Overlooked Identities in the Queer Community: A Panel from the Human Rights Conference

On June 25th, 2019, TAAAP members participated in a panel at the Human Rights Conference for WorldPride 2019. Below you can listen to an audio recording of that panel.

Unfortunately, we started recording a little after the workshop began, so we missed the introduction of the panel, as well as a couple of the introductions of panelists. We have reproduced what we could in the transcript below.

The transcript below has been edited for clarity. 

Laura: Hello, I am Laura G., and I will be your moderator today. I am a member of The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project, an organization based in DC that works to create a society where asexual and aromantic spectrum people are included, respected, and understood.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Lenape Nation. As we discuss frequently forgotten identities today, it is important that we in turn not forget the original caretakers of this land and the history of violence against them.

Today we will be talking about identities that are often underrepresented and misunderstood within LGBTQ+ spaces. Our goal for this session is that you walk away with a better understanding of our identities and of how you can make your spaces more inclusive.

Our first panelist is Alex, an aromantic bisexual graphic design student from Connecticut. She has been active in the aromantic community for several years via her blog, arotaro, where she is most known for designing the allo-aro flag and creating the voidpunk subculture. She deeply loves her friends, family, and their pets, and her hobbies include games, fashion, and historical European martial arts. You can find her at arotaro.tumblr.com.

Can you give us a brief explanation of your identity and your work in your community?

Alex: I’m aromantic and bisexual. What this means is that I can be sexually attracted to multiple genders, but romantically attracted to none- I never look at someone and think, “I want to date this person”. I’m mostly active online, but I advocate for representation and respect for allosexual aromantics, aka aromantics who are not asexual.

Laura: Our next panelist is Isabel Nathan, an oriented aromantic, asexual, and genderqueer person from Washington, DC. They are a founding and board member of The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project, and they hope to be able to ensure that asexuality and aromanticism will be fully integrated and accepted into the queer community.

Can you tell us a little about your identity?

Isabel: So I’m asexual and aromantic, which means I’m not sexually or romantically attracted to anyone at all. However, I also identify as oriented, because there are lots of other forms of attraction. There’s aesthetic, which refers to looks, sensual, which refers to touch, platonic and alterous, which are less defined but are emotional attractions. I experience all of those towards women, and not towards men at all, so I identify as oriented, and sometimes as a lesbian. I’m also genderqueer, specifically agender and non-binary, as I don’t identify on the gender spectrum.

Laura: Our next panelist is Axel Keating (they/them), and is an educator, community organizer, and Student Affairs practitioner. They have been speaking and facilitating workshops on sex characteristics, gender, and sexuality at conferences and academic institutions for over a decade. Axel serves on the board of directors of interACT, an intersex youth advocacy organization, and is an education policy and advocacy intern at the New York Transgender Advocacy Group. You can find them at axelkeating.com and @axelkeating.

[Recording begins here]

Axel: I’ve been a community organizer for over a decade and my Master’s degree is in Educational Leadership, Politics, and Advocacy, focusing on LGBTQIA+ education policy and advocacy & community-based organizations.

Laura: Could you define intersex for everyone?

Axel: Yeah. So if you were at the last session with Kimberly Zieselman, who’s the Executive Director of InterAct, you might have heard that intersex people are people born with sex characteristics (including internal and external anatomy, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. So intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are present at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.

Another definition is intersex is the lived experience of the socio-cultural consequences of being born with a body that does not fit the normative social constructs of male and female. So when we’re talking about intersex traits, intersex variations, variations of sex characteristics, we’re talking about sex characteristics, and that’s distinct from gender, that’s distinct from sexual orientation, we’re talking about bodies specifically. So some of the language that I use is forms of intersex, intersex variations, and intersex traits. I try to make sure, always when we’re talking about intersex, intersex is an adjective, so describe what you’re talking about when you’re talking about intersex: Intersex traits, intersex community, intersex people. So again, being intersex, is not the same thing as being transgender, it’s not the same thing as being cisgender, it’s different from gender or gendered experiences. But intersex people can be transgender, they can be cisgender, they can be lesbian, gay, bisexual, they can be straight, they can be asexual, they can be aromantic, just like everyone else.

Laura: Can you give a brief definition for genderqueer and non-binary as well?

Axel: Yeah, so I’m specifically non-binary. So non-binary describes any gender which does not fit within the male/man and female/woman binary. So it really depends on the person, and it’s seeing gender not as a binary, and non-binary people not necessarily in the middle of a spectrum or somewhere on a spectrum, but seeing gender more holistically, seeing gender as three-dimensional, seeing gender as so many different facets of who we are and the way we experience the world, and falling outside of these constructed notions of what gender should or can or does look like in a particular context, right now, in the United States, in a colonial context, in a Western context, and that gender has not always been like this, and that gender as we understand it now is a relatively new construction. And non-binary folks have a gender or might be a gender that just does not fit in this binary notion of our social context of what we understand binary genders today.

Laura: Awesome. So, to get started on our panel questions, I would like to start off with how you would generally describe how inclusive LGBTQ+ communities can be. We’ll get into specifics a little bit later, but just paint us a general picture.

Alex: Sure. It’s interesting because I’m bisexual and aromantic as mentioned. So, you know, as a bisexual person, I am the B in LGBT. I should feel very connected to the community. I should feel very welcome and that these are my people, but because I’m aromantic and that affects me so much, and so much of a LGBTQ+ activism is focused on, it’s understandable of course, but it’s focused on a lot like marriage and relationships and dating and we can still love blah, blah, blah. So as an aromantic person, I often don’t feel very welcome. Which is hard because it makes it hard for me to get support from my bisexuality cause I’m not like biromantic bisexuals. I’m aromantic. So there’s a disconnect there. And my hope is that in the future the community will be more inclusive of aromatics and other people like me in future generations will feel as welcome as they should.

Isabel: I actually identified as a lesbian from age 14 through age 18 when I went to, very briefly, an all women’s college, and realized it takes more than just not being attracted to men to be a lesbian. You also have to like women, there’s the other aspect of it. And so that’s the point where I realized, oh wait, this label doesn’t fit me either. And one thing that was really frustrating was that I felt extremely disconnected because it felt like, even though I hadn’t really gotten involved in queer groups in high school because I went to DCPS [District of Columbia Public Schools], I thought, I’ll be able to find my community at college. I’ll be able to find a place where I fit in.

And then I realized, no, this place, this specific place that I’ve been looking for for years also doesn’t want me, or also doesn’t accept me, or I also don’t belong here. And that was not a pleasant realization. Fortunately, like I said, I live in DC and it has a really huge ace and aro population, and I joined a meetup group there. I haven’t really interacted with specifically the LGBT community that is not specifically ace or aro much outside of that because I feel like I have my home and I’m worried about not being able to find a home elsewhere.

