Panel Discussion: Have We Moved Beyond Just Awareness?

The panel discussion series is a new monthly feature in which our regular writers are asked to weigh in on a question or topic of interest in the broader ace community. The aim of these posts is to present a range of different perspectives, and hopefully to provoke further discussion of the topic in the comments or on other blogs and in other online communities.

Welcome to our second panel discussion post!

This month’s topic was suggested by Elizabeth and is: traditionally the ace community has focused mainly on raising awareness of the existence of asexuality. Have we moved beyond this now? What are some possible goals or directions for awareness work in the future?

Elizabeth writes: While we still have much educating to do, I think that awareness alone is not enough. I think that when awareness and visibility, with no further description, are centered in our activist work, there’s a temptation for people hearing our message to think, “Okay, asexuals exist. Got it.” And that’s all. There’s no call to action for the listener to actually take any concrete steps to support the asexual community. Inclusion in phrases like “LGBTQA” tends to be nominal at best, without any deeper acknowledgment or exploration of asexuals’ issues. People proclaim themselves to be allies yet don’t actually learn enough about us to know when an article is deeply problematic—GLAAD, for instance, promoted the #21AceStories series uncritically, which came across to me as trying to hand out an ally cookie.

I want our standards for all asexual activism to increase. I want to see a MUCH wider range of experiences included in visibility work, because we are an incredibly diverse community. I want our activism to proactively fight gatekeeping and the idea of the Unassailable Asexual, rather than letting people continue to think it’s okay to use one aspect of a person’s experience to attack their asexuality, and putting the entire burden of correcting such fallacies onto the people affected by them. I want us to forge better connections with each other to correct blind spots—and please budget significantly more time than a few days for revision.

There are plenty of concrete goals we can strive for that aren’t just “realize that asexuals exist.” Most of all, I want to see us work on increasing access to ace-competent mental health care, and health care in general. For the whole community, not just strictest-definition asexuals with no intersectional concerns. I’m fairly convinced that such people are myths anyway.

Destiny writes: I think it would be really hard to say that we have “moved beyond” asexual awareness. I am a panelist for my university’s LGBT+ club, which basically means professors invite a group of us into class to answer (anonymous) student questions about LGBT+ issues, and after I introduce myself as asexual the moderator still gets a lot of note cards with the question: “So what does ‘asexual’ mean?” Usually if I’m on a panel it become Asexual 101 almost immediately and I have to do my best to not dominate the entire thing. (Luckily our moderator does their best to mix in other questions or pull from our ‘stock questions’). I don’t think we can give up on asexual awareness until I can talk about it without having to first give a definition of it.

However, I do think it’s important to focus on other aspects of asexual activism, too. I think it would be great if we could come together and have more asexual spaces/have asexuality included in safe space training. Asexual meetups are great, but it would also be nice to have something beyond once-a-month meetups. Something that is run and lead by asexuals, so that “newer” asexuals have a place to turn. Even if it’s just an asexuality club on campus, that would make a great start. Of course, that feels a bit ambitious because it would require quite a few asexuals in one place and I feel we are still in a place where many people don’t even realize asexuality is an option.

Talia writes: I think it is still important to raise awareness about asexuality. For every person I meet that knows about asexuality, at least two have no clue what I’m talking about. That being said, when I do meet someone that has heard about asexuality, they are more likely than not to believe that asexuality is synonymous with not having sex, not wanting sex, and/or not liking sex (hereafter lumped under not having sex).

I recognize that asexuality is about not having sex for many ace people. I will vehemently defend the central place that no sexual behaviour should have in any discussion about asexuality. I only have a problem when these discussions somehow morph into the singular definition of asexuality. In other words, not having sex is what asexuality can be, not necessarily what it always is. There are many amazing and awesome ace 101 materials that represent a nuanced and complex depiction of asexuality. They make me so incredibly happy. Why is it that I keep meeting people who have a monolithic idea about asexuality rather than the diversity they could learn from some ace 101 materials?

For some asexual people the not having sex narrative renders them illegible as asexual. They can only be understood as asexual in other ways. However, much academic writing on asexuality, the asexual tag on Tumblr, the AVEN FAQ, and most casual conversations I have with people that aren’t ace but know ace 101, regularly rely on asexuality equals no sexual behaviour. The monolithic nature of this narrative is the reason that when ever I do talk about asexuality, you can bet it’s about sex-favourable aces. I feel so baffled by the rise in asexual awareness that makes me seem invisible. It can be so emotionally painful that I can’t even grapple with it. I just repeat myself a lot. I feel stuck.

