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44 responses to “Being an Asexual Ally”

  1. GallingGalla

    Thanks so much for this. I’ve been identifying as asexual for about a year, and also identify as queer. Trying to explain to people that you can be both is well nigh impossible. It gets even harder to explain that I’m also interested in kink, and that it’s possible to be kinky without turning it into a sexual experience.

    The anti-asexual hostile environment that I encountered at Feministe was so intense that I left several months ago. I visited the article you linked, and nothing has changed, and the level of cruelty shown by some of the commenters was appalling. I have to say that Jill Filipovic (who, let’s face it, sets the tone of the blog) is part of that open hostility.

    I actually had some commenter from Feministe follow me to my own personal blog specifically to leave anti-asexual comments. Naturally, I didn’t let her comments through.

    I consider myself to be sex-positive, in that I believe that everybody has a right to their [a]sexual autonomy, whatever that looks like. But I cannot be a part of the sex-positive community when so many of its members are telling me that I’m asexual because of past trauma and that I supposedly *need* sex to “heal”.

  2. anna

    Great post.

    Any books/websites/blog giving basic info on asexuality you can recommend for people who want to be allies but don’t know much about asexuality?

  3. Norah

    @anna
    The post at Feministe has links to various stuff, blogs included, that have info.
    It’s linked to in this post. The post, I think, was posted at Feminste for just that reason.

    This post also has a paragraph saying “If you want to understand asexuality as an identity, the best place to start is [...]” and then some links follow.

  4. tigtog

    Thanks for helping anna out, Norah.

    The post itself at Feministe is a very useful resource and call for understanding and ally work. It’s in the comments to that post that the marginalisation occurs, so you could always just not read them, although there are quite a few supportive ones as well as the dismissive ones.

  5. Jo

    Thank you for all your positive replies so far!

    GallingGalla, I think asexuality is, in a way, inherently queer. I like to include queerness in my identity because I’ve found it to be a very welcoming word, and because I have occasional bouts of romantic interest in girls. They’re not very prevalent, so I would probably be calling myself something like grey-homoromantic asexual, but queer-asexual is just less of a mouthful! Also urgh, I’m glad no-one followed me back from that post and left nasty comments on my blog. That would have been horrible.

    Anna, I hope you find what you’re looking for info-wise in the links I’ve given and that Norah pointed out. Most of those places will also link you on to other writing about asexuality! And you should definitely have a read of Kaz’s feministe post – the post itself is awesome, as tigtog said, just not most of the comments.

  6. StuffedO

    Excellent post Jo.

    I’m sorry you have found people’s response to your sexuality so isolating and hurtful. I don’t really ‘identify’ as anything, mostly because I can’t be bothered with the discussion, which I suppose implies that I must have had similar undermining experiences. That said, I have found people to be mostly understanding, in their own way. Of course, many believe that my lack of sexual attraction is because I am sick, or in the closet gay, or repressed, but mostly if I explain to them that they need to calm down and not feel so stressed about MY sexuality and just except it, then they are ok.

    I suppose people who love me and believe that I can only find happiness with a partner are the most distressing, but I think this is less of an asexual problem and more of a problem in compulsory monogamy in our society.

    As you said in your comment, I agree, asexuality is inherently queer, and it helps that those who identify as queer tend to be more likely to accept asexuality. However, as you also suggested, probably my bigest difficulty has been asserting myself as a pro-sex feminist. I have felt this way for over five years, that is, that I don’t want sex, but I believe strongly and voice my beliefs strongly, that people should be able to chose to have sex when and where and if and how and with whom they want it. Strangely, people find this very confusing. I think they believe that because I don’t have sex then I must be a prude or at least not want others to have sex too (as you suggested), but the reality is that pro-sex feminism is incredibly strongly connected with asexuality. It is all about asserting the choice to have sex OR NOT, and being free to control your own body. I think these things are connected even more than asexuality and queerness.
    One more tiny point… and I apologise if I’m making little sense and going on a rant (wine…), but I think another reason that I don’t call myself asexual is because the term seems so… hmm.. it implies that I don’t HAVE a sexuality. Which I DO! I just don’t get attracted to people and I don’t desire having sex with people, but I am still a sexual, a opposed to an Asexual, person!. Maybe this is semantics. And I have said something similar to people before, which has resulted in them asking, “Well if you don’t have sex or get attracted to people, then how can you be a sexual being?” WELL! Perhaps it’s my feminist background, but that just seems like asking “how can you have a soul?!” Opinions?
    Thanks again Jo.

  7. StuffedO

    Oh gosh. sorry… I just realised how long that was.

