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A case for expanding rainbow colours

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Even the queer community has long been suspicious of asexuals, often patronising them as people who are ‘undecided’ or too afraid to come out of the closet

The success of the LGBTQ+ movement in recent years has been phenomenal, with the recent decriminalisation of Section 377 marking a vital victory for homosexuals within India. Slowly but surely, the rainbow wave is spreading across the globe, combating centuries of oppression with the doctrines of love and tolerance. But no movement operates without hierarchies, and even within the ranks of those burdened by society’s judgment, some stand far closer to justice than others.

We are so caught up in defending the freedom to sexuality that we forget about the right to live without sex, the right to be free of toxic expectations about performance and attraction, to simply exist without sexual desires. Grouped under the conveniently broad ‘+’ of the LGBTQ+ banner, asexuals have been found to include anything between 1-3% of the world’s population and even possess their own complex spectrum.

In a world where we define ourselves through the targets of our attraction, asexuals must deal with the fear and confusion of having no sexual desires, of being untouched by an impulse oft-considered fundamental, characterised by deprivation rather than focus. If our desires are thought to give us colour, then asexuals would show up blank on litmus sheets, and yet they live lives every bit as healthy and emotionally productive as those from the “mainstream”.

Consider for a moment the ubiquity of sexual influence within our daily lives. If you turn on the TV, chances are that you will instantly come across ads that promote things as innocuous as hamburgers or soft drinks with attractive actresses, playing sensuous music while the camera zooms in on their lips and faces with orgasmic expressions. If you think back to your school days or listen in on average teenage banter, you will probably recall dozens of instances of whispered sex jokes and elaborate code names for various body parts.

Even the beloved characters of supposedly superior western sitcoms boast a conveyor belt of one-night stands, playing out the fantasy of the hip urbanite with an endless bevy of trysts with supermodels. Society, regardless of the prevailing culture, pressures the individual to have a sex drive. A conservative society like Victorian England that glorified chastity would still expect people to get married at a young age and furnish the bloodline with offspring; and in modern society, where sex is divorced of reproductive obligations and viewed as purely recreational, the number of sexual partners is proof of your virile charm.

In short, mainstream society isn’t just heteronormative, but also demands sexuality in general. Sex is seen as an essential human function, as vital to our identity as food or sleep, and anyone who lacks desire is instantly perceived as “broken” or “disabled”. Even the queer community has long been suspicious of asexuals, often patronising them as people who are ‘undecided’ or too afraid to come out of the closet. They are lampooned as impotent, misrepresented as celibates, and generally depicted in every hurtful or inaccurate way possible rather then being accepted as people who simply have alternative preferences.

When the media do address asexuals, they tend to be exoticised and portrayed as aliens in human bodies, devoid of empathy or real emotion. This is an entirely false notion, since 33% of asexuals are found to be in long-term relationships. If anything, asexuality challenges the scientific notion that “love” is merely a sex-related mechanism that prevents partners from leaving each other until the offspring is self-reliant. Although they might have a sense of aesthetic beauty, asexuals aren’t captivated by bodies or socially held beauty standards and gravitate more towards identification and emotional connectivity. They could be as fond of cuddling and exchanging kisses as any mainstream couple, and could prove that you don’t always need to sleep together to be together.

Asexuality has been gradually gaining prominence in recent years, helped along by the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) founded by David Jay in 2001. Research has found that asexuality expresses massive variations and includes aromantics, who feel no inclination for romance, graysexuals, who feel sexual desire intermittently, demisexuals, who only feel arousal after the formation of a powerful emotional connection, and asexual subtypes who gravitate towards men or women without experiencing specific sexual attraction. They can still get sex jokes and write reviews of nude paintings, still snuggle up in couches and enjoy romantic movies, and still laugh and cry like anyone from the mainstream. But their paths to happiness are often barred by social expectations and a sexual hegemony. Imagine the sheer bewilderment felt by a teenager who knows nothing about asexuality and can only wonder why s/he is not ‘into’ anything. Imagine the alienation they experience in pretending to be someone they are not.

The need of the hour is to spread awareness of their existence and identities, convincing society that they are not ‘broken’ in any way, that they are not ‘missing’ anything required to live a fulfilling life. Because in the words of the late Gore Vidal, “Sex builds no roads, writes no novels and sex certainly gives no meaning in life to anything but itself.”

xavieromenezes@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 5:44:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-case-for-expanding-rainbow-colours/article29932040.ece

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