A Brief Review of Asexuality in Manifestos

I’m still not sure what I would want to include in an asexual manifesto (it’s quite a daunting task!), so I instead I want to chime in to this Month’s Carnival of Aces on Manifestos by dropping in a collection of a few past asexual (or potentially asexuality-adjacent) manifestos that may be of interest from an ace history perspective:

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What’s the deal with this “Ace Day” Thing?

This document is a work in progress, and changes will be made as additional information is discovered. If you have any suggestions, corrections, requests for clarifications, or archived copies of missing links that you would be willing to share, leave a comment or drop me a line at sennkestra@gmail.com

As some of you may (or may not) know, many aces were taken by surprise on May 8th, 2020 by a flurry of “#aceday” and “#acevisibilityday” tweets that eventually went trending, as well as some complaints generated about things like date choices and vague references to 2015 that probably make no sense to anyone who is newer to the ace community. In the wake of the event, there’s also been a lot of confusion and misinformation going around about what ace day is, when it is, who’s involved, and what its history is.

In light of that, wanted to compile some notes and links to relevant bits of history that I remember from the original ace day campaigns and controversy, which date back to 2015 when it was created by theasexualityblog, as well as a bit about what I have found about what lead to #acevisibilityday suddenly showing up as a trending tag this year (after the event nearly disappearing into obscurity in the intervening years, as well as being previously celebrated for several years on a completely different date).

This is not meant to be a complete narrative of that history; but I hope that the sources included here may be helpful for anyone who would be interested in attempting such a history. Unfortunately, because many of the blogs involved have since changed their names or been deleted, many of the original posts are gone. I’ve tried to provide archived versions or reblogged versions wherever possible.

Please also note that this still doesn’t include the vast majority of commentary – for either event –  just because there was so much activity that it would get overwhelming. Instead, I’ve tried to include a sampling of some of the main points I remember seeing as someone active in ace communities around that time. I’ve also deliberately focused on discussions that were occurring within the ace community, rather than reactions from outside the community.

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A is for…A Case Study

A/N: This is mostly a linkdump, but may be of interest if you are an ace history nerd interested in the history of “A” in one particular LGBTQIA Acronym

One of the first places that I remember seeing “LGBTQIA” with an “A” for Asexual was in 2011, at the Western Regional LGBTQIA Conference at UC Berkeley – I remember attending and getting really excited about the fact that the pamphlets, which were covered by repeating patterns of all the words in the LGBTQIA acronym, also featured the words “asexual” (and I was even more excited about Siggy’s presentation).

So, that particular conference left a lasting impression on me, and when I later started looking into the history of the “A” in LGBTQIA, that conference was one of the first places I looked into – I wondered how long that “A” has been for “asexual” and what history lead us there. Here’s what I found:


 

The Beginning:  “A is for…..Association?!?!”

So, to start with, we should go over the history of the Western Regional Conference. Before there was even a conference, there was the UCLGBA – the University of California Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Association, an support organization founded in 1991 for leaders of various lesbian, gay and/or lesbian organizations on the nine UC Campuses.

There’s not a lot of easily accessible documentation for this time period, but in the small cache of documents that are available, one document is the chronicle of official UCLGB(ti)A meetings from 1990 to 1997, including their annual “General Assemblies” – the precursor to what would eventually become Western Regional.

While early documents of the “UCLGBA” only list out lesbian, gay and bisexual, at some between 1992 ans 1998, a “T” was added to create “UCLGBTA“.

In 2001, an “I” for “Intersex” was added to the org’s name and their scope of work, becoming the UCLGBTIA

Throughout both these transitions, the A seemed to (as far as I could tell) still stand for “association”

Although early General Assemblies began to host small conferences as soon as 1995, the big shift came in 2005, when they shifted to a more public regional conference, open to non-UC students, known as the “Western Regional LGBTQIA” conference – western regionals had arrived.


 

The allies arrive to the party

While the UCLGBTIA continues to use “A” for “Association”, we see definite changes starting in the actual Western Regional conference materials:

In 2005, the Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference at UC Davis gives us our first inclusion of “Allies”:

16th Annual Western Regional
Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Queer Intersex Allies
College Conference

In  announcements for the 2007 UC Riverside Conference (they skipped a year) we see the same

“UC Riverside has been selected to host the 17th Western Regional Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Allies (LGBTQIA) College Conference Feb. 16-18, 2007.

The theme of the conference will be “Out of the Rainbow & Into the Streets” and will explore the metaphor of the rainbow as the symbol of the homogeneity of LGBTQIA community, which many feel has often excluded and misrepresented various constituencies. It will also examine the kinds of actions that should be taken to help eliminate stereotyping and gain equal access under the law.”