  8. StuffedO

    oh oh… one more ps. and then I promise to go away. When I say queerness, I mostly mean non-straightness.. as opposed to liking the girls in ‘that’ way… but I know other people don’t meant that… so I’m just qualifying. OK! I will leave you in peace.

  9. Mindy

    Why is asexuality inherently queer? I’m curious how someone who is not queer identifying but not interested in sex would be described then. Low sex drive but not asexual? I’m asking because the most recent article I read was about an asexual woman in a relationship with a (het?) man who understood and accepted her asexuality. She could have of course been queer identifying who happened to be in a relationship with a man at the time but if she was heterosexual and asexual can asexuality be inherently queer? Or am I missing something?

    If there is a site that explains this please feel free to tell me to look it up.

  10. StuffedO

    Ah, well that’s why I qualified to make it mean just non-straight.
    Was that the article with the girl with the groovey hair?! I felt a bit sad for that couple. I have been in that sort of situation (although before I was so sure of myself) and I really don’t think it can end well, but then, maybe I’m not them!
    I think it might depend on your definition of queer. For me it just means, actively identifying as not the exact ‘thing’ ‘society’ would like us to be. …which is also why, when I say non-straight, I don’t strictly mean non-heterosexual. Maybe I just mean non-Stepford.

  11. Mindy

    Ahhh, yes that makes sense, thanks StuffedO. I think my idea of ‘queer’ is at fault here.

    Yes the girl with the funky hair. I did wonder how much time she spent feeling guilty and trying to make other people feel happy.

  12. StuffedO

    I don’t think your opinion is ‘at fault’! hah. I think OUR definitions of queer just got mixed up and things got confused.

    It seems mean of me to speculate about others experiences… but she did sound like she might just be a bit stuck in a situation of expectation… I wanted to give her a hug and say “you don’t have to have a boyfriend if you don’t want one.” AND I wanted to say to the boy, “you can have sex if you want”… but then I thought, maybe they were poly (on his side anyway) or something… otherwise I don’t know how an asexual and not asexual could be that happy together. BUT MAYBE I’M AN IGNORANT FOOL!

    (ok. I must stop a) drinking, b) internetting) Night loves. Again. Thanks for the site and the post. You are wonderful people.

  13. Norah

    @stuffedO

    I don’t know what article you read, but plenty of asexual people do have sex and have no problem with it. A lot also are polyamorous, or in open relationships.

    Stuff also depends a lot on the individuals. You could encounter a *sexual who doesn’t need sex as much as some people do.
    Some combinations do seem difficult, like a *sexual who not only really needs sex with their partner, but also really mutual sex where the partner is also emotionally invested in it and very sexually excited about it, but “no relationship or poly relationship” are hardly the only options.

  14. Kaz

    This is a fantastic, *fantastic* post. And how I wish I could’ve linked it in the comments of That Thread, because you really bring to a point all sorts of things that started going through my mind then (e.g.: if your main aim when you ask questions is delegitimising someone’s identity? DON’T).

    One thing I’d like to add is that: allies should realise that sometimes aces face more active oppression than invisibility. The question of how aces are more vulnerable to certain forms of rape culture is a personal bugbear of mine (especially considering I started identifying as asexual after a traumatising and unwanted sexual encounter that probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been *sexual), and I am sad to say I’ve run into multiple accounts of asexuals suffering corrective rape. It’s… invisibility is a big problem, yes, but it can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming that once we make clear that we exist! really! we do! everything will be fine and dandy. It’s looking sadly more as if “learning we exist” is frequently followed by “becoming enraged by that fact”, and allies should know to watch out for that.

    On the queerness discussion… I also view asexuality/the asexual spectrum as “inherently queer”, but by that I don’t mean I’m going to run around telling ace people who don’t id that way “you’re queer! deal with it!” (although I might poke at them to ask why they don’t). It’s more that I consider ace identities to have their place under the queer umbrella, in a similar way to how gay people are under the queer umbrella even if not every gay person IDs as queer, and that I get very upset if people go telling aces they aren’t allowed to call themselves queer or have to justify this with some other part of their identity. Which happens rather a lot in certain spaces. And which means the entire topic is really really loaded for certain groups of aces (example: tumblr ohgodwhy) so, you know, step very carefully around this topic.

    @StuffedO – just wanted to say I actually feel quite similarly about having a sexuality! These days, at least; I used to feel different and I know other asexual people do. The reason I identify as asexual anyway is because I see the “a-” as an orientation prefix and that all it’s saying is that I’m not attracted to any *people* – which is the primary thing I want people to know about my sexuality anyway – but I can definitely see why you’re skeptical. I know the “so you’re saying you don’t have a sexuality?” thing is a very common reaction (case in point: my mother, who apparently decided that I must be unwilling to talk or think about sexuality of any sort after I came out to her) and it never ceases to upset me.

