7

28

Canada

November 2014

Trigger Warnings: probably none

I’m not sure how well my story fits here, because I am really, incredibly lucky in a lot of ways. I have never been sexually abused. I am white. I am cisgender. I am more or less middle class, with two university degrees and a non-crippling amount of personal debt. The issues I have with anxiety and depression do not interfere with my daily functions. I live in Canada. I have been in a stable, loving relationship with the same person (of the opposite gender) for 13 years. I can pass as “normal” very easily. I have a lot to be thankful for.

But here I am, at age 28, discovering that I might be asexual.

Asexuality (or greysexuality) had never really occurred to me as a possibility, mostly because it was never mentioned when I was growing up. But the more I read about it, the more I identify with the terms.  I don’t think I have ever really experienced sexual attraction – I’ve certainly looked at a number of girls and boys and thought “Wow, that is a stunningly attractive individual”, but never “and I’d like to hop into bed with them”.  I’d always identified myself as bisexual on surveys, since I am equally capable of finding people of any gender attractive, but that attraction never really extends past “I would like to look at you for a while”. My current partner is the only person I’ve ever had a relationship with, and I would have been happy to keep it at a friendship level if he hadn’t wanted to escalate things. I followed his lead almost completely as far as sexual relations go, although I did initiate our first experience with oral sex because I’d overheard someone commenting on a different relationship that not having done it was weird.

I do engage in regular sexual activity, which is another part of the reason I’d never considered asexuality as a label that fit me. It’s an important part of the relationship, making sure that my partner feels desired and loved. He is a wonderful person and I like to make him happy, and sex is one tool to achieve that end. I would be perfectly happy to go the rest of my life without doing anything sexual, but that would cause a lot of tension in my relationship, so I keep doing sexual things. It’s a compromise I’m willing to make. My partner would be horrified if he found out that sex with him was about on par with doing laundry – I don’t mind doing it, and sometimes I even enjoy it, but it falls into the “maintenance” category and not the “recreation” category.

Another way in which I’m lucky is that I don’t mind being “in the closet”. I love my partner, and although I’d prefer not to have sexual relations most of the time, I don’t mind doing it for mutual benefit – when he’s happy, it’s easier for me to be happy too. I’m quite certain that he would react badly to my revelation, so I don’t mind keeping it to myself… well, between myself and you, anonymous internet people. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone in my experience.

6

21

Ontario, Canada

November 2014

Trigger Warnings: mentions homophobia, self-mutilation

My story isn’t so strange.  It’s not dramatic, amazing, astounding.  Nothing spectacular has ever happened to me, if you really want to know.  I don’t see myself as a victim of anything, to be honest.  My life has not been filled with the same sadness that others have known.  I create my own chaos, and if that confusesyou, if you’re wondering if I live in a bubble or if I’m simply mad, let me tell you how it happens.

Let me start at the beginning – at least, as much in the beginning as you can get with a story like mine.  See, I never cared very much what other people thought of me.  I was the shy girl, the quiet one, but nobody ever really bothered me.  I just didn’t want anything to do with them.  I also didn’t want to do anything with them.  In junior high, I watched my friends go boy crazy.  Such and such an actor was so hot.  They wanted to make out with him, feel his abs, have sex with his voice.

I never felt that way.

Boys meant nothing to me.  They looked human and nothing more.  Girls were the same.  Touching them didn’t appeal to me outside of giving hugs of platonic affection.  Having them touch me just seemed revolting.  My first kiss made me want to die, strangling in saliva with a boy’s tongue down my throat.  I told him I liked it, told him I thought he was sexy.  It wasn’t true.  I’ve told a lot of lies, you know.  You’ll see – I’ll show you what I mean.

Have you ever heard of the ‘power flower’?  If you haven’t, it’s basically a diagram of a flower with largeand small petals, meant to show you exactly how much power you have – just how much you’re worth to society, all represented in a pretty little picture.  Let me give you an example.  If you’re white, you colour in the big petal.  If you’re anything else, you colour in the small one.  Male?  Big petal.  Female?  Small one.  You get the idea.  And of course… if you’re straight, you colour in the big petal.  I drew a line between the big and small, and showed it to my best friend, and laughed.

She looked at me with horror in her eyes, said “so does that make you half gay and half les?”  The question, of course, didn’t make any sense, but it was the sentiment that mattered, and to her I couldn’t beanything but straight.  I told her I was joking and finished colouring the big petal.  Some time later, I sleptover at her house.  I asked her if she would be freaked out if, hypothetically, I liked girls.

She said yes.

I laughed and told her I was joking.

In a way, I suppose, I was joking.  Boys and girls were both ugly to me, but I didn’t have a word for it until I randomly came across the word ‘asexual’ on the internet one day.  Finding it was inevitable, I suppose – I’ve always lived on my computer, and I suppose I always will.  Funnily enough, it fit me just fine.  Having a word for what I was didn’t change my life – it just gave me a new word to hide away, a new part of me to shove down deep and never show to anyone.  For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve used laughter and jokes to hide who I am.  I am my smile.  I am sunshine and rainbows and glittering unicorns.

Only I’m not.  It’s not really me my asexuality has caused problems for.  Not the way I see it, anyway.  It’s other people I hurt when it comes up.  Like I said, I create my own chaos.

