Yesterday, I participated for the third time in San Francisco Sex Information's training for future sex educators. This involved being on a panel about "Sex, Romance, and Intimacy" where people of different "relationship styles" were represented. Yes, I was there as a token asexual, which is not a relationship style...but if SFSI wants to educate people on asexuality, I'm happy to help. Before the panel started, I sat in on a discussion about this diagram (poorly reproduced by me):
This made it a lot easier for us to explain our relationship styles. For example, when someone asked me how two asexuals could date, I said that the relationship would exist in both the romance and intimacy spheres, and the questioner had an "Ohhh...I see" moment. While our "cultural ideal" is to have one relationship right in the middle of the diagram, the fact that there are so many other spaces visually shows how our concept of one monogamous, intimate, romantic, and sexual relationship is limiting. So while I dig the Venn diagram, what's most interesting to me is always the other panelists. Outside of this one event, I have never heard anyone refer to themselves as celibate or as an aromantic sexual, which were two of the relationship styles represented. There were multiple similarities between my story and those of the celibate, aromantic, and single (but sexual) person. All these people answered in some degree of the affirmative to a student question: "Did you ever think your relationship style was pathological?" All these people talked about trying to fit into the "cultural ideal" and failing. (There were also a polyamorous and "traditional" monogamous person represented, but our stories didn't overlap much, if at all.)
What surprised me most was what the celibate person had to say. She'd stopped telling people she was celibate after getting really insulting responses, similar to the ones asexuals tend to get. I'd really had no idea that people would find celibacy so hard to understand. I guess I just assumed that if you were, at heart, a sexual person (whether you were having sex at the moment or not), that that would be more accepted. Apparently not. Although asexuals can be quick to distance ourselves from celibate people, it seems as though we might have some very similar lived experiences, and it might help us both to set up an alliance...that is, assuming there is even some resource for celibate people. (And I don't know if InCel counts-- that's more like sexual frustration than celibacy. However, I have a feeling that some number of people finding information on InCel might actually be asexual-- I was one of them.)
I thought my answer to "Did you ever think your relationship style was pathological?" was well-recieved. While at first, asexuality was a lot to wrap my head around, I really never thought there was anything wrong with it. I talked briefly about the whole HSDD and DSM thing, and mentioned that just because something is uncommon, that does not mean it is abnormal, and got a lot of thoughtful "mmm"s from the crowd. I also talked about how people react to asexuals, telling us we're damaged, sick, broken, and not even human. To this, I got some "mmm"s of shock, which I took as a positive thing. I think it was good that people were understanding the fact that some of the responses we get are so absurdly unproportional to what we are.