Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grammar

I like grammar. I study linguistics and hope to be a syntactician. (That and a psycholinguist.) So I thought I’d blog about the grammar of asexuality.

When I was new to asexuality, one thing that I quickly picked up on was the variation that existed in terms for asexuals. Many people used the word interchangeably between nominal and adjectival forms. But I couldn’t help but notice that one prominent asexual seemed to never use the word as a noun. He says “asexual people” and “sexual people” (and their respective singulars) quite a lot, but the much shorter nominal form seemed nowhere to be found. I noted it as interesting, suspected it was intentional, and thought it generally unimportant. I enjoyed the content, and if one person prefers adjectives when I like nouns, who cares?

As a totally random point, preference for the term “asexuals” versus “asexual people” can give one an idea of authorship of sections of the AVEN General FAQ

I’ve read two asexual blog in which the authors said that they prefer to think of asexual as an adjective than as a noun and another that thinks of it as an adjective. Nouns are about classes of things, classifications of people. You’re either in or you’re out. Adjectives describe properties. They can be fuzzy around the edges. If ‘asexual’ is a noun, it is a classification of people. If it is an adjective, it is merely a property.

This way of thinking about of parts of speech is widespread. I recently read in the Diagnostic and Statistical and Manual of Mental Disorders a similar idea on p. xxxi. They claim that mental disorders are not schemes of classifying people (apparently, this is a common "misconception" [i.e. criticism]). Rather it is a means of classifying disorders. So they try to avoid talking about ‘a schizophrenic’ and instead talk about ‘a person with schizophrenia.’

This doesn’t really make any sense. “A schizophrenic” means “a person with schizophrenia.” The only difference is that one is a noun and the other is a noun phrase. By identifying some attribute/set of attributes that some people have and others don’t (even if there are blurry cases around the edges), it is unavoidable that a category is created consisting of people who have it. The category could be “schizophrenics” or “people with schizophrenia,” which both mean the same thing. In the case of the DSM, this is clearly a political move to try to avoid dealing with the criticism that they are creating a scheme of classifying people according to “disorders” that the APA creates. As for the criticism that they create disorders, my suspicion is that this is probably more applicable of some diagnoses than others (though this is little more than an impression as I'm certainly no expert on the matter.) As for the criticism that they creating a system of classifying people, rather than dealing with it (arguing why they don't think such their classificatory schemes are bad), they simply deny that they're classifying people. (Classifying disorder doesn't make any sense. What reality could any disorder possibly possess apart from people who have it? )

In the asexual case, I am more sympathetic. I understand the point that people are trying to make and generally agree with it. “Asexual” is a property/characteristic a person may have, but it does not define that person. There are many other parts of their personality that are much more important than their sexual orientation. People don’t fit neatly into an asexual/sexual binary, and we do not want to say that if someone is asexual today, so it must be evermore. My disagreement is with the idea that adjectives can convey this but nouns cannot.

In school, we learned that nouns are words that refer to a person, place, thing or idea. Verbs are actions. Adjectives describe nouns. The problem with this, is that they are only general rules, but in many cases, they don’t work. Consider the standard syntax examples: “The army destroyed the city.” This is a sentence, and ‘destroy’ is a verb. Consider another example: “The army’s destruction of the city.” This is a noun phrase referring to the same event, but now “destruction” (which still refers to an action) is a noun. The point is that the part of speech of a word has more to do with its grammatical function in a sentence than its meaning. Another example: “The fliggidy blicks kerborbled three bomps.” Neither you nor I have any idea what these words mean, but we know that “fliggidy” is an adjective, “blicks” and “bomps” are nouns, and “kerborbled” is a verb. We didn’t sit down and say, “Well, if you just think about the meaning of ‘bomps’ it’s obvious that bomps must be a noun.” We looked at the location of the words in the sentences and at the suffixes at the end of words. While I do have a feeling that “fliggidy” somehow describes “blicks” and that “blicks” are probably things so that there is some relationship between meaning and part of speech, it’s entirely possible that “fliggidy” means something that is a fliddid. (“A Korean businessman” is a businessman who is a Korean.)

