Carnival of Aces: Tales (and How Not to Tell Them)

This post is for the October 2016 Carnival of Aces on Joining the Asexual Community.

[CN: brief mention of arousal and sexual attraction (non-descriptively); brief mention of abuse]

I don’t know if it’s a thing with other queer identities, but with asexuality, ‘how did you realise you were asexual’ is a question that seems to come up a lot. I wrote about it on Tumblr at some point long ago, it’s always the first question asked at irl ace meet-ups, and sometimes just folks I know at uni will ask about it. Unfortunately I still don’t have a response to that question that satisfies me; nowadays, I either lie* (not my favourite thing to do) or just dance around the question (also not my favourite thing to do).

However, today, for one night only, I’m going to try and write out my story of joining the asexual community (and why I usually don’t).

The first time I saw anything about asexuality it was (surprise, surprise) on Tumblr. It was just one of those ubiquitous pride posts and I don’t think I really thought anything of it — it was just another word to add to my vocabulary.

A little later, however, I started wondering. I’d somehow got into a conversation with this guy about celebrity crushes and it had slowly started occurring to me that he had a slightly different way of looking at attractiveness that just didn’t click with me. I still thought I found people sexually attractive, but I thought that maybe I only became attracted to people (or in the case of the conversation, celebrities [who apparently don’t count as people to my brain?]) after I got to know them a little bit better. I found myself on a wiki page for demisexuality, and I thought that maybe it fit me, but it still didn’t feel quite right. Still, I decided to just leave it alone for a while (because of course figuring I was straight was much easier anyways).

A few months later, I realised I was having some weird feelings around a friend which I’d never had before. I thought it might be sexual attraction — which meant that I’d never felt sexual attraction before. So I must be on the asexual spectrum!

I don’t count this as the point that I ‘realised’ that I was asexual, though, because that feeling (which I still don’t know how to word but now prefer to call ‘arousal’ rather than ‘attraction’) really freaked me out. It was weird, and scary, and towards someone of the same assigned gender as me. I couldn’t think of it at all, so I barely dared think about asexuality.

The point at which I really ‘realised’ was the point at which I talked to my friend about sexuality and realised that we were both in similar boats. I helped them to think about their sexuality and in turn they gave me the courage to look around AVEN. After about five minutes of looking, I signed up and started identifying as grey-asexual.

(Of course I then decided that the ‘grey’ part wasn’t as important to me so started IDing as plain asexual, and then decided that what I’d felt wasn’t attraction anyway, and then decided that my sexuality was really complicated but asexuality was useful to describe certain parts of it so it’s still a useful label to have even if it may not be relevant to my current situation of in-a-sexual-relationship, but this post is getting long enough already.)

So, that’s my tale of when I was a baby ace. Perhaps it’s partially clear from that why I don’t like telling the story, but I’ll spell it out just in case.

The basic point is that that story is so ridiculously convoluted. I feel like people who ask me that question (especially folks who aren’t ace themselves) want an answer that would fit on a postcard: ‘I always knew I was different’; ‘I just heard about asexuality and realised I didn’t feel sexual attraction’; I’m demi and I realised once I did feel sexual attraction’; and so on. No one expects a five-hundred-odd-words tale about thinking you might be, then ignoring it, then feeling sexual attraction but maybe not and ignoring it and then finally jumping in with both feet. If I could tell it in a funny way, then it perhaps might be accepted as a reasonable-length tale, but it’s such a personal and un-funny thing that it often feels egotistical or dry or irrelevant to others if you go on about it for too long.

Another reason that I hesitate to tell the tale is that it mentions sexual attraction/arousal. When I described it as sexual attraction, I didn’t have as much of a problem with telling it, but now that I personally describe it as arousal (even if I don’t say it that way in the tale), I feel like it’s too personal to mention. I don’t know if that makes me prudish or just normal, but I always feel really awkward and embarrassed telling people.

The third and final reason is that it simply isn’t a good memory for me. I think we rarely talk about these kinds of realising-I’m-ace narratives being possibly negative experiences (which is probably why I don’t just answer with ‘I don’t really want to say’). It’s weird because I think most, aces who re-tell these tales tend to have had some sort of angst around realising that they’re ace, so you’d expect us to understand that maybe not all these stories are all rainbows and ponies, but apparently not? Perhaps it’s just the circles I run in, but the only negative stories of ace realisations tend to be from people asking advice blogs what to do or asking for positivity. Those folks that ask those questions rarely seem to talk about their narratives in a format that might be shared (unsurprisingly; you don’t participate in a community that you don’t really want to be in, I guess), and those of us that do (I feel) have a tendency to look back at our baby-ace days with very rose-tinted glasses.

The fact is, not everything about my narrative is happy; I spent a lot of time thinking that no one would love me for who I was (this was pre-arospec realisation [and also, of course, pre-boyfriend]), even as I got involved with the community (and mainly the puns) on Tumblr and AVEN. The even more negative aspect, however, is that my story is so entwined with that one friend, who I ended up in a sort-of relationship with that was abusive, that now any possible happy memories I could have of finding out I was ace (and finding a world of new puns) is shadowed by that relationship. The greatest irony and pain of it is that, when I first wrote my baby-ace story on Tumblr (when I was still a baby-ace) I talked about how I was glad that I’d realised when I did, or not knowing could have caused me to do things I didn’t want to do if I was in a relationship (well done past-Mara). It’s so difficult to fit those kinds of feelings into a narrative that, again, people are hoping will fit onto a postcard, that I just don’t bother trying.

