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Towards Asexual Theory: Practising a Queer Accountability of the Non-sexual


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This paper proposes new methodological routes to understanding 'asexuality' as epistemology, rather than identity or pathology. It marks a methodological interjection that favours creative and (auto-)ethnographical inquiry in order to understand the queer theoretical potential in rethinking desire, attraction, relationality, sex and identity in ways that speak from asexual experience. By first reviewing existing literature on asexuality and asexual populations, and considering limitations within existing 'asexuality studies' work, the paper introduces an example of creative-critical, autoethnographic practice that is intended to radically break from extant modes of study pertaining to non-sexuality. The asexual experience is centred as a vantage point for study, not as an object of study, and in doing so one's 'account' of an asexual 'self' resists heralding a premature conclusion on what it is to 'be' asexual. Rather, the paper uses an account of asexuality to approach new queer understandings of self, structure, and lack that also disrupt assumptions of pre-given desire, sexuality and performativity. In this way the paper draws out a newly invigorated methodology for conceptualising sexuality's limits, and tentatively suggests lines of inquiry that could amount to a kind of Asexual Theory. Acknowledgements
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Towards Asexual Theory:
Practising a Queer Accountability of the Non-sexual.
Candidate Number: 178425
Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts (Sexual Dissidence).
School of English,
University of Sussex.
September 2018
This paper proposes new methodological routes to understanding 'asexuality' as
epistemology, rather than identity or pathology. It marks a methodological interjection
that favours creative and (auto-)ethnographical inquiry in order to understand the
queer theoretical potential in rethinking desire, attraction, relationality, sex and identity
in ways that speak from asexual experience. By first reviewing existing literature on
asexuality and asexual populations, and considering limitations within existing   
'asexuality studies' work, the paper introduces an example of creative-critical,
autoethnographic practice that is intended to radically break from extant modes of
study pertaining to non-sexuality. The asexual experience is centred as a vantage point
for study, not as an object of study, and in doing so one's 'account' of an asexual 'self'
resists heralding a premature conclusion on what it is to 'be' asexual. Rather, the paper
uses an account of asexuality to approach new queer understandings of self, structure,
and lack that also disrupt assumptions of pre-given desire, sexuality and performativity.
In this way the paper draws out a newly invigorated methodology for conceptualising
sexuality's limits, and tentatively suggests lines of inquiry that could amount to a kind of
Asexual Theory.
 
This dissertation would not have materialised if it were not for the University of Sussex,
its legacy, and its staff. The Sexual Dissidence MA has given me a confidence to think
freely, queerly and with an authority I never knew I had. I have learnt to grasp at the
seemingly unknowable, a pull out from ‘nowhere’ new theoretical possibilities. My place
at Sussex was made available through the Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship, and I thank
the University for this support.
At the same time, this thesis would be, could not, be, without the sage advice and
recommended directions for further thought dealt out from my supervisor Rachel
O’Connell - thank you for noticing, and encouraging, the creative-critical flair lodged in
my thinking, before even I could see it. Thanks to Michael Jonik, for his rigorous course
in Critical Theory, and for planting a seed of ‘little-a’ in my mind that later grew into
Section 4 of the dissertation. Jason Price is to be thanked also for introducing me to
Practice as Research methodologies, and for lighting beneath me an artistic fire that, I
hope, extends beyond the reach of a Master of Arts - I can only apologise for not being
able to realise the full performative scope of our conversation in the 15,000 words
presented here. It is on this note, and yes, simultaneous with a prior acknowledgement
of the University of Sussex’s support, that I make clear my explicit solidarity with those
staff who joined the UCU strike this year, and the attendant opposition to the
marketisation of the Higher Education sector more broadly. I join with many voices in
supporting fair, equal pay in Higher Education and opposing the simultaneous
burdening of students with greater costs for their own educational and personal
development. My thanks for the labour of my educators, alongside my solidarity, is
freely given.
Intimately, my thanks turns to my partner, who has patiently, delicately, sensitively
accompanied me as I explore my own relationship with that mysterious and imposing
phenomenon we know as ‘Sex’. Without you, my own self-reflection would be dulled,
blinded to the nuance of a life loved on the teetering edge of the sexu-sensual, and I
owe you my gratitude for affording me the liberty to write frankly of and about our
(a)sexual relation. And on to that phenomenal web of people who have contributed to
this dissertation in soft and affecting ways: my peers, my parents, my friends and more;
thank you all, especially Rosie and Ellie, for bringing me a queer closeness during my
time by the sea, for keeping me grounded, and for giving me cause for revelry. It is
surely the multifaceted stability and contentment that this year has brought me, thanks
to all the above, that has precipitated the excitement I have to share this piece of
autoethnographic inquiry with you.
Table of Contents
Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2
1. Speaking Sex via the the Self: Recognition, Confession, Accountability………………………… 4
2. Ontologically empirical, obsessively declarative: Asexual studies’ confessing dilemma. 10
3. Methodological Intervention: An Autoethnographic Account of Asexuality…………………. 17
4. little-a-sexuality: Critically theorising ack in psychoanalysis………………………………………… 25
5. Conclusion: From Queer Theory to Asexual Theory…………………………………………………….. 35
Works Cited……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….… 46
Appendix…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 50
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
“[One] thing to distrust is the tendency to relate the question of homosexuality to the problem
of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is the secret of my desire?’ Perhaps it would be better to ask oneself,
‘What relations, through homosexuality, can be established, invented, multiplied, and
(Foucault, 2000 (1981): 135)
“What is it that drives the asexuality of today, what is its particularity, what are its politics?”
(Przybylo, 2011b: 126)
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
The following is many things at once: a methodological proposal, a step towards theory,
a creative interweaving of artistic description and careful consideration; and what it is
deemed to be will vary by reader to reader as they expose themselves to the ideas held
within these pages, and come to reckon with an authorial presence. It as been my
intention to create a triangulation of self-accountability, structures governing
recognition, and relational interaction, a triangulation that tangles other concepts, such
as the confession, within it and works to free itself of them. The following work is messy.
It leaps across the disciplines and thinks queerly beneath and in excess ofthem, referring
to a creative research-practice as it does so. In this ‘tacking’ back and forth across
themes and disciplines, the argument attempts to uphold a central critique of the
imbrication of negativity with categorical and conceptual understandings of
nonsexuality, within and outside of asexual communities.
To achieve this, the thesis takes the following approach, which it is productive to sketch
out for the reader so that it might fasten the interdisciplinary study together in a more
pointed Account of the research. The first step Towards Asexual Theory comes with
exploring subjectivity and its accountability to the self, speculating the necessity and the
constraints of recognition and its confessional side-effect. Section 2 looks at current
knowledge of a ‘self-minoritising’ group of people, asexuals, those who do not
experience sexual attraction. Truth and self-knowledge are juggled and stretched within
asexual literatures, where a lineage from ‘sexual truth’, through ‘asexual truth’, to ‘sexual
untruth’ is sketched out. Asexuality is therein positioned as either an impossible
ontology or a revelatory nihilism.
Autoethnography is introduced in Section 3 because of the ways it can vitally concern
itself with discussions of the ‘self’ and the ‘social field’ simultaneously. It is posed as a
methodological intervention, a suggestion for how future conversations of asexuality
might proceed in more socially just and queerly productive ways. Autoethnography is
shown to be a queer method of speaking with those norms one finds troubling, but
speaking with a playfulness that in turn ‘troubles’ those norms. It is suggested as an
anti-confessional practice, which is turned creative and active in ways that render the
research improvisatory, open, dialogic and interpretive.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
Section 4 presents a critical theorisation of lack and its relationship to desire. In taking
sexuality and making ‘a’-sexuality through a manipulation of Lacanian theory, it shows
that it ‘the universal’ Sex not exceptional nonsexuality that is predicated on lack. The
thesis notably mixes in an appreciation of Butlerian iteration and performativity to
psychoanalytic sexuality, explaining how a lack-based sexuality is made to appear
affirmative in the first instance. It multiplies desire in a Deleuzoguattarian consideration,
and ‘the sexual’ is commented on as a harmful distraction to the Account.
Lastly, having departed from psychoanalysis, the thesis arrives at a close reading of two
vintage texts of nonsexual, though still wonderfully queer, bent. ‘The Uses of the Erotic’
(Lorde, 1984) introduces a theoretical, nonsexual powerful that ‘Friendship as a Way of
Life (Foucault, 2000 (1981)) puts into vital, relational practice. The parallel reading
affords a speculation of what asexual might achieve, especially in a response to a
‘post-sexual’ relation. The multiple emerging strands of asexual theory are read into the
artistic practice that began this inquiry, and that energized the philosophy through its
culmination to thesis-form: a cube is robustly reflected upon, beneath and in beyond.
Such is the conclusive character of an asexual theory, a perspective that, in a queer
relation to verbality, speaks from within and outside of ‘Sex’, embodying a practice that
operates always ‘underneath and in excess of’, motivating a creative-critical thrust that
questions the macro, universalising norm that and that asks of an Account:
‘what else, if not just that’? 
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
1. Speaking Sex via the the Self: Recognition, Confession, Accountability.
“For whom am I writing? Myself? The gays? The asexuals? The queers? The gender misfits?
Those country boys, halfway to the city, yet afraid of its scale?
And whatever, the representative role I take, what does such writing do?
It freights anxiety into the written word, into a prosaic mosaic of thoughts, priorities,
suggestions and criticisms that are wholeheartedly and fatally my own. Or are they? [...] How,
I wonder, have I turned to the broadly acceptable and brutally functional written word in a
project that is predicated on the creative capacities of nonverbal artistic expression?
What am I doing?”
Autoethnographic Extract
In response to the question ‘what am I doing?’, which is positioned here to expose the  
persono-ethical momentum of the present thesis, comes a prior suspicion: who am “I”
to be doing the doing in the first place?
For Butler, “I” is a speaking subject distinct from the self. A being must use the language
it finds itself structured within as a means to express the self in recognizable, legitimate
ways, taking the form of “I” (Butler, 2005). The self and its vocative “I” are always to some
degree distinct - the “I” only interpellates the self to the extent that it is possible for the        
self to be understood by another, and for the self to verify and recognise the
consequent singularity, the ontology instituted by the affirmed “I”, as itself through the  
recognition of an-Other. “I” am myself only on the condition that my being is attended to
and accounted for by “not-I”, and in accordance with those norms of intelligible
recognition that hold the relation of myself and another in tension (Butler, 2005). The
self that looks for recognition finds its call-to-be-accounted-for transformed from
utterance to address, which is to be returned as a response to an altogether new
speaking subject “I”, to whom the addressee confirms ‘being’: the self acquires an
“I”-dentity as a relational, social achievement (Jones and Adams, 2016) at the expense of
disparate elements of that self remaining unaccounted for, invisible and apparently
“[T]he moment I realize that the terms by which I confer recognition are not mine alone, that I
did not single-handedly devise or craft them, I am, as it were, dispossessed by the language
that I offer [...] the “I” becomes an instrument to that norm’s agency”
(Butler, 2005: 26)
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
Transposing one’s existence onto the linguistic plane, what Butler calls ‘Giving an
Account of Oneself’, is thus a relational endeavour, not just to an attendant ‘other’ who
had the power to ‘deem’ (Butler, 1997), but also an impersonal relation to structure
itself: a relation to the language by which one speaks an account . In the realm of
subjecthood appears an enduring context in which whatever “I”-myself might do, speak
or perform becomes and iterative act that is permanently ‘speaking back’ to an originary
context of culturally-contingent subjectivity (Butler, 1990) by way of repeatedly doing
and undoing and doing-once-more (Butler, 2004) the “I” upon which I make “my” claim.  
“I” am owned by the structures that see “me” as I am with regard to those logics, the  
very process of subjectivation is the dispossession of the self, an ethical violence
constituted around ‘universal’ norms that function by way of unspoken (literally
unspeakable) consensus (Adorno, 2014 (1963)). It becomes unclear whether one’s
account is an account of one-self or of structure it-self.
