This is Part Two of my interview with several people on the asexual spectrum, discussing the variation and complexity behind the term.
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If you’ve come out to people, what has the reaction been?
Nik: Supportive and amazing. I had one partner equate it to if we had both shared an interest in knitting and I stopped enjoying knitting. It might be disappointing, but there would be other things we could find to enjoy together.
Jasmine: Mostly positive, but I’m pretty careful in who I come out to. I’m not even entirely sure why, since straight people tend to figure it out pretty easily, even if they don’t know the word “asexual.” I guess part of it is that thing I mentioned before with my mom—people so frequently get caught up on the language that asexual people use that they ignore the actual content of anything we say about our experiences. Sometimes it’s easier to let them come to the conclusion that I’m Ambiguously Not Straight than it is acting as their personal queer dictionary.
Ren: I’ve only come out to friends who are either LGBT or allies, so their reaction was pretty good. I didn’t even have to come out to them, to be honest. They already knew me before I learned about asexuality and we had already talked about how I was totally not interested in anything sexual.
Erica: It was easier to come out to the writing community because I felt like there was a greater understanding of what asexuality meant. So I didn’t need to explain it as much… and when I did explain it, it was more genuine curiosity instead of “Are you sure? Were you traumatized” etc. So that helped to ease the way.
Rose: Mixed? I think some people forget that coming out isn’t a one-time thing. You have to come out to every single person. So I’ve come out countless times now. Some are like “Oh me too!” But I’ve also have one friend just vanish because if I can’t be “won” then there isn’t any point to stick around and maybe annoy his girlfriend.
Paige: My best friends, roommates, and most of my friends have immediately been accepting. Quite a few of them needed an explanation because people know LGBT better than QUILTBAG, but then it’s been fine. Coming out to my family—the first people I ever came out to—was much funnier/less understanding. I’d been in the closet for six months and I randomly decided to come out to them one night while we were on vacation. My brother called me an amoeba and my mom didn’t believe it was a thing.
Cami: Every person (except for two friends) has had a less than positive reaction. I’ve had people tell me it’s a phase (one friend specifically said I’m still “at that stage where sex is gross”) and I’ve had people tell me I’ll never get a husband OR that if I do get a husband, he’ll resent me for not being interested in frequent sex. Some people think I can’t be serious, because they don’t see how humans can exist without experiencing sexual attraction (they have never known that asexuality is a real thing).
Do you ever feel uncomfortable with people assuming you are allosexual?
Paige: Absolutely. If anyone asks me if I have a boyfriend—and they only ask that; I’ve never been asked if I have a girlfriend—I immediately say, “No, I’m asexual. I’m not into guys or girls.” Most of the time, people have no idea what asexuality is and I use the opportunity to educate them.
Chris: No. I catch myself all day, assuming people are right-handed, neurotypical, sighted, etc. Our world trains us to think a certain way. As long as they adjust if I correct them, then I’ll treat them with the same generosity of spirit I hope to receive when I make similar assumptions about other people.
Rose: Yes, especially when it comes to flirting, appearance, or anything where I can assume you want something from me or could be objectifying me in some way.
Jasmine: Not necessarily (unless they are trying to argue that as a demisexual, I’m not allowed to call myself asexual), but I do get nervous when people assume I’m straight, because this invariably comes with a test to “prove” my straightness. So I guess it’s not really that much of an assumption. But straight people do this kind of thing all the time, and it’s not something I see people talking about very much.
Ren: Yes. When people assume I’m allosexual, a lot of stuff comes with this assumption – that I’m always looking for a date (semi-related to my aromanticism here too, I guess), that I’m always okay with talking about other people’s appearance/hotness, that I’m always comfortable with more sexual conversations in general, that I’m always open to flirting… When in reality, I’m most likely not. I’m not exactly sex repulsed – not all the time, at least – but none of these things are things I’m usually comfortable with, it doesn’t matter how close we are. So yes, I don’t like it when people assume I’m allosexual.
Sam: Not generally. It’s only an issue for me if people try to press me for details or ask personal questions related to dating/relationships, but that’s an issue that rarely comes up.
Cami: Yes! People sending me smut gifs to cheer me up is always awkward. It’s like, what do I say? How do I react? I feel beyond uncomfortable pretending to be allosexual, but I’m very careful about outing myself these days, so when I’m assumed to be allo, it puts me in between two very tough choices.
