’We Are Interlopers’
Asexuality is an ugly stepsister that’s getting older and more popular - one you should get to know. You may be surprised by what you learn.
When Julie Decker was 17, Google couldn’t help her figure out what to call her asexuality. It couldn’t get her in touch with groups of other asexuals, definitions, forums, support groups, videos, smiling faces, etc.
So she did what most 17-year-olds do. She told her partner, but almost no one else. Decker - who’s been going by the nickname and handle SwankIvy since she was 15 years old - speaks confidently and matter-of-factly. She doesn’t say that her partner was full of support, nor does she say she was oppressed.
Speaking about coming to terms with her (non) sexuality, she doesn’t mention emotion too often, which confirms her strong self-described character.
Without search results to guide her elsewhere, Decker termed herself "non-sexual."
"For the most part, asexual people are realizing they’re asexual when other people are realizing who they’re attracted to," Decker told the Mirror. Some people pretend to have crushes on others, or let themselves be put into situations where their attraction isn’t real. People have reported, Decker said, that they’ve gone so far as to get into sexual activities with people they weren’t attracted to for fear of being left out (not an uncommon occurrence in the LGBT community).
"Some people deal with that by listening to the buzz around them, which is telling them there’s something wrong with them if sex isn’t something they want," the now-35-year-old told SFGN. "I dated a couple of people in high school because of peer pressure. If asexual people listen to everyone, cave in, and try to fake it, their peers won’t believe them and keep moving the bar up - and keep changing what you have to try to do to make it work."
So at first you have to date to be normal. Then it becomes fooling around. Then first base determines normalcy. Then second and third and this and that, ad nauseum. People don’t want to believe asexuality is a thing - that it’s an actual experience of sexuality. It sounds inexplicable and false when someone claims to live contently within the vacuum that’s left without sexual desire (Decker’s peers and others like them wouldn’t be the first to have a hard time believing in the absence of what they consider an innate existence).
"I don’t have to answer to anyone about my sexual feelings," Decker said, adding that she didn’t have a hard time maintaining her own truth about the matters of sex, in lieu of the attempts of persuasion invading her daily life. "I was used to defining my own reality." Adults told her she’d like someone of another gender when she’d get older - the heteronormative expectation had been bestowed.
"You might be confused, or you might think you’re gay - though there are many other options except for gay or straight."
Dating failed and she categorized it as unsatisfying - she wasn’t seeing the same results between her and her dates and those between her friends and their dates. She figured she must be a late boomer. "I totally expected to develop some kind of sexual attraction in some sense," she said. But it never came.
In 1998, the precocious (both in spirit, mind and technology) Decker took to the web and wrote about her asexuality. You can read what Decker said is a "slightly edited" copy of that essay at bit.ly/xmvAh2 (Decker has her own site at SwankIvy.com). She soon got emails from people claiming they were happy to know they weren’t alone. To this day, Decker is an outspoken activist in the asexual world, all starting with those first few emails in response, reaching out into what was for the first time no longer a dark room.
"I was never a person who needed communal support, so it didn’t really change anything for me," Decker said about getting those emails and for the first time finding community. "But what disturbed me about it was how many of them had been so disturbed by it."
Many people had gotten married and had kids, been sexually abused, barraged for not prioritizing sex, just for "basically not wanting what people had decided was a basic human experience."
These days things are different, with sites like Asexuality.org, home to the Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) and movies like (A)Sexual, in which AVEN’s founder David Jay is heavily profiled. But they’re not too different.
Decker was part of the Huffington Post’s six-part series of stories that overviewed asexuality. She told the Post for a June story that "Sexual harassment and violence, including so-called ’corrective’ rape, is disturbingly common in the asexual community," and that she’d received "death threats and has been told by several online commenters that she just needs a ’good raping.’ "
And her experience isn’t limited. In a 2012 column for Psychology Today, Brock University professor Gordon Hodson, who specializes in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, wrote about the prejudice that asexuals face. From the piece: "Relative to heterosexuals, and even relative to homosexuals and bisexuals, heterosexuals: (a) expressed more negative attitudes toward asexuals (i.e., prejudice); (b) desired less contact with asexuals; and (c) were less willing to rent an apartment to (or hire) an asexual applicant (i.e., discrimination). Moreover, of all the sexual minority groups studied, asexuals were the most dehumanized (i.e., represented as ’less human’)."
"In the broadest sense, ’queer’ is a term people use to describe someone whose sexuality isn’t normative, and we definitely fall into that," Decker said, adding that LGBT people aren’t always the most sympathetic or inviting to asexuals. Likewise, many asexuals don’t want to be part of the LGBT community. "We are never seen as dealing with the same king of levels of prejudice, and I don’t believe we’re an institutionally oppressed groups."
While not oppressed as a group, it’s not uncommon for people to push for sexual contact when rejected by the admission of asexuality. And when that happens, it’s not because the person is asexual, but because the pusher (man, woman, gay, straight, transgender, etc.) is mistaking that person for someone with a normative sexual attraction - whatever that means.
"We are interlopers. We’re invisible," Decker said. "It’s really hard to have something bad happen to us because of our sexuality because most offenses are misrepresentations - it’s pretty complicated."
But it’s also very simple: Aexuality is the lack of sexual attraction, Decker explained. But there are other, subtly different definitions, like the one describing an asexual person as someone who doesn’t desire or is not interested in sex, but may still be sexually attracted to a person. Confused? Decker said sex is just a behavior. It’s not defining and its scope is limited. So can an asexual person be in love? Yes, Decker replied, and what kind of love!
"A lot of people will say that physical sex will change a relationship from a friendship into a romance," she said. "But it’s all about intimacy. That intimacy doesn’t have to be physical or sexual. I really, really hope that most people who are in romantic relationships don’t think sex is the most important part of the relationship."