When one’s phenomenological experience rubs at the limit-regions of one’s ontological
existence, one desubjectifies from that subjecthood, or ‘becomes’ something other than
their own subject (Butler, 2002). In the consequent act of deliberation, and in such a
moment of unfixity (when one realises they are held in ‘being’ by logics which one ‘is’
not, and cannot amount to that which one really ‘is’; that moment when one gazes upon
the open closet door from the outside (Sedgwick, 1990)) one appraises oneself as
always-having-been-other (Spry, 2001).
Where the universal is disproved, the matrix of meaning by which “I” was previously
confirmed as “I” is at this point ruptured and, at the failing of this truth, one seeks to
Give a (new) Account of Oneself that concedes less, but always something, to idiom
(Butz, 2010). An accountability, then, that amounts always, and only, to fabulation of the
self, a queer authenticity that participates playfully by way of the universal(-ising) norms
that threaten the erasure of one’s own self. The desubjectified self attempts a
resignification of the subject through an account that in its every speech act strikes a
tense balance between authentic, responsible self-action (a Nietzschean framework of
recognition through culpability), and substitutability for ‘another’ for the sake of
recognition (a Butlerian caveat). An interplay is instituted between self-consolidation
1 See, preemptively, Fig. 3., which will be introduced later in the thesis. All figures are provided in
the Appendix.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
and personal denigration (Sedgwick, 1990) where the stakes are set at the level of ‘being’
and the limits to ownership of existence.
This is the condition, I suggest, of burgeoning asexual literature, academic or otherwise.  
At the present time, when an asexual ‘community’, since the early 2000s, has been
concentrating around a fixed identity category, one is increasingly able to observe the
congealing of diverse, and largely repressive, narratives of negative sexuality into what
is now an increasingly clear conception of ‘asexuality’ (Hanson, 2013), which, in this
thesis, is to be foundationally defined and critically handled in accordance with AVEN’s
(2018) own definition, where: ‘An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction’.
The subsequent section will centre around present and previous literature on
asexuality, sexual lack and asexual populations, but the recent emergence of, and
claims to visibility by, asexual-identitarian communities raises certain and pointed
applications of accountability theory, particularly in response to ‘absence’, in a culture
with a positivistic penchant for professing the personal (Foucault, 1978). As such this
consideration raises questions that sustain the work of the thesis:
“How can I feel asexual, how can I speak ‘of’ it, when ‘my’ community is collective response to
feeling nothing, and being incited to speak ‘something’ nonetheless? Why can’t we speak
otherwise, rather than generically speaking ‘back’? [...] Might there be something to be
learned from its original teaching? Something that can be turned back upon the asexual
‘form’ to re-reduce it to a critique, a questioning, a dissolution of constraint and category?”
Autoethnographic Extract
“How do we begin to analyze and contextualize a sexuality that by its very definition
undermines perhaps the most fundamental assumption about human sexuality: that all
people experience, or should experience, sexual desire?”
(Cerankowski and Milks, 2010: 650, emphasis in original)
And if these questions are to be answered at all, heeded by those attendees for whom
they are presumably intended, are they only to amount to confession?
Michel Foucault’s (1978) confession makes use of the Nietzschean interplay of
punishment-threat-recognition-responsibility, in a different way to Butler’s ‘Account’.
2 AVEN is the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. It is regarded as the largest existing
community for asexual people, has been described as a key storyteller regarding asexuality (Przybylo,
2011b). Its has two main aims: “creating public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and
facilitating the growth of an asexual community” (AVEN, 2018).
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
Nietzsche's nihilistic narrative frames the “I” as reducible to a tool to navigate culpability
and responsibility of one’s actions. It emerges as a response to the threat of
punishment in which one is asks, or asks of oneself, ‘Was it you?’ (Butler, 2005), a
question which performs a judiciary relation of power in which one is to deal out blame
and its consequences, and one, through vocalising one’s “I”, is to bear the brunt of this
recognition (after Butler, 2005). For Foucault, the subject does not account for itself in
this exchange, but is compelled instead to tell the truth about itself. His formulation of
the confession, introduced in ‘The Will To Knowledge’ (1978) found an explicitly sexual
The Foucauldian subject is a product of knowledge-power, authentic to the extent that it
is possible to excavate truth of the subject through the exertion of disclosing-force.
Subjection to ‘truth games’ (1988) ultimately leads to subjectification -the obligation to
the tell in order to be (known) - becoming the way in which one is permitted to know  
oneself. That is, the confessional narrative is one in which epistemology already sets the
terms of what one can be (Sedgwick, 1990) by establishing what knowledge itself
amounts to, and how to attain it, namely through the disclosing, documenting,
moralising, renouncing and consigning of oneself to remaining ‘of’ that which one knows
to be prohibited (Foucault, 1978). Cyclical logics of speech, a constant churn from
speech’s prohibition to the incitement to speak (renounce) one’s prohibited qualities,
and back again, create a centrifugal force around which culture spins, sedimenting by
such force whole taxonomic ranks of populations to biopolitically ‘know’ (Foucault, 1973;
1980). Such populations become ‘made’ and solidified when the confessional narrative
places itself in the regime of recognition by which one gives an Account. The subject in
this framework cannot be accounted for by “I”, but rather “with” a rank or species
(Foucault, 1973), whereby the category precedes the subject and is also the beneficiary      
of the performances and relationships made by the subject (Sedgwick, 1990), who gains
an ontology in service of the knowledge-system in which they are constituted: an
objectified subjecthood (Foucault, 1988), a confessed Account.
Foucault’s subject, then, is a sexual one, with the confession most present in sexual
interdictions (Foucault, 1988). In a context of diffuse, all-encompassing and fluid power,
the knowledge-regime dictating the way subjects are able to know them-selves holds
accountability together with the sexual indictment: the self is sexual, sexuality is
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
“With what do we speak? I cannot bring myself to say it is with the mother-tongue. The
circumstances of our conception and birth are bound – if not merely physically, then also
representationally – by coitus, sexual union, and a heteronormative, reproductive imperative.
We are brought into the world by sex: from the missionary position to the desire to
reproduce. The mother-tongue is already Oedipal, the mouth already has Daddy-issues, or
less flippantly, the condition of life as asexual is always already sex itself. [...] Sex birthed me,
but it is not comfortably nor naturally vocalised by me. Sex is not my mother-tongue, it
cannot be.”
Autoethnographic Extract
An asexual subjectivity, and its nonsexual phenomenology clearly dissents. What might
this ‘speak back’ to the modes of (self-)accountability by which subjectivity and ontology
are palmed out by power?
An asexual confession markedly short-circuits the confessional dialogue. In a context by
which the account must disclose a salacious and innermost truth, the non-sexual
‘subject’ ‘should’ cause a system-collapse where the truth that centres confessional
subject-ivity is rendered a fiction, for there is no truth (sex) to be spoken of, whether
virtuous or otherwise. An absence that hangs in the air, reminding of the emptiness in a
system where even wrong-doing is a truth to be renounced, leaving not-doing-wrong an
ultimate sin, yet a sin that is literally unable to be comprehended, adjusted,
documented, colonized (Przybylo, 2011a), insofar as it marks an impossible confession
outside the realm of the speakable.
Such a revelation reaches queer conclusion when one realises that not only is the self a
fabulation (Ellis, 2004) within a matrix of recognition-norms, but also that those norms
are built on systems of concept-establishment that default in their entirety to
story-spinning. The asexual ‘failure’ (Halberstam, 2011) in speech, or in its ‘inability’ to
signify posivistically, leads to the reduction of sex to a base vocabulary (Potts, 2002), in a
grammar of sexuality (Foucault, 1978), which itself is a fiction lived in the incitement to
tell (sexual) stories (Plummer, 1995). The hyperrealisation of such stories, in a
Baudrillardian sense, yields an overrepresentation of what is deemed to be ‘real’. Sex,
sexuality and the sociostructural taxonomies supported by their confessional stories
and attendant, fictional truths (such race, gender, class, ability; e.g. Kim, 2011) are
evinced as mere simulation (Baudrillard, 1994) at the moment their stories, which
include their science, go unheeded and unrepeated, as in asexual ‘muteness’. The
security of the subject and its account crumbles silently.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
“The fairytales with which we explain sexuality to children are there not so much in order to
mask and distort the realistic explanation, but to mask the fact that there is no realistic
explanation [...] that would account for the sexual as sexual.”
(Zupančič, 2017)
Asexuality, then, is framed as radically negative. Selfhood (from Lacan to Foucault)
appears intrinsically sexual, owing to its formation through the act of speaking (sex).
Asexuality seems to offer a tropic absence of deference to the linguistic rule, which
troubles (Butler, 1990) the very foundations of Western (sexual) subjectivity and
ontology. Where one considers silence also as a performative act of speech (following
Sedgwick, 1990; Butler 1993), what exactly might it have in common with the confession,
besides confessing ‘nothing at all’? Asexuality begs the question: whether, in the
absence of affirmative speech, silence is the most deafening utterance of all?
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
2. Ontologically empirical, obsessively declarative : Asexual studies’ confessing dilemma.
“There is no easy way to distinguish between what is ‘materially’ true and what is ‘culturally’
true about a sexed body”.
(Butler, 2004: 87)
“[A]sexuality, like most sexualities is, in significant and intricate ways, carved into existence by
science”, [...] “science charts the parameters to which asexuals must adhere”.
(Przybylo, 2011b: 29, 63).
This section shall comment on existing literature surrounding nonsexuality, to
emphasise that vocabularies ‘of’ asexuality (after Potts, 2002) have been confessionally
constrained in at least two ways: 1) the language of asexuality has been ‘pre-historically’
(Przybylo, 2012) produced by its absence from sexuality - absence is definitionally
manipulated in asexual ‘speech’, but not fundamentally challenged; and 2) asexual
narrative is discursively and assumptively tied to sex and its negativities - asexuality is  
asexual insofar as it is counted as a-sexual.
Both constraints work simultaneously to impact on how one is permitted to ‘account for’
nonsexuality in critical ways. They work neither exclusively not exhaustively, yet produce
a compulsion to confess that: 1) turns absence itself into a confession: “in the absence
of anything to confess, it is this absence that must be confessed” (Przybylo 2011a: 449);
and 2) reduces the expressions of the asexual literature to a reactive labour in service to
a ‘respectable accountability’ in which one renders oneself substitutable to this
confession, due to a legacy of erasure.
It is de rigueur in long-form asexuality research to recount the lineage of non-sexual
knowledge production (cf. Przybylo, 2011b; Hanson, 2013; Sundrud, 2011). Such
practice, it appears, is at once a performative recounting that is linked to a
contemporary identitarian acknowledgement of invisibility - a recognition of asexuality’s
very recent emergence onto a commonly visual plane, and early reliance on the
internet’s distributive power, perhaps - but also ushers into debate an ethical dimension  
concerning who has produced (and, less often, who has been produced by) this
knowledge, a response conscious of lived histories of institutional correction of the
sexually-’deficient’ (psychiatrically, clinically, or otherwise).
3 Przybylo, 2011: 455
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
Partaking in such a ritual, as this section shall, I am conscious of these critical  
limitations, whilst also attempting to mount a contextualising critique of how the
literature has become sedimented in confessional (thus also constraining and
normalising) ways, with consequences for asexual ontology, community and identitarian
selfhood . The literature review, if it may be deemed as such, is thus necessarily brief,
serving to justify a methodological intervention, which is to be introduced later. Indeed,
this paper shall contend throughout that the negative underpinnings of the kinds of
asexual understanding presented here are not in and of themselves helpful or
progressive. They merely pose a latent invitation to move past such logics and limits.
The sexual truth.