Now that we see that the difference between adjectives and nouns has more to do with their grammatical functions than their meanings, I want to argue that nouns can be just as fuzzy around the edges as adjectives. Take as an example the color green. As a word, it’s useful. The grass outside is green. The olives in the fridge are green. The shirt that I wore yesterday is green. Green helps us understand things; it helps us make useful predictions. If I find that bread in my cabinet is green, it’s probably been there too long and eating it might not be such a good idea. Because there are clear examples of things that are green and things that are not, ‘green’ is useful for communication and classification. Still, the edges are fuzzy. The stripes on the couch in my living room are greenish. The kitchen gloves on the table are sort of green (kind of a blue-green, maybe?)

Instead of the adjective ‘green,’ consider the noun phrase ‘green things’ or ‘things that are green.’ In addition to problems created by the fact that objects can be multi-colored, these noun phrases will have all the ambiguity of the adjective ‘green.’ If the kitchen gloves are sort of green, are they ‘green things?’ Sort of. In English, we have these terms ‘sort of’ and ‘kind of’ that can modify a noun or adjective (among other things.) “John is kind of a teacher.” This makes use of the fact that the category ‘teachers’ is fuzzy around the edges. He isn’t really a teacher, but he’s not exactly not a teacher either. Nouns can be just as fuzzy categories as adjectives. They don't have to be a permanent state (pedestrian, customer, infant), an essential property of a person (5th grader, group leader, blogger) or have clear boundaries between who's in and who's out (child, adolescent, environmentalist.) They only have to be useful for communication, and they go where nouns go.

To me, the meanings of ‘asexuals’ and ‘asexual people’ are indistinguishable. The noun ‘asexual’ means, ‘an asexual person’ or ‘a person who is asexual.’ The only difference is that the phrase ‘an asexual’ is shorter than ‘an asexual person.’ Given that it is possible to use that adjective to describe individuals, the group of people that fall under the term “asexuals” is just as blurry around the edges as the adjective itself.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thoughts on coming out part II: words

Before identifying as asexual, I sometimes felt that I wanted to come out of the closet but didn’t know what closet I was in. If only I knew, if only I had a word for it, I could come out. Now that I have a word, things do not appear so simple. For one thing, I don’t really like the word.

Within asexual discourse, there is a lot of discussion about the tern 'asexual.' Two primary definitions exist: “a person who does not experience sexual attraction,” and “a person who calls themself asexual.” One is a sexual orientation, the other an identity. Many are uncomfortable with the word because of its negative definition. Because it is a matter of what people don’t feel, what people aren’t interested in, many of our critics assume an asexual self-identification is an act of shutting down our sexuality, making ourselves blind to possibilities, dooming our lives to be sexless, intimacyless, joyless drudgery, and that we are giving up on trying to understand ourselves, hiding from our problems rather than trying to deal with them. As a preemptive response, AVEN’s introduction to asexuality says of the term ‘asexual,’ is “just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so.”

I disagree with this. ‘Asexual’ is word, and like other words, the primary purpose is not self-understanding, but communication. If I had, before identifying as asexual, come up with a word to describe what I now call asexuality—whether I independently coined the term “asexual” or made up something totally random—I would have understood nothing more about myself than I did before. Because the term ‘asexual’ has come to be used by a group of people identifying as such—and by others as well—to enable conversation about what was previously ineffable, communication is made possible. Through this communication, people are able to create a framework for understanding their own experiences. Undoubtably, “asexual” is a word that people use to understand themselves, but only because its primary purpose is the same as any other word—communication. This enables people to find each other and discuss their experiences. But it goes far beyond mere self-understanding. It enables self-revelation; it enables education; it enables visibility.

Yet it is a word that many feel uncomfortable with. Even many who identify as asexual don’t really like the term. Alternatives have been proposed, but none has taken hold, except, generally, as inside jokes. Looking at a list of the most recognized ones—'A,' 'amoeba,' 'ace' (or a variant spelling 'ase')—one notices that we don’t venture far from the start of the alphabet.

Among those up on our lingo, using the word ‘asexual’ simply makes life easier. We have a concept and a single word to describe it with. Since we all
understand what the word means, more or less, it is extraordinarily useful for communication. If we explain asexuality to others, it helps to have a word for it.

