Ambassadors From Aceland

[This post is a submission to the September 2019 Carnival of Aces, on the theme “Telling Our Stories”.]

In the years since I discovered asexuality, I’ve heard a lot of stories and I’ve told a lot of stories.  But one thing I’ve noticed is that we’re often reluctant to tell our stories.  Sure, we’ll freely tell the story of how we learned we were asexual or how we came out, but beyond that, stories don’t get told in the same way, if they’re told at all.

Some stories don’t want to be told.  They’re kept guarded and secret until they burst out in a moment of despair or are offered in a moment of empathy.  These stories are not freely told, but rather, they are paid for in pain.  Rarely, these stories are opaquely hinted at to keep them from getting free on their own.

Then there are the stories that we “tell”, but never really tell.  They’re short, surface level anecdotes, and we only “tell” them when prompted.  We’re giving answers or making points, but aren’t really telling stories.

Telling our stories is one of the most important things we can do.  They show others who we are.  They show others that they are not alone.  And sometimes, they show us that we are not alone.  Every piece of the asexual community started when a story was told.

I am like this.

I am like that, too.

So it makes me sad when I see stories that don’t get told or that only get told part way.  We are here because of the stories that have been told, and it is our duty to tell our stories for the future.

A few years ago, there was an “Asexual Story Project” website that I hoped would bring some of these untold stories to light, but most of what ended up there was the same single paragraph story of the lightbulb moment or tales of coming out.  Short and to the point and safe.  Then there was a book called “47 Asexual Stories”.  Quick responses to a questionnaire, typically no longer than a paragraph.  Short and to the point and safe.

Short and to the point and safe.  That’s all most of our stories get to be.

“How I Learned About Asexuality” or “How I Came Out” are stories that get told so frequently because they are universal stories and touch on key moments in our journey.  But we also tell them because they’re typically uncontroversial.  They’re a story you can quickly tell to a group of strangers in the back room of a former coffee shop in Seattle, and they’ll get you.  We expect them to be personal and unique, so we allow them to be personal and unique.  Whatever it entails, it’s not wrong, it’s not something that reflects poorly on asexuality.  It’s just a quick tale of what happened.  It’s short and to the point and safe.

Beyond that, and our stories become shorter and more general.  Details become meta and abstract.  We don’t tell our stories, we tell about our stories and end there.  It’s like we’re trying to win Hemingway’s Six Word Story competition.

  • Had a girlfriend.  That didn’t work.
  • I had sex.  It was boring.
  • Why does she even love me?
  • I’ve got a sex free kink.
  • Don’t you dare try touching me.
  • I was broken.  Now I’m not.

Short and to the point and safe.

We dare not tread beyond these narrow confines.  Anything further and the I disappears, replaced by a “Some do, some don’t” we-ness.  We fall into generality, into a 101 lecture.  We become Ambassadors from Aceland:  No longer individuals, but representatives of our community, forced to present the approved party line, to provide the big picture so people don’t get the wrong idea about what asexuality is.  We censor ourselves or sprinkle our stories with “Not All Aces” caveats, because that’s what an Ambassador does.

We can’t talk about who we fell in love with, because some aces are aromantic.

We can’t talk about what feeling repulsed is like, because that would give people the impression that all aces hate sex.

We can’t talk about when we did feel attracted to someone, because being gray or demi makes things too complicated.

We can’t talk about where our “first time” happened, because that would be confusing and not “ace enough”.

We can’t talk about why we want kids, because we all know how babies are made and people wouldn’t understand.

We can’t talk about how we’re fine living alone, because some aces want relationships.

We can’t talk about our own lives, because they don’t fit the story we’re forced to tell.

I saw a post the other day where someone was explicitly asking for examples for things that “make the ace community look bad or lose credibility”.  Beyond the face value horror of deliberately trying to be the respectability police, I wondered how many voices it would silence, how many stories would not be told.  And the responses were things like “Not having a clear definition of asexuality” and “Too many micro labels”.  

