[Queeriosity] The ‘A’ Stands for Asexual
Issue   |   Tue, 02/18/2014 - 22:00
Asexual people can be casually referred to as ‘aces,’ as in the ace of hearts.

Asexuality is invisible. It isn’t discussed; it’s not on TV, teenagers can’t learn about it in health class. The people who have heard of it usually doubt that it’s even real. I haven’t come out to many people at home. I’ll hint at it, dip my toes into the water — as a senior in high school I told my best friends. I mentioned it to my mother. None of them really believed me. Surrounded by people who had come out to their families, it was strange to realize that I couldn’t just tell people the truth and have them accept it at face value, the way my friends could. I would look into the mirror and think, “what am I supposed to ‘come out’ about, anyway? What I’m not doing?”

I identify as asexual. This means that I feel little to no sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of gender. This is the most straightforward definition of asexuality, but not all asexual people (or ‘aces’) are the same. Some aces are gray-sexual (or gray-A), meaning that they fall somewhere on a spectrum between asexual and sexual. Some are aromantic in addition to asexual, meaning they don’t feel romantic attraction either. Some aces are sex-repulsed, and will rarely or never choose to have sex, while others are fine with it and will agree to sex with significant others for a variety of reasons. If they haven’t explained their asexuality to you, it’s completely inappropriate to assume that an ace is uninterested in dating, marriage, hookups or even sex.

While I’m more open about my sexuality at Amherst than I am anywhere else, every now and then I wonder if that was a mistake. When I tell people, I’m usually greeted with doubt, confusion and (eventually) intrusive questions. There’s something about outing yourself as asexual that awakens a sudden and extreme disrespect in others for your privacy — this doesn’t go away after you first come out, either. This semester, I mentioned to a few people that I’d been seeing someone over the break and that I’d had a really great time. I’d forgotten that I’d already told them I was ace. Almost immediately, someone asked me, in front of people that I hadn’t come out to, “aren’t you asexual?” Then they asked about my sex life. This isn’t that unusual; virtual strangers ask me about my sex life more often than you’d think. People ask me to explain exactly what asexuality is, and they demand an explanation if I say that I hooked up with someone. They want to know why I say I’m asexual if I’m okay with having sex, they want to know why I’m lying to people I date. Here’s how it is: if I’m not dating you, it isn’t your business. I have no obligation to educate you by sharing anecdotes about my sexual history. These questions don’t embarrass or upset me, but that is only because I happen to be an unusually open and unabashed person. But when you question me, as a person, you do more harm than you might think. Responding to a friend coming out to you with something as seemingly innocuous as “really?” still causes harm.

With asexuality, it’s incredibly easy to doubt yourself. Through its silence on the subject, the entire world, including Amherst College, implicitly tells you that asexuality isn’t a valid form of sexuality. More directly, people will tell you that they’re sure you’ll change your mind. That you’ll feel differently after you meet the right person. I don’t desire sex, and yet I think about sex all the time. I feel as though I need explanations and sexual experiences in order to justify myself. I feel as though if I ever change my mind and choose a new label, everyone I ever told who doubted me will feel vindicated. Sometimes I’ll use vague language to describe myself. My coming outs are muddled and unobtrusive. As loud as I might normally be, I feel quiet and small when it comes to this. I’m not proud of my identity, because I don’t feel like I have one.

In many ways, aces are isolated from the general queer community unless space is made for them; I’ve faced ribbing from my queer friends (and acquaintances) just as often as I have from my straight ones. “You wouldn’t get it,” a queer friend once said when I asked what he was laughing about. “It’s a sex thing.” And while I fight for LGBTQIA rights, I don’t feel as though a shirt that says “I support love” supports me. Asexual students face different problems than people who are fighting for their right to love someone. There are huge gaps in our experiences that might be unbridgeable, and that’s fine, so long as those gaps are at least acknowledged. I can’t live on an island forever.

So this is my statement for a community in which asexuality isn’t taught, isn’t discussed and isn’t truly accepted. A community where the email inviting students to write this column asked for “LGBTQ students and allies,” and I had to assume that this included me as well. A community where allies claim the A at the end of the acronym. I’ll keep smiling, and correcting people who really do mean well: “actually, the A stands for asexual.”

If you are interested in contributing to the Queeriosity column, contact the Amherst College Pride Alliance at pridealliance@amherst.edu!

'13 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/19/2014 - 12:48

I hope that this does not come off as disrespectful, but I do not understand why questions about your sex life are "intrusive" when they come as a reaction to being told about your asexuality--saying that you're asexual tells people a lot more about your sex life than coming out as, say, gay, because you're divulging more than an orientation, you're divulging exactly how interested you are/things about your level of desire and sexual preferences.

