I attended the second UK Asexuality Conference on Sunday June 23, organised by the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) founded by David Jay in 2001. The conference was held in the John McIntyre Conference centre in Pollock Halls in Edinburgh. At the opening, we were given the ‘Shortest Asexual 101 Ever’ by organiser Michael Doré. Attendees were given the opportunity to speak about projects in the works, such as the YouTube channel ‘Slice of Ace’ run by Daniel Walker, and the Edinburgh Fringe show ‘(A)sexy and I Know It,’ by autistic asexual comedian Eliott Simpson, who “[does not like big butts and definitely cannot lie]”.
The first panel I attended was ‘Asexuality and Ethnicity’. Ellie Mansor, a panelist from Malaysia, cited a study from Zheng and Su (2018). A quotation that stuck with me as something I wanted everyone outside of that conference room to know was “asexual people are not homogenous”. Something I especially loved about the conference was that if someone had wandered in, they never would have guessed that we were almost all aces. In fact, Yasmin Benoit, on the Ethnicity panel, is the creator of the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike. It destroys the stereotype that aces must look plain and can’t be attractive. Benoit uses her platform as a model to take this even further. To dismantle acephobia (discrimination or prejudice towards asexual people), she encouraged us to “make it known that you have a problem with [a queer event’s/organisation’s] lack of [asexual] visibility…they don’t want to look bad.”
I was a panelist for ‘Queer Aces’ and ‘The Ace Spectrum: Grey-A, Demisexuality, and Beyond!’ Although my personal belief is that aces are welcome to identify under the queer umbrella regardless of whether or not they have another LGBT+ identity, some people choose not to reclaim this word, which the UK Asexual Conference 2019 organisers of the conference respected. I had the chance to talk about how aces who have another LGBT+ identity have a duty to help support aces that do not have another, as they suffer aphobia from within the community as well as from outside it. This panel took place at the same time as ‘Ace Relationships and Dating,’ but towards the end of the Q&A, we got a lot of relationship-based questions, such as starting to date when you’re 46, using Tinder as an ace, and how ace-allo relationships are viable (after which I got to yell “be ace do crime” into the microphone).
One PhD candidate’s panel, which I unfortunately did not manage to see, focused on “developing an Asexual Literary Theory to uncover potential ace characters prior to the Kinsey Studies identifying asexuality as an orientation.” I also heard that Yasmin defined romance as “friendship with rules” on the ‘Aromanticism’ panel. At the ‘Neurodiversity and Mental Health in the Ace Community’ panel, I learnt that a higher proportion of aces are neurodiverse or mentally ill than the UK population. According to the charity Mind, 25% of people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, while according to the 2016 AVEN census, 40% of aces considered themselves mentally ill and 19% were unsure. At the end of lunch, Rowan Heggie performed a poem about their asexuality, which was one of the most moving things I had ever heard, so much so that I asked for a copy of the poem. What I took away from the conference was the line “asexual is unsinkable.”
An asexual person experiences little to no sexual attraction. Having sex does not contradict asexuality, and asexuality is not the same as celibacy. Asexuality is not black and white. For more information visit asexuality.org.
Words: Beatrix Livesey-Stephens
Image: Rowan Heggie