Does the Asexual Community have an Ageism Issue?
Although asexuality is not a new sexual orientation, the community, which is primarily assembled online, still feels very new at times. Not only new, but very YOUNG. Today we discuss the ageism present both in and out of the Ace community.
Courtney: Hello everyone, and welcome back to the podcast. My name is Courtney. I’m here with my spouse, Royce. And together, we are The Ace Couple. Now, our little podcast here – we’re still pretty new, but our goal is to really discuss a variety of topics. We love talking about asexual representation. We love talking about ace joy and triumphs in the asexual community that are to be celebrated. But we also do not want to shy away from the the difficult conversations and the issues that we face from both within and outside of the asexual community. And one of the most important ways to do this is to discuss issues of discrimination as we see them and as we experience them. We’ve already spoken a lot about discrimination against disabled people, or the rampant ableism that we face in the asexual community, and we have begun the process of talking about racism, both from within the community and outside. As of yet, we’ve primarily talked about that in a web accessibility and an activism standpoint, but definitely be aware that there is a lot more to the racism conversation that we do intend to tackle very soon.
Courtney: Today, however, we want to ask the question: is there an ageism issue in the asexual community? This might be a little bit of a weird one to discuss, because I don’t see this one getting a lot of discussion. And although this has been a topic that’s been on our mind for quite a while, the reason why we really want to talk about it now is that I mentioned the fact that there is an ageism issue in the community on twitter very briefly, and I was a little surprised to see the reaction to that was a lot of people not really knowing what I was talking about, saying, “Perhaps I didn’t know there was an ageism issue. I’d like to learn more about this,” or misinterpreting what I meant by that tweet. So, it’s very clear that the community is not on the same page as it pertains to the ageism issues that I have observed. So I really want to dig into that here today.
Courtney: So, first thing is first. I want to break out our pocket dictionaries, and I want to explain to you exactly what I mean when I use the word “ageism.” The word “ageism” was originally created with the intention of discussing the discrimination that older, elderly, and aging people can face in our society. I understand that more recently, it has been expanded to perhaps talk about any type of age-based discrimination, including that toward younger folks, but I really want to use “ageism” in the word’s original intention and use it to mean the issues that older people face. And I am, right off the bat, going to say that I definitely understand that younger people also experience a different set of discriminations. The point of this episode is absolutely not to minimize that. And I’ve mentioned in several episodes at this point, I am very pro Gen Z, very pro younger generation, very much of the mind that children are our future and they need to be respected and uplifted. But when I talk about those issues that younger people face, I personally really like to use the word “juvenoia.” It’s sort of a hybrid of the word “juvenile” and “paranoia.” And that is a term which has been coined to basically be what has happened since the beginning of all time, where the older generations, you know, shake their fists at “those kids on my lawn” kind of a vibe. So we are not talking about juvenoia today. We are talking about ageism in the original intention of the word.
Royce: So for the record, for the purposes of this podcast, ageism is speaking of those who are aged [2-syllable pronunciation].
Courtney: Yeah. That’s one way of putting it, the aged [2-syllable pronunciation] among us. [laughs]
Royce: And the other couple of things that I wanted to add on. I think there is an interesting part of age in the asexual community, where in some cases we may have to split up your physical age as a person and your age as an aware asexual. Because I think you can have a marked difference there if you, say, lived a substantial part of your life under one identity and then came to the revelation that you were asexual late in life and are still fairly new to the discussion there, versus someone who has spent decades being aware of asexuality.
Courtney: That’s a really good point, because both experiences are very important and valid. [laughs] I said the word “valid.” That word’s been grinding on me lately. It, really… It’s like a reflex at this point. Any time a new identity or a new experience comes into the equation, it’s just expected to acknowledge that it’s valid, but at a certain point that word is meaningless without action. So… oh man. [laughs]
Royce: It’s kind of defensive. Like, we shouldn’t need to say that, “Yes, you, theoretical person, are a human being and deserve equal rights,” but sometimes we have to cover those bases.
Courtney: Yes. It is defensive. It’s reactionary. And I very much feel like I have it. Because I have very often talked about my own personal experience and then been attacked by other people online for being like, “But what about this experience?” It’s like, that’s also worthy of discussion and uplifting, but I’m talking about my experience right now. So it’s kind of just a reflex that I want to cover all of our bases, which has kind of become an issue in and of itself. However, I think the ace experience is very much one of uncertainty in a lot of different ways. So whether or not you have identified as asexual for decades, or if you are an older person who’s only just found the word in recent years, neither one is more worthy of discussion than the other, but I think it should very much be acknowledged that those are two distinct, different experiences under the broader umbrella of what the ace experience itself is.
Royce: The other thing I wanted to mention before we get started here is that discrimination, at least systemic discrimination, runs from the majority populations, or the populations that are in control, down into minority or marginalized communities. And in the world as a whole, that does tend to skew with the older generations having power.
Royce: If you look at lawmakers and politicians and owners of major companies, they tend to be older, and younger people tend to have less control or less influence.
Royce: Within the ace community – the ace community is very young. A lot of the voices in the ace community are very young. And so you’re sort of – I think we’re sort of seeing the reverse of that, where a lot of older people are being left out.
