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November 2013

For Me, Sex Positivity Involves The Word “NO”

Recently I had a conversation with a friend and I mentioned to her that a lot of my thoughts on sex positivity (even beyond the problems of it being very White and phallocentric in rhetoric and not always intersectional regarding inclusivity of history that impacts sexuality differently for Black women) actually involves the word “NO,” not the word “YES.” I find empowerment in being able to say “NO.” And when you’ve had the right to say “NO” taken from you at least once, it becomes really important to be able to say “NO” and not out of fear but out of genuine knowledge of what you desire and what you do not. 

No, I don’t have to defend my sexuality to White people. White people regularly act as gatekeepers to both queerness and asexuality and White supremacy pathologizes heterosexuality for Black people as well, even with heterosexual privilege (though such privilege is not uniform; intersectionality matters). They regularly enter conversations I have about sexuality to police the terms used and try to parse things that they do not even know about (hi, White privilege) because of racial and cultural differences. Worse, they are usually plastered as the face of anything regarding sexuality, sexual orientation and gender among LGBTQIA people. The dominance of White supremacy in sexual politics has a long and hideous history for Black people and one that most certainly has not gone away—something that I elaborated on in my essay, The Large Space That White Supremacy Occupies In Conversations About Sexuality

For a long time I identified as heterosexual but I would say, "well I am minimally sexual, not interested in sex, not interested in dating etc." But in reality, as a person who rarely experiences sexual attraction, so I am somewhat in the gray area of asexuality, I never even thought about my sexual orientation in detail until I realized that I had to come to terms with other things that happened in my life. Past pressures to marry when I didn’t even want to date. Zero interest in sexual intercourse in many years and delight and peace with celibacy (which has nothing to do with asexual orientation now, but is simply something related to the topic of sexuality itself; orientation is about attraction, not behavior). Buried memories of sexual assault that I tried to rationalize away for a long time. (And to be clear, no, being a survivor doesn’t change sexual orientation; no one is heterosexual “by default” and clearly the sheer number of Black women who are assaulted and are heterosexual should easily disprove the ignorance that Black women who are asexual or queer solely are because of “reaction” to assault.) Past really good relationships that I wondered about and thought "hmm, how did that go wrong?" The actual sociopolitics involved in sexual orientation, desire and sexuality itself for Black women, examined via a womanist lens. As I started thinking about all of this while simultaneously learning about nuances of asexuality/other sexual politics and also moved towards the point where I felt somewhat ready to discuss my own perspective, I then started to think about sexual orientation more deeply; more critically.

Reflecting on my last major connection with a man some years ago—and that it was based on aesthetic and romantic attraction, a very deep and illuminating love that I sort of filed away under “love of my life” in my heart’s files, and for years that relationship was close and tight, though not sexual—also made me think about the politics of sexual orientation with an intersectional lens. This lens is regularly ignored by many Whites. And that’s their issue. I have nothing to defend to them. I refuse to even engage any who think I owe them an explanation. And I’ve come up against some really nasty ones too; disrespectful, racist, anti-intersectional. To discuss something this sensitive with that attitude and framework? Nah. I so do not owe them a conversation. A sentence. A word. In this context, I find empowerment in saying “NO.”

No, I don’t have to “prove” asexuality to heterosexuals by never speaking of men ever again. There’s something really weird that happens and this is mostly because of misinformation and ignorance on sexual orientation and the nuances of asexuality. If I mention that a cishet man is attractive (I now identify as a heteroromantic ace; but there’s women and other people I find aesthetically attractive, though never romantically/sensually before, hence why I don’t take on the panromantic label) it is immediately perceived as sexual, people inform me of how they want to fuck that particular man, nude photos surface, dick pics pop up, and the entire conversation becomes sexual and overtly and suffocatingly so. And certainly there is nothing wrong with people who regularly experience sexual attraction towards multiple people and often and daily, but they’ve already assumed that this is why I brought the person up. Worse, when they know how I identify, there is always the "I thought you were asexual" statement with the loaded statement "why are you mentioning a man, see, I knew you were a liar" implied. Again, this is all based on misinformation. People think “asexual” means “never look at another human again, never have/will have sex ever (some asexuals do; sexual attraction isn’t required for sexual behavior), never mention other aspects of a person, and if other aspects are mentioned that are not sexual in tone, it’s code for a sexual tone.” No. All of this is falsetastic and nopedafied.

