I’m often to be found wearing or displaying aspects of Asexual Pride, to demonstrate my identity and my affinity with the community. But what is Asexual Pride, and why does it matter that I do this?
Why do we need Asexual Pride?
While the LGBTQIA+ community’s acronym is never-ending, most of the blogs, most of the ‘community’, is on the left hand side. Asexuality is much less visible. There are fewer of us, and we’re much less ‘active’. You’re much less likely to see an asexual pride flag than most of the other community flags.
In some ways this is a by-product of what Asexuality is. Because we’re not necessarily looking for the same things others in the Rainbow acronym are, a large part of most other people’s personal drive we just don’t connect with. Like for me, being asexual doesn’t affect my everyday life so its not something I think about that often. If others feel the same, then I may well have come across people who are asexual but not openly so.
And this is one of the main reasons we need Asexual Pride. To show people that we exist, that we are a community, and that you’re not alone if you feel society doesn’t understand you listen to you.
How does society see Asexuals?
Society as a whole tends to be quite dismissive of asexuality, and sometimes that makes it hard to ‘come out’, and to embrace Asexual Pride.
A survey by the Williams Institute of Law in 2019 revealed 86% of asexuals surveyed were female, or at least assigned female at birth. Other surveys put the figure slightly lower, around 70-75%, but even so, Asexuality is ‘seen’ as being a ‘female’ thing. Partly this is to do with toxic masculinity. As a man, it’s widely accepted that if you’re not attracted to women, you must be ‘gay’, or ‘a woman’ yourself, so being attracted to no-one at all is something that sits really badly in the eyes of many (heterosexual) (men) in culture and society, especially those who drive public opinion. At least with homosexuality you’re attracted to ‘someone’; it might be something that people don’t ‘understand’, but at least they can relate to it. The idea that someone could be attracted to nobody, that’s just completely alien. Asexual Pride is thus linked to challenging the patriarchy, making society accept that male Asexuals exist.
In a highly-sexualised world, asexuality confuses people. It sometimes feels the whole concept of ‘not having sexual attraction’ doesn’t make sense to the average person in the street. Think of the books you read, the TV shows and movies you watch, the celebrities you follow, the brands you buy into. They all seem to promote the idea of two people being together, with the underlying subtext of sex. Heteronormativity is assumed – the commonly-held belief that a man and a woman can never be ‘just friends’ for instance – but regardless of orientation, the world always feels like it’s geared to the idea of ‘coupling’, and that anyone who doesn’t want to ‘pair off’, well, there’s something wrong with them, or they’re trying to hide something. Unlike many asexuals, my sex-positivity means my major irk with this is its lack of consistency and its over-reliance on sexual stereotypes rather than on the existence of such a sexualised society in itself, but it still irks me.
If you’re just coming to terms with your sexuality, or feeling confused because you’re ‘not like other people’ – especially if you don’t see people who represent your feelings in the media – then such ignorance, especially combined with acephobia, is unhelpful, bordering on abusive. Research by The Trevor Project in 2020 suggested levels of anxiety and depression were higher in asexual youth than in the rest of the LGBTQI+ youth community.
What is acephobia? What should you not say to an asexual?
Acephobia is the objection to, discrimination and hatred of, asexuals, in the same way that homophobia is the hatred of homosexuals, etc.
A poster I bought from ‘keep_persisting’ (Courtney Privett) on the website Zazzle.
For asexuality, some of the time, reactions tend to be not so much offensive as dismissive. Acephobia, in that sense, is less geared to people genuinely fearing of us, but more along the lines of ‘pity’, almost.
It comes mostly from a lack of understanding, which as seen above is present across society as a whole. And it’s widely known that people don’t trust what they don’t know. There’s a whole myriad of demeaning questions, statements, projected at Asexuals dismissing us. With some there’s an attitude of ‘oh you just haven’t met the right person’ and ‘it’s just a phase’, implying that we don’t know ourselves, and that we can be changed. The belief is that everyone has ‘the one’, a ‘soulmate’, and if I keep myself open and looking, I’ll eventually find them. Keen-eyed readers will remember that I’ve been engaged thrice; you’d have thought that *at the time*, I truly believed I had found them.
