Confusing Unfamiliar Things

If you’re someone who’s reading this then perhaps you’re already familiar with the ‘asexual bingo’ cards.  (You might want to check them out if you aren’t.  Here is one and here is another.)  They’re of course part of a larger phenomenon in which bingo cards have been made to visualize the many ways in which people respond to ‘abnormal’ aspects of others, by which I mean they concern such things as lie outside the usual/default assumptions that might be made about a (default) person, whether these things are well known and relatively common and generally accepted or not.  While the topics of the cards can be strictly unrelated (genderqueer bingo and atheist bingo, for instance), they all share this aspect, and so it doesn’t come as a shock that many of the items on one card can work just as well on another.

We were talking about this at the asexual meetup a few days ago.  For instance, you can take each letter of LGBT and easily find something from asexual bingo, not even something really multi-purpose like “That’s unnatural”, which is more than merely applicable to a corresponding bingo card.  (L: “You just haven’t been with me yet”, assuming the speaker’s a guy.  G: “But humans are HERE to procreate.”  B: “You are buying into a fad because you just want to be special.”  T: “…I need to know everything about how your genitals work.”)  This isn’t to be unexpected, especially since asexuality is (like L, G, and B) also a sexual orientation, and since the concept of sexual orientation itself is based on sex/gender relations (hence also, in part, the bingo analogy to T).  For the reasons I’ve described above though, it can also work very well for less related things.  As an atheist, I was amused by how well some of the entries would work for an atheist bingo card despite seeming to be specific to asexuality.  Here’s one: “If you tried it and you didn’t like it, you just did it wrong”, where “it” is religion instead of sex obviously.  While unrelated, what asexuality and atheism have in common in this case is that they may both be perceived by someone else as a rejection of something they hold dear and indeed consider important to living a ‘fully human’ life.  The something in question may be considered so manifestly and obviously wonderful that the conclusion no one could truly reject it becomes almost inevitable, and so the strategy of the ‘answer’ as seen on the bingo card is to deny that the other has ever experienced it in a valid way.  (The less ‘charitable’ version of this strategy is to turn the negation of validity from the other’s experience to the other’s very person: their perceived rejection becomes an indication of their alleged inhumanity.  See for instance “You must be damaged in some way” on the bingo card.)

Another one which really jumped out at me, which also brings me closer to the topic of this month’s Carnival of Aces, is a weird analogy to vegetarianism.  I don’t mean the one which corresponds to what I’ve just said about something perceived as being a radical rejection of what is only normal: that wouldn’t be a “weird” analogy but rather a very obvious one.  Not that this one is so obscure: I can point to “It must be some religious thing” on the bingo card and you’ll likely understand what I’m thinking.  To elaborate, not having sex and not eating meat have been associated for millennia around the world.  For instance, ancient Greek Olympic athletes would for a month refrain from both meat (as part of their special diet of cheese and figs) and sex in preparation for the footrace, at least in the earlier history of the ancient Olympics.  Let’s not get into the detailed reasons for this, but suffice it to say that they were religious; the early Olympics were a religious festival after all.  The association between celibacy and vegetarianism in ancient Greek religion influenced certain strands of Greek philosophy too.  This alone might serve to show its relevance to more recent times, but of course it also influenced Christianity (a religion which spent its own formative years largely in the ancient Greek world after all), and early Christian factions and thinkers fought over the particular importance of both.  Again, let’s avoid the details: suffice it to say that even now ‘fasting and abstinence’ go hand in hand in Christian asceticism, and that ‘fasting’ in this context may sometimes mean nothing more than not eating meat.  Moreover, Christianity isn’t the only religion to make the connection between these two things.  For instance, they had a similar significance in ancient India, and from there to religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  Indeed, while most people where I am are likely to be thinking of Christianity if they dismiss asexuality as just “some religious thing”, they’re more likely to be thinking of Buddhism if they do the same of vegetarianism.

My point is that people are usually carrying heavy cultural baggage with them when they think about choosing not to eat meat and choosing not to have sex, since the objects of both choices have been considered base desires of the flesh which stand in the way of spiritual fulfilment.  This is relevant to me because I do asexual visibility work and am also involved in ‘animal rights’ (in the looser sense of the term) projects.  Do I want to confuse people when I tell them I’m a vegetarian?  Then why not tell them also that I’m not interested in having sex with anyone?  If I say too that I’m an “asexual”, then they’re almost certain to mistake asexuality for celibacy, and from there suppose that I must be an aspiring if not accomplished ascetic.  In the process, they’ll learn almost nothing about either what asexuality actually is or the reasons why I’m a vegetarian.  After all, these things aren’t really related: vegetarianism is a dietary choice I’ve made for ethical reasons, while asexuality is simply my sexual orientation.  When speaking of myself I can confidently say that one didn’t cause the other, and I see no reason to suppose that they flow from the same source in any way other than my being that source.  All they have in common is that a complete stranger is unlikely to assume either of me.