So that’s why I don’t tell this story that I have still somehow ended up telling.

*I realised part way through writing this that I never said what lie I tell and I couldn’t manage to reword things to fit it in there, so here it is: ‘I just kinda woke up one day and realised that I didn’t feel the same way that other people feel when they talk about sexual attraction’. It’s the most boring and slightly odd answer ever and even from other aces I tend to get a slightly ‘what? you just woke up one day and realised? weird.’ face.



Gender, or Why I’m Glad I’m Aro/Ace

This post has been cross-posted to Tumblr here. It was written for the March 2015 Carnival of Aces on Gender norms and asexuality.

Hold on tight because I got rambly (again). I’ve tried to shorten my sentences and paragraphs (and have possibly made my point less clear in doing so), but if the post is still inaccessible, or has lost all meaning, please throw me a message and I’ll try and edit it.

Before I came to university, I was already struggling with the concept of attraction — how we name it, why we name it, whether attraction is the important part of a relationship or identity — but coming to uni and getting a boyfriend have made that concept all the more difficult to grasp. All three main issues I have with the attraction model have become more relevant, but for this post I’ll just talk about the first one: how do we name our attraction?

Gendered attraction, as a nonbinary person, is… difficult to swallow. Hence why I’m glad I’m aro-spectrum and ace — the attraction is so nonexistent that I don’t have to quantify it as towards guys, girls, nb people, multiple genders, etc. Which is great, because I’d have no idea of where to start.

The first, and most important, issue I would meet as someone attracted to other people (and the one that causes me the most distress personally), is how do I quantify their genders to fit the orientation names given to me? If I’m attracted to people of all genders or many, I probably don’t have to try, but if there’s just one gender, what do I mean by gender?

I’ve seen the odd bit and bob of this in the few corners of the nonbinary community that I peek in to (not for lack of trying to get involved, mind), and there’s seemingly no general consensus on how you name your attraction.

If you’re attracted to girls, you might be basing this on presentation, which is wrong because not everyone who ‘looks’ like a girl is one and that’s just plain rude to assume. If you’re going off their own personal identity, well, you’re probably already attracted to them before you get close enough to know that. If you’re going off genitals, again you’re not going to know beforehand and are being pretty darn transphobic. If you go for ‘feminine presenting’, well, what counts as feminine? What if that person doesn’t see it as feminine? There’s also the issue that ‘feminine’ looks different on different people — trans women have their femininity policed, as do people of different races, and so ‘femininity’ is likely always going to be seen through a racist and transmisogynistic lens.

Basically, saying ‘I like girls’ is a lot more complicated – and impossible to talk about – than it might seem, and it’s my major reason for hating our current model of attraction-based-on-gender.

The second reason, while less important overall, is more imperative from a personal perspective.

Let’s say I like girls*, and this statement actually passes muster by some miraculous act of fate. That’s great, but how do I use it to inform my identity? I’m nonbinary, so I’m not a girl; does that mean my attraction is heterosexual? Technically, yes, but that’s not my lived experience — going out with a girl as someone who is generally ‘read’ as a girl does not feel heterosexual; the way we are treated together is not the way a straight couple would be treated, plus I have enough internalised homophobia to last me a lifetime and affect me for just as long. So, I guess I call myself a lesbian or gay then — but then I’m erasing my own gender in a way I don’t feel comfortable with. **

Similarly, let’s say (slightly less hypothetically since I have a boyfriend) that I like boys. We’re certainly of different genders (in identity, expression and assigned gender at birth), so I can’t say I’m gay or lesbian (although I understand that some people do and I totally get that). But the idea of calling myself heterosexual grates, as it denies my gender and just isn’t something that I feel I experience; being ‘read’ as a straight couple when with my boyfriend is a real pain and erasure. It’s different to internalised homophobia and external homophobia but that doesn’t mean it’s not real or doesn’t matter, so I refuse to endorse that it.

And, since I don’t want to write a binary post, let’s finally look at me liking other nonbinary people. I could call myself gay, but there are two problems with that. First of all, it might not feel that way if we have different expressions, possibly different identities, and have different agab or are ‘read’ differently. Secondly, calling myself gay for liking nonbinary people reinforces the binary, because it gives an extra ‘outlier’ option and that’s it — we’re all seen as the same, rather than a multitude of people with a multitude of identities that are not all the same. This then leads to three options. First, using a multiple-attracted term if I’m attracted to multiple nonbinary genders. Second, using ‘heterosexual’ (with all the issues and caveats discussed in the two paragraphs above) if I like a person of a different nonbinary gender to me. Or third, using gay if I like a person of the same nonbinary gender as me (which would be difficult to know since I don’t know what my own gender is, and would also bring up the same issues as discussed in the two paragraphs above).

Tl;dr: the gender-based model of orientation terms really fall down when taking into account nonbinary genders and related gender theory/terminology (this hypothetical scenario didn’t even take genderfluidity and people who identify as more than one gender into account and it still broke the system). Therefore, I’m really happy that I’m on the aro and ace spectrums, because it means that I don’t have to make a choice in this lose-lose game.

*Quick disclaimer that this paragraph is speaking about my own previous personal experiences, although there were a lot of confounding variables at the time so I’ve kept it as simple as possible and primarily hypothetical.

**Note that I’m aware of the other options of not giving it a name or using something vague like ‘queer’, but obviously these fall outside the gender-based orientation model and that’s what I’m criticising so I’ll leave those out.