As the LGBTQ+ community fights for for acceptance in a bigoted society, one smaller marginalized group struggles to even make its presence known—the asexual community. This prompted the beginning of an annual event known as Asexual Awareness Week, an international compaign that aims to bring attention to the definition of asexuality and its associated terms. This year, Asexual Awareness Week occured on 20-26 October 2019. Each day of the week is dedicated to the education of a term or identity relating to the asexual spectrum.

 

But what is asexuality? What does it mean to be asexual?

 

Asexuality refers to a type of sexual orientation in which a person feels no sexual attraction to anybody. In the words of Lisa Orlando, author of the Asexual Manifesto: “We chose the term ‘asexual’ to describe ourselves because both ‘celibate’ and ‘anti-sexual’ have connotations we wished to avoid: the first implies that one has sacrificed sexuality for some higher good, the second that sexuality is degrading or somehow inherently bad. ‘Asexual’, as we use it, does not mean ‘without sex’ but ‘relating sexually to no one’.” [1] People who identify as asexual sometimes refer to themselves as “aces.”

 

Similar to many other sexual orientations, asexuality is not a fixed identity; it is a spectrum. This spectrum encompasses numerous other identities, including gray-asexual (or graysexual) and demisexual. Gray-asexuals, or gray-aces, experience sexual attraction but rarely, or fluctuate between periods of feeling and not feeling sexual attraction, while demisexuals only feel sexual attraction if a close emotional bond has already been established. [2] People who don’t identify with the asexual spectrum are allosexual.

 

As sexual attraction is not the only type of attraction that exists, the Asexual Awareness Week  campaign also provides information on aromanticism. Whereas asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction, aromanticism is a lack of romantic attraction, or the desire to form a romantic relationship. Like asexuality, aromanticism is also a spectrum with various identities, such as gray-aromanticism (or grayromanticism) and demiromanticism. These identities are similar to graysexuality and demisexuality, but pertain to romantic attraction rather than sexual attraction. [3] As with allosexuality, people who don’t identify with aromanticism are alloromantic.

 

It is important to keep in mind that aromanticism and asexuality are distinctly different identities. Asexuality does not necessarily constitute aromanticism, and vice-versa. People who identify as both orientations are referred to as aromantic-asexual, or aro-ace for short. 

 

Ace Awareness Week also aims to raise awareness of the issues and struggles asexual and aromantic people face every day. Discrimination against asexuality and aromanticism is known as aphobia, and it is a subtle but serious problem—asexual and aromantic people are ostracized by both the straight community and groups within the LGBTQ+ community. This comes as a result of a hyperfocus on queer sexual and romantic relationships by certain ideological groups, as opposed to a lack of any sexual or romantic feelings. Similarly, in the heterosexual community, aros and aces face a social norm known as amatonormativity, which is “the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal,” [4] in the words of Elizabeth Brake, who coined the word in 2012.

 

Another obstacle ace and aro people face in attempting to raise awareness and educate others on their specific community is the so-called “oppression olympics”. While different subgroups within the community have gained legal rights, safety, social acceptance, and representation at varying rates, we should not shun one group from receiving support based on how few or how many challenges they face in comparison. Ace and aro people specifically are often snubbed on the basis that they aren’t “oppressed enough,” in that there’s supposedly nothing preventing them from living true to their orientation and abstaining from sexual and/or romantic relationships.

 

In fact, there are several social norms that put pressure on ace and aro people to engage in unwanted sexual or romantic affairs by making them feel as if they’re not normal, or “broken.” Namely, family members, especially parents, tend to pressure their children to get married and produce grandchildren, either for the grandparent’s gratification or to carry on the bloodline. In certain cultures, this coercion along with the threat of arranged marriage guilts ace and aro people into giving in to familial demands and getting into a marriage they may not necessarily want.

 

In some extreme situations, asexual and aromantic people face the possibility of corrective rape, a form of sexual assault directed specifically at members of the LGBTQ+ community in order to “fix” them, or change their identities. An asexual woman named Julie Decker was sexually harassed by a male friend at age 19. She stated that she had spent time with him, speaking to him about her asexuality. When they began to part ways, he attempted to kiss her, and following her subsequent rejection began to “lick her face like a dog”. He began to yell obscenities at her as she walked away, saying that he just “wanted to help”. “He was basically saying that I was somehow broken and that he could repair me with his tongue and, theoretically, with his penis,” explained Decker. “It was totally frustrating and quite scary.” [5]

 

On a side note, these scenaries don’t apply to everyone who identifies as asexual or aromantic. People who are asexual might still seek to commit to a romantic relationship and raise a family. In-vitro fertilization and adoption are some of the options available to couples that don’t wish to engage in sex for the purpose of getting pregnant. Others may wish to still raise children as single parents through the same means. The idea that all asexual and aromantic people are against any form of marriage or child-raising is a common and harmful misconception.

