It’s International Asexuality Day and Marshall Blount’s mom is baking him a cake. They watch How To Cake It tutorials for inspiration as she slathers frosting in the asexual Pride colors of purple, white, gray, and black. The top says “ACE,” a shortened term for asexual.
For Blount and his mom, Marcia, baking cakes has become a tradition during Pride events such as IAD and Ace Week. “Cake plays a vital role in how I express myself as an asexual person,” Blount says. He’s an activist who serves on the board of the nonprofit Asexual Outreach and on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. “So it’s a great way to bond with my number one ally.”
The story of asexuality cannot be told without discussing cake—“that would be like talking about space without mentioning the stars,” Blount says. And sure enough, this past International Asexuality Day, I scrolled past Twitter photos of cakes in every flavor imaginable. I saw artwork of four-tier cakes in our Pride colors, and heartfelt messages wishing love and cake to all the aces of the world. For asexual folks, the connection between cake and our community is inextricable. The dessert, known for being a centerpiece of celebration and sharing, is one of our most popular and recognizable Pride symbols.
An asexual individual is most commonly defined as someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction, but when a sexual orientation is defined by what we lack rather than what makes us feel whole, we face unique challenges. False but widely held stereotypes about asexual people suggest that by not experiencing sexual attraction we also lack the ability to form meaningful social connections. That we’re prudish, stuffy, and have monotonous personalities. That we are husks, somehow devoid of simple joy or human emotion. So perhaps it is only natural that, as a community we cling to a symbol of pleasure.
We may not have much of an appetite for sex, but that does not mean we have no appetite at all.
The asexual community is not the first to brazenly parallel sex and food, intertwining these two hungers. If, like me, you spent the late ’90s and early 2000s attending an inordinate number of Midwestern potlucks, then you may be familiar with the scandalous staple known as Better Than Sex Cake, a layered amalgamation usually consisting of boxed devil’s food cake mix, caramel, whipped topping, and crushed Heath bars. For an asexual person, a salacious name like this is bound to hit differently than it does for our allosexual counterparts. Allosexuals often say “better than sex” as a willful exaggeration and a saucy conversation starter. They debate whether or not anything could be better than sex, while we asexuals see the phrase as validation: Things in this world that enrich our lives in nonsexual ways are equally if not more worthy of celebration.
“Cake has been a sweet and rich symbol within the asexual community for years,” Blount says. In online communities, the dessert became a unifier for those of us seeking refuge from society’s overwhelmingly sex-obsessed culture, along with the glaring lack of asexual representation in media and queer spaces alike. One of the earliest and greatest contributors to digital ace cake culture was the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which has grown to become the world’s largest online asexual community, hosting discussion forums and sharing asexuality resources.
As early as 2003, users on AVEN began welcoming new members by offering them a figurative slice of cake. A cake emoji was later created by the user Live R Perfect. “One reason why cake is an AVEN thing is that cake is usually served for a celebration,” AVEN admin and board member Kelly Novak says.
On June 23, 2004, AVEN adopted cake as an official community emoticon. From there, cake talk grew exponentially. According to a study presented in 2016 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign examining the history of language in online asexual spaces, the word cake is used even more often than the words hi or hello when AVEN members greet one another and welcome newbies. Among the top 200 keywords in conversations within online ace communities, cake is the only one pertaining to food. “Learning about asexuality and AVEN [means learning] that it is a thing and you are not alone—there are a lot of others!” Novak says. “So a celebratory cake does seem in order.”
We’ve come a long way from a fledgling internet community finding a shared culture through dessert, but we still have further to go toward understanding, acceptance, and respect. Blount’s familial support is still a rarity for asexual people.
Paradoxically, some ace folks have taken to using cake as a metaphor for explaining the asexual orientation: Imagine that everyone around you adores cake, every TV show and movie features characters eating cake, and people look at you funny if you turn down a slice when it’s offered to you. But you’ve just never liked cake—or perhaps you think it’s fine but you rarely think about it and you’ve certainly never had a craving for it.
In recent years others have claimed garlic bread as their Pride symbol. In 2015 the tweet “sex is cool but have u ever had garlic bread” got so much attention that it became a full-blown meme on Reddit. Like its “better than sex” cake predecessor, many initial memers were irony-laden allosexual folks, but it captured the attention of asexual subreddits like r/asexuality and r/aaaaaaacccccccce, which have since claimed the meme as their own.
Although I wouldn’t turn down garlic bread, I’m a “cake ace” through and through. On the first holiday I spent with just my spouse, who is also ace, I made a white cake from a recipe by my great-grandma that had been published in a newspaper in the 1950s. It was a sugary and sentimental way to introduce them to my family history.
My spouse and I are currently one of the only publicly visible married couples active in the ace community, and this past International Asexuality Day, we celebrated online with an ultimate feast of both cake and garlic bread. These foods have gifted us a delicious opportunity to bond with other aces, even from afar. We are now on the cusp of our eight-year anniversary—and yes, as we prepare to ring that in, you’d better believe there will be cake.
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Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit