David Jay - Asexuality - subtitles
- Our next speaker is David Jay. David did not invent asexuality it's just that he and his organization - AVEN asexuality visibility and education network - arrived along with the same Internet that these fellows have studied so carefully and for that reason an identity and a group which had never before been visible was not only able to find itself but to announce their presence to us. This is David J.
- (0:51) So, I'm going to talk about a pretty universal human experience, which is the struggle to find connection. I want you to think back to the last time you had a really good really deep conversation. Think about what that felt like in your body. Think about what it felt like to be that engaged with another person - that's what I mean when I say connection and I'm going to talk about the struggle for connection in a community that you've probably never heard of before. It's a community of people like me, who identify as asexual.
(1:31) An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. So, if you think about it, there are some people who really like sex a lot, there's other people who like sex but not quite as much. It makes sense that at the bottom of the spectrum there would be people who aren't interested in sexuality at all, and the important thing to understand about our community is that we have the same desire for connection as everyone else, we just don't have a desire to express that connection sexually, and there's a whole community of us out there.
(2:06) This is us at San Francisco Pride. I'm in the roller blades over there, this is my hometown and this website, asexuality.org, I founded when I was 18 years old because I wanted to find other asexual people like me - and it's grown, we've got about 60,000 members talking about a sexual identity in a dozen languages. Right now there's a documentary that just came out that's excellent. You should take the time to see it. That??? talks about our community and I don't know if any of you have ever had the experience of being involved in the early stages of a community.
(2:37) That was just deeply deeply empowering for hundreds and hundreds of people but there's - there's no experience like it in the world and I'm just really humbled to have gotten to witness it and gotten to be a part of it.
(2:54) I remember that right when our community was getting started there would be hundreds and thousands of people who would type the word asexual into Google and find the community the first time and there was this overwhelming feeling of validation, of finding other people like them, and they would just gush and give their entire life story, and they talked about how they felt alone in the world, how they felt like they were broken, but how now that they'd found a community of people like them they didn't feel like they were struggling by themselves - and my sexual friends would look at this and they'd be a little bit confused...
(3:38) I tell them about our community they'd say - I mean, what's the big deal? You guys just aren't interested in sex... like, I would think that would be convenient, I think can't you just stay home not being interested in sex, why do you need to form a community about it? What's your struggle? And to answer that question I want you to think back to high school. Now, if your high school was like my high school you probably were connected to lots and lots of people that you called friends, and even though you spent a lot of time with these people, even though these were people that you felt really deeply emotionally drawn to, even though these were people with whom you were deeply connected, these relationships probably did not have the same status as relationships that involve sexuality.
(4:31) Relationships that involve sexuality probably got talked about, celebrated and prioritized in a way that non sexual relationships did not, and if you're a sexual person this can be confusing and disorienting but if you're an asexual person this leaves you wondering whether you'll ever be able to form relationships that get talked about, celebrated and prioritized, and it leaves you afraid that you may never be able to get that sense of connection that all of us so deeply crave, and that's why this word would come up when people talked about their experiences joining the community - we felt broken because the connection that we really really deeply craved was velcroed to a culture of sexuality that we didn't understand.
(5:33) Now, I tell you this story not because I think that our high school experience was any more traumatic than anyone else's high school experience - I'm sure that there many many people in the audience who could give me a run for my money in that - I tell you this story to illustrate that the reason that the asexual community came together.
(5:52) The reason we have a shared struggle, a lot of the reason why we even exist in the first place has to do with the fact that our struggle for connection is tangled up in a culture of sexuality - this isn't just true for asexual people our struggle for connection is tangled up in a culture of sexuality, and as an activist in the asexual community I spent years trying to figure out how to disentangle these two concepts - not that they can't be together, but that we should understand how to talk about them separately.
(6:38) I think if we can separate them and talk about sexuality, first of all we'll be able to talk about sexuality much more clearly, much more directly, but, and which, by the way I think sex - sex is great, sexuality is fantastic for people who enjoy it - but will also be left with this concept of connection.
(7:00) There right now - we don't have good ways to describe directly - there's a thing called a relationship, that's not me, and it's not another person, but it sits between us - I can have one feeling about a person and a completely different feeling about my relationship with that person.
(7:25) Relationships have a life of their own. They grow like plants, and entangle themselves into our lives creating this sense of connection that's so important. And the more I study relationships the more I realized that they are fundamentally the same whether you're talking about a sexual romantic relationship, or relationship between two close friends, or the relationship between a grandfather and a granddaughter, or the relationships that tie together a group of friends, or the relationships that drive a lab of scientists to make scientific discoveries, or the relationships that tie together a social movement, and as you think about all these different kinds of relationships I want you to recognize just how little we understand about how they operate - what's the difference between a relationship where you feel open expressing everything that you're feeling and a relationship will you express none of your emotions?
