Meet Joe Parrish. He’s like any other 24-year-old political science graduate at the start of his career.
Except for one thing; he’s coming out as asexual –meaning he feels no sexual attraction – in order to fight for visibility.
If this young Bernie Sanders fan, former private in the National Guard and Harry Potter nerd wins office, it will be another step forward for sexual minorities for the USA.
GSN sat down with Joe, who is running as a Democratic candidate for Granville County and Person County in the North Carolina House of Representatives, about his campaign, the changes he’d like to see and his asexual-ish family.
Why did you want to run?
It’s always been a dream of mine as a kid to run for office and participate in democracy more than just being a voter. What initially spurred me to do it was, what made me commit in this sort of thing was my outrage at the Iraq war when I was 14. From there I’ve been studying and preparing to go into this way of life.
What would be the changes you’d like to see?
Most of the things that concern me is concerning a lot of people right now but these things have been on my mind since I was in high school. I’ve been learning more about poverty rates, income inequality. I was reading about these things back in high school. I knew these things were a problem already, but it’s not discussed in the media as it is currently. I’m working to improving our education system as well.
So what is currently wrong with the education system right now?
Well I would say that it’s not being adequately funded. I’d say that’s always been a problem with it but I think it’s gotten worse in recent years with the change in the balance of power right now. But even when I was in high school, I would have teachers complaining about running out of paper. They would be begging students to donate paper to the classroom. Some teachers had to use their personal expenses to get supplies like that. I think If you’re going to complain about public schools not doing their job, you should make sure they’re properly funded first. I think that’s basic.
So if you were to be elected and taking on this system, what would be the challenges that you would have to face?
It really depends on how things play out, and I’m not sure how things will go in North Carolina. We can shift either way between Democrats and Republicans. Even if the Democrats do well nationally, it’s not a guarantee they’ll do well on the state level. That’ll be the major hurdle right there – getting members from the Republican party on board with these sorts of changes.
So what do you think will happen on a state and national level?
I really think the Republicans are not going to do well at all this year unless they have some sort of slam dunk thing they can use against a Democratic candidate like Hillary or Bernie, some kind of scandal that would really shame the party nationally. It would take something of Watergate proportions to change that trend at least in terms of this election. The general trend is the Democrats are going to do better until the Republicans evolve more. I think it’s really going to start here in this election.
Who would you like to win the primary for the Democratic party?
I personally prefer Bernie. If you’re familiar with the economist Robert Riech, he was a Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton in the 90s. I’ve been a follower and student of his and the way he phrased it: If you don’t think Washington can change or if you’re fine with the current status quo, Hillary’s the perfect candidate for today as it currently exists. But if you believe Washington is in need of a political revolution that overturns the status quo and gets us back on the right track to where we should be on a political and moral level, then Bernie Sanders is your candidate. He has the experience to do that more than Hillary. It’s the vote between which world you would like to live in.
What do you think of the controversial decision by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) to back Hillary?
I thought it was interesting. I noticed a lot of the comments on that Facebook post, a lot of the commenters felt betrayed. The board of people running HRC might feel that way, but their members and fans seem to be for Bernie.
I’ve seen a lot of people support him because of the longevity of supporting these issues.
Right. I think that’s a pretty fair analysis, and given how Hillary hasn’t always been on board with rights issues like Bernie Sanders has. I think it’s a justified outrage. At the same time, it’s not like they have a bad reason.
Ok, let’s get into you. What made you want to come out as an asexual politician in this election?
I feel like that’s an interesting question just because my plan was never to tell every odd person, ‘Hey, I’m an asexual candidate.’ Some other public figure comes out, they’re doing it to everybody. I wanted to tell the asexual community that I’m asexual and I’m running for office and tell them, ‘Hey, there’s someone like you running for office and it may interest you to know about it’. There’s potentially some visibility here. As far as coming out, I feel like I’ve already come out as an asexual. I never made a secret of it with anyone, ever since I became aware of asexuality and that I knew I was asexual. So it doesn’t feel like a coming out moment.
Are you aromantic, heteromantic, homoromantic?
I’m not really sure how to answer that! I’ve never dated anybody, as I’ve not really met anybody or met anyone who would want to date me. I can’t say the reasons why I’ve done the things I’ve done. And, having never dated it’s hard for me to say what my views of romance are. I guess if I had to throw a guess, I’d be willing to have a family some day and I’d prefer to be in a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex. That’s how you make families, I guess. It’s a very straightforward logical take on it, I suppose. I don’t have enough experience to comment on it with any certainty.
How did asexuality first connect with you as a possible identity?