    I also think it’s easy as an ace person to overestimate how important sex is to *sexual people as a whole, because society does exaggerate; I remember saying that if I wanted to date I’d never be able to monogamously date a *sexual person and being shocked when someone said that I shouldn’t think that way because she didn’t id as on the asexual spectrum but would be willing to forego sex for a romantic relationship because it wasn’t that important to her. This is actually one of the reasons I think increased recognition of asexuality is so important, because the way a certain degree of sexual desire and certain attitude towards sex gets promoted probably harms many *sexual people too. Slightlymetaphysical has two interesting posts about this.

  15. StuffedO

    Norah, yes of course you are right, but the girl in this particular article (Mindy might know the link?) specifically said she didn’t have sex. So that seemed to be central to her identity, which is why I figured they might be poly on the boys side. However, now reading Kaz’s comment I’m thinking maybe I should understand it more from the point of “willing to forego sex for a romantic relationship because it wasn’t that important”. Not sure. Anyway, I guess with that article, it was interesting from a visibility pov but the girl seemed quite unsure of herself. Much less I’m an asexual hear me roar than this lovely post.

    Kaz, it totally makes sense to use it as an orientation prefix. Is it strange that I probably mostly/only say asexual when people are confused? I think this is part of why I avoid it too, because I feel like people just want to be able to fit everyone into a box of a specific sexuality, and that annoys me. Although, I know my attitude is a problem for visibility activism. *mental dilemma*

  16. Jo

    It’s looking sadly more as if “learning we exist” is frequently followed by “becoming enraged by that fact”, and allies should know to watch out for that.

    Yes, you’re completely right of course. Invisibility isn’t the only form of oppression – I think I just highlighted in in this post because it’s something that GLB (maybe T) people don’t so much have an issue with anymore, in western culture at least. It’s horrible that you had to go through unwanted sexual encounters while starting to identify as asexual – I actually had the same in a way, where an encounter with someone I thought was a decent, interesting person, but who would not accept my “no” to the idea of anything dating-related just showed me how utterly not interested I was in all that. The whole thing still sucked, though.

    Oh a more cheerful note, thank you so much for your comments! I’m really happy you liked it – it was your post in particular that prompted this, after seeing how a great piece of writing got to derailed and attacked.

    Norah and StuffedO, my way of using queer also is as a pretty much everything that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of straight. I know a lot of people can get touchy about the word’s use, as you point out StuffedO, but in the queer RL circles I’m in it’s the go-to term for everyone and very inclusive. I am a bit careful about using the word with other people I don’t know though.

    I also think it’s easy as an ace person to overestimate how important sex is to *sexual people as a whole, because society does exaggerate.

    This is interesting too, and proably true – even though looking at some of the derailed threads on “would you date an asexual” you’d think the opposite. I find that this infographic is really cool: http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?/topic/67302-asexuality-infographics/ It shows that just like hetero-homosexual is a spectrum, so is sexual desire/attraction in general!

  17. fuckpoliteness

    Thanks for the post, and for all the comments. It’s something I need to sit back and take in and consider my place as an ally. It’s not my identity, and sex is important to me, however I don’t see this discussion, or asexual identity as ‘threatening’ my desires/identity, and I can certainly see how frequently you’d be subjected to judgments of being ‘prudish’ or ‘damaged’ etc, how unfair those judgments are, and how hurtful, and I can certainly see the dangers for asexual-identifying people and the multiplied and compounded threats from rape culture for people with this identification. It’s really very ugly – at first I was thinking that it was very much worse for women – the ‘corrective rape’ thing being used against women to show them their ‘place’ in so very many circumstances, however I can see how difficult it would be for men as well – the rhetoric of ‘all men think about sex with women all day’ b/s, and how it sets asexual-identifying men and women (and others) up as ‘abnormal’ and ‘less human’. So anyway – I just wanted to say thanks for a very thought provoking post and discussion and that I will activeldsfy work on challenging any negativity I hear towards asexual identification, and to be a good and supportive ally.

  18. SunlessNick

    I visited the article you linked, and nothing has changed, and the level of cruelty shown by some of the commenters was appalling.

    I especially liked the person who said that asexuality was just something we made up to have something to talk about on the internet.

  19. Napalmnacey

    I don’t think asexuality is made up. I don’t think it’s accepted or understood. I support the asexual community in making people more aware of it and for people to understand that there’s nothing wrong with asexual people, that it’s not a fad or a thing or an affectation or mental problem.