It has been noted that ‘Asexuality’ is a relatively recent phenomenon, emerging and
gaining visibility since the turn of the century (Bogaert, 2004; 2012; Carrigan, Gupta and
Morrison, 2013). This emergence is in large part due to contemporary discourses of sex
and sexuality, with asexuality described as a culturally-expedient product of
‘sexusociety’ (see: Przybylo, 2011a), the diffuse, socially-mediated disciplinary situation
of ‘sex’ one finds oneself in today. Asexuality has nevertheless been spoken about,
indeed produced, throughout history in non-officialised (Przybylo, 2011b) ‘asexual forms’
such as frigidity, prudishness, celibacy, spinsterhood and more. I proceed with  
‘nonsexuality’ when discussing sexual politics and phenomenology associated with
sexual lack, as a term that extends beyond, and cannot be rooted simply in, an ‘Asexual’
identity. In fact, much work on nonsexuality notably predates any Asexual ‘here and
now’, in ways that are too diverse and variegated to support a singular, transhistorical
notion of what it means to be ‘Asexual’. Nonsexuality is here denoted to respond to the
collective and continuous positions under an ever-evolving sexual structure, of which
asexuality today is one iteration. Asexuality will refer to the specific attunings of
identifying and critiquing, vis a vis contemporary sexual pressures and politics, that are    
often directly, though also indirectly, related to a reclamation of desexualisation and
nonsexuality within the identity-formations of the asexual community and an ‘Asexual’
orientation for the self.
4 A collected and compacted version of this ‘contextualisation’ is to be found in Fig. 1, in the Appendix.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
Eminent asexuality scholar and Foucauldian, Ela Przybylo (2012) shows how an
‘empirical asexuality’ was named through classical sexological work, before it ever
acquired an ontology. From the days of Kinsey’s studies of male (Kinsey et al. 1948) and
female (ibid. 1953) sexuality, textual, if not analytical, space was made for X’s, who could
not be placed on a hetero-homosexual continuum, owing to a generally negligible
response to sexual stimuli. Later sexological work ran into similar implications: Storms’
(1980) study which, by turning Kinsey’s continuum into two axes, produced as a
byproduct conceptual space for asexuality ( Fig. 2). Such investigations discerned the
presence of an absence in the sexological landscape, asexuality became named as a
result of opening an ‘emptiness’-in-sex, thus introducing the possibility that one might
be asexually-inclined, but stopping short of actually heralding the arrival of a fixed,
asexual sensibility.
By being produced in searches for the ‘truth’ of sex(-uality) (the very mechanisms that
tell sexu-scientific stories of objectifying truth, lived in Foucault’s confession), asexuality
finds itself epistemologically rooted in those origins that also positivistically and morally
define sex as central (after Foucault, 1978), essential (Chasin, 2013) and, more recently,
healthy and necessary for happiness (Przybylo, 2011b). This has resulted, in
psychological, medical and psychiatric registers, in the production of an enduring,
empirical pathologisation of nonsexuality (Cacchioni, 2007). Where before asexual was a
quantitative byproduct, it became in the latter half of the twentieth century the concern
of an aetiological search (Carrigan, 2011) that intended to find the causes of
nonsexuality so as to propose solutions to its concurrently produced and associated
dysfunction, distress, and disorder (cf. Nurius, 1983; Masters, Johnson and Kolodny,
The recent publication of DSM-5 still exhibits this negativisting of the negative, in which
asexuality and sexual desire disorders intermingle and entangle in unclear and
troublesome ways (Carrigan, Gupta and Morrison, 2013). Such disorders are powerful
prescriptions that conclude a sexual truth in the form a disorder, alongside a necessity
to explain the causal absence-of-truth, and legitimate medico-psychological treatment
5 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published 2013, is the key text governing
diagnosis for the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 consigns low sexual drive, fantasy
and/or desire to the category of mental disorder in the forms of ‘Male Hypoactive Sexual Desire
Disorder’ and ‘Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder’, providing the subject reports distress, and
that these observations are not (more accurately) explained by substance usage, another existing
mental disorder, or, crucially, identification with asexuality.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
that might ‘fix’ the sexual malfunction and produce an alternative sexual story that
performs a more ‘desirable’ sexual truth . The production of ‘a sexual truth’ has also
empirically produced a negatively understood non-/asexuality. Negative in the sense
that asexuality is understood as: 1) an absence of sexual truth (knowledge reached
through a confessing substrate), and 2) an issue of aetiological significance to be
‘discerned’ (Przybylo, 2013) and fixed (Gressgård, 2013).
The asexual truth.
Given this asexual pre-history - the production of asexuality prior to the coining of the
term itself in its contemporary usage (Przybylo, 2011a) - and the moralistic, and in some
instances violent, implications of this emergence in sexological work, much early studies
‘of’ asexuality have sought to document and understand how ‘asexual’ might be lived
out (cf. Bogaert, 2006; 2012), or explained without defaulting to pathology (cf. Brotto
and Yule, 2011; Prause and Graham, 2007). This ‘wave’ of literature used the same
avenues of scientific storytelling and confession as prior studies, to create the fixed
category of ‘asexual’ as legitimate, intended, and a ‘known’ phenomenon, tying such
findings to a theoretically-essential body, and moving towards a depathologised
ontology (Scherrer, 2008; Gressgård, 2013).
From psychological investigations to populations data, the biopolitical dispotifs of  
knowledge-power are virtuously instrumentalised, if not challenged, to argue for the
acceptance of an asexual personhood distinct from (allo-)sexual subjectivity. If 1% of
the population (Bogaert, 2004), the literature implies, is reported to never having had
experienced sexual attraction, and when test subjects of all persuasions could display
signs of physiological arousal to sexual intercourse as well as ‘neutral stimuli’ (Brotto  
and Yule, 2011 ), the universality of ‘sexual truth’ is wiggled enough to allow for a
legitimised confession of absence, the ‘rendering-enough’ of asexual data which allows
for asexuality itself to be a recognisable confession (Przybylo, 2012). Such work
6 It is important to remain attentive to the difference embodied across the messy entanglement of the
above disorders and asexuality. Some may genuinely benefit from treatments and may or may not
claim an asexual identity, others might equally be exposed to trauma and hurt. Whilst this discussion
falls outside the scope of the thesis, the way that distress and identity are opposed and utilised
regarding sexual desire disorders is reductive and problematic.
7 ‘Allosexual’ denotes a person, or subjectivity, that does experience sexual attraction. Its antonym is
‘asexual’ (Colborne, 2018).
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
essentialises asexuality as ‘disposition’ (Chasin, 2011), lending a transhistoricity to the
category itself, offering an asexual subjectification as an alternative to the objectification    
of nonsexuality previously discussed - the Asexual is produced by its own knowledges,  
and not by others’.
The Sexual Untruth - Identity and Structure: the current impasse.
There remains a skepticism owing to a realisation that producing a ‘recognisable
confession’ has not (perhaps never could have) resulted in the removal of the asexual
from power systems that violently govern one’s value and happiness based on one’s
position in the sexual systems of ‘sexusociety’ (Przybylo, 2011a; Rubin, 1984). An asexual
confession, it seems, is still a process that introduces oneself into a relationship
between subjecthood and subjectification to disciplinary structures á la Foucault (1978)
by virtue of being a confession ‘to’ sexuality, rather than merely being sexual in nature.    
Becoming an ‘expert of oneself’ (Gressgård, 2013) does not appear to exempt one from
the semiotic structures made by other (authoritative, objective) experts:
“[D]epathologizing asexuality solely on the basis that asexuals are not distressed still leaves
asexuality vulnerable to being understood as ‘abnormal’, ‘unhealthy’, or even ‘dysfunctional’,
failing to substantively challenge the medicalisation of sexual lack”
(Przybylo, 2011b: 116).
Contemporary asexuality literature presents, implicitly and explicitly, an argumentative
teleology in which the confession is no longer merely the conclusion to asexual
recognition and speech - in fact it is clear that it is not ‘enough’. The asexual confession
is used as a tool for (a)sexual liberation in two distinct ways: fostering identitarian,
community growth in a liberal sense; and queer commentary on sexually-dominated
power structures in a critical sense. What endures still from older literature is a reliance
on the confession which I read alongside typical narratives of the closet (after Sedgwick,
1990). Spatially configured, it is the asexual’s presence in a schema of ‘compulsory
sexuality’ (Gupta, 2015; after Rich, 1980), that is strategically reorientated via the act of
self-confession-as-asexual in order to then occupy a position outside of the closet,
8 Kristina Gupta uses the term ‘compulsory sexuality’ to refer to a societal condition in Western culture
and thought that promotes two key tenets: 1) a universal assumption that all people ‘are’ sexual; and
2) a set of “practices that marginalise the nonsexual and compel people to experience themselves as
desiring subjects, take up sexual identities and engage in sexual activity” (2015: 132). Gupta’s term
builds from Adrienne Rich’s (1980) term ‘compulsory heterosexuality’.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
outside of sexusociety (Przybylo, 2011a), from which to speak (back). It is the
acknowledgment of current performative pressures and rules of recognition which
provide the ethical universal deficit (Butler, 2005) that necessitate an asexual Account of
the self, despite the fact that epistemologically speaking, the means and ends of the
account are already constrained by the confessional terms of sexuality’s ontology. From
this perspective, confessional accountability is seen to:
either 1) document and claim a liberal (a)sexual identity which strives for a stable
‘minoritising discourse’ (Sedgwick, 1990) in which one is asexual and free from
disciplinary sexual imperatives (Przybylo, 2011b). One makes sense of oneself within the
categorical constructions exogenous to oneself (Chasin, 2011);
or 2) create a lens (Przybylo, 2013; Bogaert, 2012) through which to see sexuality
‘from a distance’ whilst also being imbricated in its diffuse network of
pleasure-knowledge power (Foucault, 1978) - a universalising discourse (Sedgwick, 1990)
which, in questioning the mechanisms of identity one is expected to ‘make sense’
through (Scherrer, 2008), posits a radical refusal (Fahs, 2010) of (hetero)sexual
perfomativity. The asexual lens resists the Foucauldian regulation of intimacies and
relationalities under the adage of sexuality, a disorienting strategy of being, or,
a-sexuality as method (Przybylo, 2013).
In the latter response, asexuality is a disidentification (Muñoz, 1999) with sexuality at
large (Kim, 2011), yet a disidentification that is not itself subjectifying. Asexuality is
framed in this respect as something one does (or rather does not), instead of something
one ‘is’ (or rather is not), thus challenging the confession to extend beyond the point of
(self-)subjectivation, into the realm of destabilising political praxis.
Whilst asexual accountability remains in either schema discursively grounded in a
history of confessional knowledge, both the centrality of the confession for the
transferral of the self into category, and the necessity of performing in a manner
substitutable with “normative scripts of sexual repetition” (Przybylo, 2011a: 448) as a
pre-condition to being accounted for (Butler, 2005; Sedgwick, 1990), are being
questioned even as the significance of accountable-confession remains. Considering
that even scientific accounts are rendered as convincing fictionalities, and that fictional
works of all forms can have consequences as rich as empirical ones (Rabbiosi and
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
Vanolo, 2017), the literature presented in this section embodies a doubly poststructural
Fable 1 - an asexual agency emerges as possible, which is taken to be surely    
fictional, given its foregrounding in a sexual, scientific, semiotic system that would
refute it at a fundamental level and from which it cannot, in a Foucauldian sense, break
free, because the nonsexual is forced to take the form of the not-sexual, a ‘sexual
orientation of no’ (Melby, 2005: 5).
Fable 2 - asexual critique reveals exactly that overarching system - which is
variously named ‘sexusociety’ (Przybylo, 2011a), compulsory sexuality (Gupta, 2015),
eronormativity (Hanson, 2013), the sexual imperative (Przybylo, 2011b), sexual
normativity (Sundrud, 2011) - to be a fabricated fiction itself.
Both fictitious revelations are performative and affecting, operating in asexual registers,
but find actualisations in their real, non-fictional consequences.
Impossible ontology and revelatory nihilism come together where asexuality straddles
fiction and non-fiction (after Carrigan, 2011), empirical science and poststructural
critique, proposing a perverse narrative (Hanson, 2013) and in so doing it disavows the
certainty of the biopolitical confession: something made out of nothing, an absence
asserting its presence. This is the intended direction of a proposed asexual theory. I  
hope for the creation of queer theoretical pathways that further disengage from the
reactive labour that marks current literature, and that rejects the painstaking
self-linkage to pure negativity, medicalised lack, and existence-under-imperative, that
this chapter has entertained. The confession is being refashioned, and an accountability
is sought that owes nothing to it.
