Whenever asexuality gets mentioned in an article or in an interview, there’s always the inevitable remark in the comment section:
Why do you have to talk about this? Who cares that you’re not having any sex? Stop shoving it in our faces!
It frustrates me to see that kind of attitude, to see people who are unable to close their mouths and open their minds long enough to understand that there are people who are different than them. And it’s not just anonymous Internet nobodies who share that view. In his infamous appearance in (A)sexual, that’s basically what Dan Savage says. But really, those people aren’t who I’m talking about asexuality for. Ignorant jerks like that are a lost cause and not really worth spending energy on.
But the questions remain. Why do I have to talk about asexuality? Who does care?
Let me share a conversation that I came across the other day. It’s between a guy in his early twenties and a girl who’s interested in him. It’s a real conversation, edited slightly for privacy and to remove a few irrelevant bits. It’s a bit on the long side, though, so please bear with it.
The Girl> Sorry, Joe and I are having an ass competition… Don’t even bother asking..
The Guy> I wouldn’t ask.
The Girl> Cast your vote anyway!
The Girl> I probably just scared you. :P
The Guy> Are you sure you’re not trying to scare me away?
The Girl> Hey, you scared me multiple times today.
The Guy> Yes, but this is one of those things that’s likely to get me rolling around on the floor beating the scarythought our of my head.
The Girl> I’m winning anyway. I don’t need your vote.
The Girl> Such a wimp. ;)
The Guy> And what gives you the idea that I would’ve voted for you, anyway? There’s only so much psychological trauma someone can take, and I’m well past that limit.
The Girl> Seriously, does that sort of thing actually disturb you?
The Guy> It was a part of the world I was happier not knowing existed…
The Guy> But does it actually have me rolling around on the floor, baning on my head to get the scarythoughts out? No.
The Guy> I’m not that messed up.
The Girl> Guys are supposed to be turned on by that, but I suppose you have all that repressed..
The Girl> And no, I don’t understand why they’re turned on by it either..
The Guy> If you want to call it repressed, sure. But I honestly don’t think of it that way. I don’t feel that I’m holding something down, that there’s something evil lurking inside that I have to keep hidden. It’s just not there.
The Girl> So it was never there?
The Guy> I don’t know if I didn’t get it, or if I just haven’t found it, or if I lost it somewhere.
The Guy> But it’s not bothering me. I don’t see why it should. I’m not excited at the prospect of looking at people’s butts. Somehow, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I like the fact that I’m not turned into a slobbering idiot by that sort of thing.
The Girl> You know, I kind of like that… It’s always bothered me that guys I talk to, and even some of the girls, obviously have other intentions while talking to me, and I know that with everything they say, they’re just trying to get a step closer… It drove me insane with Jake. He’d wine and sulk, and beg, and generally act like an idiot…
The Girl> er, whine
The Guy> Maybe I just take a functional approach to things. “Hey, wow, that looks like that would be comfortable when you sit down.” That sort of thing. I don’t see anything interesting in it. I don’t have a desire to touch it, I mean what would that get me? “It feels like it’s confortable, too.”
The Girl> I guess it’s just one of those things where there’s multiple ways of thinking about it… Not really sure that I could explain the other way, though… or if I would want to..
The Girl> I guess for me, it’s all about trust or something.
The Girl> And now I’ve really scared you…
The Guy> No, no you haven’t scared me. The words are coming, they just aren’t forming coherent sentences.
The Guy> The words… They want to speak, they want to curse society for thinking there’s something wrong with me, they want to ask myself if there is something wrong, they want to dig up my past, see where I went wrong, if I went wrong, they want- …
The Guy> They want to speak, but they have nothing to say.
The Guy> I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m just…
The Girl> Just what?
The Guy> You see what an ass competition can do to me?
The Girl> I’m seeing it, but I’m not quite understanding it…
The Guy> I guess you hit a gas line with your digging… It’s not my sexuality that’s repressed, it’s all of that.
The Girl> Now I have nothing to say… I’m still confused, I guess.
The Guy> I’m sorry for letting it out on you.
The Guy> Wow, this is a switch… I’m the one emotional, and you’re the one that can’t find anything to say. Never thought I’d see this side of things.
The Girl> That’s fine… I like it when you talk to me, and you’re talking to me…
The Girl> And I’m also curious, I guess. I know none of this is any of my business..
The Guy> I guess it’s that I have a name for everything but myself. I don’t have a place in the “Normal” order of things, and I’m fine with that. But I’d like a name… “I’m not into women.” “Oh, you’re gay?” “I don’t like men, either.” “Oh. What the hell is wrong with you?”
