This is my Carnival of Aces submission for May 2018 hosted this month by Prismatic Entanglements under the topic of “Nuance and Complexity“. For more in formation about the CoA, to see past topics, or to volunteer to be a future host see the master post on The Asexual Agenda
“figuring out you’re asexual is like trying to find a nonexistent needle in a very large haystack except people keep trying to convince you that you’re just not looking hard enough or you’ll find the right needle eventually but the needle just isn’t there and yet everyone else’s is and then you wonder whether or not you actually have a needle and then you spot something that might be a needle but nope it’s just another hay strand and everything is confusing and now the haystack is on fire”
One thing I don’t like about identifying as asexual (and aromantic and agender) is I feel like my identity is defined by blank space. Other identities can say things like, “I like girls and I’m mostly a girl, so I’m lesbian” or “I’m pan, I like who I like regardless of gender.” My explanations feel like a fill-in-the-blank question on a test you didn’t study for. I am who I am based on attractions that aren’t there and more often than not that’s met with skepticism or lack of comprehension.
For me it’s like being the swiss cheese of identities. In a perfect world you would have more delicious cheese, but instead you get a delicious cheese with iconic holes in it.
I talk about asexuality the most (on my blog and in conversation) because there’s a bigger community for me to engage with and more of a conversation going, but I identify with aromantisim more than asexuality. Even in the asexual community it feels like there’s a lot of talk about dating and romantic partners and I end up feeling left out. I want to be “normal” and I want to date, but unfortunately I’m romance repulsed. I’m not even comfortable calling it a “friend date”. I will read trashy, romance fanfics all day long, but ask me to a candle-lit dinner and you will probably find me in the corner sobbing “make it go awaaaaay”. Romance in general is good, but don’t waft it in my direction please.
I want to be “pretty”, but I don’t want to be attractive. It’s fine line to walk when I want to spoil myself and dress up in sparkly nebula pattern leggings and a hoodie dress (my current favorite outfit), but don’t want everyone making a big deal out it. I don’t want people think I’m dressing to impress someone (other than myself) or thinking my nice outfit is a green light to ask me out.
Actually, when I catch myself half dressed in the mirror just wearing panties and a bra my brain just stops full on breaks and goes, “huuuuh? what’s wrong with this picture?” Helloooo gender dysphoria. The problem is that since I’m agender there’s not a “real gender” for me to transition to. Neither man or woman nor androgynous feel like the “real me” so HRT or top surgery wouldn’t work to treat my dysphoria and my gender dysphoria feeds off my asexuality and aromanticism because I don’t want to come off as attractive. When people make a big deal out of me putting in the extra effort (especially when I put on makeup for work reasons) it feels like I’ve done something wrong. My coworkers have no idea what a sacrifice it is to wear make up at work and I hate doing it. The only time I was actually comfortable dressing up was for a coworker’s wedding I was invited to because I could dress up, but fade into the background at the same time.
I’ve read discussions by other aromantics on how being aro plays into their gender identity and a few of them have said it plays a major role because so much of their identity revolves around being aromantic that they can’t even conceptualize or discuss their gender identity without the aromantic aspect of it. For me personally, though, I see my gender is a separate issue in that there’s nothing there really for me to talk about. I try to ping my brain for a gender IP and it sends back a 404 message “gender not found”. It’s like trying to talk about a specific hole in a slice of swiss cheese. “You see this hole? If this was a slice of gouda there wouldn’t be a hole there.”
Anywho, as an aromantic asexual I don’t feel romantic or sexual attraction, but I do feel some aesthetic and sensual attraction and that certainly made puberty interesting. I recall that turbulent time in middle school when hormones are raging and while I didn’t develop any crushes on anyone, I did feel the urge to hug or platonically kiss what seemed like just random classmates. It was confusing as f*k because I did not like (sexually or romantically or friendshipally) the people I was sensually attracted to and yet there was this weird magnetic pull that showed up seemingly out of nowhere. My middle-schooler brain would scream “I don’t like them, why do I want to kiss them? Ewww, make it stooooop!” It scared the hell out of me and there wasn’t anybody I could ask or talk to about it because I knew it wasn’t “normal”. When I found out about sensual attraction I was very, very relieved because it meant I was normal (well, normal-ish), but missing the context of romantic and sexual attraction that other sexualities have when they feel attraction.
When it comes to aesthetic attraction I have a weird thing about hair. I feel a pull towards people who have really nice, natural hair (for some reason I find dyed hair aesthetically unattractive). This will sometimes overlap with my sensual attraction in the sense that “It’s pweeety and I want to touch it.” I don’t know what to do with that actually. I understand attraction may be “normal” but really, if you think about it, it’s just weird. Attraction is weird which means I’m actually only a little weird I’m only feel a little attraction. It’s perfectly logical.