Courtney: Yeah, 100%. That’s well said. Because, yeah, I absolutely see what you’re saying with, like, yeah, lawmakers are older people. They’re the people who had a much easier economic system as they were growing up. A lot of them are white men who also have some level of generational wealth. So it’s exceptionally frustrating: if you’re younger, you don’t have the same pull that those people have. And, I mean, I’m very, very progressive in my views of how much power and influence we should give younger people. Some people don’t agree with me with this, but… This is almost unrelated, [laughs] but here’s an example. You can start working in the U.S. almost universally at age 16, and in some states, even younger; 14 is pretty common for legal working age in several states. But you can be a 14-year-old working, getting a paycheck, having that paycheck taxed, and you don’t get to vote? In this country that was founded on the idea of “no taxation without representation”? Do we need to Boston Tea Party this shit? I say, either –
Royce: Are you suggesting that all of the teenagers go take whatever the olds like to drink and toss it in the ocean?
Courtney: [laughs] Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying!
Royce: Go take some Budweiser or something and…
Courtney: Oh my goodness, that is exactly what I am saying. [laughs] I think if you’re old enough to work, you either get to vote – ideally, I think so – or as the consolation prize, the secondary passable option is you don’t get taxed until you are 18 and you can vote. Your paycheck is not taxable. That is all your money.
Royce: Yeah, I agree. And last comment before we get back on topic. There’s also just a ton of evidence that more diverse groups create better solutions to problems.
Royce: And anytime we isolate one portion of the population, regardless of what their demographic information is, you’re losing valuable insight.
Courtney: Yes. And so I guess that is all to highlight the fact that we are talking about the asexual community and the age demographics and who has the loudest voice and the most amount of influence at this point in time. We are not talking about society as a whole, because they are not direct mirrors of one another.
Royce: Okay, I lied. One more little thing to talk about before we get into the bulk of the discussion. Just to showcase how the demographics of the asexual community are different from the world as a whole, I have our Spotify analytics pulled up.
Courtney: Ooh, podcast analytics.
Royce: Now, Spotify is a little under half of our…
Courtney: Total listenages.
Royce: Right. But it’s the only one that actually provides this data. Apple doesn’t show demographic information, and all of the other sources are too scattered to be intelligible.
Royce: Or also don’t provide that information. But right off the bat, compared to the population as a whole, 72% of our listenership identifies as female.
Courtney: Yeah, that’s a huge percentage.
Royce: With 19% being male and 7% being nonbinary.
Courtney: Nonbinary’s down to 7% now.
Courtney: That’s interesting, because earlier on, a couple months ago, I recall looking at the statistics and nonbinary was almost on par with male, at one point.
Royce: To get into ages: the two most popular age groups are right around 20 and right around 30. They both make up almost a third of our listenership. So 18-22 and 28-34. 86% of our listenership reports being 34 or under. And around 4% are over the age of 45.
Courtney: And a small percentage of that could be – well, maybe even a significant factor in that could be the platform itself. Spotify itself might skew a little young. But also just the habit of listening to podcasts. I know some older people who do listen to podcasts, but not in the same almost religious way that I know people younger than me listen to podcasts.
Royce: That’s true. And the same could be said for participation on Twitter, for participation on AVEN, for any sort of event that we’re pulling metrics from.
Courtney: Yeah, there’s always going to be variability there.
Royce: And there are also just the social implications, or the number of people who may be asexual but may not know it. Because, as I mentioned, 72% of our Spotify readership identifies as female. We’ve also been on conventions before that have had similar polled statistics, demographic statistics. But I find it hard to believe that asexuality as a whole actually skews that heavily. I think that it’s probably much more likely that, because the way in which our society is gendered, masculine people are expected to be hypersexual and feminine people are expected to be hyposexual. And I wonder if there’s a higher percentage of men out there who have difficulty coming to terms with the idea of being asexual because it conflicts with their idea of being masculine.
Courtney: Yeah, that is definitely a discussion that I have seen, had, and… don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily think it is harder for one gender over the other or nonbinary people to be able to accept their asexuality, with an asterisk of the issues that you do experience as they pertain to your gender are different. On average, women are going to have a different experience with learning about, accepting, coming out as asexual than men do, and so on and so forth with nonbinary genders. And that in itself is a whole other podcast episode. [laughs] So let’s try to keep this a little more to age.
Courtney: But that’s a good primer. But my issue is that real well and true older aces – elder aces, if you will – do exist, and they are out there, some of whom do know the language of the community. Some of them do know the term “asexuality” and identify by that vocabulary. So why on earth have I repeatedly seen the definition of “older aces” being “25 and older”? I am not kidding. [laughs] I haven’t seen it quite as much in the last maybe year or two, but I have outright seen… And not just individual people. I have seen asexual organizations, asexual nonprofits, large accounts refer to people as 25 and older as being “older aces.” And that absolutely baffles me. Because 25 is young! 25 is very, very young. [laughs] And age is such a weird thing. Because for most of my personal life, I have felt a lot older than I am, by nature of the fact that I’ve reached different points, different milestones in my life a lot earlier than the average person does. I started working relatively adult jobs at age 10, and those are stories for another time. But that means that, by the time I was 20, I had a decade of work experience already. And I had a variety of often very quite mature jobs. And so of course with that in mind, by the time I was 20, I already had a different set of life experiences than someone who is in college at age 20, which many people are by that age. So it’s almost a little weird to me right now to be sitting here, going, “25 is so young!” because when I was 25, I did not feel young. [laughs] I felt a lot older than 25. But facts are facts, and 25 is young.
Royce: For comparison’s sake, do you know what “older” means in other communities?
