Once Upon a Time I Was a “CisHet Ace”

This is my submission to the September 2017 Carnival of Aces, themed around “What’s One Thing You Want To Tell Ace Exclusionists?” or “Messages to Ace Exclusionists”. See here for the masterpost and explanation of what the Carnival of Aces is. (The call for submissions this time was here.) I’m a day late, which is nothing newsworthy if you are familiar with me and my bad habits…

So… Cishet aces or cishet aros are just straight people, and therefore the logic follows that they’re your oppressors. That’s what you Ace Exclusionists say, right?

You don’t seem to really believe or understand just how huge asexuality or aromanticism can be as an influence in a person’s life. You don’t seem to really accept they’re real. There truly is a reason these concepts evolved into being commonly accepted by people who use the identity labels as analogous to sexual orientations.

If you accept a trans het ace into being “LGBT” but only because they’re not cis (because they are trans), you’re saying that heteroromantic asexuality is the same as typical (allo) heterosexuality, and it just isn’t. You’re saying being Trans is the only aspect of their queerness, their non-straightness, you’ll even bother to see. You won’t give them space to feel fully welcome as their full selves.

If you say people who live their lives as aromantic while meanwhile feeling sexual attraction toward “the opposite gender” are exactly the same as most straight people who happily date and easily feel fluttery romance stuff or easily fall in love, you’re missing another point. But aromantic people aren’t brought up as often on any side of this “Debate”, this “Discourse”, this Fight. They are lumped in as a sidenote with the aces. I’d love to defend these aromantic people, but about allosexual (including heterosexual) aromantics I fear I might say the wrong thing. I still have to learn how to be the best ally possible. I still think about them more theoretically than have I read or heard enough personal accounts from real people who live those lives and right now this is all outside of the scope of this post. Let’s get back to the more blatant fight here, against asexuals.

I am cis. And I thought I was straight for a lot of my life. About my straightness, I was wrong.

Many, possibly the vast majority, of ace exclusionists are age 23 and younger. During that entire period of my life, up until I was 23-years-old, I thought I was heterosexual. But I wasn’t.

My life was made more difficult by not having information on asexuality, my life went in directions it never would’ve gone if I’d known asexuality was a possible sexuality for a post-pubescent person. I struggled. I spent extreme lengths of time questioning basic things without all the tools I needed. I just today got a personal essay about my story published in The Asexual, a journal by ace creators for an ace audience. Check it out for a quick summary of some of the aspects of my struggling, of my journey.

Some exclusionists will say the cause of all my struggles is not a sexual orientation. “Not having a sex drive at all”, the most defining part of my own personal experience, is more like a disability than a sexual orientation, perhaps. But there are a lot of angles at which I could confront this. The easiest angles are:

  1. I have a ridiculously large amount of personal experiences in common with the majority of asexual people, most of whom do have libidos, who do masturbate, who feel their bodies work entirely normally.
  2. Even if my body works differently or is “dysfunctional”, it’s only a disability if it hinders a part of my life – and as a person who doesn’t desire sex, it doesn’t hinder anything I desire to do. So that’s not the best framework for categorizing my experience. Look at how homosexuality stopped being considered a mental illness. Asexuality has extremely parallel reasons for both being pathologized as “disordered” in the first place, and for what reasons it could be considered not a thing that causes distress or other problems in a person’s life. See the latter half of this blog post I wrote three Carnival of Aces ago for more details on this idea.
  3. Sexual Orientation framework is supposed to cover everyone. People with disabilities also have sexual orientations in addition to having their disabilities. “Asexual” is the orientation needed for people who are disabled AND people who aren’t, is what all people use when all the other choices of orientations – homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual/pansexual – don’t fit. In rare cares people feel that two of them fit at once – gray-asexual people, mainly. Or people with intensely strong patterns of romantic attraction and mismatched romantic orientation and sexual orientation. But for many of us, we can’t use asexuality as a description of how we experience another orientation. We really are “none of the above” if you only give us choices of straight, gay, and bi.

Asexuality is my sexual orientation. I am asexual. Figuring out I wasn’t sexually attracted to men was how I determined I was ace. Figuring out that I was completely averse to kissing (open-mouthed) with men and had no sexual fantasies towards them, etc etc was me figuring out I wasn’t straight, I was something else instead. Learning about my asexuality made the moments in high school and college where I wondered if I might be bi because I was able to have strong friendship feelings or platonic respect and admiration for both men and women make more sense, because it wasn’t that I was attracted to everyone, but rather no one.

I didn’t immediately feel aromantic, though, and at first I clung to the thought that I had experienced romantic crushes on boys and men in my life, probably. I clung to the notion of being heteroromantic. I identified, when I came out to the first few people in my life, as heteroromantic asexual, “I still would like a boyfriend/even to get married to a man one day, just without any sex because of how my asexuality manifests”.

Later I questioned if I was panromantic, or aromantic, for a long time, but I only ever, after that one failed multi-month romantic relationship with a straight guy, tried “Dating” one other person – a gay gray-ace guy, who was my queerplatonic partner, and who I felt I would’ve been happy to marry one day and raise adopted children with. We’ve since broken up — in fact we broke up twice, getting back together in the middle. We are not immature teenagers and were not in “just a friendship”, nor “just a regular romance”. I was 26- and 27-years-old throughout the 2 years I knew him, he was 27 and 28. We never kissed, we barely touched physically, but we had a ton of emotional intimacy, like “best friends”, combined with projected likely plans for the future and commitment, and considering our status to be partners/significant others.

