Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Evolution of Asexual Activism

This is about how my identities cannot be summed up in letters.”

I’ve been doing asexual activism ever since I was 19. It’s been my passion, my life-project, my freedom. To talk about asexuality, to educate people… I remember myself at 17, talking to a friend of mine about how crazy I sometimes feel for actually having trouble sleeping at night because some people don’t accept asexuality for the simple lack of knowledge. I would talk about how one day I’ll be interviewed about this on mass media and everyone will know, and how crazy it is to even think this big. Why would anyone else care enough to interview me? But I was restless. And honestly quit crazy. It was that combination that made me feel unstoppable a few years later.

So this is my story: I don’t remember when I started getting interested in gender and sexuality, but it had to be at a young age. At 14 I started identifying as bisexual in order not to limit myself (and also because I did find both men and women attractive, just not in a sexual way). I even came out as bi to my friends at the end of 9th grade. And I had this huge fascination with sexuality, though it still really embarrassed me. I loved sex ed in 8th grade, because we studied it through biology and I got to learn a lot about our bodies and their functions. It was awesome.

When I was 16 I had a conversation with a new friend in my life. We were talking about past relationships, about attraction, and listening to her I realized I’ve never felt what she was talking about. I’ve suspected something might be different beforehand, but because my friends never talked about sexuality I thought this attraction thing and how it’s described is just a big Hollywood invention and no one actually feels that way. Suddenly, I heard myself saying that I think I’ve never been sexually attracted to anyone. And I guess there’s something fucked up about me, but if that’s who I am then so be it. I was extremely lucky that her response was to tell me that there was nothing fucked up about me – there’s such a thing, it’s called asexuality, and she sent me to the asexual forum in Hebrew.

I started coming out as asexual to my friends almost immediately. I said I didn’t find anyone sexually attractive and that’s it. I still kept my bi identity though, on a romantic level. Finally there was a name for what I was! I was a biromantic asexual. This was the beginning of a complexity of identities that will follow me to this day and eventually make me quit mainstream asexual activism.

When I was 19 I came out to my parents, and that’s what I consider as my “official coming out”. This is because up until then I was afraid to publicly speak about asexuality, but this gave a green light to go for it. I started giving talks about asexuality, first in my army base and later on in different LGBT groups. In 2010 I arranged the first ever asexual group to march in Tel-Aviv pride. I was crazy sick that day, almost everyone had cancelled at the last minute, but I went anyway. Sore throat, dizzy head, friends who came after I begged them to do so on the morning of the parade – but it was amazing. I felt like I finally created a place for myself in the LGBT community, even if the community itself still doesn’t see it. Which was an amazing feeling, because I was terrified to go to LGBT youth groups as a teenager from fear of ace-phobia (I thought I’d be laughed at for even thinking of myself as part of the LGBT community, even though I was biromantic). At the end, the person who helped me arrange this group (who wasn’t even asexual, but an ally) turned to me and said – “you do realize you just made history, right?”.

This was the beginning. Then interviews started pouring in, more and more invitation to give talks. Once in a forum meeting, I asked everyone if I could call myself “The Asexual Community’s Spokesperson” because that way people took me more seriously. Everyone said it just made sense – I really am their spokesperson. At the end of 2010 I visited David Jay and I was told, in a café in San Francisco, that I was an activist. I wasn’t even sure what the word meant, but it sounded way too radical to describe me. It was a funny intervention, I must admit (Thanks, DJ and SBB <3). I came back to Israel with knowledge. 2011 was an AMAZING year, with lots of talks, a first ever in an academic conference, the most amazing pride… People started talking about it.

This is when things started to get complicated. For 2-3 years, by this time, I’ve been working on getting the word “asexual” into people’s vocabulary, especially in the LGBT community. And it worked. Hell, it worked so well that I’m still “that asexual chick” to this very day. Only I’m not just that asexual chick.

When I was 15, I was first introduced to the concept of polyamory. It struck interest in me from the first second, and sounded so much more suitable to who I was. This information was kept somewhere in my head, even though for some reason I didn’t give it too much thought. Around 2011 it became more and more important to me. In the asexual discourse going on in my head at the time, I was thinking about concepts like queerplatonic relationships, or WTFromanticism (though I didn’t have the words for these yet). This went wonderfully with polyamory, and my polyamorous identity started to form.

