Asexuality updates

A disappointing response from Labour

By |April 19th, 2015|Asexuality updates|0 Comments

A little while ago, I received yet another email from the Labour Party asking for donations, which I thought was a bit cheeky since the only reason I’d been in contact with them was to ask them about their policy on changing the Equality Act to protect asexuals. This email was from Iain McNicol, who is the General Secretary of the Labour Party. So I replied.

Dear Iain,

It is often very easy to be cynical when it comes to political donations. But I don’t think it is far-fetched to say that individuals that donate to political parties do so because there is something in it for them. That is to say, people send donations if there’s something in it for them.

You may wish to challenge that, as is your right. However, I think it would be far more worthwhile for you, for me and the future of the country if you are able to persuade me that voting Labour is in my interests.

In order to do that, I want to be reassured about one issue. It is an issue that I have raised before with the Labour Party and received no answer. Therefore, my support hinges on your (or your representative’s) response.

I would like to be protected by the Equality Act 2010. Currently I am not. EA2010 is an otherwise excellent piece of legislation that protects British citizens and visitors to the UK. However, it has also created an underclass of people that are not protected when, in my opinion, they ought to be.

Those that do not experience sexual attraction and those sexually attracted to individuals that do not belong to the two prevailing genders are not protected by EA2010.

If you can reassure me that the Labour Party is committed to rectifying this oversight, I will be happy to support them in this election.

I eagerly await your response.

Yours,
Stephen.

It took them a while, but he replied. Well, I say he replied…

Dear Mr Broughton,

Thank you for your email regarding LGBT rights.

Labour is the Party of equality, and we believe that no person should suffer discrimination or a lack of opportunity because of their gender, gender identity, age, disability, race, religion or belief, socio-economic status or sexual orientation. In government, every decision we take will be taken with that in mind.

Labour has a proud record of leading progress on LGBT rights. Between 1997 and 2010 the Labour Government did more for the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality than any other government in British history, from equalising the age of consent, to abolishing the homophobic Section 28 and introducing Civil Partnerships.

In opposition we have continued this record with Labour votes in Parliament securing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013. Equal marriage is an important step forward in the fight for equality in Britain but now is not the time for complacency. We must not go backwards and there remain many areas where we still need to make progress, especially for transgender people. Labour will strengthen the legal rights of trans people by undertaking a review of gender identity law and policy, and we will work with the transgender community in tackling problems with access to gender care services.

Labour will deliver strong action to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools and workplaces and keep up the campaign for equality for LGBT people. Under Labour’s plan, supported by Stonewall, schools will show zero-tolerance of homophobia in the classroom and playground, and require all teachers to be trained to tackle homophobic bullying. And we will do more to protect victims of hate crime by extending legal protection for aggravated offences to hostility based on trans identity and sexual orientation, sending a strong message that hate crime will not be tolerated.

A Labour government would introduce the first international envoy for LGBT rights to champion gay and transgender rights internationally. Labour will continue to back efforts to combat discrimination against LGBT people in Europe and the wider world, and will fight for LGBT people to have the same right for their spouses to live and work in other EU countries, free from legal or any other obstacle.

This election is a choice between a failing plan and a better plan for working families. The Tories’ plan is failing working families because they choose to prioritise helping a few at the top. Labour’s plan is based on a simple truth: that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed. That’s why Labour’s plan offers a better future: for living standards, for the next generation, and for the NHS. You can read more about Labour’s better plan at www.labour.org.uk/manifesto

With kind regards,

On behalf of the Labour Party

So, it wasn’t a reply from him, and it wasn’t a reply about my email. The gist seems to be “we’ve done lots of things and we have plans for other things”.

There is good news for transgender people. I’m really happy about that. But this email was generally disappointing. Nothing about asexuality. Nothing about the Equality Act. And the last paragraph tells me that this issue that’s important to me is an irrelevance: I should be voting based on the economic recovery.

That’s not what this election is about for me. I’ve given each party the opportunity to respond to this issue and none have.

Why sexual people don’t get asexuality and why it matters for everybody

By |March 12th, 2015|Asexuality updates|0 Comments

I was alerted by a friend that there was a seminar taking place at Oxford University about asexuality. These are like hen’s teeth, so having one so close I was bound to go to. I’m not certain whether I was actually meant to go: I blagged my way into Balliol College and later found out it was an event run by the LGBTQ welfare group there. Regardless whether I was allowed to be there or not, they made me feel very welcome, so thank you to them!