Axel: Similarly I think it varies greatly depending on space, location, time, a ton of different factors:Accessibility, costs, are there intergenerational spaces, are there sober spaces, is there childcare, is there food, is there transportation. Who’s excluded explicitly and implicitly, are there spaces focused around particular identities or experiences? I think it really depends on a number of factors. You know, doing LGBTQIA+ community organizing work or activist work in a variety of different contexts over a decade shows me that it really depends. I have had so many different experiences. I think similarly creating community spaces has been really important. Creating intentional intersex spaces, creating intentional intersex, non-binary, queer spaces, has been really important and really life-changing for a lot of young intersex folks. And then also figuring out what spaces are willing to do the work with you, and willing to have intersexled leadership or non-binary-led leadership or trans, bi leadership, in order to really be inclusive and really create spaces of belonging for folks who are LGBTQ+, who might not traditionally hold dominant spaces or traditionally have spaces that are accessible to them.

Laura: So getting into a little bit of the specifics, what types of negative attitudes or misconceptions have you encountered in the LGBTQ+ community or beyond?

Alex: Well, I’m sure many of you have heard of the concept of ace and aro exclusionism, which is the idea that aces and aros are not inherently LGBTQ+, that we’re basically straight. Which is one of the reasons that I have not felt welcome in the community because I’m bisexual. I’m not straight. But people believe that because I am aromantic, I’m straight, which is completely not true. I mean, I’m inherently not straight. I’m not attracted only to men as a woman, therefore I’m not straight. And specifically with allosexual aromantics, there’s sort of this notion that we’re like sexual predators, that we’re these cold unfeeling heartless people who just go out and have lots of sex and don’t care about the people who they have sex with and they just use people. When my mother and my brother found out that I’m aromantic bisexual, they called me a robot who just uses people for sex. And I think they thought it was a funny joke, but it was really hurtful to me. And I’m not even sure if they realized that. I still remember that they said that. And that I’m never going to forget that they said that.

Isabel: So my experience in queer spaces is different. I’m lucky enough that my orientations match, my sexual and romantic orientations are both A, so they do match each other. So, that makes things a little easier in some ways. One thing that I’ve heard a lot is, why do you need to join this group? It’s not like you need anything. Like, we’re not fighting for marriage equality. We’re not fighting for a recognition from the government for being able to change our names, or change our bodies, or be recognized. I think one problem is that first of all, a lot of us could potentially be straight-passing because we don’t get into relationships with people of the same gender, although as I said, I’m still oriented towards women. And then there’s also the aspect that not being recognized, not being known is one of the hardest struggles that you face as a queer person. And that’s one of the main things that we’re fighting for is being recognized, being known, being able to find others like us, being able to get support, being able to be understood.

You know, and then there’s all the jokes of, you’re asexual, so you’re like a plant. Do you bud, do you split like an amoeba, shit like that. Where people don’t bother to think about what the words can do. They just, like with Alex, they just kind of say the first thing that comes to their head and then move past it.

Axel: I’d like to specifically address that intersex people have been medically intervened upon due to our intersex traits. Intersex people face nonconsensual medically unnecessary cosmetic surgeries and other medical interventions at a young age. That can have long­lasting effects on the physical, mental, and sexual health and overall wellbeing of intersex people in a variety of ways. So this is one of the most pressing human rights concerns, one of the most pressing organizing concerns for intersex folks, intersex communities, throughout the world.

We’ll get into this a little bit later, but there’s a lot of nuances on terminology, whether it’s LGBTQ+, LGBTQIA+, do we include intersex in LGBTQ communities or under a general umbrella or label. So there’s kind of that tension of where intersex folks fit. And then there’s also misconceptions around intersex traits, intersex people. There’s also the use of intersex traits as a prop to talk about binaries, without addressing the concerns of the intersex community. So talking about sex and gender as not binary. Yes. And then talking about intersex people to prove this. Yes, but many people will not address the concerns that intersex people are facing and that need to be addressed. So it’s using the intersex identity as a prop without caring about intersex people. And that’s something that is common LGBTQIA+ discourse and it’s harmful. It doesn’t educate people about intersex traits, or the community or our needs. And it just uses intersex traits as a prop without caring about the people.

I don’t think we defined  bi, so I’ll share the definition that I use. Alex, if you wanted to kind of talk about the nuances of different definitions of bi as well. Robyn Ochs’ definition of bi is: “The potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one gender, so being attracted to more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same ways, and not necessarily to the same degree.” And then beyond that, bisexual is a community identity label similar to lesbian, gay, straight, queer. Many bisexual people use personal identity labels that serve a vital function in describing differences while giving each individual a space to be unique. Personal identity labels can include, but are not limited to fluid, multisexual, non-monosexual, pansexual, polysexual, and the internal conversations between bi and fluid, queer, bi+ community members about labels should not be used as a rationale for not serving the needs of the same community.” That was a definition from BiNet USA. So to give an overview of that, bi+ is a general umbrella for the community but there can be nuances in self definition and those nuances can be really important to people. And to address this up front, bi+ is not binary. Bi+ people are not just attracted to binary-cis people. Bi+ people can be attracted to trans and non binary people. To say that bi+ people can’t stigmatizes trans people. When you say that bi+ people can’t be attracted to trans people, it stigmatizes trans people. It says that trans people are not their gender. It says that binary trans people are not binary women or binary men. So some people, some reasons why some people might prefer to use identity bi is that the communities larger or more politically active. They may experience attraction to genders differently. They may experience the gendered power dynamics in attraction differently. They may be attracted to different characteristics in genders. Non-binary people and trans people may prefer the identity bi to push back against the idea that bisexuality is exclusive of trans and/or non-binary people. So that’s just some general overview of what bi+ means for me.

But to talk about what bi+ looks like in LGBTQ+ spaces generally. Thinking about exclusionary language, so things like straight and gay couples versus different gender or same or similar gender relationships. LGBTQ, LGBT couples versus parents in the LGBTQ community. Not focusing on bi specific resource topics, issues or data. Just a lot of assumptions of what bi+ people are like.

And then thinking about non-binary folks, so assumptions around someone’s gender or gendering strangers, language that is exclusive of non-binary people. That’s very binaristic. Not having proper education or tools or resources just to talk about non-binary folks. And then just thinking about pronouns generally, whether people are modeling their pronouns, whether there’s space for people to introduce their pronouns, whether pronouns are added to email signatures, business cards, social media, how we talk about pronouns or non-binary folks in media. So thinking about – I just pulled these out from a couple of news articles that I was looking at – language like “So-and-so who identifies as” or “so and so who prefers to be referred to by the pronoun” or “someone whose preferred pronouns are” is going to accidentally or intentionally insinuate that the correct pronoun usage is optional or that a person’s gender is just a preference. Pronouns can often encompass a vital part of someone’s gender and are important because other than one’s name, it’s one of the main ways we are identified or referred to. And as well, some folks don’t use pronouns, they might use their name. So that’s another consideration to take into facts. So just thinking about a ton of different attitudes and misconceptions in the LGBTQ+ community, when we don’t have folks in those spaces and who don’t have those folks who are a part of thought leaders, who aren’t part of leadership in general, how we perpetuate those attitudes and misconceptions.

