Monday, September 21, 2009

Young Folks

I'm aware that I'm about to ask a question that is emotionally fraught for most of us. Even asking it might offend someone, although that's not my intention. Might as well get to the crux of it:

Can you be too young to identify as asexual?

I'll let you know right now that I can't answer this. It's difficult because, I would hope, we all have the interests of the youth at heart, especially kids going through similar things to what we went through. But our advice to people who seem like younger versions of ourselves is going to hinge on the things we experienced or wished we experienced at that age. That said, this question is often met with, "Would you tell a gay kid they were too young to know?" But the fact is that the experience of being gay is still extremely different from being asexual. As a gay teen, you can go to support groups, LGBT centers, or organizations like GSAs at your school (depending on where you live). There are a variety of good books for and about gay teens. There's a good chance you'll know someone else who is gay, and you can see out gay people in the media. None of this exists for asexual kids. They can identify as queer and join a LGBT group with the rest of them, but that doesn't guarantee anyone will know what asexuality is or how to support them in it.

A lot of our childhoods and teen years were not that easy, sometimes downright difficult. It's understandable that we'd want the next generation to have an easier time than we did. And being asexual isn't easy, especially since, like I mentioned in my last post, real-life support is lacking. So like any older sibling or parent would, we worry. Personally, I worry that many asexuals' only outlet for community, AVEN, may not be the best influence on the youngest of asexuals. I know that the impressionability of young people varies widely. However, AVEN can be full of bizarre ideas about sex and sexual people that a young person without a lot of experience in the world might take too closely to heart. If you look at people on AVEN that espouse, for example, extreme anti-sexual ideals, most of them are young. I've been on AVEN for almost four years now, and it seems like people are getting younger and younger. In most circles, I'm young at 25. On AVEN, I feel like a parent.

Of course, my concern about very young asexuals comes from my own experience. I realized I was asexual at 20, which I think was good for my own circumstances. Any later would have been problematic. But I think any earlier, and I would have been too self-conscious about being asexual. For me, it wasn't until college that I realized most other people were interested in sex. Maybe it's better to realize this at 13 or 14, especially if it helps you to avoid having sex just to fit in. But the idea of a 14-year old feeling excluded while their friends talk about sex just makes me sad. I'm glad that I got to be more innocent of all that for so long.

So, what if that 13-year-old is really a "late bloomer", and will start experiencing sexual attraction a year later? We don't want to call them "late bloomers", because the same thing was said disparagingly to us, whether we were 13 or 30. But we wonder how to convey the main concern that I believe people have about very young asexuals: If they do indeed start to experience sexual attraction later, will they be willing to admit that they're not really asexual, or will they hold on to the identity beyond reason? I know that some might, and some might not. Maybe the better question is not "what is too young?", but "how can we best support these young people?" It pains me that I can't protect a child from the confusions of this world, but since when did young folks listen to their elders, anyway?


Kim said...

I realize that this is slightly different, but when I was 13 I had a crisis of faith and decided that I wanted to convert to Wicca. I told my mom, and her response was basically that I could believe whatever I want, but I couldn't convert until I was 18. So I went on my merry way and grew out of it within a year or so. My point is that there are some kids who know who and what they are and there are some kids who like trying on different identities to see if they fit, and there isn't anything inherently wrong with either. I, personally, think that the best way to respond to a child or teen who identifies as asexual is to just accept it. If they really are a "late bloomer," no harm done.

pretzelboy said...

I think that things would generally be better of young people were under less pressure to be sexual--as it is, there is a lot of pressure from peers, a lot of pressure from the media, etc. about sex, and a lot of it is harmful. In the long run, I think that one of the best ways that asexuality can contribute to society is to normalize not being that interested. As it stands, the main way of doing this is telling kids to wait until they're "ready." But there is always the assumption that they'll be "ready" eventually. And it's connected with issues of maturity, and lot of people really want to see themselves as mature.

Ily said...

In the long run, I think that one of the best ways that asexuality can contribute to society is to normalize not being that interested.

This is my view as well, there is WAY too much pressure.

So Kim, did you think your mom had the right idea, or not? When I think about it, I realize that as a kid, I didn't do the whole trying out different identities thing, although I suppose it's really common.

Kim said...