The problem is that most people don’t our meaning of asexual. If I tell them, “I’m asexual,” they probably won’t understand me. What’s worse, they could easily misunderstand. The word simultaneously has two possible etymologies. The first, and most obvious, it is the opposite of ‘sexual.’ Asexuals are people who are not sexual. The other is in opposition to hetero/homo/bisexual. If ‘heterosexuals’ are sexually attracted to the ‘other’ sex/gender, homosexuals to the ‘same’ sex/gender, and bisexuals to ‘both’ males and females, ‘asexual’ seems to be the most logical term to refer to those sexually attracted to neither. I think of ‘asexual’ in terms of the latter of these. Unfortunately, when most people hear it, they think of the former and whatever that might mean to them. It can leave people with a lot of wrong impressions. I don’t want to tell people that I’m asexual if my expectation is that they will misunderstand what I’m saying. I want to speak such that I will be understood, not misunderstood.

I realize that coming out to people provides opportunity for visibility and a chance to explain what asexuality is, but I don’t really want to give mini-lectures on what asexuality is in my everyday conversations. Of course, there is this method of explaining things, but it may be better suited for explaining things to strangers than to friends.

Much of my coming out has been done via writing. In coming out to my mom, I spent good amount of time talking to her about it, but to explain a lot of my feelings, I emailed her a copy of a short-story that I had written. For about half of the people I’m out to, sending them a copy of an essay-like thing I had written on the subject was involved (or overhearing discussion of such.) It explained a good amount about asexuality, so they could get their questions answered and I didn’t have to talk about it. I feel that there are many times where I can express myself better in writing than is speech, especially when I want to express my own feelings and experiences, or when there is simply a lot I want to say.

Some people don’t want to come out for fear of rejection, often based on bad experiences of trying to do so in the past. For me this hasn’t really been an issue. I haven’t gotten any negative reactions so far. Several of the people already had some knowledge of asexuality; some had already suspected I was asexual. Generally, it’s just not something I go out of my way to bring up and it doesn’t come up otherwise. As time goes by, I expect more people will know. I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with my (a)sexuality and more open to talking about it, hinting at it and even joking about it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thoughts on coming out part I: early attempts

When I was a child, I recall being told about how beginning in middle school, give or take a few years, my body would start changing and I would start liking girls. The first time I got a crush someone was in 6th grade. I acquired the male secondary sexual characteristics at generally the right time. So I figured I was more or less normal (at least in this respect.) Sometimes kids at school would talk about who they liked or they might ask me who I liked and I was able to answer the question. I didn’t get crushes on very many people, but when I did they tended to last for a long time, though I didn’t do much of anything about them. (Also, the objects of these were all female.)

I remember once in high school having a conversation with about three other guys and the topic turned to girls. Undoubtedly I’ve gotten stuck in such conversations on numerous occasions, but this one had a strong impression on me. Since many of my friends in high school were female and such conversations seem to be less common in co-ed groups, I probably managed to avoid such conversations more than most. Anyway, a friend of mine was talking about this one girl who he evidently thought was hot. A couple of the other boys teased him about how he liked her, but he insisted that he didn’t like her, he just thought she was hot. This was somehow associated with large boobs.

I was totally unable to categorize this. It clearly was a report of a form of attraction that I had never experienced. They asked me who I thought was hot. No one. They didn’t believe me. It seemed that everyone else understood the distinction between thinking someone’s hot and liking them, but I had only ever experienced one of these and apparently this was strange. I had never associated liking someone with any particular physical attribute.

Often in religious education we, especially the males, were told about the sin of lust. We shouldn’t look at girls in a certain way or think about them in certain ways. At least, I think that’s what lust is. To be honest, I was never quite sure what they were talking about. Still, whatever it was that they were talking about, I tried hard not to do it, but I had this growing suspicion that I couldn’t actually manage even if I tried. I always felt a bit lost in these discussions because it seemed that there was this shared experience that everybody else had so there was no reason to explain it, but I don’t think I had ever felt it though I couldn’t be sure since it was never described. However, we were definitely told that this was something all guys struggled with, and throughout my time in Evangelical groups, lots of the guys around me talked about their struggles with it and, slowly, I became more and more convinced whatever it was that they were feeling, I didn’t feel. Still, the message was clear. This was a struggle for all guys. Never were there mentioned the possibility of exceptions.

Some people distinguish between sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction, but at that point, I had never felt the former and the latter only once, and that for only a second or two. I general had little or no visual aesthetic sense (for people, art, scenery, etc.) and had thought that perhaps this was responsible for whatever this strange trait I had was. I did not make a distinction between sexual and aesthetic attraction.

