My formative years were the tail end of the 1970s and the early 1980s, when the disco sensibilities of people slightly older than me demanded obsessive interest in heterosexual intercourse. I spent many years trying to fit in with that sensibility, always with disastrous results. It wasn’t until 2010, when I was 45 years old, that I discovered a website called the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) that finally told me what I was: asexual. The first thing I did was read their FAQ on asexuality as it existed back then, and nearly everything in it rang true for me. Above all, the website allowed me to believe for the first time that it was perfectly okay not to have any interest in sex with any woman, man, child, animal, plant or inanimate object. In middle age I was finally able to find self-acceptance.
My four-year history with AVEN was stormy. Part of my problem was that, way back at the website’s founding in 2001, the founder had invited LGBT activists to assist with promoting the visibility and acceptance of asexuals. The actual result had been AVEN becoming a de facto LGBT site that ultimately exploited asexuals in order to promote LGBT activism. I always had issues with that, although I wasn’t always articulate in expressing them. That made me a pariah in the hardcore political actifist circles that ran AVEN. At the same time, there were many wonderful people there who were just as apolitical as me, who didn’t spend all day chanting predictable slogans or fighting for special privileges for politically privileged minorities, and who contributed significantly to a shared atmosphere of peace and acceptance. I made a number of posts on the AVEN forum, some of dubious quality but others among the best writing I’ve ever done. I also ended up becoming one of the live chatroom regulars, who enjoyed a safe, moderated environment in which harassment and come-ons were strictly prohibited and carefully weeded out. We talked about anything and everything under the sun, and it was a comfortable community.
But AVEN had significant IT issues. If you count the owner of the website, it had exactly two webadmins for a site that needed a team of more than a dozen in order to function properly. AVEN also archived absolutely all of the posts made in the forum and kept a complete log of the chats in the chatroom, dating back to its founding. Every once in a while, the database would grow so huge that the site would crash until the hardware on which the database was stored had been physically upgraded. A couple of months ago, hardware upgrades ceased to be possible, so the owner and his tech admin sidekick decided to move to a cloud-based database service. The migration of the site to its new webhost was supposed to take about seven to ten days. Unfortunately, the old host continued to have hardware issues that caused all attempts at migration to crash partway through. The webadmin keeps contacting the old webhost for assistance, but, of course, they aren’t responding to her contact attempts.
It doesn’t take a genius to see this situation clearly. The old webhost has no incentive, motivation or interest to assist a soon-to-be-former client in solving their data migration issues. That means the old database will likely remain inertly on their servers until the business agreement between AVEN and that old webhost expires, at which time the data will be deleted in order to make room for other, current clients. A hard core of AVEN users have a backup forum and a somewhat cliquey Skype chat group run by people who personally dislike me, and they are bravely hanging in there; but, eventually, all will have to face the fact that AVEN is dead.
AVEN wasn’t perfect. Because of its political roots in something other than asexuality, it had a political rather than scientific definition of what it means to be asexual, to wit, “the absence of sexual attraction.” It worshipped the dogma of self-identification to the point of being hostile to hard scientific research by medical and biological researchers into asexuality. In my view, during the days of AVEN, its understanding of asexuality was totally pulled out of people’s asses rather than scientifically established. The fact is that no one knows yet what it really means to be asexual because so little hard research has been done on it, with nearly all “research” being in the social sciences and based on self-identification as asexual, which can sometimes be like asking Richard Nixon whether he self-identifies as a crook. Also, lately, the LGBT activist community has begun distancing itself from asexuality, effectively cutting AVEN off at the knees.
Yet the website still had great value. In terms of the wealth of anecdotal evidence of people’s experience with what it means not to want or need sex, for whatever reason, it was the source of many epiphanies by people who had never understood themselves before finding AVEN. The new member subforum abounded with stories of people of various ages being astonished to discover that a name for their true nature existed. I was one of them. And it is for that invaluable public service that I’ll miss AVEN now that it’s gone.