Being Asexual in a Compulsorily Sexual World
Coming out is often a difficult process for me. It’s relatively easy in most contexts to convey that I’m not straight, but if I want to go further I have to be prepared to open the can of worms that is society’s perception (or lack thereof) of asexuality. I have to explain that asexuality is where you don’t experience sexual attraction, and that I’m gray-asexual, which means you experience sexual attraction rarely or weakly, and then I have to elaborate that I can still experience romantic attraction but that that doesn’t happen a whole lot either (gray-romantic). And after explaining it to people, I have to deal with their responses, which could be flat out confusion, or an acceptance that I’m always anxious isn’t sincere because they actually think I’m full of shit.
I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember, even if I didn’t have a word for it until I was sixteen. For me, sexual attraction is this weird thing that’s hard to fully conceptualize people experiencing because it’s not something I have personally experienced.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family, where sexual purity was forced down our throats from a young age. I remember it being emphasized that we weren’t allowed to lust after anybody except our future spouse, and I was always confused about what exactly that meant. There had been some wording used in the Bible or by my Bible teachers that we weren’t supposed to “look” at somebody a certain way other than our future spouse. This was meant to imply that you weren’t supposed to look lustfully at other people, but as a twelve-year-old I was confused: was looking at the guy I had a crush on bad? My teachers would sometimes reference how hard it was to wait until marriage to have sex, and I was always confused, because it felt like they were exaggerating, and that it wasn’t really that bad because I wasn’t dealing with these “lusts of the flesh.”
As I got older and people my age were starting to talk more about their sexual interests, I felt more out of place. Girls were talking about guys they found attractive, and I could appreciate if people were cute, but I wasn’t as into it as other people seemed to be. Soon I found out I was into girls, but that didn’t answer everything either. When I found out about asexuality, it was as though a door opened up and I finally had a better understanding of myself. Better yet, there was a whole community of people with similar experiences. I started identifying as gray-asexual because there had been a couple moments where maybe I felt sexual attraction, but I didn’t know for sure and it didn’t happen very often. Plus, it felt better to exist in an indefinite gray area while still having a community that understood my experiences.
Going out into the rest of the world can be a bit of a struggle though, because sexuality is something that is expected of you. Compulsory sexuality — the idea that experiencing sexual attraction and having sex is something basic to the human experience — can be found everywhere you look, from the media to schools to familial expectations. It perplexes people to hear that you’re asexual because we’re taught that sex is part and parcel of human existence.
Compulsory sexuality derives directly from heteronormativity, where the only kind of sex you should be having is straight sex. When I first mentioned asexuality to my mom, her immediate response was “[asexuals] just haven’t met the right man yet,” which implies that asexuals are just “late bloomers” who have yet to properly fill the heterosexual mold.
For straight people, asexuality is disconcerting because it deviates from society’s traditional heterosexist narrative that women are to marry men and have sex with each other and have children. Yet it also breaks the mold in a way that’s a bit different from the way LGBTQ+ people break that mold. It is an outright refusal to follow any sexual narrative, because that is the way one truly is, and that is viewed as unnatural by straight people in the same way that homosexuality was.
Society has also gone so far as to pathologize asexuality the same way that homosexuality was marked as a mental illness. Asexuality has often been pinned as a psychological abnormality, a symptom of mental illness or a result of trauma. It was only recently that the American Psychiatric Association depathologized asexuality, saying that mental health practitioners could no longer diagnose people with hypoactive sexual desire disorder if they identified as asexual.
This is definitely an improvement, but in a world where most of society doesn’t know that asexuality exists, and many don’t know they’re asexual themselves, this is simply not enough. Asexual people have to deal with therapists that still believe that asexuality is a problem, which can be a barrier for getting the mental health care that they actually need.
Asexuality is real, asexuality is valid, and asexuality is not a bad thing. If you aren’t asexual, take some time to learn more about the experiences of the asexual community. It will mean a lot to people that come out to you as asexual, and it will help make the world a more accepting place for asexual people.
If you think that you might be asexual, know that you’re not alone and that there is nothing wrong with the way you are, despite what people might have you believe. There are many different expressions of asexuality in terms of how much you experience sexual attraction and how much you’re interested in sex itself. Asexuality is a wonderful thing, and nobody should make you feel bad because of it.
Photo credit: Naomi Lir