Courtney: I personally would not – in a community sense – call anyone “older” or “elder” if they were under 60. I honestly would not. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, someone in their 50s, I could maybe say, “All right, maybe you are older.” But even in a situation like that, I’d be more inclined to say we’re taking someone 50 and saying “You’re an older ace” – I’d maybe be more inclined to call them an older ace if they have identified this way for at least a decade, if not more, perhaps a majority of their adult life. But think about other communities. Like, you wouldn’t call a 25 year old cis gay white boy an “elder gay.” [laughs] That just wouldn’t happen! Because it’s just factually incorrect. When I think of a queer elder… Well, since a lot of the ace community is online, yep, let’s use an online example. There are The Old Gays from Grindr, if you’ve ever seen those YouTube channels; they also have a TikTok channel. It’s four delightful, hilarious gay guys, and they’re all in their 60s or 70s. And to me, that is an elder queer. And I don’t think that should be any different just because our community has not had the same community experience.
Royce: Yeah. Do you think that is sort of cultural milestone-based? Like, there are the older gays that remember Stonewall. There are the people who lived through, as an adult, the AIDS epidemic. Does asexuality have the same sort of defining generational split?
Courtney: So, that’s a good question, because… I don’t think we do yet. I think some people would disagree with me. But hear me out. What are the asexual milestones right now that we could potentially pull from? Are we saying you are an ace elder if you… watched that horrid episode of House that came out a decade ago saying that asexuality doesn’t exist and you probably have a brain tumor that’s affecting your libido? That was only 10 years ago. It was traumatic. It broke my heart. I know there are younger people in the community who didn’t see it because [laughs] they were too young at that point in time to watch a show like that. And that’s fine. I can see that being, you know, an elder ace anecdote in 30 years, like, [older affect] “I was around for the House episode, and now look at how far we’ve come.” [laughs] So that one, you know, off the top of my head, that one’s kind of out. You could… a lot of the ace communities on Tumblr. You could say, “Oh, were you in the ace community pre-Tumblr?” That’s a horrible milestone [laughs] because I do not think we should define our community around the internet. The internet is very important, don’t get me wrong. It’s very important to camaraderie, finding other ace people, talking to other ace people. But ace people existed before the internet.
Royce: The internet can also be exclusionary.
Courtney: The internet can also be exclusionary. Absolutely. So I personally cringe at the idea of using anything online as a marker of elder-dom. Because you could also use AVEN as an example. Like, “Did you know you were asexual pre-AVEN?” But AVEN – for how important it’s been to so many people in learning about asexuality and learning more about themselves, talking on message boards, getting definitions – it’s very important, and that needs to be addressed. But AVEN is not, nor has it ever been, the end-all be-all of the ace experience, and I don’t think it should be. I don’t think any one thing should ever be the marker of the ace experience. And even AVEN – how long’s AVEN been around, 20 years now?
Royce: Yeah, about 20 years. I think it was founded in 2001.
Courtney: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, that sounds right. So, 20 years, little bit over, about. But that said even, you could still have discovered asexuality 20 years ago on AVEN – maybe you were only 18 at the time, maybe you were 20 at the time. 20 years of experience could just still mean that you are 40 years old, which… 40 is not old! [laughs] And I want people to stop considering 40 as something that’s so old. Because it’s also something that disproportionately affects women, is just ageism on the whole. And a lot of that does come back to sex and reproductive abilities. You know, how often do you hear, like, “Oh the clock is ticking, the biological clock, and all your eggs dry up at 40.” And, you know, women tend to grow up in the public eye and get discarded – I’m talking about actresses, models – whereas men, on the whole, don’t get the same treatment. Men, on the whole, get sexier. They become silver foxes. Where women, the trend is just, “Okay, next. Where’s our next young, pretty, sexy thing?” If you are 40 and asexual right now, the community, I think, is 100% going to make you feel ancient.
Courtney: And not only is 40 not old, but I don’t want you to take this as, like, “40 isn’t old! Old is a bad thing. So we should… we should not want to be considered old or elderly because that’s bad, negative.” No, I’m talking about it in the sense of, “You are old and therefore irrelevant.” “Ancient” as in “unimportant to our modern community.” Sort of an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of a thing. And, perhaps most importantly, “not worthy of modern representation.” Because when we do think of representation, we are still just – every demographic of ace that exists under the umbrella is underrepresented. We need more of all ace stories. And I don’t pretend to have seen every piece of ace media. I haven’t read absolutely every ace book. But I’m trying to think of the oldest ace rep I’ve actually seen, and I’m thinking Todd Chavez from BoJack Horseman was 30 when the show ended. I don’t know if I have seen an ace portrayed in media over the age of 30. Normally, they’re teenagers or young 20s. Which is an issue because of what we get from outside of the community. From outside of the community, a lot of the acephobic rhetoric is, “Oh, this is just an internet sexuality. You’re just too young to know what you are. You’ll grow up and mature. You’ll find the right person someday.” Right? Those are all the things that we consistently hear, time and time again. We also hear, “Oh, asexuality isn’t a real orientation. You’re just, you know, a young straight privileged person who secretly wants to feel special.” These are all very familiar lines that aces hear every single day if you’re active online, if we’re being honest. And so the fact that there’s no meaningful middle-aged or elderly ace representation really, really doesn’t help that fact.
Courtney: And, you know, I – for a moment, I thought it was funny. But then I got a little angry and a little… a little like I was losing some faith in the community perception of age. Because I was 25 the first time someone honestly, in earnest, online called me an elder ace. And they were very polite and kind, and I know they were trying to say it with respect, because the context was along the lines of, “Thank you for the work you’re doing and thank you for sharing your experience. It’s valuable, and I appreciate learning from elder aces [laughs] like yourself.” And my immediate reaction was to laugh, because it was just laughable that someone was calling me an elder ace. But then I started to sit on it, and there’s really something quite sinister about that. I did not disclose my age. I still have not officially disclosed my age online, and I don’t know if I need to or want to, at this point in time. But I had pictures of myself up, and I look rather young, I think. [laughs] So, I don’t think anyone was mistaking me for being over 50, [laughs] is what I’m saying. And don’t get me wrong, I will graciously accept the title of an elder ace when one day I am. But I fully admit that I am not that right now.