In my experience allo people sometimes know asexual people exist, but they don’t really know I exist. If they do they think I’m one of them. I think we need to continue asexual awareness, but the kind of awareness we do really matters to me. I hope we can talk about asexuality in ways that recognize its complexity and begin from self-identification.

Laura writes: I think that awareness work remains important. Above all, many people who are asexual by orientation (i.e., don’t experience sexual attraction) do not know that asexuality exists as an identity and an explanation for themselves. Many of these people may benefit from learning about asexuality and we should continue to do awareness work for their sake, if for no other reason. As well, many individuals, groups, and resources that aces might need to access do not take asexuality into account, which can potentially harm those aces and therefore increasing awareness of asexuality among these individuals, groups, and resources will help aces. Examples of this include LGBTQ groups and therapists.

For comparison, bisexuality has been recognized as an identity since at least the early 1980s, yet many bisexual groups are using this very week (September 20 to September 26) as Bisexual Awareness Week because many bisexual individuals continue to experience harm due to the invisibility and erasure of bisexuality. It seems likely that aces will need to work at least as long as bisexual people have, if not longer.

Having said all of this, asexual awareness work that is poorly done can end up being harmful to aces too. I wrote about this here at The Asexual Agenda in What price visibility? I believe that asexual individuals and groups who engage in awareness and visibility work need to carefully evaluate what stories they present to others, and which ones they exclude, and what voices from within asexual communities they highlight, and which ones they erase. I believe that focusing awareness work primarily on reaching potentially asexual people and on targeting specific individuals, groups, and resources that aces need to access may be a better approach than “visibility at any cost”.

Jo writes: To be honest, I’m often surprised that there is still such a need for basic ‘yes, asexuality does exist’ type awareness. We’ve got a long way to go in terms of making asexuality something that is recognised in the mainstream, especially off the internet. That’s one of the reasons why I’m usually happy to take interview requests for print media, because print media will still reach a different group of people to those who might already know about asexuality from the internet.

I would also like to see more diversity in awareness and visibility work, and more highlighting of different people’s stories and experiences with asexuality. That can be hard because often aces who do have stories that are different to the ‘unassailable’ stereotype aren’t particularly comfortable speaking out publicly. I hope that as more people do share their experiences, it will become easier for those people. In the meantime, I’d like to see the people who are doing visibility work pay more attention to the way they talk about their own experiences, and acknowledge that their story is not everyone else’s story. I’d also like to see activists talking about asexuality with a better awareness of what sexuality actually looks like for non-asexual people. Something I realise every time I talk to an allo person is that their experience of sexuality and attraction and desire often doesn’t fit the mainstream-media-stereotype of the sexual person either. So I’d like to see activists be a bit more critical of what we’re essentially defining ourselves against. Because ‘I’ve never seen a random person walking down the street and wanted to have sex with them’ is not cutting it any more for me.


Do you have a question you’d like to ask the panel, or a topic you’d like to see discussed? Leave a comment below and we’ll consider it for future panels!

About Jo

Jo is an ancient history honours student in Australia, with a particular interest in gender and sexuality in antiquity. In her free time she devours books, tea and Doctor Who, but is honestly not that into cake, and proudly calls herself a feminist and an activist. She identifies an an aromantic asexual a little bit more every day. Jo also blogs at A Life Unexamined on feminism and asexuality.
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10 Responses to Panel Discussion: Have We Moved Beyond Just Awareness?

  1. Silvermoon says:

    @Destiny: depending on where you live, it might be a lofty goal, but those kind of meet-ups are achievable! I participate/d in the LGBTQIA events of a Uni near my own, and they’ve had a strong ace presence this year- we’ve had a weekly afternoon tea meet! It’s usually a handful of regulars that can make the time with others occasionally popping in, but the facebook chat which is almost entirely for this Uni is approx 20 people. And apparently there will be a bunch of new people in the next few teas who’ve discovered us!

    • luvtheheaven says:

      University of Maryland, College Park has an asexual meetup group that meets every week, as well. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s every week. It’s common enough and specific to asexuals in a way that I’m jealous of, because when I went to (a different) college we certainly didn’t have anything like that.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        (I um, also didn’t know I was asexual until after I graduated college and might’ve learned about it had there been a group on my campus about it!)

