This is part 2 of a three-part series of blog posts I have been writing for the June 2016 Carnival of Aces. Please check out part 1 here, first. Sorry parts 2 & 3 came late, once it was (is) already July. I expected to be able to finish in June but… ended up not.
So you know that feeling, when you look at the Carnival of Aces being about Resiliency, and all you can think about is about how the biggest things where you’ve needed strength, and to be able to “bounce back”, in your life, have had nothing at all to do with your asexuality?
Like just how little your mother being abusive intersects with the fact that she isn’t aro nor ace and you always were those things but didn’t know it back when she was in your life? And you’ve had to become someone who simply doesn’t care about not having a mother in your life, despite other people’s attempts to make you care, and how resilient you had to be to shield yourself from how that would’ve made you feel.
Or how the days, when you think back on your life, that were the worst days of your life, the most painful, the most stressful, had literally nothing to do with asexuality? Most of those days happened years before I’d learn that asexuality was a thing, let alone fully come to accept that it was who I was.
Well, I certainly know that feeling.
But you know… I gave it some time, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how resilient I’ve had to be in some ways that are directly related to my asexuality.
And how complicated and confusing it all can be at times.
I came out to my podcasting partner as asexual not too long before we started the podcast, so around March or April of this year. This partner of mine is a guy who’s 52 years old – only a year younger than my father – and I came out via online messaging back and forth, giving him a link to a far-from-perfect podcast episode to listen to which I knew he then did listen to, etc. I told him about my… “well… he isn’t really my boyfriend per se, but kinda close” person in my life, Robert, and tried to explain a little about our relationship. My podcasting partner is straight and cis, but since he wasn’t asking questions, I kinda figured he was understanding the broad strokes of what I was saying.
Then, in early June, I spent a weekend with Robert, and a lot of the time we were also with my podcasting partner. (This happened to be the first weekend I actually “met” my podcasting partner in meatspace.) During a casual lunch between the three of us, the topic of tattoos came up, and Robert happened to ask me if I had any tattoos – clearly I didn’t on the parts of my body that were visible given the clothes I usually wear, but you know, we’ve never even been swimming together and have never had much of an opportunity to see that much of each other’s skin. It did cross my mind, at the time, that this was “flaunting” how “asexual” our relationship was in front of my podcasting partner. But that fact only amused me, if anything. I told Robert I didn’t, and then asked him if he had any tattoos.
Not long after the weekend was over, one of the co-organizers of my local ace meetup group asked if I’d be interested in being interviewed sometime “today” (I believe it was a Monday or a Tuesday) about asexuality for an article they were writing in a local newspaper about the entire LGBTQIA+ acronym, which I assumed (correctly) they were trying to put out in time for pride.
I decided to say yes to being interviewed for the newspaper article.
I decided to use the excitement of “I’m about to be interviewed for a newspaper article!” as an excuse to, on that day, also come out as asexual to a group of people of which my podcasting partner is also a part. Go big or go home, they say. Right? So yeah, I decided to really go all out (pun intended) that day!!
At this point my podcasting partner brought up that he “knew there were different ways to be asexual, and for some people that means they only have sex under certain circumstances or something” but that “Robert asking you about if you have tattoos or not”… “it seemed like a weird thing for a boyfriend not to know” and he was just you know, curious to understand more about my asexuality.
And I was grateful for the opportunity to explain more about my asexuality to him, and I was glad he asked, but it also kinda hurt a little, in that jarring kind of way which I feel like I’m never gonna get used to but that keeps happening over and over, to realize how rarely I am fully understood by the people I am closest to in my life. My podcasting partner may be twice my age and someone I’ve only seen in person on one occasion, but he has kind of become one of my closest friends in my life, and for him to know for months I had a queerplatonic partner and was aromantic-ish and asexual yet still be surprised “that I wasn’t having sex with my boyfriend” – well like, come on dude. What’s even the point of coming out.