In place of this ‘reactive labour’, comes an attempt to redirect labour towards the
‘thing-in-itself’: asexual, not a-sexual. It has been shown how the literature has arrived at
this point wherein asexuality is beginning to be explored beyond identity and beyond
the constraints of structure and power ‘as is’. This motivates the present call to radically
develop, and divert, work on asexualty studies through new methods, and new
epistemologies, which are creative, critical, asexual-centred and open to positive
multiplicity/-ies - a call already put forward by scholars (e.g. Cerankowski and Milks, 
2014) eager to “rework asexuality’s reactive definition to reflect more accurately its
subversive potentialities for plurality” (Przybylo, 2011a: 455).
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
3. Methodological Intervention: An Autoethnographic Account of Asexuality.
“If I try to give an account of myself, if I try to make myself recognizable and understandable,
then I might begin with a narrative account of my life. But this narrative will be disoriented by
what is not mine, or not mine alone. [...] The narrative authority of the “I” must give way to
the perspective and temporality of a set of norms that contest the singularity of my story.”
(Butler, 2005: 37)
“[W]here does self begin and sex end? Is sex(-uality, -ualness) an essence in the self, or is sex
an altogether separate mystique that one works with and through [...] for gratification,
pleasure and connection with others by actually using oneself as a means to performatively
become something else, something ‘of’ the sexual?”
Autoethnographic Extract.
This thesis is the material reflection of a thoughtful practice. Such methodology
undertakes creative practice in the name of asexual theory, and has as its goal the
creation of a concrete cube. Creative writings, personally-inspired, form self-reflective
avenues of inquiry, that rewrite the foundational knowledges of asexual selfhood, and
unfurl like ‘snaking verbs’ (Jones and Adams, 2016) towards this artistic goal. The
present methodology involves a crude practice of materialising thought, and
documenting the route one takes to achieve this in such a way that the resulting ‘thing’
cannot be appreciated outside of its production (Kershaw, 2011; Sullivan, 2010):
“Though insights may indeed be evident within the product, the production of knowledge is
typically processual and the relational encounters in which it is yielded might helpfully be
pointed up for the purposes of articulating research.”
(Nelson, 2013: 115)
“You are presented with a grey cube. Six faces of grey concrete, each identical, with sides
approximately the length of your forearm, you might guess. Uncontroversial is this cube. [...]
What is the relevance of such close inspection when a cube is so plainly presented merely as
a cube?”
Autoethnographic Extract.
This methodological intervention offers a creative-critical, self-centred and self-reflective
mode of accountability, which is diverted from the confession as well as a tradition of       
reactive labour in asexual literature. Through autoethnographic and creative inquiry,
asexual selfhood can be explored in ways accountable to the ‘thing-in-itself’ but without
ignoring the influence of an ever-present knowledge-power-pleasure nexus of sex. Such
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
a method materialises phenomenology (Spry, 2001), renders theory performative, and
in doing so it brings asexuality studies into ‘queer’.
Autoethnography takes the form of self-narrative, having emerged in the 1980s    
(Méndez, 2013). Far from being a static production of text, autoethnography
“transcends mere narration of self to engage in cultural analysis and interpretation”,
allowing the participant-researcher to “transcend the intimate [...] to balance between
descriptive particularity and interpretive generality” (Chang, 2008: 43, 140).
Methodologically it marries the rich, thick description of ethnography (Geertz, 1973)
with the situated knowledge of the teller (Haraway, 1991). It turns to productive use the
tension of the Account (Butler, 2005), self-consciously speaking within, and towards, a
system that requires deference to a logical matrix greater than the self:
“When the “I” seeks to give an account of itself, it can start with itself, but it will find that this
self is already imbricated in a social temporality that exceeds its own capacities for
(Butler, 2005: 7)
“An autoethnographic voice can interrogate the politics that structure the personal yet it must
still struggle within the language that represents dominant politics.”
(Spry, 2001: 722)
Autoethnography requires the limits to ethical agency, which Butler critiques, to be
brushed up against and acknowledged. Its activity occurs in linking the self with the
social field (Reed-Danahay, 1997), emphasising the self with regard to a wider cultural
system in which the self is formed, thus bearing an “I”-witness (Spry, 2001), an account
that comments not just on the self via its “I”, but also on the universalising structure via
the “I” created by it. The impersonal perspective of the Hegelian encounter is
personalised once more - where the Hegelian self-comes-to-self via a reflected
recognition with the other, the autoethnographic self recognises oneself instead as
always-already other (Adams and Jones, 2011) at the level of the conscious. It proceeds    
with such a primary mindset, that subjectivity is the product of an interaction between
the self and a system that subjects the self. Autoethnography is also able to respond to
the linguistic dispossession of the subject (Butler 2005, after Nietzsche) and seeks
nonetheless for a just subjecthood under “I”. Its value is thus stretched out along the
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
interplay between personal denigration (the concession to the idiom (Butz, 2010), or
Butlerian substitutability) and self-consolidation, recognition that spites the confession:
“autoethnography represents for many the right to tell their truth as experienced without
waiting for others to express what they really want to be known and understood.”
(Méndez, 2013: 282)
In sum, autoethnography provides an institutionally disruptive (Merryfeather and Bruce,
2014) approach that simultaneously energises socio-cultural commentary and the
liberation of the self. Because of this, its popular utilisation in (queer, feminist) critical
studies can be noted, from Lorde’s (1982) ‘biomythography’ Zami, through Anzaldúa’s
(1987) semi-autobiographical Borderlands, to Preciado’s (2013) ‘autotheory’ Testo Junkie,  
the blurring of fiction and academic writing both produces surprising and especially
compelling insight, as well as working to reduce the authority of the ‘objective’ scholarly
voice, which itself is also a fiction (Butler, 2002; 1993). “Autoethnography in this sense is
a child of the twin crises of legitimation and representation” (Butz, 2010: 5).
‘Ethno-fiction’ (Augé, 2011) such as this promotes self-reflection in its production and its
reception, for writer and for reader, and hence embodies a far more dynamic medium
for mutual learning (in the act of reading and recognising) than more ‘traditional’ forms
of hypothesis-based knowledge testing (Cerwonka and Malkki, 2007).
It is in this sense that I argue that autoethnography holds the power to begin resolving  
the impasse of accountability, due to its operation across, between, and beyond the
universalising versus minoritizing tendencies (Sedgwick, 1990) of contemporary asexual
discourse. In the relational exchange between author and reader, the latter is
encouraged to reflect on themselves, through difference and commonality with the
speaker (Ellis, 2004), and the autoethnographic self resists minoritisation. The centrality
of critical and creative interpretation of texts in autoethnographic research provides
subjectively-various comments on ‘the universal’ in which we are all imbricated, whilst
attending also to the particularities of the accounts - an account of something, not
merely someone (Merryfeather and Bruce, 2014). It is the telling of one’s stories that is
made to link with the stories of others (Chang, 2008), which echoes the ways in which
we are all performatively constituted as speaking creatures (after Butler, 1990).
Autoethnography, then, is a two-fold, doubly-reflexive method with no terminus; a
queer process of emancipatory, interpretive accountability.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
A Queer Anti-confession
“Sex, then, has become the Big Story [...] A grand message keeps being shouted: tell us about
your sex.”
(Plummer, 1995: 4)
“ ...I thus recognise my propensity to ‘be’ sexual by virtue of that performance we all ‘know’,
but without the compulsion for the performance to enact a true self: rather, a performance in
which the parodic is the incidence wherein the structure connects with its own excess, and the
self profits in the ensuing deficit created.”
Autoethnographic Extract.
Autoethnography’s disruptive accountability is also a necessarily queer one. If, for
Foucault (1978), the subject is always a sexual subject, instituted by the norm with which
the subject knows itself (Haefner, 2011), then to care for the self, to speak of it (Foucault,
1988), is also to speak of sex and, indeed, compulsory sexuality (Gressgård, 2013; Rubin,
1984). If, for Butler, the subject is interpellated in the same moment that the
heterosexual matrix is woven around and across it, then any form of speech
constrained by such sexual grammatology becomes part and parcel of those ‘vital
illusions by which we live’ (Milner, 2010 (1950): 35). Even for Lacan (1977a), it was not
speaking ‘of’ the sexual that was the pleasure of the ego, but rather the sexual pleasure
‘in’ the speaking, the circumstance before the action, the terms of the subject as sexual         
rather than the subject itself (Grosz, 1990). To speak of the self-as-subject, is to speak of
sex. It undergirds seemingly all semantic, semiotic and somatic systems. It begs the
question: how might one begin to resist, or disengage?
Capitalising on the failings and incompleteness of language vis-a-vis the subject, queer
autoethnography is able to utilise opportunistic appropriations of personal relations to
misfit scripts in the troubling (Butler, 1990) of stories. In centring the politics of
knowledge and experience, a queer autoethnography, like asexuality, explores what
‘subjugated sense’ (Rabbiosi and Vanolo, 2017) is made by those who do not (enjoy to)
repeat in accordance with the (sexual) norm (Przybylo, 2011a):
“A queer autoethnography encourages us to think through and out of our categories for
interaction and to take advantage of language’s failure to capture or constrain ‘selves’, ways
of relating and subjugated knowledges”
(Jones and Adams, 2016: 206)
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
In Queer Theory, the performative “I” is never fixed, never identified permanently, and is
instead appreciated for its constant becoming-otherwise (Ellis, 2004), its troublesome
fluidity. The “I” in this sense is insubstitutible, as its ontology lies in the creative doing
and reflexive being (Kershaw, 2011) that is governed by a queer, unfixable subjecthood:
“Queer autoethnography embraces fluidity, resists definitional and conceptual fixity [and]
looks to self and structures as relational accomplishments”
(Jones and Adams, 2016: 211)
Autoethnography thus allows one to approach a queer accountability (Adams and Jones,
2011), one that is necessarily involved in a relation with the substitutable idiom, but that
does not, cannot be made to, anchor selfhood in a fixed “I”. A queer autoethnography
goes beyond simple substitution for the sake of recognition, in fact it would refute
recognition as an all too simple goal, taking time instead to lay out the circumstance of
one’s relation to self and structure in its multiplicity. The open-ended engagement of
reader and writer does not default to judgement on the receipt of a confession, but
works critically in an anti-confessional manner, prompting the reader/listener to
consider their affinities with the queer autoethnographer, engaging “readers in
understanding not only the autoethnographer’s world but also other worlds in them       
(Chang, 2008: 56, emphasis added). A queer practice is hereafter activated, that turns
confessional certainty to queer liminality.
How might this be achieved in practice? Can performing the self ever fully wrestle
accountability from the confession? Would the risk of instituting a ‘norm’ for what
constitutes a queer (asexual) account ever be reduced?
Considering that the self is performed through acts of speech, which iterate stories that
inform the narratives that ‘norm’-alise otherwise various lives (Butler, 1990), it seems
that autoethnography as self-narrative is most effectively queered by disrupting its
dedication to producing narratives. Playing with narrative form and function through
stories that are reducible neither to the minor nor to the universal (Sedgwick, 1990)
allows for intentional self-positioning at the level of the liminal - a more accurate
pronouncement of the queer-self’s location perhaps, given that asexual sensibility is
presented ‘of’ a queer time and place (after Halberstam, 2005). Asexual narrativity has
been described as a short-circuiting ‘stasis’ that exists in resistance to the resolution or
culmination of normative (sexual) storytelling. Hanson (2013: 3) proposes that
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
asexuality’s definitional absence - the lacking of any signifying sexual drives - be
considered as “anti-teleological stasis that disrupts the movement of narrative”.
Where the universal sexual assumption is challenged, where (a)sexual stories do not
conclude and do not therefore confess anything in a positive register, the regime of
truth has its limits exposed, and the epistemological horizon is opened (Butler, 2002).