This seminar was led by Mark Carrigan. He studied sexual identity during his PhD study and it was during this data collection that he encountered asexual individuals and was intrigued. This led to an unfunded, self-motivated project to find out more about asexuality and asexual individuals.

He talked about people’s journeys to discover asexuality and recognising it in themselves. He gave an example of the differences between older and younger asexuals in discovering asexuality: there was a trend for older asexuals to have been through a process of sexual exploration before finding the term “asexuality”; younger people tended to find out about asexuality on the Internet.

There is a de facto definition for asexuality, but in reality the term “asexuality” covers a diverse range of experiences, attitudes and behaviours. While this resulted in a wider awareness of asexuality and a larger asexual community, it also created some divisions resulting in hostility between asexuals and those that identify as grey- or demi-asexuals.

Mark noted the importance of the Internet in asexual awareness and the development of the asexual community. In particular, he believes there may be parallels between asexuality and Trans* communities.

He also believes there may be parallels between the evolving awareness of asexuality and the gay rights movement: particularly in the impact of the acceptance of homosexuality on the sexual identity of heterosexuals. It could be, he suggested, that an awareness of asexuality would lead to a wider appreciation that sexuality is not binary (either you’re interested in it or you’re not) and that there is a spectrum of sexual attraction and interest in sex, regardless of orientation.

To that end, I agree with Mark that awareness of grey-asexuality is important. Grey-asexuals (or grey-sexuals) have some sexual attraction and interest in sex, but may not consider themselves to be “fully sexual”. That is, there may be circumstances or instances where a grey-asexual would be interested in sex. Mark argued that asexual visibility is important for a “cultural articulation” of sexuality (and asexuality) and a more critical reflection of our own sexual identities.

However, he has concerns about the discussion of asexuality, particularly in the media. His experiences of news articles on asexuality have ranged from ambivalent to supportive, but have broadly presented asexuals as “freakish”. I agree.

And he is equally concerned that some sections of the media might jump on the asexuality movement to propagate a prudish agenda to promote chastity.

The questions from the group were encouraging: it was clear that there were some empathies with the asexual movement from gay, trans* and women’s rights perspectives. However, it was also clear that asexuality awareness is still quite some way behind and that there have been difficulties in integrating asexuality in LGBT+ movements and groups.

I started a dialogue with Mark about the problem of protection for asexuals and he was disappointed with an apparent loss of will in political circles to offer legal protection to asexuals. We had a good chat afterwards about it and some of the developments that have happened in the asexual community.

I think everyone in the room was thirsty to hear about research in asexuality: most questions from the floor contained the phrase, “has there been research on…”. However, there is a dearth of research in this area. To hear about Mark’s research and his interest in developing this research is hugely reassuring and refreshing.

Certainly, I am going to read more about his work and expand my reading. It might be a change of direction for me in terms of where I take my research career in future!

You can follow Mark and his work on his website or on Twitter.

Creating support for change

By |February 7th, 2015|Asexuality updates|0 Comments

Yesterday I visited Loughborough to attend an LGBT staff group meeting. I’d been in touch because I was a little frustrated that they said they welcomed members that were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender as identified in the Equality Act 2010. To their credit, they immediately changed their group name to the LGBT+ staff group.

It was particularly reassuring how seriously this group is being taken, with the Vice Chancellor attending the meeting and taking an interest in the issues that had been discussed. For my part, I introduced myself and stated why it was important for me to join.

I said that asexuality is known as the “invisible orientation”. We don’t generally make a fuss and keep ourselves to ourselves. While that works most of the time, it also means that we’re overlooked for things like the Equality Act and leave ourselves open to abuse and ignorance in general. If we’re to bring about change, we have to engage with those that can help us and find common ground.

I’m quite pleased I joined. They were a friendly and welcoming group and there is an intent to embrace more members and to raise awareness. We can help each other out in that regard.

Teenager highlights ‘prejudice and discrimination’ against asexuality in documentary

The Mirror reports that a teenager — Josh Scott — has created a video and pamphlet about the problems caused by a lack of understanding of asexuality.

While The Mirror has been drawn towards the phrase “hypersexualised society”, Scott has focussed more upon the growing pains of misunderstanding one’s own sexuality by not having all the facts. Sexuality is so complex, so fluid, and so diverse that being told “you’re either, straight, gay or bi” is bound to leave many young adults wondering why they don’t fit in.

