“This is very chill — thank you world.”
That’s one of the messages posted on the Facebook page for Ace & Aro, a new Ottawa support group for people who identify as asexual, aromantic or demisexual. Jenna Spagnoli, who facilitates Pink Triangle Youth (PTY) meetings, noticed Pink Triangle Services (PTS) seemed to have programming for every group — except for people who identify on the asexual spectrum. When she decided to do something about it, Spagnoli says she received nothing but support from PTS and, judging by the buzz on social media, there seems to be a lot of interest in the community, she adds.
“I’ve seen people on Facebook being really excited,” Spagnoli says.
“I think PTS is known as a safer space where people can talk and I’m hoping because it’s a recognized queer space that people will feel safe enough that they will come participate.”
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction, while aromantic people don’t experience romantic attraction. Grey-asexual or grey-sexual people identify in the area between sexuality and asexuality. The support group, which will meet for the first time on April 30, is also open to people who are demisexual or questioning, Spagnoli says.
“Demisexual is someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction until an emotional bond has been formed,” she says. “It can take weeks or months until you feel really comfortable and strongly attached to them on a level that’s more emotional and spiritual.”
The stereotype of youth being hyper-sexual can make it hard to be a young person who identifies on the asexual spectrum, Spagnoli says. She and her twin sister Kayla, known in online circles as the Feminist Twins, use social media to promote queer and feminist events while challenging oppression. From slut shaming, to homophobia, to being labeled a prude, being judged for your sexuality is a painful experience, Spagnoli says.
“I think there’s a lot of stereotypes, especially for women,” she says. “Women are in a dichotomy where we’re either prudes or sluts. So if you fall under the prude category, I think it can be just as hurtful and just as harmful as being called a slut.”
Spagnoli began to question her sexuality when the conversation at a PTY meeting turned to first dates. She thought about how painful some of her first dates had been. Telling a potential partner that it usually takes a few months before she wants to become sexually intimate often led to rejection, Spagnoli says.
“I’ve had experiences where people just laughed in my face and it’s just . . . really embarrassing,” she says. “My past dating experience has been pretty crappy, and that’s partly because my identity is demisexual. Explaining that is not always a pleasant thing, and for a long time I didn’t know what the word for it was.”
She’s now in a long-term relationship with a supportive partner, but while individual happiness is important, it’s also important to break down barriers on a societal level, Spagnoli says. She hopes the support group will be a safe space for people to share their experiences — and if group members are interested, they might consider projects like making an educational YouTube video.
While PTS didn’t hesitate to start an asexual support group, Spagnoli says she knows not all LGBT people consider asexuals as part of the queer community. Trans and queer people can identify on the asexual spectrum, but even asexual people who aren’t queer or trans have a place in the rainbow community, she says.
“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion . . . but asexual, aromantic and demi-sexual people go through a lot of internal struggle and hardship and they’re not represented in the media,” she says. “Maybe they have a hard time relating to people and they can be made fun of and teased and pushed out of groups. So I think they go through a lot of the same experiences, but sometimes it’s just more hidden.”