The Performance of Asexuality: A play in three acts

Revealing your sexuality can be difficult, but sometimes that can help you develop a better understanding of yourself. (x)

Editor’s Note: This essay was submitted by Giovanni for the May 2014 Carnival of Aces.

Prude. Frigid. Broken. Repressed. Ignorant. Oppressive.

This is what asexuality looks like to a lot of people. I am something to be fixed, someone to be converted, someone hiding my true self, supposedly fearful of society’s reactions. I am a thief, taking affection without being able to pay for it. These are all things people have said to me at one time or another. Some of it comes out of ignorance; rarely does it come from malice. Often, fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the reactions of others. I have been accused of tarnishing the respectability of the queer movement.

I present to you, the humble reader, three acts. Each is a case where, either knowingly or unknowingly, I had exposed my asexuality to a person or group of people and how their reaction helped shape me and my relationship to my own sexuality.

(As one may expect from the matter at hand, some of the stories below deal with troubling themes. Each act comes with its own content warnings, but the reader should be aware that the topics of self-harm, corrective rape, threats of violence and emotional manipulation are covered below.)

Act One: Support

(This act covers topics of acceptance and the negotiation of boundaries)

One summer a childhood friend who had transferred away to a local private school introduced me to some of his other friends, notably a slightly older friend of his, Apollo (all names have, for reasons that may become apparent, been replaced with the members of the ancient Greek pantheon). Apollo was probably one of the first bisexual people I’d met in person and after a slightly rocky start, we hit it off. One sunny afternoon hanging out, he nervously asked me if I was at all interested in men. The resulting conversation was incredibly awkward and, looking back, probably the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me as I admitted I wasn’t sure, but if he was asking me out that I was willing to give it a shot. We spent the next hour discussing boundaries and what we were both comfortable with.

About a month into the relationship, I ended up at his house after a gig. His parents were out and we had the house to ourselves and as one thing lead to another I couldn’t help feeling incredibly nervous. Sex was a thing people in relationships had, it was one of the ways you showed people you liked them, and I did really like Apollo. So why was I so apprehensive? I think he noticed this, because he stopped taking my shirt off and asked if I was okay. For the next half hour, we sat and had what I imagine is an incredibly unsexy conversation about how if he hadn’t stopped there he probably would have gone on to have sex with me.

We tried to talk about why I wasn’t comfortable with this, if there was anything he could do to make me more comfortable and making it perfectly clear that it was okay if the answer was no. Once we knew where we both stood with our boundaries newly redrawn, he asked me if he could kiss me. He did everything in his power to ensure that I felt safe and respected. The anxiety and apprehension melted away.

I left the following morning, feeling as if what had happened that night previously was entirely normal. I didn’t feel any less of anything for having not had sex, and for having admitted that I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to have sex. We spoke over IM that evening, where he made it clear that his affection wasn’t predicated on anything. We would break up about a month later as he moved across the country to go to a private boarding school. We remained in contact and good friends for about a year before we grew apart, and he was one of the first people to mention asexuality to me, although it would be a while before I had the confidence to apply that label to myself.

Act Two: Betrayal

(This act covers topics of self-harm, emotional manipulation and threats of violence)

It was about two years later that I began dating Hestia, an old childhood friend to whom I’d grown close. She was a year older than I was and as I’d moved up to high school, she’d introduced me into her group of friends who quickly also became my group of friends. She was generally friendly, boisterous and easygoing, although in private she suffered with significant issues with self-esteem, body image and later self-harm.

Our transition from friends to couple was much more gradual than with Apollo. To further distance itself from the very private affair that was my relationship with Apollo, I saw Hestia almost every day. Also unlike Apollo, with whom I exchanged relatively few texts, emails, IMs or the like, except to organize to meet up and general Good Mornings and How’s your days, Hestia sent on average thirty texts to me a day and expected a prompt response. She once called me at two o’clock in the morning because I’d not answered her text from 11 p.m.

About a week before we broke up, she had invited me over to her house. We were going to drink Spanish wine, curl up on the sofa and watch 90s sci-fi. I had been warned by one of our mutual friend that Hestia had gotten it into her head that we had been dating for sufficiently long that we should have been having sex by now, and that there were two reasons that we hadn’t yet: either she had not given me the opportunity to sleep with her or I wasn’t attracted to her and therefore hated her. I felt the same tension in my gut as I had felt that night with Apollo, but overlaid with a new and interesting aspect.

By now I had realized that I was missing something: other people talked of urges, desires, finding people “hot.” I didn’t. I found people attractive, in an aesthetic sense, and there were people whom I felt romantically for, such as Hestia, but “hot” wasn’t a word I could really ascribe to people.

The wine drunk and the credits rolling, Hestia went to kiss me and place a hand between my legs. The feelings of anxiety and confusion that had been kept so far at bay leapt straight to the fore and a put my hands on her shoulders and pushed her back and attempted to explain that I liked her a lot, but I didn’t want to have sex with her. That it wasn’t anything to do with her (as far as I knew). That she hadn’t done anything wrong.

She took this badly.

We’d been dating for a long time, she said. Was it her looks? Did I not find her attractive? Was it her weight? Was I too drunk? Please just give her a chance. Was I gay? She was sure I’d like it. Please, if I loved her, she said, then I would do this for her.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.”