Admittedly, there are reasons why I’m not all that worried about confusing people in this way.  Setting aside the fact that I don’t dress like an “accomplished ascetic” of any quality, it happens that if I do so much as mention asexuality, then it is likely that I’m in the process of speaking about it at length (since I don’t tend to mention it in passing when I’m not speaking to people who already know me).  When that’s the case, I can try to explain things properly so that people who know little about it will understand.  Furthermore, since asexuality and vegetarianism aren’t related, the latter isn’t so likely to come up when I’m speaking in detail about the former.  Similarly, asexuality tends not to come up when I’m talking about vegetarianism and related matters.  At the same time though, I don’t really want to bring it up even in the event that it wouldn’t be inappropriate: precisely for the reasons I’ve described, to mention in passing that I’m asexual in such a context might require me to say quite a lot about asexuality in order to clear up the misconceptions I would have just reinforced.  It is as though it were irresponsible to only mention asexuality without saying quite a lot more about it.  That’s the problem of asexuality not being well known, and the resulting reluctance to speak about it doesn’t make it any easier to make it known.  I find myself inclined to think though that part of the solution to this is to be less guarded, more willing to mention asexuality in passing, as appropriate of course.  That at least might lead to greater visibility.  After all, do I really suppose that anyone has come to understanding from ignorance without the passing of an interval of confusion?

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Visibility Goals: Missing Out

I found myself giving an interview a few weeks ago on the subject of asexuality and the activities of ‘Asexual Montréal’ (the name for the unofficial meetup and workshop-giving group here).  I think it went well: it’s nice to see at first hand that there are people in the media who can deal well with these sorts of things.  Anyhow, I wanted to share one of the questions I was asked, because while it is very simple in one sense, it still raises a number of issues which need thinking about.  “What is the most important thing you’re trying to achieve through (asexual) visibility work?”

I brought that question to the meetup yesterday.  In terms of the basic answer there wasn’t any disagreement: we’re seeking acceptance.  Asexuality currently isn’t normative.  Most people don’t seem to have heard of it, and when introduced to it many are strangely hostile.  The thought that such people as asexuals could exist is like a threat to some.  So, we’d rather it were otherwise.  That’s simple enough.

But when we say that we’re seeking acceptance, what exactly does that entail?  There were two main sets of misconceptions which stood out in our discussion as challenges to be faced.  The one is, as I’ve put it before, the idea that asexuality is just a natural phase experienced by some people before they reach (hetero-) sexual maturity.  This isn’t a new idea.  It happens to be how what we’d now call homosexuality was once, and to some extent still is, commonly understood.  Furthermore, I’d assume that it resonates with the usual experience of non-asexual people: they didn’t feel sexual attraction when they were quite young, but they began to do so at some point when they were growing up.  It is therefore pretty well inevitable that some of them will suppose asexuality to ‘really’ be a sign of incomplete or disordered maturation, something to be ‘fixed’ at best.

People who make this accusation can do so from the comfort of knowing that they cannot easily be proven wrong to themselves, even were every single self-identified asexual to testify against them, since for the most part it seems to me that they’ve defined maturity to include a ‘sexual awakening’ of the sort asexuals don’t experience.  In other words, they’ve assumed their conclusion from the outset, having defined maturity in a way that precludes asexuality, or at least in any way that wouldn’t make asexuality a thoroughly second-rate experience.  The most obvious way to confront this circular argument is probably just to point out that our lived experience itself contradicts their assumptions, though in practice the resulting discussion may end up looking something like the Monty Python sketch about argument and contradiction…  (I imagine one person saying that maturity entails the experience of sexual attraction.  The other says that maturity needn’t be defined as such.  They proceed to disagree back and forth with each other.)  I think that a better tactic would involve confronting the concept of sexual orientation itself and situating asexuality there, but that’s a subject I’ll return to some other time.

