We’re in the midst of Asexual Awareness Week, and guest writer Pip Williams shares their thoughts on the subject.
Asexuality continues to be much maligned by people within and beyond the LGBTQ+ community, and often seen as something of a joke. Prominent gay activists make cutting comments about not understanding what asexual people stand to gain from visibility, from Pride, from awareness campaigns. All too often, a lack of sexual attraction is conflated with celibacy and aromanticism; topics that are not unrelated but that often overlap, rather than coming as a package deal with no opt-out option.
On Twitter, one user pointed out that an ‘Awareness Week’ for asexuality seemed to set the bar depressingly low.
It’s easy to forget – even within the LGBTQ+ community – that there are people whose sexual orientation, or lack thereof, is completely unacknowledged by the world around them. For gay, lesbian, bisexual and even transgender individuals, awareness is no longer a problem on the same scale. The world knows these orientations and gender identities exist, even if they are not always afforded the respect they deserve. Awareness does not always lead to a reduction in oppressive and harmful behaviours, so why is there a week dedicated to this most basic of aims?
It’s easy to forget – even within the LGBTQ+ community – that there are people whose sexual orientation, or lack thereof, is completely unacknowledged by the world around them.
A connected and oft-broached question is that of what asexual people stand to gain from greater awareness and ‘allyship’. When this question comes from within the LGBTQ+ community, the answer is exasperatingly obvious. The relief of knowing your own normality – of knowing that your individual experience can fit in somewhere alongside others that are similar – can be life changing. The assumption that all individuals share sexual attraction as a common and homogenous experience can be as alienating to asexual people as cisheteronormativity can be to LGBTQ+ individuals.
Visitors to the website of Asexual Awareness Week are greeted with an introduction somewhat less bleak than the low bar seemingly set by the event’s name:
“Asexual Awareness Week is an international campaign that seeks to educate about [asexual] experiences and to create materials that are accessible to our community and our allies around the world.”
Education based on experience is the key here. Asexual people – and indeed asexual experiences – are no more a monolith than those of any other orientation. Like sexuality, asexuality is a spectrum. Whilst fewer people may belong to this spectrum, the breadth of experience is no less varied.
The relief of knowing your own normality – of knowing that your individual experience can fit in somewhere alongside others that are similar – can be life changing.
Many asexual people experience a degree of repulsion towards genitalia or sexual acts. Many simply do not have an active desire or attraction to engage in sexual acts. Some asexual people are celibate, some are not, and some are sexually active according to very specific terms and circumstances. Some asexual people do not experience romantic attraction or have any wish to engage in romantic relationships with others, whilst others do. Those who do may experience hetero- or homo- or bi- or panromantic attraction. There are asexual people of all classes, races and genders, and degrees of ability or mental health. There are asexual people who consider themselves queer, and asexual people who do not. There are people who perch somewhere between asexuality and allosexuality, whether under a label such as demisexual or grey-asexual or under no labels at all. Surely it’s easy to see how reductive and dismissive it is to reduce this breadth of experience to a single stereotype?
This Asexual Awareness Week, make it a point to broaden your understanding of asexuality as a spectrum. Make it a point to be kind and thoughtful, and inclusive of asexuality in your discussions of sexuality as a whole. Remember that you never know who might be listening, or who you might help to discover themselves. Know that you might be challenged to explore your own experience and understanding of sexuality in the process.
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