Debate between straight people and the LGBT+ community has been an ongoing history. However, there are a variety of debates that take place within the queer community itself. In the summer of 2016, conversations on queer forums sparked an argument regarding the identity of asexuality: should asexuals be considered a part of the LGBT+ community? Those opposed state that asexual people are straight and are invading a minority community. Asexual supporters counter that asexuals are in fact queer, and it is malicious gatekeeping that makes the community unsafe. Asexual is a queer orientation on the grounds that it deviates from heteronormative expectations, that it faces both structural and social discrimination and that the experiences of asexuals do not have to be identical to same-gender attracted people to be valid.
The current definition of asexuality is “someone who does not experience sexual attraction,” with this definition expanding to varying types of attraction that asexual people experience: aesthetic, meaning attraction to appearance in a non-sexual manner; romantic, the desire to be romantically involved; and sensual, the need for non-sexual, affectionate physical contact.
The use of the word “queer” to pinpoint oneself somewhere along the axis of the LGBT+ spectrum began shortly after the gay liberation movement in the 1960s. Those who did not neatly fit into the categories of “gay” and “lesbian” found that identifying as queer was a way to show difference from heteronormative expectations without restricting their identity. In today’s society, there is a considerable amount of importance placed on the concept of sexual attraction and desire. This emphasis is what feminist author Ela Przybylo refers to as “sexusociety” — a term which describes the pervasive centrality of sex in society. Przybylo states that one’s level of sexual interest has falsely become a reflection of psychological and physiological health as sex is considered to be “a natural force akin to eating and sleeping.” In a society where sexual attraction is considered the norm, it can be understood that asexuality deviates from these sexual expectations and becomes queer.
However, there are some who believe that being queer must include an element of structural oppression. Those who do not consider asexuality to be queer cite the fact that asexual people’s existence has not been persecuted by the government. However, within the institution of medical practice, there is both a historical and contemporary oppression of asexuality. The pathologization of asexuality can be seen in the previous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Published in 2000, the DSM states that having “absent/reduced interest in sexual activity … sexual thoughts” are signs of various pathological disorders. It was only in 2013 that the criteria was revised and those who “self-identify” as asexual are to not be diagnosed. However, asexuals who exhibit signs of “distress” or who cannot assure their orientation is “lifelong” may still be diagnosed. Psychologist Anthony Bogaert addresses the heteronormative bias behind these diagnoses by deconstructing what evidence has been used to justify the pathologization of asexuality. A link between asexuality and abnormal prenatal development has been used to dismiss the orientation’s validity; however, not only is the link small, but traits such as impressive musical talent have also been linked to unusual prenatal development. Stating that “it should give us pause about what is and what is not [considered] a disorder,” Bogaert points out that there is a form of structural bias working against asexuality.
The pathologization of asexuality also results in various forms of social discrimination. With society’s focus on sexual desire, many believe that sexual attraction is a key component of the human experience. From this point of view, to be asexual is not merely abnormal but inhuman. In Brock University’s 2012 study, results concluded that amongst various LGBT+ orientations, asexuals were perceived to be the least human. The majority of participants considered asexuals to be animalistic or machine-like and would not be willing to hire or rent space to them. With a dehumanized view of asexuality, people are able to disregard the autonomy of asexual people with the accusation that asexuality needs to be cured. Sexual violence in the form of “corrective rape” is a common fear and reality within the asexual community. In the context of being asexual, the violator believes that the victim will no longer be asexual if they experience “sex” and believes that they will be thanked later. In the Huffington Post’s article on asexuality, the following quote showcases the harsh reality that asexual people face: “Some take [asexuality] as a challenge.… We are perceived as not being fully human because sexual attraction [is] seen as something alive, healthy people do … they believe that they’re just waking us up.” Asexuals do not just differ from heteronormative standards of sex but also experience institutional and social discrimination based on it: therefore fitting the described criteria of being queer.
Within the discourse of asexuality, there are some who claim that asexuals who experience hetero-romantic attraction do not belong in the queer community. Those with this viewpoint argue that, because hetero-romantics can openly express affection to their partners without coming out, they do not face true queer discrimination. This argument fails to recognize that the queer community is not a monolith. It is true that hetero-romantic asexual people do carry a degree of privilege that those who experience same gender attraction do not; however, it is their sexual orientation that makes them queer, not their romantic orientation. The experiences of queer folk can exist outside the realm of same gender attraction. Just as being heterosexual/romantic does not erase the transphobia a transgender person experiences, being hetero-romantic does not erase the previously outlined discrimination against asexual people. People who are asexual experience a unique set of struggles that positions them as queer in society, regardless of their romantic orientation.
The orientation of asexuality continues to be debated within online queer spaces and marks a pivotal point in the asexual community’s history; an orientation that is still perceived as fictitious is gaining enough attention for its position in the queer community to be discussed. Overall, asexuality is a queer identity as asexuals do not reflect society's current standards of sexuality, do experience institutional discrimination in medical contexts, are at high risk of social harassment and have a unique set of experiences that reflect the polylithic nature of the queer community.