This also suggests we’re only children, and that we ‘haven’t grown up yet’. This is quite invalidating; doubly so when you see just how much heteronormative marketing people are exposed to from an early age. Apparently 12 is ‘too young’ to know you’re trans, gay, or asexual, but not too young to have a gender-appropriate partner lined up for you by your parents every time you mention their name as a friend.
Some push this deeper, into thoughts of ‘oh I can make you less Asexual’ or ‘you’re broken, I need to fix you’ (with hints of using ‘corrective rape’). Others wonder if we’re asexual for a reason (‘were you abused as a child, is that why you don’t like sex?’), and again suggest we’re ‘broken’ and that we ‘should see a therapist about that’. Still others say we’re being ‘selfish’ and that ‘it’s not fair to others who can’t get laid’, or that we’re just ‘whiny virgins using it as an excuse’.
At times though, people (and I mean my mother) will ask questions that appear to be neutral but still hit as acephobic, even if unintentionally. I mean things like “When are you going to settle down?” (often, due to my travel fetish, in conjunction with “Are you just getting it out of your system?”). It’s still the same question, implying that my sexuality is a phase, an invalid selection, and one day I’ll come to my senses and return to the standard that society has set.
This also invalidates QPRs and other sorts of relationships of course. So, subtweeting my mother again, while she’s finally given up expecting me to produce grandchildren, she still wonders if she “needs to buy a hat” (for an upcoming wedding) every time I mention a female name. That most of my friends are female is something that I think confuses her anyway, especially my relationships with them. Whether they’re aware of it, accept it, or not, my female friends don’t seem to see me as any kind of threat – to an extent I’m their stereotype ‘gay best friend’, without actually being gay. Indeed one of my long-term friends said “if anyone ever asks me if there’s a man I’m not dating I’d feel comfortable in a changing room with, or if my head was on their lap, it’s BB”. But society, most people, and especially people like my mother, don’t ‘get’ this.
How does the LGBTQIA+ community see asexuals?
You would have thought the LGBTQIA+ community would accept asexuality without a problem, especially as in the early days of activism, asexuals were seen as a brand of bisexuals. The logic here is that bisexuals and asexuals had the same attraction to the opposite sex, just in asexuals’ case, that attraction was zero.
However, because there’s less legislation against asexuality, because we’re openly less discriminated against in the street, we’re often criticised as ‘not being Queer enough’. There’s a feeling we don’t really deserve to belong in the same space. There’s a disappointingly large group who believe the ‘A’ in the rainbow acronym stands for ‘ally’; firstly, why would allies need to be in the group in the first place, and secondly, that’s quite demeaning and dismissive, ‘A’ also stands for Aromantic, who themselves oft get erased as people just see it as a shade of asexual, and Agender, which is a form of non-binary so theoretically is covered under the ’T’, but not all enbies identity with the Trans label. Hi.
Some people even see us even just as ‘closet cis-hets’ – hiding our heterosexual identities behind a veneer to penetrate ‘safe spaces’, because people simply don’t understand the concept of not being attracted to anyone. The overlap with Transphobia is revealing. The same Trevor Project survey found 41% of asexual youth surveyed were Trans or Enby, with a further 13% questioning their gender identity, compared to 25% and 9% across the rest of the sample.
I’m not sure to what end we’d want to do this; it’s not like we want to get into your underwear or anything, by sheer definition. Maybe we’re a bit like lettuce or cucumber in a salad – we bulk up the volume whilst being quite inoffensive and somewhat beige. Who wouldn’t want us on your plate?
What does the asexual pride flag look like?
Speaking of beige, one of my personal beefs with the Asexual Pride Flag is … and this is just my opinion you understand, but … see, the Gay Pride flag is fabulous. The archetypal rainbow. It’s distinctive, it’s colourful, it’s full of life. Just looking at it fills you with a sense of joy, of excitement, of having an emblem you can really get behind.
