Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker

Title: The Invisible Orientation
Author: Julie Sondra Decker
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

In a survey two decades ago, about one percent of the British population self-identified as asexual. How the book blurb makes a giant leap from this, to asserting that "A growing number of people are identifying as asexual" is a complete mystery, and that's indicative of the real problem with this book. It hedges so many bets, and qualifies so many aspects, and opens itself to such an excessive diversity of definitions that in the end, it establishes nothing, defines nothing, clarifies nothing, least of all the blurb claim that the set we term asexuals, whoever and whatever they really are, is growing.

I am completely open to the possibility that this is an orientation rather than a condition. The problem for me was that this author comprehensively failed to make her case. I started in on this book hoping to learn something about his topic and I finished it (well, finished half of it before I gave up on it!) precisely as uninformed at the end as I had been at the beginning - or perhaps more accurately, no more informed than I was before I read it, and worse, no more convinced.

One problem with it was that is was one of the driest tomes I have ever laid eyes on. It was like reading a scientific paper, but without any science in it, leaving only stilted semi-scientific language, but with no vigorously beating heart of solid science underlying it. There were quotations, and references, and definitions galore, but nothing from scientific research. Almost worse than that for a book of this nature, it had absolutely no personal accounts whatsoever, not even that of the author! Not in the portion I read anyway. I think I would have learned a lot more, and empathized a lot more if I could have heard from people who experience this phenomenon/condition/orientation, and been able to read their input.

According to the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction, yet in this book we are advised by this author that this isn't necessarily the case. Asexuals can be attracted to other people of the same or other gender, they can find romance, companionship, and they can have sex. it that;s the case, then what does this mean to say they're asexual?

The author, in a weird table which totals to significantly over 100%, indicates that some 7% of asexuals enjoy having sex, almost 20% would be "willing to compromise" and have regular sex, almost 40% would be "willing to compromise" and have occasional sex, and almost 40% are indifferent to sex - which means they reject it no more and no less than they favor it. I'm confused! If they're willing to compromise with regular sex, what where the two extremes between which this compromise was drawn? No sex ever again and constant sex? I don't even know how to honestly and seriously interpret a survey as wishy-washy as this one, and the author offers no help.

Now I can see how some people might have legitimately checked more than one box in such a survey if they were not expressly prevented from doing so, but even given that these numbers explicitly reveal that asexual does not mean no sex. So what does it mean? Prostitutes have sex with people to whom they are not sexually attracted, and I don't doubt that heteros, gays and bisexuals have had sex like that when they were drunk, or high, or desperate or something, but that aside, what does this survey actually reveal, exclude, or demonstrate? The author doesn't discuss it. And that was one of the problems - all definition and refutation, but no real discussion or clarifying information.

The biggest problem of course is that this was an Internet survey, which really negates it anyway for all practical purposes. It's sad if that's the best we can do. The fact remains that some researchers assert that asexuality is a sexual orientation while others disagree. We have no scientific or medical definition, no baseline, no reliable data, and therefore little to no understanding. The author helps with none of this. She doesn't address the research objections to her position, much less try to refute them. In short, she fails to explain how asexuality differs from a condition, and how it is, therefore an orientation. For a book like this, this was a tragic blunder and seriously lets down her position and that of her peers.

The blurb says,

Critics confront asexual people with accusations of following a fad, hiding homosexuality, or making excuses for romantic failures. And all of this contributes to a discouraging master narrative: there is no such thing as "asexual." Being an asexual person is a lie or an illness, and it needs to be fixed.
and the problem is that this author offers nothing concrete to refute that or dispel these questions.

It doesn't help to read things like this in wikipedia:

...asexuals may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or by the following terms to indicate that they associate with the romantic, rather than sexual, aspects of sexual orientation:
aromantic; lack of romantic attraction towards anyone
biromantic; as opposed to bisexual
heteroromantic; as opposed to heterosexual
homoromantic; as opposed to homosexual
panromantic; as opposed to pansexual
If a person is asexual, why are they identifying with any sexually-oriented group? The author doesn't tackle this - not in the first fifty percent of this book, anyway. It's more like she was interested in addressing or refuting any and every objection, no matter how trivial or stupid, to a declaration of asexuality, than she was in actually and realistically establishing this orientation and staking out a real position. This is a problem because what this book felt like to me was more of a defensive retreat than taking a stand, or offering a manifesto or whatever it is she thought she was doing. In taking this tack, it felt to me like she wasn't nailing down anything or securing her premises, but instead leaving doors unlocked and windows open for any moronic home invasion which happens along.

I agree with the blurb on one respect: this is a way-the-hell far too sexualized world, which makes it all the more difficult for your average Jo to understand someone who has no interest in sex, and/or who isn't attracted sexually or romantically to another person, but instead of setting herself and her peers apart and staking out her turf, she's simply dug a hole for herself and fallen into the muddied waters at the bottom of it. I cannot, therefore, recommend this as a worthy read.