Perhaps inspired by the Vice article, there has been some renewed interest in the question “Are asexuals queer?” My answer to this question has slowly developed over time, from “Yes, obviously!” to “Let’s think a moment what that question even means.”
Some people think it means, “Do asexuals fit under the definition of queer?” On one side you have people saying, “Queer means any non-normative gender or sexual orientation, so asexuals are queer.” On the other side, you have people saying, “Queer just means LGBT, and I don’t see any asexuality in the L, G, B, or T.” Both of these arguments are missing the point.
The meaning of the words isn’t the point. Words don’t have feelings. People have feelings.
To call asexuals queer is to execute a political strategy. It’s similar to the joining of LGB and T. By joining LGB and T together, we’re saying, “If you accept LGB, you better accept the T as well (and vice versa).” Of course, that doesn’t actually stop LGB people from being transphobic, but the idea is that it discourages such attitudes.
You don’t have to be a transphobic gay person or a homophobic trans person to argue that the union of LGB and T is a bad idea. For instance, you could argue that it leads many people to think they already got trans issues covered when they don’t. But the consensus is that they are best together. What do you think are the political costs and benefits of joining together LGBT and A?
To call asexuals queer is also a community guideline. It tells us that it is okay for asexuals to join LGBT communities, and not simply as allies. That is, they can talk about their own issues, and not just about helping other people in the community. The question is, is this a net gain for everyone?
My own experience, participating in university student groups, tells me that it is a net gain. A lot of asexuals who need a bit of friendly contact don’t know where to go offline, and the local LGBT center is the best they can think of. That’s what I did, and I found that non-ace LGBT people were able to fulfill my social needs. I also found that many people in that community were unhappy with the way that cis gay men tended to dominate the space, others were constantly bored with the same set of topics over and over, and others were annoyed by the over-sexualization of the space. To these people, I added some much needed diversity and balance.
On the other hand, that’s just one particular kind of LGBT community, in one particular region of the US. It’s hard to generalize across all kinds of LGBT communities, and in fact I do not think asexuals belong in all kinds of LGBT communities.
For instance, what about national activist organizations? Are asexuals part of the HRC? It’s hard to say that they are, since it seems like the HRC can’t even keep trans issues on their agenda properly. How about the Trevor Project? Suicide is pretty clearly one of the issues asexuals have in common with LGBT people, so it makes sense.
I can also imagine some queer communities where most people are really embattled for their identities, talking about serious discrimination and hate all the time. If you’re an asexual who has it relatively easy (or a well-to-do gay person for that matter), maybe you don’t belong there. And if you’re not trans, you may not belong in a transwomen’s group, and if you’re not bi, you may not belong in a bisexual’s group.
So it doesn’t just depend on the kind of LGBT community, it also depends on the person. Most heteroromantics (87%) and aromantics (69%) don’t identify with the LGBT community, so maybe that means that there is no net gain for them. Or it means they feel pushed out of the LGBT community. Or that they interpreted the question literally.
There may also be instances where asexuals do belong, but not by virtue of being asexual. I’ve participated in a gay/bi men’s group for instance, but I clearly belonged there as a gay man, not as an asexual. I brought up asexuality once or twice, but it was as an identity that strongly intersects with being gay, not its own thing (the same way queer people of color might bring up ethnicity even though ethnicity isn’t part of LGBT).
The bottom line is that some asexuals belong in some LGBT communities in some circumstances. Putting it another way, asexuals are sometimes queer. To say “asexuals are queer” or “asexuals aren’t queer” just doesn’t work.