While a portion of the general populace continues to learn more about the plethora of distinct sexualities present within the human spectrum, our mainstream understanding of asexuality is fairly limited, if not completely lacking.
Unlike heterosexuality and the variety of labels that have recently become more commonly acknowledged, asexuality remains a widely misunderstood orientation.
Giselle, a 22-year-old cisgender woman, grew up in the suburbs outside of Miami. Even though the residents of her hometown weren’t entirely intolerant, she spent much of her young adult life confused and insecure as a result of uncertainty regarding her sexual identity. Today, she identifies as a panromantic demisexual, and explains that “the asexuality spectrum is definitely left out [of the discussion regarding sexuality], because most people don’t know about it or don’t understand it enough to believe it exists.”
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) defines an asexual person as, “someone who does not experience sexual attraction.” This definition presents a straightforward starting point to further the discussion of a sexual identity that is frequently ignored, ridiculed, or misinterpreted.
“The erasure [of] ace people is really incredible,” says Rachel, a cisgender woman and asexual queer living in Minneapolis.
Rachel uses social media as a means by which to educate others on asexuality, preferring the wide reach of the Internet as opposed to limited person-to-person contact. “Non-hetero identities are literally defined by their sexual components, so if you don’t have that, where do you fit in?”
Perhaps the most offensive misinterpretation of asexuality is the belief that asexual people are simply celibates looking for recognition.
Celibacy and asexuality have little in common, despite the popular belief that they are one and the same. Though celibacy is a personal choice to abstain from sexual acts, asexuality is, in its most extreme form, the manifestation of a complete lack of sexual attraction and sometimes a deep revulsion of sexual activity in any form.
The fact that asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, however, doesn’t mean it’s completely impossible.
Within the spectrum of asexuality, people label themselves in shades of gray. Those who feel a bond to asexuality can further identify as demisexual, pansexual, heterosexual, or any other nuance within the umbrella of asexuality.
In addition, though asexual people may not usually experience sexual attraction, they still have preferences. Those in the gray may participate in sexual activity if they feel a romantic connection to another person, or even just as a personal experiment.
While websites like AVEN serve the purpose of educating those curious enough to initiate an online investigation into asexuality, many people still have no idea that asexuality is a valid expression of sexual identity.
Giselle was uncertain of her identity until she began learning about asexuality. “I didn’t know about asexuality until maybe a year ago, and it instantly hit me that this was my identity,” she says. “It felt like it was ‘wrong’ until I finally had a label for it.”
Like Giselle, many teens and adults find themselves out of place when they realize that their sexual identity is inconsistent with that of their peers.
Rachel came to terms with her own identity at an even later age, afraid to label herself as something other than heterosexual. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I realized or accepted it,” she says. “I was so afraid of potentially being queer somehow that I didn’t quite want to admit it to myself.”
The absence of information made readily available about asexuality results in a damaging lack of public empathy towards confused and troubled people who question their sexual identity.
“I’m not sure I received misinformation, per se,” Rachel explains, “but for many, many years I had internalized that I was broken, deficient, robotic, and other because I was ‘straight but afraid’ of sex, and even afraid of romance that might lead to sex.”
Discovering one’s own identity is an essential aspect of the human experience to which every person has a right, which is why it’s so important to encourage education about the alternatives to heteronormativity.
Jess, who prefers the pronouns “they/them,” to ones that are gender specific, identifies as a genderqueer gray pansexual. This means that they do not feel they fit into the exact gender categories of male and female, their sexuality falls somewhere in the asexual spectrum, and they feel attraction to people regardless of gender.
“I finally had a word to describe how I feel and that was such a good feeling,” Jess tells BTR, recalling the vast sense of relief she felt upon learning about asexuality.
Rather than relying on outdated stereotypes, those who believe they may fall within the spectrum can benefit from conducting some of their own research on the subject.
“If you’re unsure,” explains Giselle, “roll with your feelings and don’t worry about boxing yourself into a label. Sexuality is fluid anyway.”
Rachel claims that Twitter and the AVEN website changed her life. “I found other people out there living their truths under the ace umbrella,” she says.
For individuals who do not identify as asexual, or who encounter difficulties understanding the topic, asking questions that do not belittle or condescend asexual people is the simplest method of self-education.
“I try to be patient, first and foremost with people who don’t know much about asexuality,” says Jess. “We can’t expect people to understand fully what they don’t know. Of course, I didn’t choose my sexuality,” she adds. “If I had a choice, I certainly wouldn’t have made it so complex.”
Feature photo courtesy of Matt Buck.