People often don’t realize that asexuality is a legitimate orientation—which is why representation is so important. (x)
Editor’s Note: This post was submitted by Miriam for the May 2014 Carnival of Aces.
For me, the biggest obstacle I faced with asexuality was the process of figuring out I was asexual in the first place.
It might seem silly—I’m pretty sure my other queer friends are like, “Well, it took me years to work out I was gay, but that’s not the biggest obstacle I’ve faced”— but it was actually symbolic of a far larger problem. Like a lot of people, I had no idea asexuality even existed until I was about seventeen.
I spent nearly seventeen years thinking I was straight, six months thinking I was probably gay, six months thoroughly confused and bewildered, and for the last six months I’ve been pretty sure that I’m ace, even if I didn’t start outwardly identifying that way until more recently. And my readers will notice I rarely talk about it on my blog, unless it’s relevant—I’m sure that most people won’t know or care what I mean.
As far as most of my friends at school are concerned, I’m gay. Well, to be fair to them, I’m probably homoromantic (I’m gay enough for Russia to hate me, but not so gay that I’m happy for you to assume I’m homosexual), so they’re not too far off. And it’s not like I’ve used the word ‘asexual’ much.
Even when I realised I don’t really experience sexual attraction, it seemed there were plenty of other feasible explanations for that. No, really, I heard all of them. People delighted in offering their wisdom.
“Maybe you’re just not ready for sex,” they might say. “It’ll come to you.”
“Maybe it’s a sign from God that you’re supposed to be single,” the more religiously minded ones would contribute, which is never the most helpful thing to be told.
“Maybe you’re just suffering from internalized homophobia and you can’t come to terms with your sexuality, so you’re in denial.”
“Maybe,” some would suggest, “it’s because you were emotionally manipulated by someone you trusted a few years ago, and now you’re afraid of intimacy.”
They weren’t telling me anything new. I’d asked myself the same questions, had them running around in my mind for a while, and nobody I spoke to seemed to be able to help me. When I spoke to a counsellor about my feelings they asked me if I’d been sexually abused and continually kept probing as though I might reveal some gaping wound in my past that would contribute to this void of physical feelings.
I felt like I was spending more of my time explaining myself and defending myself and trying to justify how I lived my life than I was actually living it, and I felt like whenever I sought help I had to explain the problems to everyone else instead of receiving advice. (I felt the same way about health problems I was having at the time, which none of the doctors I saw seemed to understand.)
Even when I managed to explain, most people just thought I wasn’t ready for sex and would grow out of it. Hey, they might be right. I’m eighteen years old, and there’s a lot of life ahead of me.
And then I read a book with an asexual character and it was like a breath of fresh air because there on the page was this word I was using. It was suddenly like I’d seen a whole world of people who knew what I was talking about, and I wasn’t just sitting in a corner surrounded by labels that nobody else would understand.
It was that which gave me the courage to finally start identifying publicly as ace.
You see, my problem was that no one had ever said, “Even if you put yourself in this box now, you don’t have to stay in it.” And nobody said, “There’s no such thing as ‘just’ a phase: you’re allowed to change.” I figured I couldn’t put any labels on myself until I was absolutely sure I wasn’t going to change my mind, so I didn’t even go near the ‘asexuality’ label. Labels made everything seem concrete.
And the reason I’d never had that advice was because asexual representation in fiction is…pretty much non-existent. I was eighteen before I read a single book with an explicitly asexual character, who actually used the word to define herself. Who knows how much earlier I’d have figured things out if I’d had more representation? Who knows how much easier it might have been?
I spent a long time thinking I was broken, and even longer just being confused that my thoughts didn’t match up to those around me, but no one ever gave me a word for it. The biggest obstacle I’ve faced so far—and yes, I’m sure there will be bigger ones in my future, when the pressure to settle down in a relationship is higher—was actually finding out about asexuality.
Representation—it matters. People always tell me there’s more LGBTQ representation now than ever before and probably they’re right, but very, very little of that is about asexuality.
For more from Miriam, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.