Asexuality, Shame, and the Importance of Ace Pride

This post was written for the March 2017 Carnival of Aces, which is themed around Ace Pride. The call for submissions was here – and the round up post containing all of the submitted entries is here:

We’ll get to Ace Pride by the end of this post. First, I need to talk about Ace Shame.

[Content note: Heavy discussion of anti-ace sentiments, invalidation, shame, negative emotions, etc. Some NSFW text. Unhappy ace/allo sexual relationship dynamics also touched upon. It’s a bit of a rambling mess too.]

shame: n. A painful emotion caused by the belief that one is, or is perceived by others to be, inferior or unworthy of affection or respect because of one’s actions, thoughts, circumstances, or experiences.

  • What is there to be proud of? Isn’t asexuality nothing?

pride: n. a feeling of honour and self-respect; a sense of personal worth

  • “Are you sure you’re not repressed? because you grew up Catholic?”
  • “Everyone masturbates – and the few who say they don’t? are lying.”
  • What do you fantasize about though?
  • Everyone is turned on by some type of person.
  • “Maybe you should talk to a doctor about your hormone levels.”
  • “WAIT — you’re 22 and you’ve never been kissed??”
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin is a great movie, made me cry. I’m so happy that he finally lost his virginity at the end.
  • “It’s natural and healthy to have sexual thoughts and desires”.
  • You’re betraying feminists if you fight Flibanserin (Addyi) being on the market.
  • Who do you have a crush on?”
  • “You should watch this tv show, if for no other reason than the eye candy, you know what I mean? 😉 “
  • “Philosophical or psychological hypothesis: What if all human desires are, deep down, influenced by sex because it’s instinctual that we need to want sex in order for our species to survive? I mean it’s probably true, it just makes sense.”
  • My mom: “You don’t have to get Confirmed Catholic if you really don’t want to however… You might want to belong to a church for when you get married?”
  • “A soulmate is your other half,  the person who completes you, everyone is waiting to find theirs unless they are so lucky to have already found them.”
  • lust can be such a powerful feeling that it motivates people to cheat with a stranger they just met
  • without ‘passion’ in that marriage can you blame that miserable spouse for cheating?”
  • OK Cupid question: “How many dates will you want to go on before you’re ready for sex? One? Three? 12?” (See the 100 words prose poem thing I wrote, which I just tonight posted about this topic.)
  • Check a box: “Which of the three fits you best: straight,  gay,  or bi?”
  • “Have you tried having sex with both men and women and didn’t like it? Only men? You probably just didn’t give being lesbian enough of a chance.”
  • “Ok interesting.  But. Are you absolutely sure you haven’t just not met the right person yet? You don’t want to close yourself off to that possibility too young”  (said to me when I’m 24.)
  • Me before I accepted I’m ace: “I… this first kiss to you feels just as lackluster as the other time I tried kissing a different person last year. I need to admit something… I’m starting to worry I might be asexual, unfortunately. I like you a lot as a person already, so maybe I’ll turn out to be demisexual? Over time? (If we… fall in love or something?)”
  • It’s the standard narrative.  Boy meets girl.  One is too traumatized or just mistrustful of the world. Let’s say it’s the girl this time. The guy loves her hard enough, for long enough… that she learns to love him back with time. Or she suddenly has a revelation that the love of her life has been there all along. He might be suddenly attractive to her too. Like Lois and Clark in versions of their story where you see them before they get together. And wow.  They feel all the feelings. They have a magical kiss or even the best sex ever by the end of the story. Happily ever after. It wouldn’t be a happy ending without getting together romantically.
  • “Are you sure you’re not aroused right now?” – when I tried sex with my boyfriend.
  • “I’ve never met anyone who’s asexual before. (That can’t be real.)”
  • “Oh, that explains a lot about our conversations these past years. I always just thought maybe you were a bit prudish.”
  • Isn’t the idea of being proud to be ace arrogant, elitist, and saying you’re better than people who have sexual desires, shaming them for that, and that’s not cool?
  • “You’re lucky you’re ace. I wish I was ace. You have it so easy.”

