There are a Variety of Ways to Be an Ally to Asexuals

This is my post that I’m writing for the September 2014 Carnival of Aces, which has the theme Asexuals, Advocacy, and Allies.

People can act a variety of ways. The worst non-allies to asexual-spectrum folk are our enemies. Those people sometimes write severely ignorant articles about us, spread harmful misinformation, or potentially, in-person do horrifically hurtful things to an asexual-spectrum person they might meet. There are an array of things you can do to clearly be a non-ally.

But if your sister comes up to you and tells you she’s asexual, and you don’t quite believe asexuality is a real thing; if you just nod and say okay to her and walk away… you’re not an ally to your sister, but you’re not the worst type of non-ally possible. If you understand and accept asexuality yet keep on naively reinforcing compulsory sexuality and silently participating, “by accident”, in ace-erasure, for instance, you’re hurting us very slowly, very quietly, and usually without realizing it, and if you were only taught how what you were doing was hurting us you might change your ways, but as it is now, you’re still a non-ally.

One of the things that is confusing is when* asexual people consider themselves part of GSRM (Gender, Sexual, and Romantic Minorities) or LGTBQ+, or QUILTBAG, or whatever acronym, yet there exist people who are allies to gays and lesbians, maybe possibly gender minorities’ & trans’ and/or bi folks’ allies too, yet aren’t asexual people’s allies. If a potential person is the most amazing ally to homosexuals, that’s great, but that doesn’t say anything about whether or not they are our (an asexual person’s) ally. It doesn’t tell you what they think about homoromantic asexuals/lesbian asexuals/etc either. It can be confusing to weed out when allies to other parts of the LGBTQ spectrum are and aren’t our allies.

Another confusing thing is that there are a few self-labeled allies out there who are unbelievably selfish, self-centered, and frustrating. Calling yourself an ally doesn’t actually mean anything about whether you are an ally or not. People in minority communities use the word ally to describe other people – to describe those who fit a definition that the minority themselves gets to set. It’s not an identity label for someone else to adopt. Being an ally isn’t about the ally. It’s… it’s more nuanced than that. It’s about the people being advocated for and if they appreciate the advocacy or not.

Then there is a gray area. People who some other people might consider allies, and yet the rest of the world might consider non-allies (including these allies/non-allies themselves – some of them might consider themselves to be allies, and others of them wouldn’t consider themselves allies). It depends on your definition of an ally.

(Note: I’ve edited the first 4 paragraphs of this post of mine quite a bit, for clarity’s sake. If you clicked “Read More” after getting an email notifcation about this post, please consider scrolling back up and scanning for the changes.)

The gray area includes people who accept that asexuality exists, even if they don’t fully understand it. It includes people who do understand asexuality, but who never do anything else with that understanding. It includes allosexuals who are in healthy, functional queerplatonic, romantic, and/or sexual relationships with asexual people who actively support only their one ace-spectrum “partner”, not the asexual community** as a whole in any way, but who don’t hurt the asexual community as a whole either. It includes asexual people themselves who technically could be an ally to their fellow ace-spectrum community, but who maybe don’t count as allies, depending on the definition of ally – is it only an out-group term, or can an in-group person be one too? See how it’s a gray-area? 😛 Part of the gray-area is when the different parts of the ace-spectrum help out the other areas of the spectrum. Demisexuals need support, ally-type support, from all of the non-demis. Even people who aren’t aromantic should try to spread awareness that hey, aromantic people live in an amatonormative world, and this can often hurt them. Etc. This can get complicated and confusing because the ace-spectrum is already complicated and confusing in and of itself, and tangled up with the romantic-spectrum in a way that is unique.

There are a lot of people who maybe don’t hurt asexual people, who know about & accept asexuality’s existence, and in some ways they are our allies. We need more of those people. Not enough people fall into that camp. But that is the bare minimum, and I agree with Ace in Lace that we need our allies to do more.

I think there are a variety of ways for our friends and family members to be our allies. I think little things help a lot.