When I was around 16 or 17, I tried to explain to a few people about what I didn’t feel. The girlfriend I had when I was 17 was aware of this (and hated me for it.) She was angry that I never told her that I thought she was pretty. Perhaps I was overly honest, but I had said that I didn’t find her, or any other person, pretty. In my mind, it was a rather good reason, in hers an unpardonable one. Things didn’t go well because of this and a large number of other reasons. (Everybody other than me thought the relationship was a bad idea, but I didn’t listen to them.)

I tried to explain to some other friends about my not finding anyone pretty. This was the only language I could find to explain what I now regard as my asexuality, and I quickly discovered that my attempts to explain it failed miserably. I wanted to know why I was like this, whatever “like this” was, but no one understood it and I couldn’t explain it, so I decided to just keep quiet about it.

Not long after my short-lived having of a significant other, I began reading the Bible more frequently and I came across the passages dealing with what has been called the gift of celibacy. Jesus is recorded as saying “this is not for everyone, but only to those to whom it has been given…let the one who can accept it, accept it.” Paul, who seems to like celibacy, also recognizes that for most people, it is not a realistic option and practically speaking, telling/expecting everyone to be celibate is simply a stupid idea.

I thought that perhaps I had the gift of celibacy. After having acquired a very cynical view of romantic love from a bad relationship, celibacy seemed like a decent idea. (I was perfectly aware of this cynicism, the reason for it and the fact that it wasn’t a very good reason, but it still took a while to subside.) I also knew that not having sex really would not be at all difficult for me.

I had hoped that perhaps in reading about those who have the gift of celibacy, I would finally be able to find others like myself. From time to time, I would read about the two passages on the subject in various commentaries, but was disappointed to find that none of them told me about others like myself. I recall reading one author discussing celibacy and some people who had chosen to be celibate who went out of his way to make a point that it was not that these people were less interested in sex than others, but that they were simply devoted to their work. I felt crushed by this. My hopes that maybe here, at last, I would find that I wasn’t alone, that there were others like myself and it was explicitly denied.

But I didn’t want to be celibate. Even though not having sex was easy enough, I didn’t want to give up the possibility of family life. I wanted to get married. I wanted to have children. Being a life-long celibate would mean I couldn’t have these.

In college, I discussed my asexuality with one of guys I roomed with for my last two years there, but I don’t remember exactly what I told him. He thought it was a bit odd but seemed understanding.

Although I rarely discussed my asexuality with people, I didn’t do much to try to hide it either. Making no attempt at feigning heterosexuality has raised questions about my sexual orientation more than once—but always under the assumption that if I wasn’t straight, I must be gay. I’ve wondered if I’m gay many times despite the fact that I don’t get crushes on guys the way I have (at least occasionally) had them on girls.

My asexuality had long been a source of confusion for me that I was regularly made aware of, but I had no categories to understand it and had generally met with confusion whenever I tried to explain it. A couple years ago, I taught English abroad and during that time, I decided to give it another shot, so I talked about it with the pastor in charge of the English service I had been attending, desperately hoping for some ability to share this with someone, maybe to be able to understand myself and hopefully at least to find someone understanding. But it was an utter failure. He just assumed I was gay, and protestations about not being gay, about not being attracted to guys were generally ignored. This was extraordinarily frustrating. It’s not so much that I was afraid of people thinking I was gay as it was that I was trying to open up and explain something personally important to me that wasn’t always easy to talk about, and I felt that what I said was basically ignored.

My early attempts at “outing myself” resulted in utter failure. With later attempts, I had matured somewhat but still lacked concepts or vocabulary to explain what I felt (or didn’t feel) and did not do much better. Frequently, when people got hints of my asexuality, they thought I was gay. I could quite honestly deny this, but I had a growing sense that I wasn’t all that straight either. I felt like I had to stay in the closet, but I wasn’t sure which closet I was in. I knew I had something to hide, not because I was ashamed of it or feared what people would think if they found out, but because I could not explain it, and generally people couldn’t understand it. I had this sense that if only I knew which closet I was in, it would be so much easier. If I had a word, I could tell people I’m that.

Retrospectively, I should have realized that this wasn’t true. It’s not that if I had a word, I could explain things to people by telling them that I’m that. Rather, if I had a word that other people knew what it meant, I could explain things to people by telling them that I’m that.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Repressed!

