Although born and raised in the US, our next interview is coming to us from Germany. Alex is a fantastic representation not only for Disabled Aces but also for Aces in STEM. I was thrilled to hear from her, and I know you will be too!
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 Alex! Speedrun introduction to me:
I identify as a greyromantic asexual. In terms of disability, I’m autistic, and I have both bipolar and cPTSD. I also have a constellation of physical health issues resulting in breathing difficulties, dietary restrictions, chronic fatigue, pain, and a compromised immune system.
As for what I do, I’m an astrophysics doctoral researcher (PhD student), and I study neutron stars, gravitational waves, and alternate theories of gravity. In my extremely minimal freetime I like to bake, cook, write, and go on bike rides. I’ve also started the AroAceAunt twitter to try and share some positivity and advice.
How do your asexual and disabled identities interact with one another and what unique challenges have you faced while living at this intersection?
The issue that stands out for me being disabled and asexual is the medical community attempting to pathologize my asexuality. This has mostly come from my psychiatrists and psychologists. Finding a good mental health care is never easy, but finding that as an asexual is even harder. As someone who is dependent on psychiatric medication to function, it’s not as if I can just choose not to go or even wait indefinitely until I find the ‘right’ person.
Have you personally experienced any ableism from within the asexual or other LGBTQ2IA+ communities?
I haven’t had any ableism or ableist comments directed specifically at me, but there are issues that I have noticed in the community.
I often see it in the rhetoric used to discuss asexuality (and aromanticism). Even when not directed at an individual, this can be harmful and make spaces feel inhospitable or even hostile.
Others have said this much better than I can, but the rhetoric around the arguments “we aren’t sick/mentally ill’ and ‘there is nothing wrong with us’ can very quickly lean into ableist rhetoric. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with saying ‘asexuality by definition is not an illness, condition, or disability’ because that’s true, but a lot of time in an effort to validate asexuality, people throw disabled people under the bus.
There’s also the issue of accessibility in queer spaces. Most people think of this in terms of things such as wheelchair access (which is very important). For me, personally, the main issue is lack of accommodation for dietary restrictions. I’ve struggled with this at conferences and leadership retreats. Even if I make a pointed effort to talk to the venue or leadership, I am often told it’s not possible. In the case of a conference this is ‘only’ annoying and somewhat othering. I have to plan ahead to bring my own food, and I can’t join in properly with luncheons or dinners. For a retreat, however, it may mean that someone like me can’t attend at all. There is also a tendency to be derogatory and rude about dietary restrictions. People often assume you are being difficult or that you are following a fad diet.
Have you personally experienced any acephobia from the disability community?
I have spent much less time in the disabled community than I have in the aspec community. However, one thing that I have seen and have also seen others discuss, is the sort of flip side of the ableist ace rhetoric. Disabled people have been desexualized and infantilized for so long that there is an understandable tendency to push back hard. To be clear, I very much support other disabled people embracing their sexuality and defending it. However, it sometimes comes at the cost of acephobia. When you start with ‘there is nothing wrong with us, we are sexual just like you’ type of rhetoric.
I’ve seen at least one aspec autistic (fandom) author be accused of infantilizing and desexualizing autistic people because they had an autistic aspec character. I actually think of this a lot because I have an autistic asexual character in my current original fiction project, and it worries me that I could receive a backlash like that for wanting to represent people like myself. While infantalizing of disabled people is a real problem, asexual disabled people have a right to see themselves reflected in the media as well.
What advice do you have for folks who wish to become better allies to disabled aces?
I think the biggest advice for how to be a better ally is always ‘listen’. Listen to what disabled aces are saying and work from there.