I’ve wanted to make a post on this topic for a while now. I think I even started writing it before, but never ended up finishing it. Even before my hiatus, ever since I set up my Formspring ask page, I’ve had a lot of people come to me, describe themselves, and then basically ask,
“Hey, do you think I could be asexual?”
Since my blog burnout and subsequent hiatus, I’ve missed so many emails just like this. I regret that I couldn’t answer all of them directly. But my answer would be the same in each case, so I’m going to try to answer them here.
Now, I do think that saying, “If you identify as asexual, then you are asexual” is problematic. For one thing, it’s reductive. Identity is a very complex process, and I think that it can, in fact, be mistaken. In my particular case, I think I was mistaken in the past when I identified as bisexual. At the time, I did not understand sexuality well enough to realize that there was a big difference between being equally attracted to either gender (or all of them), and being equally not attracted to anyone. As my understanding of both what people generally meant by “bisexual” and my understanding of myself grew, my identity changed.
And that’s fine. The thing about identity is that it’s not static. It’s a process. Often, it’s a process of fine-tuning until you find the words that seem to fit you just right (and in some cases, inventing new terms if there are none available that do), and even then, as you grow and change, there will be times when you will grow away from a particular label, and find that what once fit doesn’t anymore. I’ve done this publicly, right here on this blog. I used to identify as gray-ace, and now I don’t anymore.
To all of you coming to me to ask if you might be asexual, I get it. I totally understand your concerns, and I empathize.
There’s a lot of fear, I think, in choosing a label, especially one as misunderstood, maligned, and outright denied as asexual. There are people out there who will actually tell you that it’s harmful to identify as asexual, because of all the ~opportunities you’ll miss~ to explore your sexuality. They’ll say “maybe you’re just repressed, or maybe you have a sexual dysfunction.” For all the progress we’ve made, this is absolutely NOT a thing of the past. I’ve read some articles taking down people saying things like this recently, although I read them on my iPad and now I can’t remember where they were from (if someone could supply links, I’ll happily add them inEdit: Thank you! I was indeed thinking of the posts responding to Matty Silver, starting here).
Be suspicious of everything those people say, because what they are implying is seriously fucked up. Most of them don’t even realize it, and think they are acting in your best interest, but they aren’t.
If you’re not interested in sex, you shouldn’t have to explore it. You DON’T have to explore it. Don’t ever have sex because you’ve been made to feel that you need to explore it for some reason. Really, don’t. You should only do it if you are actually interested in doing that sort of thing!
And realize this: these people who say this sort of thing are failing to understand that you can perfectly well explore your sexuality, including sex itself, while still identifying as asexual. If you want proof of that, read my other posts. There is nothing barring you from it, and in fact exploring your lack of interest should bloody well count as exploring your sexuality! Asexuality is a sexual orientation, and coming to understand yourself as asexual can potentially give you the opportunity to approach sex in a way that is healthy for you. IF you want that sort of thing.
Even when moving past all of that, there is still so much anxiety about choosing an identity. You ask yourself, “What if I’m wrong? What if I misrepresent the community? What if one day I decide I’m something else and then people think that asexuality is just a phase?”
Well, you know what? If people think that way, then they are mistaken. It is not going to be your fault that they are mistaken, not unless you actually go out and tell them that asexuality is not real. (Which some people have done, but if you’re worried about other people thinking that way, I’m pretty confident that you won’t!) And even if one day you realize that you aren’t asexual after all, you can still correct them, and help spread awareness about asexuality! In fact, I think it’s valuable to the community to have people who once identified as asexual and now identify as gay (as the most frequent example) or sexual in some other way, because you can help show the world that we are not in any way telling people to stop exploring their sexuality. We very much encourage continual exploration and growth.
And really, I don’t think there’s an ace person alive who hasn’t thought “What if I’m wrong? What if I am sexual after all?”
Self-doubt is very heavily conditioned. There is no escaping it. And even if it weren’t so heavily conditioned, most of us would probably have it anyway, because occasional self-doubt is actually healthy.
My partner said this to me yesterday:
“Do you know what [my therapist] used to tell me? She said that if you don’t have doubt and anxiety at all, that’s what’s really unhealthy, because it means you’re not understanding how big of a deal things are.”
And it is. It’s a huge deal, to start to identify and label yourself as asexual. Even to continually do it, when you’ve been doing it for years, it’s still a big deal.
And being wrong? That’s probably the scariest thing of all.
But you know what?
It’s okay to be wrong. Everyone is wrong sometimes.
If you’re to the point of actually questioning whether or not you could be asexual, then you probably already know the definition. In case there’s anyone reading along who doesn’t, though, it’s a person who lacks* sexual attraction. If you’re not really sure what sexual attraction even means, then chances are, you haven’t personally felt it. I would define it as “a visceral desire to have sex with someone based generally on their looks, voice, mannerisms, or personality traits.”
Does that fit you? I don’t know, and there’s no way that I can possibly know. We are talking about internal experiences here, and there is no reliable way to measure that from the outside. It is totally up to you to decide.
And I hereby grant you permission to do it, even if you might be wrong.
* [Added note in December, 2015:] “Lack” here does not refer to a total, absolute-zero lack. I’ve realized since originally writing this that phrasing it as just “a lack” leads people to interpret it that way, but I meant this to be read as little or no sexual attraction rather than a total lack.
It is also worth noting that this is not the only definition of asexuality, and never has been. It’s only the most dominant definition in the English-language community. And there is plenty of room for more ambiguous, vaguer definitions.
9 thoughts on “Permission”
This post is so perfect. ;)
“For all the progress we’ve made, this is absolutely NOT a thing of the past. I’ve read some articles taking down people saying things like this recently, although I read them on my iPad and now I can’t remember where they were from (if someone could supply links, I’ll happily add them in).”
Could you have been thinking of the Matty Silver discussion? Here’s one of those posts, although there are several more.
I think so! Thanks for that :)
Really nice post here. I’ve always thought that the extreme linear line of thought could be self-damning. So what if you have felt one way and start to feel another sexually (or anything for that matter)?! We change as we move through life and just because some aspects don’t vary for everyone doesn’t mean they shouldn’t for you. One “experiments” if they feel it’s right, or to better get to know themselves. It’s sad how much shaming and bullying goes on around the asexual-sexual cliff. Instead of being an opportunity to be on a sliding scale of sexual orientation many people are quick to shove someone into the “not asexual” or “immature” camp.
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