Sorry I decided to write such a downer of a post for such a seemingly happy theme.  I kind of went a pretty… different direction than the other entries. At first I wondered if I was completely going off topic but now I realize… My post is basically a long answer to (Purr)ple(L)ace’s final bullet point in the suggested topics:

How do displays of pride (in whatever forms you choose to show it) help you deal with any negative aspects of being ace? How do they help you love/accept yourself and your asexuality more?

I was 18 and I cried to learn my 16 year old brother experienced his first kiss before me. I was so envious of his experience, so afraid of being left behind, of being a laughably inexperienced soul, perhaps? I don’t know for sure why I cried. I grew tougher with time, didn’t cry over that idea as much, but I did feel my embarrassment grow with each passing year at college, leaving my teen years and entering adulthood in a way that was so clearly out of step with social norms…

Once, I had a nightmare. I don’t remember if I was still in 10th grade or if it was years later. (It’s been over a decade since I’ve been in 10th grade, so the memories fade together.) The nightmare was that I had to kiss every single person in my 10th grade biology class… or was the nightmare just that I had to pick one of them to kiss and I didn’t know who to pick and didn’t want any of them?? I honestly can’t quite remember anymore, I just know the elements that made up the dream were that class in its entirety, something to do with me and kissing, and it felt like a nightmare. It was one of the worst, most stressful, anxiety producing dreams I can remember. I only have a handful of like 5, maybe 10, in my entire memory.

I recently painted my nails as mini Ace Flags in preparation for attending ClexaCon, representing part of the Q in LGBTQ.Ace Nails 1

I wanted people to be able to know I was ace by looking at me, at least… if they looked hard enough.

Ace Nails 2

I’ve been thinking of starting a series on this blog of analyzing lyrics in songs I like in terms of how ace or aro friendly they are,  or,  more often,  aren’t, and in which ways they aren’t friendly to aces, aros, and/or aroaces.  Usually, I’m not even trying to notice the amatonormative things, but they creep into my thought processes just the same. I spend so much time reading blog posts and tweets about these topics, and then I realize the invalidation is… all around me. I listen to music sometimes all-day-long at my full time job, or on parts of my commute, and I’m a vidder at heart who likes to notice lyrics in everything. I’ll be enjoying a song, perhaps thinking about how it applies to my own life or to potential fanvideo ideas, and then suddenly, my thoughts will veer into “ah and THIS would make another rant if I ever start that blog topic… and THIS too… Oh this is an interesting thing to think of from a compulsory sexuality perspective…” etc etc.  There are SO many of these little… microaggressions, moments of erasure,  moments of dehumanization, etc.

It just happened to me again today unexpectedly as I was listening to a song I find truly beautiful,  “As It Seems” by Lily Kershaw (warning, link autoplays). It has this line, “But the way that he looked at me made me feel alive”. It’s not even nearly as amatonormative or enforcing of compulsory sexuality as it really could be.  This is about one person’s own feelings and experiences. If you interpret the line within the context of the entire verse it could even be a negative thing where she was “wrong” to interpret his look in a positive way, really she regrets falling under his… charm, or whatever? I mean that could at least be one interpretation.

But this poetic word choice, the way “alive” is used here… it heavily implies that she didn’t feel alive “until” a particular person looked at her in a certain sexual or romantic way.  The opposite of the word “alive” is “dead”.

I’m reminded of the uncomfortable space between knowing that to be unwanted, sexually, means you are ugly and worthy of ridicule and mockery and basically aren’t worth enough as a person,  but knowing if you do achieve being attractive that you will be desired in that way.  You’re supposed to want it at least if it’s from a non creepy person.  It’s a compliment. In fact, not ever experiencing that… rush… well you’re not even living. If what you actually feel when people look at you “that way” is uncomfortable,  repulsed,  confused,  or indifferent…  You have no chance to feel alive,  apparently.  You feel numb and dead, I guess.

Last year I engaged in some intense discussions with various people on the idea of shame vs. guilt as they can be related emotions and yet they have a lot of distinct differences.

“I wish I had that kind of self restraint“, says the person confusing celibacy with asexuality.