It made me happy when my brother asked me if it was okay with me if he discussed my asexuality with people when I wasn’t around. I appreciated him asking my permission to “out me” to his friends, to want to respect my wishes. I told him I’d be happy for him to tell the people in his life who I don’t even know or who I don’t know nearly as well as he knows them, but if it’s a person who I know better than he knows them or who I know equally well (for instance, if for some reason he happened to be alone with one of my friends, or one of our cousins/aunts/uncles/grandparents), then I’d appreciate him letting me control the conversation/decide when it happened, etc. This means that my brother was probably going to be doing ace 101 visibility work with his roommates, his girlfriend, his other close friends, some of whom I’ve never even had a conversation with. And that made me so happy. It took some of the responsibility away from me, to be the only way anyone ever first heard of asexuality. He would be spreading news of aces’ existence by using me, his sister, as an example. And I trusted my brother to do ace-visibility well enough. We’d had many conversations about the topic prior to him asking me this question. I feel confident he fully understands the most extreme pitfalls to avoid, and the basic gist of what asexuality is. I feel happy to know he’s an ally who will be spreading the word rather than nervous that he’s spreading misinformation. I trust that he truly is an ally to us asexuals.

I’ve come across a few allies in the fandom world recently, for instance. The first person I’ll mention is Alexis Teats at the “mediainclusivity” blog, who mentioned demisexuality here:

Amy doesn’t know how to pick, and doesn’t really feel attracted to anyone: “That’s the problem. I didn’t have those feelings for Karma until we kissed… Guess I have to start kissing some lesbians.” Shane’s startled, telling her to shoot him a look if she needs him.

To me, this description lands Amy on the asexuality spectrum. It sounds exactly like demisexuality, which involves a person only experiencing sexual attraction once they’ve formed an emotional bond with someone. The odds of an MTV show ever even mentioning asexuality? Are incredibly slim.

and here:

I’m also left wondering how aware the showrunners are about asexuality; I don’t expect them to choose to portray asexuality, label and all, but I wonder if they know they’re describing an experience that does have a particular label, or if it’s a coincidence.

As well as a few other places throughout the article.

But as far as I know, the author is not on the ace-spectrum herself. She also writes about bisexuality and other often erased identities and draws light to them. If she is not asexual, as she most likely isn’t, then bringing up asexuality as a legitimate thing for readers of her blog to think about and linking to ways that they can come across more information on it is a wonderful ally-type of thing she is doing. If she is asexual, it’s still wonderful, but her position as an ally is more questionable – but in that case, then she is at the very least an ally to bisexual folks and all of the other erased identities she considers on that blog of hers. I mention her because I strongly suspect she’s not demisexual herself, she’s just knowledgeable about the asexuality-spectrum including demisexuality. If I’m wrong, then she was a bad example to bring up first.

Here is a more concrete example of an ally to asexuals I found in the fandom world relatively recently. I found an author on AO3, goddessofcruelty, who is pansexual, yet she wrote a series of Teen Wolf oneshots where one of the oneshots includes an asexual character, and tagging for asexuality, being aware of asexuality, and helping maybe, just maybe, to spread awareness of the existence of this not-overly well known orientation to new readers. Because she is not ace herself, I consider this action the work of an ally. It’s a risky move, writing about asexuality when not asexual yourself, even if it’s just fanfiction, and some aces might be uncomfortable with the prospect and think the person might get things wrong. But I think we need people to know we exist, so usually the more we have non-aces introducing other non-aces to the concept of asexuality, the better, in my opinion.

What the House writers did when they had their episode that included asexuality only to apparently “disprove” it over the course of the episode was not being an ally. Simply writing about asexuality is not enough. If you get it horribly, horribly wrong, the way the TV series House did, you’re doing us more harm than good and you are not successfully being our allies. Katherine Lingenfelter, who wrote that episode of House, seems to want to be our ally, as evidenced in statements like:

I did a lot of research on asexuality for the episode. My original intent was to introduce it and legitimize it, because I was struck by the response most of you experience, which is similar to the prejudice the homosexual community has received. People hear you’re asexual and they immediately think, “What’s wrong with you, how do I fix you?” I wanted to write against that. Unfortunately, we are a medical mystery show. Time & again, my notes came back that House needed to solve a mystery and not be wrong.

That is only part of Katherine Lingenfelter’s statement; she said more than that. But this is the part that is especially relevant to this particular Carnival. Wanting to be an ally to us is not the same as successfully being our ally. Thinking you understand is not the same as truly understanding, and I have not heard any single member of the asexual community say that they thought that episode of House was a good thing for us. That it helped us in any way. In fact, all I ever heard was that this episode hurt us. I saw negative reaction after negative reaction by asexual people, a clear example that this woman failed to be our ally. At least in this one (pretty huge) case.

