In my last post, I talked about this ad, which referred to "asexual, a-social, a-everything girls". The quote may have been from a Jack Kerouac book, but even so, it's a real stereotype that might gain prominence as asexuality gets better-known. Me, I would say that for an introvert, I'm quite social. Some asexuals really are asocial, and many are not. But to play both the devil's advocate and the asexual's advocate, it can be hard sometimes to maintain a thriving social life as an asexual, depending on your own personality and circumstances. Some stereotypes begin with a grain of truth. And I think this could be one of them, as small as the grain might be.
What do lots of people do for fun? Go to parties or bars. And what's the point? To have fun with friends, yeah, but also to meet potential sexual partners. After I realized I was asexual, I saw no point to drinking, which many view as an "enabler" of sexual activity. And drinking is a big part of social life in many places. Although I enjoy a beer or two, many asexuals are avid teetotalers. What is a major topic of conversation for lots of people? Sex, people that are "hot", crushes, dating, etc. I know some asexuals enjoy these conversations, but for others, it's awkward and hard to contribute. Especially if you're not comfortable telling others that you're asexual. Even if you are, maybe people make fun of you, or you get belittled for being "repressed". Depending on your age and social circle, you may be the only single person among your friends, stuck as a third wheel while people's interests have shifted from group activities to partnered ones. No, I'm not a hermit, but if you wanted to be one, I could understand.
So one reason for the stereotype is that a lot of people's social lives involve sexuality in some sense. That might be a "duh" to you, but it's something I'd never really thought about in these specific terms. I remember being told that it was normal to spend four or five nights a week with your romantic partner-- I was like, "lolwhut?" Even an ace-friendly columnist wondered why we'd seek out other asexuals to socialize with in meatspace. If you're not having sex, why bother leaving the house? (Well, eventually you'll run out of hummus, or ingredients to make hummus.)
In the end, what I find most offensive about the "asocial" stereotype is that it views an asexual mode of relating as inferior or unworthy of mention. It discounts the ingenuity that asexuals sometimes display in order to be social in a sexual world. It discounts the hard work that some of us exert to maintain relationships when our preferred modes of intimacy are little understood. It implies that if we are asocial, it's because we're asexual, not because we live in a culture where it's increasingly difficult to make meaningful personal connections. Or maybe we feel alienated from being constantly bombarded by messages about the importance of sex (and romance). And if we are asocial for a reason that has nothing to do with asexuality, the stereotype implies that such a thing can't be the case. It's insulting from every angle.
So what's the solution? To impress on people how fun we are, the lives of the party? To extol the great relationships we have, and how we're capable of dating and marriage? Since all of these sentences end with question marks, the answer is that I'm not so sure. No doubt, asexuals are no less fun than any other group. Our social lives can thrive as much as anyone's. But I don't want to be in denial about the fact that there can be real barriers to asexuals being social. It's good to show that anything is possible-- of course we can date, marry, have kids, have close friends, and be social butterflies. But we shouldn't ignore the factors that can make all those things hard to accomplish for many who want them.
[The painting above is by Roger Brown, originally seen at the Cantor museum at Stanford.]