Lauren “Renny” Hutchinson
Professor Gabriela Rios
22 Oct 2012
Account of Stakeholders to be Noted in the Making of AceWords
As discussed in my proposal, the main goal of my project is to create a space for people to learn more about the asexual community. This is intended to be done through a website that houses a collection of personal stories and definitions given by members of the asexual community itself. Naturally, a project such at this will call to attention the importance of certain groups in the situation, especially those that hold the ability to correct the main issue even slightly. In this case, the main stakeholders are the people within the asexual community itself, those who identify as asexual, demisexual, or grey-asexual. Generally, these people are looking for understanding and acceptance in all communities that they interact with. Another important group is the queer community, who often believe that asexuals don’t fall under the umbrella term of ‘queer’, and don’t belong in the same spaces as those who do. The two final stakeholders are the sectioned groups of the general public; those people who are already informed about asexuality and have preconceptions about it, correct or incorrect, and those who have never heard of it. These people are important because they are the ones who both create and perpetuate the harmful stereotypes of asexual people, and the ones who decide how the asexual community is received by others. Each of these groups is of equal importance in terms of this project, and will be assessed at length to determine each of their faults and strengths.
Since it happens to be the subject of the project, the asexual community plays the largest part, and is the most important. Asexuality itself often flies under the radar – a study in 2004 concluded that “their inclinations do not lead to overt sociosexual activities … the absence of sexual activities and the inclinations that induce this absence are not likely to bring public attention or scrutiny, either positive or negative” (Bogaert 284). Because of this, many asexuals feel as though they are not well understood by others simply because others have no idea what it truly means to be asexual. This is primarily because of the lack of information, and the fact that what little information is out there is not well-circulated. There are a few websites, such as asexuality.org and Wikipedia articles, that give a basic overview of asexuality as a concept, but fail to delve much deeper into education apart from superficial FAQs. A study done in 2004 of 18,000 British citizens concluded that 195 people, about 1.08% of the those surveyed, were asexual, having marked “I have never experienced sexual attraction to anyone” (Bogaert 282). This number may seem insignificant, and it is often seen as such, which begs the question, why does it matter? It’s such a tiny percentage of the population, what makes them worth listening to? Surprisingly enough, on the very same study, the number of people who marked that they were attracted to either both sexes or exclusively the same sex also totaled around 1.11% (Bogaert 282). At such a close percentage but such a disparate amount of information, resources, and general social acceptance, it’s strange to see that strength in numbers is not always true.
The difference lies in the fact that asexuals are inherently more accepted and less shunned than LGBT people, at least as far as sexuality itself goes. It is less ‘unnatural’ and unacceptable to not want to have sex, rather than to want to have sex with someone of the same gender. Asexuals have less to struggle against, because there is less general opposition to them. Their issue lies more in the fact that they don’t feel as though they are understood. From commenter tonkats This lack of understanding is incredibly upsetting for many people; when your friends and family have difficulty grasping a very basic fact about you, especially one that you feel defines you and is very important for you, it makes it hard to interact with them and fully appreciate the depth of your relationship with them. A study revealed that asexuals “discuss the naturalness of their asexuality as an important aspect of how they see their identity” (Scherrer 631), meaning that people denying that aspect becomes difficult for an asexual individual to handle. One potential reason for this lack of understanding is the fact that “a range of attitudes and orientations toward sex and romance can be found within the asexual community” (Carrigan 476), indicating that the complexity of asexuality itself causes a barrier. A first step to overcoming this barrier is informing non-asexual people in a way that will give them at least a glimpse into how varied and complex asexuality is, and having a website that functions as at least an introduction to that can help non-asexuals become more comfortable with the concept of asexuality.
Another major group of focus in this project is the queer community. The main reason they are so important is because they function as a ‘safe space’ of sorts for people who identify as queer – with the definition of queer being widely debated by all parties involved. Many queer people don’t make the attempt to understand asexuality either, and shun it because it is widely accepted that the LGBT community is based on who you’re attracted to, not how much you’re attracted to them. As such, most LGBT people do not consider “straight” asexuals (heteroromantic asexuals, who are romantically attracted to people of the opposite gender) to be queer. They see asexuals as “posers and bored white suburban teenagers that want to ‘feel oppressed’” (Mangie), as written by a member of the asexual community, and will often exclude them from spaces meant for the LGBT community. An article attempting to define asexuality states, “The process of creating an ace space is challenging. One cannot simply declare existence and expect the approval of truth, especially when that existence undermines what is considered true” (Hughes). The LGBT ousts asexuals from their community because they, in part, do not believe in the truth of asexuality, and see it as a cry to claim words and culture that are not theirs to share. While they do have a point in trying to protect the spaces they have created and the words they have defined for themselves, they fail to fully determine what the umbrella term ‘queer’ actually means or mention that there are other facets to the community besides just lobbying for equal legal rights, and tend to simply state that asexuals just aren’t queer and therefore don’t count. This exclusion is incredibly hurtful, especially given that most asexuals feel that they don’t fit in anywhere, and tend to hope that people who go through similar experiences of being ostracized, ridiculed, and treated as though they are attention-seekers and liars, would be more open to reaching an understanding.
