Sharing my story about being ace in my current workplace, I didn’t anticipate the awesome discussion to follow in the comments section, and from friends’ reactions and responses. The level of interest made me realize what should have been obvious: that there are clearly plenty more stories of others’ experiences waiting in the wings to be shared.
In the last few months, I spoke with friends and acquaintances and collected insights into how other members of the asexual community across the entire spectrum navigate multiple industries in multiple ways. Part one of this budding series focuses on ace friends I gained from my many years on many social media platforms. I owe my own asexual awareness in large part to these fellows.
I asked everyone the same questions about their histories being ace in the workspace. Here’s what they had to say:
In what industry do you work? Would you say you work in an inclusive industry or location (city/state)?
*Alex: I worked in aquatics under the Community Services division, then referred to as Parks & Recreation. While it has seen a fair bit of progress in recent years, when I started out the majority of staff members were white, presumably straight, and not particularly open to much outside of this spectrum.
Caiden: I currently work in food services at a local sandwich place. While Georgia isn’t typically considered the most inclusive of states to live, the company I work for is pretty great in terms of being anti-discriminatory of its employees.
**Rebe: I study graphic design, and I would say my school has a very inclusive environment.
Tina: I work in the farming industry! Specifically small scale organic farming in Washington state, just north of Seattle. It is fairly inclusive, from what I’ve seen – the owner of the farm I’m on is pretty conservative, but she doesn’t force her viewpoints on others. The other workers here are pretty much all very informed and inclusive though.
At work, are you “out,” “closeted,” or somewhere in between? What motivated you to make your choice?
A: Over time I did vocalize my identity as asexual, but it never felt like I was more than a foot out the proverbial closet. Even when I said I was asexual, this statement never felt like it was taken seriously. It was often joked about, and then uncomfortably acknowledged when I restated and reaffirmed it.
C: Mm, somewhere in between sounds about right! I’m not exactly very public about my identity, but I don’t hide it either. It’s just not something that has come up in conversation very often with co-workers.
R: This one is kinda complicated. Socially, Mexico is just a liiiiiiiiiiiittle bit behind on social issues compared to America. If I said I was asexual, most people wouldn’t understand what I mean, but I am technically out as Queer in general, and I often call myself gay without any fear or shame. I’ve even made dumb jokes about not liking d*ck and gotten plenty of laughs! It’s mostly to avoid the whole conversation.
T: I guess technically closeted? Sex and relationships honestly hasn’t come up in conversation yet, so there hasn’t been a chance to talk about it.
Is your workplace environment inclusive, uncomfortable, or neutral, regarding your identity?
A: It started out uncomfortable, but with time gradually became more neutral and bordering on accepting. I was among the first to step outside of the box, so to speak, and as newer generations of staff entered the workplace it was more or less forced to accept the varying levels of diversity amongst our ranks.
C: In terms of sexuality, I would say my coworkers are pretty neutral in regards to my identity as demisexual, mainly because the majority of them just assume that I’m straight. Which I’m not.
R: I’m sure if I had the time and motivation to explain, they’d be down. People I’ve explained my autism to have never questioned it, they’re very open about these kinds of things.
T: Probably either inclusive or neutral – I’ll find out for sure if it ever comes up.
Are micro-aggressions common in either your workplace or day-to-day environment? If so, how so? If not, why not?
A: They [were] common, and they are unfortunately a large percentage of why I left. At one point during my employment, my sexuality was misconstrued by a coworker as prudish and standoffish, and instead of respectfully backing away chose to try and prompt me out of my “shell.” Somehow, this involved pulling my swimsuit off while on the pool deck. They were fired as a direct result of this and other offenses, but at that point, the damage was done. It wasn’t the first time, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Somehow, working with a swimsuit as your uniform, even one as boring and non-alluring as the Olympic standard pieces we wore, meant your sexuality could never be private. Having our bodies on display, even in modest attire, apparently rendered us permanently affixed to a preconceived notion of sexuality and gender identity. Saying I was asexual was a moot point because I had already been deemed a sexual object without my knowledge.
