Sunday 15 November 2015

My Asexual Story

I recently heard some critique about how ”a blogger should have a face” so prepare to watch mine during this post. The pictures were taken by a friend, three years ago I think, but I chose to decorate the post with these because it's rare for me to look as energetic as in most of them. At least I think that lively pictures are more interesting to look at, and besides, only my hair lenght has changed since these were taken.

All of the photos are from my parents' yard. :)

The Asexual Awareness Week was already some weeks ago and I didn't do anything for it. I almost forgot the whole thing, which makes me feel kind of bad. So I thought I could do something more... personal, than what I usually do and share my ”asexual story” here now, because I've actually shared it with very few people, even though none of it is a secret. And asexuals can always do with more representation, even if it's this small. Nobody talks about us in sex ed. class so we still have to be lucky to even come accross the concept.

I will not explain what asexuality is here, so if you don't know, go pick up the terms here: AVEN - The Asexual Visibility and Education Network

I actually got inspired by two things: I finally got around reading Julie Decker's book The Invisible Orientation, which is exactly the kind of book we needed about asexuality. It would probably benefit many people on this corner of the globe too, if it was translated into Finnish *wink wink publishers*. Anyway, reading it certainly made me reminiscene quite a bit and awoke many ”if only I had know about this when” -feelings again. I really, really wish that asexuals of the next generations didn't have to grow up as invisible as we have to this day. Partly because I received the book at a good time, I was also inspired to choose an asexuality related topic for a presentation I have to give at school. That's the other thing that inspired me to write this post, because I had to do some research on the topic I hadn't really done before and I actually learned some new things myself.

So, all of that kind of reminded me again, how even the smallest outreach can have a meaning and the time and place when you first encounter a word that redefines your whole life, might be around the oddest and most incidental corner. It certainly was for me. And I was already 18 years old when it happened.

I suppose the first time I felt something was off, or that I wasn't part of something my classmates seemed to get intuitively, was when fifth or sixth grade biology classes gave everyone some kind of social approval to talk about this tabu that sex was to most untill that age. I still remember well how everyone, as far as I noticed, had this gleam in their eyes and excited blush on their cheeks when they finally had the freedom to talk about it.

I didn't feel I was fully able to get it but I tried my best to relate. Apparently, I didn't do too well. When my part in the conversation was approximately ”Do you think arousal is something that happens in your mouth?” and ”I wonder how on earth someone came up with sex in the first place?” everyone just stared at me like they couldn't decide whether I was mental or joking. I was left feeling very confused and it took some time to realize others didn't have to ask that kind of questions. They could relate anyway. I, on the other hand couldn't comprehend why someone would want to have sex if not for having children. Before those biology classes toward the end of elementary school I had no idea it was something people had a specific drive for.

Some asexuals do have sex drives but I still think this is an important thing to note. It is already taken for granted in elementary school that everyone intuitively knows what it is, what it feels like and where it directs you. It is an instinct, and that's why nobody really explains it. But even asexuals who have sex drives, may not be able to instinctively relate it to sex because it doesn't pull them towards any person. It is important that this is recognized as normal, it's important that schools will teach kids that there's nothing wrong with them if they don't relate. Especially because there's such a good chance that they're the only one in their class who doesn't.

At this point it's also relevant to mention I'm aromantic (=not feeling romantic attraction), because in my case it makes little sense to try to distinguish that experience completely from asexuality, although I always had a more intuitive understanding for romance, because I was always empathetic and romance was something everyone talked about since they were very young, unlike sex. I liked romance in fiction as much as any other kinds of relationships, so I actually bought into having crushes for quite a long time... sort of. I had a hunch that I didn't feel what others felt in that area. But I mostly tried to ignore it and relate my feelings to the boxes that were available.

In elementary school I got a reputation as ”the romance therapist who'd never had a crush” among my friends. It was justified. I always seemed to become the natural consultant for most of my friends and I know I usually gave good advice and analyzed people's feelings well. And it didn't make any difference whether those feelings were romantic or not. But at some point it always started to bug people. How was I able to give good advice if I didn't have anyone I liked? Because I evidently did understand romance, that was never called into question. Instead people figured I must be lying about not liking anyone for some reason like being childish or deliberately wanting to be stubborn. That time some of my friends came up with calling the people who didn't have a crush at the moment ”a skull” and the ones who did they called ”a heart”. I was sometimes referred to as ”perpetually a skull” and it was constantly implied that it wasn't ok. At some point the pressure became too much and so I started consciously choosing crushes for myself. Basically I just picked a boy I thought was kind and whom none of my friends liked at the moment.