The idea of asexuality as a ‘thoroughly second-rate experience’ though happens to be the other main point that came up in the discussion.  In this case, someone may or may not claim to be accepting of asexuality, but it’ll be followed up by a remark about how much we’re missing out on.  Where above the problem was that we weren’t fully mature, here the problem seems to be that we aren’t fully human.  It’s nonsense of course, but it may be much harder to deal with.  After all, how are we to go confront it?  There seems something rather tactless about saying, “No, actually.  In its own right, this thing that means so much to you means nothing at all to me and indeed need not mean anything to anyone at all, and so it is pointless to tell me that I am wanting in my inexperience of it.”  More to the point, it’s not comparable to telling someone that you don’t care for some hobby or other which they might enjoy: such things aren’t considered a universal and important aspect of being human.  But isn’t that very idea which we’re trying to challenge?

In one way, our situation here is very much like that of everyone else who isn’t heterosexual (or more precisely, of everyone who asserts the validity of any other orientation).  If I think of how they’ve asserted the validity of their experience though, one of the main messages seems to be to point out that they still feel (sexual) love like ‘everyone’ else.  That obviously won’t work for us.  Even though I don’t think it is typically deliberate, I have sometimes seen asexuals convey the similar message (i.e. be understood as though they are saying) that our experience is just as valid because we still feel (romantic) love like ‘everyone’ else.  While that might achieve something, it certainly won’t do, since it’s ignoring the not-insignificant number of us who are aromantics and the like.  The fact is that sexual and romantic relationships are considered very important in our society, and I don’t think our society is particularly unique in this regard.  Would it really be unbelievable to say that there might be a fairly simple biological basis to these cultural phenomena?  If that’s what we’re confronting, then to say that we may have our work cut out for us would I think be a severe understatement.  I can’t realistically imagine this changing.  (Is that simply a failure of my imagination?)  What am I saying then?  It’s not that I don’t think we shouldn’t be working towards gaining acceptance: of course we should.  But I don’t think our goals should be at odds with reality.  Perhaps acceptance would mean carving out something of an outsider identity and having the validity of that be recognized.  Yet how would that actually work, and would it really be acceptance?  I’m not sure.  This is very much an idea I’m tossing around in my head right now though, which is why I’m posting it here instead of keeping it to myself.

Presenting, the Asexuals!

What led me to choose the topic “re/presentation” for this month’s Carnival of Aces was my recent experience working on various asexual visibility projects.  I’ve been involved with giving a few workshops in the community, a radio interview, and a film screening on campus.  Having never really done this sort of thing before, I’ve been made more conscious of matters concerning both how I present myself as an individual and how I simultaneously represent others in doing these things, and I’ve been interested to hear from other people to know their own experiences.

Along the way I’ve met what Sciatrix calls the unassailable asexual, one whose asexuality cannot be doubted by anyone for any reason.  Particularly in the case of the radio show, which involved a late-night interview with a sex therapist, I felt a tremendous pressure to be the unassailable asexual.  I don’t mean, of course, that anyone ever told me to be that person.  It just sort of happened that way, where by “sort of” I mean “inevitably”.  Why would that be?  Perhaps it has something to do with watching bits of interviews which people like David Jay have given on TV, where they’re often asked any number of shocking questions with the assumption that their identification as asexual cannot possibly be valid and so the hidden Truth of their sexuality must be discovered and made known.  Perhaps it has to do with the frequency at which these exact same sorts of questions are being asked when asexuals come out in more ordinary situations.  There’s also the matter that as ‘the asexual’ on the show I knew I wouldn’t only be speaking for myself: many people would be listening who’d never have heard anyone say that they’re asexual before, and so many of them probably couldn’t help but to see my own situation as somehow representative of all asexuals, and so any personal weakness I might show could be generalized and applied to all asexuals.  At least that’s what I was worried about, as invalid as the generalization would be.  Whatever the reason though, I assumed the worst and so armoured myself as though preparing to be the direct target of some kind of nuclear inquisition.  It’s not that I planned any sort of deceit.  I didn’t say to myself anything like, “I don’t have absolutely no libido, but I’ll present myself as though it were the case so that they can’t try to undermine me”.  Rather, under the pressure I felt and my own insecurity in confronting it I managed to tell myself who I was and would be as I felt was necessary.

(As it would happen, the host turned out to be reasonably well informed on asexuality.  She knew what sorts of questions would be considered rude and didn’t ask them, and more importantly it was clear that I hadn’t been invited simply as part of a demonstration on the absurdity of identifying as asexual.  The main difficulty I had turned out to be in covering all my talking points, since I’d prepared each of them as a defence against a particular attack.  I’d come prepared for all-out war and found myself unready for peace!  But I think we managed to have a nice discussion in the end, one of the callers aside maybe.)