Courtney: And I think a lot of people out there who are sort of positioning themselves as an older ace right now also really aren’t. They may be one of the older people in the wider public eye, at the moment, as it comes to asexuality representation. But me, I’m comfortable being an aspiring ace elder. I long for the day when I earn the title of ace elder. I will take it, and I will be gathering the ace kids around the bonfire to tell them about the dreaded House episode. It’ll happen someday! But we aren’t there yet. [laughs]
Royce: When you read that comment, was a part of you like, “I would love to learn from some ace elders too”? Like, there have to be people with decades more experience that it would be interesting to hear from.
Courtney: A little bit. Because I do want to hear more stories from actual ace elders, but I also know several people whom I’ve met in my real life – like outside of the asexual community – who actually could be considered ace elders. I know several people who are on the ace spectrum who are in their 60s and 70s. And oddly enough, when we talk about demographics, I think about all those people whom I’ve collected in my life, and they’re actually two thirds male to the women I know in those age brackets. It’s a small enough sample size that that [laughs] might not mean anything, but just an interesting note, since we mentioned that. And I was mostly just upset on behalf of my friends who could actually be elder aces, who don’t get to share their stories or put them out and have them seen and acknowledged on the scale that aces in their early 20s are seeing at this time, because I do think their experiences are very important and valuable. And the way the ace community is right now, when we have people, activists, organizations who, if not currently, at least in very recent history, referred to people as 25 or older being considered “older aces,” then I’m also just wondering about all the people who are comfortably middle-aged, 40s, perhaps even young 50s, who might just not see a place for themselves in the community right now.
Royce: Well, yeah. If you’re saying everyone over the age of 25 is considered “older,” you’re lumping three or four generations into a single demographic bucket, and there’s a lot of variance between people’s experiences across that time span.
Courtney: Yes, it’s very reductive, actually. And I think a lot of this issue comes from the behavior of the asexual community. Because the older aces, the actual real older aces out there who don’t feel comfortable or don’t feel like they have a natural, organic place in the community – we can’t blame them, right? You can’t say, “Oh, well, it’s probably because they aren’t online. You know, old people don’t go online.” Or “They probably just aren’t in the same circles we are.” We can’t blame those people for not being in the community. What we need to do is look at ourselves and say, “What are we doing that we are not accommodating this group of people?” And I think that the same thing needs to happen with every demographic. If you’re looking at the company you’re keeping and you say, “Wow, we don’t have any Black people in here,” it’s probably not the Black people’s fault. There’s probably something in your community that is explicitly not appealing to that demographic, and you really need to look inward and find out what that issue is.
Royce: So, is this about the time to talk about gatekeeping and term-policing?
Courtney: Absolutely. Let’s talk about labels. So right off the bat, I want to make this abundantly clear: asexuality is not a new orientation. It is not a product of the internet. But the ace community is very online right now – mostly out of ease, because the internet does make communication a lot easier, especially across distance and time. So do not take this to mean at all that this is a new orientation. But the vocabulary we use in the community, a lot of it is very, very new. And of all of my friends who are asexual and are above the age of 50, every single one of them has told me that they did not have a word to describe their experience. That does not mean that they didn’t necessarily know themselves. A common thread I’ve seen is that they do understand themselves. It might have taken some time, but a lot of things take time. But vocabulary is a nebulous thing. And if you haven’t ever been told what a word is to describe what you’re feeling, there are a lot of people who come up with their own internal word. It’s not a requirement. Not everyone has or does. But words can be a comfort. They can be a tool to explain to yourself and/or other people what exactly it is that you’re experiencing.
Courtney: And it’s not as though there are ace bars in the same way that there are gay bars or drag clubs. There have been, I’ve learned, a lot of asexual people over the years who have still attached themself to those other more broadly queer communities. That has always been the case. However, the internet’s kind of given us our first massive gathering of asexual people in one space. So before this space was established, a lot of people came up with their own words. And just a few of them, off the top of my head, I have heard people say: “monosexual, “unisexual,” “antisexual,” or things as simple as “not sexual.”
Courtney: And the thing is, and I think I’ve said this before, I used the word “asexual” in my head to think about myself before I ever found an online community or another person who also used the same word. And that was by sheer coincidence and luck. Because I had only known “asexual” to mean in the reproductive sense, in the biology sense, “This is an asexual being.” And yet that’s sort of the word I chose for myself. But take now, for example, someone who has decades more life experience than I do, and they did the same thing. They picked a word for themselves that they were comfortable with. Maybe they shared it with other people. Maybe it was just their own word that they held onto for themselves. One of two things could happen. Either they, at an older age, learn of the asexual community and the “asexual” term and the “asexual” language and all the microlabels that it might encompass. And it could be that they feel great relief, and they grab that term “asexual” and say, “Yes, this is the word I’ve been looking for my entire life,” and they are grateful to know it, and chances are they learned it from younger people. Or they could say, “That’s great. That’s great for you that that label works, but I’ve lived with this label for most of my adult life, and this is the one I like.” Both are, I shudder to say… valid experiences. But I think those experiences need to be kept in mind when we talk about how the online ace community weaponizes vocabulary. I have noticed that there is far too much emphasis on language definitions versus real lived experiences.
Royce: Or intent when describing something.