Remember my first kiss?  The boy with his tongue down my throat?  He didn’t just want to kiss me.  He wanted to touch me too, and see me, and when we had Sharpie fights he wanted to draw on places that weren’t just my arms or my stomach.  Told me I could do anything to him if I’d let him draw below the pant-line.  Now guess what I said!

That’s right.  I said there was nothing I wanted to do to him.

He dumped my ass two weeks later.  Being alone didn’t really bother me.  I was only fifteen, after all, andI never wanted that kind of contact anyway – not with him, not with anyone.  Truth be told, I didn’t give ita lot of thought.  I just wasn’t ready, hadn’t met the right person yet.  Logical enough arguments when you’re fifteen, and lots of the time they’re true.

In my case, I’ve never truly been ready.  I met my fiancée when I was seventeen, and got engaged at eighteen.  This was when my asexuality started to be a problem.  In our first months together, it was great – I had sex with her right away, and we were happy, and our sex life was booming.  And then it all stopped.  Putting more thought into it, I’d been doing it because it was new and exciting, but as soon as it stopped being new, it stopped period.  Sleeping with her didn’t interest me.  I did it because I had to, because I wanted to please her.  Even now, it’s to please her, although she doesn’t often ask me anymore.

All this time I’d been pretending to like it, to have fun.  Unfortunately, the biggest problem with lying about it for over a year was just that: it was a lie.  When I tried to explain how I felt, that it wasn’t her fault and she was beautiful and I loved her, she told me that obviously wasn’t true because I didn’t want to have sex with her anymore.  What happened?  It used to be so good between us, she said.  She couldn’t understand why I didn’t like her that way anymore and I couldn’t make her understand that it was me who was broken and it had nothing to do with her.

We fought.  She thought I was straight, that I’d like sex better if I did it with a guy.  I told her it wasn’t true, that I felt nothing for anyone but I still loved her.  I’ve never been the best arguer.

After it started coming up, I became more and more depressed.  All along I’ve had issues with depression,but every time this circles back around it gets worse.  So many times I’ve wanted to be alone so that it doesn’t matter that nobody gets to touch me.  It devastates my fiancée to feel unattractive, to think that I don’t want her, and there’s no way to justify that or to fix it.  To be asexual is not to be broken, but if you can’t make someone understand the way you feel it’s a damn good way to break them.  Breaking hearts is easy – I do it all the time.  It’s not being asexual that bothers me.  I’ve never cried asking why I can’t love, because I can, and I’ve never cried asking why I can’t be attracted to anyone because it doesn’t matter to me.

But it does matter that the way I am breaks my lover’s heart, that I make her cry because I can’t make myself want her.  It matters that sexually she wants me and I don’t want her, and that I can’t leave her because I need her and I want her in my life even if I don’t want her in my pants.  Simply being me is enough to destroy another human being.  See what I mean?  I create my own chaos.  The way I am creates chaos.  ‘Pretty’ is a dirty word.  I want to cut the pretty right out of my face, leave it hideous and disfigured.  I want to shave my head because the only thing people see when they look at me is my oh-so-beautiful hair.  I want to cut off my tits and rip out my womb and leave them for the maggots, and maybe that way no one will want me and I can finally look the way I feel.

If I do all that, maybe I can finally be the way I feel, the way I want to feel: alone.

5

22

British Columbia, Canada

November 2014

Trigger Warnings: internalized ableism, internalized transphobia, internalized heteronormativity, ableism, self-esteem issues, homophobia, and transphobia

I was eighteen and fresh out of high school when I first started to question my sexual orientation and after three/four years of exploring and trying out different labels I’m still in the midst of working out what I personally identify as.  When I first came out to myself the revelation came out of nowhere, and it wasn’t something I accepted immediately. Since then I’ve come to accept and be okay with the fact that I am not heterosexual, yet at twenty two years old (my current age) I’m still trying to determine where I stand on the romantic and sexual orientation spectrum. The only label that I knew didn’t fit and that I haven’t considered in the past three years was heterosexual. Additionally, this past year I started to question my gender identity, an exploration which was sparked by the knowledge that sometimes people identity as different from the gender they were assigned at birth. I believe I’m not completely cisgender, though what – who – I am in terms of gender still baffles me.

After a sufficient amount of consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that I am non-binary, and therefore use they/them/their pronouns and have asked important people in my life to use those pronouns as well when referring or speaking to me.  I do feel I lean towards the masculine side of the spectrum, though I’m not one hundred percent sure about that yet. As a result, I feel much more comfortable wearing clothes that are labeled for men even if I did feel nervous buying those clothes. I generally have mixed emotions about wearing them in public because I’m painfully aware not everyone is educated on the variety of gender identities and expressions and might target me because of their ignorance. Yes, I’m comfortable wearing male-designated attire, but not everyone is accepting of what they perceive as women dressing like men and may react with discrimination because of that.