A good Ambassador is the flawless representative of the cleanest image.  A good Ambassador sticks to the official story.  A good Ambassador doesn’t rock the boat.

Fuck.  That.  Noise.

It’s your story.  Tell it your way.  Don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.

There are enough of us around now.  We don’t have to be the Ambassador from Aceland all the time.  No one ever appointed you to that position anyway. We don’t have to waste words by saying things like “This is my personal experience and all aces are different”.  We don’t have to worry about whether or not someone will get the wrong idea about asexuality.  We don’t have to omit things because they’re not ace enough.  There are as many different ways to be asexual as there are asexual people, and it’s time for us to embrace and explore that diversity.

Get out there and tell your story.

Carnival of Aces September 2019: Telling Our Stories

The Carnival of Aces is a long-running monthly asexuality-themed blogging event, run by The Asexual Agenda.  Each month, the host picks a theme and puts out a call for submissions from the community, then collects the submissions into a roundup post at the end of the month.  (Last month’s Carnival was hosted on The Demi Deviant, and the theme was Deviant Identities.)

The theme I have selected for this month is “Telling Our Stories“.

Over the years in ace circles, one thing that has always stood out to me is the power of the personal story of asexuality. More so than the academic encyclopedia articles or silly memes or 101 outreach pamphlet, the personal story is able to reach out and make someone truly feel that they are not alone.

I’ve recently started working on an autobiographical account of my own aceness, in all its awkward and embarrassing glory, and that got me thinking about the personal stories we tell and why we tell them, as well as the stories we don’t tell and why we don’t tell them. We’ll often freely talk about the lightbulb moment where we discovered asexuality, but usually skip the pain and heartbreak and confusion that we encountered along the way. But these are all valid parts of our asexual journey. So what goes into the decision around what we talk about, who we talk to, and how we tell these stories?

That’s what I want to explore this month. Not the personal stories themselves, I want to talk about the act of telling our stories.

Here are a few specific prompts, but please feel free to talk about anything else that might come to mind:

  • How do you decide which stories to tell and which stories not to tell?
  • Are there any stories you wish more people would tell?
  • Are there any stories you’re tired of telling or tired of hearing?
  • Who is your audience? Does the way you tell the same story change depending on who is listening?
  • What medium do you use for your storytelling?
  • Do you ever feel like you can’t tell your story?
  • Do you ever use the veil of fiction to surreptitiously tell your personal story?
  • How do you handle other people who may appear in your personal stories?
  • Why do you tell your story?

Submission Instructions:

There are several ways you can submit your blog post for the carnival:

  • Leave a link to it in the comments below.
  • Email me at:  a c e @ a s e x u a l i t y a r c h i v e . c o m
  • Send an ask or a message me on Tumblr (@redbeardace)
  • @AceArchive on Twitter

Submissions are due by September 30th, 2019. (But I’ll accept latecomers and procrastinators…)

I’ll acknowledge every submission I get, so if you send something in and don’t hear from me within a couple of days, please try again with a different method.

(If you want to write for this month’s carnival and don’t have a blog of your own to post it on, contact me above, and I’ll be happy to help guest host your post.)

Ace/Aro Con NYC 2019: Session 6: Asexual Census

This session talked about some of the challenges and findings of the Asexual Census. It is an on-line survey of around a hundred questions, and it got about 10K responses last year. Because it is online and self-selecting, this can lead to some biases: People have to have Internet access, be involved in spaces where it’s publicized, be willing and interested in sharing information, etc.

