No, this isn’t about Brexit, although you could be forgiven for assuming it is. After a few days of people (on both sides) posting ‘we hate the other side’ memes on FaceBook, while a few lonely voices desperately try to keep a peace that’s long gone and doesn’t stand much chance of coming back until everyone finds something else to argue about, I’m sick of hearing about Brexit. So, I won’t be posting anything else about it here unless some new and interesting facts come to light.
This is about the asexual community, and how you would expect a small minority group, the members of which are all marginalised and looked down on by the rest of society for the same reason, to be able to get along.
Sadly, it seems we can’t.
There have been a few posts recently in the big asexuality group on FaceBook that question what asexuality actually is. And this is a big deal because … well, if we can’t even agree on our shared identity, how can we expect to present it to the rest of the world in a way that makes sense.
Just for the sake of clarity, an asexual person is someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction.
And why do we use that definition? Because attraction is what sexual orientation is all about.
- Heterosexual – sexually attracted to the opposite gender
- Homosexual – sexually attracted to the same gender
- *Bisexual – sexually attracted to male and female genders
- Asexual – sexually attracted to no-one
*Some people also use bisexual to mean sexually attracted to any gender, but this should technically be pansexual, so asexuals clearly aren’t the only ones who have to deal with this confusion.
As you can see from the above examples, it’s pretty clear cut. It’s all about sexual attraction.
The trouble is, many people (like myself) discover asexuality because they don’t like sex. They find a label that seems to describe them, and it’s natural to get excited about it. They start saying things like:
“I don’t like sex because I’m asexual.”
“I’m asexual, and that means I hate sex. I don’t even want to talk about it.”
“I’m asexual, so don’t expect me to ever have sex with you.”
But what they’re actually describing here is their attitude to the sex act itself, not their sexual orientation. Attitudes to sex can be loosely grouped into 3 categories:
- Sex-repulsed – doesn’t enjoy sex, doesn’t want to have sex, may not even want to hear people talking about it.
- Sex-neutral – gets nothing out of sex personally, but doesn’t mind it and will have sex if a partner wants it.
- Sex-favourable – likes to have sex, and enjoys it.
As you can probably see, the imaginary people I quoted above were all describing sex-repulsion, not asexuality.
I can understand how this comes about – I was guilty of it myself when I first discovered asexuality – and I have no problem with people who realise they’ve made a mistake, and correct it when it’s pointed out to them. Although they’ve probably spread their confusion outside the asexual community when talking to people, it isn’t their fault, and no-one can be blamed for making an honest mistake.
But not everyone reacts that way. Some take an attitude of, “Well, I don’t care what everyone else thinks. I’m going to keep on telling people asexual means doesn’t like sex because that’s what it means to me.” I’m hesitant to use a derogatory label that’s applied to asexuals all too often, but ‘special snowflake’ does seem to apply here.
The effect of this spreading of misinformation is that sex-favourable asexuals (and even sex-neutral asexuals, to a degree) are erased. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, they – we – don’t exist because people are told that ‘asexuals don’t like sex’. The effect this has is far-reaching, but it’s most strongly felt by asexuals who are single and actively seeking a relationship. Here’s an example from my life:
I’ve been using OKCupid on and off for over a year now. Recently, I’ve changed my sexual orientation to bisexual, even though nothing has changed for me in that respect, and I’m not actually bi, because it’s the only way to attract interest from the kind of people I’m looking to meet. When people who do consider sex to be an essential part of their relationship (which, lets face it, is the vast majority of people) see someone has labelled themselves as asexual, they tend to dismiss them out of hand because they assume they don’t want sex.
This assumption must have come from somewhere, and it can only have come from people spreading the myth that asexuality means ‘doesn’t like sex’. It’s a big problem, and it’s one that sex-repulsed asexuals don’t understand because it doesn’t affect them.
What I ask of the whole asexual community is to take a step back and look at yourselves. The one thing you want most is acceptance. You want people to accept you and respect you for who you are. Well, that’s a 2 way street, and if you’re looking for respect from people outside the community, you also need to show respect for people inside the community. It takes a few more words, but next time someone asks you to explain asexuality, you could try something like this:
Them: So, you’re asexual? What does that mean?
You: It means I don’t experience sexual attraction.
Them: But you still like sex, don’t you?
You: I don’t, personally, but some asexuals do.
How hard is that?