Guest Blogger

Becoming Queer

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 21, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: asexuality, Sara Beth Brooks

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.

sb-bilerico.jpgOnce upon a time, I was a bisexual teenager. Coming out to myself and my family was not difficult or agonizing. I didn't do anything to connect with the LGBT community except go to Pride a couple of times. Most of my boyfriends didn't care that I was bi, or thought that it was some sort of bonus feature.

At 21, I was engaged. Our relationship was in bad shape because I wasn't sexually attracted to him. I loved him and wanted to marry him, but I didn't want to have sex with him. I didn't want to have sex with anyone else either. I landed in therapy. Every previous relationship had ended because of my disinterest in sex. I lamented to my friends, my doctors, and my therapist, that I felt no interest in sex. I tried hormone therapies and excavating my psychological past to no avail.

Increasingly frustrated, I turned to Google. That's where I found the word asexuality. That one word opened the doors to a whole community of people who said that they didn't feel any sexual attraction either! I was relieved, and scared. Being bi was culturally accepted, at least in California. Asexuality meant that I was different, that I would have to swim upstream. I didn't know what to do with it, so I closed the web browser and wouldn't return to that website for months.

The engagement ended badly, and I left gorgeous cabin we had shared on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. By November of 2008 I was staying with my best friend in San Diego. At 23 years old, I was trying to start over.

When Proposition 8 passed here in California, I got involved. The post-Prop 8 marriage movement in San Diego was a thrilling place to be an activist. San Diego has a vibrant and boisterous LGBT community. We were just beginning the Manchester Grand Hyatt boycott and when Prop 8 passed we hosted the largest response rally in the country. San Diego bounced back first, launching door-to-door canvasses in January 2009 while the rest of the state was still recovering from whiplash. And I was right in the middle of it all serving a wonderful community, and healing my broken heart. I became a part of the LGBT community like I had never been before.

My concept of queer was evolving because of this immersion. I used to think that queer was merely an all-encompassing term for LGBT. That's incomplete, I've learned. Queerness is about challenging societal norms by embracing a radically inclusive attitude of evolving self-identification and self-expression. Often times LGBT falls into that definition, but I no longer use the two interchangeably.

Here is the amazing thing: the new queerness being cultivated in me by the movement gave me space to explore asexuality. Where before I was afraid, now I was entranced. Asexual people weren't lonely or sad about their asexuality, and they certainly weren't afraid of being queer. They laughed and enjoyed their asexiness. Many of them dated successfully. They had fulfilling relationships. Some got married. They were happy! I could relate to their stories, and my fears started to fade.

The more I talked about asexuality the more I realized how little my LGBT cohorts knew. I used bisexual as an identity in public; it wasn't the whole truth, but it was easier than explaining myself and feeling rejected. I understood deeply that queerness and asexuality went together. But LGBT activists questioned (to my face) whether asexuals could exist - and even if we did, whether we were queer enough for the movement.

At the Creating Change conference last February, there was no mention of asexuality anywhere in the five-day program. When I found out that people were holding extra sessions independently, I decided to hold one called Asexuality Q&A. For the first time I acknowledged asexuality as part of my identity in an LGBT environment; I used the safe space of Creating Change to do that.

What happened next was the most incredible thing: other LGBT asexuals came and joined me! Instead of the conversation I was prepared for we went down the path of sharing our common experiences. Each time one of us shared an experience, the others would start nodding vehemently. By the end of the conversation we agreed that the LGBT community needs to know that we exist among them.

Meeting other LGBT asexuals -- people who also thought that they were the only LGBT and asexual activists around -- taught me that there's a job we have to do as members of the first generation of asexual-identified people. That's when I decided that I'm not going to put my community on the back-burner anymore. It's our responsibility to educate, to be out, to be active, and to be proud, so that others can find our community and realize that they are not alone either.

