Sex. How do you have it? Does it involve intimacy? How might you categorize it? Are all parties involved interested in having it? For some people, sexual desire and sexual intercourse are not appealing and do not factor into romantic relationships, if they have them.
The documentary, (A)sexual, documents the experiences of asexual people – a spectrum of individuals who to some degree do not experience sexual desire or attraction. This documentary chronicles the life of David Jay, the creator of AVEN, an online asexual network and resource hub, and other individuals who identify as asexual or aromantic. Also included in the documentary are those people who are unsure of, do not understand, or who wholeheartedly do not believe in asexuality. Such nonbelievers range from Dan Savage, to Montel Williams, to the women of the daytime television show, The View. (A)sexual focused on displaying the asexual identity spectrum and dispelling the myths and misconceptions surrounding this identity. This documentary holds that people who self-identify as asexual are not sexually dysfunctional or repressed, have not necessarily been sexually abused as children, can be intimate if they so choose, and are not merely celibate or hiding a non-heterosexual identity. The main goal of this documentary was to give visibility and understanding to this unrecognized sexual identity.
(A)sexual was a wonderful effort to educate others about the true parameters and some facets of this sexuality. This documentary not only explained asexuality, but it also displayed what has been central to the formation of this identity, documented people who identified as asexual, and noted that asexuality is not the only identity that has an aspect of not experiencing a normative facet of what the mainstream society deems as a relationship. However, this documentary did put some focus on the negative perceptions that some people have about asexuality. While it was very helpful to include these misconceptions so that they could be disproved by lived experiences, their inclusion seemed to detract from the overlying message of the documentary.
(A)sexual wonderfully showcased the asexual identity through the lived experiences of people who identify as asexual. What is most important about the inclusion of lived experiences is that it gives a face to an identity. It is very hard to dispute or to not believe in something when it is staring you right in the face. And not only does this provide nonbelievers with proof, but it also provides people who are unsure about their sexuality or cannot put a name to it with the vocabulary and representation they need to properly identify themselves.
This documentary also revealed that asexuality is a spectrum. It can be seen that each asexual person in this documentary experiences their identity in different ways. There are people who do not engage in sexual acts at all, those who engage in certain acts with committed partners, and those who engage in some acts and not others. Later, it is understood that not only do some people have the potential to not experience sexual desire or attraction, but others – and possibly a portion of those same people – have the potential to not experience romantic attraction or feelings: an identity known as aromantic. (A)sexual not only presented and explained this sexual minority, but it also displayed a romantic minority. This is important because most people just lump sexual and romantic orientation together; the distinction between the two is crucial to wholly exploring an identity. Needless to say, this documentary helped to bring visibility to the asexual identity tremendously.
(A)sexual had a strong emphasis on how people who identify as asexual have fostered, found, and continue to find community. The documentary starts by revealing that an asexual community had not always existed – it wasn’t until David Jay created AVEN that people who were asexual had a place to find resources and other people who identified similarly to them. It also pointed out that asexuality had never really been researched, so all people had was the internet to figure out who they were. What is beneficial here is that it shows how important finding community is to this identity – and all identities. What is more, is that it gave visibility to the lack of much needed research and publications surrounding this sexual orientation.
This documentary also showcases the negative comments and perceptions surrounding this sexual minority. As a way to explain the reality of asexuality, (A)sexual provided its audience with accounts from several people about their doubts about the authenticity of this sexuality. Such accounts displayed feelings of confusion and rejection, with people trying to redefine this identity without holding it themselves. While the documentary uses these people’s opinions about asexuality as teaching moments, it became overbearing to see just how much they had to say about this identity that they themselves had never researched nor encountered. With so many negative attitudes surrounding this identity during a time of education, it became difficult to focus on that education piece.
While the documentary, (A)sexual, achieved great goals for the asexual identity, some of what the documentary presented detracted from the major themes of visibility and education. The importance of a sense of community, the documented lived experiences of asexual people, and an inclusion of the aromantic identity were all highly effective in raising awareness of and providing visibility for the asexual community. However, when the documentary included a fair amount of negative attitudes towards the identity as a means of helping to dispel them, it took away from the overlying message.
Can you raise awareness about a community without showcasing the negative connotations of that community? If not, how much inclusion of these negative opinions is enough? Who gets to make that choice? Is an all positive representation of an identity or community realistic? Or is it just a false reality that does not deal with the issues at hand?