Words || Gabby Edwards
I was fourteen years old when I first started questioning my sexuality. By this point I had spent years persuading my friends that no, I didn’t have a crush on anyone, and no, I wasn’t just lying to them and being a bad friend. Alas, tween girls can be persistently brutal, so I spent many a conversation pretending I liked the same boy as my friend or overcompensating by never shutting up about liking specific fictional characters. Shout-out in particular to Augustus Waters for really fuelling my “I’m definitely a heterosexual” phase.
Five years ago, I was introduced to the concept of asexuality, or I at least developed a very vague and somewhat skewed understanding of it. As a pretty under-represented and misunderstood sexual orientation, it took me quite a few years to fully understand what being asexual actually meant and to become comfortable labelling myself as such. While each asexual-identifying person obviously has their own experiences, which I’m still learning till this today, please enjoy the following crash course in my sexuality.
Simply put, asexuality is a sexual orientation defined as someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Obviously, sexuality is rarely black and white so there are many other identities that can fall under the asexuality, also known as ‘ace,’ umbrella. This includes ‘demisexuality,’ in which a person only experiences sexual attraction after developing a strong emotional connection with a person, or ‘graysexuality,’ where a person only experiences sexual attraction rarely or in specific scenarios.
There are plenty of other misconceptions regarding what asexuality actually is, so let’s take the time to clear a few of those up. Firstly, sexual and romantic attraction can be separate, meaning that just because someone is asexual, doesn’t mean they don’t experience romantic attraction or aren’t interested in dating or relationships. Therefore, while they could identify as asexual, they may also choose to label their romantic orientation as heteroromantic, homoromantic, or anything separate or in-between. Though some people, such as with myself, also experience no romantic attraction, where the label aromantic/aro is often adopted.
Additionally, asexuality does not equate to one’s libido level (sex drive) or arousal nor is it the equivalent of being celibate or simply choosing not to have sex. Bizarrely, the question of “can asexual people have sex” often comes up. Once again, I must stress that asexuality is an ORIENTATION, not a physical cockblock. Just like any person of any sexual orientation can have sex with whoever they choose, regardless of their sexuality or who they’re attracted to. In fact, some asexual people do choose to have sex for a variety of reasons such as to satisfy their partners or just for their own enjoyment and pleasure.
Finally, asexuality and asexual reproduction are two completely different things. Asexual people are not plants. And no, asexual people do not have the ability to singularly reproduce. You may laugh now, but you’d be surprised…
Despite gaining a rudimentary understanding of what asexuality was, it still took a number of years for me to come to terms with embracing this identity and label. We obviously live in a very heteronormative society, and despite personally having little interest in falling in love, getting married and starting a nuclear family, I had always just assumed it would all fall into place in the distant future. To have to accept that this assumed ideal was extremely unlikely to be my reality was still incredibly challenging for me.
Gatekeeping within LGBTQ+ and queer communities created even more obstacles when trying to come to terms with how I should identify. There have been countless discussions over whether asexual people should be allowed to identify as queer, or whether they even belong in the community in the first place. When the acronym LGBTQIA+ is used, people continue to mistake the A to represent ‘Ally.’ To not be fully accepted by mainstream society or the diverse community meant to embrace all sexual and gender identities was extremely isolating when I was trying to come out and find safe spaces.
From that, there was additional pressure to conform to a set ideal for being asexual and aromantic. As mentioned, so many areas of sexuality and attraction are complicated and filled with shades of grey, so neatly fitting into one box can be impossible. Discovering one’s sexuality is usually portrayed as a single light bulb moment, which is a completely valid and meaningful experience, but one that definitely did not align with mine.
No matter how much I wanted a random online quiz to assign me a perfect label, or to be allotted a single number on the Kinsey scale, I was out of luck. I skirted around labelling my sexuality for years because I was terrified that I wasn’t asexual/aromantic enough, despite clearly fitting the labels on so many accounts and feeling instantly connected upon hearing about them. I had to learn that labelling your sexuality isn’t a be all end all, or necessary at all if you don’t want, but what matters most is feeling comfortable with the label and being honest and open with yourself.
The next phase, coming out to others, brought along its own set of struggles. Turns out, coming out as a label that most people have never heard of just makes the whole interaction even more confusing and difficult.
Nobody tells you how difficult it can be to tell someone how you identify only to be met with blank, confused stares and insistence that they did know what asexuality was, before caving and asking me to explain. Suddenly, it becomes my responsibility to accurately define an entire sexual orientation on the spot, in a way that is nuanced but digestible, while explaining how the label pertains to me specifically. All the while, I have to keep in mind that my explanation could fully inform how this person perceives asexuality and asexual people in the future and whether or not they choose to accept it and me. While it obviously isn’t anyone’s job to recite dictionary definitions of their sexuality when coming out, it doesn’t stop me from feeling the pressure and responsibility to do so, which is always incredibly exhausting. While there are certain situations where I’m happy to talk and share what knowledge I do have, other times I’m extremely tempted to yell ‘JUST GOOGLE IT.’
Discovering and coming to terms with my sexuality has been an extremely challenging and confusing journey that still continues till today. Trying to understand who you are and what you want while neatly fitting into one box is challenging enough, let alone the amount of internal prejudice and miseducation I experienced, and a lack of asexual representation.
Though of course, times are slowly changing and with resources such as the internet and representation from TV shows such as Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, there’s hope that future exposure and education can lead to even more acceptance. Even though a 2013 study estimates only 1% of the population are asexual, we still exist and deserve to be recognised and celebrated as much as anyone else.