By Katelyn Skye Bennett | Editor-in-chief
Asexuality is a valid orientation and identity, yet it’s often misunderstood or goes unrecognized. Ace people of color are further marginalized.
But ace individuals offer so much, from their deep understanding of both friendships and relationships to their creativity and intellect. The world is more full when aces are represented, and it is more whole when they are embraced.
Are You Ace?
AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility & Education Network, explains that “an asexual person does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, just like other sexual orientations.”
An asexual person may use the term ace instead. The three primary identities under the asexual umbrella include asexual, gray-sexual, and demisexual. Respectively, this means being entirely disinterested in sex, only very rarely sexually attracted, and only sexually attracted once an emotional bond is formed.
Asexuality is different than aromanticism, however. Many ace individuals have or desire romantic intimacy without the sexual attraction. As with “allos,” or people who do experience sexual and romantic attraction, this can be felt toward any gender.
Josh, a Black cisgendered man in his mid-twenties, added his take: “I would say that asexuality is understood to be the absence of sexual attraction or desire and that aromanticism is similarly defined as the absence of romantic attraction or desire. The term ‘ace’ though can be used as a catch all for the community of folks who find themselves on the spectrum of asexual and aromantic identity as opposed to allosexual and alloromantic identity.”
Josh added, “The identity I’m most comfortable with when it comes to describing my experience of attraction and desire is gray-ace.”
He explained that he is gray-romantic and gray-sexual, noting, “It’s tricky to live in a world where you know that you’re always a bit off beat from the broader culture when it comes to expectations for sexuality and romance.”
Race and Being Ace
Liz M., a woman in her mid-twenties, shared some of her experience as well: “One side of my family is Mexican and the other is primarily Italian. Both sides are pretty heavily Catholic and have a big emphasis on family in the traditional sense – marriage, babies, the whole nine yards.”
She continued, “I have come out on social media, but no one ultimately acknowledges it, which is nice but also a bit invalidating in its own strange way. It can be especially confusing outside of family to navigate being Latina and the stereotype that Latinx women are excellent mothers and lovers and are inherently sexualized because of the machismo culture, but I’m also very much white passing and therefore don’t usually get targeted by racial-based harassment like that.”
Liz is just one example from the ace community and is not representative of everyone, but she contributed the majority of the resources listed below, spotlighting British ace activist Yasmin Benoit. In one interview, the model notes the whitewashed nature of the queer community as a whole and common erasure of ace folks.
In hypersexualized American society, asexuality is easily misunderstood. One interviewee in her young twenties, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “I find the universal assumption that everyone will either eventually get married or live out their adult life unhappily to be extremely frustrating.”
She continued, “It’s unhealthy for anyone to place their worth and identity in their ability to find a successful romantic relationship, and for some people getting married may not even be the best way for them to be happy. There are also some social circles in which a life devoid of sexual exploits is considered boring and dull. I can assure you, that is not the case.”
“Some people also assume that if someone identifies as asexual, then they are actually averse to having sex. This is not necessarily true. Some people who identify as asexual may never want to have sex, but others may just experience a more minimal sex drive. People who consider themselves asexual may still want to have sex in order to have children, become closer to their partner, or for other reasons,” she explained.
Whether it’s the belief that one just has to find the right person to want sex or the complete ignorance of the existence of the “invisible orientation,” these myths and assumptions can marginalize ace folks even within the queer community.
“There are also some social circles in which a life devoid of sexual exploits is considered boring and dull. I can assure you, that is not the case.”
Creating Culture (a Call to Action)
One way to uplift people is through representation. Ace media, where it exists, is not very racially or ethnically diverse, however. The anonymous interviewee listed Sherlock Holmes, Elsa, Bilbo Baggins, Luna Lovegood, and Katniss Everdeen as her ace icons, and while these literary characters are inspiring, they’re also all white.
In her book ‘Ace,’ Angela Chen also notes the whiteness of ace culture. For example, the author says she can’t relate to the popular, coded cake metaphor used in ace circles. While there are online spaces to connect, and while queer coding can create opportunities to do so on and offline, the creators who have primarily influenced the ace community at this point are not representative of the entire ace community.
Ace representation as a whole is rare and reductionist.
Liz, the Latinx-Italian interviewee, noted, “There’s been very limited asexual representation in mainstream media that isn’t reductive of the ace identity, quite honestly, and even the better example of Todd from BoJack Horseman could use some work. The biggest issue with ace representation is that the little that we do get is usually reduced to the character as childlike or inhuman – lacking in some way.”
She added, “I’d really like to see the ace community take off and take the time to support more ace creators, especially since the asexual population is so active online. A lot of content creators have begun to include ace represent in their comics and art, which has been really affirming for me to see characters live through full and exciting adventures without being othered because they don’t have a sexual partner, or the romantic plotline doesn’t involve some spicy scenes and innuendos.”
Josh affirmed this, saying, “Honestly I would just like to see more representations of pure friendships in children’s shows and media.”
Resources From Our Interviewees
- AVEN, The Asexual Visibility & Education Network, and largest community resource for ace folks around the globe.
- 101 Resources | The Asexual Agenda.
- Affirm-ace-ions on Tumblr, whose bio reads, “A positivity blog for asexual-spectrum people of all kinds. You are all super mega rad, and you deserve so many good things.”
- Ace TikTok: aceoftays (white American, pronouns not disclosed), its.tamatama (Hawaiian, any pronouns), and piiiiiiiiiiiiiink (white Indigenous Australian, she/they).
- Specific Topics in Asexual History, which includes a resource on ace Muslim women in history.
- Reddit: asexuality.
- The Asexual ACES page on Facebook.
- ACEapp, an exclusively asexual social networking and dating platform available for free on iOS and Android.
- ‘James Baldwin,’ a biography by David Leeming, which Josh describes as “phenomenal for processing race, gender, and sexual-romantic orientation.”
- ‘Ace’ by Angela Chen, available in auditory and written forms.
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6 thoughts on “Meet the queer folks who don’t think sex is all that”
That’s… that’s not even what being ace means. Being ace doesn’t mean “I’m not interested in sex” it means “I don’t have sexual attraction”. A LOT of aces both do and don’t have interest in sex. As the saying goes, attraction doesn’t equal action.
Hey Javay! I see where you might get that — AVEN and Josh both used the word desire though centering on attraction in their definitions up top. We did try to include the nuance that aces may want to have sex for a number of reasons, despite not being sexually attracted, which another interviewee expressed, and to clarify the difference between asexuality and celibacy. Thanks for commenting to make these things more clear! We hope you’ll keep engaging with new posts!