Introducing maaple

I am proud to introduce you to maaple: it is an organisation through which we hope to make positive change in the UK.

It stands for the Movement for Asexuality Awareness, Protection, Learning and Equality. If you’ve read my blog in the past, you’ll have seen that asexuals are not protected by equality legislation in this country, and that it can be difficult to be openly asexual. We hope that maaple will become a force for positive change that benefits everyone: not just asexuals.

We have three aims.

  1. To improve the Equality Act 2010 to protect more people: namely those that are excluded by the legislation currently. This includes asexuals, but others too.
  2. To improve school sex, health and relationship education to give children the information they need to make mature, informed and safe choices. This includes teaching children about the (a)sexual spectrum and gender identity.
  3. To assist organisations and institutions to offer equal opportunities to individuals that identify as being on the asexual spectrum and so that they feel included and welcomed.

There is more information on our website, maaple.org.uk. We also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, with other media to follow. We look forward to hearing your feedback!

Asexuality as a diagnostic tool

“Asexual is a tool and not a label,” David Jay, who in 2001 created the Asexual Visi­bility and Education Network (AVEN), told Medical Daily. “You pick it up to understand yourself more deeply. You never need to make a statement about yourself. You can make a statement about the best understanding you have now and build on that.”

Asexuality Is Real: How A Rare Orientation Helps Us Understand Human Sexuality, Medical Daily

This article provides some insight into the pathology of asexuality and distinguishing lack of sexual attraction from low libido and hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Understanding these differences could have a profound effect on how we understand human sexuality more broadly.

The article culminates with the above quote from David Jay. It is interesting to think of “asexual” as a tool, rather than a label, to help understand oneself, rather than to classify oneself.

Doom and Gloom: A brief response to the general election

By |May 8th, 2015|Essays|0 Comments

As we all digest and reflect upon the election results, which put the Conservatives firmly into the seat of power, I reflect upon my experiences with the parties in the run up to the election.

Conservatives

They outlined in detail what they would do, whether we would like it or not. Acknowledged my letter to them about asexuality, and nothing more. Did not expect a response and they delivered on that promise. Did not contact me any further beyond that point: they did not want my vote (and did not need it, either). They’ve made it very clear that they’re not my party and I’m not going to be served by them. No disappointments, then. Offering Scotland their referendum was a master-stroke. Their lesson: apathy suits them.

Labour

Talked the big game but didn’t engage properly. Gave generic answers to every question posed to them and refused to give specifics. Exactly the same for my letter: they gave a response that did not address my concern at all (but plenty of demands for money). They did not provide a viable alternative to the Tories and there’s nothing more off-putting. Their lesson: don’t just listen to the people, follow them.

Liberal Democrats

Declared that they’d lost before they started. I think they launched a manifesto, but referred little to it. Talked a lot about tethering the Tories in the coalition and how they would do the same in this government. Never said sorry for the broken promises. Did not respond to my letter and sent requests for money. Seemed more concerned about attracting money (to pay for lost deposits?) by arranging celebrity prize draws than talking about their policies. Their lesson: they need to redefine what they’re about and remember what helped them win gains in 2010.

UK Independence Party

Had a much increased share of the vote but one measly seat. They revelled in their negativity, which is why it wasn’t converted into more seats. They did not respond to my letter: they focussed on a few issues to win hearts but didn’t offer much by way of a vision for the bigger picture. Their lesson: be more positive, share your vision (if you dare).

Scottish National Party

Huge gains in Scotland. The Scottish are generally happy by what they’ve achieved through devolution but still feel they are being tethered by Westminster. Their socialist approach is largely at odds with what comes out of the Houses of Parliament and even more at odds with the Tory approach. Tellingly, it took many seats from Scottish Labour, which ought to have been socialist, too — but Labour isn’t socialist enough. SNP promises to look after its own and Scottish Labour doesn’t seem to have the remit to promise that. Their lesson: if you promise to protect the interests of your people, you really must. Else you’ll be gone in 2020.

Green Party

I feel sorry for the Greens. They produced a great manifesto with good, detailed ideas. However, they are fighting against established powers. The SNP made big gains because of the referendum: they had a captive audience for months, which the Greens couldn’t ever realistically gain. They didn’t respond to my letter directly; however, they did address my query in their manifesto. Their lesson: their hard work needs to start now; they need to stay relevant and inform the electorate of how things could have been.

Asexuality isn’t a diagnosis or last resort

“I’ve met so many people in the [asexual] community who felt like they had a lot of unlearning to do and a lot of damage to heal by the time that they found out asexuality exists,” Decker says.

Asexuality: The Invisible Sexual Orientation That’s Very Real, Yahoo Health

Don’t ask, don’t tell

By |May 4th, 2015|Essays|0 Comments

One thing I’ve noticed over the past few weeks is how difficult it is to ask questions. This seems particularly the case when people want to ask me questions. We all have a natural curiosity, but we also have a natural inclination to kill it as it wakes.

I think this is rather sad, personally. The reason we kill these inclinations is because we have a heightened sense of the possibilities for how it may be received. We are afraid of offending or otherwise perturbing. We perceive in our minds that this is irreconcilable too: ask the wrong questions and you can lose your friends, your jobs, your place in society… Yet asking questions shows an interest and engagement with people, so it is a fine line to cross.

