Columbia PhD student bemoans 'asexual microaggressions'

A graduate student at Columbia University recently published her Ph.D. thesis, arguing that “asexual microaggressions” are a form of “discrimination” against people who don’t date.

Aasha Foster, a Counseling Psychology graduate student at Columbia, developed the first “Asexual Microaggressions Scale” to gauge the frequency of microaggressions that asexual people face, such as being told that asexuality is “just a phase” and being called a “prude.”

According to her scale, other “asexual microaggressions” include being told asexuality “isn’t real,” facing concerns that they will “live out [their] life alone,” and being told that “asexual discrimination” doesn’t exist.

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Foster outlines 24 different types of microaggressions that asexual people face, and created a questionnaire that researchers can use to gauge their prevalence. Participants were recruited online from social media sites including “Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and the Asexuality Education and Visibility Network,” with Tumblr comprising 67.07 percent of recruits.

Though she says that these sites are “key to recruitment in the study of asexuality,” Foster concedes that recruiting from them may skew the data “towards people who have found an online community of people who think or feel similarly and have access to more information about asexual community issues.”

Researching microaggressions is important because they can cause “psychological distress,” “emotional difficulty,” and “depressive symptoms,” Foster warns, asserting that “Asexual women and men had higher rates of anxiety than heterosexual men and women" due to the stigma and marginalization they face.

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To fight this marginalization, Foster calls for more advocacy efforts and research to normalize asexuality, saying that in addition to greater recognition of the issues that asexual people face, “further study of the impact of these microaggressions and other macroaggressive experiences would be another area of next steps.”

She also calls for future researchers of asexual microaggressions to take an "intersectional" approach, warning that her research was conducted among mostly “young white women,” and therefore cannot address the experiences of asexual individuals who also hold other marginalized identities.

“When examined through [the lens of intersectionality], asexual prejudice and microaggressions may shift in salience, intensity, and/or frequency, thus further research will help contextualize and extend the findings of this dissertation,” Foster concludes.

Campus Reform reached out to Aasha Foster for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication. Previously, her research has focused on how religious belief predicts “internalized heterosexism” among gays and lesbians.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen