So! It’s the second day of Asexual Awareness Week, and the theme for today is Words of Wisdom. I’m not an artist so I was a little hesitant for yesterday’s theme of art, but I am a writer. If I can’t come up with some at least passable Wise Words then clearly I am a bigger slacker than I’d previously given myself credit for.
Well. Wise words on the subject of Asexuality. It’s tricky really, because a large part of me is keen to stress that it’s no big deal, that hey, I’m not trying to intrude on anyone or be an attention seeker, or invalidate other Queer people by claiming a space for myself in the MOGII (Marginalised Orientations, Gender Identities and Intersex)/LGBTQIAP+ community.
But really, isn’t that part of it? Part of the problem? Asexuality is the new kid on the block, orientation-wise. It’s only just been recognised as an orientation and not a condition (and about time!), and frankly, most people haven’t even heard of it. So, much as I don’t want to stand up and claim to be some sort of special snowflake, another part of me feels that I have something of a duty to be Out and proud, simply so that another teenager out there maybe escapes the teenagedom I had.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I had a pretty sheltered childhood. I never did get out much – mostly I stayed at home reading books, playing computer games, and writing.
Boy, that writing though. I’ve never been a poet, but teenage me was blissfully ignorant of that fact, and wrote heaps of the damn things. Heaps of kinda rubbish stories, too. And you know what? A whole bunch of them might have been about being lonely, or death, or being different, but oddly enough, love and crushes weren’t a feature. It was a running gag among my friends that I’d skip over any scenes like that in books. I felt (and still feel) distinctly uncomfortable even watching people kiss.
And yet, for all that, I knew that I wanted a family (naturally, wanting children has nothing to do with orientation, and neither does someone’s fitness to be a parent). Which meant that I knew that someday I’d end up with a man, even if for a long time I was adamant that I could still adopt, and avoid the whole icky kissing-and-more thing. The thought that maybe I didn’t have to? That it wasn’t an inevitability? That wasn’t on the table. I went to an exceedingly hetero-normative school, and in those pre-internet days, there was no one to tell me that what I was feeling was normal, or that there were others like me.
For years I was the odd one out; the only one who really didn’t understand the point of boy bands (I still don’t understand the fascination with manufactured pop groups, btw), or who didn’t have a crush on an actor. Instead, I told myself that clearly this crush or infatuation stage was just something I’d skipped somehow, and boy, wasn’t I lucky? After all, adults didn’t go all gooey over boys or men (or women) the way my classmates did, right?
Yeah, wrong. I think I managed to miss the fact that I was deluding myself by reading over and over accounts of people who fell in love through adversity, or over time. I wanted a partner – and in my head, I always made that distinction of “partner” over “boyfriend” – and that was just what fantasy novels offered. Relationships built on friendship and trust, with any physical affection nudged to the background or off-page. When I finally entered a relationship, I had no idea that I wasn’t experiencing sexual attraction because I had no idea what it even was. It’s not as though we live in a world which encourages women to be open and honest about their sexuality, after all.
The first time I encountered the term “asexual” was in the webcomic Girls With Slingshots. I was…perhaps 25? It didn’t register, because the asexual character in the comic did not engage in sexual activities, whereas I fluctuate between indifferent and favourable. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this describes my willingness to engage in sexual activities myself, and not my view of sex in general. I am also sex-positive, in that I believe people should have as much – or little – sex as they want, without being shamed by anyone.) I had been surrounded by a hetero-normative society for so long that I was unable to divorce the concept of sexual attraction (and acting on it) from love. It has taken me the last two years to unpack that, and to grow into a space where I feel comfortable to state that I am Asexual, with a capital A. I arrived via the label of Demisexual, because for a while I was unable to accept that the attraction I feel/have felt (to only a very few people throughout my life, it has to be said) was romantic and sensual, not sexual. It was a huge shift to really think about what I was experiencing, and not try and make myself conform to what society told me I should feel.
Nowadays, the more I look back on my teenage self, the more obvious it is. I start to wonder how I ever missed it; from writing a fantasy series about a reproductively asexual race of people (so I didn’t have to include romance, because that inevitably led to kissing); to my conviction that I wanted someone to sit quietly with and talk to for a partner; to my squishes on classmates which I knew couldn’t be crushes because I never wanted to kiss anyone; to my utter blindness to anyone flirting with me up to and including the point where I went on a date without realising that the other person wanted to kiss me until they actually kissed me.
And the common thread through all of it, the one single, solitary thing I wish I had known through it all? That hey, it was okay. There was nothing wrong with not wanting to have a relationship, and I didn’t need an excuse like “I’m too busy writing”, or “I’m just awkward”. I’m not awkward at all. I’m just not sexually attracted to people, and after almost a lifetime of teaching myself to pass as straight so that I didn’t seem so odd, I’m a little muddled up inside still. For example, I have a tendency to point out innuendos all the time simply because for years I never saw them and was the butt of jokes in that regard. Now I over-compensate.
Another, less healthy example, is the fact that I had huge self-worth issues as a teen because guys only seemed to notice my breasts, and people would compliment my hair, and I didn’t see the purpose of either of these types of comment. I have moderately large breasts – did that mean people were only interested in those, and my value in their eyes derived from my appearance? I have shiny, thick hair – did that mean other women would judge me based on how my hair looked? I had no measure of what was “attractive”. I still don’t, really. I judge my appearance based on how society tells me a woman should look, because I had to learn what “sexy” meant from books and television. I don’t have a metric for what attractive is. I look at myself and I see….a body. I look at other people and I see…also bodies. It’s something humanity as a whole has in common; isn’t that great! But beyond that? Nope, not a clue.
I’m rambling now, because frankly, there is so much I could say on this subject that I’m pretty sure I could write a book. Honestly though, the one thing I come back to time and again is the wish, the passionate wish, that somehow I had learnt about all this sooner. That I hadn’t spent my entire teens and a chunk of my adult life feeling that I must be strange or weird because there was something out there which other people all seemed to understand and which I didn’t. And now, here’s a week about awareness, and I can take a step to make that wish come true for someone else. I can be visible for another teenager who feels kinda weird and different and out of the loop with all the kissing nonsense going on around them. I can stand up and say “THIS IS REAL. YOU ARE NOT BROKEN.”
I am not broken. I am not wrong. I’m just asexual. And I’m not alone, either.