Coming out of invisibility.

In September 2014, novelist and activist Julie Sondra Decker released a personal yet rigorous work of non-fiction. The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality made waves as one of the first majorly distributed and easily accessible books exploring asexuality, one of the world’s least understood, and only recently defined, sexual identities.

But what’s more important is the fact that the book debuted on the heels of this year’s second International Asexuality Conferenceheld in Toronto and the asexual community’s largest ever presence in Pride parades worldwide. After years of rejection by, isolation from, and being pathologized by straight and queer communities alike, it seems as if asexuality is now approaching a breakthrough in acceptance and visibility, thanks in large part to the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of work by activists to form a cohesive community.

Despite the progress made, the concept of asexuality is new enough that relatively few have a truly firm grasp on what the term actually means. In brief, asexuality refers to those who identify their sexual orientation by a lack of sexual attraction—not to be confused with celibacy, which is a choice, but rather a natural lack of interest. Beyond that, the identity gets far more complex. Many actually consider picking apart and analyzing the layers of their sexuality, the differences between arousal, sex drive, and attraction, to be part of asexual life.


You may encounter asexuals who have no interest in sexual intercourse, but do enjoy bonding emotionally and showing physical affection to a partner.

You may meet others who have no interest in relationships of any kind. You may meet some who remain virgins and some who will have sex for a partner’s sake, others who can feel limited attraction after getting to know someone and others who are asexual but only bond with members of the same gender. There are dozens of subcategories by which one can divide and niche one’s asexuality before even approaching the notion of fluid and ever-changing sexual identities and preferences.

Asexuality didn’t emerge as a clear category or identity until at least 1948, when the seminal Kinsey Report identified a group, at least 1.5 percent of the population, which didn’t fit within its scale of sexual attraction.

Early surveys of this population found that between 64 and 71 percent were women and that 17 to 18 percent were completely uninterested in relationships. But it wasn’t until 2002, when a study at Brock University in Canada revealed that 15 percent of healthy rams—with no physical or hormonal defects—shared this lack of interest in sexual bonding, that the mass media started to seriously consider a lack of sexual interest as a legitimate state of sexual existence rather than an aberration or the side effect of some trauma. In 2006 the Brock University researchers, who had branched into studying humans as well, went on to place asexuality on equal footing with the commonly accepted categorizations of hetero-, homo-, and bisexuality in human experience.

But as soon as people started to publicly equate asexuality with other queer identities, like homosexuality or transgender, there was backlash from LGBTQIgroups. Some believed that asexuality as an identity and asexuals as individuals were trying to hop onto the LGBTQI train without facing the same levels of visible discrimination; some accused them of being closeted queer folk unwilling to disclose their true sexual identity and thus hiding behind a false label.

Asexual activists refute this by noting that they are still classified as a pathological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and described as individuals with low self esteem, social anxiety, and depression in studies on their identity. They also point out that they face the constant discrimination of people denying their identity and trying to “fix” them by bringing them into a world of sexual engagement, not to mention the fact that, without sex, their relationships are often denied legal legitimacy, they face the risk of spousal rape, and they have no real protection under federal non-discrimination legislation.

As for the claim that they hide from sexual identity, activists note that their entire identity is built around constantly questioning their sexual feelings, with one asexual writer excerpting a stereotypical asexual conversation: “Ah, yes, you appear to be a demiromantic panromantic demisensual repulsed asexual, but have you thought about your aesthetic attractions and libido yet? Here, let me show you 40 different models…” Given this complexity, asexuals point out, many asexuals may actually intersect in their non-sexual attractions with LGB, trans, and non-binary identities and attractions. Although many still contest the legitimacy of the identity, arguments like this have earned asexuals inclusion in major LGBTQI resources like the Trevor Project’s suicide prevention hotline.

As for where all these arguments and asexual activists are coming from, we largely have one lonely teen to thank: David Jay, now a 32-year-old asexual activist who tried to Google non-sexual identities back at the start of the millennium and began to feel isolated when the search only yielded studies of amoebas.

So, in 2001, he launched the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network as a resource for those who felt similarly sequestered, including those who are simply questioning or curious about their identities. Now with 80,000 active members (including Julie Sondra Decker who first explored her identity through AVEN), it’s the largest asexual community in the world with resources detailing how to assess one’s identity, handle relationships, and come out to friends and family.

In the years since AVEN was founded, countless other resources and meeting places have sprung up for asexuals: from Tumblr communities to storytelling projects to a community site called Acebook replete with asexual symbols and jokes. As of 2009, asexuals started showing a visible and united presence at Pride parades, creating their own flag in 2010 and launching the International Asexuality Conference and Asexuality Awareness days and weeks by 2012. And thanks to a slew of articles following the release of the documentary (A)sexual in 2011, the identity is starting to reach mass consciousness.

Perhaps most importantly, though, even if the identity is not totally accepted even in sexual rights communities, it is now a cohesive community itself. It has developed its own terminology, like Ace for asexuals, and fictional icons like Dr. Who or Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. And it’s even seen members of the community highlighted explicitly in soap operas and other elements of mass media. There’s still a ways to go yet before the asexual community will have addressed much of the stigma against it and achieved true mainstream recognition, though, but it’s no longer quite as brutally lonely to be an asexual in 2014, and that’s certainly something worth celebrating.

This article originally appeared on GOOD.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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