The ‘A’ Doesn’t Stand For Ally

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to say my whole life: I’m an ally.” 

While it may seem evident to many of us that coming out as an ally isn’t actually a thing, apparently the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) didn’t get the memo. The largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the United States recently announced October 11th as the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day (NCOD). In their announcement, the advocacy group claimed that “coming out — whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied — STILL MATTERS” before again emphasizing that “straight allies” deserved recognition for their bravery when coming out.

The decision to put allies in the spotlight multiple times in an announcement celebrating coming out was certainly a choice. Several variations of the LGBT acronym notably feature the letter ‘A,’ not for allies, as the HRC practically alludes to, but rather as representing asexual, aromantic, and agender people, all of which were omitted from the coming out narratives acknowledged here. Centering allies while omitting people who identify as part of the community should run contrary to the goals of a self-proclaimed advocacy group claiming to support us.

As an asexual person who dedicates a lot of their time advocating for a better understanding of the identity via The Asexual, a quarterly journal and platform publishing ace writers and artists, for the HRC to applaud straight allies, celebrating their alleged bravery in coming out, while being silent on asexuality felt as if our community, among others, were being erased. Not only was the largest LGBT activist organization conveying that our experiences with coming out were insignificant, but also that our place in the larger queer community was marginal at best, and nonexistent at worst.

Researchers Pádraig MacNeela and Aisling Murphy noted in a 2015 study that when asexual people come out we are often perceived as embodying a “disorder of desire” related to an assumed biomedical flaw with our bodies, transitional immaturity that characterizes us as “late bloomers” going through an adolescent phase, or as existing in an amendable state for simply not having “met the right person yet.” These invalidating reactions exist as the inaccurate yet prevailing assumptions by which asexual people must navigate when determining whether to come out to others.

This has played out reflectively in my own life. Whenever I have come out, my asexuality is nearly always met with doubt, meaning I have to either “plead my case” to a doubtful ear or smile and nod until the conversation dissipates, if I’m not in the mood. Being somewhat male-identified and non-sexually attracted to men, my gayness seems to make my asexuality even more burdensome. While my gay identity has been celebrated and accepted by queer people and allies with open arms, upon subsequently coming out as asexual, I’m disbelieved, painted as a “respectable queer” in my perceived celibacy, told not to “give up” because one day I’ll find the right guy who’ll want to fuck me.

The simultaneous acceptance and rejection of gay asexuality is almost expected in a world where asexual people are regularly gatekept from the LGBTQ community and labelled as not “queer enough.” While the HRC omitted asexual people from NCOD with the power and visibility of its platform, online discourse during Pride Month 2018 also illustrated this accordingly. Popular social media posts stating that asexuals were “on fucking thin ice” with the community were distributed to the tune of tens of thousands of retweets. Posts of this tone were certainly not outliers. Entire articles have since been written documenting how asexuality was “subject to more than its share of scrutiny” last Pride Month. 

Hostility against ace inclusion in the LGBTQ community remains an ongoing phenomenon. Brian Fink, a Professor of Public Health at the University of Toledo, asserts that “over the past decade, there have been numerous non-academic articles and online discussions where the inclusion of asexuals in the LGBTQ community has been debated.” However, despite the recurring invalidation, aces have continued to advocate for our space in the community to be recognized. In fact, a 2015 survey indicated that over 80% of asexual people support the inclusion of asexuality in the LGBTQ community.

Whether in Pride Month or for NCOD, asexual people continue to endure opposition. However, while the HRC prioritized allies in their announcement celebrating those who come out, other LGBT-focused advocacy organizations have been moving much quicker to accept asexual people openly. GLAAD and The Trevor Project now recognize ‘A’ for asexual people and not allies in their LGBTQ glossaries. GLAAD has even openly declared that “the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA represents millions of Asexual, Agender, and Aromantic people, who are far too often left out of the conversation about acceptance.

If the HRC could meet the rest of us in 2018 and openly acknowledge asexuality and the diversity of queer experiences via NCOD, it would help validate the struggles we must overcome while navigating a society that struggles to understand us. Including asexual people may also counter narratives that claim we are not “queer enough” to be under the rainbow umbrella, putting forth a message that all of us in the queer community who find a resonance with the ‘A’ shouldn’t be overshadowed by performative or self-concerning allyship (basically the only allies who would ever “come out” in the first place). 

It’s not that allies aren’t important to queer people. Of course, having supporters who will defend your personhood against bigotry and violence is important. But being an ally of a community doesn’t make you a part of it. An ally shouldn’t want their experiences to be prioritized by organizations that position themselves as existing for a community’s benefit. If the HRC can use its platform to commend “straight allies” for their “bravery” in “coming out,” an issue which, on its own, reads as objectionable, recognizing asexual, aromantic, and agender people is long overdue.

Image via Getty

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