Last weekend, I marched down the cheering streets of San Francisco Pride with other members of the local asexual community (“aces” for short) in an experience that I never could have imagined when I first came to UC Berkeley as a wide-eyed freshman.
As a young adult in the midst of questioning my a/sexuality, I had never met another ace person, nor had I even seen one on TV. I only knew that asexuality was even an option because I had accidentally stumbled on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network during a night of aimless internet browsing. Before then, I had no way to know why I couldn’t figure out if I was gay or straight or just a weird inhuman robot.
Even now, a recent survey by GLAAD found that only about 7 percent of Americans report knowing someone who is openly asexual.
In reality, there are more of us than you might think. Current research, including the University of California’s own Campus Climate report, suggests that anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of the population may consider itself asexual.
Fortunately for me, I had the luck to come to the Bay Area, which has long been a hotbed for the emerging asexual community. After a tumultuous year of growing firmer in my identity with the help of UC Berkeley’s queer community, I tentatively joined the San Francisco ace group’s marching group for the parade that summer. At the time, it was only the third year that an ace group had marched, and reception was still mixed. The most common response was a confused head tilt and dubious look — but there were also more negative reactions, such as pity and occasional outright derision. (This was the same year that Dan Savage infamously proclaimed that asexuals were pointlessly “marching for the right to not do anything” and also suggested that they should avoid “inflicting” themselves on “a normally sexual person.”)
But by far the most memorable encounters were with the aces in the crowd. Every now and then, we could see someone’s face absolutely light up with recognition, for themselves or for their ace sibling/friend/cousin/kid. Both during and after the parade, we heard over and over from aces and ace allies that they were so excited to finally meet another ace. Those encounters solidified the importance of ace pride for me: I want to be as loud and proud as possible, so that I can be the role model and public representation that I never had, and so that no future generations of aces will ever have to wonder if they are broken or alone.
In the years since, the world has grown in its awareness and acceptance of asexuality: Well-written ace characters have been popping up in shows such as “BoJack Horseman,” the Oxford English Dictionary just added a glut of asexual community terminology for its third edition, and even Dan Savage has somewhat improved his attitude.
However, when it comes to Pride, there are still some who see asexuality as an outlier at a celebration often seen as celebrating sexiness and sexuality and wonder why we want be there — or if we should even be allowed in.
But historically, ties between the ace community and the queer community have always been strong. For aces of all stripes, LGBTQ+ communities are often the first communities we seek out when we first start questioning our a/sexuality and realize that mainstream heterosexual spaces may not have a place for us — and for those who aren’t lucky enough to live in one of the few emerging hotspots for ace-specific resources, they are often the only communities available. For many aces, they become a lifelong home.
There’s also a lot of intersectionality: Many ace individuals identify as both ace and bisexual, or ace and gay, ace and lesbian, ace and queer. The relationship between ace and transgender and nonbinary communities is also strong; as many as 30 percent of aces also identify as trans and/or nonbinary. When we walk into pride events, we can’t just cut out our asexual aspects and leave them behind; a Pride that wants to be welcoming to all LGBTQ+ people must be a Pride that’s welcoming to aces as well.
On the flip side, there are others who happily welcome asexuals but doubt the value of Pride itself, seeing it as an event that has devolved from an activist march into a watered-down corporate party instead. And that’s a fair critique — while mainstream inclusion and representation are important goals, it’s true that representation alone can’t solve all of the problems that face the ace community, especially more intractable issues such as the difficulty of finding ace-competent health care, the risk of sexual harassment and assault, and the lack of specialized intersectional resources.
But for emergent groups such as the ace community, events such as Pride are still a rare chance to reach out to a world that still hardly knows that we exist and to reach out to the other aces who have no idea where else to look for us. Most corporate sponsors wouldn’t even notice if we left, but our fellow community members would. And sometimes, when you spend the rest of year fighting to explain and justify your identity, a brief chance to live it up with like-minded folks is a much-needed respite.
And so, this year, and next year, and the year after, I march again.
Mary Kame Ginoza is a lead organizer for Asexuality SF and a UC Berkeley alumna.