Tag Archives: identity

Realizing my asexuality

6 May

I’ve identified as asexual for about nine years. Since I’m in my early twenties, this is nearly half of my life, and includes all of my teenage years. I remember some of how I came to identify as ace.

I remember some of the first conversations that I had before I started using the word asexual — my ex-BFF and I were discussing my emotional state, and a lack of emotional reactions to certain things. We were joking that I must be some kind of robot, and that somehow went into a conversation on how I never remarked that people were ‘hot,’ and I said that I must be asexual. And we both laughed.

See, I thought the word asexual was a joke. I’d heard of gay people before, and I assume I’d heard of bisexual people at that point, but I’d never heard of asexual people. But even though I thought it was a joke, it still kind of fit. I must have been oblivious to a lot of the sexual culture around me in middle school, but I don’t think I ever felt particularly pressured by classmates to talk about sex — this is half the particular friends I hung out and probably also half me being oblivious.

I do remember being extremely puzzled at my first introductions to sex in literature: the first three Dragonrider novels (SO NOT how I would ever introduce anyone else to sex), and the Song of the Lioness novels, which were confusing because I didn’t know what Alanna was going through, being attracted to all these guys.

But basically I just meandered along for a couple of years before finding AVEN. At which point I learned that my inside joke about myself wasn’t actually a joke, or didn’t have to be.

Actually, I have an extremely embarrassing journal entry about this, in that my handwriting is pretty awful and I also definitely sound like I’m in high school. It reminded me that I actually found AVEN through searching ‘asexual’ in FictionPress and finding some essay about being asexual. (So if you’re a writer and think your writing about asexuality may not matter, you have no idea how people may come across it, and what it may mean to them.)

Reading this journal is yet another reminder to me that visibility is important. Because when you’re invisible to other people, they may ignore you unintentionally, they may not make space for you, they may make assumptions about people with your behavior sets. And when you’re invisible to yourself, you may make assumptions, too.

If you have no explanation for your feelings, you may think of ways to fix them, or other explanations to ascribe to them, or try to find the failings in yourself that are making you feel this way. You may try to feel another way. You may try to figure out how other people are feeling. Or you may try to ignore how other people are feeling, and how you’re feeling, and blunder through for a while not acknowledging or exploring yourself.

When you keep failing, maybe you think there’s something wrong. Maybe you think you’re wrong. Maybe you hurt yourself. Maybe you think about killing yourself. Maybe you even try.

Below are the most salient quotes from my old journal entry, and I’m glad that I have them, but I hope one day the word asexual is so well-known that people just learn it when they’re young, and don’t have to wait years until someone else shows them or they somehow come up with the word on their own and search it at some website that happens to have a result.

I’m not defective, do you hear that? I’m perfectly normal! … I am normal! … I feel free, I feel liberated.

Coming out

29 Apr

99% of my experience in coming out as ace has been online.

I haven’t felt the need or the desire to come out to people either in person or to very many people who I only interact with offline. It just isn’t important to me that people know. In the past, I wasn’t interested in dating, and I didn’t hang out with people who were interested in it, either, so it didn’t matter.

I also live in the Southern United States, which is not the most welcoming of environments. I didn’t include wanting to work with LGBTQ library patrons in my grad school applications because I thought it would have a negative effect. There’s a person in one of my classes who puts quotes around marriage in the phrase gay marriage, and said that if a patron asked for information on homosexuality, he would have to forcibly restrain himself from handing over a copy of the Bible. My mother’s ex-coworkers were appalled that she would watch Ellen Degeneres. A creative writing classmate of mine was disgusted when I wrote a short story about a trans girl.

Plus, I want to work in a public library with children/teenagers, and I am acutely aware that being loudly not-straight could prevent me from getting hired somewhere, and could also lose me my job when I do get one. I have no legal protection in my state if they fire me for sexuality. (A trans woman recently won a suit against the state when she was fired after telling her boss about her transition, but as far as I know there’s still no law protecting employees from being fired for gender reasons.) There’s also the potential issue of a parent of some child I interact with complaining about me, even if I don’t say anything to their kid about my identity.

So even though for the most part I do not read as straight, I’ve no plans to make any overtures about my identity while I live in this area. I know that my short hair, lack of makeup, and unisex wardrobe tend to make people read me as not-straight. When I judge that I am in an environment safe enough that I don’t need to lie, I can say I have a girlfriend. But aside from the few people closest to me, I have no need to verbally mark myself as not-straight.

I don’t know why I don’t care if people know. I’ve always been a private person, and I grew up in an abusive environment where I learned for the sake of the people I cared about not to speak up. I am pretty zen about what people do and do not know about me. In school I avoided award ceremonies and practically slept through them when I did have to go. (I didn’t go to any of the four undergraduate graduation ceremonies I could’ve attended.)