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I am enjoying reading your series. I hope you won't mind a question from someone who has always been pansexual. You mentioned in your previous post that an asexual person could be sex positive. I found that slightly confusing. Does that mean an asexual can view sexual activity as a positive but just for other people?

I'm trans-positive, I'm not transsexual. Just because I think it's something acceptable to do doesn't mean I personally want to do it. It's the same concept.

OK, lets take that a step further Does that mean you might enjoy an intimate relationship with a transsexual? How exactly are you defining "positive"?

I don't know, should I ask my TS girlfriend?

Although my wife is asexual we still have a sexual relationship. It took a long time for me to understand the only sexual interest she has is for my pleasure.....whenever, whatever, where-ever I want.

Sara Beth Brooks | September 21, 2010 2:07 PM

Deena, to clarify further: "sex-positive" is a buzz word that's been widely applied to the sexual liberation movement. When I say that asexual people are, mostly, sex-positive, I mean that we defend human sexual diversity across the spectrum, from hyper-sexualized to non-sexual. It doesn't have anything to do with who we have sex with - or not - it has to do with worldview and sexual politics (which are, overwhelmingly, sex-positive and liberated).

I am a transsexual woman who is in a relationship with another transsexual women.

All my life I have had a disinterest in having sex.
Not really my cup of tea. It's taken 45 plus years to figure this out. Before I transitioned and had the surgeries and therapy and all the BS I had to go through I was married to wonderful woman and we had a nice life together, but I was always disinterested in sex. She would try everything to get me to have sex, threats (what you're not going to have sex with me? good.), nagging (just pissed me off) and finally not talking to me. We would patch things up always to come back to our disagreement about sex.

I always thought it was my dislike of my factory equipment, but many years down the road, medical transitioned finished I find that it wasn't and isn't about my trans issues at all. Because, I don't have any trans issues, I have woman issues. And I'm asexual. There I said it.

My girlfriend and I don't have sex with each other. We cuddle and stuff, we help each other, and we love and care for each other, but we have an understanding. I thought it would derail our relationship, but it hasn't. She just goes elsewhere for sex and I do not mind at all.
We have ground rules about that but as far as sex goes we are in an open relationship.

I like our arrangement and it certainly isn't for everyone, but it works for us.

My point is, you have to do what's right for you.
And if you're asexual, do not be ashamed.
It's cool. You just have to adapt to your truth.
After the gender transition this really isn't all that hard for me to take and it makes sense to me.

I can see how hard it is to struggle with this as I had to with a wife and I didn't want to disappoint her.

The truth can be hard to deal with, depending on who you are and your circumstances, but in the long run you're better off just facing up to it and getting on with your life. Warning: change, good change is never easy.

Just thought I would chime in and let people know my girl and I have dealt with this issue. We have been together five years and we still love each other very much.

Sara Beth Brooks | September 21, 2010 1:15 PM

My understanding of sex positivity is this:

I support the adult human in having as much or as little sex with other consenting adult humans as they feel fit, in whatever way those people decide is enjoyable for everyone. I can appreciate the human need for sexuality even when it doesn't apply to me (just like I can appreciate and support the human need to eat spicy food or ride roller coasters without doing or enjoying either of those things).

There's an ongoing discussion within the asexual community about sex positivity. Some asexuals are fascinated by their orientation and dive deeply into the study of sex and sexuality. Most of us understand that we're in the minority when we talk about not having sex. Most asexuals are welcoming, open, and affirming of the vast majority of society who is sexual.

What's even more interesting is this: I find that as an asexual, some people feel MORE comfortable talking about sexually related things around me. Riddle that. :)


Sara Beth Brooks | September 21, 2010 1:51 PM

Thank you for sharing your story, TechChic. It's really important that we hear from other LGBT community members who are also asexual; this raises awareness and visibility within our own community.

Great piece, Sara Beth! I really like the way you define queer as, "Queerness is about challenging societal norms by embracing a radically inclusive attitude of evolving self-identification and self-expression." Yay!