  • Asking questions a different way can change the result. For example, a radio button forces a binary choice, where there may be overlap. Multiple choice can allow for contradictory responses. Freeform text can be overwhelming and confusing.
  • Skipping the question is not the same as deliberately leaving the question blank, but adding a “None of the above” response can change things.
  • The survey is for turning people into data. It’s nice to be heard and recognized and understood, but that’s not the point.
  • There is a high number of non-binary people in the ace community, so make sure your activism includes them.
  • What’s up with the “low” number of ace men in the survey? Is that a sign that ace men can’t discover asexuality? Don’t want to take the survey? Or are ace men actually more rare?
  • Repulsed people are 3x more prevalent than favorable people, so make sure your activism includes repulsed people.
  • There is a forthcoming paper on rates of depression amongst asexuals.
  • There should be an aro census, but reaching aro people is a challenge. If you target the aro community exclusively, you’ll miss many aro-ace people who aren’t in the aro circles. If you target ace communities, you’ll be overwhelmed by aro aces and it may not be truly representative.

Ace/Aro Con NYC 2019: Session 5: Ace History

This was mostly a presentation of the appearance of asexuality in articles from ages past. Some of the earliest were from the late 1800s.

Almost all of them were using asexual in a negative way. Most were misogynistic. Many were worried about the utter horrors that would be unleashed if gasp women were allowed to vote. It felt a lot like an accidental trip into the comment section…

One of the more interesting parts was a series of columns from a doctor in the 60s/70s who talked about asexuality in ways that we would recognize today, and was generally positive in what he wrote. He even had a section in a book where he talked about it.

I hope that this material all comes out someday because it was fascinating. I also hope someone writes a book on it all…

Ace/Aro Con NYC 2019: Session 4: Queer Group Outreach

(Note: Session 3 was a working meeting and there’s no summary for it.)

  • People were worried about negative reactions when reaching out to queer groups, but negative reactions are rare.
  • Being ignored is common, but don’t assume intent behind being ignored. It’s possible the email was lost, the coordinator was busy, etc. If you’re ignored, try again.
  • When looking for strategies for dealing with anti-ace people, look for strategies for dealing with TERFs, because they’re usually the same people, same tactics.
  • Remember that you often can’t change the minds of entrenched assholes, so focus on those who haven’t been corrupted by hate yet.
  • Block liberally. You don’t owe assholes your time or energy.
  • Online, people are horrible. Off-line, people are usually accepting and welcoming.
  • Be visible if you can be. Many ways to be visible, stickers, shirts, marching in a parade, casually mentioning it to people. Having an ace presence matters, it shows people we exist and shows other aces that we exist.
  • You’re not responsible for completely educating others, but guiding them can help. Have a set of websites, videos, etc., personally curated content that’s relevant to you, and pass that along to people who are interested. Don’t have them do their own research or just drop them at the AVEN forums and wish them luck, because that won’t help.
  • Sometimes the upper levels of a group may be bureaucratic and resist inclusion, but lower levels are often supportive and recognize the need.
  • Hosting a brown bag at a local queer org can be helpful for reaching out.
  • Many queer groups want to be more ace inclusive but don’t know how.
  • Don’t assume that if a group leaves out the “A” that they’re being deliberately exclusive. Sometimes they think the Q or the + is enough. Sometimes they haven’t updated their website in years. Sometimes they just don’t understand but are willing to.
  • Sometimes just being there matters. “We’re here and that’s all there is to it.”
  • Sexual liberation means nothing if it doesn’t include the freedom to say “no”.

Ace/Aro Con NYC 2019: Session 2: Asexuality Research In Academia and “Just Lazy”

The second session I attended was a combination session. The first half was about using fanfiction as a primary source for asexuality research by Jasmine Stork. The second part was a presentation by Dr. Ianna Hawkins Owen on Black asexual silence and the figure of the “Mammy”.