True, this might be a common way of dealing with things like this, and more generally, to some extent I hear that we all build a number of personae for social interaction.  But I feel like I may as well have been wearing a mask for parts of the discussion.  While I talked about how much diversity there is in what is termed ‘asexual’ and the many ‘shades of grey’ that there are, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that I was thus described.  For ‘me’ there was no ambiguity, no trace of a loose thread from which my asexuality might be unravelled.

I don’t mean to say that I’m really so doubtful of my being asexual, far from it in fact.  But asexuality isn’t normative.  Most people haven’t heard of it.  When they do, many respond by saying that there’s no such thing.  A few people are accepting, and I doubt I’m the only one to whom it means a lot that they are.  It remains though that I can’t look to the world outside, the world from which I come and am a part, and find much acceptance of an important part of myself in it.  Some insecurity, at least a lingering doubt, is almost inevitable.  Add to that the fact that what I’m describing now is just the way things are all the time: presenting this aspect of oneself to others brings with it the added concern of how they’ll respond, and from this follows the reluctance to show anything which they could interpret as weakness.

Hopefully it’s just the jitters of a sort: with more experience I might become more comfortable speaking about this kind of thing.  However, the underlying problems I’ve described are systemic and won’t just go away on their own.  At the heart of it is probably the fact that our identities as asexuals are for the most part either invisible or erased.  The only way to deal with this is by gaining visibility, and so it seems that the solutions to the problem at both the individual and the societal level may really be one and the same.  Each of us being as we are, it’s important to talk about who we are.  We need to be bold.  Let’s.

Workshop Outline from Pervers/Cité

As promised last month on AVEN, here’s the outline of the material Mech and I presented for the workshop “Asexuality 101” at Pervers/Cité on August 7th.  For anyone planning to do something similar, feel free to use anything you find here in your own presentations.  :cake:

Introduction

Icebreaker: Who are you, what are you doing here, and what is your favourite kind of cake? (Also, make it clear from the start that people can interject and ask questions. The workshop is much better as an interactive presentation than as a lecture.)

Who here has heard of asexuality? Do you know any asexuals? Are there any asexuals here?

Definition

An asexual is “a person who does not experience sexual attraction.” When we say this the question then becomes: “So, what is sexual attraction?” For which there isn’t really an easy answer… I would define sexual attraction as “the desire to engage in sexual activity with someone in particular: in other words, directed sexual desire.” The cause of asexuality, like the “cause” of homosexuality, is unknown.

A food metaphor sometimes help to clarify the concepts above. So, someone puts cake in front of you. Let sexual attraction be the desire to eat the cake. Asexuality is the lack of the desire to do so at all, as regards any cake. In contrast, celibacy is like choosing not to eat it despite the possible desire to do so, for instance due to being on a diet. Also, this is different from someone who likes cake but just doesn’t want that particular cake: most (i.e. non-asexual) people are indeed like this. So there are people who don’t like cake, period, or in other words there are people who just aren’t interested in sex.

Subtypes

In defining sexual attraction we have necessarily separated it from romantic attraction, which also has its own spectrum – heteroromantic, homoromantic, bi, pan, etc. Many asexuals are still very much capable of romantic attraction, even if they don’t experience sexual attraction.

We’ve said that sexual and romantic attraction are different things, and that asexuals are people who can experience the latter but not the former. Aromantics are a subset of asexuals who don’t experience romantic attraction either.

Then we have demisexuals, or gray-A’s (though these two terms aren’t always considered synonymous), who experience sexual attraction only after they have formed an emotional connection with someone. Another way to talk about demisexuality is to first talk about primary versus secondary sexual attraction. Primary sexual attraction is based on someone’s phenotype (appearance). Secondary sexual attraction is based on one’s relationship with another person. So, demisexuals experience only secondary sexual attraction, and asexuals experience neither. The reason we mention demisexuality together with asexuality is that demisexuals tend to find the experience of their sexuality more like that of asexuals than non-asexuals.

Asexuals can also experience aesthetic attraction. In other words, asexuals can tell whether someone is good looking. This has often been talked about in the same way someone will look at a painting and say, “that’s beautiful.”