    I get very wary, however, of asexual people appropriating queer imagery and social justice language to describe their situation. My beliefs are thus: A person isn’t queer just because they’re asexual. A queer person is queer because they fall on the GLBTQI spectrum. If one is asexual and they choose to date people of the same gender, then yes, they can describe themselves as queer. But straight asexuals appropriating queer narratives really makes me see red.

    I don’t want to be the fly in the ointment here, and please believe me that I really do care about asexual people. But not having characters on TV and having people go, “Hey, that’s weird” isn’t the same as being bashed up or killed because of who you find attractive, nor the huge weight of oppression that most people on the queer spectrum withstand on a day to day basis. I really, really don’t feel comfortable comparing the two. They’re just not the same.

    I especially get upset at AVEN using the upside-down triangle symbol. That is just – I don’t have the words. Anyway, I want to reiterate that I really support the furthering of knowledge about asexuality. Kids in school need to know, so they don’t feel weird or wrong. People need to know that asexuality is okay, it’s normal, it’s a perfectly natural thing. I support that wholeheartedly. I just think we should do that without appropriating queer terminology and symbols.

  20. GallingGalla

    @napalmnacy: (1) See Kaz’s comment above about asexual people being subject to corrective rape. (2) See the Feministe comment thread and open your eyes to the outright hostility that so many commenters expressed towards asexual people. (3) You don’t get to define for us how we’re oppressed. (4) Wow, your argument about how asexual people don’t get to be queer unless we fall in line with your relationship standards sounds an awful like cis lesbians telling trans lesbians that they don’t get to be lesbians. Or for that matter, cis women telling trans women that we don’t get to be women / cis men telling trans men that they don’t get to be men.

  21. Jo

    If one is asexual and they choose to date people of the same gender, then yes, they can describe themselves as queer. But straight asexuals appropriating queer narratives really makes me see red.

    I think this depends on definitions of straightness as well as queerness. To me, asexual people don’t necessarily fit into straight discourse, even if they are romantically or platonically attracted to the opposite sex. I think very few straight people out there who did not have knowledge of asexuality would think that there was something wrong with a person who was in a heterosexual relationship, but didn’t have sex. I’d argue that normative heterosexual views of an appropriate sex life (meaning existent and probably non-kinky) would not include heteroromatic asexual people.

    Does that make sense? Basically, normative ideas of straigtness don’t include asexual narratives. Which to me makes them in some way queer,. By your definition of queer as not attracted to the opposite sex in any way, how do you account for trans* people, who may be attracted to the opposite sex, but still are queer because they’re included in the traditional GLBTIQ model? Should’t the model be changed to include an A?

  22. Jo

    Sorry, there was a type in that post. I forgot a “not” in this sentence:

    I think very few straight people out there who did not have knowledge of asexuality would think that there was something wrong with a person who was in a heterosexual relationship, but didn’t have sex.

    I of course mean that not many uninformed heterosexual people would think that asexuality was legitimate, but that there was something wrong with us, which excludes us from the traditional heterosexual paradigm.

  23. Feminist Avatar

    Going back to the issue of dating asexual people, when you are not asexual yourself: I tend to worry about narratives that suggest that sex is impossible to live without. 1) because people have chosen to be celibate for hundreds of years and many of those people had sexual desires and lot of anti-celibacy discourse in the West originated in anti-catholicism that suggested that celibates were lying and/or unnatural (so wasn’t coming from a nice place), and 2) I think it feeds into rape culture myths, where sexual desire is so all powerful that some men just can’t control themselves, which I don’t believe is true. I think we need to step away from the idea that sex ‘drives’ us, to one where sex is a choice we make, if a choice informed by our desires. And, of all the reasons why a person with sexual desire might choose to abstain from sex, doing so to enable a relationship with another person is a pretty explicable one.

  24. Kaz

    @StuffedO – I totally get that! For me “asexuality” is a word you will have to pry out of my cold, dead hands, but that has a lot to do with my personal history as well (I actually invented the word on my own after that event and only found the asexual community about a year later, so it’s very near and dear to my heart, and also I have Strong Feelings about the damage invisibility does. :() I feel similarly to that for romantic orientation, though – part of the reason I don’t really consider myself to have one is because the concept really doesn’t work well for me, but part of it is that I want to make the political point that not everyone has one whenever people start reducing asexuals down to their romantic orientations again.

    @J0 – definitely, and I totally agree about invisibility being hugely damaging. I just harp on the other stuff because – as this thread has shown! – so many people just assume asexual people don’t face it, which I find extremely worrying. And I’m glad you enjoyed my post! :)

    @Napalmnacey: ………riiight.

