Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Asexual People Want

Wow, has it really been a month since my last post?

I just had a cool discussion with a researcher from down the bay, and we go into an interesting discussion about what asexual people, as a community, are out to accomplish. I broke it down into four categories, though I'd love people's thoughts on the issue.

Probably the biggest thing asexual people are looking for is a place to figure ourselves out and be supported in our identity. This is why most people bother to show up to the community, and is probably one of the things that we do best. It means offering an open, accepting environment that makes people feel safe and encourages them to explore themselves in whatever terms fit best. Even the way we that we talk about asexuality (it's just a word that you use to describe yourself) is geared to create a supportive atmosphere.

How we do it: AVEN discussion forums, other online communities, admod team, advisory team, meetup groups.

Most asexual people are peeved at how little asexuality gets talked about in our culture. More visibility is the first step to broader social acceptance, and many of us are tired of giving a 20 minute lecture every time we come out. Most importantly, visibility let's us make the great support systems that we've built available to people who might need them. All of us have knows how much it sucks to not have a community, and we know that there are tons of people out there going through the same struggle. Visibility lets us reach out to them.

How we do it: Media trainings, AVEN Media Guidebook, assisting reporters in finding interviewees for their stories, lectures, informational pamphlets.

The next step after visibility is getting other organizations to recognize us and incorporate us into what they do. To me that's meant getting LGBT and sex ed groups to start including asexuality in their materials, getting scientists to include us in discussions of sexuality and getting doctors to stop pathologizing us half the time. There are two powerful social institutions that we're courting (or at least I'm courting).

The first is the LGBT/sex positive movement (the two movements are pretty integrated at this point.) They make up a huge grassroots network that does education around sexuality and gender and advocates for legal rights. Making friends with them means that that huge grassroots network talking will add asexuality to the list of things that they talk about, which is huge. They tend to be interested in us as a social movement like they are. We gain their respect by talking about our personal stories, our political views, they way that we have emerged as a movement and the amount of people/resources that we are capable of mobilizing. We also have a little hiccup in dealing with this community. Because their politics are all about celebrating sexuality, it sometimes takes them a second to get how they share the same agenda with asexual people. I've been trying to smooth the transition by getting leaders in the sex positive movement, like Carol Queen, to go on record as saying that asexual people are cool.

How we do it: Show up/give talks at conferences, network with educators and organizers, participate in LGBT and sex positive communities, publicly affiliate with LGBT/sex positive leaders.

The second is the academic/medical world. They control not only classroom sex ed, but also the medical institutions which treat asexual people when we have problems. Getting them to see us as legitimate and healthy will mean inclusion in a bunch of classrooms and will make it much much easier for asexual people to go to the therapist (and for people who do might identify as asexual but don't to go to the therapist.) This community is a tougher nut to crack than the LGBT world, they care primarily about academic research and very little has been done on us. Current medical definitions of things like Hyposexual Desire Disorder and Sexual Aversion Disorder kind of graze the question of asexual pathology. An out-and-proud asexual probably wouldn't be considered pathological, but someone struggling to come to terms with their asexual identity probably would. The strategy here has been to encourage academic discourse. Get academics talkign about asexuality, make it known that we want them to research us and help them in any way that we can if they decide to do research. The more research gets done, the easier it will be for us to change the way that the academic and medcial world talks about us.

How we do it: Show up at conferences (we usually don't have the credentials to give talks), give talks on college campuses, assist anyone doing research on asexuality, network researchers together so that they can assist one another and begin to buil a professional community, AVEN DSM Task Force.

Once people get past the need for support, one of the biggest looming questions is around forming intimate relationships. We face some a pretty serious challenge here as a community one that I've spent so much time thinking about that I referr to it as just "The Asexual Problem":

Many asexual people want to form intimate relationships, and in our culture sex is what separates primary intimate relationships (dating and marriage) from secondary ones (friendships). That means that no matter how close I get to someone, that relationship is considered "just a friendship" in the eyes of our culture unless it involves sex. This creates big problems for us, since many of us want to be more than just friends with someone at some point in our lives. There isn't really a perfect solution to this problem, a lot of asexual people that I know are still struggling with it, but there are a few imperfect ones:

1) Just form friendships- This tends to be a matter of personal preference, but a lot of asexual people, mostly those who identify as aromantic are happy this way.

2) Date other asexual people- This can work really well. It's easy for two asexual people to get together, decide to form a primary intimate relationship and announce it to the world. A couple of happily married couples have already come out of AVEN this way. The problem is number. Even major metro area have, at best, a few dozen people actively identifying as asexual, which means that the likelihood of finding a good match is pretty low. For this reason most asexual-asexual couples meet online and eventually move long distances to be together. Since many people aren't interested in long distance online dating, this will probably only become a solution once local meetup groups have grown significantly.

3) Date sexual people- Though there are several examples out there of healthy sexual/asexual relationships, this remains a problematic option. Sexual and asexual people are fundamentally incompatible in something that our culture claims to be vital to an intimate relationship's emotional health. Making a sexual/asexual relationship work requires extensive communication. To make matters more complicated, most people see sexual compatibility as a precurser to an intimate relationship. That means that in order to start dating a sexual person an asexual person usually has to stay closeted, making the extensive communication that needs to take place evren trickier.

4) Create new models for intimate relationships- This is my personal favorite. If friendships don't work and traditional dating doesn't work, why not invent new words to describe the relationships that we want? I've had a lot of success with this method. It lets me form relationships with sexual people that are intimate, emotionally expressive and committed but that don't require sexual exclusivity. That means that I avoid the emotional ceiling of just forming friendships, the numbers problem of only dating asexual people and the incompatability problem of being monogomous with sexual people. I get to form close relationships with anyone I want, and there's no limit to how close those relationships can get. The only problems are around communication and jealousy. I have to be cool with my partner forming sexually and emotionally intimate relationships with others (which has never been an issue for me personally). I also have to communicate whatever hairbrained relationship model I've thought up to the other person clearly enough that they understand it, accept it, and get emotionally turned on by it. This is a lot easier in places that have are already accepting of sexual diversity, and could pose a real challenge in places where traditional dating is all that anyone has ever thought about.

How we do it: Discussions on AVEN, meetups, asexual dating sites, blogs discussing relationship issues.