It’s a bit of a hazy journey. I wasn’t aware of asexuality until late high school/early college. Prior to that, I just assumed I was straight as that was the logical assumption at the time. It’s like as if you’re taking a multiple choice test, and none of the answers are right, you’re going to assume one of the bubbles you fill in is the right one so you pick one. I was working from that mindset. After I became aware of asexuality, it didn’t occur to me I was asexual until I had enough experiences that I began to look back and think there was a reason I haven’t dated anyone and maybe there’s a reason I’m not going out trying to get laid. It was a gradual understanding. There wasn’t a sudden shift.
Even when I started to think of myself as an asexual, I still needed to analyse it and not make some wild guess about myself.
My father is not really a physically affectionate kind of person, he wasn’t much for sexual humor or innuendo and often complains about the excess of sexuality in media. I have a twin sister and she only started dating in the last year and never really showed much interest in that before. I have an older sister, a half-sister by the same father, and she hasn’t dated anyone for a decade. She’s very happy being single and doesn’t want to date. She thinks it’s gross the people who go out and have sex all the time. I don’t think my entire family are asexual, but I think they do have asexual tendencies. I’m wondering if that has to do with my genetics.
That’s definitely a possibility.
I’m not really sure, asexuality still needs a lot of research. When I started to realise that and began to come out to my relatives, I began to think there’s something to this. I might be only one using the term asexual at the moment, but what’s in a name, right? It’s still the same behavior whether we call it asexual or not. I’ve even shared my thought with my older sister and she agrees there’s asexuality or something close to it in the family.
Have you run into acephobia or ignorance about asexuality before?
I would prefer to differentiate between acephobia and ignorance because a lot of ignorance can be benign. I don’t think I’ve received a lot of hatred but that’s because people aren’t aware of it. People can’t hate something they don’t know about. Like with homosexuality, people have known about that for thousands of years.
I have been told by family members or friends that they don’t think I’m asexual and I’m wrong or something, but I tolerate that because you can’t expect people to learn about something instantly. I think part of promoting visibility and knowledge about asexuality is to take a patient approach in educating people. For example, I was not taught about asexuality in school growing up, so they’re working from the same slate as I was. So I’m not going to get mad at them. I’m going to be patient and not get mad and slowly work them into a better understanding of what asexuality is.
What would you like people to know about asexuality?
I guess I’d like people to know it’s diverse phenomenon and there are different types of asexuals with different attitudes about sex and how comfortable they are with it or whether they’re disgusted by it or whether or not they’re willing to have children. The one common thing is we’re not sexually attracted to people. When we’re with people, we’re just looking at them. There’s no impulse to go and do it with that person.
How involved are you with the asexual community?
I’ve been to ace meet-ups and that’s probably the extent of it. It owes to the general lack of awareness about asexuals that there’s not much of a thriving asexual community. There’s online forums and such but as far as what you can do locally there’s not a whole lot. You just find a meetup site and you might grab lunch or something. When I first realised I was asexual, I was in college and I got in contact with the local LGBT group on the campus to see if they knew anything or anyone and they didn’t. It’s like an untapped segment of the populace. I feel we need a community to thrive more for there to be more involvement. It’s like a Catch 22. I’d like to set up a community and not just one that exists on forums.
The visibility is the start of that. Would you like to see changes in sex ed and education to introduce kids to asexuality?
I do because, it would make things easier for me personally just to have the notion of asexuality on my plate early on. It left me misinformed for so many years. You can’t help but wonder what you would have done if you had more information. I don’t think sex ed is going to be complete until we have something like asexuality mentioned.
There are no other openly asexual politician out there. So what do you think this statement will mean?
It’s hard to say because I’m running for a relatively small office – the state house of representatives. It’s not the most widely followed or tracked thing. CNN isn’t going to talk about it. It’s hard to tell how well things are followed or tracked on the internet. Things can be ignored or it can go viral and it can go everywhere. I guess I’m interested to seeing how it plays out and seeing how my online campaign and my asexuality might be significant. I’m not an expert in media relations, I studied political science.
Do you think you’re going to help people by coming out?
I can’t see what harm it can do. My campaign manager is always saying, ‘Never say anything that will mean people won’t vote for you.’ He doesn’t have a problem with asexuality, he’s worried people who are more elderly will be confused and get me off message to income equality, jobs and so on. I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to go to a public forum and talk about my sexuality when I want to talk about pressing issues.
I’m not running as a gay man in North Carolina, I’m not going to lose votes because of that. While asexuality isn’t as well known as homosexuality, it’s not going to be considered a sin by Christians because you’re not doing anything! You’re just not attracted to people. In some way it goes in line with what they like because they’re in favor of celibacy and all that stuff. Sometimes I’ve been told by some fairly religious people is that they like that about asexuality.