Asexuality updates

Oh, that election

Well, folks. Five years came around quickly and we have another general election. It is fast becoming a hallmark of British discourse that we identify who is with us and who is against us.

Each time round, the conversation is different. Two years ago, the Tories got their majority, on the proviso that we have a conversation about “Brexit”. One year ago, we had that conversation about Brexit (and lost). This year, the main talking point is Brexit.

And yet, we have triggered that Article 50 thing; triggering two years of negotiations that decides the direction (i.e. just how acute the angle downwards we should point) of our separation from the European Union.

Now, it would be incredibly daft to start the negotiating window and immediately take leave to have a national conversation about everything to do with the country. It is akin to waiting until you arrive at the front of the queue at McDonald’s and then asking the cashier to wait a moment while you plan your entire diet regimen.

The last general election was a complete failure. The result of that election was to reinstate a prime minister that was doomed to abandon his post; the country ended up splitting fairly evenly (though intrinsically polemically) over a complex amalgamation of issues, many of which were not discussed in great length; and the term of the government was actually two years, not the five enshrined in law.

Of course, the law allows a new “snap” election if two-thirds of the representatives in the House of Commons voted accordingly, which they did so in this case. This election is styled as giving the people a second referendum to decide who should lead the negotiations. What a terrible lie.

But what of LGBT+ rights? And where does asexuality fit into all of this? In the wake of the terrible things happening in Chechnya, and sexual violence used against asexual people the world over, what the major parties doing to ensure that we are protected?

Well, the Tories want to “see attitudes to disability shift as they have for race, gender and sexuality in recent years: it should be completely unacceptable for people with disabilities to be treated negatively” (p. 57 from their manifesto). Aside from the lack of commitment — that’s what they want to see with no detail as to how they would do it — it’s quite a telling statement. Attitudes towards LGBT+ people are patchy, inconsistent and, in asexuality’s case, completely overlooked. So that would seem the Tories’ are happy to see some disabled people treated more fairly and positively, but that rather depends on their disability.

Labour have committed to addressing the Equality Act 2010, though this is mostly to remove outdated terminology used to refer to transgender people. They also wish to reinforce hate crime legislation to ensure that hate crimes against “LGBT” people are treated the same as those based on race and faith. A commitment to “ensure that the new guidance for relationships and sex education is LGBT inclusive” (p. 111) limits children’s awareness to a select few sexual orientations, it seems.

The Lib Dems use the acronym “LGBT+”, which is encouraging in terms of its commitment to ensure that school children receive a broader range of sexual orientations. However, it does not suggest a change in the Equality Act 2010; neither does it refer to asexuality, specifically.

The Green Party refers to “LGBTQIA+” and “action to tackle … real equality for LGBTIQA+ people” (p. 21) — they do not elaborate on what this means in their manifesto.

UKIP want to end sex and relationship education in primary schools. Their manifesto refers to LGBT+ rights in passing; they are presented as a necessary weapon for the battle against immigration.

It doesn’t feel like we’ve got very far in the past two years.

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.

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!).

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.

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

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.