In this guest blog, writer Alice Olivia Scarlett speaks about their experiences of coming out as ace, and a lack of ace acceptance within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Content warning: emotional and sexual abuse
Sometimes I think the queerest thing is to be asexual in Western society. Capitalism’s biggest tool is the promise of bumping uglies with your chosen other, so it’s a lonely and alienating experience when you realise how little appeal that holds for you. I spent my teenage years wondering what illness I had or what trauma I’d repressed for me to feel so uninterested in the thing that everyone around me insisted I should be.
When I first came across the word asexual (in the author’s note of a Joker/Scarecrow slash fic) and I googled it, I had one of those moments I think many queer people can relate to, that instant flashing epiphany where you read a definition and think – that’s it, that’s me, there’s a name for this, I’m not alone.
Every coming out involved elaborate explanation.
Trying to explain this to friends and family was a different matter entirely. It’s not as simple as, ‘Mum, Dad, I’m gay’. Every coming out involved elaborate explanation – that yes, this was a real thing and not something made up from the internet, and no I wouldn’t change my mind later on, and yes I was very happy like this, and no this doesn’t mean I hate romance, and oh my God no this is not the same as celibacy.
I imagine this conversation for aro people takes some painful, dehumanising twists as well. It was exhausting, and every time I felt the drip-drip of other people’s doubt wearing away at my new understanding of myself. But I’d expected this reaction from my religious, rigidly heteronormative family. The real kick in the teeth happened when I went online and discovered the aggressive ace-phobia coming from the one place I was sure I’d find understanding and acceptance.
Aces are queer. So why do so many people within the LGBTQIA+ community insist we’re not?
Part of it, I think, comes from the aforementioned fact that we are a society obsessed with sex. For individuals who have had to fight for their right to have sex with the people they want to, the idea of not wanting to use that privilege might seem ridiculous, dismissive even. But far more sinister is the argument that ace people face no discrimination for their identity and have so much straight-passing privilege that they have no right to force their way into a community designed as a safe space for those who genuinely need it.
If you spend any time in any ace community, you’ll discover stories of abuse. Manipulation, emotional blackmail, outright assault, often at the hands of spouses, partners, and friends who refuse to understand that lack of sexual desire is real and not something to be ‘fixed’. My first relationship was with an older man who constantly used sex as a weapon against me and refused to believe that asexuality could be real. ‘Sex is natural, sex is normal, you’re too young and too inexperienced to know that you don’t want sex, why are you so frigid, our relationship would be so much stronger if you weren’t such a prude’. It went on and on, building and building until the gaslighting and emotional abuse turned into sexual abuse.
When did trauma become the mark of queerness?
That relationship was the most harrowing event of my life, and I constantly find I have to trot it out and use it as justification for my queer existence. But when did trauma become the mark of queerness? There are more stories about queer characters struggling with their identity than there are stories about queer characters happily living their lives, whose queerness is such an undisputed part of themselves that it leaves them free to experience other stories that aren’t centred around their struggles with identity. The happy queer is almost a mythological creature.
None of this is to say we shouldn’t acknowledge queer pain. Many queer people have been through hell in their fight for acceptance, and I would never try to dismiss that. But if the basis for belonging in queer spaces is measuring your trauma against a non-existent benchmark, where is this going to end?
Love without sex is a difficult concept for society to grasp. ‘Just friends’ still holds a sting, ‘friend zoned’ is the punch line of far too many jokes, and there are still people who believe that sex is a biological need of the same importance as food and water. Watch a movie, and sex is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the hero’s reward at the end of the quest. You don’t have to have specific trauma to feel that special asexual exhaustion that comes from everything around you shouting that your existence as a human is lacking in the most fundamental of ways. So let us enjoy the label queer. We earn it every day.
If you have or are currently experiencing abuse of any kind, please reach out to those who can help:
- Rape Crisis England & Wales (provides support for women and girls affected by rape, sexual abuse or any form of sexual violence), 0808 802 9999, Live Chat Helpline
- Mankind (Provides one-to-one counselling, therapeutic groups and couple counselling to men (age 18+) who have experienced sexual abuse at any time in their lives)