Our world is intrinsically sexualised. One must only look to coffee advertisements, magazines, or just about any music video to notice the carnal undercurrents woven into our subconscious. There are even dog food commercials featuring mood lighting and a jazz singer crooning in the background – because there’s nothing sexier than a Pomeranian getting it’s required nutrients.
The implications of this culture stretch to most people, but particularly to those who do not identify with the same desires so ardently portrayed as ‘natural’, ‘normal’, and ‘human’. The asexual community is by no means small, but it must feel that way when there are few (read: practically zero) ace-inclusive messages circulating society, and sex is tied to everything we consume.
Characterised most generally as a lack of sexual attraction, and lack of satisfaction from sexual activities, this identity is adopted by a vibrant and faceted group of individuals – the diversity of which is unjustly ignored in the media. With little to no discourse surrounding this sexual identity, it is difficult for asexuals to even recognise their orientation, and indeed, for non-asexuals to be educated about the spectral nuances located within it.
“Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction and arousal somewhat differently.”
In this way, the term ‘asexual’ became a tool of empowerment, used to better understand oneself, rather than a code of conduct enforced by a label. AVEN is currently the largest asexual resource in the world, and one that is so desperately needed for so many people.
The realm of sexual discovery is murky enough; it can often feel like you’ve been thrust into a room of ‘others’, blindly stumbling until you find a term that fits you. But when you don’t even know if a term exists for you – and any media endorsed tropes are limited to the psychotic, medically sterile, or inhuman – it is all too easy to believe that there is something fundamentally ‘wrong’ with you.
This is the case for a staggering amount of aces. After speaking with a number of asexual identifying folks, Huffington Post discovered that most had not even heard of the term until their late teens. Given that teenhood is frequently – and often problematically – seen as a time of sexual foray, those who do not wish to participate are often viewed as immature or naïve. Or, in a seriously worrying thought process, this lack of sexual desire is taken as a sign of mental defect.
After talking with Defira, an asexual woman who actively campaigns for ace rights, I was shocked to learn that Asexuality was still classed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 2013.
The wild misconceptions do not stop here, however, this is only the tip of the discriminatory iceberg when it comes to asexual representation. As Defira pointed out, another huge issue with asexual discourse is the lack of intersectionality. The fallacious notions that the asexual community is made up of “white, shy, skinny teenagers”, or that disabled people are “automatically non-sexual” are as rampant as they are damaging. Erasing the diversities within a community fighting for visibility is gravely irresponsible, and creates a hostile environment for those who do not fit the white-washed archetype.
Not dissimilarly, asexuality is often seen as a concrete state, rather than a spectral identity just like any other. Ace-identifying folk are often assumed to be heteroromantic, effectively invalidating asexuals with same-sex preferences. Moreover, Demisexual, Grey-Asexual, and Non-Sex-Repulsed aces are also undermined by this reductive mindset. Erasing the diversities within a community fighting for visibility is gravely irresponsible, and only creates a more hostile environment for those who do not fit the white-washed archetype.
Ela Przybylo, a sexual cultures researcher from York University, told Atlantic that “Sex has become so fused with our sense of self that we can’t even imagine how it might be any different”, but we must. In a time where marginalised groups are beginning to see human rights at the end of the tunnel we cannot, as a society, pick and choose whom we lend our support to. Non-asexual folk cannot expect aces to simply acclimate to a venereal culture that completely dismisses their identity, and as a community of humans, we cannot expect to grow while indifferently observing erasure.