We live in a highly repressive society when it comes to sexuality. Many people are in denial about what they feel and what they want because of the ubiquity of such repressive messages. To illustrate this, consider the story of a boy.

He grew up in an evangelical protestant home. In his youth, he often heard the message that he should save sex for marriage. It would be difficult, he was told, but it is what God wanted. However, it was easy for him, so he told himself that if he had a girlfriend, then it would be a challenge. One thing leads to another, so beware, they told him. So he imagined that were it to happen that he did one thing, then he would want to do another. He was warned about pornography. It was something that many males his age struggled with, but that he should use self-control and repent should he stumble. For him, it wasn’t even a temptation.

At some level he knew that not having sex was unusually easy for him, and he was aware of the fact that getting a girlfriend was much lower on his priorities than it was for many of his peers. During his time in college he only got a crush on one person, and that only lasted for about two weeks. He was aware that that was atypical as well, and deep down, he knew that the reason that he’d never watched porn was because it just doesn’t seem interesting to him.

He believed that it was for religious reasons that he wasn’t having sex, but he did sometimes ask himself if he would be having sex if he didn’t have those religious views. He imagined that it would be unlikely. He would, he suspected, be among those who were unable to “get any.” He had never developed the skill set necessary for doing so. But he couldn’t admit to himself that the reason he had never developed it was lack of motivation. The idea that he might not like sex if he did have it or that he simply had no desire for sex simply didn’t cross his mind. He imagined that once he would get married then he would have sex and like it just like everyone else. For much of high school and some of college, the idea of having sex seemed utterly repulsive to him and he was not at all looking forward to doing after he got married. But he thought, or perhaps hoped, he would get over that. He could never fully acknowledge to himself that he simply wasn’t interested in sex. He was in denial about not wanting to have sex.

He was asexually repressed.

Asexual repression is when you are in denial about your lack of interest in sex. With all of the cultural messages people are given about sexuality, about how great sex is, about how everybody wants to have sex, it can be hard to admit to a lack of interest. And it isn’t only religious conservatives who can be asexually repressed. Asexual repression pervades our society. Many men believe that a part of being a man is always being interested in sex, always being ready to perform. After all, men are supposed to be testosterone-driven sex machines, and for many, admitting that sometimes they aren’t interested is like admitting that they aren't real men.

Images of sex are everywhere. Magazines tell us twenty tips to be super sexy, seven secrets to have the hottest sex ever, what turns men on, what turns women on. Do magazines tell us about how we need to be hungry? Do they remind us of a need to feel thirst? Perhaps ads for food or sports drinks do, but we are reminded about how strong our sexual cravings are supposed to be in ads for everything from Viagra to tires, from beer to health food to cars. Could this constant bombardment of sex be not so much a reflection of how obsessed with it everyone is, but an attempt to make everyone obsessed because without constant pressure, they might not be?

Asexuals can take a long time before they recognize their asexuality. Why? Because they are afraid to admit, even to themselves, that they are uninterested in sex. They try to convince themselves of their sexual desires, unable to acknowledge their asexuality, because of cultural pressures against admitting sexual disinterest.

Our cultural is so asexually repressed, that we have made sexual disinterest into a disease and given it the long and awkward name “hypoactive sexual desire disorder.” We are so afraid of sexual disinterest, so convinced it is unnatural and must be repressed that we have medicalized it, pathologized it. Therapists have tried to cure it, and Pharmaceuticals have tried to find a magic pill to obliterate it. But all in vain. We cannot eliminate the sexual disinterest that we fear so much, so instead, via mass media, we tell the public about how widespread this “sexual dysfunction” is. We try to convince everyone that this is a massive public health problem.

Raise a loud cry in the streets! Proclaim it from the hills and from the mountain tops! Announce it in the cities, the towns and the villages! “Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex is awesome, sex is great, everybody wants to have sex! If you don’t want to have sex, you need to get cured, because everybody wants to have sex!”

We have created this mythical concept “sexual repression,” that when people aren’t having sex, when they aren’t interested, it must be because they are repressing their natural, innate, powerful sexual urges. “Sexual repression” is nothing but an attempt to convince ourselves of how intense everyone’s sex drive is in light of the obvious reality that some people just aren’t that interested. “Sexual repression” was claimed to be the causes of neuroses, but, truly, asexual repression is the cause of many mental health problems: people desperately trying to convince themselves they have feelings that they don’t have, people suffering from delusions about how they really want what everyone tells them they should want, even when they don’t want it, people consenting to, and even seeking out, sex that they don’t desire in order to convince themselves that they are “normal”, that they aren’t “inhibited.”

