In this series, we interview a variety of Disabled Aces with diverse backgrounds in honor of #DisabledAceDay and in conjunction with Ace Week.
I was incredibly excited to interview Jasper Williams from the UK as part of our Disabled Ace Day series. Not only has he helped originate a hashtag for Disabled Aces to speak out and find one-another, but he also has a plethora of viewpoints that are vital contributions to the conversation surrounding the intersections of Disability and Asexuality.
Please introduce yourself! How do you identify in terms of asexuality, disability, passions, professions, or anything else you’d like to share with us?
My name’s Jasper (he/him), I’m a 27 year-old trans guy living in the North East of the UK with my fiancé. I identify as bi(romantic) and asexual; I’m also a profoundly Deaf, autistic wheelchair user. My main conditions are hypermobile EDS and PoTS. I am a self-employed coach practitioner and disability trainer; that basically means I support Deaf and disabled people with their benefits in the UK and Ireland, as well as supporting businesses and organisations to become more inclusive and accessible. I spend any time where I’m not working or campaigning for the LGBT+ and disabled communities by dancing.
How do your asexual and disabled identities interact with one another and what unique challenges have you faced while living at this intersection?
For me, I don’t particularly feel that my identities do inherently intersect - my sexuality isn’t caused by my disability, and they were realisations at very different points in my life.
I initially came out as gay at 15 (to myself), 12 years ago, and looking back it was definitely a very difficult time especially as I went to a private school who had sort of just assumed I was gay. I later came out & identified as ‘bisexual-ish’ because I knew there was something missing and then when I got to university, I went to the LGBT+ society and someone had done a workshop on asexuality which was my ‘aha!’ moment. By that point it wasn’t a particularly big deal to me and was almost more of a relief.
My main condition is EDS, but I also have two heart conditions, the main one is called PoTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) as well as gastroparesis and some other fun stuff, and growing up I was always known as the kid who always had something going on with them and breaking parts of my body, so by the time I actually got my diagnosis, me and my family had already assumed it was that for a few years and again was a relief because that chapter could be closed.
For me, they intersect when society interferes, for example when media portrays disabled people as predominantly straight or unable to have sex. The identity which is the biggest part of me has varied throughout my life. When I was younger, although I was aware of struggling, realising my sexuality was always at the forefront of my mind and at the time I didn’t really identify with the word disabled.
The LGBT+ community was how I got into activism, so it's always going to be a strong part of me. However, as I got older, I started to feel left out because I couldn’t always participate. For example, prides having no BSL interpreter, and LGBT+ spaces having a heavy drinking culture and often in inaccessible buildings, so my Deaf and disabled identity grew more. It’s not one or the other for me and they’re both equally important parts of my identity.
Have you personally experienced any ableism from within the asexual or other LGBTQ2IA+ communities?
I could write a whole essay on this! The short answer is yes.
Feeling left out of queer spaces is something that happens regularly at most LGBT+ events I’ve attended, and it’s very rare to attend LGBT+ and ace spaces where I feel included as a Deaf and disabled person. It often feels there’s a different standard when talking about diversity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ disabled people. If we bring up issues of accessibility, we’re perceived as an inconvenience. We’re reminded that we don’t belong in these spaces, and that we have to choose between two of our identities: be Deaf/disabled OR LGBTQ+.
When it comes to the actual event, I always feel like the outsider. Being Deaf and a wheelchair user, dark and inaccessible queer nightlife is really stressful and not something I can properly participate in. Daytime events aren’t much better. As I’m not in people’s direct eyeline, I’m often faced with having people’s bags shoved in my face, being bumped into, and as I’m visibly disabled, I frequently get ableist comments and invasive questions.
It’s not just physical accessibility barriers, but attitudinal and societal barriers too. As a wheelchair user, I’m visibly disabled, but I’m still often assumed to be at Pride as a straight person or an ally. Even when I’m in spaces with my fiancé, often people assume he is my brother or my carer. This comes from disabled people being desexualised and so the idea that we can have a relationship – let alone a queer, asexual relationship – is viewed as weird. The assumption is that we couldn’t possibly be in a romantic relationship as disabled people, so it must be a different connection such as in a care capacity.