Asexuality Research in Academia

  • A lot of research ignores content from the community because it’s “just for fun”, but there is significant value in this material.
  • Online spaces and overlaps between them are largely ignored.
  • Stork reviewed fanfiction on AO3, using the “Asexual Spectrum” umbrella tag. This tag is community sourced, with community members making connections between related tags.
  • Shibboleths are beliefs and practices, clues, signals, and references, used to indicate inclusion or exclusion from a group, and also useful for discussing in-group differences. Cake, flag colors, etc.
    • Example: Black/gray/white/purple color scheme is recognized by aces, hourglass symbol recognized as “Black Widow” by Marvel fans, recognition of both puts people in “Ace Marvel Fans” group, where these will go over the heads of people not in group.
  • People have energy for doing things that they like and that other people like.
  • Fanfiction can be used as an outreach tool. Write a story about Black Widow and Black Widow fans will read it, but you’ve piggybacked a little bit of asexuality along for the ride. Now those readers have learned about asexuality, even though they weren’t seeking it out.
  • Authors are often clear to say “this is one example, but not the only possible manifestation.”
  • Race does not get much attention. Main characters almost all white, side characters mostly white, even in places like Africa or The Bronx.
  • Representation isn’t just in fan fiction. It can be in other media, like podcasts, videos, blogs, etc. Main topic is a movie or whatever, so that gets eyeballs, but subtopic can be ace/aro stuff
  • This is all work, and this work can help academics do their job, because you’ve been doing it already.

“Just Lazy”

Dr. Ianna Hawkins Owen’s talk was an exploration of Black asexual silence and the image of the Mammy, explored through the lens of a series of paintings. It was a powerful presentation, and one that I am completely unequipped to be able to summarize adequately. (Frankly, the world does not need another clueless white guy talking about things he doesn’t understand.) So, I’m trying to find another summary to point you at, one that would be more accurate representation of what was said than anything I could write up. I’ll update this post if I find one. In the mean time, I recommend you track down some of Dr. Hawkins Owen’s other work, as much of it touches on similar themes.

Ace/Aro Con NYC 2019: Session 1: Organizers Business Meeting

This was a session for group organizers to trade ideas for ace/aro meetup groups. Here were a few of those ideas:

  • You don’t always have to talk about asexuality at every meeting all the time. Sometimes the meetup can just be a meetup.
  • Have a variety of activities: Dinners, game nights, movies, karaoke, food court get-togethers, discussion groups, new member welcomes, book club, potluck, etc.
  • Consistently have events, and plan events for the future. People are more likely to attend something if it looks like the group is active.
  • Specifically advertise some events as New Member Events, or have New Member time carved out of another event. This specifically invites people who haven’t come to something before a reason to drop by.
  • Occasionally have targeted, specific discussion topics, planned in advance. This will give people who are interested in that topic a reason to drop in.
  • Talk about your other events. At your karaoke meetups, mention the monthly discussion group, etc.
  • Encourage other people to organize events. The more events, the better, and the wider range of events and wider geographic area they cover, the better.
  • Personal connections with organizers lead to more popular events and a more active group overall.
  • Have events of different sizes. Sometimes a 6 person dinner is what people want. Sometimes a 30 person discussion group is what people want.
  • Asking for donations is fine, but asking for dues would exclude people who can’t/won’t pay. Tie the donation requests to specific events, like “We need $300 to march in Pride” or “Our meeting space is $30 a month.
  • Use on-line tools. Have a website, Facebook, Meetup, etc. You can use Rabbit for a simulated movie night or Discord for a group chat.

Pride Is For All Of Us

Drown out the haters, ignore the gatekeepers, and stand up to those who seek to separate and divide us. We are stronger together. Pride is for ALL of us.

Pride Is For All Of Us — Plain Background
Pride Is For All Of Us — Identities Background
Pride Is For All Of Us Animation

Design available on items at the Seattle Aces & Aros Zazzle Shop.

Pride Parade Tips: Portable Flagpoles

Flags are a must when you’re at Pride (even if you’re not marching!). They rise above the heads of the crowd, they’re colorful, and they say “I am here!” And when you’re aro or ace or anyone else with a non-rainbow flag, making a statement that “I am here!” is critically important.

The problem is that flagpoles are a pain. More specifically, getting the flagpole to and from the Pride event is a pain. Unless you happen to have a golf cart with you, hauling around a six foot pole all day is a non-trivial task. When you add in crowds and rides on public transit, the situation gets even worse.

