A little shout out: In Ace of Hearts, the Impossible K writes: "My boyfriend has a tendency to ask if I’m still feeling asexual, like it’s some sort of cold." This got me thinking about the communication issues that asexuality has with the wider world. I realized, through K's experience compounded with my own, that it isn't at all obvious that asexuality is a sexual orientation. It's taken me awhile to figure out that just because I know something, that doesn't mean it's obvious to everyone else. This subject is no exception. An orientation is more than just a transitory feeling, and it's more than who you have sex with. It's an identity. It has weight. While sexuality is fluid, it's fairly rare for people to change their orientations. When people come out as queer in later life, it usually seems to be with the realization that they were queer all along. However, you will constantly find AVEN members in various states of worry over the status of their orientation. They ask, "Can I still be asexual if I xyz?" This is by no means an attempt to put K on the spot, because there are definitely at least 5 posts a week of this nature on AVEN. This is something I'm sure every ace has wondered at some time or another. "xyz" can be having a crush, being attracted to someone, being in love with someone, reading or writing erotica, looking at some sort of semi-pornographic anime that I'm not familiar with, having sex, being aroused, and so on ad infinitum.
In Looking Both Ways, a book about bisexuality, Jennifer Baumgardner mentions a study that found "...91 percent of lesbians who had been out for twenty years or more had been involved sexually with men during that time" (196). So almost all long-time lesbians have had sex with men, but an asexual can't read erotica? I'm tempted to advocate a change to asexuality's "official" definition: "An orientation in which a person does not experience sexual attraction". Would that clear up any of our confusion?
The unsure erotica-reading ace brings up some other issues, of course. The first is that, with some exceptions, no one is telling you that you're asexual. If a woman dates women, people will think she's a lesbian. But what can you possibly do to get people to think you're asexual? It's the old coming out and staying out problem, but it's also the fact that asexuality is primarily a self-constructed identity, and that makes it fragile. There are no social forces pressuring you to be (in the case of straight) or stay (in the case of gay) asexual.
The other issue is that in the confusion of people asking "I do xyz, am I still asexual?", I usually see an underlying idea that they kind of wish xyz made them sexual, that they don't really want to be asexual. When I first discovered the magical world of asexuality, I didn't want to be it either. But various involvements-- in AVEN, this blog, and meetups, made me more comfortable identifying as asexual. Now, I can't imagine being anything else. The advantages to being asexual-- honesty with youself, an accepting community, lack of pressure to be sexy-- are not as obvious as the percieved disadvantages. When I first discovered asexuality, the disadvantages hit me hard, as they might for many others. It was only later that I began to see the advantages. I think the advantages to our orientation is something we need to be more upfront and vocal about. Of course, we're not superior to anyone else, but we do have much to offer.