Not only can reclaiming words give you confidence, it can also help you figure out your identity.
Editor’s Note: This post was submitted by Captain Heartless for the May 2014 Carnival of Aces.
When I was in junior high school, asexuality as an identity had only been around for a few years. This means I had never heard of asexuality, and wouldn’t until I was well into my undergrad education. But it was obvious that I didn’t experience sexual attraction—I just didn’t have the language to express that.
Anyways, when one of my friends was first getting into porn, he was the kind of guy who would share it with all of his friends. So my entire group of friends, while hanging out, would be looking at porn and discussing how hot this or that woman was (they were all straight men). At the time, I wasn’t really sure how to react. I don’t remember if I even tried to fake interest, but either way it became clear that I didn’t experience attraction in the same way they did. I also didn’t have the framework to distinguish between love and sexual attraction—and to my knowledge, had felt neither. My friend who was sharing the porn noticed this, and as a result I ended up getting labelled and nicknamed as “a freak” (this may or may not be related to disability as well: I was unusually flexible).
While I lived in a liberal area, and there were good resources for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation, I had no knowledge or framework to understand that I was being bullied. I thought it was completely natural that I be considered a freak for not being able to fit myself into the framework we had, especially since I couldn’t even come up with people that I “liked”. It wasn’t until, at least a year later, I mentioned all of this to a friend of mine. She pointed out that my friend was a bit of an asshole, and that it was okay to not be interested—whether it be in porn, in sex, in relationships, or anything of that kind.
Together, her and I almost developed a kind of proto-asexuality: to some degree I reclaimed the label “freak,” and perhaps more strongly I started thinking of myself as “heartless.” I didn’t manage to come up with much in the way of theory, and was obviously using reclaimed words. I never learned to distinguish sexual attraction and romantic attraction, or any of the many distinctions that the asexual community has developed. It was an unclear and vague identity that arose as a response to bullying. And despite my attempts, I had internalized a lot of norms that would eventually lead me to abandon the proto-identity, and (painfully, with bad results) attempt to be what I saw as “normal,” until I discovered asexuality much later in my life.
So my proto-asexuality of my teenage years may have ended in failure because it couldn’t stand up to all of the pressures of the world. But for a short time, at least, I had developed a sense of pride in myself and learned to stand up for myself—and began to learn about my identity, even if I didn’t have a name and had to simply use the words assigned to me (whether it be the painful “freak,” or more lighthearted “heartless”).