So, what you need is a flagpole that collapses down and can fit in a backpack. They make telescoping flagpoles specifically for this purpose, but I have not had luck with them. I had one that was literally painful to use, due to a poorly designed clip. Then there was the one that kept collapsing itself during the parade, requiring constant adjustment. Other ones I’ve seen look incredibly flimsy. So I wanted something better.

The first thing I tried was PVC pipes. They sell threaded sprinkler pipes in two foot sections, and threaded couplers to connect them. Get three sections of that, and you have yourself a nice, strong flagpole that’s relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, the PVC isn’t telescoping, so when you break the pole down, you have three separate pipes you have to carry around. There’s also the problem that PVC pipes don’t have clips to attach the flag, but more on that shortly.

I needed something telescoping, so I’d only have to carry around one smaller item. I needed something relatively lightweight. I also needed something sturdy. Something like a monopod.

There are tons of sturdy, lightweight, relatively cheap monopods out there. This particular one also came with a carrying case, which can be a benefit when travelling to or from Pride. Hiking sticks might also work well.

Now, the problem with a monopod is that it’s not a flagpole. It doesn’t have any kind of clip to attach the flag to. One of the more common solutions is to use zip ties and tape. I’m not a fan of that method, though. It can only be used once, you need scissors or a knife to take it apart, and you end up with a sticky mess when you’re done with it all.

I prefer cable ties, like this one.

These are adjustable and reusable and easy to remove.

But, it’s not easy to attach or detach a flag when using a cable tie. You can’t just unclip it. You’d have to take the whole thing off just to take off the flag.

So, you need a clip.

Any clip will do. Carabiner, swivel hook, split ring, clasp, whatever. Anything that lets you easily attach and detach the flag.

So, you can see where I’m going with this, right? Put the clip on the cable tie, put the cable tie on the pole, and presto, instant flag clips!


You see, if you do that, you’ll have a cable tie that slips all over the place because cable ties might grip themselves, but they certainly do not grip a the smooth metal of a monopod.

You need something that does.

This is a non-slip furniture pad, but anything with a non-slip surface should work. Something like a jar opener or potholder pad, or maybe one of those counter liner rolls.

Once you’ve found your non-slip pad, cut out a piece, then cut two slits in the pad wide enough for the cable tie. Make one near either end, but be sure to leave enough material around the slit so the pad won’t tear apart.

Then thread the cable tie through the pad, then through the clip, then through the slit on the other side of the pad. If the pad you’re using only has the grippy non-slip surface on one side, make sure that side is facing “inward”, and the clip is on the non-grippy “outside”.

Now you have a reusable, non-slip clip. Time to put it on the pole and turn it into a flagpole!

Be sure to tighten the cable tie as much as you can. The non-slip surface won’t do much good unless it’s firmly gripping the monopod. Try sliding the clip around. It might still slide a little bit, but it should take quite a bit of force to get it to move.

For the bottom clip, you can either repeat the steps above, or you can skip the non-slip pad, and just go with the cable tie and clip. Gravity should help keep the bottom of the flag down. Personally, I’d do the non-slip pad on the bottom clip, too, to hold the flag’s edge tighter.

Congratulations, you now have a flagpole! Wave it with pride!

No, really, go wave it around like crazy right now. You’ll want to give it a good thorough test run to make sure it holds up. If there are any problems (like, say, the non-slip pad isn’t as grippy as it needs to be), it’s much better to find that out now while you can fix it than five minutes into marching in an hour and a half long parade.

And remember, it’s not just a flagpole, it’s a collapsible flagpole! Collapse the pole, roll the flag, and ride the subway or bus with ease!

