Welcome to our first day of 2nd Annual Diversity Month. Today starts out strong from an amazing blogger we met on twitter. Her topic is a a topic many don't touch in the subject of Queer YA fiction: Asexuality.
Asexuality is an identity my sister and I had very little knowledge of before this year and we're so ever grateful for the internet, otherwise we'd never get a chance to converse about this subject as openly as Teresa has, our guest for today. Let's open up our minds and open the floor for this first post. It's amazing, informative and just damn good! So without wasting anymore time....
Broken by Teresa Santos
"Junot Díaz once said, “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” Many of us have been denied representation, have been twisted into formless shapes that don't even resemble us. In the so called "real life". In fiction. Some are turned into walking clichés or given the role of sidekick. Some are barely ever, if at all, mentioned. Such as asexuals.
Yes, you read it right: asexuals.
For those of you who don't know, asexuality is a sexual orientation that can be defined as the lack of (or very little) sexual attraction to people of any gender. This does not, however, mean that an asexual cannot undergo romantic attraction. Plenty enjoy romantic activities with their loved ones. They just don't feel the need to move it onto the bedroom.
Still confused? Well, for the sake of word brevity, I'll let this comic, this video, and this blog post explain it for me. They'll probably do a better job than I ever could.
Have you checked them yet? No? Don't worry, I'll wait while you go through them.
Done now? Good. I'll continue.
As you can probably imagine by now, asexuality is not exactly well known. In fact, the word by itself usually leads to anything from confusion ("wait, you're an amoeba?") to dismissal ("oh you're just too young. when the right person appears, you'll see") to rage ("how dare you seduce people if you won't put out?!") to concern ("have you gone to the doctor to have your hormones checked?") to... well, just a lot of not very positive reactions. The worst thing is they don't come just from heterosexuals. Some members of the LGBTQ+ community can be rather nasty towards asexuals, going as far as to claim they're trying to usurp the LGBTQ+ movement. In reality, all asexuals want is to be understood just like the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. Obviously there are some positive reactions too, but when people decide to treat you like a "challenge", it's harder to focus on the positive.
All of this stems from, you guessed it, ignorance.
This is a particular problem for asexuality. After all, even asexuals don't know they're asexual. Let me explain. I found out about asexuality at age 19 in one of my online procrastination voyages, but before then... well, let's say the confusion levels were high. You see, while everyone discovered boys and girls, while they experimented on kissing and crushing, I felt... nothing. I didn't feel like lip locking, I didn't swoon over abs or that "hot" actor, I just wanted to be with my friends. Friends who were certain I was kidding when I said I didn't fancy anyone and nagged me about it so often I had to pretend I had a crush on Daniel Radcliffe so they'd leave me alone. They didn't, but it helped me belong. And that's what everyone wants right? To belong?
That's exactly why we need more books with asexuals, about asexuals, in YA and adult books. Nobody needs to spend their lives and energy pretending to be someone they're not just to fit in. Because it's wrong for teenagers to thrust themselves into relationships they don't want to have since "everyone else wants it". Because it's wrong for those teenagers to become adults and end up marrying without being in love or entering a marriage with "rules" they were never comfortable with. Simply because it's everything they've ever heard of and the opposite means they've failed at life (as if life came with an instructions booklet).
Because nobody deserves to feel broken.
And that's what most asexuals say they felt (and feel) like when they come out. You need only go through the Tumblr asexual tag to find examples of it:
"If I wasn’t on Tumblr, ibefore Would you like me to tell you what that word was? Broken"
The last two say it, don't they? It was only when people started talking about it that asexuals understood they were not alone in their experiences, that they were not sick, scared, immature or frigid, like so many people deem them - us - to be. Only recently did people as old as 70 realise that their lack of desire to roll around under the bedsheets with their spouse was not abnormal after all.
But there is still a very long way to go. Not everyone is surrounded with people who know and understand asexuality, nor does everyone go to websites that say the same. Even if they had heard a whiff about it, it might not be enough. No exposure to a topic often leads to misunderstanding and resentment (as Diaz said). And here's where the media, where books come in.
Media shapes society, and right now, it is shaping it into a "everyone wants sexual relationships" society. Look at the adverts where men give smoulders to the camera, and women are clad in nearly nothing. Look at film trailers that always have that one kiss. Look at the stories where the virgin, the "prude" are "healed" when they find "the one". Look at the taglines of dystopian books: "can she decide between two boys and save the world at the same time?" Look at parents giggling as their babies kiss, prophesying they'll get married one day. Look at men patting each other on the back at each "conquest". Look at women being forbidden from breastfeeding in public because "breasts are sexual". Look at young girls being told they can't wear a slightly shorter skirt because it's provocative. Just look.
When you are born and raised in a society like this and feel differently from it, it's impossible not to feel broken, or at the very least quite weirded out. It's hard not to be frowned at. As Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw said:
"It’s like I've eaten spam a few times from a few popular brands and in a few serving suggestions, and found I'm not really keen on spam, ‘cos it’s salty and slimy and looks like something you might find in the alien queen’s litter box. But I’ve found myself in a world that’s completely obsessed with spam. People spend their entire lives in pursuit of spam. Every single advert on TV sells their product by placing it alongside spam. Movies have to work in at least one spam scene to reach the broadest audience. People break up and get divorced because they don’t exchange enough spam. Soldiers are given time out to go have some spam. Low-risk prisoners are given spam visiting rights. People die for spam. Entire economies have been based around spam. Selling spam is the world’s oldest profession. The lack of spam has been linked to mental disorders. The only thing getting teenagers through difficult puberty is the thought of one day getting to have spam of their very own.
And when I explain to people that I'm not that into spam they tell me… that I just haven’t found the right spam yet. It feels like when a theist says “I’ll pray for you.” Or when a parent of some hideous mewling womb dropping says “You’ll understand when you have one of your own.” Quite infuriating. It’s just tinned meat, guys."
In the process of creating a society where sexuality is liberalised, we've created one where wanting and having sexual relationships is mandatory. Where if you don't want them like they say you do on TV, you need to be fixed. I say it's time to change that. It's time to show the world that there's nothing wrong with being oneself.
Books pave the way to understanding, to discovering new world and ways of being. Just a few months ago, I. W. Gregorio wrote "The first gay person I ever met was a character in a book." So let's pick up our pens so that soon enough teenagers say "the first asexual person I met was a character in a book". Let's teach them so that when their friend admits in a small voice that they don't understand what the big deal about spam is, they'll hug their friend and say "hey, that's okay, you're not alone. You don't need to date Joe just to fit in. I'll love you anyway". Let's wash away the feelings of brokenness before they begin.