I think that she handled it well. If she had had a strong negative reaction, I would have tried to be rebellious, because I thought that I should be rebellious, or something. If she had had a strong positive reaction, I might have been more embarrassed to say that I'd been wrong. Her non-reaction allowed me to come to my own realization in my own time, without having to worry that she would be disappointed.

Tomatl said...

Thanks for asking hard questions. The teenage years seem to be choc-a-bloc with labels. The two, and perhaps only, positive things about labels is that they give you a conceptual framework and and a group identity. It seems that in terms of asexuality at the moment, we aren't where we could be in terms of offering either.

I wish we could let teens just be, without the pressures of finding their place or their label. Letting them live in the moment. Our society should give them space to say one day, "I like sports and chess and i think girls are hot." And the next day, "sports aren't really my thing, boys are totally sexy, and chess is boring."

I totally agree with Kim, some kids just know, and others are trying things out. I think we should respect both. I say we work towards creating a society that isn't all about rigid definitions, that embraces ambiguity, and that allows people to just be. But what do i know, I'm practically geriatric : )

Anonymous said...

I know I'm going to sound like a cold-hearted bastard or something, but yes, I do think that younger teens are too young to declare an orientation--ANY orientation, even asexuality. Saying that you're going through an asexual period is a different thing than saying that you're asexual; claiming "asexuality for this time, at least" I'm fine with. But i do feel that if you get trapped in labels, especially at that young age, you could become even more confused.

It's a time when sexuality changes, so a person who thought they were gay could be bi, a person who thought they were bi could turn out straight, a 'straight' person could turn out to be ace, etc. I just think that one should be aware of it, take note of it, act on it if they wish, but realize that it might not be all who they are later in life. During the early teens kids are just so stuck on trying to label themselves that sometimes that's the reason they get so confused. :/

Personally, I've changed so much from 13 to 18 it's ridiculous. I've gone through phases and beliefs, doubts, identities, circles of friends, ways of thinking, etc. and it all just changes as you mature and become more sure of yourself. There are still some kids who luckily know exactly who they are and what they are, which is brilliant and I would like to encourage them to identify with a label and accept it, but the fact is there are also many kids who change and don't. I think all options should remain open.

16 is the age where I think you can start to claim a sexual identity for yourself, if you know then. Maybe 15, depending. Your brain is more mature, and your hormones are slightly less static.

Espikai said...

"Would you tell a gay kid they were too young to know?"

According to my mother, apparently you should. >_< I really wish there were more resources for families of ace-identifying teens besides the AVEN FAQ, because I think that would help somewhat. Within the ace community, what we can do is to reassure younger people first identifying as ace that what they're feeling is normal and that whatever they want to identify as is okay, I think. We should also perhaps mention that sexuality can be something people figure out over time, but I don't know how to do that without coming across as condescending of their feelings. While I'm a little older than the mentioned age, that's what finally made me feel comfortable with myself as ace, the statement about identifying as what you are right now and not feeling like an underdeveloped person.

Me said...

Even younger than 13, there are amazing amounts of pressure.

I'm 15, and I began to identify as asexual at 14. I knew a girl who had a pregnancy scare when she was 13, and another who had oral sex when she was 12. In both of these instances, they were completely consenting. At 14, the rest of my friends were steadily rounding bases. By 13, I was convinced I was lesbian, simply because I thought that grinding at dances was disgusting.

Long story short, there is too much pressure on everyone from an extremely young age.

Ily said...

Paz-Kid, I don't think you sound like a bastard :-) What you're saying makes sense, but only if people were discouraged from having ANY orientation until a certain age. As things are, everyone would just be straight until proven otherwise, which may not be an improvement. If we could hold off on ALL labeling for longer, maybe that would be advantageous. But I don't see that actually happening considering the label-crazy (and heteronormative) world we live in.

If you have a parent who's a doctor, they will inevitably tell you, "I've delivered a baby from a 12-year-old!" It's so far from my own experience that I don't even know what to say about the situation. I do wonder where the parents are, though. I think one good thing about mostly living in my own world and not having many friends growing up was that I didn't experience as much peer pressure. I was pretty oblivious to what other kids were doing most of the time. Not like that's a solution or anything, though.