    Look, you may say you care about asexual issues, but what I am reading in your post is one hell of a lot of defining our experiences for us. Things like telling us what we do and don’t experience (particularly galling since I mentioned in this very thread I had a traumatising unwanted sexual encounter – I go back and forth on calling it sexual assault, it doesn’t fit into the narratives very well :( – which I would not have had if I were not asexual. You know) and making value judgements on how hurtful those experiences are. Things like reducing us down to our romantic orientations (which, you know, highly problematic – Sciatrix has an amazing post on this). Things like calling heteroromantic asexuals straight when that’s erasing a large chunk of their orientation and a lot of them don’t ID that way… and given the invisibility and difficulty that comes with iding as ace, chances are any heteroromantic ace that can fit into the “straight” box isn’t iding as ace in the first place. Things like redefining oppression in ways that exclude asexuality… because, you know, I often see sexual queer folk objecting to invisibility, to being pathologized, to being or having been listed in the DSM, to awful media representation, etc., on the grounds of oppression, but suddenly when the topic is asexuality it’s only physical violence that counts. Oh, excuse me, physical violence except the sort we experience. There’s an excellent post I can’t quite find the link to now which takes a privilege checklist written for sexual queer folk and points out that fully 36 of the 40 items on it affect asexuals too. Yes, even heteroromantics.

    Argh, chances are I have to bow out at this point because after months upon months upon months of bullshit this topic just makes me shake with rage. I’m sorry, if you can’t respect our experiences or our identities, if you only believe we face oppression if it looks exactly like the one you face (and sometimes not even then), you’re not an ally. Full stop.

    @Feminist Avatar – oooh, THIS, very much. I actually get very disturbed when people liken sex to things like food or water, because not having sex will not kill you and putting it on the same level as things that are vital to survival enables all sorts of squidgy rape culture stuff. I also think this has some nasty knock-on effects on the asexual community in general, because people are told from all sides that there is no way for them to manage a relationship with a *sexual person without having sex. I keep thinking that the feminist community should care about this considering it ties in very exactly with all sorts of dialogue about one partner owing the other sex, but frequently they’re more interested in telling us how manipulative and abusive not wanting to have sex is. *siiighs*

  25. Kaz

    Ahaha, I fail, the privilege checklist was actually linked in the post I linked by Sciatrix – This is the post by Ace Admiral talking about which points *don’t* apply to ace people, this is the actual checklist.

  26. SunlessNick

    But not having characters on TV and having people go, “Hey, that’s weird” isn’t the same as being bashed up or killed because of who you find attractive, nor the huge weight of oppression that most people on the queer spectrum withstand on a day to day basis.

    And if we get correctively raped (no, not me personally) or pathologised (by random people and by professionals, yes me personally on both counts), do we get to call that oppressive?

    Ok, sorry, I know what answer you’d give to that. But seeing as both of those things came up in the thread before your comment it’s a bit galling that you ignore them.

    A person isn’t queer just because they’re asexual. A queer person is queer because they fall on the GLBTQI spectrum.

    Although I largely agree with you about this, with the proviso that if an asexual doesn’t fall visibly fall into the spectrum, they’re not automatically “straight.”

    In any case, I don’t see why an asexual would particularly want into the GLBTQI community, since – in my experience – that community is no better than the heteronormative one at acknowledging our existence even in our presence. (Well, the T and the I parts of it are better – I suppose because transgender and intersex people are also used to having a large segment of otherwise progressive people be heavily invested in denying who they are).

  27. Napalmnacey

    I’m not ignoring them. They suck, but they’re not what gay, lesbian, trans and genderqueer people go through daily. People will NOT pound you to a pulp in the street for being asexual. I don’t feel comfortable commenting on the corrective rape issue since it’s something I haven’t had a huge education on.

    Please understand, I’m not saying asexuals don’t put up with a lot of shit. But I get really tired of asexuals talking over queer folk in progressive spaces, and if people are getting angry, it’s because of the points I mentioned.

    Asexuals do NOT get to use the inverted triangle. They were never killed for being who they were in the same historical situation. Don’t you see how wrong that is? I’m not saying don’t raise awareness, I’m not saying asexuals don’t exist or they’re not valid. I’m saying that appropriating queer culture isn’t okay, cause you don’t really get singled out for not having sex with people in the same way queer people are. There aren’t churches damning you to hell, or saying you’re evil or sick. There aren’t people that will refuse to even talk to you because you’re asexual. Sure, there are a lot of buttheads out there that don’t understand what you’re about, and that’s frustrating. But I really doubt you’ve ever felt the level of terror that a lot of queer people have just by existing.

