EDIT 08/05/2018: In the years since this post came out, I’ve been approached by dozens of folks who are pondering their a/sexuality. One of the things we’ve commiserated is the lack of stories with ace representation–queer media is on the upswing, but the ace folk are still hanging out in the margins. So I wrote a novel with a gray-ace protagonist, The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming, because I was sick of not seeing myself and my worldview in the books I read. If you’ve been searching for the same thing, come check it out.
Let me tell you about my first crush.
It’s a short story–totally unrequited, there’s not much to it. I never even knew his name. It’s seventh grade. There’s a school assembly going on. I’m sat cross-legged on one side of the auditorium, amidst the other Grade 7-8 classes, trying my utmost to hear what the presenters are saying. There’s a distraction–two or three boys on the other side of the auditorium are being mighty disruptive, talking loudly, shoving each other, laughing in that incredibly obnoxious twelve-year-old-boy way. I am also twelve, and more self-righteous than any twelve-year-old ought to be, so I’m sitting there silently fuming at their lack of respect for the rest of the people gathered. And then one of their friends turns to them and shushes them and jokingly-but-firmly tells them off for not being respectful.
That was it. That level of integrity in a preteen boy, that degree of respect. I fell for him because he was polite.
The only other three people I have ever shown interest in, and why: a high school acquaintance, for their acerbic wit and their incisive intelligence; a writing colleague from England (who wound up being my first relationship), for his rock-solid stability and his side-splitting sense of humour; and an old friend from America, my current partner, for their ability to encourage and inspire my creative drive like nobody else alive.
Question: What do all these miniature anecdotes have in common?
Answer: The horizontal tango doesn’t factor into the equation. Not even a little bit.
Why not? Because, in short, I’m asexual.
This is my third October Partnership Post, and like I said at the beginning of the month, I’m using this particular post to celebrate Asexual Awareness Week. It’s an important week for us: despite the orientation’s growing visibility within the LGBTQ+ community, asexuality is still largely unheard of, and asexuals still have to deal with massive amounts of erasure from discussions of sexuality in general, which can result in some really astonishing comments sent our way.
Seriously. I’m not a plant. Or a fungus. Or a single-celled organism. Or anything else your seventh-grade bio textbook had to offer. If I ever want a baby I won’t just spontaneously undergo mitosis, I promise you.
This is some of the funnier, less dangerous, more endearingly exasperating misinformation about asexuality–but even this stuff gets old once you’ve heard it half a dozen times.
So in order to release myself and my fellows from the vegetable kingdom of popular conception once and for all, I present you with some True Facts About The Asexual.
Asexuality 101: The Ace of Hearts Explains
So what is asexuality, then? According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN):
“An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently.”
If it sounds like weirdo scifi android stuff, let me tell you, asexuality is a lot more common than you might think: according to several studies, depending on the precise definition used, estimates place the number of asexual people at anywhere between 0.6-5.5% of the population. That’s a lot of humans!
As the AVEN quote says, there is a lot of diversity among the experiences of asexuals, and no one asexual person can speak for the whole of asexuality. Like everything else, it’s a spectrum.
Personally, I place the idea of sex somewhere between “science experiment” and “oh, right, THAT thing!” depending on the day. My inner life is just entirely devoid of sexualization:
- In my fiction writing, friends of mine who are allosexual (the term for non-asexual people) will point out relationships between characters and go is this sexual? and my response 100% of the time is like wait what
- What I notice about bodies leads to some really bizarre compliments coming out of my mouth, like “wow, your palms are so rectangular!” or “your skeleton is so pretty!” or the totally-serious “you’re exactly my aesthetic!”, which I actually said to my partner once when they weren’t feeling so good about their appearance
- I can go days and days without thinking about sex–usually the only time I remember it exists is when an allosexual brings it up, or when it appears in the media. Otherwise I revert to blissful obliviousness.
Other asexuals experience it differently, but this is how I express my particular brand of ace-ness.
So You’re NOT a Plant?: Debunking Myths About Asexuality
I’m not going to do much explaining, because other places and people have done a great job of it and it is not my job nor my responsibility to educate society. For detailed debunking goodness, visit this Everyday Feminist article, this six-part series by the Huffington Post, and the ever-eminent Asexual Awareness comic by comic artist Adri of the Dead:
I’m just going to make a few comments on the most basic myths, based on my own experiences:
- Asexuals hate sex. This one comes from a lack of information about terms–‘asexual’ is not a fancy way of saying ‘does not like sex’. The correct term for that is ‘sex-repulsed’. There are asexual people who are sex-repulsed, and there are asexual people who are not (I consider myself in this category–again, remember, it’s not that I think it’s gross, I don’t think about it at all). But the really interesting thing for me–and something people would do well to examine in themselves–is that there are allosexual people who also experience sex-repulsion. It’s not surprising, really, given the level of shame topics of sexuality are coloured with in our formative years, but it is extremely sad–and, for me, extremely fascinating. Those conflicting feelings are intellectually stimulating like you wouldn’t believe (see–science experiment).
- Asexuals have something wrong or broken in them. I have been told, upon mentioning my sexuality, that I “should really get that checked out by a doctor”; I have been told that “there’s something really wrong” with me. I have heard the word “inhuman” used in the same sentence as a second person pronoun because of being ace. I have not, thank all the gods, been asked whether I’ve had a history of mental illness or sexual abuse–but there are other asexuals who HAVE been asked. Some people think asexuality is a sign of an underlying biological/hormonal issue, or else a symptom of sexual trauma. This is a very, very dangerous myth. Asexuality didn’t happen to me. It’s part of who I am.
