Asexuality, Pride, and Representation

While the community’s acronym is never-ending, LGBTQIA+, most of the blogs, most of the community, is at the left hand side. Asexuality doesn’t really sit well with the other identities. We promote the concept less than other orientations promote theirs, and you’re much less likely to see an asexual pride flag than most of the other community flags.

In general, I’ve found that asexuality is also something that’s hard to be ‘proud’ about. I guess this is partly because some asexuals are, like me, ‘indifferent’ to it in the sense that it’s not actually that important – it doesn’t affect my everyday life so its not something I think about that often – so possibly much of the time I come across people who are asexual but not openly so.

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.

To an extent, this attitude is seen within the LGBTQIA+ community as well as outside it. One the one hand, we’re not oppressed as much as others in the community, so there’s an argument that suggests we don’t really belong in the same space, as we don’t experience the same level of hatred from others. On the other hand some people see us 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. 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?

Speaking of beige, one of my personal beefs with Asexual Pride 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.

There is an Asexual Pride Flag. I have sewn one to my backpack. But it’s not exactly a flag you could stand up and be proud that it represents you. It’s a flag with 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.

No.

From the top, it’s bands of black, grey, white, and purple. It’s arguably the least exciting Pride-related flag of them all. It’s awful. It’s ugly. It’s like we turned up late at the colour distribution event & this is all we were 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.

In a way it seems apt; I’d like to think we asexuals are too busy in life having fun to worry about things like designing flags, and this the impression of being a flag designed by people with a deadline and this was what they came up with 5 minutes before they had to give their presentation – almost a ‘eh, that’ll do; we’re asexuals, we don’t care, we don’t need a flag anyway’ sort of situation – leading to a flag that isn’t really attractive but I doubt anyone really cares because we wouldn’t be flag-bearers anyway. Apparently it was decided by an internet poll on an Asexual website. Coming from a country that once voted to name an ocean-going vessel ‘Boaty McBoatface’, I have to say this doesn’t surprise me, though I really worry about what the alternative flag options were. The city of Magnitogorsk, in Siberia, has a town emblem of a black triangle on a grey background; it’s an industrial city that only really exists because of iron mining and steelworking, so its emblem kind of represents that. I kind of know how they must feel, stuck with a symbol that has quite an indifferent feel. I’d hate to have seen the rejected options. They probably involved brown; the only colour that would make this flag worse.

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 the ‘grey area’ transition between them – while these two concepts may sound weird at first, they provide representation for those people who can experience sexual attraction, but only with a strong emotional bond (demisexuals), as well as those people whose sexual feelings appear on very rare occasions (grey-asexuals). The purple stripe’s supposed to represent the asexual community as a whole. No, no idea either, but purple’s a cool colour.

Since most people probably wouldn’t recognise the flag, it’s probably not going to be a danger for me to travel to more socially-restrictive countries with it on display, since no-one’s going to know what it is. I could even probably pretend it’s the flag of some small obscure ex-communist European republic. Basically, I’m not scared to show it off (and indeed the “I’d rather eat cake” sweatshirt mentioned in a previous post has a small symbol of a slice of cake, layered out in the flag colours), whereas I may well be more so were I to be gay and travelling with a gay pride flag. I talk more about travelling as an asexual in another post, and I did a podcast on the same topic a couple of years ago. But Asexual Pride? Maybe that doesn’t quite sit as well with me.

But should it? Maybe 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 some examples of asexual representation though, both in real life and in pop-culture media. At the time of my research for one of my podcast episodes where I talked about this in passing, Wikipedia listed precisely 8 Asexual Men and 8 Asexual Women notable enough to be listed on their site; this is worldwide, note, and the latter includes Caitlyn Jenner whose connections to asexuality seem to be quite ‘dubious’, even by her own admission. There are 11 Fictional Asexuals, and in early May 2020 I learned that, canonically, Spongebob Squarepants is asexual. 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 rolemodels is a yellow sponge, but hey.

Other, more accessible, canonically (or at least said to be by one of the creators) 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.

Other leading activists 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’), 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. The other thing to note is their ages put them all on that cusp of Generation-Z and Millennial; one of my other posts looks at the issues this causes.

So why are there so few asexuals who are ‘out’? Maybe in part it’s that we don’t feel we need to? As I talk about on my post about travel, it’s relatively easier to stay safe as an asexual than it is as most of the other orientations, but should we be hiding ourselves like this, even if its 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.

But there’s a certain amount of privilege here, of course – I’m fully aware of that; as a non-displaying, outwardly heterosexual-looking, man I can get away with being much more complacent than many others, and why I, of all the people in the acronym, have the best of both worlds. This will be less true for other asexuals, of course, and I’m 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.

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For a broader summary, take a listen to Episode 32 of my podcast.

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