    I’m probably making a pariah of myself because of this issue, but it’s not really something I can sit quietly and say nothing about.

  28. GallingGalla

    @Kaz: hugs, and take care of yourself, eh?

  29. GallingGalla

    @napalmnacy: I’m asexual AND trans AND genderqueer. Where does that put me on your little exclusive spectrum? Do I get to claim oppression for being trans? Or do I just need to shut my mouth because I’m asexual?

    Maybe just maybe its time for you to sit down and shut up. I have heard this kind of narrative so many times – from cis people claiming I’m not oppressed from being trans, from binary-gendered people claiming my non-binary gender is fake, and I’m getting frakking tired of it. I’m tired of getting chased from thread to thread and blog to blog by people denying our identities and oppressions.

    It’s no wonder I don’t want to have much with the LBG community, with all the s*t you throw at trans, genderqueer, and ace people.

    “But I really doubt you’ve ever felt the level of terror that a lot of queer people have just by existing” – You have no frakking idea what I’ve been through. I spent seven years of my childhood being beaten and spit on for being trans and autistic. I spent 16 years in an abusive relationship with a partner who repeatedly raped me, because he felt entitled to sex whether I wanted it or not, which I didn’t, because hey: asexual.

    I am so angry right now, I could spit nails. Don’t you EVER, EVER, EVER say again that ace people don’t face oppression.

  30. SunlessNick

    Asexuals do NOT get to use the inverted triangle.

    That one I agree about completely. When it comes down to it, I consider asexuals marginalised but not oppressed. I just never see anyone make the point about opression without going on to erase a lot of marginalisation.

    Eg: There aren’t people that will refuse to even talk to you because you’re asexual.

    You don’t know that.

  31. Helen

    With regards to napalmnacy’s comment, I just wanted to offer my perspective, as an aromantic asexual who identifies as queer. (Also, this is a bit long. The last paragraph makes a reasonable summary, so skip there if you’re short on time.)

    To begin with, I have been incredibly lucky. Of the close friends I made when I was eleven, at the school I would go to until I was nineteen, half of them turned out to be queer. That meant that during the difficult years when I was struggling to come to terms with my sexuality, I was surrounded by people doing the same. Though all our experiences were slightly different, we all had other people who understood the basic core of what we were going through. I had friends who were supportive, who helped me find the word asexual, who I could talk to about my experiences, most of them, in the knowledge that they would understand because they also felt isolated, confused, afraid they were sick or wrong.

    Even with all their help and support, accepting my asexuality was a difficult and painful process that took years. I was exceptionally lucky to have them. My school didn’t have any kind of GSA or resources for LGBT students, and certainly nothing that could have helped a confused asexual teenager. Without them, I’d have had nothing – not even the AVEN forums, as I was too much in denial to use them. I don’t like to speculate on what might have been if I hadn’t had that one group of queer people in my life who could support and understand me, but I am quite certain it would have been bad.

    Asexuals may not, generally, be subject to sexuality-based violence – but that doesn’t mean that we’re not subject to a hell of a lot else, of which “not having characters on TV and having people go, ‘Hey, that’s weird!'” is only one part. Other commenters have already pointed out some of these. Corrective rape or sexual harassment, pathologisation by medical professionals (including unwanted tests and attempts to fix someone’s sexuality), bullying, instances of government bodies, landlords and bosses discriminating against people… And of course the very real and very damaging effects of invisibility and marginalisation, the constant pressure from society going you don’t exist, you’re broken, you need to be fixed. This stuff happens to all asexuals, regardless of their romantic orientation.

    Where is an asexual suffering from the effects of all this supposed to go? The asexual community is pretty much only accessible on the internet, and a conversation on an internet forum can only do so much to help. Outside of occasional meet-ups in major population centres, the asexual community is simply far too small to offer proper offline support. Friends and family are – like the majority of the population – unlikely to be understanding and accepting of asexuality and may well make whatever problems the asexual has worse, not better. Therapists and counsellors, if available, are likely to be even worse.

    The queer community obviously isn’t a perfect solution, because queer people are as likely as anyone else to be intolerant and closed-minded. But queer communities are at least filled with people who understand a large part of what asexual people are going through, people who are already more aware of the complexity of human sexuality and find it easier to understand a new concept. Depending on the nature of the community, they’re likely to already be geared to providing support and care to people who are suffering because of their sexuality. Queer people and queer spaces are one of the best shots asexual people have at finding the support and understanding I was lucky enough to have from my queer friends.

    But these are queer spaces – or LGBTQ spaces, or LGBT+ spaces. Inclusion in those spaces is contingent upon queerness. And a lot of the people who run or participate in those spaces are perfectly happy to include asexuals under the banner of queerness, to include us in those spaces as fellow queer people and give us the supportive environment a lot of us are in desperate need of, include us in their discussions, give us help and support in spreading visibility and awareness.