Around the same time I was exposed to the genderqueer discourse and started identifying as panromantic rather than biromantic, due to the understanding that gender isn’t binary. I also started identifying more as a-gendered at the time.

I started fucking with sexual labels. I used them as a game – what can I learn from them, and when can I let them go and do whatever the fuck I want? I sat in an introduction to queer theory course at Tel-Aviv University and my views became queerer and queerer, and I started looking at my asexual activism in a different light. I realized I was using the rhetoric of “we’re just like you, except we don’t experience sexual attraction”. Which might be true for many asexuals, but not for me.

I’m not just like everyone else, besides my lack of sexual attraction. I use the asexual discourse as a political force, in order to object common perceptions of sexuality and relationships. I use the asexual discourse to talk about physical intimacy in words that aren’t-necessarily-sexual and aren’t-necessarily-non-sexual. I use the asexual discourse to experience physical pleasure, sometimes even sexual pleasure, through an understanding of sexuality that allows pleasure to be experienced in various ways that don’t necessarily begin with attraction. I use the asexual discourse to fight the dichotomy of “sexual” and “non-sexual”, of “romantic” and “non-romantic”. I use the asexual discourse to value my non-sexual relationships, in a way that compliments my polyamorous approach. I use it to build relationships I couldn’t have otherwise, through the combination of the poly and the asexual discourses.

None of these can be represented in mainstream activism. In my experience, mainstream activism requires simple concepts, easy to comprehend sound-bites, preferably served with a smile and an upbeat attitude.

In 2011 I was first exposed to the idea of “The Unassailable Asexual” (aka “The Gold Star Asexual”) thanks to Hot Pieces of Ace videos (I miss you guys!). It threw me off completely. To those of you who’ve never heard of this idea, it refers to a political approach towards visibility and community life in the asexual community (and in my experience, in every minority based community…) that we should come off as the most normal, likable, appreciated members of society as possible, besides this one difference. In the asexual community, this means the best representatives would be considered those who are hetero-romantic, have a sex drive, don’t have a history of mental disorders, were never sexually assaulted, grew up in a sex-embracing environment, were always asexual, and are generally positive, friendly, attractive people who enjoy the company of others. This approach is a direct result of the responses asexuality gets. No one can tell “The Unassailable Asexual” that they are asexual because of something.

It’s easy to brush off a comment such as – “were you ever sexually assaulted? Maybe that’s why you’re asexual” with the answer – “no, I was never sexually assaulted”. It’s much harder to explain to someone why their question is actually invalid to the situation. In the ace community, we all know the difference between PTSD symptoms that can sometimes result in the avoidance of sex and between not experiencing sexual attraction. Explaining that is difficult.

It’s far more difficult to explain that even if the person in question is experiencing a lack of sexual attraction due to sexual violence, it doesn’t make their feelings, identity, or life experience less valid.

And it’s insanely difficult to explain to people that sexuality is fluid and is influenced by numerous factors and experiences, and asexuality is just another possibility for our unstable sexuality to sometimes be. And if you have a five minute segment, it’s plainly impossible.

For the last two years, after realizing this, I decided as a political act to keep presenting myself as close to “The Unassailable Asexual” as I could when it came to mass media interviews. This meant I talked about being biromantic, but I never ever talked about having mental disorders. Or a fear of trying new things. Or a fluid sexuality. Or being polyamorous. This stuff would sometimes come up in talks that I gave (as long as they were longer than 30 minutes). I decided to represent the easy-to-digest asexuality rather than representing myself. I put the queer Gaia aside for the media, and would let her publicly out only during in-depth LGBT outreach.