Nik: I’ve had people assuming that all of my life and it has always made me feel uncomfortable. The difference with coming out as asexual is the power comes back into my hands to end the conversation with what basically amounts to one word.
Erica: The only time that bothers me is when people are blatantly hitting on me. Because I know what they want, and I won’t give it to them, so I know it’s going to end badly. But otherwise it doesn’t bother me. I’ve been “straight” for most of my life, but only asexual recently, so it’s still a new thing. I get innuendo and dirty jokes, and they can be awkward, but it doesn’t bother me as long as you don’t expect me to go with you to a strip club or something!
What is one thing you wish people understood about asexuality?
Sam: That it is a wide and varied spectrum, made of people with wide and varied personalities. Asexuals are not all cut from the same mold.
Rose: That asexuality is a diverse group of people of all races, genders, and backgrounds that share a sexual orientation based on a varying lack of sexual attraction. It tells you nothing more or less about the person or how they interact with others.
Chris: I wish people knew more about the wide variety of ways there are to be asexual. There is no one way to be asexual. The statement, “They can’t be ace because X” is almost always wrong.
Paige: That there are so many subsets of asexuality! The romantic orientations, what gray-ace and demisexual are/mean… So little is generally known about asexuality that I could list almost everything about it as something I want people to understand.
Ren: That it isn’t easy. Many people think that being asexual is no trouble, and while I know we don’t face the same kind of discrimination bi or gay people do, for example, we still have to deal with many hurtful and awful things. In my experience, being asexual means being constantly dehumanized and othered. Being called unnatural does things to you, and it’s common for aces to feel broken. Being ace can be extremely hard. (It’s also good to remember that many ace people are gay/bi/etc.)
Nik: That nothing should be assumed.
Erica: That is exists. At this point we’re still fighting for that. And that it’s a valid part of the queer spectrum.
In high school asexuals often face the same experiences as a gay or lesbian person; everyone is pairing up, and you wonder why you’re alone, not wanting the same thing as everyone else. But unlike gay or lesbian teens who realize who they are attracted to, asexuals struggle to accept that they’re not sexually attracted to anyone.
Cami: I REALLY wish people understood that many asexual people still want love! I could put up with all the cold shoulders and side-eyes… if only everyone could understand that it is still possible to fall in love without being sexually attracted to someone. Cuddling and kissing and holding hands, for me at least, can be a hundred times more satisfying and fulfilling than any orgasm.
If you’re aware of them, what do you think about recent media portrayals of asexuality (ie, Jughead in the Archie comics, published novels, and TV characters)?
Jasmine: The Archie one is kind of funny to me, actually. I keep joking with some of my friends about it, like, “Really, the first iconic fictional character that we get as a confirmed asexual is Jughead? Jughead!?” But other than that, I haven’t even seen asexuality portrayed in mainstream media. I know there are a few, but they’re so few that they’re too easy to miss.
Some [queer] presses, like Less Than Three Press, have been pushing to include more asexual stories and voices. (Full disclosure: I have a novella that was published by Less Than Three Press, albeit not one about asexual characters.) Two books I read from them recently were Alexey Dyed in Red and Breakfire’s Glass, both by A.M. Valenza, which feature asexual characters. Breakfire’s Glass, in particular, I felt did a great job portraying the complexities of relationships that asexual people have with others.
Paige: I’m happy that a characters as major as Jughead has been announced as asexual. I’ve read two books with actual, uses-the-word asexual characters in them. I have more on my TBR, thankfully. Otherwise, I simply decide characters who “feel” asexual are so according to my headcanon even when canon makes it clear they’re not asexual.
Honestly, I see more supposedly ace characters in the media than actual ace characters. For instance, Daryl Dixon of The Walking Dead is listed on Wikipedia as a fictional asexual person even though the creator has explicitly stated that Dixon is heterosexual. When I first discovered the term, Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory was also listed as asexual.
Sam: Comics I cannot speak on. TV characters seem to always use the same archetype for their asexual characters. Representation is good, but TV representation tends to default to a specific stereotype (Sherlock, Sheldon) – but this can be said of the representation of most queer characters on TV.
I’ve read some published books that have represented the spectrum of asexual characters positively and respectfully. But I have also read some in which the representation was wrong and/or problematic – mislabeling, misidentifying, misrepresenting; “fixing” the ace character; revealing that the character was never ace, he just hadn’t met “the one”; vilifying the ace character for not having sex with their partner… Thankfully, those ones have been infrequent; unfortunately, the speak further to a lack of awareness, knowledge, and understanding about the asexuals and the asexual spectrum.
