Grown Geeks is a series looking at marginalized sexual and romantic identities as well as relationship structures. In my first installment, I talked about polyamory and other types of nonmonogamy. In this article, I will focus on asexuality.
The asexual community frequently flies under the radar of social perception and discourse, likely because we live in a society that places an immense value on sexuality and the sexualization of people, objects, and everything in between. That said, asexual people do exist in the world, including in geekdom. I interviewed three such individuals for this piece: Lindsey, David, and a person who asked to be known by her handle, LovelyGlassGirl. I asked them each a series of questions about their experiences, and they shared their ideas and stories to help give the geek community a better understanding of their identity and to bring visibility and awareness to asexuality.
When asking the interviewees about when they realized they identified on the asexual spectrum, their responses varied greatly. One person recognized their identity in high school, one in undergrad, and one well into adulthood. For some folks, coming into an asexual identity is a matter of recognizing and understanding personal experiences. Lindsey said that “it was easy to mistake the lack of sexual attraction towards anyone as sexual attraction towards everyone since I’d never felt it before.” David realized that he did not desire sex at the times he was expected to. For others, it’s a matter of putting a name to those experiences, and having the language to make sense of it all—this was the case for LovelyGlassGirl, who only learned of the term asexuality in college and, from there, how it applied to herself.
One thing mentioned across the board was a general lack of asexual representation in media, such as television and cinema. Lindsey noted that where there is vague representation of asexuality, it is often positioned as a side effect of a quirky personality, such as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory or Sherlock Holmes on BBC’s Sherlock. Another media annoyance that LovelyGlassGirl noted was how television and cinema are frequently “shoehorning sexual tension and/or relationships” into character dynamics and plot lines when there doesn’t really need to be one or where a platonic relationship might feel more natural. She goes on to state that the TV series Castle was a “particularly infuriating example” of the phenomenon and that she has almost entirely stopped watching television and movies because of the default inclusion of romantic relationships that are unnecessary or even run counter to established character development.
Along with these types of poor representations, media portrayals also make use of deeply troubling stereotypes about asexuality that are harmful to both asexual individuals and to the way we think about sexuality in general. One such stereotype is the idea that asexual people (sometimes referred to in the community as ace, or aces), are the way they are as the result of being “broken” from a past trauma. Unsurprisingly, this is a concept that every interviewee found troubling and frustrating. There also seems to be a general idea perpetuated by poor representations of ace folks that asexual people don’t participate in or enjoy any kind of physical intimacy, whether that be sex, kissing, or simpler forms of affectionate touch. This is not the case. Lindsey said:
Personally, physical intimacy means massages and cuddling! I am comfortable with sex, and I’ve done sexual things with my previous partners (and my sexual history is less than vanilla, I’ll put it that way) so I’d say I have a healthy relationship with sex, but honestly a neck massage and a night of cuddling sounds much more appealing! (I’m sure there are allosexual [non-asexual] people who agree with me on that one, too!)
For David, physical intimacy, including sexual touch, is the main way he expresses affection—as long as it’s giving, rather than receiving:
I love me some physical intimacy! It’s actually my primary “love language.” I even enjoy pleasing women sexually (using hands), as long as it’s not reciprocated. I have pretty much only dated two people since last year, and one of them is also on the asexual spectrum. The allosexual I dated (like other women in the past) was very hurt that I didn’t want to have sex with her. She assumed I would “get over it.” I finally broke up with her when it became obvious that she thought I was broken somehow, by saying (in jest), “Wow, your mom really fucked you up, huh?” As for right now, I’m not even really sure where my boundaries are. I still think that I’d like to try sex someday, but more from a standpoint of experimentation, as I’m pretty open minded overall. I am slightly sex repulsed, but I would be willing to put that aside at least once to try to see what the fuss is about.
David went on to say that he often finds it easier to sexualize situations over people—for example, masturbation before bed to aid sleep—and that it can be easier to become aroused if his partner is aroused, so long as there is no expectation of sex from that partner. He also stated that if he were to try sex, it would have to be with a friend who had no expectations of it happening again and would be mature enough to not let it ruin the friendship.
LovelyGlassGirl spoke about the role that physical intimacy plays in her and her husband’s relationship. They are both on the asexual spectrum. LovelyGlassGirl said that sexual intimacy is something they both find beneficial and enjoyable but that it can be a source of annoyance and frustration if it is not something they’ve agreed upon first. She emphasized the importance of communication when navigating her boundaries with partners, whether those partners were sexual, like her husband, or nonsexual, like her play partners.
All the responses from these ace folks regarding their boundaries, consent, and partnerships revolved around a central idea of communication: communicating boundaries, expectations, and needs. This idea is certainly not limited to asexual lives and relationships—these things are just as important for the wider community understanding asexuality. Adopting an attitude of respectful communication between geek communities and folks from different lifestyles and perspectives is critical to ending the marginalization of many identities. We can speculate all we want, but the only way to truly understand a community is to speak to that community about their lived experiences.
As wise activists have asked for many times over, “nothing about us without us”—when discussing the struggles of a marginalized group, include members of that group. Let’s take this sentiment to heart.