Lauren “Renny” Hutchinson
Professor Gabriela Rios
22 Oct 2012
What The Hell Is Asexuality, And Why Should I Care?
Imagine trying to explain something incredibly important about yourself to someone who just doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about. They could be a close personal friend, or even someone who you just met. Maybe you’re trying to tell them something about the details of your religious beliefs that guides the way you live, or the moral reasons behind why you eat the way you do. Imagine they are ignorant about it; they don’t understand why you would think that way, or why it’s so important for you to tell them. What if they reacted badly, or lashed out? Who cares why you dress like that? They don’t think people who look or act like you should dress in that style. In fact, they don’t think anyone else dresses like that. They may even claim that you made up that style just to try to get attention. No matter how you try to explain the personal importance of it, they continue to shoot you down and call you a fraud.
What if the discussion was instead about your sexual orientation? Regardless of the exact words they use to describe themselves in this way, people are constantly bullied about their sexualities and told that they are wrong, immoral, or “faking” it to call attention to themselves. This experience is had more often than not by members of certain communities; most notably, in my experience, with people who identify themselves as asexual.
Asexual? You mean like sea sponges?
Like homosexuality and heterosexuality, asexuality is a definition of the way a person feels sexual attraction. In this case, it means the absence of sexual attraction, and people who are asexual do not feel this attraction towards anyone, of any gender. Many people, queer or not, greet this idea with skepticism and even disdain, posing questions such as “are you just repressed? Are you secretly gay? Were you abused?” (Swash), as though their orientation is a problem waiting to be fixed. In fact, a counselor in the UK reports “[t]hat the industry wants to ‘fix’ asexuals and make them sexual is the most common comment [she] has heard; there is not much attention paid to the real psychological and emotional needs of asexuals” (Swash).
When greeted with this negativity and lack of respect, asexuals often feel that they are having their experiences demeaned, and that they are being erased and ignored despite the fact that they are still human. They are, of course, not the only sexual minority to feel this erasure; the same disdain is commonly turned towards bisexuals and pansexuals as well, as noted in an article by Kenji Yoshino. He explains that if people can be attracted to exclusively men or exclusively women, they can also be attracted to both, or neither; “Yet even those who acknowledge that orientation arrays itself on a continuum spanning the first three categories often ignore the fact that the continuum fails to represent the fourth” (Yoshino).
Okay, that’s pretty bad, but what’s the big problem?
The primary underlying issue is one of ignorance. People just aren’t aware of asexuality, and if they have heard of it, it’s almost always used incorrectly or being substituted for another word that doesn’t quite fit. The issue is that often times, people buy into heteronormativity; within our society that there is a bias towards heterosexuals, and anyone who falls outside that category is considered to be an ill-defined anomaly. However, even heterosexuals have something in common with homosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, and people of other gender-related orientations; they all experience sexual attraction. Being that only a small part of the population is asexual, everyone else has created a world that bases itself around the knowledge that everyone understands and experiences sexual attraction, and therefore desires sex. This begets the importance of defining and understanding asexuality, so that people who do not desire sex have a chance to be part of society at large without being too far-removed or placed into their own group. Lily Hughes of Georgetown University writes that, “defining ace identity … extends beyond understanding the meaning of the term asexual”. She goes on to explain that asexuality is different for each and every person, and that pinning it down as a single “fourth orientation” would be impossible because of the fluidity of both sexuality and non-sexuality (Hughes). This means that having an outsider understand the full complexity of asexuality would be impossible without giving them some insight into the community, and the experiences of the individuals within it.
On that note, an enormous amount of misconceptions exist regarding asexuality, because of the fact that it can be so complex and difficult to understand. These tidbits of misinformation are all easily correctable with a little bit of information, as many people have attempted to do on blog spaces such as Queereka. A short list from a post there reveals the most common misconceptions and explanations why they are ; things like the confusion of ‘asexuality’ and ‘celibacy’, the idea that all asexual people are damaged or have hormone problems, the impossibility of an asexual person being in a relationship with a sexual person, asexuality being used as a cover for being gay, and many others (Courtney). The list is long, detailed, and mildly upsetting to read knowing that there are people who have been hurt, lost respect within their larger communities, or had their identities erased because of all these things.
Part of the reason for this ignorance is the fact that there are very few reliable, open, and readable resources for information on the subject. Online spaces like AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) and campaigns such as the Asexual Awareness Week exist, but thus far they have only drawn in asexuals or previously-informed allies to their cause. Asexuality is a difficult thing to inform the general public on, simply because most people are unaware of its basic existence, or are not curious enough to learn more and will accept whatever information (correct or not) that they encounter. Even when further research is done, there aren’t a lot of resources for non-asexuals to learn about asexuals out there; many are summaries (in the style of Wikipedia), very wordy blog articles, or news articles written by people who have done research but have no personal investment in the community. This is where the basic problem lies; there is no general, concise resource that draws people in to read it and makes them feel like they need to learn more about the subject and the community.
