I recently had the privilege of having a close friend come out to me as asexual. From my understanding, asexuality means that an individual experiences no sexual attraction. As an ally, I want to share some insight about what that means, discuss the challenges asexuals face and how we can be supportive in every way possible. Although I identify within the LGBTTIQQ2SA+ umbrella, I believe that being an ally should not be limited to those who identify as straight and cisgendered. In order to be in solidarity with each other, we must take collective responsibility to acknowledge the existence of not only our own identities but for all gender and sexual diversity—with asexuality being one of them.
Asexuality is often faced with erasure within a hypersexualized culture. Sex is everywhere and has become so normalized within our lives that it can be difficult to imagine that for some people, a sexless life can be fulfilling. This is why asexual people have been pathologized and have experienced acts of discrimination towards their non-normative sexuality. Asexuality should not be mistaken as a disorder that needs to be treated. Instead, it should be recognized as a legitimate sexual orientation. Most asexual people have felt this way for their entire lives, while for some it may be more fluid while exploring and questioning their own sexuality.
Despite not feeling any sexual attractions, asexual people can still choose to be in romantic relationships with others. It is possible to be romantically attracted to people even if not sexually attracted to them. Other attractions include sensual or esthetic attraction, among many others. In a Salon interview with Julie Sondra Decker, who identifies as asexual, she explains that these types of complex attractions could potentially apply to all of us: “There have been straight people who feel very confused about the fact they may be sexually and romantically attracted to different-gender partners but seem to also be experiencing a romantic attraction to someone of their own gender. Wondering if that means they’re therefore gay or bi, they don’t know what to call it, but with terms like heterosexual biromantic, they can have words for their feelings.”
When we consider that there are many different ways we can be attracted to a person, I believe we can have meaningful and open conversations that better describe what we are experiencing as complex and unique human beings. In other words, it is possible to fulfil individual needs and desires without sexual expectations.
Decker explains that a non-asexual person will learn more about compromise if they would like to have a romantic relationship with an asexual person: “Comprise isn’t entirely about whether and to what extent they can get their asexual partner to tolerate or engage in sex. Along with negotiating sexual activity, some “mixed” partnerships have adopted non-monogamous lifestyles, as well as focused more on other intimate activities that make a romantic relationship the exclusive and beautiful partnership it is.”If you are interested in more information or looking for additional support, I recommend checking out Decker’s new book: The Invisible Orientation and visiting asexuality.org. The website states: “There is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual. Asexuality is like any other identity—at its core, it’s just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so.”