Guilt is about feeling bad for what you do. About having had a choice, and made a wrong one, perhaps. Guilt is often imposed on people unfairly when it comes to sex, relationships, romance, etc, especially in terms of queer people’s sex lives. Behaving in sexual ways you regret or feel was “wrong” results in guilt. That’s where the idea of restraint would come in.  But the feelings of attraction and/or desire… or the lack thereof… they happen to people, without people doing anything. You feel shame about these things rather than guilt. Even people who are convinced they did nothing wrong might be closeted about their patterns of attraction because they know society wouldn’t respect them if they knew they were gay or bi or pan. They could still feel shame without guilt. Plenty of aces feel more of this type of shame than feel guilt. They feel ashamed about what they can’t control, they know they didn’t choose this, but they still don’t want the world to know how they are. They feel that they themselves are wrong. Broken.

Narratives like this are all too common.

Aces who are in romantic-sexual relationships might start to feel guilty for their choice to “not” have sex, because they feel like they’re “withholding” sex, as if sex is owed to their partner. Or might feel guilty that they chose to hide some of the complicated truths about their feelings, like how they aren’t attracted. Or guilty about choosing to marry their partner when they didn’t feel everything they were “supposed” to first. Or guilty about not realizing how not normal their feelings were sooner. Or guilty about choosing to have sex even when they weren’t that into it and contributing to complex feelings in their partner. Or guilty about wanting sex despite not being particularly attracted to their partner. Etc etc. There are a lot more things for aces to be guilty about in regards to sex than people might realize.

However it’s probably even more common for aces to feel varying degrees of shame.

One of the many Psychology Today articles that touch on the topic explains:

A situation, real or imagined, might trigger a shame response when you experience yourself to be inferior in a competitive endeavor; when others might become aware of information that you want to cover-up; or, if you anticipate being viewed as lacking or inadequate, such as in intellect, appearance, or sexual performance.(Emphasis mine.)

And just today, The Asexual Agenda’s new linkspam linked to an academic article largely about asexuality & shame. From this essay:

“…according to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick,
at least for certain (“queer”) people, shame is simply the first, and remains a permanent, structuring fact of identity: one that … has its own, powerfully productive and powerfully social metaphoric possibilities. (Kosofsky 2003: 64-65)
I believe that is also the case with celibate and asexual people: experiencing shame about one’s lack of sex life is largely inevitable in contemporary Western societies.”

I mean… wow. There’s just so much to think about, you know?

My heterosexual friends’ words a week before I break up with my queerplatonic parner about how the fact that we’re both sex-averse and ace sounds really nice, we must not have the problems regular relationships do, because we don’t have the sex or the messy passion… these words all were echoing in my head like…. like invalidation I can’t escape as I cry and feel a deep grief over my breakup.

I think back to this post. The part about coming out as asexual here applies to me perfectly:

90% of the time, I have to do some form of 101, and I am frequently trying to build relationships with people I really, really do not want to field questions about my masturbationary [sic] habits from. For example, my coworkers and other professional contacts are not people I want to have thinking of me as “that one woman with the weird sexual identity.”

Except I am that coworker.  I am the woman with the weird sexuality. It’s my truth. I’ve known it for SURE for 3.5 years, and really, deep down… I knew it for longer, but I had so much internalized… anti-ace shame. Do I not want to be myself?? Am I hiding who I really am?

I read Coyote’s blog post on Modesty and Pride 3 years ago and it really must’ve struck all the right chords in me… because I remembered a lot about that post as soon as I saw the Carnival of Aces theme this month.

Read that whole post. Go on. Read it. Please.

Okay so yeah… Pride…

Having pride can mean, as Coyote said,

audacious displays of identity as a loud, triumphant reaction to silencing and shame.  In this context, pride is good, important, and fun.  The happier side to righteous anger, if you will.

Just this morning I came across this post on tumblr. The whole thing makes me think a lot about my ace pride. My ace identity. Why it MATTERS so much to my sense of identity that I’m ace. Let me quote the whole thing for you, as it’s… not that long of a post.

