Asexuality is a complicated topic if we're being honest. There is a whole set of interconnected issues: false assumptions, generalising all ace identities as a monolith, and just straight up acephobic rhetoric. Of course, I cannot somehow correct all these issues in one article, but it's worth moving the needle.
So let's move the needle.
Asexuality and Virginity: An odd couple
Let's dispel one of the weaker acephobic lines: You can't be asexual if you haven't tried having sex.
Would you like to jump off a two-storey house? Of course, this may seem hostile, but do you know it would hurt? After all, most people haven't experienced it directly, yet it's pretty obviously a dangerous activity. The point is you understand the danger, regardless of if you have experienced it. If you're into guys, why aren't you into girls or vice versa? Have you tried? You may have, but even if you haven't, you "know" either way. What even is "knowing" in this context? But we're heading down a philosophy rabbit hole, and it's not even as if I can't like sex to be asexual, more on that soon.
However, this is one half of the lose-lose situation. The other half alleges that “If you have had sex, then you can't be ace.”. It's truly damned if you did, damned if you didn't.
If that fails, they can claim you suffered abuse, and your identification is just a symptom. It folds neatly into the rhetoric of asexuality a symptom of mental illness, if not a mental illness in its own right. As any minority can attest, the definitions of mental health can be used as a tool to discredit one's rights, and one's autonomy. I pray we reach a point where we can talk about the intersection of mental health and sexuality. Sadly, the judgement of mental health is still linked to the validity of a person’s sexual and/or gender identification. We still have work to do.
But I digress. The conflation of asexuality and virginity is idiotic. Moving on.
Why can't you just be celibate?: Asexuality and sex drive
I tend to find online acephobia honestly funny in how it trips over itself to be mean to ace people. My favourite line is that "ace people are incels that gave up and became volcels (voluntary celibates)". First of celibates are already voluntary, idiot. But secondly, celibacy and asexuality are not the same things.
Asexual people are not a monolith, we all have our interpretations of what the asexuality spectrum is. Of course, even this article is based on my personal journey. The hope is just to expand that awareness a little. Most conversations are an easy-to-digest oversimplification of the reality of the ace community. This leads to false equivalences, such as "ace people hate sex" or "ace = no sex". Here's a bit more nuance:
"Asexuality" is commonly considered a spectrum of sexual orientations. The spectrum is defined by sexual attraction to other people being lowered, absent or conditional, regardless of adjacent factors such as enjoyment of sex or sex drive.
That's still an abbreviated version, but hey it's better. First of all, ace people don't necessarily hate sex. Some may hate it, some love it, some are in the middle. Secondly, libido/sex drive is notably not a defining factor. Ace people may still masturbate, or, as contradictory as it may sound, have sex and enjoy it. Finally, asexuality is often used to also label people that are on the asexuality spectrum. This includes asexuality (no sexual attraction), demisexuality (no sexual attraction until romantically invested), greysexuality (somewhere between ace and allosexual (i.e. "not ace, sexually attracted, etc.")), and many other variants. Suffice to say this is not a monolith.
Well then if it's not about sex drive or enjoyment, what's this all about? Sexual attraction. Think back to that "do you like [this group], why not other [group]?" example. That's probably sexual attraction. This means finding other people sexually appealing and wanting to have sex with them. On a personal level, it's a bit odd to conceptualise in the real world. It's like asking a blind person what the colour green is. As an ace person, I can experience attraction but on romantic or platonic levels. I can appreciate that someone looks attractive (aka "aesthetic attraction"), but I don't connect the dots to sex.
There's no "A" in Queer: The fight to join the LGBT+ community
As funny as online acephobia can be, the sad fact is that for the most part, the call is coming from inside the house. LGBT+ people are more aware of ace people, making it a bit source of ace support, but also some acephobia. Ace-spectrum people, plus aromantics and agender people, want to be the A in the LGBTQIA community, but there is resistance.
One argument against ace inclusion is that we aren't oppressed enough to need support. It's an argument that seems intuitive, and I was convinced for a time. It's hard to prove or disprove whether we "need support" whatever that means.
What is easy to prove is that acephobia is not just mean tweets. A 2015 asexual community census of almost 8000 ace people, found 43.5% have experienced sexual violence. Many may be discouraged from coming forward. If an ace person speaks up about sexual violence, it raises questions: how could you be ace if you're putting yourself in these sexual scenarios? It’s victim-blaming, to an astounding degree. In some cases, the reason we are being attacked is identifying as ace. Like other sexualities, people instigate corrective r-pe to cure our sexual identity.
Ace people have been seen as inhuman, cold, lacking in emotions. Asexuality is seen as a mental illness, or as a phase or choice. Par for the course for queer people, yet some surveys have shown that ace people are more closeted and overlooked than their counterparts. Weddings get voided if not consummated in some places.
But why do we need to prove that we're "oppressed enough"? Is it worth competing over? Isn't the point of combining the voices of the queer community to bolster power against those that deny our humanity? There is this tendency to see adding more people into the LGBT+ family as some zero-sum game as if by letting ace people in, we toss someone onto the street to make room. I do understand that the ace community is in less dire need than say the trans community having rights stripped from them. At the same time, rising tides can raise all ships. Insisting that minorities have to fight for attention, only succeeds at dividing us and our power.
This is all too complicated
Acephobia, like homophobia before it grows due to, among so many other things, a lack of understanding, and no motivation to understand. I get it, this is all very complicated stuff, it requires some deep introspection. It's dislodged the idea that romance and sex are the same, that sexuality isn't this inherent thing that binds us all. I commend anyone willing to do the work to try and understand these foreign concepts.
But, in my experience, it's pretty hard being on the other side of it too. I too had to dig into what sexual attraction means, from the perspective of someone who doesn't experience it. Even now I cannot fully understand what it would be like to be allosexual. For me to be ace, I had to diagnose this absence within myself. I had to understand that I am missing something, that is considered an integral part of being human. Then, I had to try and emerge on the other side of that as someone with enough self-assuredness to identify with that reality. To be proud of what people may call a missing piece of myself. To wrestle with those who call me lesser and challenge my motives and challenges in life.
It's hard to understand the asexuality spectrum, I hope I have made that clear. I hope you can still try to understand us. It's hard to understand things looking at it from the outside looking in. But sometimes, it's even harder to be on the inside looking in.
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