All the things I’ve learned on Asexuality and Pride
This year, I’ve learned the pain that comes with coming out. I’ve felt my honest and open nature — that keenness to always be myself — smothered by the fear of judgment and disconnection. It was not the first time that I withstood caustic criticism, but this time their words burned down all my defenses, left me wearing nothing but shame. And so, I have taken to evaluating the risks and avoiding speaking about my asexuality when the stakes are too high. But alas, I’ve learned that hiding yourself can be just as excruciating as being the target of despise: both potentially lead to self-hate.
I’ve learned that, everywhere I go, asexuality is still haunted by ignorance and prejudice. I’ve learned that, if it is difficult to find someone who can distinguish between the asexual orientation and a lack of genitalia, it is even more difficult to find an accepting mind, someone who doesn’t think of it as an illness to be cured. When the term is not foreign to people, it is generally confused with celibacy, or misconceived as an anomaly caused by a physiological deficiency (e.g. “Have you checked your hormones?”) or associated to mental illness (e.g. “Are you depressed?”). I’ve then learned that it is hard to speak about it, because no matter your willingness to argue your theories and explain once again that no, asexuality doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sex, you are likely to lose the argument to narrow-mindedness. For people to put themselves into your shoes, they must be willing to take off their own.
I’ve also learned that such ignorance and intolerance thrive in the most unexpected places. I saw it blossom in the minds of people I thought could comprehend, could accept. People who have walked a parallel path, people belonging to other minorities, people who have felt the pinpricks of intolerance on their skin. I’ve learned that not everyone who’s been hated and belittled does their best not to hate or belittle others. And it is a surprise. And it is a disappointment.
I’ve learned that my orientation is demeaned not only by heterosexuals, but by queers as well. I’ve learned that even inside that community that I had supported for years before discovering I was part of it myself, there’s ignorance and discrimination. In the same place where I thought I could belong, I also encountered — or rather, had shoved in my face — the biting opinions of those who think that asexuality is unnatural. Despite the officiality of the A in LGBTQIA, the debate about inclusion or exclusion of ace/aro people is still open and ongoing, reminding us every day that our presence in the community is partly unwanted. We are constantly contradicted by those who won’t assign that A with any meaning other than “Ally”, excluding us from the acronym of a community that was born to include.
I’ve learned that some make distinctions. For them, ace homoromantic and aro homosexual can be — maybe, sometimes — included, because they suffered violent discriminations for being gay. Ace heteroromantic or aro heterosexual people are, on the contrary, too straight to belong: their queerness is invisible, for they don’t have intimate relationships with individuals of their same gender. Exclusionists stand by the idea that we don’t have rights to fight for. We have never been pointed at for kissing someone on a sidewalk, no government has ever denied us the right to marry and have children, nor have we ever experienced discrimination in our workplace. I’ve learned that — according to them — we are not part of the LGBT+ community, and that — always according to them — we should start our own community.
I’ve learned that Pride can be a painful topic for asexuals. I’ve heard and read many express their desire to show up at the closest Pride parade with an asexuality flag on their shoulders, only to give it up completely. If they opt for the comfort of their room instead, it is not for disinterest or passiveness, but for the fear of not feeling welcome. There where diversity is supposed to connect and unite us all in a common battle, we are made to feel like we are the wrong kind of diverse. Too many deem us unworthy of an elite reserved to who has suffered persecutions by heterosexuals while we walked like chameleons among them. And so, a war keeps raging on between those that accept us and those that deny us a place.
But then… Then I’ve learned that, beyond all that is disheartening, there is the love and support of who decided to resist. There, I’ve learned that I’m welcome and validated by people like me.
I’ve learned that I don’t really owe my coming out to anyone. I don’t need to spell out my sexuality just because I’m not straight — because I am not, no matter what people might say. It is a part of me: I laugh obnoxiously loud, I can stare at the winter sea for hours, and I prefer food over sex. The others shall have no power over me, no one can decide what’s for me to feel. I’ve learned that although the roots of shame are powerful and pervading, they can be uprooted. It takes time, self-love and a lot of patience to build shame resilience.