Several days ago I was stopped by the police (for not wearing a helmet, because lack of money meant I had to choose between multiple essential purchases, and groceries have been the bigger priority). My biggest fear, based on unpleasant experiences between police officers and transgender individuals that I’ve either read or heard about, was that they would either be condescending or outright discriminatory about my gender expression – neither of which thankfully happened. I recently obtained employment at a boarding school which occurred before I realized I was non-binary and ever since then, coming to that realization has been a double edged sword. Sure, it means greater self-awareness and a proper chance to dress in the clothes I feel comfortable in but it also means I have to deal with transphobia as well as homophobia, heteronormativity, ableism, and sexism.

The shifts I’ve worked the past several weeks have been challenging for several different reasons. One of my coworkers has been verbalizing his ignorance about the lgbtq+ community, and it has stirred up unpleasant feelings (namely, a vague sense of internal discomfort and annoyance and hurt or something, I’m still working through this because it’s ongoing) and has made me reconsider disclosing my gender identity with coworkers. Part of me wants to be open about who I am, the main motivation for that awkward conversation to avoid being constantly misgendered (which is painful, and bad, and I wish they would stop of their own volition) as she or her. On the down side, it could go very badly and people could just end up deliberately misgendering me or acting in other discriminatory ways on purpose because they think it’s amusing to do so. Or they could have alternative negative reactions that I’d rather avoid if at all possible, because getting along with coworkers isn’t a bad thing.

At work there are two staff bathrooms, one of which is designated for women and the other designated for men. Since I’m not out at work I use the women’s bathroom to avoid conflict with coworkers and supervisors – but I wish there was a third option (I’d be much more comfortable in a gender neutral bathroom, though there is an unfortunate lack of those in my community aside from the university). I’ve considered asking the supervisors if it would be possible to remove the gender designations entirely, but there are two things holding me back from doing so. I’ve already asked for an accommodation based around being autistic (specifically, unless it was a safety concern, I asked people not to touch me without permission, because of my sensory processing disorder) and received support for it, so part of me feels making a request for my gender identity would be asking for too much and I’ll lose my job for being seen as an awkward person that the workplace will be better off without.

I am ultimately sort of trying to suck it up to avoid creating what part of me feels is unnecessary friction between my coworkers and myself (and I’m kind of upset with myself for my differences and inability to be like the majority of other people and I’m kind of trying to pass as ‘normal’, though another part of me knows there is nothing wrong with me for my gender identity, sexual or romantic orientation, or disabled status). I’m wary about entering new social spaces and becoming attached to the sense of community and belonging within the groups and the people who attend those groups, because I’m worried that as soon as I’m honest about who I am I’ll be told I’m not welcome in those places.

Approximately two months ago, I joined a local group for autistic people and was thrilled to be present at the first meeting because of just how much I identified with things they were saying about experiences they’d had because they were also autistic, and the profound sense of validation and affirmation and general sense of ‘hey I belong here, these are my people, and they are awesome’. The other day I was worried that I wouldn’t be welcome at a designated women’s only meet up because of my gender identity, so I messaged the group organizer about this. After several hours of worrying I was going to be told I wasn’t welcome at the monthly meeting in question the organizer got back to me and said it wasn’t an issue.

About five or six months ago I relocated to a much bigger town with more to offer someone like myself, who fit into several different minority categories yet didn’t feel comfortable or particularly welcome in the lgbtq groups that were available in the town I’d been living in until last summer. Partially because of my dual identity as an autistic and lgbtq person and I couldn’t find any groups that would be supportive on both fronts but also because my mental and emotional health took a beating between having social anxiety, self-esteem/self-hatred issues, depression, and an eating disorder, I was left without any extra energy or resources to make myself attend social events, let alone leave my house most days.

About a year ago I told my mother I’d made a friend (that was as close as I could get myself to saying there was mutual interest/attraction between her and I) in another town and she was pleased for me. At least, she was pleased for me until I mentioned we were going out for dinner later that evening though I never outright stated it was a date, I think from her tone and the way she quickly moved on to another subject she knew what I was implying and didn’t approve or want to talk about it.

Since then I haven’t really let myself entertain the idea of going on dates – not just because of the lack of family approval but also because I was at a point in my life where I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and was trying to figure out not only that but also relatively consumed with figuring my romantic and sexual orientation out, and didn’t want to risk (and still don’t for that matter) going on a date with someone, only to later realize the gender they identified as didn’t interest me, and consequently be accused of leading someone on. I also struggle with self-confidence and self-worth, largely but not exclusively tied into being a member of the disability community, and still wrestle with determining my value and didn’t/don’t feel like I have anything worthwhile to offer someone else.

I grew up believing that relationships were associated with sex, which didn’t appeal to me at all between the ages of eighteen and early twenties, a discovery I made when my ex pressured me for sex and I swiftly changed the conversation. Now that I believe I have sorted out my sexual/romantic orientation, it is a bit of a different story. I’ve settled on demiromantic/demisexual (which describes someone who has romantic/sexual attraction to someone after forming a close bond/getting to know that person before taking the relationship beyond a platonic level). I’m inclined to believe it took me so long to reach this conclusion because of the emphasis and importance society places on romantic/sexual relationships as well as the relative erasure of demisexuality in the media and the way it was simply never presented as an option for someone to be during my formative years, so I was in the dark about who I was on that front until recently, and figured there must be something wrong with me as a result.

