It’s Asexual Awareness Week and I want to write something – not for the uneducated or the allies out there, but for the asexuals who, like myself, might be confused or afraid or upset. The ones who may not want to celebrate this week, but feel drawn to the push for awareness anyway. I can only write about my own experiences with my asexuality, but maybe my words will resonate with someone out there. Here goes.
Asexuality, to me, feels like a fairy tale. It feels like having fins instead of legs, and I’d give up any beautiful, integral part of myself to make the trade and walk on land like my beloved. It feels like I’m a beast hidden away in a castle, and no matter how much I hope her kiss will break the curse, I know no curse exists; this is just who I am, ugly and unacceptable. It feels like I am a slumbering beauty surrounded by the wall of thorns that is my own body, and I’m so afraid that she’ll wound herself too deeply trying to cut down the wall. It feels like searching desperately for mushroom rings in the hopes of being spirited away to Faery, where everything and everyone is covered in glamour.
I have a very complicated relationship with my asexuality. I hate it, even as I fight for greater asexual visibility and acceptance. I hate myself, even as I argue for the presence of asexuals in LGBTQ safe spaces. We deserve that acceptance, even if I can’t yet accept myself. We deserve that inclusion, even if I don’t always feel comfortable or safe in those spaces.
And I am trying to be okay with that. I’m trying to be okay with the anger, the sorrow, the feelings of wrongness and inadequacy. And it’s okay for you, reader, to feel those things as well. It’s okay to be upset with your asexuality, to wonder if something made you this way and if you can be fixed. It’s okay to feel different, and to worry how being asexual will change certain aspects of your life. This road can be a long, hard, painful one. Never let anyone tell you asexuals don’t struggle or suffer over their identities. Never let anyone tell you what labels you can or can’t use. Many of us struggle. Many of us suffer. Many of us agonize over the labels we want, the ones we can’t shake, the ones we love and fear. No one should erase that. Every experience you have is uniquely yours, forever. Embrace it.
It gets better. It gets worse. Have faith. Have faith you’ll find community, if community is what you need. Have faith you’ll find love, if love is what you need. Have faith you’ll get through the dark times, because you will. They suck – god, do they suck – but you’ll get through them.
Bradbury has followed me through the years, both companion and guide, close to my side as any holy book. I have read him in dorm rooms late at night and New Mexican laundromats at high noon; in hotel rooms in Switzerland and Portland; on trains down the continent, planes across the ocean, buses through the city; in the deepest wilderness and in bed by sick, slumbering lovers. I have read him when I needed rekindling, when I needed reminding, when I needed a rescue. I have read him desperately, ravenously, wondrously.
She says to write about myself but I don’t know how. If I try to look too deep all I see are the individual pieces I’ve gathered like a crow building its nest; scraps of sound, shards of sight, pieces of texture and taste and temptation. I lose my sense of self to the mosaic until I forget if I’m a girl or just sea salt and fog and candleflicker in dark windows. When I turn within myself and ask “who am I?” no voice answers. All I hear is the susurration of the ocean and the wind through pine boughs. When I turn within myself and ask “what am I?” all I feel is the heartbeat of mountains and the stars revolving overhead.
Some days I don’t want to be beautiful. Some days I want to be a monster, frightening and furious. I want to cover myself in armor and spikes, hide every bit of pink human flesh beneath ink and metal, grow claws and fangs and horns. I want to dye myself colors that warn poison! poison! so no one comes near. I want to be too strange, too foreign, too dangerous. Too different. Not beautiful. Not dependable. Not the good girl. Just wild.
(But on some nights, every night, I want to strip all that armor off and crawl naked into your arms. Be small and weak and unadorned; just a girl, neither good nor bad. Even on the days when I want to be a monster, I want to be only myself with you.)
[ In a few weeks I will be speaking on an asexuality panel hosted by a local LGBT youth organization for which I volunteer. I decided to post my answers to the pre-panel questions here because I haunt the LGBT/asexuality/lesbian tags here on WordPress and want to start weighing in on discussions in and about the queer community. Apologies in advance if my thoughts seem scattered; there’s just so much in my mind about this topic! ]
a. How does your asexuality connect or intersect with the other parts of your identity?
b. Do you think your relationships with others are different than other people’s?Let me start by saying I consider myself completely asexual, meaning I feel no sexual attraction regardless of sex, gender, or any other factor. I’m not comfortable claiming a romantic orientation, though; the only person I’ve ever felt romantic feelings for is my girlfriend, for whom I fell hard (and am still falling). Since I plan on being with her for a very, very long time, it isn’t important to me to figure out where on the romantic spectrum I may land. I would have considered myself aromantic before her, and now I just consider myself in love. I know, we’re gross.To me, being asexual means knowing I’m not alone. It means I have community, support, empathy. Other people who know what I struggle with because they struggle with it, too. I’m not someone who needs lots of labels to define myself, but this is one label that has brought me an immense understanding of why I am the way I am. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I honestly hate myself for being asexual; for not being able to feel certain things, or want certain things, no matter how badly I try to feel them. However, there’s a strange comfort to knowing it’s just part of who I am, an unchangeable aspect of myself I can either fight or embrace. Most times I embrace it openly, happily. When I can’t, I have my girlfriend and the online community to lean on and remind me I’m not broken.
