September 19, 2007

Asexuality

What is Asexuality?

Asexuality is lack of interest in sex; asexuals do not experience sexual attraction. Beyond that commonality, things vary widely. Some asexuals have a physical sex drive, others do not, some desire romantic relationships (minus sex), others do not. All asexuals need friends; being asexual is not the same thing as being a hermit.

Unlike celibacy, asexuality is not a choice. I'm not denying myself anything by not having sex. I scoff at True Love Revolution right along with everyone else.

Most asexuals have been so their entire lives, and report no traumatic sexual experiences. That's the most common reaction to asexuality, "You must have been abused as a child." You don't recall any such abuse? "You've repressed it."

Thing about that is, if I'm repressing something, then it's really, really, repressed. And since I don't have any other mental difficulties, and consider myself relatively well-adjusted all-round, I don't reckon that I'm trying to bury a bad memory.

The next reaction is, "You're a gay man/woman, and you're in denial." Maybe some people declare themselves asexual for that reason, but most of the people on asexuality.org (which is the nexus of the group at this point) are not victim to the kind of sexual repression that results in Larry Craig-style self-loathing. In fact, many asexuals are romantically attracted to or involved with members of the same sex, and may identify as a gay, bi, or lesbian asexuals.

And then, "You just haven't found the right person yet." To this I would just reiterate: most asexuals have never experienced any sexual attraction or arousal. There are sexually idealized images all over the place. It seems to me that if I were going to find the 'right person' to awaken some latent sexuality, I would've had ample chance within the roughly 8 years since puberty.

"You can't know if you've never tried."

Harking back to middle school, I recall that all of my peers were going absolutely mad about the prospect of sex. I was not. I didn't see what the big deal was. Of course I understood sex in clinical terms, but I had no idea why it would be a particularly interesting or enjoyable activity. If I understand correctly, for most people sex is something that there is a powerful urge to do, not something that can be taken or left.

The other answer to this objection is, "Did you have to sleep with a partner of the same sex to know that that wasn't for you?"--or the inverse for gay people. Gay people don't -have- to sleep with the opposite sex to know that they prefer the same sex.

That aside, many asexuals (not me) have engaged in sex, usually to satisfy the needs of a romantic partner, but sometimes to see if they really do like it after all. And they report that the experience wasn't mind-blowing. Most are somewhat bored.

And finally...

"You're just a late bloomer."

Hmm. Really late, then. I say early 20s is late enough. I mean, it's not as though I haven't had puberty (I am a male). And our members are as old as 50 or 60. Of course, a few asexuals do later discover that they simply have very low libido (rather than no libido).

My Personal Experience

As I said, I first noticed a difference when I was in middle school, and everyone else went girl or guy crazy. At that point, I figured that I really was just a late bloomer. My voice broke and nothing changed, but I didn't think much of it. When I was a freshman in high school, I began to wonder about it a bit more, but high school was a busy time for me. I didn't really think about sex (or lack of sex), because it didn't (and doesn't) really seem much more interesting than say, bridge, to me.

So my friends dated, I didn't date. They joke about sex, I laughed. Because I was the class nerd, no one thought it all that surprising that I didn't go on dates.

I won't say I didn't start to think along the lines of, "I'm the only one in the world" and, "Maybe I should go see a doctor."

It was around junior year that I stumbled across a Salon article titled 'Asexual and Proud.' That was kind of an ah-hah moment. It was nice to get reassurance that I wasn't the only one, and that I probably didn't need to go to a shrink. I also found out about a disorder called Hypoactive Sexual Desire, but the disorder is only diagnosed if it causes the patient to feel badly. I didn't want sex, I didn't want to want sex. So I decided that I didn't have that.

Coming Out

I haven't come out, except to a sibling and a few very close friends. Asexuals don't need to come out, in the same way that gay people do, because we don't need to seek out sex partners. But there are certainly benefits to being out as an asexual. People don't try and hit on you (usually), and it's more possible to engage in deep friendships where both parties will have an equal expectation that the relationship will not become sexual.

The reason that I'm not out is, number one, I'm not as brave as the people who go on television to talk about it, and number two:

I'm afraid that the reaction I'll get will be, "That doesn't exist." My parents are fairly socially conservative, but if I'd been gay, I would've just told them. They know that gay people exist, that gayness is a real phenomenon, and there would've been an initial flip-out, but they aren't the sort that would disown me (And my heart goes out to the queer people whose parents are not so understanding).

Actually my parents -did- find out, by snooping through my computer, and they -did- flip out (no grandchildren, woe is me!--they do have two other kids...), but I would say that I'm really out to them, because they said that they didn't believe me, and I was happy enough to just nod in acquiescence and let the subject drop.

The same applies to college campuses: I imagine I could get people to believe me, but I don't want to spend all my time explaining my sexual identity to people. There are other things that are more important to me. Gay people can just say, "I'm gay." They don't have to give a lecture (and of course gay people have problems that are different and probably more serious than the asexual ones).

