Thursday, January 8, 2009

Asexual Perspectives

I can’t believe I missed my perfectly-wrought every 3 days schedule…I’m moving to a new house (new people! Strange animals! Frightening!) and got caught up in the preparations. Anyway, I’ll make up for it with a lengthy post!

As you may know, the new AVEN homepage with new content is LIVE! I feel honored to be included in the revamped “Asexual Perspectives” section. I’ve written about myself before, but I never really told the whole story of my asexual “journey”, so to speak. I wanted to convey my initial negativity but also be encouraging to newbies. And if you have any ideas for the title, please share…I called it “Life After Asexuality” but that doesn’t make much sense. Anyway, here’s my story, which is going to mess up the RSS feed, but oh well, I just wanted to share:

This was my introduction to asexuality: I was 20 and in the fall of my junior year of college. I was standing in my room with a small group of my sorority sisters. The girls were talking about which boys they currently had crushes on, and I remarked that I didn’t have a crush on anyone. One of my good friends mentioned casually, “Maybe you’re asexual.”

“NO I’M NOT!” I replied with horrified vehemence.

When I came out to her as asexual more than a year later, she was quite accepting.

But we’re not there yet. That spring, I studied abroad for a semester in London. I had a lot of time of time alone with my thoughts. After my internship in the evenings, I would walk along the Thames and come to important realizations about my life (sigh…). But not every realization was entirely welcome. This is what I wrote in my journal in April of 2005:

“I wanted to figure out my views on sex because it’s everywhere and everyone’s always talking about it. So I thought. And theoretically, sex sounds all well and good. But in actuality, it doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’ve always thought so, but I used to think it was just because I was too young. Well, I’m not too young anymore. And the idea of sex just doesn’t excite me like it seems to for other people. So could I be asexual, or what? There’s an asexuality LJ comm. [a sort of online group]…and those people all seem lonely and frustrated. If you’re gay, at least most people will understand that. But no one will understand if you’re not interested in sex. I’m not even sure I understand it. I never thought I’d be one of those people that ‘question their sexuality’, but here I am and I’m pretty confused. Maybe I’m making too much of this whole thing. But these are my thoughts & opinions—doesn’t that mean anything?”

When I got back from London, I got some bad news about something that had happened at school. What followed was an extremely depressing summer. When I first realized I was asexual, it seemed like even more bad news. I wanted so badly to be “normal”, although I had no idea why being “normal” was so essential in the first place. While I never wanted to have kids (when the girls in my middle school class were discussing how many children they’d like to have, I declared that I wanted iguanas), I always pictured myself getting married someday, or at least having a boyfriend. I wasn’t sure if asexuality was compatible with those visions. But looking back, asexuality was the least of my problems. I think I blamed a lot on it, because it was the “exotic” new development in my life. Maybe it took my mind off my other problems, ones that I was tired of dealing with. Since the culture at large seemed to view a lack of sexual desire as a problem, it wasn’t hard for me to think of it as a problem, too. Unfortunately, what I see now as my “real problems” at that time were things our culture couldn’t care less about. Always a bit impressionable, I soldiered on.

In the fall of 2005, I joined AVEN. I still remember my intro post—it was about how I’d rather listen to music than hook up with people. Immediately, I got welcomes and traditional AVEN cake from people all over the world. It felt wonderful to know I wasn’t alone, and that my fellow asexuals were such a friendly and diverse group. I wouldn’t meet any AVENites for quite awhile, but just knowing AVEN was there was comforting. I still celebrate my AVENiversary every year on November 27th.

It was a year later, November of 2006, that I made it to my first AVEN meetup. I had moved from the rural town where I’d gone to college, and was living in San Francisco, an hour’s drive from the town where I’d attended high school. I met three AVENites at a Berkeley karaoke bar, sang “Bizarre Love Triangle”, and for some reason agreed to helm the future San Francisco meetups. I started to embrace the idea that I could lead and organize things, and acknowledge community as one of the most important parts of my life. When I was told that I was “good at finding community” by a near-stranger, it didn’t sound like the way I saw myself. Oddly enough, I hadn’t detected a pattern in my twelve years of Girl Scouts and subsequent loyalty to my sorority sisters. It was the loss of community that crushed me after I returned from London. With AVEN meets, I tried to get it back. Even if the turnout wasn’t good, talking with asexuals in the flesh always left me exhilarated.

