This was my first submission for the August 2016 Carnival of Aces, which was themed around “Naming It”.
Sometimes you have this nebulous concept in your life, and yet you don’t have any word or phrase to describe it. Learning at age 17 that my mom likely had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and reading a list of the symptoms online was certainly like that for me. I had always kind of known my mom frustratingly saw no gray areas, but seeing it spelled out with concepts like “Splitting”/”black and white thinking”/”idealization and devaluation”/”perfect or horrible, with nothing in between” felt amazing & validating, realizing experts at studying ways human people could behave (psychologists) actually knew this kind of person might exist. And that’s just one symptom of the personality disorder – just one example of the many ways BPD described the way the person I was living with 6 days a week for 7 years (and every day prior to that) behaved. One way that validated that what I was both witnessing and experiencing really was unusual.
To be fair, the reason it felt so nice to learn there was a word for “it” was because I’d been living with “it” for my entire freaking life. Because I definitely had the concept and had experiences which had been crying out desperately to be framed with a “name”.
People often describe finding out about asexuality in a similar way. Most readers of this blog or readers of Carnival of Aces entries probably already know the stories.
“I never wanted to date anyone yet I never knew why and then, after years of wondering, I found out that people could be asexual & aromantic!”
or: “I tried dating a few people/getting married/I was in love… but sex never felt right and I wondered what was wrong with me”.
Getting a name for your experience meant you weren’t the only person to ever experience it. It means you know what to do next – in the case of realizing your experience can actually be considered a sexual orientation, it can mean you can stop trying to fix yourself, as long as you already accept that non-heterosexual orientations are innate parts of people not to be fixed. Often realizing this kind of thing is very powerful. You can feel a lot of relief, feel the satisfaction of finding an answer, feel the comfort of finding where you belong in the categories set out for human beings and also where you belong in terms of a new community of other people.
Sometimes, especially if you’re currently in a marriage, or in a romantic relationship of some kind, when you find out about asexuality, you experience mixed feelings and not only the happy, positive ones of relief and validation. Sometimes it’s sad to learn you can’t just “become straight” if you do the right things, if you recover from your mental illness(es), etc – sad to realize this is a permanent state of your being. Sad to come to accept that you’ll never enjoy this thing you were hoping to enjoy someday. Losing what you expected for your future can actually be experienced like grief for a lot of people. Sometimes it means your romantic relationship is going to end, which is (of course) painful for so many of the reasons that break-ups usually are.
Figuring out you don’t fit into the typical heteronormative, amatonormative script for life leads to a combination of relief and grief for a ton of folks.
The problem isn’t that you found a word for what you already knew – the problem is that you only knew some of the truth – for instance, you only knew that “so far” you had never really desired sex, for example, or that you desired sex without finding people attractive in the conventional ways…
The problem, in actuality, is that you didn’t have the concept that a person – that you – could potentially be asexual. You didn’t realize that sometimes people just don’t ever find people sexy, or that sometimes people never want sex. You didn’t realize there would be no way you’d ever be the person your significant other wants/wanted you to be when it came to sex. You didn’t realize that society had been gaslighting you in its own way, convincing you everyone who is an adult wants sex, the compulsory sexuality so strong that you convinced yourself you’re repressed or that aesthetic attraction must be sexual.
And you see… That’s what happened to me.
On an even more extreme scale, when I first learned about asexuality, I felt zero recognition that this was me, even though I could not be more asexual as a sex-averse, non-libidioist, probably aromantic or at least aromantic spectrum asexual person. I’ve always been sex-averse and always had no libido, and never once experienced anything closer to sexual attraction than a general thinking a friendship with “the opposite gender” might be just as nice as it’d be for a friendship with people who are the same gender as me (having no concept for nonbinary genders at the time), and maybe also at times not really being attracted to but being able to appreciate certain people’s appearances, appreciate certain conventionally attractive people especially as “pretty” in my opinion…
And I certainly, therefore, felt no relief to find a name for what I’d been experiencing my whole life. No, I started to learn about asexuality out of curiosity, but it did not click that I needed to use the word to apply to myself until years after first coming across it.