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Allison Hope


Does Asexuality Fall Under the Queer Umbrella?

Posted: 05/16/2012 12:03 pm

I thought my good friend was asexual for a long time. Everyone did. At a time when hormones were in full bloom and swapping spit while trying not to get braces stuck on one another's adolescent lips was an after-school special, my friend played googly eyes with tennis, sitcoms, and calligraphy -- anything but sex.

I became fascinated with my friend's lack of sexual interest in anyone; she became my case study on asexuality. She never relayed a crush on a classmate, never called anyone attractive, especially when prodded, and even seemed to reel in disgust when I shared my own hookup hijinks with her.

Debates over asexuality surfaced from time to time among my social groups in college and grad school, and I'd use my friend as proof that such a category actually existed and watched those around me shake their heads with disbelief. Surely someone identifying as asexual was only masking his or her true sexual self, they argued, because of prior abuse, insecurities, or sexual confusion. Everyone was sexual, they said. It was in our inherit nature.

I lost the argument when my friend surprised me by partnering up with someone at long last. My doubts about whether asexuality was a valid identity dissolved, and, as a hypersexual being myself, I jumped onto the "everyone-must-love-sex-unless-something-is-wrong-with-them" bandwagon.

Then I came across the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). Founded in 2001, AVEN "hosts the world's largest online asexual community and strives to create open, honest discussion about asexuality among sexual and asexual people alike." It turns out there is a defined community of those who identify as asexual, with numbers to back it up. A 2009 article in Scientific American addressed this topic and included findings from a Brock University study that found that about 1 percent of British nationals surveyed identified as asexual. Assuming the prevalence of asexuality is the same in the U.S., that would mean about 3 million people who likely prefer fondue to fondling, cuddling to cunnilingus, and making pot roast to making out.

The more I read about asexuality as a legitimate identity, the more catchphrases I recognized from the LGBTQ community. Some of the commonly used jargon centers around "coming out," specifically how and when someone who is asexual should come out to friends and family. There's even an asexual pride flag.

Although asexuality denotes the absence of sexuality, potentially differentiating it from the more visible sexual minorities (at least in terms of society's commonly held beliefs about them), in recent years the queer umbrella has extended to include not just sexual orientations but gender identities, as well, and could very well embrace another enclave. If you look at the religious root of homophobia, the belief that what cannot procreate is evil, and consider that asexuals by definition are not in the business of making babies, then you might agree that in that respect alone they could easily hop on the queer bandwagon.

Should we consider adding yet another letter to the LGBTQ acronym to include asexuality? Fringe! Film Fest thinks so. It included the premiere of Angela Tucker's documentary (A)sexual in its lineup this year. The film explores the lives of four individuals who identify as asexual. New York and Vermont are also hip to the plight of asexuals: They're the only two states to include the minority as a protected class.

To avoid conflation, I should point out that it is possible to identify as asexual and also stake a claim as straight, lesbian, or gay (or genderqueer, or bisexual, or [insert another label from the growing identity list here]), because asexuals define their desires not as sexual but as romantic. Those who identify as asexual generally don't want to have sex, but that doesn't mean they don't seek the closeness of other human beings for love, companionship, shared experiences, cohabitation, and everything else that we all appreciate about partnering up. Distinct from celibacy, asexuality is not considered a choice. "Nonsexual intimacy" might characterize the type of relations asexuals seek, and there are plenty of sites that make it easier for asexual-identified persons to "hook up" with one another: Affectionate Friends, Asexual Pals, Celibate Passions, and Platonic Partners, to name a few. As with all sexual (or, in this case, nonsexual) identities, a spectrum exists. Someone who claims asexuality as his or her predominating preference might have experiences that range from never having had a single sexual thought or fantasy to sometimes engaging in sexual acts, with others or oneself, out of curiosity or for release, or to satisfy a "mixed partner" who might not be asexual.

It might be difficult to wrap one's brain around what it feels like to be asexual (telling me not to think about sex, or to think about not thinking about sex, is a total turn-on for this horny homo), but I can certainly empathize with feelings of being misunderstood, underrepresented, and closeted. Some people just don't want to get it on, and they have my vote to take safe harbor from the heteronormative thunderstorm and join us under the queer umbrella.