    So when a non-asexual queer person objects to asexuality as queer – which in the discussions I’ve seen, almost always entails “and stay out of our queer spaces, you don’t suffer enough to be in them!” I’m left in the difficult position of having to determine which position is most valid – the people who believe that my identifying as queer is appropriative, and the people who believe it isn’t. And I always come down on the side of the people who say it isn’t. There’s more than one reason behind this (for example, I find that the people who are for asexuality being queer tend to have a much better understanding of asexuality and the lives of asexual people than the people who are against it, and the better-informed group is more probably right) but the most important one is this:

    There are asexuals who are suffering because of their sexuality, who desperately need help and support and understanding and who aren’t as lucky in their friendships as I am. I want those asexuals to have something better than internet forums and occasional meet-ups, and the queer community is almost always the best available option. I fear for asexuals who desperately need that supportive environment, and cannot access it because their local queer community decides they’re not oppressed enough to be queer. I fear for what those asexuals may end up doing as the weight of all that not-enough-to-be-queer oppression crushes them.

  32. tigtog

    I’m anxious my question here might be a derail, but I’m hoping not. Please just lightly squelch me if so.

    Lately I’ve been seeing a few places defining the “Q” in LBGTQ etc as “Questioning” rather than “Queer”- I don’t know enough about queerness to know whether that’s generally regarded as a form of erasure or as an expansion of concept – i.e. is “Questioning” more about examining heteronormativity in its entirety perhaps?

    If so, is this part of having the queer community (or at least some parts of it) becoming more accustomed/overt/activist with respect to being a default refuge for folks who don’t find a good fit in any other sexuality identity/community?

  33. Chally

    Napalmnacey, you know that the AVEN triangle symbol isn’t based on the triangle symbol used in the Holocaust, right? It’s based on the Kinsey scale. Here’s a discussion thread at AVEN for more information. A number of asexual people think it’s a bad choice of symbol, too.

  34. Jo

    Is “Questioning” more about examining heteronormativity in its entirety perhaps?

    I think it generally just refers to people who are unsure about their sexuality as as such aren’t ready to call themselves gay, lesbian or bisexual yet. It may be used interchangeably in GLBTQ because not all people are comfortable reclaiming the word queer.

    Being an ally means talking to people about asexuality and accepting their identity as they describe it.

    At the risk of sounding preachy, could we please remember some of the things I wrote about in my actual post? Things like accepting people’s identity as they describe it and not challenging that? It’s fine to disagree personally, but challenging someone else’s description of themselves as queer even when they’ve explained it to you just doesn’t do any good to that person. It’ll only undermine the self-confidence they may have gained by identifying as such.

  35. SunlessNick

    Napalmnacey, you know that the AVEN triangle symbol isn’t based on the triangle symbol used in the Holocaust, right? It’s based on the Kinsey scale.

    Is it? I didn’t know that. Following your link and some links beyond it, I find I like what it’s supposed to represent – it does ring true to how I experience sexual feelings.

    Quoting from the wiki, to make discussing it easier:

    The top line represents the Kinsey scale, the left being homosexual, the right being heterosexual and the third dimension, leading to the bottom point of the triangle, represents sexual attraction. Asexuals lie in the bottom regions of the triangle, which is why you might see the triangle two-toned, having only the bottom corner black. AVEN chooses to display it as a gradient, which allows room for demisexuals, grey-asexuals, and hyposexuals. It signifies that there really is no clear cut black-and-white; it is a continuum.

    But that means important parts of the symbol are the colour scheme and two axes, not the shape. Given what the triangle means to LBGT people is there another shape that would do the same job without treading on an another symbol’s scope? Maybe a “T.”

  36. Chally

    Well, some people use aces, as in cards, to symbolise, well, aces :). This is, of course, not really what the thread is about, so I’ll bow out unless I’ve something more relevant to say.

  37. Aqua, of the Questioners

    At the risk of Godwinising the whole thread:
    Napalmnancy said

    I especially get upset at AVEN using the upside-down triangle symbol. That is just – I don’t have the words.

    I find that a really odd position coming from a lesbian directed at female asexuals on a feminist blog.

