Monday, June 8, 2009

Don't you realize X is unhealthy?

Yesterday, in Feministing's weekly sex column "Ask Professor Foxy", "Awkward" wrote in about her possible asexuality . Though Awkward did not mention wanting to be sexual, loss of a sex drive, or her health, the comments often read like this gem from sondjata:

Not saying this particular person isn't asexual, but there are other biological issues that could be at play here low hormones being chief among them. Since it is normal for the vast majority of the species, particularly at the age of this person, to want to engage in sexual activity and that a lot of that is hormonally driven, a medical exam would be in order for this individual prior to declaring they are asexual.

What this post really does is allow for the patient to self-diagnose and for the "doctor" to say: "If you say so." write a prescription and dismiss the patient without taking an exam. In the real world that's malpractice. [emphasis mine]
What, exactly, is wrong with self-diagnosis of one's sexuality? Sexuality is a personal thing that is ultimately up to the discretion and instincts of those who own their sexuality. How is someone saying "you know, your instincts about your sexuality might be right!" rather than "GET THEE TO A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL" performing a grave disservice? What gives sondjata the authority to order - not suggest - that Awkward seek medical advice in hopes of claiming privilege before daring to declare herself asexual?

Sondjata's comment constructs her privilege as the healthy and right way to live, wielding her societal advantages to other Awkward. There is no room for Awkward, except as a freak of nature. Sondjata insults asexuals by implying that Awkward does not take care of or know her own body.

Instead of focusing on asexuality in culture, sharing experiences and perspectives on the topic, sondjata and other commenters chose to undermine Awkward's knowledge of her own body and assert the rightness, the biological superiority of their own sexuality. Instead of responding to Awkward's queries, they chose to doubt the legitimacy of her asexuality and suggest that Awkward doesn't really know what she's talking about. How could someone who wasn't silly, irresponsible, or sick not want to experience the all-consuming power of sex?

If someone wrote in about their very active sex drive, no one in the comments would suggest that they had a tumor - though that can cause an overactive sex drive. Commenters who respond with "Well, you might be sick. Make sure you're healthy so you can maybe be normal!" are robbing folks like Awkward of their agency in their sexuality and working to further entrench their privilege.

The post brought to mind the excellent and essential "Don't you realize fat is unhealthy?" from Shapely Prose:

7. Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Fat people are human beings.
8. Even fat people who are unhealthy still deserve dignity and respect. Still human beings. See how that works?
9. In any case, shaming teh fatties for being “unhealthy” doesn’t fucking help. If shame made people thin, there wouldn’t be a fat person in this country, trust me. I wish I could remember who said this, ’cause it’s one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You cannot hate people for their own good.” [emphasis in context]

If health is not mentioned in an individual's discussion of their problematized body - in sexuality, or size, or gender identification - interrogating them on their health is a condescending display of privilege. It de-legitimizes and others their experiences, and robs them of an identity, reducing non-standard agency to simple, nonthreatening sickness.

Bottom line: other people's health are not your business. Their body belongs solely to them, and do not exist to soothe threats to your privilege.

More reading: The top ten responses to asexuality


  1. ugh, this is why I don't read Feministing anymore. good post though.

  2. Great post. It seems like a lot of people hear the word "asexuality" and come up with their own ideas of what that could mean, perhaps ignorning what people who actually identify as asexual are trying to say.

  3. Good post, but there is something that I don’t believe in this post. Being fat is really sometimes a big issue. And it’s exactly not being fat, but how you take your weight. I am 54 year old. I gained lot of weight in past 10 years, and I got a distinguishable tummy. I was already having diabetes, but was bit careless as I was mostly concentrating in my business. This carelessness cost me heavily in future. As I was gaining the weight, at the same time, I was unable to balance my cholesterol level. It used to fluctuate heavily. But because of my carelessness, I wasn’t attentive to my health issues, as they were creating hindrance to my work. But at some extreme points, one day I felt some hard beatings on my heart. Suddenly, my heart used to pump vigorously. And there was no point happening that as I was not doing any stressful or physical work. It got worse with time. I was really frightened with the amount of beats it was pumping. It would have been almost double and that also quite hard. I felt dizzy, and suddenly caught a severe headache. And especially, I was having a great amount of pain on my left wrist. I was really helpless at that time. There were no people around, no phone, no one to be called. The only thing that I was able to do was to try to be calm and wait for any help. Somehow, I managed to survive that day. But from that day I was really conscious about the health. That moment was like an alarming signal for something very deadly to happen. I immediately consulted a physician in Los Angeles, where I was staying because of some business work. They suggested me to have some basic cardio test like ECG, etc. I got those test at Elite Health medical office in los angeles. It came to me as a shock that I need to have my advance test, as the cardiologist was doubting to have a blockage in one of the ventricle. Then they took my advance tests like stress test, Echo cardiogram and MRI. The result were that I was having a 60% blockage in one of the left ventricle, and was in the danger of having heart attack. I was astonished to hear that. Then I got the medications and operations after 3 months. Then I got enrolled in one of the wellness program from same elite health where they used to monitor my health issues round the clock. You can find some more info from Right now I am quite healthy, taking a lot amount of care regarding the diabetes and heart issues. My weight is also under my control now with the help of reality diet program where the doctors of elite health discuss my current health status and recommend steps for improving my health and dietary habits.

  4. Maggie: I like much of Feministing's content. The posts have their issues, but I'm their target audience so much of the content appeals to me. The comments are usually a mess and I try to avoid them.

    Elite: I am sorry that you had that experience, and I am glad that you have reached a healthy weight.

    However, and as I'm sure you know, your experience is not universal. Every body is different and individual. Though you were unhappy and unhealthy at your weight, that is not necessarily reflected in the experiences of all fat people (I use the term "fat" descriptively rather than pejoratively). I'm not exactly eloquent on this topic, but I suggest you check out the links in the post above, particularly those from Shapely Prose.


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