October 27th, 2021 An Interview with Amber for Disabled Ace Day
In this series, we interview a variety of Disabled Aces with diverse backgrounds in honor of #DisabledAceDay and in conjunction with Ace Week.
For this edition of our Disabled Ace Day Interview Series, I had the privilege of speaking with Amber from the Midwestern U.S. state of Michigan. Amber (they/them & she/her), who also goes by the name of Beanie, shares many excellent insights about the intersections of disability, asexuality, and biphobia as well as personal anecdotes pertaining to infantilization and not fitting into societal norms that I think many in the broader asexual community will be able to relate to. I hope you enjoy their interview as much as I did!
Please introduce yourself! How do you identify in terms of asexuality, disability, passions, professions, or anything else you’d like to share with us?
I identify as biromantic asexual/acespec and queer, and I have cerebral palsy and am neurodivergent (ADHD and possibly other disorders). I'm currently a first-year university student studying sustainability, although I am looking for a different major. I enjoy drawing and doing digital art, listening to music (usually k-pop, emo music, or musicals), reading, watching anime, D&D, and am in too many fandoms to list here.
How do your asexual and disabled identities interact with one another and what unique challenges have you faced while living at this intersection?
I haven't really lived openly as asexual in offline life, but one thing I've noticed, even closeted, is the infantilization I experienced from my friends who, even though they didn't know I was ace, they knew that I didn't quite get or want anything to do with sex. And so I was the "innocent" friend (although considering how long I've been reading fanfiction, I'm nowhere near as innocent as they think).
Similarly, my dad has always treated me as though I can't do things that are well within my capabilities. No matter how many times I've complained about their incorrect assumptions and infantilizing treatment of me, they didn't listen until I could "prove" it. I had to start making dirty jokes so my friends would let me hear theirs. I had to prove to my dad that I could (at least attempt to) skateboard without any more risk than my abled friend who taught me. It's exhausting to constantly be underestimated and have others decide what you can do for you and having to prove them wrong time after time.
Have you personally experienced any ableism from within the asexual or other LGBTQ2IA+ communities?
Not really, at least in the ace community. In 2018, when I was first discovering asexuality, the main narrative was still centered around "Being asexual is normal. It isn't a disability. We aren't broken. There's nothing wrong with us," which, while all very true, does sort of group together "brokenness" and "wrongness" with being disabled, although I never felt any sort of antagonism towards disability in the ace community, personally. Also around this time, I saw a lot of people repeating phrases like, "Nothing made me asexual—not medication, not trauma, not disability," whereas nowadays I see a lot more of "It's valid to identify as ace even if you think it may be because of trauma or disability" and a lot more discussion around the intersection of neurodiversity, specifically autism, and asexuality.
I think that was around the time where the narrative began to shift from what asexuality isn't to what asexuality is, at least in the community. Of course, this could have been helped due to the increasing presence and awareness of neurodiversity online in general and specifically in fandom spaces, both of which the ace community largely intersects with.
Now, when it comes to the larger, allo LGBTQ+ community, ableism feels a lot more common. The "ideal" queer person is very much a white, skinny, abled body person. And if you don't fit this ideal, it feels like you are ignored when it comes to things like selfie days, TikTok videos, and even dating (not that I have experience with queer dating, as I've only dated cisallohet guys, but even from the outside I can see that it would be a problem, honestly, even more so than among non-queer people.)
I'm not your picture-perfect abled bisexual with a preference for women, and so my queerness is called into question at every corner. And part of this is ableism, part of this is aphobia (and biphobia), and part of it is a weird combination of the two—where asexuality is seen as a disability and disability is seen as something inherently bad. Even with something as simple as fitting into queer fashion, it alienates you. I can't wear converse because of my feet or wear layers during the summer because of sensory issues, and so I don't fit in with how other queer people express themselves, and therefore feel alienated from other queer people because they do not read me as queer.
Have you personally experienced any acephobia from the disability community?
I haven't personally, as I've been lucky enough to engage mainly in queer disabled spaces online. However, I remember everyone raving about the Netflix documentary Crip Camp and watching it, feeling so represented to see other people with cerebral palsy, only for one of them to talk about their experience having sex for the first time and saying something along the line of "I'm not asexual, I'm a person" and immediately feeling so betrayed.
I understand how disabled people are often desexualized and infantilized, but it still hurt to think that being asexual (or not even asexual, just not even being interested in sex) could make me a "bad" disabled person because I'd be playing into the ideas abled people have about disabled people, or that sex is something that "normal" people do, and even for disabled people it'd be "freakish" to not participate in this normalcy.
I utterly resent the idea of assimilation and respectability politics, because it just further marginalizes those who don't or can't fit into the boxes instead of recognizing that the boxes are harmful to everyone, even those who do or can fit into them.
What advice do you have for folks who wish to become better allies to disabled aces?
I'd give them the same advice I'd give any abled or allo people: don't assume automatically what people can and cannot do, what they do and do not want to do, or how they feel about their situation. I was enrolled in a seminar at my university entirely attended by other disabled students, and our first assignment was an article on how to make friends (which wasn't even helpful or accurate). Yes, being disabled can make socialization hard, but it is insulting to throw people with wildly different conditions, needs, and concerns into a room and hand them advice from an abled, neurotypical perspective.
Similarly, don't assume that being asexual inherently means we don't want sex, don't have sex, that we're broken, or that something "happened" to us. Both disabled people and aspec people deal with way too many intrusive questions from strangers that no one would think it'd be appropriate to ask an abled or allo person you barely know. And being disabled or aspec is not a curse or a tragedy—and certainly not something to be "fixed". Yes, some people have complicated or even negative feelings about being either, but many people are proud of their disabled or aspec identity or view it as an integral part of them.
And while I disagree with the idea that simply living in a different society would mean, for instance, that any struggles caused by ADHD would no longer affect ADHDers, honestly many of the struggles that both aspec and disabled people face would either be eliminated or lessened if we lived in an accessible, equitable, society without allo- and amatonormativity.
Just listen to us, just like anyone would ask.
Shameless self-promotion time! Do you have a business, project, artwork, or other content we should know about? Give us those links!
If you're interested in reading sporadically posted fanfiction, my Archive of Our Own username is InADaze4ever. Currently, I have two BTS fics and one Sanders Sides one-shot posted, and I am working on a Fruits Basket fanfiction featuring the main characters figuring out that they're asexual.
I typically post art on whichever Twitter account is most relevant, so follow me @bbymoonmjjk for BTS art and content and @chia_latte for anime related things and my main, @dazesthetic, for GTLive and general things.