This year, for Asexual Awareness Week, my company’s ERO sent a notice to its membership talking about asexuals and our existence. I was meant to have a personal asexual announcement somewhere, so that that announcement email could include a reference to it. I found a suitable place to host it, but didn’t write my blurb down in time. Now, I guess I’ll just have to do it the hard way.
A few weeks back, several members of the same ERO were all in Seattle for the Out & Equal Workplace summit. Three days of sessions on how to be inclusive of all flavors of the rainbow, and the closest anybody came to a-spec inclusion was “asexual panromantic” on a single slide listing a bunch of different ways people might be queer. (The rest of that session focused exclusively on ways to fight bi erasure in queer spaces.)
What are asexuals? (And what’s a panromantic?) Well, put simply: if a heterosexual is sexually attracted to people NOT of their own gender, a homosexual is sexually attracted to people of their own gender, and a bisexual is attracted to both their own and another… (if we realize that gender is a spectrum and not a binary, a pansexual is attracted to ANY and ALL of the many many genders) an asexual is attracted to no gender. Simple, right? There hasn’t been a lot of studies specifically for asexuals, but the best estimates are that about 1% of the population is asexual. In a company the size of mine, that means there are about 700 asexuals. But so far, I’m the first person to really come out as asexual. No pressure, right?
Let’s talk about the split attraction model. For most people, you’re romantically attracted to the same people you’re sexually attracted to. Most people don’t even realize it’s two separate feelings, because they always have them both at the same time. But sometimes, people will not be sexually attracted to someone, but WILL be romantically attracted to them. People who do not feel romantic attraction are known as aromantics. Most asexuals are actually aromantic asexuals, or “aro ace”. But many asexuals do feel romantic attraction, so you end up with heteroromantic asexuals or homoromantic asexuals, etc. Likewise, there are homosexual aromantics, bisexual aromantics, etc. Because there are so many aro aces, the two groups tend to hang out together anyway. Collectively, we are “the a-spec community.”
There are a lot of hurdles to identifying as asexual. I mentioned above how even many queer leaders don’t think we’re real. An especially common stance in the queer community is that a heteroromantic asexual is “basically straight”. My favorite is “The A is for Allies”. Even my own company’s ERO was named “LGBT&Allies” for a while.
For decades, the bisexual group in the global fight for queer equality defined itself as “not gay, not straight”. Asexuals were always a part of that group, but more recently have chosen to group around our own specific identity. Unfortunately, what this means is that there’s no history of asexuals in the queer movement, because we were part of their history. Going back even further to when women were fighting for the right to vote, and were called “spinsters” because they were unmarried, most of them were asexual women. Just like asexuals, bisexuals fight erasure as much as they fight the more traditional forms of oppression. Gays and lesbians who insist that bisexuals are just semi-closeted gays or lesbians, for example. In terms of how we are treated, asexuals and bisexuals are very similar, even though we’re arguably on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The American psychiatric world finally admitted that being asexual was not, by itself, a diagnosable pathology. They did this is 2013, with the DSM-V. By contrast, they removed homosexuality from the list in 1973. So, in all that time, when we told our doctors that we weren’t really into people the way our peers were into people, they’d make a note in our permanent records that we were broken (Hypoactive Sexual Desire) and then try to fix us. The DSM-V added that it was only a diagnosable pathology *IF* the person was bothered by it. And not being bothered by it requires that a we know it’s okay. I was around 40 when I figured out my orientation, and my entire life until that realization included thinking that I was broken. “Oh, you’re just waiting for marriage.” or “You’ll want to have sex once you meet the right person.” are both common things we hear. Every relationship I had started because someone decided she was attracted to me, and I just kind of went along with it. I figured I was just really really bad at being straight, or socially awkward, or just a big old nerd. I was raised in a military household, and I assumed that moving every 2-4 years somehow made me unable to talk to people.
There are plenty of incidents of “corrective rape” of asexuals, just as with the rest of the queer community. But take that a step farther: in western society (I can’t speak to other cultures, but I’m confident this is global) the assumption is that men are always down for sex. “You can’t rape a man.” is the common belief, though some might amend that to “A woman can’t rape a man.” Because a man ALWAYS wants sex, they say. And as a man, dating a woman, I believed that. So when my first girlfriend ever used threats of suicide to coerce me into having sex with her, I didn’t know that was rape. Over a year, I was in a toxic relationship and never realized it was abuse, much less realized I could leave. I should leave. So, not only am I ace, I’m also part of #MeToo. Guys, you need feminism just as much as the non-men do, because the patriarchy hurts everyone. Ace women fare about as well as you’d expect in today’s rape culture.
I don’t mean to be playing the Oppression Olympics. I’m sure that other queers have it worse than a-spec folks. (I’m looking at you, Trans community.) My point is only that we also suffer the same kinds of abuse that other queers do. And while we sometimes get accused of having “passing privilege” that’s just another way of saying “in the closet”. ANYONE can pass for straight, so long as they don’t act on their feelings, and do act on pretend feelings to appease the masses. But what kind of life is that? So, here’s me, coming out.