Additionally, the queer community is the primary power-holding community, in that they as a group have the ability to give asexuals a voice. If asexuals were allowed to fit in as queer and become a fully accepted part of the LGBT community, they would have resources to work towards educating people and creating a better space for themselves in the world at large. The LGBT community holds the ability to create safe spaces as well, specifically for people who do not feel comfortable or safe in most places, as many asexuals tend to. Asexuals often feel out of place and as though they are ‘broken’ or unwanted because of the way they are treated, and many of them long for a place to go to be understood. A study of 102 asexuals and their specific experiences concludes that “the lack of visibility and awareness of asexuality is a barrier to its inclusion in other sexuality-based political action groups” (Sage), showing that there is a potential for improvement via education, specifically within the queer community.
As it tends to be with a mass of people interpreting a culture, there are often stereotypes formed about asexual people. “You must be ill or damaged in some way”, “You’re missing out”, “You’re trying to pretend you’re oppressed”, “You just haven’t met the right person yet” (Courtney) – all of these things are common for asexuals to hear after coming out, particularly to people who have heard of the orientation and believe it to be a cry for attention or fake in some way. The biggest issue with those outside the queer community that are informed is that they tend to generalize asexuals, and often times these generalizations are based on false or incorrect information, or things drawn from the wrong source. Additionally, these stereotypes are often hurtful, for instance assuming that all asexuals are sick or damaged and need to be fixed. As Bella DePaulo notes in a Psychology Today article, “If you are different from the norm, or what is perceived as the norm, you can count on the labeling police – and even some medical professionals – to tag you as dysfunctional”. Because of this constant diagnosis, many asexuals feel ill at ease in the world, believing themselves to be broken in some way and not fit for interacting with normal people. They may force themselves to change to fit in, which is a dangerous task and can lead to a multitude of self-esteem, anxiety, and depression issues, among other things. For a community that yearns for understanding, even the smallest jokes act as one step further to pushing them away into obscurity and being treated as something to laugh at.
The biggest question that the informed public tends to ask, then, is why they should be paying attention to this small group of people. The answer to that is, simply, wouldn’t you want people to notice you too, and treat you well despite all of your oddities? It’s undebatable that everyone has their secrets and things that define them, and there is not one individual in the entire world who wants to be shunned because of the things that they identify with. This is undoubtedly true of the asexual community as well, and being pushed under the rug by stereotypes and people who refuse to learn causes them to be cast aside and feel rejected and wronged, often believing that they are broken in some way. And really, why not treat asexuals like you would treat any other person? Instead of asking ‘why’, perhaps the question should be ‘why not’.
In the words of commenter PigCity on an article published in The Guardian, “I’m a sexual person and blissfully unaware of asexuality. Why does this force you to become more [vocal and] what are you saying that could possibly be of any interest to me?” When telling people about their sexuality to people who have never heard of it before, asexuals often face responses like this, alongside things like “No you aren’t”, “I don’t believe you”, and “Isn’t that a disorder?” (Christina), rather than any attempt to listen and understand. Even when met with support, there is often times still a lack of actual understanding, simply because there is no way for a person to fully grasp the complete absence of a familiar feeling, or the fact that someone has never felt a certain thing. Asexuals themselves understand this, knowing firsthand that desperate attempt to learn a feeling they’ve never known, but oftentimes non-asexuals have never even thought about the idea of never feeling sexual attraction. This disparity in understandings causes a gap, and this gap can cause asexuals to feel even more alienated. When people will make the jump to learn more and actually make attempts to put themselves into the shoes of an asexual, however, a greater degree of empathy is reached. This can be done through experiences, for example trying to view the world as someone who does not experience sexual attraction, or through research such as looking at the stories of people who are asexual.
Unfortunately, a lot of coming out admissions are met with dismissal. Because it is such a foreign concept, many people have trouble believing that it is legitimate, and at times will refuse to believe so. An asexual friend of mine reported that despite a generally positive response, she always encountered “those few holdouts that say things about immaturity or just not meeting the right person” (Mangie). This is common, and also incredibly frustrating. Having your personal opinions and feelings dismissed immediately for the first reason that comes to someone’s head is very hard to deal with, and makes it difficult to find the motivation to explain and tell your stories over and over again in the hopes that they’ll finally realize you aren’t just making things up. Many uninformed people are automatically closed-minded and make quick judgements without stopping to hear the full story, and that often upsets and frustrates asexuals who are just trying to get a point of understanding across.