Laura: One followup question to that. I’ve heard the definition for bi: similar and different genders that you’re attracted to. What’s your opinion on that definition?

Axel: Yeah, I think it really depends. There might be someone who’s bi, who’s not attracted to similar gender folks, but are attracted to a variety of other genders. So that is one way that might not be the most inclusive. But I think it really depends on the person. And that again might be true for someone as well. It might be true that they’re attracted to similar gender and different genders. But language is evolving. We don’t refer to a myriad as only ten thousand things, which is what that technically refers to. So when we’re thinking about the evolution of language, and who is in the bi+ community, and who is doing the work. Just thinking about what our community definitions, and what our personal definitions are is really important.

Laura: So kind of bouncing off that question, could each of you give us one thing that you think the people in the audience could do to make their spaces more inclusive? Thinking about what you just said, where the misconceptions that exist?

[Audience Member 1 raises hand.]

Isabel: Are we taking questions?

[Laura calls on Audience Member 1.]

Audience Member 1: No, I’ve just had one specific to your definition. So bi with the root being binary, traditionally referred to the two genders as male and female. And then we had pansexual to refer to people with attractions across the board no matter what the gender identity is. So are we moving away from using as an identity pansexual into making bisexual an inclusive identity? I’m just a little confused by the definitions that were provided.

Axel: Yeah, I forgot to add that. For me, I see bi+ as kind of like an umbrella term for community. It’s not to say that you can’t identify as pansexual or that there’s no such thing as being pansexual. Yes, there are pansexual folks in this part of the community. For me, I am attracted to folks in different ways. So I don’t identify as pansexual. I’m not attracted to people regardless of gender. Gender is an important factor for me in attraction. And gendered power dynamics and attraction are very important for me to consider. So yeah, to your point, that’s why I brought up language evolves as we grow as a community. And to understand that trans and non-binary folks have always been a part of bi+ activism, from the very beginning. So it’ll really depend on the person but we can think of – the nuances are important to folks, but what is also very important is not to use those nuances to stigmatize folks and to deny services to folks. You know, think about what bi non-binary people are talking about, in terms of their own identities, and why folks are using the languages and the words that they do to identify themselves. So it really depends.

Alex: I also think it would depend on the person. There are some pan people who do feel connected to the bi community and would be okay with being called bi. There are many who don’t, do not want to be at all thought of as bi, and will probably get very offended if you call them that because that’s mislabeling them. There’s definitely a lot of overlap between the communities. We definitely need to support each other. So I think really it’s important that we have solidarity and that we have a space for pansexual people who might want to participate in the bi community. But I don’t think assumptions should be made. I think it should be on an individual basis and the two communities should not be necessarily thought of as the same thing, but as related and in solidarity with each other.

Audience Member 1: So based on what you said in the definition and what is the difference between the bi+ identification and the pansexual identification, that’s kind of where I’m getting lost.

Alex: The general definition is that bi people are attracted to multiple genders or can be attracted to multiple genders and generally do consider gender a factor. They might not be attracted in the same way or to the same degree to people of varying genders. Whereas pansexual, the usual definition is, that they are attracted regardless of gender. They don’t feel that it makes a difference to them what gender someone is. But there are also some people who identify as pan who would give a definition very similar to bisexuality and just choose to use the pan label instead of bi for personal reasons. So it is a little bit vague and it does kind of depend on the person. But in general, the most common definition pan is attraction regardless of gender, bi is attraction to multiple genders with the gender being important.

Laura: I think as a point of clarity, I think it’s also very individual definition versus community. I think we’ve been using the term bi+ to talk about multiple identities that cover attraction to multiple genders. But that’s more of an umbrella term and not an individual identity.

Axel: Yeah, exactly. You’d have the label bi+, which includes bi, pan, fluid, queer, bisexual, to encompass a larger kind of discussion. Not necessarily think that they’re the same communities, but that there can be overlaps. And we can collectively share resources together.

Laura: [To panel] So would you like to share your one thing that people can do to make their communities more inclusive?

Alex: Say the word, say aromantic. Don’t just say ace. Don’t say ace and aro. Say aro. Say aromantic. Make it clear in your language that we are welcome, that we’re not just tacked on as some sort of footnotes, put it out there. Because aromatics and especially allosexual aromatics, we tend to be a bit reclusive, a bit shy. We’re not really going to attend things if it’s not made clear that we’re welcome. You can’t just leave the door open and expect us to come in. You have to say, why don’t you come inside?

Isabel: Mine would be, don’t tokenize us. Unless we are in a group of people who are specifically our orientations, we’re almost certainly going to be the minority in whatever room that we’re in, whatever queer room or whatever room period that we’re in. Unless I’m specifically at an ace or an aro gathering, I’m going to be the only one or one of very few people of those orientations there. And one of the things that’s frustrating is, for example, it’s really great that at this conference we have this session that we’re talking about these identities that often go overlooked. But what would be awesome is if they weren’t overlooked at this conference and if they weren’t, and if we weren’t all just kind of shoveled into one specific session where we have to talk about all the nuances of all of our identities. All at once when, you know, there are a lot of nuances and there’s a lot going on. And our identities don’t necessarily connect with each other besides the fact that they are overlooked by the larger queer community.

Axel: Yeah, exactly. I think that any of us could talk about any of our identities for hours. I could talk about being intersex for days. But then also having to tack on that, yes, I’m also non-binary. Yes, I also represent that community. And I’m also trans and I’m also bisexual and I’m also all these other things. So yeah, giving space to have multiple identities and experiences, and folks who can speak on that together. What would it be like if I was ever on a panel with another intersex person? We could talk about our differences in our experiences in being intersex. The only time that happens is with Intersex Awareness Day in October, when it’s organized by intersex people. One great article by Hans Lindahl, who’s the communications director at InterAct, published in them.: “We need to end intersex erasure in queer communities.” Really great article. Highly recommend it if you want to think about intersex inclusion. And one good piece of information: Find out your local hospitals’ policies on performing surgeries and other medical interventions on intersex children. So if you’re going to be talking about intersex people, find out what are the policies of your local hospitals, what do the local intersex organizations and people who are organized as activists in your local area doing? How can you support them? What do they need? Speak to your legislators about intersex rights, educating your community, not just using intersex as a prop. And then similarly, I think this can go for a lot of different communities which need intersex specific, non-binary specific, asexuality specific, aromantic specific, bi specific, resources, topics, issues, data.

What does data look like for bisexual communities that’s not lumped in with LGBT or LGB? When we see higher disparities in the bi community that we don’t get to see the nuances of when we don’t separate that data. You know, unpacking, unlearning your assumptions, have inclusive language, support activists and organizations doing this work on the ground. Thinking about your spheres of influence and how you can make change. So what do you do in your day to day life that you can make a change in? Whether it be big, whether it be small, whether it’s today, whether it’s next week or throughout the week, whether it’s next month, but this throughout the year. What are your specific spheres of influence in your work, your home, your families, your friends online.

