A month before Parrish appeared at the Roxboro Personality Festival, survey phone calls funded by an unknown conservative political action committee began circulating throughout the county. Parrish’s former campaign manager, Jason Torian, received one of the calls in July.
“There were several questions about Joe — questions about ‘would you support him knowing that he’s asexual,’ ‘would you support him knowing that he doesn’t support funding schools,’ which was out of nowhere, ‘would you support him if you knew that he supported Hillary Clinton?’, which was untrue,” he said. “‘Would you support him if you knew that he hated babies?’ Ridiculous questions like that.”
Torian thought Parrish made a mistake by coming out as asexual so early into his campaign and his political career. He was in an aging county where people would be less likely to understand the concept of asexuality.
Though Torian already knew about Parrish’s asexuality, Parrish did not discuss coming out to the public with him.
“There’s really no reason to bring that up if you’re just running a campaign to get elected to N.C. House,” he said. “I mean, if you want to come out later on, to bring visibility to that issue, that’s one thing, but I don’t think it’s something that you want to do during the campaign because your campaign becomes about educating people about asexuality, and I didn’t sign on for that and I don’t think anyone else did either.”
Unsure of his role, Torian resigned as Parrish’s campaign manager. Parrish was on his own.
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, “an asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.” Though asexuality is included in the LGBTQA acronym, Parrish does not identify with the queer community.
“I think one thing that’s perhaps worth noting is that everything under the LGBTQ acronym is something,” Parrish said. “I think one thing that makes asexuality stand out is that they’re not something.”
Parrish said asexuals’ lack of sexuality sets them apart from the LGBTQ community, which revolves around displaying their sexuality. Parrish isn’t the only one who has questioned asexuals’ place in the queer community.
Avalon Warner-Gonzales, a senior at UNC-CH who identifies as asexual, said they noticed pushback within the LGBTQ community against including asexual people.
“Even a few years ago we were talking about how the A in the LGBTQA acronym stands for asexual and aromantic people, and that was a large discourse for a while where everyone was staunchly holding up these communities, but now we’ve got to a point where that’s reversed,” they said. “The rejection of the ace community has been brewing up for a while, maybe in this large push to include people in the community because any time you change what you know and expand your ideas, that’s scary.”
Despite pushback, Warner-Gonzales is the vice president of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, a campus organization that provides a safe space for LGBTQ people and their allies. The SAGA’s secretary, sophomore Gabby Brown, also identifies as asexual.
“Asexuality is generally known as the invisible sexuality because it’s a lack of sexual attraction,” Brown said. “I think that’s a big problem because there is a major oversexualization in the LGBTQ community, and oftentimes asexuals are not really considered part of it.”
In an effort to increase visibility for asexuals at UNC-CH, Brown and other members of SAGA and the UNC-CH LGBTQ Center pitched a table in the middle of the Pit on Oct. 17 as part of Asexuality Awareness Week.
The table was filled with pamphlets and fact sheets that broke down the many definitions of the asexual spectrum. The asexual flag was taped to the front of the table, black, grey, white and purple stripes occasionally lifting in the wind.
Brown sat behind the table, waiting for the class change and the wave of students about to file into Lenoir Dining Hall for brunch. In the span of her two-hour shift, a handful of students stopped to take the free rainbow “Visibility Matters” stickers. By the end, most of the stickers were gone, and she was left with a stack of flyers.
“I feel like there’s a very big stigma in the LGBTQ community that if you’re not, quote unquote ‘gay enough’ then you don’t really belong,” Brown said.
Terri Phoenix, director of the UNC LGBTQ Center, has been trying to make the LGBTQ Center more inclusive for asexual people by educating people and including asexual people in planning events.
“When I think about the LGBTQ+ community, the commonality I see that ties us into community is that experience of being marginalized due to one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” Phoenix said. “By that logic, asexuality is, in my mind, included as part of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Parrish doesn’t believe he fits in with the LGBTQ community because he doesn’t experience the same oppression as marginalized groups, and there is no political agenda against asexual people. Yet, the Person County Democratic Party, including Torian, did not agree with his choice to publicize his asexuality during his campaign.
Some asexuals, especially those who are repulsed by sex, struggle to navigate through a sexually charged society. Parrish experienced sexual harassment in high school because of his asexuality.
“There was this upperclassman who was just a bully, and he thought it would be funny just to touch me inappropriately, and do various things that were sort of, you could say, sexually intimidating,” he said. “It wasn’t the most aggressive kind of sexual assault I guess you could say, but I mean it was pretty scary because for that six-week period, I would just walk in the class petrified every day, on high alert. It’s one of the worst feelings you can ever have.”
Parrish reported the harassment to the school, which stopped the bullying. Parrish’s report to the school was a sexual harassment case, but he considers the incident sexual assault.
Brown said a common misconception about asexual people is that they are the way they are because of sexual trauma, or that asexual people can be “fixed” with sex.
“I know that a lot of people who identify as asexual tend to be more likely to be targets of sexual harassment and assault because, I mean, they [non-asexuals] are trying to convince us that we’re actually sexual beings,” she said.
Though he was sexually assaulted, Parrish said that is not the reason why he is asexual. Now he is unfazed by the experience, returning to his chipper demeanor. As the video of Donald Trump on the tour bus and his “locker room talk” of sexually assaulting women surfaced, Parrish remained unfazed. Instead, he criticized Clinton, believing that she cheated her way to victory in the primary election.
As a Bernie Sanders supporter, Parrish was outraged when Wikileaks released hacked Democratic National Committee emails that some believed confirmed that Clinton and the Democratic Party was conspiring against Sanders in the primaries. Reports of people being turned away at the polls and lost ballots circulated the media, and Parrish was convinced Clinton was the culprit.
“I would say cheating in an election is worse than sexual assault, and I say that as someone who has been sexually assaulted,” he said. “It’s very humiliating and scary, but I think when you basically undermine democracy, that has an effect on all of society. You set a dangerous precedent when you gain power in the United States by cheating in an election.”