C: I suppose assuming I’m straight counts, and I’d say it’s fairly common (especially since I’m married and have a child). I’ve explained a time or two that I just don’t feel sexually attracted to people until I’ve built up a strong emotional relationship with them first before, and while it wasn’t necessarily frowned upon, it was joked that I needed to get out more. They aren’t malicious comments, but it just sort of reinforces the thought that all people experience attraction the same way, and that’s just not the case.
R: Nah, everyone is chill.
T: I haven’t noticed any micro-aggressions so far. Like I said, sex and relationships honestly does not come up in conversation much – we’re usually talking about the goats.
What would you like your co-workers to understand most about asexuality?
A: My asexuality is not a symptom, nor is it a mental injury. The more I learn about myself, I realize I have always been this way — whether or not I knew this about myself at the time holds little sway. I didn’t start identifying as asexual until I was eighteen because I didn’t know what asexual meant. What happened to me was unfortunate, but it is not because of what happened that I now shy away from sexual intimacy.
C: That there’s more than just one kind of attraction, and not everyone feels sexually drawn to people.
R: That it’s a thing that exists. I feel the only thing they lack is the knowledge, cause the acceptance is there.
T: That it isn’t a disease, and that there isn’t something wrong with me. I really hope they don’t jump to that conclusion if I ever come out to them.
Can you provide an example of when your identity was a factor in your work life? For example, did a co-worker’s comment make you feel excluded because of your identity? Or did a surprise moment of acceptance make you feel more comfortable in your work environment?
A: I found acceptance amongst fellow individuals who felt out of place amongst the staff. Those of us who were not straight weren’t the only black sheep; those who struggled with self-harm or body image also banded together. The things swimsuits can’t hide somehow make for the strongest of bonds. These were the coworkers who accepted me without prejudice or protest, and some of them I still consider close friends.
C: Whenever the topic of dating or past relationships comes up is usually when I feel most excluded, simply because I don’t really have such experiences. I’ve only dated one person, only felt sexually attracted to one person, and I’ve married that person. I’m happy with this, but my co-workers find it really strange. Many of them are single or in relationships of their own, but have had several more partners than I have in the past, and don’t see how it’s possible to have married the only person I’ve ever dated.
R: I was STOKED to find I wasn’t the only gay in my classroom and playful flirting is par for the course among the girls, so it’s super chill.
T: This was honestly at a previous place of employment – I was asked why I don’t have a boyfriend (I am a cis girl). When I responded that I wasn’t interested in relationships at the time, I was told it was a shame and I really needed to get a boyfriend because I’m so pretty. It was uncomfortable, especially because the comment was coming from an older man. I don’t need some old guy telling me what to do with my life.
Any last remarks on being ace at work, or advice for other asexuals at work?
A: Asexuality persists regardless of your occupation or your uniform. The lack of sexual attraction exists even in environments such as these where bodies are sexually used and especially women and trans women are targeted. In these environments, we can be especially vulnerable to those who would try to correct what is not broken. Awareness is important, and solidarity is vital.
C: For other ace-identifying folks, keep being unapologetically you. Your sex life is none of your coworkers’ business, and you don’t have to explain yourself to them if the topic of you being ace ever arises. You are not broken or weird, you’re just you, and there’s nothing wrong with you. And if they poke fun, kick them in the teeth. (Don’t actually kick them in the teeth.)
R: Perhaps it’s due to a very different cultural outlook, but the ace-ness hasn’t affected me as wildly as I expected.
T: Try not to let ignorant comments get to you – most of them come from a place of “??? Not interested in sex???? Does not compute???” and while that doesn’t make them okay, it just means you don’t need to listen to them. They do not know you, and thus their opinions are irrelevant.
*Name has been changed.
**Special school addition; this contributor is a college student.