“A” is one of the letters added to the LGBTQIA acronym, supposed to represent asexual persons, or those who are not drawn to people sexually or desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way.
But talking about asexual people – also called as “Aces” – continue to be challenging because not a lot is still know about them (or at least shared about them).
This is why, according to Ally Ravago, a representative of the Asexual Support Philippines, and the Filipino Ambassador of the Asian Network of A-Spec Queer Archives (ANOAQA), a lot of misconceptions about asexual people exist.
For instance, a big misconception is that “it’s not a valid sexual orientation,” said Ally, who added that it sometimes feels like “asexuality doesn’t exist in the Philippines.” And due to this, many assume that Aces are about to enter non-sexual fields – e.g. becoming a nun – that highlight how it is often erroneously merged with celibacy and/or abstinence.
Some people also think that asexual people “do not know how to love”, or are afraid that no one will love them back. “They say that just because one’s asexual, he/she/they have no heart, or have ‘pusong bato’,” Ally said.
Then there are those who think that one only became asexual because of a bad experience in the past – e.g. raped while young, which led to one being averse to sexual activities.
And then there are those who “don’t think of us as humans,” Ally said. “I am literally right here; I am human.”
Asexuality, of course, is an umbrella term that exists on a spectrum. Meaning, some Aces may have little interest in having sex, but there are some who still desire emotionally intimate relationships. This also means that people within the ace community identify in different ways – e.g. they may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc.
And to stress, asexuality is not the same as celibacy or abstinence; celibacy or abstinence is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, while being asexual is an integral part of a person’s identity. “Some people think it’s a choice,” Ally said, “when it’s not. Just like any other orientation.”
DEALING WITH MISCONCEPTIONS
To help amend these misconceptions, many Aces have surfaced to speak about issues specific to them – e.g. Asexual Support Philippines uses social media (among others) to try to explain asexuality to those willing to listen.
Dealing with the misconceptions can be challenging, Ally admitted, because “sometimes people just don’t get it, or refuse to get it. No matter how much you tailor fit your explanation, no matter how much you simplify it, they just don’t understand (what’s being told to them),” she said. “They refuse to believe or understand the concept.”
Ally, however, stressed that these days, information is already readily available; and so people should “take the effort to educate themselves.”
Identifying exactly how many asexual people there are is challenging, arguably because not many studies are done about them. But a 1994 study, at least, found that 1% of people were never sexually attracted to anyone.
And yet – no matter the actual number of Aces – society in general still focuses on coupling, as if it is or should be the “norm”. And so for Ally, “we need to try expanding the stories told (e.g. in the media) beyond coupling, beyond romantic and/or sexual relationships,” she said. “Let’s have (representation) about everything other than coupling.”
For Ally, “representation is important.”
On a more “practical” level, though, “we should watch ourselves when treating others.” She recalled that when still young, she was teased that she’d end up being in a relationship with another child. Making this “normal” is plain wrong, Ally said; instead, people need to start recognizing that not everything is about being in some romantic/sexual/etc. relationship. “Let’s normalize people who want to stay single, who don’t want to get married, or people who don’t want to engage in relationships,” she said.
A WESTERN IMPOSITION?
Terms used to refer to asexuality/asexual people are Western-derived – e.g. asexual/ity, Aces, sexual-ish, aromantic, etc. And so there would be those who may say that this is a(nother) Western imposition.
But Ally disagrees. “I’d say it is not. The term may be English, but asexuality itself is not Western,” she said, adding that there are studies that noted that some of the babaylans (shamans) who existed pre-colonial period were actually asexual. And so “asexuals were always there even if the terms did not yet exist.”
Sadly, Ally said, the Philippines continues to be conservative; and “a lot of work still needs to be done to understand variations in SOGIESC.”
ALWAYS, ALWAYS REMEMBER…
For Ally, the LGBTQIA community itself needs to do more to help better the plight of the asexual community. Being included in the acronym is a good start, but “allow us to speak for ourselves,” she said – e.g. when there are events like Pride, or when there are LGBTQIA-rated conferences/seminars.
In the end, people should always remember that “asexuality exists,” Ally said.
And Ally stressed that people should always go to the basics – i.e. asexuality is an orientation where people experience little to no sexual attraction, she said. “Saan po kayo nawala (What in that do you not understand)? People shouldn’t assume what Aces do or not do that’s not related to the (aforementioned) definition of this specific sexual attraction.”
And so “don’t assume any person is a certain way because of one’s sexuality,” Ally said. “Just be open-minded, be kind to them, and accept them for who they are. And don’t treat them differently, nor be indifferent to them. We’re just asexual; we’re still human, and we can be (whatever we want to be).”