The Guy> No, if this is anyone’s business outside of mine, it’s yours.
The Girl> Non-sexual. Sounds pretty awful, but I think that’s the word…
The Girl> That’s the way I always assumed you were, too… I mean, even when I barely knew you.
The Girl> I’ve heard “asexual” used, too, but that makes it sound like you’re some sort of single-celled organism…
The Guy> I’m sure there is a name for it. One that no one’s ever heard and doesn’t have a clue what it means. Yeah, it’s probably something like that. Anything like that means “I can’t get none” to Joe Average. But “I don’t want none.”
The Girl> I actually went through times when I thought like that, too… The thought kind of disgusted me. But I realize that I was thinking in the internet porn site way, or whatever which -is- completely digusting.
The Girl> But obviously it wasn’t a permanent thing for me, I guess.
The Girl> Anyway, I just started thinking about it in that trust way, I guess… And it’s really a beautiful thing if you think of it that way.
The Guy> I don’t know if it is for me, either. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll wake up and realize “Hey, I’m in love”. Or can I be in love anyway. the way I am now? It’s separate, so why not? Or don’t I have that, too?
The Girl> It’s completely separate, from what I’ve heard and experienced…
The Girl> Well, maybe not -completely-.
The Guy> I never felt any kind of physical attraction to Red. But was it real, or some concocted response to early teenage pressures? If it was real, why hasn’t it happened since?
The Girl> Because it’s “evil” now, I guess… You’re probably afraid of it. I mean, subconsciously.
The Girl> And you know the cliche quote that everyone would use here…
The Guy> Why don’t I think about you or Thursday and think, “Hey, I’m in love”? It’s “Aw, gee, she’s nice.” What’s not connecting here?
The Guy> Thank you for listening. I don’t know if this is going to help me (Or if there’s even anything to help), but thank you.
The Girl> I don’t know… If you don’t think it, then it’s obviously not happening, because you’d know if it were.
The Girl> I guess you should probably get to bed then..
The Guy> Oh, now you want me to leave, do you?
The Girl> No, I don’t want you to be even more tired tomorrow. :P
The Guy> If it’s something in my subconscious, it’s deep. It’s very deep. I don’t think one person could do that much damage. Maybe make me more reluctant to act, but there’s been enough time that something should have happened by now.
The Guy> I almost just said “Statistically something should have happened by now”. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I think too much. I’m probably not supposed to think, I’m just supposed to run.
The Girl> Well, you don’t talk to a heck of a lot of girls… And if you’re not physically attracted to people, you’ve not going to find anyone without talking to them…
The Guy> But every once in a while one gets in my path that I will talk to.
The Girl> Personally, I just can’t be attracted to people I first meet in real life. I guessI’ve just accidently trained myself to want to see what’s insane their mind first… Sometimes I see really attractive guys, and make eye contact, just for fun, but I don’t feel…anything, really.
The Guy> Why would it even necessarily be restricted to girls? I haven’t found Mr. Right, either.
The Girl> Exactly…
The Girl> But you don’t talk to a heck of a lot of -guys-, either..
The Guy> “Insane their mind”? You have been talking to me too much…
The Girl> errrr… inside!#$%
The Girl> They always have to make other words… always…
The Girl> Can I ask what it was that attracted you to her?
The Guy> “Attractive.” I don’t even have that concept defined for myself. There’s “What everyone else says is attractive” and then there’s the “That person looks interesting”, which I guess is supposed to count, but I feel more like I’m judging the look of a painting in an art gallery than being attracted.
The Guy> And people don’t like it when you take them home and hang them on a wall.
The Girl> But what made her different from, well, everyone else you’ve ever knwon?
The Girl> known even
The Guy> I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. The time and place.
The Girl> Did you actually know her? Like was she a friend?
The Guy> Yeah. We had half our classes together. We’d not do anything in PE together, we’d trade book recommendations for the essays in English class. That sort of thing.
The Guy> And my God, she actually liked the Grapes of Wrath. That right there shouldn’ve been a hint.
The Guy> Wait! She’s not the one that’s Evil! John Steinbeck is!
The Girl> So you -did- have a social life at one point, huh?
The Girl> How long did you know her before you started to feel that way about her?
The Guy> If you call that a social life… I call it talking to classmates in school. I didn’t spend often lunch with people, and I never went anywhere with anyone after school. Then again, it was Nevada… Nowhere to go. People hung out at the old gravel pit. Really, they did.
