The "invisible orientation": Ace identity, culture and misconceptions

<p>Photo Credit: Marcela Ruty Romero via Adobe Stock</p>

Photo Credit: Marcela Ruty Romero via Adobe Stock

International Asexuality Day took place April 6, and for all asexuals (aces), it’s a day to celebrate ourselves, our experience and the community as a whole. As an asexual myself, I’ve read a plethora of asexual content that gave answers to all my questions and a voice to affirm that my identity is valid and my experience matters. As such, I’ve decided to clear up three common misconceptions about the asexual community and shed some light on the invisible orientation. 

Asexuality is a spectrum

A common misconception about asexuality is that it is an orientation, not a spectrum. An orientation is a label on a spectrum that falls under a specific category. Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, etc. all fall under the allosexual spectrum, as they all experience sexual attraction. Orientations that have little to no sexual attraction or don’t experience it regularly are included on the asexuality spectrum. 

Spectrums, by definition, are fluid. They are models to help explain complex and nuanced topics. 

The asexuality spectrum is based on three broad categories. These terms refer to how aces feel about sex in their own relationships, not how they feel about it in a societal sense, like how some don’t agree with sex before marriage.

Sex-averse individuals are those who have an innate repulsion for sex. For comparison, I personally despise tomatoes. There’s no reason to dislike tomatoes nor do I believe tomatoes are inherently bad for everyone, it’s just a matter of taste.

Sex-neutral/indifferent individuals are those who have no repulsion nor favorability toward sex, as they don’t find it the most gratifying in comparison to other things. To them, sex is like water.

Sex-favorable aces are favorable toward sex. They still have no sexual attraction, but do still have sex. To them, sex is like cake, but they don’t have a sweet tooth. They don’t need it, but they can still have it and enjoy it.

Other labels that fall under the asexual spectrum but don’t necessarily neatly fall under the three categories are demisexuals, graysexuals and fraysexuals. These types of aces experience sexual attraction, but only in specific circumstances. 

Sexual vs Romantic vs Aesthetic Attraction

Sexual attraction has been explained to me as the need to be sexually intimate with another person(s). This specific need is what separates all asexuals from allosexuals.

To note, sexual attraction is different from a sex drive, which is the innate biological drive to have sex, which is like the innate need to scratch an itch. This is different from wanting to be in a romantic relationship and experiencing the romantic attraction.

 Romantic attraction is defined as the need to be emotionally intimate with another person beyond platonic feelings. Similar to sexual attraction, there are separate spectrums for those who experience it (alloromantics) and  those who don’t (aromantics or aros) and those who fall in between.

Aesthetic attraction is being  attracted to or appreciating something or someone for their beauty, in a way disconnected from romance or sexual attraction. I, a person who doesn’t experience sexual or romantic attraction, views a pine tree the same way I view Chris Pine. They are nice to look at, but I wouldn’t date either. 

As Angela Chen affirms in “Ace,” asexuals can still have romantic or sexual relationships, as it isn’t the act of sex nor the want to be in a relationship that sets them apart from allosexuals; it’s the lack of sexual attraction.  

Ace Culture

Ace culture’s representation is growing more because of shows like “Heartstopper” and “BoJack Horseman.” Most asexuals, like myself, knew how they felt but didn’t have a word for it until they stumbled upon it in some crevice of the internet. 

Ace culture primarily grew virtually, with aces chatting anonymously on chat boards or reaching out on AVEN. Even in the beginnings of modern ace culture, aces only interacted at arm's length. After the development of the famous Kinsey scale, group X (the aces) began connecting through written letters, and eventually used the internet to communicate, as detailed in Chen’s “Ace.” 

Aces interacted with each other in the background of their daily lives. Besides waving the ace flag, wearing a black ring on their middle finger or eating copious amounts of cake and garlic bread, there wasn’t any way to recognize a fellow member of the community. Hence the moniker, “the invisible sexuality,” which was made apparent by the misconception that the A in LGBTQIA, stands for ally, not asexual. This leads to another issue: being accepted within the queer community. 

There is an argument that since aces can pass for “straight,” and being asexual isn’t outright outlawed, aces should not be considered part of the queer community.  Although it is easy to pass for “straight” in the United States, in other countries this is not the case. Moreover, just because it isn’t said in the news or by word of mouth, it doesn’t mean the discrimination isn’t present. 

Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault

According to the 2020 Ace Community Survey Summary Report, it was found that 64.4% of ace respondents never had consensual sex and 59.1% had experienced contact sexual violence. Although being asexual is not outwardly condemned, it is still largely misunderstood, with aces often being dismissed as prudes or people who “haven’t found the right person yet.” 

Ace culture is not purity culture, and aces are not incels. Most of ace culture is built upon memes, inside jokes, dragons and desserts, but not all aces connect with the ace community. 

Aces are predominantly white and women. A significant portion of the community is either neurodivergent, disabled or mentally/chronically ill. As such, other minorities, gender-nonconforming individuals and male aces struggle to connect with the community. They also question if they're just trying to break from the stereotypes, as detailed in “Ace” and “Refusing Compulsory Sexuality” by Sherronda J. Brown. 

Moreover, there’s an underlying issue, which is that many people believe the reason aces do not experience sexual attraction is because they are  disabled, neurodivergent or mentally/chronically ill. Determining where the neurodivergence or disability ends and the asexuality begins is a fuzzy line for most.  Regardless though, as Chen and Brown put it in their books, does that line matter in the first place? 

Be whatever you choose to be, so long as it rings true. An individual is allowed to be themselves without another reason to justify or cause one part of their identity. If you're ace, then you’re ace. 

All aces’ experiences are unique and are just as valuable as any other person’s. Their voices deserve to be heard, shared and listened to, as any other queer identity or any other person, not because they are more important, but because they are just as fascinating and diverse to learn from.

Jackie Bozinovski (she/her) is a sophomore double majoring in Biology and Forensics. She is a sometimes writer for the Campus Citizen, but primarily is the Citizen's mascot. When she isn't doing in-depth research on obscure topics or chugging copious amounts of coffee, you can find her reading, explaining science concepts to her very not sciencey roommate Abby or talking about Drag Queens.

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