I have been thinking a lot lately about my identity, particularly my sexuality. As such, this is quite a personal and think-out-loud post. If that’s not your thing, don’t read. It’s actually quite hard and conflicting to write about as well, but I want to contribute to the online community and bank of experiences.
My sexual identity is not something I’ve had a problem with before. When I was about fifteen I decided that I wasn’t interested in guys, and so the default position became that I was interested in girls, whom I found much nicer and much more aesthetically pleasing. I didn’t have a problem identifying as a lesbian, despite the fact that I’d never had a girlfriend either. I wasn’t particularly out, but I wasn’t in the closet either. If anyone wanted to know, I told them.
Thing is, recently I’ve been taking that whole thing a step further, and thinking about the “being interested” thing. Sexual attraction, basically. To me seems quite obviously to be the necessary precursor to any sort of relationship/sexual encounter/etc, because why would anyone have a “relationship” or have sex with someone they were not sexually attracted to, at least in some way? It seems, from everything I’ve learned from reading and observing in the real world, to be the foundation for everything, the thing that everyone seems to see as matter-of-fact. It seems to be something that happens to everyone.
So, as any other teenager (though I’m almost not one anymore), a few months ago I found myself questioning whether what I felt for someone I’d gotten to know was me being “attracted” to them. I pondered and deconstructed what I was feeling and realised that I was, but I wasn’t. I loved their mind. I loved the things they thought and how genuinely nice they were and how they made me laugh and feel good about myself. But I wasn’t sexually attracted to them. There was just nothing sexual about it. Trying to put them into some sort of sexual thought just didn’t work. I couldn’t even formulate it. So I hit the internet. And I stumbled across AVEN: the Asexual Visibility and Awareness Network. Where there was person after person, teens and young adults in their twenties, asking the same questions I was asking.
It was kinda amazing. I’d never even heard of asexuality before, even in the queer community, which I never really was active in (I now realise that it’s because even in the queer community, most things still revolve around sexual attraction, which just seemed annoying to me), but still knew about and did activism for. It was completely new, and when I read the FAQs I was simultaneously relieved, and utterly terrified, because it just seemed so… drastic. We’re so conditioned into thinking that sexual attraction is something that everyone experiences, be they gay or straight or bi or queer. It’s in books, TV shows, advertising, our communities. It’s everywhere, and even I assumed that it was something that would eventually happen to me.
And I started thinking: “what if I’m not just a late bloomer, like everyone tells me? What if I’m one of those people that just doesn’t ever get sexually attracted to anyone?” It still scares me sometimes, because when I buy into all that stuff that I see around me, it makes me feel like if I were asexual, I would be defective. Something would be wrong with me. I’d be missing out on this huge thing that everyone goes on and on about as being the most wonderful thing ever. And it makes me frustrated and sad to think that way, that I’m letting the world screw me like that.
Thing is, over the past few months, I’ve become more familiar with the idea. I’m not going to say that I am asexual, I’m not quite there yet. But knowing that it exist takes the pressure off. I don’t feel like I’m defective, because there are other people like this, who don’t know what sexual attraction is. It’s actually a really hard thing to figure out. Asexuality is defined as “someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction” which all seems easy enough, but it’s also really hard when you don’t know what sexual attraction is. It’s not like disliking the blueberry pie because you don’t want to try it. It’s just that there is no blueberry pie. I’m not too scared to act on what I might feel for someone – it’s that I don’t feel anything to act on. I’m not interested at all. Yes, I’ve felt an intellectual connection with people, or an emotional one, at times, and that’s been like a high for me. But there’s nothing that tells me I am sexually attracted to someone. I can’t have fantasies about people. Just doesn’t work. I don’t feel butterflies. I don’t feel like I need to kiss people. I don’t feel like I want to have sex with them. All this dating stuff, it confuses me: if you’re going to ask someone out or agree to date someone, you have to at least feel interested in them somehow to start off with, right? Otherwise, why on earth would you do it?
On the sex note, let it be said that I firmly locate myself as someone who is sex-positive. I have no issue whatsoever with sex. From all I have read and heard, it’s a great thing. It’s something that I would like to experience someday. But I have a lot of trouble thinking about a situation in which I would actually have sex with another person. To me, it would have to be someone I trusted implicitly, whom I loved, whom I felt attracted to sexually. But without the attraction, I have no desire to do it.
So I am thinking about the word “asexual” and if it is something I may be. As something that would give me an identity rather than “freakish late bloomer.” But I know that if I start identifying as such, I will run the risk of having then “phase” argument thrown at me, which I can’t stand, because I sometimes fall into it as well, and hate myself for it. But my feelings about that directly follow Asexual Awareness Australia’s FAQ:
What if it’s a phase?