The Guy> I don’t remember. Months, of some sort. Not years or anything like that.
The Girl> What happened when you did? What felt different?
The Guy> I don’t remember.
The Girl> So you don’t remember how you knew?
The Girl> I’m not trying to pry anything out of your, by the way, so feel free not to answer that or anything else…
The Guy> No. I don’t remember the feeling, either. It’s like a stamp in a book. It’s the remains of getting knocked upside the head with an inky hammer.
The Girl> Well, anyway… Just because you think you -should- like someone doesn’t mean they’re the right person, or whatever… There’s plenty of people in the past that I -should- have liked, but there’s just something that wasn’t there… There’s even people right now. Sometimes there’s some flaw I can’t see past, it drives me insane that I could be so shallow. And even when I’m absolutely obsessed with someone online, there can be something that’s just…not there in real life.
The Girl> Anyway…
The Girl> Yeah…Go to bed… I don’t want to feel bad about you being tired tomorrow. ;)
The Guy> I’d probably end up tired even if I had gone at 10…
The Girl> More tired, then…
The Guy> And thank you for this. Normally I’d write these things, but I haven’t written them yet…
The Guy> I probably should, though. I mean, come on, “Coming to terms with an alternative sexuality”? That has Oprah book written all over it. And “Oprah book” means rolling in cash…
That is why I have to talk about asexuality.
That guy… He’s in pain. He’s broken and confused. He’s different from everyone else and doesn’t have the words to explain how he feels. He makes some jokes, sure, but that’s how he tries to deal with it. He’s empty and frustrated and alone.
He’s … me.
That was a chat log of an actual conversation from 2002, between me and the woman who’d later become my first and, so far, only girlfriend (and not too long after, my first and only ex-girlfriend…). It would be another nine years before I’d discover that asexuality was a real thing. It was another nine years of being confused and broken and alone. Another nine years of feeling like that. And I had felt that way for years before that night. Every time someone brought up love or sex or relationships or getting married, there was that emptiness, that confusion, that “What in the hell is wrong with me?”
She even mentioned the word “asexual” in there, and I dismissed it. It was something I’d never heard of and didn’t have a clue what it meant. I couldn’t be that.
But that one word would have made all the difference to me then. Why didn’t I hear it? Why didn’t I know what it was? Why did it take me another nine years to find it? To find me…
So, who cares about asexuality?
I care because of all the time I spent lost in the wilderness, thinking something was missing. I care because of all the time I spent looking at other people and seeing that I was fundamentally different than them, thinking something must be broken inside me. I care because of all the time I spent not knowing where I fit in the world, thinking that I must not fit anywhere.
I care because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through.
I have a place now. I have a name for me.
I’m not broken anymore.
But… Someone else is.
I talk about asexuality because somewhere else, there’s another person who is feeling lost and broken and alienated and confused, just like I was. I do it because every person I tell might know that person. I do it because every person I tell might be that person.
It only takes one informed person to be in the right place at the right time to change someone’s life. That is why awareness matters. That is why visibility work is important. That is why I have to talk about this. That is why I care.
I’m still afraid.
Every day, I wear a black-gray-white-purple bracelet. I have an ace flag bumper sticker on my car. I have a magnetic black ring on my cabinet at work. I have a little asexuality lapel pin that I keep on my camera lanyard. I like to consider myself openly asexual.
Hell, I literally wrote the book on asexuality.
But I’m afraid.
I’m worried that one day, someone will ask me about one of those things. “What’s that bracelet about?” “What’s that ring for?” “What’s the flag mean?” The bracelet typically gets hidden by my watch, so it’s not very prominent. The flag pin on my camera lanyard is only seen when I’m using my camera, and I typically only use my camera when I’m on vacation a thousand miles from anyone I know. On the rare day that I’ve actually worn the ring, I end up hiding it. It’s like everyone is staring at it. I know they aren’t, that no one even notices, but that doesn’t help. I fidget with it, I hide it, I start using my left hand to point at things. It feels like I’m wearing a giant flashing neon sign on my finger.
I met a new coworker the other day as I was leaving the office. We made small talk about the company as we took the elevator down to the parking garage. She got off on the same floor as I did. She walked the same direction as I did. She kept the casual conversation going as we walked. It quickly became clear that she had parked near me and would see my car. I became filled with dread.
“What if she asks about the flag?”
I feel like I’m a visibility activist in the witness protection program.
