Interrogating the Whiteness of the Asexual Community
As reported in a 2014 survey by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) of over 10,000 ace people, 77.3% of the community identified as white and “NonHispanic,” 5.2% as white and “Hispanic,” 3.9% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 2.5% as Black or African American, 0.5% as American Indian or Alaskan Native, 6.8% as Mixed Race, and 3.8% as “other” or simply did not respond to the question. Despite the problematic categorizations utilized in this community report (which referenced the United States census), it concludes that the ace community is highly white racially and “NonHispanic” or Latinx ethnically. Although ace visibility is changing, whiteness still dominates the community. This may be partially attributed to the fact that “asexuality,” as a contemporary identity category, originated within selective and highly white online spaces, such as email lists and blogs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at the inception of the internet’s ascension into widespread usage. As a term, “asexuality” has remained relatively elusive and esoteric, yet to be adopted within public education or by mainstream media outlets on a widespread scale.
There is therefore an intrinsic level of privilege required to even be able to self-identify as “asexual” or “ace.” Those who do not possess access or awareness of these online spaces, or an internet connection in general, are far less likely to access asexuality, may largely be unable to self-identify as asexual, and will subsequently not be understood as asexual or ace in the community as a result. Exposure to these terms of “asexual” and “ace” offline can be difficult due to their relative absence in mainstream or public discourse. As such, the asexual identity may continue to be predominately afforded to white people, both due to their privilege regarding accessibility as well as the fact that, once gaining access, or possessing preexisting access (in reference to the white creators of these online spaces where asexuality as a contemporary identity originated), they may be more likely to disseminate knowledge of the identity and term within bubbles that are dominated by others like themselves.
In this sense, whiteness can become self-containing. Those who identify as asexual today may continue to perceive, whether consciously or not, asexuality as an identity predominately for white people tomorrow. This cyclical perception may continue to loop as new ace people gain access to the identity of asexuality. A looping effect may hold the consequence of ensuring that white aces, who are newly realizing their ace identity, feel more accepted in ace spaces in comparison to people of color. On the other hand, ace people of color may automatically feel excluded or invisibilized within the community and may be less likely to engage and participate in activities that concern the ace community as a result, such as the very AVEN survey that frames this article. While the results of the ace community census may appear to support the conclusion that less ace people of color exist, this fundamentally is not the case. Rather, they are less likely to self-identify as ace due to accessibility as well as the whiteness of the ace community and its relational issue of self-containment.
At the same time, visibility is also important. Representation can be powerful and often makes people feel validated in their own existence or identity. This is especially true for those of us who are only acknowledged in a very limited capacity or within selective spaces, such as ace people of color. However, existing asexuality representation, as important as it is, largely perpetuates the whiteness of the ace community. While asexuality representation within mainstream outlets has only just begun to ascend, ace people of color are largely absent from this growing trend, thus embedding within general audiences who are exposed to these representations, whether consciously or not, that whiteness and asexuality are largely entwined. Simultaneously, ace people of color, who may already not feel included within the ace community, are not seeing themselves being represented in the limited amount of asexuality representation present, and thus may also internalize ideas of asexuality as a primarily white identity.
On the most apparent of levels, it is evident that whiteness in ace spaces should be examined and dismantled so that the ace identity and community may become more accessible and inclusive to ace people of color. There are multiple solutions that can address this problem, of which the most useful is simply centering and amplifying the voices of ace people of color more actively and prominently. This can operate as a mechanism to deconstruct the perception of the ace community as predominately white and allow for ace people of color to feel more included within ace spaces. Other solutions include continued awareness of the asexual identity, particularly within offline spaces (media representation is important), so that the identity begins to enter the lexicon and consciousness of the public rather than solely remaining a predominately online self-identity within mostly white spaces, of which it originated nearly two decades ago.
Updated: 1/31/2018 in congruence with updated version published in Vol. 1, Issue 4 of The Asexual.
Original version can be viewed here: Article cross-posted on Medium