Asexuality, then, exists in constant concert with disidentification (Hanson, 2013),
removing the certainty in one’s confession, and questioning sex’s nature. An asexual
narrative might be borne out of an anti-narrative, one that is necessarily open-ended,
refraining from didacticism and orthodoxy, whilst finding an epistemology in its queer
narrative stasis nonetheless. Such a narrative introduces itself, develops, lays its cards
on the table, and drops off suddenly, rendering climax a fictional wager (Hanson, 2013),
anti-confessional in its pronouncement of nothing as nothing (rather than nothing as      
lack), and queer in its endless possibility (Sedgwick, 1993): a concrete cube…?
“You have involved yourself in a concretised system of ‘what if’: what if the rose exists [at the
centre of the cube] as promised, and what if the cube is broken, and what if you can attain
the rose… what then? The cube is destroyed and the rose decays.”
Autoethnographic Extract.
The scope of this thesis centres on the narrative implications of sculpture as a
performative and practised mode of autoethnographic inquiry. By turning to work the
often improvised, sensed, fleeting, and failing creative endeavours of artistic practice
(Barrett and Bolt, 2014) through the body’s self-narrative, one playfully pluralises the
autoethnographic outcome:
“[P]lay is a method of inquiry, aiming [...] to put in play elements in a bricolage which afford
insights through delicate and careful juxtaposition”
(Nelson, 2013: 109)
Here, I intend to bring Practice As Research methodologies (cf. Barrett and Bolt, 2014; 
Nelson, 2013; Sullivan, 2010) into closer contact with performative autoethnography (cf.
Ellis, 2004; Schneider, 2005; Denzin, 2013).
9 This is a rather absolute definition, one which this thesis does not wholly adopt, but one which is
useful at this point to introduce asexuality’s signifying potential.
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Practice and Performance
The concrete cube I presently imagine is the outcome of a practised research in which
studio practice and conceptual writings (of autoethnographic bent) are the methods by
which realisations and data are allowed to unfurl, spring up, mingle, take form and
involve myself (Sullivan, 2010). I improvise my theory and practice based on the route  
my creative research takes itself along (Cerwonka and Malkki, 2007). In this way, my
intentions cannot directly yield my conclusion, my narrative passes through materiality.
The certainty of my own accounted-for position gives way to an inquisitive and ongoing
playfulness as a line of inquiry (Barrett and Bolt, 2014). My research has at its core “a
collision of image, visuality, text, inter-text and inner-dialogue made visible as an
interactive experience of signification and three-dimensional storytelling” (Anae, 2014:
The cube might mean many things to ‘Me’, and many (different?) things to ‘You’. As a
product it is endowed with a queer phenomenology (Ahmed, 2006) that is constituted
by the background of its production of which “I” am a part, and the background of its
reception of which you are part:
“The present-moment view of any object is always determined by the accident of where one is
standing at the moment [...] To grasp the essence of [it], whether in paint or thought, you
have surely to combine all the partial glimpses into a relevant whole.”
(Milner, 2010 (1950): 16)
In production, as in presentation, the ‘tacking between’ (Cerwonka and Malkki, 2007) of
part and whole, of detail and entity, of act and message, of material and thought, is the
oscillatory and collaborative tendency of an improvisatory learning practice that
culminates nonetheless to a shared, performative self-narrative. It amounts to say ‘“I”
have made this, what say “You”?’, rather than laying out a narrative that concludes back
onto oneself with relative certainty for the Other to binarically ‘approve’. By shelving
recognition in the art of creative practice, the interaction(s) which govern the Account
are deferred to interpretive, mutual appraisal of ‘the thing in itself’.
The form of this autoethnographic practice is thus not pre-given, one’s self-narrative is
not merely the reporting of previous selves in service of the authorial “I”, but instead has
formed in the creative involvement of the artist-researcher (Sullivan, 2010), the cultural
structures they find themselves within, materials, affects, self-histories, and
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
participatory viewers (e.g. Anae, 2014). Requiring interpretive responses in the act of
sharing, this ‘three-dimensional storytelling’ (Anae, 2014) collapses self-representation
and performance into one and the same exchange (Butz, 2010), into one engaging
artefact, and thus transfers self-narrative into the practice only as far as the middle of a
narrative arc. In instituting narrative stasis, practice-as-research rejects conclusion (the
acceptance of a confession and the solidification of the subject) to promote a mutual
discernment ‘after the fact’, in which the art piece may be considered ‘as it is’ and
beyond (Kershaw et al., 2011). Such a model better reflects the Hegel-Butlerian framings
of mutual recognition, and actualises unfixed, queer (and asexual) potentialities by
redefining conclusivity as unnarattable, ever-changing, interpretive readings. This yields
potentialities that inspire far more desubjectified leadings than any account of
particular, named subjectivities could have.
Technologies of the self - the means by which an account can be fashioned though
practice and agency - are imbricated with the care of the self - the adoption of an
account into testimonial selfhood - (Foucault, 1988), here reflected in an active practice  
of nihilistic fiction. Or, simply put, the practising of an Account that amounts merely to a
commentary on the fabulation of the self in the first instance, a wry effort of artistic
destabilisation. The present study practises a sculptive autoethnography which serves to    
queer the already disruptive autoethnographic method further still. In doing so, asexual
narrative stasis is acknowledged for its queer potential and is engaged with creatively
to: 1) challenge the governmentality of ‘sexual stories’ (Plummer, 1995) and our
incitement to tell them; 2) evoke a queer accountability of the self in conversation with
theories of the non-sexual; and 3) provide an example of an improvised and lived-out
route to theory that does not react to confessional legacies of asexual literature, but
that instead centres the asexual self in ways that do not limit selfhood and subjectivity
to a protracted conclusion.
 
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
4. little-a-sexuality: Critically theorising lack in psychoanalysis.
“A true, emancipatory politics can be thought only on the ground of an object-disoriented
ontology [...] an ontology that pursues not simply being qua being, but the crack (the Real, the
antagonism) that haunts being from within.”
(Zupančič, 2017: 24)
“When we ‘have sex’ what does that mean? [...] Are we having sex, or does it have us in its
clutches? [...] Would it be awful to say we engage in a ‘Having (to) Sex’ - an obligation that
rewards us in our obedience to it? Are ours the two backs that give shape to a beast, which
one knows as ‘Sex’? What say you, love? Do you know it better than I?”
Autoethnographic Extract
Having discussed and defined this thesis’ engagement with accountability, recognition,
substitution, asexuality, the nonsexual, autoethnography and creative practice, these
final two sections shall begin to approach what might be understood as asexual theory.
This section shall interrogate Lacanian theories of self and sexuality from an asexual
vantage point. It aims to show that sexuality operates within the same framework as the
Account, and suggests that there is more to be understood of asexuality than a mere
definitional lack. By carefully building up a nuanced understanding of Lacanian
‘sexuation’ from within-and-outside - a notably asexual perspective (Przybylo, 2013) - the    
present section sets up a theoretical background (Ahmed, 2006) for moving past
previous impasses in asexuality studies, questioning negativity, broadening critique,
opening up queer thought and, crucially, removing the occasion for recourse to
psychoanalysis altogether. The disengagement and disidentification (Muñoz, 1999) from
psychoanalytic theory is significant and necessary, as it has been a central perpetrator
of ethical violence (after Adorno, 2014 (1963)) against nonsexual phenomenologies,
oweing to it instituting, through Freud and also Lacan, a universal norm of intrinsic and
inevitable desire.
Speech and silence
“Man speaks, it is true, but it is because the symbol has made him man.”
(Lacan, 2006 (1966): 73)
Compare Hegel’s model of impersonal recognition and Lacan’s ‘mirror-stage’ modelling
of desire (Fig. 3). Note that for Hegel, one recognises oneself as seen, which leads one to
see oneself a priori through the eyes of another, refracted and reflected through the
other’s desires. Note that for Lacan, subjects are formed as an indirect response to their
desires being part-recognised and returned via a partial object that triangulates itself
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
with the ‘one’ and the ‘Other’. Note also that for Lacan, desire is understood as the lack
that exists in the remainder between the order by which one can be satisfactorily
recognised, and the extent of the subject in excess of this recognition. Desire exists for
the resolution of this causative lack. That is, desire desires connection with others, a
recompense for the failings of formal recognition’s mere partially-connective gaze. For
Lacan, as for Hegel, it is the returning impulse, not the outgoing one (the drive), that
conditions subjectivity; desire is relational whilst also being internal and essential for the
subject, who is forged in a desiring gaze. Both framings centralise an interactive
misrecognition. In the Lacanian ‘mirror-stage’, the subject defers itself to the laws of the
mirror’s own reflection:
“The subject is located in an order outside itself to which it will henceforth refer.”
(Rose, 1982: 31, after Lacan)
The reflection is always imperfect, something is lost, the self is always only understood
as “I”. This is the originatory non-relation (the lack of a full and genuine connection),
which is the structuring force of relationality itself in the Lacanian sense, because desire
requires the non-relation in order to function, as it seeks to commiserate it.
When ‘Giving an Account’, one seeks to use language as a means to gain recognition
through a self-substitution into the word, iconically through “I” (Butler, 2005). It is in this
sense that the subject, for Lacan, exists only in language, an aural reflection; and it is in
this sense that the speech-centred subjectivity that psychoanalysis works with - the
utterance out of nothing, the sign that is vocalised out of a prior silence - is also sexual,  
because of the way that it is able to satisfy a desiring drive (to speak) and produce
“[F]or the moment, I am not fucking. I am talking to you. Well, I can have exactly the same
satisfaction as if I were fucking. That is what it means. Indeed it raises the question of
whether in fact I am not fucking at this moment [that I am speaking]”
(Lacan, 1977a: 165, emphasis added)
For the asexual subject, its failure to signify, or to speak via sex, is its primary subjectivity
- the failure (Halberstam, 2011) of satisfying a drive to articulate oneself through the
language (sex) available to oneself. One may ask why it is not rather the failure of the
language to bring full satisfaction to the drive. To assert an ‘asexual presence’ appears
oxymoronic, because while one does so by opting in to a language of sex, a sexual
language, the resulting ontology is conditioned as already absent, or illegible.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
“My engagement with/in sex is not a translation. It is mutually intelligible: a speech act in
which I become a present absentee, a sexual asexual, a proficient-foreigner, a contradictory
mode of legibility-as-survival. Whilst my engagement with sexuality’s grammar is subject to
mispronunciation, slippages in syntax, and perhaps a limited vocabulary, my language is one
of necessary in betweenness. Is it a patois?”
Autoethnographic Extract.
Whence the failure (literally, temporally) of the asexual narrative to yield a conclusive
Account (Sundrud, 2011). Whence the definitional impasse of the nonsexual that
defaults always to lack and the negative, and of those ‘possible asexualities’ (Hanson,
2013; Przybylo, 2011b) such as spinsterhood, celibacy, purity, that are collapsed back
into categorical nothingness, an all-encompassing lack:
“Like being an atheist or non-Hispanic or non-driver (all apply), asexuality is something I’m
not and never was, rather than something I am.”
Participant Response, reproduced from Scherrer (2008: 630)
Whence also the popular pathologisation of asexual subjectivity, as it becomes willed to
signify (much less ‘correctly’ than ‘at all’) in a legible and logical system made to spite it,
and where its signification is taken as immediately negative and therapeutically wanting.
And whence the assumption that asexuality is to be defined as an absolute lack unto
itself and nothing else, held quite apart from socio-sexual intersectionalities, lived
nuance, complicity, and contradiction (cf. Carrigan, 2011; Chasin, 2011; Cerankowski and
Milks, 2014). Insofar as Lacan (1982) links nonsexuality to an infantile sexuality:
“The question of the body of the girl child (what she may or may not know of that body) [...]
becomes the question of the woman’s body as language (what, of that body, can achieve
(Rose, 1982: 54, after Lacan)
which amounts to say that, in a sexu-semiotic system that desires the signification of
speech acts, the asexual/infantile sexuality cannot be seen to achieve even the most
basic feats of subjective performance, and thus its identity becomes clustered around
this nihilistic negativity (Fahs, 2010). When asexuality emerges as a byproduct of
sexology with Kinsey, its ontology is fixed by the desire to find a signifi-cant sexuality, a
sex that can signify positively, and that can speak and account for a subject through
confession and documentation (Przybylo, 2012). It is fixed there as a mysterious void, a
reluctance to speak, a psychoanalytic ‘nothing’.
