This is a submission to the June 2015 Carnival of Aces on Asexuality and Mental Health by a South Korean person who wishes to remain anonymous. It has been very lightly edited and formatted for easier reading. I would like to thank the writer very much for sharing! It is not often that the English-speaking ace community gets to hear a perspective like this.
Additionally, if anyone knows of any Korean-language resources or communities for ace-spectrum, aromantic, or genderqueer people, please let us know about them in the comments!
[note: depression, OCD, forced outing, erasure/invalidation]
Hello, nice to meet you all. This is the first time I ever joined any Ace-related events. It is truly blissful that I found this event. Please pardon me if I make any syntactic, semantic, or lexical error, and if I ramble too much. English is not my mother tongue. What I want to tell you is that there are people like me in South Korea. My opinion does not and will not represent the general consensus about every Ace, Aro, and genderqueer issue debated in South Korea, but it might shed some light on it.
Before I start answering the prompt given by the moderator, I would like to state that I have been suffering from mild OCD and chronic depression and that I am a questionary who feels very uncertain about orientations (sexual, romantic, and gender) even though I once thought I was an aromantic, asexual, genderless, and genderblind (and I still feel these labels are the closest things to describe who I might be). I am sure there are people living in the land of confusion, so I want to tell you all that you are not the only one who struggles. I felt really down when someone stated that Q stands for queer. It’s not. Anyway, let’s get to the business.
Asexuality and Mental Health
1) How has being on the ace spectrum impacted your mental health?
I cannot tell for sure, but I have been always confused about ‘who I am.’ Only two years ago did I read AVEN and thought I might be an aromantic asexual as well as genderless and genderblind. Before then, I had been at complete a loss as I constanly had to deal with a feeling that there is a huge gap between the general populace and me. Even after I found AVEN and other blogs, I was still confused. Everyone had different definitions of and opinions on what Ace and Aro should be, and I felt none of them fit me.
2) Have you felt unable to access treatment because of it? Or, was the quality of your treatment reduced?
Unfortunately, you should just give up on getting treatments if you are in a similar situation in South Korea because there is no treatment available and I assume it will take a long time to implement any feasible program or treatment. As much as I hate to say this, South Korea is a barren land in terms of LGBTQIA and non-binary gender rights. L and G (and perhaps B) might be discussed, but every other group is just… nonexistent. Most people in general just think A is a poor excuse for not being in relationships. I talked to a bit less than a hundred people offline and online for this matter. I know the sample is very small to make a solid evaluation, but I got too frustrated with the result and stopped, tearing and burning the questionary.
2-1) Have you experienced reparative therapy—done with the intent to “cure” or “fix” your asexuality?
People always tried to convince me sex and relationship are a must even before I was outed by seniors of the club.
2-2) Even if the treatment you received was not aimed at “fixing” your orientation, was it more difficult because you had to spend too much time educating your provider instead of focusing on things that would help you?
When the person outed me, he* (I assume he is a heterosexual, cis-gender male judging by his words) said I am broken and that there is no way Ace, Aro, genderless, and genderblind exist. I tried to explain to him and others about my orientations, they simply brushed it off. They gossiped about me, telling their friend that I am an attention w**re.
3) Are there any other kinds of desired traits in a therapist (for example, understanding of racial issues or religious discrimination) that you’ve felt you had to sacrifice in order to find one who is competent enough at treating asexual people to serve you well?
Only one thing good about living in South Korea is that no one gives a damn about your religion unless you meet fundamentalists or extremists (it is perfectly fine for being an atheist). As for the other issues, umm… quite a bit of South Koreans are xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynist. Sorry for being off from the tangent there, but… as I mentioned in #2, there is no one available. If there IS a therapist, I would sell my soul to that person. I strongly believe sexual people cannot understand or relate themselves to asexual (and vice versa), and that romantic people cannot understand aromantic people (again, vice versa). What I want to tell therapists is that they should not EVER say they can understand an Ace/Aro. Even Ace/Aro themselves debate what is to be an Ace/Aro. I am sure this should be applied in general… but people often don’t carry brains inside.
3-1) Or, is there another intersectional issue that is more important for you to find a therapist who can deal with that issue competently, that you would prioritize that instead of understanding of asexuality? Have you even decided not to bother coming out to your therapist about being ace?
I would never go to a therapist because people here treat a person with handicaps or mental illnesses as something lesser than a human. Even if I have an appointment with one because of chronic depression, I am not going to tell anything that would lead to my orientations. You cannot be honest with anyone when a slip of tongue can lose you a job and reputation. Besides, therapists in South Korea may handle mental illnesses and disorders, but they are incompetent at the issues of (sexual, romantic, and gender) orientations.
5) Are there any particular types of therapy that work better or worse for you? Or, are there any alternatives to therapy (like peer support groups) that you’ve used?
Sadly, there is no alternatives either. Ace/Aro people are marginalized. Few online communities I found only discussed LG (they seldom talked about B and/or T).
5-1) Are there any other things that act as barriers to treatment for you?
No, my orientations themselves are the biggest barriers. I have a trust issue, but that matters little.
6) What advice do you have for aces who are trying to find either a mental health care provider, or some kind of support group/system?