Mostly, I guess I just feel that it isn’t anybody’s business but my own. I’m a natural recluse and don’t really like sharing personal details with others. I don’t even talk to people about the music I like, so why on earth would I want to talk to them about my sexual orientation? Asexuality has very little to do with my day job as a software engineer. It’s just not relevant, so why should I bring it up?
But what would I say, anyway? If someone asks about my bracelet or my bumper sticker, they’re probably just making casual small talk. Talking about my sexual orientation isn’t idle chit-chat with a stranger in the elevator, that’s a thermonuclear TMI bomb. How am I supposed to explain what it’s about in less than ten seconds, without confusing the person or making them feel uncomfortable? What’s the best way to approach asexuality education and outreach in a context where that education is unexpected and potentially unwanted?
Maybe I’m simply not suited to one-on-one outreach. I’m much more comfortable when I have hours, if not days, to think about what I want to say and have the opportunity to edit, tweak, and fine tune my message for as long as I feel is necessary.
None of you know who I am. I never use my name, I rarely give any kind of personal details. I’ve been completely unable to form any kind of meaningful connection with any of you. I prefer to be anonymous. I prefer to do my work behind the scenes. All of the posts on this site are attributed to the website itself. So’s my book. There’s no me here. Just a nameless, faceless website.
And that’s a problem.
Someone wrote to me about my book once and remarked that their parents are skeptical of asexuality because everyone who talks about it seems “unofficial”. We mostly hide behind Internet handles and anonymous 60 pixel square images. There are only a handful of asexuality activists who use names, and it’s a good bet that some of them are pseudonyms. Reporters ask if you’ll go on the record with your real name. If you don’t, you’re ashamed of who you are. If you do, you’re relentlessly attacked by the Internet Troll Machine.
It feels like many of us are trying to spread visibility while staying invisible. I don’t think it works that way. How do we fix that?
You have a unique opportunity to change the world. At this very moment, an elite team of asexual activists is preparing to journey to Atlanta, GA.
Their mission: Raise awareness of asexuality by hosting panel discussions and workshops and distributing pamphlets and other informational materials at Creating Change 2013.
But they can’t do it alone! They need your help to get there and spread the word about asexuality.
Your mission (should you choose to accept it): Watch the video and donate if you’re able. Go here for complete details. Then reblog, cross-post, tweet, like, share, retweet, or tattoo the QR code for the link to your forehead in order to spread the word.
First we take Atlanta, then… THE WORLD!
If you’ve ever wished that more people knew about asexuality, this is how that will happen. This kind of outreach will directly connect with the sorts of people who’ll help to get asexuality into the mainstream consciousness. It’s activists and educators and organizers. It’s politicians and musicians. It’s your town’s LGBTQ*/GSRM group. This is visibility at its core. Big things might come out of this, and if you donate now, you can tell people that you helped make it happen!
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
That’s right, if you donate today, one of these fabulous prizes can be yours!
- An Ace Flag Button!
- A Postcard Signed by David Jay, SwankIvy, SaraBeth Brooks, Siggy, and Other Super-Awesome Acey People!
- Your Choice of Asexuality Themed T-Shirt!
What more could you possibly ask for?
ACT NOW! LIMITED TIME ONLY! WHILE SUPPLIES LAST!
Again, if you’re interested, go check out the project page for details.
(A bit of disclosure: I’m not affiliated with the Make Atlanta Asexy campaign. I’m not an organizer, I’m not a panel member, I’m not even going to Atlanta. I just think it’s important.)
Here’s the QR code in case you needed it for that tattoo…
Ever had an ace meetup and wanted that extra something to make it special?
Ever wanted to decorate something with a lot of little pieces of asexual pride?
Ever wanted to stake your claim to a sandwich?
Well, now you can!
Introducing Ace Toothpick Flags!
The do-it-yourself solution to all your ace pride needs!
(Or at least some of them. The ones that require toothpick flags, anyway…)
You just need a printer, some scissors, some toothpicks, and a glue stick (or sticker paper)!
What can you do with Ace Pride Toothpick Flags?
Really, what can’t you do?
This is the Asexuality Flag.
The need for a flag was driven primarily by the desire to have a symbol that belongs to all of us, something that we could use to identify as ace and represent asexuality with that was not tied to a specific group. Prior to its adoption, people would use things like the AVEN triangle or a half-filled heart, but those had problems which prevented their wider adoption. The AVEN triangle is, well, the AVEN triangle. It’s the logo of a single website that not every asexual person is affiliated with. The half-filled heart implies romance, which meant that many aromantics were uncomfortable using it.