The Asexual Pride flag; well I have sewn one to my backpack. In Covid times I’ve been regularly wearing a facemask in the Asexual Pride colours. There’s even one on my front door to block out the stairwell light. I’m proud to display my asexuality because it means something to me, and I want to show society that we exist, and that it’s okay to be asexual. But is it a flag you could stand up and be proud that it represents you?
It has four horizontal bands. And what colours are these bands? Is one an exciting yellow representing the sunshine and happiness of living your own life? Is one an earthy green representing that we’re grounded in reality and open to the world as it is without any subtext? Or maybe a nice sky blue, showing that we’re not bounded by other people’s limits but instead free to soar in the skies as we wish.
Asexual Pride flag in the wild, as seen on the FlagsForGood website.
From the top, it’s bands of black, grey, white, and purple. Apparently, the black stripe represents pure asexuality (and I feel this promotes the stereotype; a dark, loveless, hidden, cold, soul), the white stripe those asexuals who still feel some sexual attraction, & the grey stripe is because Asexuality is a spectrum. Thus the flag includes demisexuals (those who can experience sexual attraction, but only with a strong emotional bond) and grey-asexuals (those whose sexual feelings appear on very rare occasions). The purple stripe’s supposed to represent the asexual community as a whole. No, no idea either, but purple’s a cool colour at least.
It’s arguably the least exciting Pride-related flag of them all. It’s like we turned up late when they were handing colours out & this is all that was left. It resembles the display from a badly-tuned low-colour monitor from the 70s, or what would happen if someone put a rainbow in Lightroom & reduced saturation to -70%. The exact opposite of the LGBT Pride flag, it’s singularly devoid of any happiness or joy. It may even perpetuate a stereotype of asexuals as grumpy bastards; sad, dour individuals who’ve had all our happiness sucked out, & who severely lack in imagination.
I liken it to being at school and having homework to design a flag; it’s now 13:50 and your lesson is in ten minutes yet you still haven’t started. You rush into a classroom only to find there’s only two felt-tip pens (sharpies) to hand – black and purple – and after shading in the upper part of the flag, you find the black pen is running out. But that’s okay, cos no-one’s ever going to use the flag anyway,
It was decided by an internet poll on an Asexual website. I’d hate to have seen the rejected options. They probably involved brown; the only colour that would make this flag worse.
There are people who like the Asexual Pride Flag. I am not judging them. But there are also people who think ‘Stay Another Day’ is a Christmas song, and ‘Die Hard’ is a Christmas Movie.
Who are Asexual Pride role models?
One of the problems is that asexuals don’t feel they have any role models to define themselves against; there’s very few asexual equivalents of Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry, or Captain Jack Harkness. [Maybe “The Doctor” themself, but even that gets ret-conned occasionally]. There’s very few who have openly come out and said ‘I am asexual, hear me roar’.
This is one of the problems with asexuality in fiction and pop-culture (and to an extent in society as a whole). Representation is often implied, rather than specifically noted. This leads to what you might call ‘head-canons’, of people reading the scrappiest, minute detail in a character and declaring them ‘acespec’ because there’s no evidence to the contrary. One of the most common is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series, who is regularly seen by acespec individuals as at least demisexual, if not outright asexual and aromantic, because her focus and her seeming active disinterest in relationships suggest no evidence of traditional romantic leanings or desires – even at the end her situation is read to be more to conform to societal norms and needs rather than any active preferences of her own. Yet it’s never explicitly stated she’s acespec, so realistically we can’t assign her as representative, even if she largely is.
There are, at the time of my writing this post, 8 Asexual Men and 8 Asexual Women notable enough to be listed on Wikipedia, and some of those are dubious. There are also 11 Fictional Asexuals, including Spongebob Squarepants. I don’t quite know what to do with this information, nor how much that’s going to change my life knowing that one of the leading asexual role-models is a yellow sponge, but hey.
Other, more accessible, canonically Ace characters in fiction include Peridot from the Stephen Universe animated series, arguably Ozymandias in Watchmen (in the live-action variants it’s how he’s been portrayed), Florence in the Netflix show ‘Sex Education’, Varys from Game of Thrones, Todd from Bojack Horseman, and Liv Flaherty in UK soap opera Emmerdale (possibly the first time an asexual character has appeared in a prime-time populist show like a soap opera, certainly in the UK).
