There are not more gay people in our generation. There are more openly gay people in our generation. And goddamit, that’s SO important. Representation drives acceptance, and this is exactly what this article is about. I’m representing.
I’ve been technically ‘out’ for several years now. I mean, I never sat down with my parents and did the whole ‘mum, dad, I’m gay’ thing. At least, not on purpose. See, I dropped the bomb on my mum by accident about six months ago thinking she already knew. It was kind of hilarious, actually, but it highlighted something for me that I’ve known for a while.
I pass. I had a boyfriend for nearly two years, I’m cis, and unless explicitly told otherwise (which I’ve started doing) people assume I’m straight, an ally, or just don’t even consider it. It’s just not obvious that I’m LGBTQ+.
So, that needs to change. Why? Because I’m ace, and asexuality goes hand and hand with invisibility. I’ve actually been playing into that for a while, because coming out properly is kind of terrifying, and it’s much easier to do it in stages than all at once.
Out is hard, for asexuals. The first time I came out I don’t think anyone actually noticed. Unless we state otherwise, it’s impossible to tell that somebody is ace just by looking at their relationship history. If I’d forgotten to come out to my mum, she’d have at least figured part of it out if I ever brought a girlfriend or partner home. But ace? You can’t see it.
For those not in the know, asexuality is characterised as a lack of sexual attraction. As someone I once tried to explain the concept to at school once said to me; “you don’t just sometimes look at someone and go ‘holy shit, I want to climb that like a tree’?”
Um, no. I really don’t (but thanks for making me laugh).
A lot of people, at this point, have questions. Which is understandable. For people outside the community, it can be a completely new concept. I’ve encountered that several times, and I was there once too. So, just for now, I’m going to assume that you know about as much as I did when I was fifteen. I.e. nothing.
The first thing you should know about asking someone about their sexuality: DON’T IMMEDIATELY ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR SEX LIFE. I’m 100% up for being asked questions, and for people wanting to learn about the subject, but for heaven’s sake, have a little consideration.
How would you like it if a random stranger came up to you and asked you how often you have sex? It’s more than a little bit rude, right? Well, just because I’m ace doesn’t mean that you suddenly have a right to ask whether I, personally, have a lot of sex. I’m not going to answer because it’s private information.
But I can help explain the concept a little more. Asexuality exists on a spectrum. For some people, it means a lack of sexual interest. Please note: This isn’t celibacy, because that’s having chosen to abstain. Asexuality is not a choice, in much the same way that being gay is not a choice. Some people just aren’t interested, and that’s totally cool. Some people are interested, and have sexual relationships with romantic partners for various reasons; they like it, their partner(s) like it, they want children, whatever. They’re all valid, and they’re all asexual.
You see, sexual attraction is a different spectrum to romantic attraction. And heaven knows I wish somebody had told me that a lot sooner. I am perfectly capable of, and in fact have, fallen in love. Technically, I identify as a panromantic asexual (though I often use queer because it’s easier to say), because I find that gender doesn’t really affect my romantic attraction. If I wasn’t romantically attracted to people, then that would make me aromantic. And guess what? Yep, that’s a real thing too!
To be honest, this is less about what I identify as and more about how I got there. For years and years and years I just assumed that either everybody else was being VERY enthusiastic about their crushes, or, increasingly as I got older and the world around me got more sexualised, that something was a little bit wrong with me. There comes a point where being a ‘late developer’ doesn’t conceivably apply anymore. That’s… not a great feeling.
There’s a lot of homosexual representation in the media now, thankfully, which is great! I was exposed to it from a very young age and I’m very glad it was there. But I didn’t discover the definition of asexuality until I was sixteen (thank you, tumblr) and only then did everything fall into place.
I don’t think I can fully explain what that moment was like.
It’s really hard to be an asexual person in such a sexualised world. Music, for example. I’ve just gotten into the habit of not listening to the lyrics, most of the time. Adverts are the worst. I can just be sitting on the bus and there’s some woman eating a yoghurt off the spoon with this weird look on her face. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure it out. Thought process; wow, they need a new photoshopper, she looks kind of constipated. And what’s she doing with her tongue? You don’t eat yoghurt like th… oh. OH. Jesus, this is a public bus. *puts bag in front of yoghurt advert*.
There you go. That’s a little snapshot into what it’s like being ace. The thing is, I’m obviously SUPPOSED to think that the woman eating this yoghurt is sexy as all hell, and therefore I want to buy the yoghurt because I want to be sexy as all hell too and have everyone be wildly and madly attracted to me all the time because I eat yoghurt. The thing is, I’m not. Although I do like yoghurt, the best way to sell it to me is probably with the promise of more free yoghurt afterwards. Which, when everyone else around you (especially as a teenager) is being horny and playing ‘f*ck marry kill’ in the lunchroom, is more than a little disconcerting.
So, when I came across this word and it’s meaning, the first thought that actually went through my head was;
“Oh. I’m not broken.”
I WAS SIXTEEN. No 16 year-old should ever think that they’re broken! NOBODY should ever think that.