And more importantly, why does it so often feel impossible to properly be “out” in a way that makes me feel fully respected, accepted, and also understood? Because that is what I want. I have this huge desire for the world, and especially the people I care about, to understand me in a deeper way than they do if they are assuming I’m straight, or if they’re guessing I’m a lesbian, or whatever they may or may not be thinking depending on what they know about me. And while I can, most of the time, be okay with people not understanding me, it takes something out of me to be okay with it. It takes some kind of strength, to have this desire and yet to accept that the desire often will not be able to be met. It’s all tied into the concept of resilience.
And then being a part of the article of course was a huge risk, and it felt so courageous to decide to put my full name out there within the text of an article in a real newspaper. And I know how many articles screw up the representation of asexuality, and I felt a burden to try to do it justice, and to try to make sure I don’t paint a problematic single narrative of what asexuality is like for every single asexual person. And I looked up the reporter before the interview, and found out he was a bisexual guy. I thought to myself: “He’s writing about every letter in the acronym”… and therefore I was hoping maybe that would mean he’d know enough to understand when I said, “my queerplatonic partner and I are going to Pride” that maybe he knew what a queerplatonic partner was, or at the very least might ask me. He asked me for clarification on a few other things, after all. He replied to my comments about Pride by remarking that it’d be his first time attending, too! He asked me about my discovery of finding out I was asexual, my age now and when I figured it out, etc. He asked me so much stuff that ended up, fairly understandably, getting left out of the article, because there was only so much room for talking about asexuality in an article about the entire acronym.
And after the phone interview was over but before the article was published, I worried I didn’t do a good enough job and worried I was letting the entire ace community down by not thinking until it was too late to explicitly bring up gray-asexuality or demisexuality. I didn’t think of it until after the interview was over (- and granted, I had limited time to prepare.) That shouldn’t be my job, anyway; the reporter should’ve thought of it. To be fair, I did make it clear that asexuality is experienced so differently depending on the person… but anyway, about the article, I felt worried in a bunch of ways.
I texted an ace friend of mine, who I’ll call Robin. Robin is a huge part of my current support network. As Elizabeth wrote in one of her pieces for this Carnival of Aces:
Supportive people can give you confidence, reassure you, teach you new ways of looking at things, and help you figure things out.
Robin did that for me, reassured me in a way that only someone who is also really deeply understanding of what ace representation in news articles is typically like and what it was I was worried about could be reassuring. Robin reminded me that the worst case scenario wasn’t even that bad, because it’s just one article in a sea of many articles that poorly represent asexual people, and I’m just one person and can’t be expected to represent everyone – it’s not my fault that the interviewer was so keen on only caring about my personal experiences, etc. I really appreciated Robin’s words, and they helped me so much.
In the end, I wasn’t all that pleased with the article, and felt like some of what I said was misrepresented, but I also felt that it could’ve been a lot worse. On a personal note, it was frustrating to see the reporter writing that when I said I was aromantic and asexual, that must mean I have “no desire to date”, even though honestly, that feels like a bit of a lie and a misrepresentation of who I am at this point in my life. I, in fact, do have some desire to find a partner, of a partner of any gender, and personally my aromanticsm is more related to a lack of feeling clear/obvious romantic crushes on people. And that’s not even touching on the other things the author should’ve followed up with me on via email, like he said he might do! He misrepresented asexuality in some minor ways, and yes it could’ve been worse, but I’m still frustrated. He never emailed me after the phone interview, not even once the article was up, and maybe it is wrong for me to feel shafted by that… it’s just… I can wish for things to be different, can’t I? Wishing things were a little different seems to be my modus operandi at this point in my life.
However, it feels like resilience to me to be disappointed with the article, to have yet another “coming out” experience go in a way that feels slightly worse than it could’ve, and to regardless still find a way inside myself to “be at peace” with it.
I figured out I was asexual when I was 23 years old at the end of October 2013, and at that time “came out” on Facebook as asexual in the same post as me marking the end of my relationship with my (straight) boyfriend. You’d have to be paying attention and clicking the “read more” to see that I was asexual, and only a handful of people “liked” the post and even fewer commented and reacted to my “coming out”. Granted, most of my Facebook friends at the time were largely old high school friends and family members, since at that point in my life I didn’t have too many other people in my social circle, and I didn’t know of anyone I cared to keep in my life who was openly anti-gay, so I was cautiously optimistic. I assumed after the minimal response that most people on my timeline didn’t see that post, and if I wanted to be out to them well, I probably wasn’t yet. The only people I was sure I was out to, to at least some degree, were the people who actually reacted to it.
