Editors' Note: Guest blogger Sara Beth Brooks recently completed the Leadership, Organizing, and Action: Leading Change program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is pursuing a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and lives in Sacramento, CA. Sara Beth is publishing a weeklong series on asexuality this week.
I was waist deep in the trenches of post-Prop 8 California when I realized that I was asexual. It had taken me five years to find the word for what I had been experiencing. When I started using the word asexual in the LGBT community, most people didn't have any idea what I was talking about. There were unintentional hurtful comments made. My favorite response? "Oh, that doesn't exist."
No one wants to be told they don't exist. So I told everyone I was bisexual.
Saying bisexual was easier than the whole story, and it was enough of the truth. Bisexual was understood and accepted even though it wasn't entirely accurate (I hope bisexual activists will see the irony in this).
If I did talk about asexuality, I found that many LGBT people rejected the concept because they had never heard of it before. My close friends were understanding and accepting. They had watched me struggle for years to figure out what was going on with me. Some LGBT people were understanding too, or fascinated; others outright denied the existence of asexuality.
Asexuality describes people who do not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, -- a choice -- asexuality is an orientation. People commonly confuse asexuality with androgyny, which is about gender identity, not attraction. Asexuals have a community and share pride in being ace (common slang for an asexual person). Many asexuals consider themselves outside of the hetero-normative realm and identify with the LGBT community. Some even march at Pride.
Even in the most enlightened circles, it is rare that I meet someone who knew what asexuality was before they met me. The same series of questions always follows. You don't have sex? Are you a virgin? Shouldn't you see someone about that? Do you ever feel horny? Do you masturbate? Aren't you lonely? What can you do to fix it? These questions are considered as rude to asexuals as questions about genitalia are to trans people. Would you ask about masturbation habits in any other polite conversation?
Everyone is always curious about the sexual habits of the asexual. Some asexuals experience sexual arousal, masturbate, and even have sex. Others don't, and that's fine too. Asexuals form relationships with people, date, and even fall in love. Many asexuals date sexual people and within those relationships negotiate their sex lives the same as any other couple. Asexuality describes attraction, not behavior.
There is almost always an assumption that asexuality is negative and therefore should be pitied. I am frequently offered a condescending, "Don't worry, you just haven't met the right person yet." This is, by the way, the equivalent of telling a lesbian not to worry, because she'll find the man of her dreams someday.
From a sex-centric worldview not having sex is akin to emotional death, but asexuals just don't see it that way. Most aces are fiercely sex-positive. We think it's really great that you sexual people are having so much fun with all your gettin' it on! We'd just rather be doing something else.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the words lesbian, gay, and bisexual were unknown in our vocabulary. Now they are universally understood. The word transgender is just now starting to cross that threshold of understanding. A major goal of the asexual community is to help add our definition of asexuality to the common vocabulary, similar to the way that the words lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender have come to be understood as concepts with specific meanings.
The crossover between the LGBT community and the asexual community is huge. Asexuals often experience a feeling of being different in puberty and have a coming-out process similar to the LGBT one. We talk about our relationships outside of the hetero-normative scope. Our parents reject us for being asexual. The queer community doesn't even know that we exist.
But we do exist. Asexuals have built a sex-positive community that is teeming with LGBT allies. We work on marriage equality campaigns and phone bank our Senators on ENDA. Some of us are romantically attracted to guys, some of us to girls, and some to both. Our community is full of trans and gender non-conforming people, primarily youth.
Most asexuals are well versed in LGBT struggles and have fought for them -- however the LGBT community knows virtually nothing about us. That's why I'd like to offer the next several posts as a primer to the asexual community. We're here, some of us are queer, and we are already your allies (you just don't know it yet).