I’m very pleased to say that this project is almost completed! Thank you to everyone who’s been so generous with their time so far.
To finish the project, I’m still looking for a few more volunteers. Please email me at email@example.com if you’re interested in taking part.
Mark Carrigan has also just had some academic work published on asexuality if you’re interested in having a read.
Article on asexuality over the weekend in the Guardian interviewed Mark: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/26/among-the-asexuals
In between gorging on bad television and family gossip this Christmas, I realised something pretty great. My family - all of them, even the most religious of aunts, now accept my sexuality. I’m not even a curiosity anymore - questions about my girlfriend slip in easily in between holiday and baby chat. Society’s pretty ok with it too. Lez soap plot lines are two a penny, gay fashion is ubiquitous and now Europe even has gay retirement homes. I’ll probably be in one in fifty years, catching up on vintage L Word episodes and knitting rainbow jumpers. It’s therefore pretty frustrating trying to explain asexuality to certain twits when they ask about this project. Suddenly I’m back in 1994, watching that famous Brookside lesbian kiss with my parents and knowing that not only do they feel awkward - but every mum and dad around the nation does too.
As recent sitter Joe pointed out to me, even the oft-cited Kinsey scale mentioned asexuality. While most people lie on the 0 - 6 scale (0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual), some also fall into the “X” category - Kinsey labelled this “non-sexual”. And yet, over 60 years later many fail to have make the small leap of understanding that Kinsey made in 1948.
Anyway, I digress. This winter I photographed three wonderful guys, from three of Britain’s greatest cities: Liverpool, London and Bristol.
In November I met up with A Level student Ben in Richmond, and we spent the afternoon wandering around its epic park - running into some deer and even parrots (!!) while we were at it. Ben was amazingly unfazed by the parrot element. I was dazzled: who needs a zoo when there’s actual wild parrots in Richmond. Like so many, when he came across AVEN online it was a great relief to see that there were lots of other people out there just like him. It’s obviously boosted his confidence being able to be public about that as he embarks on adult life - I certainly remember being far less sure-footed as a repressed late-teen.
Writer Christof is based in Liverpool, where I met up with him later that month and was treated to a fantastic tour of his favourite museums, streets and cafes. The city was recently European Capital of Culture in 2008 - some of the street art from then still remains and the wealth of museums is incredible. Christof pointed out that the Liverpool Biennial next summer will be worth a visit too.
Christof told me that while being asexual is very much a background element of his life - he isn’t particularly active on AVEN, for example; but being able to tell people about his identity when necessary has really helped him become the content person he is today.
Finally, just after Christmas I drove down to Bristol to meet Joe, a first year student at Plymouth university. He’s been fortunate enough to meet a handful of fellow asexuals there, and is also part of an LGBT union who have recently added a “+” to their initials to represent other identities - something that I remember being a controversial issue when I was a student a mere six years ago. Like so many of the people I’ve met, he told me how happy he is to be able to open about who he is, and get on with his life. Joe and I had a brilliant day wandering around Bristol in the winter sunshine: having incredible Moroccan food at St Nicholas Market and also visiting the best army surplus store ever.
Thanks Ben, Christof and Joe for three amazing days, and some great portraits!
Well, what a late blog post. But it has been a ridiculously busy summer…
Earlier this year, in May, I met up with the lovely and welcoming Joshua for a photo shoot.
Joshua hails from Islington, and very kindly insisted on showing me some of his favourite eateries and boutiques in the area. This has been an unexpected joy of the project - everyone’s generosity and so many people’s insistence on giving me a tour of their local area. Aside from the tens of fantastic vintage shops he took me to (I live near Islington and I had no idea quite how many shopping gems there are…) we also went to his favourite chocolate shop - Paul A Young. I’d somehow never been before, and if you get a chance - go - and make sure you try the lime and lemon souffle and the salted caramel…
Anyway, I digress. Joshua is a wonderful man - generous, a great conversationalist and a very snappy dresser. When he told me he was once a shyer man I couldn’t believe it - being able to tell his friends he was asexual changed his life, and transformed him from someone who didn’t quite feel comfortable in their own skin to the gregarious man he is today.
I often find myself explaining the concept of asexuality to friends when they ask about this project, much as homosexuality must have seemed a mystery to a huge swathe of the British population decades ago. Hopefully this project will contribute to further understanding of the term, and help more people feel comfortable opening up to their family, just as Joshua did.