Ren: I haven’t read many books or watched many TV shows with ace characters, to be honest. I read mainly SFF and romance, and it’s so hard to find ace characters in these genres. It’s getting better and I liked the ones I’ve seen so far, but we definitely could have more of them.
Cami: I haven’t seen any explicit portrayals of asexuality yet, except for in one novel that I read last year. The ace character was the ex-girlfriend of the hero of the book, and for most of the story, she is seen as the villain because she had sex with someone else while dating the hero. It is eventually explained that she was trying to see if it was possible for her to be sexually excited (it wasn’t) and she is reluctantly forgiven. While I was happy to see an explicitly ace character in a romance who was also in love with someone… I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that she was villainized for most of the book, and that her ace-ness was seen as negative. It was seen more as an excuse for her behavior, rather than something to be understood and embraced.
Rose: I’ve written several posts on this matter, so I’ll summarize myself by saying: If you use the word asexual and use it in a respectful way (aka they are actually asexual) I like them and we need more.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to someone who’s just beginning to discover and understand their asexuality?
Sam: There’s no right or wrong way to be asexual; there’s no right or wrong way to express your asexuality; and there’s no right or wrong way to define your asexuality.
Chris: Explore the varied names and expressions people use to describe and label their sexuality and their attitudes, preferences, and reactions to human sexual behavior. Read about the experiences of others. Talk to people in the community. But at the end of the day, know that the only person who can tell you who you are is you.
Ren: Do not feel pressured to be okay with everything now that you’ve found a word that fits you. When I read about how other people found the word “asexual”, almost all of them talk about how everything got better after they realized that there was a word for them, but it wasn’t like this for me. I recognized myself in the definition of asexual, but it took me almost a year for me to accept it and, later, to be proud of it. I didn’t want to be ace. Sometimes I still don’t. When society tells you a million times that sex is the best thing ever… that it is what makes us human… well, it can be daunting and terrifying. So give yourself time and let yourself feel everything. It gets better.
Nik: There are a lot of things to unpack, some of which won’t become apparent until you are around other people. Not all of it will be something you can work through in your own head, so talk to other people. Read stuff on the internet. Find a community. Blog about your own personal experience, how it’s similar to things you’ve read or talked about it, and how it’s different. Give yourself permission to change labels if the first one you find doesn’t turn out to suit you.
Paige: Take your time figuring things out and don’t be afraid if you feel the label you put on yourself doesn’t quite fit right. I was honestly very lucky to immediately be certain of my sexuality once I learned the terms for it, but not everyone has that experience. Asexuality is as fluid as any other sexuality, so go with the flow!
Rose: Trust yourself. I get asked “Am I ace if–‘ or “Do any other aces do [insert trait they believe is odd]?” The answer is always yes. If I don’t do that [thing] personally, I can recall someone else saying they do 100% of the time.
Jasmine: I see a lot of young aces or older people new to the identity expressing concerns that they aren’t “asexual enough” or “too close to the stereotypes” to claim the identity because they’re not aromantic, or they are aromantic, or they sometimes watch porn, or they’d like to get married someday, or they’re an abuse survivor, etc. Asexuality is an intentionally broad identity label that covers pretty much every human experience except “experiences sexual attraction to others at a frequency that heteronormativity considers ‘normal’.”
If asexuality sounds like it generally describes your sexuality, then it probably does. You don’t need other people’s permission to use that label. And even if you later find a different label that fits better, or your experiences change and the label no longer fits as well as it did before… that’s okay, too.
Erica: You don’t have to cling to a single label. You can change your mind. Sometimes you don’t know without exposure to different people and aspects of the orientation where you actually will fall. Maybe you claim asexual, but in a few years you find someone you do want to have sex with, and that doesn’t nullify your asexuality. Labels should evolve, so you can too!
Cami: Most people won’t understand you. They will dismiss you and hurt your feelings. Get used to it, and then ignore it. Latch onto people who understand—other ace people or compassionate, kind friends—and grow some tough skin. Your sex life—or lack of—is nobody else’s business, so who cares what they think? Just eat some cupcakes. They’re better than sex anyway.
Thank you for checking out our discussion about asexuality!
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