How oxymoronic. I love the topic of sex. I love reading adult romance novels and diving into the rabbit hole of strange sex. But I’m also asexual.
It’s a strange thing. And it was a struggle.
In elementary school, before my teachers realized my parents didn’t want me to be in sex ed, I giggled at the word ‘vagina’. Not because I knew what it was, but because the teacher warned us not to laugh as she listed taboo words like ‘penis’. I laughed at that too, didn’t know it either. Nervous habit? At that time, I was more concerned with finding the word ‘bitch’ in the dictionary. I was more scandalized about being sent to the office after a classmate coerced me into calling my teacher a bitch on paper.
In 6th grade the very next year, I was pressured into a relationship-by-name with a preteen boy. The gaggle of Hmong girls I hung out with because Asians stuck together—even as the sore-Vietnamese-thumb—were adamant. It was a “relationship” that lasted an entire summer with only five minutes of face-to-face interaction. He broke up with me the second week of school. Getting on the school bus home that day, I made an appropriate disappointed but understanding face. I watched from the third seat of the bus, smiling with relief to myself, as he, his buddies, and the gaggle of girls commiserated for the fella.
In 7th grade, I connected with my best friend through manga and romance novels. Not Twilight or The Notebook; Fabio.
As much as our teachers hated seeing the tight breeches, billowing white shirt, and lightly furred chest of our favorite faux-butter salesman on the cover of our reading materials, they loved that we were reading. And with our childish crude jokes, we established a reputation as proud female perverts.
And in 8th grade, my closest male friend asked me out. Trapped swinging high on a playground swing set, I uh-ed and um-ed an “okay” as gravity swung me back to equilibrium. This “relationship” lasted 8 hours with an hour of uncomfortable hand-holding. He broke up with me the next morning before I was able to and our friendship never recovered. Oh! And I taught my quirky English teacher what BDSM was.
Middle school; where cooties were no longer a feared disease but a flirtation technique. I tried excruciatingly hard to fit in. I faked crushes– I faked them even in high school. Amidst all the puberty and sex-filled books, I was clear on a singular aspect of myself I never publicly – or even privately – vocalized. I knew that I wasn’t interested in having sex and, at the time, relationships. But boy did I love reading the Barney Bag of dirty romance novels my best friend got from the public library.
I came out my junior year of high school in AP Biology. I was absentmindedly flipping through my textbook when I somehow saw a word through the blur of black ink on glossy white paper: asexual. It was referring to sea anemones and biological asexuality, but I tapped my finger to the word with urgency to another best friend’s attention. I excitedly whispered, “That’s me!”
After class we discussed it. I explained it via etymology, “‘A-’ means ‘not’, right? So I’m not sexual.” “So…you’re a plant?” “No, it’s like my sexual preference.” Together, we worked out my sexual epiphany—as I couldn’t quite articulate it, even now. And that was my first coming out.
I never came out to my parents. In part, because patriarchal Asian families don’t talk about sex. In part, because my parents had a harder time dealing with the fact that I read smut under the covers and at the dinner table. They’ve since accepted me, Fabio, and all the damsels he had slung over the crook of his arm on the cover of my books. They’ve also accepted the fact that if ever I was watching something, they will walk in during a sex scene. But they’ve also accepted that I don’t seem particularly keen on having a relationship. And that’s enough for me.
To be honest, my coming-outs have been rather painless. I wasn’t bullied, I wasn’t even teased. I faced with the same “So…you’re a sponge/plant/what?” questions all the time and it was annoying. I faced many skeptics who wondered “but you read porn…” but I didn’t care.
I understand where the skepticism comes from.
For most, romantic intimacy without sex is improbable. Like, statistically, it is. Most romantic relationships are sexual. So the concept of being interested in sex but not in having it isn’t something a person can easily wrap their heads around. I get that. As someone who has identified as asexual for most of her life while simultaneously enjoying sex much like a voyeur, even I wonder.
What’s more, as I grow older, I’ve become more receptive to the idea of being in a relationship. Intimate sexual relationships. Not because I want to have sex, but because I get covetous of the intimacy that comes with sex. It’s frustrating trying to balance myself as I toe the line. But, I welcome this contradiction and what I consider an existential crisis. It’s what I liked about sexuality since middle school– its fluidity and variety.
I’ve only started to doubt myself midway through college when asexuality started to be recognized by the mainstream LGBTQ community. When without warning, I’m now told that I’m not asexual-ing the right way. Me, someone who have helped three individuals come into their own asexuality. Me, someone who came into their asexuality on their own. Notably, I have received more criticism from people who identifies as LGBTQ than others. I get misidentified as a lesbian for many reasons, one being that I use ‘they’ when discussing hypothetical partners. Hell, I’ve gotten accused of being heterosexual because I present myself as a sexual straight person i.e. I just live my life without mentioning my sexuality to that person. But most significantly to me, I have been told because I’ve never fallen in love that I’m actually aromantic. That if I’m this conflicted, I’m grey-asexual. That I seem demisexual to them.
My asexuality may be tied to being aromantic. As with sex, much of my interest in romance has been through the lens of others rather than my own eyes. I sometimes want a sexual relationship with someone I really love. Maybe I’m demisexual or maybe it’s my crippling depression and isolation and my exotification of the idea of a sexual relationship and all it can entail emotionally. Because I do find it oh-so-very foreign. I use ‘they’ because I don’t think sexuality is – or should be – an absolute. I could end up finding someone sexually attractive and actually BE sexually attracted to them, but I haven’t and don’t. The more people try to explain and label sexualities, the more boxed in I feel. The more insecure I feel about my sexuality when I don’t fit into them. As much as these boxes try to be inclusive, they’re still boxing people uncomfortably into these boxes.
Despite the constant “sexuality is a spectrum” rhetoric, there’s this status quo that, as an asexual, I should display no interest in sex at all. But I love reading and talking about sex! People not being able to differentiate the two does not negate my sexuality. It also means that if I were to no longer be asexual, that still doesn’t negate my current sexuality. And it’s not “questioning”– it’s not growing out of a dormant sexuality as a late-bloomer. Though, bet, there are people who would say I’m grey-asexual which is just another label. If my sexuality changes down the line, it’s because it changed with the changes I go through as a person.
There’s a standard “true” way to be asexual. I believe there are exceptions to all of the NOTs on this list.
Based on this list, my asexuality is wrong. The friend I first came out to has actually turned out to be a “truer” asexual than I. How wild is that? I love it! But I loathe the implication that while she’s a “true” asexual, I am not.
I’ve come across many who consider my stance on [my] a/sexuality problematic. It’s okay. I find current definitions of a/sexuality to be too stringent. Yes, the definitions are evolving, and maybe I seem nit-picky but so have been the growing urge to box and label of individuals into neat little boxes with air pockets surrounded by wrapping paper.
It’s my asexuality.
I don’t care for sex in my own real life, but I love to read and watch it and I want orgasmic sex for women and men and anyone participating in it. I have a detached, near-objective sexual and romantic curiosity. But sometimes my stomach warms at gap-moe (dissonance between appearance and actions) moments. Sometimes my heart throbs for heartthrobs like Michael Ealy and fictitious characters.
It’s a bundle of contradictions that will probably never get disseminated. And I’m both okay with it and not. To be honest, a lack of sexual urges is just as complicated as having them. This should be okay. Coming-out stories don’t have to end with a finality of “I know my true self”. I believe that there are many other people out there who shouldn’t have to doubt themselves when they start to identify differently.
P.S. Happy Asexual Awareness Week!