Reflections on asexual week

Asexual awareness week is the last week of October – did you know that? Because I sure didn’t, until a couple of days ago when I saw various ace-related things pop up on Twitter.

Talking and thinking about asexuality can always be a little rough. Every time some kind of asexuality event shows up, it’s surrounded by a flood of “and remember that you’re valid and the discourse is a lie”, which does far more to remind me about how much people dislike asexuals in the LGBTQ+ community than actually seeing any of those arguments.

I can sort of understand the feeling that causes the backlash, I suppose – it’s easier to argue about the semantics of different identities and how queer or not they are than it is to tackle, say, the root of homophobic violence. And that’s where the anger comes from, too: many people feel that anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice simply isn’t directed at asexual people.

Talking and thinking about asexuality can always be a little rough.

It’s not a new view, either. I was honestly surprised the other day when, while reading about gay liberation politics in the 20th century US, I encountered such an argument; the view that the challenge to gay people was entirely based around their sexual activities. It wasn’t about men who loved men but instead about men who had sex with men. And it’s a phrase that exists today, especially surrounding sexual health activism.

But something about the idea didn’t ring true to me, and it wasn’t just because I’m asexual and hate any implication that I somehow don’t belong (despite being both queer and trans, I have in the past had my right to speak about LGBTQ+ issues within Oxford challenged due to my asexuality). It was the idea that homophobic people only object to sexual acts between gay people.

I’m asexual, and my boyfriend has described himself as largely indifferent to sex – I don’t think I need to spell out what I’m getting at here. And yet, we’ve never been immune to homophobia. In both his hometown and in Oxford, we’ve encountered harassment of some form, with people shouting “lesbians” to us on the street on multiple occasions.

It’s possible that the people who encountered us on the street who objected to our relationship saw us holding hands and assumed that we have sex, I suppose. They made the connection between some form of physical intimacy and another, and took it upon themselves to publicly target us for this. Except my boyfriend has also been harassed on his own for his appearance (which, to say the least, doesn’t conform to cis or het norms).

So this (indirect in the case of the article, but oft-repeated) criticism of asexual people and their place in the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t exactly ring true to me, and it had me thinking about the other reasons people give to exclude asexuality. I’ve seen all kinds of arguments, from the idea that people on the ace spectrum are just putting a label on something everyone experiences to the idea that asexual people are just a bit cringe.

I’m not going to spend time unpacking those assumptions or arguments for the rubbish I feel they are – the topic has been discussed hundreds of times before. But I do think it’s worth examining how much of LGBTQ+ identity is so linked with sex, and how that can be alienating both to cisgender and heteroromantic asexuals and asexuals with other LGBTQ+ identities.

It’s not that talking about sex is a bad thing – far from it. A lot of LGBTQ+ activism relies on good sex education, on people understanding and accepting the differences in sexual and romantic lives. A key part of trans activism specifically involves candid discussion about bodies, something that often involves talking about sex itself.

Sex and discussions surrounding it are incredibly important so that everyone can have as healthy a relationship with sex as possible. But I think, as a community, LGBTQ+ people can do better than making sex an integral part of identities, to the point that people who don’t want to have (or even talk about) sex feel like they can’t speak in LGBTQ+ spaces.

A key part of trans activism specifically involves candid discussion about bodies.

I’m not accusing anyone of being obsessed with sex, and in some ways I think it’s fair to have that as a focus – there are plenty of non-LGBTQ+ people who are obsessed with queer sex in turn. But I do think there should be room for the absence of it too.