Thursday, July 26, 2012

What I learned about asexuals from gay men

This was cross-posted on The Asexual Agenda.

I spend a lot of time in both asexual and gay communities.  Specifically, I've participated in queer college student groups and have lots of gay male friends in their 20s/30s on the U.S. west coast.  Based on these experiences, as limited as they are, I wish to share a few striking differences.  This is not an attempt to critique either asexual or gay communities but an attempt to understand ourselves.

1. One asexual community, many gay communities

One time someone asked me, "Where is the main bisexual website?"  They expected there would be a bisexual equivalent of AVEN!  Nope.

In the past, people have complained when I've referred to the asexual community in the singular rather than the plural.  I think whether you call it "the community" or "communities" is arbitrary.  But there is definitely a sense in which the asexual community is more unified than the gay male community.  With gay men, they have their circles of friends, and they might participate in local community events.  Some participate in national activist organizations and dating websites, but these don't really provide a unified community.

But since asexual communities are mostly based on a handful of websites, we have a relatively unified community that even crosses national boundaries.  The biggest divisions are between AVEN, tumblr, and the non-English sites, but our differences probably aren't nearly as big as some of the differences within the gay male community.

2. Definition precision

Most of us can recite AVEN's definition of asexual word for word.  And we think every single word is important.  It's a consequence of having a single major website with a single definition featured prominently on its front page for over a decade.  It's also a consequence of many of us having to explain it in great detail to others.

My friends do not have a precisely worded definition for "gay", and this does not seem particularly unusual to them.  Gay men are attracted to other guys.  Or they like other guys.  Or they think guys are hot.  Or they like dick.  Or whatever.  It's not that complicated, or at least, they won't talk about the complications all the time.

3. The behavior-orientation distinction

The behavior-orientation distinction is more important to the asexual community.  Not that it isn't important in the gay community.  But people will gossip and joke about apparent behavior-orientation discrepancies.  If a bisexual man only has sex with or dates one gender, people talk about it, even if they don't outright question it.  If a gay man used to enjoy dating women before he was out, it's often interpreted as being slightly bisexual or fluid.

Whereas, most educated asexuals will ardently repeat the fact that asexuals can enjoy sex.  We talk about aromantics who date, romantics who don't.  I get culture shock when my gay friends don't have the same attitude.

For those who participate in gay communities, do you see the same differences, or does your experience contradict mine?  For those who don't participate in gay communities, do these differences surprise you?