Visibility

So what asexuals need more than anything is knowledge and visibility. The primary organization has it right in the title: Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

The AVEN group has been active in getting media and academic coverage of the orientation, and as a result, the size of AVEN has ballooned. I understand that a feature length documentary on the subject is in the works.

Campus queer groups need to know about the orientation as well. I contacted one of the leaders of Harvard's BGLTSA, and initially he hadn't heard of asexuality (he got with the program quickly, of course). Other asexuals at colleges have tried to become involved in queer groups and have been met with hostility, and, somewhat unbelievably, with queer students who disbelieved the asexuals and recommended that they seek psychiatric treatment.

Those queer students have forgotten, I guess, that it was only 33 years ago that homosexuals were also referred to psychiatric treatment.

Ideally campus queer groups would explicitly include asexuals in their titles or mandates (even if they currently have no openly asexual members), and help to increase awareness instead of acting as another awareness hurdle for asexuals to overcome.

Thank you to all of you who've made it this far. If you'd like further information, or think that you yourself might be an asexual (current studies have us at about 1% of the population), you can visit asexuality.org, which has all the goods.

10 comments:

Steven B (Boston, MA) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bat dor said...

Whoa, steven b.

In this community we respect each individual's choice to remain anonymous. Outing people who have the courage to post here is not only bad form, it undermines our authors' trust in quench to protect their privacy.

To that end, I'm hiding (but not deleting) your comment for now. Please remove any references to anybody's real name, or provide me with assurance that they've given you permission to use their real name, and I'll put it back up immediately.

The rest of your comment looks like a pretty intense conversation-starter. Let's get this taken care of and get the conversation started.

You can reach me at bat_dor@quenchzine.com.

maudite entendante said...

Not only that, b_d, but the real person referred to in Steven B's comment wasn't the author of the post; she was a person who forwarded the post to a mailing list which apparently Steven B reads.

... more substantive response coming; I actually had some questions to ask about the original post, and when S.B.'s comment comes back up, a couple questions to ask him as well. :c)

Mr. Spock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M said...

I appreciate that you have taken the courage to take a stand and step up to educate others about some of the common misconceptions associated with asexuality.

I think that a lot of folks in the LGBT community have had similar feelings of non-acceptance, and misunderstanding and I think that it highlights a way that LGBT folks and asexuals can continue base some of our work together.

It sounds like in your experience most people are understanding and accepting of people who declare that they are gay. I know this is not true of all gay folks everywhere: sometimes people's identities are not accepted, or not interpreted the way they intended.

As a trans person, I am very used to being inappropriately interrogated about my identity, my body, and my sexual practices. I feel that in this way we have similar experiences.

In addition, I think it would be interesting to talk more about the way we react to these experiences and reactions. For example, I have been treated poorly enough and heard enough stories of others being treated poorly that I sometimes go into a situation assuming people will react more negatively than they will, causing a lot of stress for nothing. What can we do about this?

Finally, I don't really know very many people who have done any kind of coming out or disclosure as a big announcement. Nearly everyone I know has told people as it comes up, becomes relevant, or feels right. I think your choice to come out gradually is common within the LGBT community as well as the asexual community and I hope that it goes well for you.

Welcome to quench!

Mr. Spock said...

Dear Steven,

Your post has caused me a tremendous amount of distress. I'm so sorry, for my stupidity, and for even making this stupid post.

I didn't mean to reinforce gay stereotypes. I didn't mean anything I said to be demeaning. I don't say that LGBTQQA (that better?) people 'need' to seek out sex (poor choice of words) any more than straight people do. If anyone had to 'come out' as straight, the same would apply. The fact is, I have no idea how anyone feels in relation to sex other than me.

As to my point about LGBT asexuals, that doesn't fit into the stereotype I'm supposedly creating, does it? And it doesn't because I wasn't trying to create a stereotype, and I don't believe in a stereotype.

As to, "Gay people can just say, "I'm gay." They don't have to give a lecture," you accuse me of simplifying your struggles. But you simplify my statement. The very next sentence, I said, "Of course gay people have problems that are different and probably more serious than the asexual ones." I didn't go into them, because that wasn't what the post was about. But I'm not unaware of them! What I was expressing was frustration at how far asexuality has to go in terms of visibility; how much farther other queer groups have gone, how much longer they've been working. I didn't mean to suggest that you're all done, that all you struggles are over!

And let me reiterate again that I don't buy into the 'queer people are sex fiends' stereotype. What I said, I meant to apply equally to straight people, and obviously it's wrong on both counts.

And finally, I'm very upset that you think I'm a bigot. Please forgive me.

And also just forget it. I don't need to be involved, I don't want another letter in the name. I just want this unnecessary thing that I've created for myself to be over.

I'm so sorry.

maudite entendante said...

And now for something completely different ...

Rather than spend the rest of this post's natural life reacting to a comment that isn't even visible, I actually have a real question for the author.