For over a year of my life I thought of him as “more than a friend”. (For a few of those months “my former queerplatonic partner who I would’ve still been in a committed qpr with if he hadn’t wanted to end it” still held this weight that “Friend” didn’t quite properly capture.) He considered me his girlfriend, or his ex-girlfriend, I believe, during all this time. Which is part of the issue of how we weren’t quite on the same wavelength and ultimately broke up. But. To everyone around us, this relationship passed as straight. One acquaintance even mistakenly assumed he was my husband.

I didn’t feel straight though. To a variety of people we were “closeted” and those people didn’t know our secrets:  that we were a happy pair of ace folks who met at an asexual meetup group and chose this partnership in large part because we wanted a lack of sex. The only narrative people would understand or be familiar with might be if we were an unhappy straight couple with no sex life. Or he was a repressed & closeted gay guy and I was a loser straight woman for dating him. Something along those lines.

I felt a strong connection to the stories of bi women in romantic partnerships or marriages with men. They pass as straight too, and many outsiders, lesbian/gay or straight, assume there is no reason to come out as bi, or to identify as bi, if you’re happily with a man and have only been in relationships with men. They “aren’t oppressed”. But bi people struggle a ton with the feelings of erasure and invisibility much like aces do, bisexual people have their own false stereotypes & stigma to fight, instead of loser virgin or broken human like for aces it becomes harsh judgements about promiscuity and greediness and perversion in a different direction.

Not only that, but I knew in those moments I could just as easily be partnered with a woman or a nobinary person, and I might just as easily, had luck worked out differently, been not passing as straight in my current committed partnership. I knew if Robert and I ever broke up that I might (pretty likely) want to be with a woman. I knew all my years of assuming by default I was straight was “compulsory heterosexuality” misleading and insidiously, quietly, years-on-end hurting me. I knew I was more aromantic or panromantic than I ever had been heteroromantic. I would happily marry and raise children with a same-sex partner if I found one. It in fact seems quite likely as fandom is a huge part of my life and is majority female, and I’m most likely to click and become super close friends with someone who “Gets” my fandom obsessions, AND because I feel most likely to click closely in this way, find a person who also doesn’t want kissing/sex in their committed partnership, within asexual spheres, which again is female dominated. I have a higher chance of ending up with a woman than with someone of any other gender, it’s just that simple.

I struggled for months to accept I was asexual because I had internalized so much anti-ace sentiment, thoughts that people like THEM were broken and I didn’t want to be broken… and one step of my journey was me making the arophobic/aromismic/anti-aromantic statement that I was asexual but I was “at least”, “still”, heteroromantic, I was still “normal” and able to fall in love, it was “just sex” that I couldn’t feel. Which. Was still me being in denial about how gray-aromantic I really was.

Every time someone dismisses cis heteroromantic aces as “not worthy of being in the LGBT movement”, you’re saying the ME that said I was heteroromantic asexual for a few months was not welcome. It feels personal. You often say the B in LGBT are only accepted because of their same-sex partnerships or attractions too which also invalidates the panromantic side of me. You’re often implying every time I was dating a man, I was not LGBT anymore. So that side of it feels like a personal attack too.

And then there is the part of me who is indeed aromantic-spectrum. If you assume all asexuality is a modifier, and all aromanticism is a modifier, then where does that leave us aroaces? You are excluding a huge percentage of people who are very very much not straight. Straight people feel attractions, feel fulfillment in romantic-sexual relationships, can bond with their co-workers over hot people of the opposite gender, can relate to experiences of dating struggles, etc. Aroace people usually can do none of this. Aroace people are judged as possibly being closeted lesbians/gay men because they never talk about dating or partners. They can be pitied, set-up on straight dates they don’t want to go on, encouraged to do things they don’t want to do, and feel “othered” by tons of tiny things that gay people also feel othered by, since both aromantic asexual people and homosexual people are not attracted to “the opposite” gender. (Nonbinary people are still routinely not acknowledged as existing, unfortunately.)

Asexual people decide to be the biggest allies to LGBT people over and over again, decide to align with their movement, because it’s the only place they at least sometimes feel like they belong. We need it. We have overlapping communities of people and overlapping issues to face. Heteroromantic aces too. They really do.

And if I can only say one thing to an ace exclusionist, it’s that straight people don’t let us in their club, not even the heteroromantic ones among us. Heteroromantic aces have struggles when trying to date heterosexual people, struggles often best explained by incompatible sexual orientations as a whole, not just incompatible sexual preferences. This is huger than that, for the vast majority of them. This feels to the heterosexual people “trapped” in these relationships with an ace much like if they were dating a gay person, THAT level of not having their types of feelings properly returned.

So please, reconsider your stance, and let the Heteroromantic Aces into your section of the club. Stop using “cishet” as a slur against us, a term full of hate instead of the neutral description it was meant to be. We aces already have been let into most Queer spaces. We already know we belong. We already are happy to be there. If you change your mind, if you become an inclusionist, we’ll provide the cake and some beautiful friendships might even form.


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