I was nineteen when I came out to my parental figure, and at the time the label I used was bisexual since it left me with the option of meeting social expectations of heteronormativity and not diverging from the path my family wanted me to be on. I was informed that this didn’t change the relationship between my parent and myself, but I was also discouraged from sharing this knowledge with other people and was told that because I’m also disabled (I’m a self-diagnosed autistic person, as well as having a comorbid disorder of diagnosed fetal alcohol spectrum in addition to significant vision and hearing loss) I couldn’t know what my sexual orientation was and therefore should just stop thinking about it. Which wasn’t what I needed to hear, because of the active way my parent disapproved of who I was and discouraged me from exploring this part of my identity any further. I did continue to wrestle with it for several more years in what has occasionally felt like trying to climb a brick wall because I just couldn’t seem to find a term that fit at least not for a long while after that initial coming out to a family member.

It wasn’t for another year or two that I discovered the term intersectionality through browsing an online lgbtq forum and discovered that there were other people like me (who are both disabled and part of the rainbow community) existed. This discovery answered some of my questions about my life/future and what goals I’d be able to accomplish in life (though the one about my ability, as a disabled person, to parent effectively is still something that I consider frequently, as I only know a few disabled parents and none of them well enough to ask how they balance their needs as a disabled person with the needs of their child/children). Until I met those people either in person or through online conversations I wouldn’t let myself entertain the idea of perhaps having the chance to be a parent someday, though I knew it was something I did and do want, because I’m not entirely certain it would be in a child’s best interest to have me as their parent.

4

26

Alabama, USA

March 2014

Trigger Warnings: mentions rape, victim blaming, bisexual erasure, suicide, school violence

I knew I liked girls in the 8th grade. There was this girl named Lauren and she made the day brighter with her smile. She was sweet and she made me feel good about myself. I’ve always liked boys though, so it made everything extremely confusing, especially growing up in a conservative Southern home. Not knowing what I felt and not trusting what I did feel, I spiraled into a deep depression. It all culminated in the 9th grade when I was so torn over my feelings for Lauren, who by that point had stopped talking to me because I was so depressed and “ruining her fun high school career,” that I started considering suicide. After a particularly rough night where I’d lied about trying to kill myself with a knife from the kitchen where my dog had kept me from plunging it into my chest and talked about how the judgmental stares from my fellow high schoolers about liking girls and boys made me want to blow up the cafeteria, my parents were given an ultimatum from the school guidance counselors: put her in counseling or find her another school to attend. It wasn’t healthy for me to love Lauren, they said.

Between the depression, the suicidal thoughts and my sexual confusion, it wasn’t a hard decision for my parents to make. I was taken to an Army therapist and my years of therapy began. I vividly remember the first meeting with the first therapist. I walked into the woman’s office in a daze, barely noticing the dim lighting and the red walls. My black Blow-pops purse, with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Shake attached to a keyring, was clutched in my hands. They were alternating between shaking and sweating and I’d hardly slept the night before, dreading this meeting.

You would assume that meeting with a therapist would be more about the fact that I’d threatened suicide, lied about trying to take my own life with a knife, and expressed my secret desire to get rid of the stares and whispers that I was a freak who liked boys and girls by exploding a portion of the school, that’s what the therapist would talk about. You would assume I’d have sat down in the office and she’d have smiled at me and brought up “Why do you want to kill yourself? Why do you want to make the stares stop so badly you talked about blowing up the school?” but that wasn’t what happened. I sat down in the winged chair across the desk from the therapist, she smiled at me and said in a patronizing voice, “So you think you like girls? Why?” She then proceeded to ask me if it was one specific girl or if it was all girls. I hadn’t really thought about it that much, I just knew that Lauren made the sun shine brighter and made me feel less like a freak, even when she wasn’t talking to me. When I admitted that it was Lauren that made me feel so happy inside (as happy as I could be deep in the throes of teenage angst and an identity crisis), the therapist then proceeded to tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about and chances were I was latching onto Lauren because she helped the depression go away. There was no REAL chance that I liked girls, it was all just a big misunderstanding.

This was in 2002.

I spent the next seven years blatantly ignoring other girls, I made a point to be friends with only boys and if I admitted it to myself, the girls I did allow myself to be friends with were not “my type.” At that point, they were not Lauren. I finished high school and moved onto college. I joined a sorority because of a friend and I was relieved to find that none of my sorority sisters were “my type” either. It made my confusion easier. I was still mortally afraid of telling anyone that I was bisexual because I knew the girls who were supposed to be my sisters would shun me. That ended up happening anyways after a party where I was brutally raped. They told me that the rape was my fault because I’d led the man on.

The rape on top of being bisexual made me terrified of telling anyone anything personal about me. I left my first university not long after being shunned by everyone I’d considered to be family. It took two years to be comfortable enough to leave home and go back to school. I had originally been an education major but when I returned to school, I decided to go for a major that I felt would make a difference in the lives of confused young teenagers like I had been.

I chose social work.

I quickly fit in with the other social work majors, learning the things that I wish had been told to me. Bisexuality was not something that was demonized– my whole life everyone always said you either like girls or you like boys, you can’t like both. It was so confusing to me that it was acceptable that you could be straight or you could be gay but if you were somewhere in the middle, you were the worst kind of person around. Truthfully, it made me feel like I was on a level with a child molester. And that wasn’t the case.