If you are living in South Korea, good luck pretending you are a cis hetero sexual. There is no way you can be yourself unless you are willing to sacrifice your job and relations. The best option is to immigrate to another country which is more open to Ace/Aro, but if you cannot, you should study English and try your best to communicate with other Ace/Aro online.
7) Are there any topics not necessarily directly related to asexuality, that you find uncomfortable partly because of your asexuality? (For example, having children, or discussions of sexual behavior.)
Well… gender identity, gender expression, gender role given to me, trends, subculture, media, parents’ expectation, body image, relations in general, marriage, giving birth to and nurturing children, discussions of any sex-related topics, prejudice against people who is out of the norm, and so on.
7-1) Have these ever been brought up by a mental health care provider?
I chose not to discuss it with anyone offline. I cannot, do not, and will not trust people (even my family) on this matter. If you live in South Korea, I advise you not to.
7-2) Can you think of any way they might be handled that would make you more comfortable, or would you prefer that people just not bring them up?
I prefer they just do not bring up the issues, but even if I ask them not to, they still would.
8) Are there any common assumptions made about a particular mental health issue that do not apply to you because of asexuality?
One of signs/symptoms of OCD is having unwanted sexual thoughts, but this is the one and only symptom I never had. I saw the seniors mockingly asking another student, who also suffered from OCD, whether this person has had sexual thoughts about them. This person had no such thought and well… later told me they are a gray-A. I assume this can be an assumption that does not apply to people on Ace spectrum.
8-1) Or have extra complications when you add in asexuality?
I am not so sure if this is really related to asexuality, but I cannot make any physical contacts and if someone makes one, I have to wash or disinfect my body as soon as possible. I had difficulties in talking about any personal stories offline, but now I fear going out and talking to people after I was outed.
9) Have you ever felt subjected to gatekeeping in the asexual community because of your mental health?
Because of depression and recent outing, I decided not to join any. I planned to join AVEN, but I am not sure what to do now. South Korea has no active community right now (I can be wrong).
9-1) Have you ever felt that you couldn’t “really” be asexual because of a mental health issue?
I feel really empty all the time. I feel nothing toward anyone except family. I cannot tell what ‘attraction’ is. I know the definition (I did my work here), but it does not sink in. I cannot tell difference between friendship and romantic relationship. To me, romantic relationship seems to be another form of friendship (Many say they are different, but I do not get the difference. Other than kissing and what not, I cannot tell the difference). I’ve searched, but everyone was so different that their stories barely helped me. I often feel I am not a ‘real’ Ace/Aro because I am not confident in whether I fit to the definitions. The worst thing is that the cycle of frustration and depression never left me alone.
9-2) What can we do to combat that sort of feeling in our communities?
I am not so sure… All I hope Ace/Aro communities have a room for someone like myself.
10) Have you ever found that your ability to participate in any kind of asexual community activity (for example, going to meet-ups, engaging with blogs or ace tumblr, participating in awareness events) is limited by your mental health?
Yes and no, I believe my gender orientations affected my sexual and romantic orientation as well as how I perceive the world. Except the time I am asleep, I feel everything is just wrong. That makes me depressed. Depression makes me uncertain about myself, leaving me in confusion and strong jealousy (I feel jealous of people who know ‘who’ they are and thus has a way to cope with this shitty world). It leads me to self-hate, followed by a severe mood swing. This makes me hesitate about joining communities.
10-1) What were the barriers you encountered, and can you think of any way to reduce them?
Everything. At the moment, I cannot. But I might be able to… in future.
11) What are some coping strategies you’ve developed?
I sleep when I have mood swings.
12) Who do you turn to for support?
No one. This place is hellish for an Ace/Aro. Well… I read online articles posted by Ace/Aro living at the opposite end of the earth.
12-1) Are there any ways they could more effectively support you? If they’re doing a good job, that’s excellent! What are some specific examples of things they’re doing right?
I cannot tell if I fit into the existing definitions of ‘groups’ to which majority of Ace/Aro people belongs. I know this might be too much to ask, but I wish there was an umbrella term for someone like me.
13) Are you a support person for someone else? Do you have any advice for others?
No one has asked me for help so far, and I am terrible at cheering someone up. However, I am all ears on what you tell me. I have no advice, but I hope this submission would be helpful.
14) When people tell you something like “you need therapy” or “get help!”—how do you respond?
Surprisingly enough, no one except the retired physician who diagnosed me knows I have OCD and depression.
14-1) Have you found any particular method that works well for getting people to stop telling you that?
Well, I smile a lot and appear as a carefree person. Perhaps, that is the reason why people did not notice my problems.
15) Have you ever called in to a hotline, warm line, text or chat support network, etc.?
I wish there was any. If so, I could have at least told that gray-A person to call in to those lines for further help. It is truly a shame that they quit the school. There is no service available for Ace/Aro in South Korea; only recently did people start to explore asexuality. The general populace think that Ace/Aro do not exist.
Articles submitted by other writers were marvelous. Mine would not match theirs (in terms of quality and quantity), but I wanted to share my story because no Korean posted anything here. I might be the first! XD