Thursday, August 23, 2012

Asexuals called Lepers on Fox News

Two days ago Fox News decided to use Tony Bogaert’s new book as an excuse to discuss the ace community:

The clip, while pretty grim, is also somewhat unsurprising. It’s a pretty accurate (if confusingly kooky) representation of the kind of ignorant and dismissive comments that asexuals and grey-a’s receive when we talk about our experience.

Unlike gay, lesbian, bi, pan and trans folks, who get discriminated against with much more direct hate speech, our community tends to get dismissed offhand and told that we’re broken. It’s a different experience than that of many other people in the queer community, but I can tell you from experiencing it firsthand that being told that you’re broken still sucks. It’s why a lot of people out there (especially young people) beat themselves up unless they can meet some cosmo-defined manifestation of sexual desire. It’s why a lot of people are afraid that if they can’t find sexual intimacy they won’t be able to find intimacy, period.

I’ve talked about asexuality a LOT, and noticed that it does a funny thing to many people’s brains. A lot of people out there have so deeply internalized the idea that sex and intimacy are velcroed together that their brain skips around the idea of asexuality like a damaged CD. Something about the idea of asexual people doesn’t fit into their worldview, and so they make up any ridiculous excuse they can to unmake or ignore us.

A great example is this segment on Fox, where the presented asks “do asexual people exist?” and all anyone can do is come up with reasons to avoid the question. They hypothesize that all women are asexual (really?!?), and talk about how we must be lepers that no one wants to touch. Then they talk about how if we DO exist we’d have to be boring and lifeless.

This kind of mental glitching definitely creates problems for the ace community, but I’m not bringing it up because I think that we’re victims. I’m bringing it up because it seems like something worth investigating, a bug in the code of our cultural understanding of sexuality that talking about asexuality lays bare. I have many sexual friend’s who’s understanding of concepts like sexuality and intimacy has been fundamentally transformed by thinking about the asexual community, and they tell me that that’s a good thing.

There’s a petition asking Fox to actually INTERVIEW asexual people next time they cover us. I guess my final thought is this: If people are finding excuses to dismiss us, if their mind immediately jumps to all of the ways that we’re broken, then maybe they should ask themselves why that is.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Asexy Politics: Asexuality and the Law

As part of my ongoing adventures, I just went to give a talk at The Washington University Law School. There's been a wave of interest recently from law schools, asexuality represents unexplored legal territory, and it's a fascinating exercise for lawstudents to hypothesize what that territory might look like.

A couple of examples came up, though interestingly most of them related to romantic orientation more than to asexuality.

1) Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal. You can't fire someone just for being gay (though in many places you CAN fire someone just for being transgendered.) Does this apply to asexual people? In several states asexuality is already listed as a protected sexual orientation, and in the states where it's not that could oblst an argument for inclusion.

2) Things get dicier when you ask whether this extends to romantic orientation. What if someone is being discriminated against for being aromantic or homoromantic? Right now this is a concept that the law doesn't recognize or protect. Say an ace talks about building an intimate community, that wierds out their boss and they get fired. It's unclear how the law would handle that.

3) Speaking of people getting wierded out, it seems
Iike there may be unclear implications for sexual harrassment law. Under what circumstances does an asexual person engaging in nonsexual intimacy (presumably awkwardly) constitute sexual harrassment?

On to relationship law. Legally, the court can't "discover" whether or not two people are having concentual sex. So long as a relationship between two aces looks outwardly like a sexual relationship the two are indistinguishable to the court. This gets complicated when:

4) There's a question of custody or inheritance. If two people aren't married but SEEM LIKE they're knocking boots (and are straight), then the court has a history of considering them to be more weighty in questions of inheritance, child custody, etc. For aces who are just as intimate but who use less romantic language to describe their relationships, this could create some funky legal territory.

5) If you get deeper into nonsexual intimacy, everything goes haywire. Consider two people who are nonsexually intimate and who couldn't become sexually intimate in a way that the court would approve of. Two sisters can't legally be coparents of the same child, but two unrelated not-sexin' best friends can.

6) Of course, things REALLY get scandelous if you're some degenrate who has intimate nonsexual relationships with more than one person. This is verboden, since the court thinks it could pave the way for polygamist cults in Utah to force young women to marry old men. (Um, are we REALLY drawing the right legal line here?) Say that I'm triangulating with a sexual couple and thhe three of us raise a kid together- there's no way for me to legally be a part of that kid's life. The way around this would be to create something that's a cross between a marraige certificate and a binding legal contract, though we're a ways from this sort of contract being recognized by the state in the way that a marraige or civil union is.

Happy to hear any thoughts/corrections from the legal community!!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Asexy Politics: Report-Out From Creating Change

This is a big deal.

To understand how big a deal, let’s back things up.

The year is 2004, AVEN is a less than a month into its first big media wave in the UK, and Creating Change Conference comes to my hometown of St. Louis Missouri. Naturally, I sign up as a volunteer to check it out, and I’m blown away, BLOWN AWAY, by what I see. Every power player in the national gay rights, trans rights and queer movements are there, along with hundreds of community centers and student organizers, most of the people that we need to have asexuality widely embraced across the movement. I frantically go around to tables and workshop sessions, handing out pamphlets and getting brushed off by one organization after another. The asexual community was still tiny, not even a blip on the political radar screen, and these groups all have more pressing things to focus on. For every year since then I’ve been pushing to get a workshop at the conference, trying to get a platform to reach out to this close-knit community of activists.