Original Author (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/21/2014 - 21:02

I don't mind your question at all-- this article is meant to serve as a bit of forum for people to ask me questions that I might not otherwise want to be asked.

Look, getting asked about your sex life is intrusive because it's a private matter. On top of which, there's nothing that you, as someone I'm not romantically involved with or even particularly close to, need to know.

I don't really know how to frame it a different way. All I can say is, telling people I'm asexual is an honest thing for me, something innocuous but relatively important for people to understand who I am, the same way saying that you're gay, or bi, or pansexual would. All of these things have a sexual element to them, and yet we've made it socially acceptable to say them to people we're not particularly close to in a way that sex isn't normally discussed. If I said that I was gay, people would know who I like to have sex with, but they wouldn't make it the center of the conversation.

And if telling someone you're ace tells them "a lot more about your sex life than coming out as, say, gay," then I have no idea why they'd take that as an invitation to learn more. Don't they have enough information?

Z (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/22/2014 - 03:45

Actually, coming out as any sexual orientation doesn't tell anyone anything about anyone's sex life... it only reveals who they're sexually attracted to. (or possibly to who their romantic and sexual attractions point) If I say I'm asexual it tells you exactly one thing for sure, I don't experience sexual attraction to any gender. It doesn't tell you that I have a high sex drive, or that I find sex to be an interesting and fun hobby, or how many times I've had sex, or that I'm kinky. It's exactly the same amount of info given from stating any other orientation. You may go on to assume someone's level of desire or actual history of having sex or overall interest in having sex, but that would just be you assuming things (I guess based on whatever you think of that orientation). I mean, if someone says they're pansexual would you consider them to be divulging exactly how interested they are or their level of desire? Or just that they're sexually attracted to people regardless of gender? Would you be a jerk if you started quizzing them about how much sex they had?
(I use pansexual as an example because people ask/assume intrusive things about pansexual's sex lives as well, but usually in the opposite direction... that they have loads of sex wither everyone. It's inappropriate and wrong when people do it to pansexuals and it's inappropriate and wrong when people do it to asexuals, or anyone else)

Sharelle (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/19/2014 - 20:39

This article was shared to a FB group that I belong to for aces. I don't know if the person who shared it goes to Amherst or not (I don't), but we share things like this because they are rare. We are invisible.

I identify as queer because, as an aromantic asexual, I am not the heterosexual norm. I am not going to argue if some LGBT person tries to tell me otherwise, because arguing about types of discrimination is a waste of time and, in terms of the subject under discussion, really stupid, too. We are discriminated against; we're not discriminated against in the same ways. I fight for LGBTQIA rights because I am a human being, and LGBTQIA rights are human rights. I know just as well as anybody else that sexual orientation is not a choice, it's simply who you are.

But we are invisible, and when we're not, you're right: we have to justify our existence.

Some people probably think I'm a closeted lesbian because I am so vocal about LGBTQIA rights. Frankly, as being a lesbian is not a big deal, I'm not offended by that. But the other assumptions are more frustrating to me. What's one of the most common social questions, asked even by near strangers? It's about your romantic status. Is your partner here? Are you seeing anyone? Are you married, have kids, etc?

No, I don't have a partner. No, I am not seeing anyone. No, I don't want to meet that nice boy you know, and maybe I will meet the 'right' person one day, but it's pretty damned unlikely, and honestly, I'm not all that keen on the idea, even as a hypothetical.

I shouldn't have to discuss my romantic and sexual orientations to justify why I don't have a date. Why can't people just accept I don't have a date, and don't want to? And the pitying edge to it all - 'in her thirties, and she still doesn't have a boyfriend?' as if this is some kind of fault, and not just me being me. Frankly, trying to be in a relationship I don't actually want just sounds like a recipe for making myself miserable.

Nobody should be required to constantly explain to others that this is just who they are, no matter how hard a time they have understanding it.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/20/2014 - 12:44

You're right. The "I Support Love" Shirts aren't supporting you. They are supporting the disassembly of the systematic, legal, and often violent oppression of queer people worldwide. You face snarky jokes and minimization of your identity, which really sucks. I totally understand why you struggle with this, because everyone hates feeling that way. You, however, will likely never be spit on, kicked out of your home, or tied to a fence and left to die simply because you don't feel sexual attraction to anyone.

I recognize that you need support. I want you to live with pride in your identity. I hope someday we live in a society where you could submit a piece like this with your real name in the byline. It's great that you are using this forum to educate, but you need to recognize that asexuality lacks visibility in part because you have no tangible rights that you need to fight for in the first place. You want people to recognize and accept your identity, but there is no legal or political backdrop to your struggle. It's a personal one, which means it's still important, but it doesn't give you the right to deride the queer community for focusing on broader, arguably more important issues. What you seem to want is for people to accept you for who you are, and let you do your own thing. Don't we all?

