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Allison Hope Headshot

Does Asexuality Fall Under the Queer Umbrella?

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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.