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
“[P]sychoanalytic tenets both in theory and in criticism have rightly focussed on the body, its
pleasures and unpleasures, its desires and fantasies and so on. Because of this, little or no
work has been to position asexuality within this framework, as it is an identity and subject
revision that rejects the desiring/fantasizing model.”
(Kahn, 2014: 56)
Yet in Lacan’s near-nihilistic theory, all presence is inspired by absence, all signification
is a desiring response to (partially) emulate the not-here, the fantasy, the ‘Real’ (Žižek, 
1992). Lacan’s model of returning desire (Fig. 3) is modified by a consideration of Goal
and Aim (Fig. 4). Desire flows from the subject to that position of originatory lack, the
paucity of relation, in order that this void be filled. Whilst this cannot be achieved, this,
the resolution of the structuring absence, is the Goal of the subject’s desire, which
amounts to a fantasy for the consequences of that resolution, a fantasy of/for the ‘Real’
(Lacan, 1982). In order for this to occur, desire is diverted around an object which acts
as a stand-in for the fantastical, hence unreal or imaginary, ‘Real’. The object (‘a’) is the
actual condition which causes the ‘Real’ to be fantasized about. Lacan calls this object
‘objet petit-a’ (object-a), or in other words the object-cause of desire, because it inspires  
an awareness of lack (Žižek, 1992). As such ‘a’ becomes the Aim of desire, as a ‘real’ thing
that can be approximated as a means to approach fantasy, and to attempt to satisfy the
full deficit of the motivating lack (see Fig. 4):
“[I]t is precisely the role of fantasy to give the co-ordinates of the subject’s desire, to specify its
object, to locate the position the subject assumes in it. It is only through fantasy that the
subject is constituted as desiring”.
(Žižek, 1992: 6)
The subject’s desire is locked-in to a relation with the substitute object (a, the Aim), as
part of a greater relationship with a fantasy (the Goal), all in response to an overarching,
and relational, lacking. It is the establishment of this normative pathway, through a  
conditioning and necessary vortex (for Lacan, the erotogenic rim) that the ‘real’
conditions by which subjects are rehearsed, iterated, performed and solidified are
worked out. It is by diverting repeatedly around object-a that:
1) one gives an Account, or perhaps an ‘-a’ccount, in response to the threat of
misrecognition and punishment (Butler, 2005). The Accounted-”I” is always deficient but
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
approximates the ‘Real’ self and begins a subjectivity marked by an immortal lack, which
is sustained in the repetition of the Account throughout one’s life;
2) one performs in accordance with a gendered system (a heterosexual matrix
(Butler, 1990) for example) that requires signification (enactment, iteration) of gender as
a condition for subjecthood, a gendered Goal. Performance centres around Aims,
little-a-Male, or little-a-Female, that are the substitutable speech acts which approximate
either of these two gender-phantasms (Butler, 1999).
3) “you-will-be-straight-or-you-will-not-be” (Wittig, 1980: 210), in that one is
compelled to orientate their aims and actions around an object of a certain kind of
desire, which institutes a part-reality - an object-choice sexuality (Sedgwick, 1990; 1993) -  
that obfuscates the general lack of free and unbounded relationality that makes the
‘Real’ so fantastic (see Fig. 4).
It is in these ways that asexuality is rendered ‘impossible’, because the only way desire
might be made ‘real’ is through its garnering of enjoyment from an object (-a), and
through an arbitrary interaction reliant on both: a performative and symbolic erotogenic
rim (Grosz, 1990), and an ideological sexual assumption (Przybylo, 2011b). It is not so
much that ‘you-will-be-straight’ (Wittig, 1980), but you-will-speak-sex-or-you-will-not-’be’,
in so far as ‘being’ is for Lacan a consciousness of one’s own existence on/in the
signifying plane (Žižek, 1992).
“I’m exposing sex by becoming it - or is sex becoming me? And why was this so easy? I allow
the procedures of performing an affirmative sexuality to most fully dictate my own
expression - and what is more is that it is cathartic. Thrusting a penis that has never desired
towards a room dripping in pheromonal sweat feels like a radical protest at the same time it
is a loss of a self-as-not-sex.”
Autoethnographic Extract
Desire(s), then, is structured around substitution and partial-objects that serve greater
fantasies to which one lives a life in likeness. This provides a Lacanian explanation as to
how gender and sexuality become imbricated in accountability to oneself, to others, and
to the subject, namely, through performance and iteration (Butler, 1990). Lacan, in my
reading, crucially shows that sexuality has perversely always been (little object-)
a-sexuality. This is a two-fold contention that is the result of an asexual perspective
(Gressgård, 2013), as follows:
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
In What Is Sex?, Zupančič (2017) explains how sexuality is ‘real’-ised in the context of its    
fundamental absence - it is created literally because there is no actual sexuality to order
human relational multiplicity. Sexuality is not an ordering of desire, but rather a reaction
to the lack of desire in the first instance (Zupančič, 2017). ‘Making Something out of
Nothing’ (Hanson, 2013) is a response to Lacan’s pronouncement that ‘there is no sexual
relation’ (“il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel” (1975 (1972-3): 17)), referring to the inevitable    
deficit from the ‘Real’ in every sexual endeavour, which is returned as an enjoyment that
legitimates the sexual attempt, and by extension the sexual system - perhaps he might
have said ‘there is no fully realised sexual relation’, or ‘there are only relations that
suggest the possibility of a sexual relation’.
By centring not desire, but desire’s central lack, Zupančič shows how sexuality is created
by materialising an artificial frontier that follows the contours of the lack at a distance
that is attainable when one represses desire purely to Aims (see Fig. 5). This process
actualises the compensatory forms of interacting with the desire for the ‘Real’, those
sexual interdictions which generate catharsis by confessing a ‘truth’ (Foucault, 1978), a
truth that is tied to a fictional object-a, a stand-in ‘something’ for the ultimate disorder    
of the human affectual desire. ‘Sexuation’ is the name given to this process (Lacan,
1982), which creates the surface of that ‘something’ as the result of multiply iterated
engagements with ‘real’ objects that inspire desire:
“The norm could be seen as taking the place of the image that ‘one has never seen’, that of a
body completely wrapping around the Other’s body.”
(Zupančič, 2017: 18)
In tacitly knowing that one’s drives alone will never reach the ‘Real’ (Žižek, 1992), a force  
is exerted on ‘nothing’ out of ‘nowhere’, stopping short of the ‘Real’ but with a
consistency in its extent that nods towards a certain ontology. This iterative process,
which is fuelled by the returning of desires and enjoyment from overcoming lack
through relation to partial objects (‘objets-a’), creates a plane or order of a substitute
‘real’, one that engages more directly with the material circumstance of the desiring
subject. The presence of partial objects are repeatedly impressed onto the spectre of
non-relation (the impossibility of the sexual relation) and ‘something’ is eked out from
this impressing. By impressing onto the non-Relation, sexuation creates a barrier of
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
‘enough’ that obscures the ‘Real’ and consigns subjectivity to an existence fuelled by
enjoyment, but never jouissance; recognition, but never liberation: a life lived in a partial
performance of negativity (after Zupančič, 2017; after Lacan, 2006 (1977); after Butler,
1990). “[T]he sexual is not a true form but refers instead to the absence of this form as      
that which curves and defines the space of the sexual” (Zupančič, 2017: 22). Where the
sexual comes to represent the aspirations of desiring subjects to ‘Real’ connection,
sexuality is the result of their compromise, their agreed-upon ‘something’-over-nothing.
Thus, sexuality can only hereafter be understood as an a-sexuality: 1) it is always acted
upon through Aims that divert around and approximate object-causes of desire,
stand-ins for the ‘Real’, petit-objets-a. ‘Sexuality’ only exists given object-a, it is a-sexuality;
and 2) the performative actualisations of these desires ‘sexuate’ a structure that
conceals, but is wholly predicated on, a greater Goal of multitudinal connectivity, the
resolution of a permanent absence. ‘Sexuality’ is a falsehood, it is a-sexuality.
The culmination of this theoretical work, and this thesis’ contribution to psychoanalysis,
is represented in a model of little-a-sexuality in the Appendix (Fig. 6).
The figure develops on the existing Lacanian theories of sexuality in several ways.
Firstly, it acknowledges that the fantasy of the sexual relation is co-constituted with the
norm (of ‘sex’). This is the universalising norm, and it has its epistemological limit (Butler,
2002; 2005) at the erotogenic rim, which is where the actualisation of ‘a sexuality’ takes
place. Unsurprisingly this goes some way to account for the phallogocentrism of
(psychoanalytic) sex(-uality), as the void requires itself to be filled through the
significated rim, and Lo!, the coital imperative (Przybylo, 2011b): the rectum is a grave
(Bersani, 2009). This co-constitution of the phallogocentric norm and the fantasy that
makes it a signifier complements the performativity of sexed and gendered acts (or
Aims) in service of an orientation (an iterated diversion of the Aim around an object)
that is able to cement and support an Account of oneself by confessing its name:
Likewise, where Lacan commented there is ‘no sexual relation’, a little-a-sexual theory
suggests he meant not simply that ‘the sexual’ was an impossible means by which to
resolve ‘Real’-desires by achieving contact with the artificialised ‘real’, but rather that it is
impossible for the sexual relation to be conceptualised in its capacities to exceed the
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
subject, because subjectivity is constrained by a definitional reliance on the sexuated
norm and ‘real’ Sexuality for recognition. It cannot look beyond this (self-)constraint. The
subject still ‘becomes’ subjectivated in an impossible relation to the ‘Real’, the Goal of its
desires, but its activities must now pass through little-a-sexuality in order that its desires
might be returned by/with the recognition of the other, and in a common parlance of
legibility which both parties share, namely the vocabularies of sex (Potts, 2002).
Reframing sexuality as always-already a-sexuality is valuable because it explains modes
of linkage between subjecthood struggles (minoritising discourses (Sedgwick, 1990),
subjugated knowledges (Haraway, 1991)) and desubjectified (Butler, 2002) critiques of
universalising discourses of knowledge-power (Foucault, 1980). The artificiality of the
system and its insistence on a sexu-literacy for the sake of life itself becomes, in this
light, laughably tropic, reducing and singularising a multiplicity of potential human
connectivities to “the act of copulation [and] into the comedic” (Lacan, 1977b: 289).
a-sexual theory, asexual epistemology
An asexual mode of critique has found productive alliance with a nihilistic Lacanian view
of desire. The tendency to assume a fundamental negative in asexuality - as the  
not-sexual - joins with Lacan’s ‘fundamentally negative lack’ to engender a
socio-psychoanalytic ‘double negative’ that proactively contributes to critical sexological
thought. I venture to suggest that this might constitute a ‘sexiotic’ rather than
sexological inquiry, however in doing so, the very definition of desire is radically
depersonalised and changed. This attentiveness has recognised that sexuation (the
impressing of the sexual up to and onto the point of sexuality’s congealing) occurs at
the site of the erotogenic rim. The approximation of the ‘Real’, or the Goal via the Aim, is
returned with surplus enjoyment that impresses a presence at the precipice of absence
(its obligation to pass through the rim), and the subject is formed in relation to this
actualisation (which is achieved by repetition). This is the praxis by which the subject        
becomes already-sexual.
Next, Sexuality is more than object-a. It is the actualised screen/background that
channels desire towards recognition and facilitates common parlance in a performative
script that is intended to guarantee satisfaction by appearing ‘as’ the ‘Real’. It is ideology
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
that provides a means to feel whole, an ideology that tells the subject that the key to its
being is its sexual signification, or - it amounts to the same - its sexual subjectivation.  
Sex thus exists as ‘My’ only way of approximating around a cause of desire that can be
confirmed by ‘You’, who provides that object-a, and who, by entering into the sexual
system through intercourse with ‘Me’, also fulfills the originatory drive and endows ‘Me’
with a surplus enjoyment that amounts to a changed state, a connection, something
akin to a (sexual) relation. Indeed, this is the quality of desire in a DeleuzoGuattarian
sense (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988). Thus, Lacan and the post-Lacanians are here
correct: it is not that desire is fulfilled, it is in fact put to work in spontaneous
connections that approximate structuro-psycho-social assemblage-based relations of
satisfaction. This is the condition of a postmodern desire, that exists singularly in and
across a multitude of potential connections.