Original Author (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/21/2014 - 20:53

I think this is a bit of a misunderstanding, and while I do appreciate your point, I also think you're making some massive assumptions. Every asexual person is different. I'm asexual, but I'm also queer and panromantic. That means that while I might not be interested in sex, I'm interested in loving, committed relationships with people of all genders. In a lot of ways, I'm fighting for those exact same rights. So while I may never be left to die for being asexual, there's overlap that you're not properly acknowledging. You might also want to consider that while I might feel relatively safe, many, many asexual people do not. Corrective rape is a very real issue for ace people.

"It doesn't give you the right to deride the queer community for focusing on broader, arguably more important issues." I actually have a huge problem with absolutely everything in this sentence. This isn't the queer community of America we're talking about here. It's the community at Amherst. Amherst is a college, and it's meant to provide a safe, positive space of communication and acceptance for young people. The issues are very, very different.

This article is about asexuality. It doesn't dismiss the oppression that other members of the LGBTQIA community face. It's completely separate from those things. I think you might have missed the point of the entire thing, honestly.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/22/2014 - 13:58

Good points, I see what you're saying in a different light now - never thought about the problem of corrective rape as it applies to aces.


"while I might not be interested in sex, I'm interested in loving, committed relationships with people of all genders"

I don't understand then why you say that you don't feel supported by the "I support love" t-shirts. Could you elaborate?

Original Author (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/22/2014 - 15:02

Because, one, I'm just one person. I don't represent all asexual people. And two, my asexuality is completely separate from my panromantic orientation. I do feel supported by the school with regards to my romantic orientation. Just not with my sexuality. On top of which, like I said, I'm just one person making a small attempt to voice the concerns of a larger community, and many of those people are aromantic (or heteromantic) as well.

Original Author (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/22/2014 - 17:44

You know, let me revise my last reply. I've been very polite with you, but the reality is that everything you've said is beyond upsetting/offensive, and I'm masking my anger with you in my replies. If you'd even tried to google this, you'd find countless articles and blog posts refuting and responding to everything you've "asked," in a more eloquent way than I can manage.

I wasn't going to say anything, but you're little comment of "never thought about the problem of corrective rape as it applies to aces" really pushed me over the edge. Oh, you never thought of that? That changes everything? One, I can't believe you couldn't look into this more before making an ignorant and overly aggressive comment. Two, I can't believe you'd imply that this issue is more "legitimate" because people have been tangibly harmed by it. Even if corrective rape weren't a very real threat, it remains legitimate. You are essentially saying that those rapes had some value because they validated a cause. You're still looking at this from the wrong light. You're still looking at this as an "oppression olympics" which is sick and cruel and totally irrelevant.

I know this isn't your intention. But I think you could really work on your tone, considering how little research you've actually attempted on your own.

Ace (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 18:30

I can't believe that you think that asexual people don't experience violence because of their orientation. I have been both stalked and assaulted by men who knew I was asexual and took it as a "challenge" to try to get with me, no matter what. I already live every day with PTSD. Today I woke up by having a panic attack triggered by a nightmare about the assault. Having to encounter insulting assumptions--like yours--about what life as an asexual is like make me feel even more depressed and alone.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/21/2014 - 12:12

This is a wonderful post. I am also asexual and I found your description of what it's like for you to ring true with me as well. Thank you for your post. Best wishes!

EBT (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/23/2014 - 16:07

I wrote an article a few days ago on asexuality because I found a research paper exploring asexuality that was published very recently - the team behind it interviewed a number of people ('aces') and it really shows how wide the spectrum of sexuality and asexuality is, and how little everyone knows about it.. especially since it was only up until recently everyone labelled asexuality as a biological/psychological disorder!
Here's the link: http://www.united-academics.org/magazine/sex-society/no-sex-please-under...

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sun, 03/09/2014 - 16:04

I still, as an Asexual, can not see any reason why the 'A' MUST stand for ONLY Asexual. Often times the 'Q' stands for Queer AND Questioning, and not many people have a problem accepting that, yet when it comes to Allies and Asexuals asking that both are seen is somehow wrong.

Allies are part of our community. We not only need allies if we want our cause to be successful, but if we are fighting for equality and acceptance, we should be fighting for spaces that include EVERYONE regardless of identity, including straight allies.

I've been identifying as Asexual for years now, since around late 2006 actually, and I have seen my fair share of erasure, and others experiencing symptoms of being "others" but I can't see how creating a community that excludes and "others" anyone is solving societies problem of othering people. You can't cure the disease by treating the symptoms. I see no reason why we should argue that "The 'A' is for 'Asexual'" when we could argue that "Asexuality is a thing, and thus should be included, just like everyone else."

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