When it comes to sexuality, this fine line is even thinner. I’d say it was taboo. Some people are very vocal about their sexuality (welcome to my blog, by the way), while others are reticent and selective over who they talk to about their sexuality. Asking about sexuality, then, must be broached with caution.

Not least because asking the questions themselves can cause some embarrassment to the inquisitor as well as the respondent. Answers can be unexpected; they may change perceptions and assumptions. This makes it equally troublesome to spontaneously talk about sexuality. My policy then is “don’t ask, don’t tell”, despite the connotations of that phrase from the American military past.

When it comes to asexuality, people are just as naturally inquisitive. For all of us, myself included, there was a time when asexuality was unknown (or, at least, was a biological phenomenon of reproduction that is not performed by humans). There follows a period of learning about what it is — and in my case to establish that I am indeed one.

For that reason, I welcome questions: a quest for learning is a noble one, and to familiarise oneself with other human dwellers on this planet makes it far nobler. Of course, some questions are more intrusive than others (and some may be considered abusive too): in which case, I answer the question more broadly and more generally, rather than the specifics of my own circumstances and experiences. This inquisitiveness and the communication it creates are important. Without them, we are merely ignorant.

Well, you asked for it

By |April 25th, 2015|Asexuality updates|0 Comments

As an aside, Newcastle United lost (again) 3-2 today and I have a cold. Today was a bad idea for the Labour Party to send the following email.

Screenshot 2015-04-25 18.05.46

The demand for money from the Labour Party has been persistent: “more than a few” is an understatement. I’ve had 32 emails from the Labour Party in the past month that have asked for donations. This one really takes the biscuit. I have no obligation to donate, so to ask for a reason why I haven’t is somewhat intimidating. Nonetheless, here is my reason.

The political parties have been persuading us that the real issues in this election are the NHS and immigration. We should also be thinking about the economic recovery. I don’t care about those so much. Leave them alone and we’re doing fine.

There is one issue for me. If you read my blog, you’d know that I would like the Equality Act 2010 changed. It creates inequality. It’s otherwise a very positive piece of legislation but it doesn’t protect everyone that it should — that is my opinion at least.

Of course, I have told the Labour Party about this already and they delivered an astonishingly poor response.

That’s not to mention the email (and the cause for all the donation spam, presumably) and the letter that I had sent to the Labour Party. I still have not received a response from them.

So, I expect that the Labour Party have no plans to help people like me. Therefore, I will not be donating to their campaign, nor will I be voting for them in this General Election. They’ve had their chances: and I’ve given them so many. A response to my question was all I wanted, and they couldn’t offer me that.

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.

Time to Talk, Time to Change

By |February 5th, 2015|Essays|0 Comments

Time To Change is an organisation that aims to reduce the burden of stigma to do with mental health. I felt this was important, as mental health is finally reaching public consciousness. It isn’t always positive though.

It’s hard to reach that optimal level between raising awareness and trying to do “a good thing”, and creating a freak show. When Robin Williams took his own life, the media was torn between “how sad” and “how freaky”. Organisations such as Mind were quick to prompt the media how best to report on cases such as his — for example, by not mentioning how he took his life, it was hoped there’d be fewer copycat attempts. Yet these pleas weren’t often heard. But it’s difficult: people want to know what happened to be able to understand, and media companies necessarily have to earn money.

In the papers this morning, we had the case of Clarke Carlisle talking about his attempt at his own life; how his drinking has affected his life and the bad decisions that he made in the past. What filled me with horror was the “I’m going to be late for work because I had to stay up to hear what Ralf Little is about to say about it” comments that were plastered all over Twitter, like it was some kind of “popcorn” moment. Having read what Little said, it seemed broadly sympathetic to those with mental health problems, but its conclusion was that depression was a selfish disease and so it’s hard to have sympathy.

That is only half right. I’ve had conversations with people before when I’ve said, “Depression is a selfish disease”, only to be told, “No, it’s not”. It is a selfish disease. It’s every bit as selfish as being ridden with malaria and requiring round-the-clock care to keep you alive. People with depression don’t have the same level of consciousness as those of us blessed with a clean bill with mental health. When you’re in the depths of despair, your brain is your worst enemy. It compels you to think about awful things. Let me tell you, nothing is scarier than losing the most basic of human instincts to preserve your existence.

Humans are designed to take care of themselves by minimising risk, avoiding danger, and making decisions that keep you alive. Depression erodes that in so many cases. It’s not hard to see that people are fundamentally different when depressed.

People will do weird things when they’re depressed, because their minds have gone weird. Like mine. I did strange things. I was a different person. Some people become reclusive; many become destructive in some way. Many depressed people can’t see a long-term future and do things that seem incredibly selfish: like going on holiday; creating a mess; spending money on meaningless and gratuitous things. These are things that you can fall out over. It’s easy to hate a depressed person. Too easy.

But remember: depressed people feel alone, even when with others. Depressed people feel alone in their thoughts and cannot easily express how they’re feeling. But you need to look after depressed people: nurture their minds and thoughts. Help them through. Worry about forgiveness later and work on understanding now. A depressed person will thank you for it, and say they’re sorry for the things they’ve done, and they’d mean it. The vast majority of people don’t want to do bad and selfish things, and it isn’t really them doing those things.

Your friend, relative, colleague or idol is still in there. Patience, understanding and compassion will help you to see that.