I think most non-allies have the potential to change into allies. But they need to be able and willing to listen to the minority group themselves, in this case asexuals, and need to learn from their mistakes.In fact almost all allies start off making some mistakes, because the best allies are LOUD and relatively brave. It’s hard to be an ally if you’re constantly paralyzed by a fear of offending the group you’re advocating for. You can’t be so afraid that you avoid the topic whenever avoiding it is easy. The best allies mention asexuality places where they didn’t have to mention it. They bring up asexual as a possible sexual orientation when they could’ve forgotten about it. They make an effort to keep us in their minds, and to try to put us in other people’s minds too. They correct an ignorant jerk’s statement when they hear it instead of sitting quietly and letting it pass. And then… then when they speak about aces, that’s when they might make it clear that they misunderstood something important. We won’t know what our allosexual friends are misunderstanding if they only nod and keep their mouths shut after we come out/explain asexuality to them. But when they mess up, and then get called out on their mistakes… that is the process to becoming a better ally.

My dad first wanted me to consider seeing a doctor and get my hormones checked, out of ignorance, when I told him I thought I might be asexual about a year ago. Just last month, my dad told me that when he was leaving his office at work, he ran into the young receptionist woman on the way out of his building who brought up Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. And my dad found a way to bring up asexuality to this person, who had no idea such a sexual orientation existed. My dad was surprised she didn’t know asexuality existed, and tried to explain it to her. That is a very small thing that I still consider being a good ally. Allies don’t have to be perfect. Every little thing can help.

I think we need more allies. So far, it feels like asexual folks are mainly left to defend ourselves, speak for ourselves, educate everyone about asexuality’s existence ourselves, etc. It’s hard to gain allies, but I think the more we talk about what hardships we face, big and small, in spaces where allosexual people might hear us/read what we have to say, the more we’ll acquire allies. Slowly, more and more people who aren’t asexual will understand why asexual people actually need allies. These allies will notice the ace erasure in the world themselves, and the compulsory sexuality, and all of it. They’ll sympathize despite not being able to empathize, and then they’ll both want to, and be able to, help us.

Here is a good example of an ace ally I just came across tonight. Cam is pansexual, not asexual, yet Cam wrote a tumblr post about the Sherlock fandom and about sex in fanfiction in general. I may not agree with everything said about sex in fanfiction in the post. I have my own nuanced views on these topics, but that is irrelevant right now. What is relevant is that Cam wrote this:

And the fanfic world’s obsession with sex has deeper implications than just annoying the crap out of people who appreciate storylines: it contributes to asexual and aromantic erasure.

and this:

So, when you have a small community like the ace community, who has very little visibility in meatspace, who often feels ostracized and targeted even on the internet when they band together, sometimes seeing your favorite character facing the same things you face (ace erasure, pressure to be romantic, navigating a queerplatonic relationship, etc) is the only thing that makes you feel comfortable.

etc. Cam advocates for us, writes about many of our feelings quite accurately (if I do say so myself), and helps inform the world of both our existence and of one of the things that affect our lives. Cam is helping to spread the word about what asexuals think/feel/do (yes, “do”, because even just the fact that we write ace fanfiction and express things we ourselves deal with in that process is being shared in this tumblr post of eir as well).

I think these very small things can be examples of how to be good allies to us and to our asexual community. You don’t necessarily have to do huge things for us. Just… just do anything at all and it can really be so much better than you doing nothing. We need all of the supporters we can get.

*I was speaking specifically about aces who do consider themselves to be LGBTQ+ or a part of one of the other acronym-based groups of people. I am well aware that not every ace does consider themselves a part of it, though. I basically agree with this.

**By “the asexual community as a whole” I mean… everyone who is asexual, basically. Well, and who identify using the term. I guess.

4 thoughts on “There are a Variety of Ways to Be an Ally to Asexuals

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. You covered a lot of bases and it flowed well. I hope this month’s Carnival of Aces inspires more non-asexuals to do ally work, and you’ve provided a good blueprint for them to work from.


    1. Thanks for the comment! 😉 I know, it is a bit complicated, right? I think usually “allies” is a title that is supposed to be reserved for non-members of the minority they support, but… 😛


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