When I do workshops on intersex inclusion, I make everyone do an exercise in the last 10 minutes. I give them a piece of paper and say, think about what you can do today. Think about what you can do this week, and what you can do this month. And let’s talk about it with everyone in your table. Do you work in residential housing, in student life at a university? Okay. So what are your policies on gender? What are your policies on intersex students in your residence halls? If you work at a bank, what’s your policies? How do they affect trans people? Credit discrimination for trans people is a big thing. And that is now illegal thankfully. But what are the policies that disenfranchise folks? So really thinking about where you work, where you live, what communities you’re a part of, what are your views of influence and how can you make a change on a day to day basis?

And it doesn’t have to be, now I’m going to lead the intersex movement or now I’m going to make this radical, huge change of a community that I’m not a part of. But how can I make small daily actions, whether they’re thinking about land acknowledgements. And this is not something that we’re just saying as a statement, not as a one off. But how do we engage in organizing and supporting the Lenape Nation, the Ramapough-Lenape Nation. How do we support Chief Man of the Ramapough-Lenape Nation in Passaic County? How do we make active investments to the American Indian Community House in New York. How are we supporting two-spirit folks? So really thinking about that on a day to day basis.

Audience Member 2: Okay. I just want to share a really quickly an example of a way that we did that, that we tried to, to change our day-to-day practices. So I’m J from New York City Pride, I’m a volunteer at New York City Pride. I’m also a volunteer at Rhode Island Pride. And we figured out about a year and a half ago or maybe two years ago, that if we stopped using LGBT and we started saying LGBTQIA+, what that causes folks to do, is it causes folks to ask, what’s the I stand for? What’s the A stand for? And this wasn’t just something that’s anecdotal. We looked at Google trends data, and found that when we started using it it causes more people to start using it. So we convinced a bunch of people at NYC Pride to just start using LGBTQIA+ always. You’ll notice that the titles of all the different forums here, at this at the Human Rights Conference, always say LGBTQIA+. You could look yourselves at Google trends data and you’ll see the state of New York ever since about a year and a half ago, and NYC pride started using Google searches on the way up for what is LGBTQIA+, what is intersex, what is asexual? And incredibly, this is more anecdotal. As soon as we started doing it, we started having people coming out with ace, having people coming out as aro, within NYC Pride and the same thing recently with Rhode Island Pride. And I mean it seems like it’s a sort of a direct causation just from using the terms and getting other people to use it.

Laura: That’s kind of what we’re going on with using the words. It makes more people feel more welcome to come. That was actually going to be our next question. So what are our thoughts on different community terms? There’s the different variations of the acronym. There’s queer. There are some other alternatives that are out there but just aren’t popular. What are anyone want to start?

Isabel: I like queer. It’s not as much of a mouthful and, you know, even LGBTQIA+ doesn’t have an N for non-binary, and the G certainly doesn’t stand for genderqueer. And there’s also, as Axel said, two-spirit folks. There’s always going to be somebody whose identity isn’t included. And while they are included in the plus, in some ways it makes it more hurtful when they’re left off of the acronym, when there are more letters included because it’s just like, okay, if it’s LGBTQ+, then it’s just, Oh, this is just the traditional. But you purposely included intersex and asexual and aromantic and you forgot about the about non-binary folks. And also, while A can stand for asexual, aromantic, often in people’s minds it stands for allies, which I personally don’t agree with. And it can stand for agender, but you may not realize what it stands for. You don’t know, you don’t necessarily know. So personally I think queer, I think queer or I think something else. I’ve seen GRSM batted around sometimes: Gender Romantic Sexual Minorities. But queer; queer is my favorite.

Audience Member 2: You don’t get visibility with the word queer. Because the American public in general doesn’t know what intersex is.

Isabel: While that’s absolutely true, I think queer is a better umbrella term than any other because it’s gonna come a lot more naturally. You can define queer after you say it. And that way you can kind of really spell everything out. But I think in terms of having one overarching community term, I like queer.

Audience Member 2: It’s inclusivity versus visibility, right? So having folks feel more –

Isabel: Sorry. Yeah, sorry. Sorry. I think we want to focus on our panel discussion right now. We’ve only got so much time and this is a time for us to talk about our unseen identities from our own perspective. Thanks. Sorry.

Laura: I also think the acronym is not the only place you can include and if it is the only place you’re including, it’s probably not your best.

Isabel: You’re probably not doing enough anyway.

Alex: So, I generally use LGBTQ+. Not for any particular reason. Just because LGBT is the widely used one. LGBTQ+ – it’s not as long as LGBTQIANP whatever, but it takes, so it makes it not just LGBT anymore. Now you’re forcing people to acknowledge that there is more than this. You’re taking this very recognizable acronym and saying that’s not all there is. There are others in this community and you can, you can expand it. You can define more what, you know, what does the Q stand for. But in general it’s, to me it’s mostly about being recognizable without being exclusive. Okay.

Axel: I use LGBTQIA+. But when doing that, I make sure to explicitly include all the identities, and making sure that we’re engaging with these communities. For example, if you’re not doing intersex-specific work, or actively supporting community, don’t use that. But you should be. I use queer, trans and intersex to describe myself.

One concern I have with using queer as an umbrella term, is if queer is used as an umbrella term and we’ve seen this, many intersex people won’t engage with that term. A majority of intersex people will not engage with queer as an overall umbrella term. So it is erasing intersex work. And again intersex folks, intersex community, there’s a difficult relationship with inclusion or not including intersex in the larger LGBTQ+ or queer or queer and trans communities. But some people in the intersex community particularly intersex folks who are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer don’t engage with the larger LGBTQIA+ community. And I think that creates a void in our community where we don’t have the resources that we need. We don’t have the visibility that we need. I think this is on the next question more. But yeah, I generally use LGBTQIA+, but then recognizing the shortfalls of that. And then also needing to actively engage with the communities that you talked about, not just using it as an umbrella term, and then not caring about those communities.

Laura: Yeah. I think that leads into the next question really well. There are some people particularly who identify as ace, aro, or intersex, who don’t consider consider themselves to be a part of the broader LGBTQ+ community. Would you like to speak to that?

Isabel: I think part of it is if the queer community or the LGBTQIA+ community doesn’t include me, then why should I identify myself with them? Part of the reason why I very strongly identify as queer is because like I said, I thought it was a lesbian first. And so I’ve been identifying as queer for longer than I’ve been identifying as ace or aro. And so that’s part of who I am in a very fundamental way. Butparticularly if you are if you’re an alloromantic and straight asexual or you’re an allosexual and straight aromantic, then you may think [about the LGBTQIA+ community], okay, you’re not interested in the queer parts of my identity anyway. You’re going to just call me straight. I’m not going to bother engaging with this community if you’re not going to want to engage with me.

Laura: Good. Anything you [Alex] want to add?

Alex: No, I think Isabel summed it up pretty well. As far as, I mean, I don’t have a ton of thoughts about it because I obviously am not one of those people. I’m bisexual, so I wouldn’t really know.