In terms of real life activists, as mentioned earlier there’s very few. Probably the most notable, or at least considered the leading activist and the one most cited on the very rare occasions the subject reaches national media, is Yasmin Benoit – doubly interesting as she’s also a model, something that’s more closely associated with sexual culture.
Two asexuals walk into a club. Insert your own punchline here. It’s Barefoot Backpacker and Eliott Simpson..
Others include the YouTuber Daniel Walker (Slice of Ace), the comedian Eliott ‘Sockface’ Simpson who’s performed at the Edinburgh Festival (with his show wonderfully titled ‘I’m Asexy And I Know It’), Cody Daigle-Orians (who runs the ‘Ace Dad Advice’ channel on YouTube), and the podcasters/broadcasters Sarah Costello and Kayla Kaszyca who run the ‘Sounds Fake But Okay’ podcast. That these are always the names mentioned on any list of asexual activists shows you how small the community is.
Why are there so few Asexuals who are ‘out’?
You can see there’s not many openly Asexual people. Maybe in part it’s that we don’t feel we need to? I know it always seems it’s relatively easier to ‘stay safer’ as an asexual than it is as most of the other orientations. And as I say on my post about older asexuals, we never had rep growing up so we didn’t know it was possible; we never learned who we were. So we ended up in the main just being bad at heterosexuality, hiding in plain sight. Related to this; you’ll notice apart from Cody, pretty much all the real-life Asexual activists mentioned above are almost all on the cusp of Generation-Z and Millennial, and the fictional examples are mostly in media that cater to younger generations.
But should we be hiding ourselves like this, even if it’s unintentional? Does it make a difference? Are we challenging society as much as gays, lesbians, transexuals? Is not having sex at all better or worse than having sex with the ‘wrong’ people? Genuinely, I don’t know, I just know it’s far easier explaining away my lack of a love life and children than it might be for others.
There’s a certain amount of privilege here, of course – I’m fully aware of that; as a non-displaying, outwardly heterosexual-looking, male-presenting person, I can get away with being much more complacent than many others. This will be less true for other asexuals, and I’m definitely not saying that asexuals themselves are privileged. As people with non-culturally-standard orientations we still get marginalised and ignored, just often in a different way to our queer brethren. And of course we need to take intersectionality into account – Asexual PoC, Disabled Asexuals, Trans Asexuals, Religious Asexuals, and other marginalised groups for whom Asexuality is either an additional minority trait, or one seen in that culture as being ‘problematic’.
How can I be a good ally to asexuals
It’s pretty easy to be an ally to asexual people; the biggest step is wanting to be.
The second biggest step is accepting who we are, and believing us when we tell you what we feel.
Other than that, it’s a case of being respectful. Don’t ask loaded or personal questions unless we’ve specifically given you that green light. It doesn’t matter how well-meaning your intention, or how innocent you might think they sound. I know there’s a tendency to use sex and family as a kind of default-option in some conversations,
but hopefully you understand asking a newly-married couple ‘so when are you having kids?’ is rude and intrusive. The same is true asking asexuals about their sex and love lives, in general. And, of course, don’t use any of the phrases highlighted above in the aphobia section above.
Asexual Pride is important, as it’s the best way to foster the community. We can say ‘we exist’, and others can realise their feelings are valid and not listen to those, sometimes well-meaning, voices who try to promote an allosexual culture. I just wish we had a better flag.
One constant in everyday life is the assumption amongst people that sexual relations are ‘normal’ or even ‘expected’, and also they’re often considered enjoyable. Part of me wonders if this is just a lie perpetuated by society, culture, and the media, and that people say they like it because that’s what’s expected of them – they’re ‘supposed’ to so they do. I wonder how many nominally sexual people genuinely enjoy it, and how many merely tolerate it out of expectation and duty. “Not tonight, I’ve got a headache”, and how couples who have been married for over a decade seem to lose the urges. If even sexual people go through times of lacking desire and sexual attraction, why is it so difficult to consider that for some people, that’s the default original state.