Musings On The Law

I recently did a cursory survey of anti-discrimination laws in the US and whether or not they cover asexual and aromantic people. Only one state (New York) explicitly mentioned asexuality. No states explicitly mentioned aromanticism. Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico have wording that mentions “affectional”, “emotional”, or “romantic” attraction. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico have wording that is vague, unclear, or has technicalities that may support an interpretation that protects asexual and/or aromantic people. Many states have anti-discrimination laws that protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, but then go on to narrowly define sexual orientation in a manner that excludes asexuality. Very few states recognize the concept of romantic orientation, and most of those have definitions that may exclude aromantic people.

It is clear from this survey that there is a lot of work to be done.

It is also clear that laws are very freaking complicated… You have federal law, state law, county law, municipal law, then you have executive orders and court rulings and commission interpretations, all with varying degrees of applicability and supremacy.

This post is meant to spur discussion and possibly action, but it should not be taken as The One True Way™ to get there. I’m not a lawyer, I haven’t even particularly researched this in any great depth beyond collecting state laws and skimming parts of the Compulsory Sexuality paper by Elizabeth Emens (Which itself is sort of strange in a couple of sections, but I won’t get into that…). This post is just a collection of thoughts I had while looking at this, and they may not be particularly good thoughts.

This post will assume the following premise as given and proceed from there: Asexuality, aromanticism, and related identities are worthy of protection under the law. If you do not agree with that premise, go away, this post isn’t for you. I’m not going to spend any time justifying that premise here.

Where Asexuality And Aromanticism Are Relevant In Law

There are a couple of different areas that came up during my review where asexuality and aromanticism are relevant to legal proceedings and protections. The most obvious are anti-discrimination statutes: Employment, housing, education, denial of services, etc. Then there are marriage laws, including tax laws and laws regarding consummation which may still be on the books. Tangentially related to that are other “family” laws like inheritance, hospital visitation, etc. Hate crime/bias crime enhancements are another area where asexuality and aromanticism would be relevant. We probably all could have benefitted from aro and ace inclusion in sex ed programs. I know some people who have been subjected to what they would consider to be conversion therapy. And I’m certain that there will be other areas I’ve missed that will be noted in the comments.

In some of these cases, it’s not specifically being asexual or aromantic which is relevant, but rather the singleness, childlessness, or non-traditional relationship forms that apply to many asexual or aromantic people which become relevant. In those cases, protections for marital/family status become important, as well.

In this post, I’m mostly going to talk about the anti-discrimination laws, although it would undoubtedly be worthwhile to examine all of these areas with an aromantic or asexual eye.

Lay Of The Law Of The Land

I can separate the current state of legal protections into three primary classes:

  • “Friendly”: These are the states which have protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation specifically, but don’t necessarily cover asexuality or aromanticism, whether explicitly or implicitly. About half of the states fall into this bucket.
  • “Indifferent”: These are states which do not have specific sexual orientation protections. In these states, protection on the basis of sexual orientation may be granted through a technicality (Such as the interpretation of “on the basis of sex” to include sexual orientation) or through interpretive guidance from a human rights commission or something similar, or if those areas are silent, protections would come from the federal level. About half of the states fall into this bucket. At a federal level, protection is currently granted to the entire country on the basis of sexual orientation due to the interpretation of the meaning of “sex”, although that the details particular interpretation may not protect asexuality.
  • “Hostile”: These are states which have language to deliberately exclude sexual orientation from protection. These states include North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. While current interpretation of federal law would provide protection in those states, this codified hostility is still noteworthy.

Ironically, some of the “Indifferent” (typically more conservative) states offer greater protection for asexuality (although typically not aromanticism) than some of the “Friendly” (typically more liberal) states. This is because the “indifferent” states will occasionally mention “sexual orientation” as part of their hate crime statutes or other laws, but don’t give a definition, whereas many of the “friendly” states have a definition for sexual orientation which excludes asexuality in some way.

What about Romantic Orientation?

Most antidiscrimination laws completely ignore any concept of romantic orientation, sometimes referred to as “affectional” or “emotional”. In the case of New Jersey, the laws mention “affectional or sexual orientation”, but then proceed to define that phrase in strict terms of “male or female heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality”, thus negating the distinction between “affectional” and “sexual”.