My sister reads my blog apparently and so, of course, I had to ask for feedback. It turns out nothing helps you root out the nuances of asexuality faster than talking to a straight person. One thing she critiqued me on was being “too harsh” on the guy who asked me out because I was mad as hell that he just assumed I was straight. Then he later mistakes my ace ring for a wedding ring (like, how?) and freaks out thinking I turned him down because I was already married, engaged, or promised (and honestly I’m STILL kinda pissed about it).
My sister’s argument was that there are more straight people than non-straight people so it’s a safe bet to assume someone is straight until they say otherwise. She said that you don’t go around assume people are gay, with the implication that doing so makes no sense and is weird. So, thank you, sis, for unintentionally proving my point.
Here’s the link to 10 Steps to Becoming an Effective Ally to the LGBT Community which is my personal go-to resource for potential allies (and I may or may not have a printed copy on me at all times). The list was adapted from a fact sheet written by Shea Hazarian, an editor for Improving OUTcomes, an advocacy group based out of Davis, CA devoted to improving LGBT+ healthcare and mental healthcare. And wouldn’t you know it, step number one is:
1. Rethink heterosexuality and gender normativity.
In today’s society, we generally assume that everyone is straight and gender-normative. As result, people often hide who they are. This creates a lot of stress and thereby health disparities.
If a straight person is allowed to be upset because they were mistaken for gay or a not straight identity, I’m allowed to be upset for people just assuming I’m straight just because 1) they didn’t think to ask and 2) straight is considered the norm by straight people. I don’t understand how she can say, “you do you,” when referring to the LGBT+ in general and yet when I’m doing me (which is getting raging mad at heteronormative bias dudes asking me out) I’m the one who needs to chill.
My sister found my blog because it’s linked to my alternate Instagram account which is linked to my phone number (make a note people, your privacy is NOT protected if you use any kind of mobile apps) and she made the comment, “I want an alternate account” as if she’s missing out by not having one and, oh boy, she is making fulfilling this prompt almost too easy. The reason I even have alternate accounts (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and WordPress) is so I can find other asexuals (aromantics and nonbinary folks) so I can know I’m not alone in the world with my weirdness of not being straight OR a club-going, flaming homosexual because it seems like most people (most of the people I know anyway) can only comprehend the world in binary terms. (“False dichotomy“, look it up.)
It’s great that that my sister can be herself in every social media platform, but we in the queer community don’t always have that privilege. My alternate accounts ARE my true-self and my “real” accounts are fonts I put up so when potential employers do background checks (and I have had employers outright ask for all my social media account usernames) I don’t get tossed in the reject pile for being “unprofessional” or “not a good fit” which translates to “queer”. Yay, Texas.
My sister really does try to be supportive, but her technique could use some work.
9. Listen to LGBTIQQA voices and validate them.
There are countless different views and needs within the LGBTIQQA community. Being an ally willlook different for each person. Listen and affirm what someone is saying.
My sister talks about going to Pride parades with her friends and to gay clubs, but while that might be good allyship for them, being a good ally for me is going to look a little different. I’m not comfortable going to gay clubs because, well, I don’t go to clubs period. Also, making fun of my ace ring is definitely not being a good ally. She joking asked “is that a wedding ring” because that’s what they dude who asked me out asked and she’s trying to down play the situation, but by down playing the situation it feels like she’s siding with a straight dude over her LGBT+ sibling.
Being asexual is like being on the fringe of LGBT+ not knowing for sure if you’re welcome or not. I’m defined by the holes that other people try really hard to fill for themselves and they think I’m crazy for accepting holes as part of who I am. I walk by the GSA tables on campus conflicted on whether it’s okay for me to walk up with my aro/ace pride patches and ace ring and I never do because it’s terrifying. I’m almost 30 so I totally should be able to walk up like I own the place because the kids manning the tables were probably in middle school when I was actually a college freshmen (yay, for going back to school for a career change).
When I was in my early 20s, my mom and my sister made and eHarmony account for me thinking they were doing me a favor. At the time they could not accept that I simply had no interest in dating (even though I didn’t know aromanticism was a thing yet) and thought that I simply “had not found the right one”. They thought I needed to “get out there and meet people”, but like, why?
My sister says I don’t have to explain to anyone that I just have to say, “I’m asexual. If you don’t know what that is, look it up.” But I DO have to explain. The internet is not fact. I am a fact. If my own experience is not proof enough, that’s a problem. I tried to tell my parents I was asexual shortly after finding out about it before I was prepared. The reason I told them was because my sister had insisted that I should tell them.
