. However, this has, as you may expect, been very difficult: when all entries within the jiapu have the same surname, it is a pretty obvious deviation when suddenly some of them do not. To my knowledge, this issue remains ongoing.
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder
During the podcast, I made brief reference to the concept of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The diagnosis of HSDD is a contentious notion within the asexual community. I have discussed this topic at length in another blog post.
Amatonormativity and COVID
During the podcast, we discussed a number of examples of amatonormativity (in conjunction with cisnormativity, heteronormativity, etc.) having adverse consequences when spilling into areas that should be more objective, such as the law.
One relevant contemporary example I had wanted to bring up, but which slipped my mind over the course of the conversation, was amatonormativity in the setting of COVID-19.
In the state of Victoria, current COVID-19 restrictions provide exemptions for so-called ‘intimate partners’. According to the Macquarie Dictionary, ‘intimate’ simply means ‘associated in close personal relations’. In the setting of split attraction, I would posit that ‘intimate partner’ should realistically encompass a range of situations, including romantic intimacy or sensual intimacy. Even a very close friendship could be described as intimate.
In the law, though, the position is clear. ‘Intimate’ is simply a euphemism for sex.1 Where amatonormativity has encroached into the law, the result is discrimination against non-sexual relationships – with implications not only for asexual people, but for all other relationships and friendships.
This was the subject of a commendable piece by the ABC, which I recommend for more discussion on the topic. As the article puts it:
Amatonormatvity is deeply at odds with a liberal society that starts with the recognition that all citizens are free and equal. Although the current pandemic certainly justifies restrictions that diminish the amount of freedom individuals can currently enjoy in their lives, it does not justify temporarily giving state governments the role of final arbiters of what it means for a human life to go well.
In the same way that it would be deeply problematic for the Victorian Premier to close Muslim schools but allow Catholic ones to stay open, or close vegan restaurants but allow burger joints to continue to operate, it is deeply problematic for the Premier to allow people to pursue a sexual relationship but not a non-sexual one.
Footnotes to the footnotes? Good lord, when will it end!
Lawyers love their euphemisms for sex. The Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899 has quite a penchant for the phrase ‘carnal knowledge’, leading to the wonderfully verbose construction ‘Any person who has carnal knowledge with or of …’. Naturally, the Act doesn't have the guts to actually define carnal knowledge, leading instead with the wonderfully vague sentence ‘If carnal knowledge is used in defining an offence, the offence, so far as regards that element of it, is complete on penetration to any extent.’ This must be the legal embodiment of the uncomfortable ‘umm, well, you know (vague gesturing)’. ↩