Self-acceptance isn’t something that happens overnight. It won’t occur miraculously. It’s something that we have to actively participate in if we want to make any real progress. It takes time, work and effort. And it’s something that we have to do; no one can save us from our thoughts except us.

It means making the choice, each and every day, to counter negative self-talk, to consciously remember the things we like about ourselves. It’s a decision that, when insecurity hits – and it undoubtedly will – we’ll do our best to put up a fight and stand our ground, to counter our inner critic with kindness and compassion.

It’s a lifelong journey; self-acceptance isn’t a destination, it’s a process, a habit, a skill to be honed. It gets easier over time. But it starts with a simple choice, the decision to be a friend to ourselves, a guardian of our own well-being and an active participant in our own lives.

I went to ClexaCon and I felt… very comfortable in my own ace skin. I came out to a random Uber driver who said a lot of invalidating things, who tried to gaslight me and tell me human beings can’t be ace and if I haven’t tried sex with a woman that must mean I just don’t know I’m a lesbian.

Gaslighting aces happens every time people decide that aces can’t be trusted to figure out what their own lifetime of experiences means for themselves. They want you to doubt your own conclusions about your life. Random acquaintances, even strangers sometimes, feel so sure they know more than you do about all human beings’ sexualities, including… yours.

At ClexaCon, I decided to spend a little money on an ace pride pin I saw one very talented artist selling. This is a pin I can put on my purse or my backpack when going out… anywhere, in case someone I pass by on the street, on the metro, in the grocery store, etc might know what it means:

Ace Nails 3 + pride pin

Some of ClexaCon felt a little… stifling to me as an ace. A little frustrating and isolating, it did. I was prepared for that so it didn’t hurt too badly. But some of my cautious optimism and hopes were a little crushed by the way the panels were run, especially. Even one of the panels who had an ace panelist… well I would have had no idea she was ace had I not brought up asexuality with my audience question first. Like… why? Anyway… the general crowd there was so much more likely to BE ace than average, and pretty much everyone there had at least heard of asexuality before. It was a queer space, predominantly female, with a variety of types of queer folks present, and while lesbians dominated, we all were pretty clearly THERE, nonbinary folks and trans guys and ace women etc. And I did feel welcome and my concerns to not be forgotten as a community often did feel relatively… validated, and seen,and taken to heart. (There even was a panel discussing Asexuality Visibility in television/media which had been part of the reason I decided to go in the first place.)

Going to ClexaCon at the beginning of this month, the first weekend in March (2017), was a way of embracing that I’m not straight. I belong at an event like that. These are my people! Embracing in the spend hundreds of dollars and travel across a lot of the country alone because I’m committed to really doing this way. 3 days of this, being publicly, Ace Flag nail polish on, ASEXUAL. I’m not ashamed, or hiding.

I try so hard not to let myself feel ashamed of being ace anymore.

It’s weird because… for so long, for so much of my life I had assumed I was “normal” and every female person was like me. So for years after figuring out I was ace, I convinced myself I never had the “I felt broken because I was ace” narrative. (I had the opposite problem of projecting my own experiences onto everyone else and assuming people felt less attraction and desire for sex than they did.) But the truth is, I still managed to burden myself with an awfully large amount of ace shame nonetheless, and it’s taken a while to unpack all of it.

This blog post of mine on not really “Having” the concept of asexuality which I wrote a few months back is a big key to my journey’s complexities, and basically… once I realized I was different, and that asexuality was real, and that it was ME, I instantly shot into deep denial, I felt so much shame that I hoped to figure out I was anything OTHER than ace, I felt so torn and lost and hurt.

When I first started coming out as ace to people in my life, like in-person? I’d get teary or cry. My boyfriend and I broke up over me being ace (via text messages) and unable to make him happy the way I felt he deserved. I felt ashamed of that, at fault for hindering his happiness for the whole 3 months we were together, and the only part of that breakup that made me want to cry was him texting me about how he understood it wasn’t my fault, that I couldn’t help that I was asexual, that he knew it was my sexual orientation. I felt so much shame for being who I was. Being told “You shouldn’t be ashamed” was… BIG.