Sometimes I did have ”squishes” (=”aromantic crush” basically an intense wish to get to know someone better but no desire to have a romantic relationship with them. More like a facination with one's personality). Which I of course tried to interpret as what my friends experienced when they had a crush on someone. This was rare, I can still probably count my squishes on one hand but when I had one in elementary school I tried my hardest to keep that feeling alive. It made me feel closer to all my friends. But eventually (already in middle school) I had to admit that it was different. When I was pushed to confess my feelings I had to admit to myself that I didn't refrain from it because I was shy. (Well, I was shy so I kind of tried that excuse too but...). The truth was that I had no desire to date the person, or kiss, or do anything remotely ”romantic” with them or even have that person in any way exclusively ”mine”. The only things I would've wanted to do with that person were the things I liked to do with basically any friend. I was not jealous when that person had a girlfriend, and when it turned out they had sent me a Valentine's Day card signed ”secret admirer”, I was sad.

It was in middle school when I first started to explain my experience to myself, and on occasion to others. I remember using the phrase ”My love just isn't physical”. At which my peers obviously rolled their eyes and figured I was just really immature. They used every opportunity to emphasize how sex made a relationship serious and real. That if I didn't want to kiss someone, I obviously didn't really love them. Or how my feelings for anyone could not even be taken seriously if they didn't involve that kind of physical intimacy.

It was also in middle school when the thought really struck me that I could never date anyone or get married. That was an inevitable conclusion for me then, because at that time I had finally fully internalized the message I'd seen implied eveywhere my whole life: that in a relationship, romance and sex were a given, those things were expected of me and if I couldn't do that, I could not really be loved, my feelings for anyone could never be as important as those of a romantic/sexual partner, and the general population would always figure there was something wrong with me. And I realized that to me, romance and sex were deal breakers.

I did not arrive to this conclusion hastily, like everyone seemed to think. If I ever tried to suggest something along those lines, I only got laughed at or pitied for my ”narrow-mindedness”. Everyone clearly thought I just woke up one day feeling like I needed to make a point of declaring sex "unimportant", or that I was scared of relationships, or that I was gay and couldn't admit it to myself. None of this was true, of course. I had tried to see people in a sexual way most of the time everyone else had been open about the fact that they did. It just never worked, no matter how much I tried. Just picturing closeness with someone leading to even kissing, only arose one feeling in me: NOPE.

Bear with my amateur ballet...

And it was not because I was touch averse. Not in the least. Being a dancer, it was everyday for me to be touched by both guys and girls, sometimes in a manner you wouldn't casually touch your friends. I just never thought anything of it, it always felt neutral so I wasn't even conscious about whether it felt like something or not. At some point I had to realize that for some people, dancing had some kind of romantic/sexual innuendo. (That was probably very slow of me, since I was into folk dance and the coreographies are often explicitly about courting, but... apparently I just took fiction as fiction and dancing as dancing.)

Anyhow, the truth was that I could not think of having sex with a significant other any more than I could think of having sex with a sibling. And for me, having a romantic relationship with a person was just as ridiculous as having a romantic relationship with my cat.

This is another significant issue I think the world needs to realize at large. Asexuals are not all indifferent to sex and that should be respected. If a straight person doesn't want to have sex with a member of their own sex, it's taken for granted that of course they wouldn't do that, it wouldn't make any sense for them to even try. But asexuals are still told to just ”get over it” and do it anyway and people act like it's only the asexual person's responsibility to compromise if they're in a relationship.

Some people still tell me the famous ”You can't know if you haven't tried”. But it is ridiculous. Nobody else had to try sex to know they wanted it in the first place. They tried it because they wanted it. When somebody says something like this, it is usually clear that they just can't comprehend that ”not feeling sexual attraction” actually means not feeling that pull towards anyone at all. Straight people didn't have to try sex with the opposite gender before they knew they were straight. And nobody told them to try sex with the same gender to prove they weren't secretly gay. Of course some people are okay with having sex with someone they're not attracted to, but some are not, and most people don't treat them like they should be. Asexuals should not be held to different standards. We can know our orientation just as instictively as anyone else.

Most of high school I actually lived in relative peace with the notion that dating was not for me. Because I had never felt it would enrich my life anyway, having a conclusion about it made me feel kind of free. The reason I needed the conclusion in the first place, was just because I was expected to date at some point. Changing school also took the peer pressure off for some time. One reason was just that I was naturally so low profile kind of person that in a new environment it took a lot of time for people to take that much note of what I was or wasn't doing. Another reason was that most people had sort of calmed down in the sense that they didn't have a need to talk about sex to as great extend as before. And one more reason was that even after new friends start asking about your love life ”I don't have anyone right now” often works for some time before it inspires more questions.

