What is asexuality, anyway?

By |December 1st, 2016|Quick thoughts|0 Comments

This article that Lori Brotto retweeted presents one of the big problems with asexuality right now. It highlights two things: one, that asexuality is difficult to define, because it’s defined by the absence of something; two, that the asexual community also has problems with agreeing upon this definition.

This battle does legitimise the concerns the Office for National Statistics raised on asking a question about sexual orientation. They said that, “Sexuality is multi-faceted and difficult to define… different conceptions of what constitutes sexual orientation — including attraction, identity, lifestyle, partnership and community — may co-exist within a single study”. That is to say that even for a commonly used term for a sexual orientation (for example, “gay”), how it is interpreted differs between people. To give an example of how subjective this is, consider this example: is a man that identifies as heterosexual, but who has had sporadic sexual encounters with men, right to identify as heterosexual?

There does not appear to be an objective truth by which we can define others as asexual or not; but sexuality has always been a journey of self-identification and self-determination, anyway. While the ONS is concerned by how the public interprets those options, it is set to include a question on sexual orientation in Census 2021 for the first time.

The question remains: is a definition important for a sexual orientation to be a sexual orientation? Well, from a legal perspective, I’m not so sure. The Equality Act 2010 includes definitions of sexual orientations as part of the sexual orientation protected characteristic. However, these definitions are not related to specific terms. The Equality Act does not have any mention of “homosexual”, “gay”, “heterosexual”, “bi”, “lesbian” and so on. Rather it lists sexual orientations in terms of orientations towards persons same and/or opposite sexes. There is a gap here for “no persons”. There is also a gap for “persons of neither sex”, but that is a whole other article…

So there is something troubling with labouring over what asexuality is: whether it describes the compass of drive, or the degree of drive, or with someone’s perception of their self, people will use the label if they feel that it fits. If we have to decide whether asexuality is a sexual orientation or not, and what behaviours merit a person to identify as asexual, then it justifies the need to do the same for other sexual orientations. So if you’re a bi-curious straight person, you may have to prepare for having a label applied to you.

And a bunch of queers

By |October 27th, 2016|Asexuality updates, Essays|1 Comment

I found a tweet while browsing through the timeline of Twitter accounts that maaple follows. It came from GLAAD, linking to an article on TIME’s website.

The article explains that GLAAD have released a new guide for media outlets to refer to people or groups whose sexual orientations, sex or gender identities are considered as marginalised or different from the norm. The article itself triumphantly proclaims in its title that ‘LGBTQ’ will replace ‘LGBT’.

The argument for this change is in itself quite interesting. The TIME article uses the reasoning that the word queer has been successfully reclaimed from being used as an insult. They further argue that queer does not have a precise meaning or connotation, which it may have done in the past, and covers a breadth of sexual orientations and gender identities.

But this line of argument brings inherent problems. First of all, queer is being presented here as a catch-all term, which everyone can identify with. But the abbreviation LGBTQ suggests that Lesbian is a different category to Queer (and likewise for Gay, Bisexual and Transgender). Thus queer is now being presented as “etc.” or “and so on” or, perhaps worse, “and the others”. It places the label queer upon those that do not identify with the other terms in the acronym. Thus if you’re asexual, you’re queer. If you’re questioning your gender or sexual orientation, you’re queer. If you’re intersex, you’re queer. You no longer have a choice: to be a part of this community, if you’re not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you must be queer. I can only speak for myself when I say that I feel that these identities are being marginalised within a marginalised group.

Secondly, the “othering” of a large number of gender identities does nothing to bring awareness to identities that are often forgotten or ignored. It places an implicit importance upon the most common identities in the community which, for me, is deeply hypocritical. The counter argument, which I’ve heard often and is mentioned in the TIME article, is that it is impossible to have a manageable abbreviation that covers every identity. This may be true; but in that case, why is it necessary that it must have L, G, B, and T?

The following excerpt from the TIME article is particularly infuriating:

“If five letters seem onerous, it’s worth noting that it’s more economical than longer acronyms out there, like LGBTQQIA: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (or allies). Being exhaustive is nigh impossible, as new labels are born and spread in a minute. Facebook now allows users to input more than 50 different labels for their gender, including bigender, two-spirit and agender. Sexual orientation has just as many spins.”

The way I have interpreted this paragraph is as follows:

  • Having to look beyond L, G, B and T is annoying.
  • We’d rather just save time and ignore the others.
  • What does ‘A’ stand for again?
  • Facebook can manage it, but we’re just journalists.

I have, hitherto, been using LGBT+ when describing the community. For me, a plus is more inclusive than queer, seeing as not everyone identifies as queer if they do not identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. However, I cannot in all conscience continue to use LGBT+ while saying that queer is wrong. Surely, something like MOGII is by fair better. Everyone in the community identifies as a Marginalised Orientation, Gender Identity or Intersex. So I shall use MOGII more often and I shall endeavour to see it spread!

