This is a short story I wrote for next week’s upcoming issue of wom*news, the UQ Women’s Collective’s Zine. The theme for the issue is “sex! through a feminist lens” and I chose to look at an asexual perspective (one of many). Obviously I’ve put some personal experiences into writing this, but I’ve also made things up. That’s the beauty of fiction, I guess! I hope you enjoy.
Off the Radar
The word has followed her around like a cat ever since she can remember, slinking around her heels and brushing up against her legs, but gone as soon as she bends down to rub its head. She feels like she knows everything about it, its deepest, darkest facets, just from breathing the air outside, steeped in myth and cultural knowledge. It dances around her like the wind tugging at her clothing, everywhere around her but nowhere inside her.
They are taught about it in school: diagrams of sexual organs, condoms-on-bananas and feelings-and-desires. Around her people start dating and going out and calling themselves “together” (whatever that really means), but she figures that there is nothing odd about her yet. After all, she is only fourteen.
At fifteen she formulates a hypothesis, based on her observations of the sample group around her and every teenage novel she can find, which constitutes her literature review.
Point 1: Everyone shows interest in someone.
Point 2: She does not seem to show interest in the opposite sex.
Ergo: She must, then, show interest in the same sex.
This does not seem like a big deal to her, so she assumes her reasoning must be sound and able to be objectively tested. She continues to test her hypothesis for three years; trying to analyse her reaction to a particularly beautiful pair of breasts, watching episodes of The L Word on the internet to see if the sex scenes would turn her on. She concedes that women are more aesthetically pleasing than men, but is not sure whether that observation counts as a proof to her hypothesis. She keeps the experiment up anyway, but her interest gradually wanes.
Now she is at university it seems like sex and love and relationships are on everyone’s radar but hers. She feels like she should be getting somewhere now, that she’s somehow wrong for not having had all those experiences. For a few months she starts wearing makeup and short skirts in the hope of being able to join in the dance of attraction and dating and making out in empty corridors, but after a while she realises that she just isn’t interested in the whole charade. The idea of someone actually approaching her makes her queasy and anxious.
She gets older: nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. She starts to seriously question her own sexuality again. By now she is pretty sure that she is not heterosexual, nor homosexual, nor bisexual nor pansexual, because all those words include –sexual and their prefixes contain the assumption of another person. She doesn’t mind the sexual part if it’s her on her own, because she’s gotten herself off enough times over the past years to know that physical pleasure is something her body enjoys (even when her mind wanders to latin grammar conventions and political science concepts). But she’s never really wanted a relationship, to give herself over to someone else’s touch, their hands, their mouth, their selves.
She feels like she must want sex with another person, with all the moaning and writhing and passion and tenderness that she reads and hears of. But when she translates those fantasies onto herself her mind short-circuits and the wiring fizzles out, and she has to reboot. She tells herself that one day her wiring will align itself correctly and suddenly she’ll be a normal, sexual person. Like everyone always tells her. And she immerses herself in her books and her studies and her theories, because they give her a rush like nothing else does.
One day she stumbles across a website and finds that there are other people with similar feelings to her. Who aren’t interested in other people sexually. Who sometimes aren’t interested in other people at all. They have a name and an identity, and suddenly she finds herself so very confused and scared and exhilarated at the same time, because maybe now she’ll never change into a normal person. And maybe her whole idea of normal is starting to be wrenched off its hinges and turned head-over-heels.
She isn’t sure what scares her more.
It takes a while for her to feel comfortable with the new words and concepts she’s learned. She gets angry about never having heard of them before, even when she was waist-deep in queer rights activism in her lesbian-hypothesis stage. She starts to think about the ways that sex is constructed as an integral part of everyone’s life, and how everything around her reminds her that she’s falling further and further off the radar of humanity every time she asserts herself as not-sexual. After a few months of learning and digging and denying she finally begins to feel comfortable in her own identity. More or less.
It’s become just another part of normal for her. Now all she has to do is convince everyone else.