For the nonsexual anti-subject, it is clear than an intrinsic drive for ‘the sexual’ is not
enough to yield an ethical Account of the self, nor are the terms of such a ‘sexual
account’ reflective of the self, if it were to adopt them. What the model of a-sexuality
shows, in a radically universalising vein, is that any and all claims to an Account, or to a
performance of self at all, is part of a ‘sexiotic’ (sexuo-symbolic) system that one can opt
into, via sexuality and its performativities, and that manipulates a sexual fantasy for
playful self-interpellation.
“[A] moment of connection rouses me, my movement still foreign. Attributable, surely, to the
gin, the energy drink, the nicotine rush, yet more accurately to precisely that “obscene sex”
that promised my liberation: [...] Gyrating, curling, embracing, twirling, I am enacting those
things from which I feel distant, excluded, exceptional(ly common-place and prudish) - or had
I forgotten that I arrived ready to oblige the queer Sex governing this proud place?”
Autoethnographic Extract
“[L]anguage [...] is a game all speaking subjects are required to play: that is, we are obliged to
adapt pre-existing discourses in order to speak of oneself.”
(Kahn, 2014: 63)
The ‘Asexual’ is part of a sexual language system, against which it is defined
academically as well as personally because the sexual regime is the mode through
which one is able to speak. But, much like the ‘bricolage’ nature of the autoethnographic
approach (Cerwonka and Malkki, 2007; Levi-Strauss, 1962), the asexual is able to use the
sexual system in perverse, prudish, and sideways iterations that give light to a queer
experience, unearthing a hidden positivity within sexual lack that has not yet been
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explored. In a context in which all sexual endeavours might be described as
(little-)‘a-sexual’, the consigning of asexual subjectivity to mere absence amounts to lazy
reductionism. Bogaert’s (2006; 2012) groundbreaking studies concerning ‘non-sexual
beings’ needs to be eclipsed by Przybylo’s (2011b: 129) framing of asexuality as a
“politically motivated, culturally contingent set of sexual practices”, if an ethical account
of the nonsexual is ever to be ‘a-sexuated’. What this thesis calls for is a greater
emphasis on asexual epistemology, not asexual ontology, and a resistance to
subjectivity-writ-large. 
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5. From Queer Theory to Asexual Theory
“If one’s being and its attendant relations are deemed inferior if not pathological, why not
align that self and its community with a superior relational form?”
(Roach, 2012: 7)
“It’s not the affirmation of identity that’s important, it’s the the affirmation of nonidentity.”
(Foucault, ‘Le Gai Savoir’ (1988), cited in Halperin, 1997: 94)
This concluding section builds on what, it is hoped, was the final remark on
psychoanalytic self-subjectivity, made in the previous section. Having made the case
that psychoanalysis is more a productive ‘desiring-machine’ (Deleuze and Guattari,
1988) than a diagnostic tool, asexual critique has already gained an epistemological
orientation of resistance. It remains to be seen how this might advance, and in so doing,
upset the common association of nonsexuality with lack, negativity, absence and by
extension pathology and incorrectness. As a preliminary approach, this section couples
explorations of relatively overlooked texts attributed to two highly popular (queer)
theorists: Audre Lorde’s ‘Uses of the Erotic’ (1984) and Michel Foucault’s ‘Friendship as a
Way of Life’ (1981).If asexuality becomes a fundamental argument - a radical refusal
(Fahs, 2010) - against the rendering inevitable of a certain kind of phallogocentric
Sexuality (Grosz, 1990), then queer theory holds potential for an asexual
phenomenology to multiply and elaborate beyond the straitjacket of ‘speaking sex’. This
section, by way of conclusion, thus approximates an accountability of non-verbality, and
ultimately, the nonsexual.
Anti-sexually Erotic
Section 4 remarked on the limitations of a lack-centred Lacanian framing of desire, even
as it was able to manipulate this concept to show how norms and performativity might
fit into and transform a desire-led understanding of sex into an enduring, iterative
obedience to ‘Sexuality’. Having noted that desire is at its root a requirement for
connectivity and relation, in the Lacanian lack-based definition, Lorde’s (1984) ‘Uses of
the Erotic’ proves helpful in considering alternate and further implications for ‘desire’:
“The need for sharing deep feeling is a human need. But within the European-American
tradition, this need is satisfied by certain proscribed erotic comings-together.”
(Lorde, 1984: 58)
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In commenting on the ‘Erotic as Power’, Lorde is able to decouple the erotic from ‘the
sexual relation’, which has been shown to be a performatively-compelling fantasy (I
continue to use ‘the sexual’ to refer to the Lacanian modellings discussed above). The
erotic, in Lorde’s framing, includes aspects of subjectivity not afforded by a purely
psycho-physiological modelling. The erotic is, alternatively, an affective and creative
force that escapes confinement to outmoded ideas of body and ego:
“The bridge which connects them [the spiritual and the political] is formed by the erotic - the
sensual - those physical, emotional, and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest
and richest within each of us”
(Lorde, 1984: 56).
Crucially, in speaking of the erotic for its powers regarding self-knowledge, the
feminisation of rationality, and an openness to multifaceted connection, this short piece
unearths routes to intimacy and pleasure (for asexuals, yes, but also, it is suggested, for
all people, especially women) that do not involve themselves in ‘the sexual’, Sexuality, or
objets-a. Simultaneously disproving the homogenous and assumed singularity of sexual
drive, as well as widening an awareness of personal affective capacities, Lorde is able to
pre-emptively explain how many (asexual) people might desire romance, sensuality,
pleasure, fulfillment and companionship, and how they might access and nurture these
relations through a power that is distinct from ‘the sexual’. She names this
not-necessarily-sexual power the Erotic, and its open-ended, anti-teleological teachings
are queerly evident. The Erotic, in and beyond a nonsexual framework, might also
unshackle forms of sexual intimacy from the sexual imperative (Przybylo, 2011b).
Indeed, it describes alternative logics of sexual engagement that echo how (some)
asexual people engage in sexual intercourse for a variety of non-sexual (though perhaps
still Erotic) reasonings.
“[W]e are taught to separate the erotic demand from most vital areas of our lives other than
sex [...,] the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely we feel
in the doing.”
(Lorde, 1984: 55, 54, emphasis added)
Lorde disregards any distinction between the Erotic powers or qualities of straight,
bisexual and/or lesbian subjects, and emphasises the Erotic’s mere tenuous relation to
the sexual union holistically. She focusses on a communal power that lies in the ‘joy of
the satisfying’ (Lorde, 1984). I read, in Lorde, a Lacanian thought that considers desire,
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satisfaction and enjoyment in the same ‘loop’, where she is able to change the script.
The Erotic is not ‘used’ but is engaged with by sharing (with others). When there is joy in
open, caring, communal satisfying, this does not point to the creation of ‘surplus
enjoyment’, as with Lacan, but rather, I consider, an Erotic affect that is actually itself  
separate from the sexual. The ‘Erotic as Power’ is suggestively affective, it positively
changes one’s capacities to act, and it is therefore greater than the satisfaction of a
drive. It reaches, perhaps, nearer to jouissance (after Lacan, 1982), beyond the pleasure  
principle, by transgressing the limiting prohibitions that encircle Lacan’s (sexual)
‘enjoyment’. Where jouissance, rather than its desire-cause, objet-a, is glimpsed, Lorde
sketches out a queer usage of Erotic excess that unchains ‘pleasure’ from ‘enjoyment’,
and that explodes pre-given routes to satisfaction, as well as modes of pleasing and/or
being pleased. The Erotic is a queer sensitivity, an openness to the joy of the satisfying,
the sharing of pleasure outside of the ‘sexual pact’.
By reading Lorde personally and perversely in this vein, I contend that discussing the  
Erotic as a power for intimate accounts of closeness and relating achieves a
minoritisation of ‘the sexual’ from which a queer-erotic relationality is glimpsed beyond
the hypnotising ‘erotogenic rim’ of Sexuality. Further, with such a minoritisation of the
sexual, one hopes that the consequences of compulsory sexuality (Gupta, 2015) such as
the ‘sexualisation of love’ (cf. Siedman, 1991), the ‘healthicisation of sex’ (cf. Cacchioni,
2007), and the pathologisation of asexual possibility (Przybylo, 2011b) might also be
miniaturised and designificated. It is my belief that the widening of one’s scope to
appreciate queer-erotic relations outside of ‘the sexual’, but without the dogmatic
exclusion of certain sexual acts, is a ‘Use of the Erotic’ (Lorde, 1984) afforded by asexual
“[Being] responsible to ourselves [...] we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to
give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation.”
(Lorde, 1984: 58)
More than a Friend
It is in Foucault’s later, and brief, consideration of ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’ that a
theory of the Erotic is practised. Where this thesis began with Foucault’s foundational
work on sexuality theory and the confession, it concludes here with his queer theory of
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an anti-identitarian bent. Whence the homosexual was a species fixed by confessing the
sexual truth (1978), Foucault’s friendship exists outside of, and beyond, this ‘disciplinary
ontology’, existing as a significantly ‘gay’ practice (therefore for Foucault between men)
“Invent[ing], from A to Z, a relationship that is still formless [...], the sum of everything through
which they can give each other Pleasure.”
(Foucault 2000 (1981): 136)
Friendship, like the Erotic, is a force greater than sex/-uality itself and is indicative of a
lived set of relations, a way of life, that exceeds and slides beneath ‘truthful sexuality
and deviance. It is friendship that Foucault identifies as the real (in this sense, lived, felt,
actual) pleasure of the homosexual relation, as opposed to the Real (imagined,    
represented, discursive) pleasure of sodomy as it governs/-ed homosexuality’s ‘truthful’
ontology. I aim to parallel this ‘friendship’ with an enfleshed, queer, asexual theory, one
that is in an uncertain relationship with Sex as one’s ontological Real - where for the
asexual, the Real is the utter lack, the complete departure, no-Thing, and thus a logical
inexistence. The phenomenology of this Friendship conversely resists a sexual
reductionism at every connection, relation, consciousness; consider the following
“[A] kind of neat image of homosexuality [...] cancels everything that can be troubling in
affection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship, things that our
rather sanitized society can’t allow a place for [...] I think that’s what makes homosexuality
“disturbing”: the homosexual mode of life, much more than the sexual act itself.”
(Foucault, 2000 (1981): 136, emphasis added.)
“Abruptly: in the throws of penetration, I feel the things we do, the mechanics, if you will, are
functional. I hate that. I love that.
A satisfaction lying at the foot of a mythology that administers it. I feel I’m satiating ‘sex’ in
order to pleasure you. And I love that. I hate that.”
Autoethnographic Extract
“[H]ow is it possible for men to be together? To live together, to share their time, their meals,
their room, their leisure, their grief, their knowledge, their confidences? What is it be “naked”
among men, outside of institutional relations, family, profession, and obligatory
camaraderie? It’s a desire, and uneasiness, a desire-in-uneasiness that exists among a lot of
(Foucault, 2000 (1981): 136, emphasis added.)
“And yet, in lying with you, in you, and you me, transcendence might occur still - I certainly
feel it does. It might be a petty exceptionalism that allows me to say that what we do, what
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sex we have, what love we make, exists as it is - amounting just enough to itself, and in service
of nothing else outside itself. Looking at you looking at me, being touched where others do
not touch, where many dare not, extracting and embalming vulnerability, safety and above
all, daring to enjoy a pleasure borne from an otherwise resolutely sexual enactment. Daring
to enjoy that pleasure.”
