Apositive member Heligan wrote something interesting on there the other day:
I think for lots of people all they really want is for how they feel to be seen as a legitimate way to feel, certainly the ‘no sex asexuals’, have a harder time trying to fit into society; so maybe we should start with them. Lets face it Grey-As can ‘pass’ as sexual in most cases.
She had lots of other good points to make (you can view the full post here), but it’s the part about grays passing that really got me thinking.
Could I pass as sexual? I can’t say the thought has never occurred to me to try it before, but I have always dismissed the idea because in the first place I don’t want to, and in the second, I see it as unethical to try. I still think it’s unethical, at least in a romantic setting, and not only that but it probably wouldn’t be the best thing to pursue for my own personal well-being, but for now I want to put those considerations aside, and try to follow the idea through to a conclusion about whether it’s even possible.
I think, first of all, we have to consider what is meant by “passing.” Usually this is used in the context of transsexuals presenting themselves in such a way that they convince others that they are the sex that they weren’t born into, and thus assuming that social role. How well one “passes” refers to how easy it is to get other people to confer that social role based on the appearance and behaviors one presents to them. I think central to the concept of “passing” is the idea that it is intentionally sought, rather than something that is conferred by default.
Therefore, even though most people assume I am sexual, I am not really passing because that is the default assumption. In order to pass, I would have to intentionally do things to support that assumption, even well past the point at which most people would start to question my orientation. That means we’re talking about convincing people with whom I’m in fairly intimate relationships, here, certainly lovers and in some cases (depending on what type of subject comes up), close friendships as well.
In my case, this would include friendships (maybe not even particularly close ones, as long as they’re sustained for a certain length of time), because people of my generation typically talk about sex quite often. I wouldn’t have to convince them I’m sexual, since that that is the default assumption, but I would have to go along with it and do things to maintain that assumption. I would either have to come up with some other explanation for my fairly obvious disinterest in sex, or feign some interest. Either case would involve lying, but the latter would be more difficult, since it would have to be a fairly consistent effort at acting, meaning I would have to know, first of all, how to act. Among friends, there are two scenarios that I would have to know how to act in: one, when they ask about sexual experiences/desire for sexual experiences; and two, casual observations of other people’s attractiveness.
At my age, it’s expected that by now I probably have some sexual experience, and also that I have an interest in pursuing more sexual experiences. Otherwise, people will try to figure out some reason why I don’t. They will tend to guess that I’m either celibate (for religious reasons or because I have a really serious personality), really picky and waiting for the right person to come along, or (this seems to be the favorite) a lesbian. Since I’m do have some sexual experiences, I could either decide to talk about them or lie and say I don’t (might be the easier option). If I talk about them honestly (and I would be needled to do so), it would generally be assumed that M was just really bad at sex (which I don’t think is a fair claim given the circumstances), wasn’t the “right person” at the right time (which he was), wasn’t somebody I was attracted to (ha!), or that I’m not the kind of person who can comfortably have sex outside of a committed relationship. All of which are assumptions I’m not comfortable with other people making, so if I were trying to pass as sexual, I would rather them think I’m still a virgin (and there are people whom I don’t think it’s appropriate to inform that I’m not, but those don’t include my friends). It would be easiest all around to feign innocence and prudishness.
The second problem would probably pose less of a dilemma now than it would have (well, did) when I was much younger, but I would still be expected to regularly rate the attractiveness of certain people. I could probably get along fairly easily by pretending that my friends mean aesthetic/sensual attractiveness rather than sexual attractiveness, but it might still be a little odd since I am really not attracted (even just aesthetically) to all that many people. I would seem very picky (which I guess I am). There would probably still be a lot of questions around my orientation because I tend to find women more physically attractive than men, in general, but these would be questions about the direction of my attraction rather than whether it’s sexual in nature, so I suppose that doesn’t really count. Still, it’s interesting that I could probably pass as a lesbian so much easier than I could as a straight woman, and given my rainbow support ribbon and attendance at campus QSA meetings, it would be even more so.
So among friends? Yeah, I could probably pass, if I wanted to hide myself. It would be uncomfortable, but I could do it. Among lovers? I don’t think so.
Anyone I ended up in bed with would certainly wonder why I’m not into it. Even if they don’t know what asexuality is, it would be clear there is something wrong (and, most probably, they would take the lack of interest personally). I suppose it would be possible, eventually, for me to learn what I’m supposed to do and do it, without seeming too terribly out of it, but it would be a struggle. I have no instinctive need for sex; what I have learned about it is all entirely external. I know that I am supposed to seek it, I know it’s something that’s supposed to be enjoyable. I kind of vaguely know what to do (more so now than before)—I mean, I know what goes where, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, where I’m supposed to touch, and so on (at least, not when I’m with a man; I’d probably have a better idea with a woman, since I am one)—and on some level I have been able to enjoy it, but I just don’t naturally have that drive to seek it out. If it were up to me to initiate, nothing would ever happen because it just doesn’t occur to me on my own. Plus, I’d be very distracted because to me, it’s boring, and worse, it’s painful (though that is just because I hardly ever have sex). It is hard to keep me engaged during sex, though it can be done.
I suppose I could excuse myself as being just shy, at first, and maybe learn what to do and try to be enthusiastic enough to pass for a little while, but I know eventually my enthusiasm would flag, and unless I’m married at that point, I wouldn’t be able to get away with it. It would cause all sorts of problems within the relationship, and eventually, I think it would come out that I’m asexual. Even if it doesn’t for years, eventually, it would come out, and it would hurt everyone involved.
No one wants to end up in that situation. It would be completely unethical for me to try it because the other person would end up feeling lied to, hurt, trapped; it would break their trust. I strongly believe that everyone should be made aware of what they would be getting themselves into, if they should choose to pursue a relationship with me. It might not be nearly as hard as it would be for other asexuals, because I’m neutral enough to sex to be able to compromise—my boundaries can be (carefully) still further pushed back and if that’s not enough I would certainly allow whoever I’m in a relationship to take other lovers as well, but there are still certain hard limits that any potential partner must be abide by. For some people, that would be fine. For others, not so much. But they have to be given the ability to make that choice for themselves. So I will always make sure to fully disclose to anyone I recognize as potential relationship material, and make sure that they understand before I ever agree to pursue a relationship with them. Maybe that will make it a lot more difficult for me to get into a relationship with anyone, but better that than doom it from the start. At least if they know they can try to approach it in a way that would accommodate me, rather than stifle us both. That’s the kind of relationship that I want anyway, so filtering out the losers fast can only be a good thing!