“If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation” - Haruki Murakami
Ahh, asexuality, arguably the most misunderstood, and oft-ignored, orientation on the spectrum. In my experience of coming out as ace (and I’ve come out to different people a few times now, always in circumstances where I was being pressed about what my love life was like) the reactions I’ve received run the gamut from accepting to dismissive, from curious to confused, to, I kid you not, downright disappointed. And in almost all of these cases I have been asked to explain or clarify what being asexual was like, what it meant or how it was even possible.
In all those cases, even the supportive ones, I have felt like I was on trial, defending the right to…not experience sexual attraction, by laying out all the definitions of asexuality I was aware of and thus building evidence that yes, this was a real thing and it existed, which got annoying after a while. Not to mention that it really, really ate away that this important little thing called self-esteem. Therefore, very early on in my ace adullthood, gingerly putting on that purple cake-shaped hat they give you at the dragon-guarded door and finding that it fit really well, I also realised: this one aspect of my existence had to be kept on the DL. Indefinitely.
(I’m kidding. Nobody gives you a hat and there isn’t a dragon. I mean, there’s a dragon, but only people on the asexual spectrum can see it.)
Looking back actually, not being vocal about my sexual identity was a lot easier than having to explain myself to people when I did come out. It’s just that there have been circumstances where it had to come up— every time I was asked if I had a boyfriend yet, if I had any weird dating/hookup stories to share etc. The older you get, the more emphasised your singleness becomes, because isn’t being in relationships and craving sex a natural part of adulthood, a rite of passage, a self-fulfilling prophecy? I believed that as a tween and always figured myself to be a late bloomer, so I didn’t rush it. I was thirteen and had never had a crush, much less a ‘type.’ I turned fifteen. Still nothing. Sixteen, then seventeen, then eighteen came and went; my box of ‘raging adolescent hormones’ must have gotten lost in the mail. Now I had a feeling there was really something different about me. Luckily I came of age in the social media era and had come across the word ‘asexual' before, in an article on Wordpress about representation for lesser-known ends of the spectrum.
When I looked up the term ‘asexuality,’ I learned something I had probably known all along. I found answers that fit like keys right into every gaping hole my questions had opened up. Lo, down descended the purple dragon and proffered me a hat, to wear if I so believed I identified within the asexual spectrum.
The approach is still a confusing process for me. I want to be proud of who I am, now that I know; but I don't want to sound like I'm making stuff up, or getting the definition wrong and leading to further confusion. If we don't talk about it, then people will never know, and they'll never understand the ace community; but if we do talk about it, we get called out. I'm aware of the names: 'snowflakes,' 'prudes', 'frigid,' and more. And if you so much as bring up the struggle of being misunderstood, you're drowned out: not queer enough, they say. Looking for drama, desperate to be special.
People will say what they want to say and believe what they want to believe, no matter how far removed it is from the truth. Much like climate change, asexuality doesn't stop being a thing just because people refuse to, or are incapable of, believing it. What matters is that we as a community make ourselves accessible to those who are just realising that they might be ace, because our identities aren't just attached to flags and labels; they're interweaved with common experiences and emotions. I like that ace communities get to march at Pride, and that we're getting a day and a week of the year for awareness of all the identities that fall under the umbrella. I like it not because it means that we now have something like a socially-accepted space in the LGBT+ community, but because with this visibility, we can reach more people who were in the same place I was not that long ago: a place where they might feel alone or different because they didn't have the words to describe how they felt...or didn't feel.
As someone who’s always found solace and joy in words, it heartened me to find out that there was a name for what I was and what I was experiencing. I got better at not sounding desperate for validation if I did have to explain asexuality, and I even got better at giving vague answers when pressed about my love life. Fact remains, however, that most people don’t believe in asexuality, and a big chunk of the greater LGBT+ community doesn’t either, which is why I’ve always been hesitant to use the word ‘queer' to identify myself. But I realised that the words I use to define myself shouldn’t have to always make sense to other people, or fit into their idea of what the word means or whether the word represents a real concept at all. Calling myself ‘asexual’ is not, and has never been, for anyone’s convenience or a means of shorthand for them to understand me better. Knowing the name for this thing is not for their sake, but for mine.
Since finding that I did fit into the asexual spectrum, that there was a whole glossary of terms related to my experience, made me feel validated and seen, because if there were words for it then they must have been applied by others who felt the same way, and if others felt the same way then it must be real. It meant the world to me that I finally had a means of identifying myself for myself, not for other people who might never understand. I know people don’t always like labels - they don’t work for everyone. But this time it worked for me. I grabbed my label once I knew it was the right one and stuffed it under my shirt, keeping it close to me, always there but never visible unless I chose to pull it out, and it gave me confidence and comfort.
I know what I am, and I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.
Check out some of our awesome Asexual t-shirt ranges here.