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!