On 14 March 2015, I stood at the front of a lecture room, ready to present a PowerPoint, and was astounded when people actually started walking in. It was the 5th annual Louisiana Queer Conference and I had been invited to host/lead an asexuality workshop by SpectrumLSU.
It took me a long time to realize why I had been so surprised that people actually wanted to hear what I had to say, wanted to learn about asexuality, wanted to learn more about something many people did not understand. A part of that has to do with everything I have been taught to expect from our society about my sexuality and about myself.
The first time I ever heard the term “asexual” it was being used as an insult. Someone was calling me an “asexual freak” because I had responded to a question about who I had a crush on/who I was dating with “I don’t date.” I was 14 years old and the “insult” had caught me off guard. I remember thinking, “What? No!” and quickly jumping up to defend myself to this person I thought was my friend. Of course, because of this encounter I quickly tossed the label away and never looked into asexuality or what it was. It was a very important moment in my life, because from this point on I did my best to fake it. I started to flirt with people I wasn’t really interested in and would make up crushes. It eventually led to a huge identity crisis that took over not only what I thought relationships were, but took over, and in some cases destroyed, a large number of friendships as well.
It wasn’t until 3 years later, after a lot of heartache that I looked up asexuality. It took a move to a whole new state for me to even consider it. When I moved, I learned that I didn’t know how to act around people. I had spent so much time at my previous high school flirting and pretending that I didn’t know how to just be me. I didn’t know how to relate to the people around me. For four months and the summer that followed I never made friends. I hid from people because I couldn’t interact with them in the way that I learned and I couldn’t interact in a way that was truthful to myself because I had come to believe that my real self was wrong.
At the start of the new school year, I made friends with three people from my creative writing class and luckily it wasn’t that hard to be friends with them. None of us cared about dating, we never talked about relationships, and overall I felt a lot more relaxed than I had previously, which is part of the reason I felt comfortable enough to start researching asexuality. The entirety of my Junior Year was focused on this, and at the start of my Senior Year I started coming out to the people around me.
Coming out to my friends at my current school was really easy. We had never talked about relationships much anyway, and they were really accepting of the new identity. Coming out to my friends from my previous high school was a bit harder. They loved me, but didn’t get it. One of my gay friends rolled his eyes and refused to believe asexuality was something that existed in humans. I had a Bi friend scoff and just reply with “No you aren’t.” I had two straight friends who reluctantly accepted what I had to say, but every now and again issues would come up.
For example, one time I was talking about how two of my ace friends online were dating and my friend asked, “How are they dating if they are asexual?” So automatically I started, “Well, that’s not what asexuality means, it’s-” and they just groaned and cut me off, “Ugh, I don’t really care.” So that was what my experience was as I went into University. I had (mostly) been in an environment where people just didn’t care to learn or understand. It seemed like no matter what I did or said could change their mind.
When I started University I pretty much hid the fact that I was asexual from everyone. I was hanging out with a religious crowd, or rather I was volunteering at a cafe run by a ministry on campus, and figured it would be best to just never bring it up. Sure, I got crushes on people, but this was the sort of group that only dated people who they thought they could marry and I wasn’t having any of that. I never wanted to have to explain to them that 1. I wasn’t religious, 2. I never wanted to get married, and 3. that I was asexual. So I was very cut off from the group, while also feeling sort of close to them.
My main interest, though, was finding an asexual group on campus. The only thing I knew about was the LGBT group, Spectrum, but I couldn’t bring myself to go. Their website, their flyers, none of it mentioned asexuality and I assumed that asexuals weren’t welcome. However, after 2 years of hanging out at the cafe with my religious friends, I could tell that it just wasn’t working out. Most of the people I were closest to, people I played video games and board games with, graduated and at some point it was brought to my attention that a rumor had started that me and another guy in the group were secretly dating. We weren’t, but since this group usually attracted people who dated each other and then married, the rumor was believable to them. Almost immediately I withdrew from the group. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them the truth of my sexuality and didn’t want to be around the rumors. They made it awkward for me and my friend.