Obviously, overlooking romantic orientation is concerning for aromantic people, as aromanticism would not be a protected characteristic. But, going deeper into the potential Dark Future Of Increased Awareness, as the concept of romantic orientation becomes more well known, one could envision attempts to get around existing protections by claiming something like “I didn’t fire him because he’s sexually attracted to men, I fired him because he’s romantically attracted to men. There’s nothing that says I can’t do that.” Now, clearly that example seems contrived, but don’t underestimate the ability of horrible people to do horrible things and try to get away with it. So language that’s inclusive of romantic/affectional orientation isn’t just of value to aromantic people.

Defining Sexual Orientation

One thing that I noticed in my survey is that many states define sexual orientation in a very specific way that ends up excluding asexuality (along with pansexuality and others). Most states which have a definition use language that boils down to “heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality”. New York adds asexuality to that list, while Arizona leaves out bisexuality. Some states have an odd conflation which buckets gender identity under sexual orientation. (Presumably this is for convenience: If you change the legal definition, you only have to change one part of the law. But it’s still strange.) Some of these definitions reference “actual or perceived” status. Some definitions are explicitly ciscentric and end up being exclusionary on that front. Some definitions are worded to be general, but then presume an “attachment” or “attraction” that may not be there for ace or aro people, therefore they may not apply.

Clearly, defining sexual orientation isn’t easy…

But is there even a need to define sexual orientation? As I mentioned in an earlier section, some states which don’t define sexual orientation end up having more protections for asexual people than states with broad laws and a narrow definition. Can we just leave the definition out entirely and rely on a common understanding of the phrase?

Well, maybe, but… In Compulsory Sexuality, there’s a bit of a behind the scenes discussion of this topic from the lawmaker responsible for New York’s state law. He remarked that a definition was necessary to defend against “slippery slope” objections. In other words, without laying out clearly what “sexual orientation” meant, other lawmakers would raise frivolous objections about the law. For instance, someone could raise the specter of some yahoo filing a discrimination case claiming they were illegally fired because they’re sexually attracted to dogs, which could lead to public outcry over the legalization of bestiality. Surely, that’s political nonsense and such a case would be laughed out of court. But imagine a different case, where sexual orientation isn’t well defined, and an asexual person has to prove that asexuality is a sexual orientation in court. A spelled out, inclusive definition would be useful in that case.

So, if a definition of sexual orientation would be useful, what should it look like? Here are a few thoughts I have:

  • Not a list. The solution is not to just add “asexuality” to the Big Three. That would be great for us, but not great for those who come after us. For instance, pansexual people would still be excluded from most definitions. A specific list would just lead to the same kinds of gatekeeping and club membership debates that exist around the LGBTQIAA2P++* acronym AND it would get just as long and unwieldy.
  • Does not conflate. Presumably for convenience, some states have jammed gender identity in their definition for sexual orientation. That’s inaccurate and out of step with reality. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and romantic/affectional/emotional orientation should be first class characteristics, not shoehorned afterthoughts or inferred from the context.
  • “Or lack thereof”. Some states give a general definition of sexual orientation which does not give a hard and fast list of club members, but instead defines it in terms of attraction or attachment. Unfortunately, they mostly appear to require that attachment to be present. Any definition along these lines would need to recognize the lack of such attraction or attachment. New York City’s statute is an example of this.
  • Not ciscentric/binary. Some states explicitly reference things like “male or female”, etc. There’s really no need for that, when something like “without regard for gender (or lack thereof)” would work in most cases.
  • Inclusive, with an eye on the future. We don’t know what sexuality will look like in the future. New terms will pop up, old terms will get new meanings. I don’t think that any of these states deliberately said “No, we don’t like those asexuals”, I just think we weren’t on their radar at all. Any definition should try to avoid those sorts of traps going forward. I like Puerto Rico’s statement that the definition should be broadly interpreted. That’ll help cover the unintentional holes in the wording and help to make it future proof.
  • “Actual or perceived”. I like this clause, as it can prevent discrimination cases from being dismissed by saying that unlawful conduct wasn’t technically unlawful, as the person wasn’t actually whatever protected class the perpetrator thought they were.
  • Protects actions as well as feelings. There’s a common refrain, particularly in ace circles, that “action is not attraction”, that people can engage in behaviors that don’t always align with their orientation. Anti-discrimination laws should protect that. This would be necessary in the Dark Future Of Increased Awareness, where one of those “It’s alright if you’re gay as long as you don’t act on it” people tries to use “action is not attraction” as a weapon.
  • Default for state law. The states are split between having a central, single definition, and having the definition scattered across multiple acts or statutes or chapters. Having a default definition means that the definition would apply anywhere a phrase is used. Otherwise it’s possible a term might not be defined or the definition might not get updated, and that can lead to confusion and technicalities.

