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First, let’s talk about one of the oldest movement of asexual women (and lesbians): the Golden Orchid in South China. The Golden Orchid was a collection of organizations in South China that began during the Qing dynasty and existed from approximately 1644 to 1949. Image
The Golden Orchid societies allowed women who to avoid having to marry men or women, and any romantic or sexual partnership, by introducing “self-combing women” who would comb their hair into the style of a married woman and have a ceremony to celebrate such a decision.
The words ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ were coined by Hungarian writer and journalist Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1869. The end of the 19th century saw was the turning point in understanding sexuality. It was the start of LGBTQ activism and the development of sexology.
The earliest (documented) use of the word ‘asexual’ (as “Anästhesia sexualis”) was in a 1896 pamphlet called “Sappho und Sokrates” by Magnus Hirschfeld, a german sexologist. His motto? What is natural cannot be immoral.
(Translated from german to english by AVEN member:) Image
At the beginning of the 20th century, asexuals (mostly asexual women) and mentions of asexuality were common in feminism. Promoted especially in radical feminist movements. But there were also articles who spoke against asexuality and asexual women.
One article was written in 1907 by Helen Fraser, called “Women’s Suffrage”, it talks about asexual women ruining society. It’s from The Westminster Review, a political magazine. She wrote: Image
“Feminism,” by Correa Moylan Walsh, 1917. He talks about how asexuals and lesbians are going to destroy feminism and human society. Feminism, which begun among asexuals, is spreading to those with ‘normal sexual instincts’ by imitation, who then end up ‘repressing’ themselves. Image
Another feminist movement was the Spinster Movement, around the 1880s through the 1930s. It was a group of women who either felt no sexual attraction (aka asexuals), or felt some sexual attraction but didn’t want to have sex. Spinsters were tortured and beaten for it. Image
Tone Hellesund, who studied the Spinster movement, explains their queerness: Image
The fear of spinsters and lesbians affected female teachers in Britain. A 1935 report in a newspaper of an educational conference expressed the “threat”: Image
It’s important to remember that simultaneously to the feminist movement, the LGBTQ movement grew. Bisexual, term coined in 1892, began to push inclusivity in the 30s by rejecting definitions beyond “not straight, not gay”; including asexuals, polysexuals and pansexuals etc.
In an article about trans people in 1956, Dr. Walter Alvarez described people as asexual, stating that he has "found others in the family who were homosexual or what I call asexual. They were persons who seemed uninterested in either men or women, and who usually never married.”
Asexuality also got mentioned in the SCUM Manifesto: a 1967 satirical essay about a fictional organization dedicated to overthrowing society and getting rid of all the men (again radical feminists don’t shit around). While satirical, it is unclear how serious Valerie Solanas was. Image
Here, “asexuality” appears to refer to a stand against sex, which is the ideal for members of SCUM. However it is important to note that this isn’t the actual definition of asexuality today.
Ten years after stonewall - riot started in 1960s by trans women (!) and drag queens (badass trans and drags I might add) - the definition of the term bisexual changed to “anyone attracted to multiple genders or none”.
If you ever wondered where asexuals and aromantics were before and after stonewall: "they were with bisexuals. They were bisexuals."
(from user: atomicbubblegum, via tumblr) Image
Another feminist movement was a group called “Cell 16” that advocated feminist separatism. Their ideas would later go on to inspire lesbian separatist groups, but Cell 16 itself did not advocate lesbianism, and instead advocated celibacy. Image
Of course, celibacy is not asexuality, but they had an article titled “Asexuality” from 1968. The author seems to see asexuality as going somewhat beyond celibacy, towards “whole-ness”. Image
Here's another example from a trans liberation newspaper, 1970, mentioning asexuals alongside and as a part of the LGBTQ movement: Image
Here’s one where asexuality is presented as a label by feminists in 1973: from an event called “Lesbian/Feminist Dialogue” at Barnard College. The article that goes along refers to a workshop about asexuality, and an asexual manifesto distributed by the New York Radical Feminists Image
Note that what is known today as the “LGBTQ community” was simply the “gay liberation movement” in the 70s, at a time “gay” (sort of) functioned as an umbrella term for all sexual and gender minorities.
As time passed, because lesbians felt that they were (and actually were) excluded in many cases from the movement, “gay and lesbian” became common throughout the 80s and into the 90s, and later, bisexuals and transgenders/transsexuals had to actively fight for their place.
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