Writing From Factor X

January 17, 2011

Saying The Words

Filed under: Coming Out,Visibility — Sciatrix @ 1:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have noticed that it is easier to talk about asexuality if I avoid the word “asexuality” in my daily life. I’d like to consider why here. (And it’s even easier to try desperately to pass for a straight person who’s just mysteriously not interested in anyone that way, which is an extension of what I’m talking about here.) If I am quiet, and act vaguely ashamed or pretend not to have thought about it, pretend to simply have been too busy to have the time to notice anyone, things get a little easier.

That is, people seem to understand better–or at least be more polite–if I say “I’m really not interested in dating anyone” than they do if I say “I identify as asexual because X.” They’re also a lot less likely to be dismissive if I don’t take on the mantle of asexuality, if I pretend that my sexual orientation is an individual quirk and not a thing that other people have.

I don’t think that this is coincidental. I think it’s an extension of the way that people react when asexuals begin to talk about asexual issues in spaces that aren’t ace-designated, in fact–the first reaction, always, is to start dismissing.

Claiming an asexual identity is a shot across the bows: it means that I have just said that I don’t intend to be dismissed. And more, it means that I have just said that I don’t think that I am experiencing a phase, or a temporary aberration from the norm (for this is my norm) or some form of disability.

So let me talk about why I use the words “aromantic asexual” to describe myself, why I try to label myself where I can even though that makes my life more difficult than it would otherwise be. Let me explain the reason I cling to public labels as well as private ones.

When I own the word “asexual” to describe us, I tap into a community. I name myself, and in doing so I reify my orientation; I assert that I am not alone, and that people like me are common enough to justify a word all our own. I become that much more difficult to ignore.

I think some people find that threatening. Actually, scratch that, I know people find that threatening. Because it’s so much easier to be dismissive when it’s only a single person, floating by like a twig in the river of heteronormative, mainstream society. It’s harder to be dismissive about a whole clump of twigs creating a dam, which might eventually direct the river in a new direction. The dam has power in a way that the twig doesn’t.

This is, incidentally, a reason that I get really excited by coming-out scenes in media. (Yeah, I’ve only seen two of them so far. That doesn’t mean I don’t love that they exist.) Way more excited than I do about asexuals in the media who are just “known” to be asexual, whose sexuality is treated as a personal quirk. Because I can see the twigs building when people come out in a way that I can’t when the quirky ones pretend it’s a personal idiosyncrasy. I have seen some people talk about how they wouldn’t like to see characters getting up and shouting about their orientations, and I feel very differently.

I want to make it clear that all of this is an explanation for me, and for me alone–I won’t try to tell anyone else how to navigate the personal calculus of their own lives. But for me, I find power in publicly claiming an asexual identity. I think it does good things for the world. And I continue saying the words.


  1. I definitely think this is true. “New” labels force people to expand their paradigm, which people don’t like doing. They’d much rather find a way to force you into their preexisting labels.

    Polyamory is an interesting case in that respect. People are actually reasonably ok with the idea that we’re cheating, or that we’re “players”. They are much more judgmental when we reveal we’re doing it honestly, and with a lot of love and respect for our partners. That’s (presumably) not because they think honesty and respect are bad things, but just because cheating and players are part of their paradigm in a way ethical polyamory isn’t.

    Comment by Semiel — January 17, 2011 @ 2:46 pm | Reply

    • I’m sorry for the late response; my life’s sort of gotten away with me, these few days.

      And also–I think the reason people react in that way to polyamory has to do with the fact that those things are supposed to be shameful. (The fact that it’s not shameful if everyone knows what’s going on flies over the heads of most people.) And by being open about it, by making it clear that everyone knows what’s going on, you appear to them to be proud of something one ought to be ashamed of. It’s silly, because the thing to be ashamed of should actually be hurting people, but I think that’s where the mindset comes from.

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 20, 2011 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

      • Huh, that makes a lot of sense.

        Bringing it back around to asexuality, I wonder if the problem is that you’re supposed to view your lack of “a relationship” as a negative thing, even if you’re not currently planning on fixing it. By claiming an asexual identity, you’re asserting that your life isn’t worse because of your “singleness”, which is not what you’re supposed to believe.

        Comment by semiel — January 21, 2011 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  2. Interesting. I’m trying to get my thoughts together in a coherent manner. I think the problem comes from the presumption that everyone is sexual to a greater or lesser degree. Thus, if you say you personally are “not very sexual” or “just not into dating” then you are perceived as a sexual person who is choosing not to engage in sex. If you state that you are asexual, to many people you are not stating an orientation; you are stating that a whole group of people make the choice you do, and thus (in the minds of some very sexual people) you are claiming that your “choice” is superior to theirs.

    I often worry about this because I hang out with some extremely sexual people. For the most part my friends simply know not to come on to me even though they come on to everyone else in our social circle. Even so I wonder if some of them think I just am “prudish” about sex.

    However I think it is extremely important to make ourselves visible because it is only by spreading awareness that we combat the idea that we are celibate individuals making a choice rather than asexual individuals expressing our sexual orientation. I commend you for choosing to use the terms despite misunderstandings.

    Comment by Stephanie Silberstein — January 18, 2011 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

    • I am sorry for taking so long to get back to you!

      You may have a point about the “superior choice” thing, which is just… mind-boggling when I consider it from my perspective, frankly, but it does seem to be a recurring theme in the anti-asexual stuff I see. (Also, pretending the “choice” thing makes sense, I do wonder about people who hear “this is how I live my life” and immediately assume I’m making a value judgement on theirs.)

      I feel kind of weird and icky about being commended–I suppose because I would do it anyway, and I feel strange about being praised for things like that. :/ That’s a reaction I think I need to analyze.

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 20, 2011 @ 10:06 pm | Reply

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