I’ve graduated with a degree in social work now, and I’m a big advocate of the LGBTQ+ community. Working with teenagers, I’ve been able to tell them that it’s okay to not be one or the other, it’s okay to be somewhere in the middle. It’s okay to be yourself. I didn’t have that growing up, but thanks to my own personal trials and tribulations, my desire to make a difference, I feel like I can and that I have provided that to those who need it.

3

27

Ohio, USA

March 2014

Trigger Warnings: none

Words have power. I’m pretty sure everyone has learned that at some point in their lives. I always knew I was different. When I was a teenager and all my classmates were more interested in each other than in school I was baffled at why it was such a big deal whether you had a boyfriend or girlfriend. I had a few crushes but looking back I think I was more attracted to their kindness to me, the social outcast, than anything else. I knew I was different but I didn’t know what to call that difference so I assumed that I was broken, flawed in some way.

I tried to pretend I was normal. That I just hadn’t found my “type” yet. I assumed that someday I’d meet someone who I’d want to have sex with. I tried to once on a summer trip. It didn’t work out quite the way either of us had hoped I think. He enjoyed what we ended up doing. I just wondered why that was supposed to be enjoyable. After that I closed myself away from relationships. I had decided that the heartbreak wasn’t worth the effort. I wasn’t comfortable with it. I ended up crying more times than I care to think about but I didn’t know what else to do.

By the time I was 26 I’d heard of asexuality but assumed it didn’t apply to me. Sure people didn’t turn me on but I could still masturbate and enjoy it, if only rarely. The thought had never passed my mind at all that I could be anything but broken. Then, one day in the course of an AIM convo, Jacke linked me to the AVENwiki. I didn’t pay much attention immediately. It’d be months later during a fit of curiosity and despair that I’d actually look at the site. I was dumbstruck. Sure I’d known about bisexuals and homosexuals. I’d known and accepted them but here was a site telling me that I in fact might be asexual. Things that I’d experienced and just taken for granted as being a strange quirk of mine were shared with other people. The relief I felt was palpable. I finally had a word to sum up my experiences. A word that meant I wasn’t as alone as I’d felt all these years.

I haven’t shared this facet of my identity with many other people yet. I’m not sure they’d really understand. The last time I tried was when I…came out I guess is the phrase, to my mother. She was very supportive and she was just as sure that my problem was just low hormones. By that logic I was broken again, just something that could be fixed with time or medicine. So I don’t talk about it with people I see in my everyday life. I don’t want to feel broken all the time. I just pass myself off as heterosexual. It’s easier than fighting to make people understand.

2

21

Saskatchewan, Canada

March 2014

Trigger Warnings: mentions depression

I was never a particularly feminine ‘girl.’ I was also never particularly social, both by being put in so-called advanced supplement programs from early elementary school and because my family moved every few years. When I was little, I played with whatever my older sisters played with. While they were way more rough-and-tumble (I mean, we raced the original My Little Pony ponies through ditches and they have scars from each others’ teeth) than the stereotypical city girl, there’s never been any doubt that they were indeed female. Of course, there was never any possibility that a person could be something other than what society said their bodies said they were.

I didn’t live within city limits until I started university and I never really hung out with anyone outside of school. It was too much bother, too much to organize, and too likely to end up involve personal things. My family never talked about personal things, private things. No one ever said that talking about them was bad, they just didn’t do it and therefore doing it would be weird.

I didn’t think about gender until puberty hit, and then it was shoved very abruptly into my face. Society just loves using things like menstruation to affirm a person’s femininity. I remember telling myself – literally telling myself in a mirror – that I had female parts that did female things and that I was therefore female. I still have scraps of paper with this conclusion on it, since that was when I started writing creatively. I needed an outlet, I guess. I still write, but not for the same reasons.

I didn’t have a lot of friends through middle school, even though my parents had stopped moving so much halfway through elementary school. I did make a few, and I’m still friends with them even though I haven’t seen them in years and I currently live in a different province. There were some entertaining things over the years, like when one friend told his dad that he was dating me to prove he was straight – we both still find that extremely funny, even though he still isn’t out to his parents and I imagine they don’t know about me.

My school district did have a sex ed program, and it wasn’t bad for heteronormative stuff. It didn’t make sex out to be a horrible, disgusting thing so much as a fact of life, and while gay men were only mentioned in the sense that they were at higher risk for STDs (which were quite well covered, I must admit), at least they were mentioned. Bisexuality was mentioned at least once, since I did end up considering it towards the end of high school, but there was very little on anything else and especially nothing about gender identities. Gender was sex and nothing more, or so I was casually taught.

I wasn’t interested in sex or other people (humans in general kind of weirded me out) while everyone around me started following along with the societal bombardment that high school students date and have sex and experiment with all of those not-quite-bad-but-not-blatantly-perfectly-acceptable things. It never occurred to me that I might be asexual – I’m not entirely sure I knew asexuality existed at that point – and I just assumed I was a ‘late bloomer.’ That was a perfectly acceptable thing for girls, apparently.