We see something similar in the 2008 conference text and announcements:

“Viva la Queervolution!” is the theme of the 18th Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference, hosted by UCLA.

The conference brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex people and allies for 3 days of programs, speakers and community building.

I couldn’t find the any spelling out of the acronym on the archived bits of the 2009 conference, but the 2010 conference bid packet text makes it even more explicit:

What is the name of the conference?
Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference

What does LGBTQIA stand for?
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (Questioning) Intersex Allies

Why don’t you use LGBTQQIA?
Because some areas of the region are not yet comfortable with the word “Queer,” so they would have the option of saying “Questioning” for the “Q.”

The later 2010 conference announcement continues the theme:

“Honor the Past, Impact the Present, Define Our Future”” is the theme of the 20th Western Regional LGBTQIA College Conference, hosted by Cal Poly SLO.

The conference brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex people and allies for 3 days of programs, speakers and community building.

Basically, from 2005 to 2010, it’s allies all around (and nary an “asexual” in sight).

And then, we get to 2011, which is our Combo Breaker.


 

Now, I have to admit that I am definitely biased towards the 2011 Western Regional Conference, both as a Berkeley student (we hosted this year, which is also, I suspect, a strong reason why ace inclusion happened at this particular conference, as Cal was already starting to include asexuality in their queer community programming at this point, probably at least in part due to the influence of David Jay living across the bay), and since this is the only real Western Regional that I ever attended in person I have more knowledge of it. But this is definitely the first year where “A” starts to shift from Ally to Asexual.

The 2011 website has some differences in wording that give some initial clues that paradigms are changing. First, unlike previous western regional websites, this site explicitly positions “allies” as a separate group outside of LGBTQIIA:

Open to LGBTQQIIA identifying individuals & allies from high school ages and up.

In fact, as far as I can tell, they never actually spell out LGBTQQIIA on the website, though they did in printed materials (as I mentioned above). And while the website does not mention asexuality outside of the listing for Siggy’s panel, from what I recall the printed materials definitely did – and they had an A for Asexual. So partial progress, but progress nonetheless.

(This is also, as far as I can tell from the few years where event listings were online, the first western regional to have any ace presenters.)

in 2012, they seemed to take 2011’s lead by only writing LGBTQIA on the (minimalist) website with no breakdown, so it’s not clear how the A was used there – I’d need more materials for that. Though one announcement seems to backslide by implying it’s hosted by an A is for Allied organization:

Cost: Keynote is free and open to the public. Conference registration ranges from $30 -$50.

Group: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Allied (LGBTQIA)
 

This was also co-hosted by University of the Pacific, which had a seperate prior conference that was merged into this, so that may affect things.

And then, finally, the last Western Regional was in Santa Cruz in 2013. Their website does not appear to have been archived, so all I have so far is their mission statement:

Coloring in the Spectrum. Strength, Solidarity, Sustainability.”

Western Regional LGBTQIA Conference 2013 at UC Santa Cruz is a conference that is rooted in the inclusiveness of all queer identities and its intersections, especially those based in sexuality, class, gender and race. The conference will strive to create a space where all aspects of the spectrum of identities are represented and as many possible intersections of these identities can be explored through workshops and engaging speakers. We also envision a conference that is environmentally sustainable and as such it is our goal to make this a zero impact conference. Additionally, the conference aims to use these opportunities to create a more unified, aware, and skillful group that will challenge heteronormatives and engage their communities in the form of activism, awareness, and education for a more diverse and empowered future.

Which makes no attempt to explain the acronym, so I don’t know if asexuality stuck or not.

After this, the Western Regional conference failed to find a host for the next year, and went on a “hiatus” that it never recovered from.


 

The Takeaway

In the end, this is just a random case study: it’s doesn’t tell us about overall trends, but it gives insight into one specific example. In this case, it shows an example evolution of the “A” in LGBTIA – from merely referring to the act that a group was an “association”, before T was even added to the acronym; to the transformation into an  A for “ally” in an expanded acronym 2005; to finally the second transformation of that A into an for “asexual” as well in 2011.

Anyway, if anyone sees this who has more knowledge of Western Regional history, I’d definitely be curious to hear your thoughts!

Excerpt from Sex and the Significant Americans (1965)

First, a big shoutout to my mom for finding this as a used book, knowing it was relevant to my interests and bringing it back for me!

Also, if this kind of historical snippet is up your alley, consider joining the asexual history interest group.


When it comes to researching the history of “asexuality” before communities began to form under that name in the late nineties, one set of sources that I think can provide interesting insight is in older academic and popular works of psychology, sociology, and sexology. While such books rarely refer to “asexuals” in the same terms or with the same models we use today, they do frequently make references to individuals with low libido or complete lack of interest, often describing experiences that in many ways mirror the personal testimony of aces today.

