Just Don't Do It
AVEN and David Jay help the asexual community come together
 

Ambiguous
It’s 1993 and David Jay is 14 years old. His friends are talking about what all 14-year-old boys gab about: girls. But as the group of guys gets louder with fledgling machismo, Jay remains silent. He’s hoping none of his buddies ask him questions like, “Who do you think is hot,” or “Who would you like to go steady with?” Jay’s silence has nothing to do with an inability to talk to the opposite sex, but is due to a faint feeling he may not have the capacity to desire a person in a sexual manner, ever.

“People started to articulate their sexuality and suddenly everyone around me was articulating something I didn’t understand,” says Jay.

Today, at 24, Jay is the founder of the largest, most prominent asexual online community called which stands for Asexual Visibility and Education Network and the website is Asexuality.org During his adolescence, there were few resources Jay could use to learn more about what he was beginning to call his sexual orientation: asexual. Opposed to letting his sexuality remain a mystery, Jay began a quest of self-discovery, which has lead to pro-activity.

In 1994, Jay moved on to Crossroads School, a small private high school located in Jay’s hometown of St. Louis, Mo. At Crossroads, Jay was part of a unique class, where being gay, queer or bisexual was seen as no more important than a person’s musical preference.
Jay embraced the school’s emphasis in progressive, community-building ideals by joining a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) club and becoming involved in theater. By the time he was 16, he was busy with extracurricular activities and socializing. But the uncertainty he felt when he was with his friends two years earlier still lingered in his mind, and it was becoming a formidable presence in his teenage epic for self-identity.

Years after his first realization of his inability to relate to sexuality, Jay is still waiting, thinking to himself that he is a late bloomer, an assumption that his mother, father, and sister also clutch on to. Jay waits and remains silent as more questions about his sexuality surface.

“It took all of high school for me to figure out if I was okay,” says Jay. “I didn’t know if it was neurotic sexual oppression or a chemical imbalance.”

Just a decade ago, a simple Internet search for the word, “asexual” would yield numerous sites describing the sexual orientation of amoebas, which Jay says is how the earliest slang for being asexual spawned.

As Jay left high school, many friends were still unsure about his sexual orientation. He moved to Middletown, Conn. and enrolled in Wesleyan University, a private college with a liberal slant. Though he felt more confident with himself as an asexual there, he desired an outlet to express something that’s becoming too big to internalize.

“I wanted to establish a campus life before coming out because I didn’t want to be the ‘asexual guy’,” says Jay.

The Human Amoeba

Continuing his passion for activism, Jay joined progressive political groups and Wesleyan’s LGBT organization. Between classes and meetings, he began to formulate a method for sparking dialogue about asexuality.

In 2001, Jay took another crack at searching the Internet and stumbled upon a Yahoo group called “The Human Amoeba,” the first asexual online community with a population of approximately 20 people.

Although Jay jokes about the unimpressive number of The Human Amoeba members, he remembers the rush of joy, excitement and relief that overwhelmed him when reading the threads of support and confessions to discussion and frustration that other asexual people were posting in forums, which was the site’s main feature. According to Jay, the Human Amoeba was a convergence of three groups: people who are anti-sex because they feel sex is bad, people who saw asexuality as a medical condition and people who believed asexuality to be a queer identity, which was flexible in definition but focused on community building. Jay says the latter of the three is his “posse.”

Eventually, Jay saw an opportunity to start a community where people don’t have to be too concerned with definitions but embrace the feeling of being accepted and understood. He launched AVEN in 2001.

When Jay came home from his first semester at Wesleyan, he decided he was confident enough to tell his parents, Daniel Jay and Mary Ann Lazarus, that he was asexual and wanted to build his work around asexual awareness. Jay says he was never afraid to come out to his parents, considering they raised him with a completely liberal understanding.

After Jay told his parents about his sexuality at their neighborhood café, a momentary silence settled between the family and mugs of coffee.

“We support you, but we don’t want you to limit yourself, don’t get caught up in the label,” said Lazares with a reassuring tone.

Returning from the café, Jay’s parents shared his decision with his sister Laura, who is three years younger than her brother.