Yes, asexuality is a thing. No, I’m not broken. About 1% of the world’s population is thought to be asexual. That means that there’s somewhere around 72-75 MILLION asexual people on the planet. Yeah, really.
Scientists have even done studies on us, and no, it’s not a disorder. It’s a genuine sexuality. They’re not entirely sure why we exist yet (there are some really interesting theories about our evolutional role as caregivers for orphaned children, for example, if anyone fancies doing some research there) but they are absolutely sure on one thing; we do exist. We are here.
Statistically, I am one of three in my secondary school year group, one of thirty at my home university, and one of six hundred at my study abroad uni. I’ve not met 600 asexual people, but my gaydar must be somewhat functional because I’ve definitely met more than ten.
Okay, so now we’ve got the ‘yes I EXIST’ bit out of the way, I’d like to address a few things that people have said about the validity of my identity over the years.
- “Are you sure it’s not just a phase?”
Okay, you know what we said about not saying homophobic things to asexual people? Yeah, that. If you couldn’t say it to a lesbian or a gay man, don’t say it to me. It’s just as hurtful. Yes, people do have fluid sexualities, and I’m not ruling out that the way I identify myself might change in future years. Right now, however, all this sentence is doing is saying; ‘hey, I think I know better than you about your own sexuality just because it’s not the same as mine and therefore because I don’t subjectively understand it, it can’t be real’. Yeah, look, I don’t subjectively understand how you could possibly be sexually attracted to people either (obviously, objectively, I know it’s a thing, but I can’t imagine myself doing it, because I don’t know what it feels like). You’re just as weird to me as I am to you. Am I telling you it’s a phase? No I’m bloody not.
- “You’ll find the right guy someday.”
Yep, this is even more acephobic than the first one. There is nothing wrong with me that meeting the ‘right guy’ (or person) would magically ‘fix’. There is nothing to fix. The ‘right’ person, if you buy into that stuff, will accept me the way I am. That’s how I’d know they were the ‘right one’ (or at least in the running).
- “Are you sure it’s not a result of…”
Oh my actual God. Yes, some asexual people are trauma victims. Some aren’t. Whichever you are, you are valid. You can’t ‘turn people gay’; we’re born that way. It might even be genetic (boom, science. Thank you for catching up to sexuality because I find this research stuff fascinating).
- “But do you want kids?”
I actually fail to see how this relates. Like, at all. Again, some asexual people have sex, some don’t. Some have children, biologically, with medical help, or through adoption or fostering. Some don’t. It’s very much a personal choice that has little to do with sexuality, or in fact, anything but whether you want children or not. HOW you go about it is entirely up to you.
- “Wait, so do you date or not?”
Yes; asexuals date, get married, get divorced, are polygamous, are sex workers, stay single and generally do whatever they like. Yes, it can be a little more complicated to date as an asexual, but really, like with any new relationship, it’s just about figuring out your boundaries. Some sexual people (whether they’re homosexual, bisexual, pansexual or anything else) have sexual relationships with asexuals. Some have non-sexual relationships with asexuals. Guess who gets to decide? Yep, the people in the relationship. Again, it’s an intensely personal thing and it varies from person to person.
- “Why do you need to label yourself? Why can’t you just be happy the way you are?”
Yeah, this one is from the crisis stage where I was all like ‘HOW CAN I BE GAY AND ASEXUAL’ before I discovered the romantic/sexual attraction divide. Well, because knowing what I am helps me to know what I want. Going into a relationship, for example, without knowing where you stand and what you really want from it, is going to be messy. Some people can just work it out with their partners, and that’s fine. But to me, knowing who I was after so long being confused was massively important. Identifying as asexual meant that I was definitively able to say that there really wasn’t anything wrong with me, which got me through all the times when I didn’t quite believe it still. I was able to say that I was part of a group, and that group have helped support me since. It meant that I knew who I was, and yes, I need a label for that. Some people don’t, and that’s fine too, but please. Don’t try and take my identity away from me, because it’s such an important part of who I am, and I hope, who I’m going to be.
There is definitely a stereotype for asexual people, and I’m afraid I don’t fit it. The ‘mad old cat lady’ thing doesn’t really apply to a teenager who still lives in student accommodation with a ‘NO PETS’ rule. I’m a pole dancer, for heaven’s sake. Asexuals can embrace sexuality and continue to be asexual in the same way that feminists can embrace masculinity and still be feminists. Whether some people are more naturally comfortable being sexual or non-sexual, or masculine or feminine, doesn’t really have much to do with sexuality or gender a lot of the time.
For a few years, I got very frustrated at the idea of ‘coming out’. “We shouldn’t have to! We should just be accepted as we are!” Well, I’ve changed my mind. I think I need to come out. Properly. Because otherwise in two or three generations time, somebody like me is going to spend years of their life thinking that something is wrong, or that they’re broken and invalid, and they don’t need to. They shouldn’t have to!
So, that’s why I’m out. I’m out because people like me need to know that there ARE people like me, and people that aren’t need to know it’s a thing so that they can help people who are. I’m out because I’m not uncomfortable with who I am, and I’m not trying to hide it. We exist, we’re valid, and we’re pretty ace.