At LSU, I’ve come across people that haven’t understood or have made assumptions about asexuality that have been extremely difficult for me to deal with. In part one, I discussed an incident that occurred while I was participating in a project with SpectrumLSU’s activism committee, and in part two I discussed the difficulties that were associated with my last relationship.
One of my favorite things about joining SpectrumLSU involved becoming a part of their Panels Committee. I signed up as a panelist during the first meeting I attended and found that I absolutely loved participating. Throughout my time with them, I participated in seven different panels, and it was during panels that I learned how much I loved talking and teaching about asexuality. There were times when I was blown away simply by how many people were still asking the question, “What is asexuality?”
For Part 3, I want to talk about one panel that didn’t go as well as I would have liked.
It was easy to become a panelist for Spectrum: After signing up with the Panels Committee Head, you were required to participate in a short training session and then you were ready for action. There were many people on the club’s list of panelists- a good thing considering panels happened during class times and we were usually able to find four or five people who could fit an hour or hour and a half long panel into their schedule.
In order for a panel to take place, a professor or instructor would email the committee head with a request of a specific date and time, and then the committee head would reach out to panelists to see who was available during the suggested time slot. Usually we went to English classes that were studying LGBT Lit or communications classes who simply wanted to see how a panel worked.
Then the day of the panel was usually rather simple. We would go in; introduce ourselves, our sexual orientation and/or gender identity; tell our coming out story if we had one; and we would ask three questions to get the feel of the class (usually something along the lines of “Who here knows or wants to guess the difference between the terms queer and gay?”).
During our introductions, our moderator handed out note cards for the students to write their questions on. There were two reasons the note cards were used: the students could remain anonymous and we could screen the questions. In this type of panel, people are usually more forthcoming with questions if they know their name or face won’t be attached. And, as many people have experienced with anonymous participants, we sometimes received questions or comments that we refused to address, so the note cards allowed us to screen the questions.
One of the smallest groups we hosted a panel for was a graduate social work class. There were only six or seven students in the class plus the professor. On top of that, our panel was a bit smaller than normal. Where we usually had four panelists and a moderator, two people had to cancel at the last minute and we were left with two panelists and a moderator. Instead of canceling the panel entirely and rescheduling, it was decided between the moderator and the professor that we should move forward. It was a small class, the students were older than usual, and it was a social work class so we expected they were likely to know more about and/or be more sensitive towards LGBT issues.
We started the panel as normally as we could and our introductions went ran rather smoothly. Besides the fact that the class seemed to be against using the note cards- their reasoning being that it was such a small group it wouldn’t matter anyway- we were pleased by how quickly we were able to recover from the confusion of our missing panelists. I was even pleasantly surprised by the amount of knowledge the class already had on the topic of asexuality. We were able to skip over a lot of “Asexuality 101” and could discuss more personal experiences.
The problem arose when I mentioned having had sex before and having a libido. Immediately questions were being thrown at me from all over the room, and when I tried to explain that asexuality didn’t necessarily have to do with a person’s libido they argued with me and told me that I was wrong. Even the professor was jumping in and telling me that everything she had read and taught about asexuality was focused around a non-existent sex drive.
The classroom quickly began to feel like a hostile environment. Many people were yelling at me as they attempted to talk over each other, and no matter how hard the other two people sitting with me tried to steer the conversation away from asexuality, the class would pull it right back around. It was a very stressful situation for me, and in that moment I couldn’t feel anything but mortification and panic. I had never been in a situation like that before, and it took a while before I could gather my thoughts enough to attempt to describe the difference between having a libido and having a directed libido- an explanation that seemed to appease the class enough for them to accept the change of topic.
Usually after panels I would linger behind and answer more questions from the class or professor if they came up, but I was very relieved to walk away when the period ended. The other two panels members were also frazzled after the class and we left the building feeling shell-shocked. We had a long talk afterwards and they made sure I was feeling alright. The three of us were astounded by the behavior of the grad students in the class and agreed it was the most difficult panel we had ever been a part of.
I loved participating in these LGBT panels while I was in university, but the one I described above had been the worst one I participated in. While I’ve put up with many ignorant and sometimes insulting questions in the past, I’d never been in situation where everyone was so adamant to disagree with me. Even when I got home later that day, I had an facebook message from one of the students in the class in which they told me that they were impressed by how well I managed to handle myself during the panel, but that I was obviously wrong in the things I was saying.
The whole experience made me feel exhausted and if that had been my first panel I probably would’ve been too scared to ever do another one. My brief time with those grad students left me with a lot of questions. What were they were trying to gain from invalidating my experience? Why was the class trying to stick every asexual into a neat little, libido-less box? Was what I said really that controversial? Was I the one in the wrong during that moment? Was I passing on incorrect information? What exactly were they reading that gave them their info on asexuality in the first place?
Despite realizing that it probably wasn’t me that was the problem that day, I never talked about my own experience with sex and libido during panels again. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to go about fixing the problem, but it was the one I chose for my own feeling of security. I guess the question then would be: Was it the right one? Or should I somehow have tried harder?
Overall these three experiences taught me a lot about how people react to discussions about asexuality and I’ve learned that sometimes those reactions are simply exhausting and upsetting. Mostly, though, they have left me asking myself what I could’ve done better in all three situations. Perhaps I should’ve spoken up during the activism committee meeting. Perhaps I should’ve contacted that mutual friend and explained to him what was wrong with his question. Perhaps I should’ve never brought up sex during that panel. I don’t know if any of those things would’ve been the “correct” move, but I find myself thinking about them more than I’d care to admit.