(8:31) If I have a phone filled with contacts, what's the difference between the people that I see once a week, the people that I see once a month, and the people that I never take the time to see? Because how I answer that question will have more of an impact on my happiness then my income - study after study on happiness has confirmed friendship is really, really important, and yet research on friendship itself is fairly rare, there is more published research by far on the industrial process of die-casting then there is on the process of forming friendships - it's a blind spot and I think this is a little bit tragic because if we want to disentangle our struggle for connection we need to understand how these things operate, and I believe that this is fundamentally possible - relationships are really confusing, relationships are complex, but they are not chaotic - I believe that there is a structure to the way that relationships form.
(9:41) Biology gives us a language to talk about the structure of plants, Physics gives us language to talk about the structure of matter, but right now the language we use to talk about the structure of relationships is tangled up in factors that confound it. Understanding how these things operate won't be easy. It's a process that we should approach with humility and the kind of intellectual vigor that we were talking about earlier today, but if we can begin to understand how relationships form it could transform the way that connection happens in our society.
(10:20) I'll give you one tiny example. So, a key element of relationship structure is this: decisions about time. Decisions about time are great because among other things you can measure them, but if you decide to spend time with someone regularly then you have a relationship, if you don't decide to spend time with them that you don't may not be a particularly healthy relationship, but it's there???.
(10:42) In healthy relationships the more time I spend with someone the more we explore ways of spending time together as I spend more time with someone as I get to know them the way that we make decisions about time evolves, so the time we spend together is more aligned with both of us, brings both of our lives more deeply into balance, and I think that there's something fascinating about that process of evolution.
(11:16) And it turns out that we know a lot actually about evolutionary process - which I think is an interesting, what an interesting lens, through which to examine the structure of relationships - so we start out by exploring lots of ways to spend time with people, then we communicate about our emotions to differentiate the ways of spending time that are most meaningful, they're most impactful in both of our lives, and then we select those periods of time, we invest more time in them so that we can explore the relationship further, and the cycle starts again.
(11:54) And all relationships move through processes like this as they grow, but if we can see them, if we can measure the process and talk about it, it allows us to put a little fertilizer on the relationship, it allows us to take wheat??? connections and make them stronger, it allows us to look at communities and see how to make the connections in them richer, it allows us to write new scripts for the way the relationships form. This is my friend Brandon. Brandon and I have been very close for about four years. We met in graduate school and we immediately hit it off.
(12:40) We have these long intense conversations about business in the environment we go on, the epic??? epic hikes together we cook huge elaborate meals, we go out dancing as a killer dancer, and after several years I took them aside and I said, Brandon you become one of my closest friends, and if you're comfortable with it I would like to sit down with you and have a conversation where we acknowledge that our relationship exists, all I want to do is talk about the fact that we're in a relationship, talk about what??? a what in that relationship is working, and talk about how we want to build on it, and there was something about that simple conversation that was terrifying - but once I could sit down and have it with him the relationship was transformed.
(13:31) It didn't become a romantic relationship, but being able to make explicit the way that we made decisions about time allowed the relationship to be talked about, celebrated and prioritized in a way that most friendships are not. Here's what I'd like you to take away.
(14:00) As you think more about the asexual community, remember that our struggle for connection is tangled up in a culture of sexuality, and that in order to disentangle it we need to understand how these things operate, we need to recognize that they are fundamentally the same whether they are sexual or non-sexual, we need to begin to explore the structure by which they grow so that we can write new scripts for new kinds of connection, and if we can do that then I believe that our shared struggle for connection may become just a little bit easier, and imagine what the world would look like if it did. Thank you.
- Thank you. (15:03) Do you have any estimate of what proportion of the population might be among your members?
- So, the best scientific estimates right now are that one percent of the human population is asexual.
- One percent.
- And how do you derive that number?
- So, the biggest study ever done on human sexual behavior was done by in the UK in response to the AIDS epidemic, and they had one question on there where they asked people if they were attracted primarily to men, to women to both men and women, or to no one at all. One percent of respondents said they were attracted no one at all and the nice thing about that was they could go in and see if there were any other causal factors any pathologies that explain the asexuality, and there weren't any.
- And do you have any idea of how many of your members or members are in romantic relationships?
- So, I do know that about a little over 50% of asexual people identify as romantic - have a desire for romantic relationships. The rest of the community identifies as aromantic and has a desire to form intimate connections - like the connection that I have with Brandon don't look romantic but they're still very close. (16:10)
- That's it. Thank you very much.