On Valentine’s Day, the pressure to conform to a nauseating standard of the happy couple is pretty stifling. The queer community has successfully subverted the holiday for years, but imagine if you had no desire for sex, and actively avoided romantic relationships. Asexual people or ‘aces’ don’t experience sexual attraction or desire sex. I talked with people who identify as ‘ace’ about their orientation and how they cope with the ‘Day of Love’.
Kerry Goodman is a 22 year-old support worker at a Reading hospital. She came to terms with her asexuality after a break up with a long-term boyfriend three years ago. “I think it’s why we ultimately split up,” she said, talking about her libido. “I wish I was aware, then I could have explained to him.” Kerry identifies as romantic ‘ace’: although she is asexual, she can see herself in a long-term loving relationship. “This sounds quite ridiculous but I would rather date someone who is asexual, so I wouldn’t feel like I was depriving them”, she says, explaining that it could be a man or a woman, “I’m not fussed.”
In 2011, a poll for Asexual Awareness Week found that 40 per cent of ‘ace’ people felt themselves to be part of the LGBT community, while 38 per cent saw themselves as “allies” or supporters. Kerry admits that some members of the queer community aren’t exactly welcoming, but this is changing. As an asexual liaison officer for Reading Pride, she recently helped passed a motion to march under the banner of LGBT plus, including ‘ace’ people. Increasing awareness means more opportunities for people like Kerry to meet other asexuals, like the dating site Acebook, or the first Asexuality World Festival for Pride happening this summer in Toronto.
Michael Doré is part of the team at the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), the biggest advocate for the community. He’s going to be “forgetting” Valentine’s day this year as he is both a-romantic and “repulsed” by sex. He suffered homophobic bullying at his all-boys school, from peers who wouldn’t believe that he had no sexual desire and assumed he was gay. Many people have tried to persuade him over the years to give sex a try. “It’s like asking a straight dude, why don’t you experiment with another guy?” he says.
A study of discrimination against ‘ace’ people in 2012 found that they were viewed as “less human” and “less valued” than heterosexuals. It points out how characters like Sheldon in the TV show The Big Bang Theory are objects of mockery for their lack of desire. Part of the dehumanization is the assumption that they are not fully formed, but in a stage of sexual development. “I was told it was just a phase,” says Michael. He’s 31 now and living in a shared flat in London as a mathematician, having built a life in which his orientation is more accepted.
Valentine’s Day associates love exclusively with romance and eroticism and asexuals challenge that definition. The ‘ace’ community have a neat saying, “We like cake better than sex”. ‘Cheap Chocolate Day’ on February 15th is a running joke, involving buying left-over Valentine’s goodies in bulk: “If the heart motif bothers an individual,” one blog quips, “he could always carve the Ace of Diamonds into the face.”
“In our sex-saturated society... not wanting sex can seem like the most deviant position of all"
Becca Love is an ‘ace’ from Illinois who will be celebrating on Friday 14th, at a Valentine’s Day concert. She’s used the day in the past to “acknowledge friendship and other kinds of love.” She explains that she has a libido, and has had relationships in the past. “Romantic love is a roaring fire, and then it settles down into a wood stove fire” she says, explaining how she has experienced the second feeling but not the first.
The a-sexual community recognizes the fluidity of orientation; terms like ‘demi’ and gray’ are used to describe people who may have low or different libido or are exclusively attracted to one person. Becca says this is more accepted for women: “The term frigid is applied to women more than it is to men. It’s more societally acceptable for women not to be interested in sex.” However she doesn’t see this as a positive or correct representation of women and their highly diverse sex drives.
Asexuality is beginning to emerge as a recognized sexual orientation, but it’s a slow journey. Many people still don’t know what ‘ace’ means or think that a lack of desire must be a medical problem or the result of emotional trauma. In our sex-saturated society where every kind of desire or fetish is on offer and tacitly permitted, not wanting sex can seem like the most deviant position of all. Asexuality is the ultimate subversion of Valentine’s Day. Perhaps one day they’ll make a Hallmark card that reads “We like cake better than sex.”
Follow Nicola Seth-Smith on Twitter here @NikiSethSmith