How Things Change
Wow. A week ago I was excited about the New Scientist article, but I had no idea the response we’d receive. 72 new members in the first day was overwhelming and wonderful. Whilst we had prepared for a bit of an influx of people after the article was released—it’s apparent now that we should have begun preparing several weeks earlier. And, while I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out, in a few weeks asexuality will be old news so we’ll have to keep working toward awareness in other ways. It’s odd to think that we’re going from ‘Asexuality—what’s that?,’ to, ‘Oh, please, that was all over the papers last week!’ I suppose that means we’re jumping the shark as I type this. I found AVEN about a year and a half ago through a link in a Dan Savage column and was so excited to find there were other people who weren’t interested in having sex. One of the first things I did was order a t-shirt (before we had a store and you had to order straight from our administrator). It was amusing how active the store was after our influx on the 14th. I imagine people around the world suddenly wearing ‘ineffable’ gear, like a secret club. It’s great to have so many new members and to see their responses to finding AVEN. My response had been one of, ‘Oh! I’m not the only one!’ I’d heard the word ‘asexual’ prior to finding the site and a few friends had even applied it to me, but I had no idea there were others. I had never been bothered by not being interested in sex—it was a non-issue in my life, but some others are quite upset by it and who can blame them? Our culture tell us sex is one of the most important activities a human can engage in—that if you don’t want it you’re not normal and need help in the form of psychotherapy or drugs. We think sex is very important, as well, as long as the people involved are consenting adults. When people first find the site we get a range of responses—from, ‘I didn’t know there were so many!’ to ‘I’m not sure WHAT I am.’ We encourage people to decide for themselves if they are asexual—you know yourself better than anyone else, after all, but everyone is welcome as long as you’re polite and respectful. Along with the various responses new members have are the responses from their friends and family. Some people are automatically supportive—they know the person well enough to see it makes sense. Other people become verbally abusive. They say things like ‘You haven’t met the right person,’… ‘Maybe you’re gay,’ … ‘Were you abused?’ Aside from that second question it’s the same sort of thing they used to say to homosexuals. It was blamed on outside factors because it was seen as an abnormality rather than simply another way to be. Now, of course, homosexuality is acknowledged as being a perfectly healthy orientation. Another response we sometimes get is, ‘Well, for people who don’t like sex you sure do talk about it a lot.’ Yeah, well, if everyone you knew was absolutely captivated by stamp collecting and insisted that everyone else on Earth must have a stamp collection, but you didn’t find the idea remotely intriguing—you would probably be interested in finding a group of other similarly-minded people. That is, people not interested in collecting stamps. The media spends a lot of time saying that people who don’t HAVE a stamp collection surely must want one and if they don’t even want one there’s something wrong with them. Also, AVEN began as a meeting place for asexuals—just to let others know they’re not alone—but we often talk about loads of things other than sex. We discuss politics, books, films, our personal lives—anything, really. And we do have a goofy side that some newcomers may find confusing. We talk about cake quite a bit. I don’t know why. We just like cake. In terms of visibility we’re starting from a difficult place, because most people aren’t aware asexuality *exists*—including the people the word describes—so first we have to get the word out about our existence and then we can work on getting people to believe that asexuality is a valid orientation. The more society in general hears about asexuality the less odd it will seem—less of something to be ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’ and more of something to be accepted for what it is. I am surprised when someone responds in a virulent or hateful way to asexuality. Because it feels natural to me or because we’re not *doing* anything I don’t know. Perhaps asexuality bothers some because people can be frightened and hostile to anything that is different from the norm. Well, we’re here to show that different from the norm isn’t bad—it’s just different. We’re not asking you to be asexual—it’s not as if we have parades we’re going to make you march in—we’re just asking you to accept us for who we are.