But the peace didn't last long anyway, because I was finally past the age my family considered too young for dating. They started to become worried about me, because I never "spoke about guys". Somehow, I suddenly seemed to be too old for not having had a boyfriend yet. I understand they were worried that I was socially insecure and that was why I didn't show interest in guys. Toward the end of high school my mother began to ask me constantly if there was anyone I liked, and she wouldn't take no for an answer. She wished she could have paired me up with some guys and even suggested she would find me a date online. At one point, my whole family seemed to think me and a friend of mine were gay. For other one of my siblings it took a long time to accept I wasn't lying when I said that it wasn't the case.

I tolerated the worry and suspicion for a long time, because I didn't have anything to back up my feelings other than my own word. I didn't have a clear concept to explain. I just figured I was in a state of not liking anyone and that I must be straight by default anyway. I was actually lucky enough to know another asexual through high school but at the time neither of us knew there was a term that fit us. We just sometimes bonded with statements like ”Not everyone needs to date” or ”You know what's great in bed? Books!”

But at some point I got tired of hearing how abnormal it was I hadn't dated anyone and how worried my mother was about my self-esteem. ”But you are beautiful and intelligent, so why would you not date?” I know that can be seen as an ignorant argument in itself but in my mother's case, she just honestly thought I didn't think enough of myself to approach a guy. All of that worry eventually made me want to explain myself better, so I suggested that there was a possibility that I would never want that kind of relationship. Of course I knew that it wasn't generally an accepted statement, that's why I hadn't been able to say it before. But it still hit me hard when I got just laughter. I was told I wasn't old enough to even speak about ”relationships” and that I couldn't possibly know because I had never even dated anyone.

I knew the only place these words were coming from was worry. My parents just wanted me to be happy and healthy, and those concepts just included having a partner, for them. It still hit me hard for a moment because I trusted my parents so much. I still do, I just mean that at the time their reaction made me feel powerless. If I couldn't explain it to even them, how could I explain myself to someone else? That thought started to haunt me, but luckily it was only a few months later when I finally came accross the word asexual.

I was suffering from a big bad case of writer's block. I hadn't been able to write anything worth much the whole summer, so I started doing something I almost never do: filling character questionnaires. One of them asked the character's number on Kinsey Scale (basically it has numbers from 0 to 6 to determine how gay, straight or bi you are.). I had no idea what it was so I looked it up and found a test. I didn't have anyone asexual among the characters I was writing about but I couldn't help but see if the test would be able to sort me. I was really surprised to find out the questions were actually applicable to me. So, instead of 0-6, I was sorted into category X: ”Non-sexual”. And somewhere beneath the test results was a link to an article about asexuality.

Upon seeing the word for the first time I instantly thought: ”That's me!! There is a word for me!”. And suddenly there was a whole community that had stayed hidden from me my whole life, even though it was founded when I was two years old.

So, how did my life change after discovering there was a sexual orientation where I could fit? On the surface, probably not much except that I started wearing a black ace ring in the hopes of accidentally running into another ace who might recognize it. And that when someone asked if I was dating, why I wasn't, had I ever dated, and why not, I didn't have to shrug my shoulders anymore. It wasn't really terrifying or anything for me to come out as asexual, because I hadn't really lived in the closet for a long time; I had tried to explain my feelings before. You get very similar crap when you say ”I'm not interested in dating” and when you say ”I'm aromantic asexual”.

But the asexual community still changed everything for me. I finally got confirmation that it was okay to feel the way I did. I could finally really feel without a doubt that I was ”normal”. I didn't feel scared of talking about my feelings to people anymore, because I had sources for educating them. I no longer fell into silence when someone questioned my experience because I could point to a whole community of people who had similar ones. I no longer felt alienated. I no longer had to fear I would be forced into therapy, because I didn't have any doubts about my own judgement anymore. I stopped feeling any obligation to form relationships in the way most people did, just so I could belong. For the first time, I truly felt free to live my life the way I wanted to live it.

Of course, this realization also made me understand that it wasn't foolish to think relationships didn't have to be so strictly defined. That there was an infinite gray area between the usual concepts of ”friends” and ”lovers”. That I could be open to any kind of relationship, because I was able to internalize that my feelings mattered as much as anyone elses. That I would never be obligated to do anything just because I was the one ”lacking” some feelings, or to ”prove” that I loved someone. That my ways of showing love were just as valid as anyone elses. And if someone didn't feel that way, then it would only mean that we were not compatible, it would never mean that I had to change or compromise by default. If I wanted to, cool. If I didn't, also cool.

I feel that I've developed a huge amount of strenght because of these notions.

Being a part of a minority is, of course, still not always easy. The suspicion and exclusion are there everyday. People's reactions haven't changed, just my own viewpoint, because I don't have to feel alone anymore. That being said, I do consider myself priviledged. I've never come even close to being a victim of extreme cases of acephobia, like ”corrective rape”.