Wandering in London

While things have been very much in the air regarding my employment, my career, my home, my thesis, my health and my country, things have been going somewhat better in terms of asexuality awareness and my work with maaple.

I delivered a talk about the monitoring of sexual orientations in higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK. In it, I make the point that the data collected is inconsistent and this makes it sometimes difficult to establish how inclusive our universities are effectively. For many individuals, there is no appropriate option that represents them, leading them to be forced to give a false response. For asexual spectrum people, being able to inform their institutions that they exist using equal opportunity monitoring forms is only possible at five HEIs in the UK.

Following from this talk, I had a brief chat with a journalist from the Independent about asexuality. It appeared on the indy100 website.

As a result of this, I was invited to appear on FUBAR Radio and took part in an interview with the artist formerly known as Ray Peacock (he has since reverted to his birth name of Ian Boldsworth). The interview covered some of my experiences with asexuality.

A week or two later, I visited Regent’s University, London, to take part in someone’s research about intimacy for asexual people. It was an interesting experience for me, as someone that hasn’t been in a relationship, as such. I found that my thoughts on the subject weren’t too different from the other attendees. And despite the differences in our collective experiences, we all have shared concerns about how we’re perceived by other people through our actions and non-verbal communication. More will be revealed as the research is published!

And yesterday I went to Pride in London. I met up with the Pieces of Ace crew for the first time in person, and met up with some people that I met last year, and it was good to catch up. The weather was largely very good and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Despite the concerns that the recent shooting in Orlando brought, I felt safe and happy there. And that’s the point of Pride; and that’s why I do this asexuality awareness. The whole world should be able to embrace and enjoy Pride: to feel safe, to feel happy, to feel accepted.

The referendum was a big step backwards.

It’s been a while

By |February 27th, 2016|Quick thoughts|0 Comments

I haven’t updated this in quite some time. It feels like a lot has happened yet nothing major to report.

I don’t normally talk about medical things on here, but it’s had quite an impact on me, recently. The working diagnosis that I have is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I’ve been put on an anti-depressant to help manage some of the symptoms but, somewhat ironically, it makes me more drowsy. It’s also affected my mood somewhat, which led me to deactivate my Facebook account. I wanted a bit of distance to be sad, frankly. Nonetheless, I’m broadly alright: the gastrointestinal specialists have referred me back to my GP after finding nothing seriously wrong with my guts.

I’ve now been made an official DMeLD, which means a pay rise in the short term. I’m also a hall warden, which means much better living arrangements for me. I’m still tutoring and I’m still studying, though I’m now aiming for a Masters degree in Philosophy rather than a PhD.

Yep, a lot has happened!

Review of 2015

By |December 31st, 2015|Essays|0 Comments

This year could be described as my annus mirabilis. There were so many firsts that happened this year; notable events; unusual things and milestones. This post has been badly planned, so I apologise if I ramble, omit things, and generally do a bad job. But this is free entertainment for you…

I suppose I’ll start with the ugly business of personal milestones. I started what I refer to as my first “proper job” — on a contract, decent wage, responsibilities… Proper adult stuff. I turned 30, which is less of an achievement but a milestone nonetheless. I jointly run an organisation (have I told you about maaple?). I went to my first Pride event, in London. I travelled widely this year, visiting Barcelona, Cancún, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Wrexham. I made my first ever contribution towards paying back my student loan. I have achieved much this year.

My office doorSo let’s start with my job. I’m just coming up to the end of my first year working at Oxford Brookes University in the OCSLD. I work as a research assistant and I have been involved in a nice variety of projects that are mainly centred around student experience, but some have been a little bit outside my field of expertise. It has been a great experience professionally so far, and while publications have been lean for another year, there is plenty of scope for something to happen next year.

On a personal and social level, this has perhaps been my most successful year. Starting again in Oxford has been very fruitful. My work colleagues have been great in helping me to settle — particularly Simon and Katie who have done a lot to help me get out of the house! Our regular trips to Thirsty Meeples, with Liz, Liz, Fiona, Pauline, Tamsin and Jayne, are always good fun! I have met some people outside of work nearby, too: Jack, Anna, John, Andy and Holly are my regular pub quiz teammates; I quite often go to watch football matches and hang out with Jack, too; I’ve also met up with Chris and shared a love of sushi (actually, sushi seems to be a thing around here…!). I certainly have not been bored here!

Work has not always been a happy place. We were all astounded and devastated when Rauri passed away. He had not long been a part of our team, but he showed great promise and enthusiasm and had already made big impacts on the department. I have been covering the role of DMeLD since, which has broadened my experience still further. Although it has been a temporary arrangement thus far, it may become something more long term. We have not yet decided what to do with Rauri’s allotment, however.