After analyzing all of the groups that hold major stakes in the issue, I have decided to place my focus the most heavily on informing the uninformed or ignorant. These are the people whose quick judgements and lack of understanding fester and become hurtful ideas and stereotypes; being able to give them an opportunity to get a better idea of what an asexual goes through is key to the acquisition of full understanding, and therefore will diminish discrimination against and dismissal of the asexual community by non-asexuals. My hope is that the website will be useful to the asexual community as well, giving them another resource with which to educate people who don’t believe them or fail to understand their diversity and general point of view. There is the potential of the website affecting the informed and queer communities as well, perhaps by changing their opinion of the asexual community after encountering personal stories and examples from asexuals themselves. However, they are of less relevance for this particular project, and I plan to aim the website primarily at people who have never heard of asexuality.
Interview: Questions about Asexuality
When did you first start identifying as asexual?
- I started identifying as asexual when I discovered it was a legitimate label, around my junior year of high school.
How has this changed the way you relate to people?
- It hasn’t really affected my way of relating to people, since I’ve always been kind of sex-averse.
What are your general experiences dealing with the queer community?
- Talking to a bunch of people that hate asexuals because they think that asexuality is the label for posers and bored white suburban teenagers that want to “feel oppressed”. I have a generally negative view of a lot of the queer community, unfortunately, although pretty much everyone I’ve met in person is swell. I’m not very active in the community, as it were.
What are your general experiences dealing with people who have never heard about asexuality?
- A lot of dismissal and assumptions that I’ll “grow out of it”. I’ve educated a few people and most people I know accept it, whether they knew about it before or not. However, there are always those few holdouts that say things about immaturity or just not meeting the right person.
What are your general experiences dealing with people who have heard about asexuality?
- Don’t really have many. One person told me he didn’t believe it existed even though he’d heard of it, and a couple other people were just kind of like “oh okay”. I don’t discuss it much and most people I’ve met and actually communicate with on a regular basis already know about it.
Bogaert, Anthony F. “Asexuality: Prevalence and Associated Factors in a National Probability Sample.” The Journal of Sex Research 41.3 (2004): 279-87. JSTOR. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4423785>.
This article was used to find hard numeric facts about asexuals, specifically a rough estimate of how many people are asexual. The sample size seems too small to be representative of the entire population, but it is the only survey of its kind, and thus the best source of evidence.
Carrigan, Mark. “There’s More to Life than Sex? Difference and Commonality within the Asexual Community.” Sexualities 14.4 (2011): 462-78. Sexualities. Sage Journals. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://sex.sagepub.com/content/14/4/462>.
This study was analyzed to see the varied responses of people when asked to define their sexuality. It validates the complexity of asexuality and the opinions of people within the community about their own identities.
Courtney. “13 Myths and Misconceptions About Asexual People: Part One.” Queereka. 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://queereka.com/2012/04/10/13-myths-and-misconceptions-about-asexual-people-part-one/>.
This source was used to find examples of hurtful things that people say to asexuals, in addition to common stereotypes. It was used mostly for the short, to-the-point headers.
DePaulo, Bella. “Asexuals: Who Are They and Why Are They Important?” Psychology Today 23 Dec. 2009. Living Single. Psychology Today. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-single/200912/asexuals-who-are-they-and-why-are-they-important>.
This article was used to gauge general professional reactions to asexuality. It was written by someone who was previously uninformed and did research, becoming informed.
Hughes, Lily. “The Presence of Absence: Asexuality and the Creation of Resistance.” Gnovis 12.1 (2011). Web. 198 Nov. 2012. <http://gnovisjournal.org/2011/11/21/lily-hughes-journal/>.
This article is an in-depth analysis of the terms of asexuality, and their importance in creating an environment that fosters understanding. From it, I drew conclusions about creating and accessing asexual spaces through the use of terminology.
Mangie, Marina. “Questions About Asexuality.” Online interview. 18 Nov. 2012.
This was conducted by me to gather a direct personal opinion of an asexual person about each stakeholder. It was mostly used as a gathering of general opinions rather than any direct evidence for or against each community.
Scherrer, Kristin S. “Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire.” Sexualities11.5 (2008): 621-41. Sage Journals. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://sexualities.sagepub.com/content/11/5/621.full.pdf+html>.
This source was primarily used for results of a direct, personal research study similar to the survey I plan on using. This study gathered results and analyzed them to define the complexity of asexuality.
Smith, SE. “Asexuality Always Existed, You Just Didn’t Notice It.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/21/asexuality-always-existed-asexual>.
This is an article about the increasing presence of asexuality and how it is misunderstood by mainstream media. However, my primary use of this was the comments, which include opinions ranging from incredibly negative to incredibly positive towards asexuality.
List of Dropbox resources: