Jo says: I’m a student and a feminist living in Brisbane but originally from a small town in NSW. I’ve been identifying as asexual with a side of queer ever since I found out about asexuality six months ago, and I’ve been writing regularly about feminism and other things for three months now. You can find out more about me at my blog A Life Unexamined. (www.alifeunexamined.wordpress.com)
Being an Asexual Ally
Talking about asexuality in discussions of feminism (and all its intersectionalities) is not the easiest task. As a recent thread at the high-profile blog Feministe has once again shown, attempts at any form of meaningful discussion around asexuality and feminism tend to degenerate into 101-style questioning which then rapidly becomes hostile, challenging asexual people to prove or legitimise their identity or denying it outright.
This is such a frequent occurrence because asexual visibility is still very limited, even in feminist and queer communities. I know that I certainly didn’t know asexuality existed until a few months before I started identifying as asexual myself. But even the people who do know about asexuality don’t always know how to be proper allies to asexual people.
As such, I’ve put together some thoughts on how to be an ally to asexual people, especially in the feminist blogosphere. I can’t say that my views will be shared by every asexual person out there, but the more general guidelines are based on what I have read in general discussions on AVEN and other writing on the topic, such as swankivy’s ally series.
Being an asexual ally means knowing that asexuality exists as a legitimate sexual orientation, with estimated 1% of all people being on the asexual spectrum. Asexuality isn’t a fad, a medical condition, repressed sexual feelings or the result of abuse. If you want to understand asexuality as an identity, the best place to start is AVEN. After that, you could check out Asexual Explorations, swankivy’s YouTube channel, and Sciatrix’ masterlist of Carnival of Aces (an asexual blogcarnival).
Being an ally means talking to people about asexuality and accepting their identity as they describe it. It means asking questions only when you’re genuinely interested in hearing the answer. If your mindset is already fixed at “I don’t quite understand x, therefore asexuality cannot be valid,” then do everyone a favour and just walk away. In discussions focussing on asexuality and intersectionality, think about and respond to the issue at hand and stick with it. Don’t derail the discussion with intolerant or uneducated 101 comments. This is not the place.
Being an ally means recognising that behaviour doesn’t equate to orientation, especially when it comes to sex. Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction to other people. Sometimes that manifests as not having or being interested in sex; other times it means that people are happy to have sex for reasons other than sexual attraction, such as pleasing a partner, or simply because sex can physically feel good. All the sexual people out there: can you really say you’d only ever have sex if you were completely sexually attracted to someone?
Being an ally means thinking about the way that sexuality and sexual attraction are positioned as central to “the human experience,” and how damaging that can be to asexual people. No one likes to be told that they’re less human for not experiencing sexual attraction, and yet we see it all the time in blanket statements about “healthy sex lives” and sex as “an integral part of life.” Allies need to start decentralising sex from the concepts of love, intimacy and relationships, and realise that those can all be legitimate without sexual desire. Likewise, allies need to think about the conflation of sexual attraction and all other types of attraction, and recognise that sexual, romantic, emotional and even intellectual attraction can all exist independently of each other.
Being an ally, especially a feminist ally, means not being threatened by asexuality. Asexual people are not against sex. Some see themselves as sex positive. Some are genuinely repulsed by sex. All that doesn’t mean that we object to your identity as a sexual person. When feminists accuse asexual people of pandering to the patriarchy they’re simply being ridiculous: just because I don’t desire sex doesn’t mean I want to condemn everyone else to the same idea! Surely believing that people have the right to as much (consensual) sex as they want without being shamed includes being happy with very little sex, or none at all.
Being an ally means understanding that asexual people are just as diverse as heterosexual and GLBTQ people. We aren’t a monolithic body and we can’t all speak for each other, so listening to everyone’s stories is important, not just a one.
And finally, being an ally to asexual people means recognising that asexual people suffer oppression in the form of invisibility and intolerance every day. Our whole society is so centred on sexual desire, so intensely focussed on sexual behaviour as the central aspect of our identities. We’re lucky if we can come out to someone and that person actually knows what “asexual” means without us having to explain it. In the public eye, we’re pretty much invisible all the time. And where we are visible, we’re often marginalised by people telling us that our identity doesn’t exist. That we’re sick, repressed or just scared. That we’re only asexual because we have issues resulting from abuse or trauma. Even the more well-meaning arguments we hear are hurtful, the ones that tell us “I don’t think you’re asexual, you just need time” and “everyone meets someone some day.” We’re asexual people inhabiting a sexual world. So saying that the frustrations of an asexual person are nothing compared to your frustrations about expected behaviour as a cis, straight* woman? Take it to another discussion. Right here, it’s really not cool.
Comments and feedback are very welcome, as long as they are in line with HAT’s commenting policy.
*This one’s just an example that I had thrown at me recently, I realise that not everyone reading this is cis and straight.
Editor Note – Image Credit: Index thumbnail text graphic by tigtog using text found on an AVEN thread discussed potential badge/button designs.