Autoethnographic Extract
Foucault writes of a greater sensitivity, in Friendship, that ‘the Homosexual’ is
imaginatively and institutionally barred from, at least when writing in the early eighties -  
a friendship that is humble to the affects and sensualities of a queer relation to both
another and the norm, something irriducible to Sodom. In a similar vein, I have reflected
upon how that same Friendship represents a nonsexual entry point to sexual intimacy
that would normatively be presented monolithically as the institution of Sex, from which
all nonsexual forms are supposedly barred. In a complementary and revelatory dovetail,
Friendship becomes a powerful yet radically diffuse ‘relation-between’ that reduces
sexual interdiction to co-engagement, one of many sensitive, supportive forms of
‘being-in-common’ (Roach, 2012) that colour a queer relationality. Hence, Friendship,
alongside a contemporary ‘secondarisation’ of friendship to the form of the couple
(Przybylo, 2011b), provides refreshing theoretical ground for the inclusion and
furthering of asexual theory and nonsexual relation.
In Lorde as in Foucault, there emerges a doubly-suggestive consensus towards the
‘not-necessarily-sexual’: the Erotic is an alternative to phallogocentric Sexuality that can
liberate one’s deepest feelings in ways that need not be of ‘the sexual’; Friendship  
proposes a more active and affective route to relating and subjectivity, and does so by
reminding that sensual sociality need not default to a sexual ‘truth’, nor the centrality of  
a sexual act. Both align with an asexual perspective in recognising that: “The problem is
not to discover the truth of one’s sex, but, rather, to use one’s sexuality henceforth to
arrive at a multiplicity of relationships.” (Foucault, 2000 (1981): 135).Friendship then,
with both scholars in mind, becomes a blueprint for considering asexual theory, as:
“A relation that resists dialectical fusion [of a couple] in favour of nondialectical mingling; a
friendship that by no means concludes the sensual [and Erotic], but remains, perhaps,
indifferent to the sexual.”
(Roach, 2012: 5)
Tom Roach (2012) has furthered work on ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’, and with his    
concept of friendship, I hereby address the ‘Asexual’ impasses established throughout
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the thesis by taking Foucauldian friendship and Lorde’s powerful Erotic as exemplary
asexual-theoretical tools with which to deconstruct sexu-subjectivity and fashion queer
ways of life with more emancipatory understandings of the nonsexual.
Befriending Asexual Theory
Roach (2012: 23) dissents from the confessional model, with friendship serving an
anti-confessional role in activating an “atypically perverse storytelling of a typically
perverse situation”. This echoes the ways in which asexual literatures and queer
commentators take the iconic act of sexual transgression - fucking - and say ‘but have  
you also considered this?’, pointing to kinship, romance, sentimentality and more as
distinct, yet holistically productive, aspects in a greater ‘mode of being’ (mode de vie,    
Foucault, 2000 (1981)) and relating. The friendly anti-confession delinks sexuality and
self-truth, and in performing friendship it makes this de-linkage real. Friendship wrests
‘truth’ from the confession and empiricism and communalises ‘being’ (Roach, 2012). For    
Roach, a friend pushes another to ‘become-other’, communing with the other friend not
in identity but in a radical ‘being-in-common’, forged under the specificities of the
friendly relation in the context of a wider subjectivating structure (Roach, 2012):
“The friend is the fleeting placeholder of an asubjective affectivity moving through
ontologically variegated singularities; it is the figure which intuits and enacts the common,
that which seethes beneath and is excessive of relations and communities founded on
indentitatian difference.”
(Roach, 2012: 15)
This is because Roach develops Foucault's short text to fashion friendship as a ‘shared
estrangement’ from ‘the’ concept that governs oneself and one’s relation to another - a  
lived estrangement, not a category in common. Where, for Foucault and Roach, this idea
was hinged around the demarcation ‘gay’, friendship as a shared estrangement might
be appropriated in an asexual register to articulate a common estrangement (of
asexually-identified people, of queer folk, of all people?) from those violent norms of    
Sexuality that govern our subjecthood and that precondition our modes of relating,
living, and loving:
“When descent-mouth-penis-suck becomes that historically robust act FELLATIO is it not sex
itself that is bolstered, exalted, furthered, enjoyed, rather than a spontaneous union of two
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(parts)? Do our acts lose themselves as they bow to some greater nominative structure? ‘Sex’
is present in our unions, does this make them threesomes?”
Autoethnographic Extract
“[S]exuality not only impoverishes our relational world but also, and more insidiously,
provides a useful tool for the social management of individuals - heterosexuals and
homosexuals alike - in the maintenance of patriarchal, heteronormative power structures.”
(Roach, 2012: 12)
Friendship’s call is one for queer relation beyond both the satisfaction of the drive
alone, and the internal obedience to a sexual view of the self. It changes the nature of
pleasure to be communal, where sex cannot be self-truth but rather a self-to-self
relation, one of many, in an open ethics of pleasure (Lorde, 1982) between the self, the
friend, and the affective concept of ‘pleasure’ (Foucault, 2000 (1981); Roach, 2012).
Relativity and relation dissolve truth’s ontological stranglehold: “‘friend’ only emerges
once the sexological category of homosexual [sic] is overcome” (ibid.: 10). In effacing
‘the Sexual’, so too is the asexual figure freed from its negative definition and
subjectivity, as it is able to give up its obligation to labour for the negation of its status of
‘nothing at all’. Friendship then, as an example of a directional and positive asexual
theory, presents a proactive version of the asexual narrative (Hanson, 2013), that defies
resolution to a sexu-subjective conclusion. Instead, somewhat anarchically, it presents
“a formless relation without telos” (Roach, 2012.: 14). Friendship prompts
anti-identitarian re-relating via ‘shared estrangement’, a queer opportunity for more
generously theorising the nonsexual, by radically expanding the stories one is able to
tell, and to be told.
Practising the nonsexual
All this reminds of the deafening silence of the concrete-cube throughout this thesis, the
ever-present absence, the invisible structure. The fashioning of the art piece, or rather,
the utilisation of sculptive practice, has informed the argument presented here at a
fundamental level, unseen below the veneer of the words presented here, yet it also
performs and confirms for now at least three conclusions that might lead towards
asexual theory.
“But already you are thinking beyond the visual limits of the cube, are you not? You are
beginning to consider what lies behind the self-differentiating panels of the ‘box’, what
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universal substrate they conceal, and how this essential materiality is at work freezing a
beautiful rose in place, and in darkness.”
Autoethnographic Extract
(1) Asexual theory is a means by which to detach from tropic sexuality. The cube is
formed by my mind and by my hands. In choreography with the mortar-material, my
sexual vantage-point, coloured by liminal life-experiences, shapes and traces the lines of
the cube. The brutish simplicity of a concrete block nods to a fundamental
self-distancing from that structure, a distance that allows one to see its limits, its
luddishness, its weight and deficiencies, the moments when the cube gives way,
collapsing into imagination, or the ether. Its surfaces meet at edges and intersections,
yet each face is grey and plain, signalling monolithically, in dull unison, varying
performances reduced to a flat, grey facade that serves only to remind of a permanent
presence. The matrices by which one lives, from Storms’ (1980) early ‘creation’ of
asexual space, to other Euclidean explanations for its deficiency, such as Butler’s (1990)
heterosexual matrix, are found in the square form, only visible when looked upon from
the outside. Its form is nonetheless built from nothing, out of nothing. Actualised in
response to the absence of a structure, my hands seem to have (re)pressed the
concrete to acquire the form I feel it should, the Derridean trace leading my ventures  
along absence and onto the vertex of the cube where three sides meet, and I divert my  
ontological sculpting again. Its presence is actualised in a form that has at its core a
prior and enduring absence of form.
This is a practice-as-research (Nelson, 2013), a methodical ‘working through’ myself, my
experiences, my thoughts, others’ thoughts, affects, and materiality to ‘make something
out of nothing’ (Hanson, 2013). The cube’s structure is overwhelming in uniformity, its
depth unknowable due to its bland surface projections. The genesis of the cube lies in
that self-same, self-exteriorising impulse that yields a negatively-defined asexual
selfhood, but one that can articulate a bricolage critique (Cerwonka and Malkki, 2007) of
what one isn’t, which generates, it is clear, a pronouncement of what one can be. That
is, a pronouncement borne not from the concrete with which one originally sought to
speak, but through affects, and critical distances, set forth by the staging of the cube
before its viewer(s) ‘as it is’. The parodying of Sexuality is theoretically asexual, in that it
pushes at, and past, the Lacanian linguistic laws of the subject, by creatively and
critically ‘speaking back’ to a definitional structure, in ways that navigate speech
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differently. This institutes a second asexu-theoretical conclusion: that (2) one is still,
perhaps always, related and relating to Sex.
The concrete lingers and dries on my fingers, I speak of my cube to others, and I try to  
convey my sense of urgency through its cumbersome presence. Its medium questions
what I am doing, and whether what I am doing is best served by sculpture. My message 
defaults to form, structure and its politics; its intelligibility is neutralised without the
cube’s permanent persistence. In an autoethnographic sense, the cube is not merely my  
inconvenient vessel for communication, a speaking-’of’-structure-through-myself, but
also a structuring-of-myself-due-to-speech; or rather, ‘tacking back and forth’ between
friendship, and Sexuality; myself and “I”; concrete and cube (Cerwonka and Malkki,       
2007). Substrate, structure and self are all commented on simultaneously and these
relationalities are cemented in the practice of accounting for one’s all-too-fluid position
between them. Thus (3) an asexual theory is able to mount a critique of one’s position,
and the forces governing that positioning, thereafter imagining alternatives creatively.
Desire is present here, not a Lacanian desire - my need to be heard, to cram a
minoritised recognition into a hole that absence built - but rather an immanent
Deleuzoguattarian desire that exists purely in the making, and breaking, of connections,
and in desubjectification as well as the creation of new assemblages for thought
(Deleuze and Guattari, 1988). The cube then, is the territorialisation of my desires as
‘asexual-artist’ (Kahn, 2014) as well as desiring forces - substitution, recognition,  
invisibility, defect, disorder, externality, performance, concretising, materiality, heat,
relation - beyond myself, that foster the connectivities that hold it together. The cube
also desires, helpfully prompting a desubjectification of those who view, consider, and
connect with its promise: that sexuality appears so fixed and natural that it cannot ‘be’
(ours/universal/benevolent/exhaustive); at the same time that it desires a
territorialisation of the virtual, giving shape to a shapeless thing, even when a shapeless,
nonsexual, unintelligible figure is the one who agentically began to mould it.
As such, the narrative of the cube is connective, adaptive and queerly relational; not
didactic, dogmatic or conclusive. It provides a pause for thought, a ‘destabilising stasis’
(Hanson, 2013) that reduces ‘it’ to ‘the thing’, a concretisation of the previously
unimaginably vast and vacuous. In holding out the materiality of the thing for
inspection, indeed appreciating the ‘thing in itself’, the same is expected, or invited, of
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those actors made by the ‘thing’. Reactive asexual literature should give way to open up
asexual theory’s queer potential and its theoretical engagements, through a constant
questioning of ‘not just that, but also this?’.
Thus the account is opened by the solidification of an art-work. The story is
three-dimensionalised (Anae, 2014) with bricolage-materials and multifaceted
interpretation to resist a narrative collapse into the confession; all in order to prompt
queer work that critically attends to nonsexuality. In resisting proclamation,
accountability is queered and takes up a vector function of decreasing, not increasing,
certainty, with its resolution endlessly deferred.
My Account exists in my critique.
My theory is my Account.
My hopes are the words that follow any premature conclusion.
This is my praxis, not my identity.
A queer accountability of the nonsexual is to be found in the practising of connections
underneath and in excess of laxy sexualism; it shall be diffuse, relational, erotic, friendly    
and ascetic; it shall suffice to describe the thing ‘as it is’, without recourse to a paranoia
of aetiology, absence, or objet-a. Asexual theory shall be approached wherever the
sexual ceases to ground oneself and our relations in such a concrete manner. No longer
‘universally ethical’ (Butler, 2005) but no longer in pursuit of such a goal, it shall spin
stories of absence and presence gleefully together in a rich tact of all-and-nothing. 
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
But not just that? Also what...?
Candidate No. 178425 MA Dissertation Towards Asexual Theory
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Ahmed, S., 2006. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Duke Univ. Press.
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