“If I am asexual and my partner is not, what do I do?”
It’s a complicated question. The allosexual may be worried that they will be denied something they value. The asexual may be anxious that they’ll be expected to do something they do not feel comfortable doing. Somewhere in there, a compromise has to made. One which is based in honesty and respect for each other’s point of view, regardless of whether their sexuality is widely shared or relatively rare. Yet so often the problem with Asexuality is that it is not respected, and that compromise is not asked, but expected.
When I say this, I’m not saying that the asexual has no responsibility to compromise. Most compromises are pretty reasonable, and you learn to make them early on. For example, there’s this thing called sex which you may have heard of. It comes up quite a lot. People always seem to want it, talk about wanting it or watch TV shows about people wanting it. We live in a world steeped in sexual culture and growing up I did not get it at all. But as time went on it wasn’t that hard to accept. For me it’s like football, people talk about it all the time and I really don’t feel the hype around it. But they seem to like it and I don’t feel any less complete because I don’t. Besides having an outsider’s perspective is really entertaining, especially with sex! It looks so silly! And it’s so unhygienic! On that level, I’m having just as much fun with it as anyone else and isn’t enjoying yourself the point of anyone’s sexuality? So, where’s the problem?
The problem is that outsider perspective. It works when there’s nothing at stake, but eventually you have to have to relate it back to your own life. This becomes difficult because Asexual people are often denied the linguistic tools necessary to construct their own identity. It wasn’t until I was thinking about University that I discovered Asexuality even existed. I had always assumed I was just incredibly strange, but it turns out asexuality has nothing to do with that; it is a trait supposedly shared by 1 in 100 people. I was shocked! Why hadn’t anyone told me!? But then who had I told? What would I have told them before I found this magical word? I got by making a deal with the world not to make a fuss about the way I was, but it had stopped me from ever really knowing myself. If I didn’t have that understanding, who would? How do you begin to argue what your rights are when you don’t know who you are?
It doesn’t help that Asexuality is so far outside the cultural norm. Bojack Horseman and Sex Education are the only two shows that I am aware of to actively use the word “asexual”, and both have only been released in the last few years. Both characters seem to primarily wrestle with the shock of what they are, both to themselves and the people around them. For all the good the representation does, it highlights just how jarring the concept of asexuality is to most people. For most, a lack of sexual desire is a sign of anxiety or trauma, and the legacy of this belief can be seen in the characters that the media has “cured” over the years.
I love Doctor Who but during the era when they tried to make a historically asexual character into a charming sex symbol, it didn’t seem to like me. I really liked House, but his reaction to someone like me was immediately to dismiss and cure them. I was so desperate for representation, I felt bad when Dexter got ‘cured’. Things were so dire I was clinging to a serial killer for representation. At best, this lack of engagement with the asexual community restricts our ability to discuss asexual people. At worst, it builds up microaggressions and reinforces invalidating beliefs. Questions like “You just haven’t met the right person” or “did something happen to you?” may be well meaning, but still places a burden on asexual people to justify our sexualities. If your sexuality is not respected, how can you expect your boundaries to be?
People assume that if you are physically capable of having the sex your partner wants, you shouldn’t withhold it from them. The burden is placed on the asexual because – as the argument goes - ‘surely you can live with having sex, but your partner can’t live without it’. Never mind that many asexuals, like myself, are repulsed by sex. Never mind that even those who are positively inclined towards it should not have their sexuality dictated to them by others. It’s impossible to have an honest discussion about responsibility and compromise without understanding the nuances of the individual. Without discussion of asexual people, how can anyone be expected to be aware of these nuances? Because without this awareness you find yourself asking a horrible question.
“Am I less valid because I am asexual?”
The answer is of course no. You are as valid as anyone in what you feel and in the boundaries you set. If you do not want to have sex, you owe it to nobody. As long as you are honest about who you are and where your boundaries lie, these should always be respected. Affirming this is one of the most powerful things the LGBT+ community does. But as powerful as that message can be, it sadly does not solve the problem.
I’ve spoken a lot about Asexuality since that is my perspective, but allosexuals deserve no less respect in this regard. They also have needs. It would be unreasonable to take a date to a restaurant and then insist they can’t eat the food, right? But is it any more reasonable for them to force you to eat something you don’t want? Am I not allowed to fall for these people without being willing to have sex to keep them, like some incredibly perverted toll booth for happiness? Can we only ever be platonic and not romantic? Is the only difference the physical stuff? I’d love to be able to answer that question in this article, but the truth is, I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if anyone does. So instead, I am going to cheat, and say that it does not matter.
People are complicated, so are relationships. The feelings you have towards anyone will be unique to you and them. Sometimes these feelings are similar to what we feel or have felt, for others. We call these people friends, but these are all different relationships in their own way. Romantic love feels different, I don’t know how. But I suppose finding it is half the journey of a relationship. You explore the feeling, find a balance between what you both feel and what is comfortable for you to express for each other, and you delight in what you find. You compromise.
Your date may really like that Pizza place, so maybe you are happy to eat there on occasion. They might be perfectly happy with their memories of it and decide they want to go with you to other restaurants. Maybe they can go with someone else sometimes and the two of you eat in the restaurants you both like. This kind of communication is not only rewarding, but also essential. But there is a cost. You have to be willing to accept that maybe, just maybe, the two of you are better off not going to restaurants together at all.
Communication means admitting difficult truths. Sometimes our boundaries are just different, they may even change with time. An asexual who started out sex averse may well become sex positive. The relationship may change to reflect that, as it would with one who starts out positive but turns out averse. It’s a fluid spectrum and the conversations continue as we discover more about ourselves. It’s easy to get lost, but just remember that as long as you can talk about it, you’ll find a comfortable place to be you.
My advice, (and this is the advice of a muppet) to anyone struggling with their sexuality is just to talk. Try and find the truth in who you are and what you feel for the people around you. Compromise is essential.
But the only one who can decide who you are and what you can offer, is you.
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