In my previous column, I came out as asexual for the first time. This was a scary thing to do in many respects, but the response it has caused both here and elsewhere took me by surprise. More than one person I’d known for years has said to me, “you know, me too, I think.” I’ve also had a few questions about ways to navigate the Pagan world as someone who identifies as asexual. I have a gut feeling that there are probably way more people who quietly identify as asexual than there are members of some of the far more prominent letters in the LGBTQQIA alphabet soup, yet no one talks about this. At all. This post is the second ever on Patheos to include asexuality as a tag. The first was my previous post, and that was across all of Patheos, not just the Pagan area.
If you identify as asexual, or you want to know how to accommodate someone who is asexual in your coven/grove/lodge/hackerspace/tennis club/whatever, these suggestions might help.
Rule 1: Accept that asexuality is an orientation, just like being gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, etc.
For years I told myself that it was a phase that would pass once I’d overcome some other milestone. No. Really, no. Orientations are as fixed as eye color. We can explore, but we can’t make ourselves something we’re not. If someone wishes to be an ally, then accepting this rule is mandatory. People don’t stop being asexual once they have found the right partner.
Rule 2: Don’t assume that asexuals are sex-negative.
Asexuality isn’t a synonym for prudishness. At a cough-traditional-cough Beltaine, don’t assume that by not getting directly involved I disapprove of what’s going on. More likely I’m just simply going to be really bored. Sex positivity is orthogonal to asexuality – if you know someone is asexual, pretty much all you know is that they aren’t interested, it says nothing about their opinion of what others do.
Rule 2.5: Don’t assume that asexuals are sex-positive.
To be clear: just because the author of this column happens to be not even slightly concerned what you choose to do between the sheets or who with, this shouldn’t be extrapolated to all asexuals.
Rule 3: Don’t assume that asexuals are going to run screaming if you pull out an athame and a chalice.
A lot of Pagan imagery is inherently sexual in nature. Sexual imagery, for me and many other asexuals, tends to be somewhere between personally irrelevant and boring, rather than offensive. It is, however, pretty much guaranteed to remind an asexual that they are effectively an alien who isn’t quite successfully passing as human. Whilst they might well be fine with participating, the symbolism will not impact them in the way it would impact non-asexual participants.
Rule 4: Don’t assume that asexuals are introverted.
Just because someone isn’t interested in sex, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they aren’t interested in human interaction. Everyone needs human interaction. A good conversation is an awesome thing – for myself, this aspect of being a member of a coven is hugely important to me.
Rule 5: Don’t assume that asexuals don’t have relationships.
Some asexuals are also aromantic – they have no interest in being in a relationship with someone else regardless of the sex issue, while others, myself included, have partners and prefer to be partnered. I am legally married, and very happily so.
Rule 5.5: Don’t assume that asexuals are interested in a relationship.
You can’t fix someone’s asexuality by falling in love with them, however earnestly. It isn’t something that you can fix. Trying will at best be irritating, and at worst will result in a restraining order.
Rule 6: Don’t ask, “So what do you do instead?”
Pro tip: don’t ask anyone else this – it’s pretty freaking rude – but I’ll answer here so hopefully you won’t feel tempted. I do all sorts of things. Some of those things I do on my own. Some of them I do with my wife. No, not those things. Dinner and a movie. Arts and crafts. Read a book. Endless discussion of Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. Calling up a daemon, turning the cats inside out, curtains on fire, ooze down the walls. You know, a typical Friday evening’s entertainment.
So, practically speaking, what should a group do to accommodate someone who happens to be asexual? Honestly, I really don’t think this has to be difficult. I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. I won’t explode in a puff of ire if you just, you know, ask me what I would prefer. If you organize a sex party for Beltaine, I’ll probably not be too interested in going because I’d be concerned about sitting alone all night bored out of my mind. If you ran a Beltaine where people on the top floor did their bad thing while others hung out in the dining room talking and playing tabletop games or some such, I’m most likely in.
If you have a tradition that uses a lot of sexual imagery but that resists redaction, then you may find that someone like me might hang around for a while then drift away due to lack of connection. This might be mutually acceptable, or not. If accommodating someone like me really matters to you, then considering alternative symbolism makes a lot of sense, just as it does for people who are survivors of sexual violence, though for quite different reasons – what might just bore me could cause someone else considerable trauma. There is plenty of symbolism in Paganism that doesn’t depend on sex. Much of it is really interesting. Maybe take a look?
AVEN’s founder, David Jay, appears in the documentary (A)sexual. You can find this on Netflix or Amazon – I’d particularly recommend giving it a watch either if you’re struggling with coming to terms with asexuality yourself or if you want to become a better ally.
My wife, Rev. Gina Pond, runs the podcast This Week in Heresy. In Episode 9: Asexuality in Paganism and Other Fantastic Things, I was a guest on her show, during which we discussed this issue in far greater detail than I’ve space to include here.