My friends from “back home” are still very important to me, and it was marvellous to have them in Oxford in January for our 2014 Christmas meal (we have accountants among our number…). Sophia is growing fast and there’ll soon be more children in our group. Sebastian has already arrived and his cousin will be arriving soon! Louis and Helen got married this year, and it was such a lovely event. However, bowling at the groom on his wedding day was perhaps the most nerve-wracking thing I did this year! I did my usual annual trip to Silverstone with Nick and visited him and Belle; I went to see Pete and Laura in North Wales towards the end of the year; I stayed with James and Jess, and saw Matt a few times.

Erasmusbrug, RotterdamAnd, though I’m sure you can scarcely believe it, I turned 30. To celebrate, I went to Rotterdam with Pete. I’d hoped more would go, but his company was more than ample. The shower arrangement was a little unusual, but the internet-connected TV made up for that. We had many drinks and laughs, and went to see the live theatrical performance of Ayreon’s The Human Equation. It was a stunning performance and there will be a DVD/Blu-ray release of a recording next year. I’m looking forward to that. Being high-fived by a Dutch guy in the middle of Rotterdam for repeating a spell name featured in the Harry Potter series was perhaps the most bizarre event of the year… but pretty cool nonetheless.

There is a part of me that exists only online and there are some people that I only know online and haven’t met. I hope 2016 changes that. My friends in Norway — Maria, Malene and Peter — are high up on the list of priorities now. We’ve been working on recording a series for Minecraft, along with Phil — who I’ve known for a long time! — and now Otto. We have some videos that we’ve uploaded privately (ask me if you’d like to see, though they are early drafts).

I’ve also chatted a lot with Kasandra, Lisa, Sascha, Racko, Jas and Kirien. I met up with Liam at the tail end of last year and we’ve chatted ever since. Steven sends me a lot of photos on Snapchats and I try to keep up! I went to my first Pride event and met George and Marion. I’ve known Caleb and Mike (“Dodo”) for a while now and are pretty important to me. It was an aim of mine to meet Rob this year and I’m so glad I got a second opportunity to do that. I’d love to meet all of you (or again, if I have already!). I’ve certainly made a good friend in GJ, and I really wish for her to get her belated fair share of good fortune this year.

IMG_2852
And I had an amazing time in Mexico. I could have had a great time on my own: the food was great, the place was wonderful, there was so much to see and do. However, the people were even better. Everyone that went to the workshop (too many to mention, actually!) was simply lovely and welcoming; very encouraging and supportive using in my Spanish, and answering my inane questions of Mexican customs and cuisines! Esmeralda, in particular, was very encouraging and we had some good chats while we were there. Adriana is simply a wonderful person. I hope we’re all able to do it again next year!

As you can tell from this post, people are very important to me. I’ve had amazing times and bad times this year, but the people in it are the most important thing. Stick around for 2016!

P.S. If I’ve missed you out, it’s more than likely that it’s because I’ve been careless!

Exhibit A

By |August 2nd, 2015|Asexuality updates|0 Comments

As far as I know, I’m the only person in existence that’s done this. I hope that changes very soon…

My Exhibit A photo

Exhibit A is the new maaple campaign to raise awareness of asexuality. So often described as the “invisible orientation” (or, more commonly, the “huh?”), asexuality needs more awareness in order to get anywhere near the same levels of protection, recognition and equality as other sexual orientations do. So this is just as much an opportunity for people to get to know maaple and to find out what we’re hoping to achieve, as well as to raise awareness of asexuality itself (and to have a bit of fun!).

Matters of the heart

By |July 28th, 2015|Just plain silly|2 Comments

I suppose I wanted to say something about how difficult love is. Now I’m sure most of you have experienced it at some point, and probably started exploring it in your teens. Perhaps you fell madly, head-over-heels in fact, deep into the eyes of someone you thought was rather lovely.

And no other group of people is better at pairing off than teenagers. While the hormones were raging, you might have had your first relationship (and a whole lot of other “firsts”, too). You may have had your heart broken, too. You might have wandered from one heart to another. At that age, it’s ok. You’re working out who you are, and what you desire from a relationship. It’s ok to cry, it’s ok to be an idiot.

When you’re 29, you’re expected to know better with regard to these things. You’re expected to have had some experience, to know how to handle yourself in a relationship, to know what rejection feels like and how to handle it.

So most of you know how it feels, and I didn’t. I’ve still never been in a relationship, but my heart has been crossed a few times now. I know that some people — maybe most — might think I’m being a little pathetic. I think that, too. I sometimes dream of being in a loving relationship but, by day, that possibility seems very far away.

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!