Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Asexual Problem Part 1: Numbers

Thanks for all of the great comments on my last post! I definitely agree that we need more asexual literature, and gathering narratives are a great place to start. I'd be up for making room on the AVEN homepage for this kind of stuff if anyone wants to help me collect it. Maybe we should even feed in posts from the emerging and fabulous asexual blogosphere? (And thanks Ily for subtly shaking your fist and getting me to post more.)

Last post I talked a little about "The Asexual Problem," the idea that as a community we face barriers to forming some types of intimate relationships. I wanted to expand on this idea a bit and flesh out my hippyshit solution a little better:

A few weeks ago, we got dropped from the Tyra Banks show. It was gonna be great: I was all ready to head to New York for filming and we were going to get the concept of asexuality out to hundreds of thousands of people who had never heard of us. Then, at the last minute, the producer called and said that he wanted a couple: two young, photogenic asexual people interested in coming to be on the program. And I was stuck, because as far as I know that couple doesn't exist in the US. We had one (1) couple that fit the bill, but they moved to England. As I scrambled to try to meet the request, I could feel Tyra's people backing off. If our community couldn't produce a happy couple for the show, then were asexual people really as happy as we claim to be? It's a sobering question. In a poll on AVEN 60% of asexual respondants identified as romantic, we have over 15,000 registered members, yet I can count all of asexual/asexual couples that I know about on a single hand (and the most asexual/sexual couples I know aren't exactly ready for Tyra either.) What gives? Why are ase having such a hard time hooking up?

At first glance, it looks like a numbers problem. Even 15,000 asexual people spread across the (English speaking) world is a pretty thin distribution, the best case scenarios are in major metro areas where a little over a dozen people get together for meetups. Subtract the 40% of those that are aromantic, another 50% if you're not bi, and the luckiest gay and hetero asexuals in the world have a dating pool of about 4. That's 4 people who run the full gamut of age and personality type, making the likelihood of compatibility pretty slim. A local a-a relationship has happened only once, to my knowledge, and it's not hard to see why. 
Online dating is another logical option, and a few asexual dating sites are working their way into the picture. Falling in love over the internet is less than ideal for many people, and until these dating sites can build up an active base of users they won't provide compelling option. Most of the a/a couples I know about have gotten together on AVEN itself, but even that presents challenges. Most AVEN members are either there to get community support or to pointlessly mess around- neither of which are particularely romantic. Sitting on top of it all are a few dozen people who volunteer to keep the community going: admods and power users that are invested in keeping the community humming, and this seems like the only place where people are engaged enough for real relationships to form. All of the AVEN couples that I know about emerged from this tight little group of powerusers. 
Just to recap: all you romantic asexuals out there have two options. Either you can move to a major metro area, pour your heart and soul into building a meetup scene and with a littleluck find one other romantic asexual in your approximate age bracket. Or you can get on AVEN, spend a huge part of your life working on building up the community, get elected to the admod team and somewhere between fights over warning policies find true love. Them's the bones. Take 'em or don't.

Love always finds a way, but even It can get tangled in those odds. If all of those romantic asexual people stake their happiness on falling in love with someone like them then our community will be waiting and unhappy for a long, long time. If we want to solve the numbers problem then we have to learn to fall in love with sexual people, and we have to learn to make it work. This is actually a lot easier than you might think. After all, sexual people form intimate relationships with one another all the time, research indicates that it's not uncommon for them to have stable, happy romantic relationships that don't involve sex. If sexual people can get down and nonsexually intimate with one another, why not with us? The more you ask it, the more perplexing this question becomes. Shows like Will and Grace to Sex and the City thrive on nonsexual intimacy, yet there's no market for it. Carrie Bradshaw has mutliple sectors of the economy devoted to helping her find Mr. Big, but no clear way to go looking for a Samantha. 

I've got much more to say on this topic, but I'm trying to keep these posts a digestible length. Expect a follow up soon where I get into some ways to fix this. 


Ily said...

