It all started with a story about a little girl and a demon.
About halfway through the first draft, I realized that the girl (who was a teenager by this point) hadn’t exhibited romantic interest in anyone yet. Since it’s an underrepresented label anyway, I decided to go with my instincts and make her asexual. After a little digging I found The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, and I settled in for what I thought would just be a nice, long research session.
The first thing I discovered is that asexuality, like any other orientation, is on a spectrum. On the far end you have people who vehemently dislike the idea of sex or have zero interest in it, no exceptions. Somewhere in the middle, you might find someone who doesn’t have a sex drive, but who enjoys sex itself and will often participate if a partner initiates it. And on the other end, you have a group of people called demisexuals, who only feel sexual desire for someone after establishing an emotional or intellectual connection.
On that end, you have people like me.
I remember sitting at my desk, feeling the world tilt a little on its axis as I continued to read. It was as if someone had distilled all the things I questioned about my approach to relationships and men, and presented them to me in one potent little dose.
You know that feeling—that deep, visceral hunger—that you get when you see someone you’re attracted to? I don’t get that. I have experienced it exactly one time in my life, and it was so unsettling that I called my best friend and asked, “Is this what you feel like all the time? Jesus Christ, no wonder people do such stupid shit. This is awful.”
So while I may appreciate a guy’s physical appearance, or have crushes on guys that I know, I will typically have no physical reaction to them. I have kissed guys in clubs and on dates, and after a few minutes I will just stop (and often walk away) because I’m honestly bored.
Aces on the opposite side of the spectrum, like my sister, usually have an easier time identifying themselves, but a harder time navigating life. She often doesn’t understand when someone is hitting on her rather than just being nice, and she sees close platonic and romantic relationships as equal. Other aces may be unable to tell when something comes across as overly sexual, or they may blur the lines between what should be platonic vs. romantic vs. sexual.
In spite of the pitfalls we often find when navigating a very sexualized society, being ace or demi isn’t without its perks: My sister is able to talk comfortably about her body, and appreciate the bodies of others as works of art. And since I’m not driven by my libido, I have no problem permanently walking away from guys who disrespect or irritate me…
Now let’s talk about erasure. Most of the people I choose to tell are supportive and willing to take my word for it, but a couple have reacted by trying to talk me out of it, in a way. One friend, who knew that I had only been intimate with one other person before my boyfriend, asked, “Do you think it was just because you were a virgin before? Maybe now that you’re having sex regularly, it’ll be different?”
This was one-hundred-percent not said with malicious intent. He was genuinely trying to offer an alternative idea, but it came from a lack of knowledge about, and understanding of asexuality. Similarly, my sister has been told she just hasn’t met the right man, which is a very common misconception. It’s also a very heteronormative statement, and in reality, asexuals may be romantically attracted to any combination of genders or none at all. The crux of it is this: Asexuality is a valid orientation, and if that’s the way you identify, don’t ever let anyone talk you out of it.
Before we wrap this up, I want to take the time to acknowledge something: In general, asexuals don’t have to face as much abuse or physical danger as other marginalized orientations. But this is because we’re mostly invisible. I spent a good decade of my life thinking that there was something wrong with me, because I had no idea that this was a possibility. Any conversation about increasing LGBTQIA education in schools absolutely has to include asexuality.
If all of this sounds a bit lonely, it definitely can be. But my sister and I would much rather be alone than stuck with someone we don’t like just for the sake of seeming “normal.” At least we know we’re good company.