Asexuality, Muslimness & Accessibility

Asexuality, Muslimness, and accessibility

elainexe‘s recent post Ace Problems, Non-Ace Solutions helped me to crystallize some ideas I’ve been thinking a lot about this summer.

In Obstacles to therapy as an asexual Muslim convert, I wrote about how my identity as an aromantic, sex-averse asexual, my being a hijab-wearing Muslim convert, and my accessibility limitations due to not being able to drive all come together.

This is true almost any time I think about accessibility to offline spaces. Whether it’s deciding where to live or what jobs I can take, figuring out how to get to anything from a medical appointment to a march, even my experiences at the mosque, it’s always those same three things.

They don’t always combine in the same way. Being a convert is the most relevant in Muslim spaces (where converts are often marginalized), while being Muslim itself and wearing hijab is more relevant in non-Muslim spaces (where I may face prejudice or stigma). Being asexual instead of some other flavor of queer matters in some contexts, particularly LGBTQ ones. Other times, the key is the lifelong celibacy I have chosen as the most authentic way to live in my asexuality, aromanticism, and sex aversion.

Being celibate means I can’t rely on a partner to drive me places I can’t get to by myself. There are practical benefits - there is security, as elainexe notes - in being married or having another type of long-term primary relationship. In fact, part of the reason I’m interested in forming a queerplatonic relationship is simply to have somewhere there to help with the practical details of life, especially as I get older.

What would make my life easier? Above all, changing society so that people do not have to rely primarily on family and marriage to get certain types of care and support. Reform of family law and of societal structures of care is, in a way, my top political issue as an ace. Better public transit would make a big difference too.

It would also make my life easier if both the larger American society and also many Muslim communities would stop treating Muslimness and being a white American as mutually exclusive, recognized that some of us are both at the same time, and were more welcoming and inclusive.

And finally, it would help if asexuality were recognized as a valid sexual orientation and people were familiar with it and accepted it.

Obstacles to therapy as an asexual Muslim convert

In her call for submissions for this month’s Carnival, Elizabeth asked people to write about their experiences with therapists, or the considerations they would need to take into account if they wished to seek therapy. I’m not currently in therapy, nor seeking to do so. I have thought about it a few times, however, and realized there are a lot of obstacles.

When I think about visiting a therapist, I have to take into account that I am:

  • a sex-averse, aromantic asexual
  • a hijab-wearing Muslim convert
  • someone with accessibility limitations due to not being able to drive

I don’t tell my primary care physician that I’m asexual. It’s not relevant to any treatment that he might provide me with. What he needs to know (and does) is that I’m not sexually active, have never been, and don’t plan to be. As far as I’m concerned, why is none of his business.

Having said that, I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about asexuality, aromanticism, or especially sex aversion if it was relevant unless I trusted that my provider understood these identities and accepted them. I feel like someone who wasn’t ace-competent might try to “fix” my sex aversion or tell me that I should try to “get over it”. I also suspect that they might feel that my aromanticism (not falling in love, not having ever dated) was “abnormal”.

If I went to a therapist, it would be to seek help with dealing with how the world treats me as sex-averse, aromantic, and asexual, not for trying to change any of those characteristics.

Another thing I don’t want to deal with from a medical professional is thinking I’m “repressed” or “oppressed” because I wear hijab, or who thought it was strange of me to have converted to Islam. I don’t think my PCP necessarily knows a lot about Islam, but he accepts it without reservation and is able to provide me with culturally competent care.

Earlier this year, I developed knee bursitis, which made it difficult to kneel - something I do a lot of in my five daily prayers. My doctor didn’t try to tell me I shouldn’t pray like that, but instead he helped me find workarounds (such as using a yoga mat under my prayer rug) to continue to pray while my knee recovered. That’s the kind of attitude I need from a provider.

If I did go to a therapist at the current time, it would most likely be to seek help for dealing specifically with the issues I discussed in Coming out of hiding: How isolation, erasure, and invalidation over asexuality have affected my mental health. This is primarily burnout from interactions within online Muslim social justice spaces (which serve as my primary Muslim community).

For a therapist to understand these dynamics, they would probably need to be Muslim themselves in order to have sufficient knowledge, and I would also need them to be familiar with the unique issues that converts face.

Finding an ace-competent therapist seems challenging enough. Finding a convert-competent Muslim therapist probably isn’t easy either, if only because Muslims are a small percentage of the U.S. population and thus of therapists. Finding a therapist who was both Muslim and ace-competent seems like trying to find a unicorn.

And that brings in a third issue. I’m very unlikely to find such a therapist in the city where I live. And if they were in another city in this area, getting there by bus would take up a lot of my time and make it difficult for me to get there very often without having to take time off work regularly. Or what if they could only be found in another state? Do therapists offer sessions over Skype?!

Sometimes I feel like my life is a catch-22. I’m marginalized in multiple ways both in the larger society and in Muslim communities and those multiple marginalizations often seem to intersect (especially with my accessibility limitations) in ways that make it very difficult to get to things that I might need from others.

I also feel like I’m such a rare intersection as an asexual Muslim convert that only a handful of people would even understand my experiences, and those people are other ordinary asexual Muslims and not likely to be therapists.