In the meantime, I kept writing. Looking back over all the various worlds and stories I worked with, I can see now that every single lead character was female (because it never occurred to me that a ‘girl’ could write from any other perspective) and every single one of them was fighting against what society said she was. I had dragons forced to be royalty when they weren’t interested in it, elemental humans shunned just because their element wasn’t the locally preferred one, and werewolves who were told that they had to submit to some human (ideally male) and live their entire life by that person’s will.

Definitely pretty obvious in retrospect, that, especially the societal issues in the werewolf story. Even there, though, while I was trying to fight against what society said, I submitted to its heteronormativity because I couldn’t see any other possibilities. It’s kind of like trying to see what’s past the end of the universe, I guess.

About halfway through high school, I came across an otherkin community on the internet. That was the start of chipping a hole through to the other side of society’s blinders. I have always associated myself with dragons, or at least dragon-like creatures, and I actually found a community I felt I belonged to. Belonging has always been a feeling in short supply for me. Being otherkin isn’t something that can be ‘fixed,’ though: there isn’t really anything you can do to make yourself into what you are supposed to be. I wanted to, though. I started working towards becoming a geneticist so that I could find a way to change my genetic code and become a dragon. It still didn’t occur to me that I didn’t HAVE to be female, but the dragon I always saw myself as did not exactly have female genitalia. Androgyny was still safer in my head however.

Otherkin is also something you can’t really tell your family about either. I tried; in the werewolf story, I included an otherkin character and mentioned him to my mother. She laughed at the idea and suggested I send him to a psychiatrist. Six, seven years later and I still have a hard time trusting her with anything personal, much less anything that doesn’t fit nicely into a standard society box. I certainly had a hard time telling her when a guy asked me out (I didn’t realize at the time that that was her ‘proud’ face, because look I was growing up into a proper girl finally!) and definitely didn’t tell her when spending time with him made me think I was less straight rather than convincing me that I was a proper heteronormative girl. I went through all the sexuality labels I could, even forcing myself to look at girls and try to figure out if I felt any attraction to them. That might have been easier if I had a better grasp of what attraction WAS.

I did tell a friend that I was otherkin, though, about half an hour before I moved from the province. She was cool with it, and that was the first time I had actually had a non-negative response to bringing up something personal. We didn’t talk for a long while after that, though. Moving from BC to Manitoba, from coastal mountains and temperate rainforest into semi-arid prairie turned into city, well, that was pretty hard on me and I probably went from subacute depression to diagnosable depression. Only probably, however, since telling a parent so that I could talk to a psychologist was completely out of the question. I suffered through a year of university, wading through a heavy load of english and creative writing courses. The next year was better: I realized that I hated cities and that an english degree would pretty much guarantee I would be stuck in one for the rest of my life. I switched to biology and eventually transferred to an agricultural university in another province. In that second year, though, I came across a term, girlfag, I didn’t recognize and went to look it up. It turned out to mean a female person who liked gay guys. I wandered around the site for a while, and then came across transgender. I went to class that day with red eyes, though I had stopped crying by then.

See, transgender was something I could DO something about. I didn’t have to live in a prison of my own inappropriate skin for the rest of my life. I still saw myself as a dragon, and still had a hard time staying in high places with sky above me, but there was something I could FIX.

I made myself go to a party put on by that university’s pride centre that fall. I was not and am still not a party person. It was a mas”queer”ade ball, so I dressed up to satisfy my mother (and could recognize it as drag now, and felt kind of awesome about it). I was actually recognized there: apparently one of the current heads of the centre was in one of my biology classes. We chatted a bit, I most definitely did not talk about WHY I was there, and she encouraged me to come by the centre. A while later, I did, and met a couple of other trans people. I eventually started talking about myself, and even ended up telling a complete stranger while volunteering at an information booth for the centre.

Things definitely started to simplify from there, though it still took over another year before I could talk to anyone in my family (my dad by email, and while at my trans then-partner’s house, whom my parents knew nothing of, much less that I spent quite a few nights over there) and I could only talk to him in person about it a few months ago. He’s working on my Canadian-conservative mother, and I intend to be out to my siblings by the end of the summer; one of them I’m pretty sure thinks I’m at least lesbian, and tried to get me to use an online dating site, and the other is proving to be even more of a hermit than I am. I’m not depressed anymore, though I admittedly still have bad days when the weather (such as the current -50 c spell that has me locked in my house all weekend), lack of mountains, lack of humidity, or excess of people get to me, and I regularly volunteer for my current pride centre and co-facilitate a gender discussion group. I’m not afraid to buy things online that help me be read as male in public (still a little shaky, since a lot of the people around me first saw me with longer hair and first impressions are hard to change) or to explain my situation to people who happen to ask about it.

1

22

Pennsylvania, USA

February 2014

Trigger Warnings: mentions rape, depression, suicidal thoughts, negative stereotypes about asexuality, erasure of nonbinary genders, and homophobic slurs and murders.

When I moved to Maryland at seven, I picked up the nickname Tomboy.  When I moved to Pennsylvania at eleven, I figured out that Tomboy was supposed to have been a bad thing, because people used the same tone and expression to say dyke.

