I recently saw someone explain asexuality as, “people who don’t want to have sex”, and realized that many people probably don’t understand the complex meaning of the term.
I’ve spoken a lot about my own asexuality on this blog and how it’s affected me. But I wanted to talk to other people who identify on the asexual spectrum. More importantly, I wanted to share their stories, their definitions, and their advice and desires, in the hopes that it will help other people better understand the diversity within the asexual community.
I have split this post up due to length. Part Two is linked to at the bottom. Thank you to Cami, Erica, Jasmine, Rose, Paige, Nik, Ren, Chris, and Sam for taking the time to answer these questions!
Unfamiliar with any of the terms listed within? Check out the AVEN Wiki!
How do you identify within the asexual spectrum?
Cami: I identify as gray-ace, which means I can sometimes (quite rarely) experience sexual attraction or desire. I’ve found I can sometimes be attracted to something that is usually sexual (muscles on a man, for instance, or a sexual image) but not actually have a desire to sexually engage.
Nik: I’ve been identifying as asexual and exploring what that means to me in the last month. Gray-ace could be a closer term for my experience, but asexual is a term that feels comfortable for me for right now.
Paige: My identity is fairly straightforward: aromantic asexual. I don’t experience sexual attraction or romantic attraction to other people of any gender.
Chris: Aromantic asexual. Is there also a term for someone who doesn’t experience aesthetic attraction either? That’s a newer realization for me and I haven’t bothered doing the research, tbh.
Rose: Biromantic Asexual: Romantically into any gender, sexually into no one.
Ren: I currently identify as grayasexual; that is, it’s really rare for me to feel sexual attraction. It’s a once-every-few-months kind of thing, so usually I just say I’m ace.
Erica: I don’t know that I’ll settle on a label until I get into a relationship, because it’s hard to know for sure without someone to test my boundaries against. Right now I claim most often heteromantic asexual. I think that’s where I am at the moment.
Sam: For specificity within the spectrum, autochorissexual is more accurate, though for me, personally, I feel “asexual” suitable as a label.
Jasmine: I identify specifically as demisexual, but in most contexts I don’t feel that the specific identity is necessary and often refers to myself in general terms as asexual.
Did you know the term “asexual” growing up? If not, do you remember when you first learned about it?
Rose: I did not know the term growing up. I believe the first I heard it, or at very least the first I remember it, was the very harmful “asexual”” House episode where everyone in the end was sick or lying about it because silly non-House characters asexuality isn’t real. I believe I would have picked up the ace label sooner if not for this episode.
Ren: I only learned about the term two or three years ago. If it wasn’t for Tumblr (where I first heard about it) I still wouldn’t know that there is a word for people like me.
Jasmine: I grew up in a small, insular, conservative town, so I didn’t even know the word bisexual growing up, let alone asexual. I began hearing/seeing both those terms in passing once I went to college.
Paige: I didn’t learn the term “asexual” until early 2011, when I’d just turned 17. I’d just heard Emilie Autumn’s music and was reading about her when I ran across the word and decided to learn more. Everything about it—specifically the subset of aromantic asexuality—rang true to how I really felt. It wasn’t about not wanting to be in a relationship at that point in time; it was that I didn’t want a romantic or sexual relationship ever.
Nik: Asexual is a word I’ve known for years. However, it was just an amorphous, flat word with a very rigid definition that I didn’t really think applied to me. About 18 months ago I met the first person I knew who wasn’t both asexual and aromantic. They had multiple romantic relationships and for the first time I started realising this was something that might actually apply to me.
Have you come out as asexual to any family or friends?
Jasmine: Most of my friends know I’m asexual, most of my family does not (see conservative small-town upbringing.) I’ve alluded to being asexual and aromantic to my mother on occasion without using the actual words, knowing that she would get hung up on the labels rather than the experiences I was talking about.
Chris: I’m out to my brothers, their wives, a cousin, close friends, and my queer friends. And the internet.
Rose: I’m out to really anyone I talk to on a normal bias. That’s just the nature of activism. Sometimes that means I’m out to strangers before I am family members you only see when someone is on their death bed.
Sam: Not in any kind of formal way. I’ve mentioned asexuality in passing and have discussed it amongst family. But I’ve never had any sort of “formal” conversation wherein I’ve come out. Nor do I feel an obligation to do so.
Nik: I have come out to most of my friends and none of my family. I have three romantic partners. I was concerned what it would mean to them but as soon as they realised that it just meant I didn’t want to have penetrative sex and wouldn’t impact on any of the other parts of our close emotional relationships, it was cool.
Paige: I’m out to everyone important in my life. My parents, my older brother, my college roommates, all my friends, family friends… I’d even casually out myself during classes like Human Sexuality and Gender Studies when it was relevant in class conversations. The only people I’m not out to are total strangers and my paternal grandparents. They’re very homophobic and racist and it just strikes me as a bad idea to try and pick this fight with them.
What are some common misconceptions about asexuality that you’ve seen or read?
Sam: That asexuals aren’t interested in dating or relationships, or that they’re asexual “for a reason” (implying that asexuality only occurs through some sort of underlying trauma). And also that asexuals just haven’t “met the right person yet”.
Paige: That I’m “broken” and it’s something to do with my hormones or an event that happened to me, not with who I am.
Erica: “All you need is the right partner and everything will be fixed and you’ll want sex all the time!”
Chris: The one that always gets me is the idea that asexuals are people who don’t like sex. I think this one bothers me the most because I’ve heard it from people I would least expect it from. The conflation between sexual orientations/identities and sexual behavior/sexual acts is not a new thing, but it seems we have to relearn the concept as it applies to the ace spectrum.
