According to researchers at Brock University, at least 1% of the human population is considered to be asexual.
Yet, within the media, asexuals remain highly underrepresented, especially within discussions around sex and sexuality. Oftentimes, it seems that even within queer or straight communities, asexuals continue to be the unseen minority.
To fix this invisibility, activist David Jay launched the online platform AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) in 2001. Now, twenty years later, AVEN is considered the largest online asexual community with thousands of members from around the world.
David Jay has also worked hard to help the public understand asexuality, speaking at events like the 2015 ideacity conference, as well as in the documentary (A)sexual. Now considered to be one of the leading American asexual advocates, David Jay travels internationally spreading awareness about asexuality.
Recently, Femestella had the pleasure of speaking with David Jay to help us answer all of our questions about exactly what it means to be “ace.” Check it out below.
How would you define “asexuality” for someone who might not know?
We usually say that an asexual person is someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction.
Like most things in human sexuality, it’s a spectrum: some people (like me) experience next to no sexual attraction, for others it’s rare (greysexual) or only happens deep into a relationship (demisexual).
I tend to use “ace” as an umbrella term for folks like me on the low end of this spectrum. I also try not to get too caught up in definitions.
I started using the word asexual because I was struggling with the message that I couldn’t have the emotional intimacy I craved without sexual intimacy I could care less about. It was a tool for understanding myself and where I fit in the world. That’s what the word is for many aces today: a tool for figuring ourselves out, not a consistently defined diagnosis. Like any good tool, it tends to look a little different for everyone who uses it.
In 2001, you had launched AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network? Can you tell us the purpose of this network and its components?
AVEN is dedicated to creating open, honest public dialogue about [the] ace experience and to creating a space where people can figure themselves out. It’s there to educate and to serve the community.
One of the most important things it does is to create a space for people who are exploring ace identity for the first time to learn that they’re not alone, share their stories, and receive support. This is incredibly important — receiving that support can mean the difference between years of shame and fear and those same years confidently and deeply connecting with yourself and others on your own terms.
What are some of the common misconceptions about asexuality?
The biggest one is that being ace means that you are destined to be alone. A lot of people equate sexuality, romance, and emotional intimacy. Among many sexual people I know, there’s a big fear that if you don’t date you’ll be alone forever, and they see aces and think that that’s the path we’re on.
The truth is that we just get creative with our intimacy. We do romance without sex, deeply committed emotional intimacy without romance.
Which isn’t to say that aces universally avoid sex, plenty of us have it and even enjoy it. We don’t experience sexual attraction, which means we’re not drawn to it in the same way that most people are, but if we have a good reason to have it and genuinely want to, then it can be a nice experience for some of us.
The final misconception about aces is that we’re similar. There are conventionally attractive cis male aces struggling with mental health issues, wheelchair-using panromantic demisexuals who laugh off getting desexualized and form relationships on their own terms, devout Muslim aces exploring their identities through the lens of their faith. Because we are put different expectations of sexuality put on our bodies, we all have different struggles when we break those expectations. The stories that make up our aceness wind up being different and our identities wind up being different.
What do you think of the current state of asexual representation in the media?
We’re starting to see much better representations with shows like Bojack Horseman, in part because they’re actively talking to members of our community. Shows like Sex Education are having more out ace characters, though it’s still very limited.
Out ace characters in TV and movies are (to my knowledge) all white, all cis, all relatively young, and portrayed as in the early stages of coming to terms with their identities.
We’ve made a lot of progress since House “cured” an asexual couple in one episode. But I don’t think that writers understand yet what intersectional aceness looks like, or what confidence aceness looks like. I would love to see a character exploring their ace identity run into a more experienced ace who helps them explore what kind of intimacy works for them, but I don’t think studios know how to write them yet.
Why is asexual visibility in the media so important?
We’re still relatively new in public consciousness, people are still forming their first impressions of what aceness is. That means that cultural stereotypes that could be with us for decades are being laid down now. If every ace portrayed in popular culture is white and insecure or socially awkward, that will make a certain kind of impression. It’s critical that we get good information out there, and it’s critical that we show people the range of ways that aceness shows up in the world.
Do you think asexual people should be considered part of the queer/ LGBTQ+ community?
Definitely! According to the Ace Community Census, most aces have some intersecting queer identity. Many of us show up in queer spaces, many of us participate in queer culture and activism.
While I wouldn’t say that every ace is queer (plenty don’t identify that way), I don’t think you can draw a complete picture of the queer community without us. We share too many struggles and too many goals, our experiences of sexuality are too wrapped up with those of other forms of queerness.
That doesn’t mean that we’re entitled to a seat at the table. Most queer organizations and organizers had to put in long, hard work in shared struggles to get a voice in LGBTQ+ movements, we shouldn’t expect to get one for just showing up and being ace. But if we build trust, if we earn that seat (which many of us are doing), then we have a lot to contribute.
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Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and The Challenge. When she’s not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her taking an absurd amount of photos of her tuxedo cat Tom.