In the summer of 2007, I started another asexual-themed enterprise: My blog, Asexy Beast. I began it as a way to comment on portrayals of asexuality in the media. Needless to say, I’ve had to branch out a lot, but I’ve somehow managed to write almost 300 entries, with no sign of stopping anytime soon. Who said that if you weren’t interested in sex, that you didn’t have anything to talk about, again? I’d like to think I proved them wrong. Recently, in December of 2008, I wrote an entry about how it isn’t obvious to everyone that asexuality is a sexual orientation, like being straight, gay, or bi. I wrote:

“When I first discovered the magical world of asexuality, I didn't want to be it either. But various involvements-- in AVEN, this blog, and meetups, made me more comfortable identifying as asexual. Now, I can't imagine being anything else. The advantages to being asexual-- honesty with yourself, an accepting community, lack of pressure to be sexy-- are not as obvious as the perceived disadvantages. When I first discovered asexuality, the disadvantages hit me hard, as they might for many others. It was only later that I began to see the advantages. I think the advantages to our orientation is something we need to be more upfront and vocal about. Of course, we're not superior to anyone else, but we do have much to offer.”

I really believe that the asexual community has gifts to offer, not only to its members, but to the larger world as well. Those gifts are something that I want to explore, and to share. Who should care about asexuality? Everyone who’s ever felt pressured to kiss someone they weren’t attracted to, suffer through a boring blind date, or have sex because everyone else was doing it. Everyone who ever wondered if there was something more than the dating-marriage track, and why we have so few meaningful relationship options. Asexuals are tired of our culture’s constant pressure to be sexual and sexy. We envision a world where people are free to explore their sexuality in their own way and in their own time, whether their libido is at zero or hyperdrive. Why would anyone disagree with that idea of freedom?

Questioning one’s sexuality is rarely met with delight, but it ended up being a positive force in my life. I wanted to admit to my initial fears, how I turned them around, and in the end, “be upfront” about the advantages of our orientation. Once, after a meetup, I remember sitting around late into the night talking with two other AVENites about asexual relationships. Well, they were talking, and I was mostly just listening. It occurred to me at that moment that I was in the midst of the beginning of a movement. It was so exciting, I thought, that I was there and a part of it. And the thing is, anyone that is asking the same questions that we are can be a part of it, too. Anyone who wants to expand the possibilities of how we love and relate. What we’re talking about as asexuals has never really been talked about before. I don’t know what we’ll find. But in that excitement, that feeling of being on the edge of a discovery, maybe it’s worth the not knowing.


Myself--Who Else? said...


Thank you for writing this. That you can come out of it so positive is just so nice to hear, especially to my ears, after the day I had. Here's to being ourselves, day after day, no matter how much everyone else tries to pull us in another direction. It just feels better, in the end. :)

P.S. I started a new blog under a new name... (which I think comes up in my profile) but in the past I think I've commented on here as Sparky.

Ily said...

Yay, I'm glad you liked it! And here here, indeed. I commented in your blog-- I really enjoyed your post about being attracted to people every 5 years.

Anonymous said...

Ily, this is great. I like that you admit you "didn't want to be it" at first, which is something I know many asexuals can relate to, but you make a lot of powerful points about why embracing your asexual identity has been a positive thing. I also love the statement, "What we're talking about as asexuals has never really been talked about before." It's true, and I think it's really exciting to have the chance to think about and explore all these aspects of relationships and society in new ways.

Anonymous said...

I just wonder what it's like to be an 'out' asexual. I'm out to my immediate family and a few close friends, but, I wonder what it'd be like to be out to -less- close friends, so that it might actually end up in casual conversation. To be fully out, that is.

It's a bit of a cost/benefit analysis for me; I'd like to be open, but I don't want explaining and justifying an orientation with a still-low profile to take up a big chunk of my time, because the orientation is only so important a part of my life. I don't want it to become the one big, interesting thing about me. I'm reluctant to be 'that asexual guy'.

How often do you end up chatting about it, do you think, and how often do you get weird or negative reactions?

I'd love to hear from any 'out' asexuals on this; maybe it could be a future post.

Ily said...

Thanks EoE!

Anon, that's an interesting question. I'd say that in 'real life', I talk about asexuality infrequently. I'll talk about AVEN meetup stuff because I'm really involved in that, but I don't talk about asexuality itself all that much. I don't think anyone sees me as 'the asexual girl'; if they do, they keep it to themselves.

I think one of the hardest parts about coming out-- and I just realized this today, actually-- is that it's hard to get an idea of how certain people will respond. I think I've only gotten one or two responses that I could say were truly negative. I've had many people be incredulous, but open. I've also had many people be positive and understanding, which I am thankful for. Sometimes the incredulous people will become positive later. I had a really good coming out experience yesterday, in fact. I had no idea whatsoever how the person would respond, but she said something like, "Oh, I know plenty of asexual people! There's a million ways to do sexuality and gender." I was just like, ", I agree!" That makes it sound like I'm coming out to people constantly though, and I'm really not. It seems like I'll go for months and months without coming out to anyone, and then it seems like I suddenly end up telling a few people in a short time.

I think being 'fully out', as you say, can be hard, depending on who you hang out with. Unless your friends ask you about sex a lot, it may not really come up. I don't declare my asexuality out of no where, but I'll mention it if it comes up.