Ren: That we are late bloomers, which is so annoying and dismissive, especially for those of us who spent all our teenage years hoping we were late bloomers because we couldn’t figure out what was happening. Or worse, that being ace somehow makes us less human because apparently for some people our humanity is tied with the sexual attraction we supposedly should feel.
Cami: The one most common misconception is that asexual (by this I mean just ace, and not aromantic) people can’t fall in love. I’ve also seen this assumption when interacting with people online—they can’t understand that there can be a separation between sex and love. Often the sentiment from allosexual people is, How can asexual people tell the difference between a friend and a romantic interest?
Nik: The aforementioned link between asexuality and aromanticism. The separation of asexual from aromantic has been crucial to my understanding of the word. Any misconception that allows that asexuality is not complex and different to each individual who experiences it would also count.
Jasmine: [Demisexuals] aren’t really asexual because we do have the capacity to experience sexual attraction under specific circumstances. What people forget a lot (especially with asexuality) is that identity labels are loose terms meant to generally describe a person’s experiences, not rigid algebraic equations with exact answers. One facet of heteronormativity is the frequency which a person experiences attraction, and asexual people all necessarily fall beneath the heteronormative threshold of “normal” frequency of attraction, which is what qualifies demisexuality as being on the asexual spectrum.
Rose: It comes down to the misunderstanding of the definition of asexuality. Nowadays, that’s often caused by willful ignorance.
Has your asexuality evolved as you’ve grown?
Erica: Yes. I was always hesitant to claim “asexual”. I thought I was gray-ace for a while, but I wasn’t even sure what that meant. Then I realized that I’d never experienced any type of sexual attraction really, and finally just threw my hands up and said “Okay, I’m asexual!”.
Sam: A little, I think. Mostly in my attitude towards sex. There was a time when I the thought of me personally having sex was… not repulsive, but definitely discomfiting. These days, I’m more positive about the idea of it, even if I still have no interest in it.
Rose: I now use umbrella terms instead of the specific ones. I’m such a strong supporter of the whole spectrum, but I find it personally easier to use umbrella terms. That way I personally never have to feel “not ace enough.”
Chris: I wouldn’t say my asexuality has grown, but my understanding of myself has certainly grown. The more I learn about the different facets of how humans experience sexuality and relate to each other and navigate through the world, the more I examine where I fit among it all. My asexuality is just one of many things that becomes clear the older and wiser I get.
Cami: I’ve only identified as ace for a little over a year, so I can’t say I’ve grown much since first realizing this about myself. It has evolved a little bit since the beginning—originally I thought I was demisexual (only feeling sexual attraction when having an emotional connection to someone). Sometimes I still dither between that and gray-ace.
Have you ever faced discrimination of any kind for being asexual?
Ren: Yup. Even if I’m not out to many people in real life, it is pretty obvious that I don’t act like a straight person should… so people always find it strange and, well, they judge. Every time I end up talking about how I’m not interested in dating, the response is always the same… and then, well, name calling. I’ve been called many things for not wanting to date/have sex: weird, bizarre, freak, or had people tell me that “that’s not natural” or “that’s not right” when I say I could spend the rest of my life without sex.
Discrimination happens a lot in fandom too. I notice it when I headcanon characters as ace – how non-ace people will immediately find a million reasons why they shouldn’t be ace, it doesn’t matter how many times you, the ace person, tells them their reasoning is faulty because it is full of misconceptions about asexuality. They just don’t want it to happen, and that’s it. It really opens your eyes after some time, to know how much fandom doesn’t want people like you where they can see.
Jasmine: Yes. Growing up I faced a lot of sexual harassment from other kids specifically for my orientation… and I suspect the main reason I don’t experience much of this anymore is because I mostly socialize with other asexual and aromantic people as an adult. More recently, I’ve also had experiences with medical abuse.
Chris: I’ve been told I’m allowed to be part of the LGBT community as long as I don’t try to call myself queer. Because I haven’t suffered enough to earn the privilege.
Paige: [This] actually came from the psychiatrist I saw in 2012 during my freshman year of college. During my first session with him, he asked me if I thought an incident of sexual abuse when I was 12 was related to my asexuality. He also babbled something about how a lack of Vitamin B6 can cause a low libido and how he wanted to see my bloodwork and figure out whether that was the “cause” of my asexuality.
Other than the incident with the psychiatrist, I would say no. Not yet. I’m searching for my first job, so discrimination is likely in my future.
Sam: Never [in real life], but online, yes. It’s the kind of discrimination that’s borne of a lack of awareness and understanding. The most common form that I see is when someone asks what the IAP in LGBTQIAP stands for, and then immediately follows that question with: “Why do we even need all these labels?” More recently, an author announced that two characters in a series they’re writing are demi-sexual and grey-a, and a reply they received was “are all these label necessary?”. I do consider responses like these discriminatory. No, not everyone uses labels. But for others, people who have felt lost or broken or adrift or wrong their wholes lives, having a name to place on how you feel (or don’t feel), having a label that you can point to and say “that’s me” can make a world of difference. It opens you up to a world and a community you didn’t previously have – you know you’re not alone, that you’re not wrong or broken or lost.
And no, these responses are not always direct at me, but I’m affected by them all the same.
Erica: In fandom it seems like there’s a lot of acceptance for asexual characters. But I’ve seen people get upset about representations of asexuality because they don’t understand what asexual means, and their own narrow understanding of the term meant they misinterpreted it.
Rose: Anyone who speaks out– really anyone who does more than existing silently– will likely get a death threat at some sort. If you exist as a minority of any sort on the internet you know what I mean. More personally, people have tried to force me into situations that given early visibility I could have avoided.
Thanks for joining us for Part One of the interview! Click on the image below for Part Two!
Whether you’re new to the term Asexual or comfortable in your own asexuality, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment letting us know how your understanding of asexuality has changed, or any questions or thoughts you may have!