FYI: My own identification around (a)sexuality when I started this blog – which is outlined below – has shifted since. For a better sense of where I am now, if you’re curious, you can read this post.
Note: For basic information about asexuality, I recommend the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. To gain a better grasp on sex-positive asexuality (and how such a thing is possible), I recommend this post by Vittoria at Apositive.org. For more information about me, you can just keep reading…
The “tell me a little bit about yourself” question overwhelms me. I’ve stared down many a therapist (or many a therapist’s carpet, rather) being asked something that open-ended. Let me break it down a little, with a fake interview. (And if, in the course of this interview, you recongize that you know me IRL, please, I beg you, grab a hug and hit the road.)
I: So, what’s your name, at least?
V: For the purposes of this journalblog, it’s Venus. I’m usually more open about these things, especially considering that my (first) name is not at all unique to me, but given the rather personal nature of some of what I suspect I will write here, and the fact that I’m not entirely out yet, I’m inclined to not divulge too much too quickly.
I: What do you mean you’re not entirely out yet? Your subtitle is pretty blatant.
V: My subtitle is pretty blatant, but it’s not one I wear when I go walking about. The lesbian half of it I wear, certainly. I’ve been an “out” lesbian for roughly four years, and while I’m not exactly inclined to stand in the middle of my campus making out with some girl, “LESBIAN” might as well be written on my forehead in marker. I don’t mean that I fit stereotypes, so much. I was, somewhat shockingly, called a “femme” last semester by a friend of mine. But I would say I’m easy to identify as a lesbian, largely because I’m active in my school’s LGBT organization, and speak up in classes about my experiences as a lesbian. The asexual half, however, is not something I’m as open with; I pretend, in some ways, that I can extract it – (say, I can have a journal specifically about that) – from the rest of my life. I haven’t been able to integrate it yet, although I expect that I will in time, and I recognize that – if I’m honest – I’m *always* speaking as an asexual lesbian, I just let other people assume I’m speaking as a sexual one.
I: Why the closet?
V: It’s a bit of a surprise to me, honestly. Certainly, when I came out (as gay) at 19, I did not expect I would ever be *back* in one of those closets. I think the best answer I can give about why I’m not more open about it is to say that it’s simply very new to me. I mean, my experience of asexuality is not new, certainly; that stretches back at least as far as any sexual’s memory of their sexuality stretches… but my realization that “asexuality” might be the proper term is new. I do remember claiming I was asexual one time in high school, but it was a half-joking attempt on my part to explain what I didn’t really understand. Once I came out as gay, I figured I had found the explanation, and I had to some extent; I understood why I’d had to actively choose boys to crush on, in order to fit in with my friends in grade school and so forth; I understood why I was more likely to notice the kindnesses of female teachers than male ones. But I didn’t have an explanation for the fact that words like “adorable” “kind” and “cute” still described more what I appreciated in people than words like “hot” did. Or the fact that the term “horny” made my brow furrow. I did eventually teach myself to use the word “hot” because I figured that I had some sort of “shy” aversion to it – (oh, how we internalize the assumptions about asexality, be they “late-blooming,” “shy,” or “pathological”) – but lately I’ve quit forcing the issue. I think because I’m starting to understand my experience as asexuality, and I’m starting to accept that in a way I wasn’t able to when I first learned the term.
I: How *did* you first learn about it? And when you talk about your experience of it, what are you talking about?
V: I first learned about it in the “Do Not Want” article published in an issue of <i>Bitch</i> magazine, which was discussing the “movement” of the estimated 1% of people who identify as asexual, i.e. experience no sexual attraction. It focused on AVEN, as I recall, which is how I ended up looking into that site for the first time, but to be honest what I most remember (other than the hilarious illustration of a two people holding hands amid a plethora of fucking bunnies) was the sudden eye-widening, jaw-dropping sense of discovery. I felt like I suddenly knew what I was. It’s cliche to use the image of a mirror, but that still seems to fit. I felt like I could see myself for the first time, and I had this sudden awareness that I was not necessarily insane, wrong, or – by extension of those things – alone. But it did really scare me for a long time, similarly (I noted) to the way that being a lesbian scared me for awhile, in spite of my leftist politics and open-minded upbringing. I was afraid that I wasn’t really asexual, that there was still just “something wrong with me,” and I didn’t want to take what was – for other people – a perfectly legitimate term and use it to (mis) identify myself. I didn’t want to use asexuality as an excuse to accept what I had suspected for a long time was simply prudishness or a phobia of sex. I still don’t. I just trust more and more that this is not the case. It’s true that I’m prone to anxiety about things; I have an anxiety disorder, and that’s played a huge part in my life. It’s true that I am, to some extent, terrified of the notion of sex. But as I unpack that terror, at this point, I’m starting to recognize that the fear I still have (i.e. the fear that hasn’t disipated, as I’ve educated myself more about sex, which I’ve done more and more of; I have a minor in gender studies, and discussions of gender often stretch into discussions of sex and sexuality) can be divided mainly into two categories. There’s the fear of the unknown; things I have no experience with tend to terrify me. And there’s the fear of being forced into something I simply “do not want,” as the article put it. That’s the more complicated fear because it’s (still) difficult for me to trust that it’s not pathology, but let me put it this way: It’s only in terms of other people that I am able to distinguish between consensual sex and rape. Obviously I understand that there’s a difference, and I recognize the importance of that difference, but in terms of myself, I literally cannot conceive of consensual sex. It’s not that I can’t conceive of having it, I can’t conceive of *wanting* to have it, and so – given that we live in a culture that teaches girls and women not to walk alone at night, not to dress provocatively for fear of asking for it, etc – my concept of having sex (myself) blurs into my concept of being raped. This horrifies most of the sexual people I know. (I haven’t run it by many asexuals.) I understand, to some extent, why it’s horrifying. To begin with, it concerns friends of mine who assume that if I live in fear of being raped, I must have been raped (I’m one of the lucky 2 in 3 who haven’t, actually) or that I must not believe that their own sexual experiences are consensual, pleasurable, and healthy. That’s not the case, either, thankfully. I’m actually rather sex-positive, for a prude. I think it’s perfectly healthy for sexual people to have sex; I’d just rather not have it myself. So, for the moment at least, I am trying out the term “asexual” in application to myself. I use it quietly, and only with friends I expect to take it well. I worry about the legitimacy of my lesbianism (in other people’s eyes), and how it would be affected if they knew we were not, technically, discussing my sexual orientation. Would those who don’t understand decide I, by default, am straight after all? Would they deem it pathology, the way I still struggle not to do? It freaks me out, honestly. Freaked out people live in closets, and people who live in closets remain freaked out. The cycle of the silence, sadly. I will break it eventually. I did before.
That’s enough of an interview. Let’s get this show on the road.