She took this even worse, and running out of options, I left. It was a Friday evening and I didn’t hear a word from her all weekend, despite sending several texts and leaving several voicemails. She didn’t turn up to school on Monday, worrying myself and most of her friends. That evening, I got a text from her, saying that we were through. She didn’t come to school Tuesday, but had apparently informed our friends, who came straight to me to try and find out what happened. When she did finally return to school on the Thursday, she expected to return to her friends with me the social outcast. Instead, she found her friends had taken my side and wanted reconciliation. Hestia took this badly too, and severed ties with the group. Over the next week she alternately sent me messages pleading forgiveness and wanting to get back together, and messages threatening retribution for misleading her and leading her on.

It was maybe a month later, I was invited to a party being held by one of her friends Demeter to celebrate the end of exams. Demeter assured me that Hestia would not be invited, Demeter too had been the recipient of messages demanding she choose me or Hestia as a friend. Unfortunately, someone else had invited her, and sent her into the kitchen to help prepare as I was there putting snacks in the oven. Not wanting a conflict, I indulged her in the small talk she made as she helped chop vegetables. But she quickly steered the conversation towards us.

She began to plead that I give her another chance. I said no. So, she picked up the knife she had been using to chop carrots and held it to her arm. She had thrown herself at me, Hestia said, and I had rejected her. I was worthless, a geek, a loser. If even I rejected her, what was she worth? I tried to calm her down, get her to put the knife down, anything to get her to stop threatening to harm herself. And to my credit, it kind if worked. Instead, she started waving the knife at me. I screamed for help, grabbed her arm and forced her to drop the knife. Her parents were called and she left with them.

For the next year, and intermittently after that, she would contact me demanding to know why I wouldn’t sleep with her, to give her a second chance.

Act Three: Erasure

(This act covers topics of threats of corrective rape and good people standing idly by)

Four years later, I was a hundred miles away attending the second year of university and generally having the time of my life. I had fallen in with a remarkable crowd of people with whom I felt genuinely comfortable around. The environment of university had prompted a great deal of introspection from me and I had begun, little by little, using the asexual label to describe myself.

I was at a New Year’s Eve party being hosted by several of my friends, at which almost everyone from our collective circles would be attending, including Dionysus. Dionysus was a very effeminate gay man who fit the stereotypes to a tee. He proclaimed himself to be the liberator of the group, helping its younger members feel more secure in themselves, or so he said. However, on our first meeting almost a year prior, he’d forever earned himself a black mark.

We’d met at the pub this group of friends regularly visited, and the conversation that evening had turned to sexuality. People had spoken a little about their own sexuality and when it came around to me I admitted that I was asexual. Dionysus almost immediately had questions, at first reasonable and tame—How long had I known? How had I heard of this?—but then more personal—Did I masturbate? Had I ever had sex? Had I ever been attracted to anyone? How did I know I wasn’t just repressing something? And then he started explaining how sexual therapy could “fix” me. I remember excusing myself rather quickly.

He was one of the older members and generally well liked. People admitted that Dionysus could be abrasive at first but assured me that once you got past his frank nature and flippant disregard for social mores he was a good friend. His partner, however, worked for a large technology firm with whom I wanted to work and having him as a sufficiently close acquaintance that I wouldn’t feel bad asking for an introduction acted as enough impetus to ignore the stupid jokes, the casual erasure, the comments and insinuations.

Back at the New Year’s party, Dionysus had arrived having rescued his partner Silenus from some upper-class party. After making his presence known to most of the guests he left Silenus talking with the host and made a beeline for where I stood, announcing loudly “Who’s my favorite asexual!” At first, the conversation was entirely normal small talk. If I wasn’t busy trying to figure out the easiest way to make myself scarce, I might have even believed he cared how I was doing. That’s why the next bit felt like it came entirely out of left field when without any warning whatsoever, he took a step forwards, pushing himself against me and the table behind me.

The exact words elude me, something for which I am unimaginably grateful for. He leant in close and said, “Giovanni, I should fuck you. Silenus wouldn’t mind. One good fuck and you’d be good as new.”

I felt sick, and grasped around behind me as I tried to pull myself away. Grasping around on the table behind me for a plate or a glass, something to act as an excuse (“Sorry, I need to take this to so and so”), my hand grabbed a knife. This was enough for him to step back. “It was a joke!” he exclaimed, like that was enough to forgive any transgression. I put down the knife (well, dropped would be a better word) and fled outside for some air. Someone came out and apologised on Dionysus’ behalf. At some point before they left, Silenus came over and assured me that he wasn’t usually like this. They left soon after, to head to some other party. The feeling of relief as they left was immense.

I’ve not seen him since, and that was last time I dared admit I was asexual in public.

Epilogue

It has been almost 18 months since Dionysus shattered what pride and confidence I once had in my own sexuality. I have a small group of people who know, whom I’ve told and can trust. Each time I expand this little network, I am pleasantly surprised by peoples reactions. I am met not with derision but with acceptance. I have not had to field uncomfortable questions, I have not had threats or pleading. I have not been told I am broken. I am putting the pieces back together.

There are still some things I dare not broach. I still struggle with the idea of being broken: all of what Apollo achieved was undone by Hestia and Dionysus. Even with the professionals, whose jobs are to help me with such issues, I fear talking of my asexuality for the risk they might not believe I exist.

They say that the night is always darkest before the dawn, but everyone always forgets the hard slog from midnight into the light. For the first time in years, I can see the sun peeking over the horizon. Now is not the time to stop, but to march boldly back into the light.

One step at a time.

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