Well this year, thanks to the help of Asexual Awareness Week and the (A)sexual documentary we got one, and it landed better than we could have hoped. Here’s a blow-by-blow for anyone interested in the state of ace politics.

Day 1:

I arrive on next to no sleep and meet up with Sarah Beth Brooks of Asexual Awareness Week. Sarah Beth’s a veteran of the marriage equality movement in California, and knows the crowd at the conference like the back of her hand.

We start working the tables, hitting up the big LGBT political groups and comprehensive sex ed organizations. Pretty much all of them have heard something about asexuality and want to learn more (very different than the situation in 2004.) They get a slightly overwhelmed look in their faces when both of us walk up and hand them different business cards as if to say “The asexual community is ORGANIZED now? Like, with two distinct organizations? Crap...”

We have the same proposal for all of them- distribute information about asexuality anywhere that you do education, and have an educational session for your internal staff so that they can learn more about asexuality. All of the major orgs take us up on the offer except (unfortunately) for GLSEN (we just need to find a new contact there.)

Stash of business cards in hand, we head to our session. We have NO idea how many people will show up, average session size is about 15, and we’re competing with about two dozen other conference workshops. The film’s director, the stellar and badass Angela Tucker, shows up to be nervous with us. As 1:00PM rolls around people start coming through the door.

And keep coming.

All of the chairs in the room fill up, then all of the space along the back wall and in the aisles. In the end there were about 150 people, though the space couldn’t have physically held any more.

The three of us head out for the actual movie (we’ all seen it dozens of times already), and sneak back into the room for Q&A as the film wraps up. The response is incredibly positive. People ask thoughtful questions about how to integrate asexuality into work already being done by the LGBTQ movement, and many many people in the audience mention that they are going to fight to get the film shown at their campus/community center/etc.

The formal session time is over, so we invite anyone who wants to to join us on the floor out in the hall to keep the conversation going. About 35 people join us (remember, average session size is about 15) and it quickly becomes clear that they don’t want to talk about the film. Most of the people sitting in the circle are Ace, and many are struggling to build awareness and find acceptance in their own lives. We quickly break into groups to let everyone share their experiences and trade tips on building LGBTQ allies that we can trust.

Fun fact: many campuses don’t host ace events because they haven’t heard anyone requesting them. When they finally do, it’s not uncommon for dozens of people on a campus to come out of the woodwork and find one another. Really powerful.

Day 2:

We’ve decided to host an asexual/grey-A caucus, so I stop by Whole Foods. Turns out it is (I kid you not) National Chocolate Cake Day:

I get two.

We show up at the conference and head straight for the conference organizers, telling them about our massive turnout and requesting a caucus session. They’re very impressed (clearly they didn’t see this coming), and get busy arranging something for us. They announce our session on the main stage, in front of the entire conference, and a panel of international bigwigs, including Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Huzzah!

That afternoon we grab 45 minutes with Mara Keisling, Trans Lobbyist Rockstar, Jedi Master, and huge ace ally since forever. We focus our discussion on responding to the recent House episode, though it quickly gets into her broader political assessment of the state of the ace community. She’s very impressed with how far we’ve come, and wants to work with us however she can to help us along. An extremely cool and experienced organizer from Denver volunteers to hang out with us and take notes.

She also talks about how shocklingly common it is for people in the trans community to use the word “asexual” to describe themselves, though they only sometimes use the word with a definition similar to ours. Turns out the the trans community has a pretty massive contingent of aces which is (on an organizational level) disconnect from the pretty massive contingent of trans, genderqueer, and nuetrois folks within the ace community.

This makes me rub my hands together a bit. On an organizational level, there are a lot of trans support groups out there that don’t really know that much about supporting aces, and very clearly should. Similarly, the main ace organizations that exist have yet to really effectively integrate resources to support/make a safe space for trans and genderqueer folks (despite the disproportionate percentage of our community that identifies this way.)

Here’s what it might look like:
  • A couple folks from the ace community (who may or may not have some student organizing, writing, social media, or web design experience) could form a an Ace Gender Taskforce.
  • Right away they could reach out to lower-level staffers from organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality (I know some) or people who serve the trans community in some way (I know some of them too) to either join the team or serve as advisors.
  • They could set up meetings with/get elected to/volunteer on the AVEN PT, the Asexual Awareness Week core team, and organizations which do support and advocacy with transpeople. They could take resources from one set of organizations and help integrate them into the other. They could serve as ambassadors, making sure that trans and/or ace issues get meaningfully addressed.
  • They could start a kickass blog about it.
  • They could then speak about it at conferences like Creating Change (I guarantee we’ll have sessions next year) or at campuses around the country (where there’s a lot of interest in this overlap.)

Back to the conference:

After our power sit-down, we grab our cake and hoof it over to the ace caucus. About 15 people show up, almost all of whom are Ace identified, and we get into a discussion about the future of the movement and about how to more effectively to ace organizing in highschools and college campuses. For those of you who didn’t see the latest AAW census, a 59% of our community is currently in highschool or college, it’s an extremely important place to be doing visibility work.

We finish the cakes and check out for the night, though another rockstar organizer sticks around to help us plan a few amazing things that are still to be announced. At around 10PM Sara Beth and I finally call it a day and go out for celebratory beers. We (finally) check in about our personal lives, both filled with large, complex communities of people who love us. It’s good to get to check in with another Ace about our experience, to talk to someone who really understand the connection between the feeling of impact and the feeling of connection.