I think a definition of romantic orientation would have many of the same characteristics. On that front, I think I prefer terminology like “emotional” or “affectional”, as that would likely also cover people and relationships for whom “romantic” doesn’t really apply.

Allies In The Cause

We are not alone.

I’ve already mentioned that in some states, the definition of “sexual attraction” was expanded to include gender identity. Sure, that might have been convenient for lawmakers, but that doesn’t make it right. Gender identity should be its own, separate protected class. (Personally, I worry about whether or not an definition that’s out of step with the conventional meaning of a phrase would be grounds for getting a law thrown out in court.) And in some cases, gender identity isn’t a protected class at all. Trans groups in those states are probably fighting to change that.

Many states use a definition that includes bisexuality, but not pansexuality. You can dive into a semantic argument over whether a pansexual person could be legally considered as bisexual for the purposes of the law, but the point is that those sorts of semantic arguments shouldn’t even be a question. Pan groups in those states are probably fighting to change that.

Other states don’t have any protections for sexual orientation or gender identity at all. Queer rights groups across the rainbow are probably fighting to change that.

Intersex people are overlooked by almost every state anti-discrimination law. Maybe they’d fall into “medical condition” or “gender identity” or even “disability” protections, but they shouldn’t have to figure out which demeaning or inaccurate bucket they have to fall into for protection. Intersex groups are probably fighting to change that.

The point is, other people are trying to change these laws, too. So we can partner with them get these changes made at the same time we’re pushing for an improved definition of sexual orientation and inclusion of romantic/affectional orientation.

By joining our voices, we can all be heard.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Ideally, we can get laws passed everywhere which are inclusive of aromanticism and asexuality, and which consider sexual orientation, romantic/emotional/affectional orientation, and gender identity as separate protected classes. But we’re not going to get there tomorrow…

Your first step would be to dive into the laws in your area to better understand what’s covered. Don’t rely on my analysis, after all, what the hell do I know? I’m not a lawyer or legal scholar, I just cranked up a synthpop playlist and ran a bunch of searches one afternoon.

From there, I think we can discuss more specifically what we’d like to see. People would be more likely to listen if we go to them with suggestions or even some boilerplate language, rather than just a demand to include aces and aros. (One thing that was clear in the survey is that lawmakers love Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V…)

After that, I think the next step would be reaching out to local activist groups and legislators and get a sense of what’s already in the pipeline. For those “friendly” states noted above, there may not be much going on, because there may be a sense that the battle has already been won. But in those “indifferent” and “hostile” states, I can almost guarantee that there’s a state legislator or two out there who submits an anti-discrimination bill every session. Whatever is happening, it would be worth getting in touch with the people doing it and getting involved in the process to whatever extent possible, and try to piggyback our changes on theirs.

(I should also point out here that while it might seem as though groups like AO, TAAAP, or AVEN might be well positioned to take up this kind of charge, it’s possible that none of them really can. I believe those groups are currently or are planning to become registered non-profits of a type that would prohibit substantial lobbying of this type.)

We have a lot of work to do. Time to get busy.