One month later, right before Thanksgiving in the USA in November 2013, my uncle died. And by the way, that uncle is one of the people to whom I assume I wasn’t out as asexual, but he used Facebook quite a bit so who really knows? I assume he never knew that about me, but it’s hard to say for sure.
Not only did I love my uncle a lot, enough that he would’ve definitely been someone I would’ve wanted to talk about my asexuality with eventually… but I was also especially close with his son (my cousin). My uncle, his wife, and his son were visiting me and my family for the holiday at the time when he died, so we ended up spending all of the initial mourning periods together, in the same vicinity. It was a pretty intense grief. I will never forget those days of my life.
I pretty rarely use Facebook, and probably my previous post had been my “I broke up with my boyfriend and also by the way, I’m asexual” one, but that Thursday morning of the Thanksgiving holiday I chose to use Facebook again and I wrote a post about my uncle’s funeral being the day before. I wrote about how it was a beautiful service and about how much he would be missed. I wanted people who knew me to know about my grief and my love for my uncle, just like a month prior I’d wanted people who knew me to know about my break-up and my asexuality.
And at the Thanksgiving gathering I attended for most of that day, where I met up with other extended family members of mine from my other side of the family, people who didn’t know my uncle… what I really was craving, somewhat selfishly perhaps, was a chance to talk about what had happened with his sudden and unexpected death, for a few extended family members whom I loved to be sympathetic to my grief, etc. And when one of those other extended family members, another one of my cousins, approached me alone at one point during the day, and hesitantly told me that she saw what I wrote on Facebook? My initial reaction was gratefulness that she saw the post about my uncle’s funeral. And that feeling was quickly knocked out from under me, when she followed it with telling me that she told her mom (one of my aunts) about the post too, and that they both “are okay with it”.
I took a bit of a delay, or perhaps a question from me, for me to figure out that she meant she saw that I’m asexual. My cousin and her mother may not have reacted online to it, but they knew. And all of a sudden I was faced with the realization that a lot of potential people might know I’m asexual now, and I don’t have any way of knowing which people in my family I’m out to, because I was so carefree about my method of coming out, and…
…and it really kinda hurt in that subtle, you-only-realize-how-much-so later after-you’ve-been-dwelling-on-it way, for my cousin and aunt to “be okay with it”. It hurt to be told, when you hadn’t yet fully registered it as a fully possible outcome in your own mind, that people in your life who care about you might not have “been okay with it”.
And yeah, to realize that someone has to decide to “be okay with” who you are, with something you couldn’t change even if you wanted to… on top of feeling the most grief you’ve ever felt in your life. (Talk about bad timing.)
(And this is conveniently forgetting/denying the painful truth that from August through October of that year you were dating a guy and you were trying to change that about yourself, and you did want to change it, and even you weren’t okay with your own asexuality for months.
On some level, I knew I was asexual long before I admitted it to myself.)
Being a resilient asexual person means when I’m hearing multiple atheists talk to me about how damaging their former religion was to them in terms of how it governed their sexuality, and they then so casually comment to me that sexual desire is such a huge part of what makes “every one of us” human, having no idea I’m asexual, I can register it as incorrect, and not part of what makes everyone human because I am human too and I do know this truth – and yet I can still be a supportive friend/acquaintance in that moment, and let it slide off me “like water off a duck’s back”, and be strong enough that it doesn’t affect me, and I can still be emotionally present for the zedsexual person who needs me.
Being resilient sometimes means putting up a shield and not fully registering everything that is happening in the moment that is hurtful, like a friend wondering if maybe I just haven’t met the right person yet or a family member wondering if I should see a doctor and get my hormones checked, and in the moment being fully able to see them as trying to help, as being caring. It means “catching up” later to what really happened, and having the tools and supportive community I need, mainly online but sometimes offline too, to analyze and examine those kinds of statements. It means so many things to me at so many different points in my life.
Please click here for part 3!