"An asexual person is a person who does not experience sexual attraction." That's the first thing you'll read on www.asexuality.org, the home of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). For asexuals, that barely begins to describe their sexual or romantic orientations, but for society at large, it can be a big step forward.
Becky, 33, who requested Windy City Times not use her surname, lives in Lakeview and identifies as an a-romantic asexual. To her, that means she has no inclination to be sexually or romantically intimate with either men or women.
It sounds simple enough, but it took Becky the first 26 years of her life (when she discovered AVEN) before she had even considered it.
"I assumed that I was gay and I came out to myself and my family three different times, but I never really wanted to do anything about it and I never managed to meet any girl I was attracted to," she said.
She said there was a time that she thought she must be repressed, afraid of intimacy and of being vulnerable or dealing with some kind of psychological trauma. After exhaustively searching the Internet, she found AVEN and hundreds like her, and things began to click.
"That's the place where most asexual people start when they come to our community, is that there must be something wrong with them," said David Jay, who founded AVEN in 2001. "We live in a culture that assumes that if you're not sexual enough that you're broken."
Jay, who is also the subject of the 2011 documentary "(A)sexual," struggled with his own sexuality in high school, and after identifying and coming out as asexual, wanted to meet and talk with others like him.
"I knew that there were other people out there like me and I wanted to find them," he said, "both to tell them they were okaybecause it had taken me a long time to realize I was okayand just to have a conversation and connect to them."
Results of a 2004 probability study of 18,000 people in the United Kingdom suggest 1 percent of the population self-identifies as asexual.
Unlike celibacy, asexuality is not a choice, but an orientation; asexuals don't have an intrinsic desire to make sexuality a part of how they connect with others.
It can be a difficult concept to understand. Jay said the most common obstacle to making sense of asexuality, in his experience, is that people have see a lack of sexual attraction as a problem, not a sexual identity.
"People say, 'Oh that can't be a valid explanation of who you are; there must be something wrong with you,'" he said. "There must be some explanation for why you're not sexual, because [for them] the notion that there's a person who's not sexual who could be okay is impossible to fathom."
Consequently, Becky said she is careful about when and to whom she uses the word "asexual."
"The word 'asexual'people don't know what it is and they have a lot of misconceptions about it," she said. "I've had enough negative times of having it come back to hurt me that it has put me in a very defensive stance."
Because Becky and other asexuals many times feel the need to conceal their identity, they feel a strong connection to the LGBTQ community. Becky said she finds that when she comes out to gays and lesbians, they tend to be more accepting.
"People who have gone through their coming out journey I think tend to recognize in other people the signs that they have also been through that period of reflection and they respect that and they tend to take what I say with more respect," she said.
As such, Jay and other leaders among the asexual community have been working hard at forging partnerships with LGBTQ organizations in order to help meet the immediate needs of visibility and better education on asexual issues.
"More than anything, we want to integrate what we know about the asexual experience into [the LGBTQ] mechanism of education and support," Jay said.
Jay said that plan involves reaching out to gay-straight alliances, mental health groups, and groups doing public education work so that youth and mental health professionals not only understand what asexuality is, but recognize why talking about asexuality can help raise public awareness about sexuality in general.
AVEN also became part of the annual Creating Change Conference last year and attendance was so great at their session that at next year's conference in January, it will host three workshops.
"There are LGBT organizations around the country that have asexual members, that have asexual members in their leadership, that have asexuals coming to them and asking for support all the time and those organizations are really looking for resources," Jay said.
According to Becky, there are currently no community resources in Chicago for asexual individuals. Having attended programs at places such as Center on Halsted, she said acceptance from the LGBT community would be a big step. The mention of asexuality in advertising for LGBTQ events, for example, would make a difference.
"I know people get tired of that because the [full LGBTQ] acronym is about 15 letters long, but by including asexuality in those spaces, I think it also helps get other non-asexual but not straight people to consider opening their hearts to asexual people too and understanding," she said.
Jay said that he recommends communities host screenings of "(A)sexual" to start a dialogue about asexuality if they are interested in a way to immediately help improve visibility.
"I think that as soon as you begin to seriously talk about asexual people and our experiences, then that assumption (that there's something wrong with asexual people) begins to erode and I think that's a valuable thing for everyone, not just asexual people," Jay said.
For more information and resources on asexuality, visit www.asexuality.org .