"Embracing ambiguity" is definitely something I work towards. Life is so full of it but most of us (myself included) seem to not like it much, most of the time.

I wonder what I would have decided about myself if I had heard of asexuality earlier in my life. I'm not sure. I think it took me awhile to get committed to not being in denial about certain "abnormal" aspects of myself.

Anonymous said...

"Embracing ambiguity" is definitely something I work towards. Life is so full of it but most of us (myself included) seem to not like it much, most of the time.

I would caution against going too far with this, just as a general rule. It seems like most of the asexual community loves to praise shades of gray and hate on labels, and as someone whose asexuality was never in question (I'm 26, by the way), it can get a bit alienating at times, because it seems like those are the only things ever spoken of favorably. I wouldn't push the ambiguity angle to the exclusion of everything else, at least if you're trying to be inclusive.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, true, Ily. I think that this society is just far too label and orientation obsessed as it is. Kids don't get to be kids anymore; they're starting to become miniature adults with 'adult' concerns at a younger age, and they don't even fully understand it all. :/

We have improved though from the past where there was no teenagehood, just childhood to adulthood. But I don't know, maybe somewhere society got all sidetracked, or perhaps parents did, and now kids are rushing to grow up even faster than ever. Or maybe that's also because we get to puberty faster than ever and hormones are raging? Which says nothing about the nonsexual kids though.

But yeah, like Me said, Too much pressure on kids from an early age.

Anonymous said...

I think there should be less pressure on deciding your sexual identity now FOR EVER AND EVER, but rather people should pick the orientation that feels right for them /now/ and then drop it and find a new one if their feelings change without angst about it. Even teenagers.

Because the thing is, so what if they're a late bloomer? If they've reached the point of asking "am I asexual?", chances are that they're feeling alienated, frustrated with their lack of sexual desire, etc. etc. all the things we are so familiar with. There's this attitude that if they suddenly gain interest in sex one year or two years or five years from that point in time this proves they were sexual all along and utterly invalidates all their feelings up to this point, and I think this is a terrible attitude to take. They might "end up" being gay, or straight, or bi, or whichever - but the feelings they're having now are still real. If they think they're asexual *now*, if they think they can benefit from the label *now*, I think it's a good thing for them to be able to take it. I don't see their age as a reason to let them go through all the same crap we did, and I don't think identifying as asexual for a while (with the understanding that it might be a temporary state or it might not) should do a sexual person much harm.

Never to mention, I think introducing more people to the concept of a fluid sexuality is a good thing.

And, yeah, I think fourteen is too early for this - but it seems to be happening, and going "well, fourteen-year-olds are too young to think about this stuff so they shouldn't ID as asexual" strikes me as the same kind of argument as the people who reject the concept of asexuality entirety because "labels are bad!" make. It would be nice if kids in their early teens didn't have to think about sexual orientations, just as it would be nice if we didn't have to fit our sexuality into little boxes - but that's not the way the world is, and depriving people of the tools that can help them survive in this world because we don't want to admit it's become like this is not cool.

Ace of the Arts said...

I'm 17 and have only been identifying as ace for a few months, but I have never, luckily, felt the pressure to be sexual, I always seemed to have somehow been "removed" from the whole process. I have managed to just be myself—someone who could care less about taking part in the sexual side of life. On the flip side, I am also not pressuring myself to be asexual, because since I have identified as such I have managed to quite happily stomp a rather persistent depression into the dust where it belongs. I have yet to see all of how that will affect me (but so far, it seems to not have anything to do with sex drive or attraction at all). Overall, I have just become a very different person from who I was even just a year ago. I have a rather relaxed personality though, and I tend to just take things as they come (I have actually been called a hippie goth before—you may take that however you wish).

Tomatl said...

I haven't noticed anyone hating on labels around here, perhaps just advocating for creating space for people to figure their shit out (allowing for ambiguity when needed). I think the real question is not whether any one is too young to use a label, but rather how can we make taking on the label of asexual as useful a tool as possible? ie through community, awareness, creating asexual culture etc

Anonymous said...

I understand your concern about encouraging kids and young teens to adopt labels that they may feel compelled to stick with later whether they still apply or not, because that's something I've definitely experienced. But I agree with Pretzelboy that it would be great if to convey the message that it's normal not to be interested in sex.