    The Nazis only assigned the pink triangle to gay men (and I imagine transwomen, but that’s a different problem). Lesbians experienced far less persecution under the Nazis, and to the extent they did, it was because they didn’t marry and pop out lots of children for the Fatherland, and generally asserted feminist positions (The black triangle of “asocials”).

    http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005478

    Asexuals are completely invisible in the history of the Third Reich, but you know, I can’t imagine that if women are being persecuted for not being subservient to men, refusing to marry and have lots of children, that the authorities are really going to stop and look closely whether that refusal is because any given woman is sexually attracted to other women or not sexually attracted to anyone. “Not sexually attracted to men” (or “not willing to put up with patriarchial enforcement”) is the issue.

    [In fact it seems to me that even today, cultural bigotry against gay men and against lesbians still differs enough that lesbians and asexual women would have a lot of experiences in common, far more than gay men and asexual men. ]

    TL;DR: I would imagine that a Third Reich aware of asexuals would assign asexuals (male or female) the black triangle of “asocials”, to much the same extent as it did to lesbians. Because to the extent that I understand the thinking of the Nazis, they represent the exact same problem.

  38. Mindy

    I think I can see where you are coming from Napalmnacey in not wanting the definition of queer to become so stretched that it becomes meaningless and essentially a straight het person who once imagined kissing someone of the same sex starts calling themselves queer. But then my definition of queer was based largely on het/homo lines and I think that perhaps it was too narrow and didn’t allow for people who don’t identify as either or who don’t accept that there are only two choices. But I suspect that it is a very contentious topic so I won’t speculate further.

    Thank you Jo for this post and thank you also for the patience with my 101 questions.

  39. Moosh

    It makes me sad that the article is necessary. I read it and my thought was “that’s not about being an asexual ally, that’s about just being a decent human being”. Accepting people for who they are and how they identify themselves is the minimum you can possibly do. The fact people are lauded for reaching that level, and the fact so many people have not reached it, makes me feel sad about humanity.

  40. Tori

    I’m just commenting to say thank you for writing this.

  41. V

    Well, I’m about to be real unpopular here, but some points –

    David used to admit that the asexual triangle was based on the queer triangle, but after people protested, the “no, it’s based on the Kinsey scale” explanation suddenly and mysteriously appeared, to the point where it’s hard to even find his earlier admissions.

    ‘Queer’ is a slur levelled at people who experience same-sex attractions or who transgress gender norms. It’s also a political identity used by many people who fall outside the mainstream in some way (although it’s worth remembering that mainstream narratives of human (hetero)sexuality alienate almost all women regardless of sexuality, and a great deal of men as well). So, these two meanings clash when those who are using it as a reclaimed slur run up against those who are using it as a political identity.

    Personally, ‘queer’ is and always will be a slur to me. I associate it with pain and fear. When someone who is cis and not attracted to the same sex uses ‘queer’, I flinch. I can’t stop anyone using the word, but I can’t stop being hurt by it, either, and I think it would do some people good – especially younger & newer politiqueer people – to remember that it is a powerful, hurtful word.

    Asexual people definitely experience a lot of crap, but “more vulnerable” to rape culture? Can we *not*? That’s blatantly offensive.

    And because it’s no doubt necessary, let me say that I’m trans* and gay and, while I don’t count as asexual, I don’t experience sexual attraction anymore.

  42. Louise

    “All the sexual people out there: can you really say you’d only ever have sex if you were completely sexually attracted to someone?”

    Yes. More than that: in love. I don’t identify as asexual, because I have sexual desires, but there is only one person I have ever wanted to make love with, and I never have, and never intend to, have sex with anyone else. And since this person is not in this physical world, I am in practice … um, not practicing, not in the usual senses, and never have, because the very thought of intimacy with someone I don’t love is repugnant. I call it monosexual. I’m not interested in or attracted to anyone other than this person, and am very happy this way.

    I’ve never had any of the horrible things happen that are described here, but I am familiar with the idea being pushed that there’s something WRONG about a woman not making herself available to some man, any man, and probably pumping out lots of baybeeeez as well. It’s worked its way into the most unlikely conversations.

  43. SunlessNick

    Asexual people definitely experience a lot of crap, but “more vulnerable” to rape culture? Can we *not*? That’s blatantly offensive.

    It’s also blatantly missing out part of what Kaz said.

  44. Aydan

    I came to this late, via a comment Jo left on my blog, but I wanted to respond to this in comment 27:

    “There aren’t churches damning you to hell, or saying you’re evil or sick. There aren’t people that will refuse to even talk to you because you’re asexual.”

    Yes, there are. I have seen specific examples of both of these things happening– not to me, but to other asexuals.

    I get really, really disgusted with the “the only thing asexuals face is ignorance” idea.

    And with response to comment 19, I’m going to be self-promoting and drop this link about why I don’t think there are really any straight asexuals: http://greenchestnuts.blogspot.com/2012/03/heteromanticity-and-being-straight.html

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