As with any research on the sexualities of individuals in a time and culture where different sexual paradigms prevailed, I don’t think it’s appropriate to argue whether or not  any of these populations described were or were not asexual – but I think we can definitely see them as something like our cultural ancestors, and we can definitely see the seeds of the patterns that currently pervade modern cultural and academic discussions of asexual people and communities.

For this post, I wanted to share a short excerpt I stumbled upon from a 1965 book titled “Sex and the Significant Americans”, a pop psych style overview of the sex lives of

“Significant Americans….a roughly representative group of the leadership echelon, the decision-making, policy-forming people, the most clearly successful, as success is currently conceived. In other investigations people like them have been designated Elites, Eminents, Top Influentials, and more academically, Upper Middle Class.”

The findings of the book are drawn from personal interviews with 437 “significant americans” – government officials, business executives, judges, specialist physicians, professors, military officers, clergy and artists (mostly male, but with a few women). Single women were deemed “significant” by the same standards as men, while married women, as well as the recently widowed or divorced  were considered “significant” if their husbands were (hello, sexism).

It’s a popular press book from the 1960s, and it kind of shows. There’s definitely a lot of embedded gender roles, and it’s aggressively heterosexual – it very carefully never mentions anything about same-sex encounters (despite citing Kinsey’s reports, so lol). That also means that it reads very differently from more modern, “sexual orientation” approaches to a/sexuality. Instead of framing asexuality as a sexual orientation compared to being gay or bi, books like this one (and other sexological works from this time period) are more likely to discuss asexuality-like experiences in terms of lack of sex drive, lack of sexual desire, or low libido, rather than using a [lack of] gender preference frame.

In particular, this book contains a passage that many modern aces may find familiar in a section on “sexual sublimation” (emphasis added by me):

“Sublimation, too, can do with a second look. In recent years it has been intellectually fashionable to point out that sexual sublimation is exceedingly difficult to pull off and quite dangerous to mental health should one succeed. The people who provided the information for this study challenge both of those assumptions. Many of these career dominated people have channeled almost the whole of their energies into success aspirations. For some it had been practically a necessity to do so in order to complete their education and carry the grueling responsibilities and workloads of their early years. Some now regret that they were as successful at sublimation as they were; now they would like to recapture the sexual vitality which they relegated to disuse, but they have become different people and it is impossible to go back. We are, of course, dealing here with a highly educated group of people, a selected group in the sense that they have demanding jobs that usually require a great deal of discipline. In other classes the frequency and success of sublimation may be very different. Nevertheless, a great many of these prominent people have been able to inhibit the sexual side of their nature without visibly jeopardizing their mental health or their spectacular career success.

Some, of course, seem to have paid for successful sublimations – depending on what one means by “paying a price”. It is very difficult to weight a distinguished scientific or diplomatic career built by endless hours of hard discipline against a presumably enriched personal sexual life which the subject might have had if he had lived more like an ordinary man. This raises questions of moral value which go beyond considerations of individual frustration or fulfillment. It can and has been argued that talented and highly placed people have a public responsibility to make whatever personal sacrifice may be entailed in order to carry out their obligations to society. At least some of the Significant Americans accept this logic and defend it as an altogether reasonable requirement.

Furthermore, what is often interpreted as sexual sublimation in the interests of career has in many cases not been sublimation at all. For some people there has always been low sexual energy or absence of sexual awakening, hence no pressing libidinal urge to be inhibited. It has been suggested in much serious professional writing that low sex capacity may be associated with outstanding academic and later occupational achievement in just this way. Whatever the cause and effect connection, it is in line with the self-description and self-analysis of a substantial minority of those whom we interviewed that the absence of a clear sexual valence in their lives is not the result of deliberate inhibition. “It’s never been that important to me – much less a problem”.

This comes from chapter 9, “Against the Grain”, which in general details instances of dissatisfaction with sex and marriage that run counter to common social sexual expectations – though not all of these instances are quite so directly relevant to the modern asexual experience, some definitely makes for interesting further reading for those who would like to dive deeper through this kind of period perspective.

As for the word “asexual” itself, it doesn’t get mentioned much in the book, but there is an offhand reference in the following chapter, which serves as a concluding overview, where we see this statement:

The biological fact of heterosexuality is not so much a determining fact of life as a condition upon which people build radically different life facts. The sexually expressive, the asexual, the apathetic, the hostile – all have built their characteristics upon the biological and cultural substructure of a two-sex order, but they have done it so differently that they are strangers to one another in this important regard, however close their affinities on politics, recreational or aesthetic matters.


Source:

Cuber, John Frank, and Peggy B. Harroff. Sex and the significant Americans: A study of sexual behavior among the affluent. Penguin Books, 1966.