Reflecting on the past week

While there has been plenty going on in my life to think about, I think it’s fair to say that the goings on at maaple have been dominating my mind.

maaple is very dear to me. It has been a lot of hard work and spent time; if you know me personally, you will know that I do not have spare time to spend on such projects. I am a full time research student, part time research assistant and part time maths tutor. I try to find time to do things I enjoy away from work too. Asexuality awareness and protection is work. It’s my community service, it’s my charitable work, it’s my duty. As an adult, who is asexual, it’s important for me to use my experiences and lessons to teach whoever would listen to make the world a better place. This philosophy pervades my professional work too: acquire existing knowledge, create new knowledge, share knowledge, repeat.

I was working on asexuality awareness and making changes to equality legislation before maaple. Foolishly, I thought I could achieve these alone. I wrote letters to MPs, political parties, political organisations. I thought I could defer responsibility to those in power: the ones that would run our country. And then it would be done. Then I met some wonderful people that wanted to achieve the same thing and we formed maaple. What would be different about maaple is the strength of the power of people on the asexual spectrum and any allies to make change. But it’s not as simple as that.

I have limited experience and awareness. I will work on that. maaple is not yet the slick, wise, professional organisation that everyone hopes for us to be. However, we are enthusiastic and passionate. I have questioned my desire to continue, because I do feel that I let the asexual community down: for fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Under my watch, maaple wandered unwittingly into a political, cultural and societal argument. Of course, this ought not to have been the case: ignorance and naivety are not defensible when our aim is to make things better for everyone.

maaple‘s silence since our statement has been a useful one. I have certainly kept my eyes on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, AVEN and the wider Internet to see what people have been saying.

I have been a fool, and I apologise for that. As an asexual and knowing what it feels like to be excluded from sections of society, I can only begin to understand what it feels like for a person of colour or for religious observers to feel excluded from what seemed to be a safe place. Everyone is welcome at our organisation, despite our recent actions.

We have to make maaple stronger and more dynamic: it has to be owned by the people it represents. As such, I expect we will be making an announcement soon to welcome more people to our organising committee. We will be more open. We will plan carefully and announce our plans.

As I have learned, I cannot do this alone. Our community dreams of a better, more tolerant society; this is a dream we share and we can achieve it together.

A response from the Green Party

It’s been a while since I posted an asexuality update. I’ve been largely involved with maaple (I’m sure I’ll make another post about that at some point…). But I’ve had a belated but nonetheless encouraging letter from the Green Party. I asked them about their policy on asexuality equality and, specifically, about the Equality Act 2010. Here is their response.

Dear Stephen,

Thank you for writing to the Green Party. Your letter has been directed to me as it deals with policy. Please also accept my apologies for the delay in not being able to respond before the election — we are a small team in a busy office, and receive a large volume of enquiries.

The Green Party recognises that asexuality and aromanticism are part of the diverse range of human experience and should be recognised. The Green party rejects any stigmatising of these characteristics as bad for individuals, or bad for society.

We understand that these characteristics are thoroughly misunderstood by society. Therefore we would aim to include details of them in general education so that asexual and aromantic people can flourish in society. The Green Party is committed to fully inclusive sex and relationships education for all children.

These pledges are made in our 2015 LGBTIQ manifesto which you can read in full at https://www.greenparty.org.uk/resources/LGBTIQ_Manifesto_v4%20FINAL.pdf.

Currently our policy on asexual rights is quite broad, and we do not have a specific policy on the inclusion of asexuals in the Equality Act. However, I believe that our general policy on sexual orientation (which includes discrimination and legal equality) may be up for review later this year, with a view to including asexuals. Green Party policy is made democratically by our members who vote on proposals at conferences twice a year, and I believe a motion is being prepared for the next conference in September.

The Green Party has a proud history of standing up for LGBTIQ rights, and I doubt there would be opposition to the inclusion of asexuals in anti-discrimination measures and laws. Should you be interested in joining the party, I would encourage you to take part in our policy making process.

For more information on our other policies, please see our manifesto which can be found here: https://www.greenparty.org.uk/we-stand-for/2015-manifesto.html.

Once again, thank you for your letter and please do not hesitate to contact us in the future.

Yours sincerely,
Matt Burton (Policy Volunteer)

This sounds very promising indeed!

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.