I came out to my aunt apologetically, defensively, projecting guards like how I “still” am… heteroromantic, close to normal, it’s “just” sex I don’t want, refusing to really look deep inside myself quite yet at how actually… I may not be as straight as I thought… I soon realized I was either panromantic or aromantic. It’s no wonder my aunt tries to comfort and reassure me that it’s “normal” to not have “met the right one” yet at age 24. My shame over being ace is so obvious.

But fast-forward to now, and I have ace pride. I have confidence and self-assurance. I come out of the ace closet armed with knowledge and years of practice coming out and fielding questions and curiosities. I insist that I belong in a queer space like ClexaCon. I fight to remember, and to remind everyone around me, that being ace is NOTHING to be ashamed of. I aim to inspire some of the other aces I know. I aim to still tread carefully and not be elitist, to not consider my form of asexuality better than other people’s forms, as it’s a huge spectrum. I try to also not say anything that could be interpreted as elevating being ace as “better” than being allo. But it’s important to me that asexuality is viewed as JUST AS ACCEPTABLE as being any other sexual orientation, and I’ll help fight homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, nonbinary erasure, and heteronormativity but I expect my LGBT cousins to help fight ace erasure and invisibility right back. And I feel confident that I deserve that.

Asexual Pride is hard to explain, in a vacuum. What are you proud of? But it’s not about accomplishments, or choices, not really. It’s about Ace Shame. It’s about actively rejecting all that Shame. It’s an accomplishment in the sense of being successful in feeling happy, content, and like you’re not “missing out” on anything, that you’re a complete person just as you are with a unique and positive perspective on the world. It’s a choice only in the way that the tumblr post about self-acceptance I included above was talking about – “the choice, each and every day, to counter negative self-talk”, the choice to recognize that things that make you feel lesser, othered, hurt, etc, MATTER and are WRONG and are NOT FAIR and actively acknowledge it by thinking about it and remembering you’re just different, but it’s not inherently worse in any way at all, to maybe even go a step further and BLOG about it all, write a novel with an asexuality plot or subplot, or… tell the person who hurt you that they did. Even just more broadly, when you can, when it’s safe, emotionally and practically, to spread ace visibility so that maybe someday there will be less of those microaggressions. So the NEXT generation of aces have it better than you did. So that all the aces who are out there RIGHT NOW and feeling only shame and no pride at all because they DON’T KNOW about asexuality yet, they feel like failed straight/failed gay/failed bi/even failed trans people only… might someday relatively soon be able to feel less shame, feel better about themselves, feel…

…feel like it’s okay to exist just as they are, in their own skin, being who they are. That they aren’t bad or wrong, they aren’t selfish or broken. So that they could potentially feel…

…some modicum of PRIDE.

10 thoughts on “Asexuality, Shame, and the Importance of Ace Pride

  1. This was really encouraging! I’m still in the closet to all but my close friends and QPP (though I will tell people I don’t know well if I’m sure it won’t out me to people closer to home). But even though I don’t come out because of dependency issues, I have always really liked having ace pride moments and just being myself. I hope I can start finding more ways to subtly carry around ace stuff. Get a pride ring maybe. I’m certainly looking forward to the day where I can be out and get a thousand ace pride shirts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you found it encouraging! I was worried it might only come off as disheartening. 😛 I wish you luck in getting to that day sooner than you think! And I hope the maybe I can buy an ace pride shirt that actually fits me at some point! The only ones I own are better for sleeping in, they’re too big and unflattering. I’m in the plus size range and the one I tried buying I… overshot. And the other I got as a… donation from a guy at my local ace meetup group because he was disappointed by something about it… needless to day I had no input on the size that time.


      1. I’m hoping to be more out in college, but no chance of really being out for a while. I am out to all my good friends though, and that’s such a huge relief. And my QPP. She’s awesome. I’m so sorry you’ve had such bad luck with ace shirts, I’ve seen so many cool looking ones on pinterest. I hope you are able to find something really cool in the future!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve still worn both out in public before haha. I think they’re pretty cool, Ijust wish they actually fit. Now that I have a full time job though… yeah it will happen. I can totally see myself buying a new ace shirt in time for Pride this year even.


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