I still get treated as a ”stubborn, naive child”. Most people apparently still think I will wake up someday with an overwhelming desire to bang. I get all the same bingo card crap other aces get: ”You just haven't found the right person.” ”Once you fall in love, you'll fall hard.” ”You only feel that way, because you didn't have ME in your bed.” ”Should you get your hormones checked?” ”Why are you so scared of love?” ”But procreation is the meaning of life!”

Grand jeté over the strawberry bed: Epic Fail.

My friends still often think I should be flattered when someone wants to date me, even when it's hardly for more than my looks, or they say I should try it anyway, because you never know. What they usually fail to understand is that I haven't canceled out the possibility of dating someone or having some kind of primary relationship. It just doesn't make any sense for me to date someone who wants to date me, period. I have to know they want to be my friend first. That's because I have no idea how much I could actually compromise when it comes to romance and sex if the other person wanted those. I am not indifferent to those things, they would mean a huge sacrifice from my part. So I really don't think I could do any of that unless the person was already inside my closest circle of friends. This shouldn't be so hard to understand. If you loved horror movies, you'd probably enjoy watching them with a fellow enthusiast, even if you hardly knew them. But if horror movies were a pain for you, if they made you throw up, or have nightmares about them for months, it would probably be only for the sake of your closest friends that you'd decide to endure one. It's really nothing more mystical than that.

I've been lucky to have pleasant experiences too; ones that have made me want to throw an ally-badge right in the hands of some people. Like when I told my dad that asexuality was a thing, and he accepted it right away. He actually sounded proud when he said: ”Well, I've got a pretty good scale! You're an asexual, your siblings are a bisexual, and um... a readneck”. Or when I run into someone online who wanted to have cyber sex with me but after I told him I was asexual, he got so interested in the concept that he stayed and actually asked me respectful questions for almost two hours instead of going to look for that cyber sex. Or when a friend of mine explained to her friend, who was hitting on me and not taking me very seriously, that I wasn't into dating. I had not asked her to do that, and she had only heard of asexuality a while ago when I explained it, so it was touching that she took it seriously so fast and was able to explain me to someone else, like it was the most normal thing. Or when my awesome roommate was inspired to make a presentation at school about how romantic and sexual orientations are distinct and don't go hand in hand for everyone.

I am also lucky to have a close friend who is asexual. It's not statistically very likely to know other aces in your immediate circles. It is very comforting to have someone you can always talk to, someone you know will always understand, someone who you can rant with as much as you feel like. And sometimes just being able to make an inside joke about cake or amoebas can save a crappy day.

I would like to note that I consider my experience of growing up as asexual without knowing that it was an option, to be a relatively smooth one. I think it is largely because of my personality: I'm usually so attuned into other people's feelings I don't spend a lot of time thinking of my own, and I may not be super aware of them on the spot, and that's why I never had a serious "identity crisis". Even though I felt the pressure around me, I was not usually so aware of my own identity that I would've really felt I was different from others.

Although I was not dense enough to not notice at some point that I didn't experience all the same feelings others did, I also didn't trust my own perception of my feelings enough to always believe that I wasn't. Sometimes even I took the fact that I could tune into other people's feelings so instinctively, as a sure sign that I must be experiencing these feelings for myself too; I was just not self-aware enough to notice. But evetually it no longer makes sense to claim this when your other feelings are something you always become aware of at some point. It had always taken me some time to separate my own being from others, so after I had a hunch that I was missing something they had, it still took me a long time to see that it truly wasn't there, I was just always picking it up around me. After I deliberately payed more attention to my feelings and focused on finding the romantic/sexual ones in different situations, I had to admit they just weren't in me, not for anyone, not ever.

So, the fact that I was generally more perceptive of others than myself probably did both: slowed down the understanding of my own orientation and saved me from possible depression. It was only right before I found out about asexuality that I had started to feel the impact of being different truly separated me from others. So I had real luck with the timing too.

Most asexuals don't seem to be as fortunate as me in this respect. If asexuality was more well known, it would probably save a lot of people from being pressured into a lot of things they only do because they think it's their responsibility, because otherwise they don't think they can belong, because admiting that you're different causes so much self-hatered, because they fear that there's something fundamentally wrong with them. Awereness can save people's relationships, it can save their self-esteem, it can literally save their lives.

If you've read this far, I thank you. I wish we can spread awareness, share our feelings with people who are similar and people who are different, accept the diversity of identities and life styles, understand people from their own perspectives and welcome people we don't understand as an opportunity to learn. Even the smallest effort can mean the world to someone.

Thank you.

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