UC Santa Barbara’s Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity is working to create support spaces and resources for UCSB students on the spectrum of asexuality and aromanticism, with hopes to further expand in the near future.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation that is generally characterized by a lack of sexual attraction toward any individual, according to the Asexual Visibility & Education Network. It is different from celibacy — which is the active choice to abstain from sexual activity, according to the website.
Aromanticism is a romantic orientation in which an individual does not feel any romantic attraction toward or desire for romance for any individual, according to the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD)’s website.
Both of these orientations can be experienced within a variety of spectrums and LGBTQIA+ intersections.
“We have marketed all of our events toward aromantic, asexual, demisexual, gray-ace, anywhere on that spectrum,” said third-year sociology major and RCSGD Trans and Nonbinary Empowerment Coordinator Drew Buchanan.
“That includes people who identify as ace for literally any reason — it could be that they genuinely have never experienced sexual attraction,” he continued. “It could be that they feel very iffy about it; it could be that they’ve experienced [sexual assault] in the past and just don’t have the same connection to sexual attraction that they’re used to.”
Buchanan spoke to the major changes that the center undertook to support groups in the LGBTQIA+ community that have been shadowed in the past.
“About three years ago, the center did an overhaul of their structures, how their staff was organized, basically everything,” Buchanan said. “So since then, we’re rebuilding and we’re trying to pay attention to certain groups that have been previously left out.”
As a staff member who is on the asexuality spectrum, Buchanan took the initiative to expand on the current programs and events that exist for asexual and aromantic students.
“I’m the only staff member right now who is on the spectrum or that solidly knows that they’re on the spectrum, so I asked in the beginning of winter or later fall, ‘Do we want to do any ace programming?’ because I feel like there might be a space that is missing there,” Buchanan said.
As of now, one of the spaces available for asexual and aromantic students is the IdentiTEAs Series, which works to provide safe spaces for support and discussion every Wednesday for different identity groups within the LGBTQIA+ community. After the IdentiTEAs centering on aromantic and asexual students took place, Buchanan said the group wanted to keep in touch and created a group chat titled, “Aro/Ace at UCSB.”
“It was very quickly apparent that this was a group that had been wanting resources and wanting a space together and had not been given that,” Buchanan said. “There’s definitely a wide range, which can be interesting because there’s a lot of different backgrounds that people are coming from in one space.”
From this came the Aro/Ace coffee meet-up that took place during winter quarter, in which approximately 27 people participated.
“That’s a huge number for the first time ever having an event [for aromantic and asexual students],” Buchanan said. “It was amazing to see so many people there, and they were all really interested in actually making a regular space.”
Buchanan spoke to the importance of prioritizing education on asexuality and aromanticism to advocate for this community, as these two identities are not ones that are actively oppressed but rather misunderstood.
“It is a little different from our other spaces just because asexuality is not an identity that’s super actively oppressed,” Buchanan said. “There’s definitely stigmas about it, and there’s definitely mild discrimination, but as opposed to the trans advocacy that I do, it’s not like policy work. It’s more creating spaces for people to relate with one another and generating community.”
Furthermore, Buchanan said that creating a space where topics like sex and romance are not at the forefront of the conversation is important in supporting asexual and aromantic students.
“These spaces actually don’t have a lot of discussion about asexuality directly but are more people enjoying having a space where they know that sex is not going to come up as a topic, which is surprisingly hard to find,” Buchanan said.
Moving forward, Buchanan hopes that RCSGD and other entities on campus will create more support spaces through meet-ups for the asexual and aromantic communities and host educational panels and events to discuss what this identity entails. He also hopes to host at least one meet-up every quarter, promote more active messaging in the Aro/Ace at UCSB group chat and establish a discussion group of asexual and aromantic students who meet regularly.
Fourth-year art major Jenna Tong attended an identiTEAs discussion as a first year at UCSB and said they found a unique community for aromantic and asexual students.
“There were, like, 11 people, and I was like, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen as many ace people in the same room at the same time,” Tong said. “It was just nice knowing that people know that asexuality and aromanticism existed.”
This year, Tong joined the Aro/Ace at UCSB group chat after attending an IdentiTEAs discussion for asexual and aromantic students, but they voiced that they aren’t sure what other resources there are on campus aside from the resources offered at RCSGD.
“I don’t know if I should be expecting more ace and aro resources … and I don’t know what other options there are, really,” Tong said.
Tong said the persistent lack of common knowledge about asexuality and aromanticism impedes their ability to have conversations about their identity.
“In addition to coming out to everyone who I opened myself up to, I have to explain my entire identity as it relates to me,” they said.
Overall, Tong hopes that there will be greater opportunities available for UCSB students to educate themselves about asexuality and aromanticism.
“[There’s] just a hyperfixation on relationship and romanticism and sex,” Tong said. “They’re all normal, and I’m positive with all of them, but it’s just irritating when it’s a prerequisite to belong in a community.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 2 of the May 12, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus.