Gatekeeping and Ace Allyship
Gatekeeping in the LGBT+/queer community seems to be a perennial problem and currently a lot of efforts seem to be expended around pushing asexual (and sometimes aromantic, for those that use the split attraction model) people out of the community. However, I believe that gatekeepers are actually a small part of the community and what’s more common is that people have misconceptions about asexuality. Strictly speaking, asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. This doesn’t mean they aren’t attracted to people, we just don’t experience that type of attraction (or rarely do so). I have five pieces of advice for people who maybe haven’t really thought about asexuality outside of seeing discourse regarding our place in the community.
Sexual Attraction Spectrum
Asexual people can be anywhere on either of these spectra, and so can people that experience sexual attraction. It gets conflated that asexual means sex-repulsed and sex-negative, but that’s not always the case. Not everyone who is sex-repulsed is asexual, not everyone who is asexual is sex-repulsed.
Don’t Pressure for Sex
Pressuring someone who is sex-negative, sex-averse, or sex-repulsed to have sex is really rapey and should not be done. If sex is a hard need for you and not something that can be worked around, then they aren’t the person you should be in a relationship with, or the two of you need to come to some sort of agreement in regards to potentially polya situations or open relationship situations. But pushing them for sex is not ok. This applies no matter what sexual orientation the person has.
Sex and Attraction
It’s really dehumanizing to hear someone you love say that they can’t be with someone who isn’t sexually attracted to them. As covered later in this article, if sex is something you need and they can’t give, then it’s not the right relationship for you. But I’ve seen things indicating the asexual person is sex-favorable and sex positive (or maybe sex-indifferent and sex-neutral) as well as ready, willing, and able to have sex with their romantic partner who they are romantically, sensually, and aesthetically attracted to, who they love and feel emotionally intimate with and want to share physical intimacy with. And the allosexual partner says that they don’t want to have sex with someone who’s not sexually attracted to them.
The reasons this sucks is because it discounts all the attraction that they do feel and the emotions and closeness they feel for something they have no control over, like none of that matters just because the first thought they had wasn’t about how boneable someone is. And also because we all know that everyday people have sex with people they aren’t attracted to, and since not everyone uses the split attraction model, it’s probably more common than people realize.
It’s okay to identify as asexual for only a short period of time. If you aren’t sure if what you are feeling is sexual attraction, you can id as ace. You can also id as ace if you previously identified as something else. For one, it’s really hard to know you aren’t experiencing something that you’ve never experienced before because there’s just no frame of reference. I know that I assumed that my aesthetic and sensual attraction was sexual attraction and that’s just how everyone experienced it. It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I realized people experienced sexual attraction differently. And some people know early on what their orientation is and it never changes and that’s great and valid.
But other people may experience shifts, either due to hormone fluctuations or just unpacking things about themselves over time, and it’s okay to use a label while it seem to fit and then change it to something else when it doesn’t fit anymore. Labels are kind of like shoes like that. Wear the ones that make you comfortable, and when they stop making you comfortable, change to ones that do.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, asexual people belong in the community. Historically, we’ve always been here. And we need to be here. The reasons for excluding aces from the community tend to come to “they aren’t oppressed”/”they can hide it” or “their experience is different”. Well, “not oppressed” is demonstrably false.
Everything in western society, especially US society, is revolved around sex, “sex sells” is used for commercials and tv shows and music and everything. There are specific tax breaks for married people (though they mostly benefit rich people even then, but that’s another topic). Hook up culture in college and clubbing and the deriding of people as “virgins” like it’s a bad thing are all constant background noise in our lives. And that’s not getting to specific instances to individuals like parents pushing for relationships and grandbabies, or people who see us as potential sexual partners telling us we’d like it if we just try it (or guilting us over sex, or any other push for sex).
And can we hide it? Sure, everyone can stay closeted forever. The difference is that in a lot of ways being closeted actually opens asexual people up to more of those “push for sex” issues. As for the experience being different. Everyone’s experience is different. Bisexuals have a different experience from gays who have a different experience from lesbians. Even within those smaller communities, black queer people have a different experience from white queer people, have a different experience from latinx queer people. It’s intersectional and it’s beside the point. The community is for mutual support and to make each other stronger. Not a club of people who are all alike.