In the Summer of 2010, a number of asexuality sites, led by users on AVEN, came up with a number of designs for an asexuality flag, then held a multi-stage vote to determine the winner.
The selected design was created by AVEN user standup, and first posted at 4:36 PM on June 30th, 2010.
Some of the other designs included hearts and spades and triangles and all manner of other symbols. Some of the designs looked like country flags. In the end, the simple, four-bar design was chosen. This design avoids the unwanted connotations that specific symbols like a triangle or heart might have, it avoids any hint of national affiliation, and perhaps most importantly, it fits in with the striped designs of most other GSM pride flags.
(Plus, it’s really easy to draw.)
The four colors all have meanings:
- Black: Asexuality.
- Grey: Grey-Asexuality and Demisexuality.
- White: Non-asexual partners and allies.
- Purple: Community.
Since the flag was selected in 2010, its use has exploded. You can get buttons and bumper stickers and clothes with the flag on it. It’s been seen at pride parades around the world, and some flag makers now offer it for sale. Many asexuality related websites or blogs now incorporate the flag into their design. And, of course, people have even made ace flag cakes. Additionally, the black-grey-white-purple color scheme has been adopted by many aces as a way of indicating their asexuality. I’ve seen ace shirts, ace nail polish, ace friendship bracelets, ace headbands, and ace scarves. Even the logo of this site incorporates these four colors.
For more information:
You can trace the progression of designs and the voting process through these threads over at AVEN:
Here’s some shots of the flag in the wild:
I’m guessing that many of you reading know what “asexual” means, since my audience is pretty much exclusively ace or ace-friendly.
Asexual: One who does not experience sexual attraction.
With minor variations, that’s what we all here understand it to mean, right?
And I’m sure we’ve all come across people who use the word differently, from the strict biologist talking about fungi, to the “I wish my homework were asexual” meme posters, from the people using it as a synonym for celibate, to the angsty 16 year old who’s decided to become asexual because boys suck.
Clearly, not everyone uses the word as we use it. I would say that most people don’t even know about the definition that we use.
So, why is it, then, that whenever anyone remotely famous uses the word “asexual” to describe themselves, we automatically assume that they mean it the same way we do and embrace them? How do we know that they’re not using it like the angsty 16 year old does? How do we know that they don’t mean that they’re actively choosing to ignore their sexual attraction and not have sex?
This has been bothering me ever since I first went looking for a list of famous asexuals. It seemed like so many of the people on the list were included because they’ve never had sex or because of some tenuous link of the person having used the word “asexual” in some interview at some point long ago. There’s usually not enough context because the interviewer doesn’t quote them directly, or the way they describe themselves is ambiguous and seems to imply celibacy or abstinence more than asexuality as we know it. In one case (which I won’t mention by name), the cited justification for claiming that the person is asexual comes from an almost embarrassingly incoherent sentence which I would sooner take as evidence that they’re using a variety of controlled substances than as evidence that they’re asexual.
I understand that we need a public face, someone to point to and say, “Yeah, I’m just like them”. It’s important, it’s valuable, it give us immediate legitimacy. Clearly we’re not alone and not making it up if that person is one of us.
But what if they’re not?
I’m writing this because of the reaction to the articles about Tim Gunn reporting that he hasn’t had sex for 29 years. People in the tag are screaming about how the articles are somehow erasing his orientation and denying his identity because they refer to him as “celibate”, rather than “asexual”. Yes, he’s described himself as “asexual” in his book, but what if he didn’t mean it in the same way we mean it? Is there anywhere that he’s made it clear exactly what he meant by the word “asexual”? If he used the word asexual the same way we did, then we have every right to get upset over the way the articles erase his orientation. However, at the same time, if he’s not using that word the way we’re using it, then we have no right to assign him an identity that’s not his.
I’ve only seen one unambiguously, confirmably asexual-as-we-mean-it famous person, and that’s the writer Keri Hulme, talking about it in this article, complete with a shout-out to AVEN. Are there others who are definitely using the word asexual in the same way we do?
I am asexual.
I don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone.
Not men. Not women.
That’s all it is.
I’m not gay.
I’m not straight.
I’m not bi.
I’m none of the above.
Asexuality is real.
It’s not fake.
It’s not a hormone problem.
It’s not a way of running from a bad relationship.
It’s not an attention grab.
It’s not some way to be “special”.
I don’t care if you have sex.
I don’t care if you don’t.
I don’t want to recruit you.
I don’t want to convert you.
I don’t want to shame you.
I just want you to understand me.