I got through middle school dodging questions about my sexuality because I didn’t want to lie but had no idea what the right answer was, and wondering why everyone else seemed to think that we were old enough to like anyone yet when we clearly weren’t.  That was for adults, like college students or something.  I kept getting the feeling that there must be a reason that everyone else seemed to think they could be attracted to people already, but I blamed it on them imitating TV, and I didn’t figure out until eighth grade that the boy friend I’d had in fourth grade who bought me a teddy bear with a stuffed heart for Valentine’s Day and promised a necklace for my birthday before we had a fight and stopped talking might have thought he was more like a boyfriend.

During middle school I also started going to a week long summer camp, and became friends with Rachel.  We found out that we both were writers at a workshop, and went back to my room afterward to share and critique poetry.  We ended up talking about depression and prejudice, and she told me that she was bisexual, and about an older gay friend she’d had who was beaten to death sometime before we met while walking to the grocery store.

I still said nothing about my own sexuality until we were fifteen, the summer before tenth grade.  We were roommates that year, and one day ended up talking about how we dealt with people asking about our sexuality.  She said she either avoided questions or lied to stay safe, and avoided dating.  I said I’d figured out how to mostly avoid questions or keep people from asking, which was convenient, because I didn’t know the answer.  She jumped about a foot in the air, demanded to know how I could not know, then started asking questions; who I liked, who I dreamed about, who I fantasized about; had I ever been in love?  I asked how I was supposed to know and what love was, and she told me if I’d ever been in love I’d know it.  Then she told me she thought I was asexual, and she had to go find someone else to work on a project, and left.  She spent the rest of that week and the next several years doing her best to never speak to me again, until eventually she just stopped coming.

Asexuality is not very well known, and was even less known in 2007.  I’d never heard of it before, but I had an English teacher who loved word roots, and I’m a writer anyway.  The prefix a- means not or no or nothing, and it matched perfectly with my never being attracted to anyone.  As soon as I heard the word I knew I was it.

Since hardly anyone knew asexuality existed, I’d never heard any “all asexuals are–!” stereotypes, but I didn’t need to.  I’d picked up the Hollywood standard “sex is love” assumption, and noticed that the only (adult) characters that weren’t attracted to someone were robots, lying, and particularly terrible serial killers.  It took about two hours to get from “I’m asexual” through “I can’t love” to “I’m a sociopath and need to die soon so I don’t flip out and murder my friends for calling me the wrong nickname or something.”  Simultaneous was “humans experience love; if I can’t love then I’m not human.”

I was worried that I’d fail, be caught, and people would be socially obligated to pretend they cared and waste time acting upset and watching me and prevent me from trying again, so I never dared actually attempt suicide, and I hated myself for being too much of a coward to do it.  A couple times I got close, but the pocket knife I owned wasn’t sharp enough to cut skin, and it wasn’t like I had bought the lamp in my room, so breaking that to get something sharp would be stealing.  Besides, my room was carpeted, and that would cost my parents money to replace if I stained it, and blood is known for staining things.  In my better moods I would joke that for needing and wanting to die, I was awfully good at making up excuses to live.

It wasn’t simple.  I knew that I was incapable of love (which was the part that I cared about; not being sexually attracted to anyone has never been more than an inconvenience), but at the same time I knew I loved my friends, and knew it couldn’t possibly be love since it was something I felt, and knew it must because I couldn’t imagine anything stronger existing.  I’d call myself broken and subhuman and frigid bitch and pretend I believed in God just so I could demand why me.  I smiled as much as I could and never said anything to anyone because it wasn’t the place of a monster like me to bother actual people because I was upset by what I was, especially since it ought to be upsetting.  I wished I’d be attracted to someone someday and knew I wouldn’t, and tried to imagine having sex so I could figure out how to pretend to like it but I couldn’t so I imagined being raped instead.  It wasn’t appealing but rape isn’t supposed to be so it was as close as I could get to believing I was normal.  My high school got a new counselor who picked random people to talk to to get to know the school, and when I left she told me everyone else she’d talked to had academic problems or relationship drama, and it was nice to talk to someone well-adjusted for once.  It was one of the very few times I laughed in high school.

Since middle school I’d been reading and eventually writing fanfiction, and during my senior year of high school someone reviewed one of my stories.  I went to review one of theirs, we started talking, and we became friends.  They liked a site called TVTropes–a wiki which categorizes patterns in media, creators and fans, and which is full of snark–and kept sending me links until after a few months I started reading them.

I had been avoiding any information on asexuality on the rare occasion I thought I might encounter some, because the last thing I wanted was to be reminded that I was inhuman.  But I read quickly, and about a month after I graduated high school I clicked a link without knowing what it was.  I saw the title Asexuality, closed the page, and caught the line “asexuals are not incapable of love,” before it disappeared.  I found the page again and read it all.

I don’t have words for how I felt; for three years I’d been subhuman and broken and evil and obligated to accept and encourage people to hurt me because that was still better than I deserved, and then in two sentences all of that was gone and I was human again.

