“Is something wrong with you?” is the response Matt Cipolla, a sophomore cinema art + science major, often gets when he tells people he identifies as asexual and aromantic.
“I don’t feel sexual attraction toward other people,” Cipolla said. “I still have a sex drive and a libido, but it’s not directed toward any people. I don’t have a need or want for sex.”
While gay and lesbian people have made strides toward equal rights and acceptance, little progress has been made for people of other sexual identities like Cipolla.
The arguments of “we’re just like you straight people” and “we’re born this way” of the Gay Rights Movement helped gay and lesbian people achieve rights, but ultimately hurt other sexual orientations, said Stephanie Sasso, a licensed psychologist with certification in sex therapy from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
“Those arguments tend to fall apart a bit when you talk about more nuanced identities,” Sasso said. “It’s harder to make that ‘We’re just like you’ argument if someone’s sexuality is very fluid because then we’re talking about not only challenging people’s heteronormativity but also their concept of what gender [identity] is.”
Sasso said people have begun to stop thinking of sexuality as a binary concept of straight and gay and are more accepting of sexualities throughout the spectrum.
Cipolla said he thinks asexual people are underrepresented in the conciousness of mainstream society, adding that sometimes people just need to know the definition of a sexuality for it to make sense to them.
“All of the terms under the asexuality umbrella recognize that some people aren’t sexual,” Sasso said. “Whether you’re sexual and when you’re sexual may be the more prominent piece for someone in terms of their identity than the gender of the person they would be attracted to.”
Emily Waters, a junior cinema art + science major, identifies as panromantic—being romantically attracted to anyone regardless of gender identity—and gray-asexual—rarely feeling sexual attraction.
Waters said she believes sexualities like hers are underreported and need more attention in media and early health education to reduce stigmas associated with them.
“Quite a large amount of the population [would identify] as pansexual or asexual if they actually knew what it meant,” Waters said. “I would want them to get the idea that it exists, and it’s not a bad thing.”
Sasso said millennials and younger people are generally more understanding of sexualities other than gay or straight and have embraced them with an unprecedented tolerance unlike ideologies of older generations.
“The biggest thing that makes people change their attitudes is knowing someone in an identity group,” Sasso said. “When we got to this tipping point where everybody knew somebody who was gay, it was harder to be discriminatory or deny people rights when it was their neighbor or someone they knew.”
Madison Kennedy, a sophomore theatre major, identifies as pansexual but tells others she is bisexual because more people are familiar with the term. Pansexuality is defined as not limiting sexual choice in regards to gender identity, while bisexuality is regarded as being attracted to people of their same and other gender identities.
“As someone that makes and does theatre, I think just creating more roles and more awareness in general of [sexuality] in art is really important,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the LGBT world has come a long way in the last 10 years and she hopes more of the lesser-known sexualities, like those she identifies with, begin to gain recognition.
“I’m not broken,” Cipolla said. “Just like a bunch of other people, I wouldn’t want my sexuality to define me as a person because, as a whole, I would say that’s widely insignificant.”