Axel: Yeah, the intersex community, which is 1.7% of the population, so a huge number of folks, it’s around the same percentage, or a little bit more, than folks who are identical twins. So there are many reasons why some intersex people want to be included under LGBTQIA+. And there are many reasons why others do not. And this is going to be true for, as we see, many other identities and experiences. So LGBTQIA+ gives a certain amount of visibility as you’re saying. More awareness about sex traits, sex characteristics, variations of sex characteristics, and sex assigned at birth, discrimination due to inexperience with sex trait “norms”, medicalization and pathologization, denied bodily autonomy, inadequate medical care in many situations.

But of course there’s going to be some intersex folks who don’t want to be included under LGBTQIA+: they might not see themselves as LGBTQ+ or don’t want to be connected to a larger LGBTQ+ movement for a variety of different reasons. They might not want to fall into the pitfalls of that a larger umbrella can sometimes bring, such as organizations using LGBTQIA+ but not focusing on specific issues, or tacking on getting funding for those issues and then not serving the communities that they’re supposed to represent. They might feel invisibilized. Some intersex folks use lowercase i to draw attention to that, or put I the beginning. And then anti LGBTQ+ bigotry can exist in intersex communities just as it can exist anywhere else. And there are difficult histories between intersex and trans communities, particularly in the United States.

Laura: Do we want to talk a little bit also, kind of on a related note: some genderqueer and non-binary people identify as trans, while some don’t. Do you want to talk about that?

Isabel: I mean, I, for myself, don’t consider myself trans. I also don’t consider myself cis. I consider myself agender, which is outside either of those. I, for myself, I say agender because I completely disassociate with gender. I don’t consider myself any gender, particularly. So, again for myself, I don’t think of myself as transgender because that would imply that I’m moving from one gender to another when in fact I’m not, I’m rejecting gender altogether. So yes, that’s my main feeling. But other people are going to feel differently depending on their identity. If you’re genderfluid, you’re not necessarily rejecting gender, and there are a lot of other genderqueer identities. Those are not necessarily rejecting gender in the same way.

Axel: Yeah. So some intersex, let me say this, sex traits of chromosomes, internal and external anatomy or your hormones, it’s not the same as your gender. So intersex people are not inherently non-binary. And there’s some assumptions that that’s true, but it’s not. But some intersex people may identify as non-binary but not as trans, as trans but not non-binary, as trans and non-binary. Or yeah, or as neither trans nor cis. So even cis and trans exist on a spectrum. And folks can exist outside of that as well. So some intersex non-binary people can view their sex or sex traits, their sex identity as intersex and their gender as a non-binary, and not see that as a trans experience. But they might also not identify as cis. Similarly they might see their gender as non-binary and sex as intersex. They don’t see that as you know, a crossing of the gender binary. Or they might identify as agender and say, no, I’m rejecting gender. And then some non-binary people identify as trans, some don’t. It really depends on your own experiences, definitions, ways of identifying, your connections with the community or communities. But it’s important to support all non-binary people and not to serve as gatekeepers.

Laura: I’m going to skip around questions a little bit because I think Mykie [the fourth panelist] should be here in the next couple of minutes. So while we’re waiting for Mykie, do you want to talk a little bit about sex ed and how sex ed can be more inclusive?

Isabel: There’s the obvious that pretty much all sex ed presumes from the start that you’re going to grow up and want sex or you’re going to grow up and be attracted to people and an important part of love is sex and an important part of love is sex and sex is important to have with people that you love. And like, all of those things are pretty inherently rejecting to ace and aro people specifically because they’re saying there’s something wrong with you for not feeling this, this experience that everyone feels, and that everyone feels like they want to have sex when they grow up. So just the idea that being sex positive includes supporting people’s decision not to have sex for whatever reason they decide. And it also supports, it also includes people’s decision to not have sex in a romantic capacity as long as it’s consensual.

Axel: So comprehensive sex education provides countless benefits when it’s done right. Academically, physically, and emotionally. One thing that I find really interesting is that including health education programs in schools has found to have a positive effect on overall academic outcomes, including reading and math scores. [Dilley, J. (2009). Research review: School-based health interventions and academic achievement. Washington State Board of Health. Future of Sex Education Initiative. (2012). National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12, a special publication of the Journal of School Health. Retrieved from http://www.futureofsexeducation.org/documents/josh-fose-standards-web.pdf]

So I think comprehensive sex education can, and when it’s done well, should and does help young people make informed decisions about sexual activity or no sexual activity, their health and helps influence people’s overall options, development and wellbeing. But as we know, LGBTQIA+ young people often do not receive sexual health education curriculum that’s reflective of their lives, their experiences, their identities and their futures. LGBTQIA+ young people should have the right to have accurate, relevant and inclusive comprehensive sex education that addresses sexual and reproductive health disparities among LGBTQIA+ young people and that allows them to explore and define their experiences and identities and to create safe and accepting environments.

Specifically thinking about intersex folks, intersex students. For intersex young people, sex education is often the first time they learn about their bodies and their intersex traits at all. And it’s often done in a very medicalized and pathologized way. It’s often done through discourse of disorders, or abnormalities. So when the first time an intersex young person might learn about their intersex traits, because they might not hear about from their doctors, they might not hear about it from their parents, but when they hear about it from about biology teacher that they are disordered, that they have something wrong with them, it’s extremely harmful.

And then there’s also things like, chromosome testing, when you do use swabs of your cheek. Some folks do that [in sex education or biology classes], and then you tested and then you might realize that you have xy chromosomes. So that is a huge concern for the intersex community of finding out you’re intersex in a biology classroom when you’re in eighth grade or when you’re in high school and you’ve just been outed to the entire class. So that is a huge concern. But I think gender affirming and gender inclusive and intersex inclusive, LGBTQIA+ inclusive, sexual health education is extremely vital. It is one of the most vital things I think that schools can teach young people, about their overall wellbeing and their futures and give young people the right to an open future and to learn about information that’s relevant to their bodies, relevant to their lives, relevant to their experiences now and in the possible future, and giving people every chance to succeed and in a variety of different ways in their lives. So for me it’s extremely important.

Laura: Awesome. So everyone, this is Mykie. Mykie is a rising senior at Howard University, majoring in biology and minoring in both chemistry and history. Originally born in Jamaica, they emigrated to New York at age nine and hope to return to the city for graduate school. Would you like to tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Mykie: Sure. So my pronouns are they/them or he/him, I’m a trans, nonbinary lesbian. I’m 20 years old and I’m really happy to be here.

Laura: Awesome. So I’ll move on to our next question.

