In 2007, a young woman moved to New York City to go to college. She hoped to also find love. There was just one thing getting in her way: She wasn’t into sex.
Bauer, who asked to be identified only by her first name, is the founder of Aces NYC. The term "aces” is short for asexual, a word generally used to describe those who lack sexual attraction to people of any gender.
“I’m not sexually attracted to people,” Bauer told NBC OUT. “I [am] very interested in having close relationships with lots of people. They just don’t look like most other people’s intimate partnerships.”
Bauer went to college in New York, because she thought she would find people like her there. But even in a metropolis with millions of people, she struggled to find others who were asexual. Feeling lonely, she deliberately got romantically involved with people who lived far away. The idea was to date without having sex.
“It was this overwhelming feeling of dread that I was this thing that nobody ever heard of and nobody was ever going to want to deal with,” she said. “And it was just going to be me, myself and I, but not by choice.”
Bauer used online forums to meet people who also identified as asexual, but few people showed up to the group events. Determined to create a community for asexuals, she formed Aces NYC in 2012. Bauer went on an asexual dating site that allowed her to get in touch with people who lived nearby. She emailed people individually and asked them to join the group. It has grown to about 700 members, she said, and meets on a regular basis.
Bauer said some asexuals, like her, are interested in having romantic partnerships, but not sex.
“That’s a concept that people sort of understand with the reverse, meaning the desire to have sex with people, but not for a romantic relationship, [which] is very common in hookup culture,” she said.
Bauer said that while some asexuals like affection, including kissing and hugging, others don’t wish to have any physical contact. She said not all asexuals are interested in romantic relationships either.
“A bunch of people are asexual and also aromantic. They’re not [sexually] attracted to people or [interested] in having romantic interactions,” she explained.
As with people who are sexual, there are a number of identities that coexist under the asexual umbrella. Bauer identifies as panromantic, meaning she has romantic, nonsexual relationships with people of all genders.
“I am interested in people regardless of gender,” she said. “A really, really high number of people I end up being attracted to identify as queer.”
Bauer said many asexuals identify as LGBTQ. Someone who is homoromantic, for example, is an asexual who is romantically interested in people of the same sex. There is controversy over whether asexuals should be included in LGBTQ spaces, Bauer said, because some identify as straight.
“There’s this fight about if you’re [hetero] and also asexual, do you count as queer?” she said. “I feel like it’s just so much more painful and hurtful to fight about this super small group than to say: 'How can we work with the queer community regardless of what anybody thinks about it?'”
Asexuals face some stigma, Bauer said, particularly because their relationships are different.
“The biggest misconception is that [asexuals] can’t have relationships, because we don’t have relationships that look like everyone else’s. Everybody else’s relationships don’t necessarily work for them,” she said.
The 28 year-old doesn’t limit her intimate relationships to just one person. She shares her apartment with her two partners who are also asexual and identify as LGBTQ.
“Last night, me and my [partners] were all hanging out in the kitchen. We hadn’t all hung out with each other in a little while. Getting to see each other and have this cute little family dynamic is sort of a bright spot in my day,” she explained.
Bauer said she enjoys the diversity of relationships she is able to have.
“I get to have a lot more close relationships with a variety of people who don’t freak out as much, because there’s no sex happening,” she concluded.
OutFront is a weekly NBC OUT series profiling LGBTQ people who are making a positive difference in the community.