Thursday 20-11-2014 - 12:06
Asexual Awareness Week is held annually, this year from 26th October to 1st November. This is a guest post by Yolly Chegwidden of NUS LGBT Committee, who identifies on the asexual spectrum.
Asexuality, in its simplest definition, is a sexual orientation referring to those who don’t experience sexual attraction. NUS LGBT has officially included asexuality since 2012, though asexual students have been involved in NUS LGBT and LGBT societies for much longer. The asexual movement has only existed for a short time, and has made some big changes in the visibility and awareness of asexuality in LGBT and mainstream spaces. However, there is a lot of work still to be done; from arguing for our right to be fully included in LGBT spaces, to combatting the discrimination and oppression which asexual people face.
Some of you may know little about asexuality; in a society where sexual attraction, behaviour and romance are often assumed to be one and the same, the concept of not experiencing sexual attraction may be initially difficult to understand. It is important to recognise that asexuality is not the same as choosing not to have sex (though many asexual people do make that choice), nor is it the same as not desiring romantic relationships (though some asexual people don’t want those either). The asexual movement has developed the concept of romantic attraction, which can also be found in some bi movements, and asexual people may identify with their romantic orientation (e.g. biromantic, homoromantic) when referring to who they are attracted to romantically. Some asexual people (and some non-asexual people) identify as aromantic; meaning they do not experience romantic attraction.
Another important concept in the asexual community is the asexual spectrum: some people within the community identify with the term grey-asexual, which is an umbrella term referring to those who consider themselves in the grey area between asexuality and other sexual orientations (for example because they experience sexual attraction rarely or weakly); or demisexual, which is a more specific term for those who only experience sexual attraction after forming a strong emotional connection with someone. It is important to note that these identities are used by people who identify strongly with the asexual community, even if they have experienced or do experience some form of sexual attraction.
It may seem that asexuality doesn’t fit well into the LGBT community; however when we think about the reasons which we form political communities as LGBT people, and have an understanding of the experiences of asexual people, this can become much more clear. Asexual people face many of the same problems as LGBT people in a heterosexist society; such as feeling isolated or ashamed of their sexuality, not learning about their sexuality in school sex education or having it represented in the media, not having visible support groups for people of their sexual orientation, being assumed to be heterosexual by friends and family, being coerced into appearing heterosexual, and many experience homophobia because they don’t express overt heterosexuality. Ultimately this is due to their experience of heterosexism: since asexual people’s identities don’t and can’t conform to heteronormative standards they experience oppression for not being attracted to people of different genders to their own.
The existence of asexuality and the experiences of asexual people also bring new and interesting perspectives to our ideas of sexuality, attraction and identity: have you thought about what romance without sex might look like before? How do our understandings of gay identities differ when your attraction doesn’t include sexual attraction? These perspectives help us create a more authentic understanding of sexuality and identity; and ultimately get us further towards a goal of LGBT and queer activism: to create alternatives to heteronormativity which work for us all. Surveys also show that at least 33% of asexual people are romantically attracted to people of another gender; 10% of asexual people identify as trans; and 41% of asexual people consider themselves part of the LGBT community.
It is important then to consider asexual students when organising events, campaigns and activities in your LGBT society. Sometimes this will mean thinking about whether your events are welcoming to asexual students, whether you have thought about how a campaign or issue would affect asexual people, or organising specific activities about asexuality or for asexual students. You can find some ideas and resources here.