Alex: I actually did have something, I think it’s important in sex ed. I know people talk a lot about consent and that’s really good, but I think we should also acknowledge consent beyond just sex. And that consent for one thing is not consent for another. There’s this sort of assumption that sex and romance go hand in hand and even though sex positivity often does include, Oh, you can have sex with someone without necessarily dating them. But I think for a lot of people, there’s still this concept of like “catching feelings” where you say it’s just going to be a hookup and then, oh, you’ve fallen in love. And I think a lot of aromantic allosexuals are concerned that it will be difficult for them to have sexual relationships without their partners potentially developing romantic feelings for them and then trying to pressure them into a romantic relationship or getting angry that they don’t love them back. Something like that. So I think it’s important to acknowledge that if you consent to having sex with someone, that’s all you’re consenting to. If someone says, yes, I will have sex with you, that does not mean you can say, well, I’m in love with you now, so you have to date me. They said you could have sex. That’s it. They did not give you permission for anything else. And I think that’s something that needs to be focused on more.

Laura: Awesome. [To Mykie] Did you have anything you wanted to add to sex ed?

Mykie: I feel like personally sex ed should be all inclusive. And I feel as though we’re learning to do a better job of different sex ed as it comes to trans people, as it comes to like gay sex relationships. But I feel that sex ed for me was missing a large component of what happens when you don’t want to have sex. So I feel like sex ed should also talk about just general upkeep with your own body, if even if it doesn’t mean sharing your body with another person ever.

Laura: So we’ve been talking about these various identities that we all have. But there are also other identities that we have outside of LGBTQ+ identities that can really impact our experience of our LGBTQ+ identity. So I think maybe we start with race and ethnicity. How do you feel that impacts your identity?

Mykie: Okay. For me, I know being Jamaican and then especially being like a black Jamaican, being a lesbian or not being straight wasn’t ever anything that was really thought about or just assumed that a person could be. So it was very difficult for me to, at first, put these two halves of myself together because they seemed like wouldn’t work. And being a black feminine person, people never really conceptualize the fact that I’m not attracted to men because black women are usually seen as sexual objects for the desire of men. So a lot of people can’t ever wrap their minds around the fact that I don’t entertain men in my life period. And it’s very difficult to be a lesbian and feel like you have to be a lesbian before you are black and then to be black, but to feel like you have to be black before you are a lesbian and no one ever wants to accept both of my identities as equal and both important and valid to my experience in whatever space I take up.

Alex: Well I’m Puerto Rican even though I don’t look like it, but that’s a whole other racism issue. So I feel like a lot of people think that aromanticism and asexuality are a “white people thing”. And the reason that’s harmful, well not only does it erase aro and ace people who are not white or are of any ethnic minority. How many of you have heard of the Spicy Latina lover stereotype? Yeah, they’re saying that basically, because I’m Hispanic, I cannot be aromantic or asexual because that’s a “white people thing.” Because I’m Hispanic, I must be romantic, I must be sexual. I am not the Spicy Latina lover. I need to be able to make my own decisions about my orientation instead of this racist notion that, I’m into love and sex because I’m Hispanic. I can’t be aromantic or asexual. That’s a “white people thing”. So that’s something that really needs to end. We need to recognize aromantic and asexual people of ethnic minorities and racial minorities.

Laura: So another identity or experience that can have an impact is disability, neurodivergence, mental health. Would anyone like to speak to that?

Isabel: So I have depression. I have clinical depression. Fortunately, I’m not depressed now and I haven’t been for a little while now, but I’m on medication and I have been since I was 18, to manage that depression. And one of the things that’s difficult about having depression and being ace is that a symptom of depression is a suppressed libido. A symptom of antidepressants, SSRIs, is a suppressed libido. So if I say I’m asexual, does that mean that, is that just because I’m depressed? Is that just a symptom? Is that just a symptom of my depression? I mean, first of all, the libido and sexuality are not the same thing. I have a libido. It’s just not directed towards anyone, which is a whole different issue. So the one thing isn’t connected to the other, but I’ve had to convince the doctor prescribing me medication for years. Can you stop asking me that on your checklist? Like, that’s not a relevant part of the checklist. Please stop. I’m completely and utterly out [as ace] and she still refuses to, to get that. And then it also leads to a fair amount of self doubt of, am I really asexual? And like, I think I am. I probably am. I’ve been, you know, I’ve been identifying as such for a while now and I’ve haven’t been depressed for awhile now and so hopefully it’s not a symptom, but since doubt is going to be kind of planted in your mind no matter what, if you’re ace or aro and you have a diagnosis that people think is a cause, that kind of exacerbates that in a less than fun way.

Alex: Oh, I want to start by saying I think, I think in some cases maybe it could be related to mental health and that’s okay. You can be ace and aro and you can have it be because you have such and such issue. If you choose to identify as ace and aro, ace or aro, you know, the cause behind it isn’t important. What’s important is how it affects your life. So secondly, I have ADHD, which is a cousin disorder to autism. And I would actually like to talk about autism, because a lot of my friends are aromantic and autistic. And I think there’s this issue. Well first of all, there’s, for some reason people say that you’re not allowed to say aspec when you’re talking about aromantics and asexuals because it refers to autism. That is not true.

Laura: Can you explain aspec really quickly?

Alex: Oh. So aspec means aromantic and asexual spectrum. It’s another term for ace and aro, ace and/or aro that isn’t as much of a mouthful to say, but it’s still inclusive of all identities that fall under ace and/or aro umbrellas. I guess it’s probably mostly used online. I don’t know. I’m not involved as much.. But a lot of people for some reason say that aspec refers to the autism spectrum, which is not true. And, many autistic aspecs have said, no, that’s not true. People still talk over them. But also there’s this idea that you can’t have autism, aromanticism, and asexuality together because that’s a negative stereotype about autistics, and to some extent that is true, but it’s also important to recognize that there are a lot of aces and aros who are autistic and  you can’t say that they’re being a negative stereotype of themselves, that they’re oppressing themselves. We have to welcome them. We have to make sure that they know that it’s okay to be themselves. And I also think it’s important to have representation for them. You know, and I think it’s a very nuanced thing, if your only ace and aro character in such and such a show is also the only autistic character. If you point to the autistic-coded character in a show and go, that’s my asexual headcanon, and don’t think that about any of the other characters. That’s possibly a problem.

Isabel: *cough* Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory *cough*

Alex: Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory everybody. But yeah, it is a negative stereotype, but also, you know, people like that exist. And so we just need to represent a lot of different ace and aro and autistic experiences and not lump them all together, but also not completely exclude them. Not say that you can’t do that [be autistic and aspec].

Axel: So something I think a lot about, is in terms of accessibility, community accessible community events. So thinking about, what spaces disabled folks can enter — and I use specifically disabled as identity-first language in terms of… it’s okay to say disabled. So, thinking about what events have ASL and CART services, what spaces are accessible for folks with mobility devices? What events have audio descriptions? Are there scent- and fragrance-free spaces with folks with scent sensitivity? Is there food provided for events? Is there transportation provided for events? Are there sober spaces? And who are we intentionally, or unintentionally leaving out in LGBTQIA+, queer spaces, trans spaces, when we don’t have those services, when we don’t have those, you know, general accomodations, when we don’t center disabled folks, for our events.

