[This is my post for the Carnival of Aces for August 2018 hosted this month by demiandproud under the topic of “Coming out“]
The topic for this month is Coming Out as an emotional journey based on Vivienne Cass’s identity model:
- Identity confusion – first (uncomfortable) inklings of being different somehow.
- Identity comparison – seeking out information and thinking about being different, perhaps.
- Identity tolerance – finding similar people and engaging with rising doubts as identity slowly shifts.
- Identity acceptance – making peace with a shift in (a)sexual orientation, tentatively opening up to others and processing the emotions that come with the change.
- Identity pride – a sense of freedom, a wish to advertise the change in identity.
- Identity synthesis – braiding together the new identity with the rest of oneself to make a whole.
Based on this model I would say that I’m in phase six: Identity synthesis.
I’ve accepted my asexual identity, I’ve bought a bunch of pride merch and like to accessorize using pride colors. I’ve explained my asexuality to a few people I was comfortable telling (mostly coworkers). But all that only applies to asexuality. When it comes to aromanticism and being agender I’m still in the process of emotionally coming out. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be completely out as aro and agender because these are less known identities. I’ve found it much more difficult to explain aromanticism and agender to the uninitiated than asexuality because most people have at least heard of asexuality while that is definitely not the case for aro or agender. Even my gay coworkers are like, “aromantic? wtf?”
The tipping point that allowed me to finally accept my asexual identity was I started reading about philosophy, specifically Stoicism. Stoicism is a branch of Hellenistic Philosophy; Hellenistic Philosophy is the umbrella term for several rival schools of philosophy that existed in Greece and Rome from after the death of Alexander the Great until they were eventually banned from Rome after the rise of Christianity.
I turned to philosophy because I had questions and the LGBT+ community wasn’t giving me a satisfactory answer. In order to accept myself as an asexual I needed more than Lady Gaga telling me “I was born this way” and folks on Tumblr reblogging “haters gonna hate”. The Tumblr affirmation posts were super sweet and all, buuuut they didn’t really do much for me. I needed to know “why me?” first of all and I needed to know why I had to be the “bigger person” than all the haters before I could fully come to terms with being asexual. Seriously, one of my biggest questions in life is “why does everybody else get to be an asshole and I can’t?”
If you catch an intro to Modern Stoicism video/lecture or pick up a book on Stoicism they are probably going to tell you “if you only remember only one thing from this lecture/book/whatever, remember this:
There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.
-which is the first paragraph from Enchiridion.
(No, not that one.)
The big take away for me was that Epictetus included “body” and “reputation” on the “beyond our control” list. It wasn’t until that sank in that I was able to accept my asexuality.
I actually came out to my parents a couple years ago shortly after I realized I was asexual.
It did not go well.
Which is kinda weird because my parents are liberals and very vocally for transgender and gay rights, but when it comes to me it’s “Asexual? Oh, you just haven’t met the right one yet.” *head-desk*
Basically since attraction (or lack there of) is just something the body does (as a fascinating yet delicate biological cocktail) it’s completely out of my control, meaning it’s not my fault that I’m asexual. The universe rolled a big-bang’s worth of D20’s (because Quantum Physics) and, whoops, here we are. I know that’s kinda of obvious now, but it wasn’t until I read Epictetus that it finally sunk in that I literally can’t change my biological make-up regardless of what the social norms are this hot minute.
Better yet, it’s totally out of my control what people think or say about me. I can definitely try to educate people about asexuality, keep some pamphlets on me, break out the powerpoints or whatever, but I can’t control what other people think or say once they’ve made up their mind. So, whether my parents accept my status as asexual is not in my control.
So, what can I control? According to the Stoics I’m only responsible for my own virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, temperance) and “living within accordance with nature”. This is where Stoicism gets a little more interesting because Stoicism defines humans as “rational, social animals”. By “rational” they mean capable of complex reasoning. People might not always utilize this ability, but the capability is still there. Stoics also accept that being social is necessary. We can’t all throw on some white robes and hide in a cave. Dealing with phobic assholes is pretty much inevitable, but why do I have to turn the other cheek, take the high road, be the bigger person…etc…etc…?
When your happiness is based on things outside of your control (relationships, a well paying job, your body/health) it’s like you’re playing craps (gambling with dice) for your happiness. It might or might not happen. But if your happiness is based on things within your control (your virtues and “living according to nature”) then your happiness will also be within your control. Not being an asshole is literally one of the few things I can actually control so that’s why I have to be the “better” person when other people act like jerks. I have to make the most of what little agency I got.
I really like the imagery of “braiding together the new identity with the rest of oneself to make a whole” because I do treat asexuality, aromanticism, and agender as separate pieces that make up my whole self. It just so happens that I also needed a “Stoic” thread to help tie it all together.
[Curious about Stoicism? Here’s a 20 minute video intro by Dr. Donald Robertson.]