I’ve learned that to contrast folks’ ignorance I should start with my own, and I’ve learned to unlearn all I had known until that moment. I’ve learned the many nuances of asexuality, which is an umbrella, not a strict category. I’ve learned to separate sex and intimacy and fight the conviction that I need to want sex to have intimacy. I’ve learned that the old data about the 1% of the population being asexual is not applicable anymore, because the voice is spreading, and people are recognizing themselves in this sexual orientation after believing they were simply odd heterosexuals. Just like I had.
I’ve learned that for every friend that doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, there is one who will be glad you told them, humbled and honored by the fact that you just trusted them with such a vulnerable part of yourself. I’ve learned that for every friend who belittles you, tries to convince you that you are just a heterosexual with a low sex drive, there is another one ready to open their arms and hold you tight because they know how hard it is to be black in a world that wants you white.
I’ve learned that the LGBT+ community is much more than that bunch of people who want us out. There is a big share of wonderful souls who respect and support aces and aros, and who don’t miss a chance to remind us we’re valid. God knows how much I appreciate those strangers’ messages, and poems, and articles, and essays, and random posts on Tumblr. I’ve also learned that other identities, such as bisexuality and pansexuality, have been treated similarly through the years. People have been called confused and made to feel unworthy. They too had never known it was a possibility to be what they were, because no one ever told them. I’ve seen all the love and solidarity they show us, and it fills me with hope and determination.
I’ve learned that those who want to exclude must have forgotten the founding principle of Pride and LGBT+ community. Because that night of 1969 at Stonewall, trans people, as well as cisgender gays and lesbians all united to say “No” to the society that wanted them straight, white, and middle class. Because to march the city streets together is just as much about political rights as it is about the right to be human. We are all laying claim to our freedom to love who we want and how we want, with or without sex, with or without romantic feelings. We are all laying claim to our freedom to listen to our bodies and minds, and openly be who we are in spite of the frames society has built around us.
What “exclusionists” do not understand is that we are all fighting the same battle against a system that feeds us stigmas based on stereotypes and social expectations. By joining the same community, we try to demonstrate that there is no ideal middle-class white straight man, but that there is an infinity of personalities all different and yet all valid. Lesbian, bisexual, nonbinary, asexual, transgender, aromantic, questioning, and all the other terms we can identify with — and I firmly believe we should also include disabled, POC, and anyone who feels pressured into believing they can’t fit. We should all build one Pride, cohesively marching our ground.
For this reason, I’ve learned, everyone is valuable in the community. I’ve learned that as you step into the parade, you stand up, you stand for, you stand alongside, and you stand against. Whether you identify with one of the LGBTQIA orientations or you are there in support of them, you are part of that community, because you are using your body and your voice to say, “Can you see us? We are all humans. We have the right to be considered as such.”
I’ve learned that ace and aro people are entitled to Pride, and Pride needs ace and aro people. I’ve learned that for every person who shows up at a Pride parade waving the asexuality flag, there will be another one who gets curious about it, and researches, and asks questions, and broadens their mind. There will be another who gets inspired by your courage, who gets inspired by you.
I can’t scratch my friend’s voice from my head when she told me she had seen the local asexual collective at the parade. “It warmed my heart,” she said, “to see so many people — families, even — so accepting and supportive of each other. And to see the asexual colors flapping in the wind gave me hope. I thought of you. It gave me courage.” Can you imagine what it means for someone who’s starting to realize they might be somewhere on the asexual spectrum in a world that denies it, seeing themselves represented in a context of tolerance and love? It gives permission. It gives courage to acknowledge one’s essence despite all the hate this could cost. And, as the beautiful Brené Brown says, courage is contagious. Because if one starts to stand their ground with pride, it will spark a chain reaction. And who am I to break it?
At the end of the day, what I’ve really learned as I walked and sang and danced down the streets of the city that raised me, wearing my identity on my sleeve — and on my T-shirt, really — is that participating in Pride is about shame resilience. It means telling everyone, “Here’s where I stand. Here’s who I am. Love me, but don’t tell me who I have to be.” (Yes, I am quoting a beautiful song about body shaming from the musical CAMP). It’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable and facing your fear of rejection. So, in spite of the ace exclusionists, I’ll stay true to myself, go to Pride every year, and come back home to reward myself with cake.