If we don’t have things, you know, live streams for folks who can’t come into the space, thinking about what we’re really lacking in our community and what we’re missing out on, because disabled LGBTQIA+ folks are brilliant, and we are missing out. And it is not only a problem because folks can’t come to these spaces, but it’s a problem for everyone in this room when we’re missing out on the brilliance and when we’re missing out on community. We’re missing out on folks who bring, just like everyone else in this room, something incredibly important. So really thinking about how do we recenter our priorities in our communities. Whether we only have events at Stonewall on the second floor that isn’t accessible, and that isn’t necessarily a safe space for folks who can’t be around alcohol. There’s a lot of scents everywhere, and dim lighting, so you can’t sign with other folks. So, figuring out, how do we create robust and accessible communities, spaces, care and support. What does community support look like for disabled LGBTQIA+ folks, and how can everyone be involved in that?

Laura: Thank you. [To Mykie] Did you have anything you wanted to add for this question?

Mykie: Two things. I know for me as another person with ADHD and on top of that a personality disorder, a lot of community events get very, very overwhelming. And I think one thing that we as a community can really work on is seeing — meeting an individual where they’re at, because we kind of assume that if we are all able-bodied or like, mentally present enough to be able to do something, then the onus is on that one person to now figure out their own workaround to meet the larger community where we’re at. But I feel as though we can definitely work on, like you said, inclusive spaces and making sure that our community is an actual community and being able to make all — pretty much everything that the queer community does for the queer community should be accessible to every member of the queer community, no matter their disability, physical, mental, emotional, or whatever. They should be able to exist in spaces that have sensory accommodating places. They should be able to read what other people can hear. They should be able to see what other people can see. We as a community know what it’s like to be marginalized. And I don’t feel as though there’s any reason for us to further marginalize the people within our own group.

Laura: Yeah. Thank you. So the next experience I want to talk about was how different LGBTQ+ identities can interact with each other, particularly, gender and sexuality. Did you have anything to add?

Mykie: Yeah. I actually realized I was trans before I realized I was a lesbian and it was very difficult because in like the third or fourth grade I thought I was a trans boy, but then I realized I was just a little more masculine than the other girls I was around. And then I realized I wasn’t a girl at all. And then as I started to figure out my sexuality, I couldn’t combine the whole not being a woman and then not being attracted exclusively to ciswomen with the definition of lesbian that I’ve been hearing my entire life. So it was very, very hard to come to the conclusion that I am in fact a lesbian because it didn’t seem like that sexuality label and the gender label that I had chosen for myself to like ever work.

And then TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] are a thing. I’m really, really sad and it’s very difficult to want to finally find something that you think is your own and then to have grown-ass women on the internet be like, no, you can be a lesbian because you feel like a boy some days. And it’s just, it’s really hard because people don’t realize that gender and sexuality aren’t as closely linked as we made them. So you can identify as a gender and identify as a sexuality that seems completely counterintuitive because it’s your own personal experiences and no one’s living your life but you.

Laura: [To Isabel] Did you have anything you wanted to add to that?

Isabel: Like I said before, I think my gender is entirely related to, for me, is entirely related to my sexual and romantic orientations, partly because I don’t view my own body or others’ bodies as being sexual at all. And I would prefer that nobody viewed anybody’s, my body certainly, as sexual, and I would prefer that nobody made me view their body as sexual at all because that’s, for me, personally gross. I think because in our society, at least, gender is so tied up with how you want people to interact with you sexually or how you want to interact with other people sexually, that it’s really hard to separate, for me, the two. For me, again, it’s just like, I don’t experience my own gender, because the societal experiences of being a woman are so integral to sex overall that it’s impossible to make those line up with my experience as being completely asexual. And the same thing is true to a lesser extent with being aromantic. So for me it’s more of, I’m opting out of this entirely. Everyone else can go figure their own selves out, but I refuse to be a part of this gender binary dynamic.

Laura: [To Alex] I don’t know if you’d like to share something?

Alex: I think aromanticism is very difficult in the context of womanhood because, and this is something probably a lot of lesbians will understand, but being a woman in our society is very tied up with the concept of being attracted to men. Like for me personally, I love fiction and I’ve always had a difficult time with fiction that’s aimed at women. I find that I enjoy series that are aimed at boys. Most of my favorite characters are male. And it bothered me because for a long time I couldn’t figure out why. You know, I never seem to like the women characters as much, you know, clearly this must mean I’m just a misogynist. I hate women, even though I try so hard to be a feminist, clearly there’s something wrong here. And after a long time I’ve figured out it’s because women in fiction, you know, men get to be people who have romantic subplots; women are romantic subplots who have backstories basically. That’s why I never liked Sailor Moon because so much of it is about her and prince what’s his name? I also feel like it can affect trans people. A lot of my trans friends feel that being aro has influenced their transness because of this disconnect from womanhood. You know, I still consider myself a woman. And it’s also difficult because some of them start to question, maybe that means I’m not really trans. Maybe I just have internalized whatever because of aro stuff, am I not really trans? And then it’s really, really difficult for them. One of my friends, my friend arokaladin, actually coined the term arogender, which means a gender that is affected by aromanticism. So I think it’s important that we recognize the way aromanticism and more specifically the way our societies focus on romance ties into gender, how this can affect trans people, how this can affect women and being aware of that.

Axel: Yeah. I think when I started doing intersex community organizing work, one of the questions I got a lot was how can an intersex person identify as a lesbian, or how can an intersex person be gay? And again that comes back to the misunderstanding that your sex traits are the same as your gender. There wasn’t an understanding that sex traits are different than your gender. There are intersex women, there are women who are intersex, there are men who are intersex, there are non-binary intersex folks. So that isn’t necessarily a part of gendered aspect of your sexual orientation. But it can, and it cannot influence your sexual orientation. It really depends on the person and the way they view their own sexual orientation or how they navigate gender or sexual orientation, sexuality as a whole, as well as being an intersex person or someone with a variation of sex characteristics. I don’t think I’ve gotten the question recently, which I’m really happy about. But yeah, that was a common question of how do you have a sexual orientation? How do you exist as a person? Just like everyone else in the world. Yeah, so I think in terms of, for me, as someone who is non-binary, I definitely like queer and bisexual. Both because those are the ways that I experienced my sexual orientation, but it’s also kind of look, I don’t know. Sexuality as a whole is really complicated. And you know, we don’t know why necessarily some folks experience attraction or don’t experience attraction or don’t experience sexuality. Whether it’s romantic or sexual.

And you know what, I personally don’t want to know. I think that’s a very dangerous territory. Also in terms of gender, if we have a gene or traits that, or a series of traits, that predicts or tells you your sexual orientation or your gender or x, y, and z, people would try to erase that. And we see that with intersex traits, people try to erase intersex traits, they try to erase us. So I am very nervous about that. Or things around brain sex or brain gender, I get very nervous around that because of how that has occurred in the intersex community. So I know it’s loaded. And I think why terms like queer can be really great for some folks that use it. Queer for me, it’s not necessarily about my sexual orientation. It’s not necessarily about who I am sexually and romantically attracted to. It’s about the relationships that I formed with people and the intentional way I view relationships that I think is different than other folks, who might not be queer. It’s an intentional kind of community building. And it’s an intentional way of not viewing people as just disposable, it is valuing the relationships. It’s valuing the connections I have very intentionally and very lovingly in a variety of different ways.