History

As is the case of other sexual orientations like homosexuality and heterosexuality, the concept of asexuality is modern even though it can be roughly applied to people from the past. The modern concept has antecedents in the work of early sexologists such as Alfred Kinsey, whose study of human sexuality involved the use of a 7-point scale where 0 represented total heterosexuality, 6 total homosexuality, and 1-5 various degrees of bisexuality. “Asexuals” were indicated with an X instead of a number, although there was little discussion of them. Likewise, other sexologists also mentioned asexuality in their classifications of human sexual orientation, but generally without going into much detail. Beginning in the late 1970’s there began to be psychological studies specifically on the topic of asexuality, and within the last decade or so there have been a relatively large number of psychological and also sociological studies on asexuality.

The appearance of the latter is telling because it is result of the appearance of asexuals as a self-identified group, something which has only happened on a relatively large scale within the past decade or so. The reason for this is probably the spread of the Internet. While studies such as those above suggest that asexuals could make up as much as 1% of the population, this is not actually a measure of self-identified asexuals but rather of people classified as asexual by researchers and surveyors. Within this population, the number of people who are even aware of the possibility of self-identifying as asexual is probably much smaller. However, the Internet has made it much easier to spread unfamiliar ideas, making it easier for people to encounter the concept of asexuality and the fact that asexual people do indeed exist, and in particular it has helped many of us to better understand who we are and come to an asexual identity. The Internet has also made it much easier for self-identified asexuals to organize into a community. For instance, there is an asexual meetup group in this city, but without the Internet it would have been very difficult for us to find each other!

So, a number of asexual communities in many languages have appeared on the Internet within the past decade, the largest and nearly-oldest being AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, founded by David Jay in 2001. The definition of “asexual” we introduced at the start of this talk is the one used by AVEN in fact; it should be noted that I don’t think people like Kinsey were using entirely identical definitions. However, it is the AVEN definition which has come to define the asexual community: people who self-identify as asexual are likely to be doing so on the basis of this definition or one related to it.

Besides AVEN, there are now many other online asexual communities, blogs, writing circles, etc.

Of course, our very presence here shows that the asexual community isn’t confined to the Internet, and to gain greater societal recognition of asexuality we seek to make our presence known offline too. One of the main ways in which this has happened has been through the queer movement. Pride parades may often now feature a small asexual contingent, and asexuals may even give workshops with campus queer groups and at awesome grassroots queer festivals. We’ll talk more about asexuality and queer issues later, but for now let’s move on.

Symbols – cake, black ring, flag/colours (black, grey, white, purple), ace (and “ace” as asexual), triangle, etc…

What asexuality is not

So, despite the fact that the asexual orientation isn’t well known, it remains that people may have certain misconceptions about asexuality when they hear the term, for instance if someone comes out to them as asexual. We’ll discuss a few of these misconceptions now. (At this point we passed out some of those coming out as asexual bingo cards.)

Firstly, asexuality is not antisexuality: asexuals are not by definition against sex, just not personally interested.

Secondly, asexuality isn’t the same thing as celibacy either: it’s a sexual orientation, not a lifestyle choice. Strictly speaking, asexuality is in fact independent of celibacy. Most asexuals seem to be celibate, but that isn’t necessary to their definition as asexuals. For instance, there are some asexuals in relationships with non-asexuals who do have sex for their partners’ sakes.

It should also go without saying that, when applied to humans, asexuality is not a form of reproduction. Although that would be kind of awesome…

Asexuality is also not a mental/physical/social disorder, or the result of sexual dysfunction. It is not repressed homosexuality or somesuch, for the reasons of attraction we mentioned already – asexuals are just as aware of to whom they are attracted as anyone else. It’s not a response to trauma. It’s also not a synonym for intersex or androgyny. Of course, none of this is to say that there aren’t asexuals who, for example, have experienced sexually traumatic events. Our point is simply that this isn’t what defines asexuality or informs the experience of most asexuals.

Asexuality is also not simply a phase preceding heterosexual maturity. Unlike asexuals, few would tell self-described straight men, for instance, that they ought to give gay sex a fair try before declaring themselves to be straight. The difference is simply that heterosexuality is more familiar than asexuality, being normative in our society. Similarly, while the queer movement has made gains, it still happens that, for instance, lesbians are told they should try having sex with men before being so sure about their being lesbian (i.e. that they’re just going through a phase preceding their maturation into heterosexuals). While more familiar than that of asexuals, their experience too is not normative, and so they are more likely to also receive this sort of response.