In some cases like these I lead people to some information; in others, I don’t address them. The idea that I have to “prove” that I am not a “hypersexual” (the controlling image of the Jezebel) heterosexual who only mentions men I want to fuck is grounded in the racist sexism and misogynoir that Black women face. And even if a Black woman very sexual (which does not make her that racist Jezebel controlling image; sexuality is not automatically “pathological” simply because a Black woman enjoys sex), she can still mention a person who is attractive without people assuming that she desires sex with that person. I won’t let anyone control what I think and feel on this topic simply because they are ignorant on asexuality. In this context, I find empowerment in saying “NO.”

No, I don’t have to perform compulsory heterosexuality and chase heterosexual Black men around begging them to love me. I don’t. At all. And to be clear, I don’t mean to imply that actively sexual, heterosexual Black women interested in being with Black men are “chasing” them, at all. I mean that anytime Black men are not my central focus for the day, I seem to be put on trial for “hatred” of Black men in the same way that I am for deconstructing and critiquing patriarchy, sexism and misogynoir from Black men.

I don’t chase Black men around to insult or degrade them solely for dating someone not Black. I…don’t care. I know that I am supposed to care and be very angry and all of this crap that some Black men (and some Black women) want me to do, but I don’t. I was confronted by a fellow Black woman who was very aggressive with me because her view is very anti-interracial relationships and very heteronormative for “Black love.” Black love is often marketed and packaged as that which resembles the Obamas; attractive, educated, class privileged, theist, “respectable,” cisgender, heterosexual, married, monogamous. Well…Black love comes in a lot of different appearances, not only that one. And that one is fine too but it’s not the only one. Love is power and a place of resistance for Black people in a society that hates us and indoctrinates us to hate ourselves. Familial, platonic, romantic, community, and cultural love among Black people are important. All of these are types of Black love. 

However, when Black men’s interracial relationships are used as “proof” of the “unreasonableness,” “bitterness,” or  ”worthlessness" of Black women and they oppress and help facilitate the oppression that Black women already face in terms of dealing with White supremacy’s manifestations in beauty norms, colourism, sexuality and more, then we have a problem Houston. Then. But I find no use or joy in being worried about Black men’s sexual and dating habits on the regular. That’s an albatross I don’t want to take on. And I don’t want anyone trying to force me to. In this context, I find empowerment in saying “NO.”

Thinking about sexuality in a positive way, in an empowering way also means being able to say NO. Not having to prove anything. Not having to perform any stereotypes related to any sexual orientation or actual sexual behavior. Not having to accept the controlling images that make heterosexual Black women “Jezebels” and asexual Black women “mammies” while oppressing queer Black women for being neither one and oppressing all Black women via misogynoir. It means a comfortability in my own decisions, in my own skin, and even being in an emotional place where I am writing these words right now. I…could not have done this even a year ago. Definitely not ten years ago. It means that I am learning each day how to think about sexual politics beyond sexual behavior because it most certainly involves more than the bedroom or individual personal lives. It means a liberating concept of sexuality is not having to use my own asexuality to prove my solidarity with other marginalized people and their sexual politics but knowing that they simply need the space (and some need more space than others; this speaks to one’s particular experiences with privilege, domination and oppression) to articulate those politics (albeit intersectional for it to really be progressive) and live life as they choose. It means my awareness of not fitting into many predisposed boxes for Black women is in fact a weight, especially regarding sexuality, but that thinking through my own politics on radical intersectional sex positivity where my own empowerment lies, helps this lighten.

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