Asexual Awareness Week: 21st -27th October aims to celebrate and bring awareness to asexuality. An asexual person experiences little or no sexual attraction but it’s important to note that there are other types of attraction including:
- Sensual attraction – attraction based on desire for non-sexual physical intimacy e.g. cuddling, snuggling
- Romantic attraction – attraction based on desire for emotional intimacy
- Aesthetic attraction – attraction based on finding someone visually pleasing
- Platonic attraction – attraction based on desire for friendly interaction
As with sexual attraction, someone can experience these types of attraction towards people of the same gender and/or a different gender or not experience them at all. For example, I’m asexual homosensual and heteroromantic so not experiencing sexual attraction, attracted to men for non-sexual physical intimacy and attracted to women for emotional intimacy.
Despite it being estimated that about 1% of people are asexual, asexuality is a sexual orientation that is rarely talked about and often forgotten, resulting in erasure. Whilst representation is slowly increasing, asexual TV and film characters are often presented in a way that perpetuates dangerous stereotypes that asexuals are all introverted, socially awkward, naive and in some way ‘broken’. BBC Three’s recent documentary on asexuality (which I feature in!) is one of the first representations of asexual people on British television but unfortunately the final edit does little to challenge these stereotypes. This lack of accurate representation means the validity of asexuality can often be challenged, resulting in discrimination and hate crimes. However, due to a similar lack of representation in the law, asexual people do not currently have the same legal protections that people of other sexual orientations benefit from.
So how can you be an ally to asexual people? Use ‘LGBT+’ as an acronym consistently – interchangeably using acronyms such as ‘LGBT’ and ‘LGBT+’ contributes to the erasure of asexuals (as well as others who identify in the ‘+’). Also, find out more about asexuality – a useful place to start is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.
Student Development Coordinator, Bristol SU
You may have noticed many students and staff around the university wearing rainbow-coloured University of Bristol lanyards to hold their UCards. You may be sporting one yourself! The rainbow lanyard reflects the same colours of the Pride Flag recognised internationally as a symbol of pride and affirmation for people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender+ (LGBT+). Last year the rainbow flag was prominent across the media and at memorial services around the world in solidarity for the 49 people who lost their lives in the Orlando shooting in a gay night club.
US gay activist Gilbert Baker is credited with creating this political symbol in the late 1970s to represent what was then described as ‘gay freedom’ – ‘an insignia of pride capable of affirming social independence.’ Baker’s original flag consisted of eight different colours which each held their own meaning before being whittled down to six – you can read more about the history and origins of the rainbow flag here.
While the colours may have changed over time and the people it represents expanded, the rainbow lanyard at University of Bristol remains a symbol of affirmation and pride for the sexual and gender diversity of its staff and students and a reminder of the individual worth, value and equality of each person who belongs to the university, inclusive of students and staff who identify as LGBT+. It also serves as a reminder to those outside the university community that the diversity of its staff can only be an asset and something to be recognised and celebrated.
Sunday 23rd September will mark this year’s bisexual visibility day. The aim of bi visibility day is to raise awareness of the issues faced by bisexual people, and to raise awareness of our existence more generally. Bisexual people face erasure in society, in the media and in our personal lives. Bisexual peopel are often perceived as ‘really straight’ if with someone of a different gender, and ‘really gay’ if with someone of the same gender. We can face homophobia from the straight world and biphobia from the gay world – where there is sometimes pressure to ‘pick a side’
Bisexual people also face unique oppressions,. Bisexual men and women are more likely to experience domestic violence than their gay or straight counterparts. In the 2010 US National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 61% of bisexual women reported experiencing intimate partner violence, compared to 44% of lesbian women and 35% of straight women. 37% of bisexual men had also experienced this violence, compared to 26% of gay men and 29% of heterosexual men. Heron Greenesmith, of the Movement Advancement Project, suggests this may leave them at a higher risk of domestic violence (Outfront, 2017). Such findings highlight the importance of the work done by charities like Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity.
Our invisibility extends into popular culture. Bisexual characters in film, TV and literature are few and far between. Bisexual actors such as Alan Cumming are frequently mislabelled as gay. Even when bisexual characters are portrayed, the word ‘bisexual’ is often avoided at all costs, for example, in Netflix series Orange is the New Black. More recently there have been more positive portrayals of bisexuality, such as Rosa Diaz’s proclamation “I’m bi” in Brooklyn Nine Nine and Darryl Whitefeather’s coming out song ‘Getting Bi’ in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behaviour was also refreshing in its portrayal of a bisexual character.
Want to support bisexual visibility day? Think about printing a bi flag for your window/desk this week, sending an email round to your colleagues highlighting the day or sharing something on social media.
Bisexual Rep, LGBT+ Staff Network and LGBT+ Officer, University of Bristol Unison Branch
Do you identify as LGBT+ and work at the University? We’d love to have you as part of our network!