ASEXUALITY: The A in LGBTQIA+
By Harsha Chadalavada
Asexuality: /noun/ lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity.
A person who identifies themselves as asexual (mostly) have no sexual attraction towards others.
The LGBTQIA+ community is vast, estimated to comprise of 11% of the Indian population.That’s more than a 10 million people in the country. The lack of sufficient data makes it difficult to arrive at an exact number but approximately 2% of the LGBTQ+ community identify themselves as Asexual or more popularly called, Ace.
Asexuality being an umbrella term encompasses a broad spectrum of how asexuals identify themselves. It categorizes widely of asexual sub-identities: demisexual, gray asexual, etc. This spectrum highlights asexuality as the absence of sexual attraction and not the absence of sexual interaction itself. For example, demisexuals do not feel any sexual attraction until they form a deep romantic bond with someone. That being said, for some asexuals the phenomenon of sex is not interesting and almost repulsive.
There have been constant debates and arguments both within and outside the community about who fall within the ambit of LGBTQ+. Usually, anyone who is not ‘straight’ finds that there is a spot for them. One such argument that caught quite the spark was if asexuals were a part of the community. In 2011, both LGBT Activist Dan Savage and acclaimed Sex therapist Ruth Westeimer, deemed asexuality to be a choice of not having sex and that it was not worthy of attention. Westeimer insisted that if one could have an orgasm, one could not be asexual. She further implied that it is a condition that ought to be cured. This blatant disregard for asexuals had a ripple effect, in 2016, conversations on queer forums waged arguments fiercely on whether asexuals should be treated as a part of the community or not. Those opposing, argued that asexuals are essentially straight people who choose to not have sex and they are invading a minority community. The LGBT+ community fights and faces systemic oppression in the form of transphobia and homophobia since its inception, but asexuals are not subjected to any of that. They argued that they do not represent the spirit of the community and further ostracized them.
The other side of the argument is that asexuality is not a choice but one is ‘born this way’ and this exclusion makes the community unsafe. This bickering only undermines what this community stands for and what it has achieved till today. They argue that it is a type of sexuality and not a lack thereof. Asexual blogger Juile Decker says, “There are a lot of gay folks who get angry when we suggest asexual people belong [in the LGBT community], and that’s primarily based on the supposition that asexual people do not experience oppression and that any prejudice, discrimination or discomfort we experience is not ‘as bad’ as theirs, which I think is odd because queerness is not — or should not be — defined by negative experiences.”
Today, sex is the norm and anyone who is not interested or do not take part in it are shunned and even asked to ‘cure themselves’. Anthony Bogaert, a professor at Canada’s Brock University and an authority on asexual research says “We automatically couple up romance and sex, as if they’re naturally together, that’s not true. The asexual lifestyle allows you to see that.”
Asexuals are often compared to celibates or are bullied that they identify themselves as such only because they do not have a sexual libido. Often family members and friends write their sexual orientation off as ‘just a phase’, that they will get over when they find ‘the one’. A romantic relationship of nurture and care with other asexuals or people who understand and accept them is not uncommon with Ace’s.
Our society today has become so sex-centric that is hard to fathom that a romantic relationship without any sexual activity is normal and does exist.
Asexuals are also often prodded about if their sexuality is a result of a trauma. Though it is true that sexual reactions are influenced and altered by trauma and abuse, there has been no research to show that their sexual orientation is a direct impact of trauma. Further, it is notable that those who were gay or lesbian, for a long time, the A in the LGBTQIA was perceived as Ally and not Asexual. An ally is a person who is not LGBTQ but they use their privilege to support LGBTQ people and promote equality. This discrimination and lack of recognition by the community itself is a smear one cannot wipe away. They are often compared to and looked down upon as ‘seeking attention’. A lack of awareness about the community and individual experiences not being public are major factors of this discrimination. Various Queer forums agree that the only way to make a dent is if more people ‘came out’ and voiced their support and opinions.
The community often faces violence as people attempt to ‘fix’ their lack of interest in sexuality which paves way for ‘conformational rape’ and sexual assault.
There has been no historical documentation of the ace community and even though the minority is gaining traction, there’s only a miniscule amount of research and awareness concerning the community. To the comments that the numbers of asexuals have been increasing, SE Smith in his article aptly says ‘Asexuals are everywhere. They have always existed; you just didn’t notice it.’ Asexuality is not a new aspect of human sexuality, but it is relatively new to the public discourse.
No thorough research or survey exists on the number of people belonging to the community across the world. Whatever surveys have been conducted, there’s a possibility that the sample space did not represent asexuals adequately. For example, in a study conducted in Britain with over 18,000 participants, it was deemed that 1% of them identified themselves as asexual.
Though there have been challenges, David Jay, founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, the only source for the asexual community, says the LGBT community is now beginning to accept and understand the asexual rhetoric. Despite a few opponents, the two movements are “coming together”. Jay also puts out about how the bisexual community once upon a time were not included and even avoided. Today, even though ‘Acephobia’ is a real thing, the increase in the number of queer platforms and discussions with the rise of social media is creating a genuine impact.
There’s a famous saying from the French: ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.’ Apply that to the context of Asexuals identifying themselves as such. Who are you and I to deny that Asexuality does not exist? Do they not have a voice?
If someone feels like they belong and are welcomed by identifying themselves to a class of people, no matter how ‘against the norm’, they are allowed to voice their opinions and stake their claim. Today, asexuals face their own form of opression and discrimination that is quite unique to them but it is discrimination nonetheless. It’s a blessing that Asexuals are recognised by all major LGBTQ+ organisations as a community and also identified by various human rights organisations like Amnesty International who fight and champion for their rights and acceptance.
Today, in this world of information and opinion overload, one is almost expected to be interested in sex. People are expected to label their sexuality and belong to a group/section. Now more than ever, with a decline in direct human contact, the need to belong- somewhere, anywhere, is higher than ever. Sure, the whole idea of Asexuality and gray asexuality and demisexuality can be hard to understand at first and even digest, but that does not in any way mean that it does not (or should not) exist. Asexauls have every right as Gay men and Lesbian Women do to be a part of the LGBTQA+ community. This community has always been about being inclusive, about offering a safe space to those who are not accepted because of their sexual orientation- no matter what their orientation is. One should not change that because a few conservatives feel that asexuals haven’t suffered enough for their sexuality. One might not have all the problems in the world, but the problems are definitely their world. There is a need for respect and honour.
About the Author: Harsha Chadalavada is an opinionated 19 year old, currently pursuing her third year of law. She is an avid reader and a feminist. In 2018, after her Volunteer work with Youth for Seva Bangalore, an organization working for the welfare of children, she took a deep interest in the functioning of government schools and providing exposure to rural children. With a clear goal of empowerment, she works to enhance the education system in South India by upgrading the academic curriculum and teaching methods, primarily focusing on compulsory Adolescent education in primary schools. She has won many accolades in various public speaking and debate platforms like the World Scholar’s Cup, Karnataka’s State level Lecture Competition and The Great Debate, IBS. She has done legal internships in Criminal law and Intellectual Property. Harsha is currently working on her yoga teacher training- she intends to teach Trauma Sensitive Yoga to help people focus on their mental health.
 There is no sufficient data on the same. The last survey done by the Government of India was in 2012, which stated that 2.5 million Indians are a part of the community.
 Aicken, Catherine R. H.; Mercer, Catherine H.; Cassell, Jackie A. (May 1, 2013). “Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys”.