Although I accepted the fact that I was asexual pretty much as soon as I first learned the word, it took me a while to get comfortable coming out to people. In fact, I didn’t actually open my mouth and say the words “I’m asexual” to another person for almost six months. I was a freshman in college then, and I’d heard way too many horror stories from people on AVEN about how they attempted to come out only to face derision, concern-trolling, anger, etc. for me to be comfortable with the idea. I didn’t feel ready to deal with any of that, so I just didn’t tell anyone at first.
Then, months later, the campus LGBT organization came into one of my classes and did a student panel where they discussed every letter on the full LGBTQQIAA acronym and what it meant, and the students on the panel shared their personal stories. The final letter on the acronym indeed stood for asexuality. I was floored. Not only was asexuality included on the acronym, but they actually gave the correct definition for it! And even talked about romantic orientation! As though they’d actually cared enough to do research on asexuality and familiarize themselves with the concepts! As though *gasp* they’d actually talked to asexual people in the process!
I was beyond elated, but I didn’t say anything or out myself to them. However, by the time class was over, I’d reached a decision: I’m going to do it. I’m going to come out to someone. I figured that people were less likely to be assholes about it since it had just been discussed by the panel, and anyway, I didn’t know anybody in that class very well so even if there was a bad reaction, it wouldn’t hurt as much. With that in mind, I struck up a conversation with one of the returning adult students, a woman in her late forties. We were talking about how cool it was that these student panels worked to educate people and how important it was to hear people’s stories, and at one point I finally took the plunge and said, “Yeah, you know, I’m so happy they actually included asexuality, because I’m asexual and people usually don’t even know we exist.”
I paused, heart racing, and tried not to look too anxious during the approximately second-long interval before she answered with, “Oh, wow! That’s awesome. I didn’t know asexuality even existed before this, but I’m glad they discussed it. It must be awful when you’re not included anywhere.”
I felt slightly stunned. I’d actually done it: I’d actually come out to someone. And I didn’t even get bingoed! In fact, the response had been awesome. I hadn’t even realized how much I hated being in the closet until I’d finally come out of it for one brief moment—it felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from my heart. It’s incredible how much that affirming, positive response meant to me. I felt like I finally had permission to be myself, no more lies and silence involved.
After that, coming out became much easier. I came out to some more random classmates and even two professors, all with positive responses. Then came the considerably more nerve-wracking step of coming out to someone close to me, in this case my younger brother. I spent days angsting over it, but the actual event was pretty anti-climactic: he just stared blankly at me and said, “Why would I care if you’re asexual? It doesn’t matter to me what orientation you are. You’re my sister and I love you.” Fwawwwww…
With each coming-out that I did, my confidence increased and I got better at it. Since I no longer felt like I was going to die of anxiety when I told people, my initially nervous, hundred-mile-an-hour ramblings about what asexuality was gradually became a simple, matter of fact explanation: This is who I am. This is what it means. It’s in no way up for debate. I am a queer person and have always been. Trying to invalidate my identity is heterosexist and hurts my feelings. Plus it makes you look like an asshole. (This last part is subtly implied.)
Tone of voice and how you present yourself are extremely important when you’re coming out to people. When you’re calm and confident—and above all unapologetic—it’s much harder for anyone to bingo you. People are less likely, in my experience, to concern-troll someone who seems relaxed and uses “I am” statements instead of “I think” or “I feel like.” However, if the Marginalized Ace Person ™ hirself seems nervous or unsure, it becomes much easier for the Privileged Straight Person ™ to pounce on this perceived sign of weakness and mask their assholery as concern. After all, Ace Person is clearly distressed and Straight Person is just so worried about them—they only want them to be happy! I mean, how can they comfort Ace person with reassurances of (straight) sexual-ness if Ace person actually seems *le gasp* happy with who they are?
Now, I know a lot of aces have gotten bad responses from other queer people as well (which is truly sad and should not happen). However, I myself have never been bingoed by anybody who wasn’t straight. Also, I know it’s not always easy to be confident about coming out—let’s face it, we live in a society that does not respect queer people (to put it incredibly mildly). And like I said, it can take time to work yourself up to that place of confidence and being relaxed and comfortable in your identity, and that’s okay!
If you’re expecting a bad reaction from someone, it can help to prepare yourself by reading and/or talking to other people about their experiences. The first time I got bingoed was definitely upsetting, but I was able to handle it. I’d read the advice and compilations of snarky and/or intellectual comebacks that other ace people had graciously put together to help newbies like myself, and this proved invaluable. (The good thing about bingos, by the way, is that they’re incredibly predictable. Once you become even slightly familiar with them, you can spot one a mile off.)
These days I’m out to pretty much everyone: friends, classmates, professors. (I’m not out to my parents, but that’s a whole other story.) The responses have been mostly great, with a few exceptions. I even joined the campus queer group I mentioned earlier (who were thrilled to have me, and have been unbelievably wonderful and supportive), and I sign up for as many student panels as I can in a semester so that I can come out to entire classrooms of complete strangers and share my story in an environment where no one would dream of bingoing me. Because coming out is important. Coming out shows people that we exist, and that there’s nothing wrong with us. We’re here, we’re queer—a lot of people haven’t gotten over it yet, as evidenced by the ridicule and the harassment and the outright pathologization that we’re continually blasted with, but if enough of us come out, they’ll have to get over it. Already many people have heard the word “asexuality” and perhaps even kinda sorta know what it means, but our fight is far from over.
And more importantly, you coming out is how other aces learn they exist, how there’s a word for their feelings, how other people feel the same way, how they’re not wrong or sick or strange or broken. I think maybe one of the proudest moments of my life was when another adult student, a man in his early fifties, came up to me after a panel and said, “Hey, I thought about what you said, and I honestly think I’m probably asexual,” and then told me his personal story, which was indeed pretty indicative of aceness. He surprised and relieved to finally discover a label that fit. Moments like that, and the wonderful experience I’ve had with these panels in general, are why I fight so hard for visibility. (They’re also why the acceptance and support of the greater LGBT community are so, so important if we’re to receive recognition as a valid orientation and respect as human beings, but that’s a topic for another time.)
So if you can, and if you feel comfortable doing so, please: come out to people. Be open about who you are. Be proud, not ashamed. The world will be a much better place for it.