One thing I've been curious about - and haven't had the chance to ask someone whom I knew IDed as asexual - is where asexuality fits in a queer movement.

I mean, ok: lesbians and gay men have in common the fact that they're romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same sex or gender (depending on the individual lesbian or gay man's articulation of their desires). Bisexuals are in the mix because we are sometimes romantically and sexually attracted to similarly-gendered people. And a lot of straight people can't tell the difference, anyway.

Trans people? Well, depending on how you see gender (that is, whether you think it trumps assigned-sex-at-birth in calculating the queerness of a relationship), any sex act involving a trans person is potentially tainted with Teh Gay. Plus, there are a fair number of trans people who also identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Plus plus, a lot of the crap that l/g/b people deal with from The Outside can be traced back to gender non-conformity, real or perceived. Plus plus plus, straight people can't tell the difference, or don't care.

All the groups I've mentioned have a tremendous amount of legal trouble with marriage (and its attendant benefits), child-rearing (and its attendant benefits), job security (and its attendant benefits), military service (...), etc. Whereas I would imagine asexual people would be lumped in with single (and thus legally-straight) people, for all anyone in power could care. Which doesn't seem to create any hassle, and more importantly, doesn't seem like very fertile common ground with l/g/b/t folks.

So.

Obviously, the way I framed The Movement (such as it is) above ... well, it doesn't seem to leave room for folks who are never ever going to have sex with someone of the same gender (regardless of definition), who don't seem to be perceived as a particularly genderbending group, and who are functionally indistingishable in most settings and for legal purposes from straight people who are temporarily not having sex.

Which means there's something I'm missing in the way I framed the situation - because, clearly, at least some asexual people do ID as queer, and part of a queer community. So where did I go wrong in the train of thought up there?

Or, in more concrete terms, what do you see as the benefit to the asexual community from being included under the queer umbrella? What can being considered queer help asexuals accomplish? (And what can it help other queers accomplish?)

maudite entendante said...

And now for something completely different ...

Rather than spend the rest of this post's natural life reacting to a comment that isn't even visible, I actually have a real question for the author.

One thing I've been curious about - and haven't had the chance to ask someone whom I knew IDed as asexual - is where asexuality fits in a queer movement.

I mean, ok: lesbians and gay men have in common the fact that they're romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same sex or gender (depending on the individual lesbian or gay man's articulation of their desires). Bisexuals are in the mix because we are sometimes romantically and sexually attracted to similarly-gendered people. And a lot of straight people can't tell the difference, anyway.

Trans people? Well, depending on how you see gender (that is, whether you think it trumps assigned-sex-at-birth in calculating the queerness of a relationship), any sex act involving a trans person is potentially tainted with Teh Gay. Plus, there are a fair number of trans people who also identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Plus plus, a lot of the crap that l/g/b people deal with from The Outside can be traced back to gender non-conformity, real or perceived. Plus plus plus, straight people can't tell the difference, or don't care.

All the groups I've mentioned have a tremendous amount of legal trouble with marriage (and its attendant benefits), child-rearing (and its attendant benefits), job security (and its attendant benefits), military service (...), etc. Whereas I would imagine asexual people would be lumped in with single (and thus legally-straight) people, for all anyone in power could care. Which doesn't seem to create any hassle, and more importantly, doesn't seem like very fertile common ground with l/g/b/t folks.

So.

Obviously, the way I framed The Movement (such as it is) above ... well, it doesn't seem to leave room for folks who are never ever going to have sex with someone of the same gender (regardless of definition), who don't seem to be perceived as a particularly genderbending group, and who are functionally indistingishable in most settings and for legal purposes from straight people who are temporarily not having sex.

Which means there's something I'm missing in the way I framed the situation - because, clearly, at least some asexual people do ID as queer, and part of a queer community. So where did I go wrong in the train of thought up there?

Or, in more concrete terms, what do you see as the benefit to the asexual community from being included under the queer umbrella? What can being considered queer help asexuals accomplish? (And what can it help other queers accomplish?)


Also, my verification letters for this post are "wqwjd." What Queer Would Jesus Do, perhaps? ;c)

kaya said...

well i mean i think the point of including asexuality under the "queer umbrella" is that asexuality obviously has to do with sexuality. the way our society deals with sexuality and gender is fucked up, and asexuals have something to gain from fixing that.

but i actually agree...i mean straight people have something to gain from fixing that too. frankly i've always felt like LGBTetc. has about 15 too many letters already, even without the added A. i mean you can keep adding letters indefinitely, but all its doing is continuing to make more and more narrow definitions of gender and sexuality. is making asexuality a separate issue really helpful in any way to people who are asexual? i'd personally rather be spending time trying to get everyone to stop worrying so much about labels than trying to get one more added to the list of people who are too busy arguing amongst themselves to do much else...

icarus said...

i'd like to encourage everyone to check out this cool blog ("Asexy Beast"). i've been reading it for a while, and it's really entertaining and thought-provoking.