There is a cultural belief that the so-called sexual revolution “freed” sex. It gave people the “permission” to be sexual, the permission to say “yes” to sex. Indeed, multiply the yes’s and add in some Oh’s, grant to people the permission to give the most orgasmic affirmative to sex they possibly can! But is there permission to say “no” to sex? Not just “no” to some particular person, or on some particular occasion, but simply “No, I’m just not interested”?

Don’t people recognize that sexual disinterest is natural? Everybody’s not interested in sex sometimes. Some people aren’t interested in sex all the time. Everybody has lots of people they don’t want to have sex with. For some people, that's everybody.

I’m sure you have guessed by now, oh reader, that the repressed boy in the story is none other than myself. But I do not seek your pity. I do not want your sympathy. I want, instead, your support in fighting this asexually repressive culture. We must let people know that not only is it okay to admit sexual feelings, to enjoy sex, to be sexual. It is also okay to admit to lacking sexual feelings, to not like sex, to be asexual. Just as religious freedom requires the right to have no religion, just as freedom of speech requires the right not to speak, so must true sexual freedom necessitate the right not to be sexual, to admit disinterest, even lifelong disinterest, without fear of being thought sexually repressed or being neurotic or in need of a cure. Only then will there be true sexual liberation.

So the next time that someone tells you that you’re sexually repressed, tell them, “It is not that I am sexually repressed. It is that you are asexually repressive!”

Saturday, July 5, 2008

More reflections on a negatively defined identity

Reflecting on what can be achieved by forming larger, more active offline asexual communities, offhand, I can think of five main benefits: two for asexuality as a movement/(a)sexual minority and three for individuals. As a movement asexuality can benefit because it would give asexuals wider visibility and more education opportunities at the local level, promoting asexuals being seen as members of one’s own community rather than seeing them merely as people appearing on TV or in newspapers on occasion.

At a personal level, when people come to identify as asexual or are questioning, they want a sense of validation, a sense that it’s okay. It is possible to gain this sense from participation in online communities, but these are simply not the same as friendships in real life. It is emotionally important for people to feel a sense of validation, especially from people they respect and trust. This requires that there be people they respect and trust who will provide it and, outside of asexuals, it is difficult to predict who would or would not be supportive, and even among non-asexuals who would be inclined to be affirming of that self-identification, not many people are particularly knowledgeable about the subject and newly identifying asexuals will want support from people who don’t have to be educated about what that self-identification is.

Another time that support is important is in the coming out process. People want a sense of validation of their asexuality and a sense of acceptance on the part of those close to them, but since others may or may not be affirming in their responses, the coming out process can be difficult. Having support from others can be important for this. As with the sense of validation, this can be more meaningful coming from people in real life.

And, of course, some asexuals want to form romantic relationships and would only be willing to do so with other asexuals…

As I think about these, what strikes me is that the negative definition of asexuality is irrelevant. So, perhaps, the difficulties in forming such communities lie elsewhere. Certainly, the negative part of asexuality’s definition is part of issue. When describing the coming out process for other groups, some people talk about the first step being coming out to oneself. Perhaps some guy comes to see that the things he’s been feeling towards other guys aren’t simply the warm-and-fuzzy, friendly sort of definitely not gay feelings he’s been trying to convince himself that they are. But with asexuality, it isn’t a matter of coming to recognize certain feelings you have for what they are, but a matter of admitting that you aren’t feeling certain things. But of course, is someone has never felt sexual attraction, they don’t know what sexual attraction feels like so it’s hard to know if what they are feeling is or is not sexual attraction, especially if other forms of attraction have been felt.

It could be that the biggest difficulty in forming local asexual communities is precisely the societal prejudice about asexuality that we have to fight against. Asexuality isn’t believed to be evil, a perversion or an abomination. Rather, if considered at all, it is believed to be non-existent. Otherwise, nothing is believed about it. It simply has no place in dominant beliefs about sexuality and the variation that exists among people, regardless of whether such differences are regarded as “normal variation” or “perversions.” It may be this, above anything, that prevents us from uniting, and it is precisely against this that we need to unite.