I think my asexuality is tangled up in my personality, so it’s hard to tell if it influences my identity or not. Even if I were sexually attracted to one gender or another, I know I wouldn’t be someone who enjoys casual sex or heavy flirting. My personality would remain the same no matter what; low-key, nerdy, creative. What asexuality has given me, though, is the self-awareness to explore the queer aspects of my personality. I have become much more involved in the queer community in the last year (tentatively, one toe in the water at a time) and through this I have begun to acknowledge and embrace parts of myself that I used to ignore or deny – the aesthetic attraction I feel for women, the intense connection I have with my characters, the relationship with my girlfriend which surpasses romantic love. While there aren’t labels for some of the things I am or feel, asexuality was one gateway for me to embrace them regardless.
I don’t think my asexuality greatly affects my non-romantic relationships. Neither my friends nor family are particularly sexual or flirty people, so I’m not often in situations with them where I might feel uncomfortable about the topic of conversation or jokes being made. I have always been myself with them, and I always will be. My asexuality does of course affect my relationship with my girlfriend, but not as much as some might think. Despite what you might read online, allosexual/asexual relationships aren’t impossible. They aren’t doomed to failure or misery. If you love the person, you make things work. I love my girlfriend because I’m meant to love HER, regardless of her sex or gender or orientation. We’re two souls in love, not two bodies, and that’s why we’re so wonderful together.
2) How does your asexuality shape the way you move around in the world?
a. What are some assumptions or stereotypes that you face?
b. Have you come out as asexual? What was that like for you?
Asexuality is an interesting lens through which to see the world. While we all know “sex sells” and that we’re inundated with sexual images in media, not as many people are aware that we also live in a culture where sexuality itself is seen as compulsory. For example, while we’re making strides in showing our children it’s okay to like boys OR girls, or both, we rarely tell them it’s just as okay to like neither. We still tell the undecided that they’ll change their minds when they meet the right person, or that they’re just late bloomers. So viewing this world as someone who doesn’t feel the pull of sexual desire at all can be at once amusing and frustrating. Amusing because you get to watch sexual drama from the sidelines; frustrating because everything is geared toward people who feel sexual desire, so your own wants or needs are rarely reflected in media or society in general (and when they are, not usually very accurately).
In our current society, sex is an expectation of romance and love – I think that’s why some asexuals feel this immense responsibility to out themselves to anyone who might be romantically interested in them, in case that person feels they’ve been lead on. I know I did. We fear being rejected for what we are before someone even takes the time to learn WHO we are. And if we are with someone romantically, we then run the risk of being mislabeled. People always assume my girlfriend and myself are both gay, when neither of us identifies that way. (She, in fact, doesn’t identify as anything, which I love.) We even had someone at a queer event make some rather inappropriate jokes about lesbian sex, assuming we were a) lesbians like her and b) sexually active, and therefore we’d find them funny. No, we didn’t; we found them extremely awkward and kinda graphic. We laugh about it now, but it was still frustrating to be misidentified while at an event promoting queer freedom and understanding.
A harmful assumption I have encountered both without and within the LGBT community is that asexuals face no discrimination (and, some feel, therefore don’t deserve inclusion in that community or its safe spaces). Some people believe we can “hide” our sexual orientation and therefore pass as normal. This brand of discrimination we face is one the LGBT community has faced in the past – invisibility. We’re told our orientation doesn’t exist; that we CAN’T exist. We’re told we’re broken, that it must be past trauma or hormones or mental issues causing our asexuality, or even that we’re just attention seekers. Some of us face damaging corrective therapy or, worse, sexual assault. To me, it hurts more when this dismissal is perpetrated by those in the LGBT community that people on the outside. Can we hide? Not if we want to be happy and healthy. Should we have to hide? No. No one should. But when the “A” in the acronym more often stands for “ally” than “asexual”, it’s hard to feel included.
I didn’t want to hide, but that doesn’t mean I embraced my identity in one fell swoop. Coming out was a long and often difficult process for me. I gave myself almost two years to become comfortable identifying as asexual, and in this time I only told a very few select friends. Once I decided the label was right for me, I began opening up to other friends and people online. It was only in the last year that I came out to my immediate family, almost seven years after I first learned about the orientation. I knew I would be accepted no matter what, but also that asexuality was a foreign concept to my family and it would take time for them to understand. (Though it probably didn’t help that I broke the “I’m asexual” and “I’m dating for the first time ever – and it’s a girl” news at the same time…) I’m very open about my asexuality now, though. If I mention my girlfriend and someone says “Oh, you’re gay?” I always (kindly) correct them. I enjoy educating people about asexuality; I think it’s important to be a voice within the community, even if I’m only speaking to my own experiences and observations. I even have a rainbow PFLAG bracelet hanging from my purse strap, along with a button that says “Tacoma Pride” that I got from my city’s pride festival.
3) Do you identify as queer?
a. What does “queer” mean to you?
To me, the term “queer” is an umbrella for anyone who doesn’t strictly fall under the heterosexual/heteroromantic and/or cisgender labels. It can be a very helpful and convenient term for people who feel their identity doesn’t have a label, or who feel uncomfortable using labels in general. It’s also a very malleable term, meaning it can be used for aspects of a person that haven’t yet been included in the larger sexuality and gender discussions. I believe I fall under the queer label, though not necessarily because of my asexuality; instead, my queerness comes from other aspects of my life, such as the relationship between myself and my girlfriend, and the relationship I have with my characters. I’m queer because there’s no word for two women in a relationship who don’t identify as lesbians. I’m queer because I feel things for my girlfriend and my characters that don’t fall under any terms or buzz words. I’m queer because I’m a little bit off from what society considers normal, and until there IS no normal, queer is the best word to sum me up.