Laura: Awesome. So we have five minutes left. Are there any thoughts that we didn’t get to on the panel that we want to share or should I open up to questions?

Alex: I have one thing. It’s really, really, really important to recognize allosexual aromatics because I didn’t know that you could be aromantic and not asexual for a long time. And I spent all of my teenage years thinking that there was something wrong with me, that I would never belong anywhere. That clearly I was just insane because, you know, I wasn’t bi, I wasn’t a lesbian, I wasn’t straight, but I wasn’t asexual. So what was wrong with me? That’s why we really need to recognize allosexual aromantic because we can’t recognize ourselves if we don’t know that we exist. We need people to tell us that it’s okay to exist.

Laura: Awesome. Thank you. Do we have any questions from the audience?

Audience Member 3: [Inaudible, but a question about how the intersex community feels about the International Olympic Committee banning Caster Semenya, a runner from South Africa, because of her increased testosterone levels.] At least there’s a conversation about intersex identities.

Axel: Yeah. So you’re talking about Caster Semenya, the South African runner. So yeah, so Caster is a South African runner. She’s amazing. She’s fast. Yeah. And Caster has higher levels of testosterone. So there’s the idea that if you have higher levels of testosterone, do you have an unfair advantage? You know, Caster is also much taller than me. You know, Michael Phelps has a gene that makes him be able to break down lactic acid very quickly. I don’t have that. I’m a swimmer. I’m never gonna be as fast as Michael Phelps. So thinking that intersex traits give you an unfair advantage is not true. Having this higher testosterone level does not give you an unfair advantage like being able to process lactic acid faster does not give you an unfair advantage. It’s part of our natural bodily variations and some folks have bodily variations that allow them to compete in sports at a higher level than me, in particular. I think it’s really important to talk about Caster both because I think there are a lot of things going on. There is anti-black racism going on when we talk about Caster. There is misogynoir. And then also, you know, anti-intersex bigotry going as well. There’s a lot of things going on. Because we’re talking, you know, about a black South African runner who is also intersex. Caster is a woman. Being intersex doesn’t not make you a woman. Caster is a woman and she should be able to compete with women. But I think there’s a lot of confusion around when we were talking about Caster, that folks don’t necessarily know what intersex means so they don’t really know, understand what they’re talking about. And so I think it’s important to listen to intersex folks when they’re talking about other, you know, there are a lot of different intersex athletes as well, when we’re talking about these issues.

Laura: Any other questions?

Audience Member 4: Hi, I’m A, and I’m bisexual aromantic. That’s kind of the first time I’ve ever said that out loud. [Audience applause.] It’s a little freaky. Everything you said pretty much related to my past experience, so especially that part. Well, my point, my question is, media sells love as like the be-all end-all of human connection. And I was wondering how you guys kind of accepted that that might not be what’s in your future. Because for me, when I was a kid, my dream was always to get married and have kids and stuff like that. And now that I’m older I’m like, I don’t want that, but I feel like I have to want that. Do you have any thoughts?

Alex: Well, my childhood dream was always to be rich enough to take all my friends to Disneyland.

Isabel: Could I be your friend?

Alex: Yes. So, yeah, it is I think difficult. It’s scary because there’s the idea that marriage is sort of where you end up in life and so everybody gets married, they separate off with their partner. And then that’s the main thing in their life that’s most important. That’s who they build their lives around. So when you’re aromantic, there’s a lot of fear that, you know, if you’re not going to get married, are you going to spend your life alone? Are your friends going to get married and then forget about you? Are you not going to have someone who cares about you the same way? And I think there’s really not a lot that I can say, there’s no easy answer to this, but I think one of the things we need to do is start – people can just kind of question that in their lives.

How do you, why do you place romance above everything else? Is friendship important enough to you? Would you be willing to build your life around a friend? And if not, why? I think we need to start questioning why we value platonic relationships differently from romantic relationships, if we should do that, what the harmful effects of it are and what we can do to fight against it.

Laura: Yeah. I think one of the hardest things with that is you don’t have a lot of examples, you don’t have a lot of models of what a non-romantic future looks like. And so I think in the meantime before we have those models, you kind of have to make up your own.

Alex: And there are some, but it’s historically been like, oh, Nikola Tesla. He died alone in love with pigeons because he was crazy. And yeah, he must’ve been asexual and it’s like —

Isabel: To be fair. So I was going to respond with, one of the responses that I had gotten a lot is: But like, don’t you want to have love in your life? Don’t you want love? And I say, I have lots of love in my life, thank you very much. I have very nice parents and a perfectly lovely sister and dogs and, you know, if you ever walk anywhere with me, you will know that the true love of my life is definitely dogs. [Laura agrees] And I know that I would want to live with someone someday because I know I don’t do well on my own and I know I would want to live with several dogs because I like them. I don’t have any more models of what I need my life to be like because I haven’t figured out my life yet and I’ll figure it out as I go along. But, you know, it’s one of those things where it helps to find the community of other aces and aros who can kind of give you all of their other dreams, who can all tell you their dreams and all say, “this one’s mine,” and you can kind of pick and choose and adapt it how it works for you.

Alex: Yeah. I mean, I love my friends so much I could scream. I just love them so goddamn much, I’m like Yugioh— I’m all about the friendship. But that’s not always true for everyone, honestly. And even if it’s not, there’s a lot more in life to just love. There’s so much to enjoy and so much to do and I don’t think that life is not worth living without some sort of partner or some sort of close relationships, no matter what type those relationships may be. I think people can just be themselves and that’s good enough, that they exist and that they are in this world and that they have things that they want to do. I think everyone can have a future regardless of who is in their life.

Audience Member 5: Absolutely. I think this is such an important discussion, even if you don’t identify as aromantic. I think so many people either enter or stay in bad relationships because they’re told they’re supposed to do that. Absolutely. They’re afraid of the societal pressures and I’ve seen it over and over and over again. This is like the start of a conversation that needs to be elevated.

Isabel: Coincidentally, Laura and I led a session at Creating Change earlier this year in Detroit called Queering Relationships on what you can learn from the ace and aro perspectives on relationships. Which is basically, you know, fuck the standards. Society is screwed up anyway in all sorts of different ways, that includes the way relationships are formed. We have the resources for that. So it should be on our website.

Laura: So with that, yeah, so we will have some resources up on our website. I’m going to be adding a little bit more to it. You can find them at taaap.org/panel. Unfortunately, we don’t have anything to hand you. TAAAP with three A’s, three A’s.

Isabel: We actually do have a business cards which have our email address and our website and all of our different, basically all of the ways that you can reach us on it. So if you want to take that or if you want to take these happy stickers, that reminds you what the a in LGBTQIA stands for.

Laura: That’s taaap.org/panel.

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