- Asexuals can’t love. Are you sure? Super duper sure? Please. We’re ace, not Voldemort. The opinion that asexual people are incapable of love displays some very underdeveloped ideas about sexual VS romantic attraction (you did know there was a difference, right?). Here’s an infographic from the Huffington Post series that sums up the basics. I identify, as previously mentioned, as a panromantic asexual, hence the tongue-in-cheek “Ace of Hearts”.
- Asexuals never have sex. Possibly the most surprising of myths for allosexual folk–if asexuals are defined as individuals with little to no experience of sexual attraction, why have sex? Back to the spectrum we go: some aces don’t, and some do, myself included. In fact–not to get too TMI on you–my partner and I have sex pretty regularly, considering we’re in a long-distance relationship. But from my experience, the reasons why we engage in sexual activity with each other are entirely different. By way of further explanation, here is a story so funny and so accurate that it needs its own heading:
Taking the Ace to the Golf Course
(NB: this anecdote represents my personal experience as an asexual, and is by no means meant to represent anybody else’s!)
This past summer, Avi and I were discussing sexuality, and more specifically the ways we experience the sexual aspect of our relationship. A third person asked the “how does that even work” question, and I had just started explaining that I view sex as an act of trust and vulnerability, which are two things I am very interested in, and that for me it’s more of an academic venture than any sort of bodily or psychological need, and that my interest mostly lies in observing my partner’s squirmy squealy reactions anyway– when Avi was struck by the thunderbolt of inspiration and gave voice to the most hilarious comparison I’ve ever heard.
Being, as we are, on the same wavelength, the metaphor immediately built itself into a palace of comparison in my brain.
So, golf. Golf exists in the world. It’s a thing people do. There’s different kinds of golf, from the professional sport all the way down to glo-in-the-dark minigolf. But for my part, I completely forget golf even exists until it’s brought up in conversation or on TV. It’s just not something that takes up space in my brain.
If a friend (a really, really good friend) invites me to go putt a few tees, I’m not immediately put off. I might go if I feel like it–it’s a nice day out, there’s lemonade, we get to ride around on the golfcart, and we have a great time all around. It just so happens that my favourite part of going has nothing to do with the golf itself. It’s the lemonade and the cart. Parts of the experience that are traditionally seen as ancillary are, for me, the reason why I enjoy the outing–the rest is staunchly take-it-or-leave-it.
I don’t hate golf, and I’m not hissing and booing at people who enjoy it or who play golf regularly. But I’m not a sports fan, and I don’t want to be the next Tiger Woods, and ultimately I just don’t get why there’s so much fuss over getting something into a hole.
Take this metaphor and expand at your leisure. Avi and I sure do. Like on car rides when we pass golf courses and scream THE DEVIANTS to each other in the car.
Darwin Needs To Take A Seat: Why Ace Awareness Matters
We live in a culture that is hypersexual in nature, and which assumes everybody is, as I half-jokingly call it, ‘sexually literate’. We expect people to understand subtle sex-centric cues, to navigate social scripts based on what is assumed to be the “common” human experience with sexuality–and there is a significant portion of people who can’t, won’t and/or don’t want to live under those expectations. Apparently, sexual appetite or sexual attraction is seen as a fundamental part of any relationship, and indeed as a fundamental part of being human. To be human is to want to do the do, swing the pork sword, worship the golden lotus, etc.
Not so. Despite what The Origin of Species may indicate, it is not humanity’s end goal to just reproduce as much as possible–and reproduction aside, it is not an indication of humanity to want to have sex or to experience sexual attraction. I’m proof! Acknowledging asexuality as a valid orientation, and accepting asexuals into the canon of sexual thought and discussion, helps us to feel safe and grounded in our identities as human beings and to express ourselves sans fear of oppression or alienation.
And being aware of asexuality isn’t just good for the aces. It’s good for the rest of society, too–because it is a wonderful reminder that relationships are more colourful and complicated than the presence or absence of sex. It’s a reminder that sex doesn’t need to enter into a partnership to make it official or fulfilling or valid; it’s a reminder that relationships are built on (and indeed can HINGE upon!) other factors, such as trust, compassion, mutual respect, emotional attachment, shared creative and career goals, similar morals and life values, and so on. Personally, I feel like an exploration of that fact could benefit everyone, ace or allosexual; it broadens your ideas of what is possible in the world of relationships, and it creates space for your own relationships to retain their validity no matter what form they take.
Here’s a few more resources–go forth and be aware of me!
http://new-ace-on-the-block.tumblr.com/post/64588105082/tiny-dinosaur-wanted-to-help-out-with-awareness-so Too cute for words. It’s a tiny dinosaur (tinysaur?) giving a presentation on asexuality. Look at that knitted sweater.
http://www.ace-book.net/ A dating and social networking site for asexual people. Points for the punny name.
http://prismaticentanglements.com/2012/03/28/how-to-have-sex-with-an-asexual-person/ A very interesting ‘guide’ on engaging in sex with asexual partners. It answers a lot of people’s questions about how sexual interaction works in asexual-allosexual partnerships, like mine!
https://www.reddit.com/r/asexuality There’s a whole subreddit. Because why wouldn’t there be.
From me to you, happy Asexual Awareness Week!