So, the actual plan to fix it is…
To get the information out there, I plan on creating a space to inform and educate people on the basic definitions of the words used within the asexual community, and to dispel misconceptions that have arisen due to the ignorance of the mainstream media. The goal of this space is to not only give the factual definitions for the terms, but also give personal accounts from people within the community, defining their own experiences with those terms. For instance, there will be a page on “asexuality”, “demisexuality”, and “grey-asexuality”, as well as defining “celibacy” and its relation to the asexual community (with accounts from asexuals themselves), and a page on coming out stories to show how reacting with ignorance can affect a person.
The reasoning for using personal accounts is because of the power that a personal account has to influence a person. Scientific definitions and research studies can be a good basis for an argument, but people won’t start really listening to it until they hear from the people affected by it. Observation and sociological studies have found that “the accounts-as-stories framework is better able than standardized survey instruments to represent the rich, complex, interwoven reports that investigators are currently collecting”, and that “accounts may also give a fuller understanding than a checkmark on a questionnaire regarding the ambivalences, uncertainties, and angsts that are a day-to-day reality” (Orbuch 461). The few informative spaces created in the interests of the asexual community have failed to represent the complexity of the individuals they are trying to help, and as such have created a very basic and dry understanding of asexuality in people who have used them. The ‘ambivalences, uncertainties, and angsts’ of the community are what need to be best understood in order for people to grow more accepting towards asexuality, and the goal of this website is to begin to bring that understanding to a higher level.
The final product will be a pair of websites, one to interact with the community and collect the stories, and the other to post them in an organized, inviting format. This process will be completed as follows:
- Create Weebly website: http://www.acewords.weebly.com. It will have a basic design and be easy to navigate, with the purpose clearly stated on the front page and all tabs for information easily accessible.
- Create Tumblr blog (asexywords.tumblr.com) and begin calling for people to define their own terms. This will be done in rounds of posts, put into related tags (asexuality, demisexuality, grey-asexuality) so that members of the community can access them. Responses are to be sent in through the askbox, submissionbox, or as reblogs/replies to the post.
- Round 1: Define your orientation, including romantic orientation. Make sure to state in the post whether you consider yourself ace, demi, grey-a, or something else.
- Round 2: Define, for YOU, the relationship between asexuality and celibacy.
- Round 3: Share your opinions on having sex, as it relates to you personally.
- Round 4: Coming out stories. Can be good or bad.
- As information is collected, put it onto the website. Each page will include the scientific/factual definition, and then a list of 4 or 5 quotes beneath it, tagged by blog if available. The quotes are randomized and will change upon refresh, which will also be stated on the page. The factual definition will not change.
- The coming out stories page will have a short paragraph on why coming out as asexual is important, and a set of 5 or 6 stories, which will also rotate upon refresh.
- Once the website is complete, a last round of posts will go out, this time telling people to use the website as a source of information and to begin spreading it to non-asexuals, eg by posting links to it to their own blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.
While this site may not be a huge smash-hit success, and it certainly will not solve every single problem that the asexual community faces, I have high hopes that it will be able help a handful of non-asexual people better understand the importance of accepting this community and dispel common misconceptions by providing personal insight against them.
Courtney. “13 Myths and Misconceptions About Asexual People: Part One.” 13 Myths and Misconceptions About Asexual People: Part One – Queereka. Queereka, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2012. <http://queereka.com/2012/04/10/13-myths-and-misconceptions-about-asexual- people-part-one/>.
Hughes, Lily. “The Presence of Absence: Asexuality and the Creation of Resistance.” Gnovis 13.1 (2011): n. pag. Web. 19 Oct. 2012. <http://gnovisjournal.org/2011/11/21/lily-hughes-journal/>.
Orbuch, Terri L. “People’s Accounts Count: The Sociology of Accounts.” Annual Review of Sociology 23.1 (1997): 455-78. JSTOR. Web. 20 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2952560 .>.
Swash, Rosie. “Among the Asexuals.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 Feb. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/26/among-the-asexuals>.
Yoshino, Kenji. “The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure.” Stanford Law Review 52.2 (2000): 353. Kenji Yoshino. 4 Jan. 2006. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://www.kenjiyoshino.com/articles/epistemiccontract.pdf>.
Link to Dropbox resources, incl. sources: