I was reading a thread on Apositive a while ago about “romantic”/affectional orientation, and it reminded me why I don’t like defining asexuality as “a person who DOESN’T experience sexual attraction.”
I’ve gone through a lot of different identities, with regard to my affectional orientation. I started out assuming I was bisexual, because at the time I thought that most people are actually bi but due to societal pressure never realize it. Later I changed the label to pansexual/omnisexual to reflect my interest in androgynous, and possibly differently-gendered people. Eventually I realized I was equally uninterested in everyone, and began calling myself asexual, pan-romantic.
A little further down the road, as I finally became interested in pursuing romantic relationships, I noticed a definite tendency to be attracted to women more often than men. For a while, I thought I was just pickier about men, or that there simply weren’t enough pretty specimens in my area. But after the pattern persisted for a couple years, I started seriously questioning whether I would ever be comfortable being with a cisgendered man, due to the power imbalance and lack of understanding of queer issues that I perceived such men to have. I wondered if I shouldn’t just start calling myself a functional lesbian.
Then M fell into my lap, and I realized that I was right the first time, I am just pickier about men. Still wondering if that imbalance and the lack of understanding are surmountable obstacles, though.
So, defining orientation based on not having a certain kind of attraction can be really tricky, as the only time it can be fully determined that one doesn’t experience that attraction or whether one simply hasn’t yet, is on one’s deathbed. It’s understandable, then, though still annoying, when people spout that tired old “right person” rhetoric when we tell them we’re asexual.
And then there are asexuals like me, who aren’t sure whether they’ve ever experienced it because they don’t know how to define it, or know that they have but only ever feel it once or twice in so many years, or even if they feel it, still haven’t felt any desire to act on it, ever, and don’t value sexuality enough that they think it probable that they will in the future. I think determining asexuality is a little more complicated than just “Sexual attraction: ON/OFF.” It’s about the interplay of frequency and level of attraction/desire, value placed on sexual activity, societal influence/politics, identification/disidentification, and probably other factors that I’m not thinking of right now (feel free to throw out suggestions, guys). Lack of sexual attraction is widely touted as the single factor uniting all asexuals, but that’s not really true. The real factor that unites asexuals is identification, which is the result of all these other factors working together.
But I have problems with that idea, too, because it implies that if you don’t identify as asexual at any point in you’re life, then you’re not asexual at that point. I’ve always been asexual. We have to keep in mind that these are terms used to describe ourselves, not terms that necessarily define ourselves. I’ve always known I wasn’t interested in sex, but at different points in my life, my interpretation of that lack of interest has changed. In my youth, I didn’t consider it a significant factor in determining my orientation, but as I got older it became more and more a point of difference between myself and my peers, and as my mindset “solidified,” less and less likely that I would suddenly become interested.
Now, actually, I am interested, but not because I feel any desire to get jiggy with it myself. I just like finding out what it means to other people, because I’m fascinated by personal differences, and want to learn to relate to other people in a way that can include sex. I know I can do it, and I know I can even enjoy it. I want to find out where my limits are, and push my boundaries a little. I want to figure out ways that I can comfortably compromise, and explore different forms of intimacy.
Ultimately, I think it’s all about mindset. That’s not to say that all asexuals have the same mindset, because of course it varies wildly, but there are a lot of similarities with the ultimate result that we all identify as asexual. I could possibly identify as either asexual or hyposexual, but I make the choice to identify as asexual. There are also a lot of potentially asexual people who don’t realize that they have that option, probably because they haven’t heard of it or thought about it much.