“When my parents told me that David was asexual I was confused but it made sense,” says Laura.

According to Laura, there wasn’t any anger or disappointment about Jay’s coming out as an asexual, but her parents were worried that Jay was going to be lonely.

Initially thinking it might be a passing phase, Jay’s parents suggested he see Dr. Wolf, his physician since he was a child. Jay recalls Dr. Wolf saying, “There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you wrote a book on it I don’t think anyone would buy it.”
In retrospect, Jay laughs at Dr. Wolf’s words of wisdom, since he’s currently considering several proposals for a book on asexuality from publishing companies.

A-Sexy

It’s the night before AVEN goes live; the bags under Jay’s eyes are heavy and dark. He is in the midst of the 38th hour of installing the essentials.

Today, the most popular of AVEN services are the forums. Jay, being the host, notices how people who find AVEN express a childlike excitement, similar to his own reaction when he participated in the Human Amoeba community. Other useful features of AVEN are facts about asexuality and support for parents of asexuals. There is also a store with merchandise that contains asexual pride messages, like “A- Pride” and “A-sexy” blazoned on T-shirts and baseball caps.

Paul Cox is an AVEN user who lives in New York. A little over a year ago he stumbled onto AVEN after doing a Google search when his friends jokingly called him asexual. After looking at the website, Cox realized the feeling of not belonging – not being straight or gay – is normal and other people share his sentiments. Cox says his initial excitement of finding an asexual community is something every new member expresses, but it still surprised him to hear new members continue to post the line, “I thought I was the only one”.

“It amazes me that we could be so alienated as to actually believe that there isn’t a single other person like us out of six-billion in the world. This is why we need more education in statistics,” says Cox.

Cox is part of AVEN’s project team, which is a recently elected group of members who develop the asexual community online and in the real world. Cox also hosts asexual community meetings in New York and in New Jersey.

A visitor to AVEN can undergo a crash course in asexuality. A person will learn that an asexual “is someone who does not experience sexual attraction” but “each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction and arousal somewhat differently.” The site also dispels asexual stereotypes and misconceptions. AVEN’s fact page states that asexuals can experience arousal but it’s not connected to sexual desire.

Cox breaks the asexual stereotype everyday he’s with his girlfriend.

“We’re following a very DIY [do it yourself] philosophy. If the larger culture doesn’t respect, acknowledge or even believe in us, we’ll just create our own culture,” says Cox.

A year after AVEN went live, its membership jumped from 50 to 1,200 and became the kind of resource Jay wanted when he was a teenager but never had.

By 2004, asexuality had become a preverbal hot topic after Anthony Bogaert of Canada’s Brock University published his extensive article, “Asexuality: Prevalence and Associated Factors in a National Probability Sample,” which, according to Bogaert, was conducted due to a lack of detailed information on human asexuality.

Months after the Bogaert’s study, Jay was photographed for an article on asexuality in the New Scientist Magazine. In a single year, Jay became the face for asexuality. His boyish good looks and charismatic accessibility propels him into the spotlight with interviews on “20/20” and “The View.” Laura remembers seeing her brother in a magazine she stumbled upon while perusing the periodical section at Borders.

“My friends and I were screaming,” says Laura, who couldn’t believe her brother’s visage put a face to what the New York Times and other newspapers were referring to as the asexual revolution.

Cox and Jay have yet to meet but they converse online and on the telephone quite often. Cox saw Jay as a “mysterious force” when he first became a member of AVEN, but now he sees Jay as someone who doesn’t say much but, when he does, its always insightful.

“There’s nowhere to go but up,” says Cox. “I see David at the vanguard… he is the one who went past the assumption of being ‘the only one’ and actually started looking for others.”

Jay’s role in AVEN is not as large as it was during its humble beginnings, but that doesn’t mean he has any free time. He wants AVEN, which now has over 8,000 members from Germany to Japan, to move out of its home in cyberspace and into the living community. He wants to encourage young people to vote. He wants to give lectures to LGBT groups on campuses across the country. He may even want a baby (in the far distant future, he adds).

When asked if being an asexual allows him to do so much because he doesn’t want sex, Jay jokingly replies, “I wish I could think about sex… that would be a vacation.”

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