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.
So why are we making a big deal out of not having sex? No one's making a law against asexuality or attacking us as a community. What's there to organize about if we're not having sex? What is it that aces want? What do we need?
We want to expand the idea of sexual freedom to include the freedom to not have sex. In our sexualized society not having sex is seen as a fringe behavior reserved for the religiously fervent. We do not discuss it, because it is assumed that everyone is young, beautiful, and horny. When sexual feelings don't develop, it can foster a kind of self-hatred that asexuals describe as feeling broken, defective, or wrong. Asexuals have a higher chance of depression and lower self-esteem than lesbian or gay people.
Sex sells. In a capitalist society, that means sex is everywhere. Mass media teaches that having sex is the key to happiness just as much as it teaches that being thin is the key to beauty. Men -- of all orientations -- are judged by their sexual prowess. Women -- of all orientations -- are judged based on their sexual attractiveness. Society teaches that sexuality is the only option.
The lucky ones have found the asexual community. Most are not lucky. They spend their teenage years wondering why they are different than everyone else. They're not gay, but they aren't straight either. A part of them feels different. If they have sex, it's often because they feel obligated to participate in societal norms that say having sex is what everyone wants. No one is talking about not having sex so they just live in silence, thinking that they are the only one.
We want to stop this from happening and allow everyone the chance to experience their own sexuality freely, however they define it. The primary goal of the asexual community is to amend the common definition of the word asexual to mean "one who does not experience sexual attraction." This requires massive amounts of education and is a long term goal of AVEN and other asexual groups.
Asexual people need to stop being treated like we're sick or crazy. We've been lobbying the American Psychological Association to remove Hyperactive Sexuality Dysfunction Disorder (HSDD) from the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM-V). Asexuality is the last sexual orientation that is listed in the DSM.
Similar to the way our transgender allies are pathologized for wanting to live as the gender their brains tell them they are, we are considered "sick" for not being sexually attracted to anyone. Instead of being introduced to an orientation and a community, asexual people are frequently diagnosed with HSDD. They are treated with forms of Viagra that usually don't work, leading to further confusion. Due to sexual stigmas in society they don't talk about their experience and remain feeling isolated.
The LGBT community already has existing educational projects; we want asexuality included in them. Asexuality should be talked about at LGBT leadership trainings; we already have the curriculum written. Include asexuality in the sex-ed materials that the LGBT community provides; we have materials written that we'd be happy to share. As leaders in your own community, help us educate the LGBT community about asexuality and why we are your natural allies.
We want you to be our allies and help bring our community out of the closet. Learn a bit about asexuality; this series is only the tip of the iceberg. Add some asexual blogs on your RSS (I suggest Love from the Asexual Underground, Asexual Explorations, and Asexy Beast). Watch our community YouTube channel, Hot Pieces of Ace. Know what is and isn't appropriate to say to an asexual person who's just come out to you. Listen to our challenges. Understand our issues. Learn to defend us.
One of my favorite stories about allies is about my best friend, who stood up for my asexuality in a Castro bar on his birthday. When asexuality came up, the guy my best friend was interested in made some usual (if rude) comments. My best friend schooled him on how his comments were totally out of line and then flat out rejected him when he wouldn't apologize. He was truly my ally -- before I could defend myself, he defended me. We need our allies just like the LGBT community does.
We're told that sex is power and freedom. Asexuals are talking about having the freedom to explore sexuality on our own terms. Those of us whose kink is nonsexual intimacy have just as much need for that freedom as everyone else. How can we call it sexual freedom when it doesn't include freedom to not have sex, and those who don't have sex are seen as outliers? Isn't that simply the opposite of what we had before, where chastity was praised and sexuality discouraged?
Let's strive together to build a more inclusive definition of sexual freedom, one that includes asexuals as LGBT allies. Asexuals are already on board with LGBT issues -- you don't have to convince us. We're ready and waiting. Are you ready to be our allies, and help us come out to the world?