Learning that didn’t solve my depression.  I’d been depressed for years before I heard of asexuality, and depression is common in my family; I likely would have been depressed no matter what happened.  But learning it helped a lot, and I’ve only rarely been suicidal since learning that I was okay.  I was allowed to want to be happy, instead of having to feel guilty every time I did.  (I should also note that it’s not that easy for many people; I’d been fighting the whole time between knowing I couldn’t love and knowing that I could, so finding outside confirmation just kind of tipped the balance.  Many asexuals don’t have that issue to begin with, and many others still feel inferior anyway.  I was too happy about not being evil to mind not being normal.)

I was happy just to know what asexuality was for a while.  I did try to tell several people that I was asexual, and got a variety of reactions; one of my friends took months to believe me because “asexuality isn’t evolutionarily beneficial,” some accepted it, my brother worried that it meant I’d always be single, my cousin told me I was too hot to not be straight and anyway he couldn’t imagine being asexual so it must not exist.  The friend who linked me to TVTropes already knew what asexuality was; everyone else I had to explain it to.

After about a year I started looking for some sort of asexual community.  They’re not common; one has developed on Tumblr and there are some small forums drifting around, but the first one I found and by far the biggest dedicated site is AVEN: Asexual Visibility and Education Network.  It has some pages with basic information on asexuality, and an attached forum.

I didn’t stay around the forum for long; it had a pretty standard internet culture of using insults to argue and tolerated some people that were just assholes, and I didn’t make friends with anyone immediately, so I wandered off in a few months.  First though, I found two things.

Romantic orientation refers to the love parallel of sexual orientation; if sexual orientation is who a person is physically, sexually attracted to, then romantic orientation is who a person is emotionally, romantically attracted to.  The words parallel sexuality as well: heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, panromantic, demiromantic, and aromantic are the most common, though many more exist.  (I don’t recall seeing gyneromantic and androromantic used then, but they’re becoming much more common now.)  Everyone has a romantic orientation, though for most people it matches or overlaps with their sexual orientation and so isn’t obvious.  It’s also entirely possible for someone who is allosexual (sexually attracted to others/not asexual) to be aromantic.  I am demi-panromantic; gender is irrelevant to me (pan-), but I only develop romantic feelings for people that I already know very well (demi-), though I can often predict who I’ll develop feelings for much earlier.

AVEN also had a forum dedicated to gender, which contained an information/definitions thread, and introduced me to the concept of non-binary genders.  Since figuring out what asexuality was I had been sort of idly wondering about gender on occasion, because why not be sure?  But I never figured out an answer; I couldn’t figure out what gender was, so I would mostly just get frustrated, demand haven’t I had enough identity crises already? and then ignore it for a while again.  I noted the existence of nonbinary genders, and in particular of the three which AVEN listed at the time for not being any gender; agender, genderless, and neutrois.  Then I mostly went back to trying to figure out how to make sure everyone in the world knew what asexuality was so that no one would have to believe the same things about themselves that I did.  I haven’t really done much for that, but several of my friends have determined that they are asexual, demisexual or gray-a, or else talked to me when someone else they knew was considering it.

I’m 22 now.  I’m not very involved in any communities at this point, online or in real life, but my friends cover an increasing list of genders and sexualities, and I think of myself as at least linked to LGBT*+ communities.  I still haven’t figured out what gender actually is, though I’ve asked several people.  My conclusion at this point is that I’m probably agender or genderless, but I rarely say so since agender and genderless fall under nonbinary gender identities, which falls under transgender, and claiming to be a part of a group on the basis of not comprehending the entire point of the group seems more than slightly appropriative.

My sexuality has adapted slightly as well.  I still am not attracted to anyone, so I am still asexual, but I can now imagine myself having sex.  (I have not actually done so yet, but probably will eventually.)  Partly this is because I just have a better idea of what sex is than I did when I was fifteen.  The other factor is that while I have a sex drive, it’s very low; if I’m unhappy it shuts off completely, and since for years any thought about sexuality immediately led me to panic and self loathing, it was always off until I stopped hating myself for not having it.  Now that I know being asexual doesn’t make me a sociopath I am capable of sex and masturbation (although still likely to be completely distracted from either by just about anything).  This is not how all asexuals work; some have much higher sex drives than me and some never have any; some asexuals greatly enjoy and pursue sex and some couldn’t care less and some think it’s revolting.

I have had a professor use bisexuality and asexuality as examples of “how freaky sexuality can be.”  He apologized when I pointed out to him that I’d rather not be held up as a prime example of incomprehensible bizarrity.  Another professor said that only binary genders (men and women) exist, and started mocking what agender might be.  I told her I am agender and I don’t fit the caricature stereotypes she was inventing, and she told me that being agender is impossible.  Another professor, who already knew I was asexual, taught my class that “all humans desire sex” and not desiring sex is a disorder, and when I objected, told me that science had proven it was true.  She also claimed that asexuality is a totally different thing and what she’d said wasn’t about it at all, and it was my fault that she’d said anything because I challenged her in class.  Yet another professor said that sexual love is the best kind of love, real love can only come from sexual attraction, and people can only become morally good by sexually loving another.

The good result of the three years that I thought I was evil is that my confidence in who I am is now strong enough that these things don’t hurt me like they could, because I know they’re incorrect.  They still make me angry, and conscious of how much I’m an outsider no matter where I go, and they make me worry about everyone else who’s asexual and hasn’t had the chance to develop the belief in myself that I have.