Research Ruminations

Augustine Udukumbura: The Visibility of Asexuality and Asexual Education

Interviewer: Mandy Tang 

Editor: Selena Perez

In this article, Mandy Tang interviews Augustine Udukumbura. Augustine is a third-year double majoring in Sociology and Gender Studies, while minoring in LGBTQ Studies. Their research interest lies in asexuality, with a focus on its social implications. This article highlights Augutine’s research experience in asexual education and their perspective on the intersection of LGBTQ studies and education. 

Mandy: Can you share your research experience, and the motivation behind studying asexual education?

Augustine: Certainly! In the initial phase of my research journey, the main focus was examining the representation of asexuality within gender and sexuality alliance clubs. I aimed to evaluate if/how these clubs incorporate asexuality, since general perception often limits the LGBTQ community to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities. The prevailing understanding tends to associate LGBTQ solely with same-sex or same-gender attraction. This is what motivated me to delve even deeper into understanding asexuality and promoting its representation. Typically, people define asexuality as a “lack of sexual attraction,” but it’s important to note that asexuality broadly refers to “experiencing little to no sexual attraction.” It’s a spectrum in the sense that it’s not necessarily a total absence of experiencing attraction.

Asexual belonging within higher education is a significant area of focus in my research. Specifically, I explore the exclusion of asexuality in various contexts, including extracurricular activities. For example, in one specific proposal, I examine the syllabus offered to students in relevant courses, and monitor class participation to gauge student responses when asexuality is introduced. Unfortunately, there are instances where asexuality is overlooked or dismissed. I actually had a personal experience that greatly influenced my interest in asexual projects. I encountered a professor who asserted that asexuality is not a queer identity. This statement troubled me deeply because it disregarded the fact that being queer encompasses diverse experiences, including non-normative experiences such as asexuality. Not everyone experiences or desires sexual attraction, and asexuality is a valid and legitimate orientation. This experience highlighted the issue that even within spaces where individuals are expected to be well-educated about sexuality and gender issues, there can still be a tendency to adhere to a normative framework that assumes everyone must have sex or experience sexual attraction. Challenging and expanding these frameworks is crucial to fostering inclusivity and understanding for asexual individuals within higher education and society at large. I believe a more inclusive and comprehensive asexual education can serve as a form of psychological empowerment for asexual people.

Mandy: What gaps or shortcomings in the existing literature did you aim to address in your research project, and how do you incorporate intersectional perspectives in your research on asexuality? 

Augustine: For sure, asexual research undoubtedly faces significant challenges, including pathologization, lack of diverse representation, and issues of inclusion within the asexual community. One major drawback I have noticed is the absence of sufficient positionalities in research. There are not many researchers who identify as asexual themselves, so it is crucial to include their perspectives and voices in order to ensure accurate representation.

In my research on asexuality, I adopt an intersectional perspective, which involves considering how asexuality is perceived within the broader LGBTQ community, encompassing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. This is important because there is often considerable overlap and complexity in terms of identities. For instance, someone can identify as a biromantic asexual or an aromantic lesbian. Therefore, my aim has been to bring clarity to the terminology and address the ambiguous areas within asexual research.

Mandy: What are some common misconceptions or stereotypes associated with asexuality and asexual education? How does your research challenge or debunk these misconceptions?

Augustine: Absolutely, there are several misconceptions surrounding asexuality that contribute to the erasure and misunderstandings of asexual individuals. One is the assumption that asexual people are prudish or have a negative view of sexuality. There is also an assumption that asexual individuals are childish or immature. These misconceptions lead to the false notion that asexual people are not able to engage in sexual activities or experience intimacy.

However, it is essential to challenge these misconceptions and recognize that asexuality does not preclude asexual individuals from engaging in consensual sexual activities. Asexual individuals can participate in and enjoy acts of sexuality and intimacy, regardless of their lack of sexual attraction. It is crucial to emphasize that asexuality recognizes the human variation of sexual attraction, in which some people experience less attraction than others, rather than a total rejection of sexual experience or desire.

To address these false notions and promote a better understanding of asexuality, I think a multi-faceted approach is necessary. One aspect of this involves increasing visibility through asexual education and awareness campaigns. By incorporating asexual voices, experiences, and perspectives within higher education and society as a whole, we can challenge these misconceptions and foster a more inclusive environment. Self-advocacy also plays a crucial role in this endeavor. Asexual individuals themselves can support greatly by sharing their stories, educating others, and advocating for the recognition and understanding of asexuality. 

Mandy: How has your experience as a Q-scholar and intern at the LGBTQ CRC center  inspired you to explore the area of LGBTQ studies more? 

Augustine: I am so grateful to be able to participate in both the Q Scholars program and the Assessment Engagement internship at LGBTQ CRC. This has been an incredibly fulfilling experience. During my internship at the CRC, I had the opportunity to present on asexuality twice. It was truly remarkable to have an audience that was genuinely interested in learning more about asexuality. The audience consisted of individuals who identified as asexual, allies who wanted to offer support, and even those who were questioning their own identities or seeking information on asexual experiences before identifying as such. Their curiosity and willingness to ask questions made the experience gratifying and further highlighted the importance of visibility in asexual education.

While I did not present on asexuality during the most recent Q Scholars event, the program itself contributed to the development of my research ideas. It provided a platform for collaboration and discussion among a group of individuals with shared interests. It was like being part of a working group where conversations sparked my curiosity and enriched my understanding of various concepts related to LGBTQ studies. One memorable moment during the program was when I posed the question, “If I were a worm, would you still love me?” It may seem like a silly question, but it actually relates to asexuality as it explores the negotiation of humanity, sexuality, and consent, using the metaphor of a worm and the notions of bodily attachment. This conversation further deepened my ideas and brought them to life.

Both the CRC and Q Scholars programs offered a supportive community and professional development opportunities. The CRC fostered lively discussions and provided a space for exploring ideas, while Q Scholars allowed for engagement with a diverse group of individuals and offered a different kind of professional symposium experience. The combination of community-building and professional development within these programs has been instrumental in strengthening my ideas in LGBTQ studies and inspiring growth and exploration in these areas.

Mandy: Throughout your journey in Sociology and LGBTQ Studies, what would you consider to be one of the most enlightening moment? 

Augustine: I have this great mentor named Dr. Kara Placek, who is from the Department of Sociology. Sometimes her classes are cross-listed with Gender Studies. I took SOCIOL-M162: Sociology of Gender and SOCIOL-180A: Special Topics in Sociology with her, and it was such an inspiring experience for me. One particular moment that stood out was when I was writing a paper on “kink”. It was fascinating to discover the overlap between asexuality and this specific field, highlighting how emerging and underrepresented areas within academia can intersect. Seeing these underrepresented fields gain more recognition and traction is encouraging and important. At the same time, I realize that having someone who is patient and supportive, willing to listen without imposing their own ideas, was a truly enlightening experience. It provided a sense of community and a valuable sounding board for my research on asexuality. The support I received was vital in navigating misconceptions and ensuring the visibility of asexual education and research.