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My full name

15 Mar

I have been going by the short version of my name for a few months now, which for the purposes of anonymity I’m going to say is Alex as opposed to Alexandra (neutral as opposed to feminine). The other day I was filling out yet another online form, which asked for my “full name.” I reflexively typed Alexandra.

Then I felt hot all over, and vaguely sick, and started at the blank for much longer than necessary before saying “Fuck it!” and changing it to Alex. I immediately felt a bit better … but the uneasy feeling lingered for several hours.

This is the first time my dysphoria has been triggered by my full name. In this situation, I had the benefit of not really needing to put my full name, because it wasn’t asking for the name on my credit card or my social security card. It was just an online poll and potential gift card win.

But this isn’t the usual situation. In most situations where I’ll be asked to write my name on a form, I’m going to have to put my full legal name. Apparently I’m going to be tripping over dysphoria every time I have to fill out an official form.

I would go out and change it this year, but I’m moving in with Girlfriend in a few years, and we’ve already decided to change our names when we move in together. I don’t want to have to change my social security card, bank info, etc., twice in such a short amount of time. I guess I could go ahead and hyphenate my last name with hers, but I was looking forward to doing it alongside her.

My impression of the process is that it’s not that difficult, legally, although there’s tons of paperwork. I assume that because I’m just shortening my name, rather than changing it entirely or to a definitively masculine name, it will be easier to convince a judge to let me change my first name. Since Girlfriend and I will most likely be living in a liberal area, I also assume getting our last names hyphenated without a marriage certificate will not be that difficult.

I know that others do not have those privileges, and I feel awful knowing some people must face transphobic judges. I know I also have an easy time of getting people to call me Alex and don’t have to fight about it. My family has been doing it for years, and my offline friends were mostly just slightly confused and then accepting because hey, it’s still kind of the name they’ve always been calling me.

Which makes the road easier, for me. Hopefully it won’t be too long until the paperwork issue is also sorted out, and I have one less thing to trigger the dysphoria.

An ace childhood: yearbooks

5 Mar

I was thinking about what in my history I can see as manifestations of my gender, and I thought I might do the same with my sexuality, where I’m on surer footing. There are things from my childhood that — in retrospect — I see as “oh, yeah, that’s me. Asexual.” The biggest memory involves yearbooks in elementary school.

For some reason I had it in my head that if anyone ever went through my yearbooks, they would think I was weird because I didn’t have a lot of signatures from boys. I thought that it wasn’t normal that I wasn’t interested in boys. In the event that someone, who would know me and may already be thinking that it was weird that I didn’t talk about boys, started leafing through my yearbooks, I thought it was important to convince them that I did think about boys.

So I went to my grade level in the yearbook, glanced around for what I thought were conventionally attractive boys, and drew hearts next to their pictures. Most of the time I had never even met them, but I thought other people would think they were cute.

This seems really bizarre to me now. I wonder if I had a friend that I’ve forgotten about who was particularly boy-attached, or if someone made some comment to me about not talking about boys I “liked.” Social stuff like that does get to you pretty early. But I didn’t do things like that in middle and high school. I didn’t try to make comments about hot boys.

That’s not something I would ascribe to confidence, though. I know it’s mostly because my friends were not the kind to sit around talking about sex, at least not with me, which is a privilege of mine. I was never forced into an environment where I was expected to date, to act particularly sexual, or to dress in a sexually appealing manner. So I didn’t have to try.

I wish I could remember more about why I felt that way in elementary school. Since I can’t remember anything specific, it was probably all the media I was consuming: princesses getting together with princes, who is the pink Power Ranger dating, etc. Maybe people playing games in the playground, although I mostly remember playing Power Rangers and walking around the track. (Oh, we were fun children. Sometimes we even stopped on the track to use the old wooden work-out stations placed there for our exercising convenience.)

It probably is strange that I felt more pressure in elementary school than other age brackets, but I did identify as asexual shortly into middle school. So maybe that took a lot of the pressure off of me, even though my identification was, for a few years, an inside joke with myself.

Haircuts

27 Feb

I just got my hair trimmed. It was about nine months ago when I decided to get this style, although it took a second cut to get it as short as it is now. I have a Rachel-Maddowish short cut. (Yes, my celebrity knowledge is so limited I have to reference newscasters for hairstyle examples.)

At the time I first changed from the long hair I’d had since childhood, I thought it was an ace presentation thing. Long hair on women, I reasoned, was read sexually by society. From what I’ve gathered, feminine characteristics are seen as flirtatious and sexual, and I as an ace person didn’t want to be read that way.

So shorter went my hair. At chin-length I was already looking at it and planning on going shorter at some point in the near future. Especially after I found a photo of myself from when I was little and had my “boy haircut” that at the time made me cry (I had very rigid perceptions of gender lines when I was little) and my hair didn’t look bad at all.