This became harder and harder as years went by. I found myself facing questions I had to choose how to answer – the “normal”, simple answer, or what I really thought. When people would suggest that asexuality can’t be a sexual identity because it’s a phase, should I tell them I’ve been ace my entire life, or should I say that their question isn’t relevant to my understanding of human sexuality? Or to how sexual minority discourses evolve? One would be the smoother political answer, the other would be what I actually believe. When I have five minutes, I have it decided for me already. But when I have an hour long talk – I get to choose. But for a while I was afraid that if I were to answer what I really thought, I would let down the whole asexual community. Because not everyone who identifies as asexual sees sexuality like I do, or believes that asexuality is more important as a discourse rather than a solid, essential identity. And when I’m appearing somewhere as “Gaia, The Asexual Community’s Spokesperson”, I have to take that into consideration. And I can’t express my opinion – my sex positive, queer perspective has to be silenced in order to represent the community.

This became impossible in the past year. During the past year I’ve experienced, for the first time ever, major shifts in my sexuality. I found myself enjoying sex occasionally, or having very sexual periods of time along with my “regular” asexual periods of time. I still consider myself asexual, because I don’t find people sexually attractive. I do find sex to be attractive sometimes, though (further explained in my post, Asexy Sex). Up to now, when I’ve been asked in outreach activities why don’t I just try sex to see if I like it, I had my simple answer ready. I knew that saying that “it hasn’t happened before and probably won’t happen unless I ever actually want to have sex” was a compromise – I knew that some asexuals were having sex and enjoying it, but because I wasn’t one of them I could keep my record “clean” of confusing experiences to the normative audience. But once I started desiring sex occasionally, I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to start giving the long explanation every time I was asked, trying to verbalize my approach towards attraction, physical intimacy, physical pleasure, not-necessarily-sexual-not-necessarily-non-sexual experiences and so on. Which was confusing, and I probably lost a lot of the audience along the way. And I would only ever dare to do it in a talk, never in an interview.

So I stopped doing interviews altogether, fearing I’d be asked about sexual pleasure in a way I can’t gloss over anymore due to my personal experiences. And when I would talk about my experiences in almost every environment but my queer community, I’d get laughed at. I didn’t even bring it up in the Israeli asexual community because I knew the majority of people on the forum don’t come from a sex positive or a queer point of view, which would make it impossible to explain – and might even make them think I’m trying to “take” asexuality and the essence of its definition and presentation away from them. It was easier to talk to queer folk about asexuality because we had similar views on sexuality in general.

Last pride I reached my limit. It took me about two weeks to write the A5 page long fliers. This is because I was trying to explain asexuality MY way, but also in a way the community could feel represented by. I had to find a way to explain asexuality as a sexual identity without using the term “sexual orientation” (why? Read here). I had to be careful not to knock gray-a’s out of the flier’s explanation. I had to be careful not to dichotomize romanticism and aromanticism.

And that’s when it hit me: of course no flier is going to represent all of us. We all have different approaches to sexuality, sex, relationships and so on. We have different ideas about what asexuality is, and that’s perfectly fine. However, I felt obligated to put aside my queerness because our audience was mainstream. And it’s okay for those kind of politics to exist, it’s just not the politics I can stand behind anymore. So I’ve decided that those are the last fliers I’ll ever write representing the entire asexual community.

I’m not going to stop representing asexuality, but I am going to stop representing asexuals. I’m representing GAIA from now on – sex positive, queer, poly, radical feminist Gaia. And I’m going to talk about queer asexual politics, and whoever agrees with me is welcomed to join the new voices I wish to bring into asexual activism. We can’t be one unified community anymore, because to face the truth – we never were. I feel like we had to present ourselves as so in the beginning, to get people thinking about asexuality, to get the word and the basic concept out there. But if we have different approaches to sexuality and relationships, it just makes sense that we’d have a variety of political approaches as well. I believe we’re ready for something new – for queer, non-mainstream asexual politics, alongside mainstream outreach. I personally feel I’ve put asexuality on the map in Israel, so I feel comfortable enough to quit building the asexual hegemony. This means I can’t do interviews anymore, and even 30 minute talks are a little short… But it also means I can be ME, and that’s fucking fantastic.

I’ve heard rumors flying around, in the international asexual community, that I’ve quit asexual activism. That’s not entirely true. I’ve quit being the spokesperson, being THE asexual representative in Israel – but being the political person I am, I could never really quit asexual activism; I just have to do it my way this time. I think we’re ready for that.

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