This is a submission to the February 2015 Carnival of Aces, whose topic is Cross-Community Connections.
Asexual activism that emphasizes asexuality as not-illness or as not-caused-by-illness-or-trauma has never sit well with me. Although my own experiences with mental illness and disability are part of the reason why, it actually goes deeper than that.
In asexual spaces where I don’t know anyone else, I am quiet about being autistic and mentally ill. I stay quiet about these aspects of myself in any space because such disclosure, anywhere, often involves at least one person who will not take this disclosure at face value. At least one person who expects me to explain every detail of my autistic traits in order to prove I’m really autistic, or who expects me to explain how I can be mentally ill if I’m in public around other people and apparently enjoying myself. The only asexual spaces where I have not been afraid of that happening are asexual spaces that consist mostly or entirely of aces with developmental disabilities.
It is very common for disabled aces to wonder to ourselves, “Did my disability cause my asexuality?” and to doubt the validity of our asexual identity if there is even a shadow of a possibility that our identities were influenced by disability. There is an underlying assumption in “Asexuality is not caused by illness or trauma” that coming to an asexual identity due to trauma or aspects of a disability is invalid. Further than that, focusing on the “Asexuality is not caused by illness or trauma” reflects a misunderstanding of the possible experiences of trauma and of disabilities.
Being autistic has influenced every aspect of my life, including my asexual identity. Recognizing my touch-hypersensitivity in myself was the first way in which I realized that something was different about me, and it was from the touch-hypersensitivity that I extrapolated that I would not enjoy partnered sexual activity. That extrapolation led me to figure out that I was not actually interested in sex. My earliest usage of the word asexual in reference to myself was in reference to my lack of interest in sex. I doubt that touch-hypersensitivity commonly leads to asexual identity, but I see my touch-hypersensitivity–and therefore, my being autistic–as integral to the discovery of my asexual identity.
Emphasizing “Asexuality is not caused by disability” strips the agency of people with disabilities to express that their disability is actually intimately connected to their asexual identity. Emphasis on “Asexuality is not a reaction to trauma” denies the agency of sexual abuse survivors to say that trauma played a role in their identity development. I am tired of encountering pushback from fellow asexuals when I affirm the agency of trauma survivors and people with disabilities to declare that trauma or disability has influenced their asexual identity.
If your asexual activism does not affirm the agency of people to say that trauma, mental illness or disability influenced their asexuality, your asexual activism is severely failing the people you believe you’re affirming.