Editors' Note: Guest blogger Sara Beth Brooks recently completed the Leadership, Organizing, and Action: Leading Change program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is pursuing a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and lives in Sacramento, CA. Sara Beth is publishing a weeklong series on asexuality this week.
Once upon a time, I was a bisexual teenager. Coming out to myself and my family was not difficult or agonizing. I didn't do anything to connect with the LGBT community except go to Pride a couple of times. Most of my boyfriends didn't care that I was bi, or thought that it was some sort of bonus feature.
At 21, I was engaged. Our relationship was in bad shape because I wasn't sexually attracted to him. I loved him and wanted to marry him, but I didn't want to have sex with him. I didn't want to have sex with anyone else either. I landed in therapy. Every previous relationship had ended because of my disinterest in sex. I lamented to my friends, my doctors, and my therapist, that I felt no interest in sex. I tried hormone therapies and excavating my psychological past to no avail.
Increasingly frustrated, I turned to Google. That's where I found the word asexuality. That one word opened the doors to a whole community of people who said that they didn't feel any sexual attraction either! I was relieved, and scared. Being bi was culturally accepted, at least in California. Asexuality meant that I was different, that I would have to swim upstream. I didn't know what to do with it, so I closed the web browser and wouldn't return to that website for months.
The engagement ended badly, and I left gorgeous cabin we had shared on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. By November of 2008 I was staying with my best friend in San Diego. At 23 years old, I was trying to start over.
When Proposition 8 passed here in California, I got involved. The post-Prop 8 marriage movement in San Diego was a thrilling place to be an activist. San Diego has a vibrant and boisterous LGBT community. We were just beginning the Manchester Grand Hyatt boycott and when Prop 8 passed we hosted the largest response rally in the country. San Diego bounced back first, launching door-to-door canvasses in January 2009 while the rest of the state was still recovering from whiplash. And I was right in the middle of it all serving a wonderful community, and healing my broken heart. I became a part of the LGBT community like I had never been before.
My concept of queer was evolving because of this immersion. I used to think that queer was merely an all-encompassing term for LGBT. That's incomplete, I've learned. Queerness is about challenging societal norms by embracing a radically inclusive attitude of evolving self-identification and self-expression. Often times LGBT falls into that definition, but I no longer use the two interchangeably.
Here is the amazing thing: the new queerness being cultivated in me by the movement gave me space to explore asexuality. Where before I was afraid, now I was entranced. Asexual people weren't lonely or sad about their asexuality, and they certainly weren't afraid of being queer. They laughed and enjoyed their asexiness. Many of them dated successfully. They had fulfilling relationships. Some got married. They were happy! I could relate to their stories, and my fears started to fade.
The more I talked about asexuality the more I realized how little my LGBT cohorts knew. I used bisexual as an identity in public; it wasn't the whole truth, but it was easier than explaining myself and feeling rejected. I understood deeply that queerness and asexuality went together. But LGBT activists questioned (to my face) whether asexuals could exist - and even if we did, whether we were queer enough for the movement.
At the Creating Change conference last February, there was no mention of asexuality anywhere in the five-day program. When I found out that people were holding extra sessions independently, I decided to hold one called Asexuality Q&A. For the first time I acknowledged asexuality as part of my identity in an LGBT environment; I used the safe space of Creating Change to do that.
What happened next was the most incredible thing: other LGBT asexuals came and joined me! Instead of the conversation I was prepared for we went down the path of sharing our common experiences. Each time one of us shared an experience, the others would start nodding vehemently. By the end of the conversation we agreed that the LGBT community needs to know that we exist among them.
Meeting other LGBT asexuals -- people who also thought that they were the only LGBT and asexual activists around -- taught me that there's a job we have to do as members of the first generation of asexual-identified people. That's when I decided that I'm not going to put my community on the back-burner anymore. It's our responsibility to educate, to be out, to be active, and to be proud, so that others can find our community and realize that they are not alone either.