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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Opinion

Asexuality should be recognized, not ignored


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Statistics show that 1 percent of people identify as asexual, but although this sexuality is only represented in a small portion of the population, they should not and will not be forgotten. | Photo illustration by Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

For the longest time, I thought I was broken.

“That’s not normal. Is something wrong with you?” “Are you sure?” and “You just haven’t met the right person yet” are all things people have said to me when I tell them I’m asexual.

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.

It opened a lot of doors for me, but more could have been done to ensure that people who identify as asexual didn’t have to feel broken for so long. Asexuality Awareness Week takes place annually from Oct. 26 to Nov. 1., but most aren’t aware that asexuality exists, let alone that’s there a whole week dedicated to it.

“I’m not so sure about how helpful Asexuality Awareness Week is, because they’re not doing much about it and it’s sort of self-promoting itself instead of promoting asexuality,” said history junior Shaan Budhwani. “I’ve seen people say, ‘Hey, remember it’s Asexuality Awareness Week,’ but they don’t do anything to promote asexuality.”

Raising awareness about asexuality doesn’t do much when no one understands what it is. That’s why there needs to be more than just an awareness week; there needs to be education.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation spectrum defined as “not experiencing sexual attraction.” There are also people who identify as graysexual, or experiencing sexual attraction on a spectrum between full-blown sexual attraction and no sexual attraction.

Not one shoe fits all, as there are people who have identified as asexual their entire life, while others identify as asexual because of past trauma. It doesn’t mean that their asexuality is more or less valid than someone else who has identified as asexual for longer.

Considering how unknown asexuality is as a sexual orientation and the misconceptions that plague it, it’s rare that someone will come out as asexual.

Industrial engineering master’s student Jaivikhnesh Kandasamy said he had not heard of asexuality before being approached.

“I didn’t have any idea about it. I haven’t met anyone saying that they’re not attracted to any gender,” Kandasamy said. “There are hormones in us that make us think of the gender in which they like. But I haven’t faced a situation like that.”

Hormones can influence a person’s sexual orientation, but that is not always the case. This is a generalization applied to asexual people, and whether or not an asexual person has a hormone imbalance does not make their asexuality any less valid.

Just as there are differences in people who identify as any sexual orientation, there are differences in those that identify as asexual. There are asexuals that have sex and asexuals who don’t. There are asexuals who are repulsed by sex and there are asexuals that are comfortable with sex.

They are asexual if they choose to identify as so, and the only thing that all asexuals have in common is “not feeling sexual attraction.”

Even when people feel that asexual best describes them, accepting it for themselves is hard.

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Photo illustration by Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Honestly, it was difficult getting interviews for this article. Some people were afraid to talk to me about a subject they didn’t know anything about, and the ones who agreed to hear me out either looked at me in disbelief or started laughing at the idea of asexuality. It was rough, and it hurt.

This is the reaction that members of the asexual community fear, maybe even causing them to deny it to themselves because they’re afraid of the stigmas that follow. Education junior Eileen Gong said that she first faced the idea of being asexual when she was in a long-distance relationship.

“Over the course of that relationship, I was in denial for a long time,” Gong said. “Even when it became apparent that asexuality was probably the thing that fit me most, I was still kind of denying it, to her at least.”

Gong said that it took her a while after getting out of that relationship to accept that she was asexual. However, once she did, she said it was a relief to find a place she belonged with other like-minded individuals who validated that part of her identity.

It’s difficult to find people who are asexual or people who are completely indifferent or are accepting of indifference toward today’s sexualized society. People are often surprised and sometimes even angered to learn that there are individuals out there who don’t feel the need to engage in sex.

“Our society, all over media, has been sexualized, and sex sells. That is why when an individual says, ‘I’m asexual,’ it’s difficult to understand,” said Guillermo De Los Reyes, associate director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.

Society is so sexualized that people who are averse to it are seen in a negative light.

“In the media, asexuality is treated like they haven’t found the right person or they’re broken, so it’s really important to raise awareness,” Budhwani said.

Sex does not make someone any more or less human, and to suggest that it does greatly undermines the asexual population. Asexuality Awareness Week is a good way to raise awareness about the asexual population, but there are better ways to gain visibility.

“Awareness Week should stay because the asexuality community as a group needs to be proud of who they are and make awareness of that, even though it would just be starting in small numbers,” De Los Reyes said. “Most of the different histories of the organizations of any ethnic group, sexual orientation group or gender expression group started with baby steps from the bottom-up, within the community and then to the rest of the society.”

But in addition to Awareness Week, there needs to be more.

“Another idea that could work is that when we are educating our children, classes on sexual education should also talk about the different identities, sexual orientations and gender expressions so we don’t have to make a community feel that they are as not as important as others,” De Los Reyes said. “I’m not a member of the asexual community, but I’m very supportive. And I think we need to understand and give the asexual community a space.”

Not once have I heard a story of someone discovering the asexual community that didn’t include “I thought I was broken” in it. We can do better. UH has been recognized as a LGBT-friendly school by the Princeton Review, but there is always room for improvement.

“Spreading the word is good, but it’s a little disheartening that asexuality gets awareness when other orientations get pride,” Gong said.

What I hear instead of acceptance and respect is “broken,” “weird,” “not normal.” Asexuality should be recognized, not ignored. To call out for help and be ignored is one of the most destitute conditions of human life.

Opinion columnist Julie Nguyen is a communications senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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