During this interview series, I had the honor of interviewing Jais (pronounced “Jay”, pronouns Thon/Them) from Honolulu, Hawai’i. Personally, I found many things Jais said to be incredibly relatable and I hope you will appreciate this interview half as much as I did. During the interview process, thon wanted to ensure that no wording would not be changed or watered down.
Although, I personally had no intention of censoring the language of any of our interviewees, I very much respected the boundaries being laid out and I think this disclaimer is an incredibly important reminder that I wanted to relay to all of you.
“...Language is temporal, regional, and has history; I use the wording that connects me to my community - especially my mentors, trans elders who were there in the time of AIDS and anti-LGBT+-violence advocacy like ACT UP...”
This is an important lesson on two fronts: not to ever replace the language that someone else personally identifies with and also to never be afraid to make your terms very clear to ensure that you’re being represented accurately and only in the way that you are comfortable with.
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'm demiromantic and asexual. If we want to get into the weeds of identity and microlabels, other terms I'm comfortable with include queer, stone, placiosexual, cupiosexual, and ceteroromantic.
I'm dyspraxic, which means I was born with a neurological disorder that affects my coordination, balance, spatial awareness, depth perception, sensory processing, and executive functioning. I also have pretty severe joint hypermobility and hypotonia - I live with a lot of joint pain, fatigue, frequent dislocations and sprains, and everything is just bendier and floppier than on the average able-bodied person.
I really love words - reading, writing, calligraphy, and studying languages. I also find a lot of joy in improv theatre, crafting, TTRPGs, and video games. I'm proud to say I've done accessibility testing on a handful of video games through AbleGamers' Player Panel; I think their mission to make games as accessible as possible for as many people as possible is important, especially right now, when so many of us are isolated from in-person social interaction. Physically, I often can't be as active as I'd like, but when I'm feeling up to it I participate in Ludosport, a light saber combat sport.
How do your asexual and disabled identities interact with one another and what unique challenges have you faced while living at this intersection?
Living at the intersection of being queer and disabled, I've become fond of the term "neuroqueer," in the sense that my experience of my body and of the world around me are so inextriacbly shaped by my disabilities, I have to assume this extends to my gender and sexuality - I can't know what it would feel like to be a queer able-bodied neurotypical person, or to be a cisgender heterosexual disabled person. I know only my own mind and in being myself there's no way to separate myself into pieces and say "this part of me is the disabled part" or "this part of me is the queer part." It's all one life.
When I was younger, I was hesitant to claim these identities openly. There was a lot of self-consciousness about perpetuating the stereotypes that disabled people are sexless, that asexual people are broken, or that people choose asexuality because they're unattractive. But the thing is I'm not sexless, and I'm not broken. And while I don't always feel attractive, especially when I'm dysphoric or in a lot of pain, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I've never had trouble finding partners. It took work to embrace the different aspects of my life.
Have you personally experienced any ableism from within the asexual or other LGBTQ2IA+ communities?
There's a lot of casual ableism within the community. From the ace side, I've seen a small but vocal group of people who very much want to distance themselves from autistics in particular, even though there's a lot of autistic aces out there who get left behind. I've been told I'm a "bad asexual" just for being born with the brain and body I have.
In the larger LGBTQ2IA+ community, the biggest problem has been a lack of accessibility. Pride events are particularly egregious. The last big Pride event I went to, I think in 2018, was held at an outdoor venue where the ground was uneven and slippery with mud - it wasn't safe for me to navigate with my balance issues, and completely impossible for a wheelchair user. Events also tend to be loud and bright, so I wear sunglasses and earplugs for my sensory issues. One good thing is that I'm hearing about more and more events with interpreters, quiet areas, wheelchair access, etc. I have a lot of hope that eventually accessibility will be the norm!
Have you personally experienced any acephobia from the disability community?
Not so much, honestly. The people I personally interact with in disability advocacy are almost universally queer, and while there are quite a few who say they "don't get" asexuality, they've adopted an "I don't have to understand it to be respectful" attitude.
What advice do you have for folks who wish to become better allies to disabled aces?
The same advice that applies to all forms of allyship. Listen first and foremost, amplify the voices of the people speaking from personal experience, do research and ask questions. Keep in mind we're individuals - if you've met one disabled ace, you've met one disabled ace. We all experience asexuality and disability and their intersection in our own way. Often our needs will be different, and sometimes even the language and terminology we use will differ - one of the most useful questions I've learned is "what does that mean for you?"
Shameless self-promotion time! Do you have a business, project, artwork, or other content we should know about? Give us those links!
Nothing I'm working on right now is ready for sharing, [but if I'm allowed, I'd love to point to the novellas and essays of my beloved late friend Corey Alexander, who wrote under the pen name Xan West and for whom I was lucky to be a beta reader. Corey was a genderqueer disabled demigray ace who wrote extensively on the intersection of disability and queerness within the context of romance and kink. Several of their published stories feature asexual protagonists in romantic and sexual relationships, and their essays can be found at https://xanwest.wordpress.com/ ]