Aw, that wasn't a fist-shake :-) I actually think that the literature might be the most useful outside of AVEN-- you know, divide and conquer-- but trying to find out where to put it is a project in itself. Like my article for teens-- I identified about 3 websites that might use it, but when none of them responded, I ran out of ideas!

Anyway, I was pretty sad to hear that the Tyra show got dropped. I was skeptical about it, but I thought it could have been a lot better than the other shows. Even so, their insistence on an ace-ace couple seems very closed-minded.

I don't know if a drive for romance is something you can turn off, but I think figuring out ways to be happy without romance are integral, too. At the risk of professing that I know "what asexuals really want" (because I don't), I think that what's important to many aces isn't necessarily romance per se, but commitment from other people that we will be important in their lives. Romantic relationships are seen as the only way to get that. But does it really have to be this way? You shouldn't have to be unhappy just because you can't find another person to be in love with.

(And this may be beyond the scope of this discussion, but I wonder what difference there is between asexual/queer sexual relationships and asexual/straight sexual relationships. Like, I identify as queer, so I think it would be strange to date a straight man. Maybe I can find a SUPER radical one ;-) can move to a major metro area, pour your heart and soul into building a meetup scene...

If everyone did It would be absolutely amazing! Peer pressure! :-)

Looking forward to the rest of the discussion...

Mary Maxfield said...

I can see Ily's point about wanting the narratives to be somewhere other than (or in addition to) AVEN. Maybe a collection of narratives could be added to the increasingly asexy blogosphere? That's basically the project I'm doing for my GSO internship, except with a different theme. If other people were willing to do the legwork seeking out submissions, I'd be willing to see they got posted, tagged, and so forth. Just a thought, as narratives are -- you know-- what I live for.

On another note: The Tyra-people's ace-ace ultimatum strikes me as seriously disappointing. I understand that, like any non-heterosexual population, some asexy folks are going to seek out a very traditional relational structure in a very tradtional way, and so it is sad that with the numbers problem (which I think you broke down fabulously; as a numbers-impaired person, I was very impressed), it becomes so much more difficult to do that. But I also think it's really sad when a population which (from my perspective) has such a queer identity, at least in some ways or for some people, is confined to this box of "how romance works" (for non-queer people.) how can they not want to talk about community-based intimacy (for example)? isn't different automatically fascinating? seriously closed-minded. it's just tragic.

...we obviously just need queerer talk show hosts. how many awards must Ellen win before the networks agree with me on that one?

Anonymous said...

To the first part of the blog, I say: Fuck mainstream media. I'm serious. And while I'm not trying to say that no AVEN members should be doing any interviews/media appearances with mainstream media outlets just because I don't do them, I am saying that we should focus our efforts elsewhere. Then we can at least try to do things more on our own terms rather than waiting for the TV shows to bite. Of course, now I feel like I'm lecturing you, which isn't my intention! I'm fully aware that you're doing (& want to do) a bunch of stuff outside of the media appearances.

As for the rest of your post - unfortunately a lot of people have kinda strict ideas about what romance is and what friendship is & what they're not. I am also totally into challenging those ideas. I'm not sure if I've just been incredibly fortunate to find other people who don't limit their relationships, but even if people still do the monogamous dating thing, I've found that a lot also have close, intimate relationships besides just that one. Also - if you talk incessantly about relationships/theory, sometimes you can have a bit of an influence on the people in your life. :)

Unknown said...

I agree. David, I tried to send you an email via, but I wanted to verify that you received it. My email is garrisonbyz@gmail. I'm interested in joining your cause.

David Blackburn

Anonymous said...

Good post. I can't believe the Tyra people backed off because of that.... Isn't it important just to get the information out there in general, besides the couples thing?

Another problem, which I experience first hand, is the dilemma of being an aromantic asexual yet still desiring an emotionally intimate friendship. What the hell do you do then? I don't know.... Try accepting social unhappiness, thus far, is my answer.

Hezaa said...

If we're thinking about starting up a list of asexual-related published literature, there was a post on the Livejournal asexual community earlier about that. I can't find the post now, but Ellen Wittlinger's YA novel Hard Love came to mind. It's about a teenage boy whom I interpreted as asexual and his relationship with a lesbian.