What if it is? That doesn’t stop you being asexual right now.
It may be tempting to hold back on accepting your asexuality in the hope that eventually you’ll ‘bloom’ into a sexual person. I’m not saying that might not eventually happen, but consider this: do you want to spend your life thinking of yourself as an undeveloped person, living for the dreamed of day when you’ll become whole? Might you feel more comfortable accepting who you are now as a whole complete valid person? Maybe one day you will “bloom”, and if and when you do, you won’t have lost anything by being comfortable in the mean time.
There’s no shame in identifying as one thing and then later identifying as another. Your identity isn’t meant to limit you. If you’ve moved on or changed, then by all means describe yourself differently. If you fear you might be different in the future, that doesn’t change which label is most useful to you in the present. There’s nothing wrong with change.
10 thoughts on “On asexuality”
I really like this post. That final quotation you put sums it all up well, I think. Actually, I think people’s sexuality changes a lot throughout their lifetime; nothing is fixed.
That’s what I’ve always thought. People’s rigid ideas of gay/straight, male/female etc just don’t account for the variety of orientations and preferences out there, and trying to pinpoint them into two single categories is just ridiculous.
On a different topic, I would love to see more YA stuff out there with asexual/grey characters… *pokes* As much as I loved About a Girl. 🙂
ha! before you even wrote this I am at the moment writing a novel about someone who isn’t really interested in sex or love. She’s only 16 … I will have to say your anti love in books comments have influenced me a bit – and it’s not a major part of the book -I mean, it’s not about asexuality, but there’s a comment or two that she doesn’t believe in romantic love.
Eeeee! How exciting! This is why I love your books so much! Also, the idea that something I said might have influenced your writing even in the tiniest way is just so, so cool. (Also it proves you are an awesome writer who engages with stuff instead of doing the same thing over and over. Yay for you!)
The thing about asexuality, or grey-asexuality, or anything that doesn’t assume normative experience of sexuality, is that it’s not a major part of anything – especially so in fiction. I mean, you can’t write a whole book about someone’s non-relationship, can you? So you have more space for other things, more fun things, things that aren’t caught up in the overwhelming focus on love and relationships and sex. Which is awesome!
Disfigured and disabled people are viewed as asexual by default, are quarantined into celinacy, and any sexual interest is treated as mental illness. Not good at all.
Once again, The Man defines who is permitted to be asexual, who is forbidden, who is required. I used to cross boundaries almost at will, by manipulating my clothing and my weight. Old straight women, once required, now contend with Viagra and are redefined as celibate or available.
Your openness about your asexuality busts open far more sexual prisons than yours.
I completely agree with you, Angie. There are such strict rules on how one should be, so many ingrained ideas about normative sexuality, like those which say PWD can’t be sexual. And then when someone who fits into the idea of a “normal, sexual person” says they’re asexual, they’re seen as having a health issue or mental disorder.
Thank you for your last comment, I guess that’s what I’m trying to contribute to on this great medium of the internet!
Fascinating post, thanks for sharing it. As someone who loves sex I have to admit to struggling to get my head around asexuality so it is really good to read more about it and what it feels like. I can certainly see that mainstream culture is saturated with ideas about what kind of sex we’re all supposed to like and how much we’re supposed to be obsessed by it – and I think that contributes to an awful lot of problems, like rape culture and slut-shaming and sexual objectification and such.
Anyway, this was a very interesting post.
Hi blue milk! I’m glad you find my post interesting, and it’s perfectly fine to admit that you struggle thinking about asexuality – I do too, and I’ve started identifying as asexual myself! There’s definitely a lot of inbuilt social/cultural stuff about sex and love and all that that makes me question asexuality as well. Sometimes I have bad days where I berate myself for thinking I’m asexual, and try to tell myself that I’m just a late bloomer, or some other sort of repressed weirdo. And I still get confused about some aspects of asexuality, like asexuals who have sex, or how being a romantic asexual works.
I’ve found it helps to think in theoretical/practical terms sometimes – it’s like the theory of asexuality is the separation of different types of attraction and desires, and the separation of those from sexual behaviours. But yeah, I can imagine that it would be strange for someone who likes sex – just like I find it strange when people talk about chemistry of tv couples, or being attracted to someone they’ve never spoken to, or anything like that.
I think I’m rambling, I might stop now. But if you want to chat a bit more, feel free to email me! 🙂