Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Experiences as an activist

Most of you who follow me here or elsewhere on the Internet have figured out that I'm an activist. Most visibly, I'm an asexuality awareness activist, though I support and spotlight other activist messages sometimes too (mostly LGBT topics). I thought I'd share with you some interesting experiences I've had spreading awareness about a mostly invisible and misunderstood orientation.

But why here? Why now?

Well, here because I have a blog, but now because . . . IT'S ASEXUAL AWARENESS WEEK!

That's right, y'all, we have our own week! From October 20 to October 26, 2013, asexual activists like me are making and spreading materials to help people understand asexuality, helping asexual people find their community, and questioning norms about sex and relationships. Asexual Awareness Week has tons of links and presentations and videos and pamphlets for your use if you'd like to learn more and help, but that's not what this post is about. I just want to share five experiences I've had as an asexual activist, mixing the good and the bad to give you a peek at my life.

1. Being recognized in public

I'm one of the most visible asexual activists and I have a sort of distinctive appearance and voice, and those conditions have resulted in my being easily recognizable by people who have seen my work. Let's see, some anecdotes:
  • I was approached by a girl in a café when I was out with my friends; she'd heard my voice from across the room, recognized me from the Internet, and wanted to give me a hug.

  • A guy in a car yelled out the window at me while I was riding my bike to work, but it turned out not to be a catcall; he caught up with me at a traffic light and said he'd seen me on TV and wanted me to know he loved my work.
  • A random dude at a party wandered over to me and said he'd seen the documentary I was in and started talking about how much he'd enjoyed it.
  • A barista remembered me and wrote my YouTube name on my cup instead of my real name.
  • I got recognized in the grocery store while shopping with my sister. The guy said he liked my singing too.
  • A guy was staring at me in the coffee shop and when I got sick of it and stared back, he said, "Hey. Aren't you asexual?" (My reply, in case you're wondering, was "Guilty!") Turned out we'd talked online.
2. Receiving very weird e-mail.

Most people who have some kind of public existence get weird e-mail, but most of the weird stuff I get is in the TMI category. Because I'm frank and uninhibited in my discussions of asexuality, people feel comfortable e-mailing me their life story--specifically, their sexual experiences. They sometimes just want to tell me what they've been through. They sometimes have a friend or partner who might be asexual--or might be asexual themselves--and they want me to diagnose them. And occasionally, though not often, they think detailed explanations of their sex lives will "change my mind," and selflessly volunteer themselves for me to practice on to make sure I'm really asexual. (Thanks guy, but the wine and oral sex offer is a no.)

3. Meeting other asexual people.

Boy has this been a fun one! I have individually met tons of asexual people online because of my outreach; nearly 2500 people follow my asexual videos online, and over a thousand on Tumblr tune in for my rants. I've also received plenty of very nice e-mail and conversation, and have met quite a few of these people individually in person. But I've also been to a couple of asexual meetups in my area. We did talk about asexuality at those meetings--it came up often because we shared similar experiences, of course--but mostly, we just talked about our lives and ate cake.

I was also privileged to participate in Creating Change, the nation's largest LGBT conference, back in January. For the first time, asexual people were represented in a panel and we had our own caucus. Educating, being educated, and networking with queer folks was a great experience, but one of the real highlights was having so many of us in one place.

I'm the oldest in this picture. All asexual, all the time!
4. Threats and Harassment.

Definitely one of the down sides of being a very public spokesperson. I have received multiple death threats and rape threats, and have been sexually harassed, and twice I was stalked and publicly mocked by detractors who tried to smear me by connecting my legal name with accusations of illegal sex acts (which required me to pursue legal action). I usually handle this very quietly because people who target me get off on "successful trolling," so when they cross the line from simply being jerks online to committing defamatory and libelous acts, I don't give them attention. This probably contributes to the popular perception that asexuality is inoffensive to everyone and we couldn't possibly experience discrimination or harassment. It's not true. And things are not particularly rosy over here all the time.

Being an asexual activist has led to me becoming aware of some of the most disgusting and vile attitudes on the planet, and they come out of the woodwork because my orientation reads as a threat to them. How dare I exist on the Internet living happily without male sexual attention? How dare I suggest not being attracted to anyone is a satisfactory way to live? I must Actually Hate Sex and Everyone Who Likes It. I must actually be all about shaming them rather than legitimizing myself. I must actually be sick, broken, traumatized, secretly gay, lying, ugly, desperate and dateless, bitter, or elitist, and I need to be ATTACKED so I will stop deluding others into accepting that asexuality exists. After all, my orientation couldn't possibly about how I feel. It's about taking something away from THEM.

I didn't expect this level of vitriol when I got started with this, but now I'm no longer surprised by it.

5. Interview requests.

I get fairly frequent requests from the media to give interviews, and most of them sound about the same; mostly overviews, sometimes specific opinions on issues. I've been quoted or interviewed in seven magazines, two television shows, two radio/podcast presentations, and one documentary film. I have also turned down several television and documentary requests (three to date) because of possible sketchiness. (One in particular made it clear they were trying to make my life into a drama when the real story is that I'm asexual and I'm happy and nobody in my life has a particular problem with it. I stopped negotiating with them when they defended their questions by saying they needed to create conflict. I'm not a circus, so go away with your search for a spectacle.)

But beyond mainstream media, I also get interview requests from students! Kids want to do their projects on me or on asexuality, and I've answered questions on Skype or in writing before for school reports. I think it's kind of cute, and it's awesome that they pick asexuality as their topic. (Many of them are asexual or questioning themselves.) At this rate, it might not be long before someone asks for my autograph. (No, that hasn't happened yet.)

So there you have it. The life of an asexual activist. If you think asexuality seems like an important topic and you'd like to spread awareness this week, visit Asexual Awareness Week and tweet your favorite link, post your favorite article, reblog some asexual posts on Tumblr, look up asexuality on YouTube and share it on Facebook. And if you want to learn more about asexuality or talk with asexual people from an outside (or inside!) perspective, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network has forums!

Feel free to ask questions publicly or privately if you like. I'm used to answering and like being helpful!

1 comment:

  1. I think it's really great what you do. I'm not that vocal about my asexuality anymore. Got tired of people telling me to stop trying to be "different" or "special". I'm Gray A myself (a term--believe it or not--that I personally coined on AVEN almost a decade ago...that's one thing I DO feel special about, now that it's such a widespread term!). I'm so happy to see more and more public awareness through the years, and it's thanks to people like you who really push for greater understanding. So thank you.