Cessing out Insularity: Poker and Asexuality

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“Ace” carries a variety of meanings. Many of its connotations only occur within closed linguistic circles. Though not limited to these, ace can refer to a card in a deck or as a label associated with an identity somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Both of these definitions have features far more multifaceted than an outside observer might perceive.

Although much of competitive poker revolves around the televised, and ultimately fairly static, gameplay of Texas Hold ‘Em. Texas Hold ‘Em has only one mode called “high.” The hands are categorically ranked from best to worst with the proverbial “Royal Flush” being the best (“highest”) and “7,5,4,3,2” (with at least one different suit) being the worst (“lowest”). Yet, this mechanic does not exist in all card games within poker. In fact, a large portion of card games operate in a dynamic where both the “lowest” and “highest” hand split the winnings of a so-called pot. Similarly, a large part of poker is not played in person, like on televised tournaments of ESPN, but rather in online poker services. Though statistics on these pools of players are limited by the anonymity of account holders, there is a community of people who have full time careers in online poker that rival in-person players. Professional online poker players describe their experiences operating as fairly monotonous and highly technical in nature; a far cry from the gutsy interpersonal dynamics of in-person. Players will simultaneously compete in 5+ online tables, while mainly making the majority of their decisions based upon statistical calculations. This repetitive job seems particularly odd when juxtaposed with popular media portrayals of poker, like Daniel Craig’s supposedly suave James Bond in Casino Royale.

Poker has primarily become a symbol of jet-setting, attractive, wealthy, white cis-male heterosexuality, even though, in my mind, I more readily associate it with sterile mathematics for mostly cis-males in their mid-20’s to early 30’s. The largest pool of players for these games are people with self-taught mathematical skills who were never credentialed with either college degrees or entry-level job positions. This divergence between representations would only be apparent with an amount of in-group knowledge.

Similarly, even though I view my asexuality as liberatory, popular media would have audiences use asexuality as a marker for neuro-atypicality and trauma. The consistency that these identities are pigeonholed together reflects ableist attitudes and acephobia. Popular imagination of asexuality imagines ace identities as alternatively not real or, if real, a sign of mental disorder. Both of these onerous mythologies validate high rates of sexual assault against asexual folks. This is particularly pernicious, as these features are often used to signify a person’s purportedly damaged characteristics. Sympathetic white male ace-coded characters such as Sherlock, referring to the depictions in Elementary and BBC’s laughably overproduced Sherlock, only exist so far as their ace-coded features can be linked to youth, adolescence, and young adult trauma. On the reverse end, media tends to represent polyamorous allosexuality, often bisexuality, as a marker of unhealthily prodigality and general deviancy. The people at the extremes of a manufactured sexual spectrum face varying degrees of respite. All of this malignance has a bitter aspect, especially given how the toxic normative institutions of American compulsory heterosexuality have created and maintained high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence. The entrenchments of these aspects of normative cultures seem particularly egregious when when people with disabilities and asexuality navigate noticeably high levels of sexual violence.

Even still, when I hear “ace,” I imagine far more multifaceted instantiations of identity than these political realities and representations would indicate. Yet, perhaps the most tantalizing characteristic of so-called aceness is how tantalizing, foreign, and mystical it is for allosexual people.

 

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