Courtney: Absolutely. Good addition. And part of that is just hyperreactivity from the ace community because of all of the acephobia we get. And because we still aren’t mainstream enough for the average person to know exactly what we mean when we say we’re asexual, we as a community are very, very frightened of bad representation, people getting the wrong definition, people getting the incorrect vocabulary. So if someone who’s older enters the community and says, you know, “I identify as monosexual,” but then they go on to explain exactly how they feel and the rest of the community says, “That is asexual, and you should be using this word,” or, “What you’re describing is demisexual and you should be using this word,” that can actually be exceptionally isolating.
Royce: Well, that’s a fundamentally hostile introduction to a new community. You might not want to stick around for very long after that.
Courtney: Exactly. Exactly. And what I’ve learned – because I often see people say, “Oh, the asexual community is so welcoming. Nobody wants to gatekeep, and people really helped me understand who I am.” What I’ve observed is the people who come into the community and have that experience are the ones who already know at least some of our language. They’re the people who come in and say, “I’m questioning if I am asexual. I know what, for example, AVEN’s definition of asexual is. Here’s a little caveat to my experience. So, do you think that I might be more demisexual? Do you think I might be graysexual?” So, they’re throwing around those key words that are very well-known in the people who have engaged in our community for a long time. And those are the people who get that treatment, who get the people saying, “Yes, come, you are welcome in our space. You are absolutely valid as heck! And we will help you pinpoint exactly the right microlabel for your unique experience.” And this is not to put any shade on microlabels. They are great. I personally don’t really use microlabels; “asexual,” to me is – that is what I need. That is the word for me. I’m happy with it. I could probably take it a step further if I really wanted to and find a different microlabel that was a little more specific. But to me, personally, I don’t think that’s useful. If you do think a microlabel is useful, use it. Define it. Go forth.
Royce: I was about to say the same. When I was first entertaining the idea of asexuality, I think that the idea of asexuality in my head was wrapped up into too many things on one end of the spectrum, a little bit too far towards sex repulsion.
Royce: And so I, moving from, again, assuming that I was heteronormative to realizing that I was different in some way, I first was thinking about the term “grey asexual,” and I eventually dropped that entirely for the same reason. I think pinpointing the asexual spectrum as being definitive enough was meaningful to me. And the rest is a conversation, if I’m in a situation where that is warranted and someone wants to engage in that.
Courtney: Absolutely. And I think that that is where most of the power in words lie. Because of course it helps if everyone in the conversation has an agreed-upon definition and you can throw out a word and everyone knows exactly what you mean by that word. But with a lot of words that are common in the ace community, you’d be hard-pressed to be able to throw those words around without an extensive conversation if you step out of our community. And I do hope that changes, and it is changing a little bit. But if someone comes into the community and says, “Yes! I have found a community. I haven’t had a community for my entire life. This is the word that is most comfortable to me,” and it’s something like “unisexual,” who is a word that just isn’t… common. Or I’ve heard “monosexual” from another person – also not really common. But if that’s a word that means something to that person, some people are going to be really hard-pressed to drop the way they’ve defined themselves in favor of a different, newer, shinier word just because that’s what everyone else is using.
Courtney: And you see that in queer communities too. This is not exclusively an issue with asexuality. We have our own set of vocabulary, of course, but I know plenty of people who are, you know, by the book, definitionally, if you take a definition of a word to be hyper-literally, are probably bisexual or pansexual, but maybe when they were young and, as a young woman, found out that they had a proclivity toward women, found a lesbian community and felt at home and felt accepted and embraced the term “lesbian.” There are lots of people with that experience. And some people might claim, “Oh, that’s bi erasure.” It’s not about that at all. It’s about what word made you feel comfortable and at home when it felt like the world didn’t understand you or was against you.
Courtney: I’ve seen similar things in the trans community. There are loads of words that are being refined in an attempt to make them more politically correct, more inclusive of different experiences. We use the word “transgender.” Well, there was a time where it was more common to use “transsexual.” And I have met people who are older trans people who say, like, “Yeah, I’m transsexual. That is the word. That was the word that I found that worked for me.” And it could be that younger transgender people do not like that word because there’s also a much more negative toxic side of the community who might use “transsexual” to mean “medical transition,” and could use that to try to undermine the transness of people who do not have surgeries and/or hormones, and that is an issue to be sure, but I do not think that the vocabulary should be blamed in those situations, if there is an older person who’s just using a bit of an antiquated word. Same thing I’ve heard with “sex change.” I hear older people say “sex change” all the time – people who have had them or are about to have them – but the younger generation and the progressive side of the medical field, you know, it’s “gender confirmation surgery,” “gender affirmation surgery.” That is fine. And the language is going to keep progressing, and it is going to shift over time, because that is what language does. But it can get hostile if you overly police the language of older people. Because you have to understand, they’re just doing the best they could with the resources that were at their disposal as well, which is all any of us are doing. We just have the luxury and the benefit of having the internet at perhaps a more formative time.
Royce: Right. But beyond that, we need to be able to communicate with each other. And what we’re seeing here, I think, is not unlike regional dialects or slang. Like, you understand what people are saying. They may be using a different term for it. But it’s a generational dialect or a time-based dialect instead. Another thing I was going to say, just about the nature of language, is that spoken word tends to simplify over time.
Royce: And when you went through that last anecdote, “sex change” is a lot easier to say than “gender confirmation surgery.” I wonder, in casual conversation, how that’s actually going to shake up in the coming decades.
Courtney: That is so interesting because I didn’t even think about that in terms of linguistically. Because yeah, a lot of different queer communities are getting more complicated with our verbiage, and that is the opposite of what language trends tend to do. You are absolutely right. I don’t know what we do with that information, but really good observation.