I remember when I was at Manchester Pride a few years ago, and there was lots of access issues, making it feel very exclusive and not made for people like me. It had been impossible for me to get through the crowds, and even when I asked people, I was ignored because I’m a disabled person – which has often led to me having to just push my chair and hope people just move out of the way.
I get a lot of stares, glares, and tuts throughout Prides as if they’re thinking “what is a disabled person doing at Pride?”. Only one nightlife place on Canal Street was wheelchair accessible. My partner had gone to check about wheelchair access on one of the places, and almost immediately someone had come up to me, mocking me, and saying “are you autistic or something” because I wasn’t engaging with him how he wanted. I am autistic, but the negativity around the question really upset me. At the same pride, I had an incident at the accessible toilets where my partner was waiting for me and a man who was waiting for the toilet had said ‘he better be in a wheelchair’.
A couple of years back, I attended an ace event, but it was clear I was one of only two wheelchair users out of hundreds of delegates. The main room had cascading stairs with the only accessible places at the top. But the organisers had, for some reason, assumed (without even asking me) I could get down a flight of stairs unaided without my wheelchair, reserving my seat somewhere unreachable to me – even though I had specified to them that I was a wheelchair user and needed a wheelchair space.
The second wheelchair user had been accommodated at the conference, but this also caused them issues, as we had to then share one wheelchair space. One of the workshop rooms was also inaccessible because the doors were so heavy and had no assistance button, meaning I couldn't enter. The only accessible toilet had been turned into a gender-neutral facility for everyone to use - meaning there were massive queues, and they had quickly become unhygienic. It was impossible to get around, and I faced constant insensitive questions from people asking things like: 'what's wrong with you?' and giving me dirty looks, and as a result I actually ended up leaving early.
When interacting with LGBT+ events, it has become abundantly clear that most spaces are inaccessible, coupled with a lot of attendees holding ableist beliefs. Meanwhile, the disabled community has a harmful attitude problem towards aspec people (a term to describe anyone on the asexual and aromantic spectrum). Consequently, disabled aspecs are being left out, facing double discrimination, and having no place to be themselves. It is one of the reasons that I co-started #DisabledAspecsExist
Have you personally experienced any acephobia from the disability community?
The most memorable time that this happened, I was on a train to Aberystwyth as I was on my way to give an asexuality workshop to the university. As a wheelchair user, I always have a booked space. It is a frequent experience for people to start interacting with me, usually a person in the priority seating.
A middle-aged woman with a walker had signalled that she was starting a conversation with me, so I politely engaged. When she asked where I was going, I explained that I was giving a talk on asexuality. After describing what the term actually meant, the woman looked bewildered and exclaimed, "but that's just because you're in a wheelchair!". I was so shocked by her response that I didn't have a reply. It makes me sad when people say things like this or hold this view because it's such an outdated assumption and harms both the disabled and LGBT+ communities. Frequently society perceives asexuality as wrong; d/Deaf and disabled people are still considered incapable of making their own decisions.
I regularly experience aphobia from the disability community too - I get verbally harassed for 'adding' to the desexualisation of d/Deaf and disabled people simply to mention that I'm asexual. I don't want to exclude disabled aspecs, nor do I want to detract from the purpose of debunking this harmful stereotype. Activists comment that d/Deaf and disabled people are regarded by others as 'asexual' when they really mean desexualised. This discussion is crucial, but asexual is a valid LGBT+ identity, and using the word in this context invalidates disabled aspecs.
What advice do you have for folks who wish to become better allies to disabled aces?
I think the biggest thing is just listening to us. Giving us a platform and amplify our voices on narratives about us, and most importantly: accepting the terminology we use to describe ourselves and our communities. If we correct you on misinformation, whether that be identities or myths – just apologise, do your research, and learn from your mistakes.
Shameless self-promotion time! Do you have a business, project, artwork, or other content we should know about? Give us those links!
I co-started the hashtag #DisabledAspecsExist alongside Liam O’Dell and Charli Clement as a way for disabled aspecs to come together and have sense of community as often we fall through the cracks. We would love for people to join in on the fun we have there!