I went to Selly Oak just outside Birmingham over the weekend to photograph Frankie, a lovely girl who owns four amazing pet birds! We went on a fantastic walk along the canal in the ridiculously bright sunshine, and I’m very pleased with the results of the photos.
I think one of the most interesting parts of the day was hearing from Frankie about how she met her boyfriend - a heterosexual - and how he is completely happy with her asexuality. Each person I meet on this project has a very individual story to tell and each one completely readjusts the assumptions people who know very little about asexuality make.
A long journey to Birmingham from London - but definitely worth it.
Earlier this March I went up to Leicester to photograph a lovely couple called Allye and Melanie.
We had a brilliant day wandering around some great Leicester sights - including its largest, oldest cemetery. It was kind of like a museum of the oddest and most beautiful gravestones (actually some of them were more like palaces) I’d ever seen.
I actually hadn’t met an asexual couple before, and I’m so pleased they were interested in taking part as I think it’s so important I represent a wide spectrum of UK asexuals.
At the end of a wonderful day of Leicester walks and chats, I had tea at Melanie’s and was introduced to her chicken, Rosie. This is the jumper her friend kindly knitted Rosie, which the ungrateful bird refuses to wear.
A maths research fellow by trade, Michael Dore lives with fellow academics in Coventry although he currently works at nearby Birmingham university. I travelled up to the city to meet him, and was warmly welcomed into his home.
I’m definitely the kind of person who likes to be a master of whatever’s being discussed in a conversation, but I was pretty stumped when showed Michael’s thesis - left mumbling words about how the equations made pretty shapes.
Michael definitely doesn’t fit the Maths geek mould, however. Aside from jokingly filling his house with rubber ducks - a purposeful two fingers to all who think mathematicians are dull, he also holds regular tie-dying sessions with his housemates. I was particularly jealous of his tie-dyed socks.
one of the ducks
One of my favourite snaps of Michael was one we took in his garden, in front of a washing line of tie-dyed items. This fitted my objectives perfectly: we shot in a place Michael spends a lot of time, in a scenario that he says matches his character.
Michael also showed me pictures of the asexual section of Manchester Pride, which he had recently taken part in. I think one of the most positive aspects of the pictures was seeing his sister appearing prominently in them. So often family members are fearful of different sexual and gender identities, but Michael’s sister was doing everything she could to be interested in his journey, and be a part of it with him.
I gave a presentation yesterday at an arts conference in Bristol about Art Sexual. On the assumption that most of the audience wouldn’t know much about asexuality I began by discussing the history of AVEN, the umbrella definition and the different experiences of asexuality people have within the community. I talked about my research and how it served as a starting point for the project. I talked about four aims underlying Art Sexual:
- We want to raise awareness about asexuality because it’s largely unrecognised.
- Bringing to light and challenging the assumptions that sexual people commonly make about sexual desire and sexual activity.
- Exploring the relationship between art and research.
- Conveying issues we find intellectually fascinating in an emotionally plausible way.
It met with a really positive reaction from the audience and it sparked a number of interesting discussions. One concerned the ‘interactional’ nature of witnessing: in the right context looking at visual art can give rise to internal and external dialogue (intellectual, emotional, moral, spiritual) which can generate changes in those party to the exchange. Another related to my arguments about the sexual assumption: the unexamined belief most sexual people hold that sexual desire is both uniform and universal. It was a really helpful conversation that left me clearer than ever about why I hold that this assumption is mistaken. Particular with regards to the uniformity of desire, it’s becoming clearer to me than ever that the use of this term conceals more than it explains: an incredibly diverse range of experiences are subsumed under this single phrase (‘sexual desire’) and in the process the particularity of each experience is, at least partially, lost.
If we start to move away from talking about individuals possessing ‘sex drives’ which cause them to experience ‘sexual desire’ then I believe that everyone will benefit. It will be the end of one of the main sources of stigmatization the asexual community faces, as sexual people will no longer assume that being asexual is an existence defined by loss and diminishment. But I think that sexual people themselves will also benefit, as it will allow the development of ways to talk about sexuality which give full expression to the richness of intimate experience.
As I’ve written elsewhere I have always been fascinated by the clear distinction which many asexuals draw between romantic attraction and sexual attraction. In wider culture the tendency is to conflate the two, as the former is seen to culminate in the latter or the latter is seen as the prerequisite for the former. As a consequence a lived experience of the specificity of both will always tend to slip through our fingers.