Royce: I think we’ve talked about before how specific terms, particularly if they become acronyms – because a lot of complicated terminology will get abbreviated to into an acronym when it’s lengthy enough –
Royce: – creates a severe barrier to entry in online communities, though. Because you can go into a forum and see all of these acronyms and have no indication of what the basal word means and have no way to actually figure out what people are talking about.
Courtney: Absolutely. I mean, for as often as we throw around “ace” to mean “asexual,” I probably, at least once a week, see someone online say, “What does ‘ace’ mean?” So that’s something to really, really keep in mind. And keeping in mind, also, that there’s one section of the asexual community who’s saying “you are an older ace if you are 25 or older,” there’s a substantial percentage of the asexual community who never heard that word until after they were 25.
Royce: Day one elders.
Courtney: Day one elders. [laughs] So yeah, I guess the moral of that story is: language policing is generally not very cool. Obviously if someone is saying something that is grossly offensive [laughs] and is a discriminatory word: yeah. Yeah, correct that language. If someone is very earnestly trying to enter the conversation and they’re using a slightly different wordset than you, instead of lashing out, instead of accusing them of ignorance, ask a few questions, get on the same page, break out the pocket dictionary, like I did at the beginning of this, and say, “When I say this word, this is what I mean.” And that could lead to a really interesting conversation if, you know, “Oh that’s what you mean by that word. Why is that? What is it about your life that has brought you to this term for this reason?”
Royce: Potentially. Probably. Depends on the nature of the discussion. I just want to throw in that unsolicited advice or criticism is also generally something you shouldn’t do.
Courtney: Oh, well yes. I’m talking about the theoretical of, like, a good faith conversation. Like, we’re in a safe forum kind of a thing, and everyone is assumed to be in good faith in this conversation.
Royce: I just assume, by virtue of the internet, that most conversations are not being had in good faith.
Courtney: Well, that’s a different issue, but yeah. Because even even the definition of “asexual” really, really does get policed. And it can mean lightly different things to different people. I can say, you know, the definition I’ve used for “asexual” means you’re not sexually attracted to any sex or gender or anyone. And if someone pushes up their glasses and goes, [nasally, nitpicky tone] “Um, actually, it means someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction,” and I say, “AVEN just made that change literally last year.” [laughs]
Courtney: And I think my new favorite thing to say is, “I’ve been on the rocky side of this community for a decade.” [laughs] Because at different times, whether it be because I’m talking about disability or whether I’m talking about my own personal experience and someone’s upset that I’m not speaking in a way that accounts for all possible variants of the ace experience, there have been times where I’ve been sort of chased away from ace spaces for a little bit before I come back. [deep voice] But I always come back. [regular tone] But it’s been a decade that I’ve been engaging or trying to engage in or intermittently coming back or trying different things, trying different platforms and different forums. And so, sometimes it’s felt weird to say, like, [emphatically] “I’ve been in this community for a decade,” [laughs] because I haven’t been prominent in the community. People haven’t really listened or valued my voice and experience for a very long time. But that also means that over the last decade, I’ve had a couple of heart-to-hearts with other people who have also felt like they can’t really comfortably navigate the online spaces of the ace community for one reason or another. So I have collected conversations and stories from other people who have found themselves on the rocky side of the community.
Courtney: Because also, the fact of the matter is the asexual community on the whole is very self-focused. A lot of ace people are just talking to other ace people and really preaching to the choir. And there’s a time and place for that. And that is not 100% bad, because we need to have conversations with one another; that’s what creates a community, at the end of the day. But there are also some people who might try to branch out and do ace activism on a larger scale, try to break out of that community, but are still using hyper-specific language, and maybe even have a very low patience for people who don’t already know these words. And that can make it exceptionally difficult to get the word out about the ace experience to the broader queer community, or even cishet allos for that matter.
Courtney: And that kind of goes back to our very first episode we ever had of this podcast, when we talked about what our conversations kind of look like to outsiders, and how a lot of them really are kind of lost. So people might ask, you know, “How have you met so many other ace people in real life and not just online?” Well, some of them have been online. They just haven’t been in the ace community. They’ve been in different places. And with me, with my work, I work a lot with antiques. I work a lot with history. And for as long as I’ve had this job and this little niche, for a very long time, I was sort of the one young person with this interest amongst a lot of people who are a bit older. And so I think I just befriended more older people than the average person in their – I guess I wanted to say early 20s, but I think I started getting significantly older friends in my late teens, for that matter.
Courtney: And so when I would teach about wreaths made out of human hair, mourning jewelry that the Victorians would make of their loved ones, I’d very often run into people who were 50s, 60s, 70s, who have had an interest in this art form for decades also, many of whom might say, you know, “My mother or my grandmother had a piece of human hair artwork that I grew up seeing that sort of did spark that interest.” And honestly, this could probably be its own thesis onto itself. Maybe we’ll do a future episode after I’ve composed some further thoughts. But the number of asexual people whom I have met through historic sentimental and romantic culture is baffling. I have met so many people who are interested in Victorian mourning, interested in historical romantic tokens, many of whom are on the asexual spectrum. And I do think there’s kind of something uniquely or heavily skewed ace about studying the history of sentiment like that. So, that’s a thought to sit on and come back to another time.
Courtney: But some of those people I met, once they found out I was asexual, said, “Wow, I am too.” And we have a conversation at that point. Or there’s also several of those people whom I’ve met, totally unrelated to the asexual community, who have come and thanked me for occasionally also starting to talk about asexual issues on my other hair work and history platforms. Because those are the ones who say, “I didn’t have a word for this, and it’s good to know that I’m not alone and that there is a community out there,” and have since adopted the term “asexual” for that reason.
Courtney: So with that in mind, I sometimes think that the best thing that we can do for spreading real, meaningful asexual awareness is to take it outside of our asexual community bubble. Because even on a genuinely small and in-person level, I mean, Royce, you and I have had guests over to our house, like board game night parties, that have ended with a friend of ours sitting at our kitchen table and staying hours later than everyone else to have a conversation about asexuality with us, and all because that person was questioning their identity, and they were thrilled to meet two real-life asexual people who were right here in front of them, and we had those conversations. And I definitely understand that that can be hard, because not everybody is out in their real life. There are lots of people online who are still closeted in real life to friends and family, and being online is the one place where they feel comfortable being themselves and engaging. So that’s why I think we really need a mix of both. A little bit of everything.
Royce: Yeah. I think it’s straightforward enough to look at other queer communities and realize that widespread change and acceptance doesn’t come from internal conversations.
Courtney: Mhm. Mhm. And yeah, I don’t know exactly what needs to change. I don’t have all the answers. But I think about it a lot, so I’ll get back to you if I figure it out. [laughs] But what we actually need to do to get real, tangible acceptance from outside of the community – because right now we do not, it is not there. But that’s another conversation, we’ll need to get there. But I do have a couple more points about just sort of casual or general ageism in the community. Since it does skew very, very young, most of the prominent activists – the people who are chosen as the face of asexuality, the voice of asexuality – they’re usually in their 20s, sometimes their first half of their 20s, early 20s. And as I said before, that doesn’t help the external perception that asexuality is a phase, or it’s a young person thing, or you’re going to grow out of it, but it’s not just that. It’s a little more true to the real world. Because most of the aces I’ve met in my real life have just been from having real conversations and having those heart-to-hearts. But when aces do try to meet up in real life and arrange asexual meetups, a lot of those also tend to skew younger. And I guess I can’t talk about anything anytime recently, because I’ve been home for two years straight almost, [laughs] but there was a time, years ago, when looking up asexual meetups – first of all, depending on where you are, you might not live in a population-dense area enough that there even are any nearby, but a lot of them are just college groups, college clubs, set up on college campuses. And I do think that can be important. But if that’s sort of the only local option for an asexual meetup, you’re probably not going to feel comfortable just showing up on campus to a bunch of, you know, young college students if you are 50 years old.
Courtney: So when it does come to the online spaces, though, we’ve already covered the vocabulary. And yes, it is true that a lot of older people haven’t had access to this vocabulary. But we also need to be mindful of how we respond to people who don’t have the same vocabulary we do. Because I think the hostility that comes from that is more the problem than people not knowing the words. Because even if people don’t experience it themselves, if they’re just lurking on some online spaces before they try to comment and engage, it doesn’t take too much looking to see people lashing out and being very reactionary like that. So it can be really intimidating.
Courtney: But even in online groups and online events that are organized and trying to foster a community, the attitude I’ve seen toward older aces just really, really rubs me the wrong way. Because I rarely, if ever, see it come from a place of, “I genuinely want to learn from my elders. I want to learn more about the historic ace experience. I want to learn more about what it’s like for someone who’s 60 years old who’s asexual, and either use that as guidance or a roadmap or you know, do with that information what you will.” It doesn’t seem to come from a place of respect and curiosity like that. It’s very much comes off to me as younger people who seem, on the surface, to feel like they’re doing a favor for older people by giving them their own little space over here off to the side, like, “Oh, well, let’s also make sure to have a conversation about older aces over here.” It doesn’t come from a place of respect or wishing to learn. It comes from a place of, [bored, annoyed tone] “Okay, older aces want to connect with each other. You know, I’ve seen so many people say, ‘I’m in my 30s and I’m looking for other older aces in their 30s.’ So I guess we’ll give you your own little chat channel over here.” And it just feels a little off to me, in several situations. Because I’ve also seen some people who take the stance of like, “Haha, poor older aces who don’t understand technology and aren’t online and can’t navigate Discord or can’t use Twitter, people who either aren’t online at all or they only use Facebook,” that kind of a thing. I’ve genuinely seen people say, “Haha, poor older aces.” Like, that is not an exaggeration. I have genuinely seen people say that in trying to foster online communities.
Courtney: And the reason, I think, why I’ve seen that is because of so much of our accessibility activism in trying to, you know, audit platforms and say, “Is this an accessible platform for people who use screen readers? Is this going to be an accessible conversation for people who are deaf?” Et cetera. And in trying to predict those things, if I point out an issue and say, you know, “This website isn’t accessible, we shouldn’t use this,” then some people will be like, “Yeah, because older people probably can’t use it anyway.” [laughs] And I just don’t know if I really have anything to say about that. Like, AVEN’s had an Older Aces chat forum for a long time. A long time – I think as long as I’ve known of AVEN. And there are people in their 60s, 70s, people in their 80s who use that board. So to, yeah, just blanketly take a generation of people and be like, “Well, they don’t understand technology” of us is very… what’s the word – pretentious, maybe?
Royce: I was going to say infantilizing, but pretentious as well.
Courtney: Infantilizing is a good word for it, yeah. So let’s talk about old people sex. Or as I like to call it, sex.
Royce: I legitimately have no idea where you’re going with this.
