Let’s Talk Sex, Erica! A Phobic Friend

How do you deal with a friend who's aphobic and refuses to acknowledge your identity?

Image: René Magritte - Les Pommes Masquées (1966)

Q: I have a friend who repeatedly makes aphobic comments and is prone to flee from any sort of confrontation. How do I educate them but also not lose a friend?

For anyone reading this question going “what is aphobia?!” a quick definition is a prejudice against people who identify as asexual or aromantic, which can range anywhere from invalidation to harassment to assault. Asexual and aromantic people are, in short, people who either are not attracted sexually or romantically to anyone for the most part, respectively. It is considered a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and there have been recent pushes to create a general societal understanding of this valid sexuality. If you don’t know either of those terms, you should go look at forums online of people who identify; they can give you much more in-depth meaning of what that entails.

Now that we are all on the same page, we come down to the problem: how to confront a sensitive or ignorant friend without losing them. My advice is to approach this situation calmly and lovingly. Calling someone out on the spot is usually a bad idea if the person is a friend, since it creates an embarrassing and humiliating moment for your friend rather than a learning experience. With friends, there needs to be a balance between productive sensitivity towards their feelings and the point you are trying to get across. You can start the conversation with a prompt rather than an accusation, like “I notice you make a lot of comments about asexuality and its validity, and I was just wondering how you felt about it beyond those comments?” You give them a chance to say their true feelings, as well as figure out what you are trying to talk to them about. Either your friend actually believes asexuality to be phase, a fake identity, or what have you, or they (for some reason?) feel these comments lend something to the conversation, as, for instance, jokes or conversation fluff.

If the former, you can go on to say that you disagree with their feelings, and then you decide how important this issue is to you. If this is your personal identity, their unacceptance of the identity transfers into an unacceptance of YOUR identity. If it is not, you have to decide if you are interested in maintaining a relationship with someone who is aphobic and makes aphobic comments. You may be able to get them to keep their opinions to themselves in public conversations in which you are involved, but it is still their belief.

If the latter, there needs to be a conversation of what makes for sensitive discourse with an understanding that people’s identities are generally not up for commentary unless that relationship is already established. If your friend shuts down and is so sensitive that they cannot have this conversation with you, or cannot continue to be your friend, you should do some reflection on if this person is a true friend or not. Chances are that if they are more invested in their own opinions or habits than your feelings, they are not.

Wherever this conversation goes, remember to take care of yourself. Friends should be able to have these sorts of conversations, especially when all identities are complex and to be valued.

XOXO Erica


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