Under the ace umbrella – Kerry Chin on International Asexuality Day
Today is International Asexuality Day! To celebrate we spoke to Kerry Chin – community leader and member of Sydney WorldPride’s Pride Committee, about the ace umbrella and his experiences discovering his own asexual identity.
For those who might not be aware, could you tell us about asexuality and what the ‘ace umbrella’ is?
The ace umbrella is a category of sexual orientations that are defined by lack of sexual attraction, including asexuality, demisexuality, and grey asexuality. There are also various other terms for describing more specific identities related to asexuality. [Ace is a nickname – not an acronym.]
Asexuality is when a person experiences little or no sexual attraction. Demisexuality is when a person is only able to experience sexual attraction after developing an emotional bond with someone. Grey asexuality is when a person only very rarely experiences sexual attraction.
It should also be emphasised that being ace is about attraction – not action, libido, or attitude towards sex. Some ace people enjoy having sex, and others do not! It’s also not a medical condition.
Asexuality is also separate from aromanticism. Aromanticism is defined by the lack of romantic attraction. Some asexual people are also aromantic (like myself), and others experience romantic attraction. Separating out sexual and romantic attraction is known as the Split Attraction Model (SAM). While it originated in the asexual community, the terminology can also be applicable to anyone whose romantic orientation does not align with their sexual orientation.
What was your journey to discovering your asexuality like?
I first stumbled upon the concept of asexuality by chance when I was 14, on an internet friend’s LiveJournal. At the time, I just thought that it made logical sense for asexuality to be one of the possible sexual orientations and didn’t think it was relevant to me yet. Only when I was 16 did I realise that it made sense to describe myself as asexual, because my classmates often talked about who’s “hot” or having boyfriends/girlfriends, and I wasn’t interested in any of that.
I consider myself fortunate to have known about asexuality at such an early age, which meant that I had the option to claim the identity. My self-discovery journey was relatively simple because none of my experiences gave me any reason to doubt my asexuality, but it was still an important part of that journey to have a word to describe my experience and a community that related to the way I felt.
It should be noted that when I first started identifying as asexual, I was conflating asexuality with aromanticism as I didn’t know about the latter yet. I only learnt about the concept of aromanticism after I became more active in the asexual community, when I was 18 and started to get unwanted suitors. Once I learnt about the difference between asexuality and aromanticism, I realised that it was important not to conflate the two concepts, and that it would be more accurate to describe myself as both aromantic and asexual.
What is the best thing about being a part of the ace community?
I think the best thing about being a part of the ace community is being able to share relatable experiences about how much we don’t relate to common allosexual [people who don’t identify as asexual] narratives of sex and relationships. After all, that’s the point of having an identity-based community. We might not even have much else in common, but we can relate to each other because of this one specific thing.
I also really like the nuanced discussions about relationships, sexuality and associated social norms that we have in the ace community. I think many of them are relevant to allosexual people too!
Why is it important that we have a day dedicated to recognising asexuality globally?
We need a day for recognising asexuality because a lot of people still don’t even know it exists! Awareness and visibility are so important because in the asexual community there are plenty of people who mention wishing they knew about asexuality earlier, because before they knew that being asexual was an option, they thought there was something wrong with themselves. If asexuality were more well-known, they could have found out sooner and avoided these struggles.
Global recognition is particularly important because asexuality may affect people’s lives differently depending on cultural context. For example, while expectations to get married and have children probably exist in most countries around the world, the pressure is stronger in some cultures than others, and that is a social issue that is likely to affect asexual people.
International Asexuality Day (IAD) is particularly targeted at raising awareness of asexuality in countries other than the US and UK, and especially in countries where the main language is not English. I’ve been working towards this target by helping the IAD team translate content into Chinese.
What advice would you give to someone wondering whether they might fall under the ace umbrella and looking for support?
I would recommend joining your local ace group and discussing your experiences with other ace people (online or in-person). Refer to the Australian Asexuals website for local groups within Australia, or the IAD website for groups in other countries.
International asexual communities also exist online in the form of dedicated forums as well as groups on various social media platforms, but where available, I think local groups are usually a better option because local context can be important in these discussions, and they also tend to be safer than larger open online spaces.
There is also plenty of reading material about asexuality available online if you’re not ready to talk to other people about it yet. Aces & Aros has a good compilation of introductory content.
We’re also fortunate enough to have you on the Sydney WorldPride Pride Committee – how are you working to ensure ace people feel represented in next year’s festival?
I’m working with the Australian Asexuals team to organise an ace event for next year’s festival.
In past years, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network has worked with local asexual groups to run an ace conference alongside WorldPride. I’m hoping that Australian Asexuals’ event will be both part of the ace conference and an official Sydney WorldPride community event.
I also want the Human Rights Conference to have a session for asexual issues. I feel like a lot of people aren’t even aware that there are specific human rights issues affecting asexual people, so the content needs to come from within the community.
How can Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ community (and all of us more broadly) practice better allyship, to ensure ace people feel supported and celebrated, not just today but always?
Most importantly, the broader LGBTQIA+ community should pay attention when ace people are talking about issues that affect us and include us in discussions about how sexuality affects various aspects of our lives. Remember that the ace umbrella includes a wide range of experiences and doesn’t just mean “people who don’t have sex”, so there generally isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” explanation of how an issue might be relevant to ace people.
Allies can also show support to the ace community by sharing accurate information about asexuality. However, people who share content about asexuality on social media should be prepared to moderate the comments. Depending on your circumstances, this might mean either responding to the negative comments or just deleting them, but either way you should make it clear that anti-asexual sentiments aren’t welcome.
Who are some ace-identifying leaders that we should be following?
Last but not least, I should mention Yasmin Benoit. As a black lingerie model, she challenges stereotypes of what people might think an asexual person looks like.
Today and always, we celebrate and advocate for our ace-identifying community. To find out more about International Asexuality Day, head to their website. Or, for further support, we recommend reaching out to the Australian Asexuals team.
If you are an Australian ace creator, have you considered staging your work as part of Sydney WorldPride? More information here.
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