Courtney: [laughs] You don’t? Okay. Well, stick with me, then. Old people having sex is kind of taboo. People don’t want to think about old people having sex. Some people just think old people don’t have sex, like at a certain age, you just stop having sex, you have less of a libido, less of an interest in sex. And then there’s also just, you know, the ageism of like, “Old wrinkly bodies. Eww, gross.” It’s a thing. It’s a concern.
Royce: Sounds like a crossover with ableism.
Courtney: Yes. Honestly, yeah, all forms of discrimination have a very, very core center. [laughs] I mean, even acephobia that we see has a lot of strong ties to ableism. Shocking number of crossovers. But the notion that older people do not or should not have sex is just factually incorrect. But it is a broader societal, even outside of the ace community – especially outside of the ace community – misconception. And yeah, despite the fact that I remember reading a news article from several years ago about STDs and STIs running rampant in retirement homes…
Royce: Oh, yeah, I’ve definitely heard of that as well.
Courtney: Yeah. So plenty of old people are sexually active. Maybe I should specify: the allosexual old people are sexually active. But sex doesn’t just go away at a certain age. But because of that bigger taboo about elderly people having sex, there’s also almost less of an incentive for asexual people to lift up older asexual stories and voices. Because, you know, if you are young, if you are sexy, society is going to be like, “You should be having sex.” If you’re still of childbearing years, people will be saying, “You should be procreating.” But if society isn’t saying, “Old people, you should have more sex,” and in fact, if they’re saying the opposite, [laughs] then the asexual community, the way we operate as being a very reactionary type of activism – we’re reacting to the issues we see – we aren’t going to see elderly sex as an issue that we need to react to and address. And at the same time, you’re also not going to want to try to feed another stereotype, like, “Oh, people say older people don’t have sex, then we don’t necessarily want to be pushing and emphasizing and centering the fact that there are elderly asexual people who might not have any interest in sex.” [to Royce] You still with me? You were just like, “I don’t know where you’re going.” So I was like, “Hang tight.” [laughs]
Royce: Yeah. I got the trajectory within the first few sentences.
Courtney: Excellent. So I’m being articulate. And like, look, listen. I grew up on The Golden Girls. Golden Girls will always have a very, very, very special place in my heart. But that show in the ’80s was genuinely groundbreaking because you had a group of older women who were living together who had very active sex lives that they celebrated and talked about openly. And that was really unprecedented for the time. And I mean, when I say I grew up on Golden Girls, Golden Girls is so important to so many queer people. Like, I was not able to have the experience of watching Golden Girls in the gay bars where, you know, every Saturday when Golden Girls comes on, you shut off the music, you stop dancing, we’re turning on the TVs and we are watching Golden Girls in the gay bars. I didn’t have that experience, but I had my own experience. And that was, I was young and I grew up on it. It has always been in my life. And so much of that show’s success, and so much of the reason why that meant so much to gay men, lesbian women, queer people all over, was because of how sex was celebrated and how it subverted societal expectations about what sex is and should look like.
Courtney: But, you know, I really, really would argue that putting more emphasis on older ace experiences is vital to not only our own community, but to the public perception of what asexuality is. Because think of any widely known trope of, I don’t even want to say “elderly” because there is the notion that elderly people do not or should not have sex – but let’s go “middle-aged,” like, middle-aged people who do not have sex. If we’re thinking outside of the ace community, it is very unfavorable. The tropes I can think of are, like, 40-year-old virgin, like, “Oh, growing up to be a cat lady. Growing up old and alone, and how sad.” Those are all very, very negative things. And they can even air toward the side of being very arophobic or very exclusionary toward aromantic people, because clearly, not all asexual people want or need or value a romantic relationship, so the fact that growing up alone is always defaulted to a bad thing in general: not a good look. But also just the notion of being sexless in middle age is a bad thing, a shameful thing, a weird thing.
Courtney: And I think sort of the first question someone might have from outside of the community, if they’re presented with someone who genuinely is an older ace, the question always kind of does come back to relationships and love. And I kind of think the first question everyone would be asked is, “Are you afraid of dying alone? Are you afraid of growing up alone?” Those are very common reactions. But I also think that that reaction neglects the fact that queer people have always made relationships work, despite their visibility or their public acceptance. I don’t think I need to remind anyone listening to this podcast that there were times when it was illegal to be a homosexual. There were still gay couples. Gay couples have always existed. So, I think that’s also a very reductive line of questioning and curiosity that borders on arophobic, and also kind of misses the point. Because we should be asking, “What can elder aces teach us? What can they tell us? What can we learn from their stories? What can we learn about how things have progressed? And what can we learn about how things need to progress further?” I think all level of intergenerational storytelling is incredibly valuable. And right now, it is just way too heavily weighted on very young people, in this community at least.
Courtney: So I suppose those are at least some of my thoughts on the matter. I really hope you enjoyed this conversation. This is a topic we have long wanted to address and we honestly didn’t think we’d get here so quickly, but just given the recent online reaction to us trying to tweet about it, we thought it was timely to put some of these thoughts out here now. Perhaps we’ll discuss these thoughts even deeper or taken from a different angle in the future. So make sure to subscribe to us wherever you are listening. Drop some likes or some comments or reviews if you’re the sort of person who does that. But otherwise, my hope for everyone is that we just keep this conversation going and use this as a starting point to put in even more work towards centering more diverse voices in the ace community – diverse in every sense of the word. I want a variety of voices. I want a variety of ages, races, ethnicities, disabilities, romantic orientations, genders, because two of us talking into a microphone for a podcast is not going to create long-term change. That is only going to come with true community support and involvement. So if you found anything we said insightful or thought-provoking, please keep the conversation going in whatever capacity it is that you engage with the ace community. And don’t forget to bring those pocket dictionaries.