Well, it turned into a train wreck because I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have the tools on hand to explain myself and, of course, I was told that I just “hadn’t found the right one”. Seriously? It felt like a rejection of who I am and I never found the courage to broach the subject with them again about my asexuality or my gender. I couldn’t understand why my parents had failed to listen to what a 25 year old adult was telling them. I think that if I had been more prepared in coming out I would have either been able to convince them or I would have at least been better prepared for the possibility of rejection/disbelief. Instead of being instant that “this is me” I shut down and don’t talk about my gender or asexuality openly with my family.
The best response I’ve gotten so far was from my younger brother who just accepted it when I said dating was “not my thing” without using ace jargon. His girlfriend thought it was a little weird, but he was cool and just said, “Some people are like that.” I’ve also gotten some pretty positive responses from my coworkers. The ones I have come out to have asked some standard questions (which I was prepared for this time) and there haven’t been any issues with it. It helps that a couple of our assistant managers have been lesbian. I have a gay coworker who treats his sexuality the same way I do, an open secret that isn’t directly talked about, and our pansexual coworker realized after talking to me that they’re agender too, so yay! It really helps to have at least a couple people in my circle in the know and not making a huge deal out of it.
I often wonder if I would benefit from therapy. I’m a member of the LGBT+ living in Texas, I’m working while going to school, and under a lot of (mostly financial) stress. Sometimes I mentally picture what I would hypothetically ask a therapist and usually by doing that I come with an answer I’m happy with.
For example, my anger directed at the dude who asked me out. The thing is, I want to be angry. I have my imagined therapist say, “Okay, then be angry. It’s rational to be angry at someone you feel has done you an injustice, but the real question is: is it reasonable to be angry? Is it helpful to be angry?” Well, no, not really. And I know that. Just like it’s rational to be hurt by my parents’ reaction to coming out to them, but it’s not really reasonable or productive to be upset when I know that their last required reading on anything LGBT+ related was the Kinsey study back when they went to college 40 years ago.
Would seeing a therapist give me that extra push needed to get over my hang ups? Maybe, maybe not. The bigger question is, does it really matter? I don’t even want to be friends with the dude. He’s annoying and my coworkers think he’s annoying too. I’m actually fine with my current relationship with my parents and since I’m 29 years old I don’t need their validation to be happy. They’re not pressuring me to date or to find somebody or “get out there” anymore, so nothing would actually change if they knew and openly accepted my asexuality. At the very least they’ve pretty much just accepted that dating (or human interaction in general) is “not my thing”.
There’s one more nuance that I want to touch on that makes me weird for an aromantic. Since romance is not the end-all-be-all a lot of aromantics rock the friendship thing hard. I’ve never had a “best friend”. My sister’s known her best friend since kindergarten and one of my friends from high school takes her best friend from college along on family grocery shopping (where I work) trips every weekend, so that’s literally the best examples of the two epic levels of bromance every aromantic dreams of: “Friends since forever” and “Found your BFF in college, now joined at the hip, often mistaken for lesbian lovers, and no other friendship compares”.
Seeing them I realized that I’ve never had that kind of deep bond so naturally I start that “omg, I’m going to be alone forever” spiral as you do.
But then I remember my good o’l delicious friend. Those holes are supposed to be there and it only get better with age.
I don’t have a lot of folks I would consider “friends” but I rock the casual acquaintance thing pretty hard. I have a circle of folks that I enjoy their company in (very) brief spells and then I go home and read the fanficickiest fanfics to ever fic a fic for hours alone.
I’m actually totally fine occupying a public space with a bunch of strangers. I’ll go to movies by myself and it’s fine, I enjoy it. Coffee shops, stores, where ever, it’s fine. I like being “alone in crowd”. Libraries are the best place on Earth because it’s a bunch of random people in a room and nobody is talking. “Fun” is also a strange concept to me since a lot of activities people deem “fun” usually make me bored and/or miserable.
I’m starting to think the whole best friend thing might actually be another hole that I don’t need to fill. I treat my current coworkers the same way I did my friends in high school. In high school we all were really only friends because we were trapped doing the same occupation (school) for 8 hour a day and at the end of the day I went home to do homework and we only actually hung out maybe once or twice a semester. Right now I’m only “friends” with my coworkers in the sense that we’re trapped in the same occupation for several hours and then I go home and do home work and maybe we’ll try to hang out if we all manage to find time and money. “The more things change…” I guess.
I’m sure there are many, many nuances or complexities that I haven’t thought of, but this is starting to feel like the post that never ends so I’ll just finish by paraphrasing my Intro to Anthropology professor; He said that when anthropologists run into a problem in the field when they’re studying another culture they don’t call it a “problem” they call it a “complexity” because it’s bad science to think of people as problems. I think that’s also true about asexuality, it’s just another human complexity.