“What does the A stand for again?” — Whereas my beloved “T” is only forgotten in action, but more rarely in its meaning, the A is just plainly unknown. As someone identifying as 4 of the 7 letters in “LGBTQIA”, I’m fairly confident that asexuality is one of the most forgotten of the alphabet soup (in a tight finish with “I” for intersex). It’s also fairly misunderstood, as we asexual people tend to be confused with plants, eunuchs (because asexual means no sex, so not genitals, right?) or even intersex people (which is a double misunderstanding).
So just to make things clear at the outset: Asexuality is about the lack of sexual attraction. It is not the lack of sexual behaviour (alone or with others), or about the lack of romantic desire or attraction, or the desire to be alone socially or romantically. When used as in “LGBTIA”, it is especially not about a method of reproduction (unless you’re a plant, but plants can’t read this). If you want more on what asexuality is, go check AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network).
As far as I know, there is no phenomenon of large scale discrimination and violence against asexual people, not on the scale of that targeting homosexual people or trans people or intersex people. No one is forcing asexual people to be more like sexual people (and that could be more like rape). More typically, we tend not to exist.
Most asexual people are taken for something else, either as celibate (and either hoping for a relationship eventually, or having taken the decision not to have a relationship for practical reasons) or, in the case of romantic asexuals, as anything on the sexual orientation spectrum, depending on romantic preferences. Because of reasons, sexual couples don’t usually describe what they do in the bedroom: that is all left to the imagination of others. So if an asexual person in a relationship would rather hug or not touch their partner than have sex, no one will know. All that is seen is the ostensible dating and being together and holding hands and so on, which is taken as an indicator that sex may happen later. Asexual couples are invisible because out of the bedroom, they may very well be identical to sexual couples.
Indeed, one place where asexual people are facing a lot discourses that reject their existence is their very own LGBTQIA community. An important component of LGB discourses is that love and sex are a natural, fundamental parts of the human condition, and that all kinds of love/sex should be promoted. Of course, this is adapted from the heterosexist tradition arguing that sex and love are necessary for humanity, as they allow reproduction and raising children. The LGB variation takes away the focus on babies to transfer it on relationship, while maintaining the causal relationship between love/romance and sexuality, and while reinforcing the idea that these are both “natural” and necessary, that they are a fundamental component of our personhood and individuality. Sex, specifically, is also thought of in similar terms in some pro-sex feminist discourses valorising the body. The goals of these progressive discourses (legimitizing same-sex relationships or deproblematizing the use human bodies, especially women’s bodies) is good, but they work on flawed assumptions.
There is nothing “natural” in relationships or in sex or in love, either taken individually or in making a single object out of these three realities. Love or sex are not water, they are possibilities of the human person and of the human body, nothing more — you can totally live without them, as many have done throughout the centuries. In fact, something close to asexuality was raised as an ideal in many varieties of Christianity, with marriage valued as only a lesser evil solution for those who cannot restrain their desires. All the same, the idea that love and sex are major aspects of one’s life is deeply incrusted in our minds, and can be oppressive for asexual people, especially if they are also aromantic. The idea that relationship = love = sex is just as unnecessary, and particularly affects romantic asexuals.
Still, asexuality has a lot in common with the other LGBTQIA categories.
- Like being trans, cross-dressing and (until recently) being attracted to people of the same sex, not experiencing sexual attraction or sex drive is an officiel DSM pathology, called hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
- Like trans and intersex people (and possibly bi/pan people), asexual people are often forced to take up a position as (unpaid) Educators of Random People on asexuality, always answering the same asinine and none-of-your-business questions. Do you mean you have no genitals? Can you have sex? How do you know you’re asexual, and not just disillusioned? Why don’t you like sex? But sex is so fun! Can you masturbate? Were you abused? Hey, I saw you kiss that girl/that dude, how come you’re asexual then? And so on. And this happens especially in queer spaces.
- Like people attracted mostly to the same gender, people who want to maintain several meaningful relationships at the same time, or people with atypical sexed bodies (trans or intersex), we have a hard time dating people who will accept us and love us as we are, because we fall out of other people’s expectations of cishetero monogamous sexual love. As a trans asexual lesbian, my dating pool is fairly limited and atypical.
- Like same sex attraction, it is rejected as a phase, as some thing that will go away “when you meet the right person”. Just, you know, we also get this from LGB-friendly people. I even got it from the sexologist who wrote my hormone referral…
- Like everyone except white gay males, we suffer acute visibility issues.
- Like all the other letters, we are rarely in the media. The closest we have is purposeful celibate, or else negatively- or oppressively-portrayed religious bigots, naive girls, asocial “freaks”, “frigid women”, etc., who can only be asexual in the eyes of fans because they’re never so in canon. Romantic asexuals are virtually non-existent, unless you have enough imagination to create some (I rank Daria as romantic asexual, based on s5e12 “My Night at Daria’s”).
- Like pretty much everyone in these categories, asexual people are not seen as the norm and are required to come out of the closet if they want their identity fully recognized.
Despite this, our experiences are nowhere. Let’s change this with a few easy rules:
- Don’t assume two people in love want to have sex with each other.
- Don’t assume everyone likes sex in general.
- Don’t assume people who are single are so for practical reasons (“dating is hard/costly/time-consuming, etc.”) or because they haven’t found the right person yet.
- Don’t say that sex/love/whatever is a natural part of Life. It may be part of your life, but that’s it.
- Give asexual/aromantic desires the same reality as other sexual and romantic orientations.
- Remember that we exist and that we are part of the community.