Awareness and visibility of asexuality are increasing every day, and it makes me really happy to see people who are willing to make their voices heard and speak up for asexual people – be they ace themselves or not.
Unfortunately, there’s also still a significant gap in common knowledge about what asexuality actually means and looks like. Because of this, I’ve seen quite a few articles and posts by non-asexual people that just don’t get it quite right, and end up reproducing the same harmful myths and stereotypes we as ace people are trying to fight. See for example Tracy Moore’s recent piece on Jezebel.The intentions are probably good, and there are some things that it gets right, but overall it just shows a lack of research and understanding that isn’t doing us any favours.
On the other hand, I have seen a lot of comments sections of good pieces on asexuality degenerate into hostility, aggressive questioning, and demands to somehow ‘prove’ our identities or our oppression in a way that is acceptable to the non-asexual reader. See for example this slightly older piece from Feministe, and pretty much everything else on the mainstream internet. Some are actually interested in learning about asexuality, but just haven’t figured out how to be a proper ally yet.
So what does it mean to be an ally to asexual people? I’ve written on this before, but I wanted to revise that original post and put together a slightly more comprehensive resource for anyone interested in learning more about asexuality and how to be a supportive ally. So, without further ado:
How to be an Ally to Asexual People: A Guide
Being an asexual ally means knowing that asexuality exists as a legitimate sexual orientation, with estimated 1% of all people being on the asexual spectrum. Asexuality can’t be written off as a desire to be a special snowflake, a medical condition, repressed sexual feelings or the obvious result of abuse. If you want to understand asexuality as an identity, the best place to start is AVEN, or the Asexual Visibility and Education Network. After that, why not check out the Asexuality Archive, the Asexual Awareness Week website or swankivy’s YouTube channel.
Realise that orientation is not equal to behaviour
Being an ally means recognising that behaviour doesn’t equate to orientation, especially when it comes to sex. Asexuality means a lack of sexual attraction or desire towards other people. It is an orientation like any other, and not a choice someone makes.
Sometimes being asexual manifests as not having or being interested in sex, or having no sex drive whatsoever. Sometimes it means that although you have a sex drive, you have no sexual feelings towards other people. Other times it means that people are happy to have sex for reasons other than sexual attraction, such as pleasing a partner, or simply because sex can physically feel good.
Sure, these idea can be a bit confusing at first. It’s worth remembering that even non-asexual people sometimes have sex for reasons other than being sexually attracted to someone. Or have low sex drives. Or have different levels of interest in sex. If you’re confused, there are plenty of asexual people who have shared their stories and experiences online as a resource. Take the time to do some research.
Listen, don’t derail
Being an ally means listening to asexual people and accepting their identity and experience as they describe it. It means talking to asexual people rather than about them. It means prioritising the voices of asexual people and letting them speak for themselves. Or, if you have to write about asexual people, at least make sure you’ve done your research and actually talked to asexual people.
Being an ally means asking questions only when you’re genuinely interested in hearing the answer. If your mindset is already fixed at “I don’t quite understand x, therefore asexuality cannot be valid,” then do everyone a favour and just walk away. Don’t assume you already know the answer, and don’t ask anything that you wouldn’t ask someone who was straight or gay. (Do you really need to know if this person masturbates?)
If you want to contribute to a discussion on asexuality (especially on asexuality and intersectionality) think about and respond to the issue at hand and stick with it. Don’t derail the discussion with something that pisses you off but really isn’t relevant. One classic derailing technique is to start arguing about how asexual people aren’t oppressed enough to be part of the queer community. (As if oppression is the only valid criterion for belonging.) You know where you can have that argument? In an article on asexuality and the queer community. Otherwise, consider saving it.
Realise that sex is not essential to being human
Being an ally means thinking about the way that sexuality and sexual attraction are positioned as central to “the human experience,” and how damaging that can be to asexual people. No one likes to be told that they’re less human for not experiencing sexual attraction, and yet we see it all the time in blanket statements about “healthy sex lives” and sex as “an integral part of life.” Allies need to start decentralising sex from the concepts of love, intimacy and relationships, and realise that those can all be legitimate without sexual desire. Likewise, allies need to think about the conflation of sexual attraction and all other types of attraction, and recognise that sexual, romantic, emotional and even intellectual attraction can all exist independently of each other.
Stop thinking we’re out to get you
Being an ally, especially a feminist ally, means not being threatened by asexuality. Asexual people are not against sex. Some see themselves as sex positive. Some are genuinely repulsed by sex. All that doesn’t mean that we object to your identity as a sexual person. Accusing asexual people of pandering to a patriarchy that wants to suppress (female) sexuality is just ridiculous: just because I don’t desire sex doesn’t mean I want to condemn everyone else to the same idea! Surely believing that people have the right to as much (consensual) sex as they want without being shamed includes being happy with very little sex, or none at all.
Recognise our diversity
Being an ally means understanding that asexual people are just as diverse as heterosexual and GLBTQ people. We aren’t a monolithic body and we can’t all speak for each other, so listening to everyone’s stories is important, not just a one.
Some of us are straight. Some of us are queer. Some of us are extroverts. Some of us are introverts. Some of us have bad experiences with sex and assault. Some of us have disabilities. Some of us have mental illnesses. Some of us are trans or non-binary. None of this means we aren’t asexual.
Don’t treat us as a novelty
We’re real people with real feelings and real issues like everyone else. We’re not some curiosity for you to try and psychoanalyse. We’re not something quaint and cute that you can squee over. We’re not superhumans or further along the evolutionary scale. We aren’t innocents whose lives are more pure than anyone else’s. So please don’t use our asexual identity to moralise on the state of society today.
And on that note? Our lives aren’t easier or simpler than everyone else’s just because we don’t think about getting laid all the time. We don’t have copious free time up our sleeves. We have complex and busy lives just like everyone else. A lot of us have complex and significant relationships that may not be sexual, but still require a lot of communication and time and energy. We have problems and conflicts and are just as messed up as the next person.
Accept that we are marginalised too
Finally, being an ally to asexual people means recognising that many asexual people suffer oppression in the form of invisibility and intolerance every day. Our whole society is so centred on sexual desire, so intensely focussed on sexual behaviour as the central aspect of our identities. We’re lucky if we can come out to someone and that person actually knows what “asexual” means without us having to explain it.
In the public eye, we’re pretty much invisible all the time. And where we are visible, we’re often marginalised by people telling us that our identity doesn’t exist. That we’re sick, repressed or just scared. That we’re only asexual because we have issues resulting from abuse or trauma. Even the more well-meaning arguments we hear are hurtful, the ones that tell us “I don’t think you’re asexual, you just need time” and “everyone meets someone some day.”
We’re asexual people inhabiting a sexual world. That isn’t always easy. So rather than telling us to come back when we’ve been discriminated against or pathologised or correctively assaulted, do some research and realise that this sort of thing happens to asexual people as well.
Links for further reading:
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