- I first got interested in asexuality after making friends with two asexual people: (a) the sheer absence of even a momentary consideration f the possibility in academic literature (b) my own initial confusion and, as I began to talk to other people about it, the fact they shared this confusion
- initially I just wanted to understand the asexual community, things that were shared and things that were different, because at the time there was a striking lack of basic qualitative research i.e. getting people to talk about their lives in their own terms.
- however as I’ve gone on with my research (and found myself having countless conversations about it because everyone I meet in universities finds asexuality interesting whereas pretty much no one finds my phd research interesting) I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the reaction of sexual people to asexuality
- I worry that when I put it like that it sounds quite dull but I don’t think it is: people who are not asexual almost always, in my experience and from everything I have read and the experiences reported in my own research, find the notion of asexuality inherently confusing.
- they do so because being presented by the reality that not everyone experiences sexual attraction calls into question an assumption (that it’s a universal and uniform thing) which, until they are in that situation, is largely impossible to recognise.
- I don’t think this assumption has always been made and tracking its emergence in 20th century sexual culture is the central question for a project I’ll be applying for funding for next year.
- however while this project is about how this assumption came into being, I’m much more interested on a personal level in the question of what happens when it goes away (though this is much more difficult to study!)
- what happens when people who do experience sexual attraction and have been brought up in a culture that assumes this is universal recognise that this assumption isn’t true? It transforms being sexual into an object of deliberation for the first time – rather than something take for granted.
- In the same way that the emergence of an identity as gay preceded an identity as straight (you can see this in terms of the gap between when the words heterosexual and homosexual were coined and when they entered everyday use + the extent to which ‘homosexual’ was written about much more and much earlier than ‘heterosexual’) so too does it seem likely the increasing recognition of asexuality will lead more sexual people to reflect on what it means FOR them to be sexual.
- and I think this is a good thing for asexual activism because it’s a process which, i suspect, will naturally produce allies… as people realise that the same restrictive logic of understanding human sexuality that left them unable to accept or understand the existence of asexuality (and in many cases act in a stigmatisating way as a result of this) also restricted their own understanding and relationship with themselves.
- My point is not that visibility work is good because it helps sexual people too (though it does) but, not least of all because I wasn’t entirely sure what to talk about today, I just wanted to say that I think an event like today, the hard work that went into it, came before and will follow it and come after it are in a re and significant way helping make wider society a nicer place for everyone.
Edited to add: this was a hastily written talk posted in a rush while on a train down to London. In the end I decided on the spur of the moment to talk about something completely different.