Last week was Asexuality Awareness Week, an international campaign to educate communities about asexual, aromantic, demisexual, grey-asexual experiences. In honor of the shared stories about asexuality that have been circulating through cyberspace, I want to talk about what the asexual community is doing for human rights, specifically the right to family.
The Asexual Portraits Collaboration video made in honor of this year’s Asexuality Awareness Week is a compilation of stories describing what it means to be asexual. In just a little over 7 minutes, viewers can see the spectrum of an asexual identity. One contributor talked about a love of sexually-charged environments, like dance clubs, even though she has no desire for sexual contact. Another participant shared that a lack of understanding about sexual desire led to a sex negative attitude, which has since evolved to a belief in comprehensive sexuality education. Some expressed desires for partnerships, while others are aromantic.
This demonstration of diversity within an identity made me think back to Erica Chu’s essay “Radical Identity Politics: Asexuality and Contemporary Articulations of Identity.” Chu discusses how radical identity politics rely on self-definition, instead of relying on a strict set of criteria. Individuals can pick their own preferences and expressions of identity, and the model also allows room for these preferences to change over time. The speaker in the Portraits Collaboration video shows this perfectly in how their opinions about sexuality education have evolved (see minute 4:58).
I think Chu’s thoughts about identity politics and the asexual community is important to consider as the LGBTQ+ community faces a political turning point: fighting for human rights after marriage equality. While the Supreme Court ruling was a great victory for LGBTQ+ community, it supports a “just like you” identity trope: Same-sex couples want the same rights as heterosexual couples because they are no different; they deserve the same privileges because they live their lives adhering to the same standards.
This still creates a dividing line of who should count legally, and who should not. With this boundary, families that don’t fit into legal marriage are forced to choose between accentuated privileges and the relationship structures they want and need. Often times, that choice is not even available to minority groups.
The Woodhull Foundation’s Family Matters Project works to address this disparity between legal privileges and relationship choices. “It is the goal of the Family Matters Project to protect the fundamental human right to family by eliminating discrimination based on family structure and relationship choices,” says Ricci Levy, Woodhull’s Executive Director. “One way to accomplish this is through conversations; through a focus socially and politically on family rather than any one specific relationship.”
Another film that works to extend the conversation about asexuality and the family structures that do not fit in with heteronormative scripts is the documentary (A)sexual. In the film, AVEN (Asexual Visibility & Education Network) founder David Jay describes his views of relationships outside of marriage and monogamy. He is a third partner to his friends Poonam and Steve, who are a couple. They talk about raising kids together. Where does this family fit in with our current marriage laws and legal standards of family? Where does someone like Jay, an asexual person who desires familial intimacy but not a coupledom, fit in?
As Andy Izenson of Diana Adams Law said at our Family Matters panel at SFS15, “We should have all and only the sex, family, and partners we want.” This thought rings true with the individual agency that the asexual community makes room for in its identity politics. When we think about where we’re going politically, we need to strategize how to translate the fluidity of radical identity politics into legal standards. Strict boundaries that let some people in and keep others out will not work. The right to create a self-determined family model is a human right.
Even after Asexuality Awareness Week comes to a close, let’s continue to think about the wide breadth of people that are fighting for the right to family.