How to Be an Asexual Ally (Part 1)
A guide to being inclusive: Part 1 of 3
Think about when you first heard of asexuality. What was your first thought?
“What’s wrong with them? How could they not be interested in the best thing in the world?”
“Wow, how interesting . . . I want to know what it’s like to be that person!”
“Oh, that’s cool . . . I didn’t know that existed, but it makes sense!”
“I hope for their sake they can be cured. . . .”
“That sounds awfully familiar . . . maybe I’m asexual!”
Unless this article is your first introduction to asexuality, you thought something. Maybe you said something. Maybe you wondered later whether what you said sounded ignorant. Or maybe you stayed silent and regretted it. Maybe you’re wondering if it would have been okay to ask questions. Maybe you’re wondering how you can be supportive of the asexual community even if you’re not one of its members. Maybe you want to know how to be an asexual ally.
Well, we hope so. And for people like you, I’ve collected some statements from around the asexuality community about what people like us want from people like you.
What would we like you to do to make us feel valued and accepted?
The single most common and resoundingly consistent answer from the asexual community is that we want you to acknowledge that asexuality exists.
Sounds easy, but keep in mind asexual people are a largely invisible minority. They’re not exactly oppressed so much as they are erased–it’s not so much phobia against but complete lack of acknowledgment. And yes, erasure can still have real, measurable negative effects and cause marked stress for some people, though no one is saying erasure is the same thing as violent expressions of oppression or suggesting we have it as bad or worse. (In other words, comments like “so what, gay people/racial minorities/women have much bigger problems” is not a helpful statement, because we aren’t trying to create a hierarchy of whose oppression sucks more.) We’re saying that it means the world to asexual people if we’re included when sexual orientations are examined and counted up.
Obviously it’d seem a little silly if an asexual mentioned being asexual and you jumped in with “Oh, hi there. I believe you exist!” So how can you show that you acknowledge their existence?
Mainly by watching your blanket statements when it comes to sexuality, especially when it comes to comparing lack of sexual attraction or interest with lack of humanity/personhood or suggesting that “everybody” needs sex. You can make sure it gets represented in academic discussions or surveys of sexuality if you have the power to do so. You can refrain from assuming that everyone who’s single is trying desperately to be otherwise (as some people, asexual or not, may be aromantic or otherwise non-partner-seeking), and if an asexual person brings up the subject just try to be your brand of accepting. You can approach people in general without assuming they want sex/are sexually attracted to others until proven otherwise.
Ultimately, taking care to NOT assume the more popular orientations are the default and being mindful of including asexual people even outside of their presence will help bring their existence into the common consciousness.
Don’t: Here are some comments we sometimes hear from people who want to be supportive but don’t realize what they’re saying. (We assume the usual mocking or dismissive comments don’t need to be discussed here, because they’re not uttered by people who want to be allies.)
Don’t start arguing with an asexual person about whether asexuality is “actually” latent homosexuality, suppressed trauma, or a disorder (all under the guise of “I’m just trying to help you!” of course). We understand that these things exist and that they also can cause lack of interest in sex, but we don’t feel that asexuality is a “last resort diagnosis” that can only be applied if we’ve proved it’s not intersecting with anything else.
Don’t immediately start trying to be sympathetic by saying you are “sometimes asexual” or that you wish you were, and don’t start rattling off all the bright sides of our situation. (We know. We live it.) We’re probably not asking you to comfort us. Though I’ve definitely had some interesting discussions with people who thought they were asexual and turned out not to be. (That’s a different discussion.) There are some things about being asexual that make life easier for some, but “I wish I was like you!” can come off as infantilizing–in other words, “Wow, your sexless life is easy while sexuality makes my life hard. Must be nice to be so innocent.” (Clearly not everyone who says this is implying that their lives are harder, but if you wish to be an ally you should know that you might be coming off that way if you use that phrasing.)
Incidentally, most of the people who’ve told me they “wish they were asexual” are actually expressing that their sexual urges are distracting or annoying. That’s actually a very different thing from “I wish I wasn’t attracted to anybody,” and I’m afraid that even if you mean well, saying you wish you were an erased minority does have a partial effect of trivializing what we go through. Some of us have at times wished we were like you too, but the truth is, neither of us actually knows what we’re asking for if we say so. Probably best to leave it out of a first conversation at least, until you know more about the asexual person’s experiences and attitudes.
Don’t make assumptions about what our asexuality means, even if the statements technically express support (e.g., “I think it’s GREAT that you’re saving yourself!” or “You must be so spiritually enlightened!”).
And while we do want your acknowledgment if we’re revealing this aspect of our lives to you, don’t constantly bring it up in group settings or one-on-one chats. This often makes us feel like you can’t think of us as anything but “that *asexual* person.” We want it to be an important but integral part of who we are to you, just like your sexuality isn’t the first thing on our minds when we talk to you. You may want to ask us whether we’re out to the public about our asexuality, because accidentally outing your friend or family member could be a disaster for both of you.
And speaking of coming out, this article will be continued in Part 2: What would we like your reactions to sound like when we come out, and how would we like you to treat us afterwards?