Then a few months later I learned the word neutrois through sheer dumb luck, and I realized that the hair issue was not just a presentation issue, but a gender issue. It wasn’t appearing feminine and therefore sexual that was bothering me so much, it was being feminine itself that was becoming less and less tolerable. I still think that femininity is often read sexually, but I think the majority of my presentation discomforts are gender discomforts rather than ace discomforts.

I find it interesting that I reasoned it as an ace thing rather than a gender thing, though. I think it’s because I had never heard of neutral gender identities. I am the person who looked longingly at top surgery in high school and never considered that I might have gender dysphoria (because I knew I wasn’t a guy, or androgynous, and those were my only reference points).

I really don’t think that I could’ve come up with neutrois on my own like I came up with asexual. Gender wasn’t something I grew up with thinking people could be different from the usual, not the same way you learn about sexualities different from being straight. I learned about binary trans and androgynous identities later on, but that information still didn’t pry my brain open enough to consider that there was still another option.

It does really make me wish that there were just better ways to expose people to all of this: other sexualities, other gender identities than the norm. What if I had found out I was neutrois in high school, instead of during my last semester at undergrad? Would I have been comfortable enough to go to my undergrad’s health center and ask their psych staff for information on transitioning, instead of being in murky waters like I am now?

I’ve had years to learn about and explore my asexual identity, partly because I self-identified that way in middle school, but mostly because I’ve been able to read asexual dialogues online and take my thoughts in directions they inspired. I think exploring my gender identity is going to be a lot rougher on me — there is, of course, the added dimension of transitioning. Starting with a haircut is, at least, starting. But I have a long road left in front of me.

“New Orientations” paper

9 Feb

The Asexual Explorations Blog recently updated with notice of a new paper called New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice, written by Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks.

There’s no abstract, either on the journal’s website or in the article itself, so here’s the public description:

In their ambitious commentary, “New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice,” Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks make the case that “asexuality”–the inability or unwillingness to experience sexual desire–needs a place in scholarly inquiry and radical politics. The small but growing international community of people who identify as asexuals has recently gained media attention; it projects varying visions of asexuality as a conscious decision or as an innate condition. Cerankowski and Milks strive to go beyond important efforts in social psychology to de-pathologize asexuality, suggesting that serious engagement with asexuals and asexuality will transform both feminist and queer studies.

Short version: imagining the impact acknowledging asexuality as a legitimate thing in the world will have on feminist and queer studies.

Shorter version (my impression, anyway): sexuals talking to sexuals about asexuality.

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Leave us our words

27 Jan

Last spring I took a creative writing course where we had to write a short play. We read one where all the characters insisted the main character, who I’ll call Guy, was gay. To the point where one of them showed him her Playgirls, porn, etc., to bring him out of the closet.

In the last scene, Guy said that he was asexual. He loved his girlfriend, but he wasn’t sexually attracted to her. The class fell silent, probably because they were confused, and me because I was going “Holy shit holy shit” in my head. A play about asexuality, with a good definition of asexuality! I went with the old “I have asexual friends, this is great” thing, because I didn’t want to come out to my class — and because I knew someone in the class was queerphobic.

Then my professor said, “I like it, but I don’t think you should use the word asexual.”

Part of me was crushed. My professor had never heard of asexuality before, and he was saying that the word shouldn’t be used. Guy would be more interesting without claiming that for himself.

I’d pretty much forgotten all this, but I was reminded of it when Sciatrix said:

When I say asexuals are oppressed by invisibility, I don’t only mean that the usual state of things is, right now, for asexual people to grow up without even the simplest words to describe what they are, even to themselves.

I came up with the word “asexual” on my own. Seeing people exposed to the word and the concept in a positive way gets me excited, because maybe it means one day people who can’t come up with it on their own will have a better chance of finding it.

When I think about what my professor said, it hurts a lot more than it did at the time. I had the e-mail address of the author of the play, and I should’ve contacted him and told him how important it was that asexual people, fictional or not, be able to use their words, and how I supported his use of it. But I was afraid it would get out to the rest of the class, and I didn’t feel safe there.

It hurts me to think about it, because if I didn’t have that word, I might be going to doctors and trying to find medicines to “fix” myself, I might be trying to date people and forcing myself to have sex because maybe if I had a good experience, I’d like it, I might be self-harming when none of that worked, and I might end up feeling so isolated that I wouldn’t want to go on anymore. I don’t think that’s too bleak a picture to paint.

We’re not well-known enough, even to ourselves, to let our words be erased. If we don’t have words, people think we’re a single person on whom they can impose whatever ideas they want.

If we’re asexual, and we’re told that word isn’t important enough to be used, it’s a lot easier for people to erase us, and write in what they find more interesting: straight, closeted, confused, scared, naïve, or alone. An aberration, a freak of nature. Forgettable.