At the start of my 3rd year at Uni, having withdrawn from the religious group, I tracked down Spectrum and joined. Which brings me back to the conference that I had been invited to speak at:
Spectrum is Louisiana State University’s LGBT+ organization. I had become a part of the club at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year and had made fast friends with its leadership. They immediately welcomed me and we talked often about how to make Spectrum more inclusive to aces and how to get aces involved with the organization in the first place- I went from being completely closeted at Uni to being very out and very visible really quickly. I joined Spectrum’s group of panelists, their mentor group, and I became an honorary part of their leadership team.
Some of this project was really simple like changing the language on their website, social media, and flyers to make it more inclusive to asexuals. Spectrum hadn’t been trying to chase asexuals away, they weren’t aware of the shaky relationship between some asexual communities and LGBT communities. Making the organization more attractive to asexuals was as simple as adding the word asexual onto everything across the board. That way when asexuals looked them up, they had evidence that they were welcome.
As a larger part of this project, I was to lead an Asexuality 101 workshop for the group so that the leadership and other members could have a basic understanding of asexuality and asexual issues. However, before this workshop was set to occur, Spectrum’s biggest event of the year, LAQC, was scheduled to happen and I had been deeply encouraged to submit my workshop to present.
SpectrumLSU boasts that the Louisiana Queer conference is the first of its kind in the south. It is a student-run LGBT+ conference that brings together students and non-students alike from all over the state, sometimes even neighboring states, so that they can network, attend educational workshops, and get social support from other LGBT+ students and organizations.
When I was invited to lead a workshop, I was a little incredulous. LAQC is set up so that there are 3 workshop sessions and during each session 5 or 6 workshops are going on at once. I couldn’t work out why people would want to come to an Asexuality 101 workshop when they had so many other things to choose from. Still, I submitted anyway and expected maybe 3 or 4 people to show.
Despite how encouraging the people of Spectrum’s leadership and other members of the organization were, I was still unsure of myself. Most of my experience with coming out and explaining asexuality to people just weren’t good experiences. I think this is what kept me from believing people would want to come to either of my workshops. It was what allowed me to believe that even if they did come I was just going to be heckled the entire time I was there. Still, I worked hard to put together my slide show. I was meant to fill an hour, so I put in what I thought was important and also pulled in some videos to show in case other people could explain things better than I could.
So I was surprised when a group of over 20 people walked in and took seats in front of me. I was surprised that the workshop went great. Everyone asked a lot of questions that allowed me to improve upon my workshop for when I presented it again a couple of weeks later, and we ended up having a fabulous feminist discussion about society’s pressure surrounding sex and masculinity. In fact, we were having so much fun that I couldn’t even finish my slide show. A few people came up to me afterwards and gave me their emails so I could send it to them and they could finish it on their own.
I think the reason I had been so pessimistic about how many people would show up was because I had fallen victim to the idea that no one knew about asexuality and no one cared to know. I had been doing everything I could to make asexuals feel more comfortable within the space Spectrum provided, but I still felt alone in my advocacy to exist among other LGBT people and my own friends. I had been thinking that no one would care about the workshop if it wasn’t LGBT specific, after all, that was the conference they signed up for.
I had taken a poll at the beginning of the workshop. “On a scale of 1-10 how much would you say you know about asexuality?” A lot of people said 0, a few gave numbers below five, and a couple said around 7-8. Everyone had shown up because they genuinely wanted to learn more and become better asexual allies.
Later in the day, a couple of the people who attended my class approached me (actually, if I’m honest, people who attended my workshop were still approaching me for almost a month afterward) and thanked me for presenting. They were asexual and had been worried that they would be the only asexuals present at the conference. I’m glad I was able to put them at ease just by seeing the workshop name on the program, and I’m glad the people who attended my workshop reminded me to not be so pessimistic about asexuality’s place under the queer umbrella.
I was able to mend a couple of the friendships from back home. The gay guy who didn’t believe asexuality in humans existed? I managed to change his mind. Some other friendships were completely lost, sometimes that happens, but I can’t let those experiences get me down. I think the most important thing I’ve learned from participating with Spectrum and being a part of their activism team was that I need to believe in myself and be my own advocate. I need to be optimistic for change and not let past experiences dictate what my future ones will be.