Asexuals want orientation recognised

“I want it to get into sex ed and sexual counselors,” Decker, a writer and an asexual, said of the book. “So that it will work into the common knowledge and common narrative about what sexuality is.”

Asexuals want orientation recognized, Valley News.

Coming out of invisibility

But as soon as people started to publicly equate asexuality with other queer identities, like homosexuality or transgender, there was backlash from LGBTQI groups. Some believed that asexuality as an identity and asexuals as individuals were trying to hop onto the LGBTQI train without facing the same levels of visible discrimination; some accused them of being closeted queer folk unwilling to disclose their true sexual identity and thus hiding behind a false label.

Asexual activists refute this by noting that they are still classified as a pathological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and described as individuals with low self esteem, social anxiety, and depression in studies on their identity.

Coming Out of Invisibility, Mark Hay, Good Magazine

This post has been making waves in the ace community. The links to related content strongly support the messages that the author wishes to convey: asexuality is, indeed, a thing and there are a lot of issues that are yet to be addressed. In particular, discrimination and persecution does exist.

Finding a home within MOGII groups

My feeder alerted me to an article from Inside Higher Ed about student groups that are embracing the inclusion of the asexual spectrum within their MOGII groups, often called LGBT groups or some derivative of that acronym.

While the article itself is a positive piece about including Ace people in such groups, the comments beneath the article display a common problem that asexuals face. There are some that are already within these groups (and outside) that resent the acknowledgement of additional sexual identities within the MOGII umbrella. The sentiment is one of dilution and diversion: that adding more letters (and thus more people) to the LGBT group (presumably) makes the group less of a minority.

Sadly, this sentiment permeates elsewhere, with the idea that acknowledging asexuality would open the floodgates. Unfortunately, it would appear that the politicians are equally hostile to the idea of acknowledging asexuality, lest they are approached by countless other MOGII groups. The status quo of ignorance and ambivalence would appear to be far more preferable.

Asexuality should be recognised, not ignored

It was hard finding a place to feel safe and accepted when society said I didn’t fit what was considered normal and the queer community said I wasn’t queer enough. Then I discovered Asexuality Awareness Week.

From Julie Nguyen at the Daily Cougar.

The article was published in the week following Asexual Awareness Week (AAW), and there’s an interesting argument that AAW is self-serving and doesn’t do much to promote awareness of asexuality.

The quote above gives some idea as to why that is. I know many asexual people that aren’t “out”. There are more still that have been selective in who they are open to about their sexuality. The reality is that asexuality remains taboo: both among the “normal” community (if that isn’t too unkind or dismissive a term) and among the “queer” community. Many asexuals feel marginalised and achieve solace only with like-minded people.

So it’s a Catch-22 situation. The only way we know to achieve greater understanding is to reach out to the wider world and convince them that asexuality is just fine. However, society can be unkind and the climate can be quite toxic for people that do want to speak out. The leading political parties ignored my communications, which suggests that even those that seek to represent us have no desire to acknowledge or support us.

I’m asking myself: “where do we go next?” And the answers don’t come easily.

Ari shares some colour on asexuality

By |October 20th, 2014|Asexuality updates|0 Comments

Even some who are already open about being asexual often have a hard time accepting themselves because of this.

Adri’s cartoon for Asexuality Awareness Week last year gives a pretty thorough account of the problems that asexuals face. Asexuality Awareness Week 2014 starts on Monday 26th October.

A reply from The Telegraph

The Head of Editorial Compliance replied within a matter of hours. As expected, my complaint didn’t quite invoke the Editors’ Code of Practice and my complaint wasn’t upheld. Here is the reply nonetheless.

Dear Mr Broughton

‘Martin Amis: How Hitler had sex’, 12 Oct 2014

Thank you for contacting us about this article.

This was Martin Amis’ personal and subjective view of Hitler’s sexuality, and instantly recognisable as such. It is of course impossible to know the truth about such a recondite topic, and the writer is entitled to conjecture. An article about Hitler’s putative asexuality cannot be taken, on any fair reading, as a ‘negative stereotype of asexual people’ in general.

We are very sorry if the article upset you. However it does not engage clause 12 of the Editors’ Code, which forbids discrimination against individuals, not groups.

Yours sincerely
Jess McAree
Head of Editorial Compliance

Although I accept what was said in that letter (to some extent, anyway: Amis did not support his conjecture with any kind of evidence, convincing or otherwise), my complaint was not that associating Hitler with asexuality is a slur on asexuality. It was more that Amis communicated views that asexuality was not normal and alien.