Asexuality and queer

This brings us to the subject of the relationship between the queer and asexual communities. Of course, people both within and without the asexual and queer communities have at times questioned our involvement in the latter. At this point it might be appropriate to discuss our goals and what we have in common. Starting with the latter, we should get out of the way the obvious point that asexuals may already be queer in ways having nothing to do with asexuality: the legality of gay marriage is, for instance, a potential personal concern for homoromantic asexuals, and the perhaps relatively large proportion of trans individuals in the asexual community can make trans issues a common concern as well. At the same time though, asexuality in its own right has a place because, like the queer movement in general, it poses a challenge to heteronormativity. We’ll next discuss how this is so.

Firstly, asexuals say that sexual and romantic attraction are separate things. In a sense there is already a broader recognition of this: most people are probably familiar with this idea in its inverse: sex without romance. However, asexuality goes further than this and has broader implications on the concept of orientation itself. For instance, we can for instance speak of sexual orientation and romantic orientation. If I say that so-and-so is gay then what I generally mean is that he is homosexual and homoromantic. However, once these things are separated it becomes simpler to account for such people as are, for instance, bisexual and homoromantic. Such nuance better accounts for actual human experience and the possibilities of relationships beyond “straight” and “gay.”

Asexuality also has implications as regard gender. Our society has a number of prominent albeit at times conflicting gender norms. For instance, there is the idea that “real men” must want sex. Asexual men would suggest that this isn’t necessarily the case. While there is also the idea that people must experience sexual attraction in their (cis)gendered capacity as men and women, there is at the same time an idea held by some that women aren’t actually interested in the sexual aspect of relationships. We know that this is generally false, but it can have odd implications as regards asexual women, who can have particular difficulty convincing people that they are asexual, i.e. that it is meaningful to apply this label to them in such a way as to distinguish them from other women.

As was said, by observation there seem to be a lot of trans, genderqueer, etc. asexuals. One hypothesis for why this may be so is that the concepts of sex and gender are so intertwined in our society, and in this case I do mean sexual intercourse. From the foundations of heteronormativity, there are males and there are females, which are opposites that come together to have sex. But if sex never enters into the equation, as is the case for asexuals, then why does it matter that I’m a male and that person’s a female? What do biological parts have to do with anything? That’s not to say that this would account for everyone, but it does account for some of us.

As for our specific goals as regard asexuality, our main goal is to gain broader recognition of the concept itself and acceptance of asexual individuals among the population. The lack of awareness of asexuality has the effect that we generally aren’t the target of discrimination in the same way that, for instance, gay people are. At the same time though, our experience of asexuality is real, and so its default non-recognition leads to its social erasure. This can have a number of negative effects on asexuals. For starters it can make it difficult just to talk about who we are without having to speak at treatise length and, more seriously, face the real possibility of rejection from those we’d like to trust (see also the bingo card). The relative obscurity of the concept makes it especially difficult for asexual adolescents to understand who they are at a time in their lives when this is very important. The lack of prominent asexual voices in our society means that we can’t find many role-models as regards our experience of sexuality. The lack of many actual asexual characters in fiction can make much of it hard for us to relate to, if not at times downright alienating. So it is things like these that we hope to change by gaining visibility. So, we’d like to hear from you (the workshop attendees) on how you might think we should go about it. The one thing I can say is that from the LGBT movement we’ve learnt the importance of coming out: visibility for asexuality won’t be gained so long as we as individual asexuals remain invisible.

Addendum

During the final discussion there was some talk, motivated by the workshop attendees themselves, about how LGBT groups can be more accommodating of asexuals. We mentioned that LGBT groups often include asexuality in the boilerplate of their mandates, and that in a few jurisdictions where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited, asexuality is listed as protected: we don’t have much of a problem with de iure recognition so much as de facto recognition! Someone also raised concerns about sex-positivity, saying that while it ought to be about freedom of choice in sexual matters, it often boils down into the message of “sex is good, so have lots of sex,” which tends to alienate asexuals. We might want to say something about this in future versions of this workshop, perhaps speaking about the relationship between the asexual and queer communities at the practical level (as opposed to the more theoretical level discussed above).

The only real source of difficulty we had concerned the matter of libido as something distinct from sexual attraction. We didn’t really make this distinction clear at the start (saying only that sexual attraction was directed sexual desire, but saying nothing much about the possibility of undirected sexual desire and how this relates to asexuality: our food metaphor should have mentioned the general feeling of hunger), so there were a number of questions about this from people who were trying to understand the basic concepts involved. As these concepts really are quite important, since they underlie almost everything that follows, they should be stated more clearly in the future.