 

Furthermore, representation plays a big role in how ace and aro people perceive themselves, their lifestyle, and the validity of their orientation. Ace and aro people form a minority in the population and will most often be a part of social circles where almost everyone else is engaging in romantic or sexual acts. Consequently, many will feel as if there’s something wrong with them for not participating in the same behaviour as everyone else. Asexual representation in media is also severely lacking. In 2018, GLAAD recorded only two asexual characters on TV shows in their annual Where We Are on TV Report, and no asexual characters on any broadcasted show. [6] Hence, many ace and aro people have difficulty finding role models that they can look up to and that can help validate their orientation.

 

Poor education is another contributing factor to discrimination against people on the asexual spectrum. Asexual people are often less visible in events that seek to celebrate and bring awareness to the LGBTQ community, where homosexual and transgender people are often the front face of the community. Moreover, while the sex ed curriculum has improved in recent years to include some form of education on sexual orientation and gender identity, a lack of detailed guidelines on how to approach this topic means that many teachers will leave out lesser known facts about sexual orientation, in particular the existence of asexuality and aromanticism. A 2012 poll of 400 asexual students in Ontario showed that only 1.6% had heard the word “asexual” used in school. [7]

 

Lack of exposure to these terms also leads others to discredit the existence of people on the asexual spectrum. One popular argument is that sex and romantic fulfillment are human urges, and that people who have no interest in these actions are ill or are cold-hearted. More unacknowledged sexual orientations like graysexuality and demisexuality, along with their counterparts in romantic orientation, are mocked by those who have never bothered, or have never been provided with the resources to understand what those terms entail. 

 

So what can we do as a school to support asexual and aromantic students?

 

The first step would be to expand education in classrooms. Ignorance is a large factor of discrimination, and when it comes to LGBTQ+ identities, including asexuality and aromanticism, the sexual education curriculum at Marc Garneau is lacking severely. Thus, it is the responsibility of health and physical education teachers to take action in the classroom and educate students about these orientations in order to reduce hate and increase acceptance within the school. It is vital that sex and romance are not perceived as “uncontrollable human desires” that everybody will inevitably experience. Additionally, asexual and aromantic students who do not have sufficient knowledge of their identity may struggle to find their place in the community, and as a result may develop a feeling of internalized aphobia. 

 

For the bigger picture, the Ontario health curriculum itself is in need of reformation. The curriculum established in 2015 was an important step in the right direction, but it still isn’t enough to ensure students in Ontario are adequately educated about various sexual and romantic orientations and gender identities. The provincial government hesitates to move past its sheltered curriculum for fear of backlash from conservative parents, but the safety and quality education of Ontario students should outweigh such prejudiced dissenting opinions. It doesn’t look like the debate on the health curriculum will be reopened anytime soon, but students should keep in mind that their voice matters and must be heard if we are to change our education for the better.

 

Secondly, students at Marc Garneau can take action to support their peers by participating in school events to raise awareness about the asexual and aromantic community. The Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at MGCI serves to provide a safe space for all LGBTQ+ students and is open to all students who wish to learn more about LGBTQ+ orientations. Through student action, the GSA can also help to educate others on the definition of terms associated with the asexual and aromantic community while addressing misconceptions and issues faced by the community.

[1] The Asexual Manifesto, Lisa Orlando, 1972

 

[2] The Asexual Umbrella

https://acesandaros.org/learn/courses/understanding-asexuality-and-aromanticism/asexual-and-aromantic-identities/the-asexual-umbrella 

 

[3] The Aromantic Spectrum

https://acesandaros.org/learn/courses/understanding-asexuality-and-aromanticism/asexual-and-aromantic-identities/the-aromantic-spectrum 

 

[4] 5 Ways Amatonormativity Sets Harmful Relationship Norms For Us All, Michon Neal, 2016

https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/04/amatonormativity-expectations/ 

 

[5] Battling Asexual Discrimination, Sexual Violence And ‘Corrective’ Rape, Dominique Mosbergen, 2017

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/20/asexual-discrimination_n_3380551.html?ri18n=true 

 

[6] Where We Are on TV Reports – 2018, GLAAD

https://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv18

 

[7] The Invisibility of Asexuality, Kate Sloan, 2019

https://thewalrus.ca/the-invisibility-of-asexuality/