        • purrplelace says:

          I go to UMD, and I have not gone to the ace meetup group. I did hear about it through a friend but there is no info about it online really; there is no way for me to know what to expect when I get there and that makes me uncomfortable. It also doesn’t do any awareness efforts around campus. The group may be fine, but I wouldn’t make it out to be more than it is.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            I’m sorry to hear that. I suspect they want to protect members’ privacy and not out them. When did I make it out to be more than it is? As a part of Asexuals of the Mid-Atlantic, when that larger non college based asexual meetup group was invited to stop by any time we wanted, a group of us who weren’t students ended up showing up on very short notice. There were maybe 20 ace sixteen students meeting and it seemed very welcoming, sensitive to people who were trans/genderqueer, and idk. I just thought it seemed impressive and I wish I’d known I was acidophilus in college and had a group like that to attend.

  2. DG Arf says:

    These are all great responses. I personally would like to see more international, especially non-Western ace awareness. LGBT movements in many other countries are just now gaining steam so it’s a great time to bring asexuality into those movements. It’s also worth nothing that aces who don’t know they’re ace can face more frequent ace oppression in countries other than the US, such as in countries where arranged marriage is common as well as stronger collective/community pressure (in contrast to the U.S., which does ultimately value individuality).

    • Tristifere says:

      I 3000% agree with you. There’s a tremendous difference in the state of activism and awareness across the globe. The US (especially certain areas) seem to be waaaay ahead of the rest of the world. There’s some movement in some European countries, but most, except perhaps the UK, don’t come even close to the same level as the US and Canada. Outside of Europe and Northern America, I don’t even know what state ace activism is in. I think the ace community could really do better in supporting ace activists and ace communities across the globe. And a great start would be by simply sharing knowledge and tips on how to go about different types of activism. That way, activists from around the world can take what knowledge they need and adapt that to their own local situations to build their own communities and raise awareness in their own countries.

      With last World Pride, I was disappointed there wasn’t a panel that gave tips for starting activists, particularly geared to people beyond your own borders. Even if it was discussed, it didn’t make it back online. I think, to support activism worldwide, it is really important that people with experience of doing activism share that knowledge with others online. How do you set up a meet-up group or activism group? How do you set up a successful panel / presentation / awareness action? How do you deal with the media? How do you successfully lobby and make alliances with other groups (like your local LGBT group, or a community center that might let you use their space for meet-ups, etc.)? There’s a lot of enthusiasm and will to do stuff, but a lot of people simply don’t know where or how to start. This is especially difficult and daunting in places were there is zero ace infrastructure (no pre-existing groups, no meet-ups, and often not even an online community).

      I know some people have already written some great posts about activism, but we need more and more diverse and indepth resources. So fellow bloggers and activists, please put your knowledge online so anyone with internet access can benefit from it, regardless of their location.

  3. Sennkestra says:

    I think there’s pretty much always been more than just awareness-building in asexual activism (community-building has been another traditionally strong target for activists), it’s just that it’s only recently that we’ve had the resources and connections that we need to embark on more advanced community building or allyship-training type endeavors. Building visibility was the main first focus of the community for so long because it’s what you need before you can do anything else – potential allies won’t listen to your advice if they don’t know your org exists in the first place; and it’s hard to build a community when no one in your area even knows “asexual” is an option. I think it’s also been a matter of resources – visibility is the most accessible form of activism for newbie aces with no connections or material resources, but as we’ve grown and increased our institutional knowledge of “how to do ace activism things” a lot more has become possible, and that is definitely a good thing.

    I don’t think the need for basic visibility will ever go away, at least not for a long while, but I think we are at a point where we sometimes have just enough awareness established in some places that we are, for the first time, starting to have the ability to build beyond that.

  4. Siggy says:

    Maybe my own standards for awareness are low. It used to be that hardly anyone ever heard of it, and at most it was a rumored anomaly. Now it seems like everyone around me knows, and not usually through me. It feels like visibility of asexuality has just shot up, faster than the visibility of other obscure identities. It just feels inevitable at this point.

    I know that realistically, visibility is still a big deal and will be for decades. Everyone is “aware” of bisexuality, but that doesn’t mean they’re aware of it, in the sense of understanding it and taking it into account whenever appropriate. But personally, I’m done with visibility work. I’d rather just act like people should already know. Let’s talk about gatekeeping, sexual violence, sex ed, navigating relationships